Zion 100 Race Report: Miserable is Memorable

zion100

Badwater’s youngest finisher and recent Barkley camp Nickademus Hollon once said: “Miserable is memorable.”

His quote became a mantra for Shacky and me as we neared mile 50 on the Zion 100 course last Friday, but it wasn’t until a couple of days later that I realized just how memorable this race had actually been, how much I had learned, and what a rich experience I had come to know at Zion.

Shacky and I didn’t finish the race. We both dropped at mile 52, though I accused him of having sympathy pains. He argued that he had complained about his knee long before I had, so maybe mine were the sympathy pains?

Either way, I came into the mile 52 aid station limping and leaning on a stick for support. I had tweaked my knee on some slick rock back at mile 30, and the pain kept getting worse until it seemed unbearable at mile 50.

Judging from my recovery after the race, I have no doubt that I would have seriously injured my knee had I chosen to continue. The limping was causing my good knee to slowly give out as I overcompensated.

For the first time in my life, I learned what “bad” pain felt like—the kind of injury that it would take weeks or months to recover from. I wasn’t willing to put in that kind of recovery time. We were headed to Sequoia National Park, Yellowstone, and the Redwoods after Zion. I had to be healthy enough to run among those trees.

The pain I felt in my knee after mile 30 confused me. The course led us down a very runnable, downhill dirt road. I kept trying to break into a run, only to be forced to walk after about five steps due to pain. When I walked, I felt no pain. Finally, I resorted to a speed walk and figured I would just power hike the rest of the way.

At around mile 40, even the hiking started to hurt, and the downhills started to kill. The pain only stopped when I stopped moving.

I wondered if I was just being a wuss, and decided to try an all-out sprinting pace to see what that did. I felt a sharp pain shot up through my knee that made my leg buckle under me. I hopped on my good leg to avoid falling.

People who passed me changed their comments from “Great job!” to “Way to tough it out…”

And at the bottom of Grafton Mesa, the third climb of the race, I sat down on a rock and cried. Why did it hurt this bad? I had never hurt this bad before.

Determined to get to my pacer who was waiting at mile 52, I told myself to pull it together and started climbing Grafton Mesa. On fresh legs, this climb is mostly runnable. Instead, I was inching my way along, limping and grabbing on to rocks to keep the weight off my bad leg. It was pretty miserable, and Shacky gently suggested that I consider dropping at the next aid station—a thought that had already occurred to me.

The idea of dropping felt strange. Other than my knee, I felt fabulous. My other leg felt strong, my nutrition was perfect, and mentally I was ready for many more hours on the trail. I was also, despite the pain, genuinely enjoying the day. The weather was perfect, the course was fabulous, and the race was so well marked.

Inching my way to the aid station, I wondered how dropping would make me feel. I tried to push myself to continue by appealing to my ego. I tried to tell myself that everyone was watching and that I would fail myself and fail my pacers… but I just couldn’t believe that.

I felt—whether I finished or not—like an awesome runner. I had run 100s before, and I would run many more after this. Deep down, I felt strong even though I was limping.

I thought of the Boston batons that the race director had sent out on the course. There was a gold and a blue baton being passed on from runner to runner throughout the course. The batons had the names of the Boston victims, those who would never run again, and would be sent to the families of the victims after they had been carried through the Zion 100.

I tried to motivate myself by thinking about how the Boston victims couldn’t run, so I should run for them. But instead it occurred to me that the greater honor would be to make a decision that would allow me to run again in a couple of days—and for the rest of my life—instead of pushing myself into an injury that would take months to recover from, and then re-occur at every race in the future. How would hurting myself honor anyone?

I thought about how funny perspective is. If this had been a 50 miler, I would be finishing victoriously. But because it’s a 100 miler, I would end the day in failure. And yet the distance is the same. I just ran 50 miles. 50 MILES! Should I really be ashamed?

I felt a distinct shift in my perception of the race. In previous races, I would think of it as: ME vs the TRAIL. But in Zion, the trails feel like my home. We had been here for three weeks, running all these same trails and doing all these same climbs. I knew I could summit and I knew the course would still be there tomorrow. The views were spectacular but familiar, and I just couldn’t see this event as a do-or-die.

When you wake up in the morning, do you race to see how fast you can make coffee? How long you can take to prepare dinner? Of course not—because those are your daily activities. They are your routine. That’s what the trails have become for me. They are my routine and my home. They are there when I fall asleep and there when I wake up. If I can’t run 100 miles today, maybe I can run 50 miles today. Maybe I can run 100 miles tomorrow.

Somewhere along the line, I have managed to detach my ego from my running, looking instead to the journey ahead and knowing that there are so many more trails to run, and an endless amount of miles to cover. I want to run today so I can run tomorrow.

I knew that by dropping at mile 52, I could rest for a couple of days and be back on my feet by the time we got to the next National Park. The other option was to push hard for this buckle, and be out of running for weeks. In my mind, I could imagine the towering trees of the West coast and I pictured them waiting for me. I could smell the moist dirt under my feet, and the soft leaves at my fingertips. It was a no-brainer. I must stay healthy so I could run more—not today, but tomorrow.

The next morning, we drove to the mile 83 aid station, also the home of George and Melissa Walsh. Their aid station theme was “Whiskey Town” complete with limitless drinks and jello shots. Shacky had whiskey for breakfast, and we shared some San Diego IPA.

The Walshes ran such a memorable aid station that the front runners were finishing the course, then driving back to Whiskey Town to party for the rest of the night. Amazingly, they only had one drop there.

Well into the next day, the festivities continued. Matt Gunn had organized a big screen showing of the Western States movie Unbreakable at the local movie theater, followed by a live Q&A with UltrAspire’s elite athletes. After that, it was free burgers and drinks at a local restaurant, and just in case you weren’t exhausted enough, there was also free river rafting.

The running community and volunteers were so warm and inviting that we ended up spending the next day at Tracy and Robin’s house. We talked about aquaponics, checked out their Air Stream trailer converted into a garden, saw some solar LED lights they had made out of Pabst beer cans, and played with their dog and cats.

Memorable is an understatement for what RD Matt Gunn put together this year at the Zion 100. I have no doubt the entries next year will soar. The course is brutally challenging yet still mostly runnable. There was a low-key, small town feel, the marking was flawless, the weather was perfect, and every single finisher’s buckle was handmade.

As we continue to travel the country, I will look back fondly on these memories and do my best to stay healthy enough to run another day in Zion.

You May Also Enjoy:

Why I Run 100 Milers

4 Powerful Lessons From a Nomadic Life

10 Overlooked Rights Worth Fighting For

****

Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

 

About these ads

Noble Canyon 5-Day Challenge Report

NobleCanyon

Last week I ran my first 100-mile week that didn’t include a 100-mile race. I did a 20-mile summit every day for five days, and had such an amazing experience. I wanted to write a report and encourage others to create their own endurance challenges.

Here’s what I did:

Why This Challenge?

Ever since Transrockies this year, I’ve been fascinated by multi-day challenges. Transrockies covers 120 miles in six days, through the Colorado mountains. At the time, I had never run more than 100 miles/week, and not on six consecutive days. I had no idea how my body would hold up to a multi-day challenge of significant climbs.

As it turned out—my body held up great. In fact, it was significantly easier than running 50 or 100 miles all at once. The ability to rest, eat, and relax after each day left me feeling 100 percent.

This inspired me to look for more difficult multi-day races, and I was considering Transalpine. This race runs through Europe, covering 155 miles in eight days. Then it occurred to me: Why wait for Europe? I can do multi-day challenges now!

The one thing I loved at Transrockies and wanted more of was climbing. I remember one steep section at Transrockies—the couple behind me was complaining, but I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I was in my element.

So I knew for my multi-day challenge, I would have to summit every day.

Why This Course?

I picked Noble Canyon in the Laguna Mountains because that is where I ran my first ultra, the Noble Canyon 50K. It’s a challenging and technical 20-mile out-and-back summit. There was camping nearby, I knew the trail well, and it was dog-friendly.

The Goal

My goal was to run my first 100-mile training week, stay vegan, and nail my recovery every evening. I didn’t worry about time, but wanted to wake up each morning eager and ready to run again.

The Routine

Before the trip, we hit up a few farmer’s markets and stocked up on fresh fruits and veggies. We slept in the RV at a nearby lookout spot, got coffee in the morning, and made the 10-min drive to the trailhead. I had a quick breakfast, then took off.

I expected that I would be running on my own for the most part, but I was lucky to have company every day, on top of Shacky and Ginger, my trusty trail buddies.

After the run, we would eat from the RV, then drive to a spot with wifi for some web surfing. We’d buy some dinner for the dog (raw meat), then drive back to the lookout for an early bedtime.

The Runs

I didn’t expect this challenge to be so fun. We had friends come out to run with us every day. We ran into hunters, found more wildlife, and I saw horses out there for the first time. Julie and I even ran into a couple of guys with a map, prospecting for gold.

Ginger finds a lizard

Ginger finds a lizard

About to summit with Elizabeth & Dave

About to summit with Elizabeth & Dave

Holly and me at the summit

Holly and me at the summit

Holly and Shacky post-run

Holly and Shacky post-run

The Recovery

I never slept less than nine hours each night, and I stayed away from all junk food. I ate a lot of fruit and veggies. For carbs, I had pita, granola, couscous, and bagels. I believe the combination of clean eating and a lot of sleep contributed to a full recovery. On the run, I fueled with Vi Fuel Endurance gels, and we carried hot dogs for Ginger. She drank water from several creeks and water crossings along the way. (Ginger ran 83 miles!)

Create Your Own Adventure

The beauty of organizing your own multi-day challenge is that you can adjust it to your abilities. It should be challenging, but not impossible. Slightly harder than what you’ve done before.

It can be as many days as you want, and it doesn’t have to be consecutive. Get creative! The distances can adjust around a work schedule if necessary. I strongly recommend putting the word out and getting others to support, crew, or join you. It makes a huge difference to have company and accountability.

Multi-day runs can teach you to run self-supported, and get you across longer distances. You can run on your own terms and explore the trails in your area.

Here are some other challenges we are planning:

  • Summit all of Colorado’s 14’ers (mountains at 14,000 feet)
  • Thru-runs of the PCT and/or Colorado Trail
  • Trail run across California (and Colorado and Utah)

See you out there!

RELATED ARTICLES:

How to Train for a Multi-Day Stage Race

Train Your Dog for Long Distance Trail Running in 20 Steps

5 Keys to Enjoying All the Benefits of Money Without Actually Having Any

 

Chimera 100 Race Report

The Chimera of Greek mythology is a ferocious, fire-breathing beast made up of part lion, part serpent, and part goat. She is a terror, but also swift-footed and strong. She sprints the mountain trails of this course, devouring runners and claiming her victims one DNF at a time. On this race of incessant climbs and quad-shredding descents, you have only two choices:

Fall prey to the Beast. Or run at her side.

When I first signed up for Chimera, I knew this race was out of my league. But I knew that if I trained hard, I had a chance of finishing. And if I didn’t, at least I challenged myself and hopefully learned something.

For a few weeks, I approached Chimera with a “race that I will try” mentality. But the Beast smells fear from miles away, so I knew I had to change my mindset. I adopted a new approach:

  • Do or do not. There is no try.
  • You don’t have to be fast, but you better be fearless.
  • Are you a Mexi-CAN or a Mexi-CAN’T??!

I would finish this race no matter how bloodied or broken. Quitting was not an option. This is the story of how I survived.

****

When I ran Javelina 100 at the end of October, I overheard a runner encourage another by saying, “It’s only one 50K in the morning, one in the afternoon, one at night, and then a short 10-mile loop.” That made sense to me, so for Chimera I broke down the race into three parts:

  • The first 50K I would run as the Serpent.
  • For the next 50K I would be the Goat.
  • And in the final push I would be Lion.

1. Serpent

“I don’t know about tomorrow. I just live from day to day. I don’t borrow from its sunshine, for its skies may turn to grey.” – I Know Who Holds Tomorrow

The serpent is one of the oldest symbols in mythology. One of the first things I ever learned was the Biblical story of Adam and Eve falling prey to the crafty serpent. The serpent is shrewd and cunning. And that’s what I need to be early in this race.

