Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I am Finally Proud of my AC100 Finish

I've been thinking a lot about my experience at Angeles Crest this year.  And man, if you thought the race was a battle - welcome to the war raging in my head.  I've replayed the events in my mind thousands of times, and return trips to the course have actually been quite difficult at times.  A few weeks ago, I literally had to run sections of the high country in reverse so as not to ruin my run with overanalytics.

So maybe you're thinking I'm completely crazy and that I should just get over it.  And to a large extent, I agree.  But it's not so simple when it's something that you devoted your life to for such a long period of time.  I don't know if I quite delved into the amount of time I spent training for this race, but let me assure you, it was more time than I've spent doing anything ever.  My favorite week of training was when the running time totals equaled over 24 hours.  In essence I had spent 1 out of 7 of my days running in the mountains.  That seemed wildly prudent.

Life was so beautifully simple then.  Time outside of work existed solely for training and Dom and I camped pretty much every weekend in the San Gabriels - running the various sections over and over and over.  Taking splits… stringing them together… finding ways to make things harder.  I dove headfirst into training for my first mountain 100 and I did not let up.  I followed Dom and Jorge, veterans of the course and champions of hard work, into the forest and never questioned whether or not I was ready for the types of workouts and the amount of mileage they had planned.  I never accepted running a shorter distance or cutting out one of the climbs.  If I was going to do this, I was going to do it right - and this was what it took.

In retrospect, the fact that I never sustained an overuse injury during these months and months of hard training is kind of amazing.  I would go long stretches without a single day off - in fact my first day of real rest in 2011 was in April.  This wasn't to say I wasn't tired sometimes and had periods where it was extremely hard to get the work done.  I remember sitting in the car at Eaton Canyon one morning, literally crying because I didn't want to get out and start a 4,600' climb.  As motivated as I was to achieve my goal in July, it wasn't always easy, but I got it done.  By May, it was undeniable how much I had improved.

My thoughts around the race have been largely jumbled and easily influenced over the past few months.  I've learned that people will always have their opinions and alternate realities that they create for comfort.  But if you're truly interested in the reality of what happened and why I didn't finish in or close to the time that I was honestly capable of (sub-24 hours), then you can go ahead and read on.  I've deeply explored what happened and what has resulted is sheer amazement in myself.  Does that sound cocky?  Well, I don't care.  What I did out there on July 23rd was fucking amazing.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about if it was possible that I just wasn't tough enough.  If it hadn't been my knee, something else would have hurt.  It's 100 miles, for chrissakes.  So did I just give into the pain?  Did I whimp out when it got really hard to bear?  Could I have pushed through it harder?

The answers to all those questions is a resounding, "I don't know."  But what I am 100% sure of is that I did not give up or weenie out on account of pain.  Looking back, I couldn't even bend my knee before the start of the race.  That's right.  I COULDN'T BEND MY KNEE.  And yet, I saddled up to run 100 miles up and over some treacherous mountains anyway.  What happened was this:  I was in mild pain from the get go, but ran remarkably well through the high country.  I stayed in control and let the lead women go - feeling very sure that if I ran within myself, I could catch them later.  I was running below 24-hour pace and I felt like a million bucks.  Hitting the gradual downhill into Three Points - probably the easiest part of the course - was when my knee really started to crap out.  I knew it was a problem that anytime I hit a little uphill, I was golden, but when the grade turned down, I was in an incredible amount of pain.  I felt good otherwise.

I've said it over and over, but my recollection of the turning point was Chilao, mile 52.  My knee was officially wrecked and the pain was outstanding.  I gave up all time goals and turned to survival mode, even though I was still on a decent pace.  While you deal with altitude in the first part of AC, the terrain gets gnarlier and nastier as you progress.  So in essence, I was heading into the roughest parts of the course on a knee that was completely shot.  So shot, in fact, that I'm having freaking surgery.  This part of the course breaks completely healthy and super talented runners every year, and I was heading into it already broken. It was a ridiculous endeavor, yet I was courageously committed to pressing on.  For that, I am proud.

My knee stopped working at Chilao.  Here is visual proof.

In fact, I'm really proud of the whole thing.  The work I put in, my bravery to endure and finishing what I started.  Ego checked.  Running for love.  FEARLESS.  I can't wait to see what's in store once my knee is back to good.  It's pretty much impossible for 2012 to be anything but awesome.

