Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bear 100- Starting over.

Running the Bear 100 really started in a small abandoned Colorado mining town 6 weeks before the race. Winfield. Leadville 100. My first DNF. I don't want to dwell on this as it will be a different essay someday, except to say it happened because I just didn't know where I was with training, racing, mental strenghth and response. All areas I'd excelled in at one point or another in the past, but they simultaneously came crashing down in one big, sweaty, teary heap.

I will not be so arrogant as to say that the morning after Leadville I was ready to jump into the Bear, as it was arrogance partly that lead to that defeat. However, the seed was planted by my friend and chose "Trail Daughter/ Mudbabe, " Hayley.

"Sophia-- 250 signed up for the Bear and it has a 300 cap-- you should do it." I already had my plane ticket as I had agreed to pace Hayley in her first 100.

Two weeks later I made a very private decision to run the Bear. This time sans FB status updates or multiple conversations with friends, family or other well wishers. My mental prep was simple and targeted. A few pointed questions to trusted runners who had conquered the Bear and a little research on associated blogs.

I did make a couple attempts to find a pacer, but when the pacers of choice weren't available, instead of just trying to find anyone, I decided it best to trust my own wits and go without a pacer.

With a weather forecast of sub freezing temperatures and a wintery mix (according to Erin-- I call it HAIL. Hail and damnation to be excat) I packed my drop bags for survival. This physical packing mirrored the mental place I had to be in to succeed.

I spent the 4 weeks leading up to the race figuring out where I was. It wasn't where I thought, but I decided I would be happy with it.
  • 12:30's for my steady marathon running pace (really?!! I thought it was 11:30)
  • Climbing weak and all I had was a .3 of a mile hill to train on. I made a decision to run it 6 to 8 times a day instead of hike- and that was a good decision as it made my mind strong and legs a bit better.
  • Purchased super light trekking poles and got some advice from a ski coach on how to use them.
  • Stayed private- sometimes the more people know about your training or your goals, it seems the less they believe in you- or so it feels. For whatever reason, sharing less helped me more.
  • I am not a quitter.
What did this all mean? I knew I had to pull back on goals I'd had in the past-- the biggest being never to hike out the last 20 of a hundred. I had to return emotionally to square 1 and just get the buckle. That had to be the plan from the start and it was.

Numbers were assigned for this race in alphabetical order and when I checked in I saw ultra legend Hans Dieter-Weissar was listed before me. The last time I'd seen 74 year old Hans  was 6 weeks prior with tears streaming down my face headed into Winfield:
"You'll get it next year my dear," he passed me going up the pass and on to his 10th Leadville finish.
This day would mark his attempt at 140 , 100 mile finishes since starting the sport at age 59.

After the gun went off, I looked for Hans- Erin and I were running together at the back to ensure a smart start. I knew there were many tough as nails runners on the course who were going to finish, and most of them were right there in the back with us.

I just needed reassurance on one thing.

"Guten Morgen Hans! Sophia from Leadville. It's my first time running without a pacer- will I be ok?"
"Sophia, always run without a pacer. You want to be alone, in the dark overnight. It is so beautiful and it is why we run. 100's of course-- the only distance."

Erin and I were marching along- at one point I tried an uphill without the poles and could immediately tell they were helping- except they kept falling apart (Z poles, so they were still attached just floppy.) DANG. Whatever.

Then there was the temperature regulation. I chose to wear capri tights with Mizuno Breath Thermo tights over. It was overkill for about one minute at mile 3, after that it was perfect. At mile 10 my fingers were so cold I had a volunteer get out my hand warmers (pair number 1).

I had on Breath Thermo arm warmers under my jacket (jacket number 1) but really wanted to get a whole BT stretch on instead of the Dry Science shirt I was wearing.With the work it took to get up 5 to 10 mile climbs Breath Thermo was by far the best option. (For those of you who don't know, Breath Thermo is a fabric that self generates heat with your body's sweat- so instead of getting hypothermic from mountain climbing and exerting, you stay warm.)

