Wednesday, August 13, 2014

AC100 Round 3: Point DeSplinter

Are you serious?!

Oh, I was as serious as they come. I wanted that silver buckle more than I’ve ever wanted anything in the world.  Which is probably why Dom had to ask that question race morning, 3:45 am.  At that point, I was puking up my entire breakfast in the sink, and he still needed to brush his teeth. 

The remaining hour and fifteen were spent in abject terror, requiring numerous hugs and positive affirmations.  In short, I WAS FREAKING OUT, MAN.

Totally calm and collected.
(photo: Ivan Buzik)

I required extensive hugs from women who know better than I.
(photo: Chris Gaggia)

(photo: Ivan Buzik)
 Fortunately, we finally got on with the damn thing and I by the time I turned on Acorn street, I already felt remarkably better.  I settled into a nice rhythm of alternating jogging and hiking up the road to the trail, watching most of my friends speed off in front.  I was not at all bothered by this, nor was I when numerous folks continued streaming past me on the Acorn climb.  Halfway up, I looked down at my watch and realized I was on pace to reach the top in around 50 minutes total. Knowing that there is a severe difference in how I feel between a 55 minute split and a 1 hour split, I had vowed to not step foot on the PCT even a minute under an hour.  I hit the top in exactly that – a minute under, feeling totally fresh and unfazed.

I love the section of PCT between the Acorn intersection and Inspiration Point, which was to be our first aid station.  It rolls along between 7 – 8,000’, in and out of the pines and through remarkable sections of old, barren trees.  The views of the desert, Mt. Baldy and the pending climb up Baden-Powell are superb.  Especially at sunrise.  And especially when enjoyed with friends.  I spent some time cruising with my good pal and PT, Michael Chamoun, fresh off a Western States Finish and Iceland Traverse and we joked but were entirely serious about getting a Hardrock qualifier at all costs.  He moved along and I was soon caught by JimmyDean Freeman, now on his fourth 100 of the summer in his pursuit to complete The Last Great Race.  Knowing about my sub-24 hour goal, he confided his plans to push for the same if the opportunity presented itself.  We continued on together all the way to the aid station, commending ourselves on our conservative pace and how it would pay dividends later.  Seeing that Jimmy would normally be of the opinion that I tend to perhaps “overwork” myself until I just physically shut down, the fact that he called me “smart” was extremely reassuring. I felt pretty pleased with myself when I rolled into Inspiration at exactly the time I knew was a very mellow day for me – two hours on the nose.

Inspiration Point Fantasy
(photo: Kyle Robinson)
Shortly after the aid, Jimmy also moved along, and I continued just doing my thing.  Running easy, hiking a little here and there, preparing myself for the next long climb.  I caught up to a few folks who I was surprised that were out ahead of me, but again, had faith in the numbers I knew so well.  I was doing really great, and I felt like I had done nothing.  A quick switch into a pack, a chug of PowerBar Recovery at Vincent Gap, and I was already on the climb to the highest point of the course – 9,300’. 

My dad preparing to put my pack on upside down. He's an engineer, folks.
(photo: Chris Gaggia)
Early on, I shuffled most of the flatter switchbacks, but eventually settled into a nice hike and stuck with it.  I reached Lamel Springs with Jack Cheng in tow and realized I’d be at the top long before my 75-85 minute window of deemed acceptability.  (Jack Cheng say 65. Jack Cheng no lie.) So again, I backed off the pace a bit and as no surprise, a few more folks caught up.  Fellow Brentwoodian Kelley Puckett, passed me right before the top, followed shortly by Amelia Valinsky-Fillapow.  Amelia and I continued on to the top together – her refusing to pass on account that she “shouldn’t be running with me.” We caught up to Kelley, who said the same thing.  I told them they were being ridiculous – we were going a perfect pace and if they, too, didn’t feel like they were pushing too hard right now that all was 100% right with the world.  Because it totally was.  Amelia stayed with me through my favorite part of the entire course – the traverse over to Hawkins and then the drop off the other side heading towards Windy Gap.  It was a beautiful morning with some great cloud cover, and I suppose that carried me down a bit harder.  Kelley dropped off and Amelia dropped back a bit as I caught up to Diana Treister.  Diana promptly took off and I signaled back to Amelia that her rhino* was now in sight. Two 40+-year-olds kicking my ass – the least I could do was encourage the competition! I caught back up to Diana and local legend, Rob McNair, about a mile out of Islip and rolled with them to the aid station for my first medical weigh in.
*Important note: I am not calling Diana a rhino, but rather referencing Ken's award for the first 40+ year old finisher. It is a statue of a rhino and it is very heavy.

