Thursday, April 9, 2015

Umstead 100

The 21st annual Umstead 100 was special to me for so many reasons.  I ran this race in 2014 (, had a fantastic experience, and couldn't wait to go back.  There is something special about this race.  The volunteers and race director... the camaraderie along the course... the friends I have in the area...  all of these things stuck in my mind from 2014 and made me eager to return.  Although my legs forgave me long ago from the beating I dished out, my mind still struggles to wrap itself around the experience. 

My 2014 experience at Umstead was a big part of why I wanted to run the race again but it wasn't the entire reason.  In late October 2014, Blake Norwood, the race director for the first 20 years of the race, passed away.  His dedication to our sport was incredible.  Umstead has become a race that draws both speedy elite ultra runners as well as newbie first time 100 mile runners.  We all bond on the same course and encourage each other throughout the race.  Blake cultivated this atmosphere and made this event what it is today.  Last year he was there to congratulate me at the finish as I collapsed on him and tried to pass it off as a hug.  His contribution to our sport is something I cherish and I wanted to return to his race to show respect.  Along the course there is a tree Blake planted.  Every lap I looked over at the tree and thought of how Blake made this event what it is today. 

Umstead is a loop course with 8 laps.  As I gather my thoughts about the race it is no coincidence that they fit nicely into 8 distinct memories. 

Lap 1.  I'm not much of a planner when it comes to races.  I typically like to let the day/race unfold and not get myself set on specific targets.  This race was my first attempt to develop a plan, including lap goals and eating strategies for each lap.  This was largely because I had a crew for the whole race, and I would have access to the crew every lap.  I needed to tell them what I wanted and when so this meant a plan.  I didn't want to get too caught up in the plan but I knew I needed to stick to the plan.  I started easy and put the brain on autopilot.  As the Beastie Boys say, slow and low... that is the tempo.  I was happy the pains I'd experienced in the weeks leading up to the race weren't rearing their ugly heads yet.  Two thumbs up for the plan and sticking to it.  Will this turn me into a meticulous planner for races now?  I wouldn't bet on that. 

Lap 2.  I log a lot of miles by myself.  And although I love this part about our sport I also love my good friends and family who support me along the way.  This race, more than any other, brought out the importance of good support.  So many people helped get me here and carried me through the race.  My gratitude is beyond words.  I am incredibly lucky to have friends and support that allow me to follow my passion.  Many of you played a huge role for Umstead - my PT, Robert, who puts me back together after runs and races with never-wavering support and encouragement, his expertise and my faith in his ability is unmatched.  My boys - who may not understand what it is I do yet but still hoped I came home with a trophy.  My parents - who drove up from Atlanta to cheer me on and have always been my biggest fans.  Shawn - who lights me up everyday and makes me a better and happier person; your support means the world to me and I feel so lucky.  Beth and Doug - who opened their house to me again this year (not sure how after last year!) and tolerated the craziness with class and charm.  Gene - my local friend who has been there in style for me through 4 of my 100s.  Jordan - pacer extraordinaire who "got" me without ever meeting me.  Rachel - the happiest crew girl you could ever ask for and who graciously gave up her time to crew for me again this year.  Bill - the most connected guy on the course who knew everyone and still kept a great pace.  And lastly, friends - trail and otherwise - around the country who follow my progress, and who listen to my running stories with a smile. 

Lap 3.  Behind every great race is a great race director.  Rhonda Hampton leads a great crew putting on Umstead.  What makes a race director great is their investment in the race.  Rhonda is fully present and engaged all day.  She spends the day riding a bike around the course, taking pictures and cheering on runners.  By nightfall she is using the same bike to put out glow sticks to help guide the runners.  Umstead also sends out a post-race mailing to all the finishers.  This includes a certificate of finish, a print out of your laps and actual photographs taken during the race.  It’s a great reminder of your accomplishment after the legs have forgiven you.  These personal touches make Umstead one of the greats. 