" Look at team Orange!" A group of brothers were commenting on Erin's and my orange skirts. I'd suffered through their attempts at discussing football and welcomed the switch to fashion. They wished they'd worn matchy match outfits. They were an interesting group and we'd come across them
several times throughout the race. Headed into mile 30 aid we ran down hill for quite a while. We discussed empathy and how helpful it is in pacing or simply running with friends. At the aid station we see Erica and Taylor and had a glorious bra change and got the needed BT base layer on and changed into jacket number 2. I pooped a little in a bucket.

Erin and I were still together-- we were given glorious hot soup with a salty potato inside. We were practicing our empathy. Her climbing was better, but I had the experience she needed to get the smart start and consistent pacing. I am so grateful we had this running time together, as over the past year when we've done races our paces just haven't synched. It happens- especially if both are RACING- but this was a unique time as it was her first 100 and I was starting over. We had some really glorious miles of running through the beautiful trees. She'd point out the vistas (I tend to notice the trail in front of me and miss the scenery) I'd set the pace. I'd run out of water. She'd let me drink out of her hose-right by her left boob.  This part was hilarious.

We got separated by about 10 minutes at mile 36 and I began to run alone, knowing she would catch me later in the race once she got her pacer-or perhaps before.

Mile 41 I see Taylor (who's boyfriend was running near me) and want another shirt change. I just don't want to head into the evening with anything wet- even Breath Thermo when the temperatures were dangerous. But my bag is with the other car. Fortunately BT works and I make it comfortably to the next aid station-- but not after enduring some crazy muddy slip-slop, uphill- oh crap the guy in front of me is falling backwards, and my POLES are separating.. but here come the Brothers, hiking past me. "Help! This can't be right?!! no one else's Black Diamond ultra distance poles are separating?" "Are they locked Sophia?" "I DON'T KNOW." Brother Todd, mid-step, balances on one foot, fixes the poles and continues like a nanny goat up the hill. I figure I'll never see him and the brother from another mother again.

Not so- There is something I learned from a 50 mile pacing experience with John Fegyveresi (Barkley marathon finisher 2012). Zip through aid stations. Get what you need- but don't waste time.

AT  mile 52 aid station Taylor again is just a rockstar crew- she remembers everything I liked at mile 20 and is just so excited about how well I'm running (hiking, surviving- making jokes). She believes in me- and I can just feel it. I change into a fresh BT top, Jacket #3, more handwarmers and yes, a down puffer vest.

It is now 18 degrees and on the exposed ridges the wind is blowing. 15 hours in, but I feel set for survival. Petzyl NAO headlamp is working great.

... and what do you know?! It's the brothers.
"Sophia- do you have warm enough clothes on?" Funny comment coming from two dudes wearing shorts.

I explain I am wearing a puffer vest and that DNF in this race stand for Did. Not. Freeze.

"What about your neck? I have an extra buff."

This was the one piece I'd forgotten-- they got the buff all tucked in my neck and assured me it was clean , although I said I didn't care. (Insert story of Alaska adventure where buff from crotch is used by friend.)

They went ahead and told me the next part was a runnable downhill. I was feeling great. I was warm, my legs felt good and ... what is that black shiny stuff? ICE. Then snowy ice pack with strips of brown where people had slipped . Looked like the tracks on your brothers underwear from when you were little. Ok- or your own. Sorry, I'm stuck on brothers.

I would just stare at it, trying to figure out the best route down-- the crunchy stuff on the edges were less slippery but the drop to the right was pretty darn steep. Even with the poles , I slipped 3 times. Sometimes I just scooted down on my butt. When it was done, I hoped we were done with ice, but that nightmare recurred several times.

"Well if we wanted consistent conditions we'd run road races!" I was still in excellent spirits. I got to 61 and saw Taylor.

"I am going to finish this."
"Yes you are."
"The Mud Brothers gave me a buff."

