Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Define to undefine to define myself

I never realized how much I didn't, deep down inside, define myself as a vegan until someone asked me to commit to my status as one. Organic Athlete, a vegan organization, at my behest invited me to be one of their Pro-Activists and this means signing on for the vegan cause, being a representation of veganism and removing the choice to not really define oneself .

I had already been teetering and struggling with my own nutritional choices recently, trying to determine if I have been doing the right thing for myself nutritionally. It is one thing to TELL yourself that you are eating for health and to support your running and its another thing to do it. I realized recently that my head was overly involved in my eating and thus potentially leading me to make choices that were ultimately detrimental. And equally detrimental as potentially bad choices, is the over thinking of the act of eating in the first place. I realize now that I wasn't defining myself as a vegan, I was defining myself by a list of foods that I didn't eat. Yes, there was a great deal of thoughtful educated reasoning behind the initial choices I made, but somewhere along the line I took away my own power to choose according to changing needs because in my head, I had defined myself. I thought by defining myself, I might know myself. I fell down a rabbit hole of my own good intentions and soon found myself in a narrower and narrower space with less and less choices. And then I became afraid to choose otherwise because I subconsciously feared undefining myself and thus having to face that I might not be as known to myself as I would like. I felt like I had internalized some outward expectation of me, I felt like I was disappointing some proverbial audience that expected me to continue to define myself (perhaps I was thinking of you, dear reader?). The choice to do otherwise became a statement instead of just a choice. If that is true, then I guess consider this a statement in BOLD.

When I became accidentally vegan, it was truly accidental. I was in my culinary program and excited about knowing how to eat healthfully and tastefully and knowing what to do with all these great ingredients that were not primarily meat, dairy, fish or eggs. They were there but vaguely and in the background. I eventually lost my taste for meat completely and it was the first thing to go. That is something that even now, I have no desire for. Dairy hung around for a bit, but I was selective. Like many of the choices I started making, I wanted to be putting into my body what I thought I was. I cut out processed foods, I ate slow food, I ate things that I knew what they were and weren't put through some crazy scientific process (like partially hydrogentating etc). I was drinking raw milk on occasion, goats milk yogurt again on occasion, a hit of cheese here and there- organic, local, grass fed, etc.... Eggs and fish were infrequent, but options I could utilize in a pinch. I look back at my training journals from a year ago when I "wasn't" vegan and I mostly was, but when I wanted to I ate these things. In late January, I started eating eggs and fish again because I recognized I wasn't getting enough protein. I discussed it at length here. If I was conflicted about it then, imagine how conflicted I am about it now, having already once decided to go back on that first decision. I stopped eating fish and eggs again because, I told myself, I was just being lazy and could easily get my protein from more conscious food combining. It worked for a bit. But I realize now, that I failed and I haven't been getting enough protein. I know this because I have had muscle loss in my legs and I also can just see based on my food choices that protein was not being included enough at all. Before I went Vegan, I was Paleo for a long time and was very happy being that way. I have for the last few years tended towards fruits and vegetables over grains. I realized today as I ran and stressed over this dilemma that the reason I failed after removing eggs and fish is because frankly, I just don't like eating alot of grains at every meal and definitely not enough to get the protein content I need. Grains aren't my thing, I don't like/crave bread, pasta, rice, etc. Even before my gluten intolerance diagnosis, I would only eat the occasional bagel with egg and cheese or muffin for breakfast. Talking to a dr friend of mine who confirms that the muscle loss is due to not enough cals/protein, he also stated that because I am a female the muscles loss problem is further compounded by the fact that women don't produce testosterone. When it came down to it, I was not focusing on protein enough and my health was suffering for it.

It became clear that I needed to focus on my protein and have begun to try out eating more tofu and have started on a post-run smoothie with non-gmo soy protein powder with success (and no digestive issues!!!). But is it enough, can a girl subsist on tofu alone? Do I want to? Why couldn't I just go back to eating the way I did when I was in culinary school. With variety, excitement and freedom of choice. Somewhere along the line, I internalized every single one of the things that my instructors warned should only be moderately consumed or avoided. I couldn't just be moderate like a normal person and eat fish only a few times a month, I had to avoid it all together. I couldn't just eat peanut butter sparingly, I had to eliminate it all together, the toxins you know. I couldn't drink coffee in moderation, I had to not drink it at all. I couldn't be moderate because I thought, I don't have normal people needs. Things are amplified in my body because I train really hard, so I wanted to keep my diet really clean. I exercised my lack of moderation in my diet, although BECAUSE I am working so hard and burning so many calories, my body is probably more likely to be able to process those things easily and pass them through my system without problem. What I missed was that my diet was squeaky clean and healthy and balanced AND my mind was in the right place about it AND I had the freedom to choose. So I wound myself up nice and tight and stifled myself nutritionally, culinarily and I didn't even see it. I started subconsciously working other things out through the one thing I could control. I became a list of things I didn't eat and everytime I tried to deviate I had anxiety. I summed it up really well in my struggle about peanut butter back in March. But did I learn? Evidently not. I started eating peanut butter though and haven't felt conflicted about it since. Same thing with coffee. I use to be a coffee freak and so I think I was anxious about drinking it again because it is addictive and I put enough stress on my body that I don't need to borrowing energy which will make me more tired later. One day I wanted a cup and I gave in. For a few days there, maybe a week, I wanted coffee every day because I had missed the taste of a GOOD cup of coffee so much. It was about flavor not the boost. I save the boost for ultras. And then, I saw quickly, that my taste mellowed out and I didn't want it every day. Wow, maybe when I trusted myself I was able to be moderate after all.

And so it comes back to the question of not only protein, but also of calcium and iron. Protein I very obviously am lacking, I can see the muscle loss and I am telling you it ain't pretty. I hadn't been really worrying about calcium, I had a clean DEXA scan in January indicating I had healthy bones, but I had a wake up call recently when a few people I know suffered from stress fractures. I again spotlighted my own inadequacy and it freaked me out, because bone loss is something you can't see until its too late and then its hard to fix. So I perch here on the edge, knowing I have to do something but not knowing what.

After running Vermont, I found it incredibly interesting to witness the things that my body desired. I wanted my usual post race burrito, I wanted Thai food, I wanted potato chips (that one was surprising actually, though completely understandable). But what I wanted really was a bagel with egg and cheese. I didn't have one on Sunday after the race, I didn't have one on Monday even though the craving/desire was still there, I didn't have one on Tuesday because the desire to eat a bagel was gone. I think that the thought of eating a bagel is just too potentially painful, unlike the more minimal amount of gluten in a tortilla. What I did want though was a breakfast burrito with egg, cheese, beans and guacamole. I went on a search to find one and finally located one at Whole Foods (I had to beg for a side of beans from the kitchen). I sat down with my egg, cheese, potato burrito and spooned beans and guacamole over top. It was delicious. And the craving? Gone. Haven't had a desire for one since. Hummm, maybe what I thought was the rushing waters pressing against the gates actually was just a trickle of water. Maybe, after all this time of being afraid that choosing something different meant reverting, I had just been failing to give my body and mind credit for being different. I am a trained holistic natural chef, I should have given myself credit for goodness sake! Its not like I have been fighting off urges for pizza and soda and mars bars (in fact, I haven't had a craving for any of those things for much longer than being vegan or even being in my culinary program). My body truly does desire a clean, alkaline diet and my mind desires to be free of conflict or stress over what is going into it (because stressing over food actually influences your digestive health and not positively).

And so I have spent a good deal of time, trying to decide what to do. What to include, what not to include? I had to stop myself, pull myself up short. I was trying to define again. I thought that if I was going to open up my choices I had to clear denote which things were being removed from the banned list. And that's silly. I have said all along that if I wake up one day and want the wild boar sloppy joes, than I am going to eat them. That day hasn't come, but it may and I want to be free to choose it if it does. I kept trying to define myself because I thought I had to. I thought I HAD to. I either was or wasn't. I couldn't be free to eat fish one day and then decide not to another. That's when I truly pulled myself up short. Yes, yes I could make those choices. I had a right to choose. I can opt to steal a piece of Vermont aged Cheddar from Jonathan's hand (as I did in Vermont) one day and then choose not to eat cheese again for six months. I can do whatever I want, as long as I am doing it for the right reasons. I learned this lesson very early on in my running career but it has taken me much much longer to do so in my own nutrition. Fundamentally, I want to enjoy my food, like I enjoy my running and I want my food to support my training. Thus, I need to have my focus on serving that goal and pull it away from all the neurotic things and bad reasons that it apparently has been serving.

In the end, I feel like it has been a struggle to come to this clarity. I have feel like I have done a bit of battle with myself, yes perhaps in a place where I shouldn't have ever gotten to. But its like an argument over something silly between friends, it starts out as a disagreement and over time miscommunication and assumptions build on each other until there is a massive knock down drag out fight happening. But all is forgiven now, I forgive myself for the struggle. I forgive myself for the mistakes, I forgive myself for doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason and hurting only myself. But the thing is, when the fight is over, you learn something, you can become better. Through this, I have. I have regained my own ability to choose and that feels very triumphant. In the end, I define myself not by the total of what I do and don't eat. I define myself by being an empowered person who is not afraid of her own ability to choose.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Vermont 100

Pure joy on the open road
I began writing this on the plane and continue now 4 days removed from the race.....

Am I coming down yet? That is already the question. But the reality of the situation is, it hasn't even begun to sink in. I flip through my photos on my camera and they feel like a lifetime ago, my mind is only absorbing snippets of the whole truth, some time threatening to take it all in at once and render me not only slightly feeble, but crying like a baby in the middle of a crowded plane. But the mind stop short and reality dances only in the words I have to keep telling myself to remember: I just ran 100 miles. I just ran my first 100 miles. I just won my first 100 miles. Holy shit.

Its been barely 36 hours since I crossed the finish line and triumphantly completed the journey, yet it seems so long ago. I had no idea. I didn't know if I could do it. And even now I have to shake myself for a minute and remind myself I did. The sore quads and back prove it, the ravaging insatable hunger, the tired eyelids. 2008 Vermont 100 miler, as I sit here flying home I can only begin to reflect. The 100 miler has always appeared to me, since I started ultrarunning, as if it is the measuring stick by which all other things shall be judged. True or not, that has been my interpretation. "You are not really an ultrarunner until you've run a 100", "you're fast, but can you run 100 miles fast". Coming to the decision to run 100 wa a natural progression and somewhat an act of defiance. A few wise souls told me to wait until I was older, but after TRT 50 last year, I was excited and enthusiastic about taking on a mountain 100 and signed up for WS weeks later. I had given into the hype despite the cautions to wait until I was older. Psssshawwww I thought. But then I went to the Netherlands and loved the road 100k even more and being fast. Then I didn't enjoy NF 50, which was poorly put together in its first year, and I secretly hoped I wouldn't get into WS, so of course I did. I love the trails with all my heart, but I love the road too and focusing on WS meant all hands on deck for that goal. I committed fully in my heart to do it and embarked on a training regime I hoped would be rigorous enough to carry me 50 trail miles and 38 actual miles longer than I had ever run before. I would be running twice as long, steep and hard as I ever had. I read other peoples accounts of 100s and looked for a glimpse of sanity, but everything, everything simply sounded lik, "eh you know, it was kind of hard". Really? To me, the harder I trained the more I felt like there was absolutely no way I could prepare myself for what lay ahead. You think you know, you have no idea. I kept looking, searching, seeking some sanity. Somewhere, someone had to have written, "I ran 100 miles and my advice: don't do one!" At least some cautionary tale? But even the ones I read of someone insanely crawling the last 3 miles with a broken leg or collapsing at the finish line, had authors who were coming back for more and harder. Instead I was hearing, "yeah that is an easy course, you'll obliterate that" or "I think you'll sub 24, easy". I am a reasonable person and I just wanted to know that it was not unreasonable of me to be afraid despite being extraordinarily prepared.

I sit here now understanding why I was unable to find such advice. It is because the mind cannot comprehend at once what we have physically/mentally/emotionally put ourselves through. Our own experiences immediately become something we almost feel like we witnessed instead of accomplished. But I will not fail to reflect those things. I had a right to be afraid, that is by far the hardest thing I have ever done and the decision to go that distance (proverbial or actual 100 miles) should not be undertaken lightly. That said, I wouldn't take back even a second of it. The suffering, the pain, the fear, the joy, the sorrow, the kinship, the shear will of it all exposes life in its most raw essence.



Pre-race

We all know WS didn't happen, and immediately upon finding that out I scurried to find another race that suited my training and taste. Vermont sounded like an ideal race for me and I signed up. Barely a week (or was it two, time blurs) before the race I got word I was in and booked my ticket. Linda Barton (my vegan ultrarunning librarian twin) and Jonathan Bernard (my very trusted speedy training partner and friend) were on board to be my Vermont Hollis and Alison, that is my handler and pacer. We threw together details and before we could blink twice and spin in a circle, I was landing in Boston and picking up my rental car, a nice big Volvo station wagon. I was staying the night in Lowell with my "adopted" older sister, Megan whom I hadn't seen in a good 9-10 years. She is an amazing woman, mother and absolutely splendid host. I arrived at her door at 7pm and we enjoyed catching up and devouring the vegan food that she had picked up for me at a local vegan restaurant. Her son Max came home from baseball and it was great to meet him after so many years, he is a darling 9 year old who just brings a smile to your face. After Megan put him to bed, I went out for a 50 min run with 3x3 min pickups to shake my legs out. Howard, my coach (http://howardnippert.com/)had told me that even though these wouldn't feel good because of having airplane legs, they would make my legs feel like a zillion-teen bucks for the race. When he said that I thought, a zillion-teen eh? I gotta feel that, sounds nice! The repeats felt good and I returned back to Megan's, chatted a bit more and turned in, phone near my ear since I was waiting to hear if Linda and Jonathan had gotten on the red-eye to Boston. They had, so I had to get up at 6 am to drive back into the city and scope them up. We were all pretty bleary eyed since they didn't sleep much on the plane, and I didn't sleep much either. We immediately headed out of town towards Brattleboro,Vermont where we would be staying with Jonathan's brother Jamie, about 1 hr 15 min from the starting line. We made it there in a few hours, went big food shopping at the co-op there and spent the afternoon in various states of napping, reading, and relaxing. We had a delicious meal of Thai food in downtown Brattleboro with Jamie and all retired early.

Friday, I woke early went for a run across the MA stateline and back. I put together and organized all my race bags and we took care of last minute details, not the least of which was picking up some New Skin which would ultimately my savior from any blisters for the first time in my ultrarunning experience. We headed to the race start for med check in and meeting, after a delicious lunch at the co-op we sped up to Silver Hill Meadows. I checked in and dropped off my one drop bag for an aid station that I wasn't sure my handlers were going to be able to make it to. I then weighed in. Its funny because with weigh ins for 100s, you want to weigh in light in theory so that you don't run the risk of being pulled for losing too much weight. As I neared the scale, the med volunteer told me that the scales were reading heavy. Wait...thats bad. I hoped they would adjust accordingly with range of "safe" weight. I stepped on the scale: 144. I had anticipated 143, since I weigh 137ish and was fully clothed and fueled which usually puts me at 6 up. She noted my normal weight and I moved on for blood pressure. After getting checked in, I wandered up to where the tents were all set up to find Jamie Anderson (http://mainerunner.blogspot.com/) whom I have "known" forever in the virtual world, but had yet to meet. I found Jamie and we carried on like old pals, not two people really meeting each other for the first time. I was excited for Jamie since this was his second Vermont and he too had been a 2008 WS guy and so was coming to the race even more prepared than the previous year which he ran after having knee surgery. We attended the prerace meeting which of course started late and I started getting antsy about getting home since we had an hour drive back and it was nearing 5pm. I wanted to be in bed by 8-8:30, since I had to get up at 1am. We snuck out of the meeting early and headed back to Jamie's place.

Prerace dinner was delicious, Linda and I made some roast veggies and a ton of roast sweet potatoes and a salad for ourselves and Jonathan made chicken and pasta for him and Jamie which looked absolutely phenomenal. Soon after, despite not being really ready to sleep, I forced myself to sleep after taking some herbal "soothers" that Jamie had that help you fall asleep or at least relax a bit.

Race Day

A loud clap of thunder woke me at 12:46 and I pulled myself out of bed and bleary eyed and sleepy went into the bathroom to put my contacts in my eyes. I felt eerily calm, and as many times as I told myself, you are about to run 100 miles, I didn't flinch. I dressed, donning my pink Inov-8 sleeveless top, New Balance running skirt, Nuun visor and Adidas Boston shoes and headed downstairs to have my pre-race breakfast. I ate my brown rice bread pb& j and banana, took my chia seeds and pocketed my VESPA and sat on the counter waiting for Jonathan and Linda to wake up at 1:30am. We all drank our coffee and packed up the car and headed out in the dark silence of a Vermont morning at 2am.

We arrived before 3:30 and I hoped out of the car and immediately found a place in the portapotty line. The morning was cool and damp from the overnight thunderstorms. People buzzed around like utilitarian sprites and I did my best to not think of the possibility of being still running at this time the next day. A sub 24 was a noble second goal for me, second only to just finishing. Then there was sub 20, sub 18 and course record. Winning sounded nice too, but despite Karl's 3-2 odds, I wasn't quite so sure. Before you can reconsider, we're in the tent and I am geared up, having added a Nathan waist pack and two hand held water bottles and two Petzl lights to my outfit, as well as my Moeben sleeves to keep me warm for a while. Naturally, it started to pour rain 3 minutes before the start. A few last pictures with the crew and we were ushered outside into the darkness. Despite it feeling like this day would never come for so long and through so many trials and race cancellations, I willed the final count down to stretch for as long as possible. With a mental, "oh shit" and a verbal, "GO!" from the race director, we were off. I took off behind a pack of guys that included Andy Jones-Wilkins and other race favorites. I feel back from them with a pack of three guys and tooled along in the darkness trying to find my rhthym early.

start- mile 20
We twisted and turned our way through the darkness on horse trails, winding up and down hills in the darkness for over an hour. I quickly found myself alone, with no glimmer of anybody behind me and the speedsters disappeared ahead of me. There were 2-3 guys hanging out just a bit ahead of me, but I didn't press it to catch them. After about an hour, as the light finally started to grow, I caught up to them. We hit our first hill of substance and ran up it with the bounce of early fresh legs. I started chatting with Perry Edinger, who is an old pro and had a similar race strategy to mine, although his goal time was a bit ahead of mine. He was looking to run a 16:30 and I kept saying, "feel free to leave me anytime, if I am going to slow". He shook that off and we kept each other on the task at hand which was to conserve, conserve, conserve. Our race strategies had changed dramatically due to the forecast for extreme temperatures and high humidity. Perry had planned to push it for the cool hours of the morning and then take it easy during the heat. I was planning on keeping myself reined in for the first 50 and then seeing how I felt. That said, we discussed our goal times to the first aid station, mine being 3 hrs based on a split from last year and his being 4 hrs....hmmmm. Either I was running too fast or he was running to slow. Nonetheless, we bonded swiftly and came up with nicknames for the runners who were trying to hang with us, including one guy who was pretty built (muscular) and wasn't carrying anything. He said his people would give him bottles at mile 20. Unfortunately for him (the Hulk) as Perry dubbed him, he had told his handler to be at mile 20 @ 4 hrs as well and his handler was literal. Perry's wasn't and of course mine were there since I had told them 3 hrs. We came into the aid station, still feeling good and I quickly off loaded by bottles, sleeves, waist pack, sunglasses and headlamps at Linda and Jonathan's feet. I down a Vega smoothie and put my new waist pack on and took the two new waterbottles from them. Immediately I could tell that my handlers were like an Indy pit crew and that I would have no trouble through the day getting through the aid stations efficiently with their help. They were amazing!

Pretty House to Stage Rd, 21.1 to 30.1

Perry and I headed out of Pretty House together and headed down the road. The scenery was absolutely beautiful. The hills of Vermont just roll and roll and roll. Makes for amazing pastoral scenes and ultimately brutal running, since you are always running either uphill or downhill. The cloud cover kept it cool and we continued along, trying to pass the time and not not push to much. The section was pretty hilly and steep ones at that, so Perry and I power walked up the hills, again conserving, conserving, conserving. I attempted to use my 100k road strategy to meter out my energy expenditure. I was taking my Roctaine Gu's every 45 mins and drinking alot of my Nuun to stay hydrated. By about mile 25, I was not feeling like a zillion-teen bucks and I felt a few twinges in my foot. Unbeknownst to pretty much everyone, I had come into the race with serious concerns about the health of my left leg. I had switched shoes a few weeks before from the Bostons to the Supernova Cush 7s to very ill effect. My left leg from my hip through my hamstring, calf and into my foot had been so painful barely a week before the race that I was seriously hobbling. I had realized it was the shoes, despite them being the correct fit and size for my foot, and switched back to the Bostons, but was worried that over that kind of distance, the pain would return. We came into Stage Rd in an 1:31 minutes, and I did my routine of dropping my stuff and drank another shake, this time an entire Odwalla, took my next VESPA, popped my hourly S!Cap and ran on, Jonathan running along side me, as I shook my head and said that I was feeling really "50k-ish", he was encouraging and supportive and I pressed on, knowing I wouldn't see them again until Mile 47 at Camp 10 Bear.

Stage Rd to Camp 10 Bear

I disentangled my ipod from its cord and put on one headphone as we finally hit a major climb. Coming out of Stage Rd, I backed off from Perry's pace and worked on things in my own head. It was really starting to heat up and I climbed what felt like excruciatingly slowly up a steep grassy field. My legs were feeling pretty spent and I continued to work my way through the fields. I had dropped back from a few guys who had been running behind Perry and I. Jonathan had told me that I was up 20 mins on the next women at 21 but I didn't feel comfortable with that margin at all. I kept drinking and eating and just meandered through the Vermont countryside. I continued to walk the big ups and run the flats and downs (when there were downs! And then they were usually pretty steep down). In what seemed like an instant, the heat set in and I could tell it was extremely humid as the dampness just sat on my skin and did not evaporate. At Route 12 aid station, I got some ice and put it in my bandanna and wrapped it around my neck to keep me cool. By this point, people were out supporting the run it was an awesome feeling to have people screaming and yelling for you, after spending so much time alone on the backroads. I let me music move me along, making sure I kept only one ear bud in so I could hear any approaching horse (this is a horse race too), cars or swift moving runners. By mile 39.2, Lincoln B aid station, I was coming around and finally felt like I was getting my legs back. I was still clipping along, but still had a long, long way too go and just tried to focus on getting to Camp 10 Bear. In my head, I pulled myself from aid station to aid station with the thought of being able to see my waiting and amazing crew. I knew that if I could just get to them, then I would be renewed and able to refocus on getting to the next opportunity to see them. We ran a long stretch on the high way and I really was feeling the heat and humidity. We passed through another aid station at mile 43.5 and I was caught by shirtless Joe Kulak. He was running very comfortably and told me that I was keeping a great pace and would have an excellent day. We chatted for a bit before he ran a bit ahead of me. Joe would end up placing 6th overall. We passed a few more farms and passed bandanna guy. Apparently he has run a majority of the 20 VT100s and just runs one speed on any surface. In my head, I nicknamed him one speed, no kickstand. I passed him and never saw him again. At long last I came into Camp 10 Bear. Jonathan met me down the road and ran up to the aid station with me. I gave him the rundown of how I was feeling and the various up and downs, before popping into the med tent to be weighed. No surprise I was down 6lbs. No surprise since their scale had weighed heavy and now I had been sweating my butt off for 7+ hours. That put me close to the low end of their allowable range (which bottomed out at 136), but not low enough for them to even make me sit. I ran up to Linda and Jonathan, grabbed my new pack (the Krissy this time) and my new bottles, drank a smoothie, Vespa, ate my chocolate covered espresso beans and was incredibly pleased when they told me that they were planning on coming to the two aid stations in between the two stops at Camp 10 Bear. This would prove to be probably the biggest decision of the day because soon after I left Camp 10 Bear, everything changed.

Camp 10 Bear to Tracer Brk (miles 47.2-57)

I had been on top of my hydration as much as I could, going through my two bottles about every 5 miles and I had been on top of my fueling, but a few miles out of Camp 10 Bear, and having run for a while on the wide semi-exposed road I was really really hot. I got pretty nauseous and threw up a bit, which made me feel better, but worried me that if it persisted I would be in trouble. I kept pushing up the runnable uphills and between mile 50 and 51 felt my legs come back to me. By the time I reached Pinky's aid station at mile 51, I was feel pumped and energized. I guess espresso beans have that effect. I hit the aid station at 8:22. I was crossing into the unknown rapidly, as the longest I have ever run is 8:39 at Tahoe last year. I kept up my pace and eased on down the road. I started to think about suffering and how I felt (in somewhat of an ironic tone in my mind), I had learned the meaning of suffering. I knew that as bad as I had felt, I kept feeling better and that no matter what, I would be able to continue. I started getting pretty silly at that point and it was probably good that no one was around since I was occasionally skip along and do a little dance, saying "I'm dancing with my breathe, mwhahahah". I said it however sarcastically and as I came down into Tracer Brook, with Jonathan taping me, I skipped again and exclaimed "I am dancing with my breathe". Jonathan cracked up. I demanded pretzels at this point as it was nearly one o'clock and I hadn't eat anything solid since breakfast. Gels were starting to taste like paste and I just wanted something to nosh on. Jonathan told me that the young guy, William who was near me at that point was getting pissed that I was ahead of him. I ultimately would finish 50 minutes ahead of him. I found it funny. I was feeling light and fancy free leaving the aid station. I had moved into no mans land of time but didn't even notice.

Tracer to Margaritaville (miles 57-62.1)

Things change quickly. After leaving the aid station and enjoying my pretzels immensely, I found myself running up and up and up hill on completely exposed road, at a runnable grade but that went up forever. It was "runnable" but could be argued for a good hike. The mid day heat was intense and the humidity stifling. The smile quickly wiped from my face and I settled in to do work. I was passed by a short, not sweaty, swiftly moving guy with a strange stride. He seemed way too fresh for having run 60 miles but ended up in 4th place somehow after starting out the first half in 172nd place. It was tough section and no amount of peppy music, asprin or caffeine could revive me. I felt the wall approaching, as it has in both of my 100ks. I finally got to the top of the hill and was feel pretty lousy and moving slow. Finally I saw Margaritaville and was so relieved to see Linda and Jonathan. By that point, I was apparently the race darling and all the crews who were there were cheering for me and pulling for me, which felt nice, but I did not. I knew I needed to start eating solids and Linda gave me a sandwich. I ate it as we walked, crying. They encouraged and consoled me. I kept telling myself and saying out loud, I know I can come back from this. Jonathan offered the perfect reminder, as Hollis did over a year ago, "you have now run further than you ever have before, you've run 2 hrs longer. That is amazing." It was then that I was able to believe that despite how I felt, that it would pass. The lights would come back on and I would feel like nothing was ever wrong. They sent me off down the road, sandwich in hand, hope in my heart.

Margaritaville to Camp 10 Bear (mile 62.1- 70)

Things did change. The sun went away, I felt a bit better and then suddenly. Crack, snap, flash. I was in the middle of a terrible thunderstorm. I was afraid since even near the edge of the road I was still not close to the trees or anything taller than I. And then it started pouring. Bucket after bucket after bucket. I was drenched. Damn, I thought, this is going to wreck my feet. I hadn't felt any blisters up to that point and hoped that the New Skin would continue to save me. I rolled along what appeared to be the top of the hill and when I say rolled, I mean uphill/downhill like the rest of the course. I finally started downhill on a decently rocky path and saw a woman running up the path towards me. She said she had been running with her runners out of Camp 10 Bear and was apparently lost. My first thought was, "why are you pacing your runner from mile 47" and then, "is it legal for me to lead her back to Camp 10? Is this a clever ploy by the competition to get my DQ'd". The rain subsided and I sloshed along and tried to alter my pace from hers. I was feeling "on" again. We finally hit road and I felt close to Camp 10 Bear. I got a little confused when I started seeing runners heading the opposite direction as I since I wasn't aware that the course overlaped anywhere. When I realized they were just coming up from Camp 10 Bear, I was excited and powered down to the aid station. I chugged both of my bottles which were semi-full since I had refilled them in between the two aid stations. I hoped on the scale hoping the water I had chugged on Linda's advice and the cooler weather would help me stay within the safe range. My weight was back up 2lbs and they sent me off.

Camp 10 Bear- End (mile 70-102)

I picked up Jonathan at Camp 10 Bear and was overjoyed to have the company. Linda was now on her own as my handler. She gave me another sandwich, Vespa and some more chocolate covered espresso beans. I changed my shirt to my other Team Inov-8 top and Jonathan and I walked out of the aid station. I was instantly energized by his presence. It is so relieving after being alone, under duress for 12 hours to have someone who is excited and supportive and there to do whatever it takes to get you through the final push. I gobbled my food and we set off. My quads were pretty worked, but everything else felt good. My quads would come and go and so I pushed when I could and pulled back to rest them. We headed up the big hill just outside the aid station and power hiked through the mud and roots. For the first 4 miles we ran through forest and then popped out on rolling back roads between farms and beautiful lush green fields. The thunderstorm had cooled things down nicely and we clipped along quickly. We bantered, told stories that we had withheld in the previous days saying, "ooop ooop save it for the race". It was funny. The things, the experience that is shared is not one that can be captured. It is amazing that you can feel so strongly that the presence of another person is helping carry you along. I definitely couldn't have done it without him. I couldn't have done it without Linda either. She was on top of all my needs and was always there encouraging, smiling and ready! After mile 75, we were running down a road and there were two people on horses standing there, they asked us if Camp 10 Bear was back the way we had come and we said yes, just follow the yellow signs (which they knew since they were part of the race!). That would prove a very costly move. We continued down the road about 8 minutes and realized that we didn't see anyo of the yellow 'C' confidence markers. Jonathan turned around and sprinted back down the trail and I waited for him there. After a minute or two, I could vaguely hear him yelling and I sprinted back down the trail, suddenly filled with adrenaline. The sign had been where the horses had been standing and had directed us off the logical road, across a field along a wall. We reconnected to the trail and I ran with adrenaline and fear that my carefully earned female lead was evaporated. I ran 39 minutes between the aid stations of 74.7 and 77, but about 20 of that was out of the way. Bonus miles right?

We came into the mile 77 aid station where everyone was cheering for me and Linda was waiting. I ate somemore food and got new bottles. We wouldn't see her again until 88.2. We told everyone that we had gotten lost and jetted as fast as we could out of there. The next 11 miles were a blur. My legs would come and go, run and walk, but I just kept pressing, pressing, pressing on. I occasionally would break into a sprint to change my stride or start doing lunges down the road to get my quads back. It worked. I got caught by a guy who would in the end finish in 7th and we ran close for a while. I also saw a man and woman coming down the road behind us. I was worried it was the 2nd woman closing in fast, but a quick check with the top horse riders whom I had gotten to know over the day and they said it was the guy that had the race number. The horses have to take mandatory breaks, so you get passed numerous times by the same few horses. The guy who won was always incredibly encouraging! The guy coming along behind me was Perry! Apparently he had gotten lost too!

We all stayed within a 1/4 mile of each other and just kept going. The evening light across the hills was amazing and breathtaking and Jonathan and I tooled along, still running, knowing I just had to keep going. Relentless forward motion, as is the title of Rooster's blog, was all I could think about. We finally came down to the mile 88 aid station for a final hand off and weigh in. Jonathan dashed to the car to get his headlamp, as I was weighed and ate another sandwich. I also took the pretzels from Linda and put them in the bra top of the jersey I was wearing on top of my bra beneath, what a convinient place to carry things! With less than 12 miles to go and the sun still in the sky, we scurried out. We ran a few miles, Jonathan's watch beeping to indicate another mile passed and I exclaimed, "only one Cougar to go!" Cougar mountain that is. That made me push a bit as the light became softer and softer, fading beyond the trees. We were still going back and forth with the two other guys and their pacers through the next few miles. The last 12 were tough. Lots of long grass, lots and lots of uphill. We hit pavement after a few miles and saw Linda driving down the hill. "almost to the top?" I suggested. She said, "I wish I could say yes, but not even hardly". I then resolved that they would probably make us go up until the end, even though the finish was in a valley. I ultimately was right. Somehow in Vermont you can go uphill and still end up downhill from where you started. Very impressive.

We finally switched on our headlamps. And navigated through the dark. There was less road in the final 6 miles and much more wooded, tricky stuff. It didn't help that it was steaming because of the rain/humidity combination. As it had on the night run, the miles felt slower in the dark. We finally made it to the final aid station, around mile 96 and I stuffed boiled potatoes in my mouth and took a dixie cup of them to go. We pressed on and caught Perry again who was having a bad patch and rubbing his calf. He had pushed earlier, he said, because he didn't want to get chicked. He ultimately got chicked, by a girl in a skirt no less :) We left the road one final time and headed into the deep woods. Glow sticks lead the way. "Please beep watch" I said, hoping for an indication we were inching closer to the end via Jonathan's watch. Beep. Thank you. Then I heard it, distantly. It was cheering. Mr. 7th place must have finished, though at the time I didn't know anything about ranking. I got chocked up. I was almost there. I was momentarily overwhelmed. But then realized that I still had work to do and I run, skip, walked over roots and through the mud. We dipped and dived. We laughed and exhaled. Finally, we saw the glowing jugs of water with glow sticks in them. The famous Devon kick initiated and I pushed to drain my body of any last drop of energy or will power. We dipped down and around the corner and were suddenly upon the finish line coming out of the woods. Everyone was cheering and I burst across the line and could do nothing but laugh. I finished in 18:31, first female, 8th overall and with 2 bonus miles. I just laughed and laughed and hugged Linda and Jonathan. A few minutes later Perry came across the line and I went over to congratulate him.

We made our way to the med tent so I could change and sit down. There was absolutely no recognition, no overwhelming emotion that hit me. I sat down and was like, hmmmm I'm kinda tired. My stomach instantly made it known that it was not happy with me and would not tolerate food except potato chips. I changed my clothes and we jumped in the cars to head back to Jamie's house an hour away. Jamie had driven up for the finish and I was put in the back of his car like a pile of lumber laying down with a blanket and pillow and my potato chips. I didn't rest, I chattered away at Jamie like I hadn't been awake for nearly 24hrs and having run 102 miles.

I just felt so proud of myself. I honestly did not know if I could do it. I don't care what anybody believe, I was unsure. It was an unimaginable journey and even know, I cannot put it into words what it feels like. It feels like joy and suffering, hunger, pain, tears and friendship. It is intensely moving. It is similar to the joy I have felt at completing a race before, because I have found in ultrarunning is that you NEVER know if you can do it and so making it to the end is never a given, it is always a triumph, first, last or otherwise.

I settled into my ice bath with Linda's help and then took the best shower ever. I attempted to eat something but halfway through the avocado, my stomach protested and I backed off. I went to bed but at 5 am my stomach was over being sick and woke me up with a ravaging hunger. I walked carefully and slowly down the stairs and went outside to get my ipod in the car and discovered the remainings of a potato chip bag and devoured them instantly. It was the only thing I could imagine wanting. Being a food person and someone who is intensely in tune with what my body needs and wants, I was looking forward to seeing how my body would respond after 100 miles and what it would tell me it wanted. It has been telling me that it feels being vegan and gluten free for a year and I have complied. I wondered if the "cheeseburger" moment was going to come. It didn't, but a potato chip moment did. I ate the minimal amount there was and then ate the baked tofu that I had gotten for a possible in race snack. It was delicious. I was feeling pretty good. My quads and back hurt, but nothing too bad. I went back upstairs and laid down until 9. We nearly missed the awards ceremony since it was posted that the award ceremony was at noon and at 11. So we dropped our initial plans to b-line for food and then to the awards ceremony and instead b-lined to the race start/finish. We were running low on gas and had to stop at the first gas station off the exit for the start/finish. We procured more potato chips and went to the award ceremony. I gave Jonathan my brunch ticket and he got some food to help him refuel, since not only is he a phenomenal pacer, he is also running White River and he ran 32 miles! I wasn't really hungry still, so I had no desire to refuel. The award ceremony started at 11:30 ultimately. It was awesome to hear my name called and get to go up and receive not only a Patagonia bag for winning, but I got my buckle! I was 8th overall.

As the race director instructed us "westerners" i.e. west coasters to do, I am here to tell you Vermont ain't no joke. It is a different animal than your Hardrocks and WS, but it is no joke. There was only a 65% finish rate this year and times were about 2 hrs uniformly slower than they would have been in less brutal conditions.... We left the award ceremony and went back to Brattleboro to the co-op where I ate the best tasting garden wrap (yes wheat! gluten intolerance be damned) ever. We snacked and napped all day and just basked in the being doneness of it all. I think all of us were way to tired to even have our heads around it.
Amazing joy, tiredness and disbelief at the finish line


The ice bath. It really does feel good. I swear


Got my buckle!


The Pink Sock Crew: Bestest Everest Handler and Pacer and Friends!

In the end, I still find no words. It is not simply about running. It is not about putting one foot in front of the other. It is not about winning, never has been. It is the journey. It is the journey that still moves me to joy and laughter. It is the journey that shows me how amazingly compassionate, selfless and supportive people can be. It is the journey that reminds me exactly why I do what I do and why when I pull it all apart, I look forward so much to the next adventure.

Special thanks to Jonathan and Linda whose unwavering support and handling I would have been lost without. They were absolutely flawless from my perspective in the executing of their duties. Thanks to the good folks of VT100 for putting on an awesome race. Thanks to Jamie and Megan for being great hosts. And thanks to my sponsors who help provide me with the tools I need to succeed: Nuun, Inov-8, Petzel, Vespa, S! Caps (and even thanks to those that don't sponsor me, but helped me nonetheless....Adidas, Nathan, Gu, Clif, Vega....)

Vermont 100- in brief

I just got home last night and have barely had time to unpack my bags but I wanted to let everyone know that I had a great run at Vermont 100, finishing in 18:31, first woman and 8th overall. Not bad for a really rough year for the race due to high humidity and thunderstorms and my first 100! I will have a full report with pictures and video soon. Special thanks to my handlers/pacer, Jonathan and Linda for all their hardwork in supporting me through the miles!



RESULTS : here

Monday, July 7, 2008

It's like one of those commercials

It goes like this:

Western States entry fee: $295
Plane ticket to WS: $310
Plane ticket for pacer to WS: $280
Training/prep costs: a whole lot of $$$
Vermont 100 entry fee: $200
Plane ticket to Vermont: $410
Car rental for Vermont: $350

Actually, getting to run a 100 miler this year: priceless (at least it damn well better be, lol)

I finally found out yesterday thanks to my wonderful twin, Linda that I got into Vermont! I am very excited and feel like I once again have purpose in my training, well....tapering. I am feeling excited, nervous and ready for the race. After not being able to do Western States, I was feeling at a lose of what to do next and where to focus my energy, especially being in the nether realm of not knowing if I would have a 100 to run. Linda called the race director for me since I am a phone-phobic sissy. Probably better since she was able to finesse the situation where I just probably would have been like, "give me the damn information already", well maybe not but at least I don't have to find out!

This week has been a whirlwind, as I adjusted to life at home with a precious puppy dog (pictures to follow, I promise) as well as finishing up my time at the library. I had a mixture of really great and really crappy runs this week, but I am taking it all in stride and just keeping my eyes of the prize which is a good run at Vermont. I just have to focus on getting my legs as fresh as possible and managing all the details for the run itself. I am pretty darn excited!

The food postings will be back once I actually have time to try new recipes. I have had enough time to still cook at home on a regular basis, but not enough time to play around in the kitchen or create new and exciting recipes. Hopefully over the summer I can go back to torturing you all with pictures of my delicious food. :)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Racing afterall: stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid Seafair Marathon

It's Wednesday and I am tired. I would like to be tired because I raced WS100 this weekend, but it is not the case. I am trying to be over it and look towards the future, a future which hopefully contains the Vermont 100 in 17 days. Fingers crossed.

I decided instead to do the Seafair Marathon. Howard instructed me to run 35 miles, so I figured I would run the race and then run back from the race finish line to my car which all told would have been about 38 miles. Jonathan, Linda, Jess, Allen, Tonya and Owen were running it (all or in part) so I figured I would brave the anticipated blistering hot day for a nice little training run. I packed up my drop bag to check at the start with a hydration pack, several frozen water bottles and some food, so that I could cross the finish line and head off home back across I-90. After hearing of the cancellation of WS, I did a few hard days of training so my legs weren't as fresh as they might have been if I had just continued my full taper. And even if I had, it was a mystery to me how 100 mile trail training would translate in a road course.