 Lap 4.  Having a crew for this race was amazing.  I don’t normally have a crew – much less the ability to see them so often.  Shawn had never witnessed an ultra before and he took the lead as my crew.  Rachel helped crew for me last year and graciously offered to devote her time again this year to helping me.  I felt very lucky to have two people in my corner all day!  I didn’t give Shawn much instruction before the race, just a general idea of what I would want each lap.  He’s a natural.  He totally got it and was completely focused on getting me what I needed all day.  I felt bad for telling them what to do on each lap for the next lap but if they were upset they didn’t show it.  Instead they gave me what I needed with formula-one-like precision and that gentle shove to get me out on the next lap.  And they did it all with a smile.  I am sincerely thankful for their time and dedication to my goal. 

Lap 5.  Little pains can become big pains in races.  I’d dealt with several issues leading up to the race and they started to rear their ugly heads this lap.  I’d done a spectacular superman-style fall on the trail a month before the race and hurt my shoulder pretty badly.  My back had been bothering me for a few months.  In a race, these niggles become pains and those pains can eat you alive.  When things start to hurt, I always hope I will have the mental fortitude to not let it eat me alive.  This is easier in some races and much harder in others.  Knowing this course, I’d worked on techniques ahead of time to prepare myself for these demons.  Thankfully, my techniques worked.  It was easy that day to stay focused and in the zone and push the pain away. 

Lap 6.  This lap everything seemed to click.  My body and mind were working together and my legs were responding to the requests that I was making.  When things click in a run or a race it is a marvelous thing.  Speed is a relative thing when you are 65-70 miles into a 100, but on this lap it felt like my feet weren’t touching the ground.  Jordan ran laps 5 & 6 with me and we really had our groove going on this lap.  He was fantastic at keeping me in the moment and we ticked off many sub 9 miles this lap.  Looking back it was my favorite lap of the whole race.  And although I didn’t know Jordan before the race, I really hope he will pace me again someday!  The picture below shows Jordan and me coming through mile 7 of the 12.5 mile lap.  I love this picture because it shows the tree Blake planted on the middle of the left side of the picture. 

Lap 7. Bill graciously offered to run with me the later laps of the race.  He’s the course captain for the race and knew just about everyone along the way.  Things started to get challenging this lap as the high from lap 6 wore off quite quickly.  I started this lap in the daylight but knew darkness would fall during the lap.  I played a game with myself to see how far I could make it before needing a headlamp.  When darkness fell it was good Bill was there – my headlamp didn’t work!  Bill helped get to me to the end of the lap with his light and did it all with a smile.  Bill and I share a mutual friend, Gene, who we saw out along the back-side of the course pacing another runner.  My parents were stationed near the 2nd aid station on the course and it was a huge uplift to see them this lap.  People along the course, fellow runners included, really carried me through this lap. 

Lap 8.  This lap was all about gutting it out.  I knew I had a lead on this lap and that probably didn’t help.  That said, I didn’t think about where I was and whether I would win during this lap – I just willed my body to continue moving forward and get myself to the finish.  I ran when I could and walked when I had to, but progress seemed slow.  You know the feeling, you’re ready to be done.  It was a tough lap and one that I would like to go back and do again. 

When I saw the lights of the finish, I was overcome.  I’d done it.  I’d accomplished a goal I’ve had since I ran my first 100 in 2011.  Even today I shake my head in disbelief when I think about it. 

Shawn, Gene, Rachel and Rhonda were all there when I finished.  This time I gave Rhonda a real hug.  New traditions and friends were made at this year’s race and Umstead has secured a special place in my heart. 

My competitive spirit is already looking forward to the next challenge…

Here's the gear breakdown:
Shoes and hat - Pearl Izumi.  N2s.
Clothing - Ink N Burn.
Compression Socks - Pro Compression.
Pack - Orange Mud.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

2015 HURT 100

HURT is unique.  Unique in toughness, location, course, and the incredible volunteers.  This is truly a race that will never be forgotten.

