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)


  1. Carpet water. Yum! ; )

    Super proud of you girl, for your performance yes, but more for your awesome attitude!

  2. Great job, again! Looking forward to Old Goats! :)

  3. Awesome write up! Funny how life connects us all sometimes...if it's the David Chan I'm thinking about (who now runs with the Coyotes), we were great friends in High School and continue to keep in contact. Super great guy.
    Glad you're knee is in full recovery and you are back to whooping some trail tail.

    1. T, yup it's me. The world keeps getting smaller!

  4. LOL, carpet water. That's funny :)

    Super congrats on your win, and on your knee finally getting the memo that you're in charge!!

  5. Had tons'o'fun with you last weekend. Looking forward to tons more =)

  6. Great job hanging in on that dreadfully hot 2nd loop of MC. And that last pic of you on Baldy is just plain RAD.

  7. Awesome post and GREAT race. I have no idea how you did Baldy the next day, what that says is, "I am going to rock WS".