Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Black Canyon 100k

Life has been non stop crazy since Black Canyon 10 days ago.  Just packed full of family, school, and zero running.  Somedays I have zero idea how I manage to fit 2 or even 3 of those things in (note shower and clean my house was not a part of that list, those are bonus activities).  I want to keep this short, we'll see how that goes.

Felt like a big girl flying to a race and renting a car myself for the first time.  I had a 12 hour clinical Thursday, and didn't fly out till Friday afternoon.  In retrospect arriving around 4:00pm the day before the race was too late.  I got through packet pickup having a nice conversation with RD Jamil Coury, then interview with Ultrasportslive TV.  I felt like a nerd being interviewed but it didn't go as bad as I thought, I just never looked at the camera.  Robert who interviewed me is a great guy.  I feel good about how it turned out too!

There was a bit of driving between everything and after a nice dinner with photographer extrodinaire and friend Paul Nelson who was also racing I got checked into my hotel...and realized I had forgotten a watch.  Decided I'd run out to walmart for a $10 one (I don't run with GPS anyway, but I like to know time for nutrition).  Two were less than 10 minutes from me so I chose one.  Well apparently Walmarts down there that have clothes, food, tools and anything else a super walmart would here, don't have jewelry.  Seriously, THE ONLY thing they didn't have.  How weird is that??  So I ran over to the other one, spent too long deciding on $10 watches and got back into the car.  To find my phone had died.  And I wasn't entirely sure how to get myself back to the hotel.  A few wrong turns later I made it though, but later than I wanted.  I do not like settling down to pack drop bags at 10pm, and unfortunately was up past midnight packing them.  Grrr!  One of these days I really am going to pack them before I leave.  3-4 hours of sleep later I was up to eat and leave.  SO tired though, the hour drive up to Jake and Jen Puzey's truck for a ride the rest of the way was tough.  Was a nice drive up chatting with them and Paul again though.  Then I decided to take my time getting ready including filling 40oz of water into my pack from a drinking fountain....and long story short, lost my race bib (which should have been put on hours earlier) and ran at top speed to the start line where they had it (thanks for coming to get me Jeff!).  I pinned it on half hazardly as they counted down from 10.  Ugh.  I was smiling and excited and felt good though.  7am and off we went!
Yes, a pre race bathroom selfie...with a tampon machine in back of me
I ran along side teammate Angela for the first few miles chatting a little till she was ready to get into race mode.  We also ran with super star cool ladies Kaci Lickteig, Katie Desplinter, and Gina Lucrezi.  It was really fun to run amongst them, great conversations, and it was easy and fun chatter.  The pace too was totally doable!  I had to tell myself a few times to hold back because an easier start is smart, and these girls were smart and if they were going to run a very doable pace I had no reason not to run it with them (vs going ahead).  I did lead our little pack much of the first 16 miles, and I felt so capable and good!  I remember us running along windy single track wondering where our first giant cactus would be and how fun it was to all see it together.  When we rolled through the first 2 aid stations I started to see how valuable a crew is since they could blast through them and I was left to my own devices to rummage through my simple drop bag and fill up on water.  I'd run and catch up, but it was tough.  *Thanks to Caitlin Marion for helping me a couple times along the way!*