I am going to insert some advice here for first timers at this race who are going to finish in 32-36 hours (and fyi- you may think your goal is 28) . If you have a pace who can only do part of the distance and you have to choose- CHOOSE MILE 61 to 75. This is the darkest part of the night- the time Hans craves and loves, but for those of us with less experience and salt, it can be nothing short of terrifying.

I made the mistake of turning on my Garmin- I thought it would be fun later to look at the data (which it may, although I haven't done it yet.,) but it just confused me and made me think the course was long (which it isn't). Again-- nothing new on race day-- even a gadget. I like time of day. I know this. I'll always stick with that in the future. Before this, I was pacing very steady and even, because I didn't have the GPS distracting me. Still- this was a small, small mistake in a race where there was ample opportunity to make big mistakes.

 I was getting very sleepy. I did another one of the caffeine strips Erica gave me, but I needed more.

I'd get to the flatter bits now and then and fight the temptation to walk.
"Just because you don't have a pacer, doesn't mean you can walk." I chanted this over and over.

I drank coffee at mile 68. Looked at the zombies with drool coming out of their mouths, asleep in chairs by the fire. I wondered if I had time for a nap. I left.

"Mud Brothers don't lend buffs to quitters." over and over.

I started to think I was lost. I turned around until I saw a pink marker. Dang- I wasn't lost. Turn around, go back uphill. Now the sleep became overwhelming. I knew I had to wait until another runner came along and just try to keep up with them. I needed people. So, I latched onto a guy and his pacer for just enough time to re-group and ran down (when not icy) to get to 75. Again - I get lost and backtrack, even though I'm going the correct way.

Mile 75: Why is Erin in the aid station? I guess she strained her gastrocnemeous/calf/soleus. Too serious to continue.

Erica got me more caffeine strips, more gin gins (unwrapped. Thank you-- I have weird issues with wrappers. She always knows what to do when it comes to that for me.) And I begged a kid to pace me the rest of the way.

He thinks about it for a second....

"Listen- you're going to go uphill for 5 miles. It's going to suck- but you've got this."

The sun came up. I kept moving. I sat only to empty my shoes so I could keep moving.
I got warm and took off my jacket and vest. I got cold and put the vest back on and more hand warmers. I shared a second thing of hand warmers with a guy named Jim from Missoula.

I ran down a hill all the while thinking "You just may need this 8 minutes."

More uphill. More buff Mud Brother chanting. I knew I should try and run the next down-- I get to it-- and it's MUD. What? --- schloppp-- schloppp.. my attitude soured. I really believed the course must be 13 miles long.

I started to hallucinate: Over and over I saw blue pop - up tents indicating an aid station-- but it was just the sky peaking through the clouds and trees, two miles before the actual aid.

I kept pushing the bad thoughts from my mind-- I thought about Taylor, Erica and Erin- I could NOT figure out what time I might finish (this is really odd for me.) Each mile seemed so very long.

Mud brothers. Runners run even without pacers. Be a finisher.Get the buckle. Mommy loves you. Philip (my bio brother) loves you, Daddy loves you. Erin loves you... on and on...

I wasn't sure if the crew would be at 92. If they weren't my plan was simple- get rid of my warm clothes in Hayley's drop bag and head to the check in and check myself in and out, all in one breath.

But there they were-- Bad Sophia pops out of the box. Upset about the mud- upset about the course length and who knows what else-- I'm told once the rant stopped and I changed that as I left to hike up the stupidest steepest little stinker of a hill ever, I turned to my Mud Babes.

"Thank you for saying you're proud of me."

I started up the hill and wished I'd taken off my tights. It was slippery and as steep as Hope Pass. I will admit, there was a part of me that just wanted to turn around and go back down and quit. Just at that moment some older fellows scaled past me. After 92 miles of being passed over and over on these climbs, I decided I could do it-- and a new chant arose.

