Thursday, December 30, 2010

Reflections and Resolutions

My attempt at being highly appropriate.

Wow. It certainly has been a crazy year. Looking back and trying to process it all is damn near impossible – but the good news is that I’m not even sure that’s entirely necessary. Because now when I remember, I smile. Hours of dissecting words turn to one poignant moment and I am inspired.

These are those moments. Formerly described by wordy, two-beer posts – now limited to 1-2 grammatically correct sentences.


I know that simply finishing is more important than winning could ever be, and I vow to never lose that focus.


Sometimes, no matter how prepared and strong you are, it is simply not your day and there don’t have to be any reasons. And on these days I enjoy the suffering.


Pushing up the Bright Angel switchbacks up to Indian Garden, I discovered a new gear and officially decided I would never say “I suck at climbing again.” Because I don’t.


Running alongside Gabi as she pushed through her darkest moments allowed me to view myself in one insanely beautiful out of body experience. Her strength was an inspiration.


The amount of love in my heart is terrifying. Also, I got next…


There are things in life I simply cannot control, nor do I want to. But I can always control my ability to pick up and go on insanely beautiful, awesome, challenging, amazing adventures, and for that I am eternally grateful.


It’s not about the races, the competition, the controlled environments. This day and these flashes of solitude, gratitude and utter peace is why I run.


When you are emotionally void and broken, you would be a fool not to expect that to carry over into other activities. Even running. And guess what? That’s life.


I pushed my body harder than I ever have and red-lined on the limits until it broke. For that, there is nothing to be ashamed.


This was the day and the moment that I finally let go. I’ll never forget it.

Yes, this year was riddled with setbacks, injury, heartache and struggle. But this is all overshined by experiences and moments that I will never forget. Finally crossing the finish line with every one of my friends at RR100 after a truly epic battle. Almost sliding to my death off Baldy and being rewarded for living with probably the best sunrise I can remember (and I’ve seen quite a few). Driving, singing, talking, laughing. Running the last mile of Badwater with Dom and being utterly consumed by emotion as he crossed the finish line. Running and sliding down a glacier. Rebuilding the fire ravaged Angeles Crest course. Living. Loving. Beers on the North Rim. Swimming under waterfalls. Dancing. Climbing higher than I’ve ever climbed. Running harder than I’ve ever run. Discovering a deep-rooted unshakable strength that in one moment threatens to destroy me, and in another makes possible a world of experiences with the purest of mind and heart. Watching Gordy complete his hard earned lap at Placer High with tears streaming down my face. Hugging my brother when he returned to American soil. Falling in love all over again. The field of wildflowers in Death Valley. Kissing Ann Trason’s 1994 cougar. My dad carrying me back to the 68 mile aid station with tears in his eyes. Blissful moments of weightlessness. Photos. Videos. Concerts. Hugs. Finally quitting my job. Friends. Each sunrise. Every sunset. New trails. Old trails. Life.

In short: the hard stuff was worth it. Another year has gone by and I’m stronger still. I know myself better. And I like myself more.

Oh, where you've carried me...

And now for the good stuff. Looking forward. I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited heading into a year of racing ever. I believe that is largely due to my plans. Have I set lofty goals? Yes. Do I plan to run myself into the ground trying to achieve them? Absolutely. Is this smart? Who the hell knows. What I can say is this…

I finally am in a position where I can work a normal 8-5 job and that’s it. No extra gigs and the free time is mine. I can afford to eat well and race. While life isn’t perfect, I am very happy. So the time to “go there” is now…

My goal race for 2011 will be Angeles Crest 100 in July. Beginning January 1st, I have vowed to dedicate myself wholly and fully to training in pursuit of beginning to actualize my potential at mountain running. Weekdays will be filled with training before and after work. I will do core work at least 2 days a week and ballet/stretch at the very minimum one night for an hour and a half. Weekends will involve camping in the San Gabriels and running morning noon and night on every inch of the course. I will climb mountains every day.

Leading up to AC, I’m looking forward to running Coyote 2 Moons 100k on my birthday weekend, posting a decent time at the Boston Marathon and hopefully tackling this awesome 40 mile Wrightwood-Baldy run dreamed up at the SMM 50k with Sarah from PCTR. Other than that, I’ll be helping Dom at Miwok and that’s it. No more races – just consistent training. The only time I’ll semi-taper is for Boston, maybe 5 days. The goal is AC and I aim to find out what I’m really made of.

A Happy New Year it shall be…

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I Choose the Sun: Ridgecrest 50k


On Thursday I decided that I’d head out to the high desert for one more race this year. Mainly because it was much better than just sitting at home. You see, everyone else was up at the North Face Endurance Challenge, but for personal reasons I had elected to stay back. I felt like everyone else was at the biggest party of the year and I was freaking grounded. Only then I realized I wasn’t grounded and there was another more low key house party going on and that I should probably go. Besides, acoustic guitars and cans of PBR are way more my style than champagne and tuxes.

Then, on Friday I decided I wasn’t mentally capable of racing and tried to back out. But Gabi fed me beers and talked me back into it. Sneaky Gabi. So when I finally woke up on Saturday, I realized I needed to pack a bag and get the hell out of town. Unfortunately my morning was spent fielding phone calls and texts from racers, crews, spectators and mothers (everyone always seems to think I have answers), monitoring the action at NF via tracking, twitter, facebook (I had like 50 windows open) and watching the Western States lottery feed, praying that I wouldn’t get in and I would get $370 back on my debit card to use on Angeles Crest instead. I was like information central. It was all quite ridiculous.