I remembered a Bible verse I had learned in my childhood from Matthew 10:16: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Strategy in a 100-miler is everything. The key is to hold back as much as possible and preserve your body. I did this by keeping my body loose, slowing down, and not bombing any downhills. I made sure I never felt like I was exerting myself or breathing heavily. In fact, the first time I actually pushed myself to run was at mile 70+, when the sun came out on Sunday morning.

I love downhill running on single track, so I really had to make an effort to slow down and not fly these sections. I knew that I would need my quads later on. Tons of people passed me early in the race as well, and on every out and back I noticed that there were less and less people behind me. I was in the back of the pack.

2. Goat

“To some it’s the strength to be apart. To some it’s a feeling in the heart. And when you’re out there on your own, it’s the way back home.” – Katie Melua

Before I left for Chimera, I posted on my Facebook status: How can a goat be afraid of the mountain? It is his home.

That’s how I felt going into this race. I had no jitters–just excitement. This would be my first mountain 100, and although I had never run this far in the mountains, I knew I belonged in the clouds.

As Sarah Duffy points out on the Chimera Facebook page: “The course description includes 16 different terms for UP.” Some include:

  • Steep Up
  • VERY Up
  • Decomposed Granite Up
  • Truck Trail Up
  • Uphill Danger
  • Rolling Up
  • Generally Good Footing Uphill

There are also 15 different terms for DOWN:

  • Steep Technical Down
  • DANGER Down
  • Rolling Down
  • Very Rocky Downhill
  • Short Rocky Down
  • Slight Down Rocky

Sarah continues: “It was a purely physical challenge. I finished a climb and there was another one. I got to the bottom and I had to turn around and go back up. I rounded the bend and the hill continued on. I am still overwhelmed by the sheer physical demand of all that climbing, but I’ll recover happily knowing the monstrous fire-breathing creature didn’t eat me alive.”

Fabrice Hardel won Chimera this year with a mind-blowing time of 16:52:06. He broke the course record from last year (which was also his). After Cuyamaca 100K, Fabrice gave me the following advice for Chimera: Find the steepest hill you can and run up and down, over and over again.

He was dead on.

Climbing

I channeled my inner goat and embraced these climbs. Rather than seeing them as something outside of me that I must conquer, I imagined myself playing in my own living room. The hills were not strange, nor foreign. They were a part of who I was. They were hard, relentless, and beautiful. Just like me. I tried to remember that I wanted to be here. Even if there were no race, no buckle, no accolades. I would still want to run.

Positivity was crucial. This I learned at Javelina, and made sure my mind was clear and positive the entire distance. To me this means not allowing myself to get caught up in the stress of the race. I don’t allow myself to think of the cutoffs. I don’t wear a watch so I can’t stress over my pace, and I eat consistently. When I’m having a dip, I stop and mentally address it.

Something like this:

  • I’m feeling grouchy right now because I haven’t eaten enough. I will stop and eat at the next aid station.
  • I’m feeling worried right now because I don’t think I will make the cutoff. I have plenty of time.

Stress can lead to physical pain if I don’t put a stop to it. It’s a wave of desperation and exhaustion that hits all at once and makes everything suck. With every race I do, I’m learning to control it more and more.

Sidenote: My inexperience as a 100-mile runner showed when I realized at the end of the race that I pretty much missed all the hot food. I heard there were burgers, quesadillas, and pizza, none of which I saw. I was told I was supposed to ask for it. Oops.

I had also mistakenly assumed that most of the course would be single track. When I realized it was a lot more fire road (where cars could drive), I switched into my Hokas the first chance I got at mile 50, and they truly saved my feet out there.

Coming from a background of minimalist running, this was my first time racing in Hokas and by far my longest run in anything this supportive. What I found with the Hokas was that I could run more of the course with minimal pounding on my feet. My form didn’t change–I was still running light and my feet still felt strong from the minimalist training. But they gave me a break as far as watching all my footfalls late into the night. I also had to do less jitterbugging with my legs (especially downhill) in an effort to maneuver around any rocks that might trash my feet.

Although I love my minimalist shoes, I can’t deny that I owe much of this race to my Hokas. My feet after the race were immaculate. There was no blistering. No broken skin. No swelling. I almost feel that my minimalist training combined with using Hokas to bring it home created a perfect storm. I had all the benefits of minimalism, combined with the benefits of protection.

The biggest criticism I hear about Hokas from the minimalist viewpoint is that there is little flexibility at the ankle. So if you step on a rock, your ankle is more likely to roll. This wasn’t an issue at Chimera since the rocks were not the trickiest I’ve maneuvered. It was more straightforward terrain than what I have been training on, so by keeping my form light, I avoided any ankle issues.

The more I run, the more I realize that success has very little to do with what brand of shoes you wear, and so much more to do with specific terrain, combined with personal preference. Hokas might have felt terrible on another course. On this course, my minimalist shoes felt terrible, although I’ve had great success with them at other races.

In the meantime, my good friend Patrick Sweeney ran the entire thing in Luna sandals. He signed up the day before, with zero training, and came in 8th place. To me, that goes back to show how irrelevant footwear can be. All that matters is what feels good to YOU.

I also feel that 100-milers are an exception. When you’re talking shoes with someone, they’re probably not planning to run 100 miles in the pair they rave about. Distance can really change your perspective on things like this. The Hokas worked for me, and I always vote for whatever works in the moment. Right now I’m seeing some value in training minimalist and running the later miles of a 100 in Hokas. But I’ll keep experimenting.

I also brought my iPod to help me out in case I needed a push through the night or in the later miles. That helped me at Cuyamaca 100K, as well as Javelina. I even had a backup iPod in case my battery died. While the iPods worked, my headphones busted early on, so my music was useless. I’m sort of glad that happened because I still really enjoyed myself and now I know that it’s not the end of the world if I don’t have an iPod or an audio book with me.

I learned that I really enjoy the solitude and silence of being out on the trail. I’m very comfortable with the passing of the hours, with no distractions and only the shuffling of my own feet to accompany me.

3. Lion

“If you fall, pick yourself up off the floor. And when your bones can’t take no more, just remember what you’re here for.” – Gym Class Heroes

Having “preserved my body” for the first 60 miles, it was now time for beast mode. I pulled into an aid station about 30 minutes before sunrise, and was informed of a new danger:

“Do you have a pacer?” a volunteer asked.

“No.”

“We recommend that people run with pacers, because there is a mountain lion from here to the next aid station.”

“Oh. Ok….”

I still didn’t have a pacer.

I remembered my mountain lion encounter at the Grand Canyon and decided it would be best to avoid this new obstacle. I tried shining my light into the bushes where the lion might be hiding, but that was useless. My light was only strong enough to illuminate my next few steps, so I wouldn’t see any mountain lions until they were on top of me.

Instead, I decided to sing loudly to the lion. Surely my terrible singing voice would terrify him and send him fleeing into the mountains. It must have worked because the sun came up and I never saw any other lion besides myself.

As soon as the sun rose, I started running. I ran into the Indian Truck Trail aid station, and was greeted warmly by what looked like all my friends!

I was thrilled to see Trasie, Elizabeth, Julius, and Trisha, among others. They were so eager to help and I got star treatment. I also had a cup of the most delicious homemade butternut squash (vegan) soup with avocado. It was my first time seeing any hot food vegan options, and I was immediately energized. Refueled, I ran the seven miles down Indian Truck Trail to meet my pacer Holly.

Running into Mile 80

At the bottom of ITT, I changed my socks, got into some dry clothes, re-taped my foot (preventative), and grabbed some gaiters. It was such a relief to see Shacky again. The last time I had seen him was at mile 20, after the first single track loop. The day before.

Even Ginger and Momma Cat came out to say hello. Ginger licked all the salt off my face while Kitty demanded to know why she had not been recently petted. I gave her a quick pet, but I couldn’t stay long–we still had a lot of climbing left, and I started hiking back up the hill with Holly.

Ginger was waiting a really long time for me to come down the trail…

Climbing again…

Holly and I made it to the top of ITT, Mile 90

It has been said of Chimera that “even the downhills feel like uphills,” and that is certainly true in the last 10 miles especially. As soon as you hit a downhill stretch, you realize that you have no quads left. Thankfully, I had worked so hard to preserve mine, that I had some leeway to run or at least walk comfortably downhill.

I was in such high spirits chatting with Holly. The mountains were beautiful, we were moving through the clouds, and Shacky had packed me a large ziplock bag full of watermelon, apples, avocado, and grapes. We also picked up some clementines at Trasie’s aid station. I almost ate the entire fruit bag.

It’s impossible for me to be sad on the mountain. I’ve been in San Diego for a year now, but I still feel like a tourist when I run at these spectacular elevations. It never gets old.

The downhill stretches were tricky because they were so steep that it was harder to walk them than to run. But running this late in the race is hard to do as well. There were no comfortable options.

I had to remember that the Lion doesn’t represent comfort. It represents strength and power. And with the blessing of the Chimera She-Beast, I ran it in. As sick as it sounds, I was almost sad to see it end. I was having such a great time with Holly and I knew that stopping would be more uncomfortable than running at this point.

I finished in 31:52:31. I didn’t realize it at the time, but finishers who complete the course under 30 hours get a silver buckle. I’ll be back another year to claim my silver buckle and play in the mountains with my old friend Chimera.

Yes, she is as vicious as they say.  She haunts these mountains because she can be herself here: crafty, fearless, and strong. She does share her trails, but only with other beasts.

Me crossing the finish

With RD Steve Harvey at the finish

The Aftermath

My recovery is going great. I’m stiff when I sit for too long, but once I’m walking I feel pretty good. I also feel good when I sleep. Ha. I’ve been craving so many fresh fruits and veggies, and I don’t want to look at aid station food for a very long time.

My weight feels about the same, but I have no scale to confirm. I haven’t tried running again–I believe recovery is a crucial part of training. I want to take a really easy week, and hopefully be running again by next weekend. We’re headed to Zion to preview some of the Zion 100 course over Thanksgiving.

I told Holly as we neared the finish that this is the buckle that I will treasure the most, for many reasons. First of all, it’s my first mountain 100. Second of all, it’s the only 100 that I actually trained for. And finally, it was the only race that I seriously believed at the time of registering that I couldn’t finish.

The swag

The Course

Elevation profile

Shout Outs

Shacky

Besides crewing me, Shacky was a huge part of my training. He has been taking me across state lines to the steepest, rockiest mountains to train on. He has given me tons of time and space for long runs, and then longer runs. He has supported me in signing up for races as “training runs”, and has crewed me for those events as well. I could never have done this without him.

Here are some of Shacky’s highlights:

  • Hanging out and having a beer with Karl Meltzer the night before the race
  • Seeing Fabrice smash the course record
  • Seeing Pat Sweeney ape Vanessa by signing up for a hundred at the last minute and bringing home a buckle (8th overall)
  • Seeing Wes Edell run his first hundred and finish it in 7th overall
  • Being weirded out by the strange church near the aid station I hung out at all night

Holly

My pacer made the last 20 miles of this race downright fun. I never once felt sad or sorry for myself. We shared some great conversation, she kept me eating way after I had forgotten, and she wouldn’t let anyone pass us. She even made sure my shirt was on straight (I left the aid station with a backwards shirt). I’m so grateful to her.

Jason

Jason Robillard took me under his wing as my coach after I signed up for Chimera months ago. He kept me on track as far as mileage, speed work, and general training. He gave me great advice and I was able to learn quickly. Jason is now organizing a boot camp in San Diego for ultra runners. I would strongly recommend his training style. You can learn more about it here.

Congrats to all the beasts who conquered this epic race!

RELATED ARTICLES:

7 Reasons You Think You Can’t Run an Ultra (When You Can)

Rocky Road 100 Race Report

Javelina 100 Race Report

Krispy Kreme Challenge 2012 Race Report

After my shocking defeat at last year’s Krispy Kreme Challenge, I was back this year for some revenge… in a wussier division. HERE is my report from last year for your amusement.

The original challenge is:

  • Run 2 miles.
  • Eat one dozen Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts.
  • Run 2 miles.

Last year, I registered for the more illustrious “Doughnutman” Division, which was:

  • Run 2 miles.
  • Eat one dozen doughnuts.
  • Run 2 miles.
  • Eat ANOTHER dozen doughnuts.
  • Run 2 miles.

I couldn’t do it. Not even close.

This year, I opted for the “Lite” Division:

  • Run 2 miles.
  • Eat half a dozen doughnuts.
  • Run 2 miles.

