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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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

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Unfair Advantages in Trail Racing and Don’t Be a Douche

In elementary school, I had a teacher who gave the same response to every child who opened their mouth to complain. “Life’s not fair,” she would chirp with a grin, thrilled to be the first to inform us of this great life truth. The offending child would roll his eyes, and know his argument would fall on deaf ears. I can still hear that teacher’s voice in my head whenever I encounter complaints.

I heard her voice again when I read this month’s Trail Runner Symposium topic:

What constitutes an “unfair advantage” in a trail race, and what—if anything—should be done to even the playing field?

It’s not a topic I had previously considered, and frankly I was surprised at its origin. Associate Editor Yitka Winn wrote that the topic was “inspired by a recent letter to the editor we received complaining about the ‘unfair advantage’ of using a pacer in ultras.”

Huh?? Someone got their panties in a knot about pacers?

But when I started looking, I realized that “unfair advantages” were everywhere. Let’s explore this, shall we?

First, it’s important to consider that while there are advantages, not all advantages are unfair. For example, if one runner takes caffeine and another runner does not, the caffeinated runner may have an advantage. However, it’s not fair because: a) It is not against the race rules b) anyone can do it.

Here is a simple flow chart to determine whether or not an advantage is unfair:

LifesNotFair
Now here is where it gets tricky. Once you’ve determined that you have an unfair advantage on your hands, that does not necessarily mean that you have a good case.

Here is a simple flow chart to determine whether or not you should take your unfair advantage argument to the authorities.

ToProtestOrNot(*meaningful)

Sidenote: You may want to consider that the closer you are to the back-of-the-pack, the douchier you sound when complaining about unfair advantages.

Here is a graph for reference:

UnfairAdvantageGraphSidenote 2: There are some cases where a runner will complain about the “unfair advantages” given to runners with disabilities. These may include things like hiking poles, pacers, guide dogs, or “bouncy” prosthetics. (Yes, this really happens.) If you complain about these perceived unfair “advantages,” you risk a higher likelihood of being placed in the special category of “Extreme Asshat.” Sightings are rare, but not as rare as you’d like.

The bottom line is that there will always be someone who has an advantage over you in a trail race, and if you’re the type of person who spends time trying to figure out which details are unfair, I fear you may be in for some needless mental agony and resentment.

The solution for me has been to compete with a past version of myself. I hope to be better than yesterday, and tomorrow I will push myself even further. That’s fair enough.

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This post is part of the TrailRunner Blog Symposium.

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Happy Hoboversary! Stats From One Year Later

SONY DSCIt has now been one year since I quit a reliable and respectable job in my field of journalism to travel, write a book, and do more living. I had no idea at the time where I would find myself one year later.

Here are the stats:

THE NUMBERS

Miles Driven: 20, 000
Miles Run: 1914
Longest Run: 52 miles at Zion 100 (DNF)
Total States Visited: 13
Total National Parks Visited: 13

Total Income Made: $5,000 (We be rich!)
Biggest Purchase: Rialta RV for $25,000
Biggest Expense: Food
Savings in Bank: $15,000

THE GOOD

Favorite Trail: Angel’s Landing at Zion National Park. I hate to pick a touristy spot, but it was actually pretty unbelievable, and I managed to chick Shacky by making it all the way to the top. I’d be happy running that trail every day.

Favorite State: Oregon. I LOVE TREES!!! I had forgotten how much I really, really missed trees and greenery and running through the woods. The trails are much more forgiving than what I’m used to in SoCal, though sometimes I do miss the gnarly, rocky climbs in the desert. But O-EM-GEE the TREES!!

Favorite Wildlife Sighting: The elk at Redwoods National Park. We walked right among them, and they didn’t care.

SONY DSCFavorite Person I Met for the First Time: Cory Reese in Utah. Awesome dude! He took us trail running and we had dinner with his lovely family. Cory keeps knocking out 100 milers and takes amazing photos. Follow him at: http://www.fastcory.com/

zion9Favorite National Park: Sequoia National Park. Again–the trees. My jaw dropped when I saw the sequoias for the first time. Read more about what they taught me HERE.

Most Scenic Drive: Sequoia National Park to King’s Canyon National Park

Favorite Non-Running Pastime: Reading. I am currently reading Jay Danek’s new book Got to Live, and I keep up with close to 200 blogs. You know when you wonder who has time to read all these blogs? Me. I read them all.

Best Meal: Albacore Tuna Ceviche at Multnoham Falls Lodge. They have a lovely restaurant at the bottom of the waterfall. It’s a little pricier than what we’re used to, but the food is simply amazing. Shacky had the prime rib and gave me a taste. It was the softest meat I had ever eaten. It just melted in your mouth. Shacky said it was the best prime rib he had ever had. My tuna ceviche had a great kick and was really tasty.

A close second would be the clam chowder at Pacific Oyster, a little spot along the Oregon coast. It was the day before my birthday and Shacky chose the restaurant. We also did oyster shots there (my first time!) and they went down so smooth… The chowder made me want to hug someone and then go to sleep.

Strangest Drink (in a good way): Wasabi Ginger Ale at Fort George Brewery in Astoria, OR. It was really interesting and strangely pleasant. Shacky loved it. I liked it, but then the taste started building up and it was too much wasabi for me by the end.

Favorite Food Eaten for the First Time: Rogue Creamery Blue Cheese Popcorn. OMFG. The bag is a huge ripoff, yet I bought it twice.

Best Desert: Tillamook Cheese Factory Ice Cream. We came back here THREE times.

Biggest Accomplishment: Writing, editing, and self-publishing The Summit Seeker

SSTHE BAD

Least Favorite State: Kansas (I didn’t get it? I didn’t see anything there, still a little puzzled…)

Scariest Moment: For many of the roads in California (San Francisco area), I had to literally go to the back, lie down, and close my eyes to try to convince myself we weren’t going to die. The narrow roads kept turning and winding and there was so much descent that our brakes started to smell like they were burning. The cat started throwing up and I felt pretty sick myself.

Worst Weather: Hail and snowstorm driving up to Crater Lake National Park. We couldn’t see the lake at all. The next morning, it was crystal clear and we enjoyed some amazing views. I couldn’t believe how fast the storm hit us, and how quickly it disappeared.

SONY DSCBiggest Disappointment: We would have made it to the Copper Canyons Ultramarathon, but instead had some RV trouble and ended up camping at the Volkswagen dealership for more than a week.

Strangest Drink (in a bad way): Buffalo Wings Soda by Lester’s Fixins. GAGGG!!! Shacky said it wasn’t that bad, but it was pretty terrible. These guys also sell Coffee Soda, Bacon Soda, Peanut Butter & Jelly Soda…

Hardest Chore: Writing. Writing is hard, even when you’re “good” at it. I’ve been writing and working on a book every day for a year (now on my second), and it doesn’t get easier. It’s also incredibly time consuming.

FINAL THOUGHTS

With the passing of a year, I have come to understand more fully how incredibly lucky I am to:

a) have the opportunity to travel this way
b) have the support of an awesome partner in crime and a couple furry kids
c) enjoy good health and a strong body

I really hope I can do my time on this earth justice by living to the best of my ability and getting in the most experiences that I possibly can. We are often alone in spectacular places because everyone else is at work, stuck in traffic, or too old and weak because they waited until retirement to travel. I am so blessed to have the freedom that I do, and I need to honor that by savoring every single moment.
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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

Ultrarunning Through 2012: My Year in Point Form & Video

Today I was going through my old photos and I was really taken by how filled this year has been with so many firsts, and so many amazing adventures. Here is my year in point form, and in photos.

January

* Started the year with a new distance PR at Across the Years: 100K
* Completed the Disney Goofy Challenge in January (half marathon followed by marathon the next day)

February

* Ran my first 100-miler at Rocky Road 100
* Completed my first mud run (Spartan Race)
* New marathon PR at Surf City

March

* First DFL at Rodeo Valley 50K (four-way DNF with friends–the best kind!)

April

* Beat Shacky for the first time at Oriflamme 50K
* First of many Mount Baldy summits

May

* Grand Canyon R2R2R
* First of many shared miles with ultra legend Gordy Ainsleigh
* DNF at PCT 50 (Grand Canyon legs)
* Slowest 50K ever at Born to Run 50K (failed barefoot attempt)
* Second 100-mile attempt at Nanny Goat 100 (dropped at 55 miles)
* Quit my job to focus on running and writing

June

* First pacing gig at San Diego 100
* Met Scott Jurek and got my Kindle autographed
* Shopping for a Rialta RV
* Got my dreads :)

July

* Training runs with Gordy Ainsleigh on his stomping grounds & Western States course

August

* Bought the RV!
* Transrockies 6-day Challenge (120 miles)

September

* Course PR at Noble Canyon 50K
* Volunteered at inaugural Mogollon Monster 100

October

* Completed inaugural Cuyamaca 100K
* Visited and ran in Zion National Park
* Summited Arizona’s highest peak, Mt. Humphrey’s
* Finished my second 100-miler at Javelina 100

November

* Ate my way through the Krispy Kreme Challenge (Lite Division)
* Ran the last few days with Rae on her Run Across American
* Completed my third 100-miler at Chimera 100, my first mountain 100
* First Zion 100 training run
* Ran with Colby on his first marathon

December

* Cheered friends at their first ultra at Ridgecrest 50K
* Multi-day Noble Challenge (5 summits in 5 days, 100 miles)
* Next up: Across the Years 72-Hour

Transitions

* From barefoot running to minimalist running (and sometimes Hokas!)
* From some roads to all trails
* From flats to mountains

* From 50Ks to 100 milers (still haven’t run a 50 miler!)
* From racing everything to racing some, and volunteering more

Highlights I’m most proud of:

* From zero 100-milers, to three in one year (should be four at Across the Years!)
* Finished my first book, to be released in 2013 titled The Summit Seeker: Memoirs of a Trail Running Nomad
* Ditching the daily grind and moving into the RV to explore, write, and run

May your 2013 be filled with joy and adventure. Happy Holidays!

Ultrarunning Through 2012 Video

Direct YouTube Link HERE

Noble Canyon 5-Day Challenge Report

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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!

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Are Ultrarunners Narcissistic and Self-Centered?

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My friend Jason recently posted a heartfelt and honest article about his journey with ultrarunning. Jason has just started working for UPS, a physically demanding job that has left him embarrassed about the self-centered aspects of his running.

His post brought to light several points that I have tried to make on my own blog over the past few months, so I thought it was worth a reply.

Read Jason’s post about The Narcissism of Running.

Here are my five thoughts on the subject:

1. You can tell who the narcissists are.

People come in all shapes, sizes, and intentions. Yes, there are people who run with a “Look at me!” attitude. But there are others who do it humbly, graciously, and with a giving spirit. It’s easy to pick out the narcissists:

  • A narcissist will tout his own accomplishments. A humble runner will call out the accomplishments of others.
  • A narcissist is all about bragging on social media, and will hijack the posts of others to report their own (irrelevant) mileage. A humble runner will use social media to inspire and encourage others toward their goals.
  • A narcissist will speed by his competitors whenever possible. A humble runner will encourage the people he passes, and motivate them to follow.
  • A narcissist will be eager to offer you advice you didn’t ask for, and assume you are much less accomplished than they are. A humble runner will relate to you on your level.
  • A narcissist will make excuses for their failures. They will blame the course, the volunteers, the RD, or just say they weren’t trying very hard. A humble runner learns from his mistakes.
  • A narcissist says “Look what I did!” A humble runner says, “If I can do it, so can you.”

A few examples:

a) At Ridgecrest 50K this year, my friend Shawna was having a low point when Raul passed her. Raul kept waving her along, gesturing her to follow him, and that’s how they got to the finish line together. Shawna PR’d her 50K that day.

b) Ed Ettinghausen runs countless 100s and is always on hand to wait for and cheer the last runner on the course. Those who have run 100s know how gross and tired you feel after you cross the finish line. All you want to do is change your clothes, take a shower, and pass out. You’re suddenly cold and miserable. Everything hurts. Now imagine sitting around for hours after that, in your own filth and fatigue, waiting for the very last runner to come in. Imagine cheering for them loudly and genuinely, a person you don’t even know. That’s Ed.

c) At the inaugural Mogollon Monster 100 this year, the winner of the race, Jamil Coury, was trotting along when he came across an elderly couple on the side of the road with a flat tire. He stopped running to make sure they were OK, and ended up taking several minutes to change their tire in the middle of the course. The couple was later shocked to learn that he was racing, since he took his time to make sure they were cared for and never complained about the delay.

d) Jesse Haynes was in first place (and went on to win) the San Juan 50K this year when he passed Shelly and me. We were lost and obviously in the wrong place ahead of him. He stopped dead in his tracks to help us and offer directions, not hesitating to break his stride for a couple of clueless runners.

e) At last year’s Ridgecrest 50K, I was crashing in the final miles. I was walking and feeling sorry for myself when Catra Corbett powered past me and yelled, “Let’s go, girl! We got this!” I ran after her. I crossed the finish line right behind her with a new PR, a sub-6 finish. And I got an award for first in my age group.

2. Ultrarunning is a community.

As cheesy as it sounds, we are a family. That’s why for Shacky and I, it’s important to attend races even when we’re not running. This is where volunteering, trail work, and cheering/crewing/pacing play an important role. There’s always work to be done at an ultra, and there are always runners who could use some motivation.

It doesn’t matter if it’s not your race. It’s somebody’s race. So you show up for them. You show up for the race directors who have too much to do. You show up for the volunteers who are tired, cold, and sleep-deprived. You show up for your friends who are running. For the runner whose pacer didn’t show. For the newbie without a crew. You just show up.

Although Shacky and I love to joke about sitting around drinking beer at ultras (and there’s a lot of that too), it’s equally important to me that we jump when there’s work to be done. I was proud at one race when Shacky had to drop out at an aid station, and ended up hanging out there to volunteer, pack up the aid station, and lift all the heavy objects because he noticed the volunteers were older than he was.

When I think about this sport, I imagine the passing of a baton. So many of these older guys have put in their time. They have forged the trails for us (sometimes literally). They have put in the hours of trail work, the volunteer time, and have set a humble example for us. Now we are the ones who are young, able, and on fresh legs. It’s time to get off our asses and make these events happen.

3. It’s not really about the running.

I totally agree with Jason that the running itself is pretty unimpressive and pointless. But it was never really about the running. It’s about the way a runner feels when they finish their first ultra. It’s about that realization when you cross the finish line at a 100-miler, that you actually are capable of anything you set your mind to.

It’s that sense of accomplishment, self-worth, and empowerment that spills over into every other aspect of your life. It makes you hold your head up higher, gives you courage to shed those toxic relationships, inspires you in your career, helps you raise your family better, and motivates you to live healthfully and happily. That’s why I run ultras, and why I encourage others to do so.

The physical act of covering random mileage is indeed senseless. But knowing for a fact that your body and mind are capable of far more than you thought—that is life changing.

4. You’re not as awesome as you think you are.

The runners with the most experience tend to be the most humble. That’s because they know that no matter what, there’s always someone who is faster. Someone who has run further, or who is injured less.

With ultrarunning, you never know who you’re talking to, so never brag about yourself. For all you know, the person you’re talking to runs your weekly mileage in one day. Or they’re a world record-holder. You can never tell by looking at them. So avoid looking like an idiot, and shut your mouth.

5. “I chose this.”

At Javelina Jundred, I came up with the mantra “I chose this,” to express a lot of what Jason is talking about. So many people in this world suffer to support their families. To put food on the table. Just to survive.

Some people suffer aches and pains to give their children a good life. If I suffer aches and pains, it’s because I’m running in the mountains. If I’m sore, it’s because I spent all day doing something I love. I am fortunate beyond belief, and appreciating that is so important. I chose this.

3 RDs to Give Back To

If you want to give back but don’t know where to start, here are three Race Directors who have embraced the humble spirit of ultrarunning, and could use a few extra hands.

1. Steve Harvey: California

Steve is a well-loved and important part of the ultra community in Southern California. He directs Chimera 100, Old Goat 50, and Nanny Goat 100/24Hr/12Hr. If you want to hang out with the best runners and the best volunteers, these are the races to hit up. Don’t worry if you’re a new volunteer. You will learn far more than what you can possibly contribute, and the experience will be rewarding.

Here is my race report from this year’s Chimera 100.

Race website:

2. Matt Gunn: Utah

Matt is the Race Director for Zion 100 and Bryce 100. He is a talented runner, down to earth, and eager to share his love for Utah’s spectacular trails. For jaw-dropping beauty, it’s hard to beat the trails that Matt plays on.

Last year was the inaugural Zion 100 run for Matt, and this year (April 2013) the course is even better. Shacky and I are both registered.

Newer races are always in need of help, so there are countless ways to volunteer for these. One thing Zion 100 was short on last year was pacers. Because so many people were coming from out of town, there was a huge need.

Pacing is single-handedly the most rewarding way to “volunteer”. Truthfully, you get far more out of the experience than you can give back. Zion 100 allows pacers as early as 30 miles, and I’d strongly recommend the pacing experience.

Here is a great article on how to be a good pacer: Part I, Part II

Race websites:

3. Jeremy Dougherty: Arizona

This year, Jeremy launched the inaugural Mogollon Monster 100. We had the privilege of helping out at the race and saw first-hand Jeremy’s passion and work ethic. Jeremy is a younger race director, eager to give of himself to put on an unforgettable event.

Like many new RDs, Jeremy took a financial loss to put on this event. It was a true labor of love. He describes the logistics of Mogollon here—a recommended read.

The Mogollon is a beautiful but brutal course in need of some helping hands. It’s worth getting involved with this one.

Race website:

So What’s the Verdict?

Are we really all just a bunch of attention whores?

Perhaps some of us are.

But in this sport, there is just as much opportunity to be giving, humble, and truly make a difference in someone else’s life.

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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!

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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)

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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.

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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.

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How to Train for Your First Ultra

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