“Why don’t you just win the damn thing?!” were the words of advice I received from Craig after discussing the women’s field and my time goals. If course record holder Tyler Stewart was a no-show, I felt I had a reasonable chance. I did not take the competition lightly in the least, but I did feel fit enough to improve upon my course PR from 2011 of 4:11, and low 4 hour times have won the race most years. I would try to keep my average pace below 8 minutes to get closer to that 4 hour mark.
Sunny skies, and cool, dry air were on tap for the day. Warming up among the nearly 1000 runners was like a ultra running family reunion, everyone coming out from winter hiding to celebrate the beginning of the season for many runners. I felt pretty good warming up, and ten minutes before the start I shed my warm layers, gave them to my crew of the day – Craig, Laurie, and Casey – took one preventative Imodium, put on my hydration pack, did a few strides, then packed into the start area for the countdown. Three women I was sure would give me a run for my money – Rory Bosio, Jen Pfeifer, and Gina Lucrezi- exchanged greetings and well wishes with me. And of course there are always the unknowns in the mix, but my focus was on running smart and running hard. I set my heart rate monitor to alert me if I went over 165, as I knew that it wasn’t sustainable for 50k.
RD Julie Fingar gave us a 10 second countdown, and off we bolted down the fast paved 1+ mile. Rory was at my side and we set a good clip, chatted a little about races we’ve done this year and what we are both had planned ahead. Each little downhill, I gapped her a bit, each little uphill, she sucked right back up. We hit the single track with me in front, and for a little bit she stayed back, then we played leap frog for about another mile. We caught my pacer from Western States 2012, Mark Richtman, where, following Tim Fitzpatrick’s advice, I told him “this is where I’m supposed to say you shouldn’t have gone out ahead of me!” At this point Rory and I were on the back of a train of men on narrow single track that was treed adequately enough to make passing perhaps not worth the effort, but after some time of feeling antsy, as it was flat and for me where I can get a good pace going, I said “Rory, we need to do something here!” Following her lead, we jumped onto the grassy trail side, cut in front of 5 men, and low and behold, the trail started to climb again. Gradually at first, but I had spiked my pulse getting around, and now I felt like a competitive pain in the ass to the men who were soon back on my heels, while Rory quickly pulled out of sight. I made an effort to squeeze to the side of the trail, and no one tried to push me over as they went by (including Mark), although I wouldn’t have blamed them. Eventually I got my breathing and heart rate back under control, and fell into a reasonable rhythm. We were a mere 4 miles into the race, so I didn’t need to blow up just yet. Unbelievably, Rory was completely out of sight. Wow, she put some burners on, or else she stopped to use the bushes. And behind me, Gina was close on my heels, catching up on the climbs, lagging on the downs.
Eight miles into the race we came back to the start/finish, through an aid station, many spectators, and an announcer. Here I learned that Rory was 2 minutes up, and that Gina was right on my heels, and my split was about 58 minutes – which was right where I wanted to be. Casey, Craig, and Laurie were cheering me through, and I was lifted by the crowd’s enthusiasm. Gina stayed close behind, but as soon as we hit the Western States Trail with it’s long downhill, I put some distance between us. I loved this section, reveling in the sweet single track, sunshine, and fast surface. I re-passed my friends that left me on the climbs, but still no Rory sightings. On and on I sailed, down to the hwy 49 crossing, where some very kind fan called me a young lady. The next aid station, mile 11-ish, I grabbed an S!Cap, drank some coke and blew on out. I had been taking a gel every 30-45 minutes, and sipping on the coconut water-gu brew blend from my pack. No one gave me an update on Rory, so I figured she must be pretty far ahead. Running on the lower quarry road next to the American River, I could see Mark ahead a couple hundred yards, but I wasn’t closing the gap. My garmin registered in the 7:20′s range overall so far, so I really had taken advantage of that last descent. Now running flat with some rollers, I kept mentally engaged with my effort, not allowing myself to get lazy. First and foremost, I wanted to keep under 8 minutes, and second, hopefully it kept me in the chase-game and the don’t-get-caught game.
The road section turned to single track, and gradually climbed higher above the river. Eventually I ran into Rory’s dad, who informed me she was up a couple of minutes. I could hear more going on behind me after I passed him, I figured it might be Gina, but I didn’t look back. Another aid station, I grabbed the usual, as well as an extra Gu. Finally arriving at Maine Bar, the trail took a fairly severe rocky ascent. I “ran” most of it, walking a step or two when it made sense, and ignored my ever beeping Garmin. Looking down I could see Gina, and I gave her a shout-out. When I finally reached the Western States trail that would lead me to the ALT aid station, I breathed a sigh of relief that she hadn’t caught me. I thought the trail would be flat, and probably on most training days it feels that way, but it had a fair amount of gradual climb to it. I pushed, pushed, pushed, my pace barely below 8 now. I cruised into ALT, mile 21, grabbed a gu, and gradually started to feel my legs come to life on the sweet contoured trail that would be for the next 3 miles. I caught a few men beginning to struggle, including Mark, who had injured himself and had to get to the finish in less than fine form. I flew into Brown’s Bar, hung a left and felt the brakes go on as I began the ascent up Goat Hill, the steepest climb of the race. One poor soul looked ready to weep when he learned that THIS was Goat Hill, thinking he had climbed it long ago. I kept after it, pushing the hike to the top to the encouragement of onlookers. Reports that Rory was ahead by a few minutes were interesting, but I didn’t get my hopes up. There were only 5 or 6 miles to go from here, and it didn’t seem likely I would speed up or she would slow down.
I grabbed a gel, drank coke, took an S!Cap and flew out. The course is not done climbing, and this time I remembered that there was a fair bit of rolling to get through. Hammering along when I could, pushing the climbs until my legs were burning, I called in the workouts Coach Ian Torrence has me do – Long Run Fast Finish – and knew I could make it with this amount of effort. Close to the final aid station, spectators were reporting to me that I was 2nd female, and that first was only 2-3 minutes ahead. I smiled and appreciated their support, but I wasn’t believing I could catch someone that far ahead with now only 2 miles to go. I calculated my over all time, and it did appear that I would at least get a course PR!
Gretchen Brugman was working at the last aid station, and as I came through she yelled “you can get her Meghan – she is just up ahead!” and for the first time I believed it might be true. An sneaky uphill grade presented itself, which got steeper and rockier. I remember racing Caren Spore here 2 years ago, trying to stay on her heels, working harder than I thought possible, and drawing from that experience, did not relent my own pace. Another onlooker making his way down the technical section said “she’s right up ahead” and sure enough, when I looked up, Rory was within hearing distance.
I wanted to throw up. Now I knew I had to keep up the fight and maybe fight even harder, and I knew I was going to hurt even more, and I knew that I could catch up to her only to have her take off again. The trail began to smooth out and level off, and when I looked again, I could see she was jogging, and looked to be pretty much done racing. Once on her heels, I asked “what’s up Rory?” “Go for it! It’s all yours!” I opened up my stride, and crested the climb.
I choked up when I realized I was going to “win the damn thing!” I’m 51 years old and I’m gonna win the damn thing. But it wasn’t over yet, so I quickly put away my little drama, ran the final stretch with a good kick, and crossed the finish line in 4:06.
Rory finished less than a minute later, ever gracious as I know her to be. Jenn Pfeifer was not far back, to round out the top 3.
Wins don’t come that often, and sure, there are all kinds of things I can say about strength of field, course conditions, blah blah blah, but instead I will savor the experience and appreciate how my body has been holding up, and how my curiosity for how long I will be performing at my personal level is still rather peaked.
Three weeks after Bandera 100k, I found myself toeing the line again – this time at the Ray Miller 50k, across the road from the beaches north of Malibu, into the trails of the Santa Monica Mountains. Feeling fulling recovered from the flu and from Bandera, I was anxious to race and see what I could do. I had some smart-ass goals – beat Craig by 30 minutes and run 4:45 which would break the course record. The women’s field was strong – course record holder Jen Benna, Kate Freeman, Bree Lambert – all contenders for the win.
With a start time of 6:00 am, it was advisable to have a light. Thankfully, I remembered mine, and with the most technical, rocky section occurring in the first few miles, I’m sure it saved me from a scraped chin. From the “GO!” I felt strong and light. In the dark I was unsure, but thought I was the first female after a good 10 minutes into the race.
As we reached the highest section of the early part of the race, the sun was coming up and shining on the Pacific. I was in a short train of runners with Jimmy Dean Freeman and Chris Rennaker, and few others I couldn’t determine. Winding up and down we eventually bottomed out in a grassy meadow. I hung onto the train of men as they cruised by for awhile, then two women caught up to me. Kate Freeman, and a new ultra runner, Mandy Hicks. We all chatted a bit, and they pulled away, with Mandy taking the lead. She had run some marathons, but this was her debut at the 50k. She wasn’t sure what would happen after 26.2 miles, but for now she looked pretty damn awesome. It was early in the race, and I didn’t want to get into trouble yet.
At the first aid station I drank from the cups, ate one Clif Shot gel and swallowed the salt supplement they had available. My hydration pack was full of coconut water, and I intended for that to last the whole race as long as I drank from cups at each aid station. I was also sticking to downing a gel in between aid stations – roughly every thirty minutes.
On the climb out, I was joined by Thomas Reiss, and we chatted for awhile until he finally pulled away. I was soon joined by Chris Rennaker and offered to let him by, but he said he was right where he wanted to be. We hung together on the very, very, long and sweet switched back descent, until he got antsy and decided he would rather be going faster. The flat section at the bottom was treed, sheltered, cool and runnable. I cruised along with the men, and commented to one that I was worried about all the downhill, since it meant a big-ass climb was certainly to follow. And I was right. When we reached the road that would take us to the aid station, I began my slow jog up. I passed a few men on the climb, and was passed by “man in blue shorts” – very tan, very toned, and very fit. I could see Kate ahead, and was glad she hadn’t got too far ahead. I pledged to run as much as I could, and maintained that all the way to the top and to the aid station, mile 10 or so. The volunteers were as good as any I had experienced – asking me what I needed, and hurrying me out.
I jumped on the trail, a slight uphill, which quickly turned to downhill. I cruised with some intention, but not too aggressively. I caught Blue Shorts boy again, and asked if I could go around. He gladly let me by, and I felt like I was flying, until I heard AJW and Jen Benna chatting rather casually. AJW spotted me , and yelled “you’d better hurry up Meghan!”. Yikes! I felt like I was running kind of hard already, but decided to push it harder. When we reached the bottom, I was still ahead, and at the water only aid staion, I high fived Jesse Haynes, and cruised through. A climb quickly ensued, and I look down to see Jen. I yelled back to her – “come on Jen!” fully expecting her to catch me. Surprisingly, I gapped her, and passed a couple of men. For the second time in the race, I saw a sign “Awesome Sauce”, which made me feel good, but Blue Shorts was done with the platitudes. “If I see another Awesome Sauce sign, I”m gonna punt it out of the park!” Dude, I said to myself, you need to chill. This is what we do for fun.
He passed me again on the climbs. I could see Kate still, on the climbs ahead. Gradually she came closer, but after every climb, she gapped me on the downhills. Sheesh! I ran the downhills harder and harder, until finally I caught her on a climb. As she let me by, I remarked she would catch me on the downhill, but I managed to put enough space between us that by running like a jackhammer down the next hill, I maintained my lead over her. As the course flattened out again, I caught up to and ran with Mike McMonagle, a runner I had met at JFK 2011, and we ran together the next couple of miles to the next aid station, just under 20 miles. I had seen Kate not too far back, so ate a gel, drank some coke, downed some salt, and yelled to Mike “let’s go!” He was soon behind me as we began another long climb. He felt good, and I let him pass. We both caught Jimmy Dean Freeman, walking, but upbeat. He was planning on dropping, just not doing well at all. But he encouraged me to go after the first place woman, Mandy, as she was only about 4 minutes ahead. Motivated by that and by the desire to stay ahead of Kate and Jen, I soon caught back up to Mike. He was beginning to cramp, and told me that he didn’t actually feel right running in front of me. I chuckled as I went by, and in a few minutes I was alone.
Fortunately the weather was very cooperative. Dry, 60+ degrees, with a light cloud cover. I had been fairly relaxed with the salt given the mild temperatures – maybe too relaxed. At some point a muscle on my lower left leg stopped firing, and my foot toed out and sort of flopped against the ground. Wow, that was weird. Not knowing what else to do, I consciously started using my glutes and core more, and took an S!Cap. It started working again, and I changed my focus to running a hard effort to try and maintain my lead over Jen and Kate, and perhaps close in on Mandy. I finally reached the turning point for the 50 milers to do their out and back 20 mile section, and found myself careening downhill. I was having fun, yet getting a little banged up from the jarring. I ate another gel, and pulled out the S!Caps again, took one, and decided to pop one ibuprofen to ease the pains. There were several technical creek bed crossings, twisting trail sections, some short steep climbs, long ascents down open fields, and I pushed hard through it all, calling in the memories of running the Ice Cream Sandwich run on Cal Street for Western States training.
Cheers greeted me at the last aid station, and sign telling me I had 4.5 miles to go. “You’re second place woman! Good job!” “Where’s the first place woman?” I asked. They pointed up on the hill behind them – and I could see her blue shirt, about 4 minutes ahead. I ate another gel, drank coke and Heed from the cups, and took off on a fast section of gravel road for about a quarter mile, then hit the single track and began the climb up. It felt like more than 4 minutes to reach where she had been, but I began to get beta from hikers and runners on the trail coming in the opposite direction. “You’re closing in on her!” On the last very steep ascent, she was about a quarter mile ahead at the top, and looked over her shoulder, spotting me. I put my head down and ran almost the whole thing. When I crested, she was no where in sight. Running flat again, out of a bend, I saw her, and again, she saw me. There was a stretch of dirt road, and onto single track – the wonderful Ray Miller trail. Every turn to that trail, I could see her. I was closing in but running out of real estate. And then, BAM! My left calf cramped like there was a small rodent inside it wiggling around. Wow – that was weird. I slowed way down, grabbed an S!Cap, and sucked the last drop of fluid from my pack. The calf relaxed, I’m sure due to my slowing, and I picked it up again. This was all in about 30 seconds time, and I was chasing her down again. BAM! A rodent in my right calf now. Wow, this was so weird. I grabbled another S!Cap, just for lack of anything else to do, since we had only about a mile to go. Gradually I picked it back up, and resumed the chase. We both passed Laurie Thornley and I yelled out to her – “I don’t think I’m gonna catch her!”
Mandy continued running fast, and looking back at every turn, ultimately keeping me at bay, finishing in 4:46:57 to my 4:47:49. She greeted me warmly, and we had some good laughs over that last section, where she was sure I would catch her. Shortly thereafter, Jen Benna came in, then Kate, and Bree. Post race atmosphere was celebratory with good food and friends. Laurie and I spotted Craig when he was about 5 minutes from the finish, and I’m afraid I schooled him a bit much – he was 40 minutes back, and proudly announced himself as 6th place female.
Keira put on a wonderful event. Her volunteers were well attuned to the needs of the runners before, during, and after the race. Post race socializing continued for hours as we waited for many of the 50 mile finishers. Running in such mild weather in February is a great draw as well.
Two years ago I competed in Bandera 100k, and was thoroughly schooled by the rocky, undulating, sotol cactus infested course. A 50k loop run twice, I ran the first too hard, and slogged through the second, to a third place time of 10:19. Now, all trained up and ready to run the not-so-unfamiliar course, I was going to overcome that first experience. My game plan – run the first loop super conservatively, and try to run the second loop only 20 minutes slower. I was going to ignore all my female competitors, as that is one factor that can result in my going out to hard.
Race morning was pleasantly mild – in the low 60s with a heavy fog sitting atop of the Hill Country State Natural Area. It had rained heavily the week before, and the stories of shoe-sucking-mud were being tossed around. It didn’t concern me – I knew we all had to do the same course, and I just remained bent on keeping my goal of running easy. The women’s field was good – Liza Howard, Stephanie Howe, Melanie Fryer, Michelle Yates, Sabrina Litlle, and some fine young women I did not yet know. And the men’s field equally exciting – Sage Canaday, Dave Mackey, Karl Meltzer, Jeff Browning, Gary Gellin, Paul Teranova. It promised to be exciting.
My experience with the sotol cactus led in my decision to wear capri-tights. Short sleeves and arm warmers were sufficient to keep warm, and my gloves proved their worth, protecting my hands from random grabbing at sotol, and keeping the sticky gel from my fingers and driving me insane.
The race started at 7:30 sharp, and I kept my eyes focused down on the ground, not letting my brain argue with me by seeing the women ahead. I kept a very easy pace, was patient when I was behind slower runners, and generally stayed relaxed. The first few miles climbed gradually and rockily, and I used small efficient steps up, and relaxed strides on the downs. Like clockwork, at 30 minutes I took my first Powergel. The field of runners was still fairly congested, nice for conversations, and lots of me getting passed on the climbs, and me passing runners on the downhills. I arrived at aid 1 – Nachos – in 57 minutes. Very conservative. I ate another gel, drank from the cups, took an S!Cap and was on my way out. The course took a gradual and twisty downhill, crossed a park road, and then ran down to a creek bed. Running beside it, the mud became part of the story. Not too bad here, but definitely sticking to the shoes. There were a few short steady climbs, and I was still going back and forth with runners near me. I struck up a conversation with a runner who was running his longest race ever. We passed the time to the next aid station discussing races, nutrition, shoes. Finally at aid 2, I drank from the cups, ate another gel, and was on my way. I was still running slow, keeping myself contained and not concerning myself with the women ahead. There were multiple long sections of muddy trail, and as the mud accumulated and made me taller, it was wearying. At times, I stopped and scraped the gluey mess off for a short fresh start. Finally hitting the Cross Roads aid station, I appreciated the supportive volunteers inside and out of the tented area, and was soon on my way to the 5 mile loop that would bring me back to the same station. As much as I would have liked to think I was slow from being conservative, I was beginning to doubt my ability for the day. I started the long climb section, catching a young man who said “oh, man, you caught me!” He was worried about his day, as he felt it was falling apart, and that he may not make the cut-offs. I tried to reassure him that he was having a bad patch, and there was plenty of time to rebound. I bumbled along in front of him, and when I hit a level stretch, heard footsteps approaching. Hoping it wasn’t female, I was pleasantly surprised to see Timothy Olson running the 50k, closely followed by a fellow competitor. We exchanged supportive words, and I began to think that Denise “Little D” Bourassa would be passing me, even though their course put them 5 miles behind us at the start. I was definitely getting into a funk.
When I arrived back to Crossroads, I blew into the tent and almost crashed into my good friend and travel buddy Stephanie Howe. Her eyes welled up as she told me “I’m done.” I quickly hugged her as she told me that she was having difficulty breathing and was pretty worried about it. We had both had the flu (respiratory) ten days earlier, although her cough had developed into something far worse than mine. Regardless, it was sad to leave her there, but encouraged her to crew for me and her boyfriend Zach. She was definitely planning on that, and I looked forward to her help back at the end of loop one. I told her I was going to run faster the second loop, since I didn’t think I could run any slower.
The last nine miles of loop one included some nice runnable territory, and I met up with many of the 25k runners. I cruised into the last aid station, then began the last 5 miles back to the start/finish, which included some serious, rocky climbs. My right shoe had rocks in it that no matter how much I tried to wiggle around would not find a comfortable place to hang out, so I stopped, emptied the rocks, snugged the shoe up, and kept forging on. I had been passing a few 100k men, but no women were evident. All the math I did kept putting at the end of loop 1 later and later. I had hoped to be around 4:50, slower than 2 years ago, so I figured a good conservative split. Now I was hoping to be under 5:00. With each climb I added more time, until I finally stopped as it was not doing me any good. I hit the last rocky descent, and was gingerly dancing down the slippery muddy rocks, happy to know I was almost done with 50k. Running past a volunteer, I smiled. He replied “Nice smile and smooth stride!” to which I replied “Why not – I’m doing what l love!” Not that I was loving my running at the moment, but in the big scheme….
I came into the start/finish. Steph was ready with my fresh pack. I swapped mine out, ate some banana, drank some coke. Then took off, vowing to run faster and work my way up. But it was not to be. Try as I might, my legs were not interested. By the time I reached Nachos again, I was 11 minutes slower than my first loop. Aye-aye-aye this did not bode well. I drank, ate, and left. I seemed to have very little resiliency in my legs. The analyses began. “It’s humid. The mud wore me out. I’m old. I’m not fit enough.” And then I would get a hold of my whiny self and replace the negative chatter with – “I’m so lucky to be here. I am healthy. I don’t have cancer. I’m suffering First World Problems Poor Me.” I didn’t feel much motivation, and was stunned at how much slower I kept getting. Next aid station I filled my bladder, ate some soup, drank from cups – I was definitely keeping up on the nutrition. I ambled out and onto the previously shoe-sucking-mud section to find it had dried to tacky over the last 5 hours. Well at least I could “run” without stopping. I hadn’t seen a soul other than volunteers for 16 miles when I finally heard footsteps approaching. A young woman came up beside me and asked how I was doing. I blurted out from a childhood book – “I’m having a terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad-day.” Jeez, what a whiner. I went even further and told her all of my problems, including that I had the flu just a week ago, oh poor me, and that this course just rips me up. “That’s Bandera for you!” she said cheerfully as she glided away. I would have left me as quickly as possible too. Just ahead, Steph and Little D were exuberantly cheering for me, giving me love and support. I told them I didn’t think it mattered how slow or fast I ran the first loop – 31 miles of it destroys my legs. They pushed me on into the aid station at Cross Roads, and asked if I would need anything when I returned in 5 miles. “Well, yes, I’m going to need a headlamp.” Yep – in my arrogance I had not brought one as the plan was to be faster than 2 years ago, and I finished in the light then.
I fueled up again – soup and Heed, filled my hydration pack, and off I went. For about 5 minutes I felt a little revived and got hopeful that maybe my very long bad patch was going to disappear. I watched the woman who had passed me increase her lead. Soon I was back on the single track, but the rockiness was more than my legs were willing to take. I tried to stay relaxed, but was pretty beat up. The downhill turned to uphill, which was more comfortable, but harder. I was now going so slow that all of my excuses just could not add up to what I was experiencing. I was not too old, I was not under trained, the shoe-sucking-mud was not THAT bad, it wasn’t that humid. I was struggling from the after affects of having the flu. Knowing that at the next aid station I had 9 miles to go, I hoped I could talk Steph into pacing me to the finish. I planned on using the tact of “you didn’t get to see the entire course, wouldn’t you like to see it!” When I came in, she had a headlamp for me, and I posed the question, but with different words. “Would you like to experience the last 9 miles at an embarrassingly slow pace?” An innocent bystander said “As someone who has run Bandera, there is no such thing as an embarrassingly slow pace!” Steph was more than ready to run with me, having hoped I would want that. It was good to have the company, especially once darkness fell. We passed precious few runners from the 50k, and when a cold breeze picked up I was even more grateful to have the company to share the discomfort with. And try as we might, neither of us could let go of the fact that we should have gotten a flu shot, and how tired we both were. The last two long climbs seemed to go on forever, and I was overjoyed to finally reach the bottom after a long, rocky, slippery, dark descent.
When we finally reached the last 100 meters, I didn’t even have a kick. I jogged to the finish, to the warm welcome of RD Joe, who expressed only congratulations and jocularity, plus my award – in Joe’s mind, a master is a 50 year old, not the traditional 40, so I was the Bandera Master’s winner, receiving a unique piece of art.
I am 0 for 2 in satisfaction with my performance here, which is unfortunate, because it means I feel compelled to again return next January, with a flu shot, and put myself to the test once again.
I want to thank all of the volunteers, RD Joe Prusaitis, Stephanie Howe and Denise Bourassa for their support during the race. My daughter Ruby for reminding me how lucky I am to be able to run at all. My sponsors, Scott Sports, Injiniji socks, and Garmin. My coach, Ian Torrence, of McMillan Running.
Coach Ian’s Bootlegger 50k fit well into my race schedule, and although Las Vegas proper is about my least favorite place, I know the surrounding desert offers some natural, wild terrain, rich with history of Native American life, as well as mining days and Hoover dam building stories. The race was located in Boulder City – the only town in Nevada that does not allow gambling or prostitution – going back to the dam building days – there would be NO distractions to the dam builders, who worked one of 3 daily shifts that meant work was done around the clock. All this to say that Boulder City seems like a pretty normal place to an Oregonian.
Now, I am used to trees. Or at least shrubs that are taller than I am. This course had neither, yet it held it’s own beauty. It was a 25k loop run twice. Ian and I ran the most serious (for my “talent”) section on Thursday – a climb of about 3 miles and 1000 ft, much of it on loose, sandy, rocky trail, with the final portion being a series of switchbacks leading to a saddle where Ian stopped and pointed to many of the aspects of the race – “over there on the other side of that second drainage, see that trail? You won’t be on that, but just one over, that’s where you’ll be. See those ridges? That black one? So, you’ll come out from behind that black one and on your way to Mother aid station. And if you look over there, that’s the way to POW, the 3rd aid station.” “Uh-huh”. That’s about all I could say as I looked across the rugged desert terrain, feeling comfortable that I couldn’t get lost since there would be runners scattered all over the place within eyesight, cuz there were no frikkin’ trees!
