Monday, February 23, 2015

Ice Quest 2015: The Black Canyon 100k

It’s a funny thing about these ultramarathon affairs. Right now, I sit here quite sure that I am in the worst pain I’ve ever felt after a race, although I’m also quite sure it’s definitely not. And that’s the thing. I can never really remember exactly how it feels after completing one of these ordeals – the memory loss will begin tomorrow, in fact.  I’ll have no recollection of the sensation save these empty words I’m writing. So imagine how far removed I was after not racing for six whole months.

That’s probably why I kind of like how terrible I feel. It’s earned pain, which I realize sounds totally sick, but y’all know exactly what I’m talking about. You did it to yourself. You actually pushed yourself so hard and so far into an uncomfortable place that your legs feel like they will explode if you don’t keep them elevated. It kind of hurts to take a deep breath. A large event such as preparing and eating a frozen pizza requires an immediate nap. Oh, how I’ve missed this.

The Black Canyon 100k was never supposed to be a “breakout” race or golden ticket bid or any such things. It was entered solely to make me feel the exact way I’ve described above. But somehow along the way, it became a lot of things.  Very unexpected things. Things of the awesome variety.

The day started in utter relief that I’d actually made it to the starting line and felt well rested enough to actually complete 62 miles of running. It had been weeks since I’d had a decent night’s sleep, thanks to some bad timing of big projects at work and traveling for a friend’s wedding the weekend before. By Thursday, I was ready to throw in the towel on the trip to Arizona, but was bolstered by my friend Liza’s 15:34 at Rocky Raccoon a few weeks ago on very little sleep and Dom’s willingness to drive the entire way and let me relax. Plus, I heard Michelle Yates was about to kick my butt after having a baby a scant three months ago. There’s no way she was getting any more sleep than I was.
 
Yogi tea, please don't fail me.
The race itself began in typical Aravaipa fashion: a cool morning, beautiful desert sunrise, and Dave James without a shirt, sprinting away from the pack in the first 400 meters. I circled around the track myself and headed onto the dirt road in a nice little pack of fantastic ladies, including the likes of Kaci Licktieg, Angela Shartel, Leslie Howlett and Gina Lucrezi. We could see Michelle and Caroline Boller taking things out a bit harder up ahead, but no one here seemed too concerned with giving chase. Instead, we all chatted (Angela listened) as the miles easily clicked off, and for the first time in a race I found myself in my perfect dream scenario. I always get so jealous of the lead packs of guys all bro-ing it up and cracking jokes in the early miles, but it seems like the women are always fewer in number and more spread out. Not today! I was actually having a really good time, and just hoped I could keep up. Not for race placement, but rather so I could keep having fun.

We all blew right through the first aid station and stayed together through the next, as well. Now not even 9:00 in the morning, things were already heating up and I was glad I had indicated I’d need two bottles of ice cold water from here on out.  Unfortunately, Dom had misread the sheet and only had one bottle of lukewarm water available, so I slowed down to grab a second bottle. Also lukewarm. I was really frustrated leaving the aid station, as I feared he might be more concerned with making a video than he was with getting me what I needed. But now that I knew what to expect, I decided I’d treat him like a drop bag. As long as my stuff was physically there, I could take care of myself and he could have fun out in the desert. I immediately regretted telling him he was no longer my Valentine and promised myself that I’d apologize at mile 18. He’d given up his entire weekend to be out here, and if he wanted to make a damn video, he should be allowed to make a damn video.

Leaving the aid station, most of our little pack took turns taking a pee break, so we all splintered a bit. I let Angela lead me back up to Kaci and Gina, but when she continued to push ahead, I knew the jig was up on our hang time. I once ran with Angela at noon on a hot summer day in San Diego, on trails similar to what we were now traversing. She had been up all night at a tequila tasting, thrown up a couple times, and she still completely destroyed me. So basically, my bets were on her. I predicted top 2 right then and there. Even still, our pace had quickened and all chatting had ceased. While no one was really “racing” yet, so to speak, the heat was dictating silence and focus. I told myself that if they dropped the pace any lower, I would have to let them go or risk completely blowing up in the first half of the race. This was disappointing, but is exactly what I had expected from this talented group. I was just stoked that I’d been able to run with them for almost 20 miles, and was actually feeling like it was easy. Now I just hoped I wouldn’t embarrass myself by dropping too far behind.

Thoroughly enjoying the early miles.
(photo: Bret Sarnquist of Long Run Nutrition)

My bearded Valentine felt pretty bad about the last aid station mishap, so he had everything laid out perfectly and ready to go. And there was ice. Even still, I took a moment to breathe and really assess what I’d need for the next section rather than blow right through. Honestly, this is how it should be – I always do better when I take care of myself and call the shots – all I needed to do was be willing to stop for a few extra seconds and make some decisions. As such, I left the aid station last, but had all the food and water I needed plus a bandana to fill with ice at the next stop.  Kaci and Angela were now out of sight, and I watched Gina disappear up the climb as I fell into a hike-run alongside none other than Scotty Mills. 

Now, the thing you should know about Scotty Mills is that he is ridiculous.  Every. freaking. race. he comes out of nowhere and goes blowing by me like it’s nothing in the last third of whatever distance we’re tackling. He even does it when I’m pacing someone else, and it’s surely witchcraft.  But today, it was only mile 20, and I could tell I’d be losing him soon, too.  I surmised this was the part where I’d start getting passed and increasingly embarrassed that I “couldn’t hang.” Ugh.

Only, I didn’t get passed. I could feel that I’d slowed down a bit, but I was running alone and was maintaining the same distance from the guy in front of me. It was now officially hot as hell out there, and I knew that I’d just have to focus on doing the best I could do. See if we can go a little faster…. oh, what’s that?.... you’re going to explode?... okay, back it off…. just keep going... keep.... going...

Mr. Peter Coury greeted me at the Gloriana Mine aid, where I procured the ice I had been seeking and continued on my journey. At the next stop, I’d be halfway done and that seemed pretty great. Although, that also seemed pretty terrible because I was starting to feel quite horrid and like I said, I wasn’t even halfway done. Thoughts crept in, as they always do. The ones that say, “this is an awful lot to ask of any respectable human, and there is absolutely no reason why you have to keep doing this. If it had been normal February temperatures, sure. But this? This is dumb.”

Of course, that’s what separates someone who signs up for this shit from normal society. There actually is something worthwhile in carrying on, even if you can’t explain it in a tangible fashion. We’re not going to quit just because it’s an option available to us; we’re not respectable humans. And so, with my fellow animals, I pressed on.

Hot. Orange. Gel.

Another down the hatch. Another round of puking in my mouth just a little bit. It was high noon and I was absolutely baking out there. The pity party was all set up with card tables and festive bunting, so I knew I had to do something right quick if I had any chance of keeping this race a positive experience in my life. Everyone’s always talking about this “gratitude” thing, so I figured I’d try that.

Truth is, I was already feeling it. After a particularly rough few weeks of working long hours, traveling for events and way too much time in front of a screen, it felt amazing to finally be putting my own needs first for the better part of a day. Even if it were turning into a sufferfest of sorts, it was MY sufferfest. Mine. My sole purpose in life had become not exploding and getting to places where ice existed, and this is literally all I thought about for the better part of four hours. Three more miles to the aid station. They have ice there. Ice for me. I want the ice.

