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Friday, November 27, 2009

JFK 50 Mile

This was an exciting event for me. I have been intrigued with it for some time, and since RD Mike Spinnler is a team manager for the 100k team, I looked forward to running in his event. Having Devon there and the Ashland boys added to the excitement and helped me feel comfortable in a regionally different ultra running community.

I was really rested up for this race. The easy run with Devon the day before the race gave me confidence in my 'rest'. I laid low the remainder of the day, ending with a nice dinner with Monica Ochs and Devon. I slept very little, got up at 4:00, drank coffee, ate brown rice cereal, banana, and a bottle of EFS. At 5:50 I picked up Devon for the drive from Hagerstown to the town of Boonsboro. Upon arrival I realized the impact of such a large race (1000 participants) in such a small town, as we drove in circles around the schools looking for parking. I was feeling nervous, which made me feel comfortable about the race. In the gym, I found Howard Nippert and Mike, and got to visit a bit.

At 6:40 the hoards walked the half mile to the start. It was finally light, and it promised to be a beautiful day - cool, clear and calm. The race starter lined us up with about 5 minutes to go - shouting at the top of his lungs every minute "FIVE MINUTES", "FOUR MINUTES", etc. until with 1 minute left, he rang out the seconds. Finally we were off amid hoops and hollers of an excited hoard of ultra maniacs.

The first part of the course is paved road, leading up a fairly long significant climb. I kept my breathing and heart rate in control, listening to the banter going on around me. Devon and I ran together, passing Annette Bednosky and Jill Perry to be the leading "fillies", and at 2.5 miles or so we hit the infamous Appalachian Trail (AT). Happy to be on dirt, I scampered along, very mindful in the mostly rocky terrain, but not mindful enough. I took a nice tumble, throwing my gel flask yonder and smacked my quad on a big rock. The man I just passed asked if I was okay, and I assured him I was between swearing, got up and got going. The course dipped and rolled and curved, and the leafless decidous forest was beautiful. We passed through the second aid station, me behind Devon. I had my bottle filled with water and added my EFS, and caught up to Devon as she was coming out of the port-a-potty. We ran out together, this time on a long stretch of paved trail. It began to climb seriously, and rather than trying to keep up, I kept myself in control, waiting for the relentless climb to end. Finally, back on trail, I started cruising, only to have one more dirt nap. The rest of the time on the trail I felt like a spaz, trying to run with some speed, trying to plan every foot plant over the technical terrain.

There were several early starters at this point, and they were encouraging an inspirational, as many of them appeared to be quite senior. Devon had pulled ahead by a good measure, and only now and then could I catch a glimpse of her red hat. The last technical bit involved about a half mile of short switchbacks which were filled with cooperative, cheering early starters. Finally at the bottom, I was followed by 3 runners into the next aid station. I had a report that Devon was about 30 seconds ahead, but I wasn't in a hurry.

I had my bottle filled, and finally hit the oft-described "boring" towpath. It was so pretty that I thought we must be on a wide trail leading to path, but then it became obvious that this was it. I worked on getting into a good rhythm, keeping the HR around 160, hoping to be in the 7 minute pace range. There were still plenty of early starters ahead, and I got a report that "she's just 2 minutes ahead" to "She's seven minutes ahead". I hadn't set my Garmin the way I intended, so the 'real time' pace was jumping all over the place. I wasn't taking splits, but doing math occasionally. I hoped to run 6:28, breaking the course record, so at mile 25 in 3:35 I saw that I needed to run 25 miles in under 3 hours - that was not a good sign, but I felt that I was on pace to run a good time nevertheless. At this point I started running with a local, Mark, and he and I ran together for quite awhile, pushing each other until he finally pulled away. He would never get to far from sight the remainder of the day.

Nutritionally, I thought I was keeping up. I consumed one gel flask in the first half of the race, plus filling my bottle at every aid station with my EFS powder plus water. Once my gel flask was empty I started taking the Hammer gels from each aid station. Occasionally I would drink a coke or some gatorade, just to get a few more calories in. I started taking S!Caps when I felt some cramping in the hamstrings, and continued taking them every 30 minutes or so. Each aid station was manned by capable, enthusiastic volunteers. I was in and out quickly each time, but noticed that I was not given any updates on Devon's whereabouts, so figured she was having a great day.

My energy and pace ebbed and flowed, but after mile 30, my HR started to drop a bit. Sometimes I would feel myself dragging, and then moments later I was rolling. Before the end of the towpath, I saw myself get closer to Mark and another runner, and before long the three of us were working together, coming out to the road at the same time. The hill ahead was 400 meters and I eased myself over it, letting Mark and the other runner get away. When I finally crested, Mark was about 100 meters ahead, and waved for me to catch up. I would have liked that, but was getting no response from my body. With 8 miles to go and 5:43 into the race, I wanted to finish in less than an hour, but my tank was running on low. The climbs were surreal, and the downhills felt like a free fall. The aid stations were plentiful, so I grabbed water and gels with 6 miles to go, and trudged onward to the next one. Before the next aid station, I felt absolutely tanked, but refused to walk. With four miles to go, I did something at the aid station I hadn't done in a race before - grabbed a handful of M and Ms and downed them followed by a sandwich cookie and some gatorade. I was starving. One young man at the aid station said "Cool! You're the second lady!" At this point I was concerned that anyone of the gals back could be starting to reel me in. I headed out, cookie crumbs and all, and very determinedly pushed on.

With just over a mile to go, I turned down aid from the final aid station. I was still moving, just not fast. Ahead I could see the final turn of the race, and the volunteers said I would be able to see the finish at the end of the street. Up ahead, I could see Mark finish, and I found some reserve, pumped my arms and picked up the pace to the announcement of "Is that a young lady about to finish?" Crossing the line, I was immediately embraced by a very long time friend from my home town of Yoncalla, Oregon, whom I had not seen in 20 or so years, but made the drive from Virginia Beach to see me finish. Her daughter, my childhood friend Pam, was with her, and they were introduced to the strange world of ultra running first hand.

Me and my HS friend Pam

I was happy to learn of Devon's new course record, and simply amazed at how fresh she was afterward.

Seven of the top ten ladies - including Monica Ochs (4th) and Annette Bednosky (3rd), me and Devon.

I realize that I did bonk a bit severely, but even so I am starting to pay attention to the looking glass.  I am, after all, 48 years old.  I don't like to think that I am slowing down, but maybe I am.  I will not just roll over, but continue to hang on for dear life.  And come back to JFK again and finish strong!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Twin Cities Marathon – 2009

For the 6th time, I returned to Minnesota for the USATF Masters Marathon Championships, which coincided this year with the Open Championships for women as well. As such, it was the only opportunity in 2009 for women to run a qualifying time for the 2009 Olympic Trials, and that meant that the field was loaded. My primary goal was to run anything 2:46 flat of better, and try to make to one more trials before my body really starts to betray me.

I arrived on Thursday to cool, cloudy weather. I settled in, put on my running clothes and ran 9 miles on the tail end of the course. It felt good to move after being cooped up all day, and my legs felt fine. Afterwards Coach Bob and I had dinner, then I settled into my routine of sleeping and eating for the next 2 days. Kami arrived Friday night and Saturday morning she and I took our last run before the big dance.