FINALLY, I closed down shop, showered, threw my Saucony stuff in a bag and headed down to meet Gabi and drive out to Ridgecrest. I guess I was really going at this point. I’d done this drive many times this year heading out to Death Valley, and I’ve got to say – it felt nice heading out there to run myself. I was immediately glad I decided to go.

The day and night were totally relaxed and I woke up on Sunday totally excited. Not to race… but just to run. I could not wait to get out there and run 31 miles. I couldn’t think of anything that sounded more fun. That was a good sign.

A record number of entrants gathered in a big parking lot, the RD shouted instructions into a little plastic megaphone and finally shouted “Go!” And so we went. I felt no nerves. I felt no need to race. Today, I was just going running.

I felt as if I was floating along at about 8:30-9min pace, which seemed right, so I just locked in and allowed myself to pass and be passed without any regard for who they were or where I was. I quickly reached the 5.5 mile mark, key word being quickly, as I realized I was actually running under 8 minute miles. This seemed like a remarkably bad idea, seeing as though I wanted to enjoy this day and my knee was laden with tendonitis, so I tried to slow down a bit. Apparently that didn’t happen because at the 11 mile mark I was still running sub-8s. And I felt awesome. But I freaked out. I didn’t think I was capable of maintaining this pace, especially now that my legs were beginning to feel the climbs a bit. So I did finally slow down a little.

Now here comes the crazy part.

When I run 100 miles, or even sometimes a long, hard 50 – I expect to go through quite the range of emotions. Highs and lows, ebbs and flows. I look forward to this greatly. However, for the past six months I have been remarkably numb and felt nothing. During a 50k, I expect just to focus on the race… it will start to hurt a little… and then before I know it, it will be over. There are no tears in 50ks.

What happened next was entirely unexpected. The flame went out. I felt dead inside. I didn't care about anything at all. Nothing mattered. Whoa.

Accordingly, I was momentarily left with a feeling of complete and utter sadness and I feared that my day would end here on account of the burden. But surprisingly, something completely different occurred. Instead, I felt weightless. I felt the extreme happiness that I hadn’t touched for so long and I took flight down the trail.

The sun was shining through the clouds illuminating the desert floor and bouncing off of the large boulders scattered throughout my view. I felt the warmth on my face. I felt the wind in my hair. I felt alive. It was, as I like to say, the jam.

Running along, at mile something.

At about the halfway point, I began to feel the climbs a bit and backed off the pace, resolved to finish strong. I drank, I ate, I salted, I ran. That’s all there was. As I reached the marathon point, I laughed a bit at the realization that just a very few years ago I dreamed of the day I would break 4 hours and maybe even qualify for the Boston Marathon. Now here I was handily running under 4 for a split in a longer race, and I felt like I had been totally dogging it for the past 10 or so miles. Wow. You know, I spend so much time hating myself for what I haven’t yet accomplished that sometimes I fail to see progress. Today, that was not the case.

I saw.

Next, I did the only logical thing I could think of – run the last five miles as hard as I could until I felt like I would throw up. This proved to be great fun. And very confusing for the 10 or so runners that I passed. I crossed the line at 4:41:21, setting a PR by well over an hour. This is the second December in a row that I’ve gone to a race I wasn’t really stoked about running, with tendonitis in my right knee and not that great of an attitude – yet totally killed it.* My theory is that end of the year races are the one place that I really, truly have no expectations – so I’m finally free from the burden of my arguably destructive mind. Man, I need to work on that.

*I say this in terms relative to me. Not by industry standard. Yet.

My awesome desert art bobcat trophy/free apartment decoration.

And work on it I shall. 2011 is bringing me the Boston Marathon (what?! Yes.) and Angeles Crest 100 as goal races. Hopefully the lottery gods will allow me back into Miwok 100k to redeem myself as well. Until then, I have day after day of double workouts and long weekends climbing big mountains ahead of me.


Winners! At life!

"Mama you can choose the rain, but I choose the sun." ~Nikka Costa

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Connection, Competition and the Concept of Potential

My niece took me trail running this Thanksgiving. (Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base)

On Saturday, I went for a 10ish mile run to decide if I am capable of racing a 50k this weekend. Now, ask me if determining ‘where you’re at’ based on one workout is a good idea.

No. No it’s not.

Anyway, point is: I’m really glad I went for that run for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with whether or not I am physically capable of running a race next weekend. But everything to do with being mentally capable. The fact of the matter is, I’ve been running by myself for the majority of the last 3 or 4 months, and most of the time I just zone out and go back and forth between thinking about the workout and life. However, on this particular day, I was being what you might call, observant.

This was largely due to the fact that I elected to stay in town and run the grass down San Vicente to the pier and back. Even with the holiday and the 40 degree weather (this is LA, people), the herds were out in full force. LA Marathon training groups, families, kids, dogs, strollers, cyclists… it’s funny, I used to get annoyed by all the action and only craved the solitude of the mountains. To be honest, I viewed these people as “in my way”.* But I guess because I haven’t run this particular route in probably 5 or 6 months, I actually marveled at how many people were out being active. And how many people were running. More proof that humans were made to run, and I’m just happy everyone is figuring it out. I smiled with the feeling that regardless of pace, ability, distance, physique or any other defining quality – we were all out there enjoying a run together.

