I went to the well. And the well was dry. So I found a shovel and dug deeper.
I have never been so perfectly happy with an imperfect race.
Two weeks ago, I was primed, I was ready. I was fit, tapered, fueled, rested. My workouts had been fantastic, I was focused, I was sharp. I was ready to rock at the WC100k which I had set my sights on winning and had focused all my energy on. And yet, it wasn't my day.
I came off that experience wanting to utilize my fitness and do a confidence rebuilding race. I needed to get back on the horse. Luckily for me, I was all set to run the inaugural UROC 100k in the Blue Mountains of Virgina on Saturday September 24th.
Unfortunately for me, the WC100k and subsequent food poisoning had me in a tough spot. Instead of feeling like I was primed and ready and, more importantly, recovered from those fast 70k in the Netherlands, I was feeling physically destroyed. I was unable to eat much for a few after the food poisoning and probably dropped between 2-3 lbs from the food poisoning. That is saying something considering I am running at my lightest race weight this year. Not eating immediately after a hard race also wrecks your muscles. Once I was able to fuel again, my runs felt awful. I was exhausted, dead legged and super sore. My muscles felt like they had been through a cheese grater. A week ago, I did a 10 mile trail run on Saturday and was throughly convinced that there was no way I would muster the energy or stamina to take on a tough 100k in one weeks time.
As I considered whether or not I would get on the plane and go to Virginia, I searched myself for what my motivation for running UROC 100k was. I didn't feel like I wanted or needed redemption from the WC100k. I didn't feel motivated by the money or trying to beat a good field of competitors, nor was I intimidated by it. Instead, I felt like I just wanted to get back on the horse. I wanted to run a race that good or bad, I got through. I finished. As I set my sights on my next event that I want to be sharp and hungry for, I knew that I didn't want to go into that race (JFK 50) doubting my own abilities to (literally) go the distance. I needed a confidence boost.
So I got on the plane. Despite being at about 75% (healthy, rested, of my abilities, etc), I got on the plane. Thankfully, the flight didn't break me this time as it is known to do. The travel did however destroy me a bit more than when I started out. I flew a red-eye and then endured a grueling marathon of waiting, cancelled flights, and hanging around at the airport. I made it finally to Wintergreen resort after a fit of tears while sitting on the airport floor, slightly before 5pm and was pretty delirious. I participated in the elite athlete panel and stated that my goal was to "just not quit". Afterwards, I headed back to the condo I was sharing with Geoff, Dave, Matt, Eric (on a side note, it was fantastic to get to spend some time with these super stars & get to know them better. They are good people.) as well as iRunFar's BP and the TrailRunner folks. It was a great place and I got a room to myself!
I figured I would sleep well considering I had been up for two days, but unfortunately some of the non-racers who were staying in the house were up pretty late having a lively discussion. And let's just say I am a light sleeper and some people need to work on their "inside voices". I managed about 2 hours of sleep and despite that, felt fine when my alarm went off at 5am. A quick body check and I was happy that at the very least I didn't feel too tight, sore or tired.
We headed to the start around 6:30am for our 7am elite start (which in my opinion, is not absolutely essential, although it did spread the field out nicely by the time we reached the more congested out and back sections). I met up with the other ladies and took some pictures with some other runners. I stripped down to my new Salomon international team kit and tightened my Salomon SpeedCross 3s. Earlier in the week I had had a hard time deciding on shoes for a course that is half hilly road and half technical trail complete with slippery rugged rocks, but the SpeedCross were ultimately PERFECT for the combo course. I checked the pockets of my Salomon XT Advanced Skin 5 SLAB pack and made sure I had all the GU's and Chomps, Saltstick and Hyper Vespas that I envisioned needing. I was set and I was feeling pretty calm.
Before I had much more time to think about it, we were off on our journey. We did a processional loop around the parking lot and immediately hit a trail into the woods and the men's pack of elites disappeared ahead of us (us being the 5 elite ladies including Ragan Petri, Anne Lundblad and Andi Felton). We ran into some tree cover when I felt a sharp sting on my back. Damn, I got stung by a nasty bee or wasp or something. Turns out one of the first guys had to have stirred a hive because there were numerous reports of stings at mile 1. My lower back got a bit swollen but I just laughed it off and kept on running. I knew the first 5.5 miles had a big climb to the highest point on the course, so I just relaxed into the climb and ran where I could on some of the technical trail and ran the uphill on the road sections. We alternated between the two surfaces and I wondered if that would be par for the course (i.e. very short sections of each).
I was hitting the road sections pretty good and left the other women pretty quickly behind and started running with Mike Oliva whom I had run Breaker's Marathon with a few years back. I knew there was a $200 bonus for the King/Queen of the Mountain at the mile 5.5 mark, so I made a few quick checks over my shoulder en route to the top.
Queen of the Mountain- where's my polka dots?
(Photo by the amazing David Clifford)
The small success of winning Queen of the Mountain was a nice boost. I figured that I might as well make as much money as I could now in case things went sideways later. I didn't push myself to get there, but it was cool. We started a big descent, ducking and weaving again between trail and road. On a technical section of rocks about a mile after the 5.5 mile aid station I slipped and smack the side of my ankle on a rock. For a second, I could barely hobble and dance around like an idiot, but the pain subsided as I continued and hit the road for a long quad busting descent. I knew that the end of the race finished on this road and I can't say I was excited for a 3.1 mile climb up a steep road. Mike and I hit the bottom on the hill and turned up another road which was steeper than the one we came down. I alternated walking and running between each course marker- which were between 50-100meters apart. I arrived at the mile 9.3 aid station in 1:34, 3 minutes ahead of Anne and Ragan. I asked what the next section was like as I filled my pack for the first time and someone said that I would hit road soon enough, so I popped back on the road and settled into a good clip. I could tell I didn't have my road speed of two weeks prior. A low 7 felt no where as easy as it had then, but I had expected that. I zipped along and kept my eyes out for confidence inducing orange flags. I didn't see any for a long stretch of road and started to get worried. I decided I must have missed a turn on to a trail because the flags had been close together up to this point. I stopped turned around and sprinted back up the hilly road. Then I saw Anne and Ragan, I yelled to ask if the road was the right way to go and Anne yelled back yes. I was a bit bummed that I had just blown any cushion I had. I decided to let it out a bit on the road and risk my legs a bit. They seemed to be able to handle it and I made it to the next aid station in good time. That entire 4.8 mile section was road but we were rewarded at mile 14.1 with a long section of trail, which was a great mix of super runnable and more technical terrain. Mike and I were still running together, happy for the company. After a while, we got to see the lead men coming back. I was feeling good, taking in my gels 1/hr and salt 45mins-1hr. It was humid, so I wanted to make sure I was managing my hydration better than I had at WC100k.
We made it to Sherando aid station at mile 17.5 with (apparently) a 2 minute lead. The longest climb of the day lay ahead of us up to Bald Mountain. Mike and I climbed steadily, running a great deal but also not hammering the climb. I felt good. I paid good attention the trail because it was very technical and rocky and knew I would return this way later. We were nearly at the top when I looked back and saw Ragan within a few 100 feet of us. After the summit, we descended on a fire road to the mile 25.9 aid station. I blew through it and tried to get a little gap on Ragan on the road. I started to feel pretty average and didn't have the steam I wanted at that particular moment. I just kept repeating my "feel good mantra" of "baby goats, puppies and kittens". Mike and Ragan were about 2 minutes behind me on the 3.4 mile section of road to the next water only aid station. I stopped to fill up my pack which was cumbersome considering the size of the water jugs. Thankfully Mike and Ragan stopped too and we tag teamed the water. Mike dusted us for a bit and Ragan and I ran down the dirt road together. As soon as we started to ascend a bit, Ragan got a bit behind me. She said her strength wasn't the uphill, and I soon caught up to Mike. I was feeling good again, so I went with it.
At mile 33.1, the next in race bonus occurred for "leader of the pack" (think green jersey) and I snagged it before we hit an out and back on the Dragon's Back which was beautiful runnable single track. Ragan was 30second-1 minute behind and I was feeling even better so I pushed the pace a bit on the section. We made it to the turn around sign at mile 37.2, retrieved the password and headed back. It was fun to see the lead men on this section. Mike and I alternated carrying the pacing back to mile 41. As we approached mile 41, I started to feel, well, a little off. I got in the aid station and the three of us all grabbed water, gels, bloks and I grabbed my first sip of delicious flat coke. I strapped my pack back on and tried to run out of the aid station for the 7.2 miles of road back to Bald Mtn aid station but suddenly I realized my legs had shut down. My hamstrings and glutes where I had seized at WC100k were locked up and I could barely do a death shuffle. Ragan ran by me and encouraged me to keep up. I know that I have the road speed to dominate these sections and there was absolutely nothing I could do. My legs wouldn't function. It wasn't calories or hydration or cramping. They just seemed done. My energy was good, I didn't feel tired. As I watched Ragan run up the road, I felt calm. I knew going in that the potential for having a bad or average day was possible. I said out loud, "and now we've reached the 'I'm just not going to quit' portion of the day". I walked, I shuffled. By the time I'd gone a 1/2 mile, Ragan had gone a mile. There were runners heading outbound to the Dragon's back (they told me how far she was) and each one I encouraged and cheered for. I put my headphone (just one since I was running on open road in the fog!) and listened to music.