Up at 5:00 Sunday morning, we both had oatmeal and coffee, and dressed for cool weather. We were bussed to a church near the start of the race, and I reconnected with Mike Wardian and Susan Empy, amongst others. At 7:00, Kami and I went out to warm up. It was chilly and damp, but by race start I was warm enough to don the Strands singlet with arm warmers, gloves, and hat. I was also carrying a flask with EFS Gel that I could easily nip at without having to try and open any packets on the fly.

Running in the masters field were Kami, Susan (last year's winner), Colleen DeRueck, Susannah Beck, and Wendy Terris. These were only the ones I knew about. The open field was quite deep. Again, I was going for time, not place, and hoped there would be a group about my fitness I could run with.

After the final strides, we lined up under the start banner, and with much fanfare, we were off. It's usually crazy the first mile, trying to see where your peeps are and not get carried away. I had my Garmin on and had set it up to show me my overall pace, current pace, lap time, and heart rate. Even in the first mile I checked on my pace to keep myself reined in. I could see Kami about 20 yards ahead of me, with Susan and Wendy. My first mile was 6:16, and HR was about 169. I needed to keep the HR between 169-172 to stay in control, so I was on track. I expected the group ahead of me to pull ahead, but they remained the same distance. Around a turn and up an on ramp, mile 2 came in 6:12. I was please with this, as I felt strong. Cresting a small hill, and greeted by a number of fans along the, I glided down hill past the famous tuba player as he serenaded us. A small uphill before mile 3, and I went through in 6:29. My HR was settling into the 170-172 range, and having my overall average still below 6:15 was reassuring. Mile 4 was quicker with 6:09, and as we rounded one of the many lakes, I hit mile 5 in 5:59. At this point I had my first bottle to pick up from an aid station. I grabbed it, lugged it along for awhile, chasing down the Gel I had taken.

I could still see the group ahead, and I was running with a couple of other women trying to qualify. It was all rather dynamic, especially with the men slowing down, speeding up, passing, drafting, and encouraging. I tossed my bottle, and hit mile 6 in 6:35. The next two miles clipped along in 6:12, and 6:18. My HR was still 169-172 range, and I was feeling pretty excited that I felt strong and like it was going to happen today. Kami and her group were still about the same distance ahead. Mile 9 came, I grabbed another bottle and did a poor job of getting much in before deciding it was too heavy to carry. It was cool, I reasoned, so I shouldn't need that much fluid. My average pace was still around 6:15, and I felt that if I could hold that to mile 20, I could manage to average 6:20 overall with the uphill sections over the last 6 miles.

Mile 10 (6:13) had a gradual climb, and I found myself running with man trying to help me out. He led me by a half-length, and drafted up the hill. We had a 90 degree turn at the top, and I hung on through mile 11 (6:15), and then realized it was starting to feel a bit tough. This was not a good place or time to start that already. I hung on as long as I felt I could without getting into trouble, and finally, giving up on me, he pulled away. I hit mile 12 in 6:24, and it wasn't too long before we turned out of the wind and made a gentle climb to mile 13 (6:20).

My average was getting slower, and at the half marathon my time was 1:22. I was pretty sure I wouldn't run 1:23 for the second half, but that never gave me cause to lessen up. I had another companion who ran beside me for another mile (6:31) before he faded. I was struggling more, and a bit perplexed, but could still see the same group in front of me. Miles 15 (6:24), 16 (6:29), 17 (6:29) were a blur, and I began looking forward to mile 18, where an old acquaintance of mine, Ross, had said he would be. About that time, I saw Susan Empy pull out of the race, with an injury. She saw me and encouraged me to “catch 'em”. Soon afterwards, Wendy started to fade from that pack, and I passed her at about mile 18 (6:37). My eyes were straining for Ross, and I never did see him (it turns out I was too fast for him!), but the thought of having someone there had kept me going that long.

Mile 19 (6:36) ends on an on ramp to a bridge that crosses the Mississippi River. I was feeling pretty spent, and my pace average was now at 6:19. I hoped I would still run a 2:48 – that would not seem too bad to me. Cresting the bridge and turning east, I tried to pick up the pace, and that is where I really ran into problems. My HR dropped then jumped to over 200. It seemed like pushing it was not such a good idea after all. I tried consuming the rest of the Gel, and washed it down with water from the next aid station. It didn't really help. At this point, Kami got to feeling good, and she sped out of sight. I took it all one step at a time. Mile 20 (6:33) came and my average was now 6:20. At 2:07, I thought I would still run 2:48 or so. I trudged on, and my HR continued to stay high (187-192). My last VO2 Max test maxed me at 187, but the physiologist had warned me that if it ever goes above that then it is probably due to dehydration. I wasn't making the connection at the time, but in retrospect, I can think of no other explanation. I felt like crap. My next miles were 6:41, 7:13, 7:02. About this time, Wendy caught back up, and I encouraged her on. I was working with another woman, back and forth we led each other, before she too dropped me. Mile 24 (6:50) was probably the worst. I so wanted to be done, and did not feel good. The oddest thing was that although my HR was in the 190s, I could not put effort in, and so I was not even breathing hard, making my trademark grunts I normally do. Finally, mile 25 (7:04) and I knew it was almost done. I could see the Cathedral on the left, and just kept my mind on the finish. The last 1.2 miles were in 8:20l, and when I crossed the finish line I felt absolutely flat and bummed. My time was 2:50:50, which is about 6:30 average. I can't really complain about it, but I apparently am not too old to learn lessons in this game.

One of the most remarkable things about this day was that it was one of my faster performances here (I have run 2:46 and 2:49) and by far the lowest I have placed. I was 10th Master and 50-something female. I find it very exciting for our sport to have so many fast women showing up. There were 24 qualifiers, with 11 of them reaching the A standard of sub-2:39. And how about that Colleen DeRueck? She was second overall in 2:32 at the age of 45. We are in the same age group, so I don't know what my problem is!

I am definitely going to be diligent from now on in every race about staying hydrated, regardless of the weather.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Where's Waldo 2009

As the race approached, I was feeling strong and looking forward to seeing my ultra running friends and family. My best guess was the Joelle Vaught and Bev Anderson-Abbs would be my main competitors, but some lesser known names were certainly in the mix. The pre-race meeting was carried off in the usual jocular fashion, with Craig and Alan throwing jabs at each other, Curt letting us know that pink is the only color we need to know, Richard Bolt reviewing the USATF championship, and Jessie Malman announcing the inclusion of Where's Waldo in the Montrail Ultra Cup Race Series. With all instructions and thanks to sponsors, everyone made their way to a night of pre-race fitful sleep.

Awaking at 3:00, I mentally acknowledged the early starters, wondering if they got any sleep at all. I ate rice porridge, coffee, energy drink, and at 4:00 am, Brian and I were on the way to the start. Bright stars revealed a clear sky. At the lodge, I alternated trips to the bathroom with warm up jogging and drills in the dark, hoping I wouldn't fall before the race even started. Finally at 5:00 am, with headlamps and hand held lights, we were off.