We lit off again onto some sweet, yet very technical rocky trail. I love the focus that it takes to navigate such trickery, and we finished our little 6 mile loop with a few more stops and pointing to sections that I felt confident I would have no recollection of on race day – I pretty much look only at the 3 feet of trail in front of me at any given time during a race, since I like to stay upright.
Friday night I was lucky to meet some Flagstaff runners that would be racing – Eric Bohn, Jason Wolfe, Anthony Culpepper, James Bonnet, Brian Tinder, Shane Peterson – I’m always excited to meet the sub-culture pods out there – the little families we seem to become through our crazy sport.
I slept fitfully the night before the race. I was well rested, just worried about missing the alarm, but it worked, and I was up at 5:00. I ate white rice with banana, and drank some coffee. It was light at 6:00 when I left for the race, and quite chilly. Sam and Chad Ricklefs were there – Chad running his first trail race in years, and Sam, the ever supportive runner’s wife was there to crew him. I re-connected with the folks from the night before, and made friendly eye-contact with the defending female champion Paulette Zillmer – a very fit and engaging young woman, with a bright red shirt and pink shorts – she would be easy to keep track of, as would I, in my bright red Waldo skirt and yellow Sunsweet shirt.
At 7:00 am, Ian got us started after instructing us that the course was marked with orange ribbons and pin flags. The first mile was a perfect pitch downhill, that with even holding back, resulted in a 6:40 mile (humble brag). Paulette and another woman were in front of me, but heck, it was mile one. I didn’t need to get worried about anyone but me at this point. We turned onto the single track and began the long climb I had experienced two days before. It was extremely helpful to know what the climb was so I was able to pace myself. Paulette, in her bright red looked beautiful and graceful on the switchbacks above me, as she overtook the other woman. By the time I reached the saddle, she was out of sight, but I soon caught the other woman who stepped aside on the technical section. I flew along, very attentive and confident and having “inner” fun (on that kind of terrain, any exuberance may turn into disaster). As I flew into the first aid station (mile 4), I could see Paulette well on her way out. I grabbed a gel, drank some water, and lit off, not too fast, but honest. This back section was the most runnable – relatively flat, not horribly technical, and at times I could see Paulette ahead of me. The field was getting more spread out, and eventually I was following a man in an orange singlet, which in my mind became one orange flag to follow. Another runner came within passing range behind me, but decided to stay where he was. So, in relative silence we wound about the dry desert sand, creosote, drainages, and the occasional glance where I could see Las Vegas, and was glad I was where I was.
We ran up more climbs, and every now and then I would spot Paulette’s bright red shirt. Then she would disappear. We made our way to the 2nd aid station, down in a gully. I was informed that I was only a couple minutes back from the leader, which is what I was told said at aid station one, so at least she wasn’t growing her lead. I grabbed gel, drank some coke and enduralytes, then booked it out of there. The next section was more technical – ups and downs, ins and outs, then a section of trail that ran along the contour of the hills, with pretty short sections – run fast for 10 meters, then hairpin turn, another 10-15 meters, another turn, and then some steep switchbacks. It took a fair amount of mental and physical energy to navigate, but again, super fun! Finally, the dog leg section to the third aid station – I had already been outrun by the front men, but saw a few, and then Paulette – we exchanged encouraging words – and now I was just a mile and a half from the finish of the first loop. I grabbed gel again, and headed back up the trail. Near the out and back turn, James Bonnet came blasting out from seemingly nowhere, running the 25k that started 30 minutes after the 50k. Damn! I was hoping he wouldn’t catch me! With just a bit over a mile left in lap one, I looked up and saw that the last bit of the loop was a bit of a climb. Yikes. I needed to stop looking up. Finally summiting the last climb, I cruised down and to the finish of lap one. Ian was there, shooting film, asking me how I was feeling. I was actually feeling great! And Paulette was only one minute ahead now. My split for loop one was 2:23 – Ian had predicted I could run a 4:40-4:50 – so it appeared that it would be a bit difficult to hit 4:50, but sub-5:00 seemed reasonable, which would be good for a course record.
I stopped to drink a bit, then took off on the down hill beginning section. I started running hard, with a “game on” attitude. I passed a couple of men, and followed Paulette’s pink shorts, as she had shed the red shirt. Off to the left I noticed some orange flags on the other side of the road, so looked for the trail to take us there, but didn’t see it. Finally Paulette stopped as well as another man. I stopped. “Did we miss the turn?” I was pretty sure we had, and looking back could see runners turning. I lit back up the road, hoping that Paulette would catch me, as I didn’t want to take the lead this way. Within one minute I was back on course. I threw a glance back every now and then, but no Paulette. I didn’t know her, but hoped she hadn’t become super discouraged and quit. Finally on the switch back section of the long climb, I could see her. I was relieved, and ready to put it all out there now. The second time up the climb wasn’t much slower than the first, and I got after it on the technical section, all the way into the aid station. “You’re first girl, and 12th overall! You go, girl!” I thanked the crew there, drank some coke, grabbed a gel for the road, and vamoosed.
Now I was pretty isolated. I didn’t see anyone ahead, and when I turned back, no one behind. Every now and I then I slightly panicked, that perhaps I had missed a trail, and with no one to follow, I apparently was mistaken about “always being able to see someone”, but an orange ribbon would show up on the creosote, and all was good. Occasionally I would throw a glance back, looking for Paulette, but saw no one. If I was going to win, I wanted it to be by more than the minute we went off course, or I wouldn’t feel completely legit about it.
My Garmin kept clicking off the miles, and when I reached 23, I considered the “fast finish”. One of my key workouts, is the LRFF “Long Run Fast Finish”. They are great for creating a mental image for me. Just last Saturday I ran such a workout – 12 miles followed by about 7 at marathon effort on a hilly loop. So, I toyed with when to start the fast finish. Now seemed a possibility, but with the aid station coming up, I decided to wait, then mile 24 clicked and I thought about it again, but, rather easily talked myself into waiting for the aid station. I finally got there, drank coke, grabbed a gel, and THEN went after it. As awesome as that sounds, I didn’t really run faster, but I was more intent on keeping the pace, and throwing in some surges. I went back to that run from last weekend, and convinced myself that could push it more, putting myself onto the run from a week ago.
Eric showed up in my view, and I felt bad, knowing such an occurrence meant he was not having a good day. He held me off for a good mile on the contouring section, but finally relented, rather dejected, and I kept pushing myself, although the bounce in my step was substantially diminished from the first loop. I hit the out and back section and willed myself to run faster. Once at the aid station, the crew was super excited and supportive, getting me in and out quickly. Running back up, I finally met Paulette, who was now a good six minutes back, but looking good. We again encouraged each other, but even a six minute lead can disappear, so I stayed focused, and grunted and clawed my way to the top of the last climb. I was extremely happy with my effort – if I’m gasping and making animal noises at the end of a race, I count that as a success. And if I didn’t fall on this course, that was also a small victory. It looked like a 4:50 wasn’t in the cards, but sub-5:00 most certainly. A downhill finish is nice, as we can all look better than we feel and run pretty to the finish, and that is what I did, in a final time of 4:53 – good for the win plus a course record.
Paulette came in about seven minutes later, and was a gracious finisher. The Arizona group over all did well. Co-RD Josh Brimhall flitted about handing out meal tickets for burgers out of a burger truck. There was beer on tap to fill our finisher beer glasses. Ian was wandering between congratulating runners, handing out $100 bills (I received three for the win!), and trying to randomly prize someone with a Suunto watch. It was a fun atmosphere, but the cold wind finally sent me back to the hotel for some warmth.
I recommend this run. Las Vegas is reasonably priced for flying to and habituating in for a few days. The Hoover Dam is interesting, and one could throw in a trip to the Grand Canyon, or Red Rock Canyon right outside of Vegas. The run supports Miles for the Wild, rather than the pockets of the RDs. It is only in it’s second year, but from my experience, it ran seamlessly.
Thanks, as always, to Team Sunsweet Ultrarunning, Injinji Socks, Scott Shoes, Garmin, all the volunteers at the race, race management Casey Harney, Shad Mickelberry, Josh Brimhall, and especially coach/RD Ian Torrence for keeping me in the game.
For the third year in a row, a weather system rolled into the Alps in time to disrupt the weekend of racing. First of the shorter races was the TDS 100k, held Thursday, followed by the CCC, starting Friday morning, and finally, the UTMB 100 Mile which was to start on Friday evening at 6:30. Friends Erika Lindland and John Catts started the TDS on Thursday with the plan of crewing Karl Hoagland and myself starting Friday evening in the UTMB. They had a great start, and then the weather rolled in and took its toll with a drop of 300 runners at one aid station. Erika and John persevered and found the energy to crew Karl and I in a few short hours from their finish.
Up until mid-morning Friday, the news from race headquarters was that the UTMB would go on as planned, despite the weather. But as the snow level dropped to 2000 meters, an update was delivered informing us that the race was being modified to stay below 2000 meters and shortened to 100k. Having no emotional investment in the race like I do with Western States, I was not particularly upset or disappointed. Sheesh, I was in the Alps! They could cancel the race and I would still have fun – drive to Italy, go skiing, keep eating cheese and croissants – it was hard to go wrong.
At 4:00 pm Karl, Amy Sproston and I drove into Chamonix to hang out in a hotel lobby with other athletes until the race start. It was chilly and damp, and I knew it would only become more so as the night went on, so I dressed in tights with rain pants, a smartwool shirt with Moeben sleeves and short sleeve shirt over that, and then a gortex jacket. I had water proof mittens on, and my headlamp and waist-lamp on. My ultraspire pack held my trekking poles, collapsable drinking cup, 6 gels, a few S!Caps and Alleve, an elastic bandage, my down sweater, mandatory waste disposal bags for used TP, and about 1 liter of water. At 6:30 we made our way to the start corral in the middle of Chamonix. The crowds were lining the streets both to see us off and to welcome the finishers of the CCC 100k race that had started in Courmayeur earlier that day. It took some shoving and oozing to actually make it to the start, but once inside the start area we had some breathing room, and I was able to look around and take it all in. There was loud music, walls of spectators, a jumbotron, and the mob of runners lined up behind had no discernible edges.
A little after 7:00, the race began. It was frenetic. The footing was a little tenuous with a ledge in the middle of the street, and at least one runner went down. It felt a bit sketchy and as I stumbled, someone grabbed my shoulders to hold me upright. I felt like I was sprinting – not the smartest way to start an ultra, but survival seemed high up on my list until we finally spread out enough to relax. We ran through the village and eventually onto a gravel path that was wide enough for 2-3 runners. The path was lined with spectators, all the way into the first village of Les Houches (Lays-oosh), where the density of fans and ringing of the bells distracted me from grabbing a drink from the refreshment zone. I was actually pretty warm under the raingear, but didn’t think it was worth undressing and packing everything. We passed through the village and headed up some steps leading to our first big ascent. I saw Killian Journet on the sidelines, encouraging runners with cries of “Allez! allez! allez!”
Now on the first serious ascent, I removed my gloves and mittens in order to take out a gel, and in the process ended up down one glove. I stopped, turned around and took a few steps back the way I came, but when I didn’t see the glove I decided it wasn’t worth it. I headed back up the climb, my trekking poles in use now, and ate the gel, then put on the mittens without the liner gloves. With my conservative start, I was finally getting nice and warmed up and started passing runners. It was a different feel from running where English is the native language. As much as I wanted to converse with runners, I was hesitant in that I wasn’t sure what language to try. I can pull of some niceties in French and Italian, but wasn’t feeling confident it would be even understood. So, in polite silence, I pushed onward.
Dusk was turning to dark, and the runners lights were coming on, one by one. The sky was dark with fog and clouds as well. Up, up, up into the clouds and trees, and suddenly we were passing by a home in the high country, complete with a family on the side lines, ringing cowbells and cheering the runners on. The headlamps ahead of me were higher and higher. I was glad I had run Speedgoat 50k the month before, so I had the experience of climbing and hiking seemingly endless climbs. This first climb to Le Deleveret was a mere introduction to what the remainder of the run would be. We climbed from 3000 ft to about 5000 it, then headed back down, down, down, into the village of Saint Gervais, where I knew my crew, John Catts, would be waiting. I ran into the long, tented aid station in the middle of the village. It was crazy busy with runners and volunteers. I honed in on the tables labeled “Salty” as opposed to “Sweet” and grabbed a couple of big hunks of quality cheese, and some crackers. Salami and bread were other options, but I worked on getting the cheese down, drank some coffee and noodle soup, and looked for John. He waved me down in the adjoining tent, where each runner was allowed only one crew member. I wasn’t in need of much, but ate one boiled egg, grabbed a couple of gels, and asked if he knew how many women were ahead of me – he hadn’t really paid attention since there were so many runners, and frankly, I shouldn’t have been worried about it at that point – then headed out into the dark again.
Back up into the country side, we had a relatively easy run to Les Contamines. I was having some pain in a hip flexor as well as a bit of a side ache. I fumbled around in my pack and gloves and finally procured an S!Cap and an Aleve. I really don’t like taking pain killers, ever, and especially in races, but I really need the flexor to chill out. Getting that task out of the way, I kept the same effort, winding in and of runners on the mostly single track path. It was cold, wet, rainy and muddy. Amy, Karl and I had made some predictions as to how many times we would fall during the race – and we weren’t going to count butt slides in the reportedly muddy sloped sections. I predicted one – and I did hit it about that time – a nice flat, but muddy section. Two runners behind me tried to help me up, and asked if I was okay. I was mostly embarrassed and definitely not hurt. Definitely muddy. By the time I got to the aid station, I had my plan – get rid of the muddy water proof mittens and put on the dry gloves in my bag. I was now working hard enough that cheese and crackers were not going to be consumed. I drank some coke, some coffee, and some soup, then made my way to John. He took my muddy gloves – I asked if he would wrap them in a towel so they would be dry when I saw him again at this very aid station after our next big loop. The dry gloves felt good.
The next climb was one Amy and I had seen a glimpse of – an old Roman road. It was incredible to think we were on this very ancient yet man made road – big slick rock on a very long climb – that had survived centuries of use. And I wondered about the slave labor it took to create this enormous pathway through the mountains. The climb was long, and eventually we hit the snow. My hands were wet now from the mild precipitation, and they were rapidly getting very cold. I told myself that I could deal with it, but eventually they began to sting. Yes, the requirement for waterproof gloves was definitely a good idea. I finally pulled them off my fingers, trying to scrunch my fingers together for warmth, letting runners go around me in the eerie snow-lit darkness, and trying to manage my trekking poles with miniature hands I fumbled forward. Finally, I pulled the gloves off completely, and pulled my Moeben sleeves over my hands and found some level of comfort.
Snow depth reached 3 or 4 inches, so footing was really not much of a problem. As we lowered in elevation though, the snow gave way to rain and slick grass and mud. My waist lamp was not as effective as earlier, and my footing became more and more tentative in the mud and fog. I was using my hand held light more and more, which helped me get through a bouldery, technical, slow section. I was passed by a female runner, but I otherwise held my position. Finally we emerged at a Le Signal – a station with official personnel, but not aid. Then the trail widened to road, the downhill came at us hard, and I flew. Not sure how many runners I passed, but I was glad to be feeling strong – even the occasional uphill I was able to run. Approaching Les Contamines for the return trip, I focused on what I needed from John. Definitely needed my mittens back, and with my light going dim in the hand held, I needed to change batteries. As I ran into the tent, I grabbed some coke, some coffee, and some soup, then found John, where he had my gloves ready, and quickly changed my batteries in my hand held, and gave me the beta on the next section of the race – “a really long climb, and one that isn’t so long. I’ll see you at Les Houches” – and I was on my way again.
Feeling strong and like racing, my effort and pace were full of intention. The first climb was “only” 1500 feet. I hiked hard, ran when I could, and when I passed another woman, I tried to make it permanent. Cresting the peak, then running downhill, I hung a sharp left off the road, following something reflective. Barking dogs alerted me that something was awry – how could over 100 runners pass through here and not alert dogs until now? I then did what the race instructions directed – if you don’t see a trail marker every 100 meters, then turn around and go back. I turned around to see if anyone was following – and saw a bright head lamp coming my way. Well, I must be going the right way, right? I waited for the runner to catch up and asked “Is this the right way?” His response was “I was following you – I am not sure” – so we went a bit further past the farm house the road was associated with, and hit a dead end. We turned around, scampered back to the bigger road, and I tried to think of how to apologize in French, but could only say “I apologize” and he was not at all holding me responsible. I stumbled near the edge of the road, he righted me, and we went in silence, on the correct way, which was well marked and obvious. It didn’t cost me more than 3 or 4 minutes, and I could hardly believe I had turned off.
Shortly afterward, I reached the village of La Villette. My companion I had led astray asked me if we were at Les Houches. I had to give him the news that we were at least 10k away. The village was fairly asleep, as it was in the middle of the night, but there were a few hardy souls to encourage us along. Leaving this small settlement, I embarked on the next climb of this section. Single track near a grassy meadow, I was reduced to a hike again. Up and up, steeper and steeper, I kept my light looking for the next reflective mark. Very consistently, one would show up, right when I was beginning to question where I was. Now under a thick, wooded canopy, the steepness was crazy, and the ground rooty and rocky. We were spread out so much that I couldn’t see any lights ahead. I used my poles to pull myself up, and when I finally reached the peak at 6000 feet, I thought – “wow, this could take some time to recover from!” I gradually unwound my tight legs, lengthened my stride more and more, until finally I was cruising and feeling great. I caught up to the next male runner, and stayed behind as we the trail became narrow and muddy. Slipping and sliding and shoe-goo-ing down, I stayed close behind, following his steps for guidance. The trail widened into a swath of 8 feet long, and as he took the left side, I took the right, and eventually we made it to the single track, which was as muddy as the swath. I wondered about the 2000+ runners behind us and how they would fare on this slip-n-slide affair. I was sure Dr. Suess had some sort of rhyme to describe the goo we were running on.
“Gooble-de-goop on my shoopedy shoop
Made me slippedly slide on the sloopedly sloop”
Well, maybe not Suess, but I did have a couple of butt slides on the switch backs, and in the process I managed to pass two women. I made it to the bottom of the trail, and eventually on to the road that led us into Les Houches for the last time. When I got to John this time, I had chocolate milk on my mind. I was thirsty and hungry, but having just passed those women, I didn’t want to take much time. “Chocolate milk, please. I just passed 2 women, so I want to get going.” His reply was “Helen is standing right behind you, and Krissy just left six minutes ago.” I took about three big gulps of chocolate milk, and scooted out. “I’ll see you at the finish!”
Next ahead was the climb to Merlet, which turned out to be a long paved section. With the idea that Krissy was perhaps close enough to catch, and that I had only just passed Helen, I was determined to work hard at keeping my position and perhaps gaining a few. The fog filled air coupled with a now fading head lamp were a bit troubling and ethereal as well. I hoped morning light would arrive before the next bit of single track, but such was not the case. The downhill was welcome, and thankfully a runner behind me had a bright enough light for me to fairly fly. Down, down, down, over technical terrain eventually into the soft morning light. Perfect timing with my fairly dead lights. I was somewhat certain that the major climbs were finally over. I caught up to a group of three French runners – who were actually walking – and given the relatively few women in the race, they did a double take when I passed by. As soon as the trail turned uphill again, they caught me quickly. We grouped up in our effort, despite my language insufficiencies, as the climb went up. And up, and up, and up. I was laughing about how much it kept climbing because it was pointless to complain or cry. This is what I do for fun! And as much as it climbed I knew it HAD to end. I began to think that it was a bit like labor – every time you think you’ve had the last contraction – here comes another one, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. The guys I was running with seemed to share the sentiment, as we would take turns leading the climbs with cheerful resignation. A crest, some downhill, and then, no, what? Another climb? Seriously? And again. It had to end, but, like this report, one starts to wonder. I was at over 80k, and had thought I could finish in about two more hours, but clearly this was not the case. Given the change in course and distance, my off the cuff time goal was to break twice my Speedgoat 50k time of 8:03, so anything sub 16 hours would be, in my mind, respectable. I was over 12 and a half hours with a big hike in my way, and 20k to cover. With some semblance of determination, I kept after it with the attitude that I might still catch Krissy, or might yet be caught back by Helen. Another gel helped with energy, but I was out of water in my pack, and I had inadvertently left my collapsable cup at an aid station with John, so when I came to another aid station I apologized profusely to the captain about losing my cup, could I use a soup bowl? She dug underneath the table and procured a spare plastic cup, filled it with coke, and refilled for me when I downed it. I was at 85k on my Garmin, so figured that the last aid station was going to be less than 5k away. I took off, stupidly leaving the plastic cup, and not filling my hydration pack.
The course continued to roll up and down, over rocky terrain, with the sound of a river and a highway – sounds that teased one into hope that we must be done climbing. Suddenly I was facing a green “tenredpacks” pack – it was Krissy. As I came up behind, I called to her. She asked who it was, and upon reply she reached back and hugged me. A champion, always, her ability to be supportive to everyone, no matter how she is feeling, is one of the many things I admire about her. She made way for me to pass, and as the course finally hit some serious downhill, I cruised faster and faster, happy that my legs felt strong at this point. Finally running into Argentiere, the final aid station/village, I was very thirsty and hungry, and very much in a hurry. I didn’t want to give up my place, and since my Garmin read 95k, I assumed I only had 5k to go, thus drank a cup of water, two cups of coke, and scooted out as quickly as possible. I ran up to the side of another runner, and asked him how far to the finish. “Eleven kilometers.” Yikes. Well, the course description for the reroute was “approximately 100k”, so I wasn’t surprised, but I was a little concerned that my calorie intake was a bit short. Hoping for the best, I pushed on. We were supposed to be running downhill and flat to the finish, which of course included some ups. I caught up to a couple of men from Spain, and we ran together for awhile. “What place are you for the women?” I replied that I was third American, but had no idea who else was ahead. We stayed together for a few miles, and finally, with 5k to go, I ran out of gas. My focus was now to “don’t walk, don’t walk, don’t walk”. I slogged along, also being mindful that going faster would likely result in me collapsing to the ground. With 1k to go, I still couldn’t muster up a strong surge, I was so out of calories. Fans were milling about and became thicker the closer to the finish I got, and gradually I picked up the pace. With 50 meters to go, I heard John cheering me in. I crossed the finish in 15:14, pleased as punch to be under 16 hours, 3rd American, 12th female, and 1st in my age group.
The awards ceremony took place on Sunday, and those of us placing were instructed to assemble next to the stage. The stage was fairly active with overall place winners, recognition of various volunteers, and age group place winners. It wasn’t until I was up on stage to receive my beautiful and resonating cow bell that I realized how many people showed up – the town square was filled to the brim with supportive fans, and looking out across the sea of humanity I felt more adrenaline than I did for the race. It didn’t help calm me down to see myself bigger than life on the jumbotron. Yowza. I stood proudly next to the other women in my age group as we jointly rang our bells. It was a very memorable moment.
The weather was perfect for the remainder of my stay. I had such awesome support from John, his wife Shela Roebucks, and their dog Piper – both during the race and taking me, Amy, Karl, and Erika into their summer chalet, sharing good food and wine and downtime. I will go back next year and hope for the full course, but I’ll manage to have a food time regardless!
Thanks to Scott shoes, Garmin, Sunsweet, ultraspire, and the many volunteers and race organizers!
Shortly after Western States, Coach Ian sent me a message which included this question – “in the meantime…any interest in getting a taste of Europe at the Speedgoat??? If so, I will talk to Karl.” Well, of course I’m going to say “yes!” I had heard about Speedgoat 50k over the years but had never found an excuse to go. Or the desire, really. It sounded ridiculously hard, requiring great climbing ability – not features I normally seek in my races. Ian astutely pointed out “We already know that you can run 100 miles…so getting in those tough climbs and really working that aspect will be important. It’s all about working on the weaknesses.” Sigh. And so, one month later I found myself at the start line of what we be the hardest 50k of my life.
Speaking with Nick Clark the day before the race, he assured me that the race “isn’t that hard. Basically you’re either walking uphill or running down.” That didn’t sound so bad, and at the start of the race, the first climb out, I was feeling strong in my legs, conservative in my effort. I could see Denise “Little D” Bourassa in front of me a ways, and I used her as a gauge to stay connected. The climb went up and up and up and I thought – “hmmmm, when is the first climb over?” Each time a break in the climb came it didn’t last long. We ran on single track and gravel road, and then on switch backs on a scree field of huge rock – some of it quite stable, other, not so much. I remained cautious and patient and finally hit the last stretch of gravel road to the top of the first climb, 10 miles in. Holy crap, that was hard! JB Benna was there (that guy is everywhere!) and as he filmed I asked him what place I was in. He thought about 10th or so, which seemed about right.
Downhill now, I kept the brakes off. Wheeeee! Very fun, but each time there was the slightest flattening or up-slump, the air was out of my tires. I fancied myself somewhat acclimated to altitude, but anything about 8000 ft proved to be, uh, challenging. None-the-less, I enjoyed the descent, the views were spectacular, the wildflowers astounding, and the volunteers fantastic. At mile 12 the course entered onto a dry, rocky, narrow riverbed. I kept the brakes off and had a blast, enjoying that I could manage the technicality with pleasure rather than anxiety. I passed several runners, including 3 women. Oh yeah, I was the sh**!
