Saturday, July 16, 2011

Western States part 2

OK... seriously, I've had part 2 done for a week or longer but needed pictures for it and kept forgetting to put off pictures.. so here it is with a few random stolen internet snaps!  Part 3 has lots of pictures so I just have to write the damn thing!

....After we left Duncan Canyon aid station, things got a little hazy for me... it's impossible to remember every section of the course and this one is coming up pretty blank for me.  I do remember trying to be friendly to a guy wearing headphones but he was lost in his own world.. which is fine, I do it myself sometimes during races  .  At one point we hit pavement and a course marshal was giving us directions and headphone dude yelled "what did he say??" to me a few minutes later.  Seriously dude, if you see a course marshal (and at WS they are pretty damn obvious, wearing bright WS shirts) turn your freaking headphones off or down so you don't miss anything.  Danny joked that I should have told the guy wrong directions.  I have issues with headphone etiquette especially on single track... I either just wear 1 earbud or keep the music down low enough so I can hear people talking to me or coming up behind me, nothing is more annoying then not being able to get by someone 'cuz they have no idea what's going on around them.  /rant over.

Back to the race... this section was about 8 miles and you hit both the marathon distance and the 50 K distance before another aid station.  I usually hit a bit of a low point right around 28 or so miles but having Danny around was a huge help, I didn't feel the mental letdown although my stomach was giving me grief.  In hindsight, after looking at how few salt caps I took over the course of the race, I think this was the start of my problems.  In KC, where it's hot and humid, the amount of sweat pouring off of you reminds you to take a salt, in a dry state like California, I kept forgetting that I was hot and sweating.  We got lucky this year and it was relatively cool (upper 80's) but I should have been sticking to my 1 s-cap an hour routine instead of randomly when I thought about it.  (Thinking is a dicey proposition at best during a 100).  The climb into Mosquito Ridge Aid Station was long but up to this point I was enjoying the climbs.  I really don't mind long, steady uphills (*remember this quote).  I kept my mind on the aid station ahead where I had my first drop bag and could restock my dates and hopefully get more watermelon.  The day was heating up nicely and watermelon was sounding better and better.

Mosquito Ridge aid station was a medical checkpoint which meant a weigh in.  I was down 4 pounds from the start of the race which is nothing to worry about.  My wonderful personal volunteer handed me my drop bag and took my pack to fill with water and ice.  I believe it was at this Aid Station that I got yelled at by a volunteer for the first time for not drinking enough.  I had my big Nathan pack filled with water, but I was also carrying a small handheld with Succeed Amino in it.  My handheld was empty but apparently my pack was still too full for my volunteers liking.  Bless him!  I refilled my pack with dates and swapped out bandannas which I then had my volunteer fill with ice.  Grabbed some more fruit.. grapes were great!  Danny was near the exit of the aid station so I figured he was ready to go and headed in his direction.... I have no idea what he did at this aid station but apparently he forgot to get anything out of his drop bag.  What were you doing Danny????

The next section of course was a 4 mile loop thing that was tacked on to make up for missing miles due to all the snow.  This was probably the least fun section of the course.  Not scenic,  too exposed and boring.  I kind of got in a zen mindset here and trotted along with my head down just taking life one step at a time.  I realized after awhile that I had dropped Danny so I walked for a bit and let him catch up but then dropped him again when I started trotting again.  I wasn't going to leave the next aid station without him but he caught me just before heading into Millers Defeat at 35.3 miles.  I was DAMN glad to get off that section of the course. Danny perked right back up too once we got back under the shade.  The next few aid stations kinda blended together.. I know there was lots of downhill and lots of uphill.... 'cuz really that's what the whole course seemed like.

 It was somewhere in here, before Last Chance that my quads really started to complain... which worried me to no end.  I had always heard that if you can get into Foresthill (62miles) with your quads intact you can really blaze the rest of the race.  I had a bad feeling that I wasn't even going to get into Michigan Bluff (55 miles) with quads.  (And this is the point in my race report where I could complain that it's impossible to get any decent downhill training in Kansas where a 1/2 mile of downhill is a LOOONG stretch.  This is also where I say I got lazy and didn't do anywhere near the amount of lifting and plyometrics that I should have been doing to make up for the lack in downhills.  (STOOPID Coleen)) There was also a ton of dust being kicked up that was making me very slightly wheeze on some of the uphills... this would return in the days after the race as a hacking cough that would bring up some wonderful looking lung cookies.  I would also be blowing dirt out of my nose and picking it out of my ears, eyes and bellybutton for days.

The next section of the course that I remember is the Devils Thumb climb.... this section is seared into my mind.  It's where the wheels fell off and Danny Miller became my rescuer.    The aid station worker at Last Chance (get it.. last chance to drop before the devil!) told us that it was a 45 minute climb and it was tough, but once we were done with that everything was easier.   I'm pretty sure Last Chance was the aid station where they had fresh mango and papaya in addition to all the other afore mentioned fruits.  (I am SO spoiled for all other races).  I was not feeling so great but after a really long downhill stretch that further ruined my quads I was kinda looking forward to going uphill.  How bad could it be right?  I have done Hope Pass.. and that's murder AND at 12,000 ft.... really can't be THAT bad.  Famous last thoughts.  36 switchbacks later I wanted to die.  Poor Danny put up with a whole lot of me walking slowly for a few yards and then stopping and bending over trying not to puke on my shoes.  And repeat over and over for over 45 minutes.  I kept telling Danny to leave me (in a totally melodramatic tone).... it went something along the lines of "leave me.. save yourself!"  but he refused and for that I owe him a lifetime debt.  I might still be struggling up that darn hill if it wasn't for his encouragement.  It was definitely my lowest point in the race, but even when I was dying and struggling, I still knew that I was going to finish the darn race... there was never an iota of doubt in my mind.

The roving medical team caught up with us near the top of the climb and gave me a ginger chew to settle my stomach.  I must point out that Danny had been offering ginger the whole climb but I was being a total brat about taking one.  He must have been ready to slap me upside the head.  I was pretty darrn happy to see the El Dorado Creek aid station (52.9 miles).  Sometimes just some enthusisastic, new faces are all you need to feel better.  It was also great to know that we were over halfway done and the hardest climb was behind us.  Ice in the pack... ice in the hat and some more fruit and I was almost a new person.. unfortunately the aid station table was fresh out of new quads so I had to continue on with the wrecked ones.  I think both Danny and I were just hanging on and hoping that the next miles would go quickly since Michigan Bluff (55 miles) would be the first place where we could see our crew.

The climb into Michigan Bluff is about 1700 feet over about 3 miles.  Remember how I said that I didn't mind uphills?  Yeah, I was struggling with nausea on the uphills and screaming quads on the downhills...     not sure which was worse.  I was definietely frustrated by the time we got to Michigan Bluff.   Danny was thrilled since he knew that he would see his crew there, but I had told mine not to bother coming to Michigan Bluff, just to meet me at Foresthill (mile 62).  I have never been so freaking happy as when I rounded a corner and saw both Raven and Deb at Michigan Bluff... I almost cried.  They left Debbie at Foresthill since she was going to be my first pacer, just in case they didn't make it back in time.  It was so fantastic to sit for a few minutes, talk with them, grab stuff out of my drop bag (headlamp, iPod) and dump my sun hat.  I had some cold caffinated peppermint tea which helped the stomach a bit and discussed my stomach issues with Deb.  She promised vegan boullion at Foresthill and access to all my gear and food.

 It was here that Danny headed off on his own... before he left he made sure that I was going to be continuing on and not dropping.  But there was NEVER a point in the whole race that I ever considered dropping or even feeling like I didn't want to be doing this anymore.  I was in a fantastic place mentally  the whole race even if I wasn't physically.  Danny was rarin' to go and I wanted him to have a fantastic rest of the race... I knew that he too was going to finish.   I marched out of Michigan Bluff by myself but with determination, stuck my iPod on and within minutes ended up turning it off so I could talk with a couple of guys that I had been playing leapfrog with.  I know that carrying a big hydration pack is looked down upon by some of the runners, but I was able to help the guys out with lipbalm, salt and ginger.  Items that I might not have been carrying in a handheld.   I had my iPod on for about 15 minutes but was enjoying the sights and sounds around me so much that I ended up turning it off and not using it again for the rest of the race.  For me, this was quite unusual, I like some loud music late at night to wake me up, change my attitude and add some spring in my step... but didn't even consider it this time.

The miles to Foresthill where I would pick up Debbie went surprisingly quick, I was glad I had stashed my headlamp in my drop bag at Michigan Bluff since by the time I pulled into Foresthill it was dark.  I got weighed again... and may I point out that except for the very first weigh in.. I stayed within 1 pound of my starting weight the whole race.  I grabbed a piece of fruit from the aid station, but really just wanted to get to my car and crew.  Debbie guided me down the long, long row of cars... I'm glad she was there since I probably would have gone right past it in my somewhat dazed state.  I sat down and Deb and Debbie immediately started handing me food... I was eating and popping blisters and taping feet and changing socks all at the same time.  Now I think back on how very gross that whole thing was.. pop a blister, wipe off goo.. shove food in my mouth.  Wash hands??  Nahhhh.  What doesn't kill me makes me stronger....

Anyway, this was a very weird stop, it was the longest of the race and I was pretty bamboozled after being fairly alone for the day.  To all of a sudden have a mass of people around me, Greg, Raven, Erin, Deb, Debbie, Danny's parents and a surprise visit from a friend who used to live in KC but moved to Cali and just randomly stopped by the race, was great but I was having a hard time concentrating.  I finally got my feet taken care of, some food in my gut, grabbed a long sleeve shirt just in case, swapped out my headlamp for my good one and grabbed a handheld flashlight.  Debbie and I headed off down the road and after a few minutes I stopped and went... uhhhhh... do you know where the HELL the course is???  Apparently just marching down a random road in the town of Foresthill is not the best way to get to Auburn.  At least not if you want a belt buckle.

Part 3 to come!

Friday, July 1, 2011

This is going to have to be a series of posts on my Western States experience... I cannot possible sum up the fun of the events leading up to the race, the LONG race write up and then afterwards in one blog post. I am just too damn wordy for that. This is the first... and it starts with the start of the race. It's kinda out of order but I wanted to get the race write up down while I still remembered it.

Never thought I'd be writing this race report... Western States 100 is one of those "dream" races.  It's so hard to get into, that even after I received the confirmation emails and booked hotel rooms and trained hundreds of miles and done umpteen hill repeats getting ready for it, I never actually thought the day would get here.  I assumed it was going to be a bad version of the movie Groundhog Day... race day would never actually happen... so when I woke up at 3:30 am on Saturday June 25 and realized that THE day had actually gotten here, I was pretty astounded!  Luckily, I had been preparing all along like it was going to happen so I was good to go.  I crept into the bathroom, trying to let my crew sleep for a few minutes more and relished the last few minutes of quiet.  I took my time getting dressed, lubing, brushing my teeth, and putting in the pigtails.  As soon as I stepped out of the bathroom it seemed like time took a leap forward and moved into triple speed... and I hadn’t even had coffee yet!  I got my coffee made, my fruit smoothie together and then in no time my friend Danny Miller and his crew and family were knocking on the hotel room door.  Danny and I walked the couple yards to the start area and picked up our numbers, timing chips and had one last weigh in.  Somehow I had gained a pound in the 18 hours since I had had my medical bracelet put on... I don’t care if you are about to run 100 miles, no girl wants to hear she gained weight!

We returned to the room, made sure we had everything in our packs, I attempted another bathroom break, gulped some more coffee and then as a large pack with lots of flashing cameras, we all headed off to the start.  A million photos were taken, I hugged my most amazing crew chicks Debbie and Deb and pacer Raven and all of the assorted Kansas folks that had made the long trek to California and Danny and I headed off to find a place in the pack.  I am used to starting in the back but Danny suggested we find a spot in the middle and since we were planning on sticking together for awhile I followed him.  It was a very different view then what I had been used to seeing...the pictures and videos from the start are always from the spectator side of the line.. the runner side looks very different!  All too soon we got the shotgun blast and the pack of runners slowly moved up the mountain.  It was pretty dark still, but not dark enough to require headlights and with 375 starters, you just had to follow the humanity.  The start in Squaw Valley is at  6,229 feet and you immediately head straight uphill to the highest point on the course of 8,713 feet in about 4 miles.  The legs are in for a VERY rude awakening.  My calves had some things to say to me pretty early on.. nothing I care to repeat here.. but let’s just say they were NOT happy with me. Danny and I kept an easy pace, we were able to have a conversation going without gasping for air although I could feel the altitude in the back of my throat.  Danny was wearing his Garmin and so was keeping an eye on our pace and a few times had us back off a bit... blowing up in the first few miles of a 100 would be bad. I am grateful for his restraint.. I was so jacked at the thought of being there that I would have probably gone screaming up the mountain had I been alone.

The first aid station is at 3.5 miles and due to the massive amount of snow and the course changes because of it, the next aid station wasn’t until 15 miles, so people were stopping and filling up.  We were both wearing packs so, with a shouted Thank You, we both kept on going.  After the aid station was the steepest part of the climb which also coincided with the start of the snow.  WS doesn’t allow for yaktraks or screwed shoes so there was much slipping and cursing... which would remain the theme for the next 10 or so miles.  We hit the top of the climb and turned and looked at the AMAZING views around us... it was incredible. I reminded Danny that this particular view was a famous picture... and we were ACTUALLY in it!

 I said a silent goodbye to Squaw as we started to drop down the other side on our way to Auburn.  The snow was icy and slick in most spots with the occasional deep, slushy sections.  I decided early on, that I wasn’t going to fight the snow... there was no way around it, and heaven knows we had run in enough of it this winter so I was going to embrace and enjoy it.  As I took my first fall, my resolve was tested but I laughed instead of cursed and got up and whooped.  I stopped counting my falls after 5 but thanked my lucky stars that none of mine were bad.  There were sections of bloody snow where it was obvious that the ice had torn open more then a few legs and hips.  But I must say that the next time I go running around on that much snow, I will practice the art of self arrests beforehand and I will wear a skirt with longer shorts underneath... 2 words: Snow Enema.  Yeouch!

This section was probably the noisiest of the day... lots of cursing and laughing and screams and yelps. There was also a whole lot of assistance... the part of ultrarunning that I love so very much. When someone slipped and fell there were outstretched hands to help them up, there were many shouted warnings of slick spots and deep holes. People alerted others to the best routes though snow and in general helped each other in every way possible. We may have been racing but it was mostly against the course and our own minds.

It was great to finally it some dry ground and be able to stretch the legs and actually run.. the mincing half run that we were doing on the snow takes a toll on the legs and muscles after awhile. I got off the snow feeling fairly banged up.. I had some funny aches where I don't normally get them during running, especially not that early into the race. We hit a deep stream crossing that luckily had a nice thick cable stretched across for us to hang onto since the water was moving pretty darn fast. The water was breathtakingly cold and it took a few minutes after getting out to be able to feel the legs and feet again. It was like running on pins and needles for a bit. It was shortly after the water crossing that we hit the Talbot aid station... actually I believe there were 2 water crossings first but I may be wrong. 

Talbot was our first introduction to a Western States aid station... and let me tell you there is nothing like it. You run in and are immediately greeted by your own "servant" (for lack of a better non offensive term).. these WONDERFUL folks grab your pack, fill everything up, direct you to the food and in general wait on you hand and foot. The aid station buffets were AMAZING... there was more fruit then you could shake a stick at. The benchmark for me is watermelon... if an aid station has watermelon, that race automatically gets bumped up high on my favorites list. They not only had watermelon, bananas, and oranges but grapes, strawberries and cantaloupe. HOT DAMN! I was in vegan heaven. I assume that had other very tasty stuff too since every time I looked over at Danny he had his cheeks stuffed full of food. I could have stayed there awhile, but we got in and out fairly quickly and since there was no snow and a pretty flat surface we trotted. Danny was wearing the Garmin and kept us taking the odd walk break but I felt like we made up some time on this section. I remember chatting with a few people through here, mostly while we were on our walk breaks but for the most part everyone had their heads down and was going for it.  

The next aid station at Poppy (more amazing fruit!!!) came on fairly quickly and then there was some gorgeous running to Duncan Canyon... it was super soft footing and along a lake and I felt like I could have run all day right there. Danny and I were having a great time yapping on and on about all sorts of random stuff... every once in awhile he would devolve into some esoteric med school speak and I would have to fart to bring the tone back down. I had totally forgotten about a "bear" incident that occurred in this section, but he tells it better in his race report which you can read here. After this beautiful running, the course started climbing upwards where sadly a fire had ripped through this section not too many years before leaving it exposed and barren. It was starting to get pretty hot here too and I think this was the beginning of my stomach's downfall. We were both pretty damn glad to see the Duncan Canyon (23.5) aid station and I was thrilled to eat more FRUIT! We were directed out of the aid station by a very white Mr. T.......

To be continued......

( I can take no responsibility for any of the pictures.. I know a few were taken by my crew and Bob from Drymax socks, but I have no idea where some of the others came from.. I apologize!)