My goal was to keep myself from burning out too quickly. I had splits that I would like to hit, but was only going to go by heart rate, splits be what they may. The dusty climb from the start was mostly happily shared with team mate and good friend Jeff Riley. We kept a reasonable pace and good conversation much of the way. Finally cresting and getting onto single track, I let my legs carry me quickly along the trail, passing folks that I knew I would see again - Sean, Lewis, William. Daylight arrived, I turned off the lights, and worked my way to the Gold Lake aid station. Arriving in 1:07, I was ahead of my split, and told that Bev was one minute ahead. I picked up an another bottle, left my lights with Brian, ate one gel, and headed to the road. Alone on the trail, I kept my pace according to my heart rate, and was passed by Lewis, then Sean, and finally Victor. On the South Waldo trail I met early starters running in the opposite direction, and finally reaching Fuji aid station, I was pleased to be right on pace, yet staying under control. Spotting volunteer Gary Stott, I handed him both bottles, asked him if he would fill them while I summited Fuji. He gladly obliged, and I set off for the short climb to the top. Very soon I met Erik Skaggs cruising lightly down, followed not too closely by men who appeared to be working much harder than he. Near the top, Joelle was coming down, and about a minute later, Bev. It felt good to be able to run most of this climb, and the welcoming committee of Craig, Greyson and Scott, at the top was not to be surpassed. One or two photos later, I was on my way down.

Reaching Fuji aid station again, Gary pointed out my bottles and encouraged me to catch those girls. I scooted out, feeling strong, and staying in control. The downhills I allowed the gravity to pull me quickly, the uphills I kept my heart rate in control. The trail was in excellent condition, and I arrived at the next aid station, again in good time. Brian was there, handed me a Vespa with some good encouraging words, Cindy filled my bottles, and I gave one to Brian. In the cool weather I was not needing so much fluid, and knew that one bottle would get me to the Twins aid station quite adequately. I was soon on my way, happy that my legs hadn't died early, as they had last year. I worked my way steadily up the Gold Lake trail, to Bobby Lakes trail, and finally to the PCT. Julie was monitoring this intersection, and she said Bev was 13 minutes ahead. I teased that Bev would be sorry later, and continued uphill. I felt like I wasn't going as well as 2 years ago, but not too badly. Looking at my watch, I realized I was falling off pace. Eventually I reached the "1/4 mile to the next aid station" sign, and as usual, found it to be the longest 1/4 mile ever.

Once there, I was greeted with great fanfare from Melissa, Keah, Dennis, and others. They quickly got my needs met, and got me out of there. I was about 4 minutes slow, but still felt strong enough. I had a little trouble getting comfortable running, but stayed patient, acknowledging that I had not been above sea-level but once since Western States. I finally came up and passed Chris about where he predicted I would see him, and his presence lifted my spirits. Eventually I was running in a good groove, and arrived in Charleton to a very animated aid station. Again, Brian was there, providing sanity and grounding and good sense - making sure I took two water bottles for the longer stretches ahead. I ate a little from the aid station, and was on my way, Gaby running beside me telling me that Bev was 17 minutes ahead.

Moving along in the next section was a bit of a struggle. Again, the elevation was probably a factor, along with running now longer than I had since Western States, but I wasn't concerned. I soon caught Victor and we chatted a bit, and I confirmed to him that we indeed were running at 5 or 6000 feet. Arriving at 4290, I made sure I ate a gel, filled both bottles, and tried to find something else that appealed. Some melon and an S!Cap, my bottles, and I was on my way. Victor had passed me again, so my eyes kept looking ahead for him. With the turns coming quickly, I was virtually alone. Finally on the long grind to the Twins summit, I heard someone behind me, and soon Sander powered by with his trademark power hike. He invited me to keep up - and I would have loved to - but before long he was out of sight. I took my trademark stumble/tumble in the dirt, and tried to brush off the evidence. In this remote section, it was quite comforting to look up and see two horse and riders volunteering for the race. They checked that I had enough water, and asked if I was okay. I replied that I was - not that I wouldn't appreciate a ride - to which they replied they could do that. I resisted the temptation, and slogged on. Near the Twins saddle, I finally caught Victor again. We cruised quickly down to the Twins aid station for the second time.

Dennis grabbed my bottles. I downed an S!Cap, a gel, some soda and melon. I asked where Bev was, and found out she was only 7 minutes ahead! Melissa told me to stay in my game, and I said it was the only game I know, and with great support and full bottles, I lit off down the trail. Not too far ahead I could see Sander, but never closed the gap. After a long downhill stretch, the PCT flattened, then began to rise to bring me to the Maiden Peak Trail aid station, where Brian and Bob had hiked in to offer support. Brian gave me another Vespa, and told me Bev was about 3 minutes ahead. I had my filled bottles, a gel, ate more melon and soda, and started the last long climb of the day. I was 12 minutes behind my splits, but was more concerned with whether or not I could catch Bev. My eyes strainging ahead, I was able to hike and jog much of the climb, but no Bev. I wasn't feeling all that great, but not dead either. Breaking out to the open near the top, the volunteer told me "10 minutes to the top". I left my bottles, and started the grind up. Gary was on his way down and said I was reeling them in - I knew he meant Bev, but didn't know who else. Joelle had not been mentioned to me for hours, so I knew she was way out of the picture. Very near the top, I finally met Bev coming down. "I'm on your tail girl!" I said. She mumbled something in reply, and I finally summited a mere 2 minutes behind her. Tommy was recording runners at the top and provided encouragement to go after her. I wasted little time getting back to my bottles, and onto the Leap of Faith trail, looking for Bev. Faster and faster I flew to the Maiden Lake aid station. The kindly women of this aid station got me in and out as quickly as possible. Bev had left only a minute or 2 ago.

Leaving the aid station, my legs were a bit fried for the climbs, but eventually they started to roll. Every turn in the trail I hoped to see Bev. I would not let up, even passing the urge to pee lest I end up losing to her by 30 seconds. Up and down, around turns, I finally reached the PCT again. I let it rip the best I could. Bev HAD to be there somewhere. The down hills were going well, but every flat spot was like running in sand. The Rosary Lakes in their cool beauty beckoned me to come in, but I resisted. I spotted Odell Lake, and knew I had 20 minutes to the finish. Still, I could not see Bev - I must have really scared her! Not giving up, I even imagined catching her on the final 400 meter stretch, throwing my bottles on the ground and tossing my waist pack to the side, and sprinting by her. Alas, it was not to be. As I reached the final stretch, Alan was there, did a little "Go Meghan, Go Meghan" dance and radioed in that I was on my way.

The last stretch is about the most open section of the entire race, and usually involves running on sandy ground into the wind, but with the crowd at the finish cheering my on, I did my best to "run pretty". I crossed in 11:07 - 19 minutes slower than my best, but much better than last year. Bev had turned on her after burners and beat me by 6 minutes, for which I gave her a deserved hard time about. Joelle had completely smoked us both, breaking my record by 25 minutes, running a stellar 10:23.