The temps started out cool, I even had arm warmers on, but by 9am, it was really warming up.  After
the second aid station I think it was, I left last having to go through a drop bag and saw some spectacular female peeing abilities.  I won't mention who, but they had skill :)  They also influenced me to finally stop and squat myself.  I ran to almost catch up and could really feel them picking up the pace.  I wasn't super comfortable with it, but wanted to hang.  It was now around 10am though, the sun easily in the 80's overhead, no shade, and my day of nausea began.  I watched them slowly run away out of sight, saw women start to appear behind me, and yeah, I got discouraged.  I knew it was early in the race though and it was fine to have a down spell and it was important I run my own race.  All the advice I'd heard about this course was to not run too fast the first half.  Now however, it wasn't my legs or lungs slowing me down, it was my stomach.  Anything I took in made me so nauseous.  I stopped a few times and hunched over, trying to relieve it.  I had a headache now too and sometimes had stars in my vision and feared how my body was handling the heat.  I was smart about hydration and electrolytes, took my pepto and tums, but nothing was helping. I seriously rolled into the 3rd aid station truly ready to pull out.  Those ladies were gone, I felt awful, but mostly, I was fearing how I was going to deal with this heat only a few hours into it.  Finishing a race with heat stroke did not sound exciting or smart.  Local and friend Carol Manwaring rolled into the aid station after I did and I told her I wanted to quit.  She didn't look happy either, but she also didn't coddle my idea of quitting.  As much as I wanted to, I couldn't yet and reluctantly dragged my feet out of there and back onto the trail. Why I wasn't sure.

We would share the next several hours together and it was so nice to have each other!  I shared some pain relief cream for her aching foot and she shared a Zoran (didn't work, it's actually a drug I'm learning about right now, and apparently it works best preventive, not once nausea has set in.  I was certainly grateful to try it though!).  We had lots of birth discussion.  We are both very natural minded birthers.  We were so hot and almost delirious a few times it was funny.  We were expecting to finally come to some water to cross for the first time on the course, around 28 miles and 85 degrees into the race.  I though I saw it down below us and thought I saw green bushes too.  I told her I bet that was it.  No she firmly responded, but a minute later when we realized it was it oh how our shuffle picked up.  It was literally like in the movies, running for water.  We tromped right in and laid down.  It felt SO great!  We totally weren't in a hurry, probably spent 10 minutes there?  It was funny to watch the two guys also there and the two of us all get leg cramps of one kind of another when we tried to get up.  We all laughed about it.  
Carol and I were quite the team trudging on, working together, sharing water, running out of water, feeling yucky, but rocking our shorts and sports bras with a collective 10 children between us.  Carol has a better body than I do, and she's going to be a grandma soon.  She has a mind and willpower of steel too, she inspires me to be better.  I hope I can be like her the rest of my running life!  I wish we had a picture of our time together.

I can't remember everything in great detail despite my novel length report so far, but we did a whole lot of walking, mostly on my account, it was just so hard to move at all feeling so sick.  The heat was killing my stomach.  She pulled ahead a few times, we'd meet up, I pulled ahead once simply trying to move as fast as I could as my body would let me.  We got to the bottom of a whole bunch of switch backs around mile 30 maybe?  And I was happy to run every step of them.  I just got into a great groove and ran on up to the top.  I was excited, maybe I was turning a corner now and could get through this darn thing after all!  I had been way ahead of schedule up to this point (i.e.:I went out too fast probably) and was hoping I could still hold on.  I rolled into the big Black Canyon City aid station where my pacer would meet me, and wasn't feeling as hot anymore.  Wrong choice of words, I was very hot, just not feeling good again.  I saw a lot of people quitting there, including friend Zac who was having some issues.  It was hard to not join him.  I basically begged for permission to stop, this wasn't fun, I was embarrassing myself out there, and I was grumpy.  He would have supported me in either decision, but mainly, my pacer was there and I felt really bad asking her to drive 90 minutes, and then quit there having never taken her out on her first pacing duty.  So again, I drug my feet walking out of the aid station.  

