100 milers

Javelina 100 mile

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission

Over the past few years, I have lost my running mojo. It slipped away gradually or more, got slowly worn down over time when I wasn’t able to attend to it. Frankly, since 2012, I just haven’t been able to run or race with the focus and energy I need to maintain it. And for the most part, it has been worth it because Nathan and I have been devoting our energy into building a business and a community around that business. But that doesn’t mean it has been easy to watch the awesome development of the ultra running community and the exciting happenings of the running world. I wanted to be a part of it. I have talked about this a lot this year because I started this year thinking this would be the year that I would re-emerge in racing and start chasing down big goals again. I was hungry from the start of this year to passionate pursue races that made me excited. 

But the year didn’t unfold the way I hoped. I went back to the drawing board so many times on “where to?” in racing. My training has been great this year but my confidence in myself as a runner has been almost non-existent, my mind highly critical of myself. It wasn’t until my trip to Cape Town and running Ultra Trail Cape Town 100k four weeks ago that I even felt like half the runner I use to be (mentally). That trip renewed me and inspired me. It showed me that I could battle through the hardest race I’ve ever done and overcome. After that, I wanted more challenges like that and again went back to the drawing board for my race schedule and decided to run Javelina 100 on October 31. Just 4 weeks after running my first 100k in 4 years, I was going to run my first 100 miler in 5 years and 7 years since I last finished my only successful 100 miler. I felt excited and ready after UTCT 100km to take on the challenge.

I sit here now three days post race wondering, “did that really happen?”. I went to Javelina to get to that finish line. I went to see if I could go the distance. I went to the desert to find my mojo. I went to find my strength and courage. I went to battle my demons and face the darkness. I went to see if I could rise again like a phoenix from the ashes, if I could find a new runner me. I could have never imagined the day unfolding the way it did. 

Before the race, I wrote a letter to myself. In that letter I wrote: “Be led by passion, love and perseverance. I will rise to a new level and see what I am capable of. Yes, it is going to be hard as hell. But don’t back down. Walk across the fire and let it burn. You can handle this.”. I didn’t merely handle it, I instead put together the performance of a lifetime. I truly went to a new level and not only found that I was capable of running on the level that I use to, but that I was in fact capable of so much more. I have never run like I did on Saturday, I have never pursued my limits so hard, run with so much guts and found moment after moment that I had more to give. I not only finished, I crushed it. First woman, second overall, new course record in 14:52 in the 6th fastest time ever in the 100 miler for a North American resident and 3rd fastest trail 100 mile time ever. I ran the last 41 miles faster than anyone including faster than the male winner (besting him by 6 mins, he finished in 13:49). People have asked, “where did that come from” since and I truly believe that this kind of race has been a long time coming. I have had the physical tools for a long time, the combination of speed and endurance. But mentally, I have worked very hard to get to the place where when I ask myself “How bad do you want it?”, the answer is “MORE”.

I am truly grateful for Aravaipa Running and the amazing race they put on. Top notch event with incredible organization. I am beyond words with gratitude for my crew and pacer, Hollis and Yiou. I could not have put together this day without them. I am so thankful for my husband, although he couldn’t be at the race, has been extraordinarily supportive of me trying to find my runner self again. Thank you to my awesome sponsors and supporters: Oiselle, HOKA One One, Julbo, Psoas Massage and Bodywork, Stance Socks and San Francisco Running Company, as well as all my awesome friends and training partners especially my girls Yiou, Liz and Maddy K! And my incredible coach, Ian Torrence!

Photo by UltraSportsLive

Photo by UltraSportsLive

You can stop reading here if you like, I know race reports can get long and boring and all sound the same. But for myself, I am going to keep going. I want to remember this race. I want to remember how it felt, I want to revisit it over and over and over again to say to myself: this race, I saw who I really am as a runner. It was a game changer for me and I feel now, that it is just the beginning.