As usual, this race was supremely well run - Thank you Craig, Laurie, Curt, all the aid station captains and volunteers, and thanks to Brian and Bob for crewing.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Western States 100 2009

"You're crazy!" I heard it time and again, and I always agreed. Running in THE Western States 100 mile race 8 days after World Cup 100k was beyond crazy. Stupid is probably more accurate. But, born with a stubborn streak and a 'can-do' attitude, I felt compelled to show up at the start line, knowing that if I didn't, I would regret that more than whatever pain I was about to take on. My soreness gone, my mechanics seemingly working as well as they do, I was hoping to retain a coveted top-10 position so I would be guaranteed a returning spot next year. I also promised my coach that if I started to feel injured at any point I was going to drop, so I really felt no pressure or expectation of a grand performance.

And so it began at 5:00 a.m. While not feeling fresh, I wasn't sore or injured and had test hiked my legs for the flag-raising ceremony 2 days before. I jogged, hiked, jogged out of Squaw, chatting with gal-TeamUSA-mate Connie Gardner for awhile, then Scott Dunlap, and finally Jady Palco, who was uncharacteristically calm and focused. He was particularly pleased to be running States as his mother, Barbara Ashe, was also running, and at the time they were thought to be the first mother-son combo in the history of the race. He was determined to be conservative and get to the finish line in one piece, preferably before Mom.

Finally cresting the top, I was anxious to start running downhill. The line in front of me was daunting, but eventually I made it around a few runners. My usual pattern is swallow lots of ground on the downhill, and struggle on the ups. Eventually I found a good niche amongst the racers near me, and settled into a good effort to Lyon Ridge. I had already been taking S!Caps - my plan was one at every aid station, and anytime I felt nauseous - and I was feeling alright, but my legs were not fresh. The next section to Red Star Ridge I struggled with soreness and the rocky trail. I couldn't for the life of me recall this section being so rocky, but in hindsight I'm sure it was just harder to dance on marbles with tired, sore legs than when I am rested and tapered.

Scotty Mills, RD for SD100 became one of my companions during the early hours. I had met Scotty last winter in San Diego, and he learned of my foolish attempt, so each time he would pass me he would comment "I can't believe you're doing this! You're such a stud!" And I would pass him later, and back and forth it went. Caryn Spore was also trading with me every up and down (she is such an animal on the uphills) and calling me her hero. I think it would have been more appropriate to comment on my insanity and lack of setting a good example for the children. Nonetheless, I enjoyed their company.

Just before Red Star Ridge aid station I met Susan Brozic from New Mexico. We ended up running together fair amount throughout the morning. She was nursing a broken toe and torn calf, and wasn't sure how far she would make it, but she moved very well. From Red Star to Duncan Canyon, I was not feeling great. I gave the altitude and tired legs credit for that, and hoped I wasn't too far off my splits from '07. Jed Tuckman, another Cali runner I had trained a couple of times, was just ahead of my on the newly machined dust trail leading into the aid station, when I hit my foot on something and smacked the ground hard, hitting my face on a rock. Always the first thought - "Is my race over???". Jed turned back, picked up my bottle, and assured me the face wound was superficial, and it didn't hurt nearly as bad as I thought it would. I made a feeble attempt to brush the dirt off, got my wheels going again, and gave our infamous Glenn Tachiyama a thumbs up as he clicked my picture going by.

Oh yeah, lookin' good!

I cruised into Duncan Canyon. Brian was ready with chocolate milk, Vespa, and a sense of humor. The kind aid station volunteers did their best to wipe my face and sponge me off. I asked Brian and Theresa to have a clean shirt for me at Dusty Corners. I iced up and was soon on the trail following Scotty again. When we finally reached the creek, it was heating up quite a bit. Scotty tip-toed across the rocks as I plunged in and sat down. "Sit down Scotty!" and he said "Yeah, I don't know what I was thinking" as he too doused himself well. Climbing out ahead of me he turned to let me know that Jenn Shelton was in sight. When I finally caught up to her, she said her legs were trashed. I encouraged her to keep going and be sure to cool off in the streams, and that she could recover.

Finally to Robinson Flat, I was weighed and then I asked for blister help for a hot spot on the back of my heel. Quickly patched up, Ed ran me down to Laura and Alec, and the three of them plus assorted Oregon crews had me fed, ice in my bandana, and gave me a hearty send off. Someone shouted "1 mile of uphill then 15 miles of down!" I liked the sound of that. When I finally started the downhill, I was pretty uncomfortable. My legs were sore, and didn't want to roll. Patiently I took switchback after switchback, hoping for some turnaround until I admitted to myself that I didn't have to finish this race. I had nothing to prove, a perfect excuse to quit, no one would be surprised. I continued this negative self talk all the way to Miller's Defeat, but the aid station volunteers cheered me up and sent me on my way. I knew I could run the next three miles into Dusty Corners, and didn't want to let my crew down - especially Theresa who had flown all the way from Boston to run me in from the river. The decreased altitude was also starting to play in my favor, and by the time I arrived, I was in much better spirits. I ate, iced up and scooted out again, running much of Pucker Point trail with Susan. It was really hot now, but I had been slamming the salt and keeping cool with the ice and feeling better in this section than any previous race here. At Deadwood, I actually felt like eating pbj, soup, and soda. My weight was reasonable, the volunteers sponged me down, and I was on my way.

I caught an overheated Scotty Mills one more time. "Hey Scotty! I got cleaned up!" He grinned and said "Yes, you did! But you know what? Now you're just pissing me off! What you're doing out here today? It's just wrong!" We both laughed, and I resisted the temptation to say "eat my dust!" Once more I caught Caryn before heading down the trail to the swinging bridge. I gingerly made my way down, happy for the gravity assist, but not happy with the leg jello. At the swinging brigde, I gu'd, salted, and began the long hike up to the Devil's Thumb. For the first time since running in Western States, I felt fine - even good - in this section, jogging the very few flat bits. Caryn and I arrived about the same time, and efficiently got in and out. As we approached the descent into El Dorado, she again let me go ahead. It seemed to take forever to get to the bottom, and the exposed sections made me want to gasp it was so hot. Again, the volunteers took great care of me, and I was on soon on my way to Michigan Bluff.

My hike was still decent, and I could even jog a few places, and just near the end, I passed a struggling Sean Meissner. He declined any help, but seemed to still have some determination. Arriving to the cheering MB is always a boost. Brian and Theresa took good care of me, quickly, as I said I wanted to try to stay ahead of Caryn. As Theresa ran up the street with me, she said Caryn just arrived. I expected her catch me on the long, hot, uphill road on the way to Volcano Canyon, but I got to the downhill and she wasn't in sight. With tentative legs, I made my way down, down, down, wondering if these switchbacks would ever end. Finally at Volcano Creek, I gave myself the promised laydown into the cold water, completely dousing. I had hot spots on the balls of my feet that I knew needed attention, and when I met Ed at Bath Road, I asked him to go ahead to Foresthill and see if the aid station folks would fix them. When I arrived they were ready, and after a very long, meticulous treatment during which Caryn came and went, I was ready to roll. Brian, Theresa, Ed, and now Prudence got me fed and filled up with ice while I was sitting, and finally I was going to run my favorite section with Prudence to keep me going.

