My Race Reports

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  • Creek Crossing near Warm Springs Aid Station, Mile 12. Photo by Chris Jones.
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  • Photo shoot at the Blue Pool.


Changan Ford Gobi Ultra Marathon

“I just got invited to run in China!” It was the night of Waldo 100k, and while waiting for the last runners to come in, an email from IAU Honorary Member Souhei Kobayashi from Japan asked if I would interested in an all expense paid trip to China to run in the inaugural Changan Ford Gobi International 50k. I answered “yes” before I even had a chance to see where it was. I only can say that there are few places in the world I would pass up seeing, given a chance, and I had not been to China. It would be well after the World 100k Championships and I had nothing scheduled for October or November.


Starting in September, information slowly trickled in; information was passed between the organizing committee and the athletes so that tickets could be purchased, Visas acquired, and itineraries created. Mark bought me a map of China and after much difficulty I finally found the city of Jiuquan very near the border of Mongolia, in the middle of the country in terms of east and west. It appeared to be a very small town given the print size on the map. I was told that a small town in China may have 1,000,000 citizens, but in a country with more that 1 billion, that made sense. When I found information on the web, I was a little surprised to see that the greater Jiuquan area had 1 million.


Meanwhile, my training after the 100k was quite limited for 2 or 3 weeks from a minor heel injury. With 2 weeks to go I was finally up to a 20 mile long run, and one week out I did my first speed workout in the form of a fartlek run. The wheels were slowly coming back, and my heel pain was nearly gone.


My flight to Beijing from SFO was filled mostly with Chinese, so I felt I was already amid the culture. Upon arrival and standing in line for entering with our passports, looking at the massive crowd in the tight serpentine lines, I thought there is no way I am going to get out of this trip without picking up some kind of bug. I was on the ground for about an hour before I actually got my luggage and made my way out to the lobby packed with greeters. I started looking at the signs being held up for either my name or Changan Ford Gobi Ultramarathon. I spied that latter and walked up to the young woman holding the sign. “You must be Meghan” she said. “I am Chuping. Nice to meet you!” We made our way to our next flight via shuttle bus, which took 30 minutes at least which was telling of how large the airport was. Chuping got me checked in for my flight and then went back to see if my compatriot Jim Walmsley had arrived yet. I wandered to my gate, making note of the eateries, and once I was close enough I stopped for my first Chinese fast food buffet. I quickly picked 4 dishes and paid 50 Yuen – about $9. It was delicious.


It was all good

At the gate I opened my laptop and attempted to get online. I was able to get a little email through my phone, but none on my computer. I gave up. I kept my eyes open for Chuping and Jim, but they were nowhere to be seen. Chuping had a difficult job, getting runners from around the world to our destination. As I settled into my seat, Jim appeared. I waved, and said “You barely made it!” He said, no, he had been there awhile, sacked out behind all the waiting passengers. Uh oh – that means Chuping probably didn’t realize where he was. It was nearly time to close the doors when a wind blown flustered Chuping boarded. I caught her eye – “Chuping, Jim is here!” She let out a huge sigh of relif. “I had called airport police to try and locate him!” We flew into Lanzhou City, gathered our bags, and took a cab to our hotel, a good 30 minutes away. By the time I got to bed it was midnight, and we were to be up at 5:00 for breakfast and then bus to the train station. At breakfast I joined a number of invited athletes, as our paths were converging. Japanese, Spanish, German, British, and Hungarian comprised the group, with the Japanese contingency being the largest.


Train Station – Europeans and Japanese and two Americanos.

At last, we were going to “see” China! The high-speed train was quiet and smooth. We all took multiple photos and videos through the windows as we sped through the changing landscape. There was snow on the ground for many miles, and the closer we got to our destination, the more spread out the cities were. It was becoming more agricultural, at a seemingly subsistent level in many locations. Small, tidy plots of crops, crude shelters that may have been homes to some, occasional flocks of sheep, and some yaks, spread across the floor of the valley we traversed, as mountain ranges grew on either side. It wasn’t clear to me whether the haze over the mountains was pollution or light fog, but after being there for a while, I’m guessing mostly pollution. By the time we arrived in Jiuquan the air was cleaner.


Mountain Range taken from the train

Chuping asked me to be present at the press conference and asked if I had a bio. Being unable to connect to the internet in a productive way, I gave her the link to my bio on the Altra running website. When I arrived at the conference, the race director was introduced to me, and said “My daughter asked me if I had met ‘The Queen’ yet! You are The Queen!” I was confused for quite awhile before I was told that he was Chuping’s father. I sat in the front row with 2 other runners and many dignitaries, of whom I still don’t know what most of them did. One by one we were introduced, stood up, turned around and bowed, then the dignitaries each went on stage and gave a very lengthy speech. I wasn’t sure if it was the fact that I understood zero of what they were saying, or if they really were long winded. Photographers of every caliber clicked madly on high-end cameras down to IPhones. When they were done, I thought well there isn’t time to answer questions, but organizers quickly placed 8 chairs on the stage facing the audience with each of our names on it. So, there we sat while it was open for questions. They were directed to the dignitaries, and the questions and answers again were very long. Then the “conference” was over. As soon as I got up, I was asked by Chinese runners and volunteers if they could take a picture with me, hand their phone to a friend, jump beside me, thumbs up, then say to me “Sank you”, smiling and nodding. It went on for a while, and there were double dippers. It became a theme for the rest of the trip.


Decided I should get at least one photo!

Next was the pre-race meeting. The race director gave it in both Chinese and English, with very specific guidelines that indicated there were many new ultra runners. One of the key points repeated to us over and over was that we should wear long pants. “Wear Pants! Wear Pants! The thorns will cut you!” There was one section of the course from 36.5k to 40k where the course went right through thick brush called Camel thorn. The course was swath 5 meters wide carefully marked every 50 meters by large stakes. Mr. Race Director also said because the course was measure in straight lines that if we wanted to run around the dunes or around the camel thorn, it was fine because we can only make the course longer. My immediate reaction was no way would I run around a sand dune – I’m gonna conquer the sand and the camel thorn!


Following the meeting we were treated to dinner. I sat with my European friends Rainer, Garrett, Paul, Walter, and Jose, and Jim. We enjoyed trying new things, and also avoiding things that looked like they might cause an issue in tomorrow’s race. Jim said “My rule is never eat anything that looks sketch before a race. This all looks sketch” and he proceeded to eat most of it. Partway through our meal, we were provided with live entertainment, presumably local talent.


Pre Race Dinner

Only one athlete hadn’t arrived yet – Aussie Jodie Obourne, who was to room with me. Her first flight had been delayed, causing a chain reaction of missed flights. She was due to arrive late, so I left the hotel door open for her. She made it in sometime after 10, in good spirits, and we both managed to get a good night’s sleep. Chuping asked us to be to breakfast at 6:50, then load the busses at 7:00 to take us to the race start. When we got to the hotel lobby she said no rush, the busses are late – one of the unforeseen obstacles the race had to deal with. About an hour later, we were loading up. The race started at 9:00 and it was to take 20-30 minutes to get there, so there was plenty of time.


Start/Finish area

We arrived at a tent-clad staging area. One for the athletes, one for Ford cars, one for post race recovery, one for really important people, and a big stage for the award presentations. A lot of money had been poured into this race. There was a multitude of blue jacket clad volunteers, a large start/finish line, a man on a paraglider flying around getting video, a drum band, a police force, and of course a drone. As it approached 9:00 we gathered up, only to be told that because one of the busses had not arrived. So we ambled back to the athlete’s tent. I tried to just stay loose and warm and didn’t get uptight about the late start. Finally at 10:00 we were ready to go.


Pamela, Me, Garrit, Jim, Jose, Jodie, Rainer

Desolate doesn’t begin to describe the landscape we were about to embark on. And no amount of information given us before the race could have prepared me for what the course entailed. On paper the words used to describe it were lost on me.


“The competition course goes over various landscapes including black Gobi, sand, reed land, Yardan landform and other terrains, which is mainly Gobi (50%), while cumulative climb and decline is 80 meters. The 50-km course is a closed circular path with the starting point located in Xintiandun Farm in the Suzhou District of Jiuquan City. Runners shall run through Huoshi Beacon Tower, Tianluo Ancient City, Jiudao Spring, Huacheng Lake and finally return to the finish line at Xintiandun.“

Yardan? Black Gobi? Other descriptions in the course directions included things like Danxia landform, desert, Yardang landform, red gravel beach, cliff canyon, hard gravel Gobi, saline and alkaline land, camel thorn, soft Gobi, gravel paved roads, soft dirt roads, asphalt. I knew what asphalt was, pretty sure I knew what gravel paved roads and soft dirt roads were, but my idea of the latter two were a little different. I pretty much ignored it all anyway, looked at the course profile and thought it was going to be like a track meet where we would be running on packed hard sand with little elevation gain, or hard ground with smooth rocks, and somehow I thought it would be mostly pavement.

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Where’s the trail????

Huddling at the start line, trying to stay warm, I gazed out at the course ahead. Hmmmm. It looked a bit rough at the start – just sandy terrain, rutted, loose, but surely it would get on something smooth and hard soon. I was shivering when the final countdown happened, and off we went, me gasping for breath in the 30 degree air.

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Fireworks at the start!

The field quickly spread out, and I was right behind Jodie. I kept telling myself that once I got warmed up and we hit the road, everything would calm down. I caught back up to Jodie, and then led for a bit, then she came back, as well as Germany’s Pamela and a Chinese woman. Next a Japanese woman passed by and she and went back and forth for a bit. Finally, I realized that this terrain was not going to change in a favorable way for a while, if ever, and I backed off. I accepted that this race wasn’t about me, it was about the course, and the course was in control. I started to study the different sand formations and where best to plant my feet. The dunes required NOT stepping where someone has stepped before, but rather landing lightly and trying not to break the sand to hard. I ran straight over the first few dunes, then realized that going around them actually was a good idea, and ended up being just as fast.


What much of our terrain was – Photo by Jose

When I hit the first aid station I was grateful for a chance to slow down. The four women ahead of me were not in sight – either they would come back to me or not. The issue was now just handling the effort on the sand. Now that my heart rate was more relaxed, I felt more in control. I was catching a few men, running with a few in silence at times, but we were all pretty spread out.

We ran near the Huoshi Beacon Tower – where Chinese soldiers could alert folks on the Great Wall that there were invaders. It was now a remnant of the past – a large sand colored lump off to my left. I mainly focused on footing, but remembered to look up to appreciate the vast desert around me. It was incredibly barren. I toiled on through the next few miles, always stopping at the aid stations to stand and drink water, catch my breath, thank the volunteers, and forge on.


At 16 miles, the course turned onto a gravel road. It was glorious. It took me 2:40 to get there, and I realized that 5 hours might even be out of the question. I opened up my stride, as much as my fatiguing legs would allow. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, volunteers were standing beside the road, thumbs up, yelling ‘Ji-oh Ji-oh’ (Let’s go! Let’s go!) Another few miles passed and we went through a place called Jayuguan Caohu Lake Wetland – in the middle of the desert – which is part of the historical Northern Silk Road. It was hard to interpret while running what the surroundings meant, but I did see the ornamentations, the flags, and got to run the glorious smooth black pavement.


When that ended I was presented with an option. I run through the sharp thorny camel thorn, or stay outside the course for slightly more distance, but firmer ground and no thorns. I chose the latter. Not really because of the thorns, but because I wanted some hard ground!


Occasionally I would catch up to a struggling male runner. We would run together for a bit, and then he would surrender, setting me free. My focus remained finding firm footing, keeping an eye on the course markings, and wondering if any of the women ahead were slowing, and were any women behind gaining on me.


When my Garmin miles were at 27 I thought I was closer to 29, so I hoped it was wrong and decided to run as if it was. I pushed hard, and now back in the loose sand, was really feeling the fatigue. Already the longest I had run since the World 100k, I was definitely pleased to have some fight in me. I focused on the next tent as it came into view, thinking it was the finish area, but it soon became obvious I had at leas 5k to go. Up and over and around the dunes, still encouraged by the volunteers, I pumped my arms, lungs wheezing, feet sliding, until finally I saw the large tents of the start finish area. I glanced at my watch, reflecting on the conversation Jodie and I had had early that morning.


Me: “What are you carrying for water and food?”

Jodie: “Not much. Some gels, and I’ll drink at the aid stations.”

Me: “Me too, although I’ll carry some water in a pack.”

Jodie: “It’s not like we’ll be out there that long. Like 4 hours, right?”

Me: “That sounds about right. I mean, how hard can it be?”


Sometimes ignorance is bliss, but this time it didn’t serve us well. It looked like if I ran hard I had a chance at breaking 5 hours, so I pumped harder, wheezed louder, and kicking sand up behind me, pushed as hard as I could to the end, where a banner was held for every finisher to break through. 4:57! I was immediately grabbed on both sides by two young women volunteers who nearly carried me to the recovery tent. Jodie was there, having come in 5 minutes before. She was 4th, the Japanese woman 3rd, The Chinese woman 2nd, and Germany’s Pamela was 1st. In the men’s race, Jim came in 3rd to 2 Kenyans.


Eventually we were bussed back to the hotel, and Jodie and I cleaned up and took a short stroll in town to take pictures and maybe do some shopping. It was a busy little city, and I said I wanted to take pictures of vendors but wasn’t sure how that was looked upon. Jodie said “after all the pictures you’ve been asked to be in? I think it is okay.” Indeed it was.