Javelina Hundred (Oct 31, 2015) 6am

I wanted to do this race because I wanted to “do things that scare me” and challenge myself in a new way. After signing up for the race 3 weeks ago, that feeling slid from scared to terrified to feeling on the inside like the cowardly lion being pushed toward the Wizard by his companions. I stood on the line more nervous than I ever have been before. I kept wondering “can I do this?” and then the gun went off and I shrugged my shoulders, started running and thought “guess I will find out!”.

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission.

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission.

Work the problem (Loops 1 & 2)

The day before the race I did a run through of all my crewing stuff with Hollis and Yiou. I told them that things would come up, challenges would arise and we would have to find a way to keep going. We would have to find a solution to problems, a work around for obstacles. Yiou pronounced, we needed to “work the problem”. I liked this, it gave me a mantra to hold up for myself when difficulties arose. When she said it, I naturally thought it would be helpful in the second half. But given my starting line apprehensions, I actually had to utilize it quite early. 

I headed out into the desert with 458 other runners and settled in to a nice comfortable pace. I planned to run on the easy side of comfortable and not press at all. The Javelina course is very runnable, but that is also dangerous early on because it is very tempting to run too fast. I wanted to be smart, but I also accepted that my first two laps would be on the faster side since I was fresh, it was the cool of the morning, etc. I clipped along hoping for the nervous energy and “can I do this?” monkey mind to slip away. I tried to NOT focus on the distance and instead just focus on that moment and that loop and getting into a groove. I excepted to face demons in the race, but I didn’t think they would attack from the start. But within 5 miles, my mind had already slipped into a very pessimistic place. Every bad thing I could think about myself, I did. I listened to the demons tell me every reason I would fail, every reason I wasn’t good enough, every reason I was not enough. And then I heard Yiou’s voice saying, “Work the problem”. What was the problem? I was being negative, I was indulging the demons, I was giving them a voice. And then, out in the desert as the sun rose and a pack of coyotes raised their voices and howled, I exclaimed, “shut up brain!”. I started pelting the demons with every positive phrase and mantra I could think of. I pushed them back, beat them away with a stick. They didn’t belong here. I had barely even started running for goodness sake!

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission.

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission.

And so I settled in and just focused on this lap, this moment. Being within myself and letting the miles pass. I had set my watch on “OK” setting so that I would have battery life for the whole race. This meant though that the GPS accuracy was pretty poor and before I knew it I was back at Javelina headquarters (the start/finish line/party). My watch had me at 14 miles, but the loop in actually closer to 15.5. I was under 2 hours for the loop and kind of sheepishly entered the headquarters knowing that was way way faster than even my fastest projected split that I had give my crew. I had given them (even) splits for 15 hrs, CR pace (15:40), 16:30 and 17:30. I was well under 15 hour pace, but I also knew I was running easy and comfortable. I knew I would back off more in the heat of the day but was fine with being a touch fast early on. Hollis shook his head and told me, “Dev you are running way too fast!”. I set out on loop 2 and just continued to run comfortable. I was joined by Brian Tinder for a few miles who had been ahead of me on the first loop, but fell behind when he did a wardrobe change just outside of HQ (if you don’t know what I am talking about, you must find out!). It was nice to have the distraction and we passed the uphill miles to Jackass Junction which is the “middle” of the loop. The course is uphill to the midway point and is done in machine washer style, so loop 2 was novel since it was seeing the trail and terrain from a different perspective. The first two loops had a novelty to them that I knew would wear off. I could tell I was going to get really tired of running giant loops in the desert. 

I didn’t really slow much on the second loop and was greeted coming into HQ by Karl Meltzer who has more 100 mile wins than anyone on earth ever (35 wins). He is a smart runner and knows his way around a 100miler. He was heading out on his 3rd loop and took the time to stop me and say, “Devon, you need to slow down!”. I said, I know I know. And I knew I would since now, exactly 4 hours and 50k into the race, it was starting to get hot. I got in to the HQ, grabbed my stuff from Hollis including doubling up on bottles and taking my headphones for distraction, and headed back into the desert ready to battle the heat and take my time.

I needed a hug. Thanks Laura for providing one. Photo by UltraSportsLive

I needed a hug. Thanks Laura for providing one. Photo by UltraSportsLive

What do you mean?

