Sunday, October 9, 2011

AC100 Chapter 3: No pain. No descent.

Go Back to Chapter 2


I headed into Chantry and into a giant paradox:

There was no way I was ending my race here.  Yet there was no way I felt physically able to handle 25 more miles of gnarly, challenging terrain.  

Things had gotten really, really bad on that last descent and my knee was now looking like it was going to give birth to a mini knee growing on the lateral side.  Every step was jarring and very, very painful.  Nevertheless, I was ushered into a chair, and soup and coffee were placed in my hands.  Of course, first thing was first - I looked up to the giant screen to see where Dom was.  He had passed through Millard, the final aid station, but had not yet finished.  Yes!  I had still somehow met my goal of getting to Chantry before he finished.  And then I got a little sad.  Dom was about to achieve his dream of winning the Angeles Crest 100, and though I'd been there for most all of the finish lines leading up to this day, I would not be there this time.  And I was not going to see him for a very, very long time.  

My crew surrounded me with options and focused on getting me back on the course and working towards the finish.  Mari came over to offer words of comfort, knowing firsthand how hard I had worked for this day and obviously seeing that my goals and dream had largely slipped away.  "It's my knee," I said.  "It just stopped working.  I was doing so well…."

I trailed off and started to well with tears.  I was overwhelmed.  And then, before I could feel sorry for myself, I leaned my head back and just laughed.  And laughed.  And laughed.  And when I brought my head up, lo and behold, everyone else was laughing too.  "I have never hurt this bad.  Ever,"  I told my crew.  My dad later told me that it was this very moment that he knew I would finish.  He had absolutely no doubt.

Drying the tears, I took a few minutes to get some calories down, switch into some dry shoes and socks and tie a long sleeved around my waist.  Even though I was sweating, I was not taking any chances with possibly getting cold (like every other 100 I've done).  Knowing it would take me quite some time to get up Upper Winter Creek, I slipped on my Nathan Pack, with empty bottles rigged on the back.  What we can gather here is that I have actually learned from previous experiences. Sometimes it is good to take an extra couple minutes to make sure you are adequately prepared - especially when it is the last time you will see your crew, and you've got quite a long way to go.  I wasn't doing this pretty, but I was still going to do it right.

As I rose from my chair, I took a good look around.  Some runners were coming in.  Some were leaving.  Some had retired to a chair, unable to leave this aid station for whatever reason.  I saw Jorge, having arrived hours and hours before, still wrapped up in a blanket and watching it all unfold.  Over the long summer of training, I became fully convinced that this man was one of the strongest and most dedicated people I had ever met.  And on the starting line the previous morning, he certainly stood there with every capability to do something remarkable.  For him, it just hadn't all come together perfectly on this day.  This didn't make me respect him any less; on the contrary, I had more feelings related to "wow, he's going to destroy the next one, then."  And I suddenly realized that I was in a similar situation.  No one would think any less of me for finishing in 30 hours rather than 24.  And I shouldn't either.

Confidence and purpose restored - partially related to the aforementioned realization, but largely due to the man in tights who would be accompanying me the last 25 miles - I began to hike up the road and out of the aid station.  It was time to get this show on the road.  And fortunately, said show was about to become a great deal more entertaining.  Peter Williams is one of my best friends in the whole world, and I was so excited to have him along for this last part of my journey.  Actually, I don't know who was more excited - even given the current state of things - and that certainly made it easier to accept the challenge of climbing the next 5 1/2 miles, most of which was at a nice, 20% grade.  We immediately began ruminating about the day, the journey and how crazy it was that we were finally here.  In many ways, leaving Chantry Flats in the Angeles Crest 100 was an adventure we began years before - back when Peter was training for his first 100 and I did not yet believe I was capable of such a distance.  Peter was set to run the 2009 race, and after becoming instant friends that year, multiple trips to Chantry for long runs were an instant staple.  Here was one of my favorite days. (Please note the old school Nano arm band.)  And here's one of my all time favorite pictures ever:

You probably can't concentrate on anything but the
gray tights, but this is the top of Upper Winter Creek -
mi. 80 of the course.
Unfortunately, in September of 2009, the Station Fire ravaged the Angeles Forest, burning over 160,000 acres.  Officially the worst fire in LA County history, it wiped out over a quarter of the forest, including much of the middle section of the course.  Obviously, the race was called off - and even when it would resume, it would never again be the same.  Peter and I both ran the Javelina 100 that year, along with many of our friends, but there was unfinished business with AC.  Little did I know that when we'd have our chance again, the roles would be reversed…. but alas, here we were.  Climbing out of Chantry, just as we'd done so many times before.