All was good, and I left a bit after Amelia and Diana who were charging. My stomach was a bit wonky and I felt no need to chase, so I settled into a nice power hike for most of the way up.  Again, looking at my watch I saw perfectly great splits, despite how slow I was feeling compared to my surroundings.  I was a bit slower than the previous year and the 24-hour split from the site – but the interesting thing about that to me is that in the high country, the 24-hour time is very close to the 22-hour time.  Which means by those splits, I should slow down drastically after mile 37.  That was the exact OPPOSITE of my plan, as I am of the opinion that Cloudburst to Shortcut is the most underrated section of the entire course.  Everyone talks about how difficult the high country is and how brutal the last 25 and it’s two climbs are. But no one mentions how easy it is to blow the nicest running of the course.  Leaving Cloudburst, you can seriously motor, even in the heat, if you have legs.  If you show up to the party needing to recover, you’re going to lose 2+ minutes per mile for at least the next 15.  That, my friends, is a lot of time. 

Some seriously fucked up girl scouting.
(photo: Rony Sanchez crew)
 Coming down the backside of Williamson, all I could think about was chugging sparkling water and how glorious the resulting burping would be.  I was not disappointed.  All the pressure in my sternum released, and I actually felt excited to go have a visit with my nemesis: Cooper Canyon.  That bully was not going to steal my lunch today!  As I headed off the road section and down into ‘ole Coop, I thought about last year and how euphoric I felt flying through the high country.  This year, I didn’t feel bad by any means, but I’d yet to feel any extreme highs. I knew that the extreme lows were bound to come at some point, so I was really hoping for the counterbalance here.  No dice on that, so I continued my whatever-mode down to the bottom of the canyon and began the first of three climbs out, legitimately praying with every step. Before I knew it, I had escaped the place where no air moves and the site of "the great puking of 2012."  Hal was waiting for us at the turnoff to the PCT, and I excitedly told him I hadn’t thrown up yet.  I’m sure he was as thrilled as I.  What happened next, though, was even more exciting.

You guys, I got a chill. As we climbed part II of the escape del cañón, the clouds held firm and the wind kicked up.  I was wearing a cotton shirt, which I had soaked to the gills and the air moving across felt like a legitimate air conditioner unit.  Also notable – there was still a little ice left in my bandana.  This was the best Cooper Canyon day ever!  As I began the third and final climb, I finally got the beginnings of that emotional high I was looking for.  I was in the section I feared worst and felt the best I had felt all day. 

You guys, I didn’t puke down there!!!

I met my crew (mom and dad) and Monica with nothing but smiles.  I would not be needing the ten minutes I had planned on at Cloudburst to get my shit together.  My shit was already very well assembled.  And now it was time to go to work.

I’ll see you in less than an hour!

You guys, my mom is wearing a fleece.
(photo: Chris Gaggia)
I saw them in 50.  But not before a few of the more memorable moments on the trail.  First off, I felt like I was flying, so that was supremely awesome.  I had planned on exactly this moment, and I was fucking executing.  It was an unreal feeling.  And then I almost ran into a motorcycle. Whaaaaaa?  True story.  