It was 6:00 p.m. and the road from the school to California Street felt like an oven. It was the most intense heat I had experienced all day, and finally we made it to the dirt. We fairly cruised along, stopping briefly at Cal 1 for Gu, soda, gel, and salt. We kept a good pace on the flats and downhills, but the climbs were getting pretty tough. Prudence did a great job reminding me to breath deeply, by doing so herself (sort of like being in a yoga class). At Cal 2 I was happy and disappointed simultaneously to see Jeff Riley and his pacer Tom Atkins. I wanted him to have a good race, but obviously it wasn't his day. We encouraged each other, but I was in and out before he was ready to go. The downhill section from Cal 2 was feeling pretty good, and I was thinking we might still make it to the river before dark. Between Cal2 and Cal3, I saw a runner ahead to focus on, and I saw that he was listing rather severely. I felt sorry for the poor guy, and even more so when I realized it was Rob Cain with his pacer Erin. "Rob! What's going on? Why are you listing?" He smiled and said he didn't really know why, but he was suffering. I wished him well, and knew he was in good hands. After a surprisingly nice Cal 3 aid station, I could finally hear the sounds of the river crossing activity, and although Prudence pulled out her light, I ran in before it turned pitch black. I was very excited to have made it in about 3 hours from the school.

After weighing in, John Ticer approached me with a message for Scott Wolfe's crew that Scott was in medical on this side of the river. Prudence and I ran down to the river, and began the most fun event of the day. The water felt great, albeit a bit sting-y on some chaffed areas. I could hear Theresa and Ed whooping it up as we made our way over.

Once on dry land, I ate potato soup, grabbed my headlamp, changed waist packs, said hello to Linda and Bruce, while Brian and Ed made sure I had what I needed. Scott's crew was no where in sight. Prudence gave Theresa the pacing duties, and we high tailed it out of there. Near the top we met Scott's SO Siri, and gave her the news. Up at Green Gate, we passed on anymore aid, and headed into the darkness. Theresa seemed to be struggling with the trail a bit, so I reminded her to relax and pretend she was running in her local park, and to trust her proprioception. She laughed, claiming I was pacing her - but she soon got in a groove and we cruised along the flats, hiked the hills, and methodically picked off runners one at time. I had no idea what kind of pace or splits we were running but I felt that I would at least get a sub-24 buckle if nothing dramatic happened. ALT was uneventful, and we kept cruising. Ahead of me, I saw some lights again, and as we got closer, I saw that it was Caryn! Theresa asked if I wanted to pick it up, and I said "No, she's coming back to us, let's be patient."On a small switchback, Caryn could see and hear me, and put the pedal down. I thought she would still come back to us, but that was the last I saw her until the finish. Obviously she had more in the tank than I. I took another tumble, landing hard on my hand, hyper-extending my thumb and finger. No matter how many tumbles, I have yet to do anything that would label me as "Ticer Tough". No bones sticking out of the skin, no shredded ankle ligaments - just dirt and scrapes. Moments later, Theresa took a spill, which she claimed was out of sympathy.

Into Brown's Bar, I had more potato soup. Theresa announced what I needed every time we came in to an aid station, and I had everything in moments notice. She also asked the volunteers - "Doesn't she look great???" to which they would all agree. It was, after all, fairly late, dark, and possibly somewhat boring. She added a nice entertainment factor for them, I'm sure. Leaving Brown's Bar I warned Theresa that it was long, down, and technical. I tried gingerly running but it proved to be just as fast for me to walk down. Again, I had forgotten how long it took to get to the Quarry Road, but finally, we were there. Surprisingly, I found myself running some of the uphills, getting pretty excited as we approached Highway 49. We the spotter announced us coming, Ed let out his usual whoop, and we arrived to the cheers of Brian, Ed, Laura and Alec. Laura said Jeff was picking it up, and that he might catch me. That cheered me up - I would have loved nothing better. While I was getting ready, Scott Wolfe and John Ticer fairly flew through the aid station - another great surprise! I was so glad Scott had been able to turn around his misfortunes from early in the day.

Before I left, Brian said "Meghan, would you please say something to Dan before you leave? He is really having a hard time." Until then I hadn't seen him sitting in a chair, blanket in lap, with his pacer Matt gently massaging his legs, and his wife Courtney at his side being supportive of whatever needed to be done. I rubbed Dan-O's head - "Hey Dan - there's still time to feel better. Don't give up yet." Had I known what he had already gone through, I might have said "get to the hospital and better luck next time" or something to that effect. It was very sad to see him like that, but he was in very good hands.

Theresa and I headed out and could see Scott and John for one last time before they put a lot of distance on us. Quite alone, we made our way to No Hands Bridge. A good luck hug from Shannon Weil, and we were crossing the bridge. Before we made it to the climb to Robie Point, I saw the familiar gait of Alan Abbs. When I finally reached him I said "Alan, it took me FOREVER to catch you today!" He had left his stomach back at ALT and had nothing left to push hard to the finish. At last, the climb to Robie, and I could hear Ed. Theresa and I both hollered, he replied, and we were on our way to the school. We walked and ran the climbs, then crossed the white bridge, and ran what felt fast down to the school and onto the track. Ed and Theresa escorted me around the track, to my finish time of 21:33. I had achieved my main objective of placing in the top 10 and run a time only 45 minutes slower than 2007.

Quite relieved to be done, I went through the "Vet Check" - my blood pressure was a little high (I was excited!) so I had to sit quietly for a spell. I was also part of a blood sodium level study, and had my blood drawn for that. Surprisingly, it was slightly below normal, even though I had taken at least 3x the amount of salt I had in the past. My second BP pressure was normal, so I was released. The rest of the wee small hours were spent napping, eating, drinking, waiting and cheering for the last runners. At 11:00, most of Team Sunsweet and crew went to see Dan in the hospital. He was in pretty good spirits, and seems he'll be among the running again in the future.

I want to especially thank Brian, Theresa, Ed and Prudence for their stellar performances all day long! You guys are the best!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Race Day!

Friday morning began with a technical meeting with our managers and crews. Lin had been to the technical meeting for all the team managers the night before, and she and Lion explained the lay of the aid stations. The loops were not 20k each as I had previously thought, but an initial 23k loop, and four 19k or so loops. All 5 loops contained the 19k loop, but adding the 4k to the initial loop made the first 2 loops equal the distance of a marathon – for the few thousand participants running 'only' 26.2 miles. Then due to the nature of the roads, houses, turns, and towns, the aid stations were placed according to what was the most convenient for getting crews and volunteers to the aid stations, rather than being placed 5k apart. There were a total of 5 aid stations per loop, and we had crew at 3 of them, and since the other 2 were close enough, I only placed bottles at those with our crew.

Each runner was assigned crew members – I was given Lin – who would travel by foot between aid stations D and E that were close together 'as the crow flies' and Maria Spinnler at aid station C.

The rest of the day was spent preparing bottles, napping, focusing on hydrating, eating sensibly but amply enough to sustain us for our 8:00 p.m. start. We decided to gather at 2:00, and with the hotel management's generous approval, Lion and Susan used the kitchen to prepare pasta and sauce, salad and bread.

Kami and I had cooked rice the day before and added that plus some eggs to the menu. I ate a bowl of rice and 2 fried eggs, then went back to my room for some rest. I dozed lightly, and at 4:00 delivered my prepared flasks of EFS with Pre-Race added, and my flasks of EFS gel. I rested again until 5:00, had a cup of coffee, and at 6:00 got dressed for team photos.

