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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Dear Meghan..." Take Two

This is the second in a series of synchroblog posts regarding the Western States Endurance Run (WSER).

BK asks: "How do you take care of your feet in a 100 mile race? Tape, powder, lube, socks, blister care or not, water crossings (sock/shoe changes or not). Toe paint?"


Some runners have their brothers tape their toes to kingdom come.  Personally, I experiment with socks during training to find those that serve me well for the miles, and I suggest you do the same.  Train in a couple models of shoes that work well for you. Then have at least one back up pair you can change into if you start getting a hot spot, or they get too wet for comfort.  I like to change my shoes after crossing the river just for comfort.  Stay on top of your sodium status, as hyponatremia can cause swelling in the feet, which will lead to increased friction in your shoes, thus the likelihood of blisters. My first WS experience included a long episode of hyponatremia, followed by heavily blistered feet, and resulted in walking most of the last 10 miles of the race.  To diminish the amount of fine grit that gets in your shoes, invest in gaitors.

I think the most important thing is to  pay attention to the symptoms early on.  If you feel a hot spot, attend to it ASAP.  It isn't going to disappear by ignoring it.  The aid stations are well equipped with volunteers to help you out if you don't have crew, expertise, or supplies. 

I use toe paint to make these ugly dogs feel pretty for one day.


Joe Lee asks: "I’m currently training for WS100 2010. I’m kind of weird about the whole pacers and crew thing because I prefer to run alone and I don’t have much use for a crew. I kind of want WS to be virgin territory for my first attempt at it so I’m not planing on training there. I guess my question is: How much time am I going to sacrifice by taking this meathead approach? Is it easy to get lost on this course?"


You may not lose any time if you can refuel and rehydrate throughout the event with what is available at the aid stations, so at least try to have a grasp on what they provide, and know what works for you.  Plan ahead for scenarios that require problem solving (blisters, hyponatremia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, fatigue and lack of motivation).  Be prepared for running in the dark with your own back up lights.  Runners have gotten off course, even if they have experienced the course before, either in training or racing, so I suggest you don't go in so blind as to not study the map.  Having to be searched and rescued would be a pretty big price to pay.  
Follow the Western States Trail

Good luck,

GG to PHS Runner asks: "Do you think that riding a bicycle, in addition to downhill/heat training would be beneficial? I was thinking about doing a 100mi mountain bike race a few weeks after WS, and that the dual training might be beneficial. Of course, I don't want to break my ribs or a pinky or something like that, where it might hinder my running. But then again, I can a bike without falling down repeatedly- I mean, who can't ride a bike without falling, know what I mean?  Any suggestions you have, would be appreciated."

Green Gate,

Get your priorities straight.  Cross training is for sissies and for runners who need an excuse for poor race results mid-season.  The excuses I have heard make my eyes roll ("my legs are trashed from my 30 mile bike ride", "my pinky is crooked", "it hurts to breath"). Run Western States, then train 2 weeks for the bicycle race.  A 100 mile mountain bike race should be a Cream Puff if you are as talented as you say.


This is the second in a series of synchroblogs leading up to the 2010 WSER. Other posts include:

Craig Thornley
Andy Jones-Wilkens 
Hal Koerner

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chuckanut 50k

In January, I had a few rare days where I was running better than Sunsweet teammate Craig Thornley.  At some point he claimed I would beat him at Chuckanut.  I begged to differ, but then embraced the idea as I found myself dropping him on more than one occasion.  Granted, he did beat me in a 4 mile race in February, but I was not phased, even when he boasted a sub 4:00 50k at Pemberton one week later.  He was, however, a bit shaken by my 2:46 marathon. 

So when Chuckanut race day arrived, we had been trash talkin' for a good amount of time.  My race goals were to run faster than the current course record (4:34), run the last 6.5 miles as a hard tempo, and in the process, beat Craig. 

I had the good fortune of bringing my running partner and friend Erica Pohl to crew for me.  She diligently wrote out each aid station time frame of arrival, figured out where to drive, where to hike, what I would need, and was really on top of things for me. 