I pulled up to a year-old crash site of an unfortunate soul, only to discover a new crash, consisting of an entire motorcycle (save a few pieces littered down the hillside). I suddenly remembered the chopper I had seen as I climbed out of Cooper, and up the embankment I could see emergency vehicles still on the road.  The bike was still warm.  Wouldn’t that be weird if I had seen the guy crash onto the trail right in front of me?  What the heck would I do? 

Well, turns out, my friend David Villalobos was faced with that exact reality, when he discovered an unconscious body laying across the trail.  He instinctually ran straight up the embankment to alert passerby and ensure the man was found and cared for.  A few other friends were held up for a bit as they airlifted him out.  Always an adventure on Highway 2, let me tell you.

I continued on past the wreckage, crossed the highway and before long started seeing friends up ahead.  Jack Cheng and Howie Stern were across the canyon and it wasn’t long before I caught up.  Howie was starting to feel the pain of making out with the Hardrock only three weeks prior, and I was supremely glad to have only run 42 of it with him.  We chatted a bit, and I was glad that he felt good enough to get a finish on this one.  I moved along, not doubting for one moment that he would see it through.  Shortly thereafter, I rolled up on Diana and we entered poodle-land together, and then the aid station. 

Zoom in on my face. You're welcome.
(photo: Chris Gaggia)
 As had become customary, I sat for two-ish minutes while consuming various combinations of avocado, PowerBar recovery mix, sparkling water and soda.  I marveled at how disgustingly dirty I had become, so I at least wiped my face.  And then I moved on alone, jamming the tunes, dodging the poodle and getting myself to Mt Hilyer faster than ever before.

This was the jam of the day, for sure. Yukimi was killing me!
Pictured: Jack Cheng

Looking back, this may have been one of the sections that got me into some trouble.  I remember pulling up to the Hilyer aid station having pretty full waterbottles, only requiring a top off of ice.  In additional retrospect, I had actually been concerned since Baden-Powell about my lack of urination, so I really should have been on that shit.  At this point, I’d been running for 11 hours and had only peed once.  I felt fine, but... uhhhh... that is not so good.  I started taking in a bit of caffeine in the hopes that my endocrines would find it encouraging.

Either way, my legs were fantastic and bombed down through the weirdo rocks to Chilao.  I was making great time, and sub-24 was still officially on.  Doing the math, I realized I’d likely get to Chantry around 10, which meant I would have to work hard for it, but I was actually excited for those moments.  I wanted to know what it felt like to put everything on the line for the climb up Upper Winter Creek, rather than just survive it. 

Pulling into the aid, I noticed Keira Henninger sitting in a chair.  I wanted to see what was wrong, but was magically whisked away to my chair and accouterments.  Just like Hilyer, I felt elated to take care of a few things and get on with it after only a few minutes.  Last year, I had spent over 30 minutes at each trying to figure out why my stomach was so distended, my urine so peach and my kidneys in so much pain.  This year, I was motoring.

#44 OUT!
(photo: Rony Sanchez crew)
I left the aid station with Keira and her pacer behind, but lost them soon after.  I began to wonder if I might see Amelia soon, but quelled my excitement, save I do something stupid.  Laying it on the line was last 20-mile stuff.  For now, I still needed to bide my time.  Besides, even if I had tried to push here, the poodle wasn’t going to let me.  I pulled my Buff down over my face as I went through the particularly infested burn areas, the nasty toxins irritating my lungs and making it a bit difficult to breathe.  Just get through Charlton, I told myself, and things will get better.  Poodle-land adventures are almost over.

And then.  Then, the weirdest thing in the history of my involvement with the Angeles Crest 100 happened.

It started out as a bit of thunder, which I first mistook for part of a song in my iPod. It developed into a few light drops of water, which I then mistook for a leaky handheld.  But before long, it was undeniable.  IT WAS FREAKING RAINING!  Glory, glory hallelujah praise be to everything.  Mind you, I was still sweating bullets in the humidity, but my oh my was this a treat.  The pain that had begun to set into my lower back and hamstrings suddenly melted away and I flew out of Charlton and down the final decent to the creek under a beautiful sky of greys and blacks.  Howie and I had joked about how great it would be if it rained or hailed at AC after our particularly intense experience at Hardrock, and I imagined he was having a good laugh himself.