By the time I hit the halfway point at Soap Creek, I was really scared of how much further my condition might deteriorate.  I was running. But I was not running near as fast as I had been in the first 20 miles. To make matters frustrating, it wasn’t my legs or my general energy level that was prohibiting me from moving more expeditiously. Every time I would drop my pace a bit, my heart rate would shoot through the roof and I’d feel all explodey on account of the heat. So I’d hike four or five steps and continue on again. This became my routine for the better part of the afternoon, and luckily, it was working. I caught one dude, then another on a particularly rocky and technical downhill section. I chose a road shoe for the race – the New Balance 1400v2 - and if I were to do it again, I’m not sure if I would or wouldn’t have made the same choice. There were sections like the aforementioned where I very much would have enjoyed a rock plate, but overall, my feet felt really good, and I appreciated the little bit of extra cushioning for all the downhill. For whatever reason, the 1400 fits my foot better than anything on the planet, so I’ll always choose it when I can, despite it’s designation as a road shoe.

The journey to Black Canyon City was going longer than anticipated, but I was bolstered by the memory of some dude telling me there would be a water crossing before this aid station. And also by the fact that I was about to embark on what was billed as the worst section of the race. That may sound weird, but I rationalized that once I was finished with that hellish section, I’d be at mile 45, which meant there was officially no throwing in the towel. For some arbitrary reason, I’ve decided that anything under 20 miles is a reasonable distance to cover, even if one is relegated to walking. So up and down I went, over another bump – the majority of the net loss was now over, and we were now hitting rollers for the rest of the way. Luckily, at the end of the next bump was that water crossing I had heard about.  I quickly scurried down to the shallow river and jumped right in.  Mind you, the water only went up to my ankles and was actually kind of warm, but hoo boy did it feel good! I doused everything – my face, my cotton shirt, my Buff and my hair. You think my run bun is just for style, but you are wrong! That mound of hair can hold water better than a camel’s hump, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t feel like heaven to have it trickling down the back of my neck when I’m facing 90+ degree temps in a hot, exposed desert with no shade and no escape. In February. When one hasn’t faced a 90+ degree day, nor been in a desert for like six months. This was our struggle.

Cooling down allowed me to run the next climb pretty decently, and I could see that I was gaining on a few more men up ahead. The second of which was a particularly salt encrusted figure in all black technical fabric. Since my ipod had lasted all but an hour with all the water I was pouring on myself, I was really happy to learn that he was quite chatty and before long, we had reached yet another stream in which to douse ourselves. My mood improved greatly as we talked and ran our way to the fork indicating an out-and-back to the mile 36.5 aid station. And ice. I’m supremely grateful to Scott from Chicago for the most excellent company, beer recommendations and general positivity at a very crucial moment in the degradation of my fragile psyche. The only unfortunate point of this portion of the race was rolling up on a walking Kaci with a walking Zac Marion – both indicating that things besides the race course were going south. My heart went out to them, as I’ve certainly been in that position a few times. (Spoiler alert: I was glad to hear they both made smart decisions and are now on the mend.)

Closing in on the aid station, I saw Gina heading out with her pacer followed by the indomitable Scotty.  I was sure they had put more time on me than this, but I guess the heat had slowed everyone down a bit. Either way, I needed to take care of some business in the aid, so I was overjoyed when Dom ushered me over to a yoga mat in the shade and a cooler full of delicious, ice cold beverages. I took down a solid bottle of PowerBar Recovery mix and chased it with some lime sparkling water. SO. GOOD. More ice everywhere. Lots of lube applied with no shame. And it was best I be going.

Leaving for the fork, I saw the woman in braids who had been stalking me at the last few aid stations – always entering as I left, clearly maintaining the same distance from behind. Now in fifth and over halfway through the ordeal, I decided I wasn’t willing to accept any place lower than that and that I’d do whatever need be to keep my lead. It wasn’t going to be easy, but it had to be done.

Back alone on the trail, I tried to focus on the positive and began audibly assuring myself of a variety of things:
“You’re ok, Katie. You’re ok.”
“Your legs don’t even hurt right now!”
“You’re beasting these climbs.”
“The chaffing is not… actually… that bad.”
“You are so smart to wear a cotton shirt and bring your little ice bandana. SO SMART.”
 “You’re getting an excellent tan right now.”

All of these self compliments were actually working wonders, and I set my sights on reeling in the man in blue up ahead. Mile after mile, we wound our way up and down and around and round – I couldn’t tell if I was gaining, but I definitely wasn’t losing ground. I used fixed points to compare my distance from him relative to the distance of Braids behind to ensure she wasn’t catching up. Just run the climb harder than everyone else. Don’t hike when they do. You’ll pull away. The big river crossing came and went, with again, a baptismal dunk and soak. And now I was on the biggest climb of the course, but I was running! Perhaps I had simply beaten my body into submission, because it was still hot as blue blazes and I was only getting stronger.

Before long, I noticed an extremely fit hiker ambling down towards me on the trail, noting this was the first of that variety I’d seen. This was mountain biking country, and besides us runners, that was all I’d seen out here. As the figure drew closer, I realized that this was not a hiker either. This was Michelle Yates, and she was heading back to the aid station. A hard fall had left her bloodied and I could see the pain in her face as she made her way down. I couldn’t even imagine her disappointment in having to drop this far into the race, and it being her first race back post-partum. I felt extremely compelled to give her a hug, but I don’t really know her so I thought it might be weird and/or might hurt all of her bloody areas. So I settled on well wishes from a safe, full arm’s length distance and continued up the climb. Now in fourth place.

At this point, as you could imagine, thoughts began to swirl. I knew Caroline was way out in front, and I knew Angela was probably having a heydey with this heat and these San Diego-esque trails. What I didn’t know was where Gina might be, or what might happen in the last 15 miles. Interestingly enough, my mind was no longer concerned about what was behind – I was solely focused on decreasing gaps ahead. It’s almost as if I’d stopped considering that anyone even had the ability to catch me. I was now in control.

This is how it came to be that I passed the man in blue in the Cottonwood Gulch aid station and didn’t even realize it. And how I never saw Braids again, nor did I even look for her. My main concern at this point was that this aid station in the middle of nowhere after the longest, hottest stretch of trail was quickly running out of the one thing in life I desired. My dear, sweet ice. I was rationed a mere three cubes per bottle and two for my bandana, all of which had melted before they ever had a chance to chill a thing. Instead, I soaked my shirt in (warm) water so that at least the breeze I created when running would have a mild cooling effect. I wondered how in the world they could be out of ice in the front of the pack, when I realized the hikers I’d been passing were actually 50k runners. Those fools had stolen all our ice only 15 miles into their race!  I immediately felt horrible for everyone else that still had yet to come through this spot, dreaming of the sweet relief I had been denied. The only solace was that many of them would be coming through here at sunset or dark, and the need for water in it’s solid form might have diminished by that point.  Or, knowing Jamil, he probably already had a resupply coming.

Addiitonal solace came not too far later, when we crossed the river again. Only this time, I didn’t stop. I could see figures not too far ahead, hiking up the next climb and one was unmistakable. It was Scotty! I splashed my face and hair as I moved through the shallow water, took a deep breath and went to work.