The race took place at DeAnza Cove at Mission Bay. It was a perfect morning for running: sunny and breezy. A vast improvement from last year’s pouring rain. We arrived in the RV with Shacky, Pat, and Ginger in tow. Pat was running to win, Shacky was running to finish, I was running to not puke, and Ginger was just running.

Group shot L to R: Pat, Rusty, me, Shacky

There was a great vibe at the race start and we warmed up by doing pull-ups. Except for Ginger because she doesn’t have any thumbs. I was thinking about running in shoes, but when I saw the flat, smooth sidewalk, I decided to go barefoot.

This is where we would be running.

This is where we would be eating doughnuts.

WOO pullup!

Pat almost sprained his pinkies.

So strong!!

The first two miles were great. We ran out one mile on Mission Bay, turned around, and came back. I was near the back of the pack. I was trying to push my speed, but it was still cold out and my feet were getting numb on the pavement. I tried to hop on to the grass, but that didn’t help much. So I just accepted a slower, comfortable pace, and finished up my first two miles.

The leaders fighting it out! (Lynne Cao Photography)

As I was finishing my miles, I saw the first place runner sprinting back out for his final laps, with his cheeks stuffed with doughnuts. He looked like death. He was grimacing, and his face looked white. Then I saw Pat heading out, not looking so hot either. His cheeks were also stuffed with doughnut.

When I got into the eater’s corral with my six doughnuts, most people were already munching. It was a somber, foul mood. Everyone had their heads down, overwhelmed in their own personal hells.

Yum? (Lynne Cao Photography)

Hitting the wall…. (Lynne Cao Photography)

Digging deep! (Lynne Cao Photography)

Last year, I imagined that I might actually enjoy the first couple of doughnuts. But this year I knew better. It sucks from the very beginning. As soon as you open that box and the smell of sugar and dough hits you, you immediately want to hurl. All you can do is take bite after bite, and hope to God that nobody starts puking around you.

Last year, there was so much vomiting, but this year people really held down their doughnuts. Pat and I developed a theory that when ONE person vomits, that sets off a chain reaction and everybody goes off after that. But if you don’t see anyone else throwing up, it’s easier to keep the doughnuts down.

Also last year you weren’t allowed to leave the corral until your mouth was empty, but this year you were allowed to stuff your face and finish chewing/swallowing on your final laps. I think this made for slightly faster times.

I flattened three doughnuts together into a pancake, and started eating. I tried to chew only as much as I needed to in order to manage a swallow, and I took two big bites at a time. In real life, I’m a super slow eater. I had to really concentrate on what I was doing to eat faster.

At first, I was looking around to see if anyone had a better strategy, but the eating was so disgusting that I would start gagging if I looked around for too long. People were stuffing and spewing and making terrible faces. So I just kept my head down and concentrated on my own doughnuts.

When I finished my three doughnuts, I flattened the other three in the same way and kept plugging away. I waited until I only had about four bites left, and walked over to the road again, tossing my doughnut box and stuffing the rest into my cheeks.

Just as I was getting ready to leave, Pat came in (finished the race) and asked how I was doing. At that moment, one piece of doughnut went a little too far down my throat, and I had to choose between keeping it down, or answering him. I just nodded and walked back to the eater’s corral—I couldn’t run with my cheeks this stuffed. I took a couple of extra minutes to chew and swallow, re-stuffed my cheeks, and took off.

Because I had only done six doughnuts, I was now ahead of Shacky and many others. It took me a good quarter mile at least to finish chewing and swallowing what I had in my mouth. The two miles went by more quickly, since I was concentrating on not throwing up. I kept a steady pace, but not sprinting. I didn’t want to make myself sick. There were two girls ahead of me, but one of them had done the dozen. There really weren’t many girls at this event to start with.

I saw Shacky on the out and back, and I had a good lead on him. Of course, he had eaten twice as many doughnuts as I did. Less than a mile to go, I spotted Pat who had run back to take pictures of us. I was feeling better and I knew I would be keeping the doughnuts down. It actually felt more comfortable to jog than to stand still with a belly full of glaze.

Doughnut high!

I finally swallowed!

We took some photos and then the finish line was right there! I sped up a little and ran it in: 48 minutes (second female in the Lite division, 5th Lite overall). Carlos was right behind me, and I watched Shacky come in. At the finish line, Shacky busted out some salt and vinegar crickets and some spiced larvae, which we ate and used to horrify the other runners.

Shacky running it in! (Lynne Cao Photography)

Me eating a cricket

More crickets…

… and worms!

It was a good day.

One thing I love about the Krispy Kreme Challenge is the high level of athletes that come out for this fun run. As Keith Kirby, the Race Director, pointed out: We had 100-mile finishers, Badwater finishers, and athletes of all levels. One of the competitors was Nickademus Anthony Hollon, who currently holds the record for being the youngest Badwater finisher. He confirmed that out of all the races he’s run, this easily ranks in the top five when it comes to difficulty.

I know exactly what he means.

There’s something about eating all those god-awful doughnuts that takes you straight to mile 75 at an ultra. Your body wants to shut down. You can’t remember why you registered for this. Every moment is terrible. You have no will to go on. And pushing through that gives you a good perspective of what it’s like to finish a 100-miler. The physical pain isn’t there, but the mental struggle is strikingly similar.

I also strongly recommend this race for anyone who needs some “sweets aversion” therapy. If you have a sweet tooth that challenges your diet year-round, this race might cure you of it. I used to like baked goods. I really did. But since the Krispy Kreme Challenge last year, I did not have a single craving, and was even sometimes repulsed by the thought of eating a cake or doughnut. You learn to hate even the smell of baked goods for at least a year.

Last year when I ate a dozen, I felt sick for three days. I could barely eat. With only six doughnuts this year, my recovery was much better. I felt good (and hungry again!) by the next day. It also really made me crave some fresh veggies. I am never more thankful for a clean, green diet than after the doughnut run. I’ve been vegan for almost a month now, and I wondered if this race would be a fun “cheat”. Instead, all it did was make me happy to be vegan and eager to go back to my regular diet.

Some people don’t want to sign up for the Krispy Kreme Challenge because it’s not a “serious” race. I assure you it’s not joke. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also incredibly horrifying and difficult. Completing this challenge will make you a stronger runner. It will teach you something valuable about your body, and it will make any stomach issues you get at future races seem that much easier to handle.

See you next year!

(Lynne Cao Photography)

 RELATED ARTICLES:

Krispy Kreme 2011 Race Report

Eat & Run Book Review

Why You Should Stop Rationalizing Running

Javelina Jundred Race Report

Javelina Jundred was the 100-miler that wasn’t supposed to happen. Over the past few weeks, I have been training for Chimera 100 at the end of November, and Javelina was too close to Chimera. Instead, I signed up for a pacing gig at Javelina. I was going to pace Desi to her first 100 mile finish, and Shacky would be pacing Jeff.

We were driving to Javelina from South Dakota, and had already been on the road for several days, exploring different states and trails. I hadn’t run any significant mileage, so I was about 90 miles short of my monthly mileage goal for October (200 mile goal). I didn’t push myself to get in the long runs while on the road, so I moved my 200-mile goal to November, and posted on Facebook that I had failed to meet my goal.

Someone commented that October wasn’t over yet and there was still time. This led me to joke with Shacky about how I would need to register for Javelina in order to meet my goal—wouldn’t that be crazy?? Around the same time, our friend Jeff also posted on his own Facebook pace (jokingly, I think!) that same-day race day registration for Javelina was still open (haha, wouldn’t it be crazy to register this late??) But then Shacky mentioned that it probably wouldn’t be bad training for Chimera, and that got me thinking.

The closer we got to Arizona, the more I realized I really did want to run it. But that was crazy, right?? Besides, I already had a pacing gig. We got to the race bib pickup where we would meet Desi to drop off a tent for her. I mentioned to her that I was thinking about registering, but I was still committed to pacing her, or even running the second half with her if she needed it. I didn’t care about time, I just wanted some miles on my feet. I thought I could run my own 100K, and then pick up Desi to finish it out with her. Desi encouraged me to register.

With Desi’s approval I felt better, but still wasn’t sure whether it would be a reckless decision. We saw the Millers (Mike and Kimberly) helping out with the race kits, and I told them I was thinking of registering despite Chimera coming up. They didn’t think it was a bad idea. Mike agreed that it would be great training, and worst case I could always drop down to 100K and still get a buckle. So now the decision was mine.

I wanted to race, but I didn’t want to hurt my chances at Chimera. To ensure this, I would have to take it slow, easy, and not push myself as much as I was planning to at Chimera. The two races are completely different—Chimera is a mountain race, and Javelina is a relatively “flat and easy” 100.

The test at Javelina would be more about mental determination and endurance. I would get more practice with sleep deprivation, and I was more or less in shape to run since I had already been training for Chimera. In fact, I was more prepared for this last-minute 100 than I was for my very first 100, where I trained very little and only had 50Ks under my belt.

So I registered with RD Jamil Coury.

All the last minute registrations

In some ways, it was an advantage for me to sign up so late in the game. It completely eliminated all the nervousness and jitters that play with our doubts before a race. If I had known I would be running this, I wouldn’t have enjoyed our adventures on the road as much. And I wouldn’t have climbed the highest mountain in Arizona two days before the race. But I did, and I’m glad.

Part of me really liked the craziness of signing up on a whim as well. I’m very passionate about encouraging others to run ultras, and finishing 100 miles in particular is truly life-changing. The 100 is my favourite distance because literally anything can happen, and so much of it is mental. What better way to make ultras seem achievable than signing up for a last-minute 100, and finishing?

Since I hadn’t done any specific training for Javelina, my only goal was to take it slow, not injure myself, and finish at least 100K. I also wanted to practice my mental focus and positive thinking.

Race Day Arrives

When the alarm clock went off on race day morning, I rolled to my side and wondered why the hell I registered. I had slept great, but I would have been happy to stay in the warm RV until the sun came up. Instead, I got dressed, emptied my bladder, and filled up my water bottles. By the time I made it to the Start line, I was so glad I had registered. I mentioned to Shacky how cool it was that at any moment, we had everything in the RV we needed to run 100 miles.

Waiting for the race to start

Waiting at the Start line, I nibbled on some breakfast and asked my fellow runners about the course. I learned the aid stations were quite frequent, so I decided at the last second to go with only one water bottle. It was a bit of a risk, but then again so was registering for the whole darn race. I figured what the hell, if it doesn’t work out I can pick up another handheld in 15 miles when I loop back to the Start line.

I had been following a vegan diet for the past several weeks, and I felt great at the Start line. I also saw that Pat Sweeney had made it out, so I was super excited to get to hang out with him later. The loop began, and I started slow. I wore my Merrell Mix Masters (they were great at Cuyamaca 100K), and planned to switch out to my Montrails later in the race.

I wore my INKnBURN denim capris, which were so comfortable and prevented any type of chafing on my thighs. I also started with a jacket since it was cool, but wished within three miles that I had left it behind since it warmed up fast. It was slightly dark and while some people brought headlamps, I didn’t want the extra weight and figured the trail would be congested enough that I wouldn’t have a hard time finding my way. I was right.

And we’re off!

My themes throughout this race were: Minimalism and Prevention. I carried as little as I could possibly get away with, and I took preventative action against issues like chafing and bonking. Both worked better than I could have imagined.

Although I started near the middle of the pack, a lot of runners passed me the first loop. I was surprised at how fast people were going. I was walking some slight inclines and jogging close to 12-minute miles, and I still worried that was too fast. For shorter races, the question is: Who can run the fastest? For 100 milers, the question becomes: Who can go the furthest without breaking?

I had estimated about a three-hour finish for my fist 15-mile loop. I tried to make note of the other runners around me to help me gauge my speed, since I wasn’t wearing a watch. But at the same time I didn’t push myself to follow anyone’s pace. I wanted to run my own race.

I had some lovely chats with a few new friends, but eventually they all passed me as I kept plodding along slowly. I finished the first loop in under three hours, and decided I should slow down even more for the second loop. My goal was to run as conservatively as possible while it was daylight, and then pick it up overnight when it was cooler.

Finishing 50K

My single handheld was working great, and I wasn’t carrying an extra ounce that I didn’t need. At every aid station, I would fill my bottle, grab some food, and walk while I ate it. When I was finished, I would start jogging again.