At 6:30, Kami, Tyson and I drove to the Torhout sports center, and joined the team relaxing outside near the track. The masses were arriving – we were told there would be a total of 7000 participants in the 100k run, 100k walk, 10k run, and marathon. Of those 7000, there were 130 men and 70 women in the World Championship representing several countries.

Kami and I started warming up on the track at 7:20. It did not feel like evening at all. The sun was still fairly high, the temperature warm, but mild. After a few laps and strides, we made our way to the race start. Those competing in the World Cup had been promised a separate corral from the marathoners and open 100k racers, but it was not to be. We wedged our way in, trying to locate team members. We were fairly smashed in when the race management began waving that we had to back up. We became more and more squeezed, getting hotter and a bit irritated until we were sardines and the management was satisfied. At last, there was a countdown, and the race began.

The mass surged forward, and through the narrow streets, somewhat chaotically. I managed to stay in contact with Kami heels as the crowd slightly strung out. My plan was to keep my heart rate under 167, something coach Bob and I had recently learned from a physiology test was top end of my aerobic zone. My pace was to be dictated by heart rate, and I was hoping that pace would be in the low 7s. For the first couple of miles, it was around 164 and the pace was low 7, but the effort felt a little to rich, so I watched Kami gradually drift away. At 161, I felt very relaxed and comfortable, and came to the first 5k in just under 22 minutes. It was the first aid station, and Lion had barely gotten there in time. He was holding 3 bottles for 3 runners, I pointed to mine, and he smoothly got it to me.

The first loop of the course was in the daylight, and it was very pleasant. Many families and friends were having outdoor parties in their front yards, toasting and cheering us on as we passed. I continued monitering the HR - whenever it got above 162, it felt too much for 8 hours of running, but bringing it down was easy. I was focusing when I heard a voice behind me say "Hey Meghan, hows it going?". It was Kami, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. "What are you doing back here?" I asked. Her orthotic was giving her problems so she had stopped to adjust it. We ran together for awhile, then she made a pit stop, so I ran on, prepared not to be so freaked out next time she caught up. Eventually she did, we ran together awhile, but finally she drifted away again.

The next 5k was 22:25, and 15k, 20k, and 25k, were all under 23. During the last 5k my stomach had begun cramping a bit, but I attributed it to the afternoon meal, and after a quick portapotty stop was sure I was good to go. Mike Spinnler had told me after 15k that I was in 3rd place, and to take it easy, just relax. I was surprised at the placing, but felt really relaxed and in control. I had been taking S!Caps at every 6-7k, drinking my E.F.S. and nipping on a gel flask to keep my energy up. With the stop in the 26-30k section, my time was over 23. I felt that the next 5k would be back under 23, but apparently my stomach wasn't done, and I found myself in the bushes. Well, maybe this time I was done! But alas, it became the story of my race. I stopped eating the gel, afraid it was the problem, and continued with the E.F.S. and S!Caps. The next time I saw Lin, I asked for water with my drink, and she had a carton for me. The water went down well, and I sipped the E.F.S. My stomach continued to rebel, and as darkness took over, my pace continued to drop with my HR. If I pushed the pace, the stomach cramped and nausea set in. 35k, 40k, 45k were all between 7:45-8:00 pace, which included 4 more pit stops, and I finally made it to 50k in 3:50. Feeling as raw as I did, it seemed highly unlikely I would run under my PR of 7:52.

Mike had done a good job throughout of relaying my place. I had been passed by a Norwegian woman and a Russian woman, so I was in 5th. I begged myself to not slow further, just keep trying to keep some fluids going in. It was quite dark now, but the street lights were fairly ample even in the countryside. As we passed through each of the two villages the course ran through, we were greeted and cheered by hearty revelers, imbibing in good Belgium beer. If it wasn't "U S A! U S A!" it was "We can DO it!" being shouted. The cheers were good for motivating me, but the stomach wouldn't allow me to continue hard.

Out in the lonlier countryside, I heard a familiar voice. Devon was catching up and Carolyn was with her. While not being excited about being caught, I was so glad to have teammate company I let it go. Devon grilled me on my issues, and helped me tremendously by suggesting I try some Vespa at the next aid station where Lion had her stash. We three ran together for quite awhile, getting more cheers than ever, running in 4th, 5th, and 6th place. Wondering what had bumped us up a place, Devon and Carolyn explained to me that the Russian woman had been DQ'd for having a bicycle pacer that had to be removed more that once by the local police.

Devon was feeling great, and she pulled away from Carolyn and I, promising to tell Lion to have a Vespa ready for me. Moments after she pulled on, I had to visit bushes again, letting Carolyn pull ahead. When I pulled into the aid station, Lin was ready with my drink, but I slowed to a walk and said "we need to problem solve. My stomach is cramping, I am dehydrated, and I am losing water with all of my pit stops. Lion is supposed to have a Vespa for me." We jogged to Lion who met us, ready with the Vespa and the race drink "Aquarius" which he instructed me to just sip at. I downed the Vespa, took the drink and jogged out. I was at 60-70k now, and hoping for some turn around.

Carolyn was still in sight, and I worked on catching up to her. Just when I did, I had one more pit stop, but then it was over. My stomach calmed, and I was back to Lin and Lion, with 20k to go. I was feeling better, and once more, I pulled back up to Carolyn. We worked together, and she told me I could go ahead if I wanted. She was on PR pace big time, and I wanted to work with her. When we got to 15k to go, I said the preposterous thing ever. We were at 6:47 with 9.3 miles to go, and I said "think we can run 9 miles in one hour?" I didn't think more, and said - "I think I'll go ahead and try to get my record" (7:52) and pulled ahead. She graciously encouraged me on. In about one minute, I did the math. Really? I think I can run 7 minute pace for 9 miles when I haven't run that fast all day? I had no idea how fast I was going, given the darkness and inability to read my watch, but I felt I was lucky to be going under 8 minute pace. However, I did feel like pushing it.

Out in the countryside, I could see the cathedral that would be the end of the run, lights glowing within. I got excited, until I realized I was going away from it for awhile. The road zigged and zagged and the cathedral seemed to move as well. My mind was willing to surge, but the body would only respond for awhile. I pushed and flagged until finally reached the town, turned a few more turns, and finally crossed the finish line in 8:04, good for 5th place. Relieved to be done, I turned around and was stunned to see an Irish woman cross the line a mere 20s behind me. Now I was glad I had surged (such as it was). Carolyn finished in 8:07, a nine minute PR. Devon had broken 8 hours by a minute, and Kami had won -rocking the course in 7:33. Connie finished in a respectable 8:42. After studying my splits and HR, it appears that I never really picked it up again, but I did prevent a total slowdown at the end, averaging 7:45 pace for the race.

We hung around the finish for a bit, and as we walked to our van, the morning light arrived. Back at our hotel, we showered, and rested up until the awards ceremony. Outside the sports center was a usual site of a french fry vendor, and we were happy to oblige.

The award ceremony was emotional for me when Kami was announced as the winner of the Gold Medal, and although I have never felt teary during the national anthem before, something about my teammate on the podium did it for me.

Then it was time for team presentations.