The glorious river that provided bouts of short-lived reprieve. And phalli.
(photo: Jamil Coury)

The last time I’d seen Scotty and his pacer, they were only a few steps behind Gina and hers. Which meant there was a chance I could be closing in. Closing in on the third place spot in a field so stacked it wasn’t even worth mentioning my name. Right. Additionally, if I was close to third, how close was I to second? In other words, how close was I to a Montrail Cup spot into Western States? The answer didn’t matter. The mere fact that it was even on the table was more than I’d ever imagined possible of myself.

Speaking of that Western States thing, what was I going to do if that opportunity actually matriculated? My goal for the year was Angeles Crest, and this race I was currently running was chosen as the first stepping stone in my quest. Sure, I could run both. But with only five weeks between the two, my AC would undoubtedly suffer. So what the heck would I do if I caught up to Gina? I knew it was her goal to go back to States and get her revenge. Seeing that I had the same feelings towards AC, I really wanted her to get a spot. The question was, if I declined it, would it roll down? Or would we just run together to the end like two majestic ponies and forge a lifelong friendship sealed in hardship, struggle and salt tabs?

Whatever it took, I would make sure Gina got that spot. That’s what I decided. And that’s if it were even available. I had no idea where Angela was in relation to us, but I had a feeling she was doing just fine out there. In fact, it was more probable that she was closing in on Caroline, and I was equally happy for her to be nabbing the ticket.

Regardless of the way things were to shake out, the good news is that the heat was finally abating. Ever so slightly, but Lord knows I’d take it! I still felt pretty good, save some Charlie-horse level cramping in my right hamstring on the uphills. I downed two Saltsticks in the hopes it would help, and vowed to be careful with it. No way was I going to strain a hammy in February. For the next three miles, I choreographed a really great dance routine to the song I had stuck in my head.

I know you’ve got a little life in you yet.  I know you’ve got a lot of strength left.

Kate Bush's “This Woman’s Work,” as performed by Maxwell. I was choreographing the dance of my struggle. And the best part is that when it’s in my head, I can pretend that I can still lift my leg up to my ear and nail a perfect grand jeté without ripping my groin in two. Those were the days.

Just as I was entering my requisite fouetté sequence, I caught a glimpse of a red tent in the distance. Mile 50 was here! All I needed was a quick chug of recovery mix, switch my bottles, two swipes of lube and down a Yerba Maté shot on my way out. I planned for 60 seconds tops, and then Dom and I would charge to the finish.

Life in the desert.
(photo: Dominic Grossman)
Unfortunately, I was back to the drop bag situation. I didn’t know it at the time, but Gina had just left and Dom had been helping out and videoing her rather than getting ready to run with me. So when I came in, he needed to change and I had to fend for myself. No big deal, but my one minute turned into two or three right quick. Additionally, I didn’t do any of the things I said I would because I allowed the situation to stress me out too much.  I really need to work on that. I left in a huff, telling him to catch up if he wanted and to bring a headlamp just in case.

Of course he was coming. I turned around to see him frolicking towards me wearing my 3-inch split shorts. The only things Dom needed to bring to Phoenix were running shoes, shorts and a headlamp. One out of three ain’t bad. Making the best of the situation, he agreed to wear my shorts and since I was running well, we shouldn’t need a headlamp. He put mine on just in case, knowing that if worst came to worst, we could light our way off the one beam. It was my new Petzl Nao, and I’ll be damned if that isn’t the brightest lamp I’ve ever seen! I have no idea why I waited so long to upgrade.

Having the man in ladies shorts along to pace was wonderful.  The heat continued to melt away, and we chatted and sang as we clicked off the first few miles. I’d been passing 50k-ers for some time now, and up ahead we were gaining on Scotty and his pacer. I was hoping we’d catch up soon and maybe we could all run together for awhile. Well, soon came real soon as we crested a hill to find them stopped dead at an intersection.

It’s not marked.
What should we do?

After a minute or so of debate, we all agreed if felt most logical to take the right and keep heading South, even though we were entirely unsure. The course often wound back and forth in all directions, so it was really hard to say what was correct. We began nervously hiking uphill as Dom tried to call Jamil on his cell phone. No dice.

This wasn’t right.
The course had been so well marked – both the right way and the wrong way.
Had someone vandalized it?

Eventually we reached a turnoff back onto the Black Canyon Trail.  For a moment, all was calm and we began the steep hike up another hill. But this was too steep. Way steeper than anything we’d climbed. Additionally, the trail was super faint and extremely rugged. Dom got a hold of our friend Andy back in LA and had him pull up a map on his computer. I ran smack into a cactus. Scotty called the whole situation “disappointing.” I called it a lot of different things, mostly of which were four letters.

This is definitely not right.
We’ve already been at this for ten minutes. If we’re going to turn around, we better do it now. My soul can't handle being out here for an extra hour.

Dom and Andy were having a hard time deciphering each other. I was growing desparate. I couldn’t believe I’d run this good of a race, and now here we were, hiking around an overgrown hill, bleeding and lost forever. If we kept going and happened upon the trail later, I’d have to take a DNF. No freaking way. We had to turn around.

Sensing the tear that was just about to fall, Scotty’s pacer suggested that we top out on the climb to see if we could make any sense of the situation. And that’s when we saw it. A single orange marker swaying in the breeze. I took off running straight up the hill where we hit another trail, also named Black Canyon. This was it!

Looking down, we could see the intersection we’d missed and it linked up with the beta from Andy in LA.  We’d gone all the way out, around, up and over rather than just taking a right hand turn just a few yards down the hill. All said and done, Scotty estimated we’d added a good half mile, and looking back at my Strava, I had a 20 minute mile in there. Apparently others had missed the same turn, and speaking with Jamil afterwards, he knew exactly where we’d gone astray. Oh well, at least we were back on track.

The adrenaline from time lost propelled me forward, and soon we could no longer see our compatriots. For our next trick, we ran very quickly through a gully because bullets where whizzing over our heads. Yes, bullets. Oddly, I wasn’t too concerned at the time because my brain was no longer processing information that didn’t directly pertain to me reaching the finish line. But Dom was. And he didn’t like it one bit. Turns out it was just hunters practicing shots out into the desert, but they were shooting in our direction, and they likely couldn’t see us. Of all the obstacles to take me out on this blazing hot, rocky, challenging day, I’d never have bet the one to have been a bullet.

Did you know there is a such thing as a Saguaro Forest? Like, a legit forest of cacti?
Well, here is what one of those looks like.
(photo: Dominic Grossman)

Luckily it wasn’t, and we eventually hit the final aid station. Surpisingly, it was Mr. Peter Coury out there again, and man was it a joy to see a familiar face! He quickly filled my bottle and let us know it was only four miles until victory. And four miles really didn’t seem that far. I was already halfway up the hill when I heard Dom inquire as to where the next woman was.

Only about five minutes.

I stopped dead in my tracks and turned around.

What? Really?! Are you sure?

The other woman at the aid station confirmed. I was only five minutes back, give or take. I couldn’t believe it! I’d wasted so much time when I was lost – how was I still so close?  And furthermore, could I catch up? 

