Saturday, August 29, 2015

6 hours and 17 minutes

It took me longer to recover from Howl than I would have liked.

During the past week, I've finally started feeling better, and I know I need to kick it into high gear again to get ready for Bear Chase. What I needed was a long, hard trail run.

With Will back in school and my semester still going fairly light, I decided to do it yesterday (on Friday) so as to free up the weekend for time with the family.  On Thursday night, I ended up going to Black Bottle Brewery with a friend (she insisted on taking me out as a thank you for one time over summer when I took care of her kids), and as we chatted it up over drinks, I told her, "I'm going to run the Quad Rock course tomorrow."

I hadn't told anyone that; I hadn't admitted it to myself and I certainly hadn't told Rob.  It is a brutal, punishing 25 mile mountainous loop through Lory State Park and Horsetooth Mountain Open Space.  When Rob ran the race last June, I'd looked at the course map and thought it was completely insane.  Why would anyone do that?  On purpose? I mean, I'd run probably about 60% of those trails, though certainly not all at one time, and with considerable walking through vast portions of it because it was so steep and rocky I thought I'd die.

I took a swig of my Peach Ripper Double IPA (possibly the best beer I've ever had), and told my friend, "If I don't make it back, that's where you can tell Rob to start looking."

Always let someone know where you're going, that's a good rule of thumb.

But in all seriousness, I didn't really think that I couldn't do it.  I knew it would be hard (I had trouble sleeping that night because I was so nervous), and I knew I would have to walk a lot.  But I thought it would be good training in heat and on difficult terrain, and I thought that worse case scenario, I wouldn't make it back in time to collect Will from the bus stop and Rob would have to go out to the corner to meet him (which he has been doing every day this week anyway).

Besides, my new North Face Ultra Cardiac 8mm drop trail shoes had arrived a few days prior, and with lugs like these, what could possibly go wrong?

The first two miles are easy--on the wide dirt park service road--and even after that, the gentle valley trails are the ones I run on all the time.  Everything was awesome.  I even began thinking that maybe, just maybe, there'd be some way I could run this race next spring.  I was sure Rob would want to do it again, but maybe we could have somebody watch Will so I could do it too.  

I got down to Sawmill and Stout Trails, which are slightly more rocky, but still, everything was great.   Stout Trail spit me out onto Towers, and *bam* it was Melissa's time to shine.  The temperature was closing in on 80 degrees, it was completely shadeless, and from that point Towers goes straight up for something like 2 miles.  Hard, yes.  But it is a park service road that's wide and not technical.  It is one of my all-time favorite places to run.

Instead of going all the way to the top of Towers, this course has you turn off (almost at the top) onto Spring Creek Trail.  I'd never been on this trail before, but I've been on Westridge (which is parallel), and I knew that was difficult for me (steep, rocky) but doable if I just took it at my own pace.  I figured Spring Creek would be the same.

Right from the get go, the trail was skinny and very steep downhill.  Lots of rocks, often covered with a thin layer of sandy gravel.  I felt myself slip a couple of times while descending (mostly at a walking pace), which surprised me, considering the souped up lugs on my shoes.  They'd handled well when I tested them out on a fairly steep trail the day before.

Then it happened.  A little more than 7 miles into my run.  One instant I was moving downhill, aiming my left foot for a seemingly safe rock, and the next instant both feet slipped out from underneath me.  The instant after that, there was searing pain.

Instead of my foot landing on the rock, I'd gone airborne and landed on my butt.  Hard.  I'd also scraped the back of my left knee in the process.  It knocked the wind out of me, but I was too shocked to even panic.  There was just the thought that I needed to get up, except I couldn't get up because the searing pain was loud and black.  Fine then, I won't get up.  I will stay in this position until I can breathe and move again.  Everything is going to be fine.

When I finally managed to move myself back into a standing position, everything did not seem fine.  My legs were complete jelly, my knee was bleeding, but most of all there was the hot, searing pain throughout my pelvis.  "I've fractured my tailbone," was my one thought as I gingerly tried to put one foot in front of the other.  I am miles from civilization, I'm supposed to run a 50 mile race next month, and I've fractured my tailbone.

I pushed the thought from my mind as a ridiculous worst-case-scenario that couldn't have possibly happened.  Everything was going to be fine.  I'd taken a really hard fall when I'd done the Farmdale Trail Run the first time, landing on my kneecap.  I'd thought the race might be done for me, but eventually it stopped hurting, and I ran another 25 miles on it.  This was probably going to be like that time.  I'd walk for a while, it would start feeling better, and everything was going to be fine.

I did start running again, but the pain did not go away.  It seemed manageable enough if I just took it easy, and it didn't actually seem to hurt any more if I was running as compared to walking.  So I ran when I could.  Still, all of it downhill on steep rocky terrain.  My least favorite terrain, the kind I am most afraid of.  I'd already fallen once, and I didn't want to fall again.  There were times when I unceremoniously crab-walked or grabbed on rocks where most people would have just bounded down completely unconcerned.  

After about 2.5 miles, I neared Horsetooth Falls--a popular hiking destination.  There were tons of people on the trail, and it got less rocky.  My pelvis still hurt, but I was moving along pretty decently.  I ran out of water about a mile from the trailhead, which surprised me. I'd thought that the reservoir I was using held 70 ounces, and there was no way I'd drank that much.  But no matter.  There was a water fountain at the trailhead, and I would be there soon enough.

Just before I got to the bottom, I saw the Quad Rock race director (who happens to be a World Famous Ultra Runner and also is friends with Rob) and his young daughter relaxing on a bench by the trail.  I waved at them and said "hi," like I was totally cool.  A part of me wanted to call out him that I was running the Quad Rock course, and a part of me was mortified that I'd had so much trouble on it already.  I wondered if he saw the blood on the back of my knee.  Still 15 miles to go.

I refilled my water reservoir at the fountain and realized there was no way it held 70 ounces, all smushed up inside an insulating container and then further smushed up in my pack.  I didn't know how much it held, but it had only lasted me less than half of my run.  There wouldn't be any water on the course until I got back to my car, and the temperature outside was only going to get hotter.

This didn't concern me as much as it should have.  I drank and drank at the trailhead water fountain, which was teeming with people.  This was my chance, my one and only chance to bail on the run.  In a dire emergency, I could call Rob and have him come pick me up.  As I thought of this, it also occurred to me that I didn't have cell signal here.  In a dire, dire emergency, maybe I could find someone who did, or I could go back up the trail and tell the Quad Rock RD that I needed him to contact Rob for me, or else just take me back to my car at Lory.

This was not a dire emergency, I told myself.  My pelvis still hurts.  But I am able to move.  It isn't getting any worse.  I will finish this thing that I started.

So I went up Horsetooth Rock trail, and up and up.  I usually go on the more gentle and scenic South Ridge trail that parallels it, and by comparison, Horsetooth Rock was very, very steep.  And rocky.  I wasn't exactly running, but I was moving more quickly than the loads of hikers who probably had no idea how much pain I was in.  Uphill (especially very steep uphill) seemed to hurt a lot worse than down.

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally came out to the junction of Horsetooth Rock and Wathan/Westridge, which I was supposed to take back over to Towers.  I've done this trail before.  It's not easy for me me on a good day, and I walk a lot of it, but it's doable so long as I go my own pace.

The tourists were all heading up to Horsetooth Mountain, so there was nobody on the trail once I turned off at Westridge.  I'd been looking forward to solitude again because it took too much energy to navigate crowds.

Westridge was hard.  And rocky.  And steep.  I hadn't remembered it being so much uphill.  The ups hurt so bad.  I wasn't even running anymore.  I told myself, fine.  This section is only about 2 miles long.  I can walk the whole way if I had to.  Once I get back to Towers, I'll feel more in my comfort zone again.

Except that comfort zone would not last long.  The hardest part of the course was ahead of me.  From Towers, I'd get on Mill Creek (a 3.5 mile section of trail I didn't' know much about), then there would be Arthur's Rock Trail--full of tourists and barely runnable for me even on a good day.  But the thing I was most afraid of was what came after: Howard Trail.  I'd only done it one other time, in the downhill direction, which was the opposite way I'd be heading today.  Granted, it was a little rainy that day, but it was so steep, so gnarly, had so many switchbacks (I think I lost count at 12?), and was so terrifying that I thought I was going to die.  Howard Trail was the thing I was Most Afraid Of when I'd been considering running the Quad Rock course.  And by this point, all bravado was gone.  If Westridge was this hard for me, there was no way I was going to be able to go up Howard.

My head was pounding and my lips were throbbing as though they'd been sunburned.  I felt like how I used to get during the dry season in Nicaragua, when I'd be out in the unrelenting sun all day, with never enough food and water, and so hot I'd start running a fever.  I took off my pack and ransacked it for some lip balm, which I could have sworn I'd put in one of the pockets but now couldn't find.  What I did find, though, was my baggie of Emergency Ibuprofen.  It occurred to me that this was the exact kind of thing I had packed Emergency Ibuprofen for.  If I get hurt on the trail and just need to make it back to the car.

Here I was, almost 14 miles into this thing.  I had one last chance to bail on my attempt at the Quad Rock course.  If I made it back to Towers, that was smooth, and I could take that to the valley trails, which were also smooth, and I could take those back to the dirt road that began at Arthur's trailhead and would lead me to my car.  It wouldn't be easy, and it wouldn't be short.  I was still looking at 9 miles ahead of me.  But it was 9 miles of trails and dirt roads that I was comfortable with and knew well.  It was mostly downhill and didn't involve any more climbs up any more mountains.  And most importantly, it did not involve Howard Trail.

When I finally I got to the junction Westridge and Towers, I could have wept with joy.

The ibuprofen was starting to kick in, and for the first time in hours, each footfall was no longer excruciating.  I slowly began to glide down Towers, noticing how much better it felt not to be going uphill.

When I got to the junction of Towers and Mill Creek, it occurred to me that Mill Creek would probably be the shortest way to get out of here, cutting around 3 miles off my return trip to the car.  But I didn't know what Mill Creek was like.  The brief parts I'd been on before were steep, rocky, and narrow.  But was it all like that? What if I just did it and saved myself 3 miles?

I had cell signal there so I broke down and called Rob.  I asked him what Mill Creek was like and he said that for the most part it was no worse than Westridge, except for a few treacherous descents.  Uggh, Westridge.  Westridge had just broken me.  Even with the pain at a manageable level, my mind was completely shot.  I decided to take the longer way because it was easier and didn't hurt as bad to run on it.

Rob told me to just get to the bottom of Towers and he'd come pick me up at the Soderberg trailhead (still a 20 minute drive from my car over at Lory), but I didn't want him to do that.  It wasn't that much of an emergency anymore.  I could still move.  The pain was manageable.  I probably had enough water.  It would take me a while, but I could make it on my own.

And I did.  The sight of the car was like a miracle, enough to momentarily blot out the gray gloom of having been unable to complete the route.  It had taken me 6 hours and 17 minutes to go 22 miles.

I made it home about 20 minutes after Rob collected Will from the bus stop, and I felt just about more beat up than I'd ever been.  My nose was completely stuffed up and my throat hurt, and I realized I must have caught the cold that Will brought home from school with him.  I guess that was one reason I'd felt so terrible the last few hours on the trail.  The pounding in my head was almost as bad as the pain in my pelvis.

I spent a miserable night wondering if I had some kind of hairline fracture and had ruined myself for Bear Chase.  Today I'm still in pain but I'm able to move around well enough that I'm pretty sure nothing is broken.  I can't quite shake the pathetic feeling I have from not even being able to complete the Quad Rock course as part of a training run, much less as part of the race.  Rob can definitely have dibs on Quad Rock next year, and for the rest of our lives.  If I manage to recover from this, I'll run Bear Chase, and then maybe I'll go back to road marathons.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Howl: Almost a Hero

Howl at the Moon 8-Hour Run was my 1st, 5th, most recently, 9th ultra.  I love this event.  It's an 8-hour run around a 3.29 mile smooth and easy trail.  The first time, it was my introduction to the ultra world (a place where I realized I wanted to belong); the second time it showed me what I was made of.  And the third time (last weekend), well, I was almost a hero.

We drove 1200 miles across the country for Howl, although a major selling point was that we got to see both of our families along the way and give Will a chance to celebrate his birthday with his grandparents. Also: childcare during the race.  Rob wasn't running it this year because he'd just finished the NS100K 2 weeks earlier and hadn't wanted to sign up for another race so close to that.

In a completely enexpected turn of events, I got a full 8 hours of sleep at my in-law's house the night before the race.  I don't know how that happened.  In over 20 years of running, I've never slept well before a race.  I hoped it was a good omen.

We drove to the start line and got there in plenty of time.  Immediately, I started seeing all the Buffalo runners and our old friends from Second Wind Running Club.  I chatted with @ElectronWoman and that helped take my mind off my stomach, which hurt.

Rob set up our canopy tent very neat and posh: camp chairs, a blanket on the ground, the cooler, and even a little table where he set the thermos and my drop bag.  It looked nice and orderly. It made me feel like maybe the run would go this way as well: like clockwork, just ticking off the miles.  I set Will's little toy bison on the table beside the thermos.  Maybe it would give some of the Buffalo runners a smile every time they passed.

Howl pre-start
The people who run Hardrock have their "Hardrock Families."  I've got my Howl Family, and that suits me just fine.  Buffalooooo!

I checked in with my scorer and saw that my name had something extra written beside it on the scoring sheet.  I briefly panicked because it looked like the word "canceled."  I asked the scorer what it said and he told me, "Colorado."  Right.  Because I'm from there now.  And I guess it was noteworthy to have someone come to run the race from so far away?  Maybe there was a prize at the end for the runner who traveled the farthest.  Who knew.

The start was was pretty congested, but it still felt easy, smooth, and slow.  I caught up with @chrism42k and ran most of the first lap with him.  

Rob was out running the Mingo trails, but Will's toy bison greeted me at the star/finish area.  I filled up with water (surprised I'd actually drank enough from my hand-held during the first lap to need more) and grabbed a Berry Pomegranate Clif Bar. This was my plan for fueling: Berry Pomegranate Clif Bars.  They had worked well for me during training, and I figured I could tolerate them for the full 8 hours of the race.  Because I am typically terrible about eating and drinking on the run, Rob had told me I had to start fueling as soon as I started out Loop 2.  So I did.

Yuck.  One bite in, and the Berry Pomegranate Clif Bar tasted terrible and felt terrible as it hit my stomach.  It was going to be a long 8 hours.  I scanned the aid stations to see what they might offer if I had to move to Plan B.

And Plan B it was.  I began taking boiled, salted potatoes from the aid stations and bananas I'd brought along in the cooler as pretty much my primary fuel from then on.  These were sometimes a little hard to get down, but I was determined to keep giving myself a constant source of energy and electrolytes.  Last time I ran Howl, I didn't eat, got messed up, and threw up 4 times.  This time, I wanted it to be zero.

My stomach felt like I'd just eaten the largest Thanksgiving dinner imaginable and was continuing to feed myself.  No matter.  If this kept me from puking, a little stomach discomfort was worth it.  For several laps, I made myself take a couple small pieces of potato every time they were available (at the start/finish aid station and at the 1.7 mile aid station), and then take half a banana when I passed our canopy tent.  I felt quick and efficient.  I didn't waste time at the aid stations, I just grabbed some potato, dipped it in salt, and kept on running.  This is important at Howl, because there are--no kidding--at least 5 opportunities for aid along the 3.29 mile loop.  (A water/coke stop, 2 "real" aid stations, the "Margaritaville" aid station at the top of the "hill," and your own drop bag).  If you stop at all of them for any amount of time, it adds up fast.

Around 19 miles in, I felt tired despite my good night's sleep the night before, and my quads hurt.  I didn't want to deal with this so early on.  I took a regular strength Ibuprofin from my dropbag.  It's been a while since I had to do that in a race.

By about my 5th or 6th lap my quads felt much better, but I was done with bananas.  NBD, by then they'd busted out the orange slices and watermelon at Margaritaville.  "This is my favorite aid station in an ultra.  Ever," I told them.  At least one of the volunteers there has worked that aid station all 3 times I've run Howl.

Rob got back from his run on the nearby Mingo trails and quadrupled my efficiency.  Every time I passed, he'd hand me a cold hand-held water bottle, and I'd leave my nearly empty one behind for him to refill.  At least once, he met me a little ways out on the course and asked me what I needed.  "Cherry Lime-aid Caffeinated Nuun and orange slices," I told him.  He sprinted ahead and had it ready as soon as I got there.  I told him I wanted to listen to music, and he snapped the tiny iPod (already positioned to my Emergency Ultra Playlist) to my hat as I ate orange slices from the cooler.  I felt like a well oiled machine.

OMG, the caffeinated Cherry Lime-aid.  It was 4 hours into the race and I'd run nearly a marathon, but move over Katniss, I  was the girl on fire.  Everybody around me was walking, shuffling, struggling in the heat.  I suddenly came alive.  I had more energy than I'd ever had in my life.  I zipped and flitted around them.  I laughed as I flew down a tiny Illinois hill.  I didn't know how long this wave would last, so I decided just to ride it, and to ride it fast.

My main discomfort at this point was that I was soaking wet.  Soaking! I could squeeze puddles of sweat out of my shorts and shirt.  It felt awful.  I winced at my own grossness when I saw @esmithrunner on the course and we gave each other a running hug.  We were all that gross, it didn't matter.  I wondered if it had always been like this when I'd lived in Illinois and I'd just forgotten.  Here in Colorado, it gets very hot and you sweat, but the air is so dry it evaporates off of you instantaneously.  I think I like that a lot better.

By Lap 9, I told Rob I wanted to try his ice bandana.  Some people swear by these to keep cool, and I knew I needed to prioritize that.  As Rob tied the bandana around my neck, I realized this was the last trick I had in my bag.  I had pulled out all the stops.  Caffeinated Nuun, an Ibuprofin, music, and the ice bandana.  That was it.  If I started feeling bad as the race wore on, I wouldn't have anything else left to try.  I thought of my doula client in St. Louis and the bag I had taken with me (ironically, the same one I was using as a drop bag now) while she was giving birth.  It was filled with all sorts of things to help her manage the pain, and I kept offering them to her as her labor wore on.  "Stop," she said after a while. "You will run out of things to offer.  And then there will just be the pain.  So just stop for a while.  I need to know that there are still some tricks left in the bag."

The watermelon at Margaritaville was my lifeline.  It was the only thing I could manage to eat.  I kept up a decent pace and knew that every lap, all I had to do was get up the "hill" and there would be watermelon, ice water, and smiling volunteers.  Maybe it was Lap 10, I ran with another guy for a while who said to me, "Nice Cubs hat!"  I was wearing a Colorado state flag trucker hat.  It occurred to me that before I moved to Colorado, I'd had no idea what the Colorado state flag looked like, and that here in Illinois, maybe everybody thought it was the Cubs logo.  No matter.  I was doing fine.  I'd run almost 36 miles and hadn't slowed down yet.  I was still on fire.

Near the first aid station on that loop, another woman caught up to me, and I could tell she was moving quickly.  She looked good, which was rare for anyone at this point in the race.  I just had this feeling about her, so I said, "Are you the first place woman?"  She smiled humbly and said, "Well, yeah, right now I am."  I gave her a cheer.  "Great job!" I said.  "Thanks, you too," she said before she went on.

I caught up to another woman just after the "hill," and we chatted for a bit.  She asked me what lap I was on.  I told her it was my 10th, and she took off running.  Fast.  She called back that she was the 5th place woman, and then said something like, "I need to be running faster than this."  Maybe I gave her a cheer as she took off, or maybe I didn't, I can't remember, but it wasn't long before she was way out of sight.  

It kind of shook me a little.  Up until this moment, it hadn't occurred to me to wonder what "place" I was in.  I was running the best that I could, and I felt good.  Every time I passed my scorer, he had what seemed like a look of pride on his face.  The scorer next to him (somebody I used to know from the running club, but whose name I've forgotten) cheered for me too, and once I heard her remark, "She's speeding up!"  I knew I wasn't setting a world record here, but I'd been pretty darn pleased with myself.

Now, as I watched the fifth place woman disappear like a gazelle along the horizon, and I spat out watermelon I could no longer swallow, I began to feel like maybe I wasn't really All That.

When I got back to the tent, Rob asked me what I needed.  The ice bandana was as annoying as hell, so I asked him to take it off me.  I told him I couldn't eat anymore, I couldn't think anymore, but I needed him to do some math.  For the first time, I admitted aloud, that my Super Secret Goal for Howl this year had been 14 laps.  I needed to know if that was at all in the realm of possibility.  Unlike previous years, I was wearing a GPS watch.  It was giving me my mile splits, which still seemed to be around 10 minutes (and slightly longer for the third mile of each loop, the one with the hill), but what I really wished I had was the splits for each loop.  Surely I was keeping it to around 33 minutes.  And within the time left on the clock, it seemed like maybe, just maybe, this could happen.

"I'll have to think about it," Rob said.

When I passed the scorers they told me, "Two women just headed out, on the same lap as you."  They weren't far ahead.  I could catch them.  I wondered if one of them was the 5th place woman, or if maybe she was several laps ahead of me by this point.  It didn't matter.  By loop 12, I slowed, but only slightly.  I never saw either of them.

I didn't feel sick.  I wasn't in a dark place.  I just felt tired and done.  And my stomach hurt, but not in a way that seemed like I was going to throw up.  Screw 14, I thought.  I will run 13 loops, and then I'll run some out and backs.  It will still be a better result than I've ever had at Howl.  It will still be something to be proud of, even if I'm not a hero.  I can manage 13, but I will go insane if I have to run any more of these loops.

"Your last loop was 35 minutes," Rob said when I got back from lap 12.  "You have time for two 40 minute loops.  You can make 14."

I shook my head. My mind wasn't in it anymore.  I can do 13.  But it will take me more than 40 minutes.  And then I won't have time for 14.

I shuffled along.  I didn't know why I was shuffling.  My legs didn't hurt.  My arms felt weird and my hands were all tingly and wouldn't work right.  This was so different than the last time I'd run Howl. Then, I'd been trying to make my goal of 13 laps, and I'd hit a bad patch.  I'd gone to a very, very dark place and dug myself out of it on sheer guts.  I'd had no idea I was even capable of pushing myself that hard, and more than the mileage I'd achieved that day, what I was proud of was the way I'd fought so hard.  They say that ultras show you what you're really made if, and if this was what I was made of, I liked that.  But this time, I couldn't go there.  I guess I was scared to go back, scared that maybe one of these days I wouldn't be able to find my way out.

So I could have moved faster on lap 13, left myself with enough time for a 14th lap, but I didn't.  I was throwing the race.  What I didn't want was to arrive back at the start/finish area with something like 7 hours and 15 minutes on the clock.  Then I'd be faced with the difficult decision: did I have it in me to do lap 14 in the remaining 45 minutes?  Or would I start out and falter on the trail, not making it back by the 8 hour cut-off and having that effort not count?  It needed to be unambiguous.  Either I needed to get back by 7:10 (ensuring 50 minutes to complete the final lap), or not until 7:30, when I'd no longer be allowed on the course and the out-and-backs would start.

At Margaritaville, they were out of watermelon, and that sealed the deal.  No more fuel, no way could I even try this.  I walked.  I caught up with a woman I used to know from Second Wind Running Club, and we walked and talked together.  I knew I was giving up, and it felt better to have company as my Super Secret Goal disintegrated.  There was no point in running back to the start/finish area if I wasn't going to attempt another lap.  We couldn't start the out-and-backs until 7 hours 30 minutes.  I didn't want to get stuck there, waiting for the clock to wind down as my legs became sore and stiff.

I got back to our tent at 7 hours 22 minutes.  I'd been afraid Rob would encourage me to go out again, telling that I could do lap 14 in 38 minutes.  But he didn't.  He told me to rest for 8 minutes, then do 5 out-and-backs, which would add up to 2-1/2 miles.  I sank into a camp chair, held up 4 fingers.  2 miles was all I had left in me.

The out-and-backs are my least favorite part about Howl.  The trail is narrow and super rutted in places, and you've got massive congestion as some people just want to walk gently and others are hell-bent on 6 minute miles.  Everybody is wobbly after 7 and a half hours of running in the heat.  Last time I'd refused to do any out and backs--content with my result of 13 loops.  This time, I needed to run a few if I wanted to better my mileage.

It wasn't as bad as I'd remembered.  My legs mostly felt okay (except for my toes, which I suspected might be bleeding), and I wasn't terribly nauseous.  I lumbered forward.  Andrea, a woman from the running club, caught up to me and we ran together for a while.  She knew everybody on the course, all 200-some, and she cheered for all of them (including me) by name as we encountered them.  It made me feel happier to run near her and hear her enthusiasm.  

After I'd run about a mile, I saw the 5th place woman enter the out-and-back course.  She was still moving fast.  I got a little pang of regret.  If I'd tried harder, if I hadn't been afraid of going to that Dark Place, maybe I could have caught her.  I'd almost been a hero, but instead I'd given up.

I plodded on.  I was thirsty but threw down my water bottle (warm and sticky with watermelon juice and remnants of Nuun) when I passed Rob again.  Then I walked.  There were 9 minutes left on the clock.  I could have made 2-1/2 miles if I'd kept running, but only one word went through my mind:  Why?  Going just 2 miles would be fine, and I'd get there without pushing myself over the edge.  I walked next to a woman with a long gray ponytail who told me that once she'd landed in the hospital for 3 days after Howl.  "It wasn't worth it," she said, and we walked to the finish line together.

I was done.  13 loops plus 4 out and backs equaled 44.77 miles.  2 miles farther than I'd ever run at Howl.  And the farthest I'd ever run in 8 hours.

I went back to the tent and peeled off my shoes.  Six black toenails.  Blood blisters underneath the nail that I'd have to drain later or else face big problems.  No wonder my toes had hurt so bad.  I was thirsty, but our water was now lukewarm and I couldn't drink it.  I lay facedown on the blanket and fell asleep.

That's not a Cub's hat.

After 20 or 30 or maybe just 5 minutes I woke back up.  I was a little nauseated, but mainly my stomach just hurt.  I got up.  I went over to the awards ceremony with Rob--the first time I have ever attended after Howl.  The other two times I was too sick.

I got a finisher medal (awarded to all participants).  Then they started announcing the top male and female finishers.  The guy who always wins it (or at least, he has for the last 8-10 years) won again, but his total mileage was well within Rob's grasp.  I saw a spark in Rob's eye.  Look out for next year.

The first-place woman I'd seen and cheered on the course had held her position and was the female champion.  Then they announced second place.  For third place female, they had a 3-way tie.  This is frequent for a timed event, with standardized loops.  "Three women ran 44.77 miles," the RD said.  My jaw dropped.  One of those women was me.

When they called my name, I walked up with the other two 3rd place finishers.  "Buffalooooo!" our running buddy Bill called as I passed.  A chorus of other friends chimed in.  It was the war cry of the Buffalo runners.  These were the people I'd cut my teeth with, running through the heat, wind, rain, and snow of east-central Illinois, during the best years of my life.

One of the other women who ran 44.77 miles was the 5th place woman, the one I'd seen on loop 10 of the course.  I guess she wasn't so far ahead of me after all, and we ended up tying.  We gave each other a high five.  The RD presented each of us with a giant medal and a belt buckle.  I clutched these tight as I walked back over to Rob, thinking about narrowly I'd gotten this.  What if there had been just one other woman who'd run one more out and back than me?  If I'd heard that number called, I would have been so disappointed with myself--knowing I could have done that, but just hadn't pushed myself enough.  I felt very, very lucky.

The RD said that Howl is likely going to be even harder to get into next year (and it wasn't easy this year).  But I have a feeling that both Rob and I will try.  He knows he's got a crack at a top finishing place, and I know that 14 loops is tantalizingly close, as long as I can keep my mind in the race.

Thanks for reading.


Here are my laps.  The third mile of each lap includes "the big hill" (which everybody walks) and the Margaritaville aid station.  The time in parentheses is for the 0.29 miles after that (back to the start/finish area).  I forgot to record this for a couple of the laps, but it somehow all worked out.

  • Lap 1 (3.29 miles)
    • 10:04, 9:28, 10.19 (2:29)
  • Lap 2 (6.58 miles)
    • 9:50, 9:36, 10:26 (2:54)
  • Lap 3 (9.87 miles)
    • 10:01, 9:42, 10:08
  • Lap 4 (13.16 miles)
    • 10:06, 9:40, 10:24 (5:23)
  • Lap 5 (16.45 miles)
    • 9:50, 9:43, 10:22 (2:28)
  • Lap 6 (19.74 miles)
    • 10:07, 9:59, 11:07 (3:43)
  • Lap 7 (23.32 miles)
    • 9:50, 9:49, 10:21 (4:01)
  • Lap 8 (26.32 miles) Hello, caffeinated Nuun. Pretty much the reason why I didn't throw up in this race.
    • 9:15, 8:57, 10:24 (3:24)
  • Lap 9 (29.61 miles)
    • 8:51, 8:52, 10:16 (2:52)
  • Lap 10 (32.9 miles)
    • 10:19, 9:19, 10:22 (3:28)
  • Lap 11 (36.19 miles)
    • 9:59, 10:14, 10:41 (3:37)
  • Lap 12 (39.48 miles)
    • 10:25, 10:37, 12:23
  • Lap 13 (42.77 miles)
    • 11:27, 11:10, 14:40
  • Waiting for out and backs, plus 2 miles
    • 21:13 (~8 minutes waiting for out and backs, plus 1st 1/2 mile?), 11:32, 9:13 (1/2 mile)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Dear William (72 months)

Dear William,
Today you are 72 months old.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

This month you had some swim lessons at the neighborhood pool.

Carl, the Foothills Green resident bluejay

You did some hiking with your dad.

You didn't go to Horsetooth Rock, although, you went near it.
Near Horsetooth Rock

A couple of your friends had birthdays in July.  You attended your second ever party at Chuck E. Cheese.

You also attended your first ever sleepover at a friend's house.  The slumber party happened to coincide with your father's Never Summer 100K race.  I dropped you off and then headed to the mountains.  You were very brave.  I heard that you didn't go to bed until midnight, and you woke up at 6am.  You still weren't ready to go home the next day when I picked you up.

That weekend was a very busy one: you also got a chance to visit with your cousins Logan and Mackenna and your Aunt Michelle and Uncle Mark when they stopped in from Ireland.  You and Logan had so much fun playing together.  He knows a lot about dinosaurs and planets--both things that interest you.

Speaking of planets, you still love planets and outer space.  We built a model of the planets using fruits.

And you had your first visit to the Fiske Planetarium in Boulder.

You also did other sciency things, such as help me bake:

And experiment with colors.
It was very early in the morning.  Your eyes are still small.
You got a little crazy playing with your BFF.

And then you got to have another slumber party when our Illinois friends came to visit!
Slumber party

You showed them how to boulder:


Then we took a trip to RMNP.  Can you believe, with all our traveling and camping this summer, we had not yet camped at RMNP?!
Aspenglen Campground

You convinced me to play frisbee with you.

Planning the day.

We didn't even unpack when we got back from RMNP because by then it was time to leave for our second big trip of the summer (the first one being Yellowstone/Tetons).  We hit the road for Illinois, for you to see your grandparents, and for mama to run Howl at the Moon.

Camping in the town park in Casey, Iowa.

We made it to Grandma Nan's and Paw Paw's just in time for you to get to see your cousins again before they went back home to Ireland.  You and Logan played so hard you both nearly fell over with exhaustion.  I wish you got to play with Logan and Mackenna more often.

Toy time

Cousins, identical cousins

Then it was time to leave for Grandma Barb and Grandpa Bruce's.  They had gotten you a giant cake.

Mama went for a nice little 8 hour run while you spent time with your grandparents.
Howl pre-start

We made sure we were back at home in Colorado for your real birthday.  You had cantaloupe and coffee cake for breakfast!
Birthday candles

You were very excited to open your presents.  It was a very space themed year.  You were so thrilled with your new toys.  You especially loved your astronaut suit (which will double as your Halloween costume).  You wore it all day long, even though it was hot.  It looked great on you.

Birthday (space) suit


Space ship

In the evening we took you over to campus, where they were having an ice cream social and concert.  When we got there, the music was so loud it hurt your ears, they were out of ice cream (you had a cherry popsicle instead), and then it started pouring down cold rain.  They had to close the big inflatable slide you'd been waiting in line for.  You looked a little disappointed.  For a minute I thought you might start to cry.  But then you looked up at the sky and saw the most beautiful double rainbow.  You squeezed my hand and smiled and told me this was the best birthday ever. 

William, I love you all the way to the end of the rainbow and back again.  I'm the luckiest person who ever lived, because I've got you.

HAPPY 6TH BIRTHDAY, WILLIAM!  And onward, to another year of adventures.

Love always,

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

July 2015 Mileage: Run faster

July began with the same calf injury that persisted through all of May and June, but there simply wasn't time to mess around anymore.  With Howl at the Moon looming on August 8, I needed big miles, and I needed to train in the heat.

I KT-taped the hell out of my leg and feasted on the scraps leftover from Rob's intensive training schedule for the Never Summer 100K.  I got my first solid long run in (since the Bear Lake Marathon) on the 4th of July.  We went to the parade in Old Town at 10am, and when it was over I took off from there to run to Lory State Park, around the trails a bit, and then back home again.

Pre-run parade

It was hot alright. My calf mostly held up, but I was fairly miserable due to exhaustion.  I managed 23 miles, and as ugly as it was, I knew I needed this kind of run to condition me for Howl.  

Boat party at Horsetooth Rez on the 4th.

The following weekend, I ran back out to Lory.  They were having their 40th anniversary festival, and I met up with the family to accompany Will on a 1-mile kid's race.  He cried and complained a lot and stopped and surged.  He gave up for a while when he thought he was in last place, but then he rallied when he realized there was a 2-year old still behind him who he could beat if he just kept moving.  We finished in something around 13 minutes.

Kids Run

I also got my once-annual chance to run with Rob while his parents were visiting and hence, could watch Will.  We saw a snake, not a rattler.

Oh, it was on our anniversary too.

This guy.

Rob commented about how I "put the hammer down" during our run together.  He said when we started out, my gate was a little crazy (toe-striking with my left foot, heel striking with my [injured] right), but once we really started moving, everything evened out.  While we were running, it felt like I was going a lot faster than normal, and when we saw the snake, that's when things really picked up.  I ran my fastest two trail miles ever.  When we got home, I looked at my time and saw we'd run a full two minutes per mile faster than I typically do on my own.  And the weird thing was: my calf felt fine.  It felt better than it had before we started our run. It only started bothering me again the next day, when I tried to run my normal pace.

But I couldn't stop for pain.   I iced, stretched, foam rolled, and cobbled myself together with KT tape because I needed to get in at least one week of more than 50 miles if I wanted to attempt Howl.  It was now or never.  By the skin of my teeth, I managed 56.5 miles the week before Rob's Never Summer 100K.

I was very busy during the lead up to Rob's race, doing things like baking a vegan good-luck cake:

And figuring out how on earth I was going to find him on the course:

The logistics involved in planning the #NS100K were utterly mind-boggling. Will ended up going to spend the night with a friend for the first time in his life, while I headed out into the wilderness surrounding Gould with absolutely no way for them to contact me if anything went wrong.

I missed out on most of the race but was able to get there by the time Rob arrived at the mile 55 aid station.  Then--the coolest thing ever-- I drove to the finish line and ran back to the Ranger Lakes aid station, where I could meet Rob again at mile 62ish.  

Hi, Angie from Omaha.  It was great meeting you and running those ~3 miles in the setting sun.
Talk about throwing the hammer down.  Until the moment I took off running with Rob, it hadn't occurred to me that he would still be able to run faster than me after he had already covered 62 miles of ridiculously technical terrain.  And yet he did.  Run sub-7 minute pace.  In the dark.

It was all I could do to keep up, especially considering that he had my good headlamp and I was using a handheld flashlight (and growing nauseated from the bouncing).  After I switched to a better light and the trail widened a bit, I was relieved to find that I could run that pace after all.  And my calf didn't hurt--my calf felt fine.  

After I got home the next day and had collected Will from his slumber party, a thought occurred.  As long as I was running fast, my calf didn't hurt.  It was during my typical, slogging, exhausted runs that I experienced pain.  But if I could keep the pace around 8:30 or under, everything was fine.

This explained why my calf never hurt during any of the times when I ran in Gould: there, I was running scared (alone in bear country, without a good trail map) and fast.  This explained why my calf never hurt when I was racing: the Bear Lake Marathon, I ran like I lost my mind.  And it explained why it hadn't hurt when I ran with Rob: throwing down the hammer.

I proposed my hypothesis to Rob as he recovered from the #NS100K, and he agreed that it might make sense.  People tend to have better form when they are running fast.  And he'd noticed how my form changed from the start of our run (when we'd been going slowly) to when we got on our pace (much faster).  Maybe my calf pain had to do with poor form, and the solution was now staring us in the face: run it fast.

And so that's how I ran the taper.  Fast.  All these months of pain and trying to deal with it by taking it easy and running ever and ever slower had just been making the problem worse.  I ran fast and everything was great.  No KT tape.  No calf sleeves.  No ice or ibuprofin.  No pain.

208.05 miles in July.  That's the highest mileage month of my life.  I'm at 922.44 year to date, which 109 miles up from where I was in 2014.  I am cautiously on pace to make my mileage goal for 2015.  I am running it fast and for the first time since early May, I have no calf pain at all.  I am trained, tapered, and ready to #Howl.

Thanks for reading.

This was the moment during my run that I reached my highest ever mileage for a single month.

It turns out that my finishing time at the Bear Lake Marathon was good enough for first place in the older ladies division.  Keep in mind that almost all the other particpants ran 3 marathons that weekend, whereas I just ran the one.  Thanks to the RD for mailing this to me all the way from Utah.