"Be like Hans. Be like Hans." Little steps, but constant and consistent. When I needed to I did the John Fegyveresi lean (trekking poles are great for that, and keep you from having to sit. John, by the way doesn't know I've named this move after him.)

"Great job!" I was getting props from other runners.

-- and that is where I needed to be and wanted to be. The runner who can re-group and instantly make a plan that works in that moment. Not because it was a pre-race spreadsheet-not because data on their wrist indicates something, but because of what is ahead and immediately underfoot and in your heart.

I took this attitude to the finish line where my Mud Babes were waiting as I ran in. And where I was able to return the buff.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ouacha waitin' for???? Ouchita 50 Mile race 2013

"My turkey call sounds like an owl."  I had taken to calling through the woods with a sound instead of a name to figure out where my running partner was.
"That's what it's supposed to sound like." My running partner is an avid and skilled bow hunter having already bagged two turkeys this season. I'd learned a lot about turkey hunting, including what kind of replacement netting is nearly impossible to find at any hunting retailer. My friend started running in October and this was his first 50 mile race.

There wasn't much of a real plan, and perhaps too many assumptions based on the past. 2 hikes of sheer terror (for me)  up east Pinnacle, where I watched as he expertly climbed and even carried my 12 pound dog Puccini. Meanwhile I wobbled and slipped in disbelief that this was actually part of the race course. On the second climb, I tripped quite near the top and looked up. He was admiring the view across the valley. I felt nauseated, cried and cursed that I would NEVER climb that mountain after Saturday, and that I'd rather do Hope Pass on the inbound side ANY day than labor up that rock scramble. It is an odd feeling to have achieved a buckle at the Leadville 100 without much drama (blog unwritten), yet feel defeated by an 800 ft mini mountain.

Also in the past, a 3 loop 50k we both ran. After loop 1, I could tell my running partner was itching to take off-- so I let him. He was too new a runner to take much advice, and I was too inexperienced at helping someone learn to run from scratch to convince him that what he was about to do could have some frustrating results. So, I let him go. He finished that second 10 mile loop, 15-20 minutes ahead of me. I was excited for him. Maybe he had it in him to keep that pace through loop three? I caught him with 3.5 miles to go on the third lap. As I came up on him, he looked like a hunched old man and was spending far too much energy plodding than going forward. But as will happen, a friendly face and steady pace got him going again and we finished together in a respectable time .
So my assumptions were as follows: go out at my usual 12 to 13 pace. Suffer up that thing, run in gear 4 and hope gear 3 kicks in around mile 20 to 30. I figured it was possible I'd run into my friend around 25 or so. I was going to allow myself to run my own race-- and if I could race, do so. No chitty chatting with new friends. No lollygagging at aid stations. No whining and watch out for those who want to latch onto my energy. I realize this may sound harsh, but I've gotten glommed onto by many a runner that as soon as they get a little energy fix, takes off and never returns the favor. (this totally happened to me at Rocky Racoon 2012- blog still unwritten. ) My running has been troubling to me since Leadville (unwritten blog). It is at best average (Rockin' K-also unwritten, 3 years in a row) or at worst a walk ( Bandera 100k- unwritten too and probably never going to happen). The walking is usually due to mental chaos that in the past was always sorted by running in third gear. The average running is due to asthma that re-developed after Leadville and keeps me from getting to third gear.

So here's how it went. At the base of Pinnacle, my co-hort decided to trek up behind me, lending encouragement to myself and many scared others. Now my plan/assumptions were out the window. Looked like I was going to be helping a friend through their first 50. Around mile 9, there was some conversation regarding the pace according to Garmin. Can I just say , I hate those things?! I don't mind them for reference such as: I'm feeling good, what pace am I going? Or, I'm feeling bad what pace am I going? That way when I am running without the Garmin I can make good calculations and adjust as needed based on how my body feels. What is very disturbing is to be told that the pace is "x," and it means I'm not going fast enough. I run by feel. I wear a watch, but don't micro-pace, instead preferring to look at how long it took between aid stations and make small adjustments that over the course of 50 miles make a big difference. (this works in life, too.)