With a third of the final climb to go, I spotted a teenage girl up ahead fidgeting with her camel bak.  Hmmm, I wonder what she’s doing out here alone? I thought.  Maybe someone’s daughter out exploring some of the course?  And then suddenly I remembered Amelia telling me her daughter was going to pace her on this section.  And then I wondered if this meant I might have caught Amelia?!  AND THEN I SAW AMELIA. 

We entered the Shortcut aid station together, and I realized I was about to move into second place.  This was exactly what I had dreamed about, because second to Pam Smith actually equals winning first place in my book.  I’d even thought it might happen somewhere between Shortcut and Chantry.  They’re really onto something with this “power of visualization” thing. 

So Shortcut was the most party-ist of party aid stations in my book.  I was actually surprised to look back and see I only spent 3 minutes here, because I really didn’t want to leave on the account of all my friends surrounding my chair and telling me how great I was.  Case in point:

Hey everyone! Come see how great I look!
(photo: Chandra Farnham)
Chris Price had ventured over here, after his race ended due to some scary heart palpitation shit.  Jayme Burtis was taking some epic photos of the men’s and women’s leaders (which now included me!)  Megan was there, which meant Chamoun was still rocking. Kate grabbed my ass, probably. And best of all, Marshall had arrived, which meant he would be at Chantry to pace and could help my mom navigate the Beyonce and Jay-z traffic ensuing below.  This was a great relief for me.  I grabbed my pops and we set out for the river below, as Ethan yelled for the millionth time that he loved my shorts. Gingers love ginger things.

Mile 60.
(photo: Chris Gaggia)
We passed Amelia and her pacer only minutes out of the aid station, so now it was official.  I couldn’t believe how great I felt!  This was really going to happen!  Sub-24 and 2nd place.  There was nothing that could stop me now. 

We reached the bottom of the long fire-road decent in 50 minutes, and without yet turning on our headlamps.  This was so good.  My dad filled me in on the race up front.  Now, Ruperto had pulled in the lead again and Dom was chasing, as per last year.  I was confident he’d catch him and pull out the win, and this drove me up the steep sections of the climb up to Newcombs.  My back and hamstrings were really starting to holler on the steeper sections, and I realized this would now be my struggle for the remainder of the race.  Upper Winter Creek was going to hurt like the dickens, but knowing that now was somehow comforting.  If I could still run downhill like I had been, the suffering would mainly be confined to those 3.5 miles.  The climb up to Sam Merrill was much more forgiving. 

As the sky darkened and we climbed higher, we were treated to one hell of a sunset.  The display of fiery reds, neon pinks and oranges was really just top notch.  Dad was confused where the trickle of headlamps across the canyon were headed and I informed him they were on the decent we’d just completed.  I wasn’t kidding when I said we were running mountains, and he now had a fun story to tell his friends.  We finally turned our lamps on ourselves just before the radio towers signaling our impending arrival at Newcombs aid station, mile 68.  Two other lamps caught up and I discovered Ricardo Ramirez of all people!  Dude runs a 2:31 marathon and rules the roads of LA, so you could imagine my surprise.  Turns out, he hadn’t had the chance to train very specifically for this race, so my hat was officially off to how well he was gutting this thing out.  Smiling, chatting and just floating up the hill.  If he was in any sort of real pain, he had me fooled.

SoCal's finest.
(photo: Kyle Robinson)
I took a few extra minutes at Newcombs to stretch my back and hammies while getting in some non-gel calories.  The new rule was that two gels between something non-gel was acceptable to all systems.  A third gel without a break was soul crushing.  I downed a bunch of Mountain Dew in the hopes it would help me pee, as I was still concerned about that.  I’d downed two full bottles of water in less than two hours, but still… nothing.  Oh well, time to be moving on.