At the end of the wonderful free fall, was a slight uphill one of the only “runnable” sections of the course – an out and back flat section. I counted the women in front of me, but I was so far back from the first couple of women (including Anna Frost) that I could only guess that I was in about 8th or so. Little D met me on my way out, and was surprised that she was ahead of me, shouting “Where have you been? Did you do an extra loop somewhere?” I chuckled as I approached the aid station, and welcomed the cooling wet towels the volunteers put on my neck.
I was still feeling pretty good on this flat section, holding my own, and then we began to ascend again. One by one, every man, woman, and child I had passed on my fun filled downhill, was easing by like I was standing still. But at least the aspen forest we were running through offered great beauty, and I knew that eventually…..eventually….when??? would this uphill end? The climb was indeed long, and I saw some carnage along the way. It was heating up, and my bottles were going dry, when I saw a pipe with water running out. It was cold and wonderful, and I yelled as poured some down my back, but it gave me a needed boost. On and on I hiked, and f i n a l l y I reached another summit.
Keeping track of my time and miles, and looking at previous women’s times, I naively imagined that 6:30 would be a reasonable expectation. By the time I reached 15 miles, I was at 3:20, and well, that seemed close enough, but now at mile 20 in 4:40, it seemed quite a stretch that I could run 12 miles in less than 2 hours. The next downhill was short and sweet, and then it was time to hike up hill one more time. At the aid station before the climb, a volunteer insisted that I top off my bladder, as the climb was indeed long and hot. I took the time, and ran a short section before the climb started. I thought it was pretty steep, but then it got even steeper, rockier, and s l o w e r. I kept my eyes on a woman that had just passed me, and imagined she was actually not pulling ahead, but then another woman caught and passed me quite easily, commenting on my downhill running ability. Yeah, that was sure helping me out now. Steeper and steeper, slower and slower. Three steps, rest, three steps, don’t fall back down the hill, rest. At the top of this wall, real single track on a ridge line took me higher yet. I was barely moving. I could see the top of the final peak off in the distance, trying not to stare at how far away it looked. A nice group of running fans, presumably waiting for friends or family, cheered rather enthusiastically for me. When I said I had been waiting for them all day, they cheered even louder. One of them gave me a Popsicle and gave me the bad news that I was to run down hill now. What? The peak I could see was a destination, but I had to go down hill to get to it? That seemed wrong. But I could only follow the arrows, down to the infamous tunnel, where the aid station folks fed me watermelon, popsicles, and let me hang around for a bit before I took off. “Through the tunnel, then some downhill before the last climb.”
Sadly and gladly – yin and yang – or better yet, Jekyll and Hyde. Yay for the downhill! Oh no, the further down, the further up to the top! Stop going down! NOOOOOO!!!!! None the less, I flew down and down, and finally, back down to 9000 ft, I got to climb again. Twenty-five miles in 6:23. Could I cover 6 miles in one hour? 7:30 seemed okay now. I began the slow hike up, and went slower and slower. If I could run any sections, I found myself hyperventilating, and walking again. I threw down some 30 minute miles. Yeah baby, I was still the sh**.
Now the final summit was in view – for a very long time, in fact. Maybe an 8:00 hour finish wouldn’t be so bad. In fact, a finish at all would be pretty spectacular. Cheering crowds at the top pulled me up, and the aid station volunteer helping me described the last five miles ahead – “After a heinous downhill, the rest is relatively smooth!” I began to pick up speed down the rocky road, and followed the flags onto the same big-rock-scree from early in the race. I could see about 5 runners ahead in the distance, gladly, as I was uncertain that I was on the course. It seemed we should be on a dirt road, but the single track continued on. Eventually, no runners in sight either before of after, I paused. I looked back up to where I had come from and knew there was no way I was going back up if I was off course. I was exhausted and felt it would be pointless. I gulped back the impulse to cry, and continued in the direction I had been going, thinking I might have my first ultra DNF. Suddenly I arrived at a well marked intersection, affirming I was indeed on course, and hitting the smooth dirt road to take me down to the finish. Hugely relieved, I let gravity have it’s way with me and I hammered downhill, passing runner after runner, hoping to see at least one set of pigtails to race.
I could hear the finish line festivities and picked it up even more, but as usual, I could hear it well before I could see it. My idea of an 8:00 finish was still on my brain, but as I dashed across the finish in a near collapse onto Bryon Powell, an 8:03 was the best I could do. He asked me “What are you doing here?” referring to my sea-level existence and trying to run at plus 7000 ft. “Ian thought it was good training for UTMB.” That made sense to him, and when I thanked RD Karl Meltzer for letting me play in his back yard I told him “I think Speedgoat is really good training for Speedgoat!” He replied “Exactly!” I placed 11th female, “only” 1:37 after Anna Frost’s winning time of 6:26.
Afterward I learned that we actually reached a summit of 11,000 feet three times, so I felt less defeated by that. I enjoyed the views immensely and was satisfied that I had covered the 50k. It was a course I wouldn’t likely do on my own. Thanks to Karl and all his fabulous volunteers, Coach Ian Torrence, Garmin, Sunsweet and Scott Shoes!
Statesmas. I was feeling like a little kid in December, counting the days down, getting excited about seeing my friends and fellow competitors. I was rested, fit, somewhat heat trained, and had spent a fair amount of time at altitude. And then I read the weather forecast and it was as if Santa decided not to come. And what really disappointed me was that I was so deflated by this! As if I was going to be the only one getting wet and cold. Indeed, I took it personally. Humph. Fortunately I had brought enough warm clothes to deal with the inclement weather, and Amy graciously offered me the lightest weight Mountain Hardware wind jacket I have ever seen.
Three a.m. Saturday morning I awoke to my alarm – which meant I actually slept – took a hydrating shower, drank coffee, ate white rice, banana and peanut butter – a formula that has been working well at keeping my bowels under control during hard efforts. I dressed in my race clothes, then bundled up another 3 layers to stay warm before the race. My crew of Hannah, Larry, and Brian and I headed over to the start area a little after 4:00. We waited outdoors near a blazing pit fire, hanging with Craig and Andy – Craig continuing his apprenticeship as Asst. Race Director, and Andy – out this year to a knee injury – a little bit of an empty feeling knowing they wouldn’t be on the course in the same capacity. Nevertheless, I insisted on the usual pre-race picture of me and my boys.
RD Greg Soderlund counted us down the last 10 seconds, and we were off. As usual, I was quickly passed by throngs, and the crowds lining both sides of the road were cheering for their runners. The steep ascent was both walked and run, and I connected with many of my friends, trying to find my stride. Jed Tukman, Jen Benna, John Trent, Pam Smith, Ashley Nordell, Darla Askew. I was trying to figure out if I was being hampered by the altitude, but without Craig in the race to key off, it was hard to tell. The higher we got, the windier and colder it became. Then something started to come from the sky – sleet or hail or some combination. I was not in a happy place.
My plan was to take a gel every 30 minutes during the entire day. Whether or not I would succeed, I at least had a plan. The first aid station I drank from the cups, not filling my bottles as I wasn’t exactly sweating, and grabbed an extra gel. The next steep scrambling section was somewhat sheltered, but the wind at the top of that was just plain mean. I lowered my head, tried to make myself even smaller, and wedged my way through the wind to the Escarpment. It was a pretty slow ascent, and I knew I had quite a number of women ahead of me. Jed motioned me to go first, and we were flying down the trail into the Granite Chief Wilderness. Again, judging by the the size of the conga line, I knew I had a pretty slow start. I was patient for the most part, but occasionally either Jed or I would scramble around a group of runners. The weather gradually changed from cold to cold and wet, to colder and wetter. I rolled into Lyon’s Ridge aid station a bit behind Pam, and she was soon out and up the next climb. I remembered sections of this trail, but it looked different in the cloudy wet weather. There were no views to speak of. Jed was still following, and we came upon Pam emerging from the bushes. I expected her to take the lead back from me as she is a superior climber, but she was beginning to succumb to hypothermia and fell behind. We continued on, passing more male runners and eventually winding our way down to Red Star Ridge. Tim Twietmeyer gave me encouraging words, and when I saw AJW with a clipboard I was sad that he wasn’t in the race, but happy to see him. We exchanged quick hugs, and I asked him what place I was in – about 20th? He said, no, he thought 6th or 7th. That didn’t seem possible, and I really didn’t want to be that high up so early in the very stacked field of women. After leaving the aid station I reasoned with myself that there really was no way I was even in the top ten, which proved to be true.
Continuing in the high country, the runners became more and more spread out. Jed finally decided to go ahead about a mile from the next aid station. I was getting excited to finally see more familiar faces, and when I cruised in I remembered to cheer up and be grateful for all the folks sacrificing their time, standing in the cold, wet weather, to see me for a very short time. I pulled in and Hannah and Larry were at the ready. Hannah stuffed 2 gels in my pack, replaced my bottles, and gave me some chocolate milk. Larry asked me if I had been taking salt, and said that my ass looked good. Ah, nice – they both remembered their instructions!
It had taken me 20 minutes longer to get to Duncan than anticipated, but oh well. I headed off into Duncan Canyon shortly after Ashley, but she was soon out of sight. I was eventually caught by Topher and we encouraged each other along. About 3 miles shy of Robinson Flat, I heard a some yelling – which took me aback – who would be out this far cheering us on? As I approached the noise I saw a runner on the side of the trail, back arched against a log, with 3 runners hovering closely. I ran up and recognized Kami on the ground, having the most horrendous asthma attack I have ever seen. I quickly got down and scooped her head and shoulders into my arms and tried to talk her down, hand on her belly “breathe into my hand, Kami. Do you have your inhaler?” She whispered “no” as she went from slowed breathing back to fast shallow breathing. “I need to pass out”. I said it’s okay, I had her. She danced on the edge of consciousness briefly. I suggested to Topher to start running to Robinson Flat to get someone to get medical. Kami had the wherewithal to start apologizing and telling us to run, which we all adamantly opposed. Soon there were 5 more runners on the scene – including Tyler Stewart and Pam Smith – both with inhalers. One of the men administered the potion while I held her head. Finally she was able to breathe, but she was not in a good way. We eventually got her standing up. I told her I would walk with her, but she wanted the ladies to be racing, so one male runner in the group said he would walk her in.
It had been the longest 5 minutes of the race for me. I ran on, eyes straining ahead for the medical volunteer to come towards me. It was probably 20 minutes before I saw him, and I asked if he was going for Kami. He assured me he was, and then Tim Twietmeyer appeared, running out to help her in as well. I had gotten colder with stop and worried about Kami becoming hypothermic on top of the asthma attack. She did make it out, was taken to the hospital, but fully recovered and came to the race finish in good shape and good spirits.
I was still shaken by the time I arrived at Robinson Flat. It was the first weigh-in, and I wobbled as I stood on the scale. Craig was there, and asked if I was okay, as I was behind schedule a bit. “Yeah, just a little shaken by Kami. Nothing like a little race day perspective.” He ran through the aid station with me, wished me well, and I was soon climbing out just behind Topher.
We chatted briefly about Kami, then he scooted ahead of me. The rain was coming down earnestly, and when I began the descent from Little Bald mountain, I was at least happy that my legs were doing well. I had a pretty good run down the switchbacks even though it was hard to see through my wet eyeballs. After the technical trail, out on the flat dirt/mud service road, I caught one of the two rocks in the road, went down hard, and hit my head hard on the other rock. Damn. The runner ahead heard me fall and asked if I was okay. “Yeah, sure, fine.” Ugh. I got up gingerly and wondered if I had a concussion, but I was fine. I started running again, and noticed that my right shoulder/upper rib area was fairly sore. As time went on it was apparent that I had damaged something as the pressure it required to blow my nose was a bit painful. (One week later I found I had dislocated a rib – which is by far easier to deal with than a bruised or broken rib).
At Miller’s Defeat, I drank two cups of hot broth, cursed the rain, blessed the wonderful volunteers, and made my way on towards Dusty Corners. I caught and ran with Denise Bourassa for awhile – her first Western States – she was struggling in the cold, but otherwise doing great. I hit the downhill section before Dusty and allowed gravity to pull me in quickly, just behind Topher. Hannah and Larry crewed me again, and Hannah informed me I was in 13th place, and 12th had just left. I was soon on my way to Pucker Point trail. I don’t normally like this section in that I tend to struggle with the flat sections and the feeling that it will never end. This time, however, I was feeling relief from the rain, and it was starting to heat up. I passed Tyler Stewart, moving me up to 12th female, and number 11 was right in front of me. I caught Liza Howard just above the Last Chance aid station, and we ran in together. My weight was still stable at 120, but my bottles were pretty full, so the volunteers were concerned that I wasn’t drinking enough. I had been doing a lot of my drinking from the tables, and I wasn’t sweating much, but decided to try a little harder to drink on the run.
Now approaching some sweet technical single track, I found myself smiling spontaneously for the first time all day! I was finally warming up, drying out, and when I started this descent, my legs actually felt pretty good! I flew down to the Swinging Bridge, and began the ridiculous hike to the Devil’s Thumb. I hydrated, ate gel, and decided to take an Aleve – something I don’t normally do – to take the edge off the pain in my rib.
I had a good split to the top, 38 minutes, spent a little time at the aid station removing my layers, shoving them in my pack, weighing in, grabbing a couple of gels, and then I was on my way to my favorite descent into El Dorado Canyon. I passed a nice Aussie, who asked for the beta on the next ascent – “is it as ridiculous as the climb to the Devil’s Thumb?” I described the next section as sweeter and more mellow. He seemed relieved as I passed him by. I was having so much fun now, and when I hit the descent into El Dorado Canyon, I was in heaven. Faster and faster, I let gravity pull me down. I passed a couple of men on the way down, and was welcomed by the aid station at the bottom. “What do you need?” I ate some water melon, drank some coke, a gel, took an S!Cap, and headed up the trail to Michigan Bluff. About half way up I was caught by my Aussie friend again, who said he did appreciate the relative run-ability of this canyon. I saw no other runners on this climb out, and was pleased at the number of times I was actually able to run on the ascent. As I entered Michigan Bluff, my movie man, Jay Smith, was there, running after me, filming on the fly. My crew of Larry and Brian was there, and quickly switched my bottles off, gave me a drink of chocolate milk, and I was on my way to Foresthill. Twiet was there again, telling me “Go Meghan! Show ‘em how it’s done!”
On to the last canyon – Volcano – involved a section that is usually quite hot, but the mild temps made this section quite bearable. Here I caught Sunsweet Teammate Joe “Drama Queen” Palubeski. He was in very good spirits, but starting grow weary. We chatted a bit, and I was caught by my Aussie friend again. I dropped them all on the descent, and when I arrived at Volcano Creek, I went down on my knees to ice my quads. Refreshed, I continued on, and finally emerged at the base of Bath Road to the greetings of my pacer Hannah, and Sunsweeters Bev and Jeff. After some quick team hugs, Hannah and I slowly jogged up the road. Hannah filled me in with the race dynamics. She confirmed that I was in 11th place, with Ashley up by 5 minutes, Amy about 20. And because AJW runs the Bath Road section, so did we, albeit at a somewhat pedestrian pace. Before we crested we were met by my other pacer, Mark Richtman, and Brian, and the four of us built more and more speed running into Foresthill. Another weigh in, plus a cheek swab for the research study, and I was ready to go.
Cruising out of Foresthill is always so thrilling, and this time there was the added excitement of being chased by one film crew of Jay Smith, and chasing JB Benna who was filming from his bike, riding in front of me.
I saw so many friends along here that I found myself running a little outside of my head. When the crowd finally thinned and the cameras were gone, I felt a bit winded. But at the same time, I was excited and motivated. “Hang on Hannah! We’re going hard!” We hit the trail, and in a few minutes, came upon Ashley and her pacer. At the same time, a dog entered the trail, aggressively, and I yelled at it as I ran by Ashley, and in all the confusion, I was now in 10th place. We hammered the downs, cruised the flats, and ground up the short hills on this section to Cal 1 aid station. I told Hannah all I wanted was to drink from the table and to eat some melon. We were in and out quickly, but Ashley was still right behind us. We came to the infamous “Mackey Hill” and I struggled as Ashley closed in. Hannah asked if I wanted her to go in front. I said no, as I was redlining already. I made it to the top, started running again, and every downhill I put space between me and Ashley, but every up hill, she brought herself very close again. This game went on for a couple of miles when I finally admitted that if I kept working that hard to stay ahead I would soon dig myself into a very deep hole. The next time Ashley got close, I stepped off the trail. As she passed I said “I’m working way to hard to stay ahead of you!” She sweetly passed, and in no time was completely out of site.
Hannah and I were in and out of Cal 2 quickly and onto one of the fastest/sweetest downhill sections. Mild switch back after mile switch back. Hannah told me stories, and I assured her she could talk all she wanted, but that I wasn’t really listening. We hit the six minute hill, which took me seven minutes this time, but we cruised the next downs nicely, all the way to Sandy Bottom. I didn’t mind running here, as I knew we were getting close to the river crossing. As we finally popped out on the last road section, I realized my Cal Street split was going to be a personal best. I was stoked to be moving so well, and when we arrived at the river, my time from leaving Foresthill to here was 2:46. A very good time for me on race day.
I weighed in right at race weight, was given the go ahead, and we ran to the river. Plunging into the cold water felt very good. Sean Meissner was pacing his runner across the river, and it was fun catching up with him through the chilling flow. Mark and Brian were waiting on the far side of the river, and after a hug from the lovely Diana Fitzpatrick working the aid station, we began our trek up to the Green Gate. I was getting filled in on where the women were, especially those in close proximity, when suddenly I spied Joelle Vaught walking slowly. “Joelle! What’s going on?” And like last year, she smile broadly and said “I’m really a 50 mile runner! I haven’t eaten for awhile, and can’t really get anything down.” And so it was that I moved into 10th place.
After the Green Gate, Mark and I headed onto the trail to Auburn Lake Trails (ALT) aid station. Darkness finally overcame my ability to see, and I switched on the light before the aid station. At this point I didn’t really want to look at my watch anymore as the miles were starting to drag on. Mark was a great pacer – some stories and some reminders to eat, and recognizing that I am working hard and don’t need pushing. Finally at ALT, I weighed in, drank some liquids, and on our way out, finally ran into Jed again, fiddling with his lights. We wished him well, and cruised on. This next section is quite runnable – annoyingly so. I felt myself ebb a bit, and Mark suggested that calories might be prudent, as there was still significant distance left. He was right, so I bit the proverbial bullet, opened a gel, and downed it all at once instead of nursing it like a baby. And low and behold, in about 5 minutes I was running strong again. We relatively clipped along, and caught Paul Terrenova a bit later. His countenance was, as usual, cheerful and positive. I bragged to Mark that Paul was running his first 100, with the goal of completing not only the Grand Slam, but topping off the 4 races with Ironman Hawaii.
Brown’s Bar aid station music reached our ears, and as I began the steep ascent into the lights, I heard “Is that Meghan?” and I raised my fists. The resounding cheers were deafening and so appreciated – this aid station was manned by the Ashland contingency, and I had many dear friends there. They quickly fed me soup, gave me gel, and told me that Ashley was about 5 o4 6 minutes ahead, Amy probably 20. I was more concerned about who might be behind me. Running in 10th place is not exactly comfortable, and I so badly wanted to stay in that position at the very least. Mark and I high tailed it out of the aid station, and I fairly scampered the intense downhill section to the quarry road that paralleled the American River – I only had blisters in the arches of my feet, which weren’t preventing me from running hard. I found myself actually running the uphill sections of the quarry road – not always the case in previous years. The final long climb on single track I mostly hiked due to the technical aspect, until I heard cars and saw car lights, where I picked up the pace and ran across the road to the Highway 49 aid station. My crew quickly aided me, and we were on our way out again.
My pace from here to No Hands Bridge was honest. I ran the down hills hard, and didn’t struggle badly on the climbs. At the colorfully lit bridge, I quickly grabbed a cup of coke, chugged it and hit the bridge running. Across the bridge, it finally felt like the wheels had pretty much disassembled. I shuffled along for what seemed FOREVER before reaching the final single track up to Robie Point. Hannah and Brian were there, and the four of us began the final 1+ miles to the finish. Somehow I found myself running again, and then running faster and faster. We hit the white bridge and I was building momentum. On the track I heard Tropical John Medinger over the PA “Ah… The Queen!” Such a nice welcome. I churned my way around the track, crossing in 19:45, 10th woman, and greeted by Craig, without whom I would never have made it this far. I secured yet another chance to dance here, taking 1:05 off my previous best for the regular course, and full of ambition to do it better next year.
Many thanks to my friends and crew, to all the runners who made it to the start line, Coach Ian Torrence, Sunsweet, Drymax, Garmin, and Scott Shoes. You are all a part of my success.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. With Western States less than 2 months away I felt compelled to hit the trails and distance with gusto. However, I had been spending proportionately more time on the flat roads prepping for the World 100k Championships than in previous build ups for the “Big Dance” and frankly quite glibly thought that jumping into Miwok 100k would be perfect. The conversation I had with coach Ian Torrence went like this:
Me: “Question – I have signed up for Miwok 2 weeks after Worlds as a long training run for Comrades and States. I want to check with you though – your thoughts..”
Ian: “Let me answer your question with a question: Can you go to a race (like Miwok) and truly not race?”
Me: “That is a good question….
When I put on a number I tend to race. I know that when race results are published I do care where I come out in the list since we don’t get to say “training run”. Right? But, I did do NF50 in SF in 2010 just for the experience and didn’t race hard and really enjoyed it. SO, yes, I can do a race and not race it. I think especially two weeks after a World Championship. I did do States 8 days after Worlds in 2009. All I wanted there was to get a top 10 so I could race the next year. I love the Bay Area runners so it is as much as social event as a race.
So, yes, I can.”
Well, having said all that, it still turned out to be not such a good idea.
Kevin Rumon picked me up from the always hospitable Fitzpatrick residence at 3:15 am. We arrived at Stinson Beach by 4:00 – plenty of time to fuss about before the 5:00 am start. The dark start up the long climb out of Stinson Beach was illuminated by the runners lights, but more impressively, by the full moon, low in the sky. I fell in line with Jed Tukman and Charlie Ehm, following the shapely calves of another female runner. We all joked and laughed throughout the long climb. Finally I decided to make a pass around the female, and in doing so, bumped her wrist, knocking her watch off. While she had to stop and find it, I started receiving jabs from Charlie and Jed about my true character – how I take the competition out by seemingly careless accidents.
The morning light approached and we turned our lights off as we hit the runnable, albeit heavily cambered, coastal trail that ran along the contour of the headlands. Joking with Charlie and Jed helped pass the time, and as I did one minor face plant off the trail I was reminded by myself to never tell my daughter that I don’t fall anymore – which I had done a few days earlier. Ahead I could make out the blue jersey of Helen Cospolich, but I didn’t seem to be getting any closer. We hit Bolinas Ridge aid station where I grabbed a gel and ran with Jed for quite awhile on the now widened road. Eventually he pulled away, and I was joined by Jimmy Dean Freeman. We chatted for a long stretch, during which I was passed effortlessly by a woman whom I still do not know. The downhills were fun, and yet….I was feeling a little concerned that my legs were still a bit sleepy.
After about awhile, the leaders of the race started appearing on their return trip. Dave Mackey was running side-by-side with Chris Price, and they were followed shortly by Jesse Haynes. Then more and more men until I eventually saw and encouraged the first place woman. Then Helen, and one more woman. I reached the turn around at Randall aid station and was greeted by very enthusiastic supportive volunteers. I drank some coke, ate a gel, and started the long climb, just as the woman I had de-watched came in – it was Jen Benna! It somehow felt more offensive that I didn’t recognize her at the scene of the crime. “Jen! I didn’t know it was you! I’m so sorry about your watch!” “It’s okay – I needed a new one anyway!” She was soon fueled up and running back up the trail with me. We stayed together awhile and then I slowly pulled ahead. I was pleasantly surprised and slightly hopeful that I would eventually reel in the girls ahead. It was a fun section being able to say hi to friends and familiar faces. Finally back at Bolinas Ridge aid station, I grabbed a gel and an S!Cap and scurried out onto the single track. I was so happy to be on this section of single track – a fun, technical and runnable section back to the Coastal Trail.
Now this trail was feeling like work. It is fully exposed west slope, so the views are spectacular. The narrowness, camber, and overgrown grass made it more difficult than I anticipated. It was beginning to feel like a lot of work so early in the day. When I finally popped out onto the short bit of pavement, I heard a voice from a car – “You want a ride?”. I looked over at the ever present “Tropical John” Medinger, and as he drove beside me I replied “Don’t tempt me!” Before I could seriously ponder his request, I had to turn back onto the single track. A few minutes later I heard a loud whistle from above and saw him above the trail, taking photos. I gave him a wave and resigned myself to the task ahead.