It was a little early to do so, but I picked up the pace to satisfy the Garmin. It was my kind of terrain. To run it successfully you need solid core strength, quality glutes and the concentration you would use for a difficult timed college final. I was up for it mentally and I actually thought I might be able to test my fitness by keeping it going on this race since I had just had an average race two weeks prior. My running friend is a much more naturally talented athelete than I am, and can run in all gears (let's say there are 5 with 1 being the fastest) more quickly than I can. However, he's not quite ready yet to be in gear three for a sustained time in an ultra. So, my 3rd gear running landed us at the 15 mile aid station with him a bit drained. I was good to be in and out of the aid station, but could see he needed more time refueling. Since he didn't leave me in a crying heap on Pinnacle, I stood and waiting.

WOW were my legs stiff for the next 8 MILES. I just couldn't get back in rhythm. And it was FLAT. I can run well on flat, but only when the race is exclusively flat. Flat terrain after rollers just sucks me dry. There were about 10 water crossings that were slippery (I totally landed rear down once)- but REALLY SOPHIA???? Get moving. Yup. More average running. Again. Oh, and I haven't mentioned my butt. My unwritten blog of the LT 100 would surely mention that I ran for 28 hours and 51 minutes without emptying my colon, but also with very little trouble despite not emptying my colon. Because of that, I've developed a rather cavalier attitude regarding my pre-race defacation. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't-- well who cares, you made it through Leadville. Right? Wrong. My belly was all poofy and uncomfortable the entire race, I kept dashing off to try and go in the woods and would get noise instead of relief, and really just couldn't either relax and go or hyper focus and race. So there it sat- the previous day's nutrition in the purgatory of my colon. Neither in nor out. (It would be until Tuesday morning for my digestive system to get back on track.)

After the turnaround, I took a backseat and followed in 4th gear. I was grateful not to have to set the pace on the flat. And the pace was good. I would have to scramble here and there as I was following a 4th gear that is a bit faster than mine, especially on the uphills. I was quite impressed that my friend chose to run such a smart race, instead of whooping it up in the first half and suffering through the second, as so many newbies do. That gave me energy- but the dreaded aid stations (I can't believe I said that) were coming up. What to do... I knew I wanted to be in and out so I could keep the warmth in my legs. I knew my friend needed to eat a lot. I started bolting out of each aid station hoping he'd catch up. But it made me nervous. I didn't want him to feel abandoned after all we'd each sacrificed. Him waiting for the numerous ducks into the woods, and my adjusting to his pacing needs. So begins the turkey calling. It wasn't part of the plan, was never discussed and was certainly not an assumption in a running race. But it worked. He'd hear me and whoop back. "Awesome." I could tell he was getting closer and I knew this slight adjustment of leaving the aid stations and playing catch up was netting some decent time. Enough to come in under 12 hours.

Not by Garmin as they always measure short, but my calculations based on the mileage from the final aid station it was a yes. If we ran the road portion.

"I need to walk this."

Ok. Running buddy dislikes pavement. But running buddy is competetive and ambitious. That's part of why I assumed he'd be ok to catch up with me versus defeated when I left the aid stations ahead of him.

" We can finish under 12 hours if we run this."
"There's no way .. my Garmin calculates a 12:15 finish."

But my calculations based on experience, terrain and determination said otherwise. We picked it up and came in running at 11:56. Not my fastest finish and not my slowest. It was not even faster than my Leadville Silver Rush 50 in 2011 (11:41, blog still not written.) What matters is that somewhere between mile 26 and 50 we went from assuming a 12:30 finish to calculating a 12:15 finish to running in at 11:56. I'm sure it was that turkey call that made all the difference.