Perhaps two years before is a long time, because Peter seemed to have forgotten just how long UWC can be.  Unfortunately, I had not - as I knew every twist, turn, tree and pitch; even in the dark.  There was no fooling me that we were "almost there," because I knew we weren't.  That said, I felt stronger on this section than I'd felt in hours and hours - the 10 min break at Chantry and the excellent company were doing me good.  And I could hear that we were catching up to the voices a few switchbacks up.  This motivated me greatly, but my body was tired - now hitting those 'scary hours' of the morning where I knew that literally falling asleep on my feet was a possibility.  The good news was that I was in too much pain for that to happen, but my body was still very fatigued and this climb was really taking it out of me.  I took solace in the fact that I'd rather be climbing than descending, and concentrated on the stories Peter was telling me to keep my mind off the deep, deep burning and extreme desire to sit down.  I made a deal with myself that if I could just get to the bench, I could sit for 2-3 minutes and rub out my legs.  But that was harder than it seemed, especially given that my stomach was now finally rejecting the mass amount of GU I had been feeding it.  

Eventually, we did reach the bench and I did have my little reward of a quick seat.  (See above photo for 'bench' reference.)  We clicked off our headlamps for a few moments and took in the beautiful, silent night.  I was thankful for this day and this experience and everything to come.  I now had less than 20 miles to run, and for the first time, I could see the city below.  I could see where I was going.  After forcing some food down, we got on our way - for the last bit of climbing up to Mt. Wilson Toll Road.

Peter and I running down the toll road in January
Now, you think I would be thankful getting that nasty climb out of the way, but you are wrong.  As we approached the clearing and stared down the long fire road that would take us down to Idlehour, I knew I was in for a world of hurt.  This few miles of hard packed trail was painful at the end of a 20-30 mile day.  It was going to be miserable on a 100 mile day with a bum-ass knee.  And oh, how it was!

Apparently I had developed the following pattern:
1.  Shuffle and shriek
2.  Run for as long as I can
3.  After a few good minutes, pain becomes incredibly intense, and I begin breathing heavier and heavier, with the apparent goal of hyperventilating
4.  Panicked breaths turn to sobs as I stop and lean against a rock

Peter had grown accustomed to said pattern, and thus when he would hear my breathing begin to pick up, he knew we were about to have a breakdown.  He'd immediately slow me down and tell me to focus on getting my breath back under control, reminding me that even if we had to stop for a minute, we were still far ahead of the cut off.  It was all very Lamaze.  And so we continued on this way, Peter encouraging me every single step.  Even when we hit the rockslide and I had to climb over boulders (which by the way, was kind of surreal), he filled my head with thoughts of how well I was doing to replace those focused on how pathetic I'd become.  Hell, even if he was lying - the positive focus and energy was definitely what I needed.

Again, I was very intimate with this section of trail, and as we wound and wound our way down - alternating running and walking - I became increasingly frustrated with the aid station that would just never come.  I tried to focus on saying 'thank you' rather than 'no' or 'why,' but in all honesty, I was grasping for things to be happy about.  Luckily, the boost I needed was right around the bend.  As I began the final switchbacks down to Idlehour, I realized that I was gaining on someone.  Even with as slow as I felt like I was moving, I was doing more than just walking, and that was enough to catch another runner.  Once upon them, I realized it was Diana and her pacer and immediately felt for her.  When I'd seen her last at Chantry, she looked so good and fresh - but alas, things can quickly change in a 100 mile race.  I certainly knew that firsthand.  I figured she'd come back alive when the sun came up and told her I'd see her then as I moved on at a decidedly quicker pace. I wouldn't necessarily call it a spring in my step, mainly because that would be physically impossible at this point, but you get the idea.  Nothing like a little compassion to motivate you to 'get over it.'  In a 100 mile race there are always people out there suffering just as much, if not MORE than you, so who are you to complain?

When I reached the Idlehour aid station (mile 83.75), I was in for another surprise.  Just in were Tiffany and her pacer, and just like that, I was back in the same position I was before, when I was doing well.  Tiffany had shared a similar goal with me going into the race, and as such, I was very sad to see that neither of our days had panned out.  However, we were both still moving and razor focused on the finish line.  As an added bonus, friend Jeff Biddle was manning this refuge - though I could only seem to recall his name as "Teva Guy" at the time.  He hooked me up with some hot soup and Coke as Peter stowed my Nathan pack and loaded up my bottles with water and yes… more GU.  I hurriedly choked the calories down and took off out of the aid station, telling Peter to catch up when he was ready.  Though AC had taken just about everything out of me, it had not yet taken my competitive fire.  I knew that I could be easily caught when the course took a downhill turn for the final 10 miles, so I was going to put as much time on everyone as I could on this next section through Idlehour.  And so I did.