We later learned that the Russian woman had NOT been disqualified, but the Norwegian runner had dropped. Next year, we will be in Gibraltar, in November. If you want to have a great adventure and come crew Team USA, start saving your pennies!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Belgium - Days 3 and 4

Wednesday morning, Kami and I took a walk back to the town square in Brugge, but sadly I left the camera at home, thinking we wouldn't see anything different from the day before. The first thing was a beautiful swan floating down the canal, and when we arrived at the square, were pleased to see the farmer's market was in full force. There were a number of booths with rotisseries, and the smell of roasting chicken was nose candy, while the produce stands were eye candy. A boistrous vendor selling cherries placed large cherries in the hands of we onlookers, and I bought a kilo on the spot it was so delicious. There were imported fruits and veggies along side the local, as well as flowers and garden plants. We meandered up and down some of the streets, and eventually returned to the hotel, checked out, and headed up the road to our final destination.

Our hotel accomodations were located on the edge of Torhout in Hotel d'Aertyrcke which is still a mystery to me in terms of the history, since all I have found is written Flemish.

The castle is nearly surrounded by a moat and some nice short running trails. The hotel is situated behind the castle.

Kami and I went for a short run, mostly on trail. It felt nice to get off the pavement. We then had a team meeting - it was great to see everyone again - Adam Lint, Michael Wardian, Chad Ricklefs, Howard Nippert, Carolyn Smith, Devon Crosby-Helms, and our team managers - Lin Gentling, Mike Spinnler, and Lion Caldwell. Connie was delayed 8 hours in Philly, but made it in by 11:00 p.m.

I slept well Wednesday night, didn't get up until 9:00. After breakfast, Mike and Lin took those interested for a tour of the course. What should have lasted 30 minutes (given it is a loop course of about 20k) took 1.5 hours due to the circuitous nature of the town with its one-way streets, and the course going the opposite direction of said streets, and just general confusion. We got the gist of it - when the course enters a town center, there are lots of sharp turns, occassional cobblestone, and when rural, there are longer stretches of decent pavement. I think the total elevation gain for the race is 8 meters.

Upon returning, I went for my final run, then showered and lounged about until 7:00, when we all gathered up to go to town for the parade of nations. Conflicting reports resulted in us getting to town as the parade was starting, so we dashed to the start, Kami and Howard grabbed the flag, and we fell in behind, passing out small USA flags and pencils to children.


Kami learning Flemish from Emma - ' "Loper" means running.'

Back to the hotel for one more night. I was up until 10:30, noting it was still light.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Belgium - Day 2

As I mentioned, our hotel host, caters to a lot of cyclists, and Team Farnese Vini was there.

Jergeun also has several cyclist's jerseys framed and displayed throughout the premises and in the rooms. The hotel used to be a monastery, and he has renovated it and added another set of rooms.

He suggested a running route for Kami and I, and we went out for our first post-flight jaunt. We both felt a bit rusty, but eventually warmed up.

Dinner at the hotel was excellent, and we had fun looking at the menu, guessing what we might end up with. Typical of Europeans, we were in the dining room for a good two hours. Next morning's breakfast included perhaps the best croissant I have ever eaten. The yogurt was great. I love European food!

After breakfast, we hit the road towards Brugge. Jurgeun had suggested we stop in the town of Damme near there. It is an artist's community, very small, and nice to run around. We did as suggested, following the "Nature Path" which wound us through and around the town.

After the run, we had lunch at a place that specializes in pancakes. I continued my uncharacteristic consumption of meats, vowing to start thinking of pre-race food sometime tomorrow. We continued on to Brugge, checked into our hotel, and crashed into nap land for a good 2 hours.

Around 7:00 we headed out to explore Brugge and find some dinner. We walked throughout the town center, reading menu after menu, many of them offering similar fare.

We finally decided on one, and each decided to have something Flemish. For me it was a beer, served in a funny glass with a wooden handle - kind of spill proof.

Just one sip and already everything is fuzzy!

For a starter I went with the mussels, only because it is a Belgian specialty. Fortunately, they were in a cream sauce and covered with cheese. Pretty hard to go wrong! They were pretty good, but still a bit on the chewy fishy side.

My entre' was "Rabbit in the Flemish Way". Still makes me giggle - many things were on the menu as "in the Flemish Way".

Dessert was a very reasonably sized portion of very good ice cream.

Day 2 is in the books!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Belgium - Day 1

Leaving Portland at 7:30 a.m. put me in Brussels at 7:00 the next morning, with a layover in DC and maybe 2 hours of sleep. I was to meet Kami and Tyson that afternoon so we could spend the first couple of days together, chilling out and doing some relaxing site seeing. With time to kill waiting, I stored my luggage at the airport, hopped a train to "Brussels Centrale" to get a glimpse of the city.

Early morning found the city to be fairly mellow. Being in a typical European city built from the center and radiating out in a circular fashion, and being a bit loopy from sleep deprivation, I was particularly mindful of being able to find my way back. My first quest (a frequent habit of mine) was to find a little something to eat. At the suggestion of my friend Sunny, I headed towards "Grande Place", not really knowing what I would find. I stopped at a small town square that had several eateries, and chose the one where everyone else seemed happy, and bought a chocolate almond croissant, plopped onto a park bench and munched.

My Breakfast Companion

The architecture on the way was already causing me to stand with my mouth hanging open (I forget my manners when loopy), but the buildings that made up Grand Place were, well, Grand!

I continued wandering the narrow cobblestone streets, and upon seeing this in a souvenir storefront window:

was reminded of the story of "Manneken Pis", and although I didn't actually look for the real thing, it does appear to be a popular site.

I hadn't killed too much time, so I decided to take a city bus tour. This turned out to be a great way to see the city, learn a little history, and take more pictures, until my battery died.

This fountain had a big basin beneath, and there were a few others like it nearby, attached to the side of a building.

Outside the Museum of Art

There was a lot of information that went in my groggy head, and didn't stay with me. I did learn that there is a king of Belgium, and we went by the palace. There were a number of beautiful parks with sandy paths good for running.

After the tour, I made my way to the train station, bought a lovely chicken Panini, hopped on the train without a ticket, for which I was busted by the conductor ("It ees much cheeeper if you buy zee ticket before you get on"). Three euros is still not bad.

Back at the airport, I found more food, then found a chair and passed out for about an hour and half. Kami and Tyson arrived, we picked up a rental car, and made our way north to a "sporting hotel" that Kami had found on the internet. It has been delightful - the owner/operator, Juergen, is very friendly, and caters to athletes. At present there is a cycling team from Italy staying here - more about all of this later today.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Boston Marathon 2009

This year I was very excited for Boston. I had been healthy all year, had lots of miles and workouts under my belt, and felt like a PR was possible if all the stars were aligned. The weather was mostly looking cooperative, with the exception of an East wind predicted up to 15 mph. Since the advent of the Elite Women's Start, the top 50 or so women begin the race 28 minutes before everyone else, to allow the women exposure and a sense of their competition. The down side to this is in a fairly short amount of time, the women are very spread out, and we have less opportunity to work with groups of runners to fight the wind.

