Monday, August 25, 2014

Cascade Crest 100 - Race Report

I haven't posted in awhile. I've been training, and working (a lot), and trying to get myself ready for my next 100 mile attempt. It hasn't been a great build-up period. The 10 weeks off running (6 of that non-weight bearing) between January - March seemed to take a toll. Then my back/hip issue got worse (started last September, still trying to get it worked out) and limited my ability to run and do hill training. July rolled around and I still hadn't gotten much in the way of hill work.

But then I had a few solid weeks - the final three weeks in July were good training. I hit an 85 mile week the last week before the taper began, I got in a solid 50k training run, and had a night run that felt great. My peak was only a 22/21/22 (Fri/Sat/Sun) as I was limited in time due to work conflicts. Unfortunately, during the 50k my old nemesis, my IT Band, reared it's ugly head and gave me new cause for concern. I spent the final 8 miles of that race cursing the downhill with significant pain in my right IT band and knee. Then three weeks before the race both my big toes started causing me trouble, and were extremely painful by around the 14 - 15 mile mark whenever I pushed off. My surgeon had told me three years ago when I had my right foot operated on that it was likely I would need more surgery on my right foot and surgery on my left foot as well - it's looking like that time may have come.

Cascade Crest 100 race profile. You think that hill training might be important with this one?
Regardless, the solid weeks were encouraging. I had a great 26 mile run in the gorge that left me with a confidence I hadn't felt in a long time. And the 50k race was run at a faster clip than I had done in several years. Both left me feeling like I might actually be able to make it through CC100.

Pre-Race
I was lucky to have an excellent crew of three to assist me during the race. We left Friday afternoon and drove up to Ellensburg to crash for the night, leaving us with a short 35 minute drive on race morning. They asked me what my top physical concerns were for making it through the race. I couldn't really put them in order because they were all top-level concerns: back/hip, right IT Band, big toes, and stomach stability (I have always gotten nauseated in runs longer than 8 hours). My PT had taped my right IT band to try to help it through the race. Unfortunately the tape came over before the race start so I wasn't able to test whether or not that would help. I had The Stick in my bag of tricks for crew access points to rub out my legs. We had Icy Hot, Capsaicin patches, and a full med kit to try to work through these issue. I was also ready to deal with pain. I knew I was going to experience pain at some point during the race in my back/hip, and in the IT Band. The question was, would I be able to continue moving through that pain or would it stop me?

Then we went over the other concerns: being on the trail alone in the dark (it may be cliche, but I am very afraid of the dark), getting lost, and not making it to the finish. My crew had fun plans to help me fight my fear of darkness, we talked through the course guide a number of times to work through the fear of getting lost, and the fear of not making it to the finish? What can you do with that one? In 100 mile race no finish is ever a given. My crew tried to reassure me that they were out here to support me and didn't care if I made it 10 miles or 100 miles - they would be by my side either way.

Race Day
At the pre-race briefing.
I didn't sleep well. The nerves were getting to me. I got up before my 6am alarm, showered, and got dressed in race clothes, carefully lubing my feet before putting on my compression socks. My crew expertly packed up the room and got the car organized and by 7:15 we were on the road. A quick stop in Cle Elum for some coffee and then we arrived at the race start at the Easton Fire Station. We had to be there no later than 8:30 to get my drop bags in the right place (one for mile 33 and another for 73). There was a free breakfast for racers and crew (suggest donation for crew members). It felt like way too much time to mill about and get more and more nervous. The pre-race briefing started at 9am. Lots of thank yous to volunteers - ultra-volunteers are an incredible breed, you really can't thank them enough - a quick discussion of course markings, and a few other notable mentions before a break at 9:45. 10 minutes for last minute porta-potty stops, then the national anthems - Canada and US - before the gun went off at 10am.

Miles 1 - 23
I started very conservatively. The goal was to run with a HR below 145 for the entire day. The race starts on a dirt road and there's a little time to spread out before hitting the trees and the first climb. As we came around the first turn, less than a mile in, I looked up and could see a very recognizable feature way up in the distance. Even never having seen the course I had a strong hunch that this was Goat Peak and we would be climbing up to the top.

We split off onto single track about 2 miles in. It's this conga-line feel at the early part of races that I truly hate. When I go to the woods I tend to want quiet, and things are never quiet in a conga-line. There's always a few chatty people and for some reason listening to this chatter just makes me crazy when in such close proximity to others. I put on my iPod to try to drown them out, but quickly realized I would have to jack up the volume so high to make that happen that it wasn't worth it. Instead I worked on looking inward, trying to find inner happiness and peace, and find my own sense of quiet.

The first aid station came up pretty fast and I broke free of the conga-line. Unfortunately I found myself right back in another one about 1/4 of a mile later. Thankfully once we reached the top of Goat Peak I was able to break free and after that I had no problems with groups.

The climb up to Goat Peak was a good solid climb, with 3,000 ft of gain in about 3 miles. But if felt nice to get some climbing in early and it helped to moderate the pace. And then the miles just started to roll along. The scenery was incredible, the weather was about as good as anyone could ask for on race day - high in the upper 70s with occasional clouds and a light breeze - and I felt good. I was forcing myself to eat to stave off the nausea later in the race.

I ran alongside some folks and had great conversations - yes, I know I said that I dislike the chatty people, but somehow it's different when there are just a couple of you and you aren't trapped in a group of 20 unable to break free. Chatted with Melissa, a woman I had met three years ago at the the inaugural Gorge 50k, and we had time to catch up. She introduced me to her friend Dave who I ended up running with for a bit later in the race. I met Liz, who I had always previously referred to as "the woman who kicked my ass at Waldo," who is 65 years old and got married on the summit of Maiden Peak at the Waldo 100k last weekend - I aspire to be her when I grow up!

Once we hit the PCT the terrain was just lovely. I got to let me legs loose and really just run for a ways. This section seemed to go by pretty quickly, and before I knew it I was seeing crew at Tacoma Pass. I surprised them by coming in earlier than expected. I made sure to flash a big smile so they knew I was feeling good. They were ready to take care of me, asking me how much I had eaten, helping to get me pack filled up again with food and water, and getting me back on my way. I knew I would see them again at 33 and it was nice to be able to look forward to that.

Mile 23 - 53
The start of this section involved some gentle ups and downs. Lots of hiking on the ups, but I was looking forward to the downs where I knew I would make up time. I hit the first downhill just before mile 28 and felt a solid twinge in my left IT Band. What? Now this I wasn't expecting. The right IT Band has been a problem in the past, but never the left. I moderated my pace a bit and tried to just run through it.

It was up to Snowshoe Butte for what was supposed to be a water only aid station. Instead it was staffed by a huge crew and they had a ton of food and support - what a great surprise! I didn't need much here as I wasn't expecting food support, so I made it in and out quickly. Had a nice little jog uphill before heading downhill again. At this point the IT was worse. I couldn't actually run downhill. Instead I did some sort of weird, speed-walking shuffle and worked my way down to Stampede. I stopped to stretch a few times, hoping it would alleviate the pain in the IT, but it didn't really help.


I was excited to see crew at Stampede. I had lost time on this section due to the slowness on the descent, so they were ready for me. I got to sit down for a bit of a break and they once again went through my pack and got me loaded up and ready to go. By the time I saw them next it would be dark so I needed lights and a long sleeve shirt to head into this part of the course. Dana had created a "Sarah's Happiness Kit" with all sorts of treats and encouragement to keep me moving - what a fun surprise!  I explained the situation with the IT. We got out The Stick and they helped me try to roll it out. Even with the pain and the problem descending I was in a great mood. I joked and laughed with my crew. I didn't have a migraine, it wasn't 106 degrees, and my stomach was stable - so all in all I felt good. One focus I had going into the race was to find my joy out on the trail. I couldn't find any joy during WS100 b/c of the migraine and it is big source of sadness for me about that day.

Adam trying to roll out my
hip/IT Band at Stampede.
Before I knew it I was back off and on my way to Meadow Mountain. I hooked up with a couple of folks on the trail and got to spend more time in conversation as we clicked off the miles. I met up with Dave once again, and, seeing how much I was struggling as I was stopping often to rub out the IT, he made me take a tube of Arnica out of his pack and carry it with me, saying that he thought I needed it more than he did. We ended up staying in close proximity through Meadow Mountain, and had to don our headlamps about a mile out from that aid station as it was getting dark enough that it was hard to see the trail.

