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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

California International Marathon

Only 8 short weeks after Twin Cities Marathon, I found myself again toeing the line for yet another attempt for an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying time. In those 8 weeks, I had been coached by Bob Latham from Bend, and the workouts he prescribed and I mostly succeeded at, were another degree of intensity for me. I felt mildly confident, but a little reticent at the same time, given I had not had a good marathon (in my opinion) for about 4 years.

I had warmed up quite a bit earlier that morning, so at the start I only did a couple of short strides. I was surprisingly nervous, and my legs felt very good. It was chilly, so I wore a beanie, gloves, Under Armour, and knee length compression shorts. I chatted briefly with Johanna, a temporary Corvallisian, 2-time trials qualifier, who was training through today, and then heard my name being yelled, and was pleased to see Craig, Laurie, and Jeff there to offer their support. They said they would do there best to be out on the course. Brian was already on his way to mile 5. There was a pack of 10 or so women exchanging 'are you trying to qualify? Let's work together!' The national anthem sung by two very small children (like I needed to cry just then!) and then the wheelers were off. A 30 second countdown ensued, and finally we started.

The first mile was mostly downhill. I just relaxed and floated down. The running crowd was fairly thick for quite awhile. At nearly one mile, we made a sharp turn, and immediately headed uphill. I eased up, and went through in 6:08. I was pleased with this, because it felt that fast. One female runner said to another 'you have NO business going that fast! you need to slow down!'. I was amid a group of the women from the start, and we all hung together pretty well for the next 2 miles, which I went through at 6:11 pace. This pace felt fine, good, and manageable. I started to leave the pack behind, with one gal in black and white coming with me. Our next mile was 6:04, so I tried to relax a bit - run a little more reasonably. Off the side of this more rural section, a pony was prancing about, excited by all the activity. I was inspired by its grace. Mile 5 came (6:21), and I grabbed my first bottle. I took a few drinks, but decided to hold onto the bottle until the next hill, so I could drink more easily. Just as the course turned again, Brian was on the side line, running and cheering for me. Black and white was still with me as we turned into the wind. We ran side by side to mile 6 (6:16), and as we gained on a runner ahead, I invited her to run behind me for awhile. We hit mile 7 (6:22) and had more of a group to run with.

The course was relentless in it's up-and-down-ness. I loved those downhills, and I kept in control on the uphills. Mile 8 came in 6:19, and 9 in 6:24. Black and white was no longer with me. At some point I heard that I was 3rd female, but it didn't seem true, nor did I care. This was strictly a time trial for me. 1st or 100th would be the same, as long as I ran better than 2:47. At mile 10 (6:11), I knew I was close to seeing Brian again, and getting another bottle. I saw the bottles, grabbed mine, and Brian was right there, encouraging me all the way. I crested to the sound of a pep band, then floated down to the cheers of Craig, Jeff and Laurie. I waved to them and eased up the next climb. I was sipping from my bottle when I caught up to another runner who asked for a drink. I shared it with him, we ran together for awhile. Mile 11 (6:17) was mostly a very long, gentle downhill. I was feeling the effects of the effort, but felt I could maintain what I was doing. Miles 12 and 13 reinforced my thoughts, 6:18, 6:14. I went through the first half in a hair under 1:22. At this point, the group of women behind became the group of women just in front of me. I didn't take time to doubt my race, I was still on pace and not discouraged. They pulled away, and as I turned into the wind again, I was working on my own. I picked it up slightly to catch the one man I could reach. I sat on his shoulder, a little protected. He said "let's move off the camber" and went to the middle of the road. We made another turn, still into the wind, and he surged to catch the group. I didn't go with him right away, but waved to a couple of gals behind me to follow me as I surged to close the gap. Mile 14 (6:15) thus took a little out of me, and I lost contact with that group. The next 2 miles were tough and the times (6:28, 6:29). I had picked up a bottle at 15, waved at Brian again, and drank about half before I tossed it. Finally, we turned out of the wind, and I regrouped with a 6:16 for mile 17.

Mile 18 was on a long straightaway. I kept going back and forth with 2 gals, braids, and ponytail. I felt like I was working harder than them, wheezing and grunting, but would still end up ahead of them at times. The next split was 6:24, but there was downhill ahead, and I ran 6:16 for mile 19. Finally, I reached mile 20 (6:25), in 2:05:58. All I needed was a 40 minute 10k to put this to rest. On the next small climb, I caught up to a runner and heard 'good job, Meghan' - it was ultrarunning great Graham Cooper, starting to fade. I said 'hey Graham - do you feel like you're in the wrong race?' He smiled and said yeah. The next downhill hill began and I was able to once more fly away. I saw Brian one more time, and then was on my own. Mile 21 was encouraging (6:18), but mile 22 included a climb over a freeway that nearly killed me. I had no one in sight, braids and pony tail had faded, and I felt like I was the only one in the race, but the aid station at the bottom welcomed me down, and I grabbed my last bottle. My time had me a little concerned (6:30), but at least the climbing was done. I drank only a little, figuring I could get to the end now. Mile 23 was 6:25. A gal caught up to me, and we ran together for a few minutes, encouraging each other. Then she surged, and I surged, but hers lasted, and mine faded while I gasped and wailed with each breath. I hit mile 24 (6:22) in 2:31. I only needed to run the last 2.2 miles in 14 minutes. I pushed and faded, pushed and faded. One more turn into the wind, and I passed my first real victim bent over grabbing his calves. So close to the finish! Again we turned, and now had a tailwind. Mile 25 (6:24) showed me that I couldn't really let up. I could see the final turn very far away. The crowd was great, and just before mile 26 (6:23) I saw Brian one more time, telling me I was going to make it. I rounded the turn, and Craig, Laurie, and Jeff were right there. I high-fived one of them, and gunned for the finish, pumping my arms, grinning like a Cheshire cat. 2:45:43! I'm in!

I found out shortly afterwards, I was 10th female, and 1st master. Icing on the cake.

See you all in Boston!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Twin Cities Marathon 2007

October 7th found me back at the starting line of the National Masters Marathon Championships in Twin Cities, well trained and ready to take a crack at qualifying for the Olympic Marathon Trials. My summer had been 2nd to none in terms of performances, and I felt I was riding a wave but uncertain as to when it would peter out. The conditions were the one factor I couldn't control, and unfortunately, were less than ideal. The starting temperature was 72, the highest for this race ever recorded, and would eventually peak at 84, with a dew point of 70. However, I am a heat lover, and was in denial that my race would be affected.

The lineup of women, both open and masters, was impressive. Susan Loken was returning to attempt a three-peat of the masters title, and masters Lisa Vail, Michelle Simonaitis, and Doreen McCoubrie, would offer a challenge for me. Former Russian champions were in the open mix, as well as Kim Pawelek and Mary Akor, both sub-2:40 runners.

I had a good warm up, my legs felt springy and strong. I enjoyed NOT feeling cold at the start. The horn blew, and off we dashed. I waved to Brian, who I would not see again until the finish, and set my mind on the task ahead. "Don't get in a hurry, just relax, and cruise through the first mile." Susan had gotten out to a quick start and disappeared, and I could see Lisa and Michelle close in front of me. Before mile 1 I had passed them both, and Doreen had passed me. My first split was 6:21, slower than I expected. The course soon took a turn with some nice downhill then uphill, and I went through mile 2 in 6:16. The friendly crowds were lining the streets, and we were serenaded by a tuba while cruising downhill in mile three. I was trying to feel comfortable, keeping the small climbs under control, but stretching out on the flats and downs. Uncharacteristically, I was dripping with sweat. Mile 3 split - 6:33. Hmm. Not bad, but a little concerning. In mile 4, we hit the first of many lakes, Lake of the Isles. Beautiful tree-lined streets were the theme of this race. In this flat section, I clocked another 6:19. My body felt strong, but there was a certain amount of labor that didn't exactly feel comfortable. I felt slow.

