Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Across The Years: Part 2

If you want to know the background, you can read about the lead-up to the race here and my experience at Rob's race here.  You can also listen to us discuss the race on Ultra Ordinary Running Podcast.

After Rob finished 112.33 miles at Across The Years on December 30th, it was hard to say who was more of a wreck: him or me.

I got him some vegan scrambled eggs (!) from a nice volunteer (thank you, Aravaipa Running, for having so much amazing vegan food), and he ate them in the warming tent. Then Will and I helped him over to the locker rooms where he took kind of a lukewarm shower.

Rob slept for a couple of hours, and by the time he woke up, I had made a reservation at a Motel 6 in Phoenix. I absolutely couldn't handle the thought of one more night camping out in the cold.  The cold had prevented me from sleeping for two nights now, and if I had any chance of making it through my own race, I desperately needed some rest and warmth.

Motel 6 was like a palace. We all got hot showers and a comfortable bed.  Rob was in a lot of pain but remarkably lucid, considering the 112 miles he had just covered.  I put in my ear plugs and slept through a freight train that went by at some point in the night.

We returned to Camelback Ranch the next morning, and it was time to go.

"You looked nervous," Rob told me later.  I was nervous. And cold.

Since I'd never run 24 hours before and had no idea what I was doing, I'd asked Rob if he had any suggestions, what with it all fresh in his mind.  He said something like, "Start out slower than you think you need to go," that is, at a pace I could hold for a very long time, and, "Don't trash your quads in the first 8 hours because you will need to keep running during the night just to stay warm."

I didn't wear a watch (I don't have one that lasts that long) and relied on the screen at the start/finish line that tells you your pace and mileage every time you cross the timing mats.  I was going about 12:00-12:30 minute miles, and the effort felt easy.  I warmed up really quickly and ditched my jacket to reveal my Wonder Woman singlet underneath.  That turned out to be a real crowd pleaser.  There was a water-only aid station at the halfway point of the loop, and the guy who was volunteering there (I think Ron was his name) started cheering "Go Wonder Woman!" every single time I passed.  

While my effort was easy, my body and legs felt awkward at this pace.  I also knew that even at 12:30 miles, I was still going too fast.  Pace for 100 miles in 24 hours is 14:20, and 100 miles was not my goal.  Given my training, I thought 80 might be my upper limit.  But I didn't see how I could slow down any more.  

By about mile 5, I decided I was going to start walking the small section of each 1.05 mile loop that was asphalt. The rest of the path was dirt or crushed gravel.  I ran the dirt, actually at a slightly faster pace, once I started taking my walk breaks, but I instantly felt more comfortable.  Even at this early point in the race, my quads were starting to tighten.  During my walk breaks, I took giant, ungainly looking steps just to use different muscles.  It was probably inefficient and wasted energy to walk like that, but it helped saved my quads, and that was a very high priority for me.

Also by about mile 5, I started going through the aid station on every lap.  I took 2-3 orange slices each time I passed.  On some laps, I carried my bottle of water with me to keep drinking. On other laps, I left it at the tent.  I ate a whole Trail Butter packet (200 calories, 16 grams of fat) by the time I got to mile 8.  Nutrition wise, I felt pretty good.

The race wasn't super social for me in the early hours.  Many of the multi-day runners walked or ran in little groups; I was mostly on my own, but I was always in a constant stream of people.  I tried to cheer some for the multi-day runners as I went past them.  Emilio--a 6 day race participant-- had injured his knee and hobbled along in immense pain. He still had an unwavering smile, though.  I gave him an encouraging word whenever I could.  

Ed Ettinghausen, better known as The Jester, was also participating in the 6 day race.  He's a world record holder, a celebrity to me, and I didn't know how to talk to him.  It didn't matter-- he gave me a high five first, and from then on we said, "Nice job" or some kind of cheer most of the times that we met.  How can you not smile when you encounter a guy wearing a jester hat, running skirt, mismatched shoes, and ringing a cowbell?  This race was starting to become really fun.

I started taking more substantial food at the aid station as the hours wore on.  I ran a burrito mile.  I ate a chickpea sandwich.  I decided that whenever the volunteers brought out meal-type food, I would take it, even if I didn't want to eat it right then.  I could always leave it at the tent and take a few bites every mile.  This worked out really well for me.  Rob had relied almost exclusively on the Tailwind and Clif Shot Blocks we had brought from home, but I've never been able to stomach those.  I ate some of my own Trail Butters, but aside from that, the aid station food got me through the entire race.  I can't thank Aravaipa Running enough for providing so many wonderful vegan options.

Every 4 hours, we would switch directions on the course.  This was supposed to break up the monotony of running the same 1.05 mile loop, I guess.  Even though the time seemed to just fly by (I could hardly believe 4 hours had already passed at the first turn-around), my quads felt terrible by this point.  And I was honest to goodness sleepy. This is not where you want to be when you still have 20 hours to run.  I decided to take an Ibuprofen (I know, I know, you're not supposed to do that) and chew some caffeinated Run Gum.  This helped enormously.  Before I knew it, another 4 hours had passed and we were now 8 hours into the race.  I'd gone about 38 or 40 miles.  I wasn't even listening to music, and I felt fantastic.

I changed out of my Wonder Woman singlet and when I saw Ron at the halfway point, I told him, "It's still me, Wonder Woman, I'm just going incognito for a while."  In this picture, Rob has put out some BBQ potato chips, and I remember my exact thought at this moment: "OOOOH! BBQ POTATO CHIPS!"
Rob kept telling me I needed to put on warmer clothes (I noticed all the spectators and a lot of the runners on the course were all bundled up), but I was still moving quickly enough to feel hot in short sleeves.  I hit 50 miles at around 9 hours and 58 minutes.  This is roughly the same time as my 50 mile PR at Bear Chase.  From here on out, it was uncharted territory.

It was dark out by now, and the first few laps after the sunset kind of threw me.  Most of the course had some light on it, but there would be a few random patches of 10 feet or so where it was just pitch black and you couldn't be sure if there was an obstacle in the way.  I ran a couple laps with this woman named Mary from Wisconsin, and she had knuckle lights, which were very helpful.  You could just turn those on for a second or two to reassure yourself, but keep them off the rest of the time when they were unnecessary.  I tried running a lap with my headlamp, but that seemed like overkill. It only took a couple of laps, though, and my eyes and mind adjusted.  This was the same loop I'd been running for more than 10 hours.  There were no rough patches.  Just trust your feet and keep moving forward.  I never felt the need for light again.

The timeline definitely gets very fuzzy in my mind by this point.  I think I kept roughly the same pace and hit 100K in around 12.5 or 13 hours.  I still felt good, and I was completely floored.  How on earth was I doing this? I am not the kind of person who can run a 13 hour 100K, even if it is on flat terrain.  By this point I wasn't even that far off of Rob's pace.

Omg, had I only known that Nick Clark mentioned me in a tweet.  **Mind blown**

I think I hit 70 miles around 11:30pm.  This was the first time I allowed myself to entertain the thought that I might possibly go 100.  Rob was outside the tent when I passed and asked if I needed anything.  "How fast do I need to run to go 30 miles in 9 and a half hours?" I asked him.  He said, "Let me work on that," and I kept going.

70 miles felt like a major milestone for me, and I knew I needed food because I hadn't eaten in a while.  I decided to stop at the aid station and take something real and substantial, then walk a lap while eating it.  A volunteer handed me a bowl of pasta with marinara sauce and a vegan meatball.  I kept moving, and ate, or tried to.  I saw Ed Ettinghausen again and gave him a cheer.

On the next lap around, Rob met me and said I needed to go about 19 or 20 minute laps for the rest of the race.  This was good news, because it meant mostly walking, but it also meant I couldn't just stop off in the warming tent and huddle for a few hours if I wanted to make 100.  I had to keep moving.  It was getting cold.  I put on more clothes.

I think there may have been a party at the start/finish area as the clock struck midnight (Rob said he heard kazoos), but I was at the halfway point at that moment.  And I was so happy to be there, because that's where Ron was.  We hugged each other and said Happy New Year.  He lit some sparklers and I took a dixie cup of coke.  I kept moving and as I rounded the corner, I saw fireworks over the darkened palm trees in the distance.  The course was really lively, and everybody out there became my best friend.

Things were definitely starting to hurt though.  My quads were the biggest concern.  I took another Ibuprofen and waited for it to kick in, but it never did.  No problem.  I did this thing that I picked up from Barbara Kingsolver's book, The Poisionwood Bible, when the characters are trying to survive a tragedy.  They've lost almost everything, and they make a list of their assets.  So I did the same.

  1. I am running at sea level (or close to it).  I live and train at high altitude.  Here, I've got oxygen.  ASSET.
  2. I came into this race semi-injured, but now, none of my injuries are bothering me.  ASSET.
  3. My quads hurt.  But this pain is nothing like childbirth. ASSET.
  4. I am slightly queasy.  But I am not nauseated and do not feel like I am in imminent danger of throwing up. ASSET.
I was slowing down a lot and slightly worried about my pace because I'd had a couple of very slow laps when I'd stopped to put on more clothes and even added my winter coat.  Plus, the colder it got, the ever more frequent I had to pee, which took time.  This was crazy, I'd already peed at least 4 times during the daylight hours, but now the urge to pee felt constant.  I guess I must have been hydrating well, but really, all I was doing was taking about a sip of water every lap.

I was struggling along at about 16 minute miles, walking more frequently, but still trying to run when I could.  I noticed that for an entire lap, there was a Canadian woman ahead of me who walked the whole time.  I caught up to the Canadian woman and we teamed up.  She was also trying to make 100 miles, and she'd gotten an ankle injury.  It hurt too bad to run, but she still could walk.  We power walked it together at about 17 minute pace for a couple of laps.  I felt better after that more extended walk break, and then put in a 15:40 minute mile.  That was the fastest I went for the rest of the race.

I'd closed in on 80 miles, which was the absolute upper limit of what I thought I'd be able to accomplish.  I can't remember the exact time, but I think there were at least 7 hours left to go.  A volunteer at the aid station handed me a piece of vegan French toast.  I think I tried to lean over the table and give her a hug.

People ask what you think about during a run, and in particular, a run as monotonous as 24 hours around a 1.05 mile loop.  In truth, for a lot of the time, I didn't really think about anything.  At midnight I thought of Angela and her daughter, who were running a 5K in Fruita.  I thought of my parents and friends.  I thought about Rob and Will.  I thought of the night I gave birth.  For a while I listened to music in the dark.  But after mile 80, mainly I did math.  What pace am I going? How fast was that last lap? Can I slow to 20 minute miles and still make it to 100 in how ever many hours are left?  My mind was so addled that I couldn't trust my own math.  What if I misjudged it?  I needed to keep pushing forward as much as I could.  The longer I could keep these 16-17 minute laps, the more of a buffer zone I gave myself. There were still 20 miles left to cover, and anything could happen.

It only got really, really hard starting around mile 88.  It was so dark, and had been dark for so long.  I was exhausted.  I took more and more caffeine.  I drank 2 cups of coffee at the aid station.  I kept trying to move forward, but my eyes wouldn't stay open. I slapped my cheeks.  I sang out loud.  The music on the iPod was annoying me, and the careful playlist I had made for this race hadn't gotten synced.  It was on my phone, but my phone had been sitting out in the cold all day and was frozen.  It wouldn't work.  

I felt like I was running through an earthquake.  The ground wouldn't stay still under my feet.  I couldn't see out of my left eye.  I had to pee so bad and went into a porta potty again.  The next thing I knew, my head was hitting the side of the wall.  I must have fallen asleep, inside the porta potty, even if for just a minute.  I felt disgusting.  This was a new low point in my life.  My sister would be horrified.  I was so cold.  Jesus Christ, this was hard.

At mile 97.5, I passed the tent again, and Rob was outside.  "Three more laps," Rob said, and I started sobbing. Why wouldn't the sun come up already? "I'm going to die," I told him.

With one lap left to go, Rob was waiting for me.  "Do you want me to come with you, or do you want to do this on your own?" he asked.  "Come with me," I said, and he grabbed a guest bib.

There it is, 100 miles.  These are the timing mats at the halfway point of the loop.  I still needed to make it back to the start/finish area.
We did it.  When we rounded the corner towards the finishing straight, Will was standing outside the tent, crying.  "I have to go potty," he said.  I knew the feeling.  

22 hours, 58 minutes, and 30 seconds after I'd started, I walked across the start/finish line with 100.78 miles.  Rob took Will to the porta potty.  I went into the warming tent and sat down for the first time in a very long time.  There was still an hour on the clock but, for me, this race was over.

Thanks for reading, thanks to Aravaipa Running for superb organization, and most of all, thanks to the amazing volunteers who kept us going all night long.

These are the Skechers Go Run Ultras that got me through 100.78 miles with no blisters.

I have absolutely no idea how I did this.


angelmurf said...

I am just so damn proud of you, and honored to call you a friend.

Anonymous said...

well i am NOT the ON!Y one reading this Post!!! luv you Angela!! The STORY writer in you, shone through AGAIN!! as it always does!!! I am so proud of you and can NOT even wrap my head around HOW YOU DID IT!!!! BUT YOU DID!!!!! yOur grama would tell you to SIT DOWN and REST,,,,, your grampa would be smiling!!!! What an incredible feat you both did!! PROUD of the RAGFIELD TEAM!!! And the little ragfield!!!too!!! What a trooper,, congrats and SERIOUSLY. REST now"""""""" luv and hugs mama

Marsden said...

So super impressive!! Great job and looking to see if you can set a 100 miler PR at JJ.

Unknown said...

WOW!!! found myself reading faster and faster!!! unfathomable!!!! Congratulations!!!!

Melissa said...

Thank you everybody. Angela, so honored to call you a friend too! Marsden: HAHAHAHA. Nothing will ever go as right as it went at ATY... think I'll be chasing the cutoffs at JJ100 (if I make it there).

Cara said...