Dom indicated that I had less than an hour to still break 12 hours, and that seemed like a good goal. I vowed to run my absolute hardest, and if it was enough it would be enough. That’s all I could do.

Soon thereafter, the sky erupted into a beautiful desert sunset that grew more and more beautiful with each step. First muted pinks, and blues which gave way to fiery oranges and deep purples. The giant saguaros silhouetted against the colorful display was one for the memory books. And the trail even widened and smoothed out enough to let me enjoy it without risking a faceplant. So you see? Perfect timing. Lost or no, it was all supposed to be just as it was.

Not too shabby, eh?
(photo: Dom)

Thank you sir, may you have another? (Yes.)
(photo: more Dom)

And one more, for good measure.
(photo: freaking Dom, aka Mr. Brilliant With The Perfect Moments)

As the light faded away, Dom clicked on the lamp for the last mile+, doing his best to stay to my right or left and not cast shadows. I was so thankful we’d “just-in-cased” because this was just the case. I would have been reduced to a walk in multiple sections without it. Poor Dom was out there jumping cacti in women’s split shorts just trying to get me home. What a Valentine!

Up one more climb, and there it was. The lights of the finish, which indicated pizza, beer and no longer running. Freaking score. We heard cheers erupt, and realized that we really had been gaining – I’d almost caught whomever that was. Well, good. It means I ran hard. Just as I’d planned.

I trotted across the line, smiling wide and so happy to be done with 62 miles of running with nothing really hurting all that bad. Angela was standing there to give me a big hug and Caroline too. And there was Gina, bent over and still breathing hard. What had just happened?

Fin.
(photo: Ultra Sports Live TV)

Well, from what I could tell, what had just happened was that I had run the exact race I said I would. Pushing hard throughout the day, calling upon my hill and speed work and not stressing over my traditionally lower mileage weeks. And I’d gotten fourth place! I would have been happy with top ten in this field.

Apparently, things were even more interesting though. The cheers I’d seen right before my finish were for Gina, so I’d missed third by mere minutes. Also, Angela had decided to decline her Western States ticket, as like me, she was already mentally focused on another summer 100 (Cruel Jewel. Yikes!) So Gina was going to get to go to States after all!  Man, this had all worked out splendidly.

And for me, the fact that I was only minutes away from that ticket was all I needed. Pam Smith recently wrote an interesting article on sponsorships and how there’s more that goes into them than just being fast and racing well. It’s totally true, and it’s something I’ve known for awhile because I’m a direct benefactor. Truth is, I’m often ashamed to admit that I have any sponsors, because I’m afraid of the “she’s not even that good”s that I know exist. I was truthfully horrified when asked to give an interview for USLTV before the race. I’m fully aware of why I have the relationships I do, and I definitely think I contribute in other ways to these companies. But it doesn’t stop me from wanting to feel like my running ability is increasingly more of one of those contributions. Maybe this finish would do something to prove to everyone that I actually deserved the support I was getting. More importantly, maybe I was proving it to myself.

As for the what-ifs: what if I wouldn’t have gotten lost, what if I would have known I was so close to third, etc. etc. – let’s be honest here. I have a feeling if I would have rolled up on Gina at any point, she would have suddenly found herself extremely “motivated.” Homegirl ran a 16-something 5k, so Lord knows she had the speed to drop me. Perhaps getting lost allowed us both to finish the race a little less stressed and a little more enjoying the sunset. No regrets.

At the end of the day, I got exactly what I’d wanted out of the experience and learned a thing or two along the way. I’d wondered what it would be like to run 100 kilometers in a desert. Turns out it was exactly like running 100 kilometers in a desert. I likened the entire experience to a Gushers fruit snack. Solid start. Solid finish. Pretty liquid in the middle. But on the whole, a pretty delicious experience. Thanks to Jamil, Peter & Patti Coury, all the volunteers and Aravaipa Running for a top notch race, and to everyone I shared trail miles with out there!  And of course, thanks to New Balance, Injinji and PowerBar for the continued support as I continue to explore of what I’m capable. 

Here's the nerd alert gear list:

Shoes: New Balance 1400v2
Fuel: 30-ish PowerBar PowerGels, PowerBar Recovery Mix, Coke, SaltStick
Apparel: New Balance Elite Split Shorts, Cut Up Cotton T-Shirt, Buff, cotton bandanas
Hydration: Amphipod handhelds
Timing: Suunto Ambit2
Sunscreen: not enough

More of Dom's beautiful imagery.

 But wait, we’re not done!

After the race, I sat around enjoying the fine company until Dom was able to procure a ride back to the mile 50 aid station. From there, we were going to drive to a friend’s for beers, food and general relaxing. Long story short, Dom bottomed out our car in the dark and became very concerned that we might not make it back to LA if we allowed it to sit overnight. So, he threw me and a blanket in and we spent the remainder of our romantic Valentine’s Day date with him driving until 2am and me writhing in pain. My post race meal was beef jerky and gas station cheese. Washed down with a Perrier to class things up.

That’s love, people. Happy Valentine’s Day, indeed.


Other things:

Ultra Sport Live TV's pre-race interview:

Dom's Totally-Redeemed-Himself-From-The-Second-Aid-Station-Mishap Video:





Wednesday, August 13, 2014

AC100 Round 3: Point DeSplinter


Are you serious?!

Oh, I was as serious as they come. I wanted that silver buckle more than I’ve ever wanted anything in the world.  Which is probably why Dom had to ask that question race morning, 3:45 am.  At that point, I was puking up my entire breakfast in the sink, and he still needed to brush his teeth. 

The remaining hour and fifteen were spent in abject terror, requiring numerous hugs and positive affirmations.  In short, I WAS FREAKING OUT, MAN.

Totally calm and collected.
(photo: Ivan Buzik)

I required extensive hugs from women who know better than I.
(photo: Chris Gaggia)

DO NOT LET GO OF ME.
(photo: Ivan Buzik)
 Fortunately, we finally got on with the damn thing and I by the time I turned on Acorn street, I already felt remarkably better.  I settled into a nice rhythm of alternating jogging and hiking up the road to the trail, watching most of my friends speed off in front.  I was not at all bothered by this, nor was I when numerous folks continued streaming past me on the Acorn climb.  Halfway up, I looked down at my watch and realized I was on pace to reach the top in around 50 minutes total. Knowing that there is a severe difference in how I feel between a 55 minute split and a 1 hour split, I had vowed to not step foot on the PCT even a minute under an hour.  I hit the top in exactly that – a minute under, feeling totally fresh and unfazed.

I love the section of PCT between the Acorn intersection and Inspiration Point, which was to be our first aid station.  It rolls along between 7 – 8,000’, in and out of the pines and through remarkable sections of old, barren trees.  The views of the desert, Mt. Baldy and the pending climb up Baden-Powell are superb.  Especially at sunrise.  And especially when enjoyed with friends.  I spent some time cruising with my good pal and PT, Michael Chamoun, fresh off a Western States Finish and Iceland Traverse and we joked but were entirely serious about getting a Hardrock qualifier at all costs.  He moved along and I was soon caught by JimmyDean Freeman, now on his fourth 100 of the summer in his pursuit to complete The Last Great Race.  Knowing about my sub-24 hour goal, he confided his plans to push for the same if the opportunity presented itself.  We continued on together all the way to the aid station, commending ourselves on our conservative pace and how it would pay dividends later.  Seeing that Jimmy would normally be of the opinion that I tend to perhaps “overwork” myself until I just physically shut down, the fact that he called me “smart” was extremely reassuring. I felt pretty pleased with myself when I rolled into Inspiration at exactly the time I knew was a very mellow day for me – two hours on the nose.