I wasn’t committed to staying vegan throughout the whole race, but in the end it did work out that way (I thought I had blown it when I ate an Oreo, but Pat later informed me that most Oreos were indeed vegan). The vegan foods looked good to me, and I stayed away from the candy and chocolate. This race had a great spread, and there was plenty for me to eat. I mostly went for the watermelon, oranges, PB&J, avocado, and potatoes.

Despite the large number of runners (for a 100-miler), we did get spread out fairly quickly. I found myself running alone for long lengths of time, and I was happy to get lost in my own thoughts.

I am currently reading two books about introversion (one Kindle, one audio book), where the authors argue about the power of quiet, and the high value of introverted personalities. I consider myself an introvert, and these books argue that introversion is NOT the same thing as anti-social or shy, which was an eye-opener for me. I have been accused of being both anti-social and shy, but I just don’t see myself like that. I love talking to people, but I also love being alone.

One author defines an introvert as someone who recharges in solitude, and that rings true for me. An extrovert, on the other hand, feels recharged when they are surrounded by others. I don’t know what the 100-mile experience is like for an extrovert, but for me it’s very calming and positive. I crave the long stretches of solitude where all my thoughts fall into place, and solutions easily present themselves. I feel happiness and gratitude.

I was feeling great, but I knew the final loops would get harder. I started thinking about suffering and ultra running. It would seem that a main goal in our society is to avoid suffering, but some suffering during a 100-miler is inevitable. And yet the suffering is part of what we crave. Part of what makes our victory that much sweeter.

When I feel better at the end of an ultra than I did at my last race, I don’t think it’s because I’ve become significantly faster or stronger. The main difference is that I’m more familiar with the discomfort. Instead of bothering me, it has become something I enjoy and even crave. I seek that suffering.

Growing up in the church, one common question that was asked of us was, “If God is love, why does he allow suffering?” But is suffering in itself really the enemy? It is because of suffering that people do amazing things. I would imagine a life of complete comfort would make us sick, bored, and miserable.

I decided that I would be grateful for my 100-mile suffering later in the race. I am lucky because this is a suffering that I choose. It is not suffering at the hands of others. It is not a result of an environment that I cannot control. It is something I picked and even paid for. It was my choice, and for that reason far easier to bear. I need obstacles in life. Something to strive for. But I want to suffer on my own terms.

I’m not stranger to suffering in life, but this is the first time I have been in completely control of how much I suffer. I can pull the plug at any time, or I can challenge myself physically and push my body to new levels. That is so rare, and I should be grateful for it. I choose my poison. I can drink it gladly.

My mantra for the rest of the race became, “I chose this.” It reminded me to bear my suffering gladly. And for the third and fourth laps, joy was what I found. I decided early on to not let any negative thought take hold of my head. Instead, I flipped every negative into a positive. I wanted to see how far positive thinking could go.

Motivational kisses to keep me going

Normally, I struggle with night running and dread the overnight portions of a 100-mile race. This time, I convinced myself that it would give me an advantage. The weather would cool down, and I would no longer be able to see the full length of the trail. I could focus on only the next few steps, and if I remained steady, I could speed up when the rest of the field was slowing down. I looked forward to the night portion.

I also looked forward to the terrain in front of me. Instead of being harder, the inclines were a relief on my legs. Instead of being boring, the long and flat stretches were easy mileage. I imagined that everything was working in my favor, and I smiled at myself in solitude.

All of a sudden, my happy thoughts were shattered by a sharp pain in the top of my hip, right beside my groin. I looked down to find a massive ball of thorns stuck to my clothes, right where the leg bends into the pubes.

I had brushed against a cholla cactus, and the ball of thorns had attached itself to me. I reached down to try to carefully grab it, and shot my hand back when I realized these thorns were razor-sharp, and would draw blood. I thought it was just attached to my shirt, so I tried to lift my t-shirt and shake it off. That’s when I realized the thorns had dug deep into my skin, firmly embedded. It didn’t hurt if I was standing still, but when I moved, it would pierce me like a thousand needles.

The aid station was only a few feet away, and a couple of volunteers came over to give me a hand. They were very knowledgeable about the plant, and said the best way to deal with it was to grab two rocks, crush it, and then yank it out really hard. WTF??

I begged them to let me try to remove it myself instead, and they waited patiently while I tried to slowly pry it off. As I pulled, my skin would just stretch with the cactus, and I felt as thought it would rip the skin right off my body. Finally, I let them try it their way.

I was close to hysterical because I’m a actually a big wuss (little known fact). Another runner stopped to offer to let me squeeze his arm while the volunteers did the deed. I clutched his arm, buried my face, and they pulled while I screamed. It took a couple of good pulls, and it was out. I was bleeding, but only slightly. And the volunteer had pricked his hand deeply and was now in need of aid himself.

I walked to the aid station in a daze, and when I handed over my water bottle for refilling, I noticed there were more thorns stuck to the drinking nozzle of my bottle. Thank God I noticed before thrusting it up to my lips.

The aid station didn’t have any tweezers, so it took them a minute to remove the thorns from my bottle and then refill it. The volunteer that helped me was trying to nurse the thorns out of his own hand, and I don’t think I thanked him profusely enough for helping me.

The aid station workers looked for some saline to help clean my wound and alleviate the stinging, but there was nothing. I figured I would run to the Start and see if they had anything for me in the medical tent. It was only two miles away.

I jogged away, but I was still shaken. For the first time, I wondered if I should just drop. Desi had already dropped due to blistering, and Shacky was waiting to pace Jeff.

Despite my cactus attack, the first three laps were the best I’ve ever run. I jogged consistently nearly the entire time, keeping the same stride when I power hiked any uphill. My loops seemed to be getting faster, and I ran my fastest 100K time. I was feeling good.

Shacky and Pat were waiting for me at the Start, and I told them what happened with the cactus. Pat ran to the medical tent to see if they had some kind of salve for me while I filled my bottle and refuelled. Shacky and Pat came back with a wet paper towel and told me I should rub it over my wound. I did and immediately felt relief.

I later discovered that the medical tent had nothing to give me, so Shacky and Pat had conspired to put regular water on a paper towel, and tell me it was medicine. Bastards.

Pat and Shacky were quite the pair, as I later discovered via the photo evidence. They were naughty most of the time, and some of the pictures that were taken that weekend could not be posted on Facebook. Shacky’s highlight was meeting his crush Jen Shelton, and I’m so happy they had fun. One of my worries when Shacky crews me is that he will be bored while I run. Thanks to Pat and their shenanigans, they slept very little and goofed around a lot.

After I healed my wound with Pat’s invisible salve, I told Shacky and Pat that I was wondering if I should drop. Shacky was OK with it either way. He was tired and ready for bed. There was nothing really wrong with me, but I was peeved about the damn cactus and not really excited about going out for another loop.

But Pat insisted that I not drop. He said it might be a long time before I ever felt this good, this late into a 100-miler. He said my pace was good enough to sub-24 if I kept it up. I scoffed. Sub-24?? Pfft. But when I broke down the numbers, he was right.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to push myself to a sub-24, but I did decide it would be a shame to drop when I was feeling good. And besides, I didn’t want the cactus incident to be the last thing that happened to me out here. Pat said he would pace me on the next loop, so we set off together.

Overnight

Back at the 45-mile mark, I had changed my shoes and my bra and my t-shirt before it got dark. I usually start chaffing after 50 miles, and I thought that a good wipe-down (with wet wipes) and a change of clothes could prevent this. The one thing I didn’t have was extra panties.

I have learned via RV living that panties are the most worthless piece of clothing to own. So I stopped wearing them. I still have a couple that I use while running in pants or capris, but I didn’t have a clean pair since I wasn’t expecting to run this race. So I just ran without, and hoped for the best. I did do some very generous lubing on my butt cheeks just in case.

I ended up walking most of the night loop with Pat. He tried to talk me into running, but I was more interested in chatting. I was talking a lot, and running just made it harder to talk. Some of the things we talked about included:

  • Period protection
  • Peeing while standing up: girls vs boys
  • How to melt all our race medals into one giant and epic hula hoop
  • What I love and dislike about Mexicans
  • What I love and dislike about Salvadoreans
  • Why certain skateboarders don’t associate with other skateboarders
  • News from Luna sandals
  • Living off the grid in Utah

I think we covered all the important stuff. The loop went by so fast, even though it was one of my slowest. We saw Jeff and Shacky right at the end, and ran in with them. At the Start, I asked Pat to continue with Jeff since Shacky was tired, and Jeff was moving much faster than I was.

I hung out chatting with Holly Miller until Jeff had left. Then I grabbed my jacket, my iPod, and set out for another loop. I was still feeling good, but bored of running, which sounds terribly douchey to say but miraculously true.

My body was tired and sleepy of course, but there was nothing wrong with me to warrant a drop. I almost wished there were so I could just hang back with Shacky and Holly instead. But I figured I came this far, I might as well take the buckle home.

This was my last full lap, and I moved slower than I wanted to. I noticed myself starting to doze off, so I drank coffee at the next two aid stations and that perked me up. I never do caffeine in my daily life, so when I take it at races, it only takes a small amount to wake me up. On this loop, the sun started coming up again, and I couldn’t help but smile. I chose this.

I ran into the Start with less than 10 miles to go for my finish. Shacky was asleep, but Pat was waiting for me. I asked him to get Ginger so she could pace me on my last loop, and he did. I didn’t waste any time at the aid station, and ran out with my awesome dog.

Ginger was so excited and tried to get me to run the entire time, but I just couldn’t keep up with her. When Ginger realized I was moving slowly, she started trying to explore the environment and sniff around the cacti. This freaked me out because I didn’t want her running into the thorns I experienced, so I kept her on a tight leash. What stopped me from running was tender feet, and I wished I had Hokas.

Ginger and I finish strong

We moved along as quick as I could manage, and there was the finish line! I finished in 28:10, more than a one hour PR. But I was most proud of the way I felt. During my first 100, I cried the entire last three miles out of pain. When I finished, I didn’t even want my buckle. I just wanted to lay in the car and cry. This time I was running in the end, and went to a party afterwards. I had no blisters, no chaffing, no crashes, and no injuries.

I attribute this to eating at every single aid station, staying positive, and the support of Shacky, Pat, Ginger, and all the volunteers who helped out at this event. A special thanks to the Coury brothers for a well-run event, and joining us at the after party. A generous thanks to the Millers who hosted the after party, and were so hospitable with their great home.

Having fun at the Miller’s

Hanging out with my pacer

Visiting some reptiles

Resting with my best furry

The next day we visited with running legend Eric Clifton and his lovely wife in their awesome cat-friendly home. I am so grateful for these opportunities and the freedom of our nomadic life.

I am ready for Chimera. I chose this.

RELATED ARTICLES:

12 Reasons Handheld Bottles Are Better Than Hydration Packs

12 Things I Learned at My First 100K

Why You’re Not an Elite Runner (Yet)

 

12 Things I Learned At My First 100K Race

A few months ago I did something pretty silly and signed up for the Chimera 100 Miler, a race way out of my league. Instead of backing out, I decided to step up my training and have really enjoyed pushing past my old limits. Last weekend I ran the inaugural Cuyamaca 100K as training for Chimera and to catch any issues that I may need to troubleshoot before my 100 miler.

I’ve run one 100 miler at Rocky Road (much easier than Chimera), and DNF’d another attempt at Nanny Goat 100 (finished 55 miles). I’ve also run a 100K distance at a timed (one-mile loop) event, but Cuyamaca was my first trail 100K.

I finished in 15:42, a great time for me. Aside from some soreness and fatigue at the end, I did better than expected and really saw my training pay off. I’ve taken some time to celebrate a strong finish, and now comes the analysis of my progress and what I need to improve:

6 Things I Did Right

1. Handhelds for Hydration

For a few weeks now, I have been transitioning from a hydration pack, to carrying handhelds for hydration. There have been so many benefits in doing this that I’m working on a separate post about it. When I worry about running out of water, I carry a hydration pack with the bladder removed, and put an extra handheld bottle in it. So I’m always drinking from handhelds only.

For Cuyamaca 100K, I ran with only two handhelds. On the final loop, I carried an extra bottle in my pack but didn’t use it. The handhelds worked perfectly and I never ran out of water. The weather was also perfect and I never felt too hot, so that helped.

