I headed out to the Columbia River Gorge on a cold, dark, wet morning in March of 2011. I was driving to the finish line of what would be my second 50k. This was the inaugural year of the Gorge Waterfalls 50k and it was a point to point course. You drove to the finish line and were bussed to the start. As I walked to the check-in point to grab my bib, I heard little snippets of conversation all around me:
"How's the training been going? You ready?"
"Well, I've been working on a lot of downhill, but I'm not sure my quads will be ready or not."
"Only 3 months to go, right?"
"I'm hoping there won't be any snow on the course this year."
Uh, oh. It quickly dawned on me that these folks were talking about Western States. People who are running this race are actually going to be running Western States this year. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks ... I don't belong here.
And you could definitely argue that I didn't. I had run my first 50k 3 weeks prior and it had gone relatively well. I thought without the crazy amounts of mud that I had to contend with at the Hagg Lake 50k that I could improve upon my time. What I didn't do was take into account the technical nature of the gorge trails. Not only did I not improve on my 50k time, but I added an hour and 7 minutes to my time. Not exactly the performance I had hoped for.
Yet somewhere during that race, even though it was cold, wet, and miserable for much of it, I seemed to discover my love of ultra running. But Western States was just a pipe dream. I had read about the race, seen a course profile (which looked utterly ridiculous), but knew that it was way out of my league. At the end of 2011 the movie Unbreakable came to Portland - chronicling the top contenders in the 2010 race. I was captivated and mesmerized - it seemed impossible. Running 100 miles. With 18,000 ft of elevation gain and 24,000 ft of elevation loss. And yet the frontrunners somehow seemed to make it look easy, clicking of 7 minute miles even when they were 90+ miles into the race.
2012 proved to be a rough year health & racing wise but I was still luck enough to grab a qualifying time at the Mt. Hood 50. The entry into Western States is either through the lottery, or by winning a Montrail Ultra Cup race. Since option 2 wasn't going to happen I would need to enter the lottery to gain entry. The lottery used to have a three strikes and you're in rule, but due to a rapidly increasing pool of applicants they had to do away with that. The lottery operates so that every year that you don't get picked, as long as you qualify again the next year, when you enter you'll get an additional ticket. So if you don't get picked in 2012, qualify again in 2013, and enter the lottery again, you'll have 2 shots instead of one. And so on and so on. The conventional wisdom seemed to be to start entering the lottery sooner rather than later to increase your chances.
I threw my hat in the ring and on lottery day was attempting to run a 50k at Deception Pass while just a tad under the weather. The attempt was short lived (rightly so) and I found myself back at the car early in the day. I turned on my phone and watched as it started beeping crazily. Either something very bad or something very good had happened in the few hours that I had been away. It didn't take long to get the good news that my name had come up in the lottery. With my one ticket I only had a 6.9% chance of getting in and yet my name was one of the first few called. It seemed as though it was meant to be.
My thoughts immediately turned to training. I had 6 short months to get ready to run my first 100 miler, and the first month would barely count as I needed steroids, antibiotics, and lots of rest to get my lungs fully recovered from bronchitis. Three weeks went by without being able to run a single step.
Once my lungs recovered, the next few months went pretty well. From mid-January through February I focused on solid base building, with some good long-ish runs and back-to-backs. In March I started to incorporate some hill training into my longer runs, and do some short days of hill repeats. Early April brought the first race of the year - the Peterson Ridge Rumble 40 miler. I was saving my gorge hill training for late April and early May, after the race.
Unfortunately my plan went haywire when I injured my Achilles with three miles left to go at Peterson. My leg stopped allowing me to run and I had to walk the final 3.5 miles, including a loop of the track - I wasn't able to run a step. When I got home I broke down in tears. It was painful to put pressure on my foot and walking was even getting hard. While I hadn't had a limp at the end of the race, after the three hour drive home I developed one. I continued to limp for three or four days.
I went into damage control calling on every professional I knew to try to get me healed as quickly as possible. My neighbor is a good friend and PT and she offered to run a microcurrent treatment on the Achilles to see if it might help. I figured it wouldn't hurt and she gave me four different treatments with the microcurrent. I went to my regular PT and told him he had 2 weeks to get me well enough to run. He cautioned me that my timeline might not be realistic but dug in with ASTYM treatments along with numerous different exercises.
During this two week period I turned to the spin bike in effort to keep my conditioning up. I did classes and after class would continue working on my own, working through climbs and intervals. Spinning is great cross training but it just bores me after awhile. I was itching to get back on the trails.
I logged my first run back on April 28. It was 1/2 a mile. It was 2 months until race day, and only 5 weeks until I should begin tapering. But I was at least back to running. The next two months were relatively uneventful training wise. I was lucky enough to discover what would become my 100 mile shoe - the New Balance Leadville. Relatively light, a more substantial heel to toe drop (8mm) to help my Achilles, and more cushioned in the front for more protection in longer distances. I loved the shoe and right of the box took it on what would be my longest run before the race - 43 miles.