Inspiration Point Fantasy
(photo: Kyle Robinson)
Shortly after the aid, Jimmy also moved along, and I continued just doing my thing.  Running easy, hiking a little here and there, preparing myself for the next long climb.  I caught up to a few folks who I was surprised that were out ahead of me, but again, had faith in the numbers I knew so well.  I was doing really great, and I felt like I had done nothing.  A quick switch into a pack, a chug of PowerBar Recovery at Vincent Gap, and I was already on the climb to the highest point of the course – 9,300’. 

My dad preparing to put my pack on upside down. He's an engineer, folks.
(photo: Chris Gaggia)
Early on, I shuffled most of the flatter switchbacks, but eventually settled into a nice hike and stuck with it.  I reached Lamel Springs with Jack Cheng in tow and realized I’d be at the top long before my 75-85 minute window of deemed acceptability.  (Jack Cheng say 65. Jack Cheng no lie.) So again, I backed off the pace a bit and as no surprise, a few more folks caught up.  Fellow Brentwoodian Kelley Puckett, passed me right before the top, followed shortly by Amelia Valinsky-Fillapow.  Amelia and I continued on to the top together – her refusing to pass on account that she “shouldn’t be running with me.” We caught up to Kelley, who said the same thing.  I told them they were being ridiculous – we were going a perfect pace and if they, too, didn’t feel like they were pushing too hard right now that all was 100% right with the world.  Because it totally was.  Amelia stayed with me through my favorite part of the entire course – the traverse over to Hawkins and then the drop off the other side heading towards Windy Gap.  It was a beautiful morning with some great cloud cover, and I suppose that carried me down a bit harder.  Kelley dropped off and Amelia dropped back a bit as I caught up to Diana Treister.  Diana promptly took off and I signaled back to Amelia that her rhino* was now in sight. Two 40+-year-olds kicking my ass – the least I could do was encourage the competition! I caught back up to Diana and local legend, Rob McNair, about a mile out of Islip and rolled with them to the aid station for my first medical weigh in.
*Important note: I am not calling Diana a rhino, but rather referencing Ken's award for the first 40+ year old finisher. It is a statue of a rhino and it is very heavy.

All was good, and I left a bit after Amelia and Diana who were charging. My stomach was a bit wonky and I felt no need to chase, so I settled into a nice power hike for most of the way up.  Again, looking at my watch I saw perfectly great splits, despite how slow I was feeling compared to my surroundings.  I was a bit slower than the previous year and the 24-hour split from the site – but the interesting thing about that to me is that in the high country, the 24-hour time is very close to the 22-hour time.  Which means by those splits, I should slow down drastically after mile 37.  That was the exact OPPOSITE of my plan, as I am of the opinion that Cloudburst to Shortcut is the most underrated section of the entire course.  Everyone talks about how difficult the high country is and how brutal the last 25 and it’s two climbs are. But no one mentions how easy it is to blow the nicest running of the course.  Leaving Cloudburst, you can seriously motor, even in the heat, if you have legs.  If you show up to the party needing to recover, you’re going to lose 2+ minutes per mile for at least the next 15.  That, my friends, is a lot of time. 

Some seriously fucked up girl scouting.
(photo: Rony Sanchez crew)
 Coming down the backside of Williamson, all I could think about was chugging sparkling water and how glorious the resulting burping would be.  I was not disappointed.  All the pressure in my sternum released, and I actually felt excited to go have a visit with my nemesis: Cooper Canyon.  That bully was not going to steal my lunch today!  As I headed off the road section and down into ‘ole Coop, I thought about last year and how euphoric I felt flying through the high country.  This year, I didn’t feel bad by any means, but I’d yet to feel any extreme highs. I knew that the extreme lows were bound to come at some point, so I was really hoping for the counterbalance here.  No dice on that, so I continued my whatever-mode down to the bottom of the canyon and began the first of three climbs out, legitimately praying with every step. Before I knew it, I had escaped the place where no air moves and the site of "the great puking of 2012."  Hal was waiting for us at the turnoff to the PCT, and I excitedly told him I hadn’t thrown up yet.  I’m sure he was as thrilled as I.  What happened next, though, was even more exciting.

You guys, I got a chill. As we climbed part II of the escape del cañón, the clouds held firm and the wind kicked up.  I was wearing a cotton shirt, which I had soaked to the gills and the air moving across felt like a legitimate air conditioner unit.  Also notable – there was still a little ice left in my bandana.  This was the best Cooper Canyon day ever!  As I began the third and final climb, I finally got the beginnings of that emotional high I was looking for.  I was in the section I feared worst and felt the best I had felt all day. 

You guys, I didn’t puke down there!!!

I met my crew (mom and dad) and Monica with nothing but smiles.  I would not be needing the ten minutes I had planned on at Cloudburst to get my shit together.  My shit was already very well assembled.  And now it was time to go to work.

I’ll see you in less than an hour!

You guys, my mom is wearing a fleece.
(photo: Chris Gaggia)
I saw them in 50.  But not before a few of the more memorable moments on the trail.  First off, I felt like I was flying, so that was supremely awesome.  I had planned on exactly this moment, and I was fucking executing.  It was an unreal feeling.  And then I almost ran into a motorcycle. Whaaaaaa?  True story.  

I pulled up to a year-old crash site of an unfortunate soul, only to discover a new crash, consisting of an entire motorcycle (save a few pieces littered down the hillside). I suddenly remembered the chopper I had seen as I climbed out of Cooper, and up the embankment I could see emergency vehicles still on the road.  The bike was still warm.  Wouldn’t that be weird if I had seen the guy crash onto the trail right in front of me?  What the heck would I do? 

Well, turns out, my friend David Villalobos was faced with that exact reality, when he discovered an unconscious body laying across the trail.  He instinctually ran straight up the embankment to alert passerby and ensure the man was found and cared for.  A few other friends were held up for a bit as they airlifted him out.  Always an adventure on Highway 2, let me tell you.

I continued on past the wreckage, crossed the highway and before long started seeing friends up ahead.  Jack Cheng and Howie Stern were across the canyon and it wasn’t long before I caught up.  Howie was starting to feel the pain of making out with the Hardrock only three weeks prior, and I was supremely glad to have only run 42 of it with him.  We chatted a bit, and I was glad that he felt good enough to get a finish on this one.  I moved along, not doubting for one moment that he would see it through.  Shortly thereafter, I rolled up on Diana and we entered poodle-land together, and then the aid station. 

Zoom in on my face. You're welcome.
(photo: Chris Gaggia)
 As had become customary, I sat for two-ish minutes while consuming various combinations of avocado, PowerBar recovery mix, sparkling water and soda.  I marveled at how disgustingly dirty I had become, so I at least wiped my face.  And then I moved on alone, jamming the tunes, dodging the poodle and getting myself to Mt Hilyer faster than ever before.

