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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Where's Waldo, Take Four

Saturday morning I was up at 3:00, feeling rested and excited for my 4th start of Where's Waldo 100k. Oatmeal, coffee, sports drink - the normal routine - drinks and food for Brian to bring to me at aid stations all in appropriate bags - everything was ready for a great day. We arrived to the start by 4:30, milled about with the other runners, and finally at 5:00 we were off into the darkness.

It was a warm morning, but I kept long sleeves on in case the peaks were chilly. I fell into a good rhythm hiking up the steep climb with Krissy and Prudence. We chatted some and choked on the dust from all the runners. Near the top, I started jogging a bit and pulled off by myself. Finally I reached the first trail and caught my breath. I was a bit unsteady running in the dark, but having run this section in the daylight, I had some sense of where I was going. It was getting light and I found myself running behind Curt, who made way for me to pass. We chatted a bit, both still feeling excited and fresh. I felt like I was flying and was sure my first aid station split would be faster than last year. I had split goals that would surpass my course record for last year and was optimistic that I would hit them.

Dropping into Gold Lake campground, I glanced at my watch - 6:07 - hmmm - I was still a ways from the aid station, and only 3 minutes from last year's split. I kept up the pace, and was greeted by my crew extraordinaire (Brian) who gave me a fresh bottle and I gave him my empty. When I passed through the aid station, I was at 6:10 - exactly the same as last year, but that was okay, I justified that the traffic slowed me down a bit at times. I needed nothing so I flew on through, made my way to the road crossing where I was cheered by a handful of other support folks, and I made my way to the Fuji Mountain trail head and began the first serious ascent.

Surprisingly, I found myself running many more sections than I did 2 weeks ago, and my effort felt controlled. There were three of us in a train, all the way to the Fuji aid station. I checked my watch and was surprised that I was 2 minutes slower than last year. I gave my bottle to Jeff and asked him to fill it for me while I summited. He willinging obliged and I headed off. A few yards into the climb I realized I should have had another drink before this dogleg. I passed a few early starters, and soon saw Hal and Nate tearing it up on the way back down. I yelled 'It's the Hal and Nate show!' as they flew by. Winding my way on up, Curt caught me and I let him by. Jeff Browning was on his way down, and after he passed I heard a female voice cheering for him. That put a little urgency in my step. I thought if I could summit first, I had a good chance of dropping her on the downhill, as it is one of my strengths.

Arriving at the top I was greeted by Craig and company. When asked how I was feeling, I replied 'good, but she's right behind me!' and I quickly turned around to go down. In moments, I met Prudence on her way up, and shortly after, Krissy. I skittered over the rocks and roots, and when the trail became smooth, I sailed as quickly as I could back to the aid station. Jeff had my bottle, I ate a gel and drank water and downed an S!Cap. I looked at my watch and saw I was now 4 minutes off pace.

I continued to fly on the downs and tried to stay strong on the ups. My knees were alarmingly sore after some of the extended downhills. I stayed focused and sure that I could hold my lead, and that after every down I would be ready for the next climb. When I got to Mt. Ray aid station, I was determined to eat something and get rid of the long sleeves. Brian was there ready with whatever I needed, and Gaby came to help out as well. I told them I wasn't feeling great and asked for some chocolate milk. Standing there, I was surprised to see Prudence show up, right on my heels. I finished up and followed her out, with Curt right behind again. We clipped along on the connector trail to the Gold Lake trail, and chatting the whole way. As we turned onto the Gold Lake trail and started to climb ever so slightly, I felt the fatigue in my legs and told Prudence that she would have to go on without me. She politely assured me I would be right with her as she quite quickly disappeared ahead of me. Curt was no longer close behind, so I just trudged on my way, hoping for a recovery of some kind.

I arrived at the site of last years fiasco of course vandalism and was pleased to see Kate and Julie holding down the fort. Kate told me that Prudence was only 1.5 minutes ahead. I think she was being polite, but was encouraged none-the-less. As I turned up the PCT I again felt the fatigue throughout my body. Forever optimistic I pushed on, hoping for a change of some kind. The next bit of bad news was in the form of one Hal Koerner, sadly walking towards the Twins aid station. I asked what was up and he said his plantar was acting up and was going to drop. I offered my condolences and remembered to be grateful for being healthy even if I felt a bit less than a million bucks.

I finally arrived to the belly dancing party animals at the Twins. They were awesome - Melissa handled my bottle, Keah tried to help me trouble shoot, I ate a little melon and some coke. I hadn't been eating too much, maybe because of the heat, but probably because I was in too much of a hurry. Craig was there (how did he get there so fast?) encouraging me, and soon Krissy arrived, looking strong and fresh. When I was finally ready, she asked me to run with her, and I lasted about 10 paces on the slight uphill out. Like Prudence, she quickly drifted out of sight while I continued to slog on. I didn't feel well, and took another S!Cap, kept sipping my drink, and finally made it to the rolling section. Unfortunately, the downhill did not offer much relief. I didn't feel resilient and my stomach was a bit rough. I struggled like this all the way until I caught up with Ron, and I followed him into the Charleton aid station.

Another awesome stop, Brian was ready with beans, chocolate milk, and bottles with ice. Everytime I looked up I saw a friend cheering me on. Zander and Avery sprayed me with water, and Zander said "Don't drop out!" and I promised "I won't drop out, but I may drop dead!" Gaby said there was no magic pill when I asked her for one, saying that there is no tomorrow, run for today! Ugh. Finally somewhat fueled and spirits lifted, I jogged out. I could run on the flat, and hiked the short climb to 4290, and found that I really wanted to walk more and more. I also wanted to finish by 9:00 so made myself run. I soon encountered Chris who was having a pretty good day. I invited him to stay with me, and he politely declined.