Dad and I passed a few more runners out of the aid station, as we shuffled the flat-ish traverse.  I was beginning to officially feel the pain of running 100 miles in the mountains, but it still was nothing sufficient enough to keep me from my goal.  Looking at my watch, I thought it might be ten after ten before I reached Chantry Flats.  If this was the case, I could still get in before 5am.  I’d have to keep my shit together here, and then push.

It actually began to rain more substantially, and my thoughts went back to Chamoun.  I forgot to mention that we passed him and his pacer Steve on the climb and that he was passed out on the side of the trail, I shit you not.  Steve told us to let him sleep, so we did, but I now wondered if he was getting too chilly.  I sincerely hoped he was moving.  How weird that I was worrying about people getting COLD at AC!  Yep, this was a precious gift of a year that had been given to me, and I needed to make the most of it.  And now that I finally had to pee, I knew it would be done.

As I bent down beneath the tender pines and inched my short orange shorts to the side, I fully expected a huge clear stream to come flying forth from my nether regions.  What I received was neither huge nor clear, but rather a short little trickle that seemed a bit dark, if not peach in color.  I hopped back on the trail, unfazed, thinking that of course the first one would be a little weird.  It had been hours since I peed!  And the peachy tone was probably just the reflection of my headlamp off my orange shorts!  The next one would be the pee of my dreams. 

We continued down, down, down into the depths of Santa Anita canyon.  I chatted about the topography as dad marveled at some of the sheer drops, which I had never really noticed. 

That would be bad if you fell here, huh?
Yeah, you just don’t fall....  Oh hey, I have to pee again!

Again, I bent down to the side of the trail, happy that my caffeination had worked and my systems were charging.  As the stream came out deep, dark red, I truly could not believe it.

Dad, this is very bad.
What is?
My pee is the color of legit blood.  Like not, a little blood in my pee, but just I cut my finger and blood is coming out blood.
What does that mean?
It means bad.

Feeling otherwise unscathed, I ran a little faster down the trail and my mind began turning.  What in the actual fuck had happened to me?  How could this be?  Oh good, I have to pee again – maybe it was just a weird fluke.  Nope.  Not a fluke at all – this is actual blood coming out of my urethra. I think what I really need is to go sit down on that tree and completely melt down.  Smack yourself in the face a few times. Good.  Scream some choice obscenities. Fantastic. Now we can move along.

I started reasoning with my dad (myself) on why I was peeeerfectly ok.  

It’s not brown.  It’s red.  That is not renal failure, so I’ve got that going for me.  I have no pain in my kidneys.  My legs actually feel fine, save having run 72 miles at this point.  I can legitimately get myself the next 2.5 miles to Chantry flats and the medical director.  I will not perish out here.  Additionally, I can then go straight to the hospital and get an IV before anything gets to the dialysis state.  My kidneys are going to be ok!  I am going to be ok!  I am really sad that my race is going to end here, but at least I won’t put myself into renal crisis.  I’ve caught it way before that.

By a mile out, the survival mode had turned to even more reasoning.  

You know… since it’s not brown, I may actually be ok to continue.  If the medical guy says I can, I think I’ll go ahead and finish.  But of course, if he tells me to go to the hospital, we’ll get in the car and go.  

Amazingly, my dad thought this was a great plan and said as long as I talked to the doctors, he’d be cool with whatever they said.  So I just tried to enjoy the last climb with him up to the aid station.  He was officially worked, and that made me feel ok about the last section, despite the last half hour of insanity and despite the fact that Keira had re-passed us while I was in crisis-mode.  We topped out to a particularly frenetic Chantry Flats and I was ushered onto a scale, now in third place.

I need to talk to the medical director.
I am peeing dark, red blood and I don’t think that is a good thing.
No it’s not.  Come over here.