I was so unsure how I was going to continue on through the next 26 miles.  Less than half a mile from the aid station I stopped, sat down on a rock, and felt the sickest I had yet I think.  What was I doing? Leaving that aid station for a 8 mile stretch felt so completely scary and dumb.  I was truly sure we should turn around now.   She'd understand.  And then it came to me.  "Oh crap!" I said.  Cari probably worried, asked me what was wrong.  It dawned on me right then, that if I DNF'd, if I didn't finish the race, I would not be eligible for the Western States last chance lottery.  Knowing that a lot of people were dropping made me think my chances were pretty reasonable, and in the end probably were 1 in 17.  I'm someone who dwells on things, doesn't let them go.  I just couldn't wrap my brain around how I was going to deal with the 'what if's' if I didn't finish and enter the lottery.  That would be my very last chance to try for a spot, the other races were full and my life too busy anyway.  I stood up feeling so defeated knowing my mind was forcing me to continue, but on we went.  
All of a mile from the aid station we met up at and yeah, I felt about as dead as I look.
Cari probably wondered if she'd ever get me out of there.
It's amazing that as shallow as the stream was it felt so good.  Not so cold it stung either.
We did SO MUCH walking and a bit more rock sitting in the next hours and I felt really bad for Cari. Here she was thinking she was going to help pull me to a top finish, and we were walking.  A lot.  I've been in the position of pacer where my runner was not feeling well or moving fast and it can be difficult for the pacer too.  Once the sun finally went behind the mountains around 6:00 though, it was pleasant out!  She works in environmental something or other so I played "what's that cactus" for a few hours and we trotted along.  My stomach finally felt better, 8-9 hours later and I could run slowly, sometimes run normally.  I knew there was no way at this point I could earn a spot, and i've kind of wanted to experience an ultra from a non-competitive standpoint, so we stopped at a few aid stations and I actually looked around for food, beyond soda.  I never really ate anything besides a few potatoes, but it was nice to sit down and take my time.  At this point the only thing to do was to keep moving. Up to this aid station I was still considering quitting, but knowing we only had 3 shorter sections left now was helpful.
Trudging on
We rolled into the second to last aid station just in time to grab my head lamp.  I thanked Cari for coming with me for so many more hours than she planned on.  She'd done her 14 miles and this is where she was planning to stop but I offered her the option of coming with me all the way if she wanted.  We had 10 or so miles to go.  I would have been fine but she obliged.  And it was great having her!  We shared my headlamp for a few hours and I can't believe she didn't trip.  We shared some great conversation.  It's kind of nice having someone who is patient and flexible who you've never met to pace you, lots to talk about!  We played leap frog with a lady who was very consistent.  I don't at all mean to sound prideful here, but I was surprised I was having to really work to get and stay ahead of her for good.  It was a good humbling.  The middle pack is tough!  And smart.  

Waiting on the last aid station was a little frustrating.  We expected it a mile or two earlier than it was and despite telling myself that it will come when it comes, I still questioned if they moved it or if we missed it.  It was great getting past it, but I think I took in too much soda because the nausea came back a bit which was frustrating.  Finally finally finally though, we saw the lights of the finish line and it was time to be done.  I was so grateful to be done running, but very disappointed with my day, and frankly, I was embarrassed.  I was planning on top 5, was interviewed as an elite, ran in 3rd place for most of the first 16 miles, and then dropped off the face of the elite race and rolled in in 11th place and 14:20something, 4 hours behind the winner, and at least 2 behind the ladies I'd run the morning with.
Here's me being a bad sport with the thumbs down.  It was hard facing the great people at USL TV after a race like that after having talked like I was there to compete (which I was, and they were nothing but gracious BTW)
I was very grateful to Cari for her help in getting me to the finish line at all though.  What a woman to go 10 miles and probably 6 hours farther than she was expecting!

So, that's kind of how it all went down.  I felt great and strong and happy the first 3 hours, then was sick from the heat despite all my efforts to cool and hydrate and fuel and medicate and electrolyte up for the next 9 hours, then pretty ok for the next 2.5.  But I finished frustrated and embarrassed.  This was easily my worst ultra finish to date.  I know, I know, everyone has off days, but I can still be disappointed.  The other women handled the heat just fine, including most who do not come from warm climates (1 and 2 did).  2 of the elites did drop, but for injury reasons.  Looking at the results, had my day continued on without nausea and like it had that morning, I really do think I would have been in the top 5, and considering the  WS spot rolled down the 3rd, that's pretty frustrating.  It was within my reach.