This was the jam of the day, for sure. Yukimi was killing me!
Pictured: Jack Cheng

Looking back, this may have been one of the sections that got me into some trouble.  I remember pulling up to the Hilyer aid station having pretty full waterbottles, only requiring a top off of ice.  In additional retrospect, I had actually been concerned since Baden-Powell about my lack of urination, so I really should have been on that shit.  At this point, I’d been running for 11 hours and had only peed once.  I felt fine, but... uhhhh... that is not so good.  I started taking in a bit of caffeine in the hopes that my endocrines would find it encouraging.

Either way, my legs were fantastic and bombed down through the weirdo rocks to Chilao.  I was making great time, and sub-24 was still officially on.  Doing the math, I realized I’d likely get to Chantry around 10, which meant I would have to work hard for it, but I was actually excited for those moments.  I wanted to know what it felt like to put everything on the line for the climb up Upper Winter Creek, rather than just survive it. 

Pulling into the aid, I noticed Keira Henninger sitting in a chair.  I wanted to see what was wrong, but was magically whisked away to my chair and accouterments.  Just like Hilyer, I felt elated to take care of a few things and get on with it after only a few minutes.  Last year, I had spent over 30 minutes at each trying to figure out why my stomach was so distended, my urine so peach and my kidneys in so much pain.  This year, I was motoring.

#44 OUT!
(photo: Rony Sanchez crew)
I left the aid station with Keira and her pacer behind, but lost them soon after.  I began to wonder if I might see Amelia soon, but quelled my excitement, save I do something stupid.  Laying it on the line was last 20-mile stuff.  For now, I still needed to bide my time.  Besides, even if I had tried to push here, the poodle wasn’t going to let me.  I pulled my Buff down over my face as I went through the particularly infested burn areas, the nasty toxins irritating my lungs and making it a bit difficult to breathe.  Just get through Charlton, I told myself, and things will get better.  Poodle-land adventures are almost over.

And then.  Then, the weirdest thing in the history of my involvement with the Angeles Crest 100 happened.

It started out as a bit of thunder, which I first mistook for part of a song in my iPod. It developed into a few light drops of water, which I then mistook for a leaky handheld.  But before long, it was undeniable.  IT WAS FREAKING RAINING!  Glory, glory hallelujah praise be to everything.  Mind you, I was still sweating bullets in the humidity, but my oh my was this a treat.  The pain that had begun to set into my lower back and hamstrings suddenly melted away and I flew out of Charlton and down the final decent to the creek under a beautiful sky of greys and blacks.  Howie and I had joked about how great it would be if it rained or hailed at AC after our particularly intense experience at Hardrock, and I imagined he was having a good laugh himself.

With a third of the final climb to go, I spotted a teenage girl up ahead fidgeting with her camel bak.  Hmmm, I wonder what she’s doing out here alone? I thought.  Maybe someone’s daughter out exploring some of the course?  And then suddenly I remembered Amelia telling me her daughter was going to pace her on this section.  And then I wondered if this meant I might have caught Amelia?!  AND THEN I SAW AMELIA. 

We entered the Shortcut aid station together, and I realized I was about to move into second place.  This was exactly what I had dreamed about, because second to Pam Smith actually equals winning first place in my book.  I’d even thought it might happen somewhere between Shortcut and Chantry.  They’re really onto something with this “power of visualization” thing. 

So Shortcut was the most party-ist of party aid stations in my book.  I was actually surprised to look back and see I only spent 3 minutes here, because I really didn’t want to leave on the account of all my friends surrounding my chair and telling me how great I was.  Case in point:

Hey everyone! Come see how great I look!
(photo: Chandra Farnham)
Chris Price had ventured over here, after his race ended due to some scary heart palpitation shit.  Jayme Burtis was taking some epic photos of the men’s and women’s leaders (which now included me!)  Megan was there, which meant Chamoun was still rocking. Kate grabbed my ass, probably. And best of all, Marshall had arrived, which meant he would be at Chantry to pace and could help my mom navigate the Beyonce and Jay-z traffic ensuing below.  This was a great relief for me.  I grabbed my pops and we set out for the river below, as Ethan yelled for the millionth time that he loved my shorts. Gingers love ginger things.

Mile 60.
(photo: Chris Gaggia)
We passed Amelia and her pacer only minutes out of the aid station, so now it was official.  I couldn’t believe how great I felt!  This was really going to happen!  Sub-24 and 2nd place.  There was nothing that could stop me now. 

We reached the bottom of the long fire-road decent in 50 minutes, and without yet turning on our headlamps.  This was so good.  My dad filled me in on the race up front.  Now, Ruperto had pulled in the lead again and Dom was chasing, as per last year.  I was confident he’d catch him and pull out the win, and this drove me up the steep sections of the climb up to Newcombs.  My back and hamstrings were really starting to holler on the steeper sections, and I realized this would now be my struggle for the remainder of the race.  Upper Winter Creek was going to hurt like the dickens, but knowing that now was somehow comforting.  If I could still run downhill like I had been, the suffering would mainly be confined to those 3.5 miles.  The climb up to Sam Merrill was much more forgiving. 

As the sky darkened and we climbed higher, we were treated to one hell of a sunset.  The display of fiery reds, neon pinks and oranges was really just top notch.  Dad was confused where the trickle of headlamps across the canyon were headed and I informed him they were on the decent we’d just completed.  I wasn’t kidding when I said we were running mountains, and he now had a fun story to tell his friends.  We finally turned our lamps on ourselves just before the radio towers signaling our impending arrival at Newcombs aid station, mile 68.  Two other lamps caught up and I discovered Ricardo Ramirez of all people!  Dude runs a 2:31 marathon and rules the roads of LA, so you could imagine my surprise.  Turns out, he hadn’t had the chance to train very specifically for this race, so my hat was officially off to how well he was gutting this thing out.  Smiling, chatting and just floating up the hill.  If he was in any sort of real pain, he had me fooled.

SoCal's finest.
(photo: Kyle Robinson)
I took a few extra minutes at Newcombs to stretch my back and hammies while getting in some non-gel calories.  The new rule was that two gels between something non-gel was acceptable to all systems.  A third gel without a break was soul crushing.  I downed a bunch of Mountain Dew in the hopes it would help me pee, as I was still concerned about that.  I’d downed two full bottles of water in less than two hours, but still… nothing.  Oh well, time to be moving on.

Dad and I passed a few more runners out of the aid station, as we shuffled the flat-ish traverse.  I was beginning to officially feel the pain of running 100 miles in the mountains, but it still was nothing sufficient enough to keep me from my goal.  Looking at my watch, I thought it might be ten after ten before I reached Chantry Flats.  If this was the case, I could still get in before 5am.  I’d have to keep my shit together here, and then push.

It actually began to rain more substantially, and my thoughts went back to Chamoun.  I forgot to mention that we passed him and his pacer Steve on the climb and that he was passed out on the side of the trail, I shit you not.  Steve told us to let him sleep, so we did, but I now wondered if he was getting too chilly.  I sincerely hoped he was moving.  How weird that I was worrying about people getting COLD at AC!  Yep, this was a precious gift of a year that had been given to me, and I needed to make the most of it.  And now that I finally had to pee, I knew it would be done.