Mile 5 in 6:24, brought us to the next lake - Lake Calhoun. I was gaining on a young woman with whom I had spoken the day before. She had planned on trying to qualify for the trials in Chicago, but made a quick decision to come to the Twin Cities to avoid the heat. I knew she was struggling already, drenched in sweat. We both picked up our bottles from the aid station table, but she didn't regain, and she eventually dropped out of the race. I swigged as much from my bottle as I could, and forged on. I was soon caught by another master. We ran together for awhile, but I couldn't stay with her. I latched onto a runner whenever possible so as not to be working alone. Mile 6 came - 6:29, and I was feeling a bit glum, as it was a slightly downhill mile. We hit the next lake, Lake Harriet, and I was passed by a new acquaintance from Washington, Cliff, who spoke encouragement to me. I ran with him for a bit, but again, couldn't keep up.

Mile 7 split was 6:30. I grabbed my next available bottle and sucked it down. I was soon passed by another gal, in light blue, looking very strong. We exchanged encouraging words, but she was soon out of sight. Mile 8 (6:29) brought us onto Minnihaha Parkway, a long road along a creek, lined by beautiful homes, trees, and fans. At this point I started thinking about my next marathon. I know myself well enough that it would take a miracle to start running faster. I was convinced that I had not done enough marathon pace training, and that was reinforced with my mile 9 (slightly uphill) split of 6:36. Mile 10 was slightly faster, back at 6:29, but the overall time was 1:04. Quick math and I knew that even if I could repeat that 10 mile split and have 2:08 at mile 20, a final 39 minute 10k was beyond reason.

I continued the hard work. My time was out the window, but I still had folks to race. Mile 11 came in 6:37. I grabbed my fluids again, and also a bottle of water which I poured down my back, front and my head. I drank my fluids, and turned onto a slight uphill grade in the bright sun, slight wind, and ran my slowest mile yet - 6:51. I felt like I was crawling. Over a bridge and then onto Lake Nokomis, I gained a little speed and hit mile 13 in 6:39. I was focusing on getting to mile 15, where the flattest and fastest section was. Just before mile 14, I felt the need for the loo, spotted one and ran off course to find it occupied. I decided to run to the next one, and my 14 mile split was 6:57. Up ahead I saw the familiar form of Kim Pawelek, well into her death trot. I hit mile 15, finally, in 6:46, and felt ready to at least maintain some sort of regular pace. I passed Kim, who said she was having side-ache issues, spotted a port-a-potty, and dashed inside. I don't think I was there more than 30 seconds, but had to re-pass Kim. Mile 16 split 7:05.

The fans were still amazing. Over and over again I heard "Go Sunsweet! Go red shoes!" I got news that I was 13th female overall, and was stunned. I felt like I was running 9 minute miles, but miles 17 and 18 were still under 7 minutes. Just before mile 19, I saw the masters woman who had passed me early on. I believed that she was slowing more than I, and then she ran off the course into the meridian and stopped. As I ran by I held up my hands, questioning her. She waved and shrugged in resignation. I later learned that she was recovering from an injury, but couldn't pull it off today. Mile 19 had us crossing the Mississippi River, and my split was 6:54. Unbelievable.

Now the crowd was even more intense. I cruised along to mile 20 in 6:59, seeking shade rather than running the tangents. I was still dousing my head when I could. The serious climbing of this race began after mile 20, and now in 12th place, I could see number 11 female falling back. I kept steady, hit mile 21 in 7:07 (not 10:00?). I looked off the course for a split second, and when I looked ahead, the gal had disappeared. I can only assume she dropped, and left me in 11th place. I wondered which masters were still ahead of me, and wondered if Michelle or Lisa had run a smarter race and were going to bury me on this section. Miles 22 and 23 are the slowest on this course, and I managed to run them in 7:28 and 7:34. I was picking off men runners left and right, many of them reduced to walking. Mile 24 offered a bit of reprieve with slight decline, and I actually ran 7:03. Someone reported to me that I was 3rd master, which was good news to me. I realized that with all the dousing I had done in the humid conditions, my soaking wet shorts were sagging in an almost faddish style, and I had to keep tugging them up.

Mile 25 was also not too bad - a slight incline, but I could taste the finish. Off to the right, Brian was yelling for me - he had come looking for me, and he coached my to keep my legs moving. I was fully expecting him to run beside me on the sidewalk I was going so slow, but my split was 7:10. There was a slight crest ahead, and from the top, the finish area was in sight. As I topped out, I was joined by another female runner. GULP! Where did she come from? Thankful for the downhill, I put the hammer down. I pushed near to the point of expiration, waiting for her to sail by. I couldn't tell where she was, so I pushed hard again, and held her off by a whopping 2 seconds. I actually felt a little silly, but it was a race. She was very gracious, and complimented me with "I can't believe you are 45!" and I had to tell her the truth of my age. And she is the age of my daughter!

My final time of 2:57 originally did not feel so special, but as reports came in of DNFs, slow times, and overall inability to handle the humidity, I felt like I hadn't done so bad. Either my base or the fact that I wasn't able to pound out the fast miles, I experienced very little soreness or fatigue in the following 3 days. I am back at it and looking forward to giving it another try on December 2nd at CIM.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

McKenzie River 50k

To capture my experiences from last Sunday and adequately put them into words will be harder than running the race, but as I did on race day, I'll give it my best shot.

Flash back to 2005, my first running of the MRTR 50k. I had run well, taken a tumble on the way, died a few times, but set a 50k PR of 4:19. I loved the race, although I wasn't too savvy in the technical stuff, and like most of my races that year and last, I limped around with a sore foot and hip afterwards. The real treat of that day was having Lynn Nelson, course record holder (4:01!) congratulate me with a big smile, and tell me I could break her record. Of course I wanted to believe her, but running 18 minutes faster felt like a huge stretch.

Fast forward to 2007. In March, my hip issues finally came to a head, forcing my first DNF. I was encouraged to see a PT, whose name I should tattoo on my body. Robyn Pester. 'Nuf said.
She has been working with me since April and has turned my running life around, so for today I can say '46 is the new 30!'. I have had 3 races (including MRTR) this summer that have exceeded my expectations, and my expectations were not sand-bagged predictions. I felt they were a bit aggressive, but if you're going to shoot for the moon....

I was toying with idea of going after Lynn's record. I had 2 great training runs on the course beforehand, so I got some splits from Craig, based on his sub-4:00 performances there. I wrote the splits down on the course map so Brian would know when to hopefully expect me. I knew that if I was close to the splits from the get-go, I would be inclined to keep pushing. The last measure I took was as simple as calculating the average pace for a 4:00 hour 50k - roughly 7:45 pace - and I believed that I could do that. It meant I would have to really get after it on the runnable sections, be diligent and relaxed through the technical sections, and to stay fueled.