That evening, the race organizers hosted a Gala Dinner – another great evening of good food and entertainment, and now we were much more relaxed having the race out of the way. Chuping and her father and the mayor of the city joined us on several occasions during the evening, both to toast us, and to ask for our input on how to make the race better. They genuinely wanted the runners to have the best experience possible. And they want all of us to come back next year! I, for one, am in!


I am very grateful to Souhei Kobayashi for inviting me to this wonderful experience, to Chuping for her incredible job at herding us “cats”, to all of the race management and their sponsors for treating us like royalty (even before they knew…). I am also very grateful to my sponsors Altra and Injinji for taking care of my feet once again. And a huge thank you to Mark for staying home and taking care of our new donkeys!


Harold and Charlie!









World 100k Championships 2015


Windmill of Winschoten

I watched Sarah pull away, gliding effortlessly through the still congested field of runners, 2 miles into the 62 miles that lay ahead. Relying on my heart rate to keep me in control, I let her go. It was my 7th time on Team USA for the World 100k championships and I felt like I was finally getting a hold of what I could sustain. I also knew that Camille was even further ahead, setting a blistering pace – but fast is fast, and I knew she was experienced enough to know what she was capable of. I kept my heart rate around 150 and was pleased to see that the pace was fast – 7:10 or so, but it felt stupidly easy.  


Team USA! Front row L to R Nick Accardo, Chikara Omine, Sarah Bard, Me, Justine Morrison, Carolyn Smith, Camille Heron, Winschoten Town Cryer. Back row L to R Joe Binder, Matt Flaherty, Timo Yanacheck, Lin Gentling, Zach Bitter, Jim Walmsley


Start of the 100k. Jonus Budd far right. Photo by Athletsi Klub Sijeme

The IAU World 100k Championship race is 2nd only to Western States 100 in terms of my priorities. While it isn’t the most pleasant of surfaces (flat and hard) and often contrived courses (loops of 5k to 20k), the gathering of nations through runners makes the world seem smaller. For me, it allows preconceived notions tied to nationality slide away, as our own humanity and interest in how others live their lives on our shared planet reveals that we are more alike than different.


Parade of Nations, Winschoten


In this sea of running humanity, I settled in and for the ebb and flow of the day. My Croatian friend, Marija, was running with her teammate, and Holly and Susan of the UK were tucked in behind me. The first loop of the 10k course I was relaxed while learning all the twists and turns, taking in the numerous spectators comprised of the citizens of Winschoten, The Netherlands. Streets were lined with children offering sponges, adults lounging in chairs while yelling out our names, and flags were laced high above the streets. At 6k, Mark was ready at the team table with my first bottle. I drank most of it and every bottle I received during the run, determined to keep my calories and hydration up.


Table set and ready to go!


Neighborhood spectators. Photo by Athletsi Klub Sijeme

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At the end of the first loop I was pleased to see I was around 45 minutes, average pace around 7:12 according to my Garmin. A few sharp turns onto the bike path and I was aided by our other team table, where Lin handed me my bottle and offered shouts of encouragement. Lin (Gentling) has been one of my handlers each time I’ve been on the team, and one of our amazing team managers. 

For the next 2 loops, still running a good clip, I remained tightly connected to teams Croatia and UK, plus a male runner from Europe – perhaps Germany. While running with women is legal, running with men can be perceived as being paced and grounds for disqualification – particularly if the man is from the same country, but also from any country if there is an unspoken alliance. He seemed very intent to run with me though, as he would slow up if I did, or speed back up after receiving aid.  Finally I asked, “Do you speak English?”

“A little!”

“I need you to not run with me. I may get in trouble.” He didn’t understand so I tried again using hand gestures.

Pointing in front of me, then behind me I said “I need you to run in front of me or behind me. I could get in trouble.” This he understood and fell in behind, and eventually fell from the pace for good.

Cloudy skies and fall temperatures kept the conditions nearly perfect for an endurance event. Only the wind caused concern for me, as at times it was very stiff. One stretch of the course passed three horses standing in their field, butts to the wind to shelter themselves, which affirmed that it was not insignificant.

Beginning the 4th loop Marija came up by my side and we ran together awhile, as well as a male runner from Croatia. Finally I told Marija – “He should not be running with you – it may be seen as pacing.” She was unaware of this rule and said “It’s okay – he is not as good as me.” I knew her well enough that she only meant he isn’t as fast as she is, and I let her know that it didn’t matter – someone could file a complaint. She let him know and he fell in behind, and she slowly glided away from me.

My overall pace was slowing by 1 or 2 seconds each 10k. Of course I was thinking at some point it will stabilize. By 40k I was went through around 3:01, and the 50k mark was 3:47. My heart rate was still between 150-155, only shooting up after drinking from my bottles. My stomach was in control, as I had pre-emptively taken Imodium prior to the start.

At some point UK Susan passed me, but UK Holly was still going back and forth with me. I was uncertain where Jo Z was, their top runner. Our team managers intentionally do not let us know where we stand as a team until some point in the 2nd half, as they don’t want us to try to start racing early, risking some blow ups. Even now, I was not sure how we were doing, but I was happy to know that Camille and Sarah were ahead apparently holding their own. I had gone to and fro with two of the Japanese women, and I knew they were a force, as they placed second last year.  Other teams to contend with were Russia and Sweden, but I hadn’t been around any of them that I was aware of.


Camille doing her thing! Photo by Athletsi Klub.


Sarah coming in for aid. Photo by Mark.

Meanwhile, the men’s race was starting to happen around me. I was surprised to see young teammate Jim Winslow in first. Wow! And this was in my 6th lap. I yelled out to him some encouragement. In a matter of moments, steady Swedish runner Jonas Buud came by. Oh, man, Jonas has been 2nd at worlds time after time, but no victory. Was it his fate again? And soon afterward, my Italian friend and 100k hero Giorgio Calcaterra floated by, and gave me words of encouragement.  Within another few minutes, teammate Zach Bitter passed by, maybe in 11th or 12th place, looking very good – this looked good for the US men, indeed! However, as soon as I finished the loop, I caught back up to young Jim stopped at our team table. I touched him as I passed, encouraging him to get it together. He eventually passed me back, but struggled that second half. Meanwhile, Zach had severe breathing issues that led authorities to take him to the hospital fearing heart problems. Thankfully, he was fine. The next US fella to pass me was Joe Binder, super consistent, and was our top finisher.


Jim Walmsley with his early lead. Photo by Athletsi Klub Sijeme.


Zach Bitter, cruising into the aid station. Photo by Mark.


Nick Accardo. Photo by Mark.


Joe Binder. Photo by Athletsi Klub Sijeme.

The course is as flat as they come – but of course there are always a few gradual inclines and descents. I learned each slow spot of the course after a few loops, so I allowed myself to ease up and not get discouraged, and as soon as it became pancake flat or slightly downhill, I recovered. The black pavement and red bike paths were the easiest on my feet and legs, but the sections of brick (not as bad as cobbles) were killing my feet. In the 6th and 7th loops I was accepting that while in training I had regained my speed just in time for this race, I was behind on the endurance. I hadn’t done any back-to-back long runs, and it was beginning to matter. My bowels started complaining, sending me into the port-a-potty. After the second time in, I knew I needed help, so at the 80k mark, I yelled ahead to Lin “Imodium!” and when I reached her, Lion, our team doctor, had a pill in a neat little package for me. I said “I can’t open that.” Even sitting down in a living room with bright lights, small packaging is not my friend. Lion desperately tried to tear it open, got it partially there, and the powder began to spill from the capsule. John, Sarah’s husband and crew immediately tried to open another. Both of them had powder to offer me, and I took it. Meanwhile Lin said “We’re in first place. We need you to….” Here she assessed my status, paused, and said “just keep doing what you’re doing and what we know you can do.” She could tell that I was in distress and didn’t want to put pressure on me. But I was totally inspired to keep on pushing as hard as I could.

By the time I got to our next team table, Mark was ready with more Imodium, all nicely laid out in his hand sans packaging.  One more porta-potty stop, and now I had just 1 and half laps to go. My pace had fallen off drastically, but my heart rate was not completely tanked – in the high 140s. With less than a mile to go in my 9th lap, I could hear two motorcycle escorts, beeping their horns. It took me a second or two before I realized it HAD to be Camille! I looked over my shoulder, and there she was, just gritting it out. I pumped my fists in the air for her, and as she passed we cheered each other on. It was just now over 7 hours, and she would complete the course in 7:08, incredibly fast, only 8 minutes over Ann Trason’s long held national record.


Camille coming in for the win. Photo by Athletsi Klub Sijeme.

As I completed lap 9, Bryon Powell of yelled out at me – “You’re in 3rd for the team, and we’re in first. You matter.” The race is scored by the top three women’s cumulative time per team. We were up by 8 minutes. Fueled by his words, I made myself work hard for as long as could. It was a bit of fartlek running. I passed one of the Japanese women who had collapsed and was being assisted. It was getting ugly. I kept hoping that teammate Justine would catch me and catch a few of the women who had passed me in the last lap. I was pretty sure Carolyn Smith was unable to finish due to injury. But with no Justine sightings it was on me to push hard. I grunted through the tough spots I had relaxed in before. I willed my legs to ignore the fatigue, and my feet to ignore the pain. With 1 k to go, I accelerated as much as possible, and finally flew across the finish line in 8:02.


Finally done. Photo by Bryon Powell.

Not my best, not my worst, but I was absolutely wrecked. Timo – our 3rd team manager was at my side, wrapping me in a blanket. I sat for a while, looking for Mark. Timo got me up and helped me across the road, where Mark was looking for me. From there Mark took me inside and helped me to the locker room. It was unofficial, but it appeared that we took the Gold, by 11 minutes. Sarah had finished 4th in a crazy time of 7:29 in her first 100k! My friend Marija had made her way to 3rd, and 2nd place went to Sweden. And as this race also served as World Masters Athletics championship, I won the 50-59 age category.


Team USA Wins Gold!! Photo of photo by Mark.

I am so fortunate to be a part of this machine. I couldn’t do it without the support of my friends, family, sponsors and Team USA management. I would personally like to thank my one and only Mark Laws for his support and companionship on this self-centered journey, Lin Gentling of the Team USA management for her handling me for the 7th time, Timo, Anne Heaslett, Lion Caldwell and Susan, for their undying support of the Team, and to my sponsors Altra and Injinji for helping me take care of my feet! I also thank my awesome teammates – Carolyn Smith, Camille Heron, Justine Morrison, Sarah Bard – we really gelled!


Mark playing photographer. Photo by me.

USA world champs 2015

A happy bunch of gals!! Photo by Timo Yanacheck.


World Masters Age group win. Photo by Timo Yanacheck.


Yes, Mark and I did have a nice trip in Amsterdam as well!

Western States 2015

Denial. Lying to myself. Ignoring the truth. Not breathing life into reality. Those are the tools I used going into a race when in the back of my mind I knew there were real issues that existed. This was my 9th consecutive Western States 100 (WS, or States) and I am extremely fortunate to be able to toe the line year after year. My list of issues is not unique, not special, and not meant to be excuses, because I don’t like to hear them from others, but they are pieces of the story that I aim to learn from as I go forward in this sport.Training for States had been pretty typical. I ran some early season races, got in some good high mileage weeks, had a stellar 100k in May, and then….

Left hip – something or many things in the glute – I can list all the structures, but the bottom line is – it wasn’t functioning well. This is a training error. It hurt, felt like a tight wad, and after a couple of weeks post-Quicksilver, it was clear that I should not be attempting any speedwork. “Nevermind” I told myself. “I don’t need track speed to have a good States.” Probably true, but I would say that I need to be ABLE to do speed work to have a good States.

Memorial Day weekend runs were…well, good to run those miles with friend Stephanie Howe, Matt Keyes, Zach Violett, and the Twiets, but there was more than one point during the day were my butt was burning in pain and I had to back off. Again, I told myself, doesn’t matter, I won’t be running fast on race day.

And before time to taper, out on my last long run of 25 miles, I tripped, and rather than face plant, I used a lot of muscle to keep from falling, including said left butt, causing it to seize up, reducing me to a walk, then a slow shuffle, then a not slow shuffle back to my car. It hurt, but I just tried to stay positive. The next 3 days were spent moving my daughter to Portland, and I did not run a step. Anyway, enough of the pre-race build up.

Tapering went fine. The butt continued to hurt, I had body work done on it 3 times, and I kept the positive outlook. It really was feeling better, but still felt that a speed session would result in cramping and perhaps injury.

Race morning, I was feeling rested, positive, and ready to run to Auburn. My crew of Mark, Andrea, and Kelsie, were excited, organized, and ready to see me through the day. It was mild at the start, and with Mark’s words of “I believe in you” I was full of hope that it would all come together.


Nearing the Escarpment. Lake Tahoe in the back. Photo by Bob Hearn.

I love this race more than any other, but the first 4 miles are my LEAST favorite. It is such a grind to get to the pass, and as much as I want to follow my mantra “don’t fight the trail” it is hard to put on the blinders and just stay chill. This year, I wanted to run conservatively in the high country, disregarding my time, so that I would be able to take advantage of my strengths of downhill and flat running. I was slower to the escarpment and to Lyon Ridge than I have been in a long while, but I let it go. I met and ran several miles with Caroline Boller – her first 100 – as we had similar strengths. After Lyon Ridge, and before Redstar, I took my first spill. Ouch – my left calf cramped, but at least my butt was fine, and the scrapes were minor. As I pulled into Redstar AS, Craig and Scott were both there, and commented, “did you already fall Queen?” The dirt didn’t lie. I pulled out nice and easy, and out in the open again, I hit another loose rocky area, biffed again, hitting my forehead and chin. My right calf cramped. Chaz, another racer, turned back and asked if I was okay, said it didn’t sound very good when I landed. Embarrassed, I said I was fine, and he finally went on. When I got up, the dirt side of my big right toe was burning. OUCH! Did I break it? I gingerly ran on, never toeing off, but mid-foot planting my way forward down the trail.

