Should Children Run Endurance Events?

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Every time I post a photo of the Redden kids on Facebook, I see the same type of comments: lots of admiration, some shock, some concern, and some downright anger.

Seth and Sabrina Redden are the proud parents of two unusual kids. Tajh (male, 11) and Teagan (female, 9) are both avid trail and ultra runners. Last year, Teagan ran her first 100K and 100-mile distance. She was nominated for the Arizona 2013 Rookie of the Year Award at mcdowellmountainman.com. Needless to say, her competitors were older than her by a large margin…as they usually are.

Team Redden is so mind-blowingly young and accomplished that Outside Magazine covered them in an article, The Art of Raising Young Ultrarunners.

View Teagan Redden’s race results.

Like the Redden kids’ Facebook page.

The debate as to whether children should be running endurance events rages on. However, it is not an entirely new concept. Children have been running marathons for a while now.

Data from the Twin Cities Marathon shows that between 1982 and 2005, 277 children have crossed the finish line ranging from ages 7 to 17 with finish times from 2:53 to 6:10.

Unfortunately, there is little scientific data on the effects of long distance running on children.

This topic intrigued us enough to chat with Seth and Sabrina Redden as well as a pediatrician on the Natural Running Network Podcast a couple of weeks ago. On the show, we discuss veganism for kids, thermoregulation in children, and a child’s eagerness to please his/her parents.

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Direct Podcast Link HERE

Here are some things that didn’t make it into the podcast:

Colby Weltland and Ed “The Jester” Ettinghausen

I had hoped to have child prodigy Colby Weltland on the show. Unfortunately, his family was traveling for a race and they were unavailable.

Colby is a 13 year old kid who has already finished several 100-mile races and aspires to be youngest Badwater finisher. I also spoke to his close family friend and pacer, Ed “The Jester”. An accomplished ultra runner, Ed has thousands of miles of experience and has mentored/paced Colby to most of his finishes.

When I asked for his insight, he wrote the following:

Just for more fodder on the subject, I know one of the concerns people have is that running at a young age will do physical and emotional harm to kids. My four kids have never run an ultra, but have run many marathons, running their first one at the ages of 8, 9, 11, and 14 (and that was because she’s a type 1 diabetic, otherwise she would have run her first one at an earlier age).

They’re all young adults now and are just fine, physically and emotionally. My 21-year-old daughter who was 8 at her first marathon just did the Disney World Half Marathon and works for Raw Threads a clothing company that specializes in running attire. She is a vendor at many of the big marathons and she still loves the running world.

I was told by many people that running a marathon at such an early age would damage her growth plates. I feel really bad now, because apparently it did stunt her growth–she’s only 5’11″!

And for me personally, although I didn’t run marathons as a kid, I did run my first two at the age of 17, and three more at the age of 18. Thirty-four years later I set three American age records: 200k, 24-hour, and 6-day, so I don’t think running long distances as a teen hurt me too much. Anyway, just thought I’d share that with you.

Oh, and one more family of young ultra runners. Brandon and Cameron Plate are from Oklahoma. They’re 12 and 13 and have both completed two 100+ mile races. Colby & I and the two of them ran together at Silverton 1,000 and ATY last year. You can find their stats on Ultrasignup as well.

Jester on . . .

Follow Colby’s blog.

Join the Run Jester Run Friends Facebook page.

Remember: There are many great programs out there like Girls on the Run and the 100 Mile Club that help introduce kids to the joy of running. They don’t have to run extreme distances to stay healthy and find a love for the outdoors.

You can check out our other running podcasts at the Natural Running Network HERE.

What are your thoughts? Should children be allowed to race ultras?
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Zion 100 Race Report: Miserable is Memorable

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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.

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Has Ultrarunning Evolved Past Western States?

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On April 1st, the eyes of ultrarunners across the country lit up when they read about the drastic changes to the Western States 100 course. You can read the article on irunfar here: Western States Announces Changes.

Minutes (hours?) later, hopes were shattered when runners learned the article was actually an April Fool’s joke and Western States was still same old, same old.

But the real joke, it seems, was on Western States.

Tracking the excitement around the changes, followed by the let-down of the prank, I wonder whether ultrarunners are begging for a real change.

The article proposed changes that would make the course harder, the most popular change being a hard 24-hour cutoff.

Western States’ own godfather Gordon Ainsleigh famously ran the course for the first time in under 24 hours, and was thrilled with the new “changes”. His Facebook post:

“It’s great to be a part of this epic improvement in the race I started… It’s finally getting back to the way it was when I did it in 1974: Just 3 aid-station/crew-access points… About time!”

His comment when he found out it was a joke?

“Oh, shift! Was it all a tragicomic dream?”

Jokes aside, Ainsleigh actually has some realistic and innovative ideas to make the race:

a) harder

b) guaranteed entry for everyone

c) more accessible to 55+ seniors

If even a stubborn old man like Gordy knows it’s time to evolve the race, perhaps it’s time we listened.

Yes, Western States has the historic appeal. Yes, it has the hype and the hoopla. But are runners starting to say this is no longer enough?

Sherpa John wrote a great post on his Western States experience that actually made me think that I never want to run it. You can read it here: Western States Thoughts

I entered the WS lottery for the first time last year, secretly hoping that I wouldn’t get in. We had plans to spend the summer in Alaska, and Western States would have conflicted.

Still, it seemed that entering the lottery was the thing to do and I couldn’t be a “real” ultrarunner unless I threw my name in like everyone else, never mind that I have five buckles sitting in the RV.

I realize now how lame this was and I’m relieved I didn’t get in. I doubt I’ll qualify or enter the next lottery. What bothers me the most is that the races I want to run aren’t qualifying races, yet they’re much harder than the qualifiers.

I have my eye on a 100-miler in Alaska this summer and I’ll be running Zion 100 in three weeks (neither are qualifiers). I ran the last Chimera 100, and was shocked to learn that although it was not a qualifier, the Old Goat 50 (exactly half of the Chimera course), was. It makes no sense.

The races I seek out are newer, grassroot events. So my chances of qualifying are pretty low, even though I’ll end up with some rock hard mountain miles under my belt.

I haven’t been around this sport long enough to have an expert, informed opinion. But I do know what ultrarunning means to me. It’s not about the politics, hype, and drama of Western States.

It’s certainly NOT about entering a race because you’re “supposed” to.

It’s about community. It’s about mountain solitude. It’s about accessibility for all who are crazy enough to attempt a race. And if a race can’t be accessible to everyone, it better be extremely hard.

I’m curious about where others weigh in on this. What are your thoughts?

Check out the Facebook discussion HERE.

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

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)

 

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

Photo: Ice Spike

The thought of running an ultra marathon can be daunting. It’s a terribly long and intimidating distance. If you’re a newbie, you have no idea what to expect and ultra runners seem like super heroes. But many people have it in them to run an ultra. Once you desmystify a few key aspects, it’s a very achievable goal.

Here are a few key aspects of ultra running that are most commonly misunderstood, and may be preventing you from taking the plunge into the wonderful world of ultras.

1. Hills

The majority of trail ultras are hillier than your typical road marathon. They are always exceptions, but the one thing that can be intimidating is the elevation profile of some of these races. One common misconception is that ultra runners are actually running all of these hills. While some of them do, most of the runners do not.

One of the tricks to ultra running is to conserve energy as much as possible so you can endure to the end of the race. Running uphill tends to burn energy fast, so many runners find it’s more efficient to power walk uphill. The time you lose is minimal, but the energy you conserve is significant. And as far as exertion, it’s much easier than running uphill.

While a lot of ultra runners may appear to be mountain goats, hill training is hard for everyone. We all feel the same pain on a steep climb. Yet so many reach these breathtaking summits, and so can you.

2. Speed

Some runners believe that because they are not fast, they can’t compete in an ultra. But the ultra is more about endurance than speed. It’s also about troubleshooting problems and pushing yourself mentally. Yolanda Holder is a Guinness world record holder and has finished countless ultra marathons. Yet she has not run a single step.

Yolanda is a power walker, and even at her “slow” pace, she not only finishes these challenging events, but passes several runners. At an ultra, slow and steady finishes the race.

3. Distance

When you plot a 50K or any other ultra distance on a map, it seems “crazy”. But your perspective of distance changes at an ultra. Distances seem much shorter when you’re chatting with a friend (slow and steady means you’re not panting for breath). You can also break the mileage down by running from one aid station to the next. Aid stations are generally five to eight miles apart. It is a manageable distance that you can focus on, and you’ll be capable of more than you realize. Besides, if you’ve already run a marathon, a 50K is “only” five more miles.

4. Exertion

Unlike a 5K, 10K, or even a half marathon, you are not going all out as far as exertion when you run an ultra. As mentioned, the key is to preserve energy. Although it may feel like you’re going slow, this will pay off greatly in the later stages of the race and carry you to a strong finish. I actually find a 5K much harder on my body than a 50K. On a 5K, I am pushing hard. It’s a significant physical challenge. On an ultra, I am trying not to overexert myself. I am preserving energy. And it feels easier.

5. Terrain

If you’re used to road running, you may be familiar with a whole host of injuries that creep up over and over again. The pavement is unforgiving on a long distance runner. When I switched to trail ultra marathons, my recovery was significantly faster and the impact on my body was much less than a road marathon.

Some runner are hurting so badly after a road marathon that they can’t imagine running even longer. But the trail doesn’t hurt as much. I feel infinitely better after a trail 50K than after a road marathon. Not only is the ground less forceful, but you are also using a variety of muscles as your footfalls vary. Your pace also varies, and so does your gait. So when you’re finished, there is no one particular body part that is killing you. While I would spend days recovering after a road marathon, after a trail 50K I can run the next day.

6. Pain

The anticipation of pain can be scary. Again, if you’ve ever felt pain at a road marathon, you may imagine that going longer will hurt even worse. In the same way, if you’ve run a 50K, you may imagine that a 50 miler would hurt more, and a 100 miler would be infinitely painful. But the body doesn’t work that way.

Your body will hurt up to a point. After that it gets better and then bad again in waves, generally separated by several miles. Just as you hit a second wind during a marathon, during an ultra you will hit third, fourth, and even fifth wind, depending who far you’re going. Pain and exhaustion will be there, but not getting worse for the entire race.

7. Mind

While mental focus and willpower is important for all races, in order to finish an ultra, you have to want it. In many of my races, I have reached a point where I have enough excuses to drop out. I’m very sore, or my blisters are acting up, or I just threw up. Many runners experience these things, but those that finish are the ones that press on. An ultra is a race where you are likely to feel like quitting, and nobody would blame you for dropping out. So the only thing keeping you on the course is your own stubbornness and will to finish. Develop that irrational determination, and you will find success in ultra running.

Why Should You Even Try?

Ultra running may not be for everyone, but there is something life changing about finishing a goal that you didn’t think you could accomplish. Whether or not that is running an ultra, challenge yourself to take on that one thing you really want to do. Climb that mountain. Sign up for that race. And surprise yourself. You’re stronger than you think you are.

RELATED ARTICLES:

How to Train for Your First Ultra

7 Lies You Believe About Ultra Running

12 Things I Learned at My First 100K Race

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

Win a 100-Mile Race Entry

I am excited to announce a free giveaway for the inaugural Mogollon Monster 100 this year in Northern Arizona on September 28rd!

I have never seen a 100-miler giveaway before, and I’m stoked because:

1. It can be expensive to race 100s.

2. It’s intimidating to sign up for a 100-miler.

Why You Should Enter

I jumped straight from a 50K to finish a 100-miler, so don’t be intimidated if you haven’t run 100k or 50 miles. This distance is very much a mental challenge.

Many don’t sign up because they don’t believe the can finish. And many would be surprised. You still have time to train for this event.

I’m a passionate advocate for running ultra marathons because we are always stronger than we think we are. The ultra can bring about such a life-changing transformation, and you cannot attempt 100 miles without being changed.

No matter what you have done or will do in the future – this is a victory that nobody can undermine or take away from you. And it’s free! So go ahead and throw your name in. Maybe this is your time.

Read this post about 7 Lies You Believe About Ultra Running to ease some of your fears. You CAN do this!

If you’re still having doubts, read my race report for my first 100-miler. And my thoughts before the race.

If you’ve finished 100 before, here is a worthy buckle to add to your collection!

The Course

  • Arizona’s 2nd 100-miler and 1st mountain 100-miler
  • 4 Mont De Blanc points
  • Start at 5,500 feet, max at 7,400
  • Each climb and descent is anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 feet, usually done in under 2 miles
  • Climb through multiple ecosystems
  • Scale the first climb to the top of the Mogollon Rim in the first 9 miles of the race
  • Series of ascents and descents of the Mogollon Rim
  • Run from red rock high desert terrain to the largest contiguous Ponderosa Pine forest in the world (soldiers used to mark the Ponderosas high on the trees so they could still see them in high snow in the winter and today you can still see some of the markers)
  • Minimal dirt roads, and nearly all have a view
  • Dirt road sections are under 6 miles
  • 1 mile at the finish is pavement into town
  • Steep, rugged and extremely technical

Read more here.

The Race Director, Jeremy Dougherty, has spent years shadowing many RDs at ultra events, and can avoid the normal hang-ups of an inaugural race.

Here is a video of the upper region of the course called the Cabin Loop. This is right after the first snow break so the greenery hasn’t sprung up yet.

Visit the website www.mogollonmonster100.com for more course photos and videos.

If you really can’t make it…

Strongly consider being a volunteer or a pacer for this race. Both are tremendous learning experiences and will give you a chance to see what a 100-miler is all about. Shacky and I will be there with Ginger, volunteering.

If you’d like to get set up with a pacing gig but don’t know anyone who is running, email the Race Director at at azadventures@getoutgetlost.com.

How to Enter

You must complete the following three things for one entry:

  1. “Like” the Mogollon Monster 100 Facebook fan page.
  2. Share a link to this giveaway via social media or your blog and mention that you’ve entered.
  3. Leave a comment and tell me why you want to win.

The winner will be chosen next Wednesday July 18th through a random draw and I will announced it here on the blog. You have five days to claim your entry before I pick another winner.

Good luck!

SD 100: The Turning Point in my Running Career

“When you get to the end of all the light you know and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: either you will be given something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.” – Edward Teller

At every race, I learn something new. But 100-milers have a way of magnifying those lessons into life-changing revelations that can change the course of your running career, or even your life.

Before this weekend, I thought I had to run a race to learn anything from it. But this year at SD 100 through pacing, crewing, and helping at aid stations, I learned more in 24 hours than I have at any other ultra race I have participated in.

I’ll save the smaller lessons and observations for a separate post, and write here about the two big-picture, eye-opening epiphanies that I can’t get out of my head.

These insights affected me so profoundly that they will change the course of my running career.

But first, some background:

My Duties at SD 100

My original plan was to cheer and support our friends and their crews. Perhaps take some pictures and video and be of help wherever we were needed. We figured if anyone’s pacer had bailed or dropped out, we could be ready to take his or her place at the last minute.

When I posted my plans on Facebook, Michael Miller referred me to Jay Danek from Arizona who had room for a pacer. I was reluctant to commit to pacing, but Shacky was extremely encouraging. Shacky had paced before and had such a great time and learned so much. He thought it would be a great experience for me.

I was scared to fail. When I’m running my own race, I’m ok with failing. But risking someone else’s race? That was completely different. What if I held them back? What if I messed up? This was their 100. I didn’t want to screw up.

I exchanged some emails with Jay and he seemed really laid back and experienced. I told him how slow I was and he wasn’t worried at all, assuring me that he wouldn’t be moving fast when I saw him (from mile 72 to 87, with a big climb at the end).

I agreed to pace him. Then I did some further research on his running page and realized that he ran his FIRST 100-miler in 19 hours. Holy shit.

I also learned that he was currently on a running streak (running every day). He had run for over 500 days and aiming for over 900. AND—his minimum distance each day was 4 miles. He was running 100s during this time, and training for them. So every day he would run between 4 and 100 miles.

A few weeks ago, I tried a 120-day running streak, and couldn’t keep it up after my first 100. The limit was 1 mile per day, and I thought THAT was a big deal.

I picked up Jay at the Sweetwater aid station, ran him through Sunrise 2, then on to Pioneer 2. The first leg was a gradual incline on a smooth terrain. The next leg was more technical and steeper. We finished both in the dark.

My Runner

Runners like Jay race with a different perspective. I don’t want to say “in a different league,” because that sounds too elitist. He’s not an elite, though to some he may appear to be. I do believe he shares more qualities with elite runners than he does with a runner like me, and this intrigued me.

Here are the two things I observed at SD100 that will change my running focus:

1. Love of Running vs Speed

Jay is a fast runner, but his passion for trails and for ultras is also unquestionable and contagious. This surprised me a little. I knew he enjoyed running, but I didn’t think that on those miles in the middle of the night he would be as excited about trails as he was. He was so positive that at times it wasn’t clear which one of us was the motivator.

This made me think.

As back- to mid-pack runners, we often use the excuse of having fun and enjoying the trails as an excuse for why we’re not fast. We use this as a crutch for why we aren’t pushing ourselves or training hard to explore our limits. And even worse—we sometimes judge faster runners by assuming they don’t love or appreciate trail running as much as we do.

That’s bullshit.

Although there may be some marathoners who perhaps don’t have the same passion for trails as some slower-paced ultra runners, you can’t make those judgments on a 100-mile race.

Anyone who runs 100 miles more than once does it because they love it. There’s simply no other incentive to do it. If someone can run 100 miles FAST, it’s because they took their time to train and get better at it so they could run more 100-mile races. They love the distance. They love the trails. And they ARE having fun.

If you have any doubt this is possible, watch this:

Summits of My Life – Trailer from sebastien montaz-rosset on Vimeo.

Just because someone runs fast does not mean they are suffering or hating life.

And again—the 100 is such an equalizer in the sense that EVERYONE suffers at some point.

My big AHA moment was:

It’s ok to train hard. It’s ok to run fast. It’s ok to get better at this. I don’t have to be slower or drop to a DNF to inspire others. I can improve myself. I can run stronger. And I can still love running.

Here is my second epiphany:

2. Women and the 100

The first woman to finish SD 100 ran an impressive race and competed head-to-head with the men. Then all the other women were so far behind her. This made me think about the role of women in 100-mile races.

There has been a dramatic increase in women who have tried ultra running in the past few years. Shorter races from 5Ks to marathons are nearly dominated by women, but the 100-miler has yet to see many strong women stand up to compete.

Although there are some strong female 100-mile runners, you can count those names on one hand. Even the elite female names you DO know may not have succeeded on the 100.

100 miles is no joke. The women who have run them well are viewed at a higher level, out of reach to the general running population. They seem super-human and their performances appear unattainable to us.

But they are human. And they did attain their goals. And there’s no reason why we—who love trails and love ultras—could not succeed either.

The 100-mile distance needs more women competitors. Not just finishers. Competitors. We need women to face it head-on. To train hard for it. To master it. And to inspire other women to do the same.

We need more women finishing sub-24. Sub-20. In the top 5 finishers. In the top 3. Not just on looped courses—on trail 100-milers.

The 100 is still a virgin race as far as strong female performances. And humbly, I’d like to take this on as a personal challenge.

Based on my own running career, it’s extremely premature. But so was my first 100. And my hope is that it will encourage other women who are better runners than I to step up to the plate. Let’s get some competition going and give the boys a decent challenge. It can be done.

As of now, I have not yet completed a trail 100-miler, but I have two on my schedule this year. I know that it will be nothing like the timed or looped races I’ve started with.

I’ve had two 100-mile attempts, and finished only one (my first). The second one, I somehow expected would be easier since I had already completed the distance. It most certainly was not, and I dropped after 55 miles.

That’s what I love about the 100. It does not get easier. It always takes your entire force of will and physical stamina to complete. Right now, I’m not in ideal ultra running shape. Yes, I can finish an ultra. But I cannot compete in an ultra.

I want to change that.

I’ve done the run-slow-and-take-pictures-and-smell-the-flowers thing. I know now that’s not the only way to enjoy an ultra. I know now I can love trails as much as I do, and still run faster.

Although I have had respectable performances, I know in my heart that I have never really pushed myself. I don’t really train.

Watching the runners this weekend and pacing Jay (who finished in 22 hours), I felt that I was given permission to step up my training. I know now I can take it more “seriously,” but have just as much fun and run just as carefree.

My biggest fear in doing this is the elitist vibe that comes with getting faster. Our human tendency is to put fast runners on a pedestal and imagine that we cannot ever accomplish what they have. But that’s not true. I hope to prove that this is attainable for anyone who is willing to work hard.

My greatest hope is to inspire women to run 100s competitively. To build a female presence in 100-miler trail races. I hope that people will see my progress and think, “Well, if SHE can do it…” then rise up to kick my ass.

I hope that next year there are two women at SD 100 fighting for the finish, not just one female who blows all the others away. I hope it’s a nail-biting performance. I hope they are head-to-head. I hope the aid station volunteers track them and take bets. And I hope those two women are the best of friends. That’s what this sport needs.

I love the 100-mile distance. I want more women to love it. And I hope this can be my small humble contribution to enhancing a tiny niche in the great sport of ultra running.

 RELATED ARTICLES:

Thoughts Before My First 100

My 100 Mile Race Report

How to Spring Clean Your Second Wave Shit

Are Ultra Marathon Running Coaches a Sham?

Shacky and I are engaged in an interesting debate today that I’d love to hear your opinion. It was provoked by an article by Geoff Roes, posted this morning. You can see the full text here:

Read: 100 Mile Ingrigue: Embracing the Unknown

Roes’ argument is that there is not currently, and may never be, a training plan for 100-mile races. In his opinion, the 100 experience is so unique to the individual, that it’s almost impossible to be guided with a training plan of any sort. Basically: Just go out, get the miles in, and do it.

I liked his way of thinking and very much agreed. It also reminded me of this other great post I read this morning, essentially saying the same thing in relation to barefoot running.

Read: Barefoot Running: TMI Problem

In the comments section of the irunfar.com article, Roes was asked about the value of an ultra marathon running coach. His response was:

I don’t think anyone needs a coach to reach their potential for running 100 miles, and in many cases I think aspiring 100-mile runners are held back by having a coach.

That said, I do think there are several basic things one needs to learn before they have the tools to be able to find what works best for them. In most cases, having a coach will be extremely helpful in getting you more quickly to the point of being able to figure your own thing out, but once you’re to that point I think you’ll just be holding yourself back if you continue to rely too strictly on the guidance of someone else.

It is worth noting though that I don’t think these same thoughts apply to shorter distances, and there are very few runners out there who are focused solely on the 100+ mile distances.

For most ultrarunners, I think it makes perfect sense to have a coach, but to be very aware that what your coach is having you do probably applies a lot more to shorter ultras than it does to 100s.

I found this intriguing but also a little confusing. What makes the 100 so different compared to a 100K or 50 miler? I do understand the difference in logistics (ie. sleep, etc), but wouldn’t the same basic “tools” apply?

I’ve only completed one 100-miler and my expertise on this topic is so low, it’s laughable. But I do love the 100 distance and I’m insatiably curious about it. I’ve never had a running coach for any ultra, so I can’t speak to their value either way.

My gut instinct is to think that an ultra running coach has little to offer for ANY distance. I would think that all ultra experiences are unique and therefore difficult to coach?

If that’s not true—if there truly is value in coaching a shorter ultra distance, why not coach 100 miles?

In my limited experience, I consider it an all-or-nothing type of deal. Either coaches are useful for all ultras, or they aren’t. Am I wrong?

Have you ever had an ultra running coach? What sorts of benefits do these coaches offer?

Is a coach perhaps only useful for competitive ultra marathon runners, whereas people who want to “just finish” don’t need to invest in a coach?

Would Shacky and I benefit from a coach (not competitive, but want to race a lot more 100s)?

Is this like the barefoot running coach debate all over again?

Read: Barefoot Running Coach Certification: Why It’s a Bad Idea

What are your thoughts/experience?

RELATED ARTICLES: 

My Final Thoughts on 100 Miles

How to Train for Your First Ultra Marathon

My New Trail Running Life

Rocky Road 100 Mile Race Report Part 5

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

Read Part 3

Read Part 4

“Pushing your body past what you thought it was capable of is easy; the hard part is pushing yourself even further … past what your mind wants to let you. That’s what ultrarunning is all about; introducing you to a self you’ve never known.” – Rex Pace

Lap 6: Miles 76-90

Shacky wanted to quit. He was a walking zombie, his chaffing was intense, and if he dropped now he would still be credited for finishing 100k. It would still be a distance PR for him and there would be no shame in DNF’ing his first 100-mile attempt.

Our friend Rachel decided to DNF. Her feet were so swollen, she could no longer walk. Shacky was thinking about joining her.

Knowing Shacky was ready to drop out made me stronger. I knew that if I showed any sign of weakness he would make up his mind to stop. He was just waiting for me to say the words, “I’m done,” so he could breathe a sigh of relief and fall sleep in the car. I wouldn’t give him the pleasure.

I had run 100k before, and I wanted to push further. This was all new territory for me and I wasn’t ready to stop yet. I grabbed some food for both of us while Shacky went to the car to generously lube his chaffed parts. He wanted to sleep so badly, so I told him I’d wake him up when it was time to go. In seconds, he was out like a light.

I took 20 minutes to take off my shoes, rub my aching feet, eat as much as I could, and drink some Rockstar. “Just one more full loop…” I told myself. I was anxious about spending too much time here.

If I didn’t get back out on the course soon, maybe I never would. I was afraid to sleep because I didn’t think I would ever wake up.

I woke Shacky. “It’s time to go!” … but he didn’t want to. I set his alarm for another 30 minutes of sleep, and told him that I was heading out. I instructed him to catch up to me after he woke up, and we’d finish this together. He nodded.

I believed he’d come. My best card to play at this point was his sense of competition. I knew he didn’t want me on the course putting up miles without him, and I knew that would eat him up. I was sure he’d catch up to me.

I stepped out of the car and headed to the bathroom for one quick potty break before I started walking. My plan was to walk slowly and let Shacky catch up. I didn’t care about time, but I did want us to finish together. I was feeling better, and I felt like he might need me before the night was over.

I walked slowly. It was really cold, so I wore two sweaters and wrapped a blanket around me. My jammie pants were keeping me warm, with my skirt underneath.

I felt much better, but I didn’t want to move any faster. I imagined that every second Shacky walked by himself would be a nightmare for him. I remembered my own desperation, fear, and paranoia at being left alone in the dark, and I didn’t want him to experience that.

In the meantime back at the car, Shacky decided as soon as I left that he didn’t want to sleep. He jumped back on the course while I was in the bathroom, already running to catch up to me. He didn’t realize I was still behind him.

For several miles, he’d run faster to catch me, and I’d walk slower to wait for him. We would do this until we were hopelessly separated. And when we’d find out what had happened, my heart would drop to a new low.

I looked at my watch and estimated approximately how long it would take Shacky to catch up to me. I walked and walked, but he never seemed to come. Where was he?

The sun would be coming out soon and I was already at the second aid station. I was starting to get worried. Did he even wake up? Would he finish?

Just as I was starting to wonder if he quit, I saw Shacky coming back towards me from the turnaround point. I blinked my eyes and stared. Was I hallucinating?

When we reached each other, I was still confused. “Did you pass me??” I asked. When Shacky explained what must have happened, I didn’t know what to say.

He was running at a steady pace and he said he felt good. He said he would run to the finish, then maybe if he was feeling good, he’d run me in for my finish. Then he took off.

I just stood there with my mouth open. What was happening??? I looked back at all the time I had wasted walking slowly, and I suddenly realized how much distance he had gained on me. I wanted to cry.

MAYBE run me in for my finish?? Fuck that. I wanted to finish together.

I was at mile 80. The sun was coming out and I was still in my jammies, two sweaters and blanket. I was tired. I hadn’t slept at all and I was still a little delusional. But suddenly all I could think of was catching up to Shacky.

We hadn’t talked about finishing together, and catching up at this point seemed impossible. I knew he wasn’t slowing down, which meant I had 20 miles to run FASTER than his already-fast pace. Oh, and did I mention I had 80 miles on my legs?

It was insane, but I didn’t care. After the initial shock of watching him leave, I grabbed some food at the halfway point and took off from that aid station like a bat out of hell.

I didn’t know I had any strength in my legs. But they moved. I didn’t know I had any breath left in my body. But I inhaled. The faster I went, the better I felt. I was flying.

I remembered my Asian mentor’s words, “The race doesn’t start until mile 80.” This was it. This was mile 80. And the chase was on.

The runners that I passed would turn to clap or shout encouragement. Their surprised faces reminded me how insane my pace was. Nobody was moving this fast. Nobody was running the hills. Was I being reckless? Stupid? It didn’t matter. I had to find Shacky.

My single-track mind made the time go by quickly. The sun was coming out and I was started to get very hot in my layers. I took off my jammies, two sweaters, and blanket and tied them all around my waist.

The layers made me look like a round, chunky ball, but they didn’t slow me down. I was on a mission and failure wasn’t an option. I was running this loop faster than I had run at any point during this race.

About three miles from the start line, I still hadn’t seen Shacky. That’s when it started to occur to me that maybe this was stupid. Maybe I’d never catch him. I stopped to walk and for the first time, think about what I was doing.

I heard a car honk and turned around. It was Jeff. He was headed to the start line to pace, and seeing him immediately perked my spirits. If Jeff caught Shacky at the start, they might stop to chat and give me a brief window to make up some ground. I started running again. Maybe I could do this after all.

Steps away from the start line, I saw Shacky running back with Jeff. They were on their final 10 miles, and my heart sank. What was I thinking, I’d never catch them. I would finish alone.

When I passed Shacky, I didn’t even want to talk to him. I was too tired to explain what I wanted, plus I was afraid I would burst into tears.

But I didn’t have to say anything for Shacky to figure out what I wanted. He sent Jeff to pace me, and he said he’d walk until I caught up. So Jeff and I turned and headed back to finish my loop.

Lap 7: Miles 90-100

“When you are 99 miles into a 100-mile running race, your brain is not the same brain you started with.” – Paul Huddle

I didn’t waste any time at the aid station. I dropped the layers that I had tied around my waist, filled my water bottle and took off again, barely even slowing down.

Just 10 more miles. It was so close I could taste it. It was a relief to run with someone again, and Jeff was an amazing pacer. He made sure my form was good and ran ahead of me to all the aid stations so I didn’t have to stop. He was surprised at how well I was doing and he thought we might even catch up to Carlos.

But as it turned out, Carlos kicked it into high gear himself and basically sprinted the last 10 miles. When I saw him on the home stretch, he was flying.

There’s something incredibly inspiring about seeing someone who has run over 90 miles, who has been out there for almost 30 hours, and who can still sprint to the finish with a smile. It’s a true testament to the wonder of the human body.

I smiled to see Carlos whiz past with his pacer behind him, huffing to keep up. We are so much stronger than we imagine.

As for myself, I wasn’t even sure why I was still running. Shacky would be waiting for me, so there was no need to chase. There was no time goal we wanted to meet. And before long, this would all be over.

Looking back, this was probably the most pure stretch of running I have ever experienced. There was no reason to run, but I still did. My brain was fuzzy, my belly was empty, and my legs were tired. But I ran because it was all my body knew to do.

For a long time now people have been trying to answer the question, “Why do you run?” I imagined that on this race I would have a breakthrough or a vision that would make it clear to me exactly why we DO run. And suddenly now it was obvious: There’s no fucking reason.

That’s why people come up with cheesy one-liners like, “Because I can.” Because really… there’s no reason to run at all. It’s completely senseless. And I was about to senselessly run 100 miles. It felt awesome.

Maybe we don’t always have to do things for a reason. Maybe we shouldn’t try to explain everything. Maybe we can just run fast every once in a while for no damn reason. And if people don’t understand, well that sucks for them.

When we caught up to Shacky, we all started running together. We hit 95 miles, and I was starting to cramp up. Just 5 more to go…

I had to start taking walk breaks, especially on the hills. My feet were starting to hurt and things were getting ugly fast. Whereas in most of my races I gain motivation this close to the finish, this time I broke down.

About three miles to the finish, I started to cry. I just didn’t even want to finish anymore. My body hurt and all I could think of was how much I wanted to stop. I didn’t care when I crossed the finish line or who I crossed it with.

Jeff ran ahead to announce our arrival, and I tried hard to pull myself together. My nose was running and when I blew it, it started to bleed. I was falling right apart.

As my pain grew, so did my anger. Why the hell did I run so fast back there?? I wanted to kick myself.

Shacky walked me in to the finish, and when I crossed it there was no sense of triumph or pride or satisfaction. Just an overwhelming urge to lie down.

Shacky hugged me hard and then I had to pee. I was holding it in for the past 3 miles, so I headed straight for the bathroom. Plus my nose was also still bleeding and I wanted to get cleaned up before any pictures.

When the race director came over with my buckle, I wasn’t there. So Shacky took it for me. Until the ride home, I didn’t even remember there was a buckle. I wouldn’t even look at it until I was home. It didn’t seem to matter at the time.

As soon as I stopped and sat down in the car, the pain was overwhelming. It hurt more to stop than to continue. I was hungry, sore, and sleepy and I didn’t know what to take care of first.

Trying to figure out what to do next was enough to send me into another fit of tears. I couldn’t think straight. I was exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep. I was hungry but I couldn’t get up to find food. I just sat in the car and cried.

Shacky came over to check on me and I was so mad at myself for pushing hard in the last 20 miles. I told him that it wasn’t worth it. That I should have just run my own race and finished alone. But he said he was glad we finished together, and after Jeff and Terry went to get me some hot chocolate, I felt a little better.

I was so appreciative of everyone’s support at the finish line, and I was sorry to be in such a poor state. Days later I would come to see photos of other people’s feet and realize how lucky I was to come out of this with so few battle wounds.

Later analysis with the Robillards would convince us that it was probably our minimalist/barefoot choices that has strengthened our feet enough to take this type of beating. There aren’t many people who finish 100 miles. And out of those, there are next to none who can finish without supportive shoes.

Final Thoughts From a 100-Mile Finisher

“I have met my hero, and he is me.” – George Sheehan

The day after the race I asked Shacky if he felt any different now that he had finished 100 miles. He said no, and neither did I. I feel like the same old girl. The same old runner.

I think that’s a good sign. I feel like it means this is who we were all along. This is where we belong.

For me, it was almost like a coming out. Now I have nothing to prove. It was a validation. A declaration that this is who I am and this is what I can do. And I’m going to keep doing it. Senselessly.

I don’t really know why I run. But I don’t have to explain it.

Now registered for: Nanny Goat 24-Hour & Chimera 100 Mile

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

RELATED ARTICLES:

My Final Thoughts on 100 Miles

Noble Canyon 50K Race Report (My First Ultra)

Los Pinos 50K Race Report (My First DNF)

Across the Years 24 Hour Race Report

 

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