There was a small train of runners closing in behind and we hit the Matt Davis trail together. I offered my position to anyone who wanted it but they were content letting me set the pace. The trail was steep, twisty, rocky, rooty, but lots of fun. I was regaining a little confidence, but my legs were not used to running downhill. I contemplated stepping out of the race at Stinson Beach, but when I arrived at the aid station I went into auto pilot – “I need water in my pack, and a gel.” John Maestes, my friend Dana’s husband jumped in to help, taking my gloves and hat and getting my pack back on. Jason Lehmen, a training partner from Portland had dropped from the race and ran with me a bit out of the station. He asked how I was feeling and I said I felt like quitting. I asked about the other women and he said they were at least 10 minutes ahead. Ah well. Keep going forward.
I climbed up Steep Ravine, seemingly the only one in the race, finally being passed up the top by a male runner. We chatted briefly before he pulled away. Another young guy caught me and introduced himself as Brandon – and this was his first 100k. After he pulled away, Jen floated by, cheerful and supportive. Next, Charlie caught me. “What did you do, stop for breakfast in Stinson?” “Hey Charlie – nah, my legs are junk. No downhill in them.” We ran together into the Muir Beach aid station, and then I started the long hike out. Long, long, long. Every crest brought another climb to view. Finally the downhill into Tennessee Valley and my quads were not happy. I had contemplated quitting again, worried about doing too much damage to my quads. And again, I went into aid station mode, got what I needed, and started walking out with the next two women to catch me – Ragan Petrie and Nichole Sellon. We chatted briefly before they pulled ahead as well. Then I caught back up to Charlie, heaving by the side of the trail. Yikes. He recovered, caught up, and we trudged on together to the next aid station. I spotted an avocado, begged it off the willing volunteer as well as a Popsicle. Leaving the aid station, Charlie said his stomach was ready to go again, so I went ahead on the circuitous climb and decent to Rodeo Beach, across the sloggy sand, then back up and over the hills to Tennessee Valley. I was fairly committed at this point to finishing. Above Tennessee Valley, fellow Corvallisian and steady runner, Tia Gabalita, came up behind me. She was doing well and danced down the rocky terrain around me.
We met up again at Tennessee Valley aid station where she goaded me – “Come on Meghan, let’s go!”. I laughed “my legs are shot! You go ahead!” I chatted with Tim “Fitzy” Fitzpatrick, who was waiting to pace his friend Vineer, and Tom Catts who was waiting to pace Erika Lindland. Ted Knudsen was waiting for Charlie so I asked if I could tag along with them. I had run 50 miles, the last 25 of which had been painful, and I was not planning on doing more than finish at this point. Charlie came in, fueled up, and we meandered out. His stomach had settled for the time being and I struggled to keep up. As we climbed back over towards Muir Beach, I looked back and saw my dear friend Scotty Mills, grinning and quickly closing the gap. “I’m so happy to see that you ARE human!” We exchanged a few more jabs, before he gradually and gracefully pulled away.
We had more climbing with great ocean views before finally descending down to Muir Beach aid station again. I was able to get down the climb only slightly smoothly, and the man in the red car was there again. “Hey John! I should have taken that ride when you offered this morning!” He grinned and said “Well, you’re only 2 hours slower than last year!”
Mary Churchill and her pacer caught me at the aid station, where the volunteers were generous with their compliments. “You guys are doing great! You look fantastc!” I looked at Mary. “Who is she talking about?” We laughed at how ridiculous it seemed. Leaving the aid station, Charlie was feeling green again, and I patted him on the back as I ran by while he heaved into the bushes. I hung out with Ted while Charlie emptied out and started over, and we were soon jogging down the road together. They pulled ahead easily and were soon out of sight on the next bit of single track. I meandered along, and slowly reeled them back in, when Ted turned around to run back to Tennessee Valley. Charlie was feeling it again, so we slogged on together, silent and beaten down. On the last major climb, he said he would need to walk it in, as every time he ran his stomach lurched. I slowly jogged off, crested the last climb, and began the perilous (due to the thrashed legs) descent down Steep Ravine. This was not pretty. At the bottom, only passing the Saturday pedestrians, I was passed by one final female, who was incredulous that she was doing so. On the final stretch on flat pavement (ah, my current forte!) I was able to finish with some decorum and a smile on my face. As Tia placed the finisher medal around my neck, I asked her to give me #52 next year, rather than #1. Charlie eventually made it in, and the post race atmosphere made up for all the misery we had put ourselves through.
Western States training had indeed started, in “baptism by fire” fashion. Pretty sure I won’t be trying that method again. This race also reinforced my earlier decision not to run Comrades.
Many thanks to RD Tia Bodington, Tropical John, and all the lovely volunteers on the course, my friends/competitors for keeping me honest, and the continued support of SportHill, Sunsweet, Garmin, Scott Shoes, and DryMax!
Going to Italy means going on an adventure. From the moment my friend Lynda and I arrived in Milan, it began. No hiccups early as we took a train to Milan from the airport and made our way to the Duomo, via the metro, getting familiar with the public transportation.
A quick bus tour of the city in which I processed very little of what was about me due to jet lag, then back to the train station to head to the Lake Como region to meet team mate Pam Smith and her husband Mac for two days of acclimatization to the time zone. The town was Cernobbio, very quaint, right on the lake. Getting off the bus and unsure of the location of our accommodations, and so far lack of cell phone uses, I showed a man the address and he pointed us in the right direction. We walked with luggage in tow to the street, looking for Via Cinque Giornate 4, but could only find odd numbered addresses. Finally, I communicated the best I could with a man working outside his bicycle shop where this was, and between him and another fellow, decided it was in a tall apartment building across the street. So, we luggaged across, came full circle around the apartment building but it was completely locked up. I then asked a waitress at an outdoor cafe if she knew where it was. She went inside to bring someone to help. And the consensus was it was across the street by the bicycle shop. So, we went on the street again, and asked two Italian women – “do you know this address” – pointing to it on the paper. They said we were on the right street but no one could find number 4. And then we crossed the street and again asked the bicycle shop owner for help. I gave him the phone number of the apartment owner, and he went in, got his phone, came outside and called the owner, Giorgio. After a very long and expressive conversation, it was revealed that the number was actually five, and the entry was next to the bike shop. Since we couldn’t find a way to get a hold of Pam and Mac, Giorgio was going to drive over and bring us a key, and right about the time he arrived, Pam and Mac came walking down the street. All sorted out now, we made our way to the apartment, schlepping our luggage all the way up 3 flights of narrow stairs, out a narrow door onto a balcony, and down to the very end. Once inside we were delighted by the place – very clean, modern and well supplied. We spent the next two days sleeping a lot, eating wonderful food, and running along Lake Como. Thursday morning Mac and I felt somewhat accomplished by asking for coffee, bus tickets, and bus schedules in Italian at various shops.
We left for Seregno, location of the World 100k Championships, Thursday morning. Upon arrival we were greeted by no one, but soon saw Laurie Thornley and Hannah Shallice, my other two crew, coming towards the station with team mate Annette Bednowski and her husband George. They had arrived sometime earlier and were trying to decide how to get a hold of someone who could transport us to our team accommodations. Annette was eventually able to get a hold of someone, and after two hours of lounging outside the station, some of the LOC showed up. Then there was much discussion between the officials on who would fit where, and finally we were being transported away.
First stop – the registration desk for the race. We spent over an hour here getting our passports copied and discussing the lodgings. It appeared that the US contingency was so big that we weren’t going to get the accommodations requested. We would all be in the same place, but there were possibly going to be 14 of us in one dormitory type room. That sounded a bit crowded, and eventually we were able to convince the organizers that our team management would be the ones to sort out the details, and that we really just needed to get there so we could start to relax.
The drive from Seregno to our lodgings took close to an hour. It was a beautiful drive, ending with a 14 switchback climb that put us at about 4000’ elevation in the hotel Montanina. While it was hard to believe that we would have to make this trek a couple more times before the race, it was pretty hard to complain about the setting. The Dolomites were rising out of the hills closest to us, and the Alps could be seen further back. We experienced all kinds of weather – snow, thunder, rain, sunshine. The rooming was sorted out and I ended up in the very large dorm room with my crew, Amy, and our team manager Lin, so it was actually quite satisfactory. Mexico, Canada, Spain, and Japan were also there.
Friday morning Pam, Amy and I went for a short run in the mountain area. It was tough at that elevation, and quite cold. Afterwards, Michael Wardian, George, and I drove to town as Michael and I were expected at a media conference. We only got a little lost in Seregno trying to find the conference center while listening to the GPS lady as she took us through a pedestrian mall and the wrong way in a round-about, but finally made our way. The panelists were Michael, Giorgio Calceterra (last year’s defending champion), and the Swede Jonas Budd, Marija Vrajik from Croatia, and myself. We were each asked to just say a few words about the upcoming race and then we were whisked off the stage as things were running behind schedule.
I was then given a chance to talk to Marija – a very positive engaging woman whose best time was 7:37 and was hoping to improve on that. She talked about how she wasn’t sure how much longer she would be running like this as she was getting old. “How old are you?” I asked. “Thirty-seven”. I chuckled and said “I’m the one getting old – I’m 51.” She gasped and as she crossed herself exclaimed “You are SO OLD!” and we both burst out laughing.
We continued mingling then Meghan Hicks (Irunfar.com) asked Michael and I if she could interview us for the website. Afterwards we hung outside in the very mild weather waiting for the start of the parade of nations. Once the parade was over and we had all found a WiFi hotspot to check messages, we were on our way to the mountain top for the night.
Race morning Amy woke me up at 4:15. I took a shower, dressed, and went down for some food. I had rice and a cappuccino and a banana, and waited with the team for our ride down the mountain. Finally a shuttle arrived, and all the athletes tried to cram in. A few minutes later we picked up a few more runners, and watched as more runners tried to fit on. Finally we started down the 14 switch back road to the next town down. The charter buses were waiting, we got on, but the drivers were standing in the road arguing about who knows what, so Amy stepped off the bus, got the attention of the driver, pointed to her watch, and the driver came to the bus and got us going to Seregno.
When we arrived in Seregno, hopped off the bus and made our way to the start, we were informed by an official that the race would start 30 minutes late. This was fine, as we had arrived a bit later than expected. The weather was cool but comfortable, and after warming up and multiple “last stops” at the bathroom, we were corralled out of doors to the start line. Team USA bunched together, wished each other luck, and after a teasing “eye’s on you!” from Mariaj of Croatia, we were off.
Like most races, there was a surge at the beginning. Behind and to the right, motorcycles carrying officials beeped their way through the runners. Amy and I fell into a nice rhythm, watching as our average pace settled in on our respective Garmin watches. The course meandered on streets and bike paths, through neighborhoods, parks, and finally into the shops in Seregno where our first aid station was. I looked for Laurie and Lynda – Laurie deftly handed my bottle with Gu and an S!Cap taped to it. I ripped the packet open, swallowed the contents, the S!Cap, and worked on drinking the water.
We were averaging 7:10 pace or better, but felt relaxed, and my heart rate was in the low 150s – so I was pretty stoked at the effort and pace feeling so easy. Every now and then either Amy or I would pick it up and the other one would reel it back in. Aid station 2 at 9km was reached we were pleasantly surprised by Andy Henshaw’s family being there ready to help us out. I grabbed my water/gel combo from one of them and got it all down.
From 10 to 14 km or so the course paralleled a freeway on a bike path that undulated very gradually, and with the noticeable head wind this was the most challenging part of the course for me. We maintained our pace through here though, and when finally reaching the end we were gifted with some very sweet, gradual downhill, and our pace picked up again, to the point we had to remind ourselves to slow down.
Our 15k aid station handlers were waiting, and Hannah handed me my usual – Gu and water – which I again swallowed quickly. The next 5k (the last on the loop) we were feeling good and were still running sub 7:10 pace. The crowds thickened as we ran on the circuitous path back to the start/finish. Crossing the timing mat, the announcer spoke our names (“Sproston-a Amee!” “Arbogast-a Meghan-a”). I hit my lap button and was pleased with the sub 1:29. Our next aid was just past the finish line area, and not expecting help, I grabbed my bottle of the table just as I saw Heather try to hand me one. I shouted my thanks and knew to look for her next time around.
Excitedly, I opened my first caffeinated gel of the day. I swallowed it plus another S!Cap, downed it with water, and Amy and I continued in lockstep. Now we knew the loop and we agreed that it was a great course for a 100k on the road – flat with a variety of scenery and long enough that it was hard to get bored with it. When we hit 2 hours of running I said “We only have to do this for four and half more hours!” Amy corrected me to the reality of five and a half, but I was undaunted. The aid station routines were repeated – gel and water every time, and S!Caps periodically throughout. I was feeling on top of my game. We ended the second loop in under 1:29 again and in 4th and 5th place. At this point I had pulled ahead of Amy, but just slightly. I felt really strong and kept pushing myself, letting my heart rate creep up to 160. My 50k split was 3:41 and I was feeling confident in what I was doing. My bowels were speaking loudly to me so when I saw a patch of grass and a slight amount of privacy I stepped off the course for about 30 seconds, did my business, and hopped right back in. Rolling back into town and the small out and back I could see Amy behind me, but more importantly, I could see Monica Carlin, Italy’s favorite, not far in front of me. At the same time I had been getting reports “Due-ay minutay, prossima femme - due-ay minutay!” I stayed calm, and at the end of lap three (another sub-1:29) I passed Maria from Croatia in the aid zone, putting me in 3rd place, with Monica seconds in front of me. Lap four was going to be my “zen-lap” in which I would just focus on running, getting through, trying not to slow too much, and saving myself for the last lap. When I reached the first turn of the lap, I could not see Monica anywhere, and then heard the fans “Secundo! Secundo!” Somehow, Monica had stepped off the course – putting me in second place. This was a new experience, but I was feeling mentally and physically engaged, although definitely beginning to feel the struggle. I got through each aid station in the same routine – water, gel, occasional salt. I was also utilizing the sponge stations to help keep me cool in the warming conditions.
At the short out and back, I could see that Amy was still not far back. When I reached the end of lap four, my split was 1:33, and my 50 mile time was 6:00, a big PR for me. I now was ready to put my head down and run hard to the finish – a mere 12 miles….Reports were coming in – the first female was only “Un minute!” I grabbed my aid from Laurie at the 5k mark for the last time, and could see the first place woman with motorcycle escort just ahead.
I contemplated ramifications of passing her and being in the lead – would I be in over my head? Would she pick it up? Could I maintain this? I focused hard, and was definitely pumping my arms. In another km I caught her, ran beside her momentarily while we exchanged words of encouragement, and then went by.
Hitting the section by the freeway for the last time, I felt the wind leave my sails on the first little climb. I willed myself to the top about the same time as the Swedish woman re-passed me. I encouraged her along, and hoped for some sort of rebound. A couple of minutes later, Amy caught me. “Go get her Amy! She’s all yours!” and she glided by in perfect control. I was barely moving, feeling quite lightheaded, and recognized that this must be the point in a race, no matter how close the finish, where a runner may decide they are done and throw in the towel. I desperately wanted to be on this team, wanted to PR, wanted to break 7:40, and wanted to FINISH! I decided I needed to stay upright, keep moving forward, not lay down, not walk, and get to the next aid station for some help. Moments later, a Russian runner passed me like I was standing still. Finally, hearing Hannah cheering for me from the last aid station, I struggled in yelling for Coke. I came to a complete stop, told the gang “I have bonked badly!” to which they handed me a black bottle of warm coke that I chugged with another gel. Lin reminded me that we were going for the gold medal, and with that extra bit of incentive, I ran out, and within two minutes the Coke and gel kicked in and I started running hard again. Faster and faster I went, but no where near any of the gals ahead of me. I got to the finish stretch and sprinted it in – 4th female, PR by 5 minutes, and a new age group world record by 9 minutes. I asked about Amy and was stoke that she had won! In less than two minutes, Pam Smith crossed, and Team USA had scored the gold!
The men’s team fared very well also, with four top ten finish in David Riddle (5th), Jon Olsen (7th), Michael Wardian (8th) and Joe Binder (10th) scoring them the silver! While Caroline Smith, Annette and Todd Braje had rough days, they finish with dignity and grace. Sadly, Cassie Scallon had to pull out due to injury as did Andy Henshaw, but I’m sure they’ll both be back next year!
Many, many thanks to the Team USA crews! Lin Gentling, Lion and Susan Caldwell, Tim Yanacheck, and my crew Lynda Fischer, Laurie Thornley and Hannah Shallice, to Matt’s sister and brother-in-law Heather and Darryl Schaffer, Andy Henshaw’s family, David Riddle’s family, and to Jon’s wife Doobie, Caroline Smith’s amazing family, and to the wonderful Italian fans along the course yelling “Dai rigazzi! Dai, Dai, Dai!” (Go boys and girls! Go, go, go!).
Also a big thanks to Team Sunsweet, Scott Shoes, and Garmin for product support!
With the World 100k Championships only a month away, coach Ian Torrence suggested I might benefit from the Dizzy Daze 50k around Green Lake in Seattle. A 3.2 mile course, times 10, gave a great opportunity to practice nutrition, hydration, pace, effort, without taking too much out of the tank. A drive up to Seattle to stay with ultra friend Dana made the prospect even more enticing.
Practicing nutrition started the day before – bananas, peanut butter, oatmeal. For dinner – white rice and scrambled eggs, and no alcohol. A bit of a fitful night of sleep, but at 4:45 I was ready to get up and get the day started. More white rice, with bananas and peanut butter, cup of coffee – we were ready to go. We got to the course by 6:20, picked up our race packets (a nice Whole Foods grocery bag with a great race beanie which came in handy in the cold morning air), and fidgeted about trying to determine what level of clothing would be needed, unnecessary, or just plain too hot. It was dry and clear, so I went with shorts, short sleeves, Moeben arm warmers, gloves, but no hat. With a loop course of such a short distance I decided to carry a gel flask, but no fluids with the plan to stop to drink from the aid station table each time around.
Promptly at 7:00 am, RD Matt sent us off to join the 100k runners who had been out since 6:00. I quickly fell into first female, following the first male – Adam Hewey – who took off at a pretty quick clip. The surface was something of a mix between road and trail – hard packed gravel, some dirt with roots, and the occasional stretch of pavement. My effort felt strong and brisk and controlled. I had done a little bit of time-goal-effort-pace mumbo jumbo in my head and with the help of a pace predictor. First I had thought that running a 50k in 3:40 would be pretty cool, then I realized that the course was 32 miles. So then I did a calculation and saw that I would need to run 6:50 pace to achieve that time. Well, that just sounded a bit rich, so I used a pace predictor to see what I could run “in theory” based on my best marathon time (2:45:xx) and the darn thing said I could average 6:30 pace for 31 miles. Yeah, I wasn’t too keen on that idea, but it made 6:50 much more palatable.
And now that I was actually running I felt myself resisting the urge to keep close tabs on my pace. I felt so good that I didn’t want to look and see that I was running 7:30-8:00, thus the feeling good part. But I wanted to keep tabs on my heart rate (HR), so when I looked at that I could see 6:xx and thought – wow, I don’t feel that fast, but I just left it alone and ran by feel, since I wasn’t sweating yet and my HR was not being picked up. Periodic checks, that HR finally appeared, at 177 – a typical spike at the beginning of a race or workout for me, so I just focused on staying relaxed, and it gradually came down into the 150s. Meanwhile, I could see Adam about 30s ahead, and pretty much staying that distance ahead as we wound our way around the outer loop of the Greenlake path.
I knew that to run 3:40 I would need to run each loop in about 22 minutes, but I was feeling as if what I was running was manageable, so I wanted to just stay with it, whatever it was. I finished the first loop, stopped to gulp some fluids, hit my lap button, and headed out for the second loop. I had no idea what the loop took. I could still see Adam ahead, and just kept on keepin’ on. Gravel, packed dirt with roots, pavement, gravel gravel gravel, dirt. Repeat. Repeat. On the 3rd or 4th loop (they all sort of run together in my memory…) I caught up to Adam, where we properly introduced ourselves. I asked him who I was supposed to chase if he wasn’t ahead of me, and he said he would just have to chase me for awhile, but he only picked up the pace and soon left me in his tracks.
The path and park surrounding the lake was becoming populated by winter-weary Seattle-ites coming out to enjoy the sunny, albeit cool, day. There were 130 registered entrants in the 4 distances, and we were definitely spread all over the loop, plus the many local runners out for their daily routine. As I felt better and better, I checked my pace a little more often, and most of the time it was under 7:00 which pleased me. My HR was 155-160, and I kept taking hits off of the gel flask, and drinking at the aid station. Before the end of the 5th lap I decided to ‘man-up’ and see how long I had been running, and it looked as if I might get through the first half in 1:50 – right on 3:40 pace. Nice. Ahead of me I spotted Dana and yelled “Marco!” to which she responded “Polo!” our trademark greeting.
I grabbed my drink, thanked the volunteers, and began the second half. Looking at my watch, I was happy to see it was indeed 1:50 into the race. As long as I didn’t fall apart, it was looking pretty good! I was once again running with Adam as he stopped to shed a jacket, and we discussed our pace, and also what races we had in line for the rest of the year. About half way around the lakae he pulled ahead again, and I finally had to succumb to the next available toilet. It was all of 30 yards off the path, and I was back running the trail in less than one minute. Adam was quite far ahead now, and he finally was out of view for the remainder of the race.
There was a slight suggestion of a side ache coming on, so as I cruised into the aid station I took two S!Caps with some water and headed out for number seven. I was getting excited as I was counting down the number of times I had to start another loop was down to three. The side ache never came to fruition. I kept the effort going, and it was getting tougher. Somewhere after lap seven, my Garmin started beeping. Not unusual for me, I had forgotten to clear the data from a couple of days before, and I had filled it up. I pushed buttons in several sequences and had no luck in stopping the beeping until I hit “stop”. Whatever. Just run hard.
At the end of lap eight I took my last drink from the aid station and left my flask on the table. I figured I could run 6.4 miles on the food/fluid in me at this point. Ahead of me was the purple shirt of Dana, and as if expecting me, she turned to look. “Marco!” “Polo!” I asked how she was doing – not great, but still moving forward. “I only have a lap and a half” I yelled. I actually had more like five miles to go, but once I start a lap it feels like a significant accomplishment worth at least half a lap.
Now I had run this loop over eight times, yet still didn’t feel as if I had it nailed in my mind, so I imagined myself at a five mile point from my house, and willed myself to run those last five miles harder. When I made it to the end of lap nine, I ran right through yelling “one more lap to go!” which was confirmed by the lap counters. I put the hammer down, and wished my watch was working as I was curious about how fast I was going. I was starting to grunt with every exhale, but realized I was breathing too shallowly when I did, so I focused on much deeper breather.
Running a loop course that short allows for many repeat sightings of the runners, and it was a very supportive group cheering me on when I passed. I kept surging more as I was certain that the finish was just ahead. Eventually, it was, and when I finished in 3:41 I was stoked. Sub-7:00 pace for 32 miles, no serious issues, no energy lapses, and minimal mental anguish. Betsy and Matt did a great job putting this race on – a nice event with so many options and purposes! Many thanks to them and the volunteers for enduring the cool, breezy day for all of us! Thanks as well to Sunsweet Dried Fruit, Garmin, and SCOTT-Sports for their generous sponsorships!
The final 20 miles of Jed Smith were still seared in my brain when I began this delicious 50 mile trail run, and wanting to reverse the way my energy played out at Jed, I began relaxed and conservative. Amy Sproston and Shawna Tompkins skittered off quickly and I didn’t attempt to follow closely, willing to let the chips fall where they may. It was still slightly dark so I couldn’t make out who was ahead, and focused on staying upright as dawn slowly rose. The beginning miles were technical and climbed steadily. When I could finally see clearly, I started glancing ahead the far off trail to see if I could make out where the gals were. I finally spotted Amy’s bright red Montrail shirt, glanced at my watch, and two minutes later was where she had been spotted, and we were only 4 miles into the race. Well she was definitely moving quicker than I, but it was early, so I didn’t feel compelled to go after her.
A thin coastal fog kept the sunshine at bay, but the temperature was quite mild. I could hear excited chatter behind, and see runners ahead – the terrain was largely scrubby with Manzanita, Eucalyptis and poison oak, none of which were tall enough to obscure the views. When I dared glance off to my left, I was given great oceans views. Then, turning inland, the trail opened into a low meadow. Running through here felt slow, flat, dead. For a few moments I thought I was going to have a 45 mile death march, but when the ground firmed up, I felt stronger, and eventually eased my way into aid station 1. I was followed in closely by dear friend Scotty Mills who was busy flicking “helpful advice” to his comrades.
My Nathan pack still had enough fluid, so I downed a gel, some coke, some GuBrew, took an extra gel for the road, and headed onto the first long downhill. It was sweet single track, and it seemed to go on forever. I was in a train of runners, and while I felt as if I could go faster here, I decided to chill and stay tucked in line where I was. It seemed it would never end, and I wasn’t alone in my concern for how much uphill we would have to make up for this free ride.