As I bent down beneath the tender pines and inched my short orange shorts to the side, I fully expected a huge clear stream to come flying forth from my nether regions.  What I received was neither huge nor clear, but rather a short little trickle that seemed a bit dark, if not peach in color.  I hopped back on the trail, unfazed, thinking that of course the first one would be a little weird.  It had been hours since I peed!  And the peachy tone was probably just the reflection of my headlamp off my orange shorts!  The next one would be the pee of my dreams. 

We continued down, down, down into the depths of Santa Anita canyon.  I chatted about the topography as dad marveled at some of the sheer drops, which I had never really noticed. 

That would be bad if you fell here, huh?
Yeah, you just don’t fall....  Oh hey, I have to pee again!

Again, I bent down to the side of the trail, happy that my caffeination had worked and my systems were charging.  As the stream came out deep, dark red, I truly could not believe it.

Dad, this is very bad.
What is?
My pee is the color of legit blood.  Like not, a little blood in my pee, but just I cut my finger and blood is coming out blood.
What does that mean?
It means bad.

Feeling otherwise unscathed, I ran a little faster down the trail and my mind began turning.  What in the actual fuck had happened to me?  How could this be?  Oh good, I have to pee again – maybe it was just a weird fluke.  Nope.  Not a fluke at all – this is actual blood coming out of my urethra. I think what I really need is to go sit down on that tree and completely melt down.  Smack yourself in the face a few times. Good.  Scream some choice obscenities. Fantastic. Now we can move along.

I started reasoning with my dad (myself) on why I was peeeerfectly ok.  

It’s not brown.  It’s red.  That is not renal failure, so I’ve got that going for me.  I have no pain in my kidneys.  My legs actually feel fine, save having run 72 miles at this point.  I can legitimately get myself the next 2.5 miles to Chantry flats and the medical director.  I will not perish out here.  Additionally, I can then go straight to the hospital and get an IV before anything gets to the dialysis state.  My kidneys are going to be ok!  I am going to be ok!  I am really sad that my race is going to end here, but at least I won’t put myself into renal crisis.  I’ve caught it way before that.

By a mile out, the survival mode had turned to even more reasoning.  

You know… since it’s not brown, I may actually be ok to continue.  If the medical guy says I can, I think I’ll go ahead and finish.  But of course, if he tells me to go to the hospital, we’ll get in the car and go.  

Amazingly, my dad thought this was a great plan and said as long as I talked to the doctors, he’d be cool with whatever they said.  So I just tried to enjoy the last climb with him up to the aid station.  He was officially worked, and that made me feel ok about the last section, despite the last half hour of insanity and despite the fact that Keira had re-passed us while I was in crisis-mode.  We topped out to a particularly frenetic Chantry Flats and I was ushered onto a scale, now in third place.

I need to talk to the medical director.
Why?
I am peeing dark, red blood and I don’t think that is a good thing.
No it’s not.  Come over here.

For the second year in a row, I found myself face-to-face with Nick Nudell, head of the Ultra Medical Team, discussing the contents of my bladder.  And for the second year in a row, I offered to give him a cup of my discolored pee, which he was all too excited to receive.  My friend Mari, whose race had ended early, followed me to the bathroom where I proceeded to produce two fingers of Merlot out of my vagina.  Mari took one look and her face turned solemn.

No Katie. You must not go on.

But then I handed it to Nick, and he said the four words every girl wants to hear (with regards to her urine):

Well, it’s not brown.

Nick proceeded to recount basically the exact rationale I had presented to my dad back on the trail.  Onlookers gawked at the Styrofoam cup and looked at me like I was nuts for even considering proceeding.  To emphasize my point at just how fine I was in other regards, I asked Nick if he’d like to punch me in the kidneys.  He did not oblige.

I went over to my chair and began preparing for the night, as the folks around me discussed rhabdo and other scary ultrarunning things.  I knew my body, and I knew I was capable of proceeding.  I want to be very clear here that if anyone in medical had expressed a concern about me continuing the race, I would have stopped immediately.  But the only people that were expressing concern of this matter were periphery.  Nick’s team and my crew were on board with getting me out of there by trail.  I knew the signs to look for, and if any presented themselves, I would drop immediately – even if that was at the last aid station with only 4.5 miles to go.  But for now, I had to try.

Me, Marshall and my shitty bladder - heading out of 75.
(photo: Rony Sanchez)
Marshall suited up, I grabbed a pack full of delicious water and we began hiking out of mile 75 and onto the last un-crewable quarter of the race.  The first 2.5 miles are gentle, and I tried to run where I could, knowing that the next 3.5 might very well kill me.  And they very nearly did.  I kept moving forward, but I was suddenly staggering and having difficulty moving upwards with any power.  My legs and lower back were screaming.  The headlamps began passing every now and again.  I saw people I’d seen earlier, and some I’d never seen all day.  Shit was unraveling and I was unable to respond.  We eventually reached the bench, where I sat for a few minutes and tried to choke down the Stinger waffle I stole from my dad.  As I gazed down at the city lights below, I wondered if I really was having this much trouble or if I was just too scared to push my limits on account of the delicate pee situation. Looking at my watch, sub-24 was now officially a wash and I’d moved into fourth.  As we continued on the last stretch up to the toll road, I just hoped I’d have the ability to run decently downhill to Idlehour.  If I could still do that, I could still salvage something.

Unfortunately, my body was completely locked up and running downhill was very painful for the first time during the race.  I did my best, but had to take breaks.  I started having to sit in order to ingest a gel, otherwise I would throw it up in my mouth and have to re-swallow it.  In short, things had really gone awry. Again, I wondered if I had still been in attack mode, rather than "survive and do not hurt myself" mode if I would have been able to get down quicker.  Also, Beyonce and Jay-Z were playing a concert at the Rose Bowl and I could not fathom that people were drinking and dancing and probably singing “my body’s too bootylicious” at that very moment. I could see the flashing lights below. They did not know my struggle.

We eventually rolled into Idlehour aid station, mile 85, and the site of "the official shutdown of 2013."  I felt remarkably better and proficient, and was even able to keep some broth and pretzels down.  At least I could ride the high of making it out on my own two feet this time.  I had originally planned to take a single ibuprofen here if my legs were hurting, but of course I wouldn’t be doing that considering my situation.  Just as well, I thought.  The pain is the pain for everyone – why miss out on the fun?

Marshall was amazing at keeping me engaged in conversation and my mind off of the severe mind fuck this all had become.  When my thoughts wandered, I first became very sad for what had transpired and then angry at myself and my inability to push any harder.  But every time, my final thoughts lied in gratitude and relief that I was still able to move forward.  The very worst thing would have been if I had been medically pulled back at Chantry.  If I had DNF'd AC for the second time.

The climb up to Sam Merril was at least better than Upper Winter Creek on account of the gentler grade and I was able to move at least a tad more consistently.  It was still dark when I reached the top, so that was also encouraging.  The first year I ran AC, I had reached this aid station in the blazing heat of the second morning, only to find a jug of warm water and hot watermelon with flies all over it.  My pacer and I raided the drop bags of friends who had already passed in order to make it down to Millard. 

Bey and I likely had similar expressions at this point in the night. 
On this evening, Sam Merril was filled with other warriors who were battling their own failed attempts at a silver buckle.  Balmore Flores had trouble early on – I passed him coming down Baden-Powell almost an entire day ago – but here he was, charging to the finish in what was still a PR on the course.  Colin Cooley, who had previously finished AC in under 24-hours was now resorting to shoving ice down his compression socks to keep some piece of his leg in tact and functioning.  He had to walk every step of the downhill from there on out.  And here I was, still pissing blood and just praying I could at least walk it in if we came to that.  We all soldiered on.

I’d run the next section to Millard enough times in training this year to not hate it so damn much, and this served me well.  Section by section, we clicked it off.  I wasn’t moving fast by any means, but hey, I was also not dejected and walking.  I got passed by yet another woman.  I was now in fifth.  It was no longer a race.  I just enjoyed Marshall’s company, the stillness of the early morning and tried not to whimper too much.  I told him that I no longer had any desire to be doing this, but not to worry, that I most assuredly was gonna.

Oh Pasadena, you are still so far away.
(photo: Marshall Howland, pacer supreme)

 When we arrived at Millard, I finally knew I was going to physically be able to complete the race.  Slowing down a bit had put less stress on my body and we’d moved from a cabernet to a nice rosé in urine department.  It was a humid, cloudy morning and I doused myself yet again to stay as cool as possible.  One more bottle of ice water should get me to Loma Alta Park in one piece.

As we rounded the bend out of the aid station, I heard cheers coming in.  It was then that I informed Marshall that I was not going to be passed anymore on this particular day.  It was only 4.5 miles, and I really just couldn’t deal with it anymore – it was too depressing. I guess this dog still had a little fight left.  We finished the last climb on the fire road and began winding through the Arroyo, trotting along at an unimpressive but “agile” pace.  That was Marshall’s word and it somehow made me feel better.  Then, with only two miles to go, some dude goes literally FLYING past me.  I immediately decided that he didn’t count, on the basis that he was ridiculous. That was, until I saw Kelley from Baden-Powell a switchback or two up. 

Nope nope nope.... nope.

And I took off.  I don’t know why, but I just could NOT be caught one more time.  I figured 20 minutes of pushing wasn’t going to be enough to send me to the hospital, so I might as well just go for it.  Lo and behold, I started passing people again!  The “ridiculous” dude, a few others, Ricardo, and my friend Rafferty from back around Sam Merrill.  They smiled and cheered me on, I winced and grunted my interpretation of “good job! Almost there!”  Before long, I was staring down the final climb up to the streets of Altadena.

Fuck it.

I ran every step to the top, where my dad happened to be walking up to meet us.  He jumped and cheered. I held my hand up, which in my head, meant, “thanks! Almost done!”  The three of us headed down Altadena Drive – I was legitimately running as hard as I could, and pure adrenaline coursed through my veins. 

I get to lay down soon.
(photo: Marshall Howland)
And that was it.  The park came into view, and I rounded the corner.  I saw Dom waiting under the banner with his arms outstretched and I began to cry.  I wanted a hug, but I also really wanted to lie in the fetal position immediately.  I was having an existential crisis.

I love you, but I also love the ground!
(photo: Cynthia Zarate)
I had no idea what time it was, where I could go to be most comfortable or what the fuck had actually just happened.  Uncle Hal pulled me up off the ground. I tried to die in a chair. I eventually went and laid on a cot while poor Marshall got in his car and drove to work.  My mom fed me a grilled cheese, and Dom came by every 25 minutes or so to encourage me to go take a shower.  I didn’t want to do that because then I’d be alone for the first time since my body shut down on me.  I was scared of what I might think.

Uncle Hal was proud of me. Better than a hunk of metal in ANY color.
(photo: Chris Gaggia)

What I imagine childbirth will be like. Only less painful.
(photo: Chris Gaggia)
Fortunately, when the time came for me to shower things were a-ok.  For starters, the pain from my chaffing was actually not any worse than the pain of simply standing, so it didn’t turn all Psycho in a Pasadena-area Holiday Inn.  Secondly, I was mainly filled with relief that I had been able to finish, so the dissenting thoughts were easily quelled.  I had run a damn near perfect race for 75 miles, which seemed like a pretty good improvement.  Looking back, I’d actually run the race the exact same way if I could do it all over again.  The only thing that lingered was the possibility that maybe I should have been able to keep pushing for the last 25, and that maybe my mind had used the bloody urine as an excuse to back off the intensity.  Maybe I had been unreasonably scared about running hard in that situation, and maybe there was nothing to worry about. Maybe that’s just what it took for me to get that elusive silver buckle.

Hal said that "never giving up" is what it's all about, and I have to agree. This was a very happy moment.
(photo: Ivan Buzik)
At the urging of Nick from medical, I went to the doctor a few days later for a urine and blood test.  At this point, the what-ifs were officially stomped out with a diagnosis of rhabdomyolisis.  I could barely believe it.  How in the actual hell had this happened?  I was very well trained, had taken no ibuprofen and actually ran pretty comfortably all day.  This was basically the weirdest thing ever.  My doctor, of course, wanted to know why I didn’t just stop running when this happened, but as we talked through it, she also supported the idea that with no kidney pain, no excessive leg pain and no coca-cola urine, I had not been doing any serious damage to myself.  By backing off the stress level, I very well may have saved myself from entering the danger zone. 

I share this not because I think I’m some sort of badass for pissing blood and finishing a race with rhabdo, but rather because there is nary a story of rhabdo that does not end with dialysis.  Apparently, a mild case is actually not a huge deal – unless you let it become one. And you can have a bit  of rhabdo for reasons other than pushing way too hard or abusing NSAIDs.  I took care of myself out there at the first signs of serious distress – slowing down, drinking more - and treated my body with respect.  The result was not perfect, by any means, but I have the blood work to prove completely normal kidney function.  Despite rhabdomyolisis.  The only thing any of us can conclude is that I may have been dehydrated in the humid conditions.  I’ll focus on drinking more in the future.  And that’s it. I'm sad that this happened, but am glad that I did exactly what I did for the remainder of the race. 

27:30:43. Another bronze buckle. Fifth place.  A 3+ hour PR on the AC course.  My first 100 mile finish in 21 months. Clear pee.  There’s not a whole lot I can complain about. 

Shared agony. Shared happiness.
(photo: Joan DeSplinter)


* * *

SHOES:  modified New Balance 110v2
SOCKS:  Injinji Trail 2.0 – no blisters, but should have work the mini-crew length for the debris situation
FUEL:  PowerGel (over 50 of them!), PowerBar Recovery Mix, avocado, soda, sparkling water, broth, Pringles
ELECTROLYTES:  a few SaltStick
POST RACE BREW:  Golden Road Grapefruit Saison

THANK YOUS:  Mom and Dad, Marshall, Momica, Hillary for the incredible shirts, New Balance, Injinji, PowerBar and every single friend out on the course and at the aid station.  That was really freaking fun and I think we should all do it again next year. Also, BIG thanks to Nick and the Ultra Medical Team from both me and my family.  I owe my finish to your knowledge and help out there.

Aaaand all is back to normal.
(photo: Elan Lieber)