I came away from the race with a nightmare sunburn on my chest and belly that would hurt me a lot for the next week.  Sorry body.  I can look back on the day with a few fond memories of the first 16 miles with great ladies, river crossings, my time with Carol, and good chats and cooler temps in the evening with Cari.  My legs felt great all day, better than Bandera despite being almost 3 hours slower.  I'm really not sure I could have done anything differently to improve my day.  Maybe go out slower, but I needed the time with and confidence from those lead ladies.  
Despite me truly being unsure if I would, I did learn a few lessons.
  • I hate heat and don't adore the desert scene.  It's its own beauty, but just doesn't do it for me like pine trees and mountains.  I will probably avoid truly hot weather winter races in the future.  It is just so hard to acclimate the body to it December-February.  I think when I said I was a weather tolerant go with the flow running, I forgot I was standing in an air conditioned building.
  • I'm grateful for the kind words about me being tough to finish, but honestly, it is an interesting line and dilemma to me to determine if it was really wise or smart.  For my mental well being I'm glad I finished, I didn't get into the lottery, but I'm glad to know I did everything I could with what I was given.  But I don't have anything to prove about finishing a distance, I've done it.  I was having a miserable time out there from hour 3 and it didn't give in for almost 9 hours, that's a heckuva long low  Risking my health with the heat and the way my body was handling it, I don't know.  Strong, stubborn, or stupid?  Still debating that lesson.
  • I have improved my downhill and technical skills.  I never once felt myself pulling back on a downhill or rocky section out of fear or losing control.  I also did not find the course technically challenging.  Now maybe that's because I moved slower most of the race, but reading others reports about how technical and rocky this was, one even 'fearing for her life' (in jest I'm sure), I never felt that.  It was totally doable.  That is definitely an improvement for me.  I worked on it a lot before this race and even that little amount of time helped.  I plan to keep it up.
  • I felt good with those lead ladies, and while it is embarrassing to me to look like I was being  a poser or groupie hanging out with them then dropping off so badly, I know I could have run with them.  And that makes me happy.  

Black Canyon 100k was well organized, well stocked aid stations, marked just great and I would recommend any of their races.  Thank you to Jamil and Aravaipa Running, my great pacer Cari, Altra Running (my feet were happy in the Paradigm all day long), Vfuel gel (I don't blame the gel, I blame the heat, I still plan to use Vfuel for every race in the future), and Elete Electrolytes (was crucial to keep my electrolytes happy and with the drops and pills I did).  I enjoyed a Handful bra all day with zero issues, walmart shorts (they were cute, comfortable and matched my bra), Injinji socks, and my Nathan pack for 50 miles (a dependable no bounce vest and yeah it was heavy, but I needed a ton of water out there), then Ultraspire Quantum which I love but just didn't hold enough water until the last 12 miles.  Also carried a soft flask most of the way which almost always carried water from the 3 rivers or aid stations to get wet with.  Amazing how quickly that water heated up though.
Thank you for all the support and kind words before and after.  Thanks to Carol's husband Jeff for helping me and being so wonderful to Carol whom I'm afraid may have suffered more than even I did.  I'm doing ok now, heart hurts a little, legs felt better than I would have hoped had I run like I wanted.  I'm just so busy with school that hopefully I'll nail down a schedule for the rest of the year soon so I can have some structure and get moving again.  Thanks for reading!

Congrats to everyone out there who endured and many who did well.  
Biggest congrats to teammate Angela Shartel who is tough as nails 
and finished a solid 2nd place in the day!!

And I can't forget to add this last photo. When I don't have good races it's hard on my family too. My husband couldn't track me all day and was left wondering how I was doing with the heat, especially once my goal time had come and gone, by hours. I typically do not feel well at all for about 24 hours after a 100k or longer race. I flew home after 3 hours of sleep (won't be making that flight choice again) and crashed in my bed so I could be home with my 3yr old birthday girl. She brought a bag of frozen beans for my burnt belly, a cold water bottle for my chest, a flower of course and her sweet little self to sit beside me and "take care of mama". I am a very lucky woman to have what I have and do what I do.