At Meadow Mountain (mile 40), I took the time to strip my sweaty tank, put on a long sleeve shirt, break open my two glow sticks - when you are afraid of the dark something about glowsticks just makes you feel safer, especially the blue ones - and eat a bit, before setting off, solo, into the darkness.

Something about the time between when it starts to get dark and when it is full dark is the scariest time for me. Perhaps it's the threat of the darkness, that it's coming and you really can't do anything about it. Once it is fully dark I was surprised that I actually felt way less scared than expected. About 3 miles from Meadow Mountain I saw a light behind me and slowed a bit, hoping that whoever it was might want to hook up for a bit.

It was a woman named Kellie from Hawaii and she proved to be more than happy to stick together until Olallie. Less than a mile after meeting up with her a took a nasty fall in a boulder field, badly cutting my hand. She helped me clean it out with a nice stream of water from her Camelbak, but the pain was intense enough that it brought on nausea and a feeling that I was going to pass out. I had to stop, she was good enough to stop with me, and try to hold pressure on the cut long enough to get the bleeding and dizziness to stop.

In a couple of minutes we were back on our way. I was trying to elevate my hand while holding pressure to staunch the bleeding, and we continued to power-hike our way to Olallie. She had forgotten to put new batteries in her light and had gotten the dreaded blinking that indicates low battery as soon as she turned it on. I was carrying extra lights so gave her one in case we got separated and her lights failed - I didn't want to think of someone out on the trail, alone in the dark with no lights.

This section of trail was, in my opinion, just a bunch of rocks in many places, but it was still really beautiful. The stars were out, the air was cool, and I was plowing through the night having great conversations with people I had just met. Overall, good times.

Pulling into Olallie I was excited to see my crew once again. It was only 5 miles to the next aid station from here, but in scrutinizing the runner's manual I had noticed that you could pick up a pacer here if you arrived after 10pm - there are benefits to being slow! Knowing full well I would get here after 10pm we made sure that they would be here and that Adam would be ready to go.

I arrived earlier than they expected but they quickly scrambled to meet me and were set to manage all of my needs. My hand was still still bleeding so we had to work to get that fixed. A packet of roller gauze, an improvised pressure bandage, and some athletic tape seemed to do the trick. Getting pressure on it alleviated a bit of the pain. My back was starting to spasm badly, and Dana had just the trick for that. A Capsaicin patch from Walgreen's - truly amazing, everyone should have one of these in their med kit. She slapped this on my back and within 15 minutes the heat was providing some incredible relief. I credit this patch to me making it as far as I did. Some biofreeze on my IT to help alleviate that issue, more calories, Ginger-Ale, glowstick bracelets, and then Adam and I headed off to tackle the fixed ropes and the scary tunnel.

I was actually still able to run a little bit at this point  on the flats and uphills, but not much. We made it to the downhill "bushwack" to get to the fixed lines in relatively short order. The angle of this descent was the steepest of the day and the pain exploded like little fireworks in my brain. I could take about 5 - 10 steps and then I would have to stop to let the pain subside a bit. 10 more steps. Stop. This was not a good sign.

Making it to the fixed ropes was a relief. I could put all my weight into my arms for a change. There were more ropes than I was expecting, but all in all I felt this section, which I had been rather nervous about, was quite fun. Once down off the ropes it was a short trip into the 2.3 mile tunnel.

Being afraid of the dark and claustrophobic does not lend oneself to enjoying tunnels. I was able to keep the feeling of panic down to a manageable level. Strangely, my first thought upon entering the tunnels was a flashback to being in Germany last year and touring through Hitler's bunkers below the Eagle's Nest. This brought to mind actual movie footage recorded during WWII by the Nazis that they were showing in one of the bunkers that had some terrible imagery of Nazis killing Jews ... these are not the things you want to think about when you are in a dark tunnel in the middle of the night.

Just before the tunnel we met back up with Kellie and stuck with her through the tunnel. We alternated walking and jogging. I was disappointed that my IT was now causing pain on the flats. Prior to this my experience with this pain was that the flats and hills stay runnable. This did not seem like it was going to be the case today.

After the tunnel it was a short trip on pavement (I think) to the next aid station, Hyak, at mile 53.

Mile 53 - 68
My amazing crew was once again ready for me, this time with hot mashed potatoes filled with butter and salt. This has to be one of the most wonderful tasting things in the world of ultra running and I'm frankly surprised that they don't have them at the middle of the night aid stations. No chewing is involved, and you can load them up with fat and salt. Absolute perfection!

I was still happy, still chatty. The theme of the day continued to be "I don't have a headache, I'm not nauseated, and it's not 100+ degrees so things are going really great!" Dana rubbed me down with Biofreeze, Lowrey worked on my back a bit. Sadly sitting did not help things as it caused my back to seize up even more, so although I really wanted to sit, there was no incentive to linger.

The pack was loaded back up with food and water, I grabbed one pole to use on the next downhill section in the hope that it might help. Ideally I would have had two, but with the wound on my left hand I couldn't hold a pole with it.

The next 15 miles involved 3 miles on flat pavement, then a long climb up to Keechelus Ridge on dirt road, before descending 7 miles on dirt road to Kachess Lake, where I would see crew again.

And this is where things really fell apart. I tried to run out of the aid station but my IT screamed to the point that it was just wasn't possible. My left leg felt like it was going to seize up. My right IT was also getting crabby, and the spot behind my knees was starting to hurt. My hip and back were sending shooting pains down my right leg, and I was starting to get a numbness and weakness in my left leg, where it would just feel like rubber all of a sudden and I felt unable to control it. I was able to keep up a good pace on the flats - a 15 minute per mile walk, and on the uphills I was maintaining around an 18 mpm pace.

On the way up to Keechelus we saw a person ahead had come to a sudden stop. We caught up with them and asked her if she was OK. She flashed her light ahead on the road and pointed - "bear" - she said. And most certainly there was a black bear in the middle of the road. I was delighted! I had always wanted to see a bear out in the wild and never had. It looked small, probably a juvenile, but most likely not a cub. He scampered across the road and up into the brush on the other side. The woman seemed a bit nervous to continue. We told her not to worry, that we would pass that section as a group and it would be OK. We passed by, flashed our lights up into the hills and saw the little green eyes looking back at us. He didn't seem overly interested, and we saw no signs of momma, so we continued on. I tried hard my desire suppress my desire to go up the hillside and try to hug the bear.

It was here that I had my only real low point of the day. My brain got a bit foggy. I was starting to realize that I didn't think I was going to be able to finish the race and the pain was getting to me. Adam encouraged me to eat, saying that it would help. Initially I fought him but then forced down a Payday bar (thanks go to Yassine Diboun for turning me on to this gem of a fueling strategy - even when you don't want to eat, they seem to go down easy). Within 15 minutes I was back to happy/chatty mode and feeling good, mentally at least.

The uphills were starting to get a little painful, but nowhere near as bad as the downs. I had to stop occasionally and lean over to ease the pain in my back. We kept on pushing towards the top. There were several clearings as we neared the aid stations, and we turned off our lights to marvel at the beauty of the stars. The Milky Way was on full display and it was gorgeous to behold. I am always in awe of the immensity of the night sky.

The Keechelus aid station proved to be wonderful, just as all the aid stations had been during the race. They had a little propane powered fire that was delightful. Cheerful workers, great food ... it was a nice little respite from the walking. We didn't linger here as neither of us needed very much, and were on our way within a few minutes.

It was on this downhill stretch that I think I knew my race was over. The 7 miles to Kachess is a perfectly runnable, dirt road. I should have been able to make up time on the course here and just float the 7 miles to my crew. Instead I lurched, stumbled, and spasm-ed my way down. My 18 minute uphill miles became 20 and 22 minute downhill miles. I tried all sorts of crazy ways of moving my legs to alleviate the pain, but nothing was working. My left leg didn't want to bend at all and the right leg would only bend slightly. I had to repeatedly stop just to take a breather from intensity of it. And I knew the angle of this road was nothing compared to what was coming up later in the course.

Just for fun, about four miles from the aid station I started getting serious twinges in my right Achilles (the one I hurt during Peterson Ridge in April last year that prevented me from running for 4 weeks).