All the way to Duncan AS, I managed the pain. It wasn’t that bad if I didn’t toe off, trip, or kick anything. With my conservative running, I arrived at Duncan about 30 minutes later than my fantasy time. In 24 miles, that is significant, but I aimed to make up for it when I could run fast comfortably. Mark was right there, ready to replace my pack, my bandana, and offer me an Ensure, which I downed gratefully. Greg Lanctot came over, mentioned how dirty I was, and helped clean me up a bit. Mark was unsure what place I was in, but somewhere above 15th. This sounded right for how long it was taking me to get places.

From Duncan AS to Robinson Flat, I was pleased to be able to run much of it. I worked steadily at staying cool by dousing with my water, and when I arrived at Duncan Creek I found a place to sit down and then scoop water all over my body. With that cooling, I was able to jog much of the ensuing climb up to Robinson Flat.

Arriving there in over 6 hours, I convinced myself that although it was likely the slowest I had ever taken, I was going to be able to run hard later in the game. Andrea and Kelsie were right there with my new pack, some Ensure, and tons of encouragement. Tim and Diana Fitzpatrick were there telling me how good I looked and that some of the women ahead already looked rough. With those words and the encouraging cheers of onlookers, I ran out, and up much of the climb to Little Bald Mountain.

Kelsie and Andrea getting me refreshed at Robinson Flat. Photo by Tim Fitzpatrick.

Kelsie and Andrea getting me refreshed at Robinson Flat. Photo by Tim Fitzpatrick.

My nutrition plan was solid – I was eating 200-300 calories per hour, mostly in the form of Huma gels, plus some Accelerade in my bladder. I felt tanked up, but the toe was definitely taking the joy out of my running. Mark Tanaka, a Bay Area runner I have run with, caught up to me and we ran pretty closely into Miller’s Defeat. I iced up there, and left before him enroute to Dusty Corners where Mark would be waiting. I passed an already over heated Jady Palko, and my toe kept me putting the brakes on all the way into the aid station. Mark was ready again. I told him “I think maybe I broke my toe” and he said, well, try and ignore it, and once I resupplied, I stopped at the sponge and mister to get good and wet before heading onto Pucker Point trail.


Pucker Point in theory could be one of the easiest sections on the course. It is pretty dang flat, not very technical. There was not a sole in sight the entire way to Last Chance, although Mark Tanaka was not far behind. At Last Chance, one of the lovely volunteers asked me how I felt. “Not great!” and she then wanted to probe deeper. I assured her I was fine, just tired for just having run 40+ miles. I was wetted down again with sponges and misters, and left the aid station to the cheers of the volunteers. As I jogged along, a raven flew overhead, making a bit of a fuss. “Grandpa!” I thought, chuckling to myself. Mark calls ravens “Grandpa” from the Native American myth that our elders come back as ravens to watch over us. I appreciated Mark’s grandpa making an appearance and telling me to just relax and keep on moving forward.

It was amazingly solitary out there. I’m usually around more runners, but not today. I cruised down the Precipitous Trail best I could, and eventually made it to Swinging Bridge. My energy was good, my legs were good, my tentativeness at an all time high to keep upright. As I crossed the bridge, I saw Denise “Little D” Bourassa heading down to the river to cool off. We exchanged encouragement, and I made my way to the spring up the trail a bit. I sat my butt down in it, right next to the rocks as the water poured over me. I filled my water bottle, drank deeply, and then filled it again. Feeling quite refreshed, I began the long grind out to Devil’s Thumb. I felt reasonably well – my butt was working pretty well, my toe wasn’t too bad on the climb. About half way up I saw 2 of my homies – Ian Torrence and Topher Gaylor sitting on the side of the trail having a moment. “You guys!” I said. “Let’s go!” They just grinned and encouraged me on.

Getting close to the top of Devil's Thumb. Photo by Gary Wang.

Getting close to the top of Devil’s Thumb. Photo by Gary Wang.

At the top were many friends – Denis Zylof, Charles Savage, Joe Uhan, and Laura Snow. They were all so supportive, telling me how great I was doing, looking, etc. I unintentionally down played their kindness, only declaring that my toe felt broken, and that I was in 15th place and had a lot of work to do. They took great care of me, Laura walking out with me to be sure I was okay with my toe, and off I went. Ahead was the longest, sweetest downhill of the race – the descent into El Dorado canyon. I fell into the middle of a line of 3. Not sure whom I was following, but Klaus was right behind me, and the three of us cruised in silent company. My fears here were 3-fold – 1) the discomfort of the foot plant, 2) kicking a rock with my right toe and 3) falling. I was braking every step of the way.

Finally at El Dorado AS, Kevin Rumon greeted me enthusiastically, and helped me get ice water, ice for my sports bra, while Scott Vosburg helped me with coke and food. Scott said “I heard you broke your toe!” What? How could he have heard that? Apparently, Pam Smith had told him. Which she must have learned from Mac? What? It was too confusing for me. I started the climb out – the first bit being very steep was suddenly extremely tough. Once it got mellower I was able to jog some of the sections. I began to contemplate my present situation, what I was going to complain about when I got to Michigan Bluff to my crew, and I caught myself. What good would it be to complain? We all come to this on our own free will. It is the race of dreams. It is a privilege to be here. The last thing I should do is whine about how terrible my day was going. I was, after all, alive.

Mark and Krissy getting me ready at Michigan Bluff.

Mark and Krissy getting me ready at Michigan Bluff.

Arriving to Michigan Bluff, Mark was ready to crew, and Krissy Moehl and Kim Gaylord jumped into help. Mark asked how I was doing. I said “I could complain, but that would be stupid. I’m lucky to be here.” I drank Frappuccino, Krissy put ice in my bra, and I got sponged down before I gently jogged out – happy that my legs actually felt pretty good, and I was so touched by the amount of cheering that I received on the way. Alone again on the road to Foresthill, I moved along and was finally joined by a Nevada runner, Doug. We ran and hiked a couple of miles together. It was his first WS, and he was full of respect and joy to be there. He let me go before the descent into Volcano Canyon. I placed each step deliberately all the way to the creek. I waded across, and began the climb out, very excited and anxious to meet Andrea and Kelsie, where Andrea would begin her 18-mile stretch of pacing me. As they met me, they began filling me in on what was going on ahead. We were in the process of passing Carrie Wlad who was hobbling along coming off an injury. At that point I was told I was in 13th, as Anita Ortiz had dropped due to a sprained ankle. I jogged and walked while they told me about how the men and women ahead were doing and looking. I cruised into the Foresthill AS, one of the busiest and liveliest of all. I drank a bit of soda, then cruised out to Mark where he was set with my gear for Cal Street. My dad had made the trek out, asked my how my toe was. I asked Mark if he wanted to run down to Cal Street with us, and he almost did before we realized he was wearing Tevas.

Andrea and I leaving Foresthill to the encouragement of many. Photo by Jesse Ellis.

Andrea and I leaving Foresthill to the encouragement of many. Photo by Jesse Ellis.

Andrea and I cruised down the road to the well-wishers. In a short bit I saw Mark’s Mom and Dad who also had driven out to see all the excitement. A quick hug to Joy and we were back on track. We hit the single track, and now I wanted to attack the trail instead of not fighting it. Turns out to not have been a good idea. Andrea ran in front, pulling me along, reminding me to eat every 20 minutes, and having me run at least 10 steps up each hill before walking. I passed Michelle Yates who was looking very stoic, but obviously hurting. Andrea had me reeling in the next two, and to my pleasant surprise it was my friend Byron “Nature Boy” Pittam and his pacer. We shared a good, few miles together before he passed me back – which was really the beginning of the wheels falling off. The two steep descents, including the Elevator Shaft, were quite difficult with me protecting my toe.

At Cal 2 AS, I filled my bottle with water, and was given the update – Nikki and Joelle were not too far ahead. Nikki less than 10 minutes, Joelle about 3. I told Andrea I wanted to lead here so I could control my downhill speed and protect my toe. In less than 100 yards, I spotted Joelle and her pacer. Over the next couple of miles we slowly gained on her, down the normally free falling grade – I was having to hold back and take each sharp switchback very slowly. When we finally passed her, she was as gracious as ever, and encouraged us on. The 6 minute hill was probably more like 7 minutes, but once at the top I was able to run downhill pretty well to Cal 3. There we were told that Nikki was 5 minutes ahead. We got out quickly. Now every hill was killing my pace. The combination of climbing, and descending with the brakes on had taken its toll. And it was getting dark. I had been in denial about the impending darkness – could it be I really wouldn’t get to the river before dark? It is bad karma to run Cal Street without toting your headlamp, I guess. Through the Sandy Bottom, I kept a decent jog, and commented to Andrea that at least I wasn’t leaning yet! Dusk was upon as when we popped out onto the dirt road a mile and a half to the river crossing. At this point, Andrea pulled out her headlamp, and attempted to light the way for the both of us. With the dust hovering over the ground, it was iffy. I begged myself to not kick a rock. Three more climbs and descents, and we finally rolled into the Rucky- Chuck AS and river crossing.

We were greeted by volunteers, ready to help and was told I was 10th female. What? Hmmmm. I wasn’t going to buy it. I knew I had moved up 2 spots since Foresthill, and unless someone was sitting in a chair at an AS we passed, or someone had dropped elsewhere, I didn’t dare believe it. Kelsie had come to cheer us on, and Andrea and I made our way down to the river crossing. We were adorned with life jackets, and then instructed every step of the way for where to put our feet, given the unevenness of the boulders and different depths. The water felt good, but not as good as it does in the daylight. Chris Thornley, in charge of river crossing was paddling back and forth in a raft, keeping an eye on everyone, and gave me a shout out. Climbing out, my dear friend and next pacer, Caren Wick (nee Spore!) was waiting and ready.

Andrea, Caren and I marched out and up the road to Green Gate. Caren began getting me to run the easier sections, over and over. Sometimes I would start running before she said anything, as I could read her mind. At the top, a deep voice came to me “Is that my girlfriend?” It was Mark, ready with my fresh pack, and info on Nikki – again about 5 minutes ahead. I ate a little broth, then said goodbye to Mark and Andrea, and Caren and I were on our way to ALT. I was able to run a lot of it, and still eat every 20 minutes, but it was getting tough. Caren’s alarm would go off, and I would groan, think about it, stall, and then finally choke down more gel. I held off on one alarm waiting to get some soup at the AS. As we finally rolled in, the folks at the clipboard said “You’re 11th female.” The tired me said “But they said I was 10th at the river!” and the rational me said, “well, that is actually what I thought”. I ate a couple cups of soup, drank some ginger ale, and ambled out. We were told that Nikki and Pam Smith were both about 5 minutes ahead. Sounded as if Pam was having a rough day as well. The tiny climb from the AS was brutal – all 10 yards. I was tanking. But every now and then I found myself jogging along. Caren talked, and I didn’t say much – I told her she could talk all she wants, just don’t expect an answer.

And because things come in threes, I had one more tumble. I was going slow, so it shouldn’t have hurt, but I did happen to land on the water bottle over my chest and my rib didn’t much like that. We could hear voices ahead and voices behind. I hoped that the ones behind were men. They approached quickly, and when I turned I was ecstatic to see my friend Erika Lindland! She is a strong athlete, but lacks belief that she would ever be a top 10 runner here. She looked at me and said “Meghan?!! What is wrong with the universe?!” I was so excited for her. I could tell she would be moving up further before the night was over. In another couple 100 yards, I caught Pam and her pacer Dennis. She looked beat – probably about how I looked. We exchanged words of encouragement. Finally at Browns Bar AS, I called up my number “F8”. They yelled back “F8”. I followed up with “The Queen!” to which the response was much more lively. These folks are from Ashland and I know them well. John Price and Rob Cain were quick to find something for me to eat. Hal Koerner said “Nikki is just a couple minutes ahead of you. You are still in this!” I drank some broth and headed down the hill, doing my best to be smooth on the technical trail with Caren in tow. My toe was not happy at the end of that, so I dug out some Aleve – it had been several hours since I had taken any, and I really needed my toe to stop hurting.

Down on the Quarry road, I found myself able to run the gentle rollers, much to my surprise. I kept that up pretty well, but when I got back to the single track, I really seemed to have lost it all. Caren did her best to keep me eating and keep me moving. We ambled into the HWY 49 crossing, and my crew was there, ready to help in any way possible. I asked how far ahead Nikki was now – a good 10 minutes. I sighed. I had nothing left to try and chase anyone down. I took a new pack, and jogged slowly out. Caren kept me moving up the technical rocks, and when we hit the single track and crested, I started jogging again. It wasn’t fast, but it was faster than walking. Behind me someone was approaching, and the noises coming from him sounded like he was trying not to puke. It was young Ford Smith, with his pacer Joe Uhan. “Ford! What are you doing behind me?” He had struggled with asthma earlier and had a long break, but was now at least moving faster than I. After he passed, I started the cough he had, and realized it was largely due to the dust being kicked up.

