Monday, May 17, 2010

In a year.


Ready for my runner at MMT.

A year ago, on this day, I was flying home from crewing and pacing my friend and Salomon Teammate, Glen Redpath at MMT. Since that time a great deal has happened, 2009 whizzed by but was dense with experience and life. I can't believe its been a year since I was prepping for the World Championships running 40 miles on the road in blazing speed. If I had guessed where I would be in a year, it would have looked nothing like how things have shaped up. It is really cool when the life you imagined pales in comparison and falls flat to the life you actually lead.

I am very happy. Contented. In a good place. I started this blog to keep me accountable on the delicious journey so to speak, but now I see that accountability is not the motivation I needed, acceptance of life, patience and true acceptance of the journey was. A lot of the goals that I have put up here have changed. I have said I would do things and I will not. For instance, I will NOT be writing the book. I tried, I dug, I researched. I felt like I wasn't doing it for me. My heart wasn't in it, my heart was too damn happy. My mind was too busy looking presently or dreaming of the many possibilities for the future.

I know there is no singular answer to all the questions I have posed to myself and on this blog. But I am finally getting to a place where I can accept that I don't have to futilely still try to find one. Even in my last post, I declared that "the answer" in pursuing my dreams was going to a real culinary program. So I applied and was accepted to San Francisco Baking Institute. But I turned them down. Apparently, when the moment came to really leap at this, my heart wasn't in it. Yes, the $15,000 price tag was not something I could in good conscious take on, but the fact of the matter is, if I really had wanted it bad enough, I would have found a way to make it work.

I am happy. And an interesting contributor to that happiness is finally relinquishing being so damn hard on myself. I can whip myself into a frenzy over what a worthless pile of crap I am in 2 seconds flat, but the fact of the matter is, I am actually a pretty good person. That good simple person has simple dreams. I have tried for a long time to talk myself out of those dreams. No more. No more trying to find that, ah ha moment on what I am going to do with myself and my life. Myself and my life are going to keep on keeping on their own merry (and delicious) way without (and in spite of) what I think about it.

I see now that by trying to document my journey here, I was really trying to control it. Make me accountable to the 7 people who read this, motivate me to work on the answers, hasten towards a resolution. I see know that the reality of the situation is, I don't need to talk, write or ruminate anymore from an ivory tower about my journey, I just need to put one foot in front of the other and make my way.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Onwards and upwards

If you are going to get lost in the backcountry, do it with 17 of your best friends (ok 3).

Miwok recovery is over. Well, dang better be, because I have my first "A" race of the year coming up, yep less than 6 weeks til States. While I am excited and dedicated and gearing towards having a stellar race there, the last two weeks of unstructured recovery running have reminded me of something: I love to run. I just love to run.

Training and racing provide structure, goals and room for improvement and growth. But just running about without a care in the world about distance, splits or how it fits into some greater plan beats all any day of the week to me. Last weekend, Nathan and I headed down to LA to visit Jonathan and Krissy was in town too. We just ran free, took lots of pictures and acted really really goofy. Then ate copious amounts of food and did it again the next day. I ran a total of less than 50 miles for my first week post-Miwok and never even thought twice about.

Nathan, Jonathan and Krissy. My favorites.

This week I started taking baby steps back to training but knew a second recovery week was definitely still in order. I started doing some of my supplemental training (heat training and uphill hiking) but still stayed keenly aware of my bodies limitations. I didn't fight when I was tired or hungry or sore. I rolled with it. Recovery from an ultra definitely reconnects you with your body intuition. Maybe you are more willing to listen to your body when you are recovering or maybe the signals are just that much stronger. I enjoy recovery, I enjoy the lack of structure. Maybe I am at a point in my running where I am just plain fit enough to be able to take off for a weekend to run back to back 20 milers or more and not bat an eye. Go for a weekend adventure to discover new trails with friends. I definitely have a level of fitness that is a luxury (hard-earned through training), but I enjoy using that luxury to just have a blast running. That is something I need to carry with me as I ramp up the training again- the luxury, the love, the fun. I think there is so much hype surrounding WS that it is easy to miss the point. It's easy to forget to run for fun, freedom and bliss. That's why I do it and that is the only feeling and motivation that will carry for a 100 miles.