I'd originally planned to run HURT in 2013.  I developed some Achilles problems in the fall of 2012 and wasn't able to go as planned.  This race had been on my radar and my wish list ever since.  I'd heard so much about the race - basically that its toughness is only bettered by the quality of the volunteers.  I truly couldn't wait to be there and contribute to the aloha spirit around the course.  And who couldn't be excited about a trip to Hawaii in January?  :)  As a last-minute stroke of luck, my friend (and occasional training partner - when I can keep up), Nick, was coming as well.  He got off the wait list with 3 weeks to spare.

Hawaii is beautiful and wonderfully relaxed.  Through a generous and kind friend (thanks Greg!), I was able to find an amazing place to stay on the North Shore during my stay.  Connie, Alex and Joe are the kindest most incredible hosts I've ever met and the way they opened their house to us was a true gift.  You all are the best!  Their house is across the street from the beach and afforded some amazing views and some incredible beach time.  Sleeping with the sounds of the ocean so close was truly amazing.

Two days before the race, Connie took us on a hike to the tip of the island.  As local folklore goes, this is the place where your soul comes after death to "walk off the rocks" and on to the next life.  The views were spectacular and we even saw some albatross nests!  The hike was followed up by shave ice - my first foray into this amazing Hawaiian treat!

Friday the mood in the house seemed to change a bit - we all knew the task at hand and it was rapidly approaching.  We enjoyed seeing fellow runners and volunteers at the pre-race briefing and tried to relax.  The course was right behind the shelter house, but Nick and I chose to ignore it and went into race morning with absolutely no idea what was in store for us.

Race morning started early and upon arrival to the course the enormity of the task ahead finally hit me.  I knew this course was technical and that's not my forte when it comes to trail running.  I knew this course would challenge me in ways I couldn't even anticipate.  I found myself overcome with emotion and some fear as racers gathered before the start.  I tried to calm my nerves and hoped when we started that I'd finally calm down.

The HURT course is a 20 mile loop made up of 3 sections.  Those 3 sections are basically lollipops with out and back portions within them.  This can be good and it can be bad.  On one hand, you know where you are in relation to others - you get that camaraderie and encouragement when you pass other runners - but on the other hand, you know exactly how far you have to go and out and back sections can be very taxing after many repetitions.  Each 20 mile loop has 2 aid stations and a 3rd aid station at the start/finish of each lap.  The 20 mile loop is repeated 5 times to comprise the HURT 100.

The first lap I planned to - and did actually manage to - take it easy.  It was quite hot and humid for my taste and I was literally drenched with sweat very soon after the start.  I tried to get my bearings along the course and "learn" the route and try to stay within myself knowing I had 4 more left to complete.  At the end of the first lap I came up to another PNW runner, Eric, who had run this course several times before.  He gave me some good advice - basically advising me to go super slow.  (he went on to have a fantastic race and a stellar finish time - congrats Eric!)

I started the 2nd lap in good spirits, not feeling like I'd overdone it on the first lap at all.  However, about 12 miles into this lap I stopped to pee and was scared to find I was peeing blood.  I immediately backed off, upped the fluids and hoped this would resolve.  I've never had this happen in a race before and it shook my confidence and brought on my fears.  Knowing you have almost 70 miles left to cover in a race where you aren't sure if serious problems lurk is a tough position to be in.  I love this sport but I'm not willing to risk my life or my long-term health for a finish.  I hoped and asked for support from friends and continued on at a slower pace.  Several racers helped me as well - both with advice and even some with water they could spare (thanks Sean!).

I'm happy to say that by the next time I peed I was all clear.  I think I had just done such a bad job hydrating on the first lap that it caught up with me quickly in the heat.  I was relieved but still spent a considerable amount of time worrying about this during the rest of the race - and ensuring I was drinking as much as I could stand for the whole race.

This race became very challenging for me over the laps.  I was mentally fatigued from the difficult terrain and the heat didn't seem to work for me.  My laps were slow and I was pretty grouchy at times - but I knew I would keep going unless they pulled me off the course.  I just simply wanted it too badly.  I didn't want to quit and I am proud that I didn't.  I had a local pacer, Nate, who joined me on my "hike" - and her company was much appreciated.  She did a great job distracting my mind at times and trying to keep my spirits up.