Soon we were passed again, this time by a female. Now back in 12th place, there was no real motivation to dig even deeper. I just wanted to finish! We arrived at No Hands Bridge – all lit up in white lights, with a movie screen showing “Unbreakable”. I ate some ramen, chatted with the volunteers for a moment, and then Caren and I jogged across the bridge. On the other side, I kept jogging, and realized that Caren was actually walking as fast as my jog. Keep in mind; she is only 4’10” with relatively short legs. I chuckled and decided I might as well walk. We finally made it up to Robie Point, where Mark, Kelsie and Andrea were waiting. The pulled me along, let me know how the women’s race had panned out. I was able to run some of the last bit, and finally hit the track, waving to John Medinger in the announcer’s booth to his “The Queen is in the House” statement. I crossed the finish line to the taunts of Monkey Boy for my leaning posture (again???) and told Craig “Well, that took a little longer than I anticipated”. 22:36 – my second slowest time. But with it being my 9th finish, I was guaranteed and invitation to run next year.


Post race congrats with the awesome Erika Lindland. Photo by Gary Wang.

My toe was gross – all blistered up, but no joint pain. If I broke it, it was just in the last phalange. All I know is that it hurt a lot.

Many thanks to my crew Mark, Andrea, Caren, and Kelsie, who made my trip from Squaw to Auburn much more enjoyable with their personal attention and care. Thanks to the Western States volunteers and RD Craig for continuing to make this event the world class race that it is. Thanks to my sponsors Injinji and Altra for putting me in quality socks and shoes!

The remains of the day. Photo by me, as it was really stinky.

The remains of the day. Photo by me, as it was really stinky.

Quicksilver 100k 2015

With well rested body and mind, I headed into a race I had never run. The Quicksilver 100k boasts 13,000 feet of climbing and descending, which is similar to what we have at the Waldo 100k, and based on that and how I was feeling, I set a goal of breaking 11 hours. I had done that twice at Waldo, so it seemed attainable, but not a gimme.

Joelle Vaught, Denise “Little D” Bourassa, and Darcy Piceu, were the women on my radar, although I knew there were others who could step up their game. Regardless, I only planned on what it would take to get me to the finish line strong, but spent.

With my new Petzl self adjusting headlamp, I was ready to tackle the early morning darkness. Arm warmers and a Buff were all I needed for extra warmth as the morning was mild. Race Director Rajeev gave us a pre-race briefing with the explicit instructions to not be eaten by a cougar so don’t run alone, and to follow the orange ribbons, then pink, then yellow. Or was that pink, then orange, then yellow? With blind faith that it would all be crystal clear, we took off at 4:30 am, full of enthusiasm and hope for a perfect day.

By No Dawns Early Light....

By No Dawns Early Light….

My plan was to keep my heart rate below 155 on the flat and downhill sections, and below 165 on the climbs, and to consume 200-300 calories per hour. As we climbed up out of the start area, the camaraderie was evident with greetings, introductions, catching up on each others recent races. I stayed relaxed, watched Little D pull ahead, and knowing that Darcy and Joelle were ahead, kept my eyes on my heart rate monitor, and did not worry about them. The only race won in the first mile, is a one mile race. The only race won in the first 50 miles, is a 50 mile race. It was going to be a long day and I meant to enjoy every bit of it.

Starting 30 minutes into the race, I had my first Huma gel, and would continue that throughout the race. Chloe Romero turned me onto these before Lake Sonoma, and I am forever grateful. Look ’em up! They go down like applesauce.

The course was interesting with little out and backs and lollypop loops that included historical mining artifacts, such as a short jaunt into a mine cave, and a loop around a cemetery – where I could see Joelle, then Darcy, then Little D ahead. Against the advice of Rajeev, I did find myself a bit isolated about the time I hit some dark single track. With no one around I clicked my light to the brightest setting – so bright! Until it dimmed again. Hmmm. I hit again. BRIGHT! And then it dimmed. Obviously this was going to take a deeper reading of the manual. So I kept fussing with it until I was near runners again. I reached the first aid station 2 gels in, and Mark was there ready to swap out my vest with another vest loaded with a bottle of water and 6 gels. He said Little D had just left.

I caught up and  ran with buddy Jeff Kozak. The miles clicked away, as he would pull ahead on the climbs, and I would catch up on the descents. I took more gels on schedule, and with the consumption of my first one with caffeine, I felt myself come to life. At about mile 11, I started to race. I was feeling great, and ready to ramp up my game a bit. On another out and back, I saw Chikara, comfortably in the lead, then Jesse Haynes and Paul Terranova, who both took the time for trail hugs. I glided down this paved section to a parking lot AS where I had a piece of banana and coke. As I left the volunteers shouted “bring back a card from the turnaround!” Off I went, and soon met Joelle on her way out. I took a mental note of her distance, and ran with a good clip, saw Darcy and Little D coming out of the little lollypop. The runner in front of me stooped to get a card, and picked one up for me as well. I appreciated his courtesy, and later ran more with this David Sanderson of Sacramento. We deposited our cards back to the AS, and began the long stretch we had climbed, greeting runner after runner on their way out. I saw Jeff in front of me followed by Darcy. I commented to both of them that I wasn’t sure which of them had the nicest calves. Cruising on by I let gravity pull me down the long hill. Ahead was Little D, and at the bottom I caught and passed her. As the road leveled out, I put in a little more effort, and was glad to feel my legs respond – I could feel the benefits of the tempo runs I had done with Craig at Lake Natomas week after week. Every short hill, I ran, channeling my inner-Caren, dancing up as effortlessly as possible.

I found the course to be beautiful. There was not much single track but the service roads weren’t too harsh, and the lack of technical terrain made for good turnover. Giant eucalyptus trees in a mixed forest gave shade intermixed with some very exposed sections. The high fog had lingered all morning long, keeping me cool.  I had the silly Uncle Kracker song “Yeah, it feels good to be me” running through my head, only occasionally exchanged with “Do you know the way to San Jose?” by Karen Carpenter. Who needs an iPod with a brain like that?

At the mile 19 AS I took bananas and coke again and was on my way to the apex of this first giant loop, where I would see Mark. The miles continued to fly by and I reached mile 24 where he was ready with my pack. I drank an Ensure, while he told me Joelle was 11 minutes ahead. Wow! I thought it would be a bigger gap than that, so I was pretty motivated to stay on task. I still felt great. I couldn’t recall the last time I felt this good in a race. I hiked/jogged out the next long climb. David caught me on the climb and we chatted awhile, passing the time working together until the terrain separated us by our different abilities. He was stronger climbing, I, on the descending. Jeff passed me as well, commenting that he wished he was as graceful on the downhills as I was. Now began the longest, steepest ascent – fondly referred to as “Dog Meat”. Looking up, I could see bits of the road stretching high above, but it didn’t phase me. I just worked my way up as efficiently as possible. I wasn’t entirely sure this was the steepest section, but I couldn’t imagine there being anything more severe. Gel after gel, mile after mile, climb after climb. I hit the halfway point right at 5 hours and was a bit surprised at that. I hoped my inevitable slowdown wouldn’t mean I was an hour slower in the second half, but I could see how that might happen.

As it finally leveled out, I caught The Other Brian Purcell. As we slowly picked up the pace, we caught Jeff again. I teased him with  “I caught back up so you could watch me run gracefully downhill some more!”  He just giggled and let us go. Brian and I clicked along quickly all the way back to Hicks AS at mile 39, where Mark was waiting again. “Joelle is 8 minutes ahead.” Wow – that surprised me. I thought with that long climb her lead would be unsurmountable. Mark Tanaka had also arrived around the same time, and hurried in and out of the porta-potty, yelling “Hand sanitizer! Hand sanitizer!” I don’t know.That is never really on my mind when running an ultra.

Graceful Downhill Running According to Jeff Kozak

Graceful Downhill Running According to Jeff Kozak

I left the AS on fire. Mark Tanaka was with me for awhile, then fell off the pace. He and Brian both yelled out to me “good luck Meghan!” as I wheeled on down the road. A pleasant surprise for me was to see John “TJ” Medinger on the trail. He said “she’s about 10 minutes ahead.” Well, that was consistent enough for me to keep hopeful. I hit an intersection with orange flags to the right, greenish-yellow flags to the left. No other markers and no one around to ask. I went with my gut that we were still on orange, and as I flew down the wooded descent I was mildly assured by the fact that people were hiking up and occasionally cheering me on. At last I was dumped out at the parking lot of the start area, ran to the AS where Mark was ready with my pack, and said I was now 7 minutes back. I downed another Ensure, and made my way out focused on getting the next 3 miles done where I would see Mark again.

With the appearance of the sun, the grueling nature of these three miles, and 2 Ensure consumed in fairly short order, I was feeling a bit urpie. I decided I would forego Ensure next aid. Upon arriving, I pulled my Buff off and dunked it in a bucket of ice, sponged off, and as I swapped vests, Mark informed me I was now 8 minutes behind Joelle. Ah well, if it played out with me 10 minutes behind her at the finish, I would count that as a small victory. Despite my slightly off stomach, I was still feeling great.

Find some ice water for my Buff. Photo by Bree Lambert

Finding some ice water for my Buff. Photo by Bree Lambert

Out now on the second loop of the course, I was still feeing strong, energized by keeping the nutrition up. Onto some nice shaded single track, I once again ran into TJ who informed me I was now 3-4 minutes back. Wow. I didn’t expect that! I responded that I was having a great day.  Eventually we hit one of the unique sections of the course, emphasizing the history of the area – a wall of mine tailings that was a bit slow and lose going up, but provided an entertaining break from the relative normalcy of an utlra.

Bottom of the climb

Bottom of the climb


And the middle…


Not exactly Everest…photos by Shiran Kochavi

I could hear Mark Tanaka catching back up to me, and when we reached the next aid at mile 46, we both refueled and left together. He described more of the upcoming route, and I stayed with him for a few miles. Finally, on a long single track descent, he pulled away, chatting all the while. I’m not sure when he realized I was no longer in hearing range. As the trail met a road, I saw to my left Joelle and her pacer Marc Laveson sitting at an aid station. “Yo Sistah! What’s up?” I asked. “Oh, I thought I would have a little picnic!” was Joelle’s cheerful response. I love that girl. She has never been anything less than positive and cheerful no matter the circumstances, embodying the truth that this is what we do for fun. She cheered me on, and I scooted onward to the mile 52 AS.

As Mark saw me approach, I tripped but avoided a face plant. He chucked “don’t fall down!” He said I was doing great, and I replied that there was still plenty of time to screw up. I had debated coming in here as to what I would do for the last 10 miles – treat it like the Ice Cream Sandwich Run and leave all supplies behind after consuming a lot of coke and sugar? I decided against that. All I needed to do was continue what I was doing, don’t go too hard and bonk or cramp, and don’t get too lazy and get re-passed. I slowly but steadily climbed out of the aid station, pleasantly surprised at my ability to keep running uphill. One final out and back section of very rocky terrain and I had less than 5 miles to the finish. Near the top, Jeff came down and as it occurred to him that I was in the lead, he gave some very enthusiastic cheers. At the top, I saw Joelle and Marc on their way down. She too, cheered wildly, then asked “do we have to go down this?” I assured her we did, indeed. Ever more cognizant of her presence, I knew I needed to stay focused. She is one speedy gal, and if she rallied I had no doubt she could hunt me down.

I tried to force one more gel down on the way to the final aid station. When my swallower refused to work, I squeezed the remaining ooze onto the ground and shoved the sticky mess into a pocket. I was easily going to make it to the finish without more calories. At the final AS with 3 miles to go, I downed some coke and headed off on the “it’s all downhill from here!” section. I was flying, until suddenly the course went up. What? Who put this uphill in the downhill? Was Joelle going to catch me here? I slogged up each of the short uphills, and hammered the downs. Finally, I could hear the finish line festivities, and seeing the banner, surged to cross. I was stunned to see my time of 10:18.

Finish line photo - Greg Langtot

Finish line photo – Greg Langtot

I have not had a race of such consistent energy and push for a few years, and it felt awesome. Many, many thanks to Stephanie Howe for reminding me that we need to eat 200-300 calories per hour. Thanks to my sponsors, Altra Running and Injinji Socks. The Altra Torin’s were the perfect shoe for this course with all of the service road surfaces and no mud whatsoever. Thanks to Quicksilver volunteers – super attentive and great aid stations! And finally, super duper thanks to my boyfriend Mark Laws, for his awesome crewing and supporting!

Podium finish! Darcy (3rd) Joelle (2nd) Me, Chikara (1st), Paul Teranova (2nd), Jesse Haynes (3rd)

Podium finish! Darcy (3rd) Joelle (2nd) Me, Chikara (1st), Paul Teranova (2nd), Jesse Haynes (3rd)


Giving up our day jobs to pan for gold!

Giving up our day jobs to pan for gold!

Lake Sonoma 50

Debacles in training are gifts. But only in training, and fortunately, I had one 4 weeks prior to Lake Sonoma. I had partaken in an organized training weekend, compliments of RD Tropical John Medinger, and on day 2 of running 25 miles, I fell apart. Not in a dramatic “Oh My God, I suck, and I’m gonna cry until someone comes to get me” but more of a gradual diminishing energy that slowed my pace, step by step, so that I the last 12 miles were spent sucking every gu wrapper dry and reminding myself “I love running!” Realizing that of late, that is how I feel at the end of races and runs, I asked Stephanie Howe for some nutritional guidance. Not to dis any one nutritional program, but I went to Steph because I KNOW she fuels well in races, and I also know that she is reading all of the current literature on nutrition and would give me unbiased advice. And that she did. Bottom line – I was failing miserably in calorie intake on long runs, somehow talking myself out of keeping up, out of laziness to make a sandwich or being totally disgusted with sports gels and like products.