I was not looking forward to the heat of the day. The high was projected for mid 80s. But in the desert that feels much hotter. There is no shade, the heat reflects off the ground and bakes you from the ground up. I have been running in the heat of the day this summer here in San Anselmo, days reaching up into the high 90s, so I felt at least moderately prepared. I knew I would have to keep myself cool and calm. 

Through the first two laps, I had only taken in liquid calories in the form of Tailwind. I was doing 200 calories of Tailwind per hour and my energy, hydration and electrolytes felt solid. Hollis had encouraged me to try and gel on loop 3 and about half way I tried to take one and immediately threw it back up. Uh oh. My biggest trepidation coming into this race was the heat effect since my last 100 mile start in 2010 ended with me in the med tent with 3 IVs. I knew things could go south fast and if I couldn’t stomach calories or liquid I would be done. I was able to continue to get in small sips of tailwind, but my head was not in a good place now. I was focused on not feeling good and by the end of the loop, after a few more rejections of sips of water, my mind amassed a good list of all the reasons I wanted to drop right then and there at 45. I came into HQ in a negative place, ready to be done. I dramatically described my issues straight in front of the Ultrasports Live live feed camera and friend Laura Bello who was part of their team, just said, “you look like you could use a hug”. She gave me a hug and I walked over to Hollis and sat down in the chair. I told him, “my stomach isn’t good. my foot hurts. my colds not gone. I am not having fun”. To me, it all seemed so clear that I was done. I had run the whole loop still and Hollis pointed out that even after running 2:30 for that lap that I was still well under even my fastest projected split. My response? A very snappy “I don’t care”. He cooled me off. Listened to my complaints and indulged me for a minute. After 5 or so minutes in the chair, I got up, resolved that I would do one more loop and then quit. After all, my legs really were fine and I was still running quite well. 

I headed out on loop feeling cooler with a nice ice bandana around my next and started running again. Since I had resolved to stop at the 100km in my head, every time I felt bad from there on, I just told myself, well at least I’ll be done at the end of this loop. It wasn’t a fun loop. Nothing really changed. In that 30 miles of running, I hated all but about 2 miles. I just listened to my music and kept going. I was running in 5th place overall and was first woman, but I just wanted to be done. It didn’t matter to me anymore. I just wanted to stop.

My pacer Yiou had arrived and I complained to her all my various problems that made me want to quit. She pointed out that my running form looked great and that I looked comfortable. I responded that yes, I was able to run but ick, I was just done. It was like the Justin Bieber song that I had listened to at least 5 times on that loop, “what do you mean?”. I was saying one thing and doing another. I was nodding yes and running, but I wanted to say no and stop.

I again took the chair and Hollis and Yiou went to work trying to get me to get going again. My foot was still hurting and I was worried that 41 more miles might injury it since I had some issues since UTCT 100k because of all the rocks. My stomach was same as it had been, fine but not great. Yiou gave me my iced coffee and I asked for asprin. Maybe, just maybe I could caffeinated my way into another loop. I had been careful to avoid caffeine up until that point so I wouldn’t have a terrible caffeine crash late in the race. Meanwhile, Yiou got ready to start running with me. I had planned to have her from 75-finish, but she knew that I might quit right then if she didn’t tease me out of the chair. It worked. I got up. I finished my coffee and ate a handful of gummies.


I had yet to walk in the race at all and still 10 mins ahead of even my fastest projected split. I told Yiou I would have to walk to the road crossing of loop 5 which is about 1/3 mile from HQ. I didn’t want to throw up my coffee and gummies. We made it about 1/3 of that distance before I started running, walking was boring. I still had legs and screw it, I was going to use them. Both the coffee and the aspirin kicked in and I had Yiou to pick up the pace and distract me. Slowly, the overwhelming desire to drop diminished, then disappeared. For the first time all day, I heard a whisper in my mind “you can do this”. And I believed it.