Given that this was the 20th anniversary of the MRTR, co-RD Tim hatched an idea to have 2 races. The normal race on Saturday with 150 entrants, and an invitational race on Sunday, with competitors who have won the race in the past, or who have equivalent performances. That meant Sunday's race had roughly 15 men and 4 women, and gosh, 3-4 spectators per competitor? The event had a very personal, family feel, and the day felt special from the start. It also meant that each runner needed to provide their own crew, so as not to have to set up aid stations again for such a low number of runners.

The weather was perfect - sunny, clear, cool morning. With little fanfare, the race started, and I actually led the pack to remarks of 'Let the Waldo winner lead the race', and 'better follow Meghan, she knows where she's going'. My lead lasted about 50 yards, when a few of the boys, and the woman I knew would go out hard (Wendy) positioned themselves before entering the single track. Fortunately, I was right behind Craig, and felt comfortable knowing he would be running the pace I wanted to. He was right behind Wendy, and we steadily climbed at a good effort. I was glad to see that Wendy wasn't pulling away, although I would have let her go that early in the race. Soon, she made a left turn in the wrong direction, and Craig began yelling 'right! right! right! right!' to no avail. I yelled 'Wendy! This way, this way!' and she finally responded with a thanks, turned around and got right back with us. Craig's pace gapped her a bit more, and I stayed right on his heels. We crossed the highway, and began the single track around Clear Lake. I felt good. Craig was already sweating, and asked if I was. I thought maybe I was through my lungs. I assured him I was going to be carrying a bottle after the first aid station, but was going free for the first 5+ miles. I was finally getting warm under my 3 layers and hat, so planned on chucking one shirt at least.

I could hear voices catching up to us, one of the them being Wendy's. I worried a little, and asked Craig if we were on 45 minute split pace to the first AS. He assured me we were on sub-4:00 finishing pace, so I relaxed. The group behind got closer, and we soon had a 'Craig Train'. Crossing a foot bridge to begin the dog-leg portion of the course, Craig offered me the lead of the train, and I was soon overtaken by Hal and two of his trailers. Hal disappeared so quickly I was stunned. Craig and Wendy stayed on my heels, and we soon encountered the front runners - Dan, Lewis, and a couple of men whose names and faces I haven't connected. We crossed the foot bridge to our first informal AS, where our personal crews awaited. I had taken off my hat, and was taking off my long sleeve shirt, while running, and inadvertently took of my Sunsweet running singlet. I still had on a shimmel, so I guessed I would be warm enough. I checked my watch at the turnaround cone, and it was 45 minutes! Perfect! I relayed the info to Craig, and encouraged Wendy who was about 20 yards behind, grabbed my bottle of fluids from Brian, and boogied out. Sean was coming across the bridge right before Jeff, and many wishes of luck were given.

Next time goal was 1:25 at Carmen. Craig and I put more distance on Wendy, and I focused on long strides on the downhills, getting after it on the flats, and being conservative on every climb. Craig's strategy was more steady running, as he would drop back on the downhills, and come back on the climbs. I called back to him as we crossed the last foot bridge before the road crossing, and he closed the gap. Having him back on my heels encouraged me to run strong. We crossed the highway again, I tossed Brian my bottle knowing I would see him with a fresh one in a few minutes. I skittered back in front of Craig and flew down the trail, just having a blast. Crossing another bridge, we started into a very technical section. I relaxed and let myself go down the rocky trail. Craig was getting further behind at this point, until finally I heard a very feeble 'Good job, Meghan.....' I would find out later that his calf had cramped and his race was over.

The trail continued twisting on beside the rushing water and falls of the beautiful McKenzie River. I had the wherewithal to keep my eyes on the trail and only imagine what I was missing visually. I reached the Carmen AS to hoots and hollers of the faithful crews. Normally Brian would be quite vocal and obvious so as to get me out of there quickly. I didn't see him, so came to a complete halt, my mind blank. A couple of people asked 'what can we get you?' and I meekly replied 'my husband?' No one knew what to say exactly, as I glanced around. Finally, Tim Turk says 'what do you need? what can we get you?' I said 'water!' and he handed me a bottle. My watch read 1:26, just one minute off what I hoped for, so really, right on. I thanked everyone, and told them to let Brian know I came through. Someone said 'he loves you!' to which I replied 'I know! He's the best!' I knew he would be disappointed and worried when he found out he missed me, and of course, when he did arrive, someone had mis-interpreted my words and told him 'she's been here and she said you're off the list'.

Now I was on my own. The next section has a long runnable section before hitting the lava beds around the Blue Pool. I stuck to my plan, pushing where I could, easing where it made sense, and felt the effects of my effort. I saw no one, and heard no one. As I got to the lava beds, I began to sense that having energy drink right now would be a good thing. I was light headed, but thankfully not woozy. I dug deep in my brain to focus as hard as I could and not biff. I fared very well for the most part, only having to save myself once, jamming my toe hard into the end of my shoe. The accompanying shot of adrenaline probably served some purpose as well, and I was soon cruising along. I finally saw a runner, taken down at some point in the lava I assume, scratched up and limping out. He assured me he was okay, but it was a sad sight. Then Brian appeared, which relieved me, as I wasn't sure what I would think if he wasn't at the next AS. He handed me the much needed bottle of energy drink, apologized over and over for missing me, and told me Ed was ready at the AS with another bottle for me. I assured him everything was fine, ran on and swigged away at the drink. Feeling revived, I pulled the gel out of the bottle handle and ate it just as I got to the AS. Ed was hooting it up for me, as was everyone, and I cruised through. I checked my watch, thinking I needed to be at Trail Bridge AS at 2:05. It read 2:10. Rats. That didn't look so good for the course record.

The next section is one of the hardest - some longish, not steep, climbs, but to get a fast time, one needs to keep running them. I kept a conservative pace, and told myself I can keep working this hard, and getting 4:10 would still be the best I have ever done, no shame in that. I heard footsteps and voices, both male, so I didn't panic. In very short order, Sean came CRUISING buy. He was on fire! Jeff was right behind him, and he started talking me up. He told me he was tired, but that I looked great, my form looked good, and I could get the record. I started the sandbagging all the way to the next intersection, and gave him the lead. He kept telling me I was right on pace, and I wouldn't believe him. I asked him where Wendy was, he said he passed her in the lava, and she wasn't moving too fast. He told me about Craig, and that he would be at the next aid station. As he was talking, he was moving faster and faster, and I was keeping up. I told him I liked where he was because now I was working harder. Finally, I got it all back together and said I would like to pull for awhile, wanting him to hang on. I went around, and he yelled - 'you are going to get the record! You are going to get to Deer Creek AS in 2:50!' which is right where I needed to be.

I was inspired to try, so I left him behind, revived by camaraderie, gel, and fluids. Suddenly I was near the AS, and the crowd had grown as well as the intensity of the cheering. Brian was standing at the top - handing me a bottle and offering me gels. My watch read 2:50! Craig yelled 'Seventy one minutes to the record!' and I yelled back 'Game on!' I was pumped, and did so with my fists in the air. I had run this last 9 mile stretch as fast as 64, so figured with the fatigue I could still pull off the 71 needed.

Alone again, it was harder to keep the pace going. Ebbing and flowing, I kept going forward. I hit an open road section and felt absolutely flat. I yelled inside to keep going, keep the legs going, and making a mental note that at the next AS I would get a gel as I seemed to be fading. I arrived at 3:15, to another bottle from Brian, pulled the gel from the handle, ate it, threw the wrapper to Kelly as he was yelling at me that I had the record. The excitement of the crowd was immense and I felt ready to do what it took make it happen. I knew I had 45 minutes, so imagined I was running home with 5 miles to go, and I knew I could run hard every step of the way.