It finally ended with a flat low section and shortly after we were faced with the price to pay – a steep, long, steady climb that was not quite steep enough to hike the whole thing. I was jogging slowly when San Diego runner Angela Shartel ran up beside me. She assured me that I didn’t need to worry about her, she was having a terrible day already and wasn’t sure she was going to do the 50 mile. Her sciatic nerve was really hurting and her confidence was thin. I encouraged her to not throw in the towel just yet – there were still several miles left before she had to make up her mind. I slowly pulled away, jogging and hiking the long climb, and at the top returned to the first (and now the second) aid station. This time I filled my pack with GuBrew, ate another gel, drank from cups, took some salt, and when I was ready to go again I had no idea how many had passed me here. I resisted the temptation to ask the volunteer keeping track of the runners when Amy and Shawna had passed through. I just didn’t want to go crazy. I hit the trail with no one in sight, as the shrubbery was higher here, and the trail was very circuitous, and a gradual downhill. I could hear voices behind me, as well as the occasional “HOWWWLLLL” by celebratory runners. On the next climb up I was overtaken by a male runner, commenting as he went by “I feel like The Court Jester passing The Queen.” I chuckled and asked who he is – “Tyler Cates” – a runner from Eugene I hadn’t met yet, but who is among the lucky to be in Western States 100 this year. He informed me he was running the 50k as he pulled away.
Alone again, I forged on, to a now more open view. I could see runners as specks on the climb ahead, but didn’t get any closer. One climb led to another down, and finally I could hear the welcomes from the next aid station. I cruised in, grabbed drinks, gels, salt, and suddenly I was running like I meant to race. I passed two men on the way out of the aid station, yelling “come on boys!” and felt like my body finally woke up and was ready to rock. The next section was more lush, following along a creek bed. I soon reeled Tyler back in, as well as Scotty Mills, who felt compelled to comment on being passed by someone “really old”. I pumped both fists in the air shouting “Yeah!” Tyler worked his way back in front on the next climb, and as he crested, the trails for the separate race distances divided. He yelled something about “The Queen!” as he sailed towards home, and I turned left, 22 miles into the race now, and midway through the longest climb.
With only the 50 mile runners on this part of the course, I knew we would be very spread out. I climbed and climbed, and my left knee began to complain. Rats. A tracking problem had emerged a few weeks before, and even though it had been straightened out by my massage therapist, there was apparently residual irritation. Having bigger fish to fry in the months ahead (World 100k Championships, Comrades, Western States) I backed off a bit, and eventually the pain went away. Relieved, I pushed on. The climb was shaded in parts by dense shrubbery, some of which I impaled an eyeball on – wow that hurt! I decided that the sunglasses would better serve me on my face, and after I could stand straight again I stumbled on up the trail. Having felt alone for quite some time, I was relieved to finally see another runner ahead. It was Angela again, and she was walking slowly and resignedly. As I passed her she jokingly chided me for encouraging her run the 50 mile, as her sciatica was really acting up now. She said she was just going to do what it took to finish. I jogged by and soon crested and started some downhill running – and my knee started hurting again. Buggar. I worked very hard at keeping my feet under me, not over striding, and not braking with my quads. It was a different kind of challenge, but eventually my knee stopped hurting.
This was well into the out-and-back section and sure enough, the men’s leader, Jorge Maravilla came floating towards me, so relaxed and fresh that I was confused about whether or not he was in the race. I was then descending again, a very steep rocky road, realizing that I had to come back up, and I was fully engaging my hamstrings to spare my knee. Surprising me again, Angela caught up to me, saying I was inspiring her and she was having a bit of a respite. We came into the next aid station, where I drank and ate a gel, then scooted out for the 3 mile section to the turn around. Now the rest of the lead men started to come by – Jorge Pacheco, Chris Price, Mark Hartell, Tommy Neilson, Jimmy Dean Freeman, and some I don’t know yet. I was being given reports as to where Amy and Shawna were, but was soon to find out for sure. Amy came around a corner, looking strong and composed. She encouraged me and I shouted out “do you have any Advil?” I got no response, and later she let me know that she thought I had asked her if she wanted to take the car keys since she would be finishing first – and she wasn’t about to add that complication to her race! About 5 minutes later, I encountered Shawna, also looking very strong. I made it to the turn around, drank a cup of water, and headed back. About 2 minutes back from me was Angela, moving well. Traffic in both directions was getting a little thicker, and it was great to be encouraged and to encourage in return.
The fog had burned off and it was heating up. To this winter-chilled Oregonian, it was a welcome sensation. I kept the salt going in, the gels going in, and the fluids. My energy had been pretty good and steady all day, so while I may not have been running as fast as I sometimes do, I was not in a bad place. I returned to the aid station, followed closely by Angela, refilled my backpack and began to hike/jog back up the steep rocky climb. There were many families out enjoying the trail, all very encouraging to the runners.
Now the previously unrelenting uphill became the 9 mile long downhill. My knee was cranky. I was willing to take Advil (something I hadn’t done in years) to ease the pain in my knee. I was also wishing for a pacer – someone to keep me company and keep me focused, when Angela again caught me. “No frickin’ way! Why do I keep catching you?” I asked her if she had any Advil, but she stated that the stuff scared her. I asked her if she wanted to pass, but she said I would just catch her again. From that point on, we stayed together, managing our individual pains, sharing life stories, encouraging each other. At the last aid station I took a gel, a couple of salt tabs, and drank 3 or 4 cups of fluids, foregoing a refill. We had only 4.5 miles left, and Shawna was reportedly just a few minutes ahead.
My knee had stopped hurting now, and I was glad I hadn’t used any painkillers. We had one more friggin’ long climb, and then a sweet long gentle down hill run to the finish. We approached the finish line to the cheering crowd, and crossed side by side, tying for 3rd place. Amy was there to greet me with a big grin and hug – I asked her how long she had been done. “Oh, I don’t know – 40 minutes?” Yowza!
This race is a keeper. Well organized, single track, views of the ocean, and a great time of year to get out of more wintery states. Thanks to Keira and all her volunteers for putting on this great event!
Back in December, I had the good fortune to go for a run in the Marin Headlands with Mark Richtman and a group of his ultra running friends. We were discussing which races we had coming up for 2012. I had the Olympic Marathon Trials, and then I had a good three months to train for the World 100k Championships on April 22. The “Worlds” is one of my two “A” races of the year (the other being Western States 100) and I have yet to really nail it. With that in mind I had considered running Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile in early February, held on a loop course in Texas. I justified/rationalized that I would have 100 miles to figure out my nutrition/hydration/sodium intake requirements and hopefully figure out how to be stronger in the second half of the 100k. The idea of traveling to Texas again shortly after the Trials wasn’t too appealing, and when Mark said “I’m running Jed Smith 50 Mile, going for the American 55-59 age group record – you should go for the 50-54 women’s record”, I was immediately intrigued. The idea had a lot of appeal – a mere day trip from Oregon, a five mile loop on pavement, and “only” 50 miles, so a shorter recovery window. And thus, I decided to join him 2 months later in Sacramento on the American River bike path to practice for the 100k.
Race day arrived with fair weather – no wind, predicted highs in the 60s. Craig and Laurie agreed to crew for me, and on the less than 5 mile loop, they were at the two aid stations on the loop – Craig at the start/finish line, and Laurie about halfway around the loop. With my very specific instructions to them both (yes, I even advised Laurie on how to hold the S!Cap – I have knocked too many to the ground in the past – and advised Craig to lift a tab on the carton of coconut water but not to completely open it) that would mimic the passing of food/fluids/salt to me at Worlds. The road ultras are run with the aim of very seamless supplying of aid – something like a bike race – the goal is to not break stride as you pick up your goods. And, as Laurie is on board to be on my crew at Worlds, she got the opportunity to practice her job!
It was a bit chilly at 7:30, but I was able to drop all outer clothing a few minutes before the start. I felt decent – I hadn’t tapered much and I had barely started any focused training since the Trials. I knew the women’s 50+ American record was 7:47, which is around my 100k time, so I didn’t feel pressure to have an “on” day. It was perfect to practice all those things and on not real fresh legs.
The initial part of the race was a short out-and-back dogleg to make up the shortage due to the loop being less than 5 miles. It was the only time I would have a chance to high-five Mark on his endeavor to run 5:52. It was a nice gentle warm-up and ease into the pace, and Joe Palubeski – fellow Team Sunsweet-er – and I, fell into lock step together. We finished that section and then started into the loop course of 4.9+ miles, and gradually fell into a 7:11 pace, and felt comfortable enough. My heart rate wasn’t being picked up yet as I hadn’t been sweating, but I tried to stay relaxed. The course was advertised as flat and fast, but it was really a roller. The loop started westward, crossed the American River on the Guy West bridge after a couple of miles, and headed east on a little downslope – my favorite section of the course – and under a bridge to the far aid station, where Laurie and fellow ultra runner John Catts (Richtman’s crew) were. Laurie deftly handed me a bottle and an S!Cap. With little break in stride, I hit the “treacherous” portion of the course. We left the bike path and ran on a dirt path that was somewhat cobbly, somewhat rutty, and not that quick. I worked on consuming the 8 oz of GuBrew, and succeeded within a half mile, so was able to dispose of the bottle and continue running unencumbered. My heart rate was now being picked up and I was steady at 155.
At the end of the dirt we reached the Watt St bridge, ran under it, and climbed up to cross the river, took a 180 degree turn down an incredibly steep road down, a sharp 90 degree turn, and then passed the numerous supportive runners/crews, to Craig who handed me an opened gel, and a coconut water with the tab just lifted ever so much. Indeed, I was high maintenance in my requests, but I wanted to mimic the routine at Worlds as best as possible. I crossed the timing mat in just under 35 minutes for the first lap – around 7:10 pace – which was probably too rich for me to maintain, but as usual, I was a little delusional about what I could maintain. I got the gel down, and worked on the carton of coconut water, spilling a good amount – so another note to self about drinking from aseptic packs without a straw – about 75% success, but the 25% spillage was annoying. Eating and drinking in these events is SO HARD! All that swallowing and splashing and stickiness while trying to breathe makes it easy to convince oneself that you have enough when you don’t.
It was absolute pleasure to run with Joe for the first two laps, our pace slowing a bit with each lap. By the 3rd lap, Joe had pulled ahead, but I had told him I wasn’t going to try to stay with him by going faster, and my bowels had me making a dash into the bushes anyway. My overall average was now 7:13 (heart rate still bouncing around 155-160), and I still wanted to fight to keep it from dropping more than 1 sec/mile each lap. From that point I was running alone, but amongst the many 50k and 30k runners now on the course. That was one of the great things about this race – having someone to encourage and to be encouraged all the way around each loop. I kept doing math – if I didn’t slow too much I could average 7:20 pace for the 50 and run below 6:15. But my fitness and taper didn’t put me in a position to pull that off. During my 5th lap I was negotiating with myself, thinking if Craig could start running with me on the 6th lap, he could run 6, 8 and 10 – maybe that would help as I began to struggle. But, I didn’t take the time to propose that to him, continued taking the gel and coconut water from him, and the GuBrew plus S!Cap from Laurie.
On the sixth lap I had to make another dive into the bushes, and when I came back out I was running with a woman in the 50k -Amy – and we ran fairly close as we approached the Guy West Bridge. Suddenly I was plagued with sharp pains in my right abdominal muscles. I slowed a bit, got a bit of relief, and after I crossed the bridge and hit the nicest section of bike path it came back with full force. I uttered a few “oh craps!” and jogged slowly for a bit as Amy drifted by. Putting my hand over the cramping part helped stave off the pain, and when I reached Laurie at the aid station I hollered that I needed two S!Caps. She quickly and deftly responded and I was soon on my way with the doubled up salt and GuBrew. Again, as in each lap so far, I was able to consume all 8 ounces. The trail section here was really getting to be the dreaded section of the race. It seemed to get rougher each time – merely a reflection of the fatigue I was experiencing. John Catts ran with me for a bit – letting me know he would take over for Laurie so she could help at the start/finish while Craig was running with me.
Now more than halfway through, I was starting to count the laps down. I was slowing a bit, but I managed to pull through mile 30.5 (lap 6) in 3:42 – 7:16 pace. I asked for 2 S!Caps again, and told Craig he’d better be ready to run when I got back! The side ache gnawed at me off and on though lap 7, and my heart rate was drifting down to the low 150s. Craig was ready to go when I arrived. Mark Lantz and Laurie were both taking over the crewing for him, handing me the coconut water and gel. I told Craig about my side ache as I took nips of another gel. He worked at getting me to stretch and breathe deeper, but for awhile nothing seemed to help. After we crossed the Guy West Bridge, I told Craig this was my favorite section, yet I was still unable to relax. We got to the aid station where John Catts had taken over for Laurie, and he updated us on Joe, saying we were closing in. We hit the dreaded dirt and eventually finished up loop 8, my overall pace now around 7:25. Rats, but oh well.
Laurie and Mark were at the ready – which was a good thing as I barked out different demands – “no gel, no salt, but please open the coconut water here while I drink”… and then Craig and I were off again. At this point, my side ache had finally gone away. He stayed a half pace in front of me, keeping me going, occasionally making me hurt on the climbs. We hit John Catts again – took another S!Cap and bottle and hit the dirt. Just before the end of the loop I needed to make a pit stop and actually found a toilet rather than bushes. In less than one minute but at salt-chafe:30 I emerged and we finished loop 9, closing in on Joe.
Finally, the last loop had arrived. I told Craig it might be more like a fartlek – I was going to try to run hard, but was likely to fade. It was true – surge, fade, surge, fade. I made an attempt at one more gel with caffeine – it would surely give me another boost. Finally back to John Catts, one last bottle and the news that Joe was only one minute ahead both encouraged and frustrated me. We could see Joe, which meant I would try to close the gap, when I really didn’t want to push anymore.
He did get closer, but not enough. Craig and I hit the Watt St bridge for the last time and I started to really pick it up. Two final sharp turns and we were 100 meters from the finish. Craig said “you take it from here” and I wasn’t ready to have him leave me just yet – “come a little further PLEASE!” Who’d of thought I could be that tired and desperate? He stayed a little longer, and then, with the energy system developed on the short interval workouts, I found myself sprinting wildly to the finish – 6:19:06 -average pace 7:35. Joe had arrived 70 seconds before me, and Mark Richtman had finished 1st in 6:16.
My main goals had been met – consume 300 calories per hour and not get into a “slog”. Yes, I slowed quite a bit, but mentally I never felt disconnected. Whether or not it was different from Worlds 100k or if mentally I’m finally getting used to the length and intensity of running hard and steady for that long is yet to be determined. Setting a National Age-Group record by nearly one and half hours is, well, fun!
A huge thanks to Craig, Laurie, John Catts for crewing and pacing for me, and thanks to John Blue and Dennis Scott for putting on this race! It is a perfect venue to train for the 100k. Also, thanks to the many competitors and fans along the way offering their encouragement.
After spending a weekend in the Texas Hill Country outside of San Antonio crewing for my pals in the Bandera races, I spent a half a week in Schertz, Texas, with friends of the Thornley’s, the Zimmerhanzels, getting lots of rest and shaking the last remnants of a cold. Craig had agreed to be my Athlete Support for the trials, so he began his duties early, keeping track of my sleep and alcohol consumption. We had a great time with the Zimmerhanzels, with the highlight of the week getting to go horse back riding on their farm.
Craig and I hit the road for Houston on Thursday. Upon our arrival, I checked in, picked up my packet, and Craig’s credential. I had time to get a massage while Craig waited in the hospitality suite.
We checked into our house, then gussied up and headed for the BP sponsored banquet, featuring former distance stars Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter, and Steve Jones. They each gave some very entertaining words, and we were treated to amazing food. At dinner, I had the good fortune of sitting next to Bob Larson, coach to Meb Keflezighi and Deena Kastor. We had a great discussion on the importance of running form – something he and I firmly believe in. And to top the evening off, Craig, Coach Bob Latham, and I had our picture taken with the super stars.
After the banquet we headed to the airport to pick up my pillar and best friend, Theresa Ridgway. She has been to the Olympic Trials with me in 2004 and 2008, and she always has a positive influence on my experiences at races. Friday morning the three of us went for a short, quick run, and I was feeling pretty peppy. We headed to the race headquarters for the athlete technical meeting, where all athletes were required to be. The rules and directives were delivered for race day. Aside from Michael Wardian’s several questions at the meeting, the most entertaining topic had to do with the staggered start of the men’s and women’s race. Imagine the reaction of the men to the following scenario – The men’s race was to start at 8:00 am. The first portion of the race was a 2.2 mile loop, and it was estimated the men would finish that first loop between 8:11 and 8:12, after which the women would be led to the start line. If in the event any men would take longer than 15 minutes, they would be held back while the women were assembled for the start. That fact elicited quite a murmur of nervous laughter. I believed that any man would hop on one leg if they had to in order to make that first “cut-off” time.
I got my special fluids bottles prepared and marked with some Beaver orange pipe cleaners, studied the fluids tables layout and learned that my bottles would be on table number 35 in position 7 in each of 3 aid stations that we would pass in each 8 mile loop.
We headed back to our house and I hit the hay early. I slept decently, got up and had rice, banana, and coffee for breakfast, then Craig drove me to the race start. We went into the conference center where the athletes and handlers gathered. We had ample fluids and food, and were able to warm up in the long corridors. The men were beckoned to go down to the start/finish area first, and 15 minutes later, the women. We were all warming up outdoors together, and the men were called to the start. I watched them start their race, then continued warming up and doing strides. The men all finished the first loop in due time, and we were escorted to the start line. At 8:15, we were finally off.
We were packed in tightly and the start was slow – we went through the first mile in about 6:35, the second in about 6:20. Jenn Shelton fell in beside me and as we started on the second loop she stuck to me like glue. My pace was increasing, but not by a lot. I was working pretty hard, and waiting for my groove to kick in. My goals were loose – I didn’t wear the heart rate monitor and didn’t take splits on my watch. I just wanted to go by feel and was fully expecting to be running 6:20s. I watched as my overall pace lowered to 6:15, and then started to inch back up. I was in a pack of about 6 women, and most of them were pretty comfortable chatting. I kept quiet, worried about the effort. Off to the right I heard someone shouting my name, and finally recognized Mike Spinnler on his bike, rooting me on. It was much appreciated.
Jenn dropped a gel, and I asked her if she had more at her bottle table. She said she did, but also said she was going to drop at mile 10. Her hamstring was slightly injured and she didn’t want to make it so bad that she wouldn’t be able to run. I was continually amused how if she pulled ahead of me, she would look back and wait until we were running together again. Later when I asked her about it, she said “I didn’t want to get too far away from Mama Duck”.
We reached the west end of the 8 mile loop, ran over the bayou below and began heading east. One little dog leg allowed some vision of the women ahead, but not the leaders. Here is where Theresa and friends Meredith and Paul were stationed, and their boisterous cheers lifted my spirits. Shortly there after, I heard Craig and Todd Braje, and gave them a wave. Jenn was still running comfortably with me. We came to an aid station and as I grabbed my bottle it fell to the ground. The woman overseeing the table reflexively started to grab my bottle, then remember she wasn’t allowed to help and jumped back. I knew I couldn’t afford to skip it, so went back to get it. At that point, Jenn pulled ahead with another runner, and when I finished the loop, she was no where in sight.
It was pretty exciting to go through the start/finish area, as there were grandstands on both sides filled with enthusiastic fans. My pace had slowed to 6:30. Ugh. I was just having a pretty off day. I focused on keeping good form because if that went, I would really suffer. I pulled in a runner ahead of me, Shannon Cody, and passed her with encouraging words. As soon as we were out of the tall downtown buildings again and heading into some wind, I realized we didn’t really need to run apart, since we were both obviously not having a great day. I eased up as she caught back up. We stayed together for the rest of the westward route, and then as we turned to go east, she fell off the pace.
I had consoled myself before the race with the fact that if I did end up having a slow day, then I would at least get to see the lead men come by. Of course, I hadn’t expected it quite so soon, but at their mile 22, the police and then the media trucks went by (my moment on TV) and then like a piece of machinery, Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi, and Abdi Abdirahman motored by me. It was so awesome to be on the same course at the same time. They looked incredible. And then there was no one else. “Wow – I just got to see the three men going to London” – and then surging by came Dathan Ritzenheim, fighting hard to close the gap. It was near the dog leg, so I got to see them again, and I wondered if Dathan would be able to catch them.
Back in my own body, I trudged on. It never occurred to me to not finish. I was again cheered on by Theresa, and then by Craig at their various spots. I was being passed by more and more men, all of them just flying, and I was intrigued by the bib numbers – our number reflected our seed in the race based on our qualifying times, so most of the men had low numbers, but occasionally someone with a high number went by, defying their seed substantially. With about a mile to go for the men, Bend runner Max King came muscling by. That man was worked and then some, but he was still full of fight and determination. I cheered him on and got no response, but later he said he did hear me – and had wondered who it was.
Shortly after, my good friend Mike Reneau came gliding by, smooth as gelato, with energy to give me encouraging words. He began to close in on Max, and they both set PRs for the day. As I crossed the start/finish again, I saw Mike recovering, and as a testament to my inability to run fast for the day, I shouted out a congratulations to him and invited him to cool down with me.
Off I went for my final loop. I was running solo, and although not doing well, I hadn’t been passed by anyone since the end of the first 8 mile loop. I was cheered briefly by a shout from someone on the side yelling “Go Aged Ultra Runner!”
I also needed to use a bathroom and since time was not really of essence, I stopped at the porta-john. When I came out, Shannon Cody had caught back up, so we ran together for awhile again. We got to know each other a little bit – it was her first time to the trials, and as usual, I had to toot my horn about being the oldest runner there. We stayed together for awhile but I pulled away again at mile 23, just as I started getting cramps in my abs. Ugh – what next. I passed Theresa, Meredith and Paul again, their enthusiasm as strong as ever. I put my hands on my hips, trying to alleviate the stabbing pain, and finally it subsided. At mile 24 Craig was standing in the road to take my picture as I came by, as there were very few runners left at this point. I could smell the barn now, and began trying to run harder, only to have my hamstrings start to cramp. Oh-for-crying-out-loud-this-was-ridiculous. I just don’t normally cramp. Along with a few training errors, I had failed to keep up on my electrolytes. I suppose there is something about never ceasing to amaze oneself, but when it has to with stupidity it isn’t exactly a point of pride.
With a mile to go, the Marathon Maniac Crew of Tony P!, Chris Warren, and Steve Yee yelled out and high-5-ed me going by. Shannon Cody caught back up and we ran into together, and at the last second she deferred to the aged competitor, and had me cross the finish line in front of her. 2:58 and change – and I was genuinely relieved to be done, and truly disappointed in my day. I came in expecting to run 2:45 – I wasn’t injured, not sick, but in hindsight, my weeks leading up were not real focused, I had been sick a couple of times, had traveled a lot, and those things do not add up to peak performance. This lesson was more acutely felt, given that it was one race that only happens every 4 years, and it is not an easy race to get into to. But on the truly upside, I was surrounded by my best friends and immersed in the culture I thrive in, and I am glad I am not to old to learn a lesson, and not too tired of racing to be full of determination and focus. This event exists to put our finest athletes on the Road to London, and as soon as I could I find out, I learned that Meb, Ryan, and Abdi and finished 1,2 and 3 for the men, and that Shalane, Desi, and Kara brought it home for the women.
Afterward, Craig and I went to the awards banquet. It was a privilege to see the 6 Olympians and hear what each one had to say about their day. They were all humbled and modest and I feel very proud of their sportsmanship and support for one another. The one interview that really stuck in my mind was with Kara, when she was asked how the race unfolded for her, especially in terms staying in the top 3 when there were 4 women battling it out for the bulk of the race – Shalane, Desi, Kara, and Amy Hastings. In order to shake things up, the pace had to be picked up, and Kara remarked that her “comfort zone is 5:30 pace” but she had to pick it up into the 5:20s if anyone was going to drop off – which is her danger zone. So as a group they would pick it up, and Amy would drop back, but as soon as they eased up, she was back. We know the result, but I was stuck on the idea that someone’s comfort zone was 5:30 pace.
This was a fabulous weekend, and I am grateful to my friends Craig and Theresa for their support during the race, and the many, many more out on the course cheering everyone on. And a special thanks to coach Bob Latham for getting me to this race one more time!
In 2009 I ran this race, with a less than satisfying performance. I bonked badly at mile 42 and struggled in, not really enjoying life, stopping at every aid station and eating things I never eat, just to make it to the finish. This year, I vowed, would be different.
Fortunately, I was able to have friend and fellow 100k World Team member, Howard Nippert, crew for me, which would allow me to have ample calories and fluids of my choosing during the run, plus his no nonsense encouragement. On paper, I was heavily favored, although there were a few unknowns and the unknowing-ness of one’s own performance on any given day. I felt strong, swift, rested, and based on my workouts, no reason to think I couldn’t break the course record of 6:29.
There was a fair amount of hoopla surrounding the race. JFK 50 is a storied event, the oldest ultra in the country and the largest. The history I find very inspiring, especially given the year in which this started – well before the obesity epidemic we have here now.
The local paper, the Herald-Mail gave much press to this event as well. Wardian was going for the course record, and the men’s field was stacked with Matt Woods, David Riddle, Andy Henshaw (all members of the USA 100k Team) as well as others less well known to me. The women’s field was not as deep, but definitely some women with creds – Cassie Scallon – a dark horse but with some quick times and wins in the past 2 years, and Ragan Petri coming off a solid win at UROC. I was favored heavily, and was in the mindset that I would race the course record and that would keep me motivated.