Yet we still chatted and laughed our way through. I told Adam that I was trying to figure out where I fell on Allie Brosh's "More Accurate Pain Scale." I was leaning towards the upper end of the scale. Is Jesus coming for me? Am I almost definitely dying? "I think perhaps I am being mauled by bear," I settled on. "Clearly not," came his reply, "as we passed by the bear and he was not mauling you." Then it's time to ramp this up a bit, "I think I must have Stigmata, that must be the pain I'm experiencing." There was no response to that other than a chuckle.

Lurch. Shuffle. Wiggle. Can I make my legs move any faster? Try to run. "I'm going to try to run again." Despite the fact that I had said the same exact things 4 or 5 times already and my attempts had been miserable failures, the quick reply was "OK, let's go!" I tried. Explosion of pain. Desperate lurching. I stopped. Leaned on the pole. Continued walking.

When we arrived at the aid station Dana was ready to keep me moving. She was energized, had her Pacer bib attached, and was ready to go. We talked for a bit. Talked through options. Talked about just making it to the next aid station. I really wanted to keep going. I wanted that finish. But after 15,750 ft of climbing, and 15,300 ft of descending and 68 miles, I felt that my legs weren't going to go any farther on this course. I made the decision to drop.

The way this course works is once you get past 68 extraction is very difficult. The course manual explicitly states that you need to do a serious evaluation here as to whether or not you can continue. We wouldn't get to see crew again until mile 95, and if my legs failed anywhere between here and there it was going to be hard for volunteers to get me out.

There were a few things that went into this decision:

  • I was seriously concerned about creating a true and lasting injury. My gait was so altered that different parts of my legs were starting to complain. The twinges in the Achilles were concerning. I wasn't willing to push through another 32 miles and potentially break my foot again, tear my Achilles, or do true damage to my IT band. I knew it was a true risk and I wasn't willing to accept that risk. I kept envisioning 10 - 12 weeks in a boot, on crutches, etc ... Not something I wanted.
  • At some point you have to do an honest assessment of where you are at and try to remove emotion from that assessment. I learned this in WFR training and I learned it in outdoor leadership. There are times when your head wants to take you in a place that does not make sense. I had now been going 40 miles on a compromised leg. I knew that running 30 miles with an injured back is what had caused me to break my foot in January. The pain was getting worse with every step, my back/hip had been spasming for 20 miles, I had numbness in weakness traveling down both legs, my Achilles was twinging, the back of my knees was aching, my hand was throbbing and continued to bleed through the bandage I had on, yet I had 32 miles to go, 4 peaks to descend, and the race finished with 11 miles of downhill. Yes, ultra is about enduring pain and pushing through, but none of this was adding up for me. I couldn't see how I could make my legs move to get me down downhill terrain that was described as being "steep, then moderate, then steep."
  • I think I knew, deep down, for 20 miles that my race was going to end this way. My crew and I had tried everything we could think of for 40 miles to keep me going, but none of it was helping. From stretching, to topical solutions, to massage, to trying new ways to move my legs, I still couldn't make them truly function. I shed a few tears as I conveyed this to my crew because more importantly than finishing for me, I didn't want to let them down. They had given up their time, they were up in the middle of the night, all to help me reach my goal. 
My crew was wonderfully supportive. They helped me get changed into dry clothes, they got the car packed, and just after dawn started to break we were back on our way to civilization, 19 and a half hours after I had starting running, a full 12 hours before the course would close and without me returning to Easton under my own power.

Reflections
The drive home was surprisingly fun. There were no tears. For the moment I was OK with my decision. It's been coming for a long time. I know that I've hit a point where I need to truly get back to basics. I've got to get my body healed and strong before I can continue doing this type of mileage. I've gotten myself into an injury/poor health cycle that has lasted 2 1/2 years. Racing has been nothing but a disappointment in that time. My times have gotten slower, my legs have gotten weaker, and the fun level has declined. At some point you just get tired of your hobby, the part of your life that is supposed to be fun, being about nothing but overcoming pain and filling you with feelings of failure. 

I can't say that I don't feel like a quitter. Even when you know you made the right decision it's frankly easier for someone else to make it for you than to make it yourself. Being cut due to timing out, or because I was vomiting, anything other than having to utter the words "I think it's time to stop" seems like it would be easier. There's something about seeing the letters DNF next to my name that makes my heart hurt. I like to think of myself as tough. I saw an old friend a few weeks ago and at one point during a canyoneering adventure he said I was "one of the most stubborn people he knew." For some strange reason I took pride in that stubbornness, the idea that I was too strong to quit.

By stopping I gave up on getting another ticket into the WS100 lottery, so I'll go at least a year without a shot at that race and when I enter again I'll be back to one ticket. I could try to go to Javalina at the end of October, but I know that is my heart talking and not my head. If I want to get off the chronically injured list I have to listen to what my body is trying to tell me, and it's clearly telling me something important. I just have to be smart enough to listen. I think if I can do that, and try to find some peace with why I am out there doing this at all, perhaps I can come back stronger, and run with greater joy than ever before.





Monday, February 17, 2014

You're That Runner ...

Day 40.

40 days without a run.

14 days of nothing but the pool and upper body/core work.

I'm starting to get the hang of the crutches. I take the stairs up to the second floor at the gym. I could take the elevator but the effort of crutching up the stairs seems like some of the best cardio I get these days.

My weight is up. In the past 40 days, despite my best efforts, I've put on 6 lbs.

I feel Every. Single. One.

My body feels heavy and woefully out of shape.

This weekend I signed up for a race that I'm unsure I have a chance of finishing. It's 6 months away.

The trip up the stairs leaves me a little bit breathless.

I make it to the top of the stairs (finally) and look around trying to decide where I want to go first.

"Wait, how do I know you? You're ... you're that runner." It takes me a minute to realize that a woman is talking to me. I'm trying to place her but she doesn't look remotely familiar. Am I wearing a race shirt? No. There's nothing about my outfit that screams runner. In what I have (rather cruelly) termed my "injury chub" I can't understand why she would think I was a runner.

She continues, "you run all the time! It took me a minute to figure it out but I see you run by my house regularly. You are quite the runner. You didn't do that running did you?"

"Probably. It's a stress fracture," I reply.

"Well, I hope you heal up quick. It's always nice to see you run by. I hope to see you out there again soon." She flashes a big smile. And I know she means it. For just a minute I can see myself through her eyes. I let go of the idea of the ginormous thighs, the flabby arms, the soft middle. I am a runner. I am a runner solely because I run. Not because of what my body looks like.

We judge ourselves far too harshly. Here I am feeling like anything but a runner simply because I'm going through a brief blip with injury. A blip! In the scheme of things, even if I'm out for a year, I'm still one of the lucky people that will heal.

I haven't ceased to be a runner because I can't run right now.

I don't have to qualify myself as "not a real runner" because I don't run fast.

I don't have to bully myself over a few pounds.

I am a runner. Today, tomorrow, and hopefully far into the future.

Because I run.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Recovery

In July of 2010 my doctor thought I had a stress fracture in my right foot. She ordered me onto crutches and told me no weight bearing activity for three weeks. I made it home from that appointment, called a friend and became hysterical. I don't think she was even able to understand me on the phone. I could barely breathe. The gist of what I was saying "I can't do this. I need to run. I'm not strong enough to handle this."

I'm not strong enough. 

I thought I would break, mentally and physically, if I had to take three weeks away from my drug of choice - exercise.

I refused to accept this diagnosis and treatment. I put on my rigid mountaineering boots and hit the stepmill and bike. I figured if my foot wasn't flexing it could heal. July in Portland isn't exactly boiling hot but it isn't cool either. I wore those boots everywhere for 6 weeks. I followed that with a week long canyon trip in Arizona and Utah. Then I ran for the first time in 7 weeks. Three weeks later I ran the Portland marathon.

Fast forward three and a half years. In that amount of time I found my way in to the world of ultra running - 50k, 50 mile, 100k. Six months ago I finished my first 100 mile race. The 100 miler wasn't so much a race as a march to a finish line. 29 hours and 27 minutes after I started in Squaw Valley, I found some energy and "sprinted" across the finish line in Auburn.

While I was overjoyed to have finished my first 100 and cross that historic finish line, I wasn't happy with my time. I felt I showed weakness on the course. Weakness in the face of adversity.

I wasn't strong enough out there.

I had trouble getting out of bed for weeks after the race. I kept expecting myself to bounce back with a bit of rest, even though I didn't allow myself much of it. Two days after the race I was pushing hard through a 5k. Some would call it "punishment cardio." I didn't feel my performance at WS100 was good enough so I was either out there trying to prove something or punish myself for my perceived failure. I dropped out of the Mt. Hood 50 mile race that took place 2 weeks after WS. My legs just didn't have any strength to them. Just a bit more rest I thought, and then I'll be back.