About one mile later, I spotted someone in blue ahead, and they came back pretty quickly. It was Sean, and he was struggling. He stepped out of my way, but I didn't want him to give up so quickly. I told him to stay, he was fine, and I stayed right on his heels. When the trail widened to double track I ran beside, then around in front of him. I said 'C'mon Sean, lets get the sub-4:00'. No response, and I knew he was hurting big time. I ran by and touched the post in memory of the fallen XC runner, drawing energy as I went. Cruising, cruising, cruising, up over some rollers, and the downhills were starting to feel a bit harsh. Not much resilience left in the legs, but plenty in the mind. Finally, I saw Tom Riley taking pictures, so I knew I was close to the last place I would see anyone before the finish. He yelled '11 minutes to go!' I popped out at the crossing to Brian, Craig, and Ed (?), tossed my bottle to Brian, and Craig yelled '3:47! 11 minutes to go!' Clem was down the trail a ways, clicked my picture and advised me to not slow up.

Just then, my hamstring started to cramp. I did not panic, I only relaxed a bit, and mentally visualized it relaxing. I only had to run a bit easier for a couple of minutes before it was no longer an issue, but was it too late to make up the time? I had a lot of people invested in this race now, and I relished in that fact and just started giving it everything I had. I was looking for the last, tightest turn in the race - 2 large trees very close together that the trail snakes through. FINALLY I was there, and then I could see the last climb that ends at the finish. I was spotted, and the crowd went bananas (well, that is how it sounded to me!) and I charged my tired legs up the hill. I crossed the finish without knowing my exact time, but I knew I had done it. Brian hugged me, telling me I made him cry. The good kind. Craig gave me my finishing time - 3:58 - which is what he had predicted at some point. Nice work! I even got a kiss from RD Phil.

This exceeds any experience I have had in a race, where I became part of a bigger picture, I am honored to be the one that got do the running! Thank you everyone for your support and enthusiasm!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Where's Waldo

This year's Where's Waldo was to be my third, and I had my 'A' goal of breaking 11 hours forefront on my mind. I reasoned that this would be difficult at best, but in doing so would make a victory more likely. My main competition was my teammate, friend, and extremely tough Bev Anderson-Abs. I was ready for the challenge and felt nothing but good on race morning.

With the starting gong sending us up the new, steeper start, we the conversations were a bit sparse. My light only cast very diffusely, and I rued the choice I made. I followed John Ticer up the long climb, benefiting when I could from his sharper light. We finally hit the first trail into the woods, and when it became single track I led the way. It was a bit dicey, with the trail pitching up and down, but I managed to stay upright as the dawn slowly broke and I could abandoned the light. We ran silently along, catching up to another runner just as we hit Gold Lake road. John and I chatted a bit, then cruised into the first aid station. I checked my split - 1:10, right what I had hoped for, choked down a Clif Shot and water, grabbed a fresh bottle from Brian, and asked 'where is she?' Bev had passed through about 2-3 minutes ahead. I followed John out of the aid station, we crossed the road to the cheers of the hardy fans and entered Fuji Trail. John was inching away, so I got into a comfortable pace, pulling myself along and alone. I scoped each climb, assessing whether it was runnable or a hiker. As I neared the Fuji aid station, I encountered several early starters. Many words of encouragement were shared, as always.

I saw the aid station before they saw me, and I hooted a hello. My split was 55 minutes, again well on target. Fellow Sunsweeter Jeff Riley was there to greet me. He took my bottle, I downed a Clif Shot and water, and said I would pick up my bottle when I returned after summiting Mt. Fuji. Jeff was Mr. Enthusiasm as usual, grinning 'Go Team Sunsweet! - BE PATIENT!' I heeded his advice and went up the trail towards the top. With about 4 minutes to the top left, Sunsweet Louis Taylor, repeat winner of 'Found Waldo' was on his down. He was followed by more top runners, including John, and 2 minutes from the top, I met Bev on her way down. I liked that she wasn't 1o minutes ahead of me yet! I summited 19 minutes from the aid station, still ahead of the game, gave RD Craig Thornley a high 5 and said 'no time to chat today' and scurried my way down. I carefully cruised through rocky sections and met many runners all the way down. The greetings and support were awesome.

Back at the aid station, Jeff handed me my bottle and advised me to just cruise down to the next aid station, there was no hurry. I grabbed some Clif Shot Bloks and headed out. I felt pretty decent, but a little surprised that my calves were already tight on the climbs. It didn't deter me, and I was able to have a decent run all the way to the next aid station, Mt. Ray, arriving 3:25 minutes into the race. I was 5 minutes ahead of schedule, and Bev had been through about 5 minutes earlier. My drop bag was retrieved, I drank a pint of chocolate milk, grabbed a fresh bottle, and got going. I was surprised at good I felt at this point, happily. I reached Gold Lake trail and began the first portion of the grind up to the Twins aid station. Fellow Corvallisian Sander Nelson soon came up behind and I made way for him to go by. He is a stellar climber, whereas my strength lies in the downhills and the flats, so I figured we would be trading places more than once. I reached the next turn onto Bobby Lakes Trail, and passes a new friend, Eric, from Arizona, who was struggling with some knee pain. He was going to have to take it easy in order to finish. I enjoyed this next stretch, since it is flat to rolling, but no real elevation change. Now my right hip flexor was acting up, but only enough to make me worry, nothing to slow me down.

The next intersection was where the race fell apart for a good number of people. Sander was there, with an out of town invited master runner, Courtney Campbell, and they were trying to decide where to go. I was puzzled - how could you NOT know? Then I looked up the Bobbly Lakes trail and saw pink ribbons hanging from branches. I blew up. "NO! THIS IS WRONG! THIS IS @#$$%'d". I grabbed the ribbons and brought them to the PCT, where the course goes. Courtney kept asking if I was sure. I was willing to bet my life on it. There were tree branches blocking the trail. Sander removed the first batch. Courtney followed my up the PCT, and we would time and again come to more trail barriers to move. I was furious. He was doubtful. I said I would take full responsibility if I was wrong. I think the anger and the need to get to the Twins to let someone know made for a 70 minute split, again, right on target.

RD Curt Ringstad was at the Twins when I pulled in. He looked at me and said "WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON!?!?! Where is everybody?" Again, I exploded. I yelled 'SOMEBODY @#$%'D UP THE TRAIL MARKINGS'. (Yep, I guess I showed my Waldo). Sander came in right behind me, and verified what we saw and did, and Curt was soon on his way to right the situation.

I grabbed a Clif Shot, some GU2O, and headed for Charlton Lake. Sander was right behind me. We complained some more (who? WHY?). I felt so badly for the RDs who worked so hard at making this an awesome course, and being granted the USATF 100k Trail Master's Championship Race, inviting elite athletes from around the country, and someone had to screw it up. And now I was ahead of Bev, and that made my heart sink even worse. In my mind, it would invalidate our finishing places.

Sander pulled up and went in front as we were still climbing, and then we began the nice descent that gave my legs a chance to recover. The dust from Sander was getting a bit much, but he was having stomach issues and decided I should lead in case he became offensive. Apparently he doesn't train with the types I do. But, it meant no more dust for awhile, and the cruising felt great. I finally spied Charlton Lake, and picked up the pace. I zoomed into the aid station where the volunteers where a bit bewildered. I was getting riled up again, telling Brian what had happened. I looked over and saw Sarah Ticer and Rebecca Taylor, and my heart sank more, when I realized that at a minimum, John and Lewis, both very strong favorites, had both taken a wrong turn. So I turned to everyone and said 'If you are wondering where your person is, someone sabotaged the trail markings, and many people took a wrong a turn.' There was kind of eerie silence and looks of disbelief. Clem came to me saying 'But how could Lewis and John make a wrong turn?' I explained that John has only run that section once, and it is confusing without flags. If someone moves the flags, and blocks the trail, it is easy to be convinced to go the wrong direction.