The race organizers and the volunteers at this race are truly spectacular.  I've never in any ultra seen anything like it.  At times I wondered if they were so wonderful because they knew the course was so challenging for us.  But then you realize that this is just how they are.  They love to help us as much as we love to hurt ourselves.  (no pun intended)

Will I do this race again?  I doubt it.  Will I go back to pace or to volunteer? In a heartbeat.  I could only hope to be that lucky.  Aloha to all who made this a race and a finish I will never forget.

2014 Hellgate 100k++

I started this post on the plane home from Hellgate and reflected on a great weekend and a race performance I wish I could change.  It's taken me weeks to get back to it - here goes nothing. 

Hellgate is a special race.  Unique in so many ways and a true gem among ultras.  I fell in love in 2013 and couldn’t wait to go back in 2014.  Hellgate certainly did not disappoint, but I disappointed myself.  

Last year Hellgate was a reunion weekend for me and my college running coach.  He lives in Ohio and I in Washington and he offered to come down and meet me and help crew.  We had so much fun last year that he and I decided to do it again this year.  We stayed at this great hotel in Roanoke that is totally decked out for Christmas and it really adds to the festive feeling of the weekend.  We stayed there again this year and it was fantastic.  Catching up with an old friend is always a great time and we certainly had a great time again this year.

In short, I had one goal at Hellgate.  To not go out too fast.  Secondary goals: Savor the night, run easy, then pick it up as daylight emerged.  Fuel well, stay warm (post Pinhoti trauma made that prominent in my mind) and finish strong.  I feel like I did a good job of not being too keyed up for the race and not too nervous.  Something about being here before made it easier.  You know where you are, where you will go and what you will cross to get there.

I basically blew my goal from the start.  Hellgate starts on a slightly winding trail for the first few miles and then continues for several more miles up a long dirt road climb.  I ran pretty conservatively for the first mile but then I threw all goals out the window for some reason.  Thing is I didn't THINK I was running too fast.  I didn't feel out of control.  Maybe it's something to do with the uphill road climb - I really like those - but by the time I got to mile 8 or so I was right with the lead woman.  This is not taking it easy.  I later learned from my coach that the leader and I were WAY under record pace at the 8 mile aid station.  In hindsight that explains a lot.

The feeding problems inevitably followed.  I had trouble finding anything that tasted good or sounded good.  I kept putting off the fuel when I knew I needed it because of that.  I dug myself into a big hole by not eating enough calories.  And we all know the domino effect this has on everything else.  It wasn't long before my pace became difficult to keep up.  And it wasn't long after that I started to become less coordinated.  Anyone who knows the Hellgate course knows that there are traps all along that course.  Traps in the form of ankle busting rocks that are covered by 12-18 inches of dry leaves.  My ankles found almost all of them.  I twisted each ankle really hard at least twice.  I tripped over sticks and hit the ground.  The lack of food left me wondering if I'd ever run on a trail before in my life.  

In the end, the race this year was a suffer-fest.  I finished with ankles that would barely support me anymore and an ego that was seriously bruised from disappointing myself.  But the race itself held true to form - a tough and challenging 100k (with bonus miles) that beckons me back for yet another try.  David Horton is a gem and his race is nothing less.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

2014 Pinhoti 100

You know those days when absolutely nothing goes as planned?  When you wonder why you do this to yourself?  That was my 2014 Pinhoti 100.  But as all bad days go, I learned a lot and walked away tougher from the experience.  

The 2013 edition of this race was my return to 100 mile running post-injury.
I had a pretty good day last year and returned this year with the hopes of bettering my time and my place at the finish.  I loved this course last year and looked forward to running it again.  Training leading up to the race was not ideal - but I've learned that race lead-up is rarely ideal and felt ready to tackle the beast again.  

Gene Meade crewed/paced me last year and I felt so lucky when he offered to come back and help again.  He knows how to take care of a runner and he knows me very well so I knew I was in good hands.  Plus, he's just funny as can be - and laughing and having fun can never be understated when it comes to racing 100s!  