*Yes I am aware how asshole-ish that sounds, but I’m proving a point. Read on…

Just as quickly as my feelings of connection came, so did the air of difference. As I turned off San Vicente into Palisades Park along the cliffs, I noticed a small pack of fast looking men with bibs, and a pace vehicle. My excellent skills in deductive reasoning quickly lead me to the conclusion that “hey, there’s some sort of race going on!” Not too long after, the thrones of entrants running the Santa Monica Turkey Trot filled Ocean Avenue. Running against traffic on the dirt path began to create a bit of a dizzying effect, and I was overwhelmed with a feeling of complete and utter separation. I watched the blur of smiling, chatting faces passing by and just felt entirely different from this world I was running in. I was flying against the stream, both literally and metaphorically. In my life, I was never content to be a part of anything normal. I was never happy with what others deemed an “achievement”. I set those terms. And while I’ve spent a lot of time lately considering that perhaps these terms are unreasonable or unseasonably high, and even envying others who were able to just be happy with whatever outcome they were given for their efforts - in this moment I was at ease with my curse… maybe even pleased.

Soon after the race had passed, I noticed a family of runners heading towards me on the dirt path. A legit-looking dad and his two sons. The elder son was blessed with his father’s physique – tall, thin and legs that went on for miles*. He was out front, head held high, blazing ahead. The younger son was much closer to the ground, his stride was shorter, he didn’t appear as naturally able as his brother. He held back with his dad, running about 200 yards behind. I thought, wow, I bet that is driving that little kid nuts that he can’t keep up with his brother. Poor thing – it’s not his fault – he just doesn’t have as much experience and hasn’t grown into his own yet. He’s probably so frustrated.

*no, I was not checking out a 12-year-old.

And then I realized that the kid was smiling. It wasn’t affecting him. It was affecting me. Why? Because deep down, I’m the little guy. I will be the first one to admit that I’m not naturally blessed with a perfect runner's body or any sort of superhuman qualities. That’s not to say I have zero talent (which I used to think) or zero propensity – it’s just not quite as much as that upper echelon of women that I so admire in this sport. What I do have is potential… I just have to work a little harder to get there.

Unfortunately, that takes time. And my whole problem is that while I know, I have not yet accepted that I am the little guy. I just want so badly to be the big brother - faster, better, the best. A few miles later, after I’d turned around and was heading back up the incline, I saw the little brother. Still with his dad; still that same look of complacency, running strong down the hill. At first I thought I’d missed the older of the two – but then I noticed him running about a minute and a half back, form deteriorated and looking altogether defeated.

Did I learn a lesson from a seven-year-old? Yes, I did. What I learned was to be confident in my abilities. What I learned was to stop incessantly comparing. What I learned was patience. In fact, I think less and less that my whole problem is setting unreasonable goals – it’s setting an unrealistic time range. In other words – I believe (as the saying goes) I can have it all, I just can’t have it all right now. You know what? I’m not even just talking running anymore. I think that one of my largest barriers to happiness in life is a lack of patience. “Love is patient…” I think I finally get it, Corinthians.

I am reminded of a past conversation in which I said aloud, something to the tune of this:

"I don’t think I have as much natural ability as some other people; I just work really hard. And I’d rather have it that way than to have lots of talent and no drive."

And the truth is, the only thing that’s missing right now is the work. Have I really gone there? Have I trained like an elite ultrarunner? The short answer is no. And that’s a problem, because the reality is that I have to train even harder than them to get to that level. My feelings are best expressed in MS Paint graphical format, which you can find here:

I can explain this further if it is confusing. But I think my drawing skills have done a pretty good job...

So guess what? I’m going to go there. I’m going to train my ass off and I’m going to get to the end of that bell curve if it kills me. And I WILL do it too. When? Well now that’s what I have to leave to wind…

*Oh, as for racing this Sunday? I have no idea.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Gambler

"You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.

They’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done."

Why am I posting a song about booze, cigarettes and a largely illegal activity?

Well kids, I’m a gambling man,* and this morning I think I learned my lesson.


I woke up at 4:30 (on purpose) with the rain coming down and a sparkle in my eye. I was going runnin’. I slipped on my pretty little shorts and tied back my pretty little hair and practically bounded out the door for the trails. The bounding was only inhibited by a little nagging pain in the top of my foot/ankle, but I figured it just needed to warm up from all the sleep. So I headed out to Mandeville for a visit to the horses and a nice, muddy climb up the ridge. In short, I was stoked.

During the quick drive to my starting point, I blared one of my favorite songs, smiling and snapping and altogether behaving entirely too chipper for someone awake before 5am. Life was good, except for a dull ache that shot up my leg every time I eased or pushed on the gas pedal of the Jeep. Stupid pedal. Probably just needs some WD-40.

I continued on my path to righteousness.

I started my run in the dark along the horse trails, looking forward to the climb up to the ridge. But from the first step, I knew it wasn’t right. I was running quickly, with good form, up on my toes – but my ankle wasn’t having it. I knew what the problem was. Everytime I ran more than two days in a row since Firetrails, it seized up and hurt until I gave it a days rest. Then I’d repeat the same mistake. I’d already run four days in a row and it wanted a break. But no! This was supposed to be my final week of good training for Ozark! My mileage was already low and how could I expect to run well at a 100 miler if I couldn’t even run for a few days in a row?!

And it was here that I began a ridiculous conversation with myself. It went a little something like this:

Katie. Seriously. Listen to yourself.

The Ozark Trail 100 is a little over two weeks away. What can you do now that will make you any harder/faster/better/stronger/kanye for that race? Do you really think a great 10 mile run today is going to make you win the damn race? Do you really believe three more days of hard workouts are going to make you any better prepared?

Now, do you think running on this ankle that is demanding nothing other than rest is a good idea? Do you think running through the pain since it doesn’t hurt that bad could just ensure that you go to the starting line less than 100%? Could it just fix itself? Maybe. Is it worth risking it?

And with that question, at that moment, I did something I rarely, if ever have done. I stopped running.

After all, I wasn’t training. I was running scared. I was scared I hadn’t done enough work. I was scared I had let the rest of my problems get in the way of my goals. I was scared to be seen as ‘not good enough’. I was just really fucking scared.

As I walked back to the Jeep in the rain, I started to cry tears of frustration. At everyone. At everything. But mostly at myself. And then I started to laugh. Jesus Christ Katie, just give it a rest and you’ll be fine tomorrow. Fine. Your training didn’t go exactly as you had planned. Fine. Some other shit has gotten in the way. Fine. Fine. FINE.

Did you do everything you could with what you had? Did you have a few really great workouts? How many 30+ mile runs have you completed in the past 2 months? 6 or 7? How many people have told you how much lighter you look and faster you are? Like everyone? Did you just run a 50 miler in which you barely walked at all and felt no overuse pain? A week ago? Could that be indicative of how much stronger you have become? Have you actually weighed yourself, timed yourself or even just looked at yourself to verify that you are, in fact, fat, slow and untalented? When you have, did you or did you not notice improvements? DID YOU OR DID YOU NOT, KATHERINE ANN? And most importantly, have you even run the race for which you’ve already determined a failed outcome? Alright then, let’s all just settle down here.

Look, I have a pretty good idea what’s wrong with my ankle. I rocked the shit out of my toes before Firetrails and proceeded to run 50 miles with bloody, smashed up stumps until they just went numb. Maybe my gait might have been a little off, and maybe that caused a little residual stress on some tendons and stuff in that foot. I’m pretty much positive that is the case, and fortunately, I also know how to fix it. Stop stressing out and just give it a little more rest than normal. In fact, I should probably do that in life, in general.

So that’s what I learned this morning. You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em. And today, I finally knew when to walk away from the table.

The cards have been dealt for Ozark Trail 100, and now all I can do is use my smarts and play the game. Every hand is a winner and every hand is a loser. And I’m setting myself up to play mine like a fucking champ.

*Also, as you may have noticed – Kenny be lookin’ SHARP. If you disagree, you are lying.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Soul Searching Part II: The Backbone Story

The Backbone Trail is something I've had on my radar for a long time now. I've spent a lot of time out there this summer on different sections and knew that before the end of the summer it was just something I had to do. And I wanted to do it alone. So after three days off to recover from the Colorado adventure, I tested the old climbing legs up Los Liones. I felt perfectly awesome, so I decided that two days later I would finally tackle this adventure.
What exactly is the adventure, you say? Well, allow me to enlighten you... the Backbone is a collection of various trails that runs from Santa Monica to Oxnard, covering about 69 miles. Let's add a few other noteworthy points:
  • The signage is not so hot, sometimes not marked at all in sections. Basically, you've got to talk to your forefathers to officially understand the trail and all the sections where you "run next to the fence by the water tank at the school" or "pick up the unmarked trail to the right where the main trail banks left". You know, highly descriptive shit like that. Personally, this is a huge draw to me, as I like feeling as if I'm doing something covert and possibly illegal.
  • The creators of what is deemed the official Backbone Trail only picked the hardest ways to get anywhere - up and over the highest peaks in the Santa Monica range. Basically, you are either going up or down the entire time for a total of over 19,000 feet of climbing and a similar decent feature. This hurts.
You can see why I was psyched to do this. Here's the story...

I headed out friday night to hide stuff in bushes, as the only place to refill water was at mile 13.5 and I planned to do the whole trail in a self-supported fashion. I was like the Easter Bunny of Topanga, but with less Cadbury Eggs and more Lemon Sublime GU. That may seem awesome, but in reality I was completely annoyed that I had to drive all the way to Malibu, and that it took almost three hours to drive around to the trailheads; which I realize is completely ridiculous considering the fact that I was perfectly okay with running past Malibu for 16-20 hours. Actually I was freaking amped to do that.

After a few hours of sleep, the tax man (Krogmann) graciously picked me up around 3:40 am and dropped me off at Will Rogers State Park, where I'd run about a mile in to reach the official start of the Backbone Trail. Official start time: 4:24 am.


So, the moon was all but a sliver which meant unfortunately I had to use my headlamp for the hour and a half of darkness. I had lost my beginning scary dark-time* pacer as of 3:15 this morning, so I put on my big girl pants (the saucony elite split shorts, for inquiring minds) and began the initial seven mile climb at a nice, relaxed pace. All alone, just like I always envisioned it.
*also referred to as "night"

I reached the hub, a place I have been many a times, at first light and took a brief moment to take it all in. What I would be doing today... why I was doing it... what I hoped it would bring me. The answers to those questions, respectively were:
a) running from Santa Monica to Oxnard;
b) because the boys did it and I want to do it too; and
c) clarity

Hey Santa Monica Mountains... you're preeeetty.

My thinking rock.

On the way to Dead Horse, I saw the first person of the day and he was utterly confused by me, the fact I had a light on my head and that I actually already knew the tricky section around the school. He was not confused by the fact that I was running to Point Mugu however, because he flat out didn't believe me. Like actually said the words, "I'll check the news in the morning to see if they've found you yet." That was comforting.

I refilled my water at the end of Musch and rolled into Dead Horse, mile 13.3, at 7:15a. I'd already done a LOT of climbing, and I was about to embark upon one of the hardest, longest ascents of the day. I felt remarkably fresh though, and went in vowing to run as many sections as I could without my heart going super out of control. I also love this section, because it's one of the places that's very twisty, turny and better know where you're going-y. It made me feel like I was in on some secret path due north and one of the few who loved these mountains so much that I took the time to learn how they worked. Like I really knew these mountains. It was all pretty spectacular.

The climb up Hondo went a lot better than expected. See, what I expected was 2,000 feet of pain and torture. What I got was a quick little jaunt up a mountain smiling 1.21 jigawatts and singing some Good Old War at the top of my lungs. As a result of this official high, I made it up to Stunt/Scheuren 25 minutes faster than expected and geared myself up for the loooong decent to Tapia with my first solid food of the day. I left in the best of moods and picked my way through the large boulders that always spawn a 20 minute conversation between me and myself concerning how they got there. They just don't make any sense! Another hour clipped away without any knowledge of the passing of time. I was floating.

Said weird rocks, obviously placed here by a T-Rex back in the day and then used as a claw sharpener.

Tortilla chips are number one.

The one and only Peter Williams was waiting for me at Tapia, ready and psyched to hit the last of the truly terrible climbs of the day. Bulldog loomed ahead and we got right to it. Now I'll tell you what, that Peter Williams has a way of making time pass - even when said time should be totally shitty. This climb is relentless, but I was having the grandest of times hiking, talking, laughing, not stepping on a snake and altogether loving life. I can't imagine a friend I'd have rather been out there with at that point. Like myself, for Peter THIS is the shit that it's all about. Not winning races, not a big production, not a finish line to cross to the cheers of fans and friends and family. Nope. Just me and the mountains. Getting out there and trying just because I want to see if I can. Truly being there for each of the moments the day was made of, not for the single victorious step at the end. Peter "P-Dubs" Williams was a great reminder to live every single stride of my journey and not to take a single second for granted. He also tells me butt jokes. The dichotomy is off the charts.

The true "spine" of the Backbone.

I hit Corral a little after noon, and after a brief hip stretching attempt on a log, I was ready to get out of the blaring sun and into the shade of Solstice Canyon. After such a great climb up Bulldog, the last thing I expected was for a little incline out of the canyon to provide any trouble. But alas, trouble it was. I think the cumulative effect of these mountains was starting to take its toll, and to whether or not I was consuming enough calories and up on my salt is debatable. Probably not.

Either way, I tried to run what I could and altogether, just be. Sometimes this is an extremely hard task for me, and lately, it's been altogether impossible. It's like someone took all the components of my life, put them in a giant Yahtzee cup, shook it for about two months give or take and then dumped out the results. Now I'm supposed to figure out which dice to save and which to re-roll. And I hate both decisions and math.

Now you understand why I am seeking clarity out here. You see, I really, really like the idea of learning to live my life without expectations. Living, running and loving - giving my all and expecting absolutely nothing in return. Focusing solely on the moments and the process. But it's hard. It's natural to expect outcomes, reciprocation and to get what you deserve. If you live a good, moral life and work hard - you should have a good job, people should treat you with respect and bad things shouldn't happen. If you train hard, recover properly and race with your heart - you should run well. If you love someone with every fiber of your being and believe in them utterly - that should be enough. I'm learning more and more each day that should is a nasty, nasty word. Could is better. Is is best. Actually is is all there is.

Maybe that's why I hit this low point and it didn't phase me. I know that in most every long run or race I have, at some point it will become mentally draining and I will hate life for a bit. The stage was set physically, but mentally it didn't bother me. In fact, nothing had been mentally phasing me on my runs as of late. Perhaps that is my draw to running - perhaps I was figuring this "no expectations" thing out on a small scale. I've always believed that part of my draw to the 100 mile distance is the experience of a lifetime of emotions in one day. And in life, I'm able to stay zen for a few days at a time before everything goes to shit again. So maybe that was it: I'd figured out how to just be in the running context. In fact, compared to everything else going on, I was relieved to just be in the running context.

And so I was.

Just living the dream...

Peter and I cruised into Kanan just as Caitlin and Dolly pulled up in the ninja car.* I decided to take a real break, cool down a bit and get some legitimate calories down. I was really thankful for a few sips of cold gatorade (rather than my nasty, hot, from the bushes variety) and also that Mrs. Williams is awesome and drove all the way out there to pick up her husband so that he could run with me for awhile on my long journey. I've got some pretty amazing people in my life, no doubt. I hated to say goodbye, but it would be good for me to have a section to myself to reconnect with the trail and what I was doing. So after a few more bites of Mojo bar and a refill of the pack, I was off to Encinal.

*i.e. Prius. Seriously, I've almost been hit by one of these silent motherfuckers like at least ten times.

P-Dubs and I at Kanan: mile 39ish.

I don't remember a lot from this section, other than I was starting to get my legs back, perhaps even what one could describe as "a pep in my step", and that a hiker was remarkably disturbed that I ran on these "dangerous" trails all by myself.

But you're a woman!

You're goddamn right I am.

I'm a woman who is interested in finding her limits. I am a woman capable of independence. I am a woman who constantly seeks what is right and true, not what will fill her childish girl's ego. I am a woman who confronts lack of confidence head on, rather than seeking validity from others and by putting others down. When uncomfortable, I force further discomfort until a point is reached where I finally understand. I am a woman who never fails to ask questions for fear of an undesirable answer... both from others or from myself. I am compassionate. I am loyal. I am forgiving. I am fierce. I am strong. I am incredible. No, I am not a girl. I am a fucking woman. And that's why I'm here.

About a mile out of Mulholland, I encountered a nearly naked man in neon green sunglasses cawing like a bird. Dominic. I was excited for some company once again and even more excited to learn that there were ice cold beverages waiting for me at the trailhead. Thank heaven almighty. Here's the thing about the Easter Bunny water: it gets hot. Like so hot that no matter how much I drink, I never really feel satiated. Welcome to the last four hours of my life. WELL, little did I know that ice cold beverage actually meant it was ic-y, like with ice literally blended into it. Ladies and gentleman, I give you the McDonald's Real Fruit Smoothie - i.e. half-melted deliciousness in a plastic cup. There were also french fries, and let me tell you, there are few things more precious than salt and fat after a day in the heat filled with nothing but sugary gels and chews. I've got to hand it to him, though I normally despise McDonald's and feel somewhat dirty when I have to buy his McChickens at mile 80, Dom really came through on this one. Fry boy ran with me up to the fire road and we laughed and joked and talked about the relative safety of Osprey helicopters. My legs were definitely feeling better after the legit sustenance and I was surprised at my newfound ability to climb again.

Atop the fireroad in the late afternoon sun, I found myself alone again and just altogether happy. That was a feeling I hadn't felt in a long time and I let it sink in as I cruised the next few miles on one of the most beautiful stretches the Backbone has to offer. Can I name this section Big Sky? Because I am. The only bad part about Big Sky was that I did not remember how long it was. I had only run this section once before, and I'm pretty sure I was zoned out and not paying attention. Big shocker. This definitely resulted in a little bit of a freak out as the long stretch of trail jutted in and out of a seemingly endless mountainside. To make matters worse, Dom was going to meet me at the road crossing and I was absolutely positive I wasn't running fast enough to have missed him.* Numbers began melting together and I began imagining turns that were never there - actually they would have been impossible unless they were either: a) through a cave, or b) off a cliff. As I began descending on the opposite side of the range, I swore I heard the familiar "ca-caw" down below. I tried to respond as Katie-bird, but alas, my throat was dry and caked with dust and I was unable to get any volume on it. I sounded more like a dying ant.

*Apparently, I was.

Anyway, I got to a sharp left fork that I didn't remember and got scared. I ran up to the road and tried to call Dom, but his phone wasn't getting service. Now completely confused, I sat on a rock for 10 minutes and tried to gather my thoughts. Luckily, a ranger came by and assured me that Mishe Mokwa was down the road and encouraged me to take the pavement. I wasn't having any of that. No way was I giving up on the trail here, at mile 50, after the heat of the day and all those long climbs. So I resolved to take the unfamiliar turn and just hope that it would lead me to the trailhead. I mean, it had to right? It was the only way to go.

Well, I had indeed heard a caw and after one more freak out that admittedly brought a stinging to my eyes (no tears fell, I swear!), I surfaced at Mishe Mokwa more excited to see that black Volvo than I have been maybe ever. After only a few minutes of standing around collecting my brain, I began to get a little cold, as the sun was already going down. I had only about 15-16 miles to go, but Dom informed me that this was the last time he would be seeing me until the top of old Ray Miller. Nutso. The one section I don't know well, and I would be left to navigate in the dark by myself. NOTE: THIS IS WHAT THEY CALL FORESHADOWING. So I ate some pretzels, refilled my drop and Dom highlighted a map for me of all the turns I'd be facing "just in case." MORE FORESHADOWING. I probably spent a good 15 minutes or so prepping for the night and talking myself into running alone for the next few hours in the dark and not missing any turns. Dom figured I'd be done between 9 and 10 - in time for a celebratory Arrogant Bastard at the bottom and then off for some food. I said it could be 10:30 at the latest, since I'd probably be over cautious about not missing a turn on the section I'd never run. After a big old hug and reassembling my headlamp, I took off for the climb up Sandstone Peak - the highest point in the Santa Monicas.

Sunset at Mishe Mokwa - mile 52

It's about to get weird.

I reached the top just as the sun was going down, and let me tell you, it was magical. The sky was a fiery red with the black outlines of all the mountains I had come up and over resting quietly in the foreground. My heart, once empty yet heavy, was now full and weightless. Interesting how that works. I began the descent knowing that I was right when I decided that this was something I had to do.

OK, remember that last paragraph where I got all meta on you and maybe even made you cry? Yes well, that all went to shit in the matter of about ten minutes. First, it became immediately apparent to me that running for a few more hours on a desolate trail that I don't really know... alone.. in the dark was not really the best idea in the world... especially considering that my cell had died and was now in the car. Hmmmm. Next, my stomach completely shut down and refused to do anything other than feel like I was going to puke, without actually just letting me puke. I knew this was probably due to the downhill this late in the game, and fortunately, I had about seven miles and 2,000+ feet of descent in which to contend with. I resorted to running with my arms clenched tightly around my waist to prevent some of the jostling. Now, this was particularly interesting if you consider that the mountain I was running down is called Boney and I'm sure that has something to do with the sharp bone-like items* jutting this way and that way and every which way that is not underground. Needless to say, losing the use of your arms is a little difficult while running an extremely technical downhill after 55 miles of relentless up and down. Also, I was having to stop every five minutes or so for a little dry heaving and trying to get what was most assuredly the bubonic plague out of me by whatever means possible. Here are the additional problems: not eating and slowing down was making me cold. (We all know what happens when I get cold.) My achilles were killing me from wearing heavier shoes all day, and I was having trouble focusing on my form. Things were certainly getting interesting.

*You might call these "rocks".

Well, that was nothing compared to the little surprise I had waiting for me at the bottom of the canyon. I got to the turn that would send me into unchartered territory, consulted my trusty map for a double check and dove in. I was twisting and turning in an overgrown mess, paying attention to every inch, stomach still wretching. After about 20 minutes or so, I began to notice the air getting remarkably heavy. I was chilly and not sweating much, yet I was soaking wet. Weird. Oh it was about to get weirder.... moments later, the thickest fog I have ever encountered thus far in life rolled in. I am not exaggerating - I have two witnesses. Dom and the ranger out looking for me when he alerted the dispatch for a possible search and rescue. You see where I am going with this.

By the time I got to Danielson Ranch, my last stop before home, I couldn't see anything at all. There were muted lights throughout the area but I couldn't tell what anything was until I was right on it. It was some horror movie shit for sure.* I quickly became very disoriented and I was unable to pick up the trail out of the ranch. Flat out couldn't find it. I spent about a half hour wandering around and briefly considered banging on an RV door for help, but decided to keep looking. By this time, it was already past 9 and I was supposed to be done. Uh, not so much.

*RV or alien abduction? At this point, does it really even matter?

Aha, finally! Sycamore Canyon Trail. But wait, which way do I go? Where the hell am I? God? Despite the racing contradictory thoughts, I remained remarkably calm and just figured I'd start running the direction that felt right, and if I was wrong, I'd just have to turn around. Simple as that. There was really no other option. Unfortunately, I wasn't going to be able to see any of the landmarks that let me know I was going the right way. Mainly because I couldn't see anything at all. Opposite of unfortunately,* I eventually reached the intersection with Old Boney, which let me know I had chosen right... I mean left, which was right. Are you confused yet? Good, now you understand. Next challenge: find the connector up to Outlook and I'd be golden. I began running on the right side of the trail, scanning with my headlight in order to reflect off the trail markers. It was in this way that I saw my first set of eyes in the fog... and then the eyes disappeared before I could ascertain if they belonged to a deer, coyote, bird or serial killer. Yet again, I was bizarrely calm. In my head, it kind of all came down to this: people had been out in the wilderness in the dark with possible predators by themselves (can we add another preposition here? can we?!) since the beginning of time. (nailed it!) What I was doing was not dangerous; it was natural. It would only become dangerous if I lost my cool, my sense of intuition and started making stupid mistakes. So, I just kept moving and figured I'd cross the "attacked by an animal" bridge when I got there. That is, if I could see it.


Before long, I passed the first joining trail - Wood Canyon. Awesome. That meant just a few more minutes and I'd hit the Backbone connector, aptly named "Backbone Trail," according to the map and website. Next trail: not aptly named Backbone. Surprise, surprise. Actually, there were three separate markers with various names: Wood Canyon, To Outlook and CAUTION. It was here that I was faced with some choices.

1. Run back and make sure I really did pass Wood Canyon already. Done, and I did.

2. Okaaaaaay... run up ahead for five minutes and make sure there isn't another connector. Ran for seven, there was not.

3. Fine, this shit says Outlook, that's where I want to go. Even if it's not the BBT, it will get you out of this godforsaken canyon and you'd rather be alive than dead, having stayed on the technically correct trail.

Well, I was out of options, so I took door #3. At first, I was trying to justify every twist and turn with how the squiggly line was drawn on the map. That was, until I noticed the very large "MAP NOT GUARANTEED FOR ACCURACY" printed across the top. OK, why the fuck would you give me a map if it's not accurate? Doesn't the very act of one buying a map preclude that they will, at some point, need a guide to point them in the correct direction? Accurately? No sir. Personally, I would prefer a map that will not necessarily get me to where I'd like to go. Just guesstimates, please.

At any rate, I climbed and climbed, as did my level of worrying from "probably fine" to "officially concerned." Not about myself and my ability to get back. Moreso about the fact that I knew by this point, Dominic would be worried sick about me, a full hour past due at Ray Miller and I still wasn't there. It was too cold for him to wait up at the top for too long, and I just prayed that he wasn't off the trail looking in the wrong direction - or worse, that I wasn't off the trail and we'd miss each other. He'd stay out here all night trying to find me, and then we'd both be in trouble. Putting myself in imminent danger? Fine. Putting someone else in said danger? Not cool.

Knowing that there was nothing I could do at this point other than continue to move forward, I reassessed the situation. The good news is that I was running again, but the bad news is that I was out of calories and didn't want to risk more stomach failure by trying to get some back in. I wouldn't be out there that much longer... I just had to keep going. The next fantastic thing that happened was that I reached the top! Woohoo the Outlook Fire Road to take me home! Oh wait. This is not the fire road. This is a random split in the trail. This is not on the map. This is a problem.

Technically, I should be heading left, but for some reason that didn't feel right. So I veered right, again knowing that worst case scenario: I would simply turn around and head back the other way and would just be out there a little longer. The one awesome thing was that I checked the marker on the trail I just came off of and it said Backbone! So technically it WAS marked Backbone, just not at the end I was coming from. Thanks, map. After a few more minutes of blind running I dumped out on a large expanse... Bam. Fireroad. Three cheers for Katie's directional instincts.

This next part of the run was hands-down my favorite experience of the entire day. I had reached a section of trail I knew so well that even though I could not see a few inches in front of my face, I knew exactly where I was at all times. I felt every turn, every slightest incline, every minimal change in terrain and could perfectly picture my surroundings. It was kind of amazing. At this point, I was running like a woman possessed; exhausted, beat up, depleted and wholly focused on getting myself to the end of this trail. I was amazed at how calm and unemotional I had remained throughout the day and especially the night, and I realized a strength that I always suspected was in me, but doubted given the way my previous 100's had crumbled towards the end. Maybe since it was September 11, I thought about my brother serving in Afghanistan many times, especially now. I had lived on edge, focused and hyper aware for the last few hours. He and his battalion had been living like that for over six months in a type of danger that was far worse than what I had found myself in tonight. I felt such pride for his strength and courage and knew that while it was on an entirely different level, I had that blood in me too.

This section was also awesome, because I imagine it largely to resemble what an acid trip would be like. I was completely disoriented, lost in a cloud, running like a mad woman and eyes were flashing in and out of the fog as coyotes howled all around me, unable to perceive time, space or relativity. I kept thinking that the eyes were Dominic's headlamp and I would shout out only to never discover what animal was staring me down. Basically, it was some really weird shit.

At this point, I had entered the fog vortex, and I legitimately could not even see my feet. I knew I was getting close to the Ray Miller turn off and I was beginning to fear I might miss it, so I resorted to running on the far right side of the trail with my shoulder literally in the scrapy bushes. My thought process was that when they stopped tearing the shit out of my arm I would know I had reached the turn.

This.... actually worked.

Descending Mugu, I began dipping in and out of the fog getting crazy views of the lights out to sea. I was cawing and calling out for Dom the whole way down, thinking maybe he was searching the area, but as it was I was perfectly alone. There was an eerie view of the lights out to sea and I reveled in the moments where the fog gave me a bit of reprieve and allowed me a glimpse of how beautiful the night was up here, far, far away from the city. The city I had run from. My body was aching and my FKT had gone to shit long ago down in Danielson, but let's be honest: that wasn't the reason I was here. I had spent the wee-est hours of the morning to the blackest part of the night on a journey that served no purpose but for the journey itself. I had been truly happy in every single moment. I had persevered and kept my head through a really bad and dangerous situation and got myself home in one, not too wrecked piece. The confidence I had gained in the last few hours was something I knew would make all the difference in my upcoming races and adventures (I realize that I only say this now that I know I'm safe...) and well, life. I had been doubting my strength for months now and needed this kind of physical reminder - one that I had begun in Colorado, but was not quite yet certain of. Now I was certain. So yeah... I'd say mission accomplished.

With a million thoughts swirling through my head, I opened my stride and ran assuredly to the end of the Backbone Trail in Point Mugu State Park. As suspected, there was no one there, as the park was closed and a gate assured vehicles could not enter. It was perfectly uneventful. Just as I had always imagined it.

After a few moments of happiness and gratitude, my mind immediately snapped back into survival mode. I was out there alone, depleted in the cold, damp night. This wasn't over yet. I ran to the end of the park, praying to every god I'd ever heard of that Dominic would be parked on PCH and not off looking for me somewhere. I was three hours past due. As I exited the gate, I saw nothing and the fog engulfed me once again. I fumbled to turn my headlamp on flash and ran out into the middle of the highway screaming for him, still absolved not to panic (though I realize the description I've painted of myself over the last few paragraphs could easily double as a police blotter). I knew where a campsite was. I was only a few hour's run from civilization. I would not die out here tonight.

Luckily, a set of headlights flashed on and my journey ended here. I ran over to the side of the road and was immediately enveloped in a hug of mutual relief and gratitude. Apparently, 'ole Indiana Grossman had been atop Ray Miller, crawling in the dirt trying to track my footprints on the fire road for a long time. Eventually he decided to head back down and alert the dispatch, as he hoped that I was just slowed down by the fog, but couldn't dismiss the alternatives. I feel terrible that I made him worry so much, as I know what that's like to worry about him - trusting that he's most likely okay, but never being able to completely shut out the what-ifs. It's a terrible, terrible feeling and is why I often like to do things alone and under the radar and try to keep my loved ones out of it. I don't ever want people to worry about me like that over something I chose to do.

Speaking of what I chose to do... I did it! And all said and done, I wouldn't have changed a single thing. Though weeks later (as I finally finish writing this), I feel more lost than I've ever been, for one entire day I felt whole and completely happy again. And just like when I was lost in the dark of the La Jolla fog, I know that I will find my way again if I remain calm, confident and just simply believe. In short, I needed this. I needed this so fucking bad and while a run can't fix me, it can sure do one hell of a job in reminding me how to fix myself.

So, thank you Backbone. Thank you for attempting to kill me, but being so damn beautiful that I could never be mad at you. You rule.

OFFICIAL START TIME: 4:24 am, 9/11/10 - Will Rogers State Park

OFFICIAL END TIME: 12:14 am, 9/12/10 - Point Mugu State Park

19 hours, 50 minutes. Yikes.

Thank-you Peter, Caitlin, Dominic and Mountains.

"You're a mountain that I'd like to climb. Not to conquer, but to share in the view." ~Incubus