So tomorrow, I start back to it for a few more weeks before taper. It's a stressful time (peak training) in a stressful time (I am moving), but I am going to do my best to smile with every step, listen to my body, push back against any neurotic self-doubts, and just have a hell of a good time. Yes, I like the sound of that. Very much so.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Miwok 100k Race Report

This year has one focus for my racing: Western States. All of my training, all of my racing, all of my supplemental work has been, is and will be geared towards having the best day I can out there. I am excited about it and without a doubt it has been a very different and interesting experience. Especially when it comes to racing other races.


Entering Tennessee Valley Aid Station
Photo by Jennifer Benna


First Lake Sonoma and this past weekend at Miwok, I have learned a great deal about racing and about myself as a runner. All things that are going to be incredibly useful in the future. I am even more pleased that I was able to run two very hard and competitive races (particularly Miwok) as lead-ups to Western States and be competitive, successful, learn a bunch, recover quickly and run according to my game plan.

Before LS50 and particularly before Miwok 100k, I knew I needed a plan. I needed a specific mentality, I needed a specific headspace. I had to prepare myself and truly accept and embody that if I was going to use this race as an indicator or "training race", then I would really run according to my definition of that/plan, not just tell myself that.

Now, I want to make one thing very clear. I still think of "training races" as races. I don't view them as supported long runs. Not for me. Not right now. I am not saying I wouldn't do it or consider it, but I am just clarifying that is not what I mean here. My philosophy for these lead up races was to run hard and well, but also within myself. I decided before these races that I would run according to my game plan despite what other runners are doing, even if it meant not competing or placing as highly. I view the competition as a means to push me, but not as a means to break me. Lake Sonoma, I did this particularly well and ran a great race and was back to training in a week. 

I knew Miwok would be different. I knew it would be harder to hold on to that mentality with the most stacked woman's field (and the men's race was SERIOUSLY stacked too) I have ever run against outside of international competition. That is why I signed up. I wanted the competition. I will sign up again at some point when it is not a lead-up race to something else and be excited by the chance to compete again. With such a competitive field, it is easy to feel like you want to prove yourself. It is easy to get caught up and fall into someone's else's pace and plan. Or at least that is what I thought would be my major battle of the day. The battle to keep my mind, pace and self in check. Turns out, it would not even be an issue.
Cruising out of Tennessee Valley in the early morning light
Photo from Ultralive.net

The Race
3 am is early. But we all managed to get up, fed, clothed, water bottles filled and out the door right on schedule. I had Nathan and bestest everest Jonathan with me in the mini cooper and we zoomed to the race start in good time, owing to a late head-ups from Hollis that the alternate route (the non-tunnel way) was actually open, so we snuck over that way. We got a nice spot in the parking lot and proceeded to check in, sort ourselves and before we could think twice (okay, maybe there was some mention of it not being too late to reconsider, at least on my part) we were walking over to the beach for the race start.

I just kept reminding myself it was less climbing than LS50 but 12 more miles

I saw a bunch of the top guys milling about at the start, said hello to a few friends and fellow runners and soon we were off, dashing down the beach through the sand. I just wanted to get off the sand as quickly as possible and not get stuck in the conga line where beach meets single track. I could tell as I left the sand that I was the leading lady (wahoo 500 feet of leading!) but knew I had no intention of hammering it out at the start, in fact, I quickly settled in and waited for some of the other ladies to come charging up to get me. I knew they would. Sure enough, I was joined by Kami Semick, Darcy Africa and Jenn Shelton and then surged ahead of me by about 10-15 feet after a brief exchange of hellos. I laughed to myself as I had predicted this exactly. Darcy had gone out quite hard at HURT and Jenn and Kami are speed demons, so I figured they would front run from the gun. I told myself just stay comfortable and to let them go if they were going to go. I told myself, don't chase, don't chase. And I didn't. But they didn't gain.

We ran up the road a ways, around a cone, back down the road then on to coast view trail, then back on road, then up Coastal for 3/4 mile, around another cone then back down to Bunker Road aid station. This was the new start due to construction on Conzulman road. I hung back and watched the three ladies, feeling distinctly comfortable and easy. I floated on the uphills and seemed to gain on them without even exerting any effort. I ran up Coastal and passed Jenn. Running around the cone at the 3/4 mile mark, I did a little pirouette around the cone to keep it fun. Joe Palubeski of Team Sunsweet, who has a bet going with my training partner Brett was right behind me and did the exact same thing at the exact same time. We are bonded for life!

I am a great downhill runner and don't really have to work any hard to speed up downhill. It costs me no energy and my legs can sustain it. So after the cone, I cruised past Darcy and comfortably tucked in behind Kami. I actually think I put on the brakes. Kami knows Miwok. She has won it numerous times. She is smart, savvy, strong and fast. The trail opened up and we started chatting and catching up as we headed into Bunker Road aid station.

Heading into Bunker Road aid station
Photo by Jim Vernon, Hydrapak

Kami is one of my WC100k teammates, she won the gold last year in both the 50k and 100k road distance. She is someone I respect and admire. And it was cool to run with her. We zoomed through the aid station without stopping and headed up Rodeo Trail. I am not a big fan of Rodeo trail, but know it as we have been training on it a ton. It is 900 feet of climbing and a grind. She and I chatted as we ran up and when I glanced back, I noticed Jenn and Darcy had dropped off the pace.

I also noticed that it felt like I had a plastic bag over my head and that my eyes and face were on fire. I started to feel dizzy and started to feel worried. I have been having some weird allergy to something for months which has manifested as eczema and sometimes shortness of breathe but this was ridiculous. Joe asked if I was okay a couple times and I gave him a reassuring smile though I was not reassured myself.

We hit Bobcat and Kami jumped off into the bushes to answer nature's call. I clipped on ahead and sped up a little to chat with Brett. We soon did my favorite part of our weekly Thursday morning run, Old Springs. I run down this hard as I can every Thursday and see if anyone can hang on. So I ran it hard but not as to tax my legs too much as there was 50 more miles to go!

I came into the aid station first woman, though I wanted to announce that Kami was really only behind me because she had stopped for the bathroom since I am sure people were assuming I was going out hammering. Wasn't hammering, in fact, other than the allergy induced breathing issue, I felt great. My sister was at TV and handed me a new Gel-bot and a Vespa Jr without me breaking stride. I cruised out of Tennessee Valley and slowed up to fall back in with Kami. She and I chatted about racing, the mentality about competition and how cool it is just to have other people to push you. We hit the gnarly climb up Coastal and I broke into a hard climb. She was running next to me, looked over and said, "hell, I am not going to run this if you aren't". We hiked and ran to the top. And started our descent into Pirates Cove. As we came out, I started to feel my allergy/allergic symptoms again. I had to slow up. I couldn't breathe. Joe passed me and asked if I was ok, I told him to forgot about me and just keep going. He stayed on Kami's heels and I watched her go away from me. It was frustrating to feel that way. 

I just pushed through it though, knowing I need to stay on my plan and just keep running comfortably and in control. Even if comfortable meant succumbing to a snail's pace due to whatever was going on in my system.  I hit Muir Beach aid station and didn't stop, about 30 seconds back from Kami. I set my sights on the 2.1 miles flat that would take me to THE climb up to Pantoll that we had done repeats on. I relinquished more time on the flat and just worked on taking my gel, salt. I hit the bottom of Deer Park Fire Road, said "here we go" and headed up.

It wasn't as pretty as I would have liked. It wasn't as easy as I would have liked either, but then again we were 17-ish in and it is not an easy climb. I was relieved that it did feel short. Those repeats did wonders in making the climb feel a lot less daunting and long than it use to. I made it to the top, scurried along the flat and headed into the aid station, now 5-6 minutes back. On the climb up, I had become one with my mentality to run my own race no matter what the competition was doing. My thought had been to run comfortably and if comfortably kept me in striking distance, then maybe at the end I would push a bit, but that I wouldn't push a bit to keep in striking distance. Plus, things change over that many miles.