The race festivities began with weather warnings.  For cold temperatures and high winds.  Normally these types of warnings are welcomed, I thrive under adverse conditions and cold weather is much better for me than warm when it comes to race day.  But for this race, the cold and the wind compounded with a bunch of other factors to create a perfect storm.  
With Anji at packet pick-up
The start time was moved out by an hour this year, to 7am.  I'm guessing this was done to allow us to start without headlamps - but it sort of threw my game off from the beginning.  I had an idea where I was the year prior and found myself feeling discouraged because I seemed slower this year when in reality we'd started an hour later.  

I hitched a ride to the start with Rich White, the Cascade Crest RD.  It's nice to carpool to the start and I also prefer to let my crew/pacer catch a little more sleep for the long night ahead.  It was fun to see a few Washingtonians (Chris Schultheiss made us a trio) and it was fun to chat with Rich on the way to the start.  Another Ink N Burn Elite, Anji, was also racing and in the car as well - we were all upbeat and ready for the challenge.  I saw my friend Jason Green at the start and he graciously wrapped me in his down jacket for some extra warmth while we waited for the race start.  I gave my new friend Cecilia Santos a hug as we lined up for the start. In short, it was a reunion party!!
Suited up and ready to go!
Last year I made an error in going out too fast on this very runnable course.  The conga lines can be bad and I started quickly last year in an effort to avoid running too slow.  I did a much better job this year keeping the reigns on and felt very comfortable but not overreaching at the start.

The miles and aid stations ticked off pretty easily early on.  I was surprised to see my friend Anji at the 3rd aid station helping Gene.  She'd dropped and was now helping me along with Gene.  I was psyched for the extra help (I don't usually even have one crew let alone two!).  For the first few aid stations I was doing well at sticking to my hydration/fuel plan and all seemed good.  Despite the cool morning temps, I seemed to be warming up well and spirits were high.

I can't really put my finger on it but at some point the plan just flew out the window.  I noticed my urine was darker in color from the beginning and I had a feeling the pink/red drink I was using was making that worse.  I started to ween off my planned fuel drink and started carrying a bottle of water. If I had to pinpoint when things started to go wrong for me it was probably this moment.  In general, my fuel plan is made in lucid moments when I think rationally about what I need to eat.  When I decide on the fly to deviate from the plan it's not usually a good decision.  The cooler temperatures and the wind had me more focused on staying warm and less focused on calorie intake.

I kept chugging along but the wheels continued to come off.  I started to get pretty cold by the late afternoon as the sun began to set.  I rolled into the aid station at mile 47 and the look on my face says it all.  I knew the wheels were coming off.

But in true ultra runner fashion, I plodded on.  The next aid station and crew access was miles away and I needed to get there before dark.  My pace had slowed considerably and I was trying everything my brain could think of to pull it back together.  I started to have some difficulty breathing - basically a wheezing in my throat and tightness in my lungs.  It made my heart rate spike and I felt my effort level was too high for the pace I was moving.

I only barely made it to the 55 mile aid station by dark.  It was really dark in the wooded areas coming into the aid station and I was moving very slowly because of it.  I got to a rocky section leading up to the aid station and was saved by a guy with a headlamp.  I think I would have tripped along this rocky section had he not helped me there.  (thank you Mr. Headlamp whoever you were!)  I was desperately cold when I reunited with my crew at this aid station and bundled up for the cold night ahead.  Gene walked away from this aid station with me and up the road incline and I felt myself truly discouraged.  I was freezing cold and the night was only beginning.  I knew my day was not going as well as I hoped and the thought of 45 miles to go was a bit daunting.  Gene did his best to raise my spirits but his job was not an easy one.

I have few memories from the night.  I was consumed by a bone-chilling cold the entire time.  I couldn't feel my hands for most of the night and I was abysmal at fueling myself.  My hands were so cold I couldn't concentrate on anything else.  I drank a small cup of coke at each aid station but drank nothing in between.  I grabbed a piece of food at each aid station but ate nothing in between.  I could make up excuses about how my hands were so cold I couldn't grip my bottles and drink properly and that I couldn't open any food I was carrying.  The truth is that I was just foolish.  I crawled into the pain cave whining and feeling sorry for myself about being so cold.  Sure it was cold.  Sure I was tired.  But the fact is I messed up and stopped thinking.  I didn't drink.  I didn't drink anywhere near enough to fuel myself.  I got severely dehydrated and that perpetuated the foolish thinking and made the cold impact me more severely.  In hindsight this all seems crystal clear.