For the second year in a row, I found myself face-to-face with Nick Nudell, head of the Ultra Medical Team, discussing the contents of my bladder.  And for the second year in a row, I offered to give him a cup of my discolored pee, which he was all too excited to receive.  My friend Mari, whose race had ended early, followed me to the bathroom where I proceeded to produce two fingers of Merlot out of my vagina.  Mari took one look and her face turned solemn.

No Katie. You must not go on.

But then I handed it to Nick, and he said the four words every girl wants to hear (with regards to her urine):

Well, it’s not brown.

Nick proceeded to recount basically the exact rationale I had presented to my dad back on the trail.  Onlookers gawked at the Styrofoam cup and looked at me like I was nuts for even considering proceeding.  To emphasize my point at just how fine I was in other regards, I asked Nick if he’d like to punch me in the kidneys.  He did not oblige.

I went over to my chair and began preparing for the night, as the folks around me discussed rhabdo and other scary ultrarunning things.  I knew my body, and I knew I was capable of proceeding.  I want to be very clear here that if anyone in medical had expressed a concern about me continuing the race, I would have stopped immediately.  But the only people that were expressing concern of this matter were periphery.  Nick’s team and my crew were on board with getting me out of there by trail.  I knew the signs to look for, and if any presented themselves, I would drop immediately – even if that was at the last aid station with only 4.5 miles to go.  But for now, I had to try.

Me, Marshall and my shitty bladder - heading out of 75.
(photo: Rony Sanchez)
Marshall suited up, I grabbed a pack full of delicious water and we began hiking out of mile 75 and onto the last un-crewable quarter of the race.  The first 2.5 miles are gentle, and I tried to run where I could, knowing that the next 3.5 might very well kill me.  And they very nearly did.  I kept moving forward, but I was suddenly staggering and having difficulty moving upwards with any power.  My legs and lower back were screaming.  The headlamps began passing every now and again.  I saw people I’d seen earlier, and some I’d never seen all day.  Shit was unraveling and I was unable to respond.  We eventually reached the bench, where I sat for a few minutes and tried to choke down the Stinger waffle I stole from my dad.  As I gazed down at the city lights below, I wondered if I really was having this much trouble or if I was just too scared to push my limits on account of the delicate pee situation. Looking at my watch, sub-24 was now officially a wash and I’d moved into fourth.  As we continued on the last stretch up to the toll road, I just hoped I’d have the ability to run decently downhill to Idlehour.  If I could still do that, I could still salvage something.

Unfortunately, my body was completely locked up and running downhill was very painful for the first time during the race.  I did my best, but had to take breaks.  I started having to sit in order to ingest a gel, otherwise I would throw it up in my mouth and have to re-swallow it.  In short, things had really gone awry. Again, I wondered if I had still been in attack mode, rather than "survive and do not hurt myself" mode if I would have been able to get down quicker.  Also, Beyonce and Jay-Z were playing a concert at the Rose Bowl and I could not fathom that people were drinking and dancing and probably singing “my body’s too bootylicious” at that very moment. I could see the flashing lights below. They did not know my struggle.

We eventually rolled into Idlehour aid station, mile 85, and the site of "the official shutdown of 2013."  I felt remarkably better and proficient, and was even able to keep some broth and pretzels down.  At least I could ride the high of making it out on my own two feet this time.  I had originally planned to take a single ibuprofen here if my legs were hurting, but of course I wouldn’t be doing that considering my situation.  Just as well, I thought.  The pain is the pain for everyone – why miss out on the fun?

Marshall was amazing at keeping me engaged in conversation and my mind off of the severe mind fuck this all had become.  When my thoughts wandered, I first became very sad for what had transpired and then angry at myself and my inability to push any harder.  But every time, my final thoughts lied in gratitude and relief that I was still able to move forward.  The very worst thing would have been if I had been medically pulled back at Chantry.  If I had DNF'd AC for the second time.

The climb up to Sam Merril was at least better than Upper Winter Creek on account of the gentler grade and I was able to move at least a tad more consistently.  It was still dark when I reached the top, so that was also encouraging.  The first year I ran AC, I had reached this aid station in the blazing heat of the second morning, only to find a jug of warm water and hot watermelon with flies all over it.  My pacer and I raided the drop bags of friends who had already passed in order to make it down to Millard. 

