I like to tease my friend Ryan Yedinsky, relatively new ultra runner, who by trade flies helicopters for the US Army in dangerous places, like Afghanistan. If you’re not an ultra runner, you may not be aware of our ease around discussing bodily functions, but sometimes I wonder if that is our strongest commonality. And here is your fair warning – if you are squeamish or easily grossed out/disgusted with poop talk, stop here. I, having run these crazy distances some 10 plus years, have mastered the ability to poo in the woods sans toilet paper. If you squat just right…but my brave Army flier can’t go out the door without a pouch of Wet Ones – no dry TP for his tender bum!
After this year’s Bandera 100k, I think my teasing days are over.
Moving to Cool, California last month, opened up a new world of trail running to me. I have run these trails in the past, in a weekend or full week here and there during a calendar year. But now, everyday, I am out on beautiful single track, and thanks to the example of fella competitor and friend Pam Smith, I have sought out the rockiest sections of any trail I can find, to prepare myself for what I knew lay ahead in the Hill Country of Texas. I also put in a couple of 40+ mile days to get my brain ready to “run all day”.
Team Teranova (Paul and Meredith) of Austin graciously hosted me, carted me, fed me for the entire trip, and we were joined by Paul’s sister Nicole and husband, the aforementioned Ryan. Paul, Ryan and I were signed up for the 100k, Nicole the 25k, and Meredith would be crewing, and managing and organizing and basically being a bad ass supporter the entire time.
This was my third go at Bandera. First year, I was completely schooled, humbled, and bewildered by the experience, dying a long painful death from the rocky terrain and sotol cactus, and hills that become mountains the second time around. Two years later I came again, only to fare worse from having had the flu a week before. This time, having had 4 days to practice running in rocky hill country at the Team Red White and Blue trailrunning camp in Nueces, I felt ready. It was the first race in the Montrail Ultra Cup series for 2014, entitling the top 3 finishers a slot in Western States 100 (with a roll down to 4 if a top 3 is already in), and the USATF National Open and Masters 100k Trail Championships as well. My competition wasn’t easy to determine – on paper, I knew the main contenders were quick, but wasn’t sure how they would fare on the specialness Bandera offers up, but I figured they would be Melanie Peters, Silke Koester, and myself. And oh – yes, Liza Howard, who had a baby 4 months ago. Yes, she is breastfeeding, Yes, she isn’t getting sleep, but YES, she is Liza Howard – the record holder for the course. Never discount the home town girl.
Race morning was crisp. After a 20 minute warmup that included one last pit stop I felt quite good. Race director Joe Prusaitis counted us down and at 7:30 we were off. Very quickly Liza and Silke and I were running together, chatting comfortably. I felt very good, strong, fresh, in control. In about 2 miles, just Liza and I ran together, chatting about life, babies, running, balancing. When we cruised in the first aid station, Nachos, I was already bloody from the sotol cactus, but somehow it just wasn’t bothering me this year. I topped my bottle of Vitargo/coconut water off with heed, took one bite of PBJ, and Liza and I were out together again. We fell into a nice pattern of leading and following, always suggesting that we don’t hold each other up. Seldom do I have a chance to run with someone in a race so evenly paced, content to share the load for as long as it seemed comfortable.
I am a goal setter, and after all of these years I don’t bother with the obvious, but for those who wonder, the number 1 goal is FINISH. I didn’t fly across the country or around the world to not finish a race – sometimes they are easier and prettier than others, but everyone of them has a lesson or 2 or 3 involved. Next goal – break 10 hours – my first year, I ran 10:19, and it was pretty miserable. Last year was a disaster and I was over 2 hours slower. This year, I felt ready to do it – just average under 10 minute pace and I would do it. By the second aid station, Chapas, Liza and I were well under 9:30 pace, and again we came and left together – me with a mouthful of pringles potato chips and more fluids, now in the form of Heed. The chips were challenging due to the dryness, but I managed to get them down. I wasn’t paying much attention to my HR due to the up and down nature earlier, but asked myself instead if I would be running harder if I was in the 50k, and the answer was yes, so I felt confident in my effort. We chatted our way into Cross Roads 1 aid station, where I again ate food from the table, filled up with heed, took a couple of endurolytes, and Liza and I trotted off together again. Remember now, she is breastfeeding, so her request to the AS volunteers was to have her drop bag available when she came in so she could pump. Not sure I know any other competitors that dedicated to the family and the running all wrapped up in one seriously generous human being.