At the time I was worried about the wheezing, which got progressively worse as the night wore on.  I was unable to breathe when I would try to run and ended up hiking the last 30 miles of the course.  I would run and be unable to breathe and then walk and be unable to feel my limbs.  It was a long and painful night.

In the end I finished.  It wasn't pretty but I got it done.  To think that I was able to keep going in such a depleted and hypothermic state is pretty remarkable.  I might be dumb but I'm tough.  :)  Next time - stick to the plan, Jen.  Stick to the plan.

24:48 - 5th place female

Keep smiling.  :)

Gear I used:
Skirt, shirt, tech tube and cami from Ink N Burn
Hydration Pack - Orange Mud Vest Pack
CEP Compression socks

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Fat Dog 120

Over a year ago I heard about this race, Fat Dog 120, in Canada.  Tough, rugged, remote... and it immediately caught my eye.  This is exactly the kind of race that gets me going and Fat Dog 120 made the short list of ultras to run immediately.  When I set my schedule for 2014 I really wanted FD to be part of it.  With a slight pause to consider what it'll be like running over 100 miles - I signed up.

I didn't change a lot about my training to prepare for the extra distance.  I did try to add more vertical in my runs and added slightly more volume for a few weeks - but nothing drastic.  Unfortunately, I developed some tendonitis in my anterior tibialis about 2 weeks before FD.  I ran on it once in some pain and hoped it was nothing.  It returned the following day in earnest and I knew I needed to take action.  I started icing it and had my PT take a look at it.  The words were cease and desist.  Stop all activity.  Now.  So for 6 long days I sat and did nothing.  I didn't run, I didn't bike, I didn't hike.  I tried to stay off it, iced it, rested.  And stressed about whether I could still run FD.  I'd all but given up on FD when my PT said things had calmed down enough that I could try to run again.  I ran one day and then the next.  And the A/T seemed no worse for the wear.  PT gave green light to race.  I'd never done a taper quite like this before a big race but I still wanted to race.  (nothing like losing the hope of doing something to make you realize how much you wanted it)  I rushed to put my gear together and set off for Canada!

I hadn't done a lot of prep for the race.  I knew the race elevation profile and sort of understood where the aid stations were.  I knew several were far apart and that was the reason for the extra gear they require of us.  I also knew the climbing was nothing short of remarkable and that I was headed into the unknown beyond 120 miles.  That basically is all I knew.  Not much.  As it turned out, I think the ignorance served me well at several points in the race.

Driving into Hope to get to the pre-race meeting on Thursday
Nick (my friend and pacer) and I drove up from Olympia on Thursday.  We headed to packet pickup and the pre-race meeting straight away and managed to make it there with only 5 minutes to spare.  Border patrol takes ages!  I started listening to the meeting but then walked off - those things make me so nervous!  It was a great place to meet some old and new friends - most importantly Grant Maughan, who we were rooming with before and after the race.

Thursday night we headed to Princeton where Grant had booked a room.  The night passed with some fun and a little conversation, but a lot of legs resting and introspective thoughts by us all.  I picked Grant's brain for a few thoughts - most notably he told me that the last climb has a bunch of false summits.  Grant is an amazing athlete (just took 2nd at Badwater this year and 3rd in a stage race across eastern Canada the week before FD!) and his excitement to run the course had me pretty pumped for what was coming.

We all tried to stay calm before the race and other racers were friendly and social to ease the mind.  We had some fun waiting to follow the bus to the start.  Grant called me a Japanese pop star with my mini-pigtails and I got the gangster thing going on with my hat as well.  Laughs are good before big events and I loved being in the company of some fun guys before the start.

Once we got to the start, we all lined up for a last check-in right before the race.  We then lined up on a precarious little bridge and waited for the start straight up the first climb.

