WS100 an abbreviated experience

It's taken me a couple days to feel good enough to write this blog post. And by good enough, I don't mean mentally. I mean physically. While I may have put up a good front, chirped about what race I will hasten to do next, explained over and over again what happened, the fact of the matter is, I don't physically feel much better than I did before I got two IVs at Michigan Bluff after 55 miles of tough running.

Yes, I am disappointed. Yes I am sad. Yes I feel that I was fit and ready and that I didn't make errors that would have caused what happened. No, I did not drop out lightly. In fact, I wasn't offered an option. Before they put the IV in the nurse told me I could walk it out, 45 more miles, but then the Dr. took my BP standing and said that I wasn't going anywhere period. IV, done.

But I digress, the whole story is worth telling.

Preparing aid station plans for my crew. Timing, fueling, etc.


I arrived in Squaw Valley with my sister, crew captain and ultrarunning newbie, Sarah and settled into our cabin which was kindly provided by my crew member Hollis. Hollis is a great mentor to me and always provides me with amazing help and support. I napped and relaxed, ate a good lunch and headed out to meet some Salomon folks for some videoing and photoshoots. I was feeling good and rested for the most part. One thing that had been kind of nagging was a cold. It is one of those kind of sicknesses that you can't really tell if its there or not. No runny nose, no cough, just a rundown feeling and tightness in my lungs.  When I had felt it coming on a week and a half earlier, I had gotten a huge dose of IV nutrients from my naturopath at Marin Natural Medicine. I had felt so much better right after that, but backslide over the subsequent days.The weekend before WS, I had been feeling dizzy, anxious and sick to my stomach on my runs, but had not felt too bad over the last taper week. It's the kind of feeling you attribute to tapering or altitude or anything. But it was there and it made me uneasy. When I arrived in Squaw, I was feeling good though and was not particularly worried about it. I don't know if it mattered or not. 

Love my sister and crew captain.
Can't count the times people said we look just alike. Um yeah, not so much.

Thursday passed, Krissy arrived, we ate a nice quiet dinner at home and I got a good sleep. Friday I got up went for a little 30 minute jaunt to shake out the legs and nerves and came back to the house for a green drink. I didn't want to weigh in too heavy, so I just had the green drink and water before I left. If I had been really strict, I probably would have not even had water before the weigh in but f-that. Sarah and I headed over to check in where it was the biggest friend reunion ever. I had been wanting to get in and out quick, but it was hard not to stop every five feet and say hi, give hugs, etc. I checked in, got my schwag and headed into medical. Medical was funny because they zeroed the scales at 5lbs, you could see it when you were standing there and they told us too. What better way to freak out a bunch of neurotic runners than tell them they had gained 5lbs right before a race! I for one actually managed to feel good about myself, since while my weight was obviously 5lbs up, it meant my actual weight was back below 140lbs. I like to race below 140 and was pleased to see that. At least I didn't have to think about that trigger during the race!

Top women being introduced at pre-race

I bolted out of there as I was feeling pretty lightheaded and hungry at that point. We went home and at lunch, then headed to the natural grocery to get lunch about an hour later before the pre-race meeting. Jonathan and Nathan had arrived and I was super excited to see them. My crew was complete. Everyone feels like they have the best crew in the world and I think everyone does. The best crew in the world is one that meets your needs, is there for you and takes damn good care of you. My crew did just that and I really appreciate them.

One of my best pals and pacers, Krissy

Slightly embarrassed at my introduction, as I took 3 Ultracup spots
(and because I am way taller than 95% of the other gals)

Jonathan, me, Krissy and Nathan. My favorites!

The pre-race meeting was fun. It was great to reconnect with friends, meet new people and laugh at the fact that it was raining. I got to go up to the front with a bunch of other top ladies to be introduced since I had won my way into WS. In fact, I had 3 spots since I won Vermont 50, JFK 50 and was second at Miwok. I'm greedy apparently. The meeting was nice, but I was ready to go chill out. I was feeling just ready to roll and wanted to get home and sort out the remaining of my crew plans. After the meeting, Nathan, Sarah, Jonathan and Krissy went for a run and I worked on my plan. We had a nice meeting afterwards in which I explained my plan, got everyone up to speed and ready. I felt like I had a good plan which would keep me fueled, hydrated and on pace. I was shooting for a 18:30ish pace but was comfortable starting out the race closer to 19hrs knowing that if I arrived in good shape to Foresthill, I would fly. Even with the faster section of the snow course, I planned to run conservatively and comfortably.

Team Fast Foodie

I ate my usual dinner of white rice with butter and Udo's oil, a nice steak and some salad. Over the course of the day, I had stopped feeling nervous and was just ready to go. I went to bed, slept fine and was up at 2:30 making Four Barrel coffee and eating Udi's Gluten Free bagel with Justin's Peanut butter on top and a banana. The crew packed up the cars while I lay on my bed visualizing, resting and waiting. I was calm, ready.

We rolled over to the start, I grabbed my number, used the bathroom one more time and milled about near the starting line. The moment came, the countdown, the gun. I was deadly calm, ready to just be underway. I wasn't excited or anxious anymore, those are bad emotions at the gun, 100 miles is a long way. There is plenty of time for that when you spot the track. I was ready to do work.

The race

My feet were awesome all day thanks to Salomon and Drymax.
Photo by Bob @ Drymax!
We headed up the hill to escarpment. I was prepared to hike a bit. I settled in and watched Tracy, Joelle and Nikki ahead of me. I was content where I was. I didn't think it necessary to burn up my energy on the first climb. I looked around me and figured I was in a good position and took my running and hiking cues from the legends and experienced runners around me. I smiled that I felt so comfortable. I could see Tracy and Joelle working and pulling away but I was maintaining my distance to Nikki Kimball which I thought was smart. On that climb, it was all about maintenance to me. I am a better climber than I use to be, but in a 100 miler that first 4 miles serves nothing but to trash you a bit. I stayed calm and arrived at the top pleased. It was so freaking beautiful.

Up we go.
Photo by Bob MacGillivray with Drymax

You go up and over and no sooner were we over the top, we were diving down the hill for 5 miles before taking the turn onto the new course section. I realized something quite quickly: I hate running on snow. I have a high center of gravity, I don't run a lot on the snow and I arrived to the snowy patches when they were just slightly trod on and warmed over. So I felt hard about 36,000 times. I fell hard on a patch of snow and went butt first into a creek. I fell hard and went skidding into a tree well. I tried to find it amusing but couldn't really, it wasn't. I was being brutalized. But I survived without too much bloodying and soaking. Well, I was soaked and cold but I didn't get frustrated, I just got through it.

Wheeeeeeee. Over the top and heading down.
Photo by Olga Varlamova

Photo by Olga Varlamova

When we turned at the gate onto the double wide jeep track I was ready to fly and got quite giddy. I put on my headphones and rocked out to some Michael Jackson as I cruised at 6:30 pace. I had talked to Peter Defty of Vespa, who marked the course and he had said to let it out on this section and run hard but comfortably. Running sub 7's felt easy and good. I was prepared to transition back to ultrarunner pace when the fast section was over but took full advantage. I was drinking pretty well and filled my bottle at the second aid station. I was taking in about 100 calories per hour early on and new I should kick it up if I was going to survive. I gobbled up some Gu Chomps and continued to take non caffeinated gels.

I hit one last aid station, then we were off the road and back on to some rolling, semi-gnarly single track for 4 miles up to Duncan. Some of the trail was literally just a line that had been cut into the trees and bushes. I was running with Craig Thornley and Karl Hoagland and feeling good heading into Duncan. I grabbed my new bottle from Hollis there, cooled off and got my other bottle filled by aid station crews. 

After Duncan, my stomach wasn't feeling awesome so I backed off a bit and watched Craig and Karl disappear. It would have been great to stay with them but I wasn't feeling it. I felt the way a person should feel after running about 25 miles, tired. But I also knew I would get my wind back. It was just a bad patch. I hiked and run up and up and up, finally hitting snow again (Curses!) and drew close to Robinson. I was excited to see my crew. I was still running in 4th place and knew that Tracey, Joelle and Nikki were probably a good bit ahead of me. It didn't worry me, I knew I needed to get to Foresthill healthy and then I could start running. I run stronger in the second half in most races and close like a fiend. 

I finally slide through the snow and started seeing volunteers. I slip and slid into Robinson and enjoyed the cheers. My crew was there and my sister handed me a smoothie and a Vespa. My stomach was not that happy, perhaps from my waistpack or just the heat of the day. I was feeling "50k-ish" as a I call it. But ready to move on to Michigan Bluff. I dropped my bottle and waist pack and picked up a new bottle and hydration pack from Jonathan and Krissy. Nathan was waiting for me at the end of the aid station and walked me out.

Heading out of Robinson Flat, mile 30

I didn't sprint out of Robinson Flat, no, I walked. There was snow and I was over the freaking snow. And I felt pretty barfy. It was just a bad patch that I was going to have to go through, I was not worried. Meghan Arbogast, my 100k teammate and buddy caught up to me just outside of RF. We ran together for a bit, got lost with a huge group of people and eventually found our way on to some sweet singletrack. It was getting hot up there and we were exposed. I fell in behind Meghan and waited for my stomach to settle. With us was Rob Evans and Chikara Omine. It felt good to just run for a while and somewhere along the line my stomach said, "ok I'm fine" and I was off. I dropped Meghan and was cruising comfortably for quite sometime. Rob Evans joined me and we talked a bunch and I really enjoyed the company. He said that we were actually up on Anita's pace from last year for a 18:20 coming into Robinson and even though it was a faster course, we were in a good position if we could just stay steady. If I was in 4th place and on Anita's pace, then the gals up from were blazing away at course record pace. I was definitely content where I was. I kept eating and drinking as we cruised, trying to stay ahead of the game. I was taking in probably less calories than most people do but my energy was good. I felt like I was drinking well. We came into Dusty Corners and Hollis again had a bottle for me and a nice cool rag to wipe me down with. It felt so good. I took another Vespa and drank a bit.

Outside Dusty Corners, I stopped for the bathroom and it would be the last time I would go pee for the remainder of my day. Rob passed me when I stopped for the bathroom and I wouldn't see him again. He ran a phenomenal 18:11 and executed his plan to perfection. In the future, I will be picking his brain for training and racing tips. Good job Rob!

Leaving Dusty Corners
Photo by Olga Varlamova

It was warm but not as hot as last year and I was just drinking and cruising and listening to my tunes. I was not looking forward to the descent into darkness aka the canyons but I also knew that I just need to survive them. I knew I wouldn't crush them, but survival was good enough for me. So there I was, cruising along and I spot Nikki up ahead. I cruised up on her and we spent the next few miles chatting away. She was going through a rough patch and I knew that it really didn't make any difference if I got up on her a minute or so since she was going to rule the canyons. Plus, it was good to catch up with her. It was probably my favorite conversation all day. I kicked a rock really hard at one point when we were running and will be losing 3 toenails because of it, but we came into Last Chance together for the most part in one piece.

At Last Chance my weight was up 3 lbs but I felt fine, so I didn't make any adjustments. I took a bite of watermelon at the aid station and was taken aback by how off it tasted. It repulsed me and upset my stomach instantly. I started running again but something was not right. I figured I was descending into a bad patch and just thought I would roll with it. Nikki had said that everyone hikes the canyons, so I was hoping things would settle as I hiked up the mountain to Devil's Thumb. 

But something wasn't right. I was descending and everything felt wrong. Nikki caught me and passed me, told me I should dunk in the river at the bottom to cool off. But I couldn't, I could tell something was wrong. I went from 100% to dead in less than a mile. My head was spinningly dizzy, headachy, my stomach nauseated and I felt like I was going to pass out. I tried calories, but couldn't stomach them. I tried water but again, couldn't tolerate them. I forced myself to drink but it just made me feel worse. I started walking up towards Devil's Thumb. I just felt dead. I couldn't hike strong. Nikki, who had got into the river to cool off, came up on me and said, "shake it off, its just a bad patch". But I didn't think so, it was weird. I was worried. My buddy Zach passed me and tried to get me to come with him, but I couldn't. I couldn't do anything. I had to stop frequently as my head was spinning so badly I was nearly stumbling. I again tried to drink, tried to eat, to no avail. I started being passed and passed and passed. I think all in all 4 more women passed me going up to Devil's Thumb and there was nothing I could do. I couldn't even breathe. The dust of the canyons or whatever was going on in my body had my lungs constricted and I battled just to breathe. A huge bunch of guys passed me and each one told me to keep going. This wasn't right, this wasn't normal. I was getting afraid. What was happening to me?

