A week before Mad City, chasing gazelles up and down mountains.
With LA marathon only three weeks ago, one might think that I would be back to regular running by now, feeling recovered after taking a few weeks easy. Ha, have you met me? Instead of having time to bask in the awesome feeling of success brought on by reaching my goal and qualifying for the Olympic Trials, I was trying to power recover/taper and also acclimatize to sleeping at altitude in our new Hypoxico altitude tent. I immediately started sleeping at altitude after LA and it took me until the middle of last week to finally wake up and feel like I had actually slept. If I was just in recovery, this wouldn't really matter but such was not the case as this past weekend I lined up to race the Mad City 100k USATF 100k National Championships to attempt to requalify for the 100k national team. This was an insane idea, I know, but I one of my main goals for the year was to race in the Netherlands as part of Team USA in the 100k. I thought I was already qualified with my Tussey 50 mile time, but found out a few weeks before LA that I was not. My coach advised me strongly to run Mad City to secure my spot, even though we both knew it would not be ideal since I haven't run over 26.2 miles since November and haven't run more than 50k since Tussey last year. In other words, I would be doing no training for Mad City. LA marathon was my most important goal, so I did not let Mad City enter my mind until after I crossed the finish line there.
Apparently, 2000 foot rocky ascents in less than 2 miles are excellent for taper
After LA, I was feeling pretty good. My legs and body recovered pretty well considering how hard I ran. The Thursday after LA, I was even back running with the ninjas feeling pretty spry and powering up the big long climbs. With less than three weeks between LA and Mad City, I really only had time to cobble together a few runs, throw in a few strides and focus on getting as rested and recovered as possible. At least in theory. The reality is that I ran hard and fast with a great group on Mt. Tam 6 days post- LA for a friend's birthday (think 8 minute pace up railroad grade) and ran nearly 60 miles that week. Then followed that with an 80 mile week that included a nearly 40 mile weekend with huge climbs and descents with a seriously fast crew of displaced Lake Sonoma 50 mile runners (who's race was cancelled due to flooding). It was one of the most fun weekends of running I've ever experienced but things like a 2,000 foot rocky ascent are not exactly the type of activities one should do 1 week out from running a road 100k and just 2 weeks after a marathon. With the lack of sleep, I started my final taper week not sure of what to expect from Mad City. I don't think I expected much. I hadn't had time to think about the race, let alone get jazzed for it. I think I had mentally exhausted myself through highly motivating myself for Houston/LA races. Mad City all I could do was get to the start line and hope I made it through the day. I packed my bags and flew off to Madison on Thursday and got ready to get loopy on Saturday.
Early on, still in my long sleeve (source)
Before the race, I focused on the details of things I could control and spent very little time actually thinking through the race. I got my fuel plan together, made a pace chart for time, checked the weather over and over and over (since it kept changing-threatening high temps and thunderstorms) and got my crew bag together for Beth (the baker's sister) and Mike, who drove up from Illinois with the best cheerleader ever (Ellie, their 1 year old). I worried over my shoe selection and finally decided to wear my KSwiss Kwicky Blade Lights even though I had not run more than 8 miles at a time in them. I was considering wearing the same shoes I wore for Tussey but the reality was, they were a tab smaller (which means less room for swelling feet) and I hadn't really been wearing them either. I made up a drop bag for the start with the alternate pair, just in case. The night before the race, I met up with Beth and Mike at their hotel, made myself an awesome dinner of herb roasted potatoes and onions, skirt steak and salad and hit the hay early. As I lay there, I didn't have any of that "I am racing tomorrow" feeling. When I forced myself to think about it, all I could think was "I have no idea how I am going to mentally wrap my mind around running for 8+ hours". I woke up at 4:45am, had my gluten free oats with peanut butter, coffee and soon Todd Braje and I were off to the start together (we stayed at the same amazing host house- Thanks Suzie!!).
Pre-race mug shot.
The race is pretty low key. 10- 10k loops around the Arb and Lake Wingra. There were 30 participants in the 100k race which has served as the 100k road national championship for the past few years (including 2007 when I ran it the first time). However, most of those 30 participants were gunning for a fast or faster time including lots of hopefuls for this years 100k national team. The men's field was stacked would certainly go out fast. I didn't know much about the women's field except that Pam Smith was coming to try and qualify for the team. I was happy there was at least one other woman in the field going for a qualifier since it meant I had hope for having someone to run with. Actually, I thought she would smoke me since I was feeling not recovered/tapered at all.