It was interesting to say the least. I took off at between 6:30 and 6:40 pace and was clipping along nicely in the relative cool of the 7am sun. It started to heat up quickly. There were several really fast half and full marathoners, whom I watched disappear in the distance ahead of me. I had barely made it on to the 520 bridge when my brain started to get bitter. "This is not what I want to be doing." It said. "I should be basking in a post WS glow right now, eating food and taking a cat nap". I tried to shut it out, afterall it was only 26.2 miles and on the "easy" road. I told myself that I know marathons and that at least there won't be any real hills so I can just cruise along and be in the low 3 hr range. Boy was I wrong! Stupid Seafair marathon. We made it off the 520 bridge and that would be the last semblance of anything flat. In fact, I have ran course that claimed to be hilly and were less hilly than this. My brain was bitter, my legs were tired. I think somewhere in my body a timer had been set for this day and on the exact date of June 29, my body was preset for recovery mode. My body was ready to have just exhausted itself during WS and resting and rebuilding. But it wasn't, instead I was trying to extend my fitness to stay peaked for another few weeks.

I clipped along, not happily, but still hitting sub 7's. And then came the hill at mile 7. I looked at it and thought, "you've got to be kidding me, that is a hiking hill". The back of my knee was tight, soI slowed to a walk and power hiked like a good little ultrarunner. Had to use all the WS training somehow! The heat was getting intense. After making it up a few more hills, I was just not feeling good. I just wanted to be done. If I was running far, I wanted it to be without aim or focus, I just didn't want to be on anymore. I think there is a max to how long the body and mind want to and can stay at full speed. I had reached threshold. I decided that I would just keep on running as fast as I could until I decided to stop and quit. I ran along Bellevue Way and saw Linda, who was waiting to meet Jess. She was encouraging and happy, and all I could do was yell, "What the F**K am I doing? This is ridiculous". The course still split with the half marathoners happily moving towards the finish and I turning away towards the long haul ahead. I knew according to the profile that there was suppose to be a hill from 12-15, but after the stupid, stupid, stupid steep hills preceeding them, I no longer had faith that they would be just speed bumps. I hit the halfway point about 1:28/1:29, though I am not sure since I was hitting the lap at every mile, as to track my pace instead of overall time. After the course seperation, I suddenly felt very lonely. I couldn't see the nearest person in front of me, nor behind me. I knew Jonathan couldn't be too far behind, so I started goofing off in hopes that he might catch up. I had to, for I knew that if I didn't I probably would end up giving up anyways. Pretty shortly thereafter I saw him coming from a distance. I turned around and ran backwards and skipped along, so he could catch me. I was in a foul mood and definitely needed a pep talk. Saturday had been an emotional day for me and the residual was still in my mind and lungs (that is where I hold me stress). I was not a very nice person to run with I am sure for at least a mile. My knee hurt, my lungs were constricted and as Jonathan pointed out, it was probably all in my head. It was but of course I snapped, "no its my body too". See I showed him... He said he would stay with me and run the rest with me, which in theory was a good idea since he is going to pace me for Vermont should I get in. He probably saw the worst of me in those first few miles, probably far worse than he would ever see at an ultra. I took a puff from his inhaler and finally ate a Roctaine Gu at mile 16 and slowly started to feel a bit better. It was incredibly hot at this point and I poured water over my head which temporarily helped cool me down. I really appreciated the company and we gained some speed at hit a few 6:45ish miles.

But the joy and ease would quickly subside after another half dozen of unexpected hills. We both took S!Caps but were crampy. I had been given Glucose at a few of the aid stations instead of water and my stomach was sloshy and crampy. If I were a barfer, that would have been an ideal time to be able to because it probably would have helped. We stopped a few times for various cramps and pains. But kept on plodding along. We hit mile 22 and I swear the next 2.5 miles took a lifetime. We rounded the corner and saw ahead of us the long steep slow hill of Bellevue Way (I think). We slowed and ultramarathoner'd it up the hill. I hadn't seen any other women pass me and I kept turning around to see if anyone was coming. I didn't want to get chicked at this late point, despite having mentally throwing in the towel a long time ago. I was just trying to get a good training run with a t-shirt.

We made it to the top, after being passed by some tri-athlete (which kind of irk'd us both a bit). We decided to run with less than 2 miles to go. I was starting to feel my 2nd, or 14th wind and was moving again. Jonathan hamstring/leg were really bothering him and he told me to press on if I had it in me. How am I suppose to abandon someone who stuck with me the whole way? I refused for about a half mile and then we turned another corner onto another hill. It was ridiculous. I started power hiking and Jonathan just goes, "see there's that WS training coming in handy". He let me go and I stopped arguing. I hit the flat and got charged. I passed the tri-athlete, who said, "ahh ya got me!" (and Jonathan got him too). I ran my last mile in under 6:30 and crossed the line in3:10:28. I was exhausted, hot and still cranky. Jonathan came in soon behind me. I got my medal and went to have my timing chip removed when I realized it had fallen off and early in the race. They told me to go to the timing table and I sprinted over and told them the predicament. They added me to the results but it took a day to fix the results. In the end, I had come in 4th woman overall and 1st in my age group. The course was way more hilly than both SF and Seattle Marathons were and so I considered my time not bad all things considered.

The heat was extreme so I opted to take Linda's offer for a ride back to my car and wait out the heat to finish my miles. Jonathan and I waited on the lawn as other friends, SRC'rs and Marathon Maniacs made their way through to the finish. Jonathan chatted with the male Kenyan winners, as he lived in Kenya for many years and I joined in. They invited us to come down and train and live with them in Kenya, like Trish and Uli did. They promised that in one year they could make me into a sub 2:30 marathoner. Sweet, I am booking my ticket.


Course profile: Lies, Lies and more damn lies

In the afternoon, I picked up my new dog from her foster home and we spent the afternoon bonding and being lazy. I finally got motivated to run another 8 miles at about 10pm and enjoyed the cool evening. I am quite tired this week from both the race as well as the emotional rollercoaster of not racing WS. I am trying to keep my fitness up for Vermont, as well as balancing the need for a bit of rest that comes from training for 6 months for something. VT100 here I come, I hope!

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