I death marched up to Devil's Thumb. My weight had dropped 6lbs in 4.5 miles and I hadn't peed. They sat me and said my BP was fine. They checked my lungs, they made me eat and drink and cooled me off. I was done. But they wouldn't let me be. They kicked me out and I knew that I had to make it to Michigan Bluff anyways since they wouldn't bring me back from Devil's Thumb. I walked out of Devil's Thumb hoping and praying that the huge influx of calories and liquid would revive me. I hobbled on, my muscles painfully sore from sitting and the dehydration. I ran slowly down to the bottom of the second canyon, it was ugly and painful. I had 2.8 miles up the top from there and I kept wishing and praying that the lights would come back on. But nothing had changed in 2 hours. Nothing helped. At the aid station at El Dorado, Annette Bednosky caught up to me. She put her hand on my back and said, "good vibes". I appreciated that. I also appreciated that several of the women that passed me on the climb acknowledge that they never expected to see me and seemed genuinely shocked and dismayed that I was so messed up. 

I knew going up to Michigan Bluff was going to suck. I walked and stopped and walked some more. I was really dizzy and had to sit down at moments to stop it. I death marched up to the top. I was passed by a few more people and finally was accompanied by Andy, who had busted his ankle and was calling it a day at Michigan Bluff too. We walked together. About a 1/2 mile from the top there were some medical staff that had come down to help him out. Ultimately, they would walk me in, practically supporting me and I felt just awful. I cried, I despaired, I felt stupid. How did this happen? What had I done wrong? I was disappointing myself, my crew, my pacers, everyone. We reached the top and I handed off my pack to my Salomon folks, KJ and Aubrey who ran it down to my crew. I could see Jonathan, Sarah and Krissy waiting at the end of the road, horrified, sad, scared. They knew, this was not me, something had to be really wrong. Something was, but what? 

In the med tent.

They weighed me, still down and sat me down and took my blood to test. The Istat wasn't working as it had overheated. They gave me gingerale as my sister stood watching, scared and horrified. She's seen me in the emergency room, she's seen me at my worst and I can only imagine how scared she was for me then. Nathan wasn't there, he had gone to Foresthill to wait for me and so I asked Sarah and Jonathan to go get him while Krissy waited with me. They took my BP, it was normal seated. One of the nurses, a  WS vet himself told me I could sit there for hours and I had plenty of time to walk it in. The doctor however, coming over at this point, didn't agree. He had me stand up, which instantly made me dizzy and he tested my blood pressure, it plummeted off the charts and he ordered me to start an IV.

Krissy held my hand as I cried. They hooked me up to an IV and said I wasn't leaving until I peed. It had been 4 hours since I peed. It would take another 2 before I did. They made me drink and eat. They cut my bracelet and took my tag off my bib. I had made it only 55 miles. I had succumb. I had failed.

It took 2 hours in the med tent to get me to pee. And then I was free to go. But where do you go from there? It was an amazing race for a great deal of people and I am so happy for all of those who finished. I am proud of everyone who tried. Congrats all around.

In retrospect

Not accomplishing my goal of finishing this race has had a strange effect on me. For the first few days, I could do nothing but feel like a failure. Utter disappointment. Sheer sadness. Shattered confidence. We had barely left the Auburn city limits before we started discussing possible races I could do immediately to use my fitness and regain my confidence in my running. I felt lost, depressed, a failure. I had wanted to run it and move on for now. I wanted to focus myself on getting my OT qualifier and making a go of the Olympics for 2012. But not finishing changes things.

I do not in any way question the decision of the medical staff to pull me out. I know many runners believe that it is shameful to drop or that they never would (I caution anyone who says the word never!). Maybe that is true or maybe they have just been lucky enough never to be in such dire straights as to ever actually have to consider it. Lucky them. I definitely do not believe that dropping under these circumstances diminishes me as a runner or my accomplishments. I was running a great race and the wheels came off. I have thought and thought and thought about it and can find no evidence of doing anything wrong. Who really knows. I was trained and prepared and hit with a bad day.

As I said, initially all I could think about was the next race I would do and how I would prove this to be a fluke. I planned and pondered 100s I could hasten to do, tried to throw together a new race schedule and then, I pulled myself up short. I am not okay. This was not unserious. It is 5 days later and I still don't feel much better. I went to the doctor today to make sure I am alright. 

I don't need to rush into the next race because I have nothing to prove. I can choose to change the remainder of my summer schedule or I can leave it open. Maybe I don't need to do another race just to use my fitness, maybe I should just take the break I had planned and get ready for an August race. Not only can I choose where I go from here, I can choose how I feel. I can forgive myself for what happened, I can accept that things didn't go my way on that day, I can use the failure as fuel to power my next attempt at states, because believe me, there will be another.