This 5 mile loop involved more cactus and climbing and rocks again, after having a good 10 miles of easy flat running. We both politely reminded each other not to hold each other up, but eventually I began to gap her. By the final ascent, I was alone in the 100k, but passing several folks running the 50k. I fairly cruised along back to Cross Roads, comfortable, happy, and at about 9:00 minute average pace. I drank coke, ate banana, filled my bottle and was gone. A few flat miles, and I finally gave into the urging bowels by diving off the trail. It was not as smoothly executed as I like to brag about. Let’s just say I lost more water than I had anticipated. I quickly got back in my groove, up another climb and finally into the Last Chance aid station at mile 26. My dear friend Olga King was there, with my designated safety runner Dave James.
They attended to me closely and scooted me out, Dave letting me know he would be ready at the end of the first loop to run behind me. His final words were to stay relaxed through the last section, and with an overall pace of 9:10, it was easy to abide. Two more long rocky climbs, much of it runnable, and a technical descent back to the start/finish, I was greeted by much enthusiasm from the spectators and friends. Dave swapped out my bottle so I could start up again with a fresh bottle of Vitargo/coconut water. I drank some coke, ate banana, and headed out for loop two – my first loop completed in 4:35. And there were no other female competitors in sight.
The field was completely spread out. No one in front, and only Dave James behind me. I was glad he was there in case of a spill or twisted ankle. I was pretty stoked to be feeling as good as I did, albeit slower on the climbs the second time around. I fully anticipated that, and it wasn’t feeling ridiculous. The down hills and flats I was still cruising. Back to Nachos, I had some water poured over my head and back as it was heating up a bit. I ate a piece of orange, banana, had ice put in my bottle with some Heed, and ambled out to the support of the volunteers.
Overall pace had inched back to 9:30, but I had just come through one of the toughest sections. The next 10+ miles had LOTS of runnable trail, so I was ready to bring the average back down again. The short climbs were more like crawls, now, but the flats and downhills I was moving – however – my abdominal muscles were feeling a bit constricted, and I felt the need to use the bushes again. I put it off as long as I could, but somethings are better NOT left undone. In I went, and the stinging was a bit worse than the sotol scratches, and the urine over it was special. But – all should be good now! I eased back into running, but before Chapas aid station, I took yet another visit to the bushes. Holy-mother-of-gawd. Don’t dwell, get up, get moving, pain is temporary. Into Chapas I drank two cups of coke and ate a fig bar, had the aid station volunteer dump ice in my sports bra, and Dave, who had been running quietly behind me, was able to encourage me here. My pace was still around 9:30, so at least it hadn’t gone up any more. I trotted on, not feeling over heated, but my stomach muscles were tight. I had taken a few endurolytes so far, plus Heed has sodium and I had been using coconut water. Some. I finally pulled out an S!Cap, and hoped for some sort of change/comfort. Before long I had another trip off the trail – this time I didn’t have much to hide behind, but didn’t much care anymore. I took a deep breath, and made my way into Cross Roads aid station. I ate banana, coke, two more endurolytes, and switched to gatorade to see if changing my beverage would help. And then, David, from endurance buzz, who was tweeting the race out to our little world says to me “Your daughter asked me to tell you “Go Mom!”.” I melted a little bit and my spirits were lifted. Not quite satisfied I was keeping up on calories, I asked for a gel, and it went down like gravy. Uh oh. If gel tastes that good, I must be behind. I grabbed one for the road, buoyed by the calories and the words from home. Dave kept his space behind me, and it really seemed we were the only ones out. The single track was getting a little bit slower, but I was still very pleased with how I was handling the twists, turns, loose rock, and cactus. My feet were getting a little banged, but nothing to write home about, my hip that usually talks to me was silent.