The day dawned clear, calm, and chilly.  When I warmed up, I ran into Susannah Beck.  Claiming to be not too fit, and wondering if I had recovered from Napa, I was sure she would be up  in the front.  Her talent carries her far regardless of her mileage.  I determined who the course record holder, Ellie Greenwood was.  When the race was about to start, I gave Craig a hug, trying to bruise his already bruised ribs (biking accident), and wished him luck. 

The race started, and I tried to stay contained.  I could see Susannah in her kilt, and Ellie, pulling ahead, and another female runner unknown to me.  As we cruised onto the lightly graveled Interurban Trail.  My heart rate was freakishly high.  I was running with Craig at this point, telling him "that is one caffeinated heart rate".  It was above my so called max, but breathing was easy.  It finally came down to a reasonable level.  I was trying to get to aid station 1 in 45 minutes or so, given the course description (flat) but as is often the case, flat can mean 'flat with some hills thrown in for good measure'.  I kept seeing Ellie ahead, and gradually pulled away from Craig.  Just before the first aid station, I met Hal Koerner and Joe Grant racing side by side at the only out and back section of the course.  As I cruised in, Erica was there with a fresh bottle for me, and a gel.  She said I was fifth woman.  My split was 45 and change, so I felt satisfied.  I went back out, and met many a runner on their way in.  Then a sharp turn off the Interurban to a long, gradual, but runnable climb. 

Climbing is not my forte, and I also didn't want to use up my legs early on.  I stayed in control, getting passed by a few guys.  The trail switchbacked a number of times, and I could see Craig below.  Finally he yelled up to me "How is the marathon treating your legs?"  I told him "Great!".  He didn't quite catch me by the time I got to the top, so I was safe for awhile.  The single track was nice and runnable.  I didn't do a good job remembering aid station distances, and after awhile was afraid we had missed one.  I waited for Craig, mentioning my concern, but he was sure there wasn't anywhere we could have turned.  We cruised into aid station 2, Erica there waiting with more gel (would you like the Mountain Huckleberry?), and we ran out together on a long slow climb.  Only I was going slower.  I asked Craig how my marathon was treating his legs, and he said "they're tired!" as he pulled ahead.  Oh well, I thought.  I may not see him again until the end.

Keeping myself contained, I pulled into aid station 3 - very minimal and difficult for crew to get to.  Erica said she wouldn't make it to that one.  I grabbed a gel, choked it down (yummy) and continued on.  Craig had a pretty good lead on me, and I couldn't see any women.  Finally I reached the best part of the course - the Chuckanut Mountain Ridge trail.  It was very technical - roots, sharp turns, quick ups and downs.  There were views to be had, but my eyes were glued to the trail.  I was in runner heaven.  I focused on the trail and flew.  Eventually, I could see Craig, coming closer and closer.  That was new - catching him on a technical section.  Oh yes, I was pleased.  Finally I was on his heels.  We ran together for awhile, and finally I said, "Okay Craig, let me by", to which he replied "show off!".  Shortly after we popped out onto a straight trail.  As I continued to pull ahead (yes, on an uphill) he asked me if the Garmin could tell me how far to the next aid station.  I thought it was at mile 17 (wrong) so said "about one mile".  Ahead I saw a female runner, and eventually caught and passed her.  This section was all relativly smooth going.  Not technical, a little muddy, a gentle climb.  Then came a good bit of downhill, all the way into aid station 4.  Erica was there again, and offered me a warmed up gel (is she great, or what?), a fresh bottle, and said the girls were a fair bit ahead. 

The next challenge was a climb called "Little Chinscraper".  It was much like climbing the north face of Spencer Butte in Eugene.  Very slow, ridiculously steep.  Every now and then it would flatten for about 10 feet, and I jogged every flat bit to shake my legs out.  I reached the top without any signs of Craig, hit a gravel road, and started the long sweet downhill.  Still feeling pretty decent, knees a little sore, I was at first surprised to be passed by a woman, until I recognized Nicola Gildersleeve.  She has blown past me on downhills before, and I asked her what took her so long to catch me today.  She glided away, and I followed her as she turned onto a much softer trail.  My knees relaxed, and I picked up the pace, thinking I could catch Nicola.  The downhill was long and relentless.  I hooked up with Brian Morrison for awhile, chatted briefly until he pulled ahead, and finally, made it to aid station 5. 

I handed Erica my water bottle, ate a gel, and prepared to meet goal number 2 - run tempo to the end.  I was quite pleased to have legs left for the last 6.5 miles.  The flat sections I was getting under 7 minute pace, but the fatigue was definitely noticeable on every tiny climb.  Ahead I saw 3 runners, the middle one with a long pony tail.  Cool - maybe I'll move up another spot!  As I approached I realized pony tail was not only the wrong gender, but not even in the race.  Never mind, it gave me a reason to keep going hard.  With about 2 miles to go, I could see Nicola at the top end of a switch back.  I pushed hard, and caught a male racer, walking.  I told him "come on!  run!  only 2 more miles!"  He replied "okay, but if I puke it's your fault!"  I said that was okay, but don't expect me to stop. 

I could see Nicola coming closer and closer, but I was running out of real estate.  I was definitely working hard, but didn't want to get in the frenzy I had experienced at Napa just to be 10 seconds faster.  Nicola looked back one time just before she entered into the finishing area, beating me by 30 seconds.  My time was 4:36 - pretty close to time goal, I had run hard the last 6.5, and oh yes, I beat Craig by 11 minutes.  Not that it mattered.  Susannah, Ellie, and relatively newbie Lia Slemons all broke the course record, Nicola and I getting close. 

I highly recommend this race for its beauty and organization.  RD Krissy Moehl did a great job, and the post race food was awesome!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Napa Valley Marathon

My first attempt at qualifying for the Olympic Trials this year was Napa Valley Marathon.  I chose it based on proximity to home, time of year, and speediness of course.  My workouts in the previous 8 weeks had led me to believe I was close enough to ready to give it a go.

The day before the race, I spoke with Mary Coordt about her plans for the race.  She was training for a goal marathon some time out, and wanted to run in Napa for training.  Whether or not she finished was going to be decided as she went.  The following morning we warmed up a bit together and talked pace.  She was thinking 6:20 to 6:25, and told me that I was going to have just 'go for it'.  Her assessment of Napa compared to California International Marathon was that Cal could be easier because of the camber to the road in Napa, sharp turns and steeper climbs. 

Dawn broke to a  beautiful, sunny, calm morning.  At 7:00 am, the gun went off, and the answer to my readiness was to be slowly revealed.  I wore my Garmin, set up to show me overall pace for the entire race, plus current pace, overall time, and heart rate.   I stayed relaxed for the first mile, and Mary clicked right in with me.  First mile - 6:32, with a heart rate a bit out of control - 189.  Nerves.  We picked it up a bit for a 6:17 uphill mile 2, heart rate still a little excited at 192.  Finally, at mile 3 in 6:22, it settled down to 173.  Physiology tests early revealed that 171-173 was pretty optimum for me for a marathon.  Mile 4, a little downhill in 6:07.  Mary reassured me that it all evens out over the course.  I grabbed my fluids bottle at the next aid station, took in some replenishment and tossed it aside.  One more small downhill in mile 5 for 6:11, then a gradual, canted, hard to run the tangent, twisty uphill for mile 6 in  6:26.  I was not paying a lot of attention to each mile split, but watching the overall average pace, which about 6:18.  I needed to average 6:20 to make the qualifying mark of 2:46:00.  I was also aware that I was likely to run over 26.2 due to the unlikelihood of me running the tangents for the entire course, which would mean a slightly faster pace would be necessary.

Mile 7 I saw Brian who had made it out on the course.  It was good to see his encouraging smile.  We hit that mile in 6:17, then mile 8 in 6:16.  Mile 9 was 6:43.  Mary commented to that with surprise, but mile 10 was 6:04, so obviously the markers were off.  Running with Mary was incredibly helpful, as the field was fairly dispersed.  Her companionship, support, and course knowledge were priceless.  She had run and won this course many times, and she was a rock star at every aid station.  We were running number 1 and 2, and had 2 bicycle escorts.

Miles 11 and 12 were 6:22 and 6:23, and slightly downhill.  I was still in the 6:17 - 6:18 average pace range.  Mile 13 was 6:13, and I realized that the half was 1:23.  I didn't give this near enough thought, like the fact that I would have to negative split to get my desired time, and that the Garmin was giving me overall pace for a bit longer due to not running exactly on the tangents.  Mile 14 was 6:24, so we picked it up to a 6:13 mile.
Miles 16 and 17 were slightly uphill, and in 6:25, 6:28.  Mary told me that mile 19 was coming up, followed by a very long, gradual uphill.  Mile 18 set us up with a 6:07, and mile 19 in 6:13.  I was feeling great, in that my overall pace was still 6:18.  We hit the base of the mile and started to climb.  For unexplainable reasons, I felt great.  We continued working together and crested the hill, hitting mile 20 in 6:22, for a total time of 2:07. I was a minute or 2 slower than I wished, and ready to test the wheels for a hard 10k.  We cruised downhill into an open valley.  Mary said we had 2 more miles of straight road.  A red barn was far off in the distance, and it appeared to never get closer.  Sometimes I struggled to keep up, and sometimes I felt Mary struggle.   We managed mile 22 in 6:21.  The road was quite flat, and I was breathing hard.

Mile 23 came as we finally turned off the straight road.  It was then that my legs said "wow - I am TIRED".  Our split was 6:25, and as the road twisted with a very slight uphill, Mary began to drift away.  "Come on Meghan!" she yelled.  All I could do was grunt.  One cyclist went with her, the other stayed with me.  My pace average still said 6:19.  I just needed to hold on, but the overall math wasn't looking good.  My escort on wheels said the next aid station had sorbet.  I was a bit taken aback.  I didn't want to appear ungrateful, but my immediate inner response was "as if!".  I was starting to really grunt with each stride, trying hard to hold on to pace.  At the end of that mile (24) I hit a 6:33.  The aid station there was very animated, shouting "Twenty four - just two more!".  I was clawing at the air, squawking and squeeking.  Ahead I saw Sean Meissner coming closer to me.  Bummer.  He was not having the day he wanted.

I so badly wanted to slow down.  It seemed it would be impossible to hit my time, so why try?  But I knew myself well enough.  If I gave up and missed the mark by a few seconds, I would be very disappointed in myself.  So I kept on gasping and struggling.  As I passed Sean I shouted at him to come with me, but got no response.   Mile 25 was 6:33.  Overall time was 2:39 and I don't know how many seconds.  I would have to run 1.2 miles in less than 7 minutes.  I could still see Mary at times, as the course wound through town.  I didn't give up the fight, and pushed myself to the very end.  As I came near the finish, I could see the clock.  At first I thought it said 2:45 and some seconds.  I pushed very hard and about 10 yards out I saw that it was actually 2:46.  I let up slightly, and cruised in at 2:46:41.

True to my nature, I was not disappointed.  I ran the best I could that day, and came close enough to know that I can get the time.  Everything went pretty well.  I drank my drink when I could, used the course gatorade at other times.  I obviously relied to heavily on the Garmin average pace rather than the actual course splits, since I averaged 6:19 for 26.35 miles.  It was great have Mary to run with. 

I will be trying again this fall at Twin Cities Marathon.  In the meantime I have 6 ultras to get through!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

"Dear Meghan...."

Below are my answers to FAQs from ultrarunners, as suggested by Craig Thornley, as the first in a series of synchroblog posts regarding the Western States Endurance Run (WSER).  

Mr CPK asks: "I know a friend who is a very good marathon runner but ended up in the hospital after his first WS due to rhabdomyolsis.  I'm running my first WS this year and wondering what I need to do to keep this from happening to me?"

Hey  Mr. CPK,

For now, I will spare you the nitty gritty of rhabdomyolysis, but will try to give you some direction on how to prepare for and deal with contributing factors that can occur when participating in a 100 mile race.  For the  WSER, you will be up against heat, electrolyte imbalances, and 22,970 feet of downhill to challenge the strongest of quads. 