It was awhile before Peter caught back up, and though under thick tree cover, I enjoyed the rising of the second sun alone.  Hey, at least I wasn't going to have to run Idlehour in the dark.  

Let me be straight:  Idlehour Canyon is a total mindfuck, even in the daytime.  You climb and climb and climb, yet you never seem to be getting anywhere.  A thousand feet up you start crossing the same stream that you crossed in the bottom, only from a different direction.  Where am I?  Who am I?  And where in the hell am I going?  Yes, welcome to Idlehour.  You're going to stay awhile, whether you like it or not.  

At any rate, I ran the entire section down to the depths of the canyon and the first stream crossing, in pain, but resolved to get to the finish as fast as I could.  I knew going into the race that the climb out of Chantry would be extremely hard, but the subsequent climb, which I had now reached, would likely be harder.  Steep, rocky and back into the purple poodle, it was just one more example of how this course would simply not relent.  Head down, I power hiked and even ran a little, up to the first false summit - spirit strong and hopes high.  After awhile, it was time to eat GU again, and now over 50 packets deep, I was beginning to resent the stuff quite strongly.  Choking it down was hard, and as a result, I could feel my energy and patience waning with the lack of calories.  There are so many battles to be fought past mile 80 - you literally must overcome each and every body part wanting to quit on you.  I'd fought the battle with my knee.  I'd fought the battle with my head.  And now I was fighting the battle with my stomach.  On one hand, eating sucked and hurt.  On the other hand, eating ruled and was entirely necessary to finishing this race.  Down the hatch.

I also knew that eating would keep me from becoming irritable and unpleasant, and if nothing else, I owed it to my pacer not to become a raging bitch.  He was already getting more than he bargained for with regards to the amount of time we would be out on the course - how dare I make it any more shitty with a bad attitude.  I will admit, I waned a few times in this endeavor - but for the most part, I caught myself and did my best to remain appreciative and as un-annoying as possible.  Besides, it was this second part of the climb that was getting seriously annoying, and we both emphatically expressed our feelings with grunts, yells and inquisitions of when this section might decide to grace us with its untimely demise.  It was here that I learned that Peter was under the impression that once we reached the top, we only had 5 miles to go. I knew this based on the following exchange, which was repeated a good 3-4 times:

We've just got to get up to Millerd, and then it's only 5 miles to home!  That's nothing!

No Peter, we are approaching Sam Merrill - and then it's 6 and a half miles of hell down to "Millerd" and then 5 more miles to home.  Also, it is pronounced Millard.

Are you sure?

Yeah man, I'm sure.    …….fuck.

Top of Sam Merrill. Poodles and yuccas a plenty.
Even in the wee hours of the morning, it was beginning to heat back up as we neared the saddle.  As I wondered how Peter was faring in those tights, he expressed an immediate need for Vaseline.  I had my answer.  I expressed my own need for some liquid calories and ice, but as we finally hit Sam Merrill (mile 89.25) we discovered my only options to be warm water and buggy watermelon.  Whatever, it wasn't GU, and that was good enough for me.  As I sat and choked it down, I cursed myself for not packing a drop bag for this aid station.  I really wanted to drop my headlamp and unused longsleeve, but didn't want to risk losing any of it in a random pile.  And then I got smart.  

Can I put some stuff in #6's drop bag?  He's my boyfriend, and he won the race!

Well, at least I thought he did.  I realized that I never had absolute confirmation of this fact and as such, the radio operators checked it out for me.  It was official.  DOM WAS THE 2011 AC100 CHAMPION, and I was so filled with pride that I had no more room for the apprehensive thoughts towards the last 10 miles.  So we dropped our extra stuff, Peter raided the champ's bag for gels and we got on our way.  I was about to hit the single digit miles to the glorious finish line, and there was absolutely no way I wasn't going to see it through.  Even if that thought, which was admittedly in my head, had crossed my lips; Peter would never have let me give up.  He believed in me utterly and as such, committed to finishing this thing with me, no matter how long it took.

This next section down to Millard (not Millerd) was hands down the hardest part of the race.  Steep, rocky, overgrown, windy and never ending - it was a perfect storm of everything that my knee could not tolerate.  I handled the first section down to Echo Mountain alright, actually trying to enjoy the beautiful morning, but after that it was a shit show.  I had lost the will to eat and had to be seriously persuaded to get anything down.  As such, my mind really started to go.  I fault that for the overwhelming sadness that began to take over my being.  The extreme elation I felt for Dom's outcome had an extreme counterbalance as well.  That would be the disappointment of my own race.  How great would it have been if the intense amount of work we'd put in all year had paid off for both of us?  That should have been the story.  And that could have been the story if it wasn't for this stupid knee thing.  Or was it really my knee?  Was it really that bad?  Did I just give up at some point?  Did I not try hard enough?  And worst of all:  would Dom be disappointed in me?  I had to confer with Peter.  

Peter conferred that I was out of my ever living mind.

I WAS putting that training to good use.  Otherwise I'd never be able to keep going.  Sometimes certain days don't work out, and while that sucks, there will always be another one.  My knee was certainly a problem, and one look at the swollen mass could confirm that fact.  But I was still moving.  And given these facts, it was absolutely certain that Dominic would be very, very proud of me.  Actually, Peter was 100% confident that my favorite boy would be waiting at the finish line to give me the biggest hug ever.  Wow, that sounded good.  I freaking love hugs.

As such, a great and many of our remaining conversations went kind of like this:
Katie, it's been another half hour.  Do you want to eat another GU now?
No.  All I want is Dom.  I miss him.

I was so insanely proud of that boy, and I couldn't wait to tell him so.  His were the arms that I've collapsed into after some of the hardest things I've ever done - both in running and in life - and I knew that Peter was right.  Just as always, he would be there waiting for me.  But to get to that comfort, I had to endure.  

Admittedly, I walked a great amount of this descent to the campground.  A fact which I am not proud of, but could do little about at the time.  I was passed by a good 4 or 5 guys on this section, one of whom was quite certain that all I needed was a Tums.  You know, for my knee.... because that makes sense.  I guess after running for over 29 hours, anything seems reasonable.  So with miracle antacid now in hand, Peter and I continued to push down to the final aid station, one hard earned step after another.  When I finally heard campers, I knew that we had made it and holy moly, was I ready to sit down.  Funny, this very last stop (mile 95.83) was actually one of my longest in-aid splits - second only to the regroup at Chantry (which is pretty typical and necessary).  Those last six and a half miles had officially rocked my world, or whatever bizarro world I was now living in, and I needed to get my senses back.  Lucky for me, some of the most awesome guys ever were manning this aid station and really worked wonders on my somewhat broken soul.  They fed me cold watermelon and iced Mountain Dew and told me I was going to make it.  I was going to finish the Angeles Crest 100 mile run and that was a truly badass accomplishment.  When I tried to protest that my race had actually fallen apart and broken me, they told me I was nuts.  I wasn't broken; I was smiling and running.  The broken ones didn't make it out of Chantry; the really broken ones didn't even make it out of the high country.  The drop rate was, and I quote, "high as hell" this year and I wasn't part of that statistic.  In their opinion, if you've made it out of Chantry, you've really done something special - whether you're leading the race or DFL.  I noticed many of them were wearing the ram buckle themselves, so I believed them.  What I didn't believe, however, was that I had plenty of time to get to Loma Alta park and was at no risk for missing the cutoff.  I really, truly believed that it could take me over four hours to go the last 4.67 miles.  

Regardless of what I maintained in my head, I was going to try.  So after a bathroom break, loading my Buff with ice and the knowledge that I would only have to consume one to two more gels on this day, we left "Millerd" to the cheers of yet another group of people who believed in me.  I was ready to complete this journey, but I was wrecked, and as we hit the open patch of fireroad - the last real climb, that I had once envisioned running - my weakness was exposed.  My second favorite boy took my hand and held it tight as we hiked up the road.  We didn't say much, as I was greatly lost for words by this point, but my friend was by my side and he was not going to let me falter.  I wanted to cry, but I felt more compelled to smile.  The steps had turned to miles.  The miles had turned to a destination.  And a dream was about to become a reality.  

I tried to run as much as I could through the Arroyo, but sharp, rocky drops would often bring me to a hyperventilating halt.  Make no mistake, though the one thing I wanted more than anything in the world was to see Dom - there was also not one other person I wanted in my company at those moments than Peter Williams.  He was the absolute perfect blend of business and compassion - exactly what an injured runner needed to see out her goal.  Plus, the dude is funny as hell and that only becomes intensified by lack of sleep.  We continued on, clicking off mile after slow mile, until we had reached the end of the trail, where the road came in.  I was soaked through with the cold sweat of pain, despite the now intense heat, but I really was almost there.

Last hill. The finish is nigh.
Best sight ever.  See it live here.
(Photos:  Louis Kwan)
Vincent Chase has nothing on me.
(photo: Tyler Olson)
Before long, June, Erin, Natalie and Louis appeared in front of me and I nearly broke down in tears when I saw them.  It was at this point that I began smiling the biggest smile ever and did not stop until long after I had crossed the finish line.  We hiked and jogged to the final hill that would take me up to the city; fueled by the excitement of my friends and the love from my amazing crew.  Now I know how June felt at Robie point.  As the final crest de angeles appeared in my view, so did the most glorious sight I have ever seen.  My dad, my brother, my Kate, my Bev, Kevin and Pedro…. and Crispin doing an irish jig and making some sort of weird robot-chicken-esque noise.  I was in Altadena, bitches.  And it was time to go home.

Now with a full on entourage, (and even paparazzi in the form of Tyler Olson), I took to the streets and held my head high.  Though it wasn't how I planned or wanted, and there were many demons battled speaking contrary thoughts - I was about to achieve the most important goal in any race, or any endeavor for that matter.  FINISHING WHAT YOU STARTED.

Hey folks, just ran here from Wrightwood.
(photo: Tyler Olson)
I had started this journey months ago, and I was one final turn away from the end.  Still retaining my pride, I picked it up to a run and soon the park came into my view.  My crew and friends cut up to the finish area and my final pacer came out to greet me.  Miss Chyler had been there practicing for this role for many hours and now she was going to lead me down the homestretch and across the finish line.  (Apparently she had been telling everyone that I was going to pick her up and piggy back her on the way in - but luckily, she didn't seem to mind running it herself).  My friends, old and new, lined the last stretch, cheering like crazy.  My family stood proud, pulling me in.  Other runners who had crossed before me, or for whatever reason had been unable to cross at all, rose to their feet.  My crew embraced, their work finally complete.  And for the first time, I looked up to the finish line, and there he was.  The AC100 champion and (gag.) champion of my heart.  I lost it.
My last pacer:  Chyler DeSplinter
(photo: Kelly DeSplinter)

Best moment ever.
(photo: Monica Morant)
The true finish line was not the banner; it was one step further.  And I ran towards it not with my arms held high above my head in victory, but outstretched in total, absolute love.  I'd run 100 miles, climbed over 21,000 feet, descended 27,000, battled heat, nausea, fatigue, mental warfare and some of the most intense pain imaginable - all for a hug.  

And let me assure you, it was the best hug ever. 




4 legs. 200 miles. We did it.
(photo: Monica Morant)

  
A little overwhelmed.
(photo: Monica Morant)
Attacking June full force.
(photo: Monica Morant)
rother and the "special sister."
(photo: Monica Morant)

Larry Gassan makes it official.
(photo: Larry Gassan)
Getting my buckle from RD Hal Winton. Haven't slept in  over 36 hours and looking sexy.
(photo: Tyler Olson)

Hard earned hardwear.
(photo: Peter Williams)
I asked my crew to bring the sexy. They delivered.
I FREAKING LOVE YOU GUYS!
(photo: Tyler Olson)

THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO CAME OUT AND SUPPORTED THIS RACE.  IT WAS AN AMAZING EXPERIENCE THAT I WILL NEVER FORGET, AND I AM SO GRATEFUL THAT YOU WERE A PART OF IT.  MY CREW, MY FAMILY AND MY FRIENDS ARE SOME PRETTY INCREDIBLE PEOPLE AND I AM DEFINITELY A LUCKY, LUCKY GIRL TO HAVE YOU ALL IN MY LIFE.  THANK YOU FOR BEING AWESOME.

4 comments:

  1. Rock on. Awesome, awesome report :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Good stuff, fun read. Love all the pics. Had a great time with you guys up 'round cloudburst last weekend, lets do'er again!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Katie,

    I am sorry I am leaving a comment, I can't find your email. I am writing you in the hopes that you want to participate in an e-book we are writing about ultra runners.

    We want to tap into the collective craziness (we mean that as a compliment:-)) of this community to challenge and inspire other people to make their own life an ever-greater creative expression of their own goals and dreams… without limits.

    Progress so far: We have currently contacted more than 250 ultra runners and received more than 60 answers.

    We would ask you to answer a question about your experience with ultra running.

    If you'd like to participate please shoot me an email at dreamit@juliossol.com.

    Thanks!

    All the best,
    Jannick

    ReplyDelete
  4. It took me 3 weeks to read this. I wanted to enjoy it for a while.. just like that day. Done! Love ya Panda!

    ReplyDelete