Bey and I likely had similar expressions at this point in the night. 
On this evening, Sam Merril was filled with other warriors who were battling their own failed attempts at a silver buckle.  Balmore Flores had trouble early on – I passed him coming down Baden-Powell almost an entire day ago – but here he was, charging to the finish in what was still a PR on the course.  Colin Cooley, who had previously finished AC in under 24-hours was now resorting to shoving ice down his compression socks to keep some piece of his leg in tact and functioning.  He had to walk every step of the downhill from there on out.  And here I was, still pissing blood and just praying I could at least walk it in if we came to that.  We all soldiered on.

I’d run the next section to Millard enough times in training this year to not hate it so damn much, and this served me well.  Section by section, we clicked it off.  I wasn’t moving fast by any means, but hey, I was also not dejected and walking.  I got passed by yet another woman.  I was now in fifth.  It was no longer a race.  I just enjoyed Marshall’s company, the stillness of the early morning and tried not to whimper too much.  I told him that I no longer had any desire to be doing this, but not to worry, that I most assuredly was gonna.

Oh Pasadena, you are still so far away.
(photo: Marshall Howland, pacer supreme)

 When we arrived at Millard, I finally knew I was going to physically be able to complete the race.  Slowing down a bit had put less stress on my body and we’d moved from a cabernet to a nice rosé in urine department.  It was a humid, cloudy morning and I doused myself yet again to stay as cool as possible.  One more bottle of ice water should get me to Loma Alta Park in one piece.

As we rounded the bend out of the aid station, I heard cheers coming in.  It was then that I informed Marshall that I was not going to be passed anymore on this particular day.  It was only 4.5 miles, and I really just couldn’t deal with it anymore – it was too depressing. I guess this dog still had a little fight left.  We finished the last climb on the fire road and began winding through the Arroyo, trotting along at an unimpressive but “agile” pace.  That was Marshall’s word and it somehow made me feel better.  Then, with only two miles to go, some dude goes literally FLYING past me.  I immediately decided that he didn’t count, on the basis that he was ridiculous. That was, until I saw Kelley from Baden-Powell a switchback or two up. 

Nope nope nope.... nope.

And I took off.  I don’t know why, but I just could NOT be caught one more time.  I figured 20 minutes of pushing wasn’t going to be enough to send me to the hospital, so I might as well just go for it.  Lo and behold, I started passing people again!  The “ridiculous” dude, a few others, Ricardo, and my friend Rafferty from back around Sam Merrill.  They smiled and cheered me on, I winced and grunted my interpretation of “good job! Almost there!”  Before long, I was staring down the final climb up to the streets of Altadena.

Fuck it.

I ran every step to the top, where my dad happened to be walking up to meet us.  He jumped and cheered. I held my hand up, which in my head, meant, “thanks! Almost done!”  The three of us headed down Altadena Drive – I was legitimately running as hard as I could, and pure adrenaline coursed through my veins. 

I get to lay down soon.
(photo: Marshall Howland)
And that was it.  The park came into view, and I rounded the corner.  I saw Dom waiting under the banner with his arms outstretched and I began to cry.  I wanted a hug, but I also really wanted to lie in the fetal position immediately.  I was having an existential crisis.

I love you, but I also love the ground!
(photo: Cynthia Zarate)
I had no idea what time it was, where I could go to be most comfortable or what the fuck had actually just happened.  Uncle Hal pulled me up off the ground. I tried to die in a chair. I eventually went and laid on a cot while poor Marshall got in his car and drove to work.  My mom fed me a grilled cheese, and Dom came by every 25 minutes or so to encourage me to go take a shower.  I didn’t want to do that because then I’d be alone for the first time since my body shut down on me.  I was scared of what I might think.