I was calm. I was at peace with the face that I might have to walk the entirety of the last 21+ mile, of which only 5 mile were trail. I just wasn't going to quit. I was in good spirits and despite the fact that Ragan was gaining a good 8 minutes or so on me per mile (in theory of course, I couldn't see her), I didn't care. What someone is doing, has nothing to do with me. Anne had been about 15 minutes back approximately on the out and back, so I figured at some point she'd likely catch me the way I was moving. I was walk/shuffling maybe 15 min miles at best. 1 mile, 2 miles, hike up the dirt road to the water only aid station at mile 45.1. At some point I started asking those outbound if they had any advil. I figured if I was going to walk, I might as well not walk it in like a cowgirl. I know the risks of advil, but figured 1 dose would be enough. I stopped asking after a while when no one had any. On the parkway, the fog was super thick and I felt like I was in a zombie movie watching the runners emerge from it. I said as much to a group of runners and we all did our best impressions of the undead (which is what I felt like). I laughed and at the last moment asked the guys for an advil. The guy said, no but I have one better, I have celebrex. He was a rep for the drug and unsheathed one for me. I popped it and thanked him. At that point, pain relief was my priority.
I hit Bald Mtn aid station and popped onto the trail again. I navigated the rocks and sketchier parts with care but was bombing downhill. I felt better than I did at the end of Miwok and many other trail races I remember. I fueled myself, hydrated and stayed rocking out. I crossed the road and descended into a section with lots of crazy switchbacks. I got nearly tripped by an "aggressive plant" that left gashes on my leg like I had fought a cat. I laughed it off. Everything about this entire trip had been one big comedy of what can go wrong will. And then I got lost, again. I caught up to a guy that had passed me when I was walking and we both dead ended in the bottom of canyon. We quickly turned around found the error of our ways (the indicating marker for the turn had been impossible to see as it was 5 feet down the trail after a sharp turn). I'd lost a good 4+ minutes. I just laughed and kept running strong.
I hit mile 53. 4 aid station ready for the final 9.1 miles on the road (the course was 62.5- per the course description, so more like 63+ for me!). They were unable to get my pack open and I was in a hurry so I just grabbed a double fist of cokes and shot them down, content with how much water I had left. I rocked the road. I settled into a solid pace and jammed through the dense fog. I felt strong and made it to the final aid station in great time. After the mile 58.2 aid station, you have 1 mile of steep descent than the 3.1 road climb to the finish. I destroyed my quads on this descent, determined to take back as much time as I could and run as hard as I could for as long as I could. The Bryants, Gina, Ashley drove past me and were cheering for me. They turned around and drove up the hill as I started the steep ascent with a powerful hike. I was unsure, even feeling good, if I could run up the hill. I power hiked and was moving. They stopped the car and got out to cheer. The grade started to be about 1% less than the first 3/4ths I had hiked and I broke into a run. I ran the rest of the way to the top. Along the way I was joined by one of the race camera and I had to, at times, pull my hat down over my eyes to hide the emotional tears that were welling up. I was about to finish this damn thing. It was not perfect, it was not the best, it was not the prettiest but I was perhaps more proud of myself than I have ever been. I didn't know if I could do it and I proved to myself I could.
I crested the hill and was rewarded with a downhill to the finish in the thick fog. I sprinted, tears flying off my face, laughing. I crossed the line and exclaimed "I didn't quit!!". I was so proud of my effort and my day, I had a 94% great running day despite my body being less than 75% at the start. It was fantastic to realize what I am really capable of in that circumstance. I came to UROC 100k to get my mojo back, to find my trust in my own abilities and get my confidence back. I didn't need to win to accomplish that, I needed to persevere. And I did. I am damn proud of that. I did what I could with the body I had to work with on that day. 2nd place, 11th overall (which considering the stack men's field is saying something)
(Photo by iRunFar)
UROC 100k is a great race. I really do hope that it becomes what it set out to do. It favors no runner, except the well rounded one. There are huge climbs and descents, there is gnarly terrain, slippery rocks and sweet single track. There is rolling and unrelenting road. 12,000 feet of ascent and the same of descent seems like the perfect challenge. I highly endorse this race. I would run it again, I think I could go sub 9:50 on a better day. It was a lot of fun. And not to mention this was a first year race and there was not much that showed that to be the case.
I am very proud of the way I ran my race. Not winning, is not a source of disappointment to me because I had the day I did. I didn't have a Devon Day, but I had the day I needed to. One that has me excited for things to come. One that has made me feel "back on the horse" even though I am walking like a cowgirl with busted up quads. I learned things about myself. I learned I can dig deeper, I can be more flexible, I can have a peaceful quiet mind, even when things are going wrong, I can laugh it off- all of it.