The weeks following said debacle and subsequent advice, I practiced eating 200-300 calories per hour on my long runs. It worked. Duh. I felt like an old dog who forgot the tricks. But with renewed commitment, I was ready to tackle race day with a plan and a pack full of gels.

Two years ago, I ran here, and underestimated the impact of all those rolling hills. I went out hard, and raced fairly decently until the final 12. They were miserable. I had gone from running all the rollers to barely walking at the end, and coming in at 8:15 – happy to finish in the top 5, but whipped before the end. “Death by a 1000 paper cuts”  – Steve Itano.

This year – I had my nutrition back under control, and also had been training with Caren Spore, a 4’10” monster hill runner, who continually shames me into running hills instead of hiking, much to the chagrin of my training partners Mark, Craig and Matt, whom I now also shame into running, or else they swear at Caren as I slowly pull away. With those aspects of my training, plus some big mileage weeks, i was looking to break 8 hours this year.

Tropical John, aka TJ,  does an amazing job of creating a race of the top athletes that matches if not exceeds the competitive field of Western States 100. It is a Who’s Who on ultra running, and the excitement amongst the runners, and the attention to detail of the volunteers is inspiring. Healdsburg itself is reason enough to make the trip over, but add in a high end pasta/pizza feed the night before, tamales, pulled pork, and Bear Republic beer at the finish line, plus wine tasting on Sunday – it really seems like a weekend party with a little 50 mile run thrown in.

Mark and I arrived at the race start a good hour ahead of time, giving me plenty of time to warmup and catchup with what friends I could make out in the darkness. And at 6:30, TJ had us assembled on the start line and shooed us on our way. Two and half miles of pavement feels really long when you’re eyes are peering ahead as the runners string out further and further. I had my heart rate monitor to guide my effort, the goal to stay around 150-155 on the flat (of which there was about zero) and below 165 on the climbs. That kept me in a pack of girls before the single track of Denise “Little D” Bourassa, Katie DeSplinter, Pam Smith, Newbie Ashley Erba (all of 19 years old). When we hit single track, I fell behind Pam and Ashley, and watched them pull away. I kept my blinders on, looking at the trail in front of me, and the heart rate. It was going to be a long day.

Downhill, I was letting gravity pull me down, and the many rollers in the first few miles were already making an impact on my quads. Yuck! Was I going to have the same race as 2 years ago? I was not feeling awesome. But, I took a Huma gel at 30 minutes, then 60 minutes, and sipped from my bottle of Tailwind, and around 10 miles realized I was actually starting to feel pretty good! I had been passed by a few men and women, but didn’t give chase.  I arrived at the first significant creek crossing, and saw my friend Chris Jones who cheered me on, and I thanked him by giving him my trash.

Creek Crossing near Warm Springs Aid Station, Mile 12. Photo by Chris Jones.

Creek Crossing near Warm Springs Aid Station, Mile 12. Photo by Chris Jones.

At the aid station, I had my bottle topped off with water, and began the slow climb out, and thanks to my running with Caren, found myself gently running the long climb. Behind me was a silent gal, who had been following me for some miles. I finally asked if she wanted to go around, and she said no, she liked where she was and felt safe having me set the pace. Turns out it was Lydia Gaylord whom I had met last summer, and she was determined to have this 2nd attempt at Lake Sonoma go better than her first. We ran mile after mile together, eventually picking up another Bay Area runner, Burr, and the three of us worked together to Madrone Point at mile 18.

Me, Lydia, and Burr, coming up to Madrone Point. Photo by John Catts.

Me, Lydia, and Burr, coming up to Madrone Point. Photo by John Catts.

Meredith Terranova was there waiting for Paul’s return, and saw me struggling opening a pack of Tailwind to add to my water, jumped up and made it all happen, hugged and kissed me and shooed my out of there. Lydia and Burr were ready to hike out the long climb, and we kept the effort under control chatting up to the top, where another group of crew and friends shouted encouragement.

Lydia and I cresting at Madrone. Photo by Bryan Powell

Lydia and I cresting at Madrone. Photo by Bryan Powell

The three of us scooted downhill, Lydia falling off a bit. Burr and I soon caught and passed a very controlled Kaci Lickteig, content on keeping in control and having a decent finish. Before we hit the last long climbing section to the turn around, the lead men were coming at us – Alex Varner followed closely by Ryan Bak, then Rob Krar, youngster Jared Hazon, Jorge Maravilla, Max King – such a cast of fast boys! It was very inspiring.

Burr and I hiked and ran, keeping the effort under control, me keeping my HR under 165. As we crested, we finally were greeted by smooth moving Stephanie Howe. We greeted each other with enthusiasm and encouragement. We have a special history, Steph and I. We trained together while she was in Corvallis, working on her PhD, and she was a sponge for knowledge of ultra running, very humble, hardworking, and respectful. Watching her progress to the successful races she’s having is very exciting.

On and on, up and up. I was so pleased at feeling good and being in control, eating every 30 minutes, keeping that heart rate where it belonged. On the final loop going into the turn around, I could see Little D. She disappeared around the bends, and when I arrived at the aid station, I no longer saw her. “The Queen is in the house!” bellowed TJ. I saw Chris Jones again, and asked him to transfer my gels from my pack to the front pockets, while an aid station volunteered quickly filled my water bottle. I was quickly out, apparently ahead of Liitle D, as I never saw her ahead of me again.

Halfway point - Photo by Chris Jones

Halfway point – Photo by Chris Jones

I plugged away on the return trip. Happily, my legs had strength, my spirit had will, and I focused on form, control, and the 30 minutes of calorie intake. I was quite liking the Huma gels, but the Powergel was getting TOO sweet. Wished all I had were Huma. It was fun seeing so many friends in this section and finally seeing Mark moving steadily to the turnaround, his usual, cheerful countenance. His words of encouragement lifted me. A bit later, I caught up to Jady Palko, who’s signature race style is go HARD at the start, hold on for dear life, and try not to suck at the end. He saw me coming and kept me at bay for another mile or so, climbing up to the campground above Madrone. The decent was wicked, and after about half a mile he slowed, saying “175 pounds on this downhill is just too much” and let me go by. I told him “I just want to break 8 hours!”  At the aid station, John Catts and Karl Hoagland crewed me well, and sent me on my way.

I was still feeling pretty damn good! I was now in 6th or 7th place, and just happy to feel strong. I was with a couple of guys, and eventually heard a woman’s voice, and saw Kaci moving back up. She finally came up behind and I complimented her on her controlled effort and let her go by. She was moving effortlessly and with grace. I stayed between two men, one I almost kept catching, and one that kept almost catching me, mile after mile. At mile 38 – Warm Springs aid station, I drank some ginger ale, ate a banana, and cruised out, with just one of the men behind me. We stayed connected, mile after mile, and I learned he was Jack, from Berkeley, and so we had some common friends. We chatted some, but mostly worked in gritty silence. I did eventually catch a toe, do a super woman, scrape my hand up good, and dislocate a rib (but not badly, as I wasn’t aware of it until next day). Jack asked if I was okay, and I bounced up, shook it off, and forged on. I could see a female runner ahead, who heard me and kept trying to hold her place, but eventually we caught and passed her. I resisted checking my Garmin for mileage, as it seemed to be taking a long time to get to the final aid station, so I just kept telling myself “We’ll get there when we get there”. And I was right! As I entered the trail, Kaci and Lindsey Tollefson were just leaving, looking bright and cheery, heading out on the last 4 mile stretched. I cruised in quickly, grabbed water, and said “I just want to break 8 hours!” It was 4. 7 miles and I had 45 minutes to do it. Surely, I could manage some sub-10 minute miles, right?

Back on the trail, Jack caught me again, as I was going snail’s pace on the steep climb. “I’m going to go on past you now Meghan, and see what I can do” and off he scooted up the climb. I was still feeling strong, just not as powerful. At the beginning of this race I felt like my VW Jetta – all sporty, agile, smooth, good gas mileage – but at this point I was feeling more like my 1999 Toyota Tacoma 4×4 – my engine was strong, but my gas mileage had plummeted, my struts were shot, and I was in general, pretty beat up.

Ahead of me another runner was struggling, and he gave me incentive to keep moving strong. He encouraged me as I passed and soon I heard a voice from above shouting “Way to go Meghan! You have moved up so far this half! The next gal is only 1 minute ahead!” It was Bryan Pro, and as I wound my way up and past him, he jumped on the trail behind me, giving me the lowdown on the other women ahead. Every time the trail flattened I was still able to open my stride and push. When Bryan said I only had 2 miles to go, my spirit sank a bit, as I was getting close to 8 hours. So I went for a course PR. I was grunting and groaning for the final miles, a sign that I was truly having a good race, and finally reached the only flat spot of the course, the final 50 feet to the finish line, in 8:09.


Flattest section on the course! Photo by Chris Jones.

Flattest section on the course! Photo by Chris Jones.

TJ greeted me again with the Queen announcement, gave me a big bear hug plus a magnum of fine wine, saying “I don’t know how to tell you this Meghan, but a man in your age-group came in about a minute ago. I’m not sure what to call that – you didn’t get chicked. I know, you got dicked!” Never a dull moment with TJ.

TJ making me laugh. Photo by Chris Jones

TJ making me laugh. Photo by Chris Jones.

Mark soon arrived back at the finish line, courtesy of a wild Subaru ride from the mile 38 aid station. Making it that far on minimal training as he fought his way back from illness and various set backs was a good thing. Everyone seemed to enjoy the post race festivities of good food and good beer and good friends.

Many many thanks to TJ and Lisa, all the wonderful volunteers, to all of the fabulous athletes on the course, and the cheering spectators! A big thanks to Altra Running – love the Superiors! – and to Injinji – again, no blisters! And of course to our lovely hostess for the weekend, Mary Prchal.

Sean O’Brien 100k

I have put this off long enough. Fifty miles of Sean O’Brien last year did me and my knees in pretty well, and adding 12 miles and one more huge climb this year didn’t have me feeling any better.

Post Race Goodness. Photo by Greg Lanctot.

Last Year’s Finishing Knees. Photo by Greg Lanctot.

It was, however, fun to come on down to SoCal and join the locals and RD Keira Henninger for a beautiful day in Santa Monica mountains. Since this was a Montrail Ultra Cup race, the stakes were high for a few of the top runners still hoping to race their way into The Big Dance. I have only been in two races with Magdalena Boulet, and that was the Olympic Marathon Trials in 2008, where she made the team, and again in 2012, and I barely broke 3 hours both times. I didn’t expect to be in the same time zone as her most of the day, but did hope to be within an hour of her finishing time. Also vying for a Western States spot was one-time WS winner Anita Ortiz. Tera Dube, Darla Askew, and Luanne Park would also be women for me to compete with throughout the day.

We started at 5:00 in the dark. At least at the beginning, my legs felt pretty fresh, and I was determined to meter out the energy throughout the day, and to stay upright and finish with all of my blood on the inside of me where it belongs.

The course is advertised as having over 16k feet of gain in 62 miles. That is more than the old and too -long Waldo course, where my best time was around 12 hours. With that knowledge I was hoping to finish in between 12 and 13 hours. Ouch, that sounded like a long time. For the first hour and half or so, we ran with headlamps. I began bouncing around with Luanne and bit, and she pulled away on the first climb, still having a conversation with me even though she had dropped me. As it got lighter I found myself with Tera. We stuck together back and forth for many the mile of sandy single track, open service road, wildflower laden trail and great views. Darla Askew joined us after the 25 mile mark, but she was always out running/hiking me to the tops of the long climbs, and I would eventually reel her back in.

We lucked out with the weather. It was cloudy, sometimes misty, and did rain on some of the shorter races, but somehow I avoided any real rain. I never really felt bad those first 50 miles or so, but at the aid station at the start of the final dog leg,  my body was starting to feel broken and jolted and out of gas. I was on my own – Tera had fallen off and dropped with a locked up knee, and Darla had pulled ahead out of site. At least now I would be able to see the lead women and then calculate how far back I was.

I wanted to run downhill fast at least, but even that was not feeling good. I saw a few of the men coming towards me, and finally, Magda coming up the long grind. She was “only” 8 miles ahead. That’s a pretty big chunk.  A couple miles later, here came Anita, so focused on the ground in front of her that I scared her by yelling out encouragement.  And then came Silke Koester, another big gap and there was Luanne! “Darla’s right ahead” she said. I arrived at the turn around aid station just as Darla left. I lolly-gagged and then started back up the grind out of there. After about a mile, Darla, 20 yards ahead, stopped and yelled back “Do you want to just run this together? I’m done!” I gladly accepted, and we suffered well together, each offering to let the other one go at any time, but we had nothing vested in the outcome at this point. My enthusiasm for competing on this day had left me miles ago.

Darla and I made sure our legs and chips were all synced up, and crossed the finish line together in 11:40, which was better than I expected, but almost 2 hours behind Magda, and 1 hour behind Anita. Those two women both took their spots for Western States, where I will have another chance of finishing on the same day at least.

And the most remarkable and awesome result to me is that not only did I remain upright for the entire race, but I was in the top 5 women, and at the age of 53, I was 3rd in my age group!! Anita is 50, Luanne is 54. Fifty is the new insert what ever age you want here. Pretty proud to be amongst such fine female athletes.