Yiou and I settled into a fast pace and she reminded me to take gels (which I finally was able to stomach) and told me how strong I looked. We run together FAST a lot. And part of why I was excited to have her as my pacer was because she is so fast and that our natural pace together tends to be very quick. At this point, I was astonished how good my legs felt. They didn't feel like legs that had more than 60 miles on them. They felt like legs that could run. The heat of the day had been survived and I had legs. I began to push. Not too much, but I inched the pace up and my mind opened up to the idea of not just surviving the race, but crushing the race. Just like that I was ready to see what I could do. We pushed and pushed. I knew I opened myself up to a massive meltdown at some point, but I just felt so good, I didn’t want to be afraid of what might happen or some potential later crash, I just wanted to break down barriers and push my limits. At the end of loop 4, I had been behind Karl, Michael Carson and Jon Olson (who has run a stagger 11:59 100 miler!) by more than 30 mins. By the end of loop 5, I was behind them by less than 10 mins. I had just completed a loop in 2:16 and flew threw headquarters, eager to get out onto my final full loop. The sun was going to be setting soon and I grabbed my headlamp, and we set off to chase down the boys.

Photo by Aravaipa running.

Photo by Aravaipa running.

I was running so well at this point. Smooth and comfortable. I had Yiou give me 15-20 min reminders to take gels and focused on making sure that we didn’t make any nutrition or hydrate mistakes. My legs felt amazing. Within 3 miles back out on the loop, we started to catch the guys. Now, if you don’t know them, they are all incredibly fantastic runners. All very strong and accomplished. To be catching them was an insane boost to my confidence. I first caught Jon Olsen, he smiled at me and said, “So happy to see you bounce back Devon!”. I thanked him and encouraged him on and hoped he too would come back to life. I set my sights on Karl, whom I could see up ahead. We caught and passed him easily minutes later. As I passed, he exclaimed, surprised, “Devon, WHAT are you DOING?!” “Running!” I responded, to which he said, “well, I will see you later” indicating he would catch me when I cracked and slowed down. But in that moment, I said to myself, no you won’t. And I doubled my resolved to run the remaining 21 miles of the race as hard as I freaking could. 

Yiou and I moved like a bullet train in the night. We gathered more and more momentum as darkness descended over the desert. I ran silent, pushing myself, not backing off, but trying to give a little bit more, a little bit more each mile. I told Yiou that I didn’t want to have anything left at the line. I wanted to see what I was made of. We made it to the top of the loop and gathered more speed, Yiou yelling out “on your left, on your left” as we sped past all the runners that were out on course, some of them multiple loops behind me. All the other runners, whooped and cheered when they saw me coming. “Yeah girl!” “Woman you are amazing”. I fed off it. I chased down the next headlamp after next headlamp. I exclaimed at one point, “Sorry Karl, you ain’t catching me today.” And Yiou and I started yelling, “Run like a girl! Run like a girl!” It was thrilling to be there in that moment flying along, feeling so strong with such a good friend at my side. 

We were nearly to the aid station that is 2.1 miles from HQ when I said to Yiou, “I just wanted to say that I really appreciate you jumping in a loop early. I could not have gotten here without you. It changed the game. That said, I know that this was more distance than you had planned and am not going to ask you to run 41 miles with me instead of 24 as planned. You don’t need to go out on Loop 7(a smaller loop) with me.” She said, “ok! Because you would drop me anyways”. It was a proud moment, she had done her job beautifully and would let me fly on my own. We crushed it back to Headquarters, smiling and laughing. I sprinted through the start/finish area and headed back out as quickly as possible.

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission.

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission.