I wanted to do something REALLY epic for my last pre-surgery adventure,
so we ran to the moon.
I thought about all of the above a lot this past weekend, as I headed out for one more round of hard training in the San Gabriels with Dom, Jorge and Mari.  It was just what I needed, as it was just how it always was before the yucca incident.  And to a greater extent, it reminded me just how it would be when I'm all healed and officially back.  This was how it all started back in January… miles and miles of trudging through the snow in the high country on Saturdays, getting stronger, followed by quicker miles down out of Chantry and Eaton on sore legs.  And then followed by Chipotle.  I'll follow the same plan this year and work harder to avoid plants.  It's a fool-proof plan.

I leave you with a few images of my last epic weekend for awhile.  And oh, what a weekend it was!  The first big snowfall in the San Gabriels provided for some amazing (and tough) running and now I can go into surgery a happy woman.  (Although, I can still get 2 more runs in before tomorrow.  And I will.)

Heading up via Sierra Club/Baldy Bowl
View of Baldy Bowl from Devil's Backbone
The source.
Alpsadena, CA
Mind you, it was only 2 weeks ago that it was over 100 degrees.
Third summit this year. Next time I'm bringing my board.
Looking East: Gorgonio over yonder.
Treacherously beautiful.  And excellent "fancy feet" training.
El Chivo Loco on the approach to Mt. Harwood
The freaking smoke monster showed up.
In case you were wondering what heaven looks like
Lucky for us - decent conditions on Devil's Backbone
Just do it, man.
Saddle dancing
I found a distinct unicorn sized footprint on the top of Wilson.
We love our NB MT/WT 101s!

My awesome company for my last long run for awhile (a Wilson Loop).
Thank you Mari!
Planned? Probably.
Excellent day with excellent friends

Now that is one happy panda.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Decisions and Incisions: Let's Party

Making decisions is probably one of my least favorite activities ever.  I think this has something to do with the fact that I generally tend not to enjoy things I'm not very good at, and logical deductive reasoning happens to be one of those things.  Somehow I always seem to derail somewhere.... which usually results from the creation of some alternate reality where everything works out perfectly.  Because I'm really good at that.

A few weeks ago, I decided to jump into the Los Pinos 50k.  Given that I am in no shape to give an honest effort at another 100 right now and my knee likely couldn't handle it anyway, I wanted to get at least one more race in this year.  I thought maybe I'd feel fulfilled.  Maybe I wouldn't feel so bad about myself if I could run really fast.  Maybe I could prove that the pain in my knee isn't that bad.  Maybe I just need to get over it.  And so I registered on Wednesday morning.

On the Los Pinos trail (aka "Beast") the week before.
By Wednesday night, I felt altogether off and threw up when I tried to run.  Thursday, I had a fever and it felt like someone was stabbing me in the ear.  Friday, I missed work and spent the day in bed drinking water, telling myself I'd be good in the morning.  Saturday morning, I woke up and knew instantly I should not run.

I ran anyway.  

I felt winded in the first easy mile.  By mile 2, I was soaked through with sweat and shaky all over.  Around mile 4 I tried to take a hit off my gel flask and immediately threw up.  For the next 2 miles I was dizzy, had a migraine and was now absolutely positive there was a small creature repeatedly shanking my ear canal.  As such, I was forced to end my day at the first water-only aid station, where Steve Harvey told me to sit down.  Now.  I waited for the rest of the runners to go through, cheering my friends on and trying to gather my senses, and we hiked the 3 or so miles out and back to the start/finish area.  Later that night I noticed that my ear was actually bleeding.  Turns out by running hard in the mountains with a nasty ear infection can actually rupture your eardrum.

This is an example of a poor decision.  

Portrait by Dom
Now, lucky for me, oftentimes a bad decision can influence other decisions in a decidedly positive way.  This was the case as I sat and talked to RD Keira Henninger about my experience at Angeles Crest and the frustrations of the yucca setback.  Keira recently had arthroscopic surgery on her hip and for the first time in a great long while is running without pain.  Like me, she was extremely hesitant to have any sort of surgery and hoped that she could heal it via other methods.  But at the end of the day, she's finally making real progress now that she's had the procedure.

Physical therapy has done absolutely nothing for me at all.  In fact, it was more annoying than anything given that the woman was dead set on proving that I had a biomechanical issue and had created this injury myself.  It was almost as if she just could not accept the fact that I was literally stabbed in the knee by a plant.  Instead she was first disappointed to discover that I don't pronate.  Then she told me I should be striking on my heels.  No jokes, people.  For her third and final trick, she wanted to know what sort of running shoes I wear.  That exchange went a little something like this:

So Katherine, what type of running shoes do you wear - do you happen to know the model?
OK, well do you know the brand?
Nope, I have no idea.
Hmmm, well I sincerely hope that it's something with good cushioning and proper support.  
This is exactly why we are not having this conversation.