One tip I picked up for Gordy Ainsleigh is to carry juice concentrate in one bottle, and mix it with water and salt (small salt packets from any restaurant) in the other bottle. This allows you maximum control as far as diluting your fluids to a perfect consistency. However, you do need a separate water source to do this, such as from an aid station. Gordy usually fills up at streams, sparking some debate with his giardia approach. But that’s a whole different topic!

2. Running Uphills

When I first started trail running, I would try to run all the hills and then get burned out. I soon learned the benefits of power hiking uphill, and fell into a comfortable groove walking pretty much everything with an incline. My most recent hill work has been a combination of speeding up my hiking pace, and actually running uphill again. As a result, I’ve learned that I can run more steeper grades. However, that doesn’t always mean that I should. I’m becoming much better at knowing when to run and when to hike, as well as much more confident in my ability to climb quickly.

3. Blister Prevention

Dealing with blister issues is all about experimentation. For this race, I didn’t use any blister prevention techniques and came out completely unscathed. I attribute this to a wise sock and footwear choice. I wore new trail Injinji socks, and ran most of the course with my Merrell Mixmasters. I switched to my Montrail Rogue Flys in the final loop to vary the feel of my footfalls. This strategy worked perfectly for me.

4. Clothing

I had no chaffing issues at all. I wore longer capris, because on some of the training runs the overgrowth on the trail scratched up my legs. The INKnBURN capris worked amazingly well.

5. Power Hiking

On my very first trail race, I was shocked when people passed me walking uphill. These past few weeks, I have trained specifically to improve my power hiking speed, using a watch to time my summits and forcing myself to walk, not run. It all payed off in the final stages of this race, when I was able to match my running gait with a fast power hike. The hike conserved energy, I was able to sustain it for a longer period of time, and it allowed me to keep a steady pace through rolling hills even when I felt tired. When my pacer was jogging to keep up with my hiking pace, I knew I had hit a sweet spot for walking speed.

6. Music

I don’t like to listen to music through my entire run, but I do carry my iPod on some races in case I need to pull through a difficult low point. Music really helps get me into a groove, and boosts my motivation. It takes my mind off any pain and makes the time go by faster. When I do listen to my iPod, I like to use only one headphone so I can stay aware of my surroundings. At this race, I busted out my iPod in the last few miles when I needed a boost. It worked.

6 Things I Need to Work On

1. Night Running

I haven’t been doing enough of this. I slowed down a lot after dark, partly because I was tired, but also because I had a hard time with foot placement and navigating terrain at night. Only more practice can help build my confidence and skill in the dark.

2. Nutrition

I did great with remembering to eat, but then started lagging in the final loop and my pacer had to help me with nutrition reminders. I need to be more on top of it, as I was starting to drain right near the end and at one point I even noticed that my stomach was growling. I don’t have much appetite when I’m running, so it’s just a matter of remembering to eat throughout. I didn’t have any stomach issues, except for a couple of times my belly felt slightly “unsettled”, which is usually the case when I don’t eat enough.

3. Lighting

I very much prefer hand held lights to a headlamp, but I didn’t think through the fact that I would also be running with hand held water bottles. I had a hard time holding everything. I also had a headlamp, but I need to combine it with something else for better depth perception. A few times my hand would start cramping up and I had to keep shifting my hand position to hold everything. It was a waste of focus and energy. My coach Jason Robillard also runs with handheld bottles, plus a handheld light. So it can be done. I just have to practice doing this more often.

4. Sore Feet

Many of my long races have been on smoother terrain, so this was the first time my feet got sore from gnarly rocks in the final miles. I wrote to Jason Robillard about this, and he suggests that it’s worth taking a few extra seconds to avoid sharp and jutting rocks from the beginning of the race (even though they don’t hurt yet), to help preserve your feet for the later miles. Minimalist shoes are an added challenge, but I don’t do well with heavier shoes. Again, more practice on rockier terrain will help me improve. As mentioned before, the shoe swap was a really great call for me during this race.

5. Downhill Running

Usually running downhill is my strength, but in the final loop my legs felt pretty trashed and it was a new feeling of discomfort for me. My 100 miler was much flatter, and I have little practice running downhill on trashed legs. Jason suggested changing up my gait for the downhills, and throwing in some more hill training. I think both will help.

6. Suck It Up

I thought I was pushing myself pretty good, but of course after the fact I wonder if I could have pushed a LITTLE harder in the final miles. I did a lot of walking in the final loop, and I maybe should have done more running while it was still light, since the darkness would slow me down anyway. If I had to do it again, I think I would have dug a little deeper right at the end. And next time I will.

Overall, I had a great race and it was a perfect learning experience for Chimera. I’m not quite where I want to be, but I’m much closer than I used to be.

RELATED ARTICLES:

The Turning Point in My Running Career

Why You’re Not an Elite Runner (Yet)

7 Lies You Believe About Ultra Running

3 Things That Rocked the Mogollon Monster 100 | Trail Running Club

Photo: Andrew Pielage

Here is my race report from the inaugural Mogollon Monster 100:

3 Things That Rocked the Mogollon Monster 100 | Trail Running Club.

RELATED ARTICLES:

San Diego 100: The Turning Point in my Running Career

My First 100 Miler Race Report

Why You’re Not an Elite Runner (Yet)

Why You Should Never Ever Crew for Badwater

By Ed Ettinghausen

If you don’t know Ed, you’re missing out. Also known as The Jester (for racing in colorful costume), Ed is not only an amazingly strong runner, but also an incredible motivator. This year, Ed finished Badwater (again), and wrote the following on his Facebook fan page. I enjoyed it so much I wanted to share it here.

Follow Ed’s Facebook page

***

Does seeing all the cool pictures and reading all the great posts give you a burning desire to run the Badwater 135 Ultramarathon yourself?

Or maybe you’re not quite that ambitious just yet, but you’d like to dip your toes in the (Badwater) pool by being part of a crew. Would that be a dream come true for you?

If your answer is yes, then here’s the most important word of advice I could share with you, if you’re ever asked to crew . . . RUN! Run as fast you can, as far away as you can!

If you think crewing would be a fun and easy way to experience what Badwater is all about, without all the hard work of running the race yourself, think again Buster!

Talk to those that have crewed. They’ll tell you that the beginning and end, and a few points in between are like a fairy tale, all glamour and glitz and photo ops galore, but once the start line is crossed and the runners make their way through the heat of Death Valley towards Whitney Portal, the rest of it can slowly become just one long, never-ending nightmare.

You might get lucky and crew for a runner that’s very sweet and kind and undemanding – but not likely, as that kind of luck only happens a hop, skip and a jump down the road in Las Vegas.

You’ll find that most of us running Badwater, somewhere along that infamous 135-mile course through hell and back, will end up turning into the big bad wolf in sheep’s clothing. And what you end up with is lots of bad attitude from us, and lots of hard work for you.

Crewing for a Badwater runner is one of the most demanding and nastiest jobs you could ever do in your life. Having crewed/competed at Badwater, with three different crews, I can tell you that it’s certainly not all fun and games, and good times had by all. Far from it.

And yes, I said job earlier, but it’s more like prison slave labor, as the work is non-stop, around the clock, for 24 to 48 hours. Your only escape is stopping. And that only comes at the Whitney Portal finish, or a DNF. Think I’m exaggerating?

Let me give you a glimpse into a few aspects of what crewing is really like, so if you’re ever invited to crew for someone lucky enough to be invited to Badwater, you’ll have to good sense to say, “Hell no, I wouldn’t be on a Badwater crew for all the… all the… all the Borax in Death Valley!”

Time

Plan on sacrificing the better part of four to five days for our speedy little Badwater romp through the desert (or even more if you don’t live in Southern Cali or Nevada).

Isn’t there somewhere else where you’d rather spend a week in the middle of July, than in the middle of Death Valley? What are you, European? (Ok, besides Badwater runners, DV is over-run by Europeans in the summer. Americans have a lot more sense – at least those not doing Badwater.)

And time itself becomes very surreal, as day blends into night, and night blends into day, and day blends into night. In the desert, time just seems to stand still and drag on and on, forever, and ever, and ever…

Running

Yes, you do get to run with us in the actual Badwater race, on the actual Badwater course. How exciting is that? Right? But here’s what your little “fun run” entails:

You have to do it not from beside us, like a buddy out for a nice little training run together, but from one step behind us. You’re more like a humble servant, acting as a human mule as you carry our supplies, constantly taking care of our every need, handing us food and drink, spraying us down with water, keeping our hats full of ice, changing out our clothing, wiping our brows, our noses, our mouths, our (we won’t even mention other regions of the body – well, not yet, anyway), like we’re some kind of blue blood royalty.

And all this while on the run, matching our stride step for step, and trying not to trip over all the rocks on the shoulder of the road, as you are required to serve us from our left rear side. During this time no one looks after your needs, as you try to prevent yourself from getting heat stroke and dropping dead on the course.

And be forewarned, if you are inconsiderate enough to die on us, we’ll just leave your carcass in the desert to mummify. You don’t have to worry about vultures pecking your eyes out, as it’s too dry and desolate even for the vultures and vermin to reside there.

When and where you want to run less, we demand that you run more. When and where you want to run more, we demand that you run less – and then get back in that hot, stuffy, cramped car. If you imagine a half-opened can of sardines left out in the hot sun, that’s the crew vehicle, as it slowly winds its way through Death Valley.

When you want to sleep, we make you run. When you’re too hot, we make you run. When you’re too cold, we make you run. When you’re thirsty and hungry, we make you run. When you need to take a potty break, we make you run. When you want to run faster, we make you run slower, or walk. When you want to run slower or walk, we want to go faster.

You constantly have to look out for oncoming cars, for yourself and for us, as we’re not coherent enough to be paying attention to those things. And many times you’re in places where there’s very little to no shoulder. As I said, this is not like a Sunday morning run with your buddy on a wide-open country road. It’s a lot of friggin’ hard work.

Sleeping

For a solid four to five days, don’t plan on getting much sleep, and certainly not in your own bed. You might be able to catch a wink or two, here or there in the vehicle, but when it’s lurching and stopping every five minutes, and the doors are all thrown wide open, with the temperature in the vehicle constantly changing, and everyone’s yelling instructions each time we pass by – about 300 times throughout the race – good luck on that.

And the times you do get to sleep in a motel, the night or two before the start and the night after the finish, it’ll probably be on the floor, in some dive, as we’re too tapped out financially, or booked too late in the game to get decent rooms with beds for everyone, at the nicer accommodations, with the pools and Jacuzzis, and the continental breakfasts.

Eating and Drinking

This is no “eat, drink, and be merry” fairy tale. Because if you’re lucky enough to get real food – before and after the race – it’ll probably be at some fast food joint, since we can’t afford to take you to the nice eateries.

During the race, there’s very little to eat, other than a few unappetizing warm/dry snacks, and there’s no place or time to stop and get real food without hearing, “Why did you guys abandon me? Do you want me to die out here?” Surprisingly, we have a cooler full of mouth-watering food that’s off-limits to the crew, although for 99% of the race, we have no appetite, so it just sits there, temping you each time you open our cooler.

You also have to constantly keep asking us what we want to eat, going over the list of foods, again, and again, and again, because nothing sounds appetizing to us, as you try to convince us of how good such-and-such would taste, just to try to get us to take one or two bites, just to get some well-needed calories into our bellies. No matter what you give us, even when we ask for it, it’s always the wrong thing.

Same thing goes with the drinks. We get dibs on all the good drinks; you’re stuck with water, or thinned out Gatorade. And you’re constantly worried about our fluid intake, cause we won’t drink more than a sip or two at a time, but insist that you always carry a topped off 24-ouncer of our favorite drink, each time you pass the support vehicle.

The one time that you don’t exchange for a new one, since we hadn’t even touched it from before, we get upset because it’s not cold enough, has too much ice, too little ice, is the wrong flavor, is mixed too strong or too weak, or is not in our favorite water bottle with the special top.

You resort to calling us Goldilocks, or princess, or prima dona, or diva, or worse, amongst the other crew, but don’t dare let us hear it, because we’ve completely lost our sense or humor, and will have a big conniption fit followed by a complete meltdown.

Gear

We demand that you get us the exact right gear, exactly when we want it:

“That green wind-breaker! No, not the green one in your hand, the yellow one, the one with the hood, the one that says “San Diego 100” on it, like I keep telling you! No, not the one in the red duffle bag, the other one in the blue duffle behind the seat! I know where I packed it! It’s right there where I just told you, just keep looking, I know it’s there, you’re just not looking in the right place!”

After all the crew have frantically torn apart every square inch of both vehicles, desperately searching for that one very special yellow wind-breaker with the hood for the last three stops, and then you sheepishly tell us you can’t find it, but you can only find that original green pull-over without the hood, that very first one you showed us – 30 minutes ago, when your blood pressure was about half of what it is now – we’ll tell you:

“That’s what I’ve been asking for all along, the green wind-breaker with the hood, that says San Francisco Marathon. What’s wrong with you people! Why don’t you listen to me!”

And then after you help us take off the reflective gear, put on the green wind-breaker, put the reflective gear and the light back on us, we’ll wear it for three minutes and decide it’s too hot, “because we’re going up hill now, but when I asked for it we were going downhill”, so you have to go through the whole process – in reverse.

But do it quickly, while we’re running, as we don’t want to lose any more time, because now we have to make up time for all the lost time you caused us by looking for the wrong wind-breaker.

Garbage

As supplies get used up, the garbage accumulates. But since you’re in the middle of the desert, you have to keep it in the vehicle until you get to the next check-point/town 30+ miles away. More and more smelly trash is building up, but we don’t smell it because we’re in the open fresh air, and we’re doing all the hard work, so don’t you dare complain to us.

Body Fluids (and Gasses)

You cannot imagine what the body in capable of producing in just that day or two on the road. Sure, there’s bound to be plenty of blood, sweat and tears, but you can find that at any ultra. At Badwater, “when it rains, it pours”!

The additional body fluids that are produced and dealt with somewhere along the course would include never ending snot rockets, plenty of pee, piles of poop, pockets of pus, and buckets of barf (the crew name “Vomit Boy wasn’t just a random, made-up name, after all). That wouldn’t be so bad, except that your job is to document all the waste elimination, including grading it on color, volume, and consistency.

Still think crewing sounds like a fun job?

We saw one particular runner that was constantly dropping her drawers on the side of the road, and doing her business. I won’t mention her name, but her initials are BMW…

No, if she wants to blog about it herself, we’ll leave that up to her. So we’ll keep her name anonymous: What happens at Badwater stays at Badwater. BMW actually stands for Badass Mystery Woman. But we did notice BMW’s crew members dutifully standing guard, each time she had to expose her assets, which she said happened over 60 times during the race (remember that documentation we require the crew to do).

And I’ll bet that if BMW (I see some real sponsorship potential with this BMW thing) needed help in wiping her bare assets, the crew would have stepped up to the task at hand, because that’s what crew do for their runner – anything, and everything to get them to the finish line. (By the way, this Badass mystery woman ended up passing our sorry asses coming into Lone Pine, in spite of her time-consuming and extremely uncomfortable affliction.)

As bad as all that sounds, I’m sure Team Jester would have gleefully traded places with BMW’s crew, in at least one particular area. Being the gentlemen that they are, and remembering that “what happens at Badwater…”, they would probably never mention this, so I’ll go ahead and “spill the beans” so to speak.

I had gas! Lots of gas! Whole tanker truckloads of gas! I had so much gas that if I could have bottled and sold it, the profits would have easily paid for all our Badwater expenses, with enough left over for a much needed week of detox at a Vegas resort and spa for the crew. Race officials are now adding a new DQ item to the rulebook: Flagrant use of noxious fumes. They’re actually referring to it as “The Jester Rule”.

My foster mother (rest her soul) was so guarded in her speech that she would refer to it as “breaking wind”. Any other vulgar reference in her presence would be swiftly rewarded with a lavish mouth full of soap.

Somehow I’m thinking that faced with the choice of my “breaking wind” versus mom’s mouth full of soap, my crew would have happily chosen the latter. (One of mom’s other claims to fame was her ice bath “remedy” for peeing the bed, but that’s another story for another time. And a big reason why I never, ever do ice baths now – even at Badwater!)

Don’t forget the position the crew are required to take when accompanying their runner on the course. That may not have been so bad, except that there was a head wind for large portions of the race. The crew were in such bad shape by the time we meandered our way up Whitney Portal that we had guys in Haz-Mat suits cleaning them up as we crossed the finish line.

I think next year, if there is a next year – now that I won’t be able to get anyone in their right senses to crew for me – we’ll have to change the team logo from a jester hat to a gas mask. Maybe I won’t look at future crew members’ ultra running experience, just look for a bunch of coke heads that no longer have their sense of smell.

Weather

Hot, very hot, and extremely hot!

And this was a cool year, as it only topped out at 116 degrees. But remember, “it’s dry heat”…

Coming down from the other side of the Panamints in the early morning hours of day two, it did drop down to 49 degrees. Then there’s the wind (the other wind). Sometimes lots of wind. Going up Towne’s Pass, a little 17-mile fun run from Stovepipe wells with a 1-mile vertical elevation gain, we had a headwind that just kept building steam.

I don’t know the numbers, but if’n I was a bettin’ man, I’d say it had to be 30-40(+) MPH winds. Maybe this was the one and only time the crew were happy to be required to stay behind the staff.

It was funny seeing other teams with the crew drafting so close on their heels, four arms and four legs moving in unison as one. Looked like some kind of new Olympic event, a hybrid of the two-man bobsled, the cross-country skier, and the marathon. Could call it the “bobskithon”.

Mechanical Failure

When you’re constantly stopping and starting vehicles in Badwater conditions a couple hundred times, there’s a chance you might have to deal with some car issues. Last year, one of our SKECHERS vehicles lost the AC. This year, we had a transmission slippage issue.

Third place finisher Zack Gingrich’s crew had to get a jump-start on the course. Of course, cars can easily overheat. With long stretches between gas stations, fuel can be a problem. And it’s not uncommon for people to accidentally lock their keys in the car.

CHP officer Scott (wearing his traditional kilt) is the local AAA guy, in case anyone gets locked out. He carries with him his special rock that has “AAA” painted on it. Nice guy that he is, he does give you the courtesy of choosing what window you want destroyed.

Unappreciated

Be prepared to get yelled at, cussed out, flipped off, trash thrown at you, pushed off the road… and that’s just from the locals driving by. You’ll get that and plenty more from your runner, including things ripped out of your hands, empty (or full) hydration bottles and trash thrown across the road, sweaty clothes, hats, towels, thrown in your face, and non-stop scoldings. Oh, the scoldings you will get.

No matter what you do and how hard you try, it will never be right, and it will never be enough. (Refer back to the “Goldilocks Syndrome” above.) Be prepared to hear phrases like:

  • How many times do I have to say (fill in the blank)?
  • What took you so long, you were supposed to have that an hour ago? I don’t want it now!
  • You know I hate (fill in the blank)!
  • I said stop every mile, you keep going like three miles up (and you’re actually only going in half-mile increments)!
  • If (fill in the blank) happens again, I’m going to kill (fill in crew members name)!
  • If (fill in crew member’s name) says (fill in the blank) one more time I’m going to leave him on the side of the road!
  • You told me it was only ( ) miles to ( ), we’ve already gone farther than that!
  • What is wrong with you people!

And the best one ever: “I hate you! You will never crew for me or anyone else, ever again!”

Confusion and Paranoia

We are constantly telling you things and forgetting we said it, or hearing you say things, and forgetting you told us. Or hearing you say things that you never said. We don’t know what we want, when we want it, or why we want it.

We totally get disoriented on time, distance, and direction, but of course everything you tell us, we don’t believe, so we make you check, and double check, and triple check. We know everything; you know nothing.

We are constantly worried that the next guy is right behind us, and is going to catch us any second. We are in constant fear that one of the crew will do something to get us kicked off the course. Every vehicle coming from the other direction is a race official, out to get us. And somewhere on the course our mantra becomes, “I will never, ever do Badwater again!”

And then, we shut down. We don’t say a word, so you’re left guessing what is wrong with us. We’ll only shake our heads yes or no, because it takes way too much energy and breath to talk, as we huff and puff our way up the climb to Whitney Portal. Simple tasks, like putting on foot in front of the other, navigating a turn, keeping upright, are all suddenly monumental tasks. We look like we are near death.

Then suddenly, the finish line comes into view and we become Lazarus, raised from the dead long enough to cross the famous Badwater finish tape. We collect our buckle, get our group picture, and then collapse in a heap. And when asked if we’ll do it all over again next year, through the tears of joy, we manage to whisper one single word… “Yes”.

Ask anyone that’s ever crewed at Badwater, and they’ll confirm the above, plus give you an additional thousand and one reasons why you should never, ever crew at Badwater.

So why is it that so many people so badly want to crew at Badwater, and literally beg to be on a Badwater team, causing many runners to turn scores of disheartened crew seekers away?

Because once you get through the hours and hours of nastiness above, there is nothing else in the world that compares to being a part of a Badwater team.

Period. End of story.

From what I hear about giving birth, there seem to be a lot of similarities. When all is said and done, all that is said and done is forgiven.

Badwater is a team effort. Only two people in the world have survived Badwater 135 in the summer, as a solo journey: ultramarathoner extraordinaire Dr. Lisa Bliss, and 2012 18th time finisher, ultra rock star Marshall Ullrick – who has more Badwater buckles than anyone else on the planet.

They will both tell you that going through Badwater without crew is like going through hell without… well, you get the point. It’s near suicidal. So a Badwater finish is a finish for all on the team, and the corresponding unfortunate Badwater DNF, is a DNF for all on the team as well.

There is something so unique and indescribable about the whole Badwater experience, that it’s like you’re in another dimension. When you leave the highway at Baker and start heading west, through the beautiful dessert, sights seen in no other place on earth, it’s like you’ve been transported into a parallel universe.

And for four days you get to hang out with hundreds of like-minded people, all with one over-riding goal: get your team to Whitney Portal in under 48 hours. Funny that the “portal” into this parallel universe isn’t actually at the Mount Whitney finish, but somewhere on that Highway 190, just west of Baker.

So if I haven’t completely turned you off about crewing, then go for it. It is without a doubt one of the most amazing events you will ever experience in your lifetime. And other than a piece of metal for your belt, and a name on a finisher’s list, this is one of the few sporting events where the crew is just as proud at the finish as the competitor.

Because we did it as a team. The most difficult part of Badwater is trying to get back into that parallel universe we call real life, and waiting 365 days to do it all over again.

See you at Badwater 2013.

Jester on…

Follow the Jester on Facebook

RELATED ARTICLES

SD100: A Turning Point in my Running Career

7 Lies You Believe About Ultra Marathons

The Baddest of Badwater

 

How to Train Your Human to Run an Ultra

By Ginger Shackelford

Though dogs have been running ultra distances since the dawn of time, it has only recently occurred to the human species that they may also be capable of the same.

If you are aching to put some miles on your paws and would like to bring your human along, it is now possible to do this safely if you follow a few simple precautionary steps.

Below is how I have successfully trained my human to run ultra distances. This weekend, we successfully completed 31 miles in 27 hours. (Hey, I didn’t say she was fast.) If my human can do it, so can yours.

Recognizing an Ultra Human

Not any human can be your ultra running partner. How do you know if yours is ready for an ultra? Firstly, you need a human who is committed to your comfort. They long to please you. If you pull your leash on your daily walk, does your human allow you to go faster? If they concede and follow your lead, you may be the owner of a good ultra human.

All your human really wants is to be a dog.

The Early Steps

I began training my human with running intervals. On my daily walk, I would start to trot. My human was happy to follow. Then I pulled a little harder, and a little harder. Do this until your human is almost running at a full sprint. Then stop dead on the trail to sniff a bush.

This will sharpen your human’s reflexes, while the intervals will improve their speed. Don’t worry if your human falls flat on their face the first few times as they trip over you. They will learn in time.

Pulling on your leash has a secondary benefit: your human will be more inclined to let you off-leash. This gives you the freedom you need for easier and faster training, and the experience is more enjoyable for you both.

Some humans take longer to let you off-leash than others. Remember, humans need their leashes to feel safe and secure. You are their protector. When they let you off, this is a sign that they have matured and are ready to progress in their training.

Training your human to run off-leash is challenging, but worth the time.