Race morning was perfect for November – chilly, clear, and a bit breezy. Howard and I made our way to the start. I gave him the bottles and gel flasks with a list of aid stations that I would like to get them. I set my bottle and flask down that I would start with and did a little more warm up, then went to the start. At 7:00 sharp, we were off. The fast men bolted quickly. I was feeling nice and light, when I realized the reason for the lightness was that I had left my bottle and flask at Howard’s feet. Hmmmm. I decided that I could easily make it to mile nine on aid station support, given it was cool and I had topped off the tank well pre-race. Cassie pulled up next to me and we got to know each other a bit. We hit the Appalachian Trail in about 20 minutes and happily danced down the trail. For awhile. It was really, really rocky. I remembered that from before, but the longer I was on it the less I remembered it from before. Cassie slid by and gracefully and gradually pulled away. I did my best to focus on the ground in front of me, and not worry about where she was. I wanted to get through the trail section and feel ready to run fast when we hit the tow path.
At mile nine, aid station 2, Howard was there with my forgotten bottle and gel. “Forget something?” I told him I was fine, I had aided at the first station. Cassie was right in front of me, but I took my first pit stop, and when I came out, Cassie was completely out of view. There were another 6 miles of trail to go, and I was starting to feel a bit wobbly on the rocks. If I had weak ankles, they would have shown up here. I went back and forth with the men on the trail, and we were now encountering the early starters. The final bit of trail consisted of very gnarly switchbacks on leaf covered rocks, and a somewhat congested with early starters. Everyone was congenial and supportive, and my only encounter with the ground came by sliding on the leaves from one trail down to the next on a switch back. I did come back up with the help of fellow runners.
Down off the trail and close to the towpath, Howard handed me fresh bottles. I asked how far ahead she was, and he said about a minute and a half. When I finally reached the towpath, I got the official time – she was 3:40 ahead of me. Well, that was more than I expected, but my 2:14 was as good as I needed to be in reach of a 6:29. I focused on easing my way into a faster pace. I knew I would need to average about 7:45 overall, and I was at 8:20 now. Falling back to a previous experience this summer where I did a training weekend of a 50k training run followed the next day by a 3:02 marathon, I knew I could pull out a ‘quickish’ marathon which was the distance of the towpath section. Having the Garmin calculating overall pace was priceless, and I knew from previous experience that I would need to show a faster pace on the Garmin than my goal pace, as the Garmin had already measured an extra half mile. As I started cruising it was fun watching the average drop. I wasn’t planning on ‘chasing’ Cassie down, I planned on running a doable pace, just under that edge of “too fast”, and if I could get to the end of the towpath in 5:30, then I could bust my ass to the finish. I also predicted that Cassie would come back to me. Aid station volunteers and fellow runners gave me various reports, but each time indicated she was further ahead. Somewhere midway, she was as far as 7+ minutes ahead. Wow – that was impressive – as my pace had been steadily coming down until now it was under 8 minutes.
The towpath section is actually, in my opinion, quite pleasant, contemplative if you will. It has some long straight stretches, but some nice, natural bends. I remembered to look at the Potomac and wonder what it was like in the 1800s. The trees were losing their leaves, mostly golden, but one tree had shed bright green leaves. These were mild distractions to keep me from being so inside my head that I forget one of my enjoyments in running is experiencing what is around me.
My stomach was doing pretty well. I don’t normally have issues, but focusing on getting more gel and more fluids can tip the scales. Whenever my stomach was at peace, I would take another shot of gel from my flask, then chase it with Hammer’s Sustained Energy in coconut water. That would cause a bit of “ick” feeling for awhile, but eventually it would subside, and I would repeat the process. My digestive system had not caught up to east coast time, and I made 3 more porta-john stops along the towpath. With 22 miles to go, I imagined I was on a 22 mile run from my house for perspective. I kept a good pace going, happy that I wasn’t falling into a slog. As I got into the 30′s my pace was down to 7:55, and holding steady. Then I heard that Cassie was only 6:30 ahead. When I reached mile 40, I switched imagery to the Ice Cream Sandwich Run and started to gradually increase the effort. I was done enjoying the towpath, had had enough contemplative mind chatter, was sick and tired of carrying my bottle and the gel flask, and quite frankly was sick and tired of gel and Sustained Energy. When I finally made it to mile 42, Howard was ready with fresh supplies. I threw my old ones and the ground and said “I’m done carrying stuff. I’m topped off, I feel fine, I just need to run!” My time was 5:33 – I didn’t know what kind of pace I could hold, but getting on the pavement felt very good, and I was stoked that I could actually push the pace right away.
A short steep climb slowed me a bit, and Howard drove by yelling “c’mon! c’mon! c’mon!” As soon as I crested I opened up and started flying. For a bit. I reined it in, when an oncoming pickup driver slowed, rolled his window down and shouted “She’s only 2 minutes ahead! You can get her! Really, you can!” I surged a bit, and stared ahead. The road doesn’t stay straight for long, and it rolls, so it was hard to gauge how far away she really was. I focused on a male runner, reeled him in, exchanged supportive words, and then I focused on the next runner. Coming into an aid station I grabbed a gulp of coke, and kept charging on. My overall pace was dropping again. At mile 46 Howard was holding a bottle for me. I yelled ahead to him “Coke! Coke!” He quickly moved, and met me with 2 cups. I grabbed one, spilled half of it all over me, snorted a good amount up my nose, and managed to swallow about a teaspoon. Howard ran next to me, letting me know that I was running stronger than Cassie. “It’s not over yet” I replied. “I’m surging and sagging, but I’m not going to quit trying.” He ran back to his car, drove on ahead and waited. I kept running strong, but was definitely tiring. With 2 miles to go, I caught him again. This time he just waved and drove off, and I knew that barring a disaster for Cassie, she was not going to be caught today.
There was an orange jersey in front of me, and I finally made out that it was Sean Meissner, fellow Oregonian, and Cassie’s boyfriend. I chuckled to myself that Cassie was ahead of Sean. He saw me with about a mile and a half to go, and at that time he could see Cassie in front. He was getting “chickwiched” and was pretty stoked about it. I couldn’t close the gap, and at the finish Cassie was 6:31, Sean 6:33, and my time was 6:35. No new course record but Cassie and I and run the 3rd and 4th fastest female times in the history of the race. I broke the 50+ women’s record by 85 minutes, and the 40+ by 7.
It was a gratifying day and one of my best races of the year. The volunteers and race staff were fabulous, and having Howard crewing for me was priceless. Many kudos to all, and especially to RD Mike Spinnler.
Three short weeks after the World 100k, I was toeing the line in Minneapolis in my 7th running of the Twin Cities Marathon. I love to come here for this race – it has been the USATF Master’s championships for as long as I remember, and the folks on the race committee treat me extremely well. Even though I could set low expectations given my previous few weeks, I had every intention of trying to run another Olympic Marathon Trials standard. For the most part, I was easily as fit as a year ago when I ran 2:45, just with the added stress of the World 100k. No worries….right?
Coach Bob Latham was present and supportive as is his usual MO, but never taken for granted on my part. He has strengthened me into a much more consistent runner over the past three years, and I truly appreciate all he has done and continues to do for me.
In the masters division, I was ranked 5th, with Susan Empey, Wendy Terris, Sheri Piers, and Shannon McHale in the mix. Susan was looking to run anything under 2:46 to get her qualifier, and we talked about running together. My goal was to run 6:10-6:12 pace for the first 20 miles, then Hold on for Dear Life the last 10k which includes significant climbing. I actually felt pretty decent the days leading up to the race, and the weather was looking perfect – sunny and cool and no wind.
At 8:00 we were off to the cheers of the crowd lining the streets. I stayed calm and strong, checking my Garmin every few whiles to see if I was hooking into a good pace. By the first mile, Susan glided by effortlessly. My split was 6:22 – not too stellar, but keeping tabs on my HR, I was in a good zone. I needed to keep it between 170-172 in order not to blow up. I made it up the small hill in mile 2 with a 6:21, ran past the traditional tuba player into mile 3 with a 6:34. Hmmm….not going super great yet. I just kept monitoring my HR, and was glad to see it was at least maintaining the 170, but I was working fairly hard already.
Soon I hooked up running with Katie Caba from Bend, whom I had met the day before. We silently worked together, but psychically connected as runners often do. The next three miles I averaged 6:20 pace, so I was not really hitting the 6:10-6:12 pace. I was working harder than I liked to at this point of the race, yet able to keep the HR up, so there was no reason to relent.
At mile 8, Katie and I lost contact. The next few miles I was holding my own with 6:20 pace, hooking up with different runners along the way. Mile 11 I was looking desperately for my good friend Johanna Olson, who had recently had brain surgery and was staying with her sister, Marnie. Finally, Marnie burst up from the sideline, and I waved wildly at her and Johanna, feeling humbled by the gifts of health I had.
At the half marathon mark, 3 young women easily glided by. They were right on pace for a qualifier if they could maintain what looked like a cakewalk for them. I wished them well, and they returned the compliment. I knew that my 1:23 half was not likely going to be followed by a 1:22 on this course and with the way I was feeling I was thinking a sub-2:50 would be pretty awesome. At this point I stopped looking at my watch, just hitting the lap button at miles as they slowly went by.
Around mile 15, Katie caught back up, and ran by strongly. She stayed within eye shot for the next couple of miles, and I slowly caught back up. She started to fade but I said “stay with me Katie – neither of us is hitting our time goal, so we may as well suffer together.” Mile 17-19 were unreal – I started to get lightheaded and had the momentary thought of “oh my god, I’m going to be a walker!” Somehow, mind over matter, or just plain stubbornness, I made it through that rough patch. The last six miles averaged closer to 6:35, so it wasn’t a case of the wheels coming completely off, more like slow leaks in all four. Sub 2:50 wasn’t looking like it was in the cards.
Crossing the Mississippi after mile 19, a little bit of Running Goddess Ju-Ju visited me and I found a second wind. Katie had sagged back, but I found myself running on my reserve strength. Reserved from what, I don’t know, but I wasn’t about to question it. I hit mile 20 with no idea of my overall time, but ready to ‘geterdone’. I was thinking “just keep it steady, don’t slow down, but no need to go crazy” when I saw a female ahead of me. Damn. Well, I may as well try to reel her in. It was one of the three gals who had passed me about half way, and I encouraged her as I went by. Again, I mentally settled to stay steady, but not go crazy, when I saw another female within striking distance. Geez! I reeled her in as well, and so it continued for the next 3 miles until I had passed 5 women.
I had psychically connected with another runner at mile 23, and we silently worked together on the long grinding final miles. With his compact muscular body, I assumed that when we hit the last downhill and sprint to the end, he would leave me in the dust, but he had completely tanked and I out kicked him to the finish. Hoping I was under 2:55, I was pleasantly surprised at my 2:52 and change. I hit my seeded Master’s finish of fifth, and was 19th female overall. Bob was there with his bear hug in tow, proud of me as always. “I think I had a little of that 100k in my legs still” I commented to him. I think one more week of recovery would have been helpful, which is merely an observation. I wouldn’t have traded the experience – the weather was perfect, the fans were spectacular, and I persevered to have a unique experience.
Leading up to the World 100k Championships in Winschoten, Team USA spent 3 days together with all of the other competing nations in the Athletes Village, 30 minutes from the race. It was the most time I had spent with the internationals, and I was feeling more comfortable with many of the same faces from my previous 3 years experience. We had meals in the same facility, and each team ate together, like a tiny United Nations meal hall, with friendly interchanges of several languages at all times. I had the privilege of traveling with Amy Sproston, whose travel ease was comforting and full of humor, with her inclusion of Pierre the Prairie Dog and her habit of speaking Spanish whenever she is in any foreign country. It was her first time on the team, and she fit in beautifully. Our team was divided up into the many bungalows, and Amy and I shared one with Joe Binder.
Our team meeting was like a family reunion and a new experience for Amy, Pam Smith, Annette Bednoskey, Andy Henshaw, and David Riddle. Our returning team mates Carolyn Smith and Devon Crosby-Helmes for the women and Matt Woods, Chad Riklefs, Joe Binder and Mike Wardian on the men’s side boded well for both teams. We had a generous supply of handlers – a few had their spouses, and few had an army – so the runners were to be well taken care of. And keeping us all glued together, both individually and as a team, was our illustrious team management of Lion and Susan Caldwell, Lin Gentling, Timo Yanacheck and Ann Heaslett.
Like a typical Oregon fall, the weather was warm but wet. The forecast for race day was another story – partly cloudy and in the 70s with some significant humidity. I would have to take what the day brought, just like everyone else, and focus on keeping up with my hydrations and sodium intake, as well as the usual calorie and electrolyte beverage.
Thursday morning the team headed into Winschoten for a course preview. Carolyn and Devon led the charge through the drizzle and rain and we were indeed going to be racing on a very flat course. There were several turns, a few long straight aways, and some nice gentle curves as well. It was varied enough that at the end I remembered little to the order of streets and turns, but I got the feel for the course. While running, the women began discussing race plans and as a team we came up with a loose idea. Devon and I would run together, trying to keep each other in check early on, Pam and Annette would likely be evenly paced, Amy was not sure where she might fit as it was her first 100k on the road but she was experienced enough to figure it out early on, and Carolyn was experienced enough to know that her training conditions in the heat and humidity of a Wisconsin summer had actually left her completely unsure of her fitness, so she, too, would have to wait and see.
Friday morning Amy and I took a short jog and inadvertently found a beautiful state of the art track surrounded by woods. We took the opportunity to run a few strides on the forgiving surface, feeling like we were in some sci-fi movie where the lights turn on mysteriously at midnight and zombies come out to run.
At 11:00 am I participated in a panel for the press conference with Ellie Greenwood (last year’s champion), Sonia Vinstadt from Sweden (4th last year), Jonas Buud from Norway, last year male winner from Japan, Shinji Nakadai, Daniel Oralek from the Chezk Republic and Georgio Calcetarra, the Italian champion from the 2008 race in Italy. Nadeem Kahn, PR man extraordinaire, had asked us to each provide a couple of minutes of ‘blah blah blah’ on our race preparation, expectation, thoughts on the course, etc. Ellie gave her report, and ended with a prediction for a repeat gold for her women’s team, so at the end of my schpeil I offered up that the US women were very strong this year and I predicted gold for us, giving Ellie a wink and garnering a few giggles.
The rest of the day was spent preparing all of my bottles for the 2 aid stations – one right after the start-finish line, and one at the 5k mark. I planned for Sustained Energy as my electrolyte beverage which I would pick up every aid station 1, plain water and an S!Cap at every aid station 2, and to carry a gel flask full of Hammer Gel with caffeine so that it would be at my disposal at all times.
Friday evening was the parade of nations in the center of Winschoten, and we were given a show of young dancers in the town square, followed by a lengthy message by the town cryer, and then nation by nation, we paraded down the street to the warm and receptive Netherlands natives, giving out small American Flags, patriot pencils, and candy.
There was a well attended pasta party, then it was time to try to catch some sleep. The race had a very civil start time of 10:00 am, which gave plenty of time for sleep, breakfast, digestion, and hopefully, elimination. I was up at 6:00, cooking oatmeal and drinking coffee, showering, dressing, and laughing at Amy as she modeled the huggers. They looked really good, but she chickened out at the last minute and went with the split shorts.
At 8:30 we boarded a shuttle bus to the race start. I sat with Pam and we discussed various aspects of the day before us. When we arrived and disembarked we were surprised at how warm it already was. There were kids races going on and the largest crowd for the World Championships I had ever seen. This had been promised, as this particular race is very popular with the locals, and we were not disappointed.
Finally it was go time. We girls bunched up, wished each other luck, and after the countdown we were oozing our way through the very thick traffic of bodies. This was a nice way to ease our way into race mode without getting carried away. Devon was shooting for a 7:30 over all time, and I was shooting for keeping my heart rate at 155 or so, hoping that equated to 7:15 pace. We were soon in open road, very comfortable, and when we settled into a pace, my HR was about 155 and we were running around 7:10. Amy, Annette, and Pam were right with us and it felt awesome to have the group. The streets were lined with decorations, families in front of their homes, and on stretches of road between homes, citizens sat in folding chairs. Children were busy all day offering water in cups and sponges to cool ourselves. At aid 2, I looked for my handler, one of the many Andy Henshaw’s entourage (his beautiful girlfriend Lizzy Jewson) and we made an attempt of our first handoff of an S!Cap and water. We succeeded with the water, but I dropped the S!Cap. It was early enough and cool enough that I only made a mental note to slow down a bit more next time.
I took some swallows of gel from my flask, and worked on getting the water down. Amy was still with Devon and I, and we had hooked up with on of the British gals, Joanna. It was her first 100k, but she had proven herself at Comrades in May. We got word from her support that Ellie was in first, followed by team mate Susan, and they were tearing it up already. This took by a little by surprise, but then found out by Joanna that Susan is a fast marathoner and has a record in prestigious 50k race. Well, Team USA had their work cut out for them.
The first loop went by easily in just under 45 minutes. I felt very comfortable, as did Devon. Amy said she wanted to take it down a notch, but it was some time before she fell back very far. We were still running with Joanna, and a all three of us were getting annoyed at a Danish
male runner who wouldn’t leave us. We all tried telling him he couldn’t run with us, but he didn’t understand and just smiled and stayed put. And even more annoying was his shoes were already wet with sweat and water and were “squish-squish-squish-squish”-ing and driving us all nuts. We tried to speed up and slow down to no avail. At aid 2, I managed to get both the S!Cap and the water. We completed lap 2 in under 45 minutes again.
At the beginning of lap 3 as Devon and I grabbed our goods from Lin and Lion, Devon dropped her salt. I slowed down a bit as she finally picked it up and got going again, and Joanna started to drift ahead. Devon caught back up and I was starting to strategize a bit. I didn’t like that Great Britain was already in 1 and 2 position, and their number 3 was ahead of both of us. I suggested to Devon that we could pick it up, and that I wouldn’t last forever doing that, but I could rabbit her up there for awhile, just so we could keep contact. But, she talked me down off the roof, saying we were already on sub 7:30 hour pace, not to panic, Joanna was inexperienced, and she was right. We kept it real, and were still clipping along fine, and Devon’s stomach started to go. As we came to aid 2 on lap 3 she shouted ahead to Nathan that she needed Immodium. He had it for her and then she said she was going to stop in the porta-potty. I said I would keep running and keep contact with Joanna best I could.
Within the next half mile or so, Joanna started to come back, and when I caught back up, she said her coach was scolding her for going to fast. We ran along together, and squishy feet was still there. Eventually, Devon made her way back up and we all held together for awhile, and then Joanna pulled away again. We didn’t go with her, being conservative as planned. Her stomach had settled some and we kept checking in with each other, and all seemed well. We finished lap 3, again in sub-45, and I was starting to remember sections of the course now.
Lap 4 was much like the first 3, in about 45 minutes. In lap 5 I told Devon I needed the porta-potty. I told her to keep going and run strong. When I came out less than minute later, she was still in sight so I kept my eye on her, but the gap only widened. I was glad she was feeling strong, and I was content in keeping to the plan, as I hoped to have something in the second half that was might include some faster running. I still felt comfortable and at the out and back could still see Devon. At the end of lap 5, Devon was ahead by a minute, but about 3 miles in, I spotted her and realized she was coming back slowly. When I caught her and asked what was going on, she replied she had knives stabbing her in the abs. We both thought she might be behind on salt, so as I pulled ahead she asked me to relay her needs to our crew. I yelled out to Nathan to get salt, and he was scurrying around in no time. I hoped it would be the remedy to bring Devon back.
Even running conservatively for the first half wasn’t enough to combat the heat. It was in the 80s with considerable humidity. I tolerate heat better than most, but it still takes a toll. Lap 6 was the beginning of the slow down. Forty-six minutes, followed by a 48 minutes 7th lap. I kept up with the fluids I had, but my abs would tighten up, prompting me to take in more fluid by volunteer families and children. The course was also fairly populated with relay runners, and for one lap I had a relay runner trying to get me to drink more, staying with me for much of the lap. I ran the best I could, and just tried to run what the course gave me. Laps 8 and 9 were even slower, at 50 minutes a piece, and my heart rate had dropped to below 150. With 2 laps to go I saw that Devon had dropped. I was so disappointed for her. She had been such a great help early in the race. Soon after that, I saw a walking Ellie Greenwood. This was a shock, as she had led early on and is a consistent, strong runner. “What’s up Ellie?” I asked. “I’m done” she replied. I encouraged her to hang in there, and wondered from a competitive point what our chances of winning the race without her.
With a lap and a half to go, I heard a motorcycle approaching and was thrilled as he passed by with the lead man – Georgio Calcetera of Italy. He flew by as if I was standing still. “Georgio! Allez! Allez!” I yelled out to him. He responded with “Meghan! Allez!” Such great camaraderie.
As in my first World Championship experience in Italy, Georgio would go on to win very decisively. About 10 minutes later, Team USA men began to catch and pass me, in 2nd (Mike Wardian), 3rd (Andy Henshaw), and 6th (Matt Woods) position. Each one of them exchanged very supportive words. They held their positions to win the gold for the first time in the history of the event.
At my final pass by Lin with 10k to go, she yelled “Go Meghan! Run hard! I want you to run 7:50!” I accepted the challenge, and knowing the end was in sight, I pushed hard.
Of course I could only run hard for moments, then have to back down for a bit. At the out and back section I could not see any USA women. I was concerned that we wouldn’t have enough to pull it off, when I saw the second British woman walking – and she was not looking too happy. I encouraged her as I went by but got no response. With 5k to go, I couldn’t see Mac at his usual station to crew Pam and got worried that she too had dropped. Not knowing where my team mates were made me anxious. As I neared the final turn, I went into anaerobic pace, racing a few chaps hard to the finish, in 7:51:10. Upon reaching Lin, she announced that she thought I had just set a world record for my age group and had placed 5th woman – coooool! Annette in was not far behind in 7:54. Lin said that Amy was our third runner and that she had informed her that it was up to her to catch as many of the 3 Japanese women ahead of her. In doing so, we were likely to secure the silver. Unbeknownst to me, there were two Russian women ahead of me, and their third had come in after Annette. We waited with bated breath to see what Amy would pull off. At 8:10, ahead of all three Japanese women, Amy brought it home, running the fastest last lap for all women, securing the silver medal for Team USA!
Pam and Caroline finished with determination, neither having their best day, but able to tackle their issues well enough to bring it home. Devon was at the finish line for all of us, supportive and positive, and was incredibly instrumental in keeping me in check early in the race and cheering all of us on to the end.
There were many, many pictures taken by team management, and about a million taken by Matt Woods brother-in-law Darryl. I’m adding a few here just to add some color to the story.
Preparation for my 5th Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (WS) was better than ever. I was fortunate to be able to train away from home for over 3 weeks – 10 days at Michigan Bluff, a couple of days in Yosemite, some canyon running in Utah and finally some altitude and heat adjustment in Flagstaff and Sedona. I arrived at Squaw calm and confident that I would have a good day. Since turning 50 I have been reminded about age group records that exist, but the one that intrigued me the most was Doug Latimer’s record for 50 year old men that was set in 1988, of 18:43. I needed to shave 32 minutes from last year, and was thinking that the past month and half of training had made that possible.
The excitement in Squaw Valley was typical and it was fun hanging out with my teammates, crew, and Andy Jones-Wilkins and family. The day before the race included introduction of past top 10 runners as well as other contenders for the Cougar. I borrowed the magic Thornley hat for the occasion.
Next morning I was up at 3:00, shouting “race day! race day!” to my sleepy crew members Theresa and Hannah. By 4:45 I had connected with my Sunsweet teammates Lewis Taylor, Craig Thornley, Jeff Riley, Dan Olmstead, and my final pacer Jed Tukman.
At 5:00 am, we burst up the trail, some faster than others. I took my time and when I could see clearly, I spotted Craig’s red short about 50 meters ahead. Having tried in the past to stay with him from the beginning, I wasn’t sure if I could catch him. I decided to give it a shot to see if my altitude training had made a difference – and apparently it had as I was able to catch him and Lewis momentarily and we continued to climb together all the way to Emigrant Gap. I was going back and forth with Kami Semick and Ellie Greenwood as well, and I felt grateful to be able to do this climb without feeling like I was having a panic attack.
After we summited, we began to fly down the trail and quickly into the snow covered terrain that would be our surface for the next 10 miles. I stayed close on Craig’s heels until my first slide onto my hip, burning my skin and jarring my body. I decided to back off the pace and stay safe. Lewis passed me and I kept my eyes on him and Craig as long as I could. They were soon out of sight but I fumbled past Kami as we both slipped around on the icy surface. I caught and passed Aliza LaPierre and Ellie as we all tried to grip onto a 45 degree angle slope of ice. I went down a few more times and was annoyed that I could feel the start of a blister. Ellie was soon back and running ahead of me, and I admired her strength on the sections that we could actually hike. Out in the open snow, the yellow flags that marked the course were not always easy to see, and she veered off course. “Ellie! This way!” and back she came, leading the way again. Then she was veering off the other direction. “Ellie! Back this way!” and finally she seemed to start seeing the markings better and before long she too was out of my sight.
I had 2 other men running close by and we eventually came out of the snow and into the second aid station. I choked down a chewy-from-the-cold gel, a potato, hit the gravel road that was part of the snow course, and started running steadily for the first time all day. I was now in the company of fellow Oregonian Dave Larsen and Brett Rivers from the Bay Area. Up ahead I saw Craig and Lewis, so put in a surge, yelled out “Hey Sunsweet!” and got no response. I finally caught them and we ran together for a bit, but I felt like continuing the surge, bringing Craig along. I was absolutely ecstatic that the altitude was not bothering me! We ran into the next aid station, I reminded Craig to take an S!Cap, tried to choke down a PBJ which only went down with coke, and headed onto the first real stretch of single track all day – the Poppy Trail. We stayed fairly close together until Duncan Canyon aid station, mile 23, where I was in and out and on my way, now running with Brett Rivers onto the second adjustment to the course – but he soon pulled away for good. A fair section of running on the pavement of Mosquito Ridge Road, I was enjoying the speed of the downhill. As soon as the grade changed to up, I heard steps and then Kami was beside me encouraging me as she passed, and floated away in front of me. We hit trail again and a long winding uphill – and suddenly Kami and Nikki Kimball were running toward me! Yikes – did I get off course? Apparently not – they had made a wrong turn and corrected quickly. Kami pulled ahead, but I was soon running with a very upbeat Nikki. This was a nice turn around for her, as she has struggled with an injury for a couple of years and now was running well again. I left her behind for the time being and was now running near a new 100 mile runner, Chris Calzetta. We were seemingly running a similar pace, so we struck up a conversation. I tried to explain each bit of trail as we hit it. We caught and passed a dejected Todd Braje who was feeling miserable. I assured him he would feel better when he got out of the altitude.
Meanwhile, the blister that has started back in the snow was weighing on my mind. I joked to Chris that I was going to practice gratitude for the blister as it was my body’s response to stress and trying to protect my deeper skin. Scotty Mills’ words of wisdom from the night before where haunting me – “don’t ignore the small stuff – it isn’t going to get better in 100 miles”.
I came into Miller’s Defeat aid station, officially the end the of the snow course and I was happy to finally be on the regular course. Chris ran with me to the next aid station, Dusty Corners, and after getting aid and a little hosing down, we left together. The next section – Pucker Point trail – is a section that has gotten to me every year. It is completely runnable, but still fairly high up. This year I was running strong on it, and Chris sat behind me the whole time. We spoke not a word, except for when I pointed out what I thought was actually Pucker Point. Emerging from the trail, I reminded him to drink down his bottles as we were coming to a weigh in at the next aid station, Last Chance. My weight was down a couple pounds, which was good news for me, as I normally struggle with hyponatremia and weight gain. I ate fruit, some chicken broth, a gel, grabbed my fresh bottles, got my head sponged off and headed out. Marty Hoffman, director of research projects involving Western States entrants, was working the aid station and ran out with me, offering much encouragement.
Chris was right behind me again. The stretch of service road before the next single track was, as usual, longer than I remembered. I was really looking forward to the trail and when I finally hit it, I was disappointed that the blister was causing me to put the brakes on and I felt like a jack hammer running down the trail. Try as I might to relax and float down, it was a rough ride. My quads weren’t happy so when I crossed the Swinging Bridge at the bottom of Deadwood Canyon, I did not hesitate to sit all the way into the creek that was up the trail, fully immersing my legs. Then I began the steepest climb of the race up to Devil’s Thumb. I was feeling okay, not super. About half way up, I heard a woman give a hoop and holler of joy. Very soon after, Nikki was back on my heels, and she was feeling great. We ended up in the aid station together, she got herself out of there a few minutes before me. I was content grazing the food options, took an S!Cap and gel, a Popsicle and ambled out. Once I reached the next down hill I let my legs go, and had an okay but not great descent into El Dorado canyon. I passed Chris again, commenting that he would catch me on the climb up to Michigan Bluff.
At the aid station in El Dorado Canyon, I looked up to greet Craig and Aliza as they arrived just behind me. Aliza commented that Craig ran a lot faster when he thought he could catch up to me. She and I left together, hiking and jogging and encouraging each other. I told her about my blister and that was considering changing shoes at Michigan Bluff. She told me what I wanted to hear – take care of it as soon as possible. As expected, Chris caught us on the climb, and Aliza and he both went by me. I finally crawled out of the canyon.
As I cruised into Michigan Bluff I was greeted by Carol Hewitt and her posse of past Western States runners. I rounded the corner to the aid station, and John Ticer was yelling at me to give him my pack. I weighed in, grabbed a few quick items from the table then was engulfed by my crew and Craig’s. Renee and Greyson started icing my legs. I told Hannah to take my shoes and socks off, and Theresa to get me a pair of dry socks and shoes. I told them I needed my lighter pack at the next aid station and to give me just one bottle and one flask for now. Laura Riley put ice in my hat. They were like a machine. Everything I told Theresa was replied to with “That’s good information”. I put on the fresh shoes, and was told to get up and start moving. As they escorted me out, Jed was giving me the splits of all the ladies in front of me. Tracy, Ellie, Kami, Nikki, Aliza were all in front, but there were no huge gaps. i reminded myself that we were barely half way there.
Chris was running with me again out of Michigan Bluff. As soon as we started to climb, he pulled ahead. My feet felt much better now, and when I hit Volcano Canyon, I wasn’t feeling too bad. I reached Volcano Creek in time to watch Chris cautiously make his way in the knee deep swift current. I shed my hat, glasses, pack and proceeded to plop all the way down, leaving only my head above water. I sat up and splashed my head good, then grabbed my goods and told the next guy – “take 30 seconds here, and save yourself minutes in your overall time”. Feeling refreshed, I made my way up to Bath Road. John and Hannah were there, and after swapping some bottles, Hannah and I jogged/walked out. We passed Chris and his pacer, just as Theresa came running down, and the three of us gals picked up momentum and really cruised in quickly to Foresthill. Theresa had my replacement pack ready to go. I swapped it out, then hit the road with Hannah. Timewise, I figured if I made it out of Foresthill by 4:00 pm, I had a shot at 18:43, and it was 4:04 – close enough to keep after it.
I had definitely gained momentum from the awesome crowd and was so happy to be moving well. Hannah stayed right on my heels, keeping me company with what she had seen during the day, random life stories, and always attentive to my drinking, eating and taking S!Caps. We rolled into Cal 1 (Dardenelles) and were taken over by a flying Karl Hoagland. He was having a good day, and I was jazzed for him. He flew out before us and I never saw him again. It was heating up in this section, but I was still moving well. My goal was to break 3 hours from Foresthill to the river, something I had not come close to in previous years. Nearing Cal 2 (Peachstone) I passed a hurting Anita Ortiz, and then Scott Jaime, both talented athletes who had seen better days.
My feet were only happier now as long as I was running flat or uphill. The blisters and hot spots were rather annoying, and I knew that I would never forgo the tape job again (I had concluded that I had roughed my feet up so badly in the previous weeks that they would not blister – but the slope of the snowy run in the high country proved my wrong!). We reached the Elevator Shaft and I let out a few expletives on the steep descent, but at the same time I was very glad to have gotten to that landmark. We reached Cal 2 and got out quickly. I did some math on the split and realized a sub-3:00 was very possible. We ran the very sweet downhill that wasn’t too bad on my feet and encountered a spent/sick Ryan Burch and his pacer, making their way back to Cal 2 to drop. It is such a tough situation to find yourself in, and I felt for him. Hannah and I pressed on, and I was actually looking forward to the steep “6 minute hill” that awaited us. We reached it and I decided to clock it just for kicks. We powered up and I was stoked to get there in under 7 minutes.
We ran steady the rest of the way to the river and the waiting spectators. My split was 2:54! Western States icon Tim Twietmeyer appeared beside me the same time as Jed and Theresa. He gave Jed some indirect flack by telling me he hoped I would drop him in the next 22 miles. In the spirit of us older runners, he was still hoping I could pull out a win. Theresa was all business, handing me a fresh bottle and getting me down to the river. I took the opportunity to do a full body dunk before getting in the boat to get my legs a chance to revive before the last pull.
John Ticer was on the other side of the river, and I couldn’t shut up about my Cal street split. He and Jed were a bit tired of me delaying, and pushed me to get on my way. Jed and I hiked/jogged our way to the Green Gate. From this point on, Jed was a machine – one minute telling me how amazing I was running, and the next calculating how far to the next aid station, when the sun was going to go down using the boy scout rule of holding his fingers in some boy scout secret way, and telling me when it goes down it will cool off and I’ll feel so much better. We got to ALT in the light and had a little more daylight running towards Brown’s Bar before I stumbled once, so decided it was time to turn on the headlamp. Chris and his pacer had finally caught up again, and they settled in behind us. Jed continued his math calculations and telling me how far left to Brown’s Bar. “2 miles to go”, then “1.75 miles to go” and “1.5″. With less than a mile I heard someone gaining on us quickly. We all turned around and shone our lights on Rory Bosio, who was just flying. “Rory! Awesome! Where’s your pacer?” “I dropped her” she said smiling. She cruised by quickly and disappeared fast, putting me back into 7th place. Incredible. Jed was still clicking off the partial miles, equating them to laps around the track, and I said “this has to be the longest track ever.” Finally the music of Brown’s Bar aid station was upon us. I had potato soup for the first time all day, and it gave me a much needed boost.
The next downhill section is pretty acute, especially on blisters. I was projecting little grunts of pain and frustration all the way down, remembering how much easier it was last year. But then every time I run this race problems arise, and at least this is one I can easily fix next year. We reached the quarry road, and Jed pulled in front of me and vocally pulled me along up and down the rolling terrain. I was able to run most of it, albeit slowly. We passed Lon Freeman, and had dropped Chris back at Brown’s Bar. Jed was still doing math, and talking about the next couple of sections before the next aid station. He kept pulling ahead, chatting away, until I couldn’t hear him anymore, then he would turn and see me and wait. Two more climbs up a rocky trail and we could see the lights for Highway 49 aid station. In my excitement I stumbled and took 5 or 6 giant flailing strides before going to the ground. I hopped up quickly and kept going, giggling. We cruised into the aid station as they were announcing my name, and Theresa and Hannah stepped in to crew. This last weigh in I was up a few pounds, but I convinced the volunteer that I was feeling fine, taking S!caps and eating and drinking, so she let me go. I waved to Craig’s crew as they cheered me out.
Jed was still keeping me going with splits and predictions, and I finally said “Jed, you need to stop doing math. We’ll get there when we get there.” I knew it would be close, but it looked like I would at least break 19 hours. We had another long section of downhill that made me want to bite a bullet, but I knew it was only blisters and that they would heal, so just told myself to shut up and run. Lights behind us didn’t catch us before No Hands Bridge, and I ran right through the aid station, surprised by the voice of Ed Willson cheering me on – one of my long time crew members who had to miss out on his duties this year due to recent surgery.
Three miles to go with significant climbing and only 30 minutes for that record. I moved the best I could, taking in more gel, drinking more Gu-Brew, but not having much pep. Chris caught us one last time and reached the last climb just before me. We hiked hard out, and when almost to Robie Point were greeted by Hannah. We got to Robie at 18:35, and Jed thought we still had a chance. I knew we couldn’t run a flat 1.1 mile in 7 minutes, and we still had a big climb to go. Theresa met us, and we four trudged up the climb, hit the runnable stuff running, and finally the white bridge. Eventually my legs unwound, my stride lengthened and I could see the track. I was running hard now, and Theresa said “now there’s the Meghan I know!”
The track felt as smooth as butter. I accelerated and wished that Craig was here to race that last 250 meters as we had done in training. Turning the last corner and crossing the finish line – as sweet as ever. 18:50. Only 7 minutes to shave off next year!
A special thanks to all of the volunteers on the course, my crew Theresa and Hannah, pacer Jed, and all of the Eugene support – Renee, Greyson, Laura and John, and my sponsor Sunsweet! Let’s do it again next year!
Sunsweeter DanO (Dan Olmstead) and I headed south to sunny weather leaving The Soggy Willamette Valley on Thursday. Breaking the trip up with a night in Ashland with more birds of a feather (Rob and Susan Cain, John Price and Erin Keller) made the 9 hour drive much more tolerable. We rolled into Larkspur to bunk down with the wonderful Tim and Diana Fitzpatrick. At the number pick up I reconnected with many citizens of the strange country of ultra running, and met a few faces to put names with.
Tim offered me the guest room, and Dan his daughter’s room, with the warning that he might come out as a teenage girl in the morning. I quickly staked my claim on the daughter’s room with “I want to wake up as a teenage girl!” After a short but decent night’s sleep, I arose at 3:15 to a pot of coffee. I ate oatmeal and felt like a teenager who got up too early. Tim and Dan were soon stirring, and by 4:45, we were out the door on our way to the beach.
It was chilly and breezy, but the forecast was promising mild temperatures and sunshine. In the dark it was hard to make out faces but I ran into Sunsweeter Lewis Taylor, Salem Super Star Pam Smith, and my Western States River to the Finish Pacer Jed Tukman. On the walk out to the beach start, I connected with my Corvallis contingency of John Lebeiskind, Ken Ward, and Frank Schnekenberger. Huddling on the beach, Scotty Mills held me close for a bit to warm me up. Such love in this community!
RD Tia gave us a briefing, then the countdown, and we were off, trudging through the sand to the single track at the end of the beach. The group came to a halt as the bottle neck formed. It was early, the trail was short, and it just didn’t really matter. I inched around a couple of folks and was soon running, with Jed right behind. We soon fell into a good rhythm and chatted about how our training/running was going. Unfortunately Jed was still recovering from a nasty chest cold and not sounding good. We hit our first long steady climb on the pavement. I caught and passed Darla Askew, as cheerful as ever, and looked ahead to see Amy Sproston, Pam Smith, and Helen Cospolich ahead. I guessed Krissy Moehl was up there somewhere too. Jed and I caught up to Karl Hoagland, and Jed held back and ran with him. Gradually the girls got closer and eventually we became a bit of a mass of gals, including Krissy. Onto the beach for the end of the first loop I was now in the lead, and not entirely comfortable with that, but I was running on feel and my HR was actually behaving, so I just went with it.
A pretty steep climb met us – lots of stair steps, and then more single track up. I kept my breathing under control, and HR was reasonable. I had memorized the miles for each aid station, and having the Garmin with the running total was comforting for my brain. I maintained a good effort and the lead into the Tennessee Valley aid station. I refilled my bottle, asked Devon to take my hat off for me, and cruised out. The cheers were as always, heartening.
Another long climb and we had 9 miles to the next aid station. I kept focused, and sensed that there was a woman behind me. Soon enough Helen caught up to me. We had not met before, so chatted a bit, then she pulled ahead, claiming her blood doping effect from living at 11000 feet lasts about half way through, followed by a bonk. She pulled ahead, but at the next level place I gained back, passed and headed downhill. I was cruising comfortably on an open dirt road, sweeping around a turn, saw a sign that said “Tennessee Valley 1.7 miles” and kept going, thinking it odd that we were going back that way, when Helen yells out to me from behind “this way Meghan!” Holy Hannah, I had missed the turn, and thankfully Helen was close and kind enough to call me back. I gradually caught back up to her, thanking her profusely. I didn’t really want to run and extra 3+ miles it may have turned out to be.
Gradually pulling away, I heard footsteps again, and was soon passed by Elvis. He knew me by name, so I had to ask “and who are you? Besides Elvis?” It was Ian Sharman, an incredibly fast dude, wearing what had to be a pretty uncomfortable and hot costume.
The trail section we were now on was sweet! Switch backs, runners voices, eucalyptus, lupine, grass, sunshine, ahhhhh. It was bliss. I had the slightest hint of hot spots on my right foot and tucked the thought in my brain that I might want to change shoes at Pan Toll.
After the lovely downhill, we crossed a road and began a very long climb. At the start I was feeling a bit slow and thought “uh-oh – was I too ambitious earlier? Am I going to get eaten alive by the ladies behind me?” But as I went along I felt stronger and stronger and could hear no one behind me. Eventually I could see Mark Lantz in front of me and was glad to see him out as his last race was ended with an injury 10 miles short of the finish. I followed him into the breathtaking Redwood stand, trying not to trip over my jaw at the beauty I was running through. Once I caught up to him we ran together, taking inventory on what was going on – he hadn’t had a lot of training because of injury and work, and I was behind on the mileage from training for Boston, but we both really wanted to finish 62 miles today. We cruised into Pan Toll together, and Devon was there again, and this time I asked her to take my sleeves. I told her she could sell all my stuff on Ebay.
Mark and I left the aid station together, and I was nipping at his heels as we headed onto the next section of beautiful single track. I was feeling quite good, so Mark asked me to lead. We flew along and I reminded myself it was not a 50k, reined it in a bit and BAM! I was chest to the ground. It was a good volleyball flatout, so I jumped up and kept running. “Just a flesh wound!” My knees were a bit knackered, but everything hurts after awhile anyway, so I ignored them and tried to maintain a reasonable pace. Mark stayed right on my heels, and we both did our fair amount of gasping and groaning, but with about a mile to go before Bolinas Aid Station, he said “I’m tired, I gotta rest”, so I suggested he not rest for too long and continued on.
I hadn’t heard any voices behind or in front, and when I cruised into the aid station, I was surrounded with all kinds of help. I got out quickly again onto what would be the toughest section for me – Bolinas to the turn around at Randall. I was slowing down and running alone, feeling a bit comfortable in my lead. I was sometimes reeling a guy in, but the undulations of the dirt road were not feeling good. My quads were feeling jelly like and the hot spots on my right foot were chatting to me. I analyzed that for awhile – maybe I should be planting better with the left foot, maybe I should land more flat footed, maybe the Rogue Racers were too minimal – then the front men came charging towards me – How Cool Was That! They were still in a decent pack of 4 (Dakota, Mike, Dave, Hal) and not far back was DanO in about 7th place.
I heard a quick cadence coming up behind me, and finally looked back to see Pam metronoming her way up. “Pammy! Good job!” She caught up, took a few steps in front and said “I just wanted to be able to say I lead the race!” She was moving better than I, and although she thought I would catch her on the downhill, I wasn’t sure I could even catch myself. We saw Lewis, Elvis, Nathan, and a few others, and Pam slipped out ahead. I told her I would see her at the finish, but she still wasn’t banking on staying ahead. “Regardless, Pam, I WILL see you at the end.” She pulled out of sight, as I jolted my way down.
Thirty-three miles into the race at 5:05. Yikes, I wasn’t sure I’d break 10 hours, but I really wasn’t all that worried about time as much as not bonking or being reduced to a miserable-sack-a-woe from lack of training, so I paced myself back up the hill, being greeted by more and more and more runners. Finally seeing Scotty Mills, who stopped to give me a hug and some love, reminded me of Theresa’s epiphany at Boston (Why am I running this? Because it’s 26 miles of love!). For the next few miles it was a great celebration of the folks that make up our wacko reality, all supporting each other in our physical and mental misery, but finding such great solace in it all…..well, that’s what it does for me, anyway. And right after that, Tim flew down, whooping “Life is GOOD!” Exactly.
Mark finally caught back up to me, and we started working together again. I made it back to Bolinas in good shape, asked someone to help me with my gel flask, Diana fished around for an extra S!Cap for me (I went through 10 already!). I asked Mark to lead back along the Coastal Trail, and it was me who was struggling to keep up now. I focused on his feet, and stayed with him until we spotted a male runner ahead. We were both in new territory now, neither of us running more than 40 miles in well over a month, so it was great that he felt competitive enough to go after him. I kept an even effort, still running, just not tearing it up. We still ended up at Pan Toll 2 together, fueled up, and this time I lead the way out for awhile, but at the next downhill, he stretched it out and I tried to preserve my quads and feet. My hot spots never really got worse, so I had that to be grateful for.
A runner was coming towards me, and I assumed someone out for some training, but he says to me “can I pace you? I’m Kevin!” “Absolutely!” Tim had suggested him as a pacer but Kevin had hurt his back the day before and was unable to commit. Fortunately, he was in fine form now, and went to task immediately. He had run from the finish line all the way out, so he knew exactly which way the course was going, where every nook and cranny and nettle and pothole were. He said Pam was fading, but still a good 6 minutes or so ahead. I knew I could only go so hard, but we fell into a good rhythm in the now flat, shaded single track. We exchanged a little of life stories so we wouldn’t be complete strangers by the time we finished. I was happy that I could cruise as fast as I was.
We reached Muir Beach Aid Station, and as per my instruction, Kevin made sure I drank from the cups there, had my bottle filled and ate a gel. We scooted out and began the climb out. I remembered this section from the NorthFace 50, only it was more runnable this time. Mark was ahead about 200 meters, and as I turned back, I saw Krissy arriving at the aid station. I felt strong enough to keep a good effort going, but I wasn’t breaking any speed records. I ran when I could, hiked when it made more sense. Kevin was very encouraging and always a few steps ahead, pulling me along. I ran the downhill good and hiked decently, and finally we arrived in Tennessee Valley. Again, Kevin made sure I got what I needed and we ran out. Krissy wasn’t anywhere in sight, so I felt fairly comfortable. As we began running out the switchbacks, I looked one more time and saw a yellow jersey come in, and thinking it was Krissy, was glad that I had some spring left in my steps and stayed focused and strong. Kevin continued to describe each section, how much climbing before we crested, when I should be able to hammer. I pushed hard and flew when we got to the last downhill. I asked Kevin to look back and see if we were being chased. He said two guys were coming fast, one in a yellow jersey. “Are you sure it’s not Krissy?” He said it was most definitely a guy, and soon they blew by. Kevin blurted out “did you guys just start running?” Only later did I learn the yellow jersey was Jimmy Dean Freeman and his pacer, on a mission.
At the bottom, Kevin promised only one more hill and it “wasn’t too bad!” I made a turn to find Mark bent over fiddling with his shoe. He got up and joined us, as did another male runner. Kevin described what was ahead – “we’re going to cross the road here, and turn by the barn, then a short climb up to that road.” It all sounded so easy but the road he was speaking of looked as high as the Empire State Building. Mark was running next to me as well as the other guy, and I told Mark “stay with him” and they pulled ahead. Jimmy Dean and his pacer were just ahead, and Kevin insisted I run the whole hill. I didn’t walk, but it was a bit of a stretch to call it “running”.
Kevin was great at stretching the truth. If it were the beginning of the race, what he described would be believable. But I lose all sense of relativity and something that is close means 5 meters, not half a mile. But his pushing me really helped. We hit the paved road and he verbally whipped me into top speed. “Okay, just let ‘er rip! Let’s chase those guys down! Toss your bottle, I can come back and get it!” I tossed my bottle and my flask and started flying down the road. I passed a couple of men and kept the others in sight. I was straining my eyes for the finish, and finally saw Tropical John cheering me in. I rounded the corner to the finish, a hug from Tia, and a sense of relief and satisfaction. I was second to Pam by 5 and half minutes, 9:45 overall.
I am eternally grateful to the Fitzpatricks for hosting me and setting me up with Kevin, for Kevin pacing a complete stranger and doing a fabulous job and to all the wonderful volunteers on the course!
For the past few years my friends have been asking me when I’m ever going to slow down. My pat answer has been “I’m gonna peak when I’m 50″. My performances of late were pointing to continued success – either getting a little faster at the really long runs, and not slowing down in the shorter races (marathon and less). With that, I approached the Boston Marathon with enthusiasm and confidence. My workouts leading up to said race had gone very well. I felt ready to PR – anything faster than 2:45:46, and thought that with the downhill nature of the course, I could go below 2:45. My 50th birthday happened to fall 2 days before the race, putting me in a new age group. Anything faster than 2:47:50 would give me an American age group record.
I arrived in the Boston area a few days before, staying with Theresa in Marblehead. We had a nice, relaxing few days leading up to the race, including a birthday party with all of her running friends, and my first ever ice cream cake. I insisted we have 50 candles, even though there was some concern that the cake would melt before we had them all lit.
Monday morning was comfortably warm. The weather prediction was perfect for a PR. Mild temps, tail wind, no rain. I warmed up with Shireen Crumpton from New Zealand, whom I had met 10 years ago at the Boston Marathon. It was a fun scene, rubbing elbows with the super elite men and women behind the Korean church near the start line. Finally the 50 or so of us women in the elite field were escorted to the start line. The crowd was already amazing, the announcer giving some brief bios of the favorites. It was simply thrilling to be there.
At 9:32 the gun went off, and the we leapt into action, albeit some faster than others. Holy smokes, where’s the fire! was all I could think. I felt good, stayed relaxed and let them go. I wasn’t dead last, but the motorcycle trailing us was not far back. After a bit, I checked the garmin and my heart rate. I was running sub-6:00 minute pace on this steep downhill, and my HR was in the 160s. Nothing alarming, so I just relaxed. I was carrying a gel flask and one bottle to toss.
Mile one came – 6:10 and my HR was about 177 (it had gone up to 181!). That was a little disturbing – I had been running 6:15s in workouts at about 170-172 which is something I can maintain. I backed off a bit, trying to get it down. I accidentally dropped my gel flask, so quickly I turned around and scooped it up. I would need it to get through the 26 miles without relying on gel packs from aid stations. Mile 2 was slower – 6:23 and my HR was 176. This was not looking good. I knew I needed to get it down. I backed off a bit more. Slower and slower, mile after mile, the best I could do without completely giving up was 174, but it would always creep back up. Even with the higher rate, I couldn’t run below 6:30. Well, it was weird, and I don’t know still what was happening, but there is no “do-over” button, so as usual I adjusted my attitude and started playing with the crowd.