Next level

I was alone then. My legs churning up with gradual hill, my path illuminated only by a small light, just the sound of my breathing and the stillness of the desert. I pushed. Yiou had told me before the loop that I could run the next loop in 2 hours and still break the course record. I thought the loop was just under 9 miles, so I set my sights on running closer to 1:20. I arrived back at the 2.1 mile aid station, grabbed a coke and thanked all the volunteers for being out there. I pushed onward and made my way towards the Loop 7 cutoff, a teasing sign I had seen all day that said Mile 97.3 —->. About a mile later, I crossed paths with Karl again. He saw me and said, “simply awesome Devon”. I was on fire. I felt so good and I wanted to see how much I could push. I finally made the turn towards home and came into the water stop at the turn. The volunteer said, “your on your final loop?!?!”. I responded yes I was and he said, “wow you are in second place!”. I had no idea I had passed Michael at any point and I got a boost. Then he continued, “4 miles to the finish line.” My water bottle filled, I took off. Wait, 4 miles? I thought there was only 2.7 miles to go! Doh. I am such an idiot, I just assumed the race was perfectly 100 miles for some reason, I hadn’t even bothered to loop at how far it actually was since trail races are rarely exactly on. Turns out the course was 101 miles. Having digested this information, I realized that I was really going to have to hustle to get in under 15 hours. I was on target for a low 14:40, but with the extra 1.3 miles, I knew I would have to go as hard as I could to get under 15. The trail was runnable, I felt fresh. I yelled into the night the Oiselle mantras, “head up, wings out” and "go fast, take chances". And I flew. I pushed and with each pushed discovered I had a little more to give. I tried to find my limit and with each step discovered that I had more to give, more to push. I have never run that hard. Hollis once told me that I needed to run “eyeballs out” in a marathon and in that moment I finally understood how that felt. To go to the next level, you have to push in a way that risks everything, holds nothing back. And for the first time, I was going to leave nothing out on course.

Coming into HQs, I was flying. Yiou and Hollis were with me and running me in (or trying to keep up). I dropped my headlamp, bottle and waist pack where my crew station had been and turned the final two corners to the finish line. 14:52:06. Holy Shit, what did I just do. First woman, 2nd overall, CR by 50 mins, sub 15. That is 8:46 per mile pace, even with sitting in my chair for 10+ mins. 

I had just put together the best run of my career. I had come back from the dead. I had pushed myself harder than I have ever in a race. I asked myself for more and continually found another gear, another level.

I came to Javelina to do something that scared me. To do something that challenged me and pushed me. I did that but I realize now that I also came away having discovered the runner that I can be, the runner that I am. This is me and this was my day.

Photo by UltraSportsLive.

Photo by UltraSportsLive.

Full results here: http://aravaiparunning.com/results/2015JJResults100Mile.htm

Where to?

Photo by Peter Kirk Media. Used with permission

Photo by Peter Kirk Media. Used with permission

I came back from South Africa inspired and excited. I started plotting ways to return to Cape Town because I miss my friends, the trails and life down there. I started signing up for races for next year that I am excited and passionate about. I haven't felt this invigorated by my racing in a long time.

I came back from South Africa with a drastically different outlook on the way forward too. After being thwarted by high humidity (80%!!) in my OTQ attempt at Cape Town marathon, I was as frustrated as ever with the pursuit of the qualifier time. I have been frustrated for a while but mainly because my life for the last few years has been in no way conducive to running my fastest. Yes, my training this year has been much better but I was constantly working against that with terribly long hours on the night shift, taxing my body and mind in ways that no amount of good training can overcome. I didn't have the luxury of a desk job or a part time job or no job; I am down an dirty doing physical labor on the hardest shift imaginable that messes up even a non-runner. But I didn't accept this. I simply thought I could will my way past it. I can only now begin to understand the toll, as I have "retired" from the night shift and my body is starting to slowly recover, demanding 10-11 hours of sleep a night. I know it will take a long time to undo the damage, especially since I continue to tax my body with hard training.

The reality is, I have not really truly raced an A race since 2012 marathon or ultra or otherwise. It simply has not been possible. And so my numerous marathons over the past two and a half years have instead of filling me with joy and pride for the accomplishments, have compounded over time to just frustrate me. The arbitrary time goal frustrates me. I have run faster than 2:43 numerous times and so the goal of simply running sub 2:43 is not a deep and passionate one. And I failed to see it. 

