Friday, December 7, 2012

I'm a Selfish Bitch and You're an Amazing Friend: The Unspoken Fallout of Pandora's Race

How does a person come to the idea to run 100 miles?

Wait. You've done this before?

And the conversation just kind of goes downhill from there.

But the reality is, these are in fact, very good questions that I would very much like to answer. The only trouble being, I think you'll find the summation of my response to be wholly and dreadfully uninspired. 

I heard about it. 
Someone told me it was possible.  
I did it. 
I liked it. 
I did it again.

If only it were indeed that cut and dry. But the truth is, that while simple, the whole thing was kind of life altering, and I'm not exaggerating in the slightest bit.  Anyone who knows me now would tend to define me by my running and my "outdoor lifestyle."  Define me.  Woah.  Those are heavy words we're playing with.  And anyone who knew me then would likely say I've become obsessed.  Interesting concepts.  Let's explore, shall we?

To start, a bit of background on how I "got into" ultrarunning:  
Way back in vintage 2006, I was looking for trail races and stumbled across a 50 mile run in Montana requiring you to carry a can of bear mace.  At this time, I didn't even carry a water bottle, so this seemed pretty wild.  Officially intrigued, I then learned that a 50 mile race was part of this subsect of things they called ultramarathons, which also included races of 100 miles and even 135 miles through Death Valley.  Death F*ing Valley. I jokingly wrote a blog on my MySpace page, and that was that.

Fast forward to a few years later, when a 21-year-old kid began working at the running store where I spent my weekends shlepping Brooks Beasts.  I was subsidizing my life as a single woman in LA on a junior advertising creative's salary, so working 7 days a week was all the rage.  Anyway, this freaking kid had just run 50 kilometers, was about to run 50 miles, and would be running 100 miles the following month.  His ultimate goal was to run the Badwater Ultramarathon.  That freaking Death Valley race.  Who did he think he was, anyway?

Well, turns out his name was Dom Grossman. And it turns out he'd eventually steal my heart, but that's a different story.  Actually, not entirely.  You see, Dom and I met at a transitory time in both of our lives.  A time where we went from whatever it was we used to be to what we are now, which is dirty, trail loving, vertical obsessed mountain ultra runners who constantly battle life in the big city with life on the run and can't imagine our world any other way.  I'll let him tell his story, but for me, that involved a major shift in priorities and lifestyle.  Now, here's the thing: it wasn't like I woke up one day and said, I'm going to stop doing things A and B and start doing thing C instead.  It was a semi but not really gradual process and actually, a quite natural transition.  Because after all, (and I'd of had no way of knowing this at the time,) my "think I'll try this" activity was about to become an all encompassing ordeal.  The ripples it created were the things that now make me the most happy.

At some point along the six month journey from deciding I may as well run a 50k to completing my first 100 miler, I remember taking a good look around and being left with the general sense of woah.  I mean, I hardly recognized my own Facebook page.  I constantly caught myself bringing up some sort of adventure in conversations, kind of like how you always seem to have a story that involves that boy you like.  Events and activities that used to excite me greatly were now boring or skipped entirely.  I wondered if people were annoyed.

No doubt, certain folks were.  My newfound and honest unwillingness for "nightlife" and hanging out was first seen as personal, and then the invites just kind of stopped entirely.  I didn't notice it then, but I haven't talked to most of the people I associated with on a daily basis in 2009 since, well, 2009.  So, was I becoming a hermit and replacing all my free time with running?  Hardly!  I found a great community of trail runners on the Westside of LA which only expanded with each event I ran, crewed or volunteered at.  I soon found that I had more in common with a 53-year-old woman from British Columbia who I might see once a year than people I had known my whole life.  It was weird, and it was kind of awesome.

Now, back to that Facebook thing I casually mentioned.  While I may not have noticed how my life was changing, here before me was a perfectly visual, time stamped log of my world from then to now.  My previous witty and often self-deprecating posts were replaced with training questions to the masses, race updates on friends, and the photos... my God, the photos.  

Fall of '08, right when #MyLife began to change. Also, I left my credit card at the bar.
(Sidenote: these amazing women are all still very DEAR friends of mine, even though all of our Facebook feeds have changed to include things like mom stuff, being a showgirl in Vegas stuff, new friends and new cities stuff and running 100 milers stuff.)

Fall of '12, equally as sexy
I talked less and less about my job, going out, new outfits and new projects.  And I talked less and less with my real life friends and more and more with the trail running community.  I suddenly had nothing to say to someone I'd known my whole life and too much to fit in one wall post to a person I'd met once, at a race 5 months ago.  At first, I looked at it all and honestly felt bad about it.  Ashamed.  It was like that time in middle school where Caitlin and Jodi boycotted my birthday party because I'd invited a few "popular" girls, which clearly meant I was ditching my "real" friends.  I'd throw a cynical quip about life in there every now and again and I made damn sure to take a photo every time I had makeup on.  I tried to match mountain photos and baby bump photos like for like.  But it wasn't enough.  Ultrarunning had consumed my little sector of the internet.  Ultrarunning had consumed my life.

Next came the rebuttal and the comfort with it all being OK.  You see, we take photos of things we do and things we love.  Which is why you rarely see photos of people sitting at their desk in front of a computer, or tweets like "Killing it at the office today. #CorporateLife."  Unless someone actually works at an awesome place that they are proud of, in which case, I say congratulations. Or they're being really sarcastic.  Anyway, point being, that I don't post very many photos of myself out on a Friday night, because I don't go out on Friday nights.  I drive to the mountains and set up a tent and the lighting is not conducive for an iPhone.  I'm not hiding anything.  I'm just posting what I do, just like the other billion people on Facebook are.*  I can only assume that the concern derives from the fact that I used to participate more frequently in this typical lifestyle and perhaps it seems as if I've "given it up" on account of becoming obsessed with something else.  And I guess I kind of have.  But for me, this is no different than when someone begins tweeting nothing but kid stuff because their kid is clearly the most awesome kid that has ever lived.  No doubt they've given up a fair amount of their pre-kid lives, but I remain unconcerned because I can literally feel the happiness exuding from each and every post.  
*real stat. google it. 

Change is wonderful.

You post photos of this.
I post photos of this.

Ah yes, but I have admitted to feeling guilty.  I still do right now.  This all stems from the underlying reasons why my "personal advertisement site" has become what it is today.  You don't see me dressed up and drinking champagne at weddings, because I can't afford to travel to them on account of traveling to races.  You rarely see me at home with my family, because I use my vacation time for training and racing.  My only contribution to group shots of various gatherings of friends is a "wish I could've made it!" comment.  I feel torn, because these people are all still extremely important to me, and when something has to give, I often take advantage of their unconditional love and friendship.  The aforementioned whom have judged my transition and/or failed to connect with it, have long since faded away.  Those who understand without understanding, who are happy because I'm happy are the ones who I'm affecting.

And my career.  What happened to that?  The whole reason I moved to LA after college was to work at the top ad agencies in the world and climb my way to copywriting glory.  Superbowl ads, billboards in Times Square - I was destined for it!  But somewhere along the line of opportunities, I made a deliberate decision that shocked the shit out of myself.  I no longer wanted to work at the Chiats and Saatchis and Wiedens and Crispins.  I wanted to work at a small place where I could generally like what I do for 8 hours a day, and use my "enough" paycheck to fund my lifestyle of camping and racing. Somewhere this had become much more important than a Clio.  Do any of you outside the industry actually know what that is? ...No? Exactly.

And do any of you outside of ultrarunning know what the drop is on my NB1010s, why it matters or what the hell a NB1010 is in the first place?  Touché.  If you're not into ultrarunning, you're probably not reading this blog.  

Point of this, is that while I love my life and I love the focus and purpose running 100 mile races has given it, it is not without sacrifice.  As with anything.  My brother stays undoubtedly closer to my family, despite the fact he is in the Marine Corps. My niece looks remarkably different every time I see her, and my grandparents look older. I'm meeting my friends' kids when they're three, not when they're born. I don't know about that girl you're dating and chances are, you'll break up before I ever do. I won't be home for Thanksgiving. I'll never be anyone's Maid of Honor. I'm sorry, I can't make it.  God, I'm really, really sorry.


Because running ultras is selfish as fuck.

I know this. I struggle with this. And yet, I'm perfectly unwilling to change it. If you're doubting me and think that it can't be any more selfish than any other hobby or passion someone pursues, just take a look at any 100 mile race.  3 or 4 people dedicating 2-3 full days to cater to my every whim.  I'm too manic and fragile to make decisions the day before, so they'll also have to deal with that.  I'm running for a good 24 hours or so, and they just drive around for hours (no sleeping!), only to see me for 30 seconds and hand me a water bottle stuffed with gels.  They may even get sweaty clothes thrown at them.  Then, then one of these lucky individuals will get the pleasure of "running" 20-30 miles with me as I'm completely beat up and struggling through the darkest hours of the early morning.  I'll also probably yell at them or cry.  They will not receive a medal for running a marathon or longer. By contrast, I will be told how awesome I am for days and weeks to come, and they themselves will join in on this.

Now, that's the tangible effect, but what you aren't seeing are all the ways I've prioritized that race above other things in my life, many of which I've touched upon above. While my family is number one, taking the time to visit more than once or twice a year is not.  While my old friends are dear to me, taking the time to meet up for drinks isn't available.  While my boyfriend is both my rock and my joy, we go our separate ways to train each weekend and I'm too exhausted to make him dinner when he's also exhausted, so we eat frozen pizza.  I haven't entirely made peace with all this, and I don't know if I ever will.  But it all stems from the natural prioritization of my life since I started running ultramarathons.  I'm telling you this, because I am only able to live honestly, and this is honest.

Recently, this happened:
I received a message from someone I don't know, but apparently follows my Facebook feed.  He chastised me for being fake and suggested that I grow up and do something in life besides running.  Of course, my defenses ran through the list at the beginning of this post - I don't post about work because no one posts about work; I don't write about mundane things in life like shopping and eating, because I'm uninspired to bore you; I don't discuss politics, because I don't find online to be a suitable place;I don't  share things about my kids, because I don't have them yet; and I don't post photos of cats, because frankly, I'm not into cats.  And while, like you, I think this dude is a total douche and largely out of line, you can't blame a man for forming an opinion based on what he sees.  Sharing said opinion might not have been the best option, but nevertheless, perhaps more of the world does see me as a selfish poser who needs to use my college degree to get a bigger career and my healthy uterus to get a gaggle of babies, STAT.*  Perhaps to a lesser degree, folks that keep their opinions to themselves might agree that I'm throwing my life away and assigning my values incorrectly.  Perhaps even you runners out there think it's stupid to pursue something in which I may never be good enough to get to the point where my involvement is seen as acceptable (I'm talking pro shit here).  Probably, to some extent, you all are right.
*NOTE: I'm quite sure gaggle is the wrong word here. 

Or maybe it's even worse.  Maybe that selfish ultrarunner in me is assuming that you actually care.  Maybe I've just flaked, skipped or said no too many times and you no longer even consider me.  Maybe we've lost that connection we once had for good.  And it's all my fucking fault.

That said, I made a choice.  I decided to run 100 miles, and then I decided to do it again.  Every year, I'll sign up for another few and train harder.  I'll go to the mountains with Dom every weekend and we'll take a billion photos and likely post them online.  My profile picture will reflect this.  I might flake on that holiday party.  I'll probably miss your wedding.  I'll try to make up for the guilt I feel by volunteering, helping others and occasionally attending a reunion or meeting for birthday drinks. I'll do everything I can to be everything I can to you, my friends, my family, my love.  And this is the way it's going to be, because it's the only honest way I know.

I'm still your dear friend.
I'm still your loving daughter.
I'm still your devoted employee.

But I am an ultrarunner.  This is my plight.


You're welcome.

What Other 100 Mile Runners have to say about "Pandora's Race" and the evils it may bring:

Amy Sproston's Similar Experience

Dominic Grossman's Take on it

Jen Benna's Thoughts on the Matter

Jimmy Dean Freeman's Warning/Encouragement

Monday, November 26, 2012

My Ozark Trail 105

"Well Katie (self), you have two choices here. Either get it over with and let her pass you, or get over yourself and make sure she never does." 

(photo: Todd Rowe)
At 5:54 am CST last Saturday a few Saturdays ago*, I stood shivering on the side of an old dirt road wondering how things were going to go.  Would it take me forever to warm up or would I float on adrenaline for the first hour or so?  Would I hit a rough patch early?  Would I succumb to the rock and root land mines of the course and be forced out?  Would I be able to mentally push through the inevitable pain that I was now only minutes away from bringing on?
*I'm timely.

Unknowingly taking the lead from the wire.
(photo: Chris Wristen)
Of course, I could never really know the answers to these questions, no matter how well or underprepared I was.  And I suppose that's a great part of the reason why we do these things.  Every step is one into the unknown - a fleeting moment where anything, ANYTHING can happen.  Each holds a choice, the summation of which will determine what has been accomplished.  Though I could never know how big or how small, I was ready to accomplish something on the Ozark Trail.  And so I took my first step...

And fell.

No, not really, but the stumbling began from the get-go, which fortunately, I was prepared for given my previous experience on the Ozark "Trail."  To be honest, I was actually pleasantly surprised with its relative condition, and to the joy of my ankles, a few sections in the first, dark miles were even cleared of leaves.  Just to negate this however, I soon realized that we had electrically taped my headlamp into a position where I could not angle it down, so I basically just ran on feel and hoped for the best.  I later discovered that I forgot to pick up said lamp from the mile 8 drop box, which I'm obviously really sad about.  

The dark hollows of the early morn.
(photo:  Todd Rowe)
The sun began to come up after about an hour of darkness and I found myself entirely alone already.  I had no idea of knowing how many folks were ahead of me, but I felt like I was moving well and was happy to finally just be running, rather than entertaining the myriad of thoughts on how this thing might play out.  Now that I was IN it, I was impossibly happy and razor focused on the task at hand.  Quick steps, lift those feet, eat, drink and enjoy.
First XX into Sutton Bluff
(photo: Chris Wristen)

I ran through the first aid station (Grasshopper - mi 8) and did a little math on when I thought I'd arrive at Sutton Bluff (17.something) - the first time I'd see my crew.  I was mostly solo, only sharing a few minutes here and there with various guys as they either passed or I passed them - all of us still settling into a pace.  I had my first and only real wipeout of the race in these first few hours, coming away with only a cut on my hip where I rolled.  By the time I got to the aid station, I heard there had already been much worse coming in, and there weren't that many people ahead of me, so that's certainly saying something.  Apparently none of those people were women either, which was also saying something: I had been and was now leading the race.  This took me by surprise, as I figured at least one of the shadows leaping off into the darkness had an extra X chromosome, but nope.  Until me, it was all Ys.

Once you pop, you can't stop.
(photo: Dom)

I like to move very efficiently through the aid stations, so I was a little flustered when the exact things I needed per Excel chart (yep.) weren't sitting out.  That said, I know that is totally diva, so I tried to just quickly tear through my bookbag while requesting that my old man shove handfuls of Pringles in my mouth.  Ahhh... just like the old days.  I stripped off my long-sleeve, gloves and beanie, threw my 2 oz. jacket into my shorts and grabbed a Buff to hold back my hair, rather than take the time to run bun it.  Another handful of chips for the road and I was out of there, asking Dom to please apologize to my family for my tearing in and out and barking orders.  I sincerely hoped they wouldn't take it offensively and understand that when it comes to aid stations, In-N-Out is the game changer.  Just call me double-double.

A five-minute friend on the way into mile 17ish.  Immediately followed by many more hours alone.
(photo:  Todd Rowe)
 As per usual, I got a huge boost from the extra food, energy and love and tore right into the next section of trail.  I wouldn't see my crew again until mile 43.something, so I knew that I would undoubtedly start to feel the effects of running 100 miles before I'd get the relief of the aforementioned.  With nothing to do but move forward, I again estimated my arrival to the next aid and just focused on keeping the same pace - as it was a good one, thus far.  The weather was warmer than I had anticipated, and I thoroughly enjoyed flying through the woods in only a singlet and splits.  Especially since I knew some 12 hours later I'd be a popsicle. No two ways around it.  

Stillwell Hollow (23) came and went, right on pace, as did Johnson Hollow (28.2).  I was still largely alone, save the mix-tape mashup in my head, but I figured it just as well.  I spend most of my long runs solo, as I can't keep up with Dom and most of the folks who join us are of the similar elite variety, so I actually felt quite at home.  Speaking of training, I was thoroughly enjoying the Ozark hills, which weren't near as steep or high as my San Gabriels  and entirely runnable.  I was also thanking myself for the trips out to the Eastern Sierras and 10+ mile downhill sections filled with talus, snow, ice, boulders and all sorts of other things that could break my ankles. Charging them definitely toughened me up and gave me the confidence to continue attacking the downs, despite the land mines.  Granted, I was stubbing toes like you wouldn't believe, but the point is that muscularly speaking (is that a word?), I was doing alright, save a bit of unsurprising tightness settling into my hip flexors.  I definitely owe that to both training on technical terrain and the thrice a week ballet/yoga in a heated room that has done wonders for my core strength and stabilization muscles.  Secondarily, I owe it to my perfect shoe choice: the New Balance 1010 in a narrow width, which gave me the flexibility to move with the trail, rather than against it, a rock plate and just enough "amp" underfoot to cushion the blow.  As you'll soon find out, it is the first minimal shoe I've run a full 100 miles in, and that makes me really happy, because I hate taking the time to switch pairs.

Ozark "Trail"
(photo: Dom)
All that being said, I'd moved into the point of the race where one inevitably starts to feel like maybe they've been running for awhile, and just maybe that isn't the most ideal thing according to one's legs.  For me, that's usually about 30 miles and it's nothing big - it just reminds me that running 100 miles is hard and there is an amount of pain to be expected.  Then, somewhere between mile 30 and mile 40, I somehow come to the realization that the pain doesn't matter - it's not getting any better or any worse, so I render it irrelevant.

To my delight, I realized that I'd already accepted and dismissed the pain by the time I reached mile 34.8 - Gunstock Hollow (don't you just love these aid station names?)  I rolled up happily, in stride with another fellow, Larry - who I'd been going back and forth with for most of the race thus far.  Again, I quickly took care of business and moved out, unable to shake the scene from Wayne's World involving a gun rack, thanks to the aforementioned moniker.  A gun rack... a gun rack?  I don't even own *a* gun, let alone many guns that would necessitate an entire rack.  What am I gonna do with a gun rack?  If this seems weird, let me assure you that I had plenty of time to think about whatever the hell I wanted.  

Larry fell in behind me soon after the aid station and decided to stick there for awhile if I didn't mind.  I certainly didn't, and so we ran this way for a few miles - myself leading the charge.  The trail was remarkably easy to follow, despite all the leaves being down - there were a ton of fixed OT markers and race ribbons, and as I'd heard, you could immediately tell if you'd gone off track due to the ground getting remarkably softer. As such, I was horrified when I popped out on a road only to discover no markings and no discernible way to go.  Larry went left and I went right - I saw nothing and immediately sensed I was going the wrong way.  Larry found an OT marker on the tree to the left, and so we went that way, even though I was horribly surprised at the lack of flagging, given the fact that it had been so painstakingly marked up until this point.  Larry said he remembered something in the briefing about running down a road for a half mile or mile or so - but I felt very sure that this happened later in the race, after mile 68 and when I'd have a pacer.  Nevertheless, we continued to run down the road for about 3/4 of a mile before my gut got the best of me.  We were seeing fixed OT markers, but I knew in my heart that this was not right.  As such, I decided to go back to where the trail popped out and backtrack until I saw flagging - no matter how far back that may be.

Site of wrong doing.
(photo: Michael McElmeel)
The smooth surface of the dirt road allowed me to open my stride a bit, and combined with the anxiety I felt, I was back to the turn fairly quickly.  I hopped back across the creek and up a little hill and BOOM.  There were my flags.  And lo and behold, there was a sharp left turn that I had missed, along with a sign pointing foot traffic to the left and a trail bypass straight ahead (which explained the OT markers).  I yelled back to Larry before continuing on, cursing myself for losing a good 20 minutes at least, adding on a few miles and likely having lost my lead in the race.  How could I have done such a stupid, stupid thing?  I tried to console myself that these things often happen in 100 mile trail races in remote, unfamiliar areas; but all I could do was chastise myself for ruining my damn near perfect race thus far.

Larry soon caught up and apologized profusely for distracting me with talking - as he had piped up right at the very moment we had missed the turn - myself looking back to address him.  I, of course, assured him that there were no apologies needed - that I was in charge of my own race and I was the one that made the mistake.  While I knew that what I said was true, it did honestly take me a few miles to not be angry at the situation and to fully be ok with the reality that I was the only one to blame for the missed turn.  Nevertheless, I knew that things would only get worse if I didn't focus on keeping the calories and water flowing and the best thing that I could do now was simply run strong into the aid station and then move efficiently through.

Maybe it wasn't that bad?  Maybe the road had actually given my legs the little break they needed to get some snap back?  Maybe I was now running faster because of the adrenaline?  All I knew was that I was going to have to find a way to make that 20 minutes up - to make it as irrelevant as the pain - and the first step in that was depriving myself of the quick butterfly hip stretch I'd been fantasizing about for the last 10 miles or so.  Punishing myself for being bad somehow helped.

Mile 43, with 45 miles on the ole legs.
(photo: Jim Stroup)
"Did I get caught?" I yelled out as I descended upon Brooks Creek (mile 43.2).  
"What?? No! You're still first woman," Dom assured me.

OK, showtime.  Give me that protein bar.  Let me shove it down my throat as I rudely ask for things with my mouth full.  You there, untangle my iPod cord and attach it to my sweaty ass!  Where's the green shirt?  In the car?  I have one in my next drop - I'll be fine.  Yes I'm sure, I just want to get out of here.  I lost time - I have to get going before I get caught.  Chug Gatorade.  Switch sweaty Buff.  Drop sunglasses.  GO.  "I love you too, mom.  I'm sorry I'm an asshole."

And with that, I was back on the trail moving towards the halfway point and having a hard time believing that I'd already have to be picking up a light from my drop bag in only 9 miles.  I'd inevitably slow down a bit in the dark, and so I aimed to get as many more miles in before the sun disappeared.  Unfortunately, that was looking to be sooner than later, as some dark late afternoon clouds were rolling in - hopefully not of the rain variety.  Not being able to do a damn thing about it either way, I decided to throw my tunes on for a few hours and just click off a couple sections with a little company.  At this point, I could reach the halfway point around 11 hours, which would be fan-freaking-tastic.
This is basically what my entire day looked like.
(photo: Dom; Brooks Creek)

And as it was.  I came into Highway DD right on time and even to some nice folks who knew my name, friends of my college sorority pledge mom* (who just ran her first marathon - Go Megan!)  Ahhh Missouri... it really is just like Cheers!  I pulled on the long-sleeve out of my drop bag and commended myself on such a perfect execution of timing and clothing placement.  A far departure from my mistakes back in 2010.  Mistakes that lead to hypothermia by the next aid station and an eventual first ever DNF.  Accordingly, I thought twice about leaving behind the tights and extra jacket, but knew I'd be fine with the way I was still moving.  As I finished up preparing for evening, I thought about inquiring as to how far the next woman might be behind me, but then reasoned that such knowledge wouldn't serve much of a purpose.  If I was running as well as I possibly could, what would be would be, and I might as well just get on with it.  
*Yes, I was in a sorority. And for the record, I loved it.  KKG.

Hwy DD help from a wizard!  (Whom I later found
out is named Colleen.)
(photo: Chris Wristen)
Catching the sunset through the trees at the top of hills was one of the highlights of the day.  The dark cloud layer had separated for just a small expanse, and here the light shone the brightest red, like a ribbon of electricity.  The bluffs to the opposite side caught the Ozark's version of alpenglow - illuminating the array of colors in the tree tops and setting them afire.  Of course, I couldn't really get a great look, as I didn't dare look away from the mess of a trail; point being that despite that fact, the insane beauty of my surroundings was never lost.  This had truly been a wonderful day of running.  Let's just hope the night might bring some of the same.

It had escaped me to check on the mileage to the next aid station, but I figured it must be something around 8ish to Martin Road, as I remembered it was 9ish to Hazel Creek.  Based on my steady pace thus far, I reasoned that the section should take me somewhere between 1:30 and 1:40, give or take, and so I set about getting as much of it done before the darkness hit.  Due to the clouds, there was actually a lot of time spent in that weird twilighty phase where it's not quite dark, but things just get kind of fuzzy.  Combined with the never changing scenery and twisty, curvy, never really know where you are-y nature of the course, it was all making me a little dizzy.  I took a few more walk breaks than normal to account for this and started looking forward to a shot of Coke at the upcoming aid - my first caffeine of the day.

1:30 came and went, as did 1:40 - and I began to attempt some meaningless math with too many unknown variables in my head.  The last aid was at mile A, so I have B miles to get to the next aid at mile C, which should take me X minutes.  Solve for X.  It was dark now, I was alone - having elected not to take a pacer yet - and I was starting to get really confused. Knowing the limitations a career in creative advertising has afforded me, I was sure to employ two engineers for the available pacing positions.  But first, I'd have to run B - D + Y miles.

It had been nearly two full hours by the time I pulled up to Martin Road (mi 59), and sure enough, I'd only gone 8.5 miles.  Grabbing the much needed Coke and some potatoes, but feeling largely in tact, I sincerely wondered how this could be.  It didn't seem like there had been any more hills than normal, though I couldn't really know for certain, so why was I slowing down?  Unsurprisingly, two headlamps appeared entering the aid station and 'twas confirmed that I had indeed slowed down on this last section.  As they came into the light, I realized that one of the figures was noticeably shorter, curvier and pony-tailed.  The jig was up. I had been caught.

The first thought that registered was simply, GET OUT OF HERE NOW!  I heard her ask for a cup of soup, so I grabbed another potato* and did just that, all but sprinting away as I shoved the life giving tuber in my face.  In my head it was very intimidating, but in reality, I'm sure it was all quite Jack Torrance. Now a few yards out of the aid station and completely high out of my mind on adrenaline, both my legs and my mind ran hard.  How could I lead the race for 60 miles, only to be passed in the night?  When would it actually happen and how long had she stayed at the aid station?  Was she still there?  Was I moving that much slower or had she been there all along?  If she hadn't caught me in the 20 mile detour, I must have been moving way better earlier in the day than I was now.
*I honestly almost Dan Quayled that.  For shame.

And then came the consolation:  She's more talented than you; it was only a matter of time.  Who were you to think you could come out here and just WIN a 100 mile race?  You don't win 100 mile races.  She was just biding her time all this way and now she's going to crush you.  You may as well just get it over with and let her pass.  These were my honest thoughts.

And now for my next thought:


I don't know where exactly it came from, but a deep competitive drive  - one I haven't felt since maybe high school - took hold, and I ran harder.  For the past 11 years, it had honestly been okay to not be the best on any given day of running.  That secret part of me who had actually been relieved when I was tripped out of my final qualifying race had gone from a very remote, hidden away place and manifested into a sort of mantra that held a grip on my adulthood racing.  It wasn't so much that I didn't care.  I was afraid to care.  Honest to God afraid of my potential and what kind of pressure it might put on my running.  I wasn't about to let it destroy my enjoyment of the sport again.

But instead of panicking me in this moment, the drive invigorated me.  My legs took flight, and I bounded down the increasingly difficult trail with an ease I had not felt all day.  I had come too far to let it go now. And if I lost by 20 minutes or less (the amount of time I'd lost in my earlier detour), I'd be as angry at myself had I given up in the last 7 miles of Western and come in a minute or two over the 24-hour mark.  That hadn't been a question, and neither was this. I decided right then and there that I would not be beat.  Not today.

I passed one guy, then another, allowing a quick look over my shoulder every now and again.  Periodically, I'd catch a reflective marker and think I was being caught, which only spurred me to run harder.  At some point during the 9.5 mile stretch, I realized that this was where my race had unraveled in my previous attempt.  No doubt, the temperature had dropped rapidly, but I was moving so well that I even had to unzip my 2.7 oz. jacket.  I was not going to go hypothermic tonight, and I was going to finish this damn thing.  Furthermore, I was going to WIN.  There would be no doubt about any of that.  I considered rocking some Ke$ha to further my world domination goals, but erred on the side of keeping myself focused and undistracted for the task at hand.  Which was running a faster pace than I'd run all day, on an increasingly deteriorating trail, in the pitch black.  No problemo, dude.  It was, how they say, ON.

When I crossed the final, wide, previously death-inducing creek, I knew I was almost at the aid station.  There hadn't been another light in sight and I aimed to keep it that way.  As I approached the hum of the generator, I attempted to yell out to alert my crew, but my plans were thwarted with trail lung having officially settled in.  As such, I spilled out onto the road in what I like to call a productive panic.  I knew exactly what I needed, and there would be not a second spared for anything else.  If mom wanted a hug, she was going to have to do it on the run.

My pace was good enough on the last section that I surprised my crew, but luckily they had my bag out of the car and were already sitting out in the cold, waiting for me to roll in.  That couldn't have been pleasant, so I heartily thank them for that.  I quickly mowed down most of a Clif Builder Bar and washed it down with a much needed Yerba Maté shot and proceeded to march right out of there.  Here, the aid station where I'd planned to take the time to sit, regroup, possibly redress and make sure I was prepared for the brutal hours to come, and I had spent a minute or two tops.  Mom and Laura manned my bag, Dom shouted out to make sure I didn't want any more clothes and Mitch tried to find my dad, who had realized at precisely the moment I decided to leave that he had forgot to grab his headlamp out of the car.  The moment may have manifested as a blur to anyone who encountered it, but I was hyper-aware of every little detail - to this day, being able to recount the taste of the combination of protein bar and maté*, the exact route into and out of the aid station, the glow of the lights, the hum of the generator, the feeling of the cold air in my nose as I inhaled.  I was fully and gloriously IN it.  Though I didn't know it then, by the time I left, I had already put 16 minutes on the other woman.

Dad quickly joined, and we left on a terror; myself excitedly chattering about getting caught and the subsequent hammer dropping.  I felt incredible, and after having run alone basically all day, was extremely happy to have someone to express said credulousness to. I had run almost every step between the last two aid stations, and my plan was to continue this way.  I realized that if I had put over 20 minutes on any other woman before, that I could do it again and I had a pretty good idea on how I was going to do it.  Earlier, I had been running most every hill - even when others were walking.  But somewhere in that bad section I had at dusk, my assault on all which was vertical had lessened.  If I was  then largely hiking them thar hills, was I really doing any better than anyone else?  Probably not, I reasoned.  And such, this was to be my secret to securing a victory.

We moved swiftly through the first mile, where two years prior dad had walked faithfully behind as I struggled to regain control of my hypothermia wrecked body. I had collapsed once, twice and finally a third time, from which I never recovered.  Dad pointed out the exact spot, and I got a little charge moving right past.  Not tonight!  To the Huzzah!

I kept the pace, again running most every step, and immensely enjoying the company.  We chattered on as the miles clicked by, only interrupted every now and again by a large thud.
Dad fell to the ground multiple times in this 12 mile section, which as it turns out, was more than I fell in the entire 105 miles.  I also kicked up a branch which hit him directly in the nuts and the hilarity was not lost on me, even in my psycho 70 mile daze.  I'd feel bad about this, but he kept following every incident with an, "I'm really glad to be here," and I don't believe in the concept of saying untrue things just to appease the situation.  I mean nobody does that, especially when pacing a runner in a 100 mile race. 

Eventually, we spotted the glow of the aid station on the hill, but it was the darndest thing.  We kept winding towards and then away from it, but never seemed to be getting any closer.  It was so bright though!  Dad began to think it was a deer stand, which in retrospect, I don't know why they'd have it lit up, so that makes no sense to me.  But at that time, my deductive reasoning skills weren't exactly at an all time high, which is probably why I failed to identify the freaking moon.  THE MOON.  

Not too long after the lunar incident, we popped out onto the dirt road and ran the short section into the aid station (which felt positively heavenly, by the way.)  I thought I had seen headlamps off in the hollow, so I was dead set on moving in and out as quickly as possible, ensuring that I'd already be back on the trail by the time anyone arrived.  As such, I took to squatting down at the backside of the tent, away from the road and ravenously shoving potatoes and Coke down my throat, hyper aware of every movement and sound.  I had now lead the race for over 75 miles and I intended to do everything in my power to keep it that way.  Experience running, crewing and volunteering at these things had lead me to firmly believe that a hell of a lot of time could be made up by being efficient with the aid stations - especially in the latter stages of the race.  I say efficient, because "fast" isn't always the answer - sometimes there are things one needs to take care of, and if neglected, it can be the death of you.  So my mantra is more like: handle yo' shit and get out.

Once I did just that, dad and I kept things quiet so we could hear any cheers that might signify someone entering the aid station.  We never heard anything, which may or may not have been accurate due to the ever-present leaf crunching.  As such, the paranoia continued and I just tried to keep covering as much ground as possible before the wheels came off.  I knew I was now entering that danger zone, and having survived relatively unscathed up until this point, there was a strong possibility the eventual breakdown could be epic.

After the race, I kept telling people that said breakdown started to take hold around mile 80, to which my dad would always immediately reply, "It was mile 79."  I guess I made quite the impression on him.  You see, up until this point, I had been effectively managing my own time and calories, but now all the numbers were starting to fade together, and I relied heavily on dad's knowledge of the space-time continuum.  Also notable was that every rock and branch were now on a mission to attack and sabotage me and no one else.  It was personal, and I had something to say about it.  Most of which was four letters.  My brother is the Marine in the family, but you never would have been able to tell by my mouth for the next two miles into Berryman.

Mile 81.5 - just a little more than 20 miles to go - and I finally sat down for a few minutes.  I needed major calories and major caffeine if I were to get back to the Katie of the first 17 hours, rather than the angry shell of a woman that had replaced her in the last.  Furthermore, I knew Dom was very much excited by this whole prospect of me being competitive and winning a race, and I wanted to show him a good time out there.  So mashed potatoes with  instant coffee gravy it was!  Midnight snack of champions.  

I had immensely enjoyed my time on the trails with dad, but now I was excited for some hours with 'ole Dom.  I couldn't wait to hear how his day was, how he liked my home state so far and if he now could correctly identify the difference between Missouri and Missourah.  I was happy to see no lights on the half mile or so overlapping in and out of the aid station, but knew that the dark hours were a comin' for me and I'd have to keep my shit largely in tact if I wanted to pull this out.  When finally asked if I'd like to know the distance I had on second, I happily obliged and learned of my 16 minute gain into Hazel Creek (68) and my now 25+ as of the radios from Pigeon Roost (75).  Of course, that means absolutely nothing with over 20 miles to go, so I knew I still had to work HARD.  The difference was that I'd now come to peace with the whole thing - as long as I was doing my best in every single moment, I'd have no regrets, even if I was eventually caught.

We moved along at a decent clip towards Billy's Branch, my only concern being that my stomach was now kind of wrecked.  It had flared up a bit towards the end of my section with dad, but a few quick pit stops had kept me out of too much distress.  But now, my system was operating in high gear and anything going in felt a bit rumbly.  Also, now for the second time at the end of a 100, I was peeing like crazy!  As before (Western States,) I'd been on top of my fluids and electrolytes all day - drinking only to thirst and with nothing looking too puffy - but now I was needing to pee every 3-4 miles.  I'm still trying to figure out exactly why this could be, because let me tell you, it's freaking annoying.

The section into Billy's (mile 89) was lasting a lot longer than advertised, and a few miles out my attitude began to shift once again.  My entire being was hurting (as was to be expected), and I honestly had no concept of where I was.  In life.  It was all just trees and leaves and rocks and darkness.  Is this a metaphor for something bigger?  I don't even know.  I finally started to get cold, as well, which really didn't help matters too much.  My yucca knee, in particular, tends to ache when the temperatures drop, and tonight was no exception.  Luckily, Dom knows just what to do and kept me focused on "getting there when we get there," and nothing more.  

We eventually got "there," and again, I sat for a few moments to get down some soup, potatoes and coffee.  Much to his chagrin, Dom had discovered that not only had I failed to drink all of my Vitargo, but I was half-assing the gels as well.  To this day I maintain that I had no idea on the gels and hypothesize that they were simply starting to freeze and therefore were harder to squeeze completely out.  Either way, he had some surprises in store to make absolutely certain this would not happen again.

I learned of the first surprise about ten minutes out of the aid station, when Dom suggisted that I take a drink of my Vitargo.  Note, I did say suggisted there, not suggested.  Suggested + Insisted = Suggisted.  In other words, not being a dick, but also not taking no for an answer - just the way I like my pacers.  So I take a drink and lo and behold, I feel like I'm sipping a freaking Mike & Ike.  

Dom, this tates like... candy.  I'm confused.  
Oh, that's because I put Mountain Dew in it.

Oh! Great!  Just what I wanted.  But I didn't complain - I drank that shit like I was Tara Reid and continued to party.  I ran, I hurt, I peed, I yelled at rocks - that was pretty much the gist of the next section.* Taradise.  Dom now required a visual check on all gel packets and I started to learn of the correlation between my complaints and his requests for me to eat.  Inspiration to keep my mouth shut.
*Also applicable to previous reference.

Knowing that this next section of trail was supposedly 7 miles, I became overwhelmed with the simple task of progress.  Earlier in the day, I had actually enjoyed having the aid stations further apart than normal, as it gave me less places where I had to slow down and become distracted with anything other than simply moving forward.  But here, in the latter stages of the race, I was missing them something fierce and desperately seeking that distraction.  To make matters worse, I knew that it was still another 7 to go from the last aid station.  The thought of it all made my head spin, and visions of climbing in the back of the car at Henpeck - mile 96.3 went all sugar plum on me.  I always thought that if I was leading a 100 mile race, I would be all determined and high on life in the last 10 miles, but let me assure you, this was not the case. I wanted it all to be over just as bad as anyone else.  100 miles is still 100 miles, no matter how fast or slow you run it.

Oh, and by the way, this was now going to be 105 miles - and that simple bit of math was not lost on me.  I had conveniently misplaced the ability to manage time between feedings, but I always knew how long I would have to go if it were only 100 miles proper and if I had not taken the 2 mile detour.  I made sure Dom was aware of this fact as well.  In return, Dom made me eat more gel.  This relationship was not working in my favor.  In addition, Dom cared not where we were (as he didn't really know either), but continuously reminded me that the distance to the next aid station did not matter in the grand scheme of things.  Each step was one step closer, and that's all I needed to concern myself with.

Imagine my joy when we realized we were already upon the next and final aid station!  I was seriously so excited that I completely forgot how bad I wanted to quit.  Instead, I grabbed all the clothes I could - tights, a primaloft half-zip and a shell - despite Dom's warnings that it was overkill.  (It was.)  I knew the only thing at this point that could take me down was the ever-dropping temperatures, and I was not about to let that happen.  I would rather be sweating the entire way and carrying a little extra weight than go hypothermic in the last few hours and ruin my first ever 100 mile win.  I downed some coffee and broth, alternately chatting with my family and the volunteers.  They reported that the next woman was at least 45 minutes behind me as of mile 80, but I had no idea what could have happened in the last 16 miles and what was about to in the last 7.  I'd have to keep pushing as hard as I could if I wanted to see this thing through, and given how sufficiently wrecked my legs felt from 20-something hours of leaves and rocks and generally tense running, that was going to be no picnic.  Nevertheless, I finally took the time to dispense a few hugs to my awesome crew, and Dom and I headed back out into the night.

People, there is no sugar coating it:  these last 7 miles were kind of awful.  The tights had helped a bit with the aching knees, but I had reached a point where it did actually feel better to walk than run.  So I hiked a lot in this last section.  Back at mile 80-ish, I had kind of figured coming in under 24 hours was gone, even though I had a good 5 1/2 hours to do so.  Even though I still felt relatively strong, the amount that I slowed down trying to navigate the trail in the dark was just too extreme.  To make that even more difficult, a thick, damp fog had rolled in, which made focusing on anything besides the step in front of you impossible.  As such, I kept my head down and Dom scanned for reflective markers.  I yelped in pain from the million and somethingth toe stub; Dom calmly told me how proud he was of me and that we'd be there soon enough.  Such went the last, dark, painful miles, so you can see how thankful I was to have him there.

Things I actually remember from this section:
  • Not understanding the values of numbers, yet mysteriously being fully able to calculate 2 miles out of the aid station to prove that had the course been 100 miles instead of 103 and had I not run 2 extra miles that I would have come in well under the 24-hour mark.  My mom always said I have "selective hearing," so I guess that specialized talent extends to my mathematical abilities as well.  Don't be jealous.
  • The fog in my headlamp making me super dizzy and imagining that had I read or watched the Twilight series, this would be what the setting looked like.  Move over, KStew!  
  • At some point, Larry from the earlier getting lost debacle catching up and refusing to pass me, even though he easily could have.  Instead, he ran/hiked with Dom and I all the way to the finish and insisted I finished ahead of him.  So be it known:  my 10th overall really should have been 11th, as Larry was closing strong, but chose to hike it in with us.
  • In retrospect, feeling horrified of my four-letter outbursts and occasional sobs in the last few miles. Larry was a nice guy, and so was his wife whom I later met - and I feel like a total other four-letter word for being so crass and generally unpleasant.
  • Feeling completely lost and utterly helpless.
The trail wound and wound - up and down and to nowhere in particular.  I was going legitimately mad.  Dom prodded me to keep pushing, lest I get caught in the final mile of the race.  Please, I need this to be over.  Finally, we reached a clearing and could see the faint glow of Bass River Resort in the distance.  And finally, I felt like I had a tangible place to go.

Of course, for one last kick in the nuts (which I suppose I deserved as payback for the one I gave to dad), the course would not take us directly to the beaconing lights.  Instead, they lead us around the property in some sort of f'd up promenade thing, only no one was watching and it all seemed ridiculously unnecessary given that the race was already way over 100 miles long.  Even with the end now in sight, I was begging every god I ever learned about in my religious studies courses (freaking Journalism and it's overabundance of mandatory humanities) for the whole thing to just be done with.  I want so very badly to tell you how much I enjoyed my "victory lap" of my first 100 mile win, but that was simply not the case.  I was seriously hating life and the only thing I cared about was sitting down.  OK, less than a quarter mile to go...

Next, I decided to fall one last time.  Then I almost got kicked in the face by a horse.  Alright Katie, now you can finish.

Being attractive.
(photo: Chris Wristen)
It wasn't dramatic.  It wasn't filled with emotion.  There was no burning sense of pride.  I ran straight through that finish line, into the tent and sat down in silence.  I had won and apparently set a course record, but I couldn't really process these facts. My eyes were so foggy that I couldn't see.  My stomach was in such knots that I wanted to puke.  My legs hurt so bad that I wanted to cease to exist.  But I was smiling alright.

At the end of the day - or should I say, day + 1:10 - my only feelings about the whole experience were that it had been a great, enjoyable day of running, followed by a night of really fun and exhilarating racing, followed by an early morning of overcoming pain and challenge.  I loved it and had run my very hardest in every moment - no regrets.  That is what brought the satisfaction to me - not the buckle, plaque or admiration from anyone else (though of course, that was all wonderful and appreciated.) The satisfaction lied in the way I had navigated and negotiated the course, the way I had remained focused on getting the most out of every step and monitoring my calorie intake.  The way I had pushed to counter the lost time off course, and the way I had worked to find the positives in the situation.  The way I pushed the negative thoughts out of my mind when the race was on, and the way I believed in myself utterly.  The way I took everything I've learned in the past 3 1/2 years of ultrarunning and probably a lot more from life, including four 100 mile finishes and one Ozark Trail DNF, and applied it almost perfectly.  

It just so happened that it was all good enough for a win.  


Satisfied.  Wrecked... but satisfied.
(photo: Dom; OT100 finish)

Huge thank-you to the amazing cast of characters that made up my Missourah crew.

  • Aunt Laura - You were there with me then, and I'm so glad you were there for this retribution. I have no idea why you wanted to come hang out in the woods all day and all night not once, but TWICE, but I'm so glad you did.  Thanks for being my "stupidest" relative. :)
  • Mom - Every girl needs her mom, and a 100 mile race is no exception, especially when it's all said and done.  Mom hugs are the best kind.  And only mom mysteriously has a much needed hair dryer in the backwoods of Missouri.
  • Mr. Mitch - Most encounters with you involve hurting the next day.  Usually this is related to beer, but today was a new chapter.  Thank you so much for taking an interest in this crazy, selfish thing I do and being an awesome part of the experience.
  • Dad - I am SO glad we got a do-over on this, and it meant the world to me for you to pace me those 12 miles.  I'm sorry for being so crazy and manic and kicking sticks into your junk, but know this:  it could have been worse.  Also, you should sign up for a 50k.
  • Dom - When I think about the fact that you were willing to give up 4 days, including 2 vacation days, to fly to Missouri on your own dime, sit around in the woods with my family and no one else you know, help me all day and then walk/run at a pace that it is ridiculously slow for you through the darkest and tiredest part of the night, and THEN let me have the window seat on the plane AND carry my bag while we walked from the airport to the cars a mile away, I feel a bit overwhelmed.  I'd think you were certifiably nuts if it weren't for the fact that I'd do the exact same thing for you x 10.  Minus the whole being faster than you part.

Hometown Super Crew:  Mr. Mitch, Aunt Laura, Mama Joan, Dom & Pops.  Also pictured: drasted leaf and drasted rock, buckle & awesome plaque to remind me of home.
Next thank-you goes to New Balance for the support and perfect shoe to tackle the Ozark Trail - the 1010.  Also to Injinji for another blister free day, this time in a single pair of Xcelerator toe socks.

And finally, a HUGE thank you to the volunteers and RDs Paul and Stuart for a completely awesome race.  Well organized, well marked, well stocked AND point-to-point - ya can't ask for more.  

I'm most impressed with how good my hair looks here.
(photo: Mom)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Off to Missourah

Ozarks in the Fall.  Home Sweet Home.
(OT100 Facebook Page)
The simple fact that I will be running 100 miles on Saturday (103 proper) has finally settled into my brain, so I reasoned it was time to gather a few thoughts before I take off.  If for nothing more than to laugh at when things inevitably stray from the plan.  Because they always do.

The poison of choice will be the Ozark Trail 100 in Southeast Missouri, and it's no secret this will not be my first drink.  Said elixir just about killed me back in 2010, when the weather took a turn as the sun went down and hypothermia set in.  It was my first ever DNF and to be honest, it took a long time for me to get over it.  Here's what I had to say about it, via the race report I could never bring myself to finish:

If a race actually brought me to my knees and would not allow me to finish, you know it was hard.  Shit, I was 100% positive getting up and turning around to walk back to the aid station was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life.  Unfortunately, ending the race did not end my fiercest challenge. Instead, it was only the beginning of the true toughest test of  my life: learning to accept my human limitations, and becoming open to seeing the outcome as anything but a failure.

Jeeeeze.  Bring on the dramatics.  For real though, I say that now - after I've DNF'd two additional races (both 50ks at the first aid station, by the way) and have generally settled the f*** down with regards to my competitive drive and need to control everything, but I assure that it was all quite horrible when it happened.  Listen to me, all acting like two years has garnered me a decade of experience and wisdom, but honestly it does kind of feel that way.  

The things I've learned are not only tangible and tactical, such as switching my headlamp batteries in the middle of the night, relying on liquid calories and aid station food in the cold when my gel freezes and packing every warm piece of everything I own in my Hwy DD drop bag.*  But I've also I would say earned, rather than learned, some serious peace of mind with regards to getting through a 100 mile race.  For starters, I ran Angeles Crest with spikes jabbing my patellar tendon the whole way and pain that had me gasping for breath - and I finished.  If I can run through that, I can pretty much run through anything.  At Western States this year, I discovered that running a little bit harder in the last 20 miles is really no different than just trying to move forward at all, at any rate, so I might as well keep pushing the pace.  
*That's the place where shit got real last time.  I had to go over 9 miles through waist high stream crossings to the next crew point in shorts and a long-sleeve t-shirt.  It was 17 degrees in the hollows.  It was not good.

Getting even deeper still, I've learned to place my self assessments not in relation to other people but rather in relation to myself.  By no surprise, this keeps me in a much better mental state throughout the ordeal, as well as prevents me from doing something truly stupid.  Or in other cases, not pushing where I know I can.  I remember last time I ran the race, a gentleman scoffed and scolded me for running all the uphills.  Accordingly, I started hiking - now just barely hanging onto a 24-hr pace.  I realized much later that it had been wholly stupid not to run while I could, and given that the course was covered in hidden land-mine rocks - that would've been the uphills, followed by weird, hoppy dance-like maneuvers on the downs.  I run in the San Gabriels and Eastern Sierras for chrissakes.  Two of the steepest ranges in North America.  Of course I can run up the hills.
Them thar hills
Shall we peel another layer?  So the other thing I've got going for me is that I am in a largely better place in life, generally speaking.  Two years ago was basically a bunch of turmoil with work, finances and relationships - all things I was fighting to fix, all of which was absorbing every ounce of my energy and patience.  I had thought a 100 mile run through the woods would be just what I needed to clear my head, but as it turns out, it only added another layer to the problem.  The whole, "Why am I not good enough for ANYTHING?!" game crept in something fierce and was compounded as I lie on my back in the leaves somewhere around mile 70, officially unable to move.  

BUT, my dad scooped me up and all but carried me back to the nearest aid station.  I eventually warmed up, got some rest and survived.  And lo and behold, over the next few months, pretty much everything started to get better.  In fact, the last year of my life has truly been one of the best ever - not for any specific monumental event - but rather simply the comfort and trust I have felt in EVERYTHING.   Some things have worked out, some have not, and some I have been wholly indifferent to - but through it all, life has just flowed right along, and I've been happy for would I estimate to be 98.2% of it.  If I can extend that ratio to the race on Saturday, I should be in damn fine place.

Now, as for the less ethereal, feel-goody aspects of my preparedness for this race… I'm going to be honest.  Shit hasn't been ideal.  What I mean by this is that my plan when registering was that I'd recover from Western States and then start hitting it hard mid-July, building on the supreme shape I felt I was in and my best 100 to date.  This was all going well through a great week in Silverton for Hardrock, and then my world came crashing down.  I ended up really sick and exhausted for the better part of two months - only finally starting to get things rolling in September.  This was all likely related to a kidney infection and some antibiotics that seriously f'd up my system, but more on that in a later post.

Here's the thing though - while it was hard being a bit slower and doing a little less mileage at first, at some point between now and then, I suddenly realized how awesome and strong I felt.  I was running faster and higher; I completed some extremely long and challenging days; I re-graduated to the heavier weights in my cross-training.  And best part?  I wasn't injured, overworked or tired.  I was on some sort of an upswing, if you will.

Recently, I sat down and crunched the numbers in my training log - you know, the numbers I would write down but refuse to add up, lest I dive headfirst into a horrible "why can't I run as much as I used to" depression.  To my surprise, they weren't too far off from what I consider one of my best months leading up to Western States.  Because I haven't been racing, I've been able to build up some real, quality miles and vert, and lo and behold - the training was actually there.  I'm still having a bit of trouble believing it was enough, but hell, that happens even when I'm hitting 100 mi+ weeks.  Which, btw, I did have one of those in there without even realizing it.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I feel good.  My body is rested and uninjured and my mind is finally up to the task of running for a day and night or so through the Mark Twain National Forest.  I valued rest and recovery almost even more than the training itself, and the result is a body that's truly chomping at the bit to get out there and tear into the trails.  On Saturday, I ran 11 miles up over 8,000 feet with a couple K of climb in there and felt like I was on a 5 mile stroll along the beach.  Last night, I felt electric as I ran a few "easy" miles around town, only to discover I'd been clipping off 6:30 miles.  I have so much energy in the evenings, it's hard to contain myself even with an addicting book*.  I do, however, still feel like I weigh 200 pounds - so I guess all signs point to taper in full effect.  Dom's probably been wise to leave me to my lonesome, but that will be inescapable when we meet at LAX tomorrow.  Praying for his sake the emotional warfare portion of the fun doesn't take hold between now and then.
(*"Wild" by Cheryl Strayed - def worth your time)

All this aside, arguably the best part about running the Ozark Trail 100 this Saturday is that I get to go HOME.  I get to hang out with my mom and dad, snuggle with the most awesome bulldog ever - Miss Stella, eat my grandma's pies, drink some Schafly Pumpkin Ale, get a way-better-than-LA haircut from Cherie, run through the crunch of a midwestern fall and bury myself in the most comfortable couch in all of the land when I'm done.  It will be glorious, and even better yet, I get to share it all with Dom!  He's never been back to Missouri with me and I'm so excited to show him all of the things I love about my hometown in my favorite season to spend there. You's in fo' some fun, California Boy!

Fit for crunching.
Missouri Hiking)
There is going to be some in-race tracking of sorts this year - though I wouldn't rely on that too much.  If you were wondering if we'll be in the freaking styx, the answer is yes.  No cell service, no towns, no nuthin'…. but trees, leaves, rocks, roots and hills.  All of which should add up to a good challenge of what they say is 15k of gain over a nasty surface that you can't see, due to all the leaves on the ground.  Yee-haw.  Thank goodness for my pops, who knows the area well thanks to camping, fishing and float trips and has a general sense of direction and timeliness which can be trusted.  Having him there to take care of my crew and ensure they survive in the wilderness (Joan) and get to where they need to be (Dom) is a giant relief.  Plus Mr. Mitch will be there for comic relief and Aunt Laura will be there for the much needed F bombs. Feral pigs, bald eagles and possible meth labs will add to the charm. It's going to be a backwoods party for the ages.

This is real, people.

Planning on tackling the thing in the New Balance 1010s (which come in a 2A!), which I think should be a good blend of providing a little bit of protection, while still being flexible and minimal enough to let me feel the trail and not crack an ankle.  Injinji Ex-Celerator socks should help keep me from tweaking my calves in the cold morning and I'll also be trying something new with nutrition.  I've been using GENR8 Vitargo and Nuun for the past month or so, and it's been a great departure from eating so many damn gels.  Of course, I've still got shit-tons of those as they are basically fool-proof for me, but I'm going to try and rely on liquid a bit more, given that it could be very cold and also fumbling with gel packets on super technical terrain = disaster.

Weather could be anything from hot and humid to thunderstorms to freezing temps - though it's looking like the cloud cover could keep things from getting too unbearable.  Either way, I've got Goretex and Primaloft coming out my ears as well as the recent experience of running 40 miles in the hail, rain and wind of the 2012 Western States Apocalypse… all in a 3 oz. Minimus jacket.  So I think what I'm trying to say is I'm pretty much good.

Final thing (lay off me - I'm tapering and disjointed):  technically the farthest I've run is 101.5 miles  - never 103, so I'm looking forward to a new PR regardless.  

Oh, one more thing:

Happy Halloween.  I'm a panda.

OK seriously - bye.