We arrived at the start parked in the nearly empty parking lot and got our bottles and drop bags arranged at the start/finish area. Todd did some warming up and I sat in the car and watched the clock inch towards the 6:30 am start time. I figured I would warm up in the first few laps. The last thing I wanted to do was get hyped before such a long race. My biggest fear going into the race was that my target pace would feel too easy and I would run to fast at the start and burn out in the later laps. I had written my 10k lap splits on my hand and the word "patience" to remind me that I should not run any faster than the splits. My goal time was about 8:10 which Howard, my coach, thought would be sufficient enough to secure my spot on the team. I had 8 hour pace on my hand because it was just less math. I knew that the course record was 8 hours run the year before by my friend and teammate Meghan Arbogast. My 100k PR is 7:59 so I figured there was no way I would PR but the spilts were suppose to stop me from overreaching.
With a few minutes to go, I stepped out into the cool morning air, did a few hip swings and walked over to the start. There was no time for me to think or get nervous, we were off with a ready, set, go. My strategy with loop courses is always to break it down mentally into digestible chunks. I tell myself just make it to 50k, then coast into 80k and then my favorite part is the hammer drop of the last two laps. I like to close a race hard, so the last 20k I look forward to. As I predicted the men's field went out strong and I settled into pace with a few runners with Pam just a bit ahead of me.
Pam and I running together. photo: James Mills, Madison Examiner
She and I would be soon running together and spent the majority of the first 6 loops in relatively close contact together. We chatted a bunch and focused on just being steady and running together. In all of my world championship experiences, I have run at least the first 50k with the company of a teammate and I find it is the best way to pass the time. I was really glad to have the company and felt Pam and I worked well together. Occasionally, she would lose me as I stopped pretty much every other lap for a bathroom break, but I would accelerate a bit to catch her because it was more fun to run next to someone than 150 meters behind them.
Making an awesome face while getting the handoff from Beth
Each lap, I would come around and Beth would be waiting for me with a waterbottle swap and a Gu and Vespa. I carried a small 8 ounce water bottle and finished it easily every loop. It wasn't too warm so it was the perfect amount for me. I focused on my plan: GU every 45 minutes, Saltstick every 1 hour, Vespa JR every 1.5 hours. The first few laps were faster than my 8 hour splits, each lap was 47 or under including a 45:56 on lap 4. I felt good, my legs were not feeling pounded at all, my energy was good. I will say, I think that the lack of recovery served me well because the 7:30 pace felt just right instead of incredibly slow. I think my absent recovery kept me physically reined in which was nice so I didn't have to mentally do it.
Round and round we went. I passed the 50k mark in 3:53 which was 7 minutes ahead of CR record pace. I kept telling myself to focus on my time and chill the heck out. I didn't feel like I was pressing though and I didn't feel tired, so I just kept running. In a loop course, I just start mentally pulling myself along from one landmark to the next to break up the loop. I could feel myself mentally fatiguing though my physical energy was fine. By the 50k mark, I was full out funky. I was having a "crisis of motivation". I just suddenly could not for the life of me figure out why I was running this race. I decided that my coach had pressured me into it and I didn't really want to be there. I was feeling like a petulant child and complained to Pam that I wasn't sure I was self-motivated to be there at around the 55k marker. She responded, "well, if you didn't want to be here at least a little bit, you wouldn't be here" and ran off as I eased my pace back a bit hoping that maybe an easier pace would make me more into it. By the time I came into the start/finish area at 60k, I said to Beth and Sam (Chad Rickleff's wife- another 100k teammate) "I need some motivation!!!! I am not into this!". Sam told me just to chill out and focus on my time. I took my sweet time going through the start/finish area and was 30 seconds back from Pam. I started my 7th loop, took an FRS chew from my pocket and hoped that a dose of caffeine might change my mind. I could feel my mind start to lift, I realized that I would soon be on my favorite laps and was less than a marathon from the finish. I knew that I just had to get enough momentum to get out of the 7th loop and I would find my killer instinct. Thanks to the FRS, I found it about 65k and I swallowed up the distance between Pam and I pulling along side her on the small climb up to the mile 4.2 aid station. I told her I appreciated her comment because she was right: if I didn't want to be there, I wouldn't have been there. I did want to be there and I definitely wanted to qualify for the team. She said she was feeling a bit tired and I tried to encourage her along. I was speeding up though and left her behind shortly after the aid station.