A slight sense of impending crampiness of one hamstring whispered to me “ Psssst – you might be cramping…. just sayin’. “ And I didn’t acknowledge that little voice. But the actual cramp, I heard. Ugh. I stopped, relaxed my leg, kneaded it a bit, and took another S!Cap, and slowly started moving. Small steps, calculated foot placement, more gatorade, and I held it at bay, until I started running downhill. It cramped again, and this time I even got my adductor magnus to join in. Wheee! I took another S!Cap, more gatorade, and again, slowly made my way into walking, then jogging. I danced with it for another 10 or 15 minutes, before I finally won, and was running pretty normally back into Cross Roads for the final time. I found out here that I had a substantial lead over the next woman, and with 9+ miles to go I was relieved that at least it looked like I had a shot at the title. I got more Gatorade, drank some COLD water, and had a little dumped on my head. BRRRRR! I ate another gel, some banana, and was actually feeling like I made it through a pretty long (15 miles) bad patch. With 3 climbs left, my sub-10 hour goal was not realistic at this point as my pace was about 10 minute now, but I didn’t want to dally. I stretched out my legs and flew along a straight section, Dave racing to catch up again to his 30’, and when I hit the twists and turns I felt my stomach get a little quick on me again. I really did NOT want to go again. Ever. Alas. On this final squat, I felt a special bond with Ryan and would have wrestled him for a Wet One. It hurt so bad that when I stood up I was woozy. I did not want to move. Screaming would probably have eased the pain. I maintained decorum, and fell back into place on the trail.
Before the last aid station, Meredith came running out towards us, picking up one more duty of the day besides crewing Paul, and that was to pace her friend Todd in. She was encouraging and positive – and absolute giver in our sport. At the final aid station, Dave pulled up and said he was going to take the short cut back to the finish so he could video me near the finish. I drank some mountain dew, filled my bottle with gatorade, swallowed 2 more enduralytes, and made my way to the last 5 miles. Two climbs – Cairns Climb and Boyles Bump (or should it be Boils??). And just like Joe said the first time I ran this race “the climbs will appear to be twice as long and twice as steep the second time around” – they looked like Everest. My hiking was actually still pretty solid, my running was smooth but I was starting to do a lot of grunting and sighing. Any urge to go to the bathroom was promptly ignored. The day was cooling off and evening was approaching. After Boyles was summited, my eyes strained hard for the final descent.
At last, I saw Dave at the bottom, announcing to his IPad that the 2014 USATF National Trail Champion was now one mile from the finish. “Half mile, Dave, half mile!!!” I was at 10 hours 10 minutes, and was satisfied that I was able to really kick it in. I squeeked in at 10:12, a 7 minute PR from my first attempt.
So, epilogue, wrap up, and general consensus after lengthy discussion with Meredith (who if you don’t know, is a nutritionist, specializing in sports, and is an amazing endurance athlete herself) – #1 – I got behind in electrolytes – uh, yeah, at my last few races I have not needed many S!Caps, but OH YEAH, I used power gel which is high in sodium. #2 – I was too polite of a guest and didn’t eat my normal pre race food – too much salad, not any rice, too much bread. #3 – When I had my first bout of diarrhea, I should have taken salt and water right then. I lost a lot of water with each pit stop, and didn’t address it. #4 – probably not enough calories. I carried a lot of Gu through the race, didn’t use one. I wanted to try eating real food. #5 – just because I’m 52 doesn’t mean I can ignore my monthly cycle. I started my period shortly after the race, which often causes loose stools. Check the calendar, and use Imodium. #6 – Don’t make fun of the army helicopter pilot for using Wet Ones. It might turn on you.
Winning feels good. It takes the edge of making mistakes and not meeting your goals. I never have a goal of winning a race because that assumes I can control everyone around me. If I had come in 2nd place, I would be feeling my mistakes more acutely. The great news is that I made these mistakes early in the year, and I don’t think I’ll forget them…
It was a fantastic weekend. I owe a debt of gratitude to Paul and Meredith. They are humble, hard working, on task, and they work magic together. Joe Prusaitis – who told me at the beginning of the race “I think it’s going to be your day”. At the halfway, he was pretty stoked for me, and I reminded him that the day was young, and I am still young enough to make mistakes. He was genuinely pleased for me at the finish. All of the volunteers – they are very dedicated to Joe and Joyce, and it shows. Liza Howard – who fell into 4th place with her breast pumping and midday nap, got her self together to come back into 2nd place by several minutes – definitely my heroine of the day. I’m excited for 3rd and 4th place gals Melanie Peters and Silke Koester who ran their way into Western States, and were truly good champions. Paul pulled off a 4th place in a stacked mens field, winning the USATF Masters Championship. And dear Jorge Maravilla won with a course record and another go at the big dance. Grateful to Dave James for following me for 26 miles to at least be able to run for help if I got broken. Ryan for laughing and crying with me. Todd and Krystal and Nicole for filling out the weekend fun. And of course, special thanks to Scott Sports and Injinji socks!