Getting to the Event

No matter how much you have trained off-leash with your human, once you arrive at the ultra you will notice the leash is back around your neck. Be patient with your human. They are a nervous species, really.

Your human needs some time to familiarize themselves with their environment, and they need you close by. Once your human feels comfortable with their surroundings, they will release their leash.

You may celebrate his milestone with a tail wag or a happy hop. This shows your human that you are proud of them. It is important that you still stay close by, preferably keeping your human in sight. If they cannot see you, this may trigger their separation anxiety and you will find yourself back on the leash.

Running the Race

All your human really wants is to be just like you. At our last race, my human wanted so badly to be like me that she tried to run the race barefoot. Silly. At least she didn’t try to make me wear those ridiculous doggie shoes that I hate.

Me and my dumbass barefoot human

Humans only have half the legs that you do, and they are much more fragile in their build. It is important to be patient with your human, to motivate and encourage them, and to keep them safe.

Because my human decided to go barefoot, I could not safely push her to run the speeds that I wanted. However, I still had a lot of jobs to do:

1. Motivation

I ran the first few miles with my human, showing her how much fun we were having and what a great experience this was. I bounded through the fields, sprinted ahead on the grass, and climbed everything in sight. This made my human smile and forget the disappointment of not being able to run as well as I do.

Remember: as you are encouraging your human to have fun, always come when they call. Their call means that they need you. Although there may not be a specific problem, do not become impatient with them. They don’t always know why they call.

At one point, I was so busy motivating my human that I dashed around a corner and ran right into a turkey. I decided to run behind my human after that. Turkeys are a horrid species, really.

2. Pacing

The more tired my human became, the closer I stuck by her. Maintain a steady pace ahead of your human (or behind, if you see fit), to drive them forward. I ran both in front of and behind my human. I like to switch it up depending on my human’s state of mind.

If your human is slowing down, keep your pace. Your human may follow you. If you assess that your human simply cannot follow you, do not leave them. Stand on the side of the trail until they have caught up, but do not come unless they call. Moving forward, always. Humans are similar to cattle. You must drive them.

3. Navigation

Ultra races have course markers. Teach yourself, as I did, to follow the markers. My human was surprised when I could lead her through the course markings with accuracy, but it is not that difficult to follow the ribbons. Be aware because humans have an atrocious sense of direction, often getting lost on well-marked courses. As they get tired, they also become more stupid. It is important that you point them where they should go.

4. Wildlife

Humans are a skittish species and incredibly distrustful of wildlife. It is your job to keep an eye out for any critters, both large and small, that may startle them. At a few points during the race my human saw some cattle nearby and immediately put me on the leash.

This showed me that she was worried the cattle were going to eat her, so I perked up and stayed sharp, glaring the cattle down to show them my human was off limits. When the threat had passed, my human let me off-leash again, a sign that I had done a good job of protecting her from these vicious predators.

5. Human Buddy

Humans are a social species, and will have their spirits lifted if you bring along a second human. Do not take this personally. Although it is obvious that your company is far superior, the additional human will in fact ease your responsibility.

Your human will be more distracted and pleasant. Instead of whining or grumbling to you, you are free to run ahead and enjoy the trails while they chat to their buddy.

With these tips in mind, here is a race report of the Born to Run Ultra Marathon 50K, my first ultra with my human:

BORN TO RUN 50K

I arrived a day early and camped out, to give my human time to adjust to her environment. Although she kept me on the leash for the first few minutes, it wasn’t long before I was off. Good human.

Camping with my humans: a great way to get them used to their environment. Stay close to reduce their anxiety.

I was indignantly fed some dog food from home while my human enjoyed special camping treats. However, upon expressing my disapproval, she was soon feeding me from her meal.

I took some time to get acquainted with the other canines who had brought their humans. One of them was the infamous Ghost Dog who is a fellow illegal Mexican immigrant. I was happy to see he had made it safely across the border and was now in loving hands. We exchanged pleasantries.

Nice to meet you.

No, nice to meet YOU.

The humans participated in an unrefined ball-playing game that made little sense. As a ball connoisseur, I can tell you that this spherical object had all the wrong qualities. It was neither soft nor chewable, and therefore unplayable.

The dogs all stood around in horror as the humans insisted on kicking this thing around. Sadly, this is not uncommon and not much more can be expected. Humans are notorious for ball atrocities, such as pushing around a much-too-hard one they call “golf”, or a much-too-large one they call “basketball”. Ridiculous. You can view this pathetic display of sportsmanship below.

YouTube Link Here

On race day, the gun went off and my human started in last place, without any shoes. She is not the smartest pet at the races. As the hard reality set in for her that she was not, in fact, a dog, I tried my best to keep her motivated by prancing in the grass and showing her how much fun we were having.

On the way, we picked up a stray named Caity who was going in the wrong direction. I redirected her on the right path and brought her along to help my human. Caity was being run by a new canine named Nigel. He was decent company, but fairly inexperienced. He went a little overboard with his running and made his human nervous. I had a word with him and then he was better.

Watching over the stray

After the first loop was over, my human was in low spirits but very appreciative of my invaluable company. To express her thanks, she offered me a pineapple on which to lay my head. I thought this strange, but lay down on the prickly object to show her that I appreciated the gesture. Humans are weird.

Strange human pineapple custom

I encouraged my human to rest by immediately passing out on the grass and taking a nap. This worked, as my human sat down and ate for a long time. When she was feeling better, my human put on shoes and I jumped up to show her I was ready to go.

Because my human copies everything I do, I encourage her to rest by passing out.

This second loop was much more successful. My human ran along happily, even though she no longer had the company of stray Caity. I kept an eye out for cattle. Near the end of that second loop, I could tell my human was once again getting tired. It was also getting dark.

My human is clearly afraid of the dark since she is no good at night running and often falls asleep soon after the sun sets, so it didn’t surprise me when she crawled into the tent and called me to come after her. She fell asleep almost immediately, and I feared that our run would be over.

WTF? Why aren’t we running?

The next morning, my human was feeling better and decided to finish the race. I showed my approval by eating half of her breakfast burrito. None of the other dogs were running their humans this morning, since their humans were all thoroughly wiped. I was proud that mine still had some life in her legs, though she was slow as molasses.

The last loop with my human was the most fun. She ran it in two hours and fed me beef jerky and potatoes. I even chased a few bunnies. I have done well to teach my human not to care about time, to forget her stats (they’re embarrassing, really), and to run with joy in her heart. We finished 30 miles in total, with just one more to go.

In the final mile, my human was penalized for sleeping during a 50K. The RD’s instructions were that she must kick the Tarahumaran ball for the final mile–no hands allowed.

My human isn’t very coordinated and kept kicking the ball into the bushes for me to retrieve. At one point she even stepped on it and took a tumble. If she says I tripped her, she is lying.

I finally just carried the ball for the last half-mile, which was uncomfortable because it was made out of hard wood and it tasted like Luis Escobar. But I try to help my human as much as I can and carried her punishment without complaining.

All said and done, my human is pretty dumb but I sure do love that bitch. I’ll train her better and bring her back next year.

When properly trained, humans make great ultra buddies.

A Note From My Human: Vanessa Runs

I had such as blast running this race with Miss Ginger. She truly humbled me with her patience and skill and made me look pretty stupid out there. I even would have missed a few turns if she didn’t guide me in the right direction, following the course markings where I couldn’t.

She literally paced me through my low spots – staying just enough ahead of me to encourage me to push ahead. She made me laugh the whole way.

At one point running that second loop, we were all alone on the ridge, running into the sunset. I felt like Micah and she was my Ghost. Just two bitches against the world.

At that moment, I truly learned the magic between a human and an animal who can understand that human completely. Ginger, I’ll follow you through the trails any day.

RELATED ARTICLES:

Train Your Dog for Long Distance Trail Running in 20 Steps

Ginger’s Interview on Her 3rd Mount Baldy Summit (Video)

Ginger’s Interview on Run Barefoot Girl

Follow Ginger on Facebook

Grand Canyon R2R2R Run Report

I leap off the rock where I am sitting and grab a large stone. Clutching it as a weapon, I scream at Shacky to come back, or for godsake’s—pick up a weapon. We are ¼-mile from the top of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim—just steps from finishing the R2R2R. It’s almost 1:30 a.m. and we started running at 5 a.m. yesterday morning. We are exhausted, and I’m a little delusional.

This is not our first encounter with wildlife. But it is the first time I feel compelled to pick up a weapon. Less than a mile ago, I was slogging behind Shacky when I heard him hooting, hollering and clapping. At first, I thought he had reached the top. When I realized that wasn’t the case, I worried he might have lost his mind. But as I turned the switchback, my blood turned cold when he told me to stand back—there was a mountain lion on the rock ahead, glaring and crouching toward us.

The switchback was set up in such a way that we would have to give our backs to the hungry cat in order to continue on the trail—something you never, ever do. So we tried our best to walk backwards up the trail, making loud noises to keep the animal away. Even after we had walked some distance, I was watching my back, certain I was only seconds from death.

And now this.

A few minutes ago, I had stopped dead in my tracks to see a huge deer staring into my face on my left hand side. It was so close I could touch it. It was a beautiful creature, and I yelled at Shacky to give me the camera. But Shacky didn’t think it was a good idea—the deer didn’t look too pleased and he said that they do attack if they feel threatened.

I immediately thought of the deer scene from The Ring 2 and backed away as quickly and quietly as I could:

As I turned away, I heard rocks fall behind me. I spun around and saw the deer had followed me, blocking the trail behind me and staring me down. Holy shit. We kept walking straight.

The next second, we almost stumbled into a deer blocking the trail right in front of us. The large animal stood defiantly and refused to budge. A deer in front. A deer behind. Both unafraid. There was nowhere to go.

Crazy ass deer on the path

I suggested we sit down and wait, to see if they would move. We sat. We waited. After what seemed like 10 minutes, it was clear the deer were not moving. I suggested we toss some pebbles at their feet, to make noise and hopefully scare them away. That’s when Shacky started throwing rocks right at it. I yelled at him to stop and hid my face, certain the deer would attack.

“What’s happening??” I asked, still too afraid to look.

“He’s not very impressed,” Shacky replied.

Dear God. This is how I will die, I thought. Death by deer. Only steps away from finishing our run.

Shacky finally got mad at waiting so long, and lunged toward the deer to push it off the trail. That’s when I grabbed the rock. I thought for sure, I would now have to bludgeon Bambi to death with my bare hands.

As Shacky approaches, the deer just grunts and bounds away. My adrenaline is so high, I just want to get the hell out of the canyon. The entire final climb for us has been in the dark.

We can no longer see the inspiration of the canyon, and although the moon is brilliant, the rocks often obscure it as we trudge through switchback after never-ending switchback.

We can see nothing ahead or behind us, so it is impossible to tell how much trail we have left. I think of Gordy’s story about Ron Kelley, who attempted to run 100 miles of the Western States course right after he did, and gave up after 97 miles. “He didn’t know how close he was,” Gordy said. And that’s how I felt now.

I know the end is close, but I don’t know when it will come. I hear Shacky yell ahead of me. “Come here! Hurry up!” Holy shit, I think, there’s another mountain lion. He’s calling me so we can die together. But it turns out to be the top. We made it! We are done! Over 20 hours later… we are done.

* * *

The morning started in much better spirits. The original plan was for our group to start at 3:30 a.m. to avoid the heat of the day, but Gordy thought that was a mistake.

Gordon Ainsleigh, the godfather of ultra running, had come along with us to run his first-ever R2R2R. Gordy was the first man who believed it was possible to run 100 miles in one day, and proved it.

Many on the trail recognized him from Unbreakable, or as the first man to run Western States 100. But really—he invented Western States 100. He pretty much invented long distance trail running.

Gordy looks over the trail toward the Colorado River.

Gordy and me

I have never seen Unbreakable, but what intrigues me about Gordy is his limitless spirit. He doesn’t see boundaries when it came to running. Not for distance, not for speed, and not for temperature. Gordy shrugged off the heat of the Canyon, and said he wanted to start at dawn. Gordy’s friend Ralph, who had run the Canyon before, strongly agreed.

The 3:30 a.m. group would be going down South Kaibab in the dark, missing some of the most breathtaking views of the Canyon. The climb up Bright Angel, Gordy argued, wasn’t as scenic and we wouldn’t miss much doing that in the dark instead. Gordy was here to experience the Canyon and he thought an early start would be a mistake.