The ice water in one bottle was handy to keep my neck cool. I sipped and dipped continuously, and once out in the hot sun slowed a bit, and even took a dirt nap rather unexpectedly. It was a gentle fall into about 1 inch of dust, no damage done except that my shirt now looked about like I felt - a little worse for wear. I had more salt, more gel, and found myself walking more of this section than I hoped. Finally I arrived at the aid station, and had superb help. Brian had biked out the bumpy road to bring me more ice water and sports drink. I was surrounded by personnel spraying, sponging, wiping my face, and even trying to clean my shirt when I said I just wanted to look a little better. I announced I no longer cared about my time, so they could take as much time on me as they wanted. I ate one piece of melon, and just as I was leaving, Kelly arrived.

The next section has been the toughest for me and many others in the past. Slow steady grind and the longest section before coming back to the belly dancing babes. I kept drinking, gelling, salting, ebbing very long ebbs and experiencing only short flows. I passed early starters, but not moving much faster than they. My stomach finally rebelled and sent me into the bushes, barely in time. I wasn't feeling better, but kept on. With time on my hands I reflected and analyzed what had gone wrong. Two weeks ago I had trained the entire course in two days, which is something I like to do twice before the race. After that weekend I felt like I needed 2 more weeks and another weekend on the course to be really ready. I was not as fit as last year for this course. I undoubtedly used it up in the climb to Fuji. If I wasn't having fun, what was the point? I relaxed and stayed as comfortable as I could, and enjoyed the beauty of the course, the event, the volunteers, and the spirit of ultra running. I didn't feel any better physically, but mentally I was in a better place.

Eventually I made it to the saddle of the Twins and began the descent into the aid station. I hoped my legs would feel better, but even the downhill was a bit treacherous. The aid station belly dancers were again super at taking care of me. Keah updated me on where Krissy and Prudence were, and I knew the only way I would catch them would be if they felt worse than I did, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone. Ice in my shirt and shorts, and trying to find something to eat. Coke, watermelon, Clif shot. I was trying to cut back on the caffeine, but all of my gels and the Clif shots had some. I wondered if it was part of the problem with my stomach. I finally left, again just as Kelly arrived. Getting out into the sun was alarming - it was baking. I heard Kelly behind me, and eventually he decided to go ahead. Another dive into the bushes just in time. The downhill finished, and the PCT was as flat as I felt. I made myself run until I finally got to the climb that would bring me to Maiden Peak aid station. I spotted Kelly again, and then the volunteers were waiting to run my bottles ahead. They asked what they could for me, and I said that Brian would be there with fresh bottles, but they were more than welcome to carry mine the rest of the way. Not surprising, someone grabbed them and ran. I walked in, Brian had chocolate milk that I actually got down, I took another Clif shot, watermelon, coke with ice. I asked Kelly if he wanted to climb Maiden together, and he agreed - until he looked up and saw William arriving. "I knew that he would catch me!" I told him to go ahead then, and try to stay ahead. Kelly left, and I was ready to leave moments later. I tried to get William to come then, but he needed a few more minutes.

The final climb - last year in 56 minutes, this year I thought it would be well over an hour. The flats were difficult to jog, the climbs hard to hike. William was soon behind me. We chatted a bit, and he passed me to catch Kelly. Shortly after, I caught Kelly and we continued the long trudge. Instead of looking up the endless climb, I stared at his blue gators, trance like, as if it would never end. We finally got up to Steve who greeted us like we were champions, and sent us up one more grind to the very top of Maiden to the hugs of Jeff. Finally, lots of down hill. My legs were very sore and my form was jerky. I tried to smooth out and glide into the Maiden Lake aid station.

Bev and Barb were extremely attentive and helpful and got me going for the last haul. As I was hiking out, a woman was hiking in and mentioned that the view at Maiden Lake was really beautiful. I wasn't sure what she meant, until I got to the lake and heard the laughter of two mermaids in the lake, dressed only as mermaids dress. I laughed and hooted, and told them not to tempt me. Mood lifted, I smiled through the next few ups and downs. More salt had helped me feel better, and I picked it up, only to send me into the bushes again. As I was coming out I was caught by Lee, and we ran together all the way to the PCT, talking to distract ourselves from the misery of our bodies. I would stretch the lead out at times, and then he would catch up. At the middle Rosary, he said - "Hey Meghan, want to get in the lake?" I had been thinking about it since the last lake, so I said "Yeah, why not!" and in I ran. It felt sooooo good. Then out and on my again. I figured 20 minutes would do it. Lee and I ran harder until I nearly had to stop in my tracks, for lack of something. I said "you go ahead, I need to gel". I took one more Powergel and walked for a couple of minutes before I could get it all together again.

Ten minutes more of eyes straining for the sign board indicating the end was near. I heard Alan hooting when he saw me. "Yay! I'm finally here! It has been a rough day." I turned the corner for the straight away to the finish, and focused on keeping my form together for the finish. When I finally crossed, I had been out for 12:03, a good hour slower than last year. Craig offered my the hat of my choice, and I finally got to rest. Third place woman, and first Master.

If you read this far then you also get to know that I was accepted onto the USA Team that is going to Italy to run in the World 100k Cup in November! That craziness in Coburg paid off!