Heading through Pantoll Aid Station


I came into Pantoll. Complained a bit about my breathing, complained a bit about being bored, and was generally just feeling a little bit like "holy hell I have a long way to go". In all reality, I have not run a 100k in almost a year and I have NEVER run a 100k on the trail. Only Vermont 100 has been a longer trail run for me. Miwok was a huge first for me and it was interesting chewing on the mental side of things. 

Just after Pantoll
Photo by iRunFar.com

Thankfully once at Pantoll, my allergy/allergic reaction cleared and I could breathe again. Ahhhh. It was so nice. I popped over on to Coastal trail and turned on my ipod which I had grabbed from my sister. I rocked out, but was definitely not out of my funk. Then my left foot started to hurt. Badly. I have been having some issue with it since I went to France but the pain has been inconsistent and usually only post run. But it made itself know on every root and rock. Whatever I had gained from being able to breathe, I lost with the tenderness of my foot. From Pantoll to Randall and back is a whopping 28 miles, and I have done it, many times in both directions. It felt shorter than it did the first few times, but I knew every twist and turn and climb the whole way. 

I dug into my music and just kept going. Brett and Thomas Reiss were behind me by 30-45 seconds but I couldn't see anyone else coming so I just clipped along. In truth, I was formulating a plan. I told myself that I would NOT stop at the Bolinas-Fairfax Road aid station (mile 28 ish) and quit. I told myself that if I was going to consider dropping than I was going to have to think about it long and hard (and painfully) for the 14 miles out and back to Randall trailhead, as my crew was not meeting me there.

I came into the aid station, complained loudly that I thought I might need a new foot, grabbed my new bottle from my sister and headed out on the ridge, with 7.2 miles to the next aid station. And I made a huge mistake. In all of my thinking and such, I had put my baggie of salts into my zipper pouch on my waterbottle. Then I swapped that bottle with my sister for a fresh one. Leaving my salts behind. It was late morning, the ridge is hot and I was without salt and only 24 ounces of plain water. Dumb Devon Dumb! Note to self, don't do stupid things like this.

Brett and Thomas passed me just past the aid station and one other guy did too. I was trying to get my head back in the game, but my head was worrying about the bigger picture, the repercussions of a bum foot for states. I ran when it felt good which was sporadic and focused on making sure I was taking calories so that I didn't bonk on top of hobbling and cramping. Yes cramping, it started about 4 miles after the aid station right under my rib cage. Exactly when I was slated for a salt tab. I just kept running. I saw Gary, my buddy and house guest for the weekend, walking back towards me. He was dropping. I felt for him. He is a brilliant runner and did not make that choice lightly. I pondered my own idea of dropping for a while after that. I resolved that I would not, unless injured PERIOD.

I was nearly to the gate for the 1.5 mile descent to the Randall aid station when I saw Anton cruising comfortably back towards me. We exchanged friendly hellos as we passed, I told him he was looking awesome and he was. Comfortable, easy. Impressive. When he gets it right, he gets it right. Next came my buddy Mike Wardian, he was making chase but didn't have the twinkle Anton did. Then Hal. I made it to the gate. The runners coming back at me were a nice distraction and motivation for getting my butt back in the game. I started descending, looking forward to seeing Nathan.

The long single track on Coastal (outbound)
Photo by Ultralive.net

I came around a corner and there he was, cruising strong up the hill, looking even and smooth as Anton did. I was so excited for him, he is really coming into his own and hasn't really even begun to scratch the surface yet. A quick kiss and we were off. I resolved that I should be nicer, sweeter, happier. After all, this is suppose to be fun. Even a rougher day should not dampen my spirits, I am out in my favorite place doing my favorite thing on a beautiful perfect sunny day. Down down down. Finally I see Kami. I note in time where she is and mark it for reference for the way back.

I get to the aid station, suck down some salt tabs, do a quick debriefing of the 20 or so volunteers as to what a Gel-bot is and am on my way out of the aid station. I loitered a bit long there. Probably 3 minutes. But it was worth it, I ate a slice of watermelon that tasted like heaven. I was experimenting with taking a Vespa Jr every 3 hours and a Hyper Vespa every 3 hours alternating (so I was taking a Vespa every 1.5 hours). I took in only 200 calories in the 14 mile out and back on Bolinas and my energy was good. I had been focusing on taking gel about 10 minutes before I would start a climb and it really made a difference getting the sugar in my blood before the climb, for the most part. The climb back up to the ridge was rough. 

I was not as strong as I liked and my shiny new attitude took a lot of work. I still greeted every runner coming down to the turnaround. Finally, I saw the next gal. Jenn. I wagered she was about 13-15 minutes back. Then Darcy, another 2. Then the ladies came in rapid succession. I climbed and climbed, running, walking, hiking, clawing to the top. I saw Jonathan coming towards me and my heart leapt for joy! He was doing so well! Then Krissy. Two friends in a row worth of hugs and cheers gave me a boost. I worked for the top.

But on the ridge again, I was feeling a lull. The climb had me wanting for more salt. It was hot. I was about 5 miles until the aid station, my crew, my pacer. It's the time in the race when you stop thinking about competition. You stop thinking about the race. You start thinking about surviving. My legs felt good, I wasn't bonking, my head was clear (except of negative thoughts), I just couldn't get it together. 

I was in the netherrealm. I had gone so far, but had so much more to go. I got passed on the ridge, by 4-5 guys. I just let them go. They tried to encourage me, I just cheered them on. I continued to cheer for each and every runner than was headed outbound too. They were coming more and more rapidly and I focused on them. Suddenly about mile 39, everything stopped hurting. My foot was fine, I was a bit parched and crampy from want of salt but I was actually good.

I did a quick body check. Holy hell, I feel better! That is what I love about ultrarunning, you give it a few more miles and everything will change. I picked up the pace. I had be languishing. I had been slow. I had lost a significant amount of time, probably damn near 10 more minutes on Kami. I was certain Jenn was sneaking up on me. 

But things changed. I just started feeling better and better and better. While I was pleasantly surprised, I am not surprised. For some reason I feel the strongest at the end of my runs. All of my training has been that way. I come back from the dead. I just started running.

Pacer Caitlin and I running up Miwok
Photo by Gary Gellin

My sister didn't tell me until much later after the race how worried she had been for me when I didn't arrive, when others arrived who had been behind me. But I came into Bolinas Fairfax Road renewed and picked up a new bottle (with my salts), sucked down some Coke and picked up Caitlin. I was so excited to have company. And she was an absolute blessing. She encouraged me, she told me that this last 20 miles was all me. She said it was my kind of terrain and she was absolutely right. I started speeding up. We cruised the ridge back to Pantoll swiftly, with me in front, Caitlin encouraging and cheering me from behind. I felt renewed confidence. The thoughts of dropping were gone. My foot felt great, my body strong. I was "I've run 50 miles" tired, but still able to keep pushing. Like the last 12 miles of Lake Sonoma, I felt like a new person.

I charged into Pantoll, got my bottle from my sister and took a few swigs of coke. Flat coke is my fav on a hot day. I got in and out quickly and noted (a half mile outside of the aid station) that I had just run a sub 7:40 50 miler. Not stellar, but not bad either. We started down the long descent from Pantoll and I cruised. My legs felt easy and strong. My quads took the long downhill as if they had no miles on them at all. It made me smile to have my legs feel that good. I took some more gel as we got close to the bottom to power me up the climb. We crossed the road, followed the trail and did the quick left turn up Miwok. I looked at the sign post as we began the ascent. It was 1.7 miles to the next aid station. 

I felt good running up. I was running uphill at this point. I know this section, I have tirelessly train on this course and this 1.7 miles of up, I have never ran in its entirety. Until race day. I powered it. I felt smooth and steady. I was taking back time and I knew it. I knew that no one would be able to catch me. My confidence for the day (and even more so for the future) bolstered. I kept telling myself as we worked towards the top "I can't wait to tell Nathan I ran all the way up Miwok!". And I did it. We crested the ridge and sailed into the Highway 1 aid station.
At the top of Coyote
Photo by Gary Gellin

I grabbed some Gu Chomps and a coke while my bottle was refilled, took another salt. Victor told me that Nathan was in fourth and looking strong and smooth. I knew he was nearly finished. Caitlin and I headed out on the fire road on what I call the "just kiddings". It looks like you only have a short way to go to connect to Coyote, but "just kidding!" the trail cuts back several times. It looks so close, yet so far away. I was powering though and excited. Caitlin was an amazing pacer. I realized on the run that I have only been paced once before, back at Vermont 100. I have paced and paced and paced other people, but haven't had an occasion to have once since VT100. They make such a difference. I am infinitely grateful to Caitlin for her encouragement, cheering, pacing and friendship. It made a profound difference.

Along the ridge I passed two runners which felt good. I got to the top of Coyote and cruised down to Tennessee Valley. Though I knew as I arrived there to my smiling, happy, excited sister that I was 3.7 miles away from the finish. It didn't sink in. I just felt like I was going to continue on and on forever, but in a good way. We headed out of the aid station and up Old Springs. I hiked, I ran, I powered, I celebrated. I didn't try to hammer. I just floated on the feeling of having a huge turn around in the last 20 miles. We crested Old Springs, ran along Miwok and turned up Wolf Ridge for the last brutal climb to the top. It is steep, so steep. I rarely run it on a good day. I don't think I have ever run it. It is a serious grade. I hiked it. The top meant freedom, the top meant done. The top meant I had 1.3 miles of downhill celebration. I ran the middle section then just near the top it kicks up again. I huffed, I puffed and hiked it hard. With about 100 meters to the top I exclaimed, "fuck this motherfucker" and ran as hard as I could, my legs responding easily. 

The top!! It felt so good. I let out a primal yell like is typical of my Thursday crew. Caitlin told me that I should feel free to drop her on the descent :) I ran down, down, down. My legs feeling awesome. I wanted to cry. I wanted to laugh. It was such an amazing feeling. I could see the finish. I could feel the finish. I couldn't wait to see all of my friends who had run so well from my crew, couldn't wait to see how awesome Nathan had did, couldn't wait to give my sister a big hug of thank you. Couldn't wait to feel that moment of accomplishment. Down, down, down. Faster and faster. I hit the corner and turned into the parking lot, sprinting to the finish. I crossed the line 2nd woman, in 9:36.
Finishing Strong
Photo by iRunFar.com




You pass that chalk line in the parking line and the whole experience simultaneously sinks in and is forgotten. I can't believe I just ran 62 miles. Wait did I just run 62 miles (and feel this good!?!). I hugged everyone. I relished in the moment and thought of "wow, each and everyone of us, look how far we went. Look at the journey". I feel that way from first place to last place, we all share the journey. The things we experience on that journey are incredible. I am so proud of this race because I did stuff wrong, I handled it, I kept going. I learned, I enjoyed. I ran. It was a beautiful day.

Hug from my sister, crew extraordinaire!
Photo by Jim Vernon, Hydrapak

So proud of Nathan's breakout performance!
Photo by Jim Vernon, Hydrapak

The rest of the weekend was spent, as it should be, in celebration of our journey, our friends. My whole crew did amazing (Nathan 4th, Brett 10th, Joel 14th, Rick a PR!) and I am so proud of the community we have built. After a pizza filled evening on Saturday, on Sunday I had 11 runners, plus 7 more crew, pacers and volunteers over to my house for a brunch party! It was a special weekend and I am continually reminded how blessed I am, not just to be able to run, but to be able to undertake such a journey as this and with such amazing people and friends. I will be back to Miwok to race again. It is my backyard and that is something I say with an immense amount of pride, gratitude and excitement.

Dare I say, onwards to States!

My gear:
Shoes: Salomon XT Whisper 2
Socks: Drymax Lite Trail Running Mini Crew
Bottles: Gel-bot
Fuel: Vespa, Gu & Clif Shots, Gu Chomps

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