Uncle Hal was proud of me. Better than a hunk of metal in ANY color.
(photo: Chris Gaggia)

What I imagine childbirth will be like. Only less painful.
(photo: Chris Gaggia)
Fortunately, when the time came for me to shower things were a-ok.  For starters, the pain from my chaffing was actually not any worse than the pain of simply standing, so it didn’t turn all Psycho in a Pasadena-area Holiday Inn.  Secondly, I was mainly filled with relief that I had been able to finish, so the dissenting thoughts were easily quelled.  I had run a damn near perfect race for 75 miles, which seemed like a pretty good improvement.  Looking back, I’d actually run the race the exact same way if I could do it all over again.  The only thing that lingered was the possibility that maybe I should have been able to keep pushing for the last 25, and that maybe my mind had used the bloody urine as an excuse to back off the intensity.  Maybe I had been unreasonably scared about running hard in that situation, and maybe there was nothing to worry about. Maybe that’s just what it took for me to get that elusive silver buckle.

Hal said that "never giving up" is what it's all about, and I have to agree. This was a very happy moment.
(photo: Ivan Buzik)
At the urging of Nick from medical, I went to the doctor a few days later for a urine and blood test.  At this point, the what-ifs were officially stomped out with a diagnosis of rhabdomyolisis.  I could barely believe it.  How in the actual hell had this happened?  I was very well trained, had taken no ibuprofen and actually ran pretty comfortably all day.  This was basically the weirdest thing ever.  My doctor, of course, wanted to know why I didn’t just stop running when this happened, but as we talked through it, she also supported the idea that with no kidney pain, no excessive leg pain and no coca-cola urine, I had not been doing any serious damage to myself.  By backing off the stress level, I very well may have saved myself from entering the danger zone. 

I share this not because I think I’m some sort of badass for pissing blood and finishing a race with rhabdo, but rather because there is nary a story of rhabdo that does not end with dialysis.  Apparently, a mild case is actually not a huge deal – unless you let it become one. And you can have a bit  of rhabdo for reasons other than pushing way too hard or abusing NSAIDs.  I took care of myself out there at the first signs of serious distress – slowing down, drinking more - and treated my body with respect.  The result was not perfect, by any means, but I have the blood work to prove completely normal kidney function.  Despite rhabdomyolisis.  The only thing any of us can conclude is that I may have been dehydrated in the humid conditions.  I’ll focus on drinking more in the future.  And that’s it. I'm sad that this happened, but am glad that I did exactly what I did for the remainder of the race. 

27:30:43. Another bronze buckle. Fifth place.  A 3+ hour PR on the AC course.  My first 100 mile finish in 21 months. Clear pee.  There’s not a whole lot I can complain about. 

Shared agony. Shared happiness.
(photo: Joan DeSplinter)

* * *

SHOES:  modified New Balance 110v2
SOCKS:  Injinji Trail 2.0 – no blisters, but should have work the mini-crew length for the debris situation
FUEL:  PowerGel (over 50 of them!), PowerBar Recovery Mix, avocado, soda, sparkling water, broth, Pringles
ELECTROLYTES:  a few SaltStick
POST RACE BREW:  Golden Road Grapefruit Saison

THANK YOUS:  Mom and Dad, Marshall, Momica, Hillary for the incredible shirts, New Balance, Injinji, PowerBar and every single friend out on the course and at the aid station.  That was really freaking fun and I think we should all do it again next year. Also, BIG thanks to Nick and the Ultra Medical Team from both me and my family.  I owe my finish to your knowledge and help out there.

Aaaand all is back to normal.
(photo: Elan Lieber)


  1. Bad. Ass Katie. Great read as always and great job of listening to your body throughout the day, especially in those last 25 when I suppose, shit could've taken a turn for the worse. Super proud to have shared the course with the likes of someone like you. Not sure if you signed up for 2015 but here's to hoping BOTH of us can repeat this madness at either Silverton or Squaw.

    1. Silverton or Wrightwood. I already have my silver from Squaw :)

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