Taking matters into my own hands, I employed Dom for a session of digging his thumb into the lump of nerve infested devil tissue in an attempt to end it's reign of tyranny.  This resulted in absolute hysteria and near passing out, even after a shot of Maker's.  Also, it didn't really make a difference.  On the brink of hopelessness, I had to consider the recommended option presented to me.

As such, I will be having arthroscopic surgery on November 9th.  They will go in, remove the damage caused by the yucca (and possibly running 100 miles on said injury), stitch me up, and I should be good to go by the first of the year.  It's minimally invasive - the doc makes small incisions and goes in with a little camera rather than slice through a bunch of shit I need.  He said a week of no activity, then probably a month before I can get back to my training.  Sure, I'm going to have to start back quite a few blocks with regards to my physical training.  And to be honest, that is frustrating as hell.  But it definitely won't be at the beginning with regards to the mental side of things, because I now know what I'm capable of.  At the end of the day, I'm damn proud of the work I put in this year.  I turned myself into a pretty descent climber, handled some consistently high mileage weeks, got faster, stronger and ran through some really hard challenges.  Though I don't have a specific race to prove it to all of you, I know this and really that's all that matters with regards to having the confidence to build myself up again.  It will be hard to regain speed.  It will be difficult to climb mountains with ease.  It will hurt to run at altitude.  But now I know that if I can just endure a little more than seems reasonable, I will  achieve great new heights.

IN the Vegas:  Lights, Smoke, Sin and Zombies
ABOVE the Vegas:  ...
Last weekend, Dom and I went to celebrate some of my college friends' 30th birthdays in Las Vegas.  (They had flown out from St. Louis and Chicago.)  After dancing all night in smoky casinos, our bodies literally craved the fresh air that only the high altitude of the mountains can bring.  So we drove up to 7,500 and set out to climb up over 11 in the Mt. Charleston wilderness.  Encountering snow already at the trailhead and unsure of what we might find, we grabbed some jackets, water and gels and headed out into the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, about an hour or so outside of the Vegas.  Immediately, we were consumed by the thick scent of rich pine and humbled by the sheer faces of rock that rose intimidatingly up from the canyon where we started.  (Kyle Canyon, to be exact.)  It was freaking beautiful, and after the last few weeks of being sick and fearing the impending non-running future, it was exactly what I needed.  As we climbed, we were both amazed at the great footing of the well-maintained trail.  Just about every step of it was runnable, and it was a nice change from some of our recent adventures in California - such as the insanely steep grades on Gorgonio and the boulder hopping up Jacinto, via Cactus to Clouds.  Apparently Nevada knows what's up.

 We were also both amazed that there were hardly any people on the trail on a seriously PERFECT day.  I'm not kidding… the weather, the trail, the scenery was absolutely amazing in every regard.  This might have had something to do with the fact that it was really hard to find any info or maps on the area.  I'm guessing most people who live in or frequent the Vegas are probably not interested in roughing it in the wilderness, but my only response to that is 'wow, what a shame.'  This forest was seriously one of the more beautiful places I've ever seen, and I am so grateful that our random weekend lead us there.  In many ways it was a difficult run, because I felt like I had begun a countdown of the amount of steps I get before next Wednesday.  But in others, it was incredible, because I didn't take one of those steps for granted.  
Vegas. Always a party.
Dom getting ready for TNF50 showdown

So, that's that.  I go into surgery in less than a week and I've basically been running myself retarded over the past week.  My knee hurts worse than ever.  But before I go away for a little bit, I've got one more last minute, objectively bad decision to make.  As such, after work today I'm leaving to do one of the following:  hop a train and do R2R2R at the Grand Canyon, head to Wrightwood and lose myself in the high country or I'm throwing around the idea of driving to the King's Canyon/Sequoia area... or maybe something else.  This all depends on schedules, transportation and most notably, weather. A big storm is on the way and we're supposed to get snow down to 4,000 feet!  Whatever ends up happening, I'm pretty sure my knee will be nice and ready for surgery.

Listen, you can say whatever you want about my decision making process, but my life is awesome.  I leave you with additional proof:
 Dom in the classic NB 574's.  Me in the Dolce Vita 5"-ers. 
Goal for the Day: Griffith Peak at 11,000 in the background.

On the ascent out of Kyle Canyon

Sneaky kisses for my best friend

Ninja skills are always appropriate

And a triple salchow from Brian Boitano

Oh yeah.... the Cards won the world series.  BIRDS!!!!