Being in the early women’s start meant that by now I was pretty much running on my own. The crowds lining the road to Boston were, as always, incredibly enthusiastic. The slightest wave of my hand and a big smile brought the roar up another level. This would inspire me to run faster which would backfire into the HR elevating once again, leaving me breathless, but it was fun playing “The Queen”. Nearing mile 13, I could hear the Wellesley girls screaming for a good while before I actually could see them. Being in a different mindset than “gotta stay on pace” and more celebratory of life in the moment, I obliged the many outstretched hands with some skin, smiling at the deafening roar. Signs were aplenty, and when I saw a “Kiss Me” sign, I stopped, touched the partially turned away coed who jumped in surprise. Her eyes wide open, I puckered up and planted one right on her lips. The paparazzi just missed it, but it was indeed a kodak moment. I started running again, more high fives to the end of the line.
Three miles separated me now from seeing my dad, cousins, and their kids on the other side of Wellesley. I was arriving a little later than anticipated, but I knew they would be there and not care how long it took. As I mucked along, an official on a bicycle rode up next to me to let me know the men would be coming soon through. After riding with me awhile he asked me to switch to the left side of the road and soon thereafter the official vehicles and press truck with the many cameras went by. One official gave me a nice encouraging smile – every little bit helps.
Gliding by effortlessly was the lead pack, with Ryan Hall one of the two men at the front. Tucked in behind were about 10 runners, tightly bunched, running smooth as silk. After they whizzed by, I moved back to the right side of the route to be on the same side as my family. I spotted them waving and came right through high-fiving them all. My spirits were good, but the pace was continuing to slow. By mile 17 I had averaged about 6:40, and now the hills were starting. I focused on running tall and at least LOOKING strong. Men were trickling by, and I was passing or being passed by the occasional woman.
At mile 24 my friend Tracy Lokken, masters runner from Michigan passed me and encouraged me to run with him – no dice, but the sentiment was nice. I stopped to offer an S!Cap to one of the women who was walking and having stomach problems, but she was pretty much cooked. The last 2 miles continued to be filled with screaming fans, many yelling “Go Sunsweet!”. Finally reaching Boylston St I put in a meager sprint to the finish, the announcer kindly remarking that “Meghan Arbogast from Corvallis Oregon. She hasn’t been with us for awhile, and we can safely bet she’s the first 50 year old female.” Final time was 2:57. Fine for a training run – I was glad to be done, and was hoping that Theresa, running in the mass start, would beat my time.
Joan Benoit Samuelson had taken the mass start and finished in 2:51, so she won the 50-54 age group win – my hat is always off to her.
Ok, so in hindsight, it appears that I was a bit fatigued. I ran 25 miles 9 days before the race, pacing Craig at American River, and he actually RAN (sorry LB, I couldn’t resist) and I wouldn’t trade that experience in for anything. I had an awesome birthday party 3 nights before, and it was my best birthday party ever (Thanks Theresa and all her awesome friends!) which I also would never trade in. Those experiences add richness to my life and thank the Goddess that there is more to me than my marathon time. I had an absolute blast and I am going to enjoy every day I have on this planet.
Or, maybe, just maybe, I DID peak when I was 50. Which was Saturday – 2 days before the race. We shall see. A special thanks to Theresa, my best friend, for her support and love over the years through all of the changes that I have been through.
>This winter’s training has been the most successful one I remember. I have been consistently working out with Sunsweet Team-sters Craig, Jeff, Lewis, and Dan, with good results – at least on the track. I had given Craig the satisfaction of beating me by nearly a minute in the 4- mile Truffle Shuffle in early February, but was betting that I would beat him by 6 minutes at this year’s Way Too Cool 50k.
A little after 7:00 on race morning, Craig, Todd Braje, Lewis, John Ticer and I headed out for a warm-up and preview of a bit of the new course. It was promising to be a great day, weather wise, with blue skies and cool temperatures. Back at the start area, decisions on clothing (hat/no hat, gloves, sleeves) were made and I headed for the start. Craig and I ran some strides, and bumped into Jed Tukman, one of my pacers for Western States this June. Jed said to me “I’m going to stay behind you this year, because I hate it when you pass me!” I told him that was a good idea.
I lined up next to Joelle Vaught and Caitlin Smith, both previous winners of this race. I had mentally seeded myself 3rd to those 2, but never allowed myself to think that I couldn’t win. Caren Spore was behind me, fit and ready to go as always.
After a greeting to the masses from RD Julie Fingar, the countdown began. Finally, we were off at a quick clip. I was with Joelle and Caitlin for about a half mile before they began to drift ahead. Jed was unable to contain himself as was Craig, and they both pulled away from me early. My first mile felt faster than the 6:40 I clocked and I wondered then and there if I was not going to have a good day after all.
The only wildlife I would see all day was surprising – a gorilla jumping out of the bushes randomly scaring runners, as we hit the single track of the new part of the course. That was a first for me. The trail felt sweet beneath my feet. I was running right behind John, and could no longer see Craig, Jed, Joelle, or Caitlin. After the first stream crossing, the trail wound upwards, and my heart rate was getting out of control. Ugh – so early, and runners pulling away. A train caught up to me and hung on me heels for the next few miles as we wound through a beautiful oak savanna. The runner behind me asked if he was annoying me being so close. “Not at all”. He hadn’t run an ultra in some time and was not sure how hard to go, liked my pace, and decided to stick there.
Some bikers were out on the course, cheering us on, and one of them said “Good job, Caren!”. Great. Caren is right behind me. I yelled back “Are you stalking me Caren?” I’m not sure she heard me, but shortly after she passed me at a water crossing, and I hung on her heels all the way to the end of the first loop. At that point she urged me to go ahead as we were hitting the long down hill section, which is my strength and her weakness.
Finally, things started to click in my body. I surged until reaching the next new part of the course – the Western States Trail down to the lower quarry road. What an absolute blast! The perfect downhill pitch for flying. When it finally ended and we crossed hwy 49, I was certain I would not see Caren again. I grabbed a couple of cups of water, downed them, and forged on.
I was experimenting using a gel flask rather than packets to see if I could improve on my calorie intake during a race. Historically, I would get behind on consumption due to inattentiveness to time and the nuisance of opening gel packs, the sticky mess, and lack of getting all the contents in my mouth. Today, I was taking periodic nips of gel, trying to stay topped off all the time. So far, so good!
Clipping along the lower quarry road, my Garmin was registering about 7:00 miles. It was a good effort, but I didn’t want to go any harder. I realized the Caren can easily be running that pace, and as the road began including some climbs, she inched her way back to me. We ran together for awhile and I said “I think we would make either a really good Trans-Rockie team or a really bad Trans-Rockie team” – a race where team mates must start and finish each leg together – and we concluded we would probably be pretty good because we would always be containing each other – she would have to slow her climbs and I, my downhill.
She pulled away from me before Maine Bar aid station, and I stopped to get my bottle filled. John was still there and waited for me, and we ran out together. He said Craig was about a minute ahead and that he was tired of trying to catch up to him. We settled into working together, which we do very well, as we have run most of White River 50 Mile together, he paced me to a win at Where’s Waldo 100k, and we have done numerous workouts on the track and long training runs together. Come to think of it, Craig should have been with us from the start. Maybe then….but I don’t want to spoil the story.
As usual, Jady Palko caught up to me, and I chatted with him for a bit. Jady is known for his sporadic bursts of speed followed by tortuous slow downs, but he seems to enjoy himself. He apparently tired of my talking and flew ahead, only to be passed by John and me shortly after. We took turns leading, and I wondered when the heck I was going to see Caren, or was she feeling so good that she would catch the leading ladies? A couple of stream crossings were so deep I wondered if she had gotten swept away. John noticed my untied shoe and made me tie it. I told him to keep moving and make me catch up. As I started to reel him back in, he started to pick it up, and fairly soon, we were beginning to roll. We flew into ALT, I grabbed and S!Cap, drank two cups of coke, and was gone.
John then had to run hard to catch me, and we kept the pace going. I was feeling great, and suddenly ahead of me I spied blue shorts, grey shirt, and red cap. Not remembering what color hat Craig had on, I yelled back to John “what color hat is Craig wearing?”. I got no reply, so I asked louder (we are getting older, after all). A very reluctant “Red, yes, that is Craig”. I did a little happy jump, and John reined me in with a “Just wait, be patient”, but what I heard was “Pipe down for crying out loud!”
I did a little yoga breathing, and John and I silently caught up to Craig. I put my arm around his shoulder and he said “I wondered when you guys would catch me”. In a very sympathetic voice I said “how’s it going?” He said “oh, up and down”. I took off, baiting him with an invitation to “work with me!” but he declined. John and I kept up our strong pace, passing a couple more runners before we hit the base of the big climb up Goat Hill. I spied Jed and yelled out to him. He was a sack-a-woe, cramping and beat. He tried to run with me, and I chided him for not sticking to his plan. I told him his job at Western States is to make me hate him, and he said he hated me already. “But you can’t drop me at Western States” I said as I left him to struggle his way in.
Goat Hill is runnable if you are Caren Spore. I could run sections, and when I got to the top was told that Caren was about a minute ahead of me. I grabbed a couple of cups of liquid, one gel pack in case the flask went dry, and flew down the hill. John was no longer with me, and I was on a mission. I was focused on not going too crazy, as there are some uphills that I had forgotten about in previous races here. I caught a couple more men, and FINALLY saw the bright yellow jersey of Caren. She was cresting a hill, and I hope she hadn’t seen me, but as I approached the top, realized it was part of a switchback, and she probably saw me and picked up the pace. I kept pushing, and saw her again. Gradually, I reeled her in, called her a stinker, and she returned the compliment. Finally I said I was going around and she stayed right on my heels. We caught a man ahead, and I abruptly told him “You’re going to have to get out our way, there’s a race going on” and I think he probably heard “OUT OF OUR WAY! TWO B____S COMING THROUGH”. (To the man we passed – if you are reading this, I sincerely apologize!)
I managed to stay ahead of Caren by a few feet all the way about half way up the trail before the hwy 49 crossing. She is a superior climber, and she pulled away a good 10 yards by the time we crested. My long legs pulled her back and we crossed the hwy virtually together. She ran close to the aid station table and whether she was planning on stopping or not, I yelled at her “don’t stop!” I wanted this race to play out with no excuses. She stayed in the lead as we climbed out of the aid station, and somehow I managed to stay right on her heels in the lower section. As soon as we hit the steeper, rocky section, she gapped me again. We had less than a mile to go, and I was about to explode I was breathing so hard. I only hoped she was breathing hard enough to not hear mine, as it is kind of embarrassing.
At the top of the rocky section she had 20 yards on me. My mind was no longer in the game, but my body completely took over. My legs unwound and ate up the ground beneath me. Caren was getting closer and closer, and at the very top of the climb, I caught her – with a quarter mile to go. “Let’s go!” I shouted between gasps. “I’m done” she said. I clambered down the steep dip before me, fumbled my way up the other side, and ran as hard as I could. “She may think she’s done, but I know better than to give an inch,” I thought to myself.
I did try to look back, but couldn’t see anything. I crossed the finish line, 4:11 flat, and Caren, a mere 11 seconds back. We embraced, and laughed at how much we hated each other.
Of course, in reality, I love her for what she brought out in me, and I think I did the same for her. Without our race, I would have easily been a minute slower. I found that my body could actually take over my mind, rather than the other way around. Joelle and Caitlin added their bit of drama to the finish with Joelle taking over the lead the same place I passed Caren.
This was my fastest Cool ever, even though with a different course it is hard to compare. My energy levels were great for the entire race, so the gel flask is ‘in’. John finished in 4:15, and the 6 minutes I had predicted I would beat Craig by turned into 9.
He and Jed both say they are going to stay behind me at Lake Sonoma 50 Mile on April 2nd. Really? We’ll see.
>As one of the long runs in the Montrail Ultra Cup series, I decided last summer to enter this winter event. I figured my best chances to repeat the win were to hit all the 100ks, and now I had an excuse to try another race. Later it was announced the race would also serve as the USATF National Championship race which could possibly add to the competitive field.
Up and coming Pam Smith from Salem had run this race last year, and was only minutes from the winners. She entered again this year, and she joined the Sunsweet group of Laura and Jeff Riley, Craig and Laurie Thornley, Dan Olmstead, and I on this trip to the Lone Star state. A wealth of information, she filled us in best she could on the terrain, course, weather, and the town of Bandera. We made it out to the course the day before the race for a sampling. It was all it was cracked up to be. Rocks, rocks, rocks, dirt, sotol cactus, climbs, rocks, descents, rocks. Rocks.
>This was to hopefully be the icing on my cake for 2010. My racing year had never been better, and after the harsh pavement of the World 100k Championships, I was anxious to hit some trails and recover my brain from the mental taxation of aforesaid event. I had no intention of digging myself into a hole of woe, instead celebrate what trail running brings to me and to my many ultra running friends. Joy!
I was hosted by the wonderful Fitzpatricks of Larkspur, near the race start and finish area. Tim saved me a trip into the city and picked up my packet for me. Diana volunteered her day (starting at 3:00 a.m.) to take me to the race start and to crew me at all possible aid stations. She and Tim enlisted fellow ultra runner Jed Tukman to pace me from mile 28 to the finish. Everything was in order and I was relaxed and happy.
The night before the race, I was in bed by 8:00. I started waking up at 1:00, excited to be ready to embark on trails. Finally at 3:00 I got up, had coffee and oatmeal, and by 3:45 Diana and I were on our way to the start. She brought me to a shuttle at Rodeo Beach, gave me a throw away tee to keep warm in, and then we parted, planning on seeing each other at the second aid station.
At the start I milled about looking for familiar faces. Being out of the normal region and in the presence of athletes from around the country and world, I didn’t see anyone I knew until I finally saw Kami warming up. We briefly caught up, and continued to warm up. Finally as the start time drew near, I saw Krissy Moehl, Joelle Vaught, Lizzie Hawker, Jenn Shelton, and Rory Boseo. The final countdown came and went, and off we flew.
I ran with Joelle for a very brief period, then Rory for a bit. It was too dark to really see who was ahead, which was just what I wanted. I did not want to get caught up in the early race frenzie and end up suffering early and long. Then Jenn and I ran together for a bit. She asked me what I thought of the early pace, the runners ahead, was she going fast enough. I said “Honey, we’ve run 1 mile. We have 49 miles for them to slow down.” She bought it to some extent, but pulled ahead effortlessly nonetheless. I next found myself running next to Krissy. We chatted briefly, and I knew she was coming back from an injury. We crested the first climb, still in the dark, and as I took advantage of the downhill, she slipped further back. I surmised her injury was bothering her.
On and on into the darkness we ran. We finally hit aid station 1, but I blew through, not having drunk much in the cool temperature. Again we were faced with a long climb, and the headlamps ahead gave me an indication of how far up we had to go. I kept my heart rate below 170 on the climbs as much as possible, otherwise I was staying very relaxed. Still in the dark, I passed 2 women as we hit aid station 2, and Diana was there, very visible, handing me an open gel and a fresh bottle. It was a seamless exchange.
On the downhill I cruised along, chatting with whomever was nearby. Gradually the day began to lighten, and I could see the runners ahead. There was a woman I was closing in on, but we hit another long climb and she kept her distance. We broke out into the coastal area – narrow single track, grassy, windy, and I was feeling pretty slow. I didn’t fight the feeling or the wind, just kept plowing along. As usual, I got passed by the men on the climbs, and passed them back on the downs. Cruising along to the Muir Beach aid station I saw Devon who was cheering me on. I yelled out to her “Devon – where are you?” She assured me she was “Right here!” I was disappointed that she wasn’t in the mix that day. At this point I caught the woman I had been tailing, Helen Cosposlich, we visited briefly, and I pulled ahead.
The course went along the pavement for a spell, then entered single track again. I passed 2 women on my way, and really enjoyed the very, very long climb with short and not-to-steep switchbacks. I met a man from Juneau, who was there with 6 other Alaskans, feeling very proud of their Geoff Roes. The climb was relentless and deceptive. Every visible summit was false, until finally we reached the top. A little pavement, and onto single track in the woods, some technical downhill through a dense redwood forest, and I could hear the bells for the next aid station. As I climbed up to the road, Diana and Jed were there, ready with the gel, bottle and words of encouragement. I asked what place I was in. Diana replied “you’re in 10th, right where you want to be. There are some dreamers up there.” I ate a bit of banana as I was feeling peckish, drank some Mountain Dew, and listened to Jed describe the trail I was about to embark upon. I was on my way again, on some rolling, beautiful eucalyptus lined trail. I was clipping the heels of a runner before long, and asked him to choose a side for me to pass. He let me by and I opened up my stride. Feeling pretty good, I cruised along, until reaching a fork in the trail. The monitor there instructed me to the right, letting me know it was the beginning of a long out and back section.
I started to struggle in the now open space. In a few minutes I was facing the front pack of about 5 men, recognizing only Jeff Roes who was in 2nd place. A few other men came next, and then Erik Skaggs. We encouraged each other, then next was Hal Koerner, followed by Uli Steidl. Around another turn, and I met Lizzie Hawker, leading the women’s race. She was followed soon by Anna Frost. Another turn, and I saw Kami. We cheered each other on, and cresting a hill, I heard a familiar voice cheering me on. Looking up and seeing Krissy, sidelined, I was saddened that she had had to drop. Inspired by the 3 women ahead of me so far, I started to feel excited. I next met Joelle, then the 5th place woman, followed by Jenn, who looked fabulous. Seventh, eighth, and ninth were unknowns to me. I hit the turn around aid station, just as the skies started to open up. The volunteers were attentive, and as they filled my bottle and opened a gel, I asked someone to pin my number on, as it was barely hanging on by 2 pins. I was offered a poncho to run in, but politely declined. Finally ready to go, I cruised out and started to feel great – maybe from seeing the women ahead, or maybe because there was a tailwind.
I finally made it back to the turn that would bring me to Stinson Beach where Jed would start pacing me. Avery long downhill with lots of switchbacks, and I could see some women ahead that were getting closer and closer. I passed one as the trail flattened off, and followed the other one through the town as we hit pavement. Jed appeared on the road and led me into the aid station, with the woman ahead of me greeted by her coach with “Allez! Allez! Allez!” Diana handed me my bottle and Jed and I were off onto the next climb.
He was somewhat surprised that I wasn’t completely dead to the world. Because he was from the area, he knew all of the trails, so was able to describe each section we came to. The most beautiful for me was the Steep Ravine. Huge redwoods, a stream flowing down the center, rock steps leading upward. Jed described every little climb, which were walkable, which were runnable. We came to a ladder in the trail, and Jed teased about my “glistening calves” to the race photographer documenting the race at this trademark point. While Jed knew each trail, he didn’t know the course and continued to second guess the race course and aid station locations, consistently wrong but eventually right. I didn’t care, as long as we were on course and he could describe the trails, I was glad of the expertise.
Next aid station we saw Diana again, and she said the next two women were still just 3 or so minutes ahead. We scooted out and hit a very long, technical downhill. There were other races going on, and with marathon and 50k runners on the trail, it became somewhat congested. Jed started yelling ahead “50 mile racer coming on your left” which meant I had to run faster to get around. At last we hit a flat section that could have meant an accelerated pace, but with the rain and the multitude of runners, it was very slick, so I settled for gently tripping along from one side of the path to the other, occasionally skiing.
The next two aid stations were a blur. In and out amongst all the races, we were faced with another very long climb up an exposed, muddy service road. Too slick to run, we hiked the best we could. Jed did a good job of pointing out sites along the way (the Pacific Ocean is pretty awesome) and keeping me going strong at the same time. At last we reached Diana for the last time at mile 45. Again, we were back 2-3 minutes from the two women in front. Looking at the looming hill ahead, I left my last bottle with Diana, sure I wouldn’t need it for the last hour. Chugging along, Jed in front now, he said “if you run this entire hill, you will catch them, I guarantee it.” True or not, I had to try. I ran, in the sense that I wasn’t walking, the entire 20-30 minute climb. One more aid station, I drank some coke, and Jed asked if I wanted to carry a bottle. ”I’m outa here” I said and started to fly down the hill ahead. It was without trees to block the view, and up ahead I spotted my first victim amongst the marathon and 50k racers. Jed was beside me and I suggested he not let anyone know we’re coming at this point. He knew better, and as we approached her we quieted a bit and breezed by. She looked up briefly, and then did a double take when she the color of my number. ”Wow! Great job!” I could barely muster a reply, but acknowledged her best I could. I later learned it was Liza Howard, winner of Hard Rock 100 last summer.
I looked forward, and saw victim number 2. We continued to bomb the downhill and just as it flattened out, we caught her. Now Jed was giving me distance-to-go data. ”One more mile! That’s just 4 laps on the track!” I was starting to go into all kinds of debt, evidenced by my loud squawks with every breath I took. ”Arms! Arms! arms!” and “Breathe! Breathe! Breathe!” Jed was yelling. ”Three laps on the track”, “Two and half laps”. Ugh. I was starting to tie up. The road turned gradually uphill and I desperately wanted to see if either woman was coming back. The curve in the road hid the finish line until the last minute, and I bombed down the grassy field to complete the course. My time was not stellar, 8:47 (a mere HOUR behind winner Anna Frost), but I was pleased with my overall place of 6th.
Diana and Jed did a fabulous job getting me through the day, and I ended my 2010 season on a very positive note, feeling motivated for 2011.
Gibraltar seemed and continues to seem a bit of an odd place to hold a 100k footrace. The longest stretch of road from the Spanish/Gibraltarian border to the tip of the main road in Gibraltar is about 3 miles, but the race officials managed to create a course that only used about half the distance, giving us an opportunity to become well acquainted with a 5k loop. Arriving 3 days before the race seemed ample time to review, and also allowed an entire country tour of the Rock with its charming “but do not feed” Barbary apes, crazy traffic, and a bajillion tourists, and 30,000 citizens (none of which had a clue that there was going to be a race, let alone a world championship).
>…also known as Francisco Martin’s hometown. Francisco is the founder of Strands.com and has supported my travel for running for two years now. When I learned I was going to Gibraltar, I decided to add some travel in Spain. I asked the native Spaniard for advice and tips on traveling in his country. He not only gave me his list of favorite restaurants in the cities I plan on seeing, but also extended an invitation to visit his hometown of Las Navas de la Concepcion. He told me that if I decided to go he would let ‘them’ know and all would be taken care of.
The drive from Madrid went well, traffic not too bad at all. The last 25 or so kilometers into the village let me know that it was probably not a place people come to and from with much frequency. The road was in excellent shape, but it was very twisty and hilly. Completely rural, agricultural, and quiet. We saw a multitude of oak and thought perhaps it was Pin Oak. However as we got close to Las Navas, we spotted a few trees that looked like they had red bark, like a madrone. But then we realized that it was stripped of its bark, and the trees were cork oak. It appeared to be quite a business in the area.
We arrived to Las Navas about 6 hours after leaving Madrid, and found Plaza de la Constitucion, 2, with little difficulty.
As instructed, I introduced myself to the inhabitants (it was actually a super market) one of whom is Francisco’s uncle, and one his cousin. With much hand gesturing and broken English and Spanish, it was all worked out who was who. His cousin Jose rounded up the manager of a small inn across the plaza, and we were soon given each a large room.
Then we took a small stroll about the village, enjoying the ability of the children to play unsupervised, dogs to be unleashed, and to amble down the middle of the narrow streets without having to dodge cars.
At 8:00 the bar below our room was sounding lively, and we joined them there. I was quickly introduced to a number of regulars, most importantly, to Antonio, the mayor of the village. One young man, David, spoke enough English to make communication more possible.
Some local vino
Jose, Antonio, Antonio Jr., David, and I were then served plates of cheese, ham, salami, pork cutlets, rabbit, and a small ham sandwich by our hostess, Rosa. We enjoyed a very nice glass of wine and some beer as well.
We all tried to learn something about each other. Jose’s father has owned a supermarket here for over 30 years, and his father before him as well. Antonio enjoys hunting. David is a musician, and attributes his ability to speak some English to his singing, as he has learned many English songs. Antonio Jr. plays futbol. Most of the kids go to University after primary school, some return, some don’t. It is very close knit and most people are related to someone here. The main source of income is usually associated with agriculture of any kind. The two plazas in town were lined with orange trees, and the olive industry is very large, as is the cork industry.
When we were nearly finished eating, the local doctor and his nurse Lola came in and they too wanted to pose in a picture with me. The group then discussed and asked us if we would like to have breakfast and if so what time. They said they would have it for us at 9:30 a.m.
Next morning I went out for an easy run. It was so pleasant, so secluded and quiet but for the sounds of people walking to work, children going to school, roosters crowing. I meandered through the small town, and out a country road or two, passed some men laying bricks the traditional way, on a wall surrounding a cemetery. Ever since arriving in Spain I have been struck by the number of people who labor manually. There seems to be a lot less automation and a lot more sweat, which I find inspiring.
On to Gibraltar!