In retrospect, I do think I can improve on this type of course. I’m “okay” at climbing, and don’t ever really expect to be a killer climber, but will continue to work on it by chasing Caren Spore uphill in training. Nutritionally, not sure I’m consuming enough calories in training and running, and with the help and advice of Stephanie Howe, I’m having more success in sustained energy on my training runs at least. I’ve also just switched to Altra shoes, and have been feeling much more fluid and less broken down at the end of long runs. If nothing else, these things give me a little spark to my training and outlook on my year ahead.

Many thanks to Keira for putting on a great set of races – the aid stations were complete in both food selection and enthusiastic volunteers. Thanks to Injinji socks for keeping me blister free. And thanks to Mark for coming along, suffering through the crazy extra long marathon, and chauffeuring me home.

World 100k Championships, 2014, Doha, Qatar


Team USA L to R – Nick Accardo, Zack Bitter, Larisa Dannis, Matt Flarhety, Emily Harrison, Michael Wardian, Pam Smith, Amy Sproston, Me, Zach Miller, Max King. Team Management (kneeling) Lin Gentling, Lion Caldwell, Tim Yanacheck.

Qatar has not been on my radar as a must see place, so when the announcement was made that the IAU World 100k Championships were to be held there, I was a little disappointed and a little bit intrigued. It was also disconcerting given women’s rights are limited, but I thought that if by being there in a non-traditional role would enlighten and/or inspire the locals, then maybe I would be making a positive influence, and that was worth something.

I arrived 3 days before the race, with Max King, Pam and Mac Smith, Larissa Dannis, Nick Accardo, and Matt Flaherty. We were met at the airport by members of the local organizing committee and along with the Mexican team were escorted through Doha to our hotel, the Torch, in the Aspire Village – a small compound of athletic facilities – including an indoor track, soccer field, a research hospital, and gyms for men and women. Our welcoming committee at the hotel was our team management of Lin Gentling, Tim Yanacheck, Ann Heaslett, Sue and Lion Caldwell. It was good to be back in their capable hands.


The Torch Hotel

The Torch was very posh – complete with an IPad to control the lights and temperature and TV and more. But, as Doha is sometimes referred to as a mini Dubai, it was no surprise. Most of the employees, if not all, were not natives, but immigrants from India, Philippines, and other nearby countries, as the natives are given a hefty stipend from the government generated by the wealth from oil sales. This all produced a weird vibe for me, of a place without history or purpose relevant to holding World Championship events. There were rules to be followed – as in keeping ones shoulders and knees covered in public, and during the race there would be no baring of midriffs by men or women.

The next day, I was able to visit a local boys English language school with runners from Australia, Canada, and Japan. I was thoroughly entertained by the 7-10 year old boys unable to contain themselves when given the opportunity to answer our questions with the hope of receiving gifts – it was total chaos. Birkha clad teachers were yelling and being mostly ignored, but eventually peace was regained enough for group photos.


School Boys Gone Wild

Thursday, Max King, Susan Caldwell (team management) and I went to the Souq – a traditional market place in Doha. It was colorful and resplendent, and I was able to find gifts of more traditional or at least regional style.


Downtown Doha


Narrow street in the Souq


More of the architecture in the Souq


One of the fancier malls full of jewelry stores. We were not beckoned to come in.


One of many colorful shops in the Souq

Thursday evening a Parade of Nations was held, each team assembled and escorted by a local child into an auditorium where the audience was basically the participants, but a good chance for all of the teams to be together before the event.


One of our escorts resting up for his job


Children getting very excited for their job!


World class indoor track in the Aspire Zone


The Bigwigs getting the parade organized


Emily, Pam and half my face lining up for the parade


Matt, Zack, Michael, Nick, and Timo lining up for the parade


The Parade becomes the Audience

The race was Friday evening, starting at 6:00 pm, which allowed everyone a good sleep in, followed by a day of lounging about and trying to figure out what to eat and when, to avoid both digestive issues, and enough calories to get through 62 miles. I went with humus and potato chips, plus some dolmas. Roommate Emily Harrison and I hit the hotel lobby for coffee at 4:00, after sleeping some of the afternoon away. By 5:00 it was already dark, and by 5:30 we were all assembled at the racecourse, conveniently located a few steps outside our hotel.


Go Time! Scott Race Rockers and Injinji light weight socks


Tiny Clothes


An ambitious amount of fluid



It was warm, 70, but not too humid. I warmed up a bit, and noticed that in the middle of our 5k loop were some camels, ready for riders. I was excited at the prospect of being able to ride a camel after the race!

A little before start time, we were herded to the start line, then asked to walk across the chip mat, then turn around and go back. Not sure how we would have determined whether our individual chips were working. Team USA women – Pam Smith, Larisa Dannis, Amy Sproston, Emily Harrison, and I, discussed briefly our plans. Pam, Emily and I seemed content to run at 7:20-7:30 pace. Larissa was going on heart rate alone. Amy was thinking 7:20-7:30, but commented that she and I usually say that and go out quicker. My plan was to not go out quicker this time. This is such a hard race, and nothing feels so defeating as getting through 50k fast, and realizing you have to go for another 4 hours, and it is going to be ugly.

Finally, we were off! Men and women together, it was hard to see where everyone was for a bit. Pam, Emily, Larissa and I grouped up, but I couldn’t see Amy anywhere. After about 400 meters, I checked my Garmin for my pace, to be sure I wasn’t going to fast, and was taken aback that the pace was blank. Hmmmm. Well, my heart rate was around 150, which was good – I wanted to stay between 150-155 – but knowing my pace would have been nice. I hit buttons, scrolled around, and fussed, and then accepted that I just wouldn’t know. Stay in the heart rate zone, and let the pace be. It was actually liberating. I had to let go and actually do what I intended without being trapped by my pace.


Ready Set Go!

The course was convoluted and contrived to stay within the confines of Aspire Village and to equal exactly 5k, to be run 20 times. Yep. 20. There were several 90 degree turns, some 180 degree turns, hard tile, hard pavers, and one stretch of relatively soft pavement. It was also relatively flat. At the one out and back section a good mile in, we got a chance to see everyone. The men were flying and soon I could see the lead women peppered in. Amy was right up near the front, looking very good, with Ellie and Italian Monica Carlin comfortably behind. With 19 plus laps to go, I was merely observing and keeping my heart rate where I wanted it. Larissa and I were together, with Pam and Emily close behind, but by the end of the first lap I was a little ahead of them. I was quite anxious to see what my time was – and pleasantly surprised at the 22+ minutes. It felt comfortable and totally dictated by my effort.


Max in the lead pack on the one nice section of pavement


Max and Giorgio still in lead pack, running on the pavers section

Toward the end of each lap was one of the dog legs, and at the near end we could be seen and see our team table across the way. Two of our team handlers were sitting between the team table and the runners and able to ask what we needed and relay back so they would be ready when we made it back.

Slide in a slide world 100k

At the awards ceremony, this slide popped up. The men in front are playing drums to the show. Kind of an ironic picture.

Lap after lap, the field of men and women spread out more and more. Amy moved up into the lead by the 2nd lap, looking strong. The men got far enough ahead that in the out and back section I lost track of who was leading. At the end of my second loop, I could see Larissa across the dogleg limping heavily. Wow. There was no way she would be able to run 100k like that. She did end up dropping then and was later diagnosed with a stress fracture.

My splits for the first several loops were consistent. I was getting a bottle of GU Brew each lap from my handler, Lin Gentling, with a Gu taped to it. Each time, I consumed the GU, drank about half of the GU Brew, and tossed it. I grabbed bottled water from every aid station (there were 2 others besides our team table) and doused myself to keep cool.

My bowels weren’t happy, which became something I realized I shouldn’t ignore. My MO is normally to ignore all issues (including in daily life) and hope they go away. – funny how that doesn’t work – but like all human beings, it is never too late to learn and change. So as I approached my team table for the 6th time I yelled out that I need Imodium, and like a charm, they had it ready for me. I swallowed it and hoped for the best.

Meanwhile, Amy’s lead grew – I was so impressed – she was booking! Ellie was starting to move up on her a bit, but the others were dropping back. I was running for a fair amount of time with another Brit, Jo Zakrzewsik, keeping it comfortable. At the out and back, I could see Pam every time, followed by a struggling Emily. I was moving up the field, little by little. The Imodium helped for a while, but finally I had to step into a porta-potty. I was quick, but had to work back up to my place.

As the 50k mark approached, I noticed that Amy’s lead was shrinking, and soon Ellie, then a Japanese runner, a few others, and then I passed her. I asked what was going on – her legs weren’t feeling good, and she was also having stomach issues. I encouraged her to try and fix her problems, and then pulled away. At 50k my time was 3:47 – a little slower for the first half in the past, but very sustainable. I was pleased that I didn’t want to shoot myself yet, felt in control, and could now implement plan B.

For several weeks before the race, I had been running pavement loops on the American River bike path with my boyfriend Mark, and buddy Craig. When I first started training for this, I had a long way to go before I would be ready, but weekend after weekend, we went. My best training days included 50k of 10k loops on the path, with Mark crewing and encouraging me every time. So now, I planted that memory into my race with 50k to go. I imagined being on the path in California, every stretch of the loop, Mark smiling and handing me gel and water, telling me I was doing great. Lap after lap.

The first Imodium was wearing off , so I asked for another, and took two more pit stops. After 70k I had moved up to 5th place, but was feeling the effects of the effort and the hard surfaces. I had been lapped my Max and Zack Bitter twice now, and it was fun encouraging them along. I passed my favorite Italian runner, Georgio Calcettara, who has won this race at least twice, grabbed his hand and said “my friend!” Upon recognition he smiled back, and kept walking. I was certain he would drop, but he did gut it out for a finish.

Before long, I was passed by Jo Meek, another Brit, and realized they were possibly going to sweep the race. It was pure joy watching Ellie eat up the course lap after lap, always encouraging me and I her. Next to pass me was Irena from Russia, the expressionless runner who placed third in our last encounter in Italy. My stomach was in turmoil again, and with 2 laps to go, I asked for yet another Imodium. I didn’t care if I couldn’t poop for week after the race, if I could just stop for now.

With 10k to go, I had slipped back into 7th place. I was definitely slowing down, but knew I could get through two more laps. There was more and more carnage, male and female alike, but I focused on keeping the best form I could. With one lap to go, I tried to push, and even so, was passed by a Croatian woman, and try as I might to stay with her, she slowly pulled away. I hoped there were no other women close behind. I passed my team table one last time to their wonderful encouragement and hauled my ass through the last sharp turns to the finish, in 7:52, and 8th place. It was my lowest placement at Worlds thus far, but I was more proud of this finish for racing within my fitness, and being able to run strong for most of the second half. This is such a challenging event for me still, and I will continue to pursue a faster time by running smarter. Being passed late in the race illustrates that I can go a little slower early on and perhaps maintain a pace all the way to the end.

Pam followed up with a solid 10th, and Amy not far behind to round out a bronze medal team finish. Emily hung in until she knew we had 3 finishers to score, then stepped off the course to the relief of her aching back. Russian men and women teams were disqualified for uniform violations, boosting our position. Our men’s team was amazing, with Max King’s new American record and overall win, bringing home the gold.


Max given a hero’s reception!


Little Miss Sunshine, lighting up the night!


I must be finishing – looks like I’m putting the brakes on.


Yay for being done!


Mens Team USA Wins the Gold!


United Kingdom takes the gold, Japan the silver, and the US gets the bronze.

Many thanks to my training partners and friends, Mark and Craig, to our team management Lin, Timo, Anne, Lion, and Susan, and to the local organizing committee for putting on a seamless event, and my sponsors Scott Sports and Injinji socks. Sadly, I didn’t get to ride a camel, as they were escorted off the course midway through the race.

UTMB 2014


Race Day – So full of hope. Photo by Laurie.

Laurie pursed her lips, sighed, and then with a look of resolve said “Lets sit you down and get you into some dry clothes”. I had just come into Les Contamines, about mile 20, soaked and cold from the rain and sweat, my eyes welled up with tears and had told her “I don’t think I can do this!” I knew her mind was working on helping me turn my race around, and if weren’t for her support and encouragement I think I would have stopped right then and there. But sitting in some shelter, putting on dry clothes, and just resting for a few minutes was enough to get me going again. Nearly out of the aid station, I realized I needed my headlamp as I was now using my trekking poles as a literal and figurative crutch; so using a handheld light was not reasonable. I went back to Laurie, and as she pulled it out of my pack she claimed that it had already been on. Great. The battery indicator was red, so we fumbled around with new batteries, putting them in backwards first, and finally I was back on my way. Craig was waiting just outside the aid station and hugged me tight as I said, “I have never wanted to quit anything so badly”. I knew that he knew but he just said “you have your poles now” and with that I set out to see if I could turn this race around.

I continued to pace myself by staying in a reasonable comfort level. In this particular race, it is really important for someone who trains in the Sierra but not in the European Alps. My legs had felt like junk pretty much since Western States as I recovered from my ankle injury, but I was banking on experience and sheer will power to get me through the 105 miles of Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. My typical response over the past 3 weeks to that question of “are you ready?” was that I was severely undertrained, but maybe that was a good thing.

Somewhat recovered and hopeful, I began the dark ascent up the old Roman Road to Col du Bohnomme – the saddle below the peak Croix du Bohnomme at 2500 meters. As the trail went higher, the trees disappeared, and the headlamps lit the switchbacks up to the stars. I continued to move slower and slower, with unresponsive legs. The trekking poles were most certainly aiding me, but nothing seemed to lift my spirits or give me any access to my mojo. Every step was a grind, lots of steps up rocky terrain; I stepped to the side to let more fit hikers/runners go by. The only person slower was the guy puking by the side of the trail. Eventually our train encountered a volunteer coming down, told us we had 15 minutes to the top. I had convinced myself that I couldn’t finish the race at this point, and at the top I eased into the downhill cadence, and soon realized that I was recovering from the climb.

I began the conversations with myself – all of the reasons to keep going – I would regret stopping, I have 46 hours to finish, nothing is injured, I can get points for my UTWT standings – but the most powerful single reason I came up with for continuing on was – I love to cross the finish line. Regardless of the time, place, and circumstance – that was the most important. With that realization I had new resolve. Plus down hill running revitalized my will.


My cheat sheet tattoo, compliments of Jason Schlarb and ElevationTat. Selfie.

We descended into Les Chapieux and I was feeling a bit better. I was mistaken about where we were in the race and thought I was about one climb closer to Courmayeur. There was a bit of flat running, then we started climbing again. And again on the climb, I was reduced to a barely moving shadow of myself, convinced I couldn’t keep going, but based on how I had recovered on the downhills, I ignored my whining and thought it would get better on the next descent. Plodding along up to Col de la Siegne I was again filled with doubt. Leaden legs and absolutely no resolve, I still managed to not entirely succumb psychologically. To my list of reasons to keep going, was the reminder that Boyfriend Mark was climbing much higher peaks in India at the moment, and that I should embrace this opportunity to hike and enjoy the mountains as a faux shared experience. After summiting, I eased into the downhill darkness, and felt somewhat better over the next few miles into Lac Combal in Italy. Realizing where I was now, I was a little more disheartened at how much slower I was from last year. I took my time at the aid station, noticing a few women there that I was leaving before.

Mark summiting Stok Kangri in India, his second 6000m peak. I was struggling to get to 2000m.

Mark summiting Stok Kangri in India, his second 6000m peak. I was struggling to get to 2000m.

Dawn was breaking, which was nice for visibility but a downer on the ego. Last year I was way ahead of this and further behind than I wanted to be. Ugh. And it was runnable, but I could only manage to jog for bits at a time. We hit the ascent to Arête du Mont-Favre, and now I was in the middle to the back of the pack of runners, and I was definitely in the way. Group after group passed me. Recognizing that in the next 60 miles lay 5 more ascents, with the final one being a steep, rocky, hands on the ground climb, followed by some bouldering-like-running before the final descent to Chamonix, I knew I was screwed. Even if I could stay ahead of the cut off times, it was not safe for me to be out there. The last thing I wanted was to be a liability to the race. It was over. My face crumpled up in embarrassing tears and I pulled my hood tight to hide behind. I felt like such an idiot, thinking I could pull off a monster of a race like this on minimal training. I hated mountain running at this point, swore them all off as I faced the first DNF in my ultra running career.

All around me I was surrounded by spectacular views of Mont Blanc and adjoining peaks and valleys. Runners were stopping to take selfies and group photos. I couldn’t even muster up the gumption to pull out my IPhone to join in. I was utterly and unequivocally exhausted. More than one runner asked me if I was okay while passing. I appreciated the concern, and was doing my best to keep going and not keep Laurie and Craig waiting any longer at Courmayeur than possible. I couldn’t even muster up a jog for the long descent. As I walked into the aid station they were waiting along the corral with the hundred or so other fans, and grabbed me in a family hug. Up until 15 minutes before I got there, Craig had been ready with the speech for why I should keep going, but when we saw me go from 500th place to well into the 1000th, he knew it was not going to be a good thing for me to continue on.


Laurie and me after I dropped. Meh. Photo by Craig.

Oddly, I have no regrets on my DNF. What I learned is that my gut should not be ignored. I wasn’t excited about the race before hand. If it had been canceled I’m sure I would have been relieved (selfish, I know). And since the race I have been supplementing with iron, as I’m convinced my ferritin had dropped to levels not conducive for an endurance event. After 2+ weeks, I had my blood tested and am up to 50 (60+ is a good number for runners) and my running is going much better, I’m sleeping better, and my legs feel good again. And I’m hoping I get into Hard Rock for 2015. Got my mojo back!

Ultra Tour de Mont Blanc is a spectacular race and I would love to run it again, but only if I’m well trained for it. The volunteers and organization are incredible. The aid stations with all the cheese and meat and sweets and coffee and fruit – almost reason enough to sign up! In the aftermath were sweet moments – getting to witness Rory get her second consecutive win, and to see Scott Mills and Eric Skaden finish at 4:00 am, going to the big gathering hosted by John Catts, John Medinger and Karl Hoagland with what seemed like the whole of California Ultra running was a special event. We were all the walking wounded – either physically from finishing, or emotionally from not. It is a great family to belong to.

Special thanks to Craig and Laurie Thornley for their unrelenting support before, during and after the race, to UTMB race director Catherine Poletti, to sponsors Scott-Sports and Injinji Socks, all for making this life lesson possible.


Me and my awesome crew. Us-ie.

Bishop High Sierra 100k 2014

With Western States on the very near horizon, it was something of a risk to sign up for a 100k race, so under the advice of my running partners Matt Keyes and Scott Wolfe, I kept my eyes on the big picture as I lined up for “running all day” in the Bishop High Sierra 100k. The course altitude ranged from between 4000-9000 feet, with a good majority of it being about 8000 ft. This would be a good test of how ready I am to run at altitude, and whether my minimal time in the altitude tent was benefitting me yet.

Bishop-ite and ultra runner friend Jeff Kozak hosted me Friday night. He gave me a some points to remember – such as the highest point in the race (9000+) was reached at mile 21, that there was very little shade, and that the first 6 miles could be run very quickly, and the next 20+ would be a long grind. Friend and coachee, Sada Crawford and I discussed the race ahead over sushi. She was the course record holder, but having moved to the cold northern parts of Idaho, was not feeling too confident about racing in the predicted 90 degree weather on tap for Saturday.

Next morning at 4:00 am, Jeff and I were up slugging down the coffee. Rice and eggs were my pre-race meal, and by 5:00 am we were on our way to the race start. The day dawned clear, beautiful, and looking to be warm. Seeing Sada, we warmed up together, and after a brief course review from RD Tim Stahler, we were off.

Sada and me at the start line. Photo by the Unicorn.

Another test to be run today was the selection of one of my pacers for Western States. My good friend, Mark Laws, had offered to crew for me, which I readily accepted, but when I asked him to consider pacing me as well, he was more than a little reticent that he would be up to the task. Turns out that Bishop allows pacers for the last 16 miles of the 100k, so I suggested to Mark we could do a test drive there. He was game, and his plan was to show up on race day in time to cover that last section with me.

So it began! Winding our way out of the park, through a campground and onto the first bit of very sandy trail. Very Sandy Trail. I kept trying to find a line where it might be packed down, but it wasn’t really worth all that dancing. Sada glided by and I kept my heart rate down as she gapped me. After nearly 2 miles of slipping around, we hit a less sandy road that allowed me to open up my pace. I went with Kozak’s advice and cruised pretty quickly, passing Sada back, and soon was running with Ethan Veneklasen, Paul Sweeney, and Howie Stern. We continued to run together loosely for a few miles as we finally hit the gradual ascent up to mile 21.

I had anticipated needing to walk at this time, but it was a rather runnable grade. For grins, I kept my Garmin set to where I could see at what altitude we were, so I could find at what threshold I would really start to feel it. Looking up, I could see runners spread out in the open terrain, but it wasn’t too intimidating. Trotting along, I met and ran with Peter Broomhall from Truckee for quite awhile, until he pulled ahead. Eventually I was running alone, following Eric Clifton in his running skirt, gray ponytail, and carrying absolutely nothing with him. That would not have been a bad way to go since this course has a 22 aid stations from between 1+ to 5 miles apart, but given it was going to be hot, I wanted to always have 2 bottles – one with calories, one with dousing water – and my pack to dump ice into to get the slow melt to keep me cool.

At 7000 ft and up I was still running. I was stoked. It wasn’t particularly easy, but I wasn’t gasping or feeling bad.   Winding up to 8000 ft and above though, I started to throw in some walking. Anytime the course flattened or went downhill, I would run. Some of this section meandered through a shaded Aspen grove which was a refreshing break from open skies most of the course offered. Lost in thought, I took a mild dirt dive, swearing at my stupidity and smashing the chafing butter packet in my skirt pocket so it was smeared down the side. Nice. I used my dousing water to try and sort of clean up.

Mile 21 finally arrived at a turn around aid station, and after I fueled and iced, I began a descent. Behind me less than 5 minutes was Sada, followed by Jamie Frink, and then Gretchen Brugman. I cruised the downhill section to the triple intersection aid station, checked in and started down the wrong road. “Number 3! Come back! Come back! This way!” Thank goodness the volunteers were watching!

Nice backdrop, which occasionally I remembered to look at.

Nice backdrop, which occasionally I remembered to look at.


The course went straight up a hill that followed a pipeline – we actually ran on the mostly buried pipe. It was quite steep, and at the top I tripped again and went down in some sort of heap, my right calf seizing up. More swearing, some sitting and waiting for it relax, and gingerly I set off on the sketchy downhill to a dirt road. I could see Peter’s red shorts in front of me and occasionally I would sneak a peek back to see if the ladies were there. I kept reminding myself “this is about Western States. Keep it real. Don’t blow up or do anything stupid. You’re not here to win.” And then the devil on the other shoulder would pipe in with “hey, you’re under 11 minute pace so far, you’ve done the most of the climbing, if you keep this up you’ll have the course record and maybe a win, but you’ll have to keep those girls off.”  Of course, kicking a rock or stumbling brought me right back to playing it safe.

The next aid station was set up on a small lake, replete with families out for the day playing and fishing. After I put ice in my skirt, sports bra and back pack, I cruised along the lake, laughing when a fisherman wanted to know if they were going to give us shirts saying “We’re Crazy”.

Down a rare bit of single track, across a paved road, more single track through some aspens, back out on another paved road, and it felt like I had an elephant on my back. We were still above 8000 ft, and the road had a slight uphill grade. I watched Peter in front of me and found myself walking when he walked, and grumpily running when he ran. I was hungry, but not bonking. I downed the calories from my bottle (mostly Tailwind) and planned eating something more substantial at the aid station. Finally arriving, I saw mini Clif Bars and decided I would just have to choke one down. I had half of it in my mouth when a volunteer asked if I wanted an Ensure. Heaven! I had never even had one, but was dreaming about chocolate milk, and I generally have a strong gut. I chugged it which helped wash the Clif Bar down as well. The combination was less than excellent, but I had to have some faith it would all work out.

Back down the paved road, life was much better, and again, just a couple minutes back was Sada, looking smooth as silk, and then Jamie, and shortly after, was Gretchen. I stayed grounded and positive, and worked my way back to the lake, with a bit of a queasy ClifBarEnsure stomach that resulted in a pit stop. Literally much relieved, I was now good to go!

Diffuse cloudy skies had dominated the morning, much to the runners relief, but it was now starting to open up. One volunteer encouraged me along stating “someone pushed the heat button!” He was right. I really started dousing now – face, head, neck – and let the shade attachment of my hat down. I was still above 8000 ft at mile 32 and starting to really want to get down, as I was feeling somewhat nauseous from it. Still cruising well on the downhill sections, but shuffling the ups, I did put some space on the gals. Back at the triple aid station, the volunteers said “you’re on your way home now!” Up and over a little nob, and I thought – yeah, some downhill! But it was still rolling to flat, and still 8000 ft. I expected to be caught at any moment and promised to not give chase when it happened. Through the aspens again, and finally I hit the descent. My quads were golden. Cruising now, I could see Peter once more, and as the miles clicked off and the elevation lowered, I got closer and closer. We finally ended up running together, and it made those miles glide by. What I was really looking forward to was mile 46, where I would pick up Mark. I love having a pacer whenever it is allowed, and well, I’m a little bit fond of this guy. I had predicted that I would arrive around 2:25 if I could maintain 11 minute pace, and I was perhaps 5 minutes early. He was ready to go, and for the next couple of downhill miles,  I debriefed him on how I was doing and what was working. At the next aid station, we went on what was the most brutal section of the course – an out and back that only the 100k runners were  privy to – all other distances were denied this delight.


Mark Laws and I heading out into the most Godforsaken section of the course.


Uphill into a headwind we ran until I needed to walk, doused often, and tried to stay on solid rather than sandy footing. Peter had left the aid station ahead of us, so we could see the turns and climbs we had to make by watching him. For such a little blip on the topo map, the climb was hellacious. Every turn in the road I expected to see the last aid station, but it was several turns and climbs before we finally cruised down to it. It was baking hot, I sponged off completely, loaded the skirt and sports bra with ice for the millionth time. Mark made sure I ate and found another Ensure which I downed rapidly. From there it was 1.8 miles to the final turn around, where we would prove our completion of this section by picking up a poker chip to bring to the finish line. The descent portion was actually feeling good, but every little climb had me walking until I got annoyed with how long it took to get anywhere walking, and I would shuffle. Mark followed my cues, and gave me reminders to drink and douse. We saw Peter get to the turn around and with that visual I mustered up some mojo, finally getting my chip. The 1.8 miles back to the aid station would be slow, but we did get to see a large golden snake slither across the trail, and then met Jamie about 10 minutes from the turn around. We had a quick supportive hug, and she yelled “I’m so ready for beer!”

Mark and I continued the slog out, finding few runnable sections, eventually getting back to the aid station. Now with only 5 miles to go, I was smelling the beer barn.We hiked out hard, and hit the downhill fast, and eventually caught Peter, much to his chagrin. “Meghan – you’re a machine!” I threw in a few jogging steps to get around him, we exchanged supportive words, and again flew down some wind aided sections. I was making my “end of the race” noises – grunting and groaning, and assured Mark that those are normal for me. Before he had agreed to pace me, he asked me to promise that if I could drop him, I would. I didn’t think I would be able to, but with 2 miles to go, his allergies got the best of him, causing him to slow. “Take it home, Meghan!” I kept rolling, yelling back “only 2 miles!”  I blew by the last aid station, running hard when I could, and slowing down when the terrain flattened or got very sandy. Back on solid ground I clipped into the finish in 11:11, a new course record by 20+ minutes. I was greeted by several friends, including Sada, who had taken the 50 mile option as the heat had taken a toll on her – it’s pretty hard to run in such hot weather when you live in snow-laden Idaho all winter. Mark made it in soon, and RD Tim ladened me with way too many awards.

Some of the nice prizes! Photo by RD Tim.

Some of the nice prizes! Photo by RD Tim.


Quite a spectacular event in the scenery, volunteers, and course layout – it wasn’t about the trail here – it was about the backdrop.

Thanks to all the volunteers and RD Tim for putting on a great event, to Elke, Chloe, and Steve for driving me to Bishop, to Jeff and Margo for opening their home to me, and to Mark for driving all the way over to “take a test”. He passed. Looking forward to Western States! Thanks especially to Injinji socks and Scott Sports for their continued and awesome support!

Tarawera 100k 2014

Tradition. History. Spirituality. Passion. Paul Charteris, RD for Tarawera 100k had it all. And yet the race is a mere 6 years old. In its first year, fewer than 100 runners graced this beauty of a course, and already he is up to over 700 in the combined 100k, 85k, 60k, and relay race. It doesn’t take much to understand the numbers – the intriguing sulfer-laden air and steam plumes rising above the town of Rotorua, the old trails through the forests and around the lakes that made up the course, and the connections between the native Maori and the Europeans and their combined love and respect for the land. Add to that Paul’s love of ultra running and old school approach to ultramarathons, perhaps learned by spending extensive time on the Western States course and it’s cast of characters, and you have a world class event.

I arrived Wednesday before the race and was welcomed to Paul’s with friends new and old. He treated runners and volunteers to a barbecue, and fretted about the weather – cyclone Lusi was due to arrive on the weekend, presenting the possibility of wrecking race day. Thursday was still brilliant – late fall temperatures, soft skies, made the possibility of a cyclone seem rather remote. At 5:30, an 8k fun run was held, through the local but world famous Whakarewarewa forest.

Hobbit running in the 8k Fun Run

Hobbit running in the 8k Fun Run

It was beautiful and surreal – made me feel like a hobbit – and it ended in Te Puia replete with mud pools and hot springs. There the media groups held a photo-shoot of the elite athletes, and we had a playful time running around in circles in front of a thermal pool.

Photo shoot fun

Photo shoot fun

Friday morning we returned to Te Puia for a traditional welcome of the native people, in which both Paul and last year’s champion Sage Canaday were recognized and honored.

Sage making peace with the native Maori.

Sage making peace with the native Maori.

After a press conference and interview, I made my way back to the hotel for the pre-race meeting followed by a panel Q and A where I was allowed to act expert on running ultras, along with Sage, Lucy Bartholomew, Brendan Davies, Mike Wardian, Michael Aish, and Scott Hawker. I was fortunate to have gained a home stay with friends John and Rebecca Moore, formerly living in Corvallis, and being with family certainly kept me grounded. Home cooked meals and curious children make me feel quite at home, and for much of the time I had forgotten I had a race the following day. Nearing bedtime, the news came out – Cyclone Lusi was to hit Rotorua late Saturday afternoon, necessitating a shorter, safer course. Not one to ever consider fighting Mother Nature, I was relieved that we wouldn’t be allowed in harms way. Now it was time to rethink my race. It would be about 70k (42 miles) so effort could increase, but by how much? I settled on a heart rate between 155-160 – a little slower than for  50k, a bit faster than for 100k. I laid out my race gear, and by 8:30 I was asleep.

Four-fifteen I was up. Coffee, rice and eggs, and I was good to go. At 5:45 John drove me to the start where we were joined by the 100s. I warmed up a bit, headed for the start, and again we were given a traditional Maori dance, and a highly entertaining Tarawera ballad by a local girl and her ukelele.

A dark morning start

A dark morning start

A bit past 6:30, the stream of head-lamped runners took to the trail. It began with a long steady climb of double and single track, with series of steps built in. In the darkness it was not possible to discern individuals, a sure way to keep myself under control. Even s dawn approached, the forest here was quite dense and dark. Eventually, lamps went off and the day was warm with gray skies and dark green forests all around. Each moment I hit single track, my inner child danced along the trail, smiling. Dark, duffy and rooty, I consciously picked my feet high, bent on staying upright for the day. We were fairly spread out, although I had already started an on-again off-again relationship with one Fiona from Wellington – I outran her on the downs, and she outran me on the climbs, and in the middle bits, we became friends.

Running through the dark canopy

Running through the dark canopy

One Lusi-adjustment to the race was for the long course runners to do an initial 12k loop, bringing us back to the start line, while the short course  clipped this off for a 60k. Now reaching this point, I saw Anna Frost off to the side giving me a cheer. I tossed her my headlamp for safe keeping, drank some Heed and soda, topped off a bottle and was ready to do climb number 1 again. Running off, I saw Bryon Powell, yelled back “how many?”. He said I was 7th place and all were within 5 minutes. For the second time I made the long ascent, climbed the stairs, ran in the woods, only now I got to really see it. I felt as fresh as the first time up, and managed to move up one place as I passed 17 year young Lucy, having a bit of an early blowup. Still in good spirits though,  I told her she would recover. Soon we passed the loop and continued on an eventually nice long downhill to Blue Lake, rolling along on some very runnable sandy/rocky/hard trail. I was feeling pretty solid, keeping myself working hard, when I was easily passed by a young woman on a slight uphill. Our exchange was pleasant, but I didn’t quite hear her. Of course I tried to imagine that she said something about being on a relay, but what I heard didn’t come close, so now I had moved back to 7th. Finally at the aid station I quick filled a bottle, drank a lot of coke and Heed, and re-passed her. I felt splendid on the single track again, and soon caught up to Fiona who had been ahead for quite some time. We played along this single track, then ran out onto the pavement awhile, to where spectators could easily line the road. Entering back on single track, I was again caught from behind, and the three of us gals danced along the rooty duff until I said to Fiona “I’m hesitant to pass, as I’m sure you’ll need to go around as soon as we start climbing.” but around I went, the other girl right behind. I kept my lead over the two of them all the way to the next aid station at lake Okereka, now in 5th or so place. Lusi was making her way down, and the moisture in the air went from mist to drizzle. I was definitely wet, but I hadn’t really noticed. A volunteer helped my find my drop bag and Paul told me I was 5th woman. I left the aid station and began the gentle climb up the pavement, when I was again caught by girl number one. I said “well, at least we get to come back down this at the end.” She replied “we do? I haven’t a clue what the course is – I’m so blonde!” I told her she sure looked good, nonetheless,to which she responded “at least until I blow up!” The way she pulled ahead, I had serious doubts that would happen. Three kilometers later we hit another aid station, but it would be over 14k to the next. I drank a lot, then headed on toward Okataina lake. This involved a very long single track of a variety of trail – some double wide, some single and rutted, some grassy. It was a gradual uphill for a good half, then it began to go down. I was passing a lot of the 60k runners, but ahead I could see a woman that looked like she was from the longer race. She had begun to falter, so I said a few kind words I passed her, moving back to fifth place.  Soon after that I was passed again by another gal, and was unable to tell if she was relay. She was moving easily and quickly.

Making my way up, getting wetter by the minute

Making my way up, getting wetter by the minute

Summiting is always a victory for me, and now I began to descend to Okataina. I had heard it was quite steep, and that was no exaggeration. While I welcomed the effect of the gravity, I acknowledged that I would not be so fond of it on the return trip. I’ve learned to maximize my strengths (downhill) and work within my ability on my weaknesses (climbing). After the first steep slope, came. Another, and then another. Two men from relay teams had passed me on their return trip when I finally saw Sage coming up on of the long ascents. We yelled “good job” to each other, and it was quite some time before seeing the second place man. Yun Yanqiao, Michael Aishe, Scott Hawker, Vajin Armstrong all came toward me, game on. When I saw Mike Wardian coming toward me he looked bewildered and off his game. “Hey man, let’s go!” I yelled. But it was not to be his day. On a uphill amongst the downhill, I passed another woman, so now I was 4th or 5th. Short, steep switchbacks led us down to the Okataina aid station. Drop bags were available, but we had a short 2k out and back section, so I asked the volunteers if they could have my bag ready upon my return. As I began to speed out, John and Rebecca appeared having come to support and perhaps pace me. They asked if I needed anything, and I said I was right, and jumped onto the single track. Paul would later relate that this next 2k was the beginning of the best single track of the entire race, and it killed him that we were only running a short bit, but Mother Nature always wins. It was here I was able to really see where I was stacking up. I had gone about half mile when I saw the leading woman. With our names on our bibs, I knew she was “Jo”, but who the hell was Jo? Next was the first woman who had passed me, Claire,  having moved nicely up to second, then the one who had just passed me, Dawn, followed by Beth Cardelli of Australia. I had checked my watch at Jo and Beth, and at the turn around, calculated that Jo as 8 minutes up and Beth was 3. Now on my way back I saw who was close on my heels – the woman I had just passed plus Fiona, and then Lucy.

Back at the aid station, Rebecca’s running friend, Andy, jumped in to pace me to the finish. I was thrilled. As promised, the volunteers had my bag. I took the bottle and gels, and off Andy and I went. He was eager to help, and I assured him that just following me would be grand. We started the long trudge up, and I was happy to be still pushing hard with about 12 miles to go. I was still unsure about some girls I had passed, so fancied myself as high as 3rd place. Now we had more traffic coming towards us, and thanks to Paul’s exposure of the elite athletes, I was getting as much personal cheering as I do in the US, including someone referring to me as royalty. Didn’t hurt the ego, that’s for sure. I knew the climbs would seem endless, and at one point I looked up and groaned. Andy said to stop looking up. So I kept my head down, tripped and fell in one of the most benign trail sections – which is a least not so painful. I brushed off the gritty wet dirt, and kept going, hoping to both close in on some girls, and not get caught as well. After the final summit, my legs unwound, and off I flew. Happily, my quads were golden.

Beginning to feel like a drowned rat

Beginning to feel like a drowned rat

Lusi was picking up steam, which I only noticed by seeing how wet I was. It was still warm, but I realized I was having a harder time keeping my heart rate up. I drank more of my mix of Vitargo and coconut water. Andy reminded me gently that it had been 30 minutes since my last gel. The thought of another one turned my stomach, but I pulled it out and held it for a few minutes. Eventually I gingerly placed it to my lips, gave a squeeze, swallowed, and said “yummy!” to which Andy said “really?”. I assured him it was most decidedly not, but I liked to try and fool myself. Regardless, it did start to sink in a bit. The amount of uphill in this downhill was getting a bit unbelievable, and I worried that my semi-truck uphill speed would result in getting passed by another woman. As I crested another hill again, I heard the dreaded sound of another woman. I tore off downhill, putting as much space as possible between she and I, with no idea if she was racing individual or relay – I would wait to ask later. When I could no longer hear her, Andy assured me she was on a relay, but my momentum was carrying me nicely now. We reached the final aid station, and I was incredibly parched. I downed 2 big drinks of water, and Andy and I tore out for the last 3k of mostly downhill paved running.

Saying good bye to the last aid station

Saying good bye to the last aid station

Andy pushing me to the finish line

Andy pushing me to the finish line

I was grunting pretty loudly at this point, and was satisfied that I had put it all out there. Down and down we went, Andy pointing to his right side for me to run behind, draft, and hang on best I could. With 1k to go, I saw my friend Peter walking his finish to the 60k in. I yelled at him “Peter!Why aren’t you running!”  Apparently I shamed him into it, as he finished shortly after me.

I now was sprinting for the finish, happy to get my wheels really going for the last little bit across the soggy grass. Paul was at the finish, gave me a huge Kiwi hug, and placed the beautifully carved wood medal around my neck. It was soon confirmed I was 5th female, spread out from 7:02 to my 7:26. I was pleased with my effort and the competitive field that had come to show their stuff. What this course lost in distance made up for in difficulty, as it measured 44 miles and 7900 feet – nearly the amount of gain for the regular 62 mile run. Lusi was now in full force, and in the pouring rain and wind, John and Rebecca got me out of the misery and back to a hot shower.

At the finish!

At the finish!

Prize giving took place next day, and Paul put the top 5 finishers on the podium. He asked us each to tell the audience about our individual takes on the race – a nice moment to share with everyone there. Every effort throughout this weekend seemed to be about making the individual experiences of this event accessible and meaningful to everyone.

Paul, Jo, Dawn and her daughter, Beth, myself

Paul, Jo, Dawn and her daughter, Beth, myself

The newly formed Ultra Trail World Tour  (UTWT) chose wisely in including Tarawera 100k. Runners and their supporters from around the world were able to experience the unique country, its laid back personality and warm hospitality, and its pride in its beauty, as a bonus to the event itself. Thank you Paul, for putting your heart and soul into this event! Thanks to my hosts John and Rebecca Moore, the volunteers, to Scott Sports, and Injinji, and UTWT for getting me to the start line.


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