Mud Hugs, Sophia

RACE ASSESSMENT: Superb race directing with a race director who cares. Below is a list of what constitutes care for me. Never ran out of water. Even at a remote, un-womaned aid station that got visited twice. Well marked course. I don't think anyone got lost. There were several places a less careful race director could have cut corners. Road crossings could have been minus the spray chalk--we could have had to rely solely on the permanent blue markings on the trail, and the blue ribbons could have been placed too high for the runners concentrating on the technical trail to see. Results posted quickly. Great volunteers and well-stocked aid stations that included electrolyte tablets. (did I mention the course was well marked?) Women's cut shirts that actually fit. Charming awards. This is something that would irritate me if the above hadn't been executed expertly-- but are just one more wonderful aspect of this race. Beautiful photos courtesy of Arkansas Outside and whatever photographer she found who could scale Pinnacle with camera equipment so that the ascent could be saved for all time.

COURSE: This race is really challenging because of the rocky terrain and climb over Pinnacle. Once the terrain gets smoother, you trade rocks for slippery water crossings. The fun in it is to keep your concentration and run as much as possible. The cutoffs mean the only casual hikers or runners who decided to do the race without training, will probably need all thirteen hours to complete the 50k. Finishing dead last on the 50 mile here, means you're a really good trail runner. Shade: Lots of shade. Really made the running much more pleasant.

GEAR REPORT: Shoes: Mizuno Inspire 9's in a regular width. I toyed with wearing the narrows that I wore on Rockin' K, but decided the regular width would be better in case of swelling. I was asked about Mizuno's trail shoes while scaling Pinnacle. I love the Mizuno Wave Ascend- but my feet get really hot and I needed air mesh. Also the Ascend actually has a little less under foot than the Inspire, and I just wanted a little extra padding with flexibilty on the rocky terrain. No stone bruises and my feet felt great. Plus, they matched my skirt. Jog Bra: Mizuno Colt. Enough support for me, but I forgot to lube. Ouchy post race shower. Top: 2013 Creation Singlet. This top rocks. I don't know where the Mizuno apparel team found this fabric, but it feels like butter next to my skin, yet wicks like sponge and breaths like a crisp fall breeze. bottoms: I like skirts. Mizuno's 2013 meridian skirt in orange is attractive and the shorts do their job. In addition the inside doesn't rub funny. I also wore 3/4 tights but took them off to make all my bathroom stops faster. These were the new BG3000 tights and gave me some great and needed support on the IT band and knee. Jacket: I started the race with the thin stashable Cabrakan jacket. Worked great and a must for every runner.

Water: 120 oz. Coke: at every aid station Gatorade/Heed: at every aid station
Oranges: 4 slices
Watermelon: one slice
Salt: maybe 10 tabs, but I wasn't sweating profusely, except up Pinnacle and that was from panic. One chocolate chip cookie. One inch of cherry licorice.
Honey stinger chomps: 2 packages.
Honey stinger honey: probably 16 packets. Yes. Gross.. but it works for me. For now.

Breakfast: One egg Gatorade Rock Star energy drink with sugar Coffee Lame butter croissant One toaster waffle

OTHER: Most people associate me with my "signature race braids." They work great, but I've had some problems with uneven breakage from where I put the elastic on resulting in having to cut 3 inches off my precious blonde/red locks. (Boo hiss.) So for this race, I opted for a hairdo I used a lot in 2005 when I first started running- but my hair was much shorter. Cheerful ponies up top. I added a colorful headband that doubled as a sweat magnet. It worked great and I have the photos to prove it. Mostly I needed to keep the hair off my neck, so I'm cool. Lancome waterproof mascara is still the benchmark when it comes to racing with style and not getting racoon eyes. It also helps keep a little sun out of the eyes. I covered myself in 50 spf coppertone before getting dressed and didn't get sunburnt.

DROP BAGS: 2 locations- one that you hit twice. I just used gallon zip lock bags with my info printed in horizontal on a paper. I put my gloves, jacket and 3/4 tights that I took off in them. Mostly I just needed the honey packets. I had sunscreen and lube in one but didn't need it. (no sunburn post race).