Three weeks later I was emailing the race director and dropping out of the Cascade Crest 100. There was no let up in my fatigue and I didn't have any interest in death-marching my way through another 100. My goal for my next 100 mile attempt was to actually run as much of the course as possible.

To that end, in September 2013 I picked my next race, the Zion 100. I love that area of the country, I have a good friend that lives close to the start, I could easily make the drive to the race and turn it into a mini-vacation. My last time in Zion I didn't have time to hike Angel's Landing or do a real canyoneering trip, both of which I figured I could accomplish on this outing.

I decided to rebuild from scratch. Build a solid training plan to achieve this goal and follow it to the letter. Forget about trying to keep up with everyone else, or do what I thought I should be doing, and try a different approach. Mentally I found it tough. I always felt like I should be doing more, more, more. Yet slowly but surely I was seeing improvement with this approach. I had set benchmarks the first few weeks of training. I couldn't wait for the time to come when I got to test myself against those benchmarks.

And then, just like that, that hopeful feeling and that dream of a solid return to the 100 mile distance was gone.

When the doctor called and told me what I already knew, "you have a stress fracture in your cuboid accompanied with a tendinitis in  your peroneal tendon," I felt crushed. For a moment I thought I was going to break down.

"You're not strong enough," I heard in my head.

"But wait a minute. What if I am strong enough? Who is in charge here?"

And just like that, I realized that I was in charge. I could choose to buckle and break in the face of an injury, or I could choose to face recovery the same way I face training and the same way I face a race where everything seems to be going wrong. You put one foot in front of the other and you just keep on moving. Outcomes be damned. You don't quit in the face of an injury just because you know it's going to be hard, just like you don't quit when you are looking up a beast of a hill and know that you are supposed to sprint up it for 20 seconds with everything you have. It's going to hurt like hell, but then it'll be over and in the process you will get stronger. Mentally. Physically. You will get stronger.

What can I do? According to the doctor I can swim. And pool run. Core work. Upper body. Anything that doesn't involve putting weight on my left foot. I guess one legged squats on my right leg are acceptable!

I bought a waterproof iPod to alleviate the boredom of the pool. I got myself a water running belt. I'm hitting the pool daily. I'm trying to laugh at the situation. I can't make my bone heal any faster but I can choose the attitude I bring to recovery.

This time, I choose strength.

Injury Part II: Diagnosis

"What happened?" I was asked as I limped my way into the house.

"I think I just broke my foot."

Right off the bat instinct told me that this was a real injury. Fortunately, or unfortunately as it may turn out, I had a doctor's appointment that morning for another issue. While there I mentioned the foot and my doctor ordered an x-ray. She called me with the results a few hours later. "You have a stress fracture to the 2nd metatarsal. You should get a walking boot and go non-weight bearing for the next three weeks." Well that didn't sound good. But it also didn't seem right to me. The pain wasn't anywhere near the 2nd metatarsal and referred pain in that area didn't seem to make sense. Not being one to take injury or the idea of not exercising lightly I made an appointment with the podiatrist who had done my toe surgery in 2011 to get a second opinion.

I walked into his office with my walking boot 5 days later. After a quick exam he informed me that I didn't have a stress fracture in the 2nd metatarsal. He said the reaction they noted looked to him like "runner's foot" and was likely caused by the high mileage of the previous few weeks. He thought it was likely a strain due to the combo of my high arches and wearing worn out shoes (the run where the injury occurred were the last 6 miles I was planning on putting on those shoes). His advice was to ditch the boot, take it easy for a week and then gradually start back to normal activity. I could bike and swim, but no running or stepmill.

I happily ditched the boot and hit the cross training hard. A week later, while I was walking without any trouble, running was still out of the question. I got a sharp pain if I tried to push off on the left foot. I saw an athletic trainer. She thought I might have a sub-luxed cuboid. I saw a chiropractor to work on the cuboid. Two weeks had gone by at this point and I still couldn't push off on the foot. I called the podiatrist back and he ordered an MRI. Three weeks and two weeks from the date of injury I finally had my answer - a stress fracture to the cuboid in combination with tendinitis in my peroneal tendon.

In layman's terms, I broke my foot.

And that's when I cried.

I was scared. I was frustrated. What did this mean? The 100 miler I was signed up for in two months was definitely out. Would I be healed and trained in time to run a race in June or July? Would I be able to hike and backpack this summer? How would I possibly stay in shape when the only thing I was cleared to do was swim?

My thoughts towards myself turned cruel. "You're weak. You're a loser. If you just tried harder you could push this through this. People are going to think that you're a wuss." Despite the rational part of my brain telling me this was a true injury that couldn't just be "powered through" I tested out the foot again. Push off. Sharp stabbing pain. "I can't do this. I'm not strong enough."

Thankfully I wasn't left to my own devices. A midst my blubbering my partner looked at me, "don't take this the wrong way but you are the only person I know that would think you can power through this. That doesn't even make any sense. Your foot is broken. You don't tough out a fracture. You have to let it heal. And don't be stupid, who cares what anyone else thinks? You have to do what is right for you."

That's when I laughed. He was right. I was being stupid. I wouldn't look at anyone else who was facing an injury this way. I wouldn't call them weak. I wouldn't belittle them. Why should I treat myself that way?

The treatment? Three weeks in the boot along with crutches. Then it'll be time to re-evaluate with more imaging. Hopefully that will show that the fracture has healed and I'll be cleared to go back to weight bearing activity.

Injury Part I: The Beginning

In September 2013 I decided it was time to re-evaluate priorities. 2012 and now 2013 had been disappointing years for running and racing. Between health issues and injury I never seemed to find a good groove. While I was lucky enough to get picked in the lottery for Western States 100 and have the satisfaction of crossing the finish line, in total I dropped out of more races in 2013 than I was able to run. A two week trip to Europe in the beginning of September was a forced two week running break. Upon returning from the trip the goal was to start over. I  needed another round of IV therapy to get more iron into my system, so this seemed like a natural time to return to lower mileage, faster turnover, tempo runs, hill training, strength training, etc ... Get quality sleep. Eat well. Rebuild and recover. Then allow myself to build back up to long distances. 

As they tend to do, the injury gods had other plans. While in Europe I started to have pain and numbness down my right leg. I noticed it mostly when I tried to drive. It was a challenge to keep the gas pedal pressed down as I couldn't feel the pedal very well and trying to press down was causing a good amount of pain. On the 10 1/2 hour flight on the way home I started to feel pain my low back. By the time we got to Portland I couldn't wait to exit the plane. The pain was enough of a bother that even though it was the weekend I was lucky enough to I find a chiropractor who was willing to see me on a Sunday.

Upon examination she thought it was likely I had a slightly bulging disc on my right side probably caused by prolonged sitting (the flight to Europe and then home). This was causing the pain, weakness, and numbness down my right leg along with the pain in my back. She gave me some exercises to work on to strengthen my core to alleviate my symptoms. 

Since I was in a build up phase of running the back issue wasn't too problematic. I worked on the core exercises, focused on adding hiking in to my training, and within a couple of months I felt as though the back issue was 90 percent healed. And then I headed in to hill training. I went from 45-55 mile weeks largely run on the smooth surface of the Wildwood trail, to a 22 miler that involved hill repeats. Wham! The pain came back with a vengeance. By the end of the run I felt like begging for mercy.

The next day called for 22 miles on Leif Eriksen. The first 10 miles flew by smoothly, and again things when south. I had to keep stopping to try to stretch my back as the pain and the subsequent numbness and weakness in my leg was causing me trouble.

But I continued on, refusing to alter my training to accommodate my injury. Three more weeks of training, putting in 65 - 80 miles a week. Not high by ultra runner standards, but a step-up in distance for me from the past few months. To keep me going and try to heal my back I saw a chiropractor, and athletic trainer, a physical therapist and an acupuncturist. I felt that the shotgun approach to therapy might make me heal faster.

Yet the symptoms continued to worsen, getting to the point that the numbness and weakness in my right leg and foot was bad enough that I was having to consciously pick up my foot because it wasn't happening automatically. I stumbled a bit more than usual as sometimes I was slow to send the signal to the foot to lift up and I would hit it on a rock, or a root. The stumbles caused spasms in my back. Overall, a bad combo.

I held firm to the "power through" mantra. I'm tougher than this injury. I won't quit just because I have pain. Keep on training and get to the rest week. Back to back's, a trail marathon, speed work, hill work and a through run on Wildwood. During the through run my back, right hip, and leg were complaining by mile 9. By mile 15 I considered calling for a pick-up. At 25 I started to visibly limp. I was still running but there was a definite hitch in my stride. I was thankful to get to the finish and try to stretch my hip and back. It was hard to walk because of the numbness and weakness in the foot and leg.

Then it was time for a rest week. I could take it easy for a week knowing that my legs had gotten some good training over the previous three week block. An easy recovery run on Tuesday, Jan 7 felt good. I had some residual numbness and weakness in my right leg, but overall my legs felt happy. Wednesday the 8th I headed out for another easy 6. I woke early, put on the headlamp, bundled up and headed out into the early morning darkness. 

The first few miles felt good, just your average everyday run. At mile 3.5 it felt as though I had stepped on a rock. A sharp pain towards the back of my foot - the area right in front of the heel. I limped a bit. Shake it off, it's nothing. Another 1/4 mile and I couldn't pretend it was nothing. My foot felt like it was on fire. I couldn't run. And I couldn't bear much weight on the foot. I glanced at my phone. Should I call for a pickup? It was still early and I didn't want to wake anyone so I started limping the 2+ miles home.

I walked in the door and the limp didn't go unnoticed. 

"What happened?"

"I think I just broke my foot."


Monday, July 8, 2013

Western States Part III - The Journey

I promised myself when I was out on the course, in pain, hating pretty much everything and everyone, that I wouldn't sugarcoat this race report. I wouldn't try to re-write history and make myself look stronger and better than I was out there. I would write it as it happened, with the best recollection that I could. If you are looking for a happy race report, you might as well skip this one. It is also very long. It was my first 100 and I wanted to get all of the information down, so that I can look back on it for future races.

Race Morning
Des, me, and my sister - race morning.

I don't need to wait for my alarm to go off. My eyes pop open at 2:15am. I allow myself a few more minutes in bed before starting my race morning routine. Shower, dress, lube the feet, put on compression socks, eat, drink, look over everything in my pack. None of this takes very long but I like to allow myself time in the morning in case anything unexpected comes up. Everyone else in the house is up early as well and at 4am we pile into Janet's truck for the 2 minute drive to the start line.

Figuring out how to put the chip on.
We head to the check-in spot. Despite the altitude (6250ft), and early hour, it is already warm enough to walk around without a jacket. I make my way through the runner check-in, grab my chip, and get on the scale for my morning weigh-in. I hang out with my crew for a bit, and get to see Willie from Animal Athletics (who would be crewing/pacing Yassine Diboun) and I meet Susan from Lake Oswego in person for the first time. I enjoy one of the perks of running ultras - walking right into the women's bathroom, past a long line of men who were having to wait (participant numbers in ultras are skewed towards men).

With Janet pre-race.
Gathering by the fire, the excitement in the air is palpable. Lots of nervous chatter, laughter, and energy in the few minutes before gun time. I grab final hugs from my crew and toe the starting line. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. Shotgun blast. We are off.

For full splits, go here: http://www.ultralive.net/ws100/webcast.php

At the start line. Almost time.
Squaw (mile 0) to Robinson Flat (mile 29.7): 5 AM to 12:40 PM
This is the first race I have started where you essentially walk for the first 4 miles (the front-runners don't, but us back of the packers do). I am excited. I can't believe that I am here! I had envisioned this moment, and it was just as sweet and incredible as I thought it would be. I power hike through the morning light, getting higher and higher, on my way to Emigrant Pass.

The hike itself is good. I feel great, I feel hopeful. I am excited, joyful. Everything that I had hoped for. Soon enough we are at the first aid station at mile 3.5. I stuff a Gu in my pocket and continue up, to the high point at 8700 ft. The light over Lake Tahoe is beautiful, and I make sure to take in the sweeping vista before heading down the other side.

The next 7 miles are ok. The trail is rockier than I had hoped it might be. I don't like having runners right on my tail and I want to make sure I don't do anything stupid (like roll an ankle) in these first few miles, so I pull over to let numerous groups of people pass. There is a good amount of moisture in the high country and at one point the trail was actually a creek. It was here that a friend I made in training camp came up behind me. Watching me pick my way from side to side trying to keep my feet dry, he advised me to just plunge in and get wet. It was great advice and it helped me save time and also made the going less dangerous - less likely to slip and fall when you are just plowing through.

Lyon Ridge Aid station (mile 10) comes up quick. It is already warm. I am happy I changed course the previous day and tucked my hat in my pack instead of in my drop bag at mile 16. I grab some food, don my hat, let the volunteers spray me down, and move on.

At this point life is pretty good. The scenery is beautiful, I am moving well, and then ... it isn't. As had been the case for the past 8 weeks, a very intense, and pounding headache comes out of nowhere. I am still in the diagnostic stage with my doc on what is causing the headaches and we didn't have any solutions/treatments at this time. Ibuprofen would be completely ineffective, and regardless it isn't recommended to take in IB during an ultra anyway. I try to push the headache away and focus on the run - the beauty, the excitement, the challenge. I put on music to try to drive the pain away.

The trail between Lyon Ridge and Duncan Canyon is a bit of a blur. I eat and drink well, despite the headache, filling my bottles at both aid stations. At Duncan Canyon I fill bottles, pull out my bandanna and the volunteers fill it with ice to wrap around my neck to keep cool. As I leave this aid station it starts to get hot. There is a wonderful creek crossing to dip in at the low point before beginning the climb up to Robinson Flat. I take full advantage and enjoy the cool down.

Pam Smith coming through Robinson Flat.
This is what front runners look like.
The hike up to Robinson is exposed. There are trees, but I think they were burned, thus they don't provide much in the way of shelter. I knew the climb would be long and I thought I was mentally prepared. But the heat combined with the headache is getting to me. I get into a very negative space - "you don't belong here. Who do you think you are? You can't run 100 miles. You aren't strong enough. You're fat and you're slow and you aren't a real runner. You'll never make it." - this is on a repeated loop in my head for what seems like hours as I climb up to Robinson. Not exactly inspiring words.

I can't wait to get to my crew. Once I make it up this climb I know the rest of the course as Des and I had run it in training camp. I need the unknown to be over. I don't think I will ever get to the aid station. I see a
This is what I looked like
on my way in to Robinson.
sign that says 1/2 mile to Robinson. I internally scream "how could it still be 1/2 a mile? I have been climbing forever!" Pulling in to the aid station I hear my brother-in-law shouting encouragement and telling me where to find my crew. I go through the obligatory weigh-in. I'm down only 2 lbs - perfect! I find my crew at the very end of the changeover spot.

Telling my crew about my
headache issues.
I sit down in the chair they have for me, I put my head in my hands and ... break down in tears. I catch sight of my sister out of the corner of my eye and watch her mouth "oh" and back away. They don't expect this. They expect me to be hot, maybe tired, maybe moving a little slow, but I know they don't expect tears, not this early in the game. I hold my head in my hands, pressing them against my temples and tell my crew that my head is killing me. I don't know how I am going to get through this race with my head hurting this bad. The last thought in my mind when I started was that the race would become all about survival less than a 50k in.

On my way out of
Robinson.
I give my crew a ton of credit. They pump me up with positives "you are looking great," "your weight is great, you are moving fine, well ahead of cutoffs." They run through my checklist, help me change my shirt, take off my shoe and remove the rock that had been bothering me for a few miles, give me food. Adam readies my pack, as I want to switch from the bottles that I was carrying, with ice water and food, and I get ready to go. He walks me out to the end of the changeover area. Once again on my own.

Robinson Flat (29.7) to Michigan Bluff (mile 55.7): 12:40 - 8:10 PM
In addition to pain, I am filled with fear. It is already hot and I am heading in to the heat of the day and the hottest part of the course. I'm not sure if I can handle it. We had heard so much about how the canyons can be so much hotter than other areas on the course. The predicted high in Auburn was 102. Would the canyons be in the high 90's when I hit them? Low 100's? How hot would it be? I try to push those feelings away and focus on putting one foot in front of the other, running when I can, power-hiking when needed. The aid station volunteers are amazing, they provide such incredible support - filling my pack, dousing me with water, filling my bandanna with ice. The temps get hotter, and the sun was more intense - I try not to think about the heat and just keep moving.

Around mile 37 my worst fear strikes - asthma attack. The hot air has been a struggle to breathe for hours and it finally gets me. I have two inhalers on me so this is not cause for panic, yet I do. My chest feels tight, my breathing is getting short. I scramble to pull my inhaler out of my vest. Two puffs. It takes a few minutes, but I can breathe again.

The descent down to Swinging Bridge doesn't seem quite as bad as it did during training camp and I am able to run most of it without. I feel strong for 80% of the climb up to Devil's Thumb. I pass several people, including one of the guys I met during training camp. I find him sitting on a stump. Struggling. I offer words of encouragement, and as I climb the switchbacks I am happy when I look  down and see he is back on his feet once again, moving strong.

By the time I roll in to the Devil's Thumb aid station the heat has gotten to me and I have lost my stomach. Rolling waves of nausea are hitting me hard and fast. I sit down for a few minutes while a volunteer fills my pack with more ice water. I was planning on sitting here for a few more minutes and trying to get some solid food in, but just then a runner comes in and starts vomiting/dry heaving violently into the garbage can. Puking is a sound I just can't stand - I can feel my stomach starting to roll in solidarity. I can't linger. I get myself up and moving.

Conversely, the descent to El Dorado Creek seemed a lot easier during training camp. The heat is taking a
Yassine and Willie at Michigan
Bluff. So happy for him to
go M9 and for both of them
to cheer me in to the finish.
toll, as is the constant headache and nausea. It's hard to eat but I keep trying to get little bites down, along with fluids. I come in to the El Dorado Creek aid station asking the aid station volunteers if they can help me cool down. I think I must look like I am on the verge of tears, as they quickly sprung into action, sitting me down, getting my legs up on a chair, and draping my legs and shoulders in an ice cold towel. Within 3 minutes I feel like I am coming back from the dead and start the long, 3 mile walk uphill to my crew.

The cooling at the aid station helps me feel better for about a mile. And then everything comes crashing down again. My stomach, my head - that's all I can think about. I can't run. I power hike this whole section. This gets me back into my negative head space "you're weak, you can't do this, you aren't a real runner, what are you doing out here?" As I finally get close to the aid station I see Gail and Bret, friends who traveled from Portland to cheer on runners. They look fresh and happy and are so encouraging. I tell them I don't know how I can go on for another 45 miles feeling like this. Bret assures me that I can, and they walk with me to the aid station.

Janet checking in with me. Shoving
down some watermelon.
Michigan Bluff (55.7) to Forest Hill (mile 62): 8:10 - 10:02 PM
Another weigh-in. Weight is still fine, within a pound of starting weight. Since it's after 8pm I can pick up my pacer early and Desiree is ready to go. I'm not sure if I cried here. I might have. I am hot. I'm struggling to breathe the hot air. Adam and Janet give me watermelon, ginger ale and rice. They encourage me. Janet asks if my headache has gotten any worse. I assure her it hasn't, that it is bad but staying the same. They tell me I can do it, that I look good. I put a headlamp around my waist. I choose a packet of  baby food from the myriad food options and stuff it in my pack. Adam tries to get me to take more but nothing sounds good. He walks me out of the aid station. I feel raw. I was again on the verge of tears. I feel stripped of all ability to cope. I don't know how I can keep going. I am fearful as Des and I head into the darkness.

These photos accurately convey the emotion. Fear, uncertainty, pain. Des looks entirely too cute but determined to see me through.
This stretch involves the drop into Volcano Canyon and then back up to Bath Road and on to Forest Hill. I perk up, having company for the first time all day, and someone to talk to. I am actually conversational for a bit. We chat. I feel encouraged. And then I feel hungry. Dizzy. Weak with hunger. I grab the baby food packet and open it. I squeeze some into my mouth. And gag. It's horrible. The taste, the texture. I spit it out. I check the rest of my pack. Somehow I had made it out of the aid station with no other food. How had that happened? I am 5 miles from the next aid, starving, and I have no calories. I try again to choke it down. Talk myself into trying to swallow it. And gag again. It isn't going to happen.

We keep pushing on. I now add hunger to my list of things that are ever present in my mind. We walk. It gets dark. It's only 5 miles, you can make it without food. We turn on headlamps. We run a bit. I find a Gu in my pocket. I'm ecstatic. I suck it down like it is a gourmet meal, overjoyed for some calories.

At some point we decide we are going to blame Jim King for everything. Jim King won WS three times, and during "Jimfest" at training camp we watched the movie Desperate Dreams that chronicled the 1983 running of the race and the duel between him and Jim Howard for the title. During the Q&A after the race Jim King remarked that he would like to see another really hot year, so that folks could see what that was like. The heat? Jim's fault. The aid station being so far away? That was Jim's fault too. My headache? Clearly Jim's fault. Little did I know that Pam Smith had also put out a call to the weather gods for a hot year.

After a few miles in the dark I keep seeing little pinpricks of light on the ground as my headlamp light seemed to reflect off something. I imagine the fireflies from childhood as that makes me feel a little warm and fuzzy inside - but I know there aren't fireflies out here. And then I think of fairies. I know full well they aren't fairies, but that idea keeps me entertained for awhile. Then I decide to look closer and figure out what they are. Much to my dismay I discovered that they aren't anything sweet and pretty but scary, ginormous spiders. Spiders! Everywhere. My headlamp keeps picking up the pinpricks of light. Just my luck. Sometimes there is just way too much nature in nature ...

I'm starting to think we will never make it to the Bath Road aid station, but we finally do. It is a brief hike up and then what should be easy running for 1.5 mile along Bath Road in to Forest Hill. But my stomach hurts too bad to run and every time I try I feel like I am going to throw up. So I run, and I walk, and we alternate this way all the way in to Forest Hill.

I hear the announcer call me name as I make my way into the aid station. "Doesn't she look good folks?" I know he's lying. I can't possibly look good. Another weigh in. Someone hands me a popsicle. A volunteer fills my pack. I make my
Forest Hill. Gail and Bret acting
as my cheering squad.
way to my crew. I am starving but nauseated so nothing sounds good. Janet and Adam suggest mashed potatoes. I was willing to give them a try. They make me warm mashed potatoes loaded with butter and salt for some good fat cals and sodium. They taste delicious. Better than anything I can remember anything ever tasting. Janet cautions me not to eat too fast. I suck down the full bowl. Desiree and I move on.

Forest Hill (mile 62) to Rucky Chucky Far (mile 78.1): 10:02 PM - 3:15 AM
It seems impossible to believe it can get harder, but this is the stretch that everything goes to hell. I try to run. My legs are willing - they even feel good! -  my stomach is not. Extreme frustration that I can't run. My headlamp makes headache worse. My lower back starts to hurt. Every time someone passes me I get angry. Angry at myself for being slow. For being weak. For being a big, ol' baby that can't run because I have a stupid headache and stomachache. In my mind these are lame reasons not to be making faster forward progress.

Des tries to keep my talking and works to keep things positive. I feel angry and disagree with anything she says. "Want to run?" "No. I can't." A minute later I start to run.

The pain gets so intense that all I can do is walk and moan. Step, step, moan. Step, step, moan. I apologize to Des for the moaning. I apologize for being so painfully slow. She tells me I'm not allowed to apologize again. I respond that she needs to cut me some slack because it's likely I won't remember this conversation in 20 minutes.

Around mile 70 something - appx 1am:
Des: "If you could be any superhero which one would you be?"
Long pause. Quiet voice. "Elasti-Girl."
Des "Who? Blast girl? What power does she have?"
"No. Elasti-Girl. Don't you know Elasti-Girl?"
Des "I'm sorry, I don't know who that is. What power does she have?"
"She super stretchy and flexible. Have you not seen The Incredibles?"
Des "No, I haven't"
"What's wrong with you?"

I realize that I'm not afraid of the dark. This had been one of my biggest worries coming in to the race. Normally I'm terrified of the dark and being out on trails in the dark was particularly frightening. With all the pain in my head and the constant nausea there is no space in my brain for fear. All I can think about is pain. I've been trying to escape it for hours - running miles for different folks who I know would love to be where I am, thinking happy thoughts - trying to focus on anything other than pain. But I can't do it. I'm not strong enough. The pain is ever present.

We pull in to Ford's Bar at mile 73. I sit in a chair. I put my head in my hands and started to sob. I had come 70+ miles, farther than I have ever gone in my life, yet I still had more than a marathon to go. It seemed impossible. I went on that way for about a minute before another runner's pacer came over to me. He put a gentle hand on my shoulder. "How about we take this headlamp off for a minute? Give your head a break. Don't cry. You can do this. Look up at me and give me a smile." Half-hearted attempt at a smile. "See, things aren't so bad. The ugliest guy in the aid station just made you smile." And that got a little chuckle. I looked to my right and saw a guy sitting in a chair, sleeping, wrapped in a sleeping bag. Des came up to me with food, handing me some watermelon. "How does that taste?" I make a face, "Like sunscreen." Without a word she puts the remaining watermelon on my leg and encourages me to eat. Then we are up again. The volunteers cheer us out "we'll see you at the finish." I appreciate the enthusiasm but I don't believe I'll make it. We leave the oasis of light and civilization for the darkness of trail.

Walk and moan, walk and moan. Five miles to the creek crossing. I was afraid I wasn't going to make the cutoffs. I thought the river cutoff was 3am. Des found out at Ford's Bar that it was 5am. That gave me hope. Step, moan, step, moan. "Where is the river? Why are there so many hills? Why was I so damn slow?"

"Des?"
"Yes?"
"If I were home right now feeling like this I would be curled in a fetal position on my bathroom floor."
"I know. Stop for a minute. Look at the stars. Isn't it beautiful?"
"It is, I know it is. But I can't feel the beauty right now."

I feel like I am sleepwalking. I resolve to ask my crew when I get to the other side of the river to let me close my eyes for 3 minutes. Maybe I'll feel recharged.

At some point my shoelace comes untied and I need to sit down to tie it. But I'm afraid to sit down because of all the spiders. Des points out a rock "here, you'll be safe on the rock, no spiders." She's so earnest and sincere that even though I know full well the spiders could climb right up that little rock I decide to sit and deal with the shoe. In my mind the ginormous spiders swarm and devour me. At least that will make the pain end.

If I can just make it to the river I have a hope of getting to the finish. At the briefing they told us if you make it across your odds of finishing are very high. I put all the energy I have into focusing on the river.

"Des, I think I am going to cry for a minute or two. Maybe it will make me feel better."
"Okay."
Start crying, after holding it back for the last few miles, the sobs start to explode from my chest.
"Don't hyperventilate."
"I won't. I'm ok now. Just needed a little breakdown."

River crossing. The front runners do
this in daylight. In boats.
Step, moan, step, moan. Is that the river? Did we make it? It is the river. We see the lights, we hear quiet music. Remembering the large steps that lead down to the river Des cautions me to step carefully. "How high is the river?" The response "about waist high." We plunge downward and grab the cable. There are glowsticks lighting the way and a volunteer stabilizing the cable every few feet. They are encouraging and telling us where to step. First the water goes waist high, then higher. It's not cold. It feels good after such a hot day. We creep across.

I can hear the screams of encouragement before I can make out anyone in the darkness. My brother-in-
Des after he impromptu dip.
law, my sister, Janet, Adam, all are encouraging us across. We make it to the other side. Des misses a step and takes an impromptu dip in the river. She still smiles.

Rucky Chucky Far (mile 78.1) to Green Gate (mile 79.8): 3:25 AM - 4:24 AM
My crew has hiked down 3 miles in the dark to make it to this aid station, and waited for hours for me to show up. They make me hot mashed potatoes, give me ginger ale. I switch out headlamp batteries. They ask if my headache is any worse. No, still the same, but no worse. I don't bother to switch clothes or shoes. I'm not cold. The air temperature probably isn't much below 80 and the wet clothes feel nice.

I still don't think I am going to make it. Janet asks me if I want to continue on. "Want? No. Will I? Of course. I'm not quitting. I'll either make it to the finish or miss a cutoff, but I won't quit." She smiles. "You can do this."

"Does anyone know what the cutoffs are?" Amy - "I have the manual here. I'll read them to you." She patiently reads me all the cutoffs. Maybe it's possible. It's only 3:40am. I have 7 hours and 20 minutes to cover 22 miles. This is easy terrain, only 3,000 or so ft of gain and about 5,000 or so of loss to go. Just get moving.

We all hike together uphill the 1.7 miles to Green Gate. I delight in having a whole group of people with me. I ask Amy to run through the cutoffs again because I can't remember them. Trying to do math at 4 in the morning after being on the move for 23 hours is not going well, but I'm slowly working it out in my head. I have 2 1/2 hours to cover the 6 miles to Auburn Lake Trails, and 5 hours to make it to mile 93.5. I can do this. I can't let all of this effort be in vain. I am going to make it to that damn finish line. My focus, determination, and fight is still there. We leave the crew at Green Gate.

Green Gate (mile 79.8) to Highway 49 (mile 93.5): 4:24 AM - 8:23 AM
I rebound. There is still plenty more step, moan, step, moan, but there is more talking too. I'm able to engage in conversation for the first time in hours. I know it'll be getting light soon. I can't wait to take off the headlamp. I watch the clock and the sky waiting for first light. I start to notice trees and rocks that were previously in darkness. By 5:30 we can remove our headlamps and it is an incredible relief.

We can hear the music from at least half a mile away. We are coming in to the aid station at Auburn Lakes Trails - 6:02 am - mile 85. They have hot pancakes. Bland food seems like it might settle my still upset stomach. I shove down 2. I ask the aid station volunteer "Do you know who the top woman was?" "Um ... Smith I think?" "Pam Smith?"  "Pam won?" "Yes." Des and I cheer and do a little dance. The volunteer looks at us like we are crazy. "She's from Oregon, we know her." Filled with excitement for Pam's achievement (she had a tough go of it the year before, battling through hypothermia, asthma, and other ailments - and she comes back this year to take the win? Off the charts awesome.) I set off with renewed energy.

This stretch feels more positive than most. My stomach still makes it hard to run but we run more than I have for hours. It feels good. My legs feel good. Des keeps up the conversation. Positive energy. She's committed to keeping me going.

Highway 49 (mile 93.5) to Robie Point (mile 98.9): 8:23 AM - 10:07 AM
Cruising in to Hwy. 49.

Time to see crew again. This is it. Almost there. An hour ahead of cutoff. Only 6.7 miles to go and I have 2 1/2 hours to do it. The whole crew is encouraging. I suck down two more pancakes. Adam is going to pace me in to the finish. He has donned a matching skirt to pace me in. I smile. He smiles. He was willing to do anything to get me to crack a smile and the skirt did it. As I sit in the chair stuffing pancakes in my mouth Des looks at me "Don't give up on me." I look at her rather quizzically, "I'm not going to quit." Nothing could be further from my mind. They send us off. Des has done great. She got me through the dark hours - both figuratively and
More pancakes.
literally - I'm going to make it.

The energy from the aid station keeps me going for a few miles. We run some. We hike some. Then the energy wears off and the pain creeps back in - step, moan, step, moan. I apologize again because Adam doesn't know my step/moan routine yet. I stop periodically to try to stretch my back. It aches. My feet had started to hurt around mile 90. I can feel my little toes starting to blister. It's getting hot again. Even though it is only 9 am you can already feel the heat from the sun.

We hit my favorite portion of the trail. A brief stretch through a meadow. Something about this place I really love. We see people up ahead on the trail. I tell Adam that I understand the meaning of the buckle now. Before the race I thought if I earned one I would just stick it in my drawer with the other race medals, that it would be just another token, a memento. But I've fought for this. Harder than I have fought in any other race. Harder than I think I have ever fought for anything. If I get that buckle I'm going to find myself a nice belt for it.

We begin the descent to No Hands Bridge. Tim Twietmeyer (5 time winner of WS, 25? time sub 24-hour finisher, board president - in other words, all around awesome) passes us walking uphill. It is nice to see him out there on the course offering support to us way back of the packers. I can hear Pour Some Sugar on Me blaring from the speakers at No Hands Bridge. I run down the hill to the aid station. Before I can even ask for ice the volunteer drapes a sleeve of ice around my neck and tucks it in to the top of my tank top. It feels incredible. I drink a cup of ginger ale. No time to waste, we keep moving.

Within 1/2 a mile I suck the last drop out of my hydration bladder. I should have filled at the aid station. This stretch is hot, exposed, and uphill, and now I have no water. Step, moan, step moan. Water. Step, moan, step, moan. Water. Adam is hiking next to me with a full bottle of cold water that he can't give me. He keeps up conversation. Encourages me when I falter. Could I really not make it when I am this close? He assures me that I will make it. He keeps things light. Keep moving. Stop to stretch my back. Move. Where is the aid station?

Robie Point (mile 98.9) to Finish (mile 100.2): 10:07 AM - 10:27 AM
Like an oasis in the desert the aid station comes in to view. I ask the volunteer for two cups of water
Sign: Pacers are people too!
Yes they are! Without Des
and Adam I wouldn't have
made it through.
with ice, thinking I can't slake my thirst with just one. She hurries to get them into my hands. She takes my pack and gives me a liter of water. I only have a mile to go but I'm not willing to go without water after the last hot stretch.

Another .2 miles. Amy and Scott are there. Another .1. Janet and Desiree are there. Adam is still by my side and we are all going to run together to the finish. I envision linking arms and running the track with all of them. I couldn't have gotten here without their amazing support. I start running. Too fast. The finish line is still too far away. I walk again. Everyone else stops and walks with me. We make it across the bridge. We are getting close. I can see where we will make the turn in to the track. I start to run. Really run. Probably 10 minute miles but it feels like sprinting. And then I am on the track. I see Yassine cheering for me from the sidelines. At this point I can think of nothing other than the finish line. The happy thoughts of crossing the finish line with my crew? Not going to happen. I'm laser focused on the finish. I kick hard, too early, but it doesn't matter. I feel like I am going to throw up; but I'm not going to stop. I see a guy in front of me, only a few feet out from the finish line. Is it ok to pass him? Is that gauche? I slow for a second and then realize I don't care, the finish line is there and I'm almost done. I keep kicking and power across the line.

The Finish
And then the joy hits. I actually made it. I didn't let myself fully believe it was going to happen until it actually did. 29 hours 27 minutes and 30 seconds  after leaving Squaw Valley I arrive in Auburn powered only by my two feet. It's 10:27 in the morning, and I squeak in 33 minutes before the final bell. The route involved 18,000 ft of climbing, 24,000 ft of descending, and lots of sweat and tears.

Adam, Desiree, Janet, Amy, Scott - they are all there to share the success with me. Adam pulls me close into a hug. I can only imagine how hard it was for him continuing to send me back out there knowing how much I was hurting. But he knew how much I wanted this and he did it anyway. Desiree smiles. She put a lot of her heart and soul out onto the trails by my side. One of these days I'll get to pace her on this course and return the favor. Janet was ever present at aid stations and in tune with my hydration, nutrition, and any medical symptoms. And just having Amy and Scott there - smiling, encouraging - I could feel their strength. All of them got me here. Without their kindness, their commitment to helping me stay fed, hydrated, and well-taken care of, I don't think I could have made it. Crew and pacers have a tough job and I hope they all know how much I appreciate their dedication to getting me to the finish line.

From upper left: Adam embraces me at the finish. Soaking my aching feet in ice cold water and talking to my parents.
All smiles with Desiree, who was my shining star throughout a long, dark, pain filled night.
Amy, Desiree, Adam, and I make our way to the finish. Just after crossing the finish line.
The medal. Finish line. Yucky feet. Filthy shoes (they were brand new when I started.)

The Awards
Bronze Buckle.
They hand out buckles in time order, starting with the winners. It's inspiring to see the top ten men and women take the stage. I am awe-struck by their ability to cover the distance so quickly. I have awhile to wait as I'll be in the 29-hour group. They make special notice of the 29 hour finishers. There is no feeling like we are second class to the rest of the field. We get the same cheers as everyone else. It's appreciated.

    Video from my brother-in-law. There is minute or two segment at the beginning of reporter from a Sacramento news station interviewing me. I advise skipping that. :)
    WS 100 (All) from Scott Dawson on Vimeo.
Final Thoughts:
  • While I am not disappointed in the final outcome, I am disappointed in myself. I wanted to be the cheerful person out there. I knew I would be back of the pack and I was ready for that, but I wanted to smile, to find joy, to delight in every step. But I couldn't do it. My joy was pounded out of me first by the headache, and then by nausea, and I wasn't strong enough to fight it. I still said thank you to all the volunteers, I tried to smile, I hope I made them feel appreciated, but I didn't have the attitude I had hoped for, and it disappoints me that I couldn't manage any positivity.
  • Headache pain - the hard part for me about the headache pain is that it isn't visible. It wasn't as though I had a bone protruding. I wasn't bleeding. Or puking, or fainting, or pale. My weight was great. Did people think I was making up pain to excuse my poor attitude? To explain my slow pace? Was I making it up? Did it really hurt that bad? Or am I just a wuss?
  • Nausea - I think the nausea was originally caused by the headache. Then it became an issue of insufficient calories as I couldn't get enough food down because I was too nauseated (I worked on a mini-Luna bar for a good 30 minutes and couldn't get the whole thing down). Perhaps if I had sat down for an extended period of time and shoved in a bunch of cals, I could have gotten the nausea to go away. Or I might have puked and reset my stomach. Or I might have made myself feel worse. Hard to know.
  • I let certain comments/articles/blogs that I read after the lottery get in my head. Comments such as "1st timers don't belong at WS." "The lottery is flawed, good runners didn't get in while people who qualified with an easy 50 miler did." I took this to heart. I felt like I didn't belong there, that I hadn't earned it, that others were more deserving. And while that may be true, I followed the rules of entry and was lucky enough to have my name drawn. Case closed. I shouldn't have let the negativity in. It made me feel so much pressure to succeed, more than I think I would have felt otherwise, as I felt I had to prove that I did belong to be there.
  • Crew, for me, was essential. Even though I only saw them for a few minutes a couple of times on the course, looking forward to seeing them helped keep me moving. And my crew was amazing. From taking care of my feet, to feeding me, to giving me aid station cutoffs, and chronicling the journey in video and photos - all of it helped me succeed. 
  • Pacers, for me, were also essential. Just having someone by my side, even when we weren't talking; someone to share the journey, to be there when I struggled, to offer up quiet words of encouragement, to believe in me. It meant so much to me. (You can read about the race from Desiree's perspective here: http://www.runningbecause.com/2013/07/a-bittersweet-journey.html)
  • Volunteers at WS are amazing. Hands-down the most incredibly well run race I have had the opportunity to run. Attentive, kind, encouraging ... everything you would want out of volunteers. I can't possibly thank them enough.
  • I knew it was going to be tough. I respected the distance. I trained hard. I expected highs and lows and multiples of each. What I didn't expect was a 60 mile low from around 19 to 79. Miles 79 - the finish were much more what I expected, cycling between lows and highs, sometimes a rapid cycling, but I still got the energy of feeling a high before plummeting into the lows.
  • At the awards ceremony, Yassine asked me how many times I had thought about dropping out. Honest answer, "None." Coming in to the race I had told my crew there were three reasons for not making it to the finish line - 1. Medical Emergency, 2. An injury that threatened to sideline me for the rest of the year if I continued. 3. Missing a cutoff - those were the only ways I wasn't going to make it to Auburn. This was my shot, my chance (possibly my only chance) for a Western States finish. Quitting simply wasn't an option.
  • It was incredibly humbling to see all the well wishes on Facebook after the race was over. I had tried to keep things as quiet as possible on social media as I didn't want to fail in such a public forum. And yet the encouragement that I saw on my page brought tears to my eyes. So many people were rooting for me, and cheering for me, and practically trying to will me to the finish line from their computer screens. How did I get so luck to have so many people who want to see me succeed?
  • At each aid station my sister told me that my parents were "watching me" on the computer and wishing me well. My dad was having trouble tearing himself away and found it hard to sleep. Their unwavering support means the world to me.
  • Craig Thornley (RD) and crew were phenomenal. I would say his inaugural year as RD was a slam dunk. I have nothing to compare it to, but the aid stations were incredible as were the volunteers, the course marking, etc ... I was running back of the pack for the entire race and no aid station ever ran out of supplies. There was always ice, cold water, plenty to eat, encouragement, volunteers to assist with your every need. There was no feeling that an aid station was being packed up, that the volunteers were ready to be done. I feel as though I got the same attention and encouragement as the front runners and mid-pack. It was like a well-oiled machine of awesomeness.
  • The all important question - will I do it again? It's a good thing everyone knows not to listen to what I say during a race as I kept saying over and over and over "I'll never do this again." Of course I'll do it again. The challenge now is to see if I can do it better.