Heat - It can get into the low 100's in the canyons at WSER.  One of the most detailed approaches that I have seen is Arthur Webb's article on heat training for AdventureCORPS Badwater Ultramarathon.  My personal approach is to train in the heat of the day, although in Oregon it isn't likely to reach more than 70 or 80 by June, so I have a plan for dealing with the 100's on race day.  I wear a hat with a neck protector,and a bandanna with the a pocket to hold ice.

Once the oven comes on, I have my hand held bottles filled with ice as well as beverage to keep my hands cool, and have ice put into my bandanna at every aid station through the heat of the day.  I get wet at every opportunity, particularly in the creek just past the Swinging Bridge, and I submerse completely in Volcano Creek.

Electrolytes - Be sure to practice with the drink that is provided at the race.  Additional salt supplementation is likely to be required to replace the salt lost in sweat.  Whatever one you decide to use, practice with it in long training runs leading up to the race.  Symptoms that may indicate you are low on salt are muscle cramps, nausea, and a sloshy stomach.   Look for these symptoms in training, take your supplemental salt, and see if your symptoms subside.  This one took me longer to get a handle on, but it was my first R2R2R I ran with Craig Thornley and Mike Scannell that helped me nail it down.

I was at mile 45, it was over 100 degrees, and I felt sick.  I had been consuming lots of fluids and S!Caps every so often, although I had not experienced cramping.  I proceeded to follow Craig out onto Plateau Point, but was still feeling miserable.  I took another S!Cap in quick succession and within a few minutes, I felt like a new girl.  The hottest, most miserable time of the day, and I had a turn around.  I knew then that my first symptom is nausea, and have followed the cue since, quite successfully.  Now, I have made it  a habit to stay ahead of the game, beginning the S!Caps early in the run at about one per hour, and increase to one per 30 minutes, while still looking for symptoms that I may need more.

Downhill running - If you are fortunate enough to have some long descents, practice starting early in the season.  Build up to be being able to run 3 or 4 miles of continuous downhill, more than once in a workout. One of my most compact training runs is in McDonald Research Forest and covers a few skills that are WSER worthy - hiking, nighttime light management, downhill pounding, and technical trail running.  Starting at dusk, I hike hard 4 miles up to McCulloch Peak (2000+), then turn around and run hard down.  The last 1+ mile is on a very technical trail, and I run as fast as I can, practicing footing, pounding, and nighttime proprioception.

If you are without hills, be creative - find a tall building, take the elevator to the top, and run down the stairs.  Repeat.  If you have no hills or tall buildings, jumping from a bench to traumatize the quads would be something.  Look for some training opportunities, perhaps a 50k race with some elevation, and later a 50 miler.  Partake in the WSER Training Runs if possible.  On race day, stay within yourself on the downhills.  Enjoy the free ride offered by the gravity, but remember that if you pound too hard early on, gravity can become your 'frenemy' and lead to a slow painful ending, perhaps before you get to the Auburn High School track.

With good training, you won't need good luck!  I wish you well.


Chubster asks: "I run a bunch of ultras, 100 milers are my favorite.  I am usually in the top five, top ten if it is super competitive.  Even with all the training, I have elevated love handles.  I don't mean a little elevated, I'm talking waaay higher.  What can I do?"

Dear Chubster,

Because you are having body image issues, I assume you are female.  From one female runner to another, I would ask that you reflect upon why you want to diminish further the full figure that so many female ultra runners (present company included) simply do not have.  You probably actually are acknowledged as a woman, something that I rarely experience.  While chafe and bounce may be your enemies, at least you are getting looks.  My advise to you is to embrace your feminine body, get the best looking jog bra possible (I have a Team USA bra that is too big if you want it), and work on those abs.   Besides, the extra weight on the chest may help with your down hill momentum.  Am I right in assuming you are indeed a fast down hill runner?

 Do you have one of these?

If you've got it, flaunt it!


This is the first in a series of synchroblogs leading up to the 2010 WSER. Other posts include:

Craig Thornley  Ask An Ultrarunner #1
Andy Jones-Wilkens  Ask An Ultrarunner -- #1
Hal Koerner Western States 100 Synchroblog

I am on – Follow my training