I downed some pork and beans, more chocolate milk, and took a fresh bottle from Brian. I had to keep moving forward, and remember my 'A' goal. I had trained hard to get under 11, and I reached the halfway point 11 minutes ahead of goal pace. I had to let go of the incident. Sander left, and I was on his heels. We crossed the road and were on the high 5 miles to 4290 aid station. Suddenly, Sander dove into the bushes as nature called. I went on, my legs starting to show me their fatigue, but nothing disastrous. I amble along, fully expecting Sander to catch up. I ran every section of this trail, even the last climb, and made it to the welcoming cow bell in 52 minutes. Now I was getting into some slower splits, as I had hoped for 50 minutes. I was giving my drop bag, and grabbed 2 packets of Clip2 that I could add to water at the remaining aid stations, since there were no drop bag sites left. I ate some melon, told the volunteers the story, and started on the very long, remote miles back to the Twins aid station.

It was tough going, but I wasn't falling apart. I hiked more than I did in training, but still kept the faith. At the Round Meadow, a volunteer was there, asking me how I felt, and that it was 2 miles to the Twins. I hoped he didn't tell anyone else that since it was more like 6. Finally, I passed an early starter, we encouraged each other, and I plugged on. Then, I saw another Corvallisian, and early starter, Todd Temple. 'Hey Todd! How's it going?' He told me I was cruisin'! I gave him the news, and he said he was glad I passed him because he was tired of being in the lead. I was stunned. It hadn't really hit me that NONE of the regular starters had made it past the errant markings. My heart sank again. I didn't want to be the overall winner in these circumstances. But I had my 'A' goal, and I was going to continue to treat the day as a time trial. I urged myself up the hills, jogged the flats, across the lunar like landscape near the Twin's Peaks and finally crested the saddle, and sailed the wonderful descent back to the Twins aid station. This section had taken 1:28, another 6 minutes slower, but I knew what was coming up. I enjoyed the help a little more this time, and support of the volunteers was wonderful. Melissa made my drink up, even reaching into my pocket to get the packet out. I ate melon, coke, gel, water, and was told not to worry about what had happened, just GO!

I sailed out, flying on the downhill. I was grateful that my legs were still doing well, my calves had settled down, as well my hip flexor. When I got to the scene of the crime I saw one of the volunteers, Kate, who had re flagged the section so well, it would take an army of miscreants to remove the tape. I almost started crying though, but Brian was hanging out there, and told me just forget about, keep going, I was looking good, so on I went. I was flying well, and finally reached the climb to the Maiden Peak aid station. I made myself run the whole way up, knowing it wasn't that long, and I had practiced this section. About 50 yards from the aid station, a volunteer asked me what I needed. With Clip2 packet already in hand, I thrust it and my bottle into his hands and said 'fill this with water please, and dump the packet it'. He was gone in a flash. When I struggle in, it was ready. My split was 45 minutes, back on track. I had another Clif Shot, some coke and melon. They asked if I wanted to show them my Waldo, and I told them I already showed it at the Twins, and it wasn't exactly polite. They laughed me out of the station and cheered me up the final long climb.

It was tough going. Maiden Peak is my favorite climb. It is the hardest, and it comes after 50 miles of challenging running. It is not filled with switchbacks, but very tough straight up climbs interspersed with some runnable trail. It was so strange to be in the lead of this race, and not a sign of anyone, not even Sander. I kept at it, knowing that even taking an hour today would be great, as I have never done that on race day, but have run 52 in training. I was really pleased that I was not in any joint or tendon pain that I have been in for the past several years, due to great physical therapy I had been receiving. My body was cooperating fully.

Finally, I could see the sky, and I reached the course marshal, Steve Smucker, hooting and hollering. Both of us. He made sure I knew the way to the summit, and I was trudging up the final rocky, technical trail to the top. As soon as I was in eyesight, Jeff (yes, he had moved from Fuji to Maiden) about jumped out of his skin. He was SO EXCITED to see me. His spirit is contagious, he told me forget about the circumstances, said I looked so strong, and he couldn't believe I had summited so fast (58 minutes!). I turned around and headed down, wondering if I would see anyone on their way up. No one. It was weird.

I flew past Steve, and reveled in the downhill to the Maiden Lake aid station (the pampering place). The 2 miles took only 15 minutes. Wow - that was fast! The wonderful volunteers filled my bottle, gave me a Clif Shot, and wonderful Barb Ringstad wiped my face, rubbed my shoulders and someone gave me some Frappacino. I said 'I need to leave - I am trying to break 11 hours!' They cheered me out, and started the next section with tired, but willing legs. This bit rolls beautifully. If you have legs left, you can really romp, gaining momentum from each downhill to carry you through the short uphills. My goal was 30 minutes, but it was hard to get really rocking. Eventually, I was getting enough downhills to carry me through, and in 32 minutes, I reached the PCT. Marilyn Bailey was there, and it was so great to have her cheering me and telling me what sweet running I had ahead. I looked at my overall time, added 40 minutes, which would be the slowest I felt I would run, and that would put me in at 10:52. Sweet!

I let it rip, as long as it was down. The flats were a lesson in sheer determination. I was grunting and blowing air like a horse, and talking out loud - 'okay, okay, there ya go', until I would hit the next down hill. I spied Odell Lake, and added 18 minutes to my time, and realized I was still going to make it. I was finally reaching the point where I felt it would be really nice to stop and rest, but then, what's another 15 minutes? I nearly reached the end of the PCT when I saw Alan Abs on his way up, he encouraged my and then voila, there was the sign board. PHEW!

I turned the corner and my watch said 10:46. I thought, wow, 10:50! That will be great. I felt myself push against the wind and try to find solid footing in this last section. The finish line was AMAZING! There was a lot of noise coming from the friends and families and volunteers. I crossed in 10:48, stunned. RD Craig offered me a choice in hat color (white) and I then spent the time enjoying the support and congratulations from everyone. Not a full 2 minutes later, Jeff Browning, one of the lost runners, came cruising in, doing a fanastic job making up the time. Bev came in about 20 minutes after me, which begs the question, what if?

So, she and I will have our chance again. I, and I speak for many, appreciate the volunteers, the RDs, and the family of ultra runners that I am honored to belong to. I enjoyed the evening watching everyone finish, and partaking of the excellent vittles! Thanks especially to John Ticer for the beautiful bench and quilt, to my sponsor Sunsweet, and to Brian for helping me keep my head together.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run

Prologue - The month of April consisted of very few running miles, including my first dnf at Boston. By month's end I was fairly certain I would be sidelined by my hamstring injury, but with the persistance of my PT (Thank you Robyn Pester!) I was running well by 6 weeks before race day. I was able to get in 3 100 mile weeks prior to tapering, and those weeks included key training days for me - 55 miles of the course at the end of May, and a double crossing of the Grand Canyon (50 miles) 3 weeks before the race with Team Thornley - for heat, altitude, electrolyte, and MENTAL training.

I was excited for this year's race, and not nervous. Not because I was confident, but because 100 miles is too long to get nervous for. My plan was simple - take care of myself, pay attention to the small stuff lest it become a big issue, and save something for the last 38 miles. I had no time predictions, no splits to aim for, so no pressure on myself. I told my crew to expect 'sometime' after Kami, Nikki, and Bev.

The race started at 5:00 am, and I keyed in on Craig - I have trained with him and am accustomed to his pace, and it was good to have someone to gauge my effort against. However, he was already drifting ahead when I caught and passed Nikki and Kami running/hiking together. Kami greeted me, and I joined the 2 of them. There was absolutely no reason for me to EVER be ahead of Nikki in a race, and I enjoyed getting to know them even better in the long ascent to the Escarpment. Just before the first aid station, they pulled ahead. I struggled to get the tops off my bottles, and by the time I was ready to go, I knew that Nikki, Kami, Bev, and Carrinne were all ahead of me, but I was pleased with how the hike up had gone.

Into the Granite Chief Wilderness section on single track was the beginning of the long, isolated, beautiful running along ridges and into and out of beautiful wooded sections. The temperature was comfortable, the footing good. I stayed very relaxed and asked myself over and over 'is this taking care of yourself?' I drank regularly, and only slightly felt the altitude. Eventually I caught Ann Lundblad while she stood off the trail to apply a bandaid. She soon passed me by again, along with Alan Abs. Alan had declared before the race that I had better him beat him this year, so I wondered how that would play out. Before Lyon's Ridge aid station, Ken Gregorich caught me. He was so far having a good day, and we kept company until the aid station. I grabbed 3 figbars while the station folks filled my bottles with GU2O. I walked out, making sure I ate them all before running again. Caron caught me here and lightly tripped away. Caron has incredibly strong legs and runs EVERYTHING, up or down. I was now alone and happy to control my pace. Another hour plus passed, and I arrived at Red Star Ridge aid station. Tents were popped up all around for the volunteers who spend the night, and I was impressed by the number of them and the sacrifice they made to be in this remote spot for all of us. I grabbed figbars, and freshly filled bottles, and made my way. I was excited to know that the next aid station was Duncan Canyon - where I would see Brian, and from which point I had trained on just a few weeks prior.

I was feeling 'okay' - not great. I tried a gel and that helped some, so I took an S! Cap for insurance. I was still basically running alone, saying to myself - 'how am I going to run hard at Foresthill if this feels hard now?' It wasn't that I was running hard, I think it was just the altitude getting to me a little. I passed 2 more runners close to the aid station, and finally arrived to the awesome hoots and hollers of the crews and volunteers. I saw Brian in his red Sunsweet shirt waving fresh bottles. As I approached him, and according to plan, he pointed me away to the aid station food, insisting I find something to eat. I grabbed some melon, some soda, and an S! Cap. Then I asked Brian for some chocolate milk, which I downed in seconds. A volunteer sponged my legs, and as I was leaving, Annette Bednosky arrived. This was a very good sign for Annette, who has been sidelined from hard racing and training for many months from a serious hamstring injury.

Down into the canyon to cross Duncan Creek, I again was alone. Just as I arrived at the creek, Annette pulled in behind. Having fallen off the first rock I stepped on, I just waded across. The cool water was a treat, and I was happy that I no blisters at this point. Annette crossed behind, we chatted briefly, but her injury would not allow her to hike hard, only walk steady. I hiked and ran for what seemed forever before arriving to Robinson Flat to the cheers of Chris, Grayson, and Renee (GO NIPPLE'S SISTER!). I weighed in and was 114 - one lb up, so that was looking good. Tommy led me to my crew, Ed yanked the yellow tape up for me to go under, sat me down in the chair, and it felt like an Indy 500 pit stop. Laura wiped my legs, Ed fed me soup, Alec sponged my head. I drank some juice, grabbed my fresh bottles from Ed, and carefully, slowly, walked away, making sure I wasn't leaving something behind. Finally I began running, and was chased out of the aid station by many well wishers.

I hiked and ran to the top of Little Bald Mountain, and then began the mostly downhill running. I cruised along easily, nearly bit it once but caught myself before what would have been a skin slicer. I scolded myself, and focused on picking up my feet. I spotted Caron Spore ahead, and soon caught up to her. Downhill running is more my strength, so I let myself float down. I caught up to Whit next and ran a few steps with him. I spotted another woman up front, and was gaining on her. Walking a small non-technical uphill section, I took my eyes off the road momentarily, when WHAM - I was eating dirt. Oh, brother. I got up quickly and hoped no one had seen it. Before long I caught up to the woman - Kim Holak, and we ran together all the way to Miller's Defeat aid station. She is another of the many gracious runners I had the privelege of getting to know that day.

At Miller's, I grabbed a handful of potato chips, freshly filled bottles, and hurried out. I knew that Dusty Corners was only 3 or 4 miles away, and there would be some downhill. The amount of flattish running was feeling like a chore, and I had to make a couple of pit stops. Even so, I passed a couple of runners, hit the downhill, and flew into Dusty. I grabbed some soda and melon and went to Brian. He informed me I could get sprayed down, so I took advantage of it, and also had my legs sponged off. I then sat down, asked for Pork and Beans, and to change my socks. I didn't have blisters, but the feet were getting hot spots. While sitting there, Caron, Annette, and Whit, all came through and were out before me. But, I was all freshened up, and eating more beans just before jumping on Pucker Point trail.

This trail went badly for me last year. This year - it was much better. I was feeling tired, but I had run 37 miles or so what did I expect? Soon, I caught and passed Whit as he was drinking and peeing as if he had a straight shot all the way through. He followed me closelyand silently as we traversed through the woods, then out onto the gravel road that would eventually bring us to Last Chance aid station. I weighed in at 110, so drank more while there, and ate pineapple, mango, and cantelope. I had fresh bottles, ate a gel, got sponged off, and then set off for the swinging bridge at the bottom of Deadwood Canyon. This downhill seemed to go on forever. I finally reached the bottom and crossed at the same time as Caron. We began the ascent to Devil's Thumb, which is the hardest climb in the race for me. I told Caron to go ahead, claiming she is the mountain goat, and I watched as she ran away from me and disappeared from view. As I hiked, another runner came behind. I asked if he would like to pass, but he said he was ahead of his splits, so he needed to slow down. We chatted as we slogged, and soon caught Annette. What took me 32 minutes on training day, took 40 minutes today.

At Devil's Thumb aid station I was greeted by one of my massage clients! It was great to see a friendly familiar face, and David did all he could to get me ready to charge on. Now my weight was 117. Huh - 7 lbs in as many miles? I told the crew there that I had been taking salt, drinking, and that I felt good, and that was enough for them.

I left the aid station and entered into My Dark Time. Not sure why, but as I was beginning the run down into El Dorado Canyon I asked myself 'why am I doing this? I don't want to be a runner anymore.' Good, old-fashioned pity party. A few switchbacks on this awesome section, and I caught Annette. We started chatting, and my self-pity disappeared. We kept company all the way to the crossing. She teased me about looking so clean. At the bottom, I drank 2 cups of coke, took an S! Cap and a gel, while Annette started her 'walk' to Michigan Bluff. I finished refreshing, and soon caught up. I hiked strong, jogged when I could, and my new goal was 'get to the river before dark'. I figured I needed to be to Michigan Bluff around 4, and Foresthill around 5 to give myself a good cushion.

When close enough, I ran into the aid station. It was after 4. I weighed in at 117 again. They took my story, let me go, and I had to give a urine sample to the study group, while letting Brian and Ed know that I didn't want to stay long, I wanted to get to the river. Food was not exciting, but chocolate milk and a Payday seemed to fit the bill. They ice massaged my legs, took off my shoes and socks to trade for clean and dry. I chose the Injinji toe socks, and got one all the way on with the heel in the wrong direction, giving Ed a very perplexed expression - 'somethin's not right here'. Wrong foot. As I was getting socks on the right feet, my left calf cramped. I took another S! Cap. Finally, all cleaned up, and I told Brian and Ed - 'at Foresthill, we're going without lights and without the hydration pack'.

Brian ran up the road with me until he was not allowed. I kept running, and was surprised at my pace. Not fast, but not a slog. I soon caught Annette, who again teased me about getting all cleaned up every time. I pulled ahead, and soon began the descent into Volcano Canyon. In pretty short order, my calf started to cramp again. Yikes! I reached for my S! Caps, and discovered I had left them at Michigan Bluff. I walked a little, and ate a few salted almonds, and drank a lot of electrolytes. It seemed to hold it at bay, but I need to be even more conservative. I then decided that it would be irresponsible of me to head to the river without a light. If I cramped up and took 4 hours (my last year's time) I would be in the dark. When I arrived at the creek, Annette was right behind me. I waded knee high in the creek to cool my calf, while she walked out the other side. Whit caught up, and decided the creek looked pretty good too. I climbed out, calf somewhat better, and fell in behind Annette. Passing her on a turn, she said she needed an attitude adjustment, but from being around her I would guess it wouldn't need much.

I carefully pulled myself up some climbs, monitoring my calf. At Bath Road, Brian and Penny were there to run me into Foresthill. Brian had my S! Caps, so I took one and chugged some juice. We hiked nearly the top before I started running. Ed came running towards us, and we all had instructions for the Foresthill stop. I has to get a weight and blood draw for the study group, plus a race weight (117 again), and eat what I could. Soda and a potato. I ran to my crew stop, saw some Corvallis friends, grabbed a head lamp - it was 5:30, 2 bottles, and with Ed as my first pacer, we flew down to California Street. I felt unbelievably good. Wow. My plan had worked. We jumped onto the trail, and continued to fly. We passed number 19, David Goggins, who hung with us. It was better than training day. I hiked the ups, ran the downs. It was looking good for a daylight crossing. In and out of the aid station after coke, gel and watermelon. Between Cal1 and Cal2 we caught and passed Ken Gregorich, running on 'E'. I reminded him that he shouldn't have passed me in the high country. Now we were a train of 5 all the way to Cal2, where we lost Ken to a chair (only momentarily for him, but we didn't see him again until he finished). Back to a threesome, we wended our way from Cal2 down to the river. Before the sneaky climb up from the river (who made this trail!!!) I saw Ann Lundblad. Ed wondered if I was going to chase her down. I told him she would be coming back to me, there was nothing I needed to do, nor could do without getting into trouble. The long climb told me I was getting weary, but when it leveled, I could still run. I caught Ann, and we chatted a bit. She was okay, just a little worse for the wear.

Next we caught one of my teammates, Matt, who had been struggling from the start, but was persevering. We kept on, and at Cal3 I was pretty certain we would make it to the crossing in the light. The downhills were still running, but the uphills, ugh. Finally, Ed asks if he can holler (as only Ed can) and I said 'knock yourself out'. He let out his signature bellow, and we were granted one back by Brian on the other side of the river. I was adrenalized and goofy, wearing a grin like I had won the race when I came into Rucky-Chucky. I weighed in - 117. Down to the river we ran and hand over hand on the cable, we were waist deep, getting the core temperature down and full of optimism for getting there before dark.

Penny and Brian changed my shoes. Ed got me soup. I drank 3 cups of it. I got reports of how everyone was doing. I was now 6th woman. I figured I would be lucky to hold that place, but Caron was 20 minutes ahead, so I could be seeing her. As we left the aid station with lights and a hydration pack, and an extra shirt in case it got cold. I was amazed at how fresh my legs had become. I hiked hard, and broke into a run on more than one occasion on the climb to Green Gate.

At Green Gate, Penny and I were on our own. David was still hanging on, opting to go without a pacer. With lights on, on a runnable coutour, I was flying. David was convinced I was trying to break 20 hours. I just wanted to finish. I hiked the climbs, ran the downs, and finally we got to Auburn Lake Trail's aid station. Another weigh in, still the same. More coke, more gel, more GU2O. Penny did a great job of finding out what I wanted before each aid station and making sure I got it. Now my left calf started to hurt. I took another S! Cap (a wet one from the river crossing) and an Alleve.

We pushed on, and came into Brown's Bar. More potato soup, coke, and we were out of there. I technical downhill and I could feel the fatigue really catching up. Down by the river again, I spotted runners, and was astonished to see Kami and her pacer, Ashley. 'Kami - what's up?'. She was having vision issues and struggling with foot placement. She was as cool as could be - it had happened before and she said 'it is what it is'. She encouraged me on like a true champion.

The ups were getting slower, but I knew that highway 49 was near. A very long climb later, we heard cars, and a sound system. Finally at the top, we ran down to the crossing. 7 miles to go! I got rid of the hydration pack, the fanny pack, the extra shirt, and went with just one hand held light and one bottle. We climbed out steadily, and came to a meadow where Alan and his pacer were stopped. Alan was having energy and foot issues. As I passed I reminded him of his declaration earlier and he was in full agreement still.

David was still hanging with Penny and I. He reported that there were runners coming, but it coincided with some downhill that I was still able to take advantage off. We cruised all the way to No-Hands Bridge, I drank coke and ate a gel, and we were across the bridge in a hurry. A flat running section and the lights caught us. I was relieved it was a male runner with his pacer. We reached the last climb before David finally threw in the towel. No amount of encouragement from Penny would get him to keep up. He said he would see us 6 minutes after we finished.

We came out at Robie Point all fired up. I started running up the hill, as Alec (Jeff Riley's nephew) and Brian ran towards us. Alec gave me an update - Jeff had placed 9th! Nikki, Bev, Carrinne, and Caron had all finished, so it looked like I was good for 5th female. Unbelievable. On the final downhills, I stretched my legs out and felt myself fly. Onto the track, Penny stayed with me to the finish. 20:50. A mere 2.5 hours faster than last year.

Pretty magical day. I owe a debt of gratitude to my husband Brian for working so very hard at the logistics of crewing and overall caretaking, to Ed and Penny for the fabulous pacing and encouragement, to Sunsweet and Sporthill for their sponsorship, to all my Sunsweet teammates, and to the Brothers Thornley (Chris 'Everyone's-a-winner!' and Craig 'Nipples') for the 'Grand- Canyon-training-run-with-yoga.'

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Way Too Cool Race Report

This was my second year at Way Too Cool 50k. Unlike last year’s experience of cold weather and multiple shoe-soaking stream crossings, the weather this year was most appealing – sunny, warm, dry – paradise for a heat loving Oregonian. My main goal this was to run hard, and my hope was that I could last the entire race at a good effort. I anticipated a better time than last year’s 4:31, based on the conditions alone.

After a creaky warm-up, I made my way to the start line, where I exchanged good luck wishes with my training buddies Bev, Alan, Craig, Jeff, Lewis, Scott, and Tommy. At 8:00 a.m. the cannon went off, and we surged down the road ahead. I settled in with Jeff, Craig, Rod Bien, chatted a little, and watched ahead to see where the women were. Bev was already nearly out of site, and last year’s winner Joelle Vaught was drifting away as well. I was happy where I was, running at a good clip, and feeling that it was not too hard. I spotted Jaime, the number 3 gal from last year, and decided to run with her awhile. We chatted awhile and soon enough we were off the road and onto the trail. Tommy was near, and we ran a bit together. Craig and Jeff were pulling ahead as I kept the hills to my moderate effort (aka as SLOW). Cresting one, I caught Jeff as he was experiencing technical difficulties, trying to unwrap his Ipod from around his legs (???). He caught back up soon, and commented that we were going too fast. Behind me I could hear Andy Jones-Wilkins booming voice, chatting away, and knew he would be blazing by soon. Sure enough, next flat wide section, he scooted by and wished me luck.

At about 4 miles into the race, a crowd had gathered for our last turn before heading down to AS 1. I heard Laurie cheering me on, and looked up as she gave me a thumbs-up. Lifted as I always am by moral support, I flew down the trail. Jaime caught back up, and I chased her down the technical section, watching and following her surefooted placements.

Into the aid station in about 40 minutes (3 minutes ahead of last year?), I looked to Ed to refill my bottle and hand me a Gu. He did both, I waved to Brian, and headed for the road crossing. A group of about 4 of us were halted by a very animated volunteer – “Stop! Don’t cross yet! We have to let some cars through! Someone help me keep these runners from crossing!” Green shirt next to me says “I’m not going anywhere, are you?” I giggled and said “I don’t think we need holding back. I’ll take the rest. Besides, we can tell everyone we added 10 minutes to our time waiting for traffic.” I downed my Gu, then we were able to cross (what, 30 seconds later?) and were on our way again.

The runners were thinning out, so the single track was not congested. A couple of runners edged around me politely, and soon we were the quarry road. Another gal, Caren Spore, and Jaime were both ahead. I eventually caught them on the down hills, and they would come back on the ups. I cruised along here, feeling strong, and enjoying everything around me. Finally, the climb up to Brown’s Bar, and Caren slipped ahead, out of site. Jaime was behind me for the remainder of the race.

The running here was shaded, with filtered sunlight. I was alone, and pushing the envelop the way I like to. The trail went in and out of the trees, and I found myself smiling every time I was in full exposure to the sun. Up ahead I could see Green shirt, running behind Tommy. As I got closer, Tommy yelled back “Is that you Meghan?” I guess he recognized my cough as I was spitting out the dust or bugs. “How ya’ doin’ Tommy?” “Not so good –it’s not my day”. Tommy ran an impressive sub-4:00 50k about 4 weeks ago, and I tried to attribute his present condition to that. I ran with them for awhile, and finally went ahead, and kept cruising on. My bottle was empty, and so was my belly. Finally, AS2! I was told I was 4th woman, and the others were only a couple of minutes ahead. I filled my bottle, grabbed 2 Gus, put one in my stomach with a gulp of water, one in my pocket, and was on my way. As I climbed up, I was greeted by a pair of friendly onlooker eyes belonging to a gentleman who looked as if he had never seen the likes of us. “We’re crazy, eh?” He affirmed with a bemused grinned.

I pushed on, reveling in the sun, enjoying the trail surface, and taking in the view of rolling hills. Green shirt was behind me, and E-caps shirt in front. I caught E-caps, and went around. The 2 of them stayed fairly close – I would pull ahead on the down, and they would inch back up on the climbs. I was still hungry, so ate another Gu. The stream crossings were few and very manageable. Nearly to the turn to head downhill, I caught Alan. We exchanged ‘good job’s and sweaty lo-fives.

Catching my breath, I started a twisty-rutted decent to another stream crossing. Roots, big steps, some rocks, tight turns, and WHAM, I was sampling soil and collecting rocks. Right chest, left knee, arm and face bathed in dirt. My calves screamed and shortened into little balls of useless gristle. Green shirt and E-caps were right there, and asked if I was okay. I was evaluating my situation as my calves gave back an inch, I stood up, and realized my race was not over. “I think I’m okay – my calves seized up, but I’ll be alright”. I gingerly started up again, and in short order was down to the stream crossing. I invited the two guys to go ahead, and Green shirt said, “No, you go ahead, you’re running like a champ”. I like him.

Having only run this one time, I knew that the steepest, longest hill - “Ball Bearing”, was coming up, and that shortly after that was the aid station. I ran like it was around the next corner. And kept running like that until it really was. My calves hurt, and I wanted to get to the aid station, hoping they would have some E-caps, or S-caps. I started climbing Ball Bearing Hill with good effort. I looked up and thought – “Oh, it isn’t so long”. Well, the first section isn’t. I looked up again and saw a very small figure, very far away, and he was still going up. I decided it was not in my best interest to look anywhere but down. Green shirt and E-caps stayed behind. Every chance I got to jog a couple of steps, I did. Finally cresting, I let my legs unwind and cruised on down to AS3. I received a few comments about my scrapes and dirt. I filled the bottle, and asked for salt tabs, of which there were none. There was chicken soup, though, and I drank some down, hoping it would help with my calves. I grabbed 2 Gus, and was on my way. Green shirt was behind me, and I asked if he had any salt. He graciously provided me with an S-cap. It seemed like a good time to exchange names – Christian from Colorado. We ran together awhile and caught up to E-caps. Christian began to fade. E-caps turned out to be Mark from Reno. He invited me to go around, but we seemed pretty even at this point – he was stronger on the up-hills, and I could recover on the down-hills. My ribs were sore from the crash and a bit uncomfortable when the breathing was hard. We talked about time goals, and I didn’t have one set in stone. At that point he thought we were on 4:15 pace, which I found to be more than acceptable. There was one more big climb – “Goat Hill” and as we approached, I gave us a pep talk. Mark let me go first, and we began to close the gap on “Tat-man” – a very strong looking runner with very elaborate tattoos covering much of his back. As we passed, I complimented his artwork, and we finally pulled up to the top. One more bottle full, one more gel. My watch was at 3:37, and I had 5 miles to go. It didn’t look like 4:15 was in the books, but perhaps sub 4:20. Mark was just ahead, and I caught him quickly. Steep down hill running is his nemesis, but he stayed with me as we caught and passed Jeff. Whoa – that was surprise, but I knew Jeff was very fit, and fast, and obviously it wasn’t his day. I said something stupid about my body roll (he falls more than I do, historically). He yelled that there were a bunch of runners about 5 minutes ahead. I figured that to catch them now would only happen if they were to bonk or fall. I flew on the downs, and soon lost Mark. I passed one bonkee, and finally arrived back at AS1. Ed was still there, I grabbed quick drink of coke, looked at my watch – 4:06. I thought there was no chance I could make under 4:20, but I wasn’t about to let up. I ran/hiked up the rough section, smiled at a spectator who told me I deserved to be tired, and was suddenly within site of the finish. My watch said 4:15, and I hoped the finish was not 5 minutes away. I cranked it up and made it hurt, and nearly over-ran one of the final turns. As I turned towards the finish, the clock read 4:18:33, and in a few more seconds, I was in. 4:18:39.

I was very satisfied – 4th woman overall, and I ran hard the whole time – no bonking or frying my legs. Bev won in a blazing 4:07, followed by Caren and Joelle. The greatest surprise was learning that Lewis had WON the race in 3:41, taking over the lead with about 1 mile to go!

For the full results: