Thursday, March 29, 2012

Prequel Sequel: LA Marathon 2012

See, it's a Prequel, because it's out of order.  I ran the LA Marathon 5 days before Old Goats 50.  You know... as a fine taper.  But it's a Sequel, because this was something that began long, long ago...

How did I get started running, you ask?  Well, it's very simple.  Growing up, I was thoroughly convinced that my dad was pretty much the most awesome guy ever.  He knew the answers to basically everything, he teased my mom, which was funny, he made excellent pancakes and by golly, he was fast.  My pops liked to tour the local 5k/10k scene in the slow-pitch softball off season*, and I distinctly remember going to watch him run around St. Louis, thoroughly impressed by the insane distances he was covering.  SIX MILES?!!  Holy shit.  My dad is incredible.

Told you.  I had to be exactly like The Kev.
Of course, eventually I got it in my head that if running was something my dad did, then it was something I needed to be doing as well.  And so I inquired about the possibility of me participating in one of these races at some point.  Next thing I knew, we were signed up for the St. Charles Flat Five and my dad was going to run the whole thing with me!  All I needed was my Umbros and my sweet suede Lanzeras and I was ready to rock.
That was 1994, so needless to say, I don't remember a ton of details from the day.  Most likely it was humid and I had the best time ever.  Those are the only things I can say with any confidence.  Also, apparently I came in 4th overall woman which I guess was pretty good considering I was 11 and wearing soccer shoes.  Unfortunately, a 'real runner' neighborhood lady didn't really like the fact that I'd beaten her, so she found it necessary to point out that the rules clearly stated that you must be 16 years of age to participate in the 5k.  Not even out of grade school and stripped of my medal.  Such a disgrace to my country.

I love that I corrected it in red pen.

400/800 meter track star - finally faster than the old man.
My dad and I continued to run 5k/10ks together for the next few years and eventually I went on to run in high school.  (Our soccer team sucked.)  Around this time, he stopped challenging me to 100 meter dashes at the track, which I now understand was so he may forever say that he is the champion.  Congratulations. Throughout the rest of my running career, however, my pops was always present, reminding me to "open my stride" or "play hard, have fun."  I always thought it strange that in huge crowds of screaming people lining the course or hugging the fence, including my mother's impressive two-finger whistle, I could clearly make out my dad's soft-spoken advice and nothing else.  
Collapsing into dad's arms after winning
the MSHSA XC State Championships.

My senior year of college, I decided to run a marathon.  Again, my dad made the treck up to Chicago and again, I could hear him cheering me on, now through literally millions of people lining the streets of a huge skyscraper-filled city.  It was pretty awful, considering I was wearing a men's cotton undershirt, some volleyball shorts and knew nothing of gel or the concept of drinking water, but hey - I made it.  When I found my old man after the race, the first thing he told me was that he was proud of me.  But the second was that he would NEVER run a marathon because the body was just not made to go over 20 miles and that's why I couldn't even step off a curb.  The third was a riotous bout of silent laughter, recalling a couple he saw at the beginning of the race with perfect hair and full make-up, clearly running to be seen, who looked quite a bit different and well... melted by mile 20.  We have a very similar sense of humor.

The marathoner and the guy who will never
run a marathon.

Fast forward a bit to my foray into ultrarunning.  That's a story I should probably tell at some point, but we'll save that for a later date, as it has nothing to do with this post.  On a related note, I know I have not once mentioned the 2012 LA Marathon yet, which is the title, but trust me - this exposition is entirely necessary.  To this day, I'm not quite sure what my dad first thought of the whole thing, but all I can remember is honestly feeling like for the first time in my life, he really wasn't very interested in my running.  The 50k was one thing, but when I first mentioned 50 miles, I recall some questions into the safety and logic of doing such a thing.  Make no mistake, he told me he was proud of me, but the concept was entirely foreign, and unlike me, he was not surrounded by a group of people who thought it all perfectly normal and worthwhile.  He was surrounded by no one who had ever even heard of "ultrarunning."

Parents highly pleased with themselves. Me diagraming
how I'd basically had them foiled, but threw all notions
aside when he'd called me the previous day from work,
i.e. Dana Point, CA.
(photo:  Kevin Chan)
Dad's first experience with my ultra career came in 2010 when he agreed to crew me at the Ozark Trail 100 in Missouri.  The day ended with him all but carrying me back to the mile 70 aid station, body wrecked with hypothermia, and resulting in my first ever DNF.  "Great," I thought.  "I had one shot, and now I've ruined it for him." Imagine my surprise when he showed up in Wrightwood last year, the day before AC100.  And imagine how scared I was that I'd fuck it up again, considering I couldn't bend my knee.  Nope, dad.  This time you're going to see how amazing it is to finish one of these things.  

I don't know exactly how long after finishing AC it was, but at some point last year, I heard the first mention of it out of his mouth.  My dad, who believed that 20 miles was out of control, thought he might run a marathon one of these days.  There was no poking and no prodding and no guilt-tripping.  And at any rate, he just wanted to know what it might take and what kind of training he might need to do.  The half marathons and various trail races were becoming a little easier, and like I always suspected, eventually it just gets to you that there's something a little crazy out there that other people are doing and goddammit, you should be able to do it too.  I didn't get these genes from a donor, people.

Ah yes... it's going to be an excellent day.
(1400 & 890 -in Mizzou colors-
if you're wondering)
Eventually, the questions turned to training plans, and the training turned to 16 and 18 mile runs.  He called me in January to tell me he was registering for the LA Marathon, conveniently in my hometown and awesomely on my birthday.  He said I didn't have to run with him, though I'd promised to do any marathon he signed up for, and I told him he was out of his mind.  This was my chance to finally repay my dad for what he did for me 18 years ago and I was now more excited to run the LA Marathon than any other race thus far in life.  Did I mention I got into Western States this year?  Yeah... that excited.

Dominic dropped us off at Dodger Stadium race morning, and we stood packed in a tent, praying it wouldn't rain, as forecast.  Pops was clearly excited - and man, how couldn't you be?  He'd knocked out all of his training, trimmed down to a quite svelte version of himself and now was about to run farther than he'd ever run before.  After three rounds of Randy Newman, we were off.

Perfect form and all smiles through mile 6 - hills
officially crushed.
The sun came out, the day warmed up and through mile 6, we were easily averaging about a 10 minute pace.  Dad felt great, and though we both had to pee, life was enjoyable.  We marveled at the scenery... and by scenery I don't mean the city; I mean the participants.  Fuck airports, man.  Marathons are some of the best people watching opportunities around.  We laughed as dad crushed the hills and soon were joined by Dom, spectating at Echo Park and graciously playing tour guide to my grandparents who'd come out to LA to watch their 56-year-old son run his first marathon.  I felt like the luckiest in-the-process-of-turning-29-year-old ever, as all of these important people shared this perfect day with me.  If the streets of LA had suddenly turned to single track trail, I might have died of happiness right then and there.

Somewhere around mile 9, I realized that dad was no longer talking to me, but I remembered that he said he always seemed to have a low point around 9 miles into any run.  OK, I thought.  We'll shake this.  A few miles later, I took this photo around the halfway point and posted on Facebook on the run for our family keeping tabs back in MO.  Subsequently I was confused to see the LOL comments popping up on my screen - but couldn't really see the details of the photo, as I was running and there was a glare.  On second thought, I now see why.
Look at it this way.  At least you aren't heel striking, man.
Apparently, Pops-o-Matic's stomach was not liking his gels any longer, and this was really pissing him off.  He'd never had a single issue with the gel, salt and water plan, and now, on race day, he suddenly felt like he was going to puke every time he ingested anything.  Soon thereafter he started cramping and he later admitted to thoughts that he might not finish this thing.  Fortunately, I also started cramping extremely bad and realized that if I did not urinate, my kidneys were going to explode and I too, would not finish the marathon.  I wondered out loud if the need to pee might be the reason for the internal body anger.  Without a legal place to grab a bush or alley, we agreed to stop at the next line of porta-potties, no matter how long the line.  

Post pee-apocalypse.
Glory glory hallelujah, folks.  We have been saved.  You want to talk about a second wind - check out my dad at mile 14.5.  NEW. MAN.  The cramping released, the next gel went down without wretch and our pace dropped back down to a reasonable experience.  We left Hollywood, cruised down Rodeo and made our way towards Century City, where we'd be joined by Dom, Grams and Grandpa once again - and dad would officially begin taking steps into the unknown.  The beautiful place where every inch is one further than you've ever gone before.  Goddamn that shit is magical.

We got there, we high fived Team DeSplinter and we saddled up for the last difficult section of the course - the hills of the VA.  Dad was worked, but we were moving right along, and I didn't doubt for one second that we'd be at the finish line soon.  I reminded him that it was going to hurt now... probably really bad... but that it would soon be over and it would all be worth it. But he already knew that. My dad is wise beyond his miles.

Does this look like that sleepy-time photo above, or what?
(photo: Dom)

The last few miles were rough.  Dad was hurting and I tried to encourage him with the fact that we were passing people who were completely dejected and walking, yet he remained focused forward and in stride.  His legs cramped and hurt all over, and after a little convincing, he eventually concluded that it would not hurt any worse to run than walk and it would all be over sooner.  We called my mom with a little over a mile to go, back at home, recovering from a knee replacement and super disappointed that her operation would not allow her to be waiting at the finish line in that moment.  Even better - you get to talk to us during the race AND I am forever haunted by online photos of me "racing" talking on a cell phone.  Go ahead and look it up, people.  I don't care.

As we turned off San Vicente for the final stretch on Ocean Avenue, an absolutely amazing shot of the Pacific came into sight.  Possibly one of the more beautiful I've ever seen.  The wind was seriously out of control, creating perfect white caps on the sea and the ability to see for miles, including the crisp lines of Catalina in the distance.  The palm trees whipped in the wind, and through any amount of pain, one couldn't help but smile.  Victory lap.

Dad picked up the pace as the finish line came into view and I let out a few war whoops.  I was so filled with pride for my dad - in fully committing to doing something he said he'd never do, and completing it all with such a positive attitude, despite the fact that I know he was in some serious pain.  I can't quite describe the feeling, but it was pretty freaking amazing.  I always kind of feared that point where you realized the roles were switched between you and the parents you idolized, and now you were leading the way for them - but I've got to tell you, it was all quite wonderful.  Right before the finish line, my dad, still the most awesome guy I've ever known - now even awesomer, grabbed my hand and we stepped victoriously across the finish line.  I will never, EVER forget that moment as long as I shall live.  It meant more to me than I could ever fully explain for reasons I probably don't even fully understand.

But I am sure that one of those reasons is to say I told you so.

Mile 26 - smiling because we're almost done, or because a huge timing clock
is currently being rammed into Dom's head?  You decide.
(photo: the part of Dom that was not being attacked)
Plural this time.
(photo: Dom)

END NOTE:  Turns out that dad ran the whole marathon with the flu, and was sick for a full week prior.  This from the man who passed kidney stones running his first half marathon.  If you've ever found a better candidate for an ultramarathon, I'd find it hard to believe.

Hiking Temescal the next day.  Grandpa offers a ride.
At age 76, Grams murders us all up the climb.  New life goal: getting
Grandma to run that half marathon she casually mentioned...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wise Lessons From Old Goats

OLD GOATS 50 MILE RECAP - Sat. March 23, 2012

All my life, I've been very competitive by nature.  In many regards, this isn't a bad thing at all - as it's driven me to push myself and hold myself to higher standards in every aspect of my life.  School, sports, work, relationships.  I get what I deserve - but I've never been afraid to work really hard to get it.

I've seen competitiveness destroy my running before.  When I first started running 'serious' races in high school, I was happy with every result.  I just tried as hard as I could and it worked out.  Whether I came in 5th or I won, I was pleased because I'd done all I could.  Those were the blissful first years.  

The latter years of my high school career were riddled with expectations.  I had to win.  I had to run fast times.  I had to qualify for state and I had to place higher than I did the year before.  I had learned that I was good, everyone thought I was good and so I had to be the best.  I compared myself to everyone, not only in my races but really just everyone I felt threatened my climb to the top - school, dance, social situations, everything.  I hated the pressure.  I quit running.  After a similar sequence of events in college, I quit dancing.  I never really considered it, but for a long period of time, I really wasn't all that happy because of the things that made me the happiest.

Are you in a conundrum now?  Well, I'm not.  Read on...

Over the past three years of opposite-of-quitting-running (i.e. running ultras), I've said countless times that I've never really run a race I'm wholly satisfied with.  I didn't run to my potential due to mistakes and bad mental spaces that destroyed my ability to push.  I've read many accounts of great runners speaking of everything coming together on one magical day where they just ran brilliantly all day, even through fueling mistakes or tough spots - everything was just inexplicably awesome.  Yeah.  I've never had one of those days either.

Until last Saturday.  

I guess it all started to click somewhere in and around my past few races.  You see, I went in with the goal to win, and I won.  I was the best on those given days.  But it wasn't enough.  There were awesome things I took away from the experiences, but something still wasn't right.  In my mind, I picked apart the races and found other ways to compare myself and my performance.  In each, I was only a matter of minutes or seconds off the course record - both of which were held by talented women I often compete against and accordingly, judge myself by.  There were bad mental places in both races where I beat myself up for slowing down, or not taking an extra water bottle, or even said "if so-and-so were running you wouldn't be winning because you're not running hard enough."  Are you annoyed with me yet?  Yeah… I am too.

I will be honest:  I definitely checked the list of entrants prior to last Saturday, and I did, for brief moments of time, fantasize about running with the outstanding names, passing them, and yes, even waiting for them at the finish line.  And that's when it hit me.  I wasn't going to derive any joy simply from crossing the finish line first.  Immediately, I'd cut myself down - knowing that if any of the really big names had traveled down to SoCal for the race, they would have killed us all. True satisfaction could only come from tangible performance goals related only to me and the task at hand, without any extraneous variables.  Immediately I set about constructing those goals:

  1.  I reasoned that if I could run under 10 hours on this course (50 miles with 13,423 feet of ups; just as much down and SUPER technical) - I'd feel pretty confident about running sub-24 at Western States, maybe even faster.
  2. I wanted to push hard enough to be generally uncomfortable for the duration of the race.
  3. I vowed to run strong but in control over the first 20 miles; effectively allowing me to reach the largest climb of the race - Holy Jim at mile 28.8 - in good enough shape to run the 4,000 feet over 8 miles to the top.
  4.  I knew that if I ran smart, I could realistically run every climb and really not have to hike much at all in this race - despite the high vert totals.
  5. I understood that there was still some degree of weakness in my knee, but wanted to run as hard as I possibly could on the descents.
Dawn on the Chiquita Trail
(photo:  Jayme Burtis)
Thanks to Dom and I's poor time management skills, I didn't have time to get caught up in anything race morning.  As the gun went off, I was still stuffing gel in my pocket and adjusting my gear.  Dom was still assembling his drop bag.  I ended up just shoving the gels down my bra and then spent the first 20-30 minutes convincing myself that I was not angry at him, I was angry at the situation, and just running it out in the dark, pre-dawn hours.  Once that conversation was over, the next me vs. me battle began.  Was I running too fast?  Was I not running fast enough?  I hadn't run this far since AC last July thanks to "the incident," so I had no idea what was reasonable anymore.  Nevertheless, I put the brakes on a little and not too long after, Keira Henninger caught up to me.  I asked if she wanted to pass, but she said no and that we were running a smart pace - so that left me a little more comfortable.  I know Keira is very competitive and had trained hard for this race, so I believed her. We continued on together down the rocky, gnarly singletrack at a conversational pace, and she assured me we would catch the women who had took off blazing.  Maybe… I thought.  Or maybe not.  For the first time in my life, I wholly and honestly did not care.

At some point, we were joined by Marianne Barosa (either from in front or behind - I don't really remember) and the three of us cruised into the first aid station at mile 10.8 together.  Keira switched bottles with boyfriend, Jesse, on the fly and Marianne was wearing a pack and didn't need to stop - so I lost them as I quickly filled my single handheld.  I figured that would be the end of that and I'd never see them again, which again, made no difference to me.  I'd arrived at Candy Store around the time I'd predicted if I was having a good day and not running retarded, so that made me happy.  Jesse told me that Maggie Beach and Amber Monforte had arrived a full 15 MINUTES before us which just seemed crazy to me.  They couldn't have been that far behind the dudes, and that field was stacked (with Jorge, Prizzle, Fabrice Hardel, Eric Wickland and of course, my favorite boy).

Heading to the Candy Store - clearly
pissed that I will not actually be getting
any candy.
(photo: Pedro Martinez)
Heading back towards Blue Jay, I was joined by friend Robert and we began chatting away as we worked up the climb.  Imagine my surprise when I caught right back up to Keira and Marianne, power hiking one of the steeper sections.  I fell in behind them, dropping to a hike as well on the first couple steep parts, but eventually, I felt the need to keep running.  I passed and continued a series of riveting conversations with Robert, hardly noticing what was going on.  When he informed me we had gotten the significant climb for this section out of the way, I was actually surprised.  I felt fresh and unfazed by the 15 technical miles and only hoped I hadn't foolishly pushed too hard.  As the climb turned super gradual, Keira and Marianne eventually passed and I simply locked into a steady pace back to the campground.  During this time, I passed Amber, which was a great surprise as well, considering that this chick is an Ultraman Champion (that's a double Ironman).  I don't claim to know anything at all about Triathlons, but I feel pretty confident that shit is hard as hell.  Accordingly, I figured maybe she'd gone out a little too fast, but would no doubt be back soon.  I also noted that things were working out with this whole 'running my own race' thing.  I just had to stay the course.

As I hit the pavement towards the mile 20.8 aid station, I began formulating my plan for my bag of necessary items not being there.  See, I had basically thrown my little red bag on the grass by the starting line and remembered something about Steve telling me the aid station wouldn't be there and me replying that it wasn't for Bear Springs.  Accordingly, I had absolutely no idea if I'd have my gels and/or what Dom had done with the bag if he had found it.  The backup plan was to stuff a handful of Hammer Gels down my bra, knowing full well they would wreck my stomach.  Needless to say, I was really hoping to see that red bag.  Luckily, as I cruised into the aid station solo, my friend Megan offered up the exact combination of words I wanted to hear, "GO KATIE! Your bag is at the aid station!"

God Bless you, Steve Harvey.  

I quickly grabbed a new bottle out of my bag, pre-filled with Carbo-Pro powder and a Nuun tablet, and stuffed with all necessary PowerGels.  I threw in some water, slammed a gel, and was on my way, Marianne and Keira both leaving just moments before me. Unfortunately said gel completely bombed in my stomach and I was brought to a screeching halt behind the first bushes I saw.  I watched Marianne fade away up the trail and again, figured I wouldn't see her again.  Oh well, the pit stop seemed to work and my stomach felt better - time to climb.  

This next section involved a steep little ascent up to the Main Divide, and I figured I'd soon know if I'd overdone it on the first 20 miles.  Now on my own, I put my head down and went to work, and before long Keira and Marianne appeared around one of the corners.  They were hiking the steeper parts, but I felt no need to walk.  It wasn't so bad compared to my typical climbs in the San Gabriels, and so I just moved along at my calculated pace - honestly not feeling much of an effort.  The best part of this climb was finally getting high enough to begin enjoying the AMAZING view of my favorite snow-capped peaks off in the distance.  It was so clear up there - you could see forever, which is a huge deal in Southern California.  I let out a little whoop of joy and energized by the beauty, really sunk my teeth into the next steep section.  Here I caught up to Keira running with Pam Everett and a little dejected.  I told her that she would no doubt pass me on the next long downhill and I would never see her again, so not to worry.  23 miles is no time to make any decisions that you're having a bad day… you're just having a bad spot.  Again, I knew I'd never be able to keep up with any of the lead women when the course turned down, as my knee was simply just not strong enough yet.  But that was no reason not to try my hardest.  Remember, THAT and that alone was the true goal of the day.

I caught up to Marianne at the Main Divide aid station, now almost to the halfway point of the race.  She finally had to fill her pack I guess, and so I ended up leaving right behind her.  Jesse hollered after me that Maggie was now only 5 minutes ahead of us and reminded me that her strength is the ups not the downs.  "Welcome to the club," I said.  Still, I was impressed with myself that I was catching back up because Maggie is freaking awesome.  I actually really wanted to catch her just so I could enjoy some of the day on the trails with her, but I figured that would not likely be happening on a descent.  Soon enough, Robert caught back up to me and then Keira passed - all exactly as I figured.  Marianne was long gone, and I just focused on getting down this seriously gnarly, rocky, drop off-y single track as efficiently as possible.  I also had to focus on my stomach, which was now rampantly refusing calories on the downhill.  Before long, I knew I needed another bush.  Damn.

Pulling back onto the trail, I realized that the likely reason my legs still had so much zip was that I'd been downing calories like a champ between the gels and CarboPro.  However, at some point it had become too much for my gut to bear, so I was going to have to chill.  I started craving pure water over the CP/Nuun concoction, so I decided that I'd switch to pure water at future aid stations and see if that helped.  I guess this stomach thing was my low point of the race, but funny, I never seemed to care too much because I was still moving decently well.  I'd only lost a few minutes to pit stops, and look, now I had a new friend to run with!  I was joined by Beto Campos, and we traded war stories of running AC with yucca spikes in the knee vs. rhabdo.  By comparison, this day was magnificent for both of us, and before we knew it, we were entering the Holy Jim aid station, mile 28.8, and treated to a hearty greeting from Big Baz Hawley. 

I quickly refilled and ate a gel on the way out, stomach lurching again.  And two seconds later, I realize I failed to adjust my timing when I switched from my gel flask to the full gels.  So I had just consumed over 300 calories in an hour - no wonder my stomach hurt!  "Oh well, it will fade," I thought - better than the alternative of not eating enough.  I also realized that yet again, I'd forgotten to inquire about how Dom was doing.  I was hoping not to see him on the out and back, because that would mean he was running extremely well.  We'll see soon enough.

Now for the fun part.

I'd been looking forward to the Holy Jim climb all day.  It was the longest of the day, ascending 4,000 or so feet up to Santiago Peak, but over 8 miles, so not too steep.  I'd run it before in training and knew that I should be able to run pretty much every step, unless I had completely destroyed myself in the first half of the race.  Now was the time to see how much I had in me.  Now was the time to push.  Beto and I ran together for a few miles, passing another dude and chatting all the while, before I finally pulled away.  I felt strong and in control and my stomach had settled down. In short, I was murdering this climb, just like I'd planned and I felt like I'd run about 10 miles… not 30.  FREAKING SCORE.  Maybe a half mile from the fire road, I heard an unmistakable yell which could only belong to one man.  DOUBLE SCORE.  Dom was passing Bear Springs already, and a quick glance to my watch told me he was on track for an awesome time.

When I had just about reached the end of the single track, I downed the last of my bottle, which I'd been conserving for the last mile.  I probably could have taken another bottle here, and was just thankful that it was warm, not hot - or I would've definitely had issues.  Just one last little push and up to the fire road…. where there was conveniently no aid station.  Oh. Fuck.  Had something happened?  Was I going to have to go all the way to the peak completely dry?  This was bad.  This was very bad.

Luckily, I soon saw Fabrice and Eric hammering down the road and letting me know that the other women were not far ahead.  They mentioned something about the aid station, so I knew it must be around one of these bends.  Thank you, Jesus.  Jorge flew by next, also encouraging me to keep pushing and catch the other ladies. I saw Keira's bottles on the side of the road, not yet retrieved by Jesse, so I knew the boys were right - they couldn't be too far.  One turn later, I ran up to the aid station and realized that Dom and Chris were either way far ahead, or I had extremely poor yell recognition skills.  There were so many activities going on and so many questions I wanted to ask, but I had to get my shit and get moving.  Jesse confirmed that Dom was running in 2nd behind Chris as I dumped out the CarboPro in my pre-packed bottle, filled it with ice water and sucked down another gel on my way out.  It was go time.

Here's a great example of how to use competitiveness effectively, learned by me on this 24th day of March, 2012:  I had been running and observing all day, and my learnings concluded that while I wasn't quite back to downhill shape, I was running the climbs faster and easier than anyone.  I originally thought I'd be hiking pretty frequently up this last push to the peak, but considering how fresh I felt, I knew this was the time to really go to work and see what I could do.  Once we headed back down, I'd be annihilated, so my only hope for staying close to the leaders was to really work every little uphill I had left.  And so I did just that.  Not because I necessarily felt any need to catch everyone and win the race; but rather because I had learned a bit about how to use my strengths to my advantage and run the best time possible.

About 6 minutes before I hit the turnaround on top, Keira came absolutely bombing down the road, high out of her mind on adrenaline, sunshine and other such awesomeness.  Later dude.  See you at the finish.  She was not going to be caught.  2 minutes later, Marianne passed, also running strong and clearly hunting Keira down.  Looked like fun, but I was going to be out of that one.  Good thing that wasn't my goal.  A minute later I finally saw Maggie, who I'd been missing all day because she was being rude and running too fast :)  She told me to catch her on the downhill, and I told her to catch the chicks in front of her.  I was very much looking forward to seeing which of those two things might actually happen.

Eating more gel, running every step up to Santiago
(photo: Mieko Morita)
At the top of Santiago, I was greeted by Mieko and a truly splendid view.  I quickly refilled, as it was a little chilly up there in a singlet, and thought it high time to see what I was going to be able to do today.  I equally as quickly learned that wouldn't be exactly what I'd hoped.  My knee was instantly in pain as I pushed down the mountain, and the whole leg felt pretty weak.  The opposite hip pinched as I strained to run faster.  While my quads felt remarkably capable, my body was unfortunately still not back to 100% strength/balance from the surgery 4 months ago. Yeah… I said 4 months ago, so I guess I really can't complain.

Before long, I was switching to my final dropped bottle at Bear Springs and officially on the home stretch.  Unfortunately, said home stretch, was likely going to be the worst part for me, as it involved a largely downhill, hard packed, rutted out fire road. Plus, my toes were starting to feel really weird - almost like I had blisters, but that seemed entirely implausible. (I later learned that the poison oak between my toes had turned to giant blisters, which is why my feet were itching and burning all day. Thank goodness my Injinjis kept that shit under wraps.) There were no real breaks, and the uphill rollers were significantly steep - enough to halt you if you blew yourself out.  The Goat wasn't going to let you off easy, even in these final miles.  Fine by me.  I didn't sign up for a spa retreat.

At mile whatever on the Main Divide -
probably singing to myself.
(photo: Deborah Acosta)
Running up to the Trabuco Peak aid station, I finally felt the urge to actually consider what mile I was at.  Once again, I hadn't thought about mileage all day, instead focusing independently on each section.  Knowing the course is such a mental advantage to me (thank-you Dom, for showing me!)  "Mile 42.2," the volunteer said.  42.2?  Wait.  What?  Double check that math, panda, I think you just calculated that sub-10 should be a breeze.  A fill of the bottle and a few minutes carefully recalculating told me that not only was I easily going to go sub-10, but I could actually set a new 50 mile PR on this course, 4 months after knee surgery, TODAY.  To make matters awesome, I felt fucking fantastic.  Like sliding down a rainbow, glitter in my face fantastic.  OK… yes, my legs kind of hurt a bit, and my knee was screaming at me - but all things considered, my body was in excellent shape and I knew I could handle averaging around 10 minute miles for the final 8.  That's all it was going to take.

I ran strong on the downs, I pushed the ups, I ate more gel and I smiled so big my cheeks hurt.  I could not believe I was feeling this good over 40 miles into a race.  If it were 100k, I would be fine to keep moving.  Hell, if you had told me to run 100 miles - I honestly believe I could've kept going.  All this after admittedly running way too many miles the week prior, including the LA Marathon only five days ago.  I blew right through the next aid station, waving to the volunteers and Pedro and Chris, who I'd now seen three times on various parts of the course, out supporting all the SoCal Coyotes running the race.  A consult with my watch confirmed that even with the climbs, I was maintaining closer to an 8 minute per mile average pace, and if I could just keep it up, that PR would be mine.  I couldn't remember if my best was 9:42 or 9:44, so I reasoned that I just needed to be under 9:40 to be sure.  A little while later,  I suddenly heard someone behind me.  Oh shit!  At the turnaround, the next guy was a good 10 minutes back or more - and I wasn't going super fast, but I also wasn't going slow.  How was someone catching me?  And why am I so bad at math?

Why is the finish there?  I want to keep running
(photo: Flaco)
A few minutes later, I was caught...  by Pedro.  I told him my goal and checked the mileage with him - I had less than four miles to go.  I decided to be safe rather than sorry at the final aid station and topped off my bottle before hitting the last few miles down to Blue Jay.  At this point, I just ignored the pain in my knee, opened up and flew down the fire road, over the concrete road, and through the final single track to the campground.  I was going to do it.  I felt amazing.  I'd run my own race all day and now I was about to cross the finish line in a time a full half hour faster than I'd imagined.  9:31.  4th woman.  Lots of hugs.  It was glorious.

All said and done, I firmly believe I ran one of the best races of my life thus far - despite the fact that I know I can go even faster on this course once I have my downhilling back.  I never once had a single negative thought - it was all pure business and pure enjoyment.  I finally had that fabled perfect day, and I know why:

I only focused on what I could control.
I could control how hard I pushed.
I could control my fueling.
I could control my attitude.
I could control my race and my race alone.

Everything and everyone else were simply outside variables which I could use to further my goal, but that's it.  So how could I let anything they did affect what I did?  Just like I couldn't control them, they couldn't control me.  And there it clicked.  I was truly and deeply satisfied.

I know there are many more Old Goat experiences in my future as I continue to progress as a runner, because it's all finally enough.  I'm finally confident enough in myself and my training to run my own race.

"Baby.  I had to use rocks."
(photo: Jayme Burtis)

  • Steve & Annie Harvey and family for a truly excellent race
  • Pedro Martinez for giving me his spot in the race and then ninja-ing his way about various points on the course all day
  • Chris Hays for the cheers and scaring me into running faster on the Main Divide
  • Jayme Burtis for being out on the course and taking awesome photos
  • Mieko Morita, Don Ozaki, Carmela Layson and all the fine volunteers for their amazing support, encouragement and rapid-fire bottle filling
  • Robert Whited and Beto Campos for the great conversations on-trail
  • Soup Lady - your post-race vegan chilli was excellent and honestly, about all my gel-tummy could take
  • Monica Morant & New Balance for your endless support
  • Injinji for the awesome socks for my freak toes
  • Keira, Maggie and Marianne for helping push me to be my best; and finally...
  • Dominic Grossman, for always believing in me.  Now I believe in me too.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Malibu Creek 50k: The Return

It has been over 10 months since I have run completely pain free.  I haven't raced in over 6.  Serious injuries are a funny thing.

See, there comes a time where you honestly begin to find it plausible that the pain will never fully subside.  You will be living with this gimp ass knee for the rest of your life and that's just the way it's going to be.  Trying to console yourself with miracle stories of men that were told they'd never walk again running a marathon or heroes who have fully recovered from 13 bullet wounds to the head provides no solace.  This small little injury is going to be the death of you and you're fucking certain of it.  In fact, you may never have been so sure of anything in your entire life.

The crazy thing is, the next thing that happens is that you actually begin to come to terms with this reality.  OK, you say, so I'm now just this permanently jacked up human, and I'm going to have to learn to enjoy running shorter distances and not as fast.  Maybe I'll just become one of those people who take pictures during their races.  It will all be OK.

Of course, then things just come back and you don't even realize it until a few days later when you're like, "holy shit.  I just realized I ran 10 miles last Tuesday and it didn't hurt at all."  You're still planning your foray into racewalking, and all of the sudden you've got yourself a fully functioning knee again.  Such was the ninth week of 2012 for me.  And such was how I went from finally running 10 pain free miles to "accidentally" running 9 seconds off course record pace in a 50k 4 days later.

To be fair, I'd been considering entering the PCTR Malibu Creek 50k for a few weeks, but I wanted to make absolutely certain I was injury free before jumping into a race environment - no matter how low key it was.  Even "taking it easy," it's entirely pointless to me to enter a competitive event if I'm not going to push at least a little.  My knee felt great, but my opposite hip/piriformis/psoas have been acting up as of late - which in all honesty, is to be expected as my body readjusts and re-forms to not having yucca in it.  Lucky for me, Nano PT (Michael Chamoun) came to the rescue with some psoas release on Wednesday that really helped and didn't even make me cry.  So, I was mostly injury free…

Now for the race report part, feel free to listen to this stellar song that was in my head for the entirety of the race.  It is awesome so I didn't mind:

Movement and Location - Punch Brothers
FYI, the whole album is awesome.

Race morning was a beautiful thing for two reasons:  1) the headache I'd had for a day and a half turned out NOT to be sickness and was cured with a few sips of coffee; and 2) the race didn't start until 8:30.  Accordingly, Dom and I took our time gathering provisions, running into friends and driving out to MCSP as the sun gave way to what was bound to be a beautiful day in the Santa Monica Mountains.  I filled a gel flask with PowerGel, threw some CarboPro and Nuun in my handheld and stuffed a few Saltsticks in my key pocket and was all set - no bulk and definitely no extra clothes needed. The fact that I was starting in a sportsbra in MARCH should have been a great indication of things to come.

As it turned out, I had a whole 2 hours and 21 minutes to consider this on the first 25k loop - yet instead, I opted to space out Panda style and think about nothing other than running up hills and how pretty the ocean looked.  To my own defense, I was definitely on top of my nutrition and electrolytes, but I wasn't really thinking about making any adjustments to my original race plan… even as the temperatures rose.  I was just having such an amazing time climbing and smiling and not hurting that I couldn't really think about anything other than how awesome life was.   

I ran in a small little pack of dudes for a bit at the beginning and fell in a small little line when we hit the singletrack.  I felt 100% in control and let a few people go, including one woman who took off blazing. Though it was not a huge race, the energy I had felt standing on the starting line was electric and something I was so deeply grateful to finally feel again.  Thankfully, it was not quick to wear off and before I knew it I was hitting the creek crossing before the first aid station.  Unsurprisingly low, I Mario'd my way across the rocks and escaped with dry feet - which I was happy about since I had elected to wear an old pair of NB101's.  They don't fit as snug/awesomely as the 110 - but I didn't want to risk the newer shoe which my feet are still getting used to.  I chose correctly, as the combo of the classics and a fresh pair of Injinji midweights kept my feet super happy and blister free for the duration of the day.  Hooray for that.

I quickly cruised through the first aid station, just downing a cup of water on my way through - marathon style.  I hit the first steep pitches of Backbone and didn't feel like hiking, so I didn't, which quickly caught me up to a few dudes up ahead.  I passed and then unintentionally ended up locking in behind my friend Bruce - mainly because his shoes looked like Christmas and that made me happy.  We climbed up to the fireroad and before long, I was passing the next little pack of people - including the one woman who I knew was ahead.  Turns out she was running the 25k, which now meant I was leading both races and which also seemed like a remarkably bad idea.  But again, I just didn't feel like hiking and the grade was not as bad as I had remembered from the last time I had run this section of trail.  That would be back in Sept of 2009 when I ran the whole Backbone Trail from Santa Monica to Oxnard, and hit this section at mile 32 of 69.  Needless to say, I felt a whole hell of a lot better on this particular day.

I knew I was pushing a bit on the climb - but that was exactly my plan.  I'd push on the ups and then relax into the downs - hopefully ending with an intact knee and a great workout on the day. As I came around the bend finally high enough to reveal the ocean, I was treated to an incredibly clear, expansive view of Catalina and the glistening Pacific - sea breezes whipping on up the mountain.  It was sunny and warm, but I didn't feel too overheated, and was reminding myself to drink rather than sucking it down out of necessity.  Bruce remained a few steps ahead and we called out a few times when things got particularly beautiful.  I've got to say - I don't normally spend a lot of time in the SMMs on account of always choosing the bigger, steeper San Gabes for my weekend playground, but the past few weekends of crewing Dom at Ray Miller 50 and then running myself on this particular day really made me appreciative of my backyard trails.  This was no Mt. Baldy, but it was incredibly challenging and insanely beautiful in its own respect - not to mention GREAT training for the more rolling terrain of Western States.  I let out an excited whoop of joy as I hit my favorite part of the entire Backbone - "the spine" - which is this awesome sandstone formation right before Corral Canyon.  I ran right on up and frolicked Kilian-style over some rocks, before heading into the cheers of David Chan, Michael Epler and some random folks at the aid station.  A quick fill of the handheld, and I was gone.

"My god, you are FANTASTIC." - the voices in my head
(photo: Dom)
Bruce and I climbed up the last little roller, when what to my wondering eyes should appear?  Two men for one panda.  SCORE!  I knew I'd for shizzle see the Prizzle at some point, but I was super excited to see Dom as well - running calf pain free!  They turned around and headed down the course with me for a bit, which was awesome to take my mind off the long, hard-packed descent.  We sang bluegrass, Dom told off color jokes and all was right with the world for a few glorious moments in time.  In fact, I didn't even think about my knee until they asked, and even concentrating on it, I was honestly pain-free.  Before I knew it, we'd hit the MASH site and I was back to the flatter terrain signifying the end of the loop.  I looked at my watch and was pleased to see that it had only been 2 hours at this point.  My estimation of doing the first loop around 2:30 was definitely on point and I realized it might be entirely plausible to do this thing under 5 hours.  I was starting to feel a little bit of fatigue, but definitely still had legs for the climb and was motivated to push again after admittedly holding back a bit on the descent.  The guys expressed my brain's sentiment:  wow. that would actually be a pretty good time for a course with 7500' or so of ups.

The 12 year old version of myself descending Bulldog
(photo: Dom)
A few miles from the start/finish area, I ran into aforementioned Nano PT and Megan in the dried creek bed, which was also a nice surprise.  Friends = energy and I now had like 2 LowCarb Monster's worth.  They continued on in the opposite direction, Dom and Chris ran ahead and I cruised the last bit of the loop; downing the rest of my gel flask and water.

I had planned to simply switch handhelds at the Start/Finish area, which I'd pre-packed and left with Dom - but as I turned back around from the checkpoint, he was nowhere to be found.  I ran over to my Jeep for the bottle - but it was gone and I momentarily panicked.  I'd have to leave with no gel if I didn't find him immediately.  Luckily, I ran down the parking lot and saw him sprinting from the pavilion where he'd gone to find me some ice.  Crisis averted, I headed back out for the second loop, unexplainably confused of where to go and sure that I wasted at least 9 seconds of time :)

Immediately, I regretted my handling of the situation - I should have waited at the checkpoint tent and downed some more liquids before heading out.  It was officially turning from warm to hot, and I could have taken better advantage of the "wasted" time.  Lesson learned.  At any rate, I was glad to again hit the single track and finally duck down for a much needed pee break, which only further confirmed that I needed to be drinking more.  It is here that thoughts of possibly having grabbed a second bottle first crept into my mind.  To justify my possible wrongdoings, I reasoned that I would start sucking down my CarboPro and then stop and refill with ice at the aid station before the climb, rather than blowing through again.

I did just that and grabbed another cup of water as well, hiking for the first time out of the aid station.  I had a feeling the majority of the steep pitches would be powerhiked this time, and I was right, but not with the same fervor I had imagined.  I was officially starting to feel overworked - not in my legs, but just a total body fatigue which I largely attributed to the rising heat.  I knew I'd be slowing down a bit, but hopefully only by 10 minutes - still putting me in under 5.  Dom had been legitimately impressed with my effort and I had butterflies at the thought of showing him I was even tougher than he imagined.  (I've never really gotten over the assertion I made in kindergarten that boys would like me if I ran really fast.  And )

I focused intently on running as much as possible and keeping hiking breaks to a minimum and only when absolutely necessary.  One guy passed me as I made my way further up the climb, but I kept him solidly in my sight with the other approacher comfortably behind.  As I looked back down the winding fire road, I couldn't see any other dots even remotely close - so these would have to be my checkpoints if I still wanted to "race."  I was sweating buckets and salt was burning my eyes - all leading me to be quite a bit thirstier than my 16 oz handheld was allowing.  To make matters a bit worse, the CarboPro/Nuun cocktail was not actually quenching my thirst - rather it was only making my fantasies of ice cold crystal clear WATER more alluring.  Another lesson learned for the canyons of WSER - one bottle of nutrition, one of pure water - mandatory.  I tried to console myself with this valuable gem of knowledge I had garnered by my mistakes, but that only worked for about five more minutes.  Then, shit got real.

My stomach started wrenching and my energy waned.  I forced down more gel via sips of carpet water (that's what hot Nuun and CarboPro tastes like), and I convinced myself that the harder I worked the sooner I would be to the beautiful oasis of Corral Canyon.  Luckily, before I could go too far down the path of mental destruction, Michael and Megan appeared on the crest of the next hill.  Now, if you honestly asked me in retrospect would I have rather them have been themselves or two pitchers of icewater, I would have shamelessly chosen the latter, but I was the second most happy I could have been to see them.  The boost of cheers and smiles kicked me right up to the top of the main climb, now only having to bust through a few more rollers to get to the object of my desire.  Waaaattteeeeerrrrr.

By the time I hit the spine again, I was relieved, but I was weaving in dehydration.  Taking one bottle was a really bad idea!!  I pulled up to the aid station and knew what I had to do to get through the rest of this thing:  I had to sit down and chug.  All the while, I knew exactly what was about to happen, but I greedily sucked down cup after cup of ice cold water, feeling the glorious nectar bring life back to my ailing soul.  I briefly considered how nice it would be to turn in my bib and catch a ride down with David, but ah, it was only 7 or 8 more miles and I'd likely feel fine soon.  Of course, that was before it got a little worse.

Kicking it old school in my 101s.
(photo: Dom)
Unsurprisingly, the copious amounts of liquid I had consumed started coming right back up as soon as I started running again, keeping me to a hike for most of the final climb.  Not wanting to lose the vital hydration, I swallowed everything back down and just to add insult to injury - threw some gel in there too.  Mmmmm.  It became a game of just how much I could get my stomach to tolerate while feeling my worst - again, an experiment conducted for future reference.  Luckily, I kept it down and after only a few minutes was able to run again.  I'd been sharing the trail with a guy who'd caught up to me at Corral, but his calf cramped and I was left to go it alone.  3rd OA was long gone, so I settled into running as strong as I possibly could without feeling like I might break.  If I ran hard the whole way down, I could still break 5 hours, but a quick check determined that was simply not something I was willing to do on this day.  That kind of effort would necessitate some recovery and very well may destroy my knee for a few days.  It just wasn't worth it, and I was more than content with my work thus far.  And so I coasted on down.

The interesting thing about the day was that I never thought about miles - how far I'd gone or how far there was to go.  It was only the bump, the traverse, the climb, the rollers, one more, descend, cruise it in - then do it all one more time.  I think this is really indicative of my approach to training - how long of a sustained climb can I get?, how many climbs can I string together?, how many times can I repeat it?, how hard can I run it without blowing up?  I think about the terrain, the full adventure, rather than just clicking off the miles and I really believe that this is how 50 and even 100 miles have come to seem not as long.  It's not that this 50k was nothing - I definitely felt a little worked - my point is simply that I don't ever feel overwhelmed by distance anymore.

The other interesting thing was that I fully anticipated my knee becoming really painful at some point along this downhill.  As such, I started off conservatively - taking care to minimize the pounding and intently focusing on form, so as not to illicit a flare up.  To my awe and wonder, I realized that I was in absolutely no pain whatsoever.  So I pushed it a little harder.  Still.  Nothing.  I continued on this way all the way to the bottom of the descent, gradually increasing my pace with no change in sensation in my knee.  As I cruised through the MASH site and the creek bed, I honestly couldn't believe what had just happened.  I was running full speed down a steeply graded, hard-packed fire road in an old pair of flat, no cushion 101s with 26+ miles on my legs, less than five months after knee surgery...  AND I WAS FINE.  No pain.  No tears.  Just awesomeness.

I hit the road and cruised around the parking lot to the jumping joy of Dom and Chris.  I had positive split the loop by like 40 minutes, but that was to be expected with the major slow-down/dehydration in the heat.  Ah well... good enough for 1st place, 4th overall and a 5:23 in the heat on a course with over 7,500' of climb.  Not quite good enough for the course record - I would have had to find 9 seconds somewhere along the course in my pee break, aid station dehydration break, 1st loop bottle confusion or stopping to fix my eyes a mile before the finish when a truck kicked a huge pile of dust up in my face - but you know, I'm just not sure it could have been found :)  That said, I'm actually glad I didn't know what the CR was or my proximity - as I firmly believe CRs are reserved for trying your hardest, and in all honesty I did not.  I held back with reservations about my knee and focused instead on this race as a necessary building block in my training.  I pushed myself and I hurt a bit on the second loop - especially when I ran out of water - but I didn't run on the edge. I raced 100% in control and I felt fucking fantastic when I crossed the finish line.  

Deeply confused Panda.
(photo: Dom)
And when we ran a Baldy loop the next morning.

One of the most beautiful days on Baldy yet...
(photo: Dom)
Best Slumber Party EVER.
(photo: Chandra Farnham)

GOAL ATTAINED:  I can run 31 miles at a decent clip, both up and down, on singletrack and fire road with no pain in my knee.  I win.

Big thanks to Pacific Coast Trail Runs for another great day with great friends!

Do you see a problem?  I DON'T SEE A F***ING PROBLEM!!!
(photo: Dom)