I came into the start/finish line and said, "I've stopped being a punk! I was just being a punk!". I knew I was about to turn into a machine. Even though, when I stopped to think about it, I had 18 miles remaining, I felt like I was launching my kick. I was easily maintaining my pace and had to start holding myself back in my 8th and 9th loops so I didn't get to crazy. I was still way ahead of my spilts on my hand and I started to actually consider that I might not only make the team, but win the national championship and set the course record.
I was shocked how good my legs felt. I just kept cranking, smoothly and comfortably. I zoomed around and finally made it to 90k. I wasn't sure how far up I was on Pam but I knew I couldn't take any chances. I went through the start/finish in 7:01 and got ready to hammer it home. I could hear the announcer when Pam came into the start/finish, I was 3 minutes up and knew that was not enough to rest on my laurels. I took an extra caffeine gel at the start of the loop to not take any chances bonking. I passed once more by each significant marker that had pulled me through each loop, thanking the volunteers and the spectators including one awesome lady who stood at the top of a one of the longer hills and cheered us up for the entirety of the second half of the race. It was awesome. I got to the 5k marker and saw I was on pace for my fastest lap and I felt myself growing stronger and stronger. I was excited and I was happy. I was present and enjoying the moment. It is a cool feeling to go far beyond what you thought you could. I grabbed a sip of coke at the final aid station and zoomed down the small hill on the other side. The "Arb" was my favorite part, I had about 2.2 miles to go. "Less than 18 minutes until I am done, less then 15 minutes until I am done, less than 10 minutes until I am done". I could see the start/finish through the trees, even though it is 5 minutes away. I pushed, I cranked, I extended myself. My body, surprisingly, let me.
I hit the finishing stretch and gave it a nice kick up. I could see the finishline, I checked over my shoulder a couple of times before allowing myself a smile, a huge goofy grin as I barreled into the finish line in 7:46:33. National Champion in the 100k, a new huge PR in the 100k (and in the 50 mile with a 6:17 split) and an automatic qualifier for the 100k Team USA! (Also turns out it was the 11th fastest time for an American women in the 100k-cool!)
They immediately presented me with medals, a giant crystal trophy, gift certificate and winnings. I walked around a bit with Beth and Ellie to make sure I didn't cramp up. It felt so great to be done. I almost couldn't believe what I had just done. I just ran 13 minutes faster than my 100k PR and I felt great! How is that possible! I changed my clothes and talked to the men's winner Andy Henshaw. He had run a blazing 6:47, won and qualified for the team! He came over to (re-) introduce himself after I finished because he had been the guy that I death marched out of the Canyons with at WS before be both dropped. He had hurt himself and my kidneys were shutting down, it was so nice to meet again on such a better day for both of us. And seriously, he averaged a minute per mile faster than me for the entire distance. He is a beast!!!
I hung out at the finish for a while, cheered in Pam who came in well under the old course record as well in 7:53 and enjoyed the sunshine which was (thankfully) just poking out. Beth, Mike and I headed over to the Old Fashioned for a late celebratory lunch and it really made my day to be able to spend some good time with them.
It was a whirlwind weekend. I flew back to San Francisco crazy early Sunday morning. Before I could even think about it, the amazing experience, the sheer gravity was slipping through my fingers. In some ways as I write this blog post, it feels like it is something that I experienced in a dream. I am so excited to once again be a part of Team USA and represent at the 100k Worlds in the Netherlands in September. I am curious to see what I can do. In the end, I am glad I took a chance to run this race, it was an insane idea but it worked out. I would like to say that I am kicking me feet up and enjoying some well-deserved recovery time, but the reality of the situation is, I am on to the next adventure in just another week! And I couldn't be more excited. Thank goodness I don't seem to be that sore!