He talked us into joining him. Shacky was reluctant, because both heat and elevation are what he struggles with. But I was eager to follow Gordy. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, running into the Canyon with a legend, and I wasn’t about to let it slip away for a few degrees.

South Kaibab trailhead in the daylight

Good morning!

Gordy looks down South Kaibab and decides we must run it at dawn

Gordy also convinced Christine to come along, so on Saturday morning Gordy, Shacky, Christine and I all hopped in the van.  Then we sat there as we realized that none of us knew how to get to the trailhead.

* * *

Gordy was not the least bit concerned. In fact, he didn’t worry much about anything on the entire trip. He munched on an orange and told us to just drive, and eventually we did find the trailhead. We’re still not sure how we got there.

When we arrived at the parking lot, we didn’t see the van of the 3:30 a.m. group, so that worried us a little. Gordy just shrugged and said, “Don’t worry about that.” As it turned out, the early group got dropped off and the van was driven back.

Gordy wasn’t worried about water either. None of us knew were all the water stops were, and we all carried a ton of water. Gordy just had two handhelds and didn’t seem the least bit concerned. After Phantom Ranch, he would even convince Christine to dump some of her own water to lighten her load and run faster. She was reluctant.

“But I need water!”

“You can get water anytime you want!” said Gordy.

“No! I cannot get water ANYTIME I want!”

“You can always just drink from the river. If you get sick, it won’t be until next week or the week after.”

All that matters to Gordy is today. This run. Right now.

Gordy and Christine running down South Kaibab.

“It is impossible in a few pages to do justice, in the smallest degree, to the great gorge itself, that sublimest thing on earth, or to the perils and adventures of our journey through it.” – Robert B. Stanton (1909)

“The spectacle is so symmetrical, and so completely excludes the outside world and its accustomed standards, it is with difficulty one can acquire any notion of its immensity.” – C. A. Higgins (1886)

Christine was not one to “drink from the river,” but she did dump some water, and it did help her run faster. In fact, she finished the run ahead of us all and even ended up sharing her water with Gordy when he took a fall and spilled his own supply.

Christine would jump up and down at the North rim, full of energy, and smoke Gordy on the final Bright Angel climb. Gordy would scold her for going up alone in the dark, telling her about the mountain lions in the area.

“They don’t like French chicks!” she yelled back, before disappearing toward the summit.

Christine running uphill

“You cannot see the Grand Canyon in one view, but to see it you have to toil from month to month through this labyrinths.” – John Wesley Powell (1909)

“The glories and beauties of form, color and sound unite in the Grand Canyon. It has infinite variety and no part is ever duplicated. Its colors, although many and complex at any instant, change with the ascending and declining sun.” – John Wesley Powell (1909)

Christine and Gordy did stick together for the most part, and Christine rolled her eyes every time someone would delay them to take a picture of Gordy or try to chat with him.

“Don’t you want my picture??” she demanded. “I am famous where I am from!” So they would take her picture too.

“Come on Gordy, time to go!” she would say when he stopped to sit or talk for too long. They were a good pair.

* * *

I took an early lead coming down South Kaibab. The stunning views made me catch my breath and thank God that we had the sense to start in the daylight. To say it was beautiful is an understatement. The Grand Canyon is not a place. It is an experience. It cannot be described. It must be lived.

“The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail.” – John Wesley Powell

“A descent into the Canon is essential for a proper estimate of its details, and one can never realize the enormity of certain valleys, till he has crawled like a maimed insect at their base and looked thence upward to the narrowed sky.” – John Stoddard (1898)

The rock carvings descending for miles, with splashes of red and orange and brown against the sunrise can make you believe in God. Animals unafraid of human contact, fiery red sand slowly camouflaging your shoes and gear, cold caves and crevices offering the odd relief from the hot sun—it’s a different world. It’s a wonderland.

“When you sit on the edge of that thing, you realize what a joke we people really are. What big heads we have thinking that what we do is gonna matter all that much, thinking that our time here means didly to those rocks. Those rocks are laughing at me right now. Me and my worries.” – Simon, Grand Canyon movie (1991)

“You ever been to the Grand Canyon? It’s pretty, but that’s not the thing of it. You can sit on the edge of that big ol’ thing and those rocks… the cliffs and rocks are so old… it took so long for that thing to get like that. And it ain’t done either! It happens right there while you’re watching it.” – Simon, Grand Canyon movie (1991)

Every picture I took, I knew would not do the scenery justice. I couldn’t fit the entire landscape in my camera. I could focus on the runner, but not on the towering boulders above his head. I could focus on the rock, but not on the ant-sized conga line of runners traversing it.

“It’s like trying to describe what you feel when you’re standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon or remembering your first love or the birth of your child. You have to be there to really know what it’s like.” – Jack Schmitt

“I believe in evolution. But I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also.” – John McCain

Maybe once or twice in your life, you experience a run this joyous. I couldn’t help but running down that canyon as fast as I could, stopping dead every so often to let the others catch up. Gordy would later tell me I had “the happiest stride in ultrarunning.”

Early lead

Love it here!

I felt like a bird who had just been set free. At one point, making the descent from the North rim, I was so far ahead of the others, it felt like I was all alone on the planet, just doing a training run at one of the seven wonders of the world.

Me running ahead down the North Rim

Checking out the trail up ahead

It is runs like these—not money, and not assets—that make me filthy rich. I felt like I owned everything around me. I was swimming in wealth. Running fast was an expression of gratitude and joy. Like a child dashing toward her favorite swing, this was my playground.

“We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore.” – John Wesley Powell

“Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms, you would never see the true beauty of their carvings.” -
 Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Of course, the uphills weren’t as fast. I hiked many of the inclines, focusing on keeping a steady stride and a respectable cadence. If I looked up suddenly, the canyons would make me dizzy. So I looked down and tried to stay ahead of Shacky.

Shacky wasn’t having a good day. He wanted to turn back before reaching the North rim, but I refused to let him. I wondered later if I should have let him, since he was sick on the way back. He was having trouble with the heat and elevation, and had a rough time keeping any food down. A few times, he had to lie on his back to keep from puking, or put his head down in the shade.

Like here

And here

And here…

One more :)

I stayed with him until I was certain he would not turn back, and then let him make the last part of the final climb up to the North rim on his own. At the top, he was miserable and out of water.

* * *

There was no water source at the top of the North rim, unless you wanted to run a mile round trip to the ranger station and back. I knew Shacky was in bad shape on the climb, and would be out of water. I tried to preserve enough water for the both of us. When I realized I couldn’t do that on the hot climb, my plan was to give him my water for the descent and run dry all the way down.

I had almost half a liter waiting for Shacky at the top, but when I saw him I didn’t think it would be enough. I prepared to run over to the ranger station to fill us both up, just as a car pulled into the parking lot.

“Are you guys running R2R2R?” someone called out.

We looked up to see a young couple who decided to make a little trail magic happen by driving up with some water. They had enough for both Shacky and me. I thanked them profusely. We chatted for a few minutes—they were aspiring ultra runners, and they wanted their picture with Gordy as well. (Christine got one too.)

When we finally took off, I felt amazing and soon caught up to Gordy and Christine. I passed them and waiting at the next water stop for everyone to catch up. Shacky needed to lie down, so I waited with him while Christine and Gordy went off ahead.

After a few minutes, Shacky was feeling better and I hoped the worst was over. We agreed to meet at Phantom Ranch, just before the final climb, and I took off after Gordy and Christine. I was running at a good pace, and passed a handful of groups—two sets of runners and three groups of hikers. The stretch was long and desert-like, but I do well in the heat and I was still mesmerized by the glory of the Canyon.

“We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understandings and our hearts.”
- William Hazlitt (1859)

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength
that will endure as long as life lasts.
” – Rachel Carlson

I pulled into Phantom Ranch not long after Gordy and Christine. They were filling up their supplies and getting ready to leave. Gordy looked roughed up, but Christine was still full of energy. Both were worried about Shacky, and seeing them worry made me worry even more.

Gordy walked around asking for “someone in authority” to possibly hook up a room in case Shacky couldn’t make the climb that night. I shook my head. Shacky couldn’t be THAT bad, could he? We’d make the climb, even if it took forever.

I watched Gordy and Christine take off and settled in for what I expected would be a long wait for Shacky. I had run the entire thing and Shacky was walking—I had no idea how far behind me he was. As it turned out, not that far. Shacky was hauling ass as best he could and arrived just minutes after me. But he wasn’t looking good.

He lay down in the dirt and I noticed he was shaking. His legs were shaking, and so was his head. I freaked out and brought up the possibility of spending the night at Phantom Ranch. He refused.

So we sat at Phantom Ranch until he was able to eat enough calories to make the climb. It took him a while to keep anything down. We were there for almost an hour. All the hiking groups and the runners I had passed came through and left before us.

One group of hikers were finishing the R2R2R—they had started at 2 a.m. that morning. They wanted to set the record for youngest and oldest to complete the R2R2R in one party—the boy was 17 and the oldest gentleman was 67.

“I dunno, I’m worried about that Western States guy,” the 17-year-old said. “He looks like he’s 95.”

“He’s 64,” I replied.

“Oh good.”

Before they left, he waved goodbye and said, “I’m pretty sure I’ll die out there.” They made it to the top before us.

I was really worried about Shacky, but as soon as the sun went down, he was ready to go. In fact, he was like a new runner.

Shacky is a moonchild. He comes alive at night. I’m the opposite—I die with the setting of the sun. I pulled out my headlamp and prepared for what I expected would be a long hike to the top.

We head out in the dark

“We’ll pray for you!” One of the campers called out behind us. I guess we looked pretty beat up.

But Shacky was picking up the pace, rejuvenated by nightfall. I tried to run, but realized I was tired. Too much fast running followed by long waits. I was burnt out.

There are two ways you can come up the South rim: via the Kaibab trail where we had descended, or via Bright Angel trail.

Bright Angel is longer, but less steep, and that’s what we opted for. In my mind, “longer but less steep” still meant that it would be a steady incline. I was OK with that. Instead, I found the trail relatively flat to begin, even making slight downhill descents for the first few miles. This irritated me because it was time on my feet without really getting me to my destination.

My fatigue translated into frustration with the trail and with my headlamp. Every time I looked, up, the top of the canyon looked no closer. Why weren’t we climbing?? I wanted to get to the top and be finished.

When the climbing finally began, my headlamp was playing games with me. I couldn’t gauge the depth of the path, so I’d find myself either stumbling, or expecting a big step where it was flat. I came down hard on my ankles a few times, misjudging my landings, and I was getting very irritated.

Halfway up, I remembered I had a hand-held light, and used that instead. I could finally see the shadows on the trail, and moving forward was much easier on my body. I kept my head down since I’d start to feel dizzy every time I looked up. I was worried about tipping right off the Canyon.

In the distance, we could see groups of tiny headlamps inching their way to the top. The last set of headlamps kept getting closer and closer, until they decided to step it up and put some distance between us.

It was impossible to judge how far we had left to go, and neither of us had a watch. When night came to the Canyon, all inspiration left me. I could no longer admire the rock walls. No longer see the rich ground at my feet. I wanted the sun to come back, or I wanted to be done.

I was holding Shacky back. He was full of energy and had to keep waiting for me to catch up. We both had trouble eating now, but Shacky faithfully stopped to get his calories in, while I blew them off. I wasn’t used to force-feeding myself.

The more time passed, the more miserable I felt. It was this final climb that made this one of the toughest runs I have ever done. A familiar feeling of exhaustion swept over me—it felt like the last 3 miles of my first 100. Pure torture.

This was slightly worse because there were scorpions at our feet and bats flying over our heads, making me jumpy. My nerves were shot.

Scrambling at our feet

That’s when I heard Shacky ahead of me clapping and yelling as if he’d seen a mountain lion or something…

* * *

Today, when I close my eyes to sleep, all I see is the Canyon.

Those red walls towering over me, carved to perfection with the sun travelling across the sky. In my dreams, I am still running down that dirt road. Still splashing water on my face from the Colorado river. I think a part of me will always wish for the Canyon. Until I can see it again.

See you on the trails!

RELATED ARTICLES:

DFL: 3 Inspiring Stories from Last Place Finishers

How to Run With Hobbits

Happy Mother’s Day Mama (RIP)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,578 other followers

%d bloggers like this: