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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The NorthFace 50 Mile Challenge

This was to hopefully be the icing on my cake for 2010.  My racing year had never been better, and after the harsh pavement of the World 100k Championships, I was anxious to hit some trails and recover my brain from the mental taxation of aforesaid event.  I had no intention of digging myself into a hole of woe, instead celebrate what trail running brings to me and to my many ultra running friends.  Joy!

I was hosted by the wonderful Fitzpatricks of Larkspur, near the race start and finish area.  Tim saved me a trip into the city and picked up my packet for me.  Diana volunteered her day (starting at 3:00 a.m.) to take me to the race start and to crew me at all possible aid stations.  She and Tim enlisted fellow ultra runner Jed Tukman to pace me from mile 28 to the finish.  Everything was in order and I was relaxed and happy.

The night before the race, I was in bed by 8:00.  I started waking up at 1:00, excited to be ready to embark on trails.  Finally at 3:00 I got up, had coffee and oatmeal, and by 3:45 Diana and I were on our way to the start.  She brought me to a shuttle at Rodeo Beach, gave me a throw away tee to keep warm in, and then we parted, planning on seeing each other at the second aid station.

At the start I milled about looking for familiar faces.  Being out of the normal region and in the presence of athletes from around the country and world, I didn't see anyone I knew until I finally saw Kami warming up.  We briefly caught up, and continued to warm up.  Finally as the start time drew near, I saw Krissy Moehl, Joelle Vaught, Lizzie Hawker, Jenn Shelton, and Rory Boseo.  The final countdown came and went, and off we flew.

I ran with Joelle for a very brief period, then Rory for a bit.  It was too dark to really see who was ahead, which was just what I wanted.  I did not want to get caught up in the early race frenzie and end up suffering early and long.   Then Jenn and I ran together for a bit.  She asked me what I thought of the early pace, the runners ahead, was she going fast enough.  I said "Honey, we've run 1 mile.  We have 49 miles for them to slow down."  She bought it to some extent, but pulled ahead effortlessly nonetheless.  I next found myself running next to Krissy.  We chatted briefly, and I knew she was coming back from an injury.  We crested the first climb, still in the dark, and as I took advantage of the downhill, she slipped further back.  I surmised her injury was bothering her.

On and on into the darkness we ran.  We finally hit aid station 1, but I blew through, not having drunk much in the cool temperature.  Again we were faced with a long climb, and the headlamps ahead gave me an indication of how far up we had to go.  I kept my heart rate below 170 on the climbs as much as possible, otherwise I was staying very relaxed.  Still in the dark, I passed 2 women as we hit aid station 2, and Diana was there, very visible, handing me an open gel and a fresh bottle.  It was a seamless exchange.

On the downhill I cruised along, chatting with whomever was nearby.  Gradually the day began to lighten, and I could see the runners ahead.  There was a woman I was closing in on, but we hit another long climb and she kept her distance.  We broke out into the coastal area - narrow single track, grassy, windy, and I was feeling pretty slow.  I didn't fight the feeling or the wind, just kept plowing along.  As usual, I got passed by the men on the climbs, and passed them back on the downs.  Cruising along to the Muir Beach aid station I saw Devon who was cheering me on.  I yelled out to her "Devon - where are you?"  She assured me she was "Right here!"  I was disappointed that she wasn't in the mix that day.  At this point I caught the woman I had been tailing, Helen Cosposlich, we visited briefly, and I pulled ahead.

The course went along the pavement for a spell, then entered single track again.  I passed 2 women on my way, and really enjoyed the very, very long climb with short and not-to-steep switchbacks.  I met a man from Juneau, who was there with 6 other Alaskans, feeling very proud of their Geoff Roes.  The climb was relentless and deceptive.  Every visible summit was false, until finally we reached the top.  A little pavement, and onto single track in the woods, some technical downhill through a dense redwood forest, and I could hear the bells for the next aid station.  As I climbed up to the road, Diana and Jed were there, ready with the gel, bottle and words of encouragement.  I asked what place I was in.  Diana replied "you're in 10th, right where you want to be.  There are some dreamers up there."  I ate a bit of banana as I was feeling peckish, drank some Mountain Dew, and listened to Jed describe the trail I was about to embark upon.  I was on my way again, on some rolling, beautiful eucalyptus lined trail.  I was clipping the heels of a runner before long, and asked him to choose a side for me to pass.  He let me by and I opened up my stride.  Feeling pretty good, I cruised along, until reaching a fork in the trail.  The monitor there instructed me to the right, letting me know it was the beginning of a long out and back section.

I started to struggle in the now open space.  In a few minutes I was facing the front pack of about 5 men, recognizing only Jeff Roes who was in 2nd place.  A few other men came next, and then Erik Skaggs.  We encouraged each other, then next was Hal Koerner, followed by Uli Steidl.  Around another turn, and I met Lizzie Hawker, leading the women's race.  She was followed soon by Anna Frost.  Another turn, and I saw Kami.  We cheered each other on, and cresting a hill, I heard a familiar voice cheering me on.  Looking up and seeing Krissy, sidelined, I was saddened that she had had to drop.  Inspired by the 3 women ahead of me so far, I started to feel excited.  I next met Joelle, then the 5th place woman, followed by Jenn, who looked fabulous.  Seventh, eighth, and ninth were unknowns to me.  I hit the turn around aid station, just as the skies started to open up.  The volunteers were attentive, and as they filled my bottle and opened a gel, I asked someone to pin my number on, as it was barely hanging on by 2 pins.  I was offered a poncho to run in, but politely declined.  Finally ready to go, I cruised out and started to feel great - maybe from seeing the women ahead, or maybe because there was a tailwind.

I finally made it back to the turn that would bring me to Stinson Beach where Jed would start pacing me.    Avery long downhill with lots of switchbacks, and I could see some women ahead that were getting closer and closer.  I passed one as the trail flattened off, and followed the other one through the town as we hit pavement.  Jed appeared on the road and led me into the aid station, with the woman ahead of me greeted by her coach with "Allez! Allez! Allez!"  Diana handed me my bottle and Jed and I were off onto the next climb.

He was somewhat surprised that I wasn't completely dead to the world.  Because he was from the area, he knew all of the trails, so was able to describe each section we came to.  The most beautiful for me was the Steep Ravine.  Huge redwoods, a stream flowing down the center, rock steps leading upward.  Jed described every little climb, which were walkable, which were runnable.  We came to a ladder in the trail, and Jed teased about my "glistening calves" to the race photographer documenting the race at this trademark point.  While Jed knew each trail, he didn't know the course and continued to second guess the race course and aid station locations, consistently wrong but eventually right.  I didn't care, as long as we were on course and he could describe the trails, I was glad of the expertise.

Next aid station we saw Diana again, and she said the next two women were still just 3 or so minutes ahead.  We scooted out and hit a very long, technical downhill.  There were other races going on, and with marathon and 50k runners on the trail, it became somewhat congested.  Jed started yelling ahead "50 mile racer coming on your left" which meant I had to run faster to get around.  At last we hit a flat section that could have meant an accelerated pace, but with the rain and the multitude of runners, it was very slick, so I settled for gently tripping along from one side of the path to the other, occasionally skiing.

The next two aid stations were a blur.  In and out amongst all the races, we were faced with another very long climb up an exposed, muddy service road.  Too slick to run, we hiked the best we could.  Jed did a good job of pointing out sites along the way (the Pacific Ocean is pretty awesome) and keeping me going strong at the same time.  At last we reached Diana for the last time at mile 45.  Again, we were back 2-3 minutes from the two women in front.  Looking at the looming hill ahead, I left my last bottle with Diana, sure I wouldn't need it for the last hour.  Chugging along, Jed in front now, he said "if you run this entire hill, you will catch them, I guarantee it."  True or not, I had to try.  I ran, in the sense that I wasn't walking, the entire 20-30 minute climb.  One more aid station, I drank some coke, and Jed asked if I wanted to carry a bottle.  "I'm outa here" I said and started to fly down the hill ahead.  It was without trees to block the view, and up ahead I spotted my first victim amongst the marathon and 50k racers.  Jed was beside me and I suggested he not let anyone know we're coming at this point.  He knew better, and as we approached her we quieted a bit and breezed by.  She looked up briefly, and then did a double take when she the color of my number.  "Wow!  Great job!"  I could barely muster a reply, but acknowledged her best I could.  I later learned it was Liza Howard, winner of Hard Rock 100 last summer.

I looked forward, and saw victim number 2.  We continued to bomb the downhill and just as it flattened out, we caught her.   Now Jed was giving me distance-to-go data.  "One more mile!  That's just 4 laps on the track!"  I was starting to go into all kinds of debt, evidenced by my loud squawks with every breath I took.  "Arms! Arms! arms!" and "Breathe! Breathe! Breathe!" Jed was yelling.  "Three laps on the track", "Two and half laps".  Ugh.  I was starting to tie up.  The road turned gradually uphill and I desperately wanted to see if either woman was coming back.  The curve in the road hid the finish line until the last minute, and I bombed down the grassy field to complete the course.  My time was not stellar, 8:47 (a mere HOUR behind winner Anna Frost), but I was pleased with my overall place of 6th.

Diana and Jed did a fabulous job getting me through the day, and I ended my 2010 season on a very positive note, feeling motivated for 2011.

Friday, November 12, 2010

100k World Championships 2010


The Rock of Gibraltar
Gibraltar seemed and continues to seem a bit of an odd place to hold a 100k footrace.  The longest stretch of road from the Spanish/Gibraltarian border to the tip of the main road in Gibraltar is about 3 miles, but the race officials managed to create a course that only used about half the distance, giving us an opportunity to become well acquainted with a 5k loop.  Arriving 3 days before the race seemed ample time to review, and also allowed an entire country tour of the Rock with its charming "but do not feed" Barbary apes, crazy traffic, and a bajillion tourists, and 30,000 citizens (none of which had a clue that there was going to be a race, let alone a world championship).

Gibraltar Barbary Macaque
 Normal pedestrian traffic on Main Street in Gibraltar
 It was great having the team all together, with a few new faces, and minus some regulars.  We all got on famously, running, shopping, eating, and touring together.  Saturday afternoon was the traditional Parade of Nations.  This year, the local organizing committee (LOC) had arranged some opening ceremony entertainment with local dancers and a marching band.

Parade of Nations

Assembly of the teams

Next morning, the team was up at 4:00, having breakfast and getting the supplies together for the aid station.  At 5:00, we were delivered to the race start at the dock, where we chilled out on the cruise liner that served as housing for most of the teams.  

I felt pretty good.  I had gotten enough rest over the past few days, and my clock was reset to the time zone.  My time goal was 7:45, but I felt that if I had a really great day I could pull of a 7:40, and if I had a tail wind for every loop all the way around, then maybe a 7:35!  I had been feeling fairly comfortable at 7:25 pace during training, and was hoping that at my steady HR of 155, that I would actually be running 7:20 pace.  I was all set to use my Suunto foot pod and HR monitor, when Lin broke the news to us that at the technical meeting it was announced that there would be no use of Garmins or Suuntos or any pace/distance measuring tools as they were afraid they might interfere with the chip timing mats.  WHAT?  WHAT????  It was no joke.  I was planning on using the Suunto until I was asked to remove it (worth a yellow card), but while warming up I saw that NO ONE had a foot pod.  I thought that rather than everyone abiding by the 'rule', the athletes would all use their normal stuff in protest, since we all knew that it wouldn't interfere.  So rather than risk being asked to remove it later when my hands might not work, I took it off before the start.  I still had my HR monitor, and I figured using the 10k markers during the race I would be able to figure out how I was doing.

At 6:30 sharp, the race was off.  We had a bit of a contrived start that would land us on the approximately 5k loop after 4k of running.  We headed straight down a road, came to a round about, went around and headed back on the other side of the road back towards the start.  Before getting all the way back we went around another round about and headed back in the original direction.  Seemed fairly straight forward and I was getting into a rhythm, when up ahead I saw the entire race had come to a dead stop.  Unbelievable.  Then the runners were directed to do the small loop one more time.  Nice.  Well, at least we were all doing the same wrong thing under the direction of race officials. 
Finishing the extra loop, we eventually made our way onto the loop.  My HR was between 155-160 and I felt good, but I didn't know how fast I was going.  The lower part of the loop took us fairly straight until we came to the ship yards.  Here we made a 90 degree right, went straight for about 100 meters, then left 90 degrees, then some lesser harsh turns until we made a 180 degree turn onto an up ramp.  At the top of that, another 90 degree turn left, a bit of rolling terrain, and then another 90 degree turn left down a short steep hill.  On this downhill was the first 10k post, but my watch said 43 minutes and I had no idea if the mark was 9k, 10k, 11k....

At the bottom of the short steep hill was about a 100 degree turn that was hard to make without swinging wide.  Then it was flat for about a kilometer, a 90 degree turn right, then left, then voila - we were at the aid station!  Dad and Lin were both ready to hand me either Gu-brew or water - I grabbed the brew, and heard Lion yell out to me that the race organizers would figure out how to get rid of 1k during the race.  I hit the timing mat in 45:xx, still not sure how far I had run.  

A perfect hand off! Photo by Matt's brother-in-law Darryl Schaffer

And so began the laps of the 5k loop.  We had some head wind that change to cross wind that would change to tail wind, but nothing significant with the amount of change in the course.  I tried to stay relaxed, balancing too fast with slowing down to get my HR down, only to have it back up again.  Lap 2 took 22:xx minutes - a bit quick, so I tried to slow down a bit, but lap 3 was about the same.  This went on for a number of laps, until about 8 (I think) and I had to make a pit stop.  A 23 minute lap, and I thought the next lap would come down, but it was the beginning of my slow down.  I still didn't know where I was,distance wise, and went through the marathon in 3:09.  That would have been acceptable, if it were right.  I just wasn't sure.  

At the finish of each lap, just after I got my aid, a man with a clipboard and the ability to keep the race straight, was telling top runners there place.  I started in 6th, 1 minute behind the leader, then 2 minutes behind the leader, then 3, and the lead continued to grow.  The men's and women's races were unfolding before me.  Lizzy Hawker of Great Britain was leading the women, with Elly Greenwood (also Great Britain by way of Vancouver, BC) in second, and Monica Carlin (Italy) in third. For the men, the US was running strong, with Michael Wardian, Chikara Omine, Matt Woods, and Chad Ricklefs holding very good positions.   Carolyn Smith was not far behind me, shooting for her first sub-8:00 100k, and our third and final female Melanie Fryer was looking comfortable, but running on a not yet healed bruised metatarsal, her chances of finishing were very slim.
I moved into 5th place, but the lead was getting bigger, until 50k it was 12 minutes. The lap man stopped telling me about the lead, but continued telling me where the next woman ahead was. I went through roughly 50k in 3:46, with 10 laps to go. Now if I could not do worse than 4 hours for the 2nd half, I would at least have a new PR.  Finally, the race organizers set about to correct their mistake by altering the 12th lap - taking out the climb.  After each race entrants had completed their 12th lap, they continued in the original pattern.  Men with clipboards and 2-way radios kept it very efficient and accurate.  And when I was finally aware of my time and distance I realized I probably went through the marathon in 3:05 or 3:06, and the half in 3:41 or 3:42.  Oops.  

While I wasn't exactly tanked, I wasn't moving as easily now.  It was becoming a battle of the wills.  It was all I could do to not think about quitting.  I counted my laps downward, and each time I started a new one I was counting how many more times I had to start a new lap before I had gone 20 feet.  "Only 9 more starts!"  

The crewing by my Dad and Lin continued seamlessly.  They would see me coming 100 meters away, holding up my options.  I would yell "juice" or "water" or "juice and salt" or "water and salt" and without missing a beat I would be on the other side of them, the whole US support team cheering me on.  It gave me such a boost that I would momentarily forget how bad I felt.  With 70k under my belt, I was saddened to hear Todd Braje and Melanie Fryer both cheering me on, and I knew they had dropped.  Only 6 more laps to go, which meant 5 more starts.....

Hand off by Dad - photo by Darryl Schaffer

I kept drinking the Gu Brew, taking salt more frequently as my legs became more pained and crampy.  My HR was still around 158-160, so I was able to run with some effort, but no extra.  I had moved into 4th place due to some drops, but was then passed by a woman from Sweden who blew by like I was standing still.  Wow.  She looked fantastic.  

One more lap down, 4 more starts.  My original plan, before I went out too fast, was to pick it up for the last 4 laps.  I bargained my way down to 3.  I didn't pick it up at all, but with 2 laps to go, I was starting to smell the barn.  Fortunately, as I was about a third of the way into it, I got to see the top 3 women who were now separated by about 20 yards.  Elly was now in the lead, then Lizzie, and Monica.  It was a beautiful sight!  

Finishing up the penultimate lap, the lap counter said "5th place - next woman is 2 and half minutes behind you!"  Okay, I thought, no way are you going to let someone run this last 5k 2.5 minutes faster than you.  I began to really put the pressure on, and as I was running on the main stretch away from the aid station, I heard him yell again "she is only 2 minutes down!"  He had cut across the course and chased me down to let me know, and boy did I appreciate that. 

Very focused, I ran hard, and when I finally hit the last flat stretch I let it rip.  I crossed the finish line, hit my watch at 2:46:01, and stopped.  Oh my god, did that hurt. I was given water and a space blanket, then grabbed by a volunteer to be told that I was chosen for a random drug test.  I got to wait to see Carolyn finish, as I was pretty certain she would break 8, and she delivered.  7:58 and change!

In hindsight, I have realized there is more than one way to take some risks in this race.  I chose to risk going too fast, and the payback was a big slowdown and lost of suffering.  Harder for me is to risk going too slow and run a fast and more inspiring second half.  Patience.  I must practice patience.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Las Navas de la Concepcion...

...also known as Francisco Martin's hometown.  Francisco is the founder of and has supported my travel for running for two years now.  When I learned I was going to Gibraltar, I decided to add some travel in Spain.  I asked the native Spaniard for advice and tips on traveling in his country.  He not only gave me his list of favorite restaurants  in the cities I plan on seeing, but also extended an invitation to visit his hometown of Las Navas de la Concepcion.  He told me that if I decided to go he would let 'them' know and all would be taken care of.

The drive from Madrid went well, traffic not too bad at all.  The last 25 or so kilometers into the village let me know that it was probably not a place people come to and from with much frequency.  The road was in excellent shape, but it was very twisty and hilly.  Completely rural, agricultural, and quiet.  We saw a multitude of oak and thought perhaps it was Pin Oak.  However as we got close to Las Navas, we spotted a few trees that looked like they had red bark, like a madrone.  But then we realized that it was stripped of its bark, and the trees were cork oak.  It appeared to be quite a business in the area.

Cork Oak that has been harvested recently

We arrived to Las Navas about 6 hours after leaving Madrid, and found  Plaza de la Constitucion, 2, with little difficulty. 

Plaza de la Constitucion

As instructed, I introduced myself to the inhabitants (it was actually a super market) one of whom is Francisco's uncle, and one his cousin.  With much hand gesturing and broken English and Spanish, it was all worked out who was who.  His cousin Jose rounded up the manager of a small inn across the plaza, and we were soon given each a large room.  

Francisco's Tio

Then we took a small stroll about the village, enjoying the ability of the children to play unsupervised, dogs to be unleashed, and to amble down the middle of the narrow streets without having to dodge cars.

At 8:00 the bar below our room was sounding lively, and we joined them there.  I was quickly introduced to a number of regulars, most importantly, to Antonio, the mayor of the village.  One young man, David, spoke enough English to make communication more possible.  

I don't recall everyone's name, but the boy is Antonio Jr., my father Charles is next, and Antonio the mayor on my left, followed by Jose (Franciso's cousin) and another regular who wondered about my pace and times for races, so he had some running knowledge. 

We took and posed for numerous pictures, then retired to the dining, where the Mayor Antonio presented my father and me with a bounty of gifts - beautiful walking cane made in Las Navas, a T-shirt with the town name, a pin with the town crest, two key chains, and 3 bottles of local wine. 

 Walking stick

Some local vino

Home made sausages

Jose, Antonio, Antonio Jr., David, and I were then served plates of cheese, ham, salami, pork cutlets, rabbit, and a small ham sandwich by our hostess, Rosa.  We enjoyed a very nice glass of wine and some beer as well.  

Excellent pork cutlets

Warm ham sandwich

 Our hostess, Rosa

We all tried to learn something about each other.  Jose's father has owned a supermarket here for over 30 years, and his father before him as well.  Antonio enjoys hunting.  David is a musician, and attributes his ability to speak some English to his singing, as he has learned many English songs.  Antonio Jr. plays futbol.  Most of the kids go to University after primary school, some return, some don't.  It is very close knit and most people are related to someone here.  The main source of income is usually associated with agriculture of any kind.  The two plazas in town were lined with orange trees, and the olive industry is very large, as is the cork industry.

Antonio, the town doctor and nurse

When we were nearly finished eating, the local doctor and his nurse Lola came in and they too wanted to pose in a picture with me. The group then discussed and asked us if we would like to have breakfast and if so what time.  They said they would have it for us at 9:30 a.m.  

Next morning I went out for an easy run.  It was so pleasant, so secluded and quiet but for the sounds of people walking to work, children going to school, roosters crowing.  I meandered through the small town, and out a country road or two, passed some men laying bricks the traditional way, on a wall surrounding a cemetery.  Ever since arriving in Spain I have been struck by the number of people who labor manually.  There seems to be a lot less automation and a lot more sweat, which I find inspiring.

On to Gibraltar!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


Dad and I made it to Spain, after nearly missing our flight from Newark (always always always check the departure gate on the boards, NOT your boarding pass).  We rented a car, and I went for the GPS option.  What a wonderful invention!  I only got off course a couple of times, but the lady inside the GPS always got me back on track.  After trying to nap, and failing, I got out for a jog/walk.  Madrid is not terribly busy, not too hard to be around in.  After that we walked to the Prado - there is an Renoir exhibit there right now, and it did not disappoint.

 La museo de Prado

After the musuem we strolled to the Plaza Mayor - every city should have one!

La Plaza Mayor

We had dinner reservations at a restaurant suggested to me by my friend and Strands sponsor, Francisco, and the early seating was 9:00.  Being completely out of touch with west coast time, it didn't really matter when we ate, as long we did sometime.  The food was tasty, the setting very old, and the wait staff very proper and kind.

Those support timbers were huge!

Very good bread and wine

A most excellent Spanish cheese

Lamb chops served on french fries was a yummy dinner!

Dad's Spanish tortilla - which is potatoes and eggs.

That ended day 1.  I was up until midnight, and practically passed out trying to blog, so left it until now.  I slept for 9 hours.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Twin Cities Marathon

This was a day to remember.  Good workouts, good rest, good health - and I had never run sub 2:46 here, but thought if I was ever going to, this was the day.  I was up at 4:30 a.m., anxious to get ready for the race.  I was excited and not at all nervous, but felt just a tiny bit of dread due to the pain I knew I was about to take on. 

I caught the bus at 6:15, and sat with Susan Lokken.  We chatted about fitness, readiness, goals, and expectations.  We both wanted the Olympic Trials Qualifier, first and foremost.  Anything else was icing on the cake.  She had run in the low 2:40's here and was a multiple USATF Master's champion here.

The invited runners were dropped off at our holding ground - a church very close to the start line.  I sat quietly with 100k Teammate Michael Wardian, and Strands friend, Mike Reneau.  We stayed mellow, and at about 7:15, Wardian and I went out for a warm up.  Everything felt great.  Legs had energy and the temperature was cool, but not too cold.  It was dry and calm.  Eventually we all had to be out of the church, so I decided on my final attire - singlet with sleeves and gloves, but didn't need any other warm clothes.

I ran a number of strides, trying to keep the heart rate up for the start, and finally at 8:00, we were off!  I knew what heart rate I could maintain for the duration (173) and hoped that the pace would fall in line with a sub-2:46.  Many women went out ahead of me, but I stayed calm, my legs feeling a bit of a shock after standing at the start line for a couple of minutes. 

Mile 1 came, and I hit my watch - 6:16.  I thought that was okay, not exciting, but okay.  A little downhill now, and then an up, and I looked at my watch - it still said 6:16.  Oh good grief - I had hit the stop button instead of the lap button.  Great.  Now I wouldn't know my overall time.   Should I start it at the next mile?  Funny how the brain just stops working when running hard.  I hit 'start' again, and relied on the overall pace on my beloved Garmin.  From past experience (see my Napa Marathon report) I knew that to run 6:20 pace, I would have to average 6:16 on the Garmin.  So, I continued to hit the lap button for my mile splits, and kept my eye on the overall pace.  Miles 3 and 4 went by in 6:06 and 5:49, and mile 5 in 6:31.  My heart rate was around 171, and I wanted to be a little careful not to get to 173 too soon. 

I was soon running with a very nice group of women, all with a sub-2:46 on their minds.  It was a great dynamic.  Ruth Perkins, a young gal from Washington, seemed to be in control, suggesting different runners take the lead.  Conversation was limited, but at one point she asked if any of us had kids.  No one answered for a bit, and I said "I have a 24 year old".  The gal next to me - yeah, you guessed it - said "I'm 24!" 

We motored on, hitting the next miles in 6:07, 6:14, 6:16, 6:02.  Heart rate hung in at about 170, 171.  I was feeling great and having a blast.  I was getting my bottles at the aid station, and making sure I got a good deal of the fluids down before I tossed it. 

We closed in on Susan Lokken  and her running companion at about mile 11.  Our now bigger pack worked on for another couple miles - 6:04, 6:14, 6:13 - and went through the half at 1:21.  This is right where I knew I had to be to even have a chance, so I was stoked, as I was not dying yet.  Mile 14 we encountered a gentle climb, and I let the pack get away.  My next few miles, a bit more solitary, with the pack just out of reach, were 6:18, 6:14, 6:17.  The best part, was that my average was still around 6:12.  I just need to maintain that pace to mile 20, and then not let it get about 6:16 for the last 6.

Mile 17 was 6:06 - so hanging in there, but starting to feel a bit rough.  I passed a woman who was reduced to a walk.  She tried to run again, but didn't have it.  Mile 18 was 6:37, and I missed 19, but for the next 2 miles I averaged 6:19.  As I crossed the Mississippi River, I was feeling a bit like toast, but either I got a second wind of my own, or there was an actual tail wind and I felt my legs revive.

The clock at mile 20 said "2:05" and some change.  Aye aye aye.  I knew I could but it would be close.  I had to run a sub 41 minute 10k, after 20 miles at 6:12 pace, with the uphill challenges.  Surprisingly, I had some wheels for the flat sections, and fairly clawed at the air on all the climbs.  Ahead I could see Susan Lokken, and another woman, and thought that I may not catch them, but I might as well try.  Miles 21 was 6:42 and miles 22 and 23 I averaged 6:32, mile 24 had a bit of flat and slight down, so I pulled out a 6:24.  My pace had been slowly inching up, and at mile 24 was now 6:16.  I could not afford to let it go up anymore.  Mile 25 was 6:20, and my average held.  Running pretty much blind by now, I flailed to the top of the last hill, and  with an alarming sense of jarring, jolted my way down to the final stretch.  I finally saw the finish line, and heard the announcer proclaiming Susan Lokken as USATF Masters Champion.  When I was finally close enough to see the clock, it said 2:45:11.  Depth perception on a good day is challenging, and I just didn't know how many seconds away I was from that clock, so I kicked in my 200 meter sprint mode and made it over the line in 2:45:46.

What a great feeling.  I was so elated, and coach Bob was there at the finish to congratulate me. I was third Master, as Susan had passed the number 2 woman just at the end.   

McKenzie River 50k

Three short weeks after Where's Waldo, I found myself around a campfire near the start line for the McKenzie River Trail 50k.  It was the night before the race and it was fun exchanging the normal jibes, but the fun story was the description of my latest bodily assault - the discovery of a fish tapeworm.  Details are rather unsavory, so I will withhold specifics unless asked about.  It was indeed from eating raw or undercooked fish, most likely (in my mind) from salmon.  Friend Tommy Atkins asked me if I had named it, to which I replied "no, but my mom thinks I should".  After some moments of silence Dan "Tapeworm" Olmstead said "I think you should name it Dan-O".  And thus, my tapeworm was christened Dan-O.

 Diphyllobothrium "Dan-O" latum

I slept  well enough and woke to a promising day of clear skies and mild temperatures.  Holding the course record of 3:58, naturally I wanted to run at least that fast, but I didn't particularly rest up for a fast day, as I had a marathon coming up in 3 weeks that was a priority.  However, I didn't want Craig to reach his goal - which was to beat me.  He didn't feel as if he was in sub-4:00 shape, so it could turn out to be a good race.

The start was moved this year, and an extra distance in the out and back section to make up for some course obstacles.  After a good warm up we were lined up and set off on our merry way.  The new start gave ample time to spread out before reaching the single track.  Craig and I fell into a good pace together, and he fell in behind when we hit the trail.  I was feeling pretty good and felt Craig slowly losing ground.  By the time we reached Clear Lake I was fairly isolated.  I could hear voices behind me and see no one ahead.  I continued trying to put distance between me and the voices.  Reaching the out and back section of the trail, I began seeing the early starters, and it was fun exchanging encouragements.  At aid station one, I handed Tommy and gel and asked him to open it for me for when I came back through.  I ran on into the extended out and back section which included a significant climb, finally seeing the lead men, including Dan-O the man, not the worm.

Reaching the turn around I gratefully turned to barrel back down the hill.  I soon saw Craig leading a train of runners up.  He playfully bowed as did the rest of the gang, giving me a sense of  "oh brother".  I encountered a few women, including Denise Bourosa, and Linda Samet, all looking strong.  Back at the aid station, Tommy was ready with my gel.  I  choked it down on my way across the bridge, encountering a great deal of runners on their way out.  The next section of trail was quite sweet going in the slightly downhill direction, and I focused on a good cruising pace.  After getting to the end of the out and back, I was no longer greeted by runners, and there were no footsteps from behind.  I kept checking my pace on the Garmin, disappointed, as usual, at the pace it was recording.  I knew the trees and turns in the trail made for poor reception and I should just forget about it. 

Through the cabins at Clear Lake and all the way to the west end of the lake, I ran alone, passing some cheerful early starters.  Winding my way to the highway, I caught a glimpse of Win Goodbody's blue jersey, and focused on keeping ahead.  I crossed the highway again, and made my way to the next aid station.  The volunteers were awesome, helpful, and even opened my gel for me, as even if I am not in a frenzy I find them difficult to get into.  And while I know they are so great at keeping energy levels up, I never feel like I won a prize by finally getting the contents in my mouth. 

I crossed the river, and hit the next technical section, feeling decent, and alone again.  With the aid station locations changed a bit, as well as the start and finish, I didn't really know how close I was to a sub-4:00 hour pace.  The average on the Garmin was indicating that I was far enough off even with it's stingy nature, I was pretty sure it wouldn't happen today.  The race was feeling a little uneventful, until I finally reached the Trail Bridge aid station, just as William Swint was catching me.  I was surprised to see April and Phil - I was pretty sure they had started the race - helping at the aid station.  They both had suffered some injury early on, and turned their race into a volunteer opportunity.  This was fortunate for me, as I found out later.  I left the aid station with William right behind me, and found out later that Craig was less than a minute back.  April told him I had been there 15 minutes ago to see if she could deflate him a bit.  Not that he believed her, but it was fun, none-the-less.

Mikio soon caught up to William and I, panting and exclaiming how hard he had to work to catch us.  I offered the lead to William, but he declined, saying he just want to hang on  as long as possible.  I found myself running hard again, perhaps because I had someone pushing me, or maybe I was just having a good surge.  At the next aid station, I fueled up and ran out, yelling to William and  Mikio to hurry, but they did not respond.  Alone again, I was getting anxious to get this over with.  I was unsure but thought I had about 8 miles left.  Finally at the last aid station, I caught one of the lead men, putting on a good death march.  As soon as he saw me, he fell in behind.  I asked him if he wanted to lead, and again, no, he just wanted to see if he could hang on.  About that time, Mikio caught back up.  I tried to run them both ragged, and we finally got to the last turn onto the gravel road close to the finish.  I could see a climb ahead, and was pretty sure I could get out kicked by most male runners, so I knew I had to push as hard as I could from this point on.  Mikio fell off pace, but my other companion answered by gradually pulling away ahead of me.  Still wanting to keep ahead of Mikio, I did not let up.  Cresting the small hill, I could see the finish and let my legs go as hard as they would.  I crossed in 4:10 - not bad, not what I wanted time wise, but my times rarely are.  It's one thing I enjoy in racing - setting the bar high.  It is so rare to hit my target time, that it is super sweet when I do!

And, yes, I beat Craig - let's see what was his time?  4:19?  And barely escaped being double chicked!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Where's Waldo 2010

I wasn't planning on running Waldo this year, as I had committed to co-RDs Craig Thornley and Curt Ringstad that I would be learning the RD ropes, shadowing Curt and helping him mark the course, with the plan of me taking his place the following year.  I had just finished White River 50 mile and was telling Craig what races I would enter that were in the Montrail Ultra Cup next year, when he asked if I would be interested in racing Waldo after all.  I squealed on the inside, but calmly reminded him that I said I would be helping with the race, and I am a woman of my word.  He pushed it a little more, and I said if he wanted me to, I would in a heart beat, and after he consulted with Curt, it was a done deal.  Thus it was that I toed the line for my sixth and potentially final Where's Waldo.

The evening before the race was rich with friends offering support, love, and condolences over the recent loss of my husband Brian.  I felt such gratitude, and there was no better place for me to be at that time. 

Race morning was clear and cool and dark. I felt pretty good, energetic, positive.  I enjoyed the camaraderie and pre-race energy.  Sunsweet teammates Jeff Riley, Dan Olmstead, and Lewis Taylor were all donning  numbers as well.  John Ticer, my pacer and crew for the day, was there for instruction.  I have him my bag with bottles and gels.  We got started at 5:00 am sharp, and I ran the entire first climb, for the first time ever.  I was stoked to feel that good, and had Joelle's CR splits on my brain.  I cruised along the Skyline trail to the Maiden Peak trail all the way down to Gold Lake aid station.  I was relaxed, feeling fine, and at 1:08.  That wasn't particularly grand, but the day had just begun.  Maybe I was being a little too relaxed?

I handed my lights to John, traded my empty bottle for a full one, and hit the trail for Fuji.  I was again running sections I don't normally run, but not feeling like I was working too hard.  Finally arriving at Fuji aid station up, I left my bottle with a volunteer to pick up on the way back down from summitting Fuji.  My split here was also less than remarkable - 2:03 to Joelle's 1:57.  But I was having fun!  I got  to the top, to the encouragement of Craig and Greyson,  posed for a quick picture, then headed back down.  Before I had gone 50 yards, here came Amy Sproston, looking very good.  We encouraged each other in passing, and I focused on getting back to the Fuji aid station as quickly as possible.  I met many other friends on my way down, which is one of my favorite things about this section of the race.  I grabbed my waiting bottle, and hoped for a fast flight down to Mt Ray aid station.  Behind me was Aaron - a friend of Amy's from the east coast, and we ran close to each other through the thick woods, steep down hills, through pothole meadow, until finally I had to take a bathroom break.  I emerged from the bushes and surged the last bit to the aid station , just as Amy caught up to me.  We got there at 3:22 - a far cry from Joelle's 3:12, and I realized I needed to let go of any CR obsessions and just stay focused and positive.

John was there with my bottles and offering anything else I might want.  As quickly as possible, Amy and I left the aid station together, and took a couple of miles to get to know each other a bit.  After reaching the Bobby Lakes trail, Amy pulled away, running ups and downs equally impressively.  I, however, felt a bit sucky.  I starting analyzing, and yes, I had a full plate the past few months, but the real problem for me was altitude and not training on the course.  I knew it was early still and to just keep my wits about me.  Turning north onto the PCT, I continued ambling on, looking for the Twins aid station signs, usually WAY too soon before the actual aid station.  Thankfully this year there were no signs and suddenly it appeared around a bend in the trail.  The volunteers were all over me, filling bottles, handing me gels, and reporting that Amy left 3 minutes ago.  That didn't sound insurmountable, but I had no idea how she was feeling.  I forged on, passing more early starters (go Erin and Annie!) eyes straining for Charleton Lake.  I was pushing pretty hard, thinking it must be around the next corner.  I finally arrived to one of the most electrifying aid stations of all.  Craig was there again, asking how I felt.  "A little tired, but not too bad."  I 'posed' for a quick picture, then met with John.  He had my bottles ready to go.  Word on the street was that Amy was only 30 seconds ahead.

Charleton Lake - photo by Craig Thornley

I told John I was a little tired, but somehow he got my wheels turning.  Shortly after, he spotted Amy ahead.  We didn't speed up, just kept the good clip going.  We soon caught and passed her.  "John, just so you know, I am pretty sure I have never run this section this hard."  I guessed we were at a low enough altitude in this section that I wasn't suffering from lack of oxygen, so definitely took advantage.  We pushed the pace all the way to the aid station at 4290 - at 8:39 pace - the fastest I had ever run this section.  Having a pacer was proving to be a good move.  We made it out of the aid station of couple of minutes ahead of Amy.

John continued to remind me to take gels every 30 minutes, made sure I was drinking and taking salt.  He would pull ahead and never let me relax.  This is a long, seemingly unending section.  Not so steep that it's all a hike, so many times John would break into a run, while I groaned inwardly but tried to follow suit.  Occasionally I would look back, as would John, but there was no one in sight.  Finally cresting to the Twin's saddle, we picked up downhill momentum all the way down to the aid station.  Again,  we were all business, filling bottles, bellies, and then flew out.  The downhill felt good going south on the PCT, and soon I saw Victor Ballesteros ahead.  He heard me coming and picked up a faster gear,  dropping John and I for good.  

The Pacific Crest Trail was slightly uphill now until we reached the Maiden Peak aid station.  Finally we were greeted by voluteers, one of which was KMTR's weather man Joseph Galbraith (fun seeing famous people!) who ran ahead with my bottles to fill them and get us ready to get out of the aid station and on our way on the final, long climb up to Maiden Peak.

John led me out, and pulled me and pulled me all the way.  It was quite a struggle, one of the slowest ascents I'd ever had.  Still, I didn't hear anyone from behind.  Finally getting near the summit, we were greeted by Hannah Shallice, who cheered and pointed us in the direction to the top.  Nearly there, Aaron was on his way down.  We exchanged encouraging words, and soon afterwords I heard him encourage another runner.  Crap!  It must be Amy gaining on me!  I made it up to the top, checked in with Kelly Woodke, turned around and in about 1 minute ran into Amy on her way up!  Yikes!

I carefully danced my way down through the loose big gravel.  We passed by Hannah and onto Leap of Faith trail.  Incredibly focused, I made it through the technical sections onto the scree hill and went as fast as possible.  I was barreling downhill like a woman possessed, and just above the Maiden Lake aid station was greeted by Ed and Julie, the blowing of the warning horn that we were coming.  Barb Ringstad and other lovely ladies greeted us.  I was so concerned about being caught by Amy that I wouldn't even let Barb hug me.  I grabbed at gels, frappacinos and Gu Brew, and as we were leaving, heard the warning horn, letting me know that Amy was nearing.

The slight uphill out of there about blew my wad.  John said "My coach once asked me 'how bad do you want it?'" and my inside little voice said "not very bad" but as soon we hit the downhill section, my legs started to roll.  I gained momentum and was able to push hard all the way to the PCT one more time.  John continued to pull me along, only glancing back occasionally.  I was afraid to look and asked John if he could see anyone, but he never did.  Just like the 4290 section, I ran harder than I ever had in this section.  I felt such relief when we reached the sign for the trail head, and turning toward the finish, cursed the head wind that always seem to be there at the end of this race.  I crossed the finish line in 10:52, only 4 minutes slower than my fastest time, and a whole 29 minutes slower than Joelle's CR. 

As I caught my breath and enjoyed being done, Amy finished just a few minutes behind.  We had had quite a day and had given the spectators and volunteers a little excitement.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Brian Lance Arbogast

April 10, 1945 — Aug. 9, 2010
Brian Lance Arbogast died Monday, Aug. 9, after a four-year battle with brain tumors. He was 65.  Brian was born on April 10, 1945, in Vancouver, Wash., to Levi Arbogast and Bonnie Smothers. He grew up in Northern California with his brother, Keith, and his sisters, Cynthia and Ronda. In 1965, he married Christine Elmendorf, with whom he had two sons, Ezra Jason and Zachary Orion. Brian and Christine later divorced.

From 1965 to 1968, Brian served as a Russian translator in the U.S. Air Force.  In 1974, he graduated cum laude from Southern Oregon College with a bachelor of arts degree in chemistry. Brian married Meghan Loree Canfield in 1985, with whom he had a daughter, Ruby Marie.

Brian was in the field of mass spectrometry at Oregon State University for 36 years, and was a highly respected expert at the regional and national level. Brian had a true leadership position in the Agricultural Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry facility, and was the pillar of its operation.  Never shy of developing analytical approaches, Brian pushed the technical boundaries, and put in extra time to tackle and solve challenges. He made significant contributions to the successes of many research programs and the careers of former students and postdoctoral researchers in the mass spectrometry facility. Brian’s dedication to providing exceptional services, in association with his outstanding knowledge of chemistry and analytical sciences, was invaluable to the facility, and resulted in many publications and millions of grant dollars awarded to the university. Taken together, Brian Arbogast demonstrated an exceptional level of competence and accomplishments in all three areas relevant to the mission of the mass spectrometry facility: research, service and education.  In 2009, he was awarded the OSU Outstanding Faculty Research Assistant Award.

Brian was an avid and talented trumpet player from a young age. He loved to “noodle” with jazz radio, and was the trumpet soloist for the Hilltop Big Band for many years. An enthusiastic mountain biker and runner, Brian completed several triathlons. At the age of 61, six months after his first brain surgery, he won his division in the Beaver Freezer Triathlon.  He shared his interest in athletics with Meghan, and was her key support provider during her many ultramarathon races. Brian is survived by his mother and father, sisters and brother, nieces and nephews, wife and three children. He will be dearly missed by his family, colleagues and the musical and distance-running communities.

Donations in his name can be made to the University of California San Francisco Brain Tumor Center.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

White River 50 Mile

Theresa was asking me about the upcoming 50 mile race - and after she realized it was not that crewable, and no pacers were allowed, asked "should I run it?"  Thus began a very fun weekend for two girls on a bit of an adventure.  I had run White River 50 Mile race twice, and had not been even a little satisfied with my performances.  But this year would be different.  I had been ultra running now long enough to feel like I was 'getting it', and had been running strong all year.  My goals were to break 8 hours (my previous times had been in the 8:30s), feel strong throughout, and especially finish running hard. 

The evening was spent discussing various strategies for Theresa, who had last run 50k nearly a year ago, and whose longest run this calendar was the Boston Marathon in April.  But she is strong, steady, and knows how to pace herself.  For my strategy, I studied splits from the fastest times for women (hey, why not, right?) and inked them on my hand, hoping to be somewhere in the vicinity.

Race morning we were up eating oatmeal and getting ourselves ready.  It was crisp outside, but not too cold.  At the start, it was the usual fun connecting with the ultra community, especially sometimes training partner and friend, John "Hot Newman" Ticer who's goal was to not get chicked my me.  On the men's side, Tony Krupicka showed up to deflate a few other top male runners, and the women's side, Amy Sproston and Pam Smith were the folks I knew the most about.  Finally shedding the warm-ups and standing at the start, RD Scott McCoubrey described the course.  "The race is pretty simple.  See that mountain over there (pointing high at the range to our left)? You're going to run up to the top of that and then come back. Then you'll run to the top of that mountain (pointing high at the range on our right)?  Pretty straight forward."  He then sent the chuckling runners off.

I fell in behind Amy, not wanting to get too excited, keep in control.  This first section is flat and twisty, and continued on through the beautiful thick woods to the first aid station.  I grabbed a gel and a big drink of water, letting Amy and another woman, Ashley from Colorado, slip away.  I was soon at the back of a train as we began the very long ascent.  The train eventually became more and more condensed, and conversations flowed.  I could see John in front of me, pulling ahead.  I followed my urge to pass the train I was in, putting me in front for the women.  I wasn't confident I would last, but I felt very good here, and felt myself gliding along, gapping one train and closing in on another and passing it as well.  Pretty much alone for awhile, Ashley eventually caught me and we chatted and ran together for many more of the miles up. It was her second 50 miler, and I thought she might be in trouble when she asked if we were on the second climb yet and had not even finished the first.

The lead men started to appear on their way back from the turn-around, with Tony in 2nd place.  Thinking he was being followed closely, I started to say "Good job guys!" but upon seeing only Tony, stopped at "Good job Guy" at the same time he said "Good job Meghan".  I was a bit embarrassed that he knew my name and I called him "Guy".   I finally arrived at the turnaround, filled my bottle, grabbed a gel, and seeing John, started back down behind him.  Amy was not far behind Ashley and I.  I saw more and more folks I knew on the out and back, and was very excited to see that Theresa was looking good and having fun.

We hit the water only aid station, I grabbed a gel and John and I scooted out.  Ashley had fallen off the pace, so I was in the lead with no one challenging me at the moment.  We hit the long switch back downhill section and I was enjoying the pace.  I kept checking my time compared to Susannah Beck's record pace splits.  I thought I must be getting close to the half way mark as I her split came and went, but it was not to be.  It was an 'aha' moment for me.  Fast is fast.  Susannah Beck is fast.  Very fast.  Ah, genetics.  I felt like I wouldn't even be in the same zip code if she were in the race by the time we reached the start/finish area for the beginning of the second part of the race.

But it was a race, and I was keen on keeping my position, regardless of the time.  The first climb after the flat section was a burner.  "That was special" I yelled back to Ticer, to which he mumbled "uh-huh".  I felt strong and steady, ran when it seemed faster than hiking, and made it to the next aid station with less effort than in the past.  I grabbed a bit of food, filled my bottle, and got out quickly, Ticer right behind.  We picked up one more in our train, Matt Simms, and continued strongly all the way to Suntop.

John Ticer and I near the summit of Suntop - photo by Glenn Tachiyama

Excited to be at the final summit, I grabbed beverage and gel and hit the road.  The long downhill ahead was beckoning, and I hoped to put some distance on John here.  It was not to be.  He caught me, and encouraged me to keep up.  I was running fast, but soreness in my feet was starting to build.  Not that it would have mattered as I watched John gently glide away.  Dang - he was running well!

My stomach was urging me to jump in the bushes but somehow I convinced it to stay together.  I made it to the bottom of the 7 mile downhill, and John was no where in sight.  I had glanced over my shoulder and didn't see anyone in pursuit.  I filled bottles at the final aid station and set about to put my plan in place - run hard for the last 6.6 miles.  I was already out for over 7 hours, so my sub 8 goal was looking bleak. But my legs did feel strong and I pushed hard.  Twisting in and out, over roots, eyes stretching ahead, I tried not looking at my watch more than every 5 minutes.  This proved to be more difficult that I thought, and the final miles seemed to go on FOREVER.  I was pleasantly surprised to catch a glimpse of John just ahead and when I finally caught him, he was thinking the same thing - will this ever end?  I went ahead of him and kept pushing with him on my heels.  Each  bridge we crossed seemed just like the last bridge we had crossed, like some cruel joke.  At last we reached the road that would take us to the finish.  "Go ahead John!  Don't wait for me."  But he would not leave, and continued to egg me on to the finish.  As I finally picked it up, he muttered "now that's what I'm talkin' about".  We crossed the finish line in 8:10.  Pretty far off from my goal, but a good 20+ minutes ahead of my best time here.

John and I finishing - photo by John Wallace III
Scott was there with warm congratulations, and I spent the next few whiles recovering and waiting for Theresa to finish.   I thought she would be in under 10 hours, and at about 9:30 I heard John yell "It's Theresa!"  We hooted and hollered her in, and I was pleased to see her Sunsweet Jersey covered in dirt and felt like I had handed her the torch for keeper of the dirty jersey.  She had tumbled at least 6 times, but managed to be 7th woman and rake in $400.  Pretty good for racing on a whim and somewhat "off of the couch". 

Theresa Ridgway finishing 7th!  Photo by John Wallace III

I was satisfied in many ways, but came away still wanting to break 8 hours on this course.  Time to hit the gym.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Western States 2010

Western States 2010 arrived and I was ready. Training had gone well, racing had been good, I was tapered and recovered from a cold just in time. Craig Thornley, training partner and mentor, told me in May "just go win this thing!" I had several friends believing I could, and although no amount of anyone's wishing or predicting can make it happen, it was extremely flattering and boosted my confidence. I decided to take a risk early and try to stay with Craig from the start. His fast splits were for running 18:30, much faster than my best of 20:50, but I was ready to give it a go.

Morning temps were just a bit nippy, but the forecast was for the 90's later. The sky was clear and filled with stars. I found Craig and the Jiz (Andy Jones-Wilkins) near the start line. We greeted many of our running companions and competitors as the clock wound down, and crunched in close while Tim Twietmeyer and Gordy Ansleigh each said a few words before the horn sounded.

Craig, myself, AJW - photo by Monkey Boy

The gun went off, and I stuck like glue to Craig.  He was already running sections I would normally hike but I was committed to trying.  The altitude was having it's usually affect on me, but it seemed that it wasn't so much for everyone around me.  Joelle Vaught, Nikki Kimball, and Devon Crosby-Helms all glided by seemingly unaffected, while my lungs burned and legs protested.   I hung on to Craig's pace for about 2 miles, then let him pull ahead.  Reaching the final steep climb before the summit, I began to hear the haunting sound of Chris Thornley's gong, beckoning us up into the sun.  He was offering a mallet to anyone who wanted a go, and I was happy to give it a go.

At the top, I was relieved to find as my legs unfolded they weren't wrecked by my ridiculous early effort.  It wasn't long before we were fumbling and sliding through the snow fields.  I remained cautious, nevertheless, I took a few sliders, burning my skin in the process.  The snow was very icy!  As I continued pussy-footing through, Sunsweeter Alan Abbs came galloping by as if he were running on pavement.  I scolded him for passing me so early.  The snow and streams filling the trail continued on.  Any attempts early to avoid wet feet were abandoned early, and I hoped I wouldn't end up up with blisters.
 Just past the summit of Emigrant Gap - photo by Olga

Reaching the beginning of the snow course, an altered route created due to the difficulty of access for the aid stations in the snow, we began running on a gravel road that was basically down hill for 3 miles.  I caught and passed Alan, teasing him for going to fast.  I was not in a lot of company, and there were no women around.  I guessed there were 4 women ahead - Tracy Garneau, Joelle Vaught, Nikki Kimball, and Devon Crosby-Helms.  At the aid station I ate a gu, took an S!Cap, and had my bottles filled with Gu Brew.  No one told me my place or how far the women ahead were, so I guessed they were pretty far.  We had more road now,  and I could see Simon Mtuy ahead.  The road went on for several miles, and even though we were lower than the original course, I still struggled, anxiously awaiting the heavier air of lower elevation.  Simon maintained his distance, and we caught at least one runner before the final turn to the next aid station.  I had been keeping up with Gu and S!Caps, so just refilled my bottles, and finally hit the Poppy Trail.  

The trail was awesome.  Relatively flat, twisty, soft, tree covered, and easy on the eyes.  I was loving it.  I slowly reeled in a runner or two, and was caught by a runner, who chose to stay behind and have me set the pace.  Eventually we broke out of the trees into the sun, and I was surprised at how it was heating up.  We headed up a long grind of chopped and chewed up trail, me leading with a train behind.  I knew we were close to Duncan Canyon aid station when I saw Glenn Tachiyama taking photos.  I yelled out "Hey Glenn! I'm still clean!" referring to the big mess I was last year after my face plant.

A Clean Me!  Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

Arriving at the Duncan Canyon aid station, I was happy to see Dan and Theresa.  Theresa was there with the facts (I was behind Craig by about 4 minutes) and was indeed 5th woman, with Nikki and Devon not too far ahead.  I shed gloves and arm warmers, filled my bottles, and headed out.

Duncan Canyon can be hot, but the temperatures were still fairly mild.  I wound my way along, finally hitting the downhill into the canyon.  The creek at the bottom was deeper than I remember seeing it, and one runner was standing in it, unsure of how to cross.  I plowed through, managing to stay upright.  The cold water felt good, even if it did fill my shoes.  Once on the other side, I had 2 runners behind me, content to let me set the pace.  We caught another runner, and on the downhill I was patient for not very long, before I asked to go around.  I floated down the rocky trail, and ran into Ian Torrence who was having difficulties.  His cheerful demeanor remained, nonetheless.  Another stream crossing then the long steep climb out.  I introduced myself to the runner who had stayed with me since before Duncan Canyon aid station - Brad from Massachusetts.  It was his first 100 miler, and he was a little worried about his knee holding up.  We stayed together a bit longer, then I pulled away in a water filled trail, plowing through it without regard for the wetness.  Ahead I spotted Devon, and felt as if I would be catching her soon.  Finally hearing the festive sounds of Robinson Flat aid station, I ran over the snow mounds, getting off course slightly, then finding the flagging one more time, crossed the bridge into the welcoming crowds.  Bev Anderson-Abbs, sidelined with a knee injury, gave me a shout out, commending me on my work thus far.  I handed my bottles to the aid station folks, and had my first weigh in.  120 lbs - up 4 lbs from the day before.  I attributed it to my water logged shoes and scale inconsistency, and I was feeling good enough, so they let me go.  Laurie Thornley was eagerly offering to fill my bottles, and I assured her that was done.  Crew member Ed Willson was ready with some chocolate milk and PB and J, plus the all important stats.  He gave me all the women's splits, but I need to know where Craig was, as he was my theorhetical 'pacer'.  He was 4 minutes ahead, so not gapping me further.  Tracy was 22 minutes ahead, Joelle a few minutes back from her.  Nikki was 4 minutes ahead, and Devon was in eyesight.

I left the warmth of the supportive crowd onto the road,  up several mounds of snow, trying not to waste energy pushing the pace on the soft surface.  Winding up towards Little Bald Mountain, I finally caught up to Devon.  She was having stomach issues, and while explaining them we followed the footsteps up a direction I didn't think made sense.  But since there were footsteps, we kept going, until 3 men came running back, saying it was the wrong way.  After contemplating the situation for a moment or two, we turned back and eventually found the correct way.  I should have known better from the past.  I started down, with a train of 4 runners behind.  We ran the switch backs comfortably.  At the bottom, Devon easily glided out of sight, while I tried to keep my breathing in control, still struggling with altitude.  I found myself running along side Tim from Colorado, and we chatted all the way to Miller's Defeat aid station.  I was updated there with only that I was breathing down Devon's neck, so assumed the other gal's had been through much earlier.  The 2.7 miles into Dusty Corners eventually came to an end, into a welcoming aid station, with Dan and Theresa ready to meet my every need.  I drank chocolate milk, nibbled a sandwich, and asked Theresa to fill my bandana with ice, as it was heating up.  My bottles were filled with ice and Gu Brew, and I shuffled down the road.

 Coming into Dusty Corners - Photo by Olga

Turning onto Pucker Point Trail, I was coming into my struggle zone.  I tried to relax and float, but I didn't feel very good.  I took another S!Cap (I had been taking it at least once per hour) and pushed on.  I was completely alone and wishing the trail would end.  It was seemingly the longest section in the race. Eventually I caught and passed Chikara Omine, apparently feeling even worse than I.  I heard another runner coming behind me, and hoped it wasn't a woman.  It was Tim from Colorado again.  He let me set the pace for quite awhile, then offered to pull for awhile.  I hung on for awhile, then let him pull ahead.  I was still feeling crummy, so took another S!Cap and more Gu.  Eventually hitting the gravel road to Last Chance, I was able to cruise downhill into the aid station.  Another weight check - 121 - high, but  I told them that was my weight at Robinson Flat, that I was taking salt, and that I felt okay.  Bottles and bandana filled with ice, I was once again on my way, looking forward to the next downhill section.

I hit the "Precipitous" trail down to the swinging bridge at the bottom of Deadwood Canyon, not as lively as I had hoped, but no major complaints.  My legs were holding up and I didn't have any major blisters or hot spots.  It was heating up in the canyon, but not unbearably.  There was no one within sight or hearing distance.  I glanced at my watch when I reached the bridge, 12:48, and gave myself a generous 40 minutes to get up to the Devil's Thumb aid station - an incredibly long, slow, steep climb.  About half way up, I heard a "Hello!", looked up, and saw Devon looking down on me.  "Hey - what's up?"  She was in some trouble with breathing difficulties and unable to eat or drink.  When I caught up to her, I assured her the aid station folks were fix her up.  She told me Nikki was just ahead, which surprised me.  I hiked and jogged on up, and saw Nikki just before the top.  I got there in 37 minutes, which I was content with.  Once there, I weighed in - 120 - took another S!Cap and Gu, got my bottles filled, drank some coke, and ran out, encouraging Nikki to come along.

Ahead of me, Simon was gently loping along with his long legs.  Before the next long descent into El Dorado canyon, I moved ahead of him, and began to let myself fly with the gravity.   I enjoyed it from a subjective standpoint, but I felt nauseous.  I kept downing the fluids, and took more S!Caps.  I felt pretty much alone, until I caught Matt Simms.  We chatted briefly, and reached the bottom of the canyon about the same time.  After refilling again, I began the long hike up to Michigan Bluff.  Matt stayed with me about half way, and we caught and passed a few runners along the way.  One runner passed me running, which was impressive in this section, but when he started vomiting while running, I wasn't as impressed.  Next time I saw him was sitting in the only creek on the climb out, cooling his core.  Afterward, he was back to his jogging, but seemed to have his stomach under control.  I felt fairly decent now, and looked at my watch.  It was nearly 3:00 now, and I had mentioned to my crew how cool it would be for me to get there by 3:00.  I wasn't going to make it, but certainly the earliest I had ever been there.  Finally seeing the landmark "U" tree (a tall evergreen that bifurcates from the main trunk into a "U" shape), I ran the rest of the way into Michigan Bluff.  Olga was there, and asked me "what did you do to those girls?" to which I replied "they did it to themselves".

 Climbing out of El Dorado Canyon to Michigan Bluff - photo by Olga

I weighed in again - 121.  So I was maintaining a steady weight.  My crew was all there now - Theresa worked on getting my bandana ready, Dan handed me the chocolate milk, I turned my nose at the sandwich and  Ed wiped my legs off.  I was in third place, and Craig was again, 4 minutes ahead, having stopped for a generous rest and downright pampering from his crew.  Jeff Riley came out and he, Theresa, Ed, and Dan ran me up the street.  The crowd was again SO enthusiastic, it carried me out.

Craig "Lord Balls" Thornley and his Courtiers

Once on Gorman Ranch Road, I kept running the flats and downhills, looking forward to hiking the climbs.  I caught and met for the first time Justin Angle.  We chatted for a bit, he not having such a great day, but he pulled ahead as we hit the trail, and vanished from sight once we hit the trail down into Volcano Canyon.  Alone again I focused on soft landings, and keeping the nausea at bay best I could.  Reaching Volcano Creek, I waded across the creek, foregoing my normal full submersion, as I was not unbearably hot and didn't want to take the time.   I was soon at the bottom of Bath Road, where Ed and Theresa were waiting with good cheer and enthusiasm. Theresa stayed a few steps in front, pulling me along and not letting me get lazy.  The plan for arriving at Forest Hill were to get some soup, coke, fill my bottles, get weighed in, and get going.  As I arrived, I heard Nikki Kimball's name being called, and later realized that they had mistaken me for her.  While I was getting my things, Rory Bosio came running in - she was doing great in her first 100, and I was happy to see her. 

My crew was working hard on getting me focused and running again, and so we were finally running down to the California Street section.  I saw many friends before we hit the trail, including Craig's crew, who encouraged me to catch him.  It was so great finally having Theresa to run with.  We ran pretty quick until the first uphill, and I felt like I got hit by a truck.  UGH.  I complained and apologized to Theresa for going so slow, and she would have none of it, telling me I was doing great.  I could hear Rory behind us, and managed to hold her off, although we arrived at Cal 1 aid station at the same time.   While looking over all of the food, I mentioned that I hadn't been eating much and nothing looked good, and one of the volunteers took it seriously enough to insist that I eat something.  I grabbed a PB and J quarter, and nibbled.  It was sticking in my mouth, and I didn't want more.  And as if Brian were actually there, he said "One more bite!  You have to eat if you are going to finish."  I obliged, knowing he was right, and Theresa and I were on our way again. 

Simon and his pacer were not far from us, and through the next 2 aid stations we exchanged leads back and forth, enjoying the camaraderie.  Theresa knew I was struggling with nausea, so continued telling me stories and updating me on her life, while I silently worked on keeping my stomach together.  I lamented to her that I was feeling slow, and thought I was going to have a 4 hour split to the river.  When I finally did the math correctly, I realized I was off by an hour, and my demeanor immediately changed.  Low three hours for me was faster than I have run this section.  Close to the river, I could hear Ed yelling from the other side.  We were both very excited to have made it to the river by 7:30 ish.


Theresa and me at the River - photo by Gary Wang

After another weigh in, we made our way down to the boat, and Theresa and I got a ride over quickly.  Again, my crew was doing their best to keep me focused and get going.  I had a little potato soup, put my light on my head, put my vest on with S!Caps, a spare light and more Gu.  My entourage and I headed for the Green Gate, with Simon not far ahead.  Dan would break into a jog when the road wasn't so steep, and Theresa and I followed suit, but I would pull the plug when it felt too hard.  

At the Green Gate, I needed no aid, and just as Dan and I were ready to head down the trail, I spied Caren Spore right behind me.   Stunned, I said "What are you doing here?"  I had not seen her all day, and figured I was well ahead.  Swallowing the humble pie, I looked at Dan and said "we have to go NOW!"  Knowing that Caren's strength is running up every hill, and her weakness is not much momentum on the down, we hit the downhills with enthusiasm on Dan's part and fear on mine.  The air was cooling and my stomach not as queasy, but not golden.  Dan told me a few stories, and kept the pace honest.  His natural speed and foot placement was keeping me focused.  I put my feet where his just left.  If he ever pulled too far ahead he eased up just a bit.  He coached me on the uphills ("use your glutes!") and reminded me when it had been 30 minutes since my last Gu.  I was still popping S!Caps, which would ease my nausea.  

Ahead I was surprised to see that in my attempts to outrun Caren, we had caught up to Joelle Vaught.  I told Dan we didn't need to chase her down, but keep the steady effort.  In a few minutes we caught her.  She was in good spirits, but tired from the long day.  We cruised by, and in short order, caught Rory.  She too, was running out of gas, but we encouraged each other on.  By the time I got to Auburn Lake Trails aid station I was in 2nd place, and feeling on fire.  The weigh-in caused a hiccup, as I was now 123.  I tried to assure the folks that yes, I had been taking S!Caps, yes, I had been peeing, and would you please let me go I just got in to 2nd place!?!  The man most concerned asked if he could watch me actually take an S!Cap, he would let me go.  Happy to oblige, I downed one and out we went. 

Now it was pretty dark, so when we caught the next runner/pacer, it wasn't clear who it was.  I asked Dan "is that Craig?" and he didn't think so.  We got right on their heels and when the pacer said "let us know when you want by."  It was indeed Craig and pacer John Ticer.  Craig was having a pretty bad patch, and  I teased him when I went by with a  "Let's go honey!"  He cheered us on, and we kept pushing the pace, as I was still worried about Caren catching us.  Brown's Bar aid station was loud, and we got out quickly, heading down the steep rocky trail to the quarry road next to the river.  Once there I was surprised to find myself running the uphills and feeling pretty decent.  We kept a steady effort even up the mile long rocky climb, and then the trail to highway 49.  I was pretty stoked now, feeling like 2nd place was a real possibility.  

My crew and Craig's were all that I could hear and see when we came into the aid station, a mere 7 miles from the finish.  Quickly in and out, Dan and I forged on.  We ran fairly silently, me focused on his foot placement, and he sensing where I was and not letting the distance between us ever get too far.  Approaching the descent to No Hands Bridge, Dan saw the lighted spectacle for the first time, surprised.  At the aid station I was grabbing a Gu when I saw Ed and Theresa - what were they doing here?  I anticipated seeing them no sooner than Robie Point.  Ed said "Nikki was 5 minutes back at highway 49."  Yikes!  I gulped the Gu and water, and we headed across the bridge.  Dan reined me in not wanting me to blow up in my attempt to put more space between us and Nikki.  We had a good steady pace all the way to Robie Point, and for once it actually didn't feel that long.  There were no headlights behind us, but I wasn't taking chances.  We started running up the road until it got real steep, walked for a bit, then started running again, meeting Ed and Theresa who said Nikki was 4 minutes back at No Hands. 

I kept running and saying "I just need to get to the white bridge", and finally, there it was.  I opened up my stride and cruised to the track.  I hit the nice soft surface and turned on whatever after burners I had.  Having no idea what my time was, I was tickled to see 19:15 as I rounded the track.  The seconds were ticking, so I went hard to keep it at the 15.

A rather maniacal finish - photo by Olga

Tim Twietmeyer was working the finish line, and I'm pretty sure he had no idea what I was talking about when I told him that I like his model better than what I just ran.  He was very successful racing/winning by biding his time early in the race, then picking off runners in the latter portions of the race.  Even thought I did pick some off, I suffered through sections that I would rather cruise and enjoy.  

Me telling Tim I need to run like him next time.  Photo by Olga

As part of the hyponatremia study, my blood was sampled for sodium, and even though I had at least 25 S!Caps during the day, I was still low.  I think if I had heat trained I may have not lost so much.  

Dan and I staying up waiting for by Dan's Mom!

All in all, my best Western States ever.  I feel like maybe I finally 'got it', but at 49 years old, time is running out.  I will be back next year, still racing hard, and not acting my age.