My race plan was pretty simple.  This was going to be a LONG race and I needed to go very slow and EAT from the beginning.  No deficits and no effort should be felt for a while.  The first climb went quickly and I enjoyed chatting with other racers as we hiked.  Right from the get-go I felt like this race was in a league of it's own.  Not only was the course going to be challenging but the people this race draws are just top notch groupies of the ultra community.  We are all the tough ones who thrive under huge challenges.  And we treat everyone else as if we'd known them for decades.  Even though I was racing with people I'd never met, I felt like I was surrounded by family.  Maybe it's because we bond in our pain and challenge - or maybe it's just because we are all good people who love our sport.  I think it's a bit of both.

It was evident to me from the start that my anterior tibialis was going to be an issue for the race.  It felt tight and overworked on the first climb and I had a spot on the front of my shin that was painful.  I think I started compensating to make my left leg work harder right from the beginning and likely started striking differently with my right foot.  The level of pain wasn't terrible but it was bothersome that I had pain from the start of the race.

The race follows a pattern for the first 40 miles of the race.  We climbed a long gradual climb - then descended back to basically the elevation where we started.  There was usually a minimal aid station along the way, but the major aid station was at the bottom of each descent.  The weather was overcast and cool - with some passing light showers now and then.  I think in prior years this section can be very hot as the aid stations are far apart and there isn't much protection from the sun.

By the 2nd climb I was starting to really feel pain in my shin.  The uphills seemed to be easier on it but as soon as I turned downhill I started to trip over things with my right leg and when I'd catch my foot on a rock and my ankle would bend forward it was causing excruciating pain in my shin.  And with a technical and rocky course you can imagine this happened a lot!  The 2nd climb took us through a burned out section that I really loved.  Something about the green growth on the ground mixed with the dead sticks of trees above made it very beautiful.  I met up with a runner who is doing HURT this January along this section and had a fun time talking about that race coming up.

The descent off the first climb brought you down to the big river crossing.  I reached this point just after 7:30pm.  It was good to cross this in the daylight.  My shin complained horribly in the water - it did not like the rocks and precarious footing in the river. The current moved pretty quickly and I found myself almost falling down several times.  The fixed rope saved me!  The water was pretty deep - it reached the bottom of my skirt at the deepest section.  I climbed out of the water and fed myself at the aid station before doing the road section up to Bonnevier - the 41 mile mark of the race.

At Bonnevier I saw Nick, my pacer, who would start with me at mile 78.  He gave me some good cheer and help through the aid station - getting some more clothes on and putting my headlamp on for the night section ahead.  He sent me on my way and yep, you guessed it, the course started to climb.  This first part of the climb was on a gravel road that made it easy to see with the waning daylight.  I was a little paranoid I'd miss a course marking along here because it was getting dark and the flags weren't as easy to see - but I had enough people around me that I figured we wouldn't all miss them.  The course eventually turns back to trail and at this point it was time for lights.  My anterior tib continued to hurt very badly and I had to consider what to do through the night.

I tried to channel my PT's voice into my head.  Figure out what he would tell me to do.  Reality was that the pain had worsened during the first 45 miles of the race.  But it wasn't getting worse at the moment.  I decided that I'd continue cautiously and if it felt much worse then I'd have to make a call about whether to stop.  Because of the pain in my shin I didn't run much at all during the night.  I hiked and tried to eat.  The course spent much of the night along a ridge which was quite cold and windy.  There was also fog and clouds obstructing our view and ability to see.  Headlamps only seemed to reflect the light back at you.  At several points it was difficult to find out where to go and I was grateful to have a veteran along the course with me at that point who steered me along.  Once he pressed forward I had another buddy who at least helped me look for markers and yelled to me about turns to make.  These are the gems in ultras that really make a difference.  :)

At the end of the dark hours is when I reached my low point.  The aid station was much much further than I anticipated, so I was out of water and out of food for miles before I came to the station.  My A/T was in pain from the descent and I feared my race was about to become a death march and hike to the finish.  (I tried not to think about the fact that there were 55 miles to go)  Several people passed me and asked if I needed anything.  I turned down the first two but then when a guy named John came by he held out some Shot Blocks - and the sight of them was just too hard to resist.  I wolfed them down and continued on my way.  The transformation was immediate.  I started to feel better, more positive and more energetic.  I was able to start running again and felt my energy levels rise. It was still several more miles to the aid station and I am still grateful to John for offering those blocks!