Monday morning felt relatively mild. At 6:20 I walked the one+ mile to the elite athlete bus, passing the 1000's of runners lined up in Boston Common to get their rides from one of the many school buses lining the streets. It was a sight to behold - so much excitement and energy! Once on the bus, Devon caught my attention and I took a seat beside her. At 7:00 a.m. we were all loaded and given the traditional motorcycle escorted ride-in-style out to Hopkinton, and deposited into the Korean Church. We quickly dispersed into various rooms, sitting, stretching, eating, drinking.

Relaxing before the dance

Mary getting her back number pinned on

At 9:00, the women went out the back of the church to warm up in a residential street. In small street length circles, we jogged, eying the field of "who's who" - most notably Kara Goucher, under the watchful eye of Salazar, plus Colleen DeRueck, Elva Dryer, the strong Russian contingent, as well as the Ethiopeans and Kenyans. I was warming up with Devon and Mary Akor - an underrated 2:33 marathoner.

The air was chilly, but dry, so when it finally came time to assemble at the start, shorts, singlets, gloves and arm warmers were sufficient to stay warm. With the field being so competitive, I didn't qualify for special fluids, so decided to carry a half bottle of EFS to ensure I would get something down for awhile. I tucked a gel flask in my right arm warmer to use when my fluid was gone. I also knew there would be bottled water on the course.

Kara was getting well deserved attention from the media as the race time approached. We were given well wishes from Ingrid Kristiansen, and finally the time arrived. The gun went off, and anticipating a quick spread of the field, I was surprised to find myself in a dense pack. Either I was really fit or we were going really slow by the standards of the top women. We cruised gently downhill, reaching the 1k in 4:00. Slow. At this point, Colleen, a bit frustrated with the pace broke away. None of the open competitors chased her - presumably no one wanted to take charge going into the wind, and mile one was a unspectacular 6:30. Finally the top women picked it up and broke away, with a trail of runners in their wake. Devon made her way to my side, and we began our work together in lock step. Anxious to get on 6:20 pace, we went through miles 2 and 3 in 6:10 pace.

Devon's pink and black striped socks were the topic of interest as we passed the hordes. "Love dah sahcks!" was repeated time and again, and Devon ate it up, giving the hang-loose sign and a few high fives. Miles 4 and 5 went smoothly, averaging 6:15 miles, despite the headwind. The field was quite spread out by now, ahead and behind, but Devon and I continued our work side-by-side. I was keeping a close eye on my heart rate monitor (HRM) - each climb or increase in wind brought it higher than I desired, so every downhill or occasional lessening of the wind, I focused on relaxing, trying to get it down.

The next 4 miles were slower - averaging 6:30. When the wind would blast, Devon and I would exchange complaints, then fall silent as we pushed on. During mile 11, Devon began to fall back. I yelled back "Devon, stay with me! Come on!" She pulled back up, saying she hoped I wouldn't notice. I told her to run behind me for awhile to draft, and we hung together awhile longer. Mile 11 was 6:33, then mile 12 - 6:21 and through the Wellesley scream tunnel - it seemed louder than ever this year. I wasn't sure where I was overall pace wise, but when I reached the first half in 1:23 plus, I realized my time goal of 2:44 was not happening today. The wind was costing too much. Devon dropped off pace again, and I surged on.

I consider myself a time trialist at heart, but at this point in this race, I had a change in mindset. I decided to race. I looked ahead at the very spread out field - I could only see 2 runners ahead - and decided to focus on them and try to reel them in. I was also being driven by Brian's request to not dwell on his ongoing health issues and the tendency that has to bring me down, but to run hard instead. So with that fuel, I powered on. Miles 14 and 15 were 6:23, 6:33 - through the town of Wellesley. I was looking forward to mile 16 - my cousins Delissa, Quentin, Alex and Samantha would be there cheering me on. The fans were thick and my eyes scoured the crowd when I finally spotted Quentin cheering loudly. As usual, family boosted me up.

Mile 16!

I had my eyes on number 36 - a women in pink socks and blue shorts - she was coming closer back all the time, while at the same time, number 30 caught and passed me on an uphill. I came through mile 16 and 17 at 6:24 pace, and began up the first of the Newton Hills. I had been taking EFS gel from a flask, grabbing water at aid stations to wash it down. Thirty was pulling away, and I was staying even with 36. Near the top of the hill, the bicyclist for the lead men came by, assuring me I was in a good position to let the men come through. Then the lead vehicles for the men came through, and although the cameras were all focused on the men, I felt a bit like a fish in a fish bowl looking at all those lenses. Shortly after, the two lead men - Merga and Rona - absolutely flew past, heels flying as high as their heads. Then a pack of three, including Ryan Hall. It was very inspiring, and after cresting the hill, I was surprised to find that my legs were still feeling strong. I let my stride open and dropped 36, and focused on catching 30. Mile 18 split was 6:41, and 19 was 6:33 - I was surprised that I was running that fast given the hills, wind, and distance. My ultra persona jumped in and shouted that I had better hurry up because this race was almost over and I needed to work hard to the finish.

Before mile 20, I saw the number one seeded female master walking slowly by the side of the road. I slowed slightly as I passed and touched her on the shoulder. She appeared understandably distraught. I felt for her.

After mile 20 (6:44) was the infamous Heartbreak Hill. Number 30 pulled away again, but I didn't fade terribly. Halfway up the hill I spotted something I could not figure out - it appeared to be a man running up the hill with his legs swinging side-to-side. At first I thought someone from the crowd was in the street mocking the runners, but as I approached I realized he was a double amputee with prosthetic legs that swung laterally as he propelled himself forward. He was accompanied by a pacer who was doing a great job of the engaging the crowd with the runner, and they were cheering him wildly. Suddenly, I was at the top of the hill, with my slowest split of the day of 7:14. Still, I was able to push. The next few miles were blurs of crowds, the men's field, aid stations, and trying to close the gap on the few women ahead I could see. Unbelievably, I was feeling good and strong. My heart rate was still strong, not falling like it often does at the end of a race. I felt my calves cramping a bit, so I managed to get an S!Cap from my sleeve, but had no water. I popped it in my mouth and after a few minutes was able to swallow it, and desperately scanned ahead for the next aid station and grabbed some water. Miles 22, 23, 24 were 6:18, 6:34, 6:19.

It was almost over - and I still had some women ahead in sight. Number 30 had pulled further ahead, but another woman in a white jersey was slowing. I just kept focusing and driving, and mile 25 came in 6:30. Now the sounds were deafening, and with each street turn, I was closer to the white shirt. On the final turn, I caught her. I could see the finish line, very far away, and yet another woman within striking distance. Another gear was found, and halfway to the finish, I passed her, surged across the finish line. I had no idea what my overall time was even close to, so I was stunned to see 2:49. Close to an even split, it may not have been my fastest time, but it now stands as my best marathon performance ever.

I was escorted into the elite tent, and sat for a spell, and very soon was joined by Devon and then Michael.

Happy Devon

Michael Wardian

The awards ceremony was run as smoothly as always, with much inspiration coming from the older generations and the times they ran. I had the privilege of standing beside Colleen at the awards, for my second place finish in the 45-49 age group. She not only won our age group, but won overall master and was 8th female overall.

Lots of crystal

80 years old and going strong!