I came into the aid station at Cayeuse Flats and was told I was the 2nd woman to reach that point.  I was stunned, I'd been hiking all night long!  This gave me some extra motivation to continue and to get to my pacer who was about 5 miles up the trail.  At this point it was morning - and I think I reached Nick at about 9am.  Nick had energy to spare and was a great pick me up at this point.  I'd been trying to calculate times that I could finish in and I was grateful for a distraction and some conversation after the long night.  Nick is what every great pacer should be - a good liar.  Told me I looked great, I was moving well, and encouraged me to run the flatter sections after the aid station.  He also kept prodding me to eat and drink.  I can be kind of grouchy about doing this late in a race and he handled it with finesse.  Acted like I was telling him exactly what he wanted to hear.

We motored along for the morning and tried to run as much as I could.  We then encountered what I call "mosquito hell."  It started with a few here and there.  And it turned into what can only be described as swarms of them.  Nick joked that we had just entered The Hunger Games and the mosquitoes were a challenge thrown at us.  It was annoying and ridiculous how many bites we got through here.  Through clothes and through bug spray.  Mosquitoes didn't care.  I probably got over 100 bites during the 3-4 hours we traversed this section.

Nick was taking pictures - so I have several from the section late in the race.  These are all indicative of the views we had during the whole race.  Spectacular!

Eventually we reached the Skyline aid station at mile 99.  This is where the real fun begins on this course.  I knew we'd be climbing for the good portion of the time remaining until the finish and I was anxious to get going.  I tried not to think about how I'd never run more than 100 miles before and here I was about to go up one of the most beastly climbs on tired legs.  This is where the ignorance of the course paid off somewhat.  I didn't know how LONG this climb was.  I honestly thought we were going to climb for about 8 miles and then gradually descend for 12.  As it turned out, Grant's advice about the false summits was absolutely correct... except it wasn't false summits - they were ACTUAL summits you had to traverse before reaching the final summit.  As Nick and I ran this ridge where we summited EVERY summit in the ridge we started to laugh.  If you could see a peak in front of you it was only a matter of time before you saw the trail going straight up the side of it.

These peaks took a while to traverse and time was running out for me if I hoped to make it under 36 hours.  When we traversed the first summit I thought it was a shoo in - but when we kept summiting for hours and hours I knew it was going to be close.  Nick continued to take some great photos of the views - I continued to focus on what had to be done.

Amazingly, the shin did not hurt on this final ascent.  I don't know how or why, but I was happy to not feel it.  It let me focus and actually climb like I love to.  :)

The sun set and it started to get pretty dark by the time we summited the final summit.  When we started the technical descent off the top it was time to turn on the headlamp for the 2nd time for the race.  I knew time was going to be short to get to the finish in under 36 hours - so I really tried to push down this descent.  The top was difficult and started to aggravate my shin again.  But then the trail seemed to open up and the running became easier and more fluid.  I got very thirsty along this section but didn't want to slow down even for a drink for fear that I was just going to miss the 36 hour mark.

Eventually we got down to the glow sticks and the lake... which felt like an oasis.  I saw a sign for 1.5 km to go and I knew I was going to make it barring disaster.  I felt like I was running fast along this section, but any "fast" is relative after 120 miles!

I finished in 35:49, for 2nd place female.  I sat down for the first time at the finish (I never sit during ultras) and it felt amazing.  My shin started to complain immediately but I savored the moment of a race well-run.  And a lot of fun and smiles along the way.

We met back up with Grant, who had finished in 5th place (30:30) and happy with his run as well.  Lots of smiles and fun was had on a difficult course!

And who knows, I won an entry into next year's race - so there may be room for some improvement.  :)

Keep smiling.

Grant and Jen post-race at the awards ceremony