I was only able to remember what it is like to feel passionate about a goal race after running Ultra Trail Cape Town 100km. While UTCT was not an A race for me simply on the fact of my training not being specific for it, it unlocked an excitement and reinvigoration for my ultra goals. I never intended to pursue the OTQ and put aside my ultra dreams, but life/work and circumstances (like injuries and coaching changes) has made my year shape up differently than I had planned. But after finishing UTCT 100km, I have an undeniable thirst for adventure. I went so deep into the darkness during that race and found my way out that I am inspired and eager to continue to explore my limits. I need a break from the clock and again need to just stand on the start line and say, "can I even make it to the finish line?". That is what is making me excited right now. I want to take on things that people say I can't do, I want to take on things that people say aren't my style. I want to seek and explore my running in the way I use to; without bounds or limits. I want to continue to be as multidimensional and non-event specific as I ever have been. I want to run cross country, do obstacle course and tackle 100 milers. I want to run fast on the road and learn how to blast up hill over technical terrain. I came home excited and thirsty for new adventures and I knew that my race schedule for the fall would change. Yes, I still want to be at the next Olympic Marathon Trials, but not at the cost of putting off what is truly making me passionate now. I have been to the Trials, it was awesome, that is why I want to go back, not because I have a snowballs chance in hell of making the team. It is an honor to be there and it pushed me to my best. But I've been there and I represented as the first ultra/trail/mtn runner. If I don't make it I will be sad, but I will in fact have more opportunities. And I don't want to deny the rest of my runner self for that race any more.

I buzzed for days after UTCT. For being so hard, I found it to be an interesting side effect that I wanted to seek out challenges that could be as difficult or even more difficult. So I scrapped my fall plans and cleared the deck. On one of my very first wobbly legged runs after returning home, I was struck with an idea. I "raced" home and emailed my coach, Ian Torrence, with my idea. He was enthusiastically on board and I started to make plans. Things just clicked in my head and I knew what I wanted. I wanted to run 100 miles and I wanted to do it now. And with that, I signed up for Javelina Jundred on Oct 31st. It is my first 100 miler start since 2010 and hopefully will be first 100 mile finish since 2008. Am I ready? Yes. Am I scared? F-yeah! 100 miles is a long way. Doesn't matter how "hard" or "easy" a course is. It is a long long way. But I am ready because I am ready to embrace whatever the day has for me. I am ready because I am passionate about exploring my limits and seeing what I can do. I am excited to be out there. I have no goals other than getting to the finish line. I am just looking forward to being the runner that I want to be.

It doesn't always have to be fun

Pacing Lizzy Hawker into Tennessee Valley, TNF 50 2012.

I have always firmly held a philosophy in my running (and now that I think about it, in life as well): "if it is not fun, I shouldn't be doing it". That is not to say I am suffering averse, avoid challenges or stop when its hard. It just means my primary pursuit has been having fun. I have wanted to foster and protect my love for running. I never wanted running to become like basketball, I never wanted to become a way I defined myself. The pursuit of enjoyment therefore has always been paramount. Make no mistake about it plenty of things to me that are 'fun' are also incredibly hard and challenging. Fun in no way indicates ease. If that were the case, I would probably pursue running 5km instead of 50miles.

This philosophy has worked for me in my running (and in life). The races and goals I was excited and passionate about were fun to pursue. I love the feeling of nerves before a hard track workout, I love trying to find another gear after the last has been exhausted when powering up a long trail. I love the satisfaction of making it to the finish line after doing battle with highs and lows, joys and sorrows, pain and weightlessness. 

Lizzy crossing the finishline at TNF 50 after a tough day.

Recently, people have been asking us on a nearly constant basis how things are going with the bakery. I have been using the analogy of running 100 miles to describe where we are in the process. In 100 milers, there inevitably comes a point where it just sucks. It's getting dark, you are tired, you've run say 60 or 65 miles and you just really want to quit.  Its just not fun any more, you wonder why the hell you started this in the first place. But the thing is, there is no real good reason to quit. So you just keep going.

I have described the process this way numerous times and currently, it does suck. It is hard. I often recently felt consumed by the desire to quit and sit down by the side of the metaphorical trail and not move another inch. I have wonder why the hell we started this in the first place. 

In describing the process this way to others however, I had a realization. Yes, the inevitably sucky part comes and it may last and last and last for every freaking mile of that race, but eventually you do reach the finish line. (And obviously, sometimes there is another end to a race vis-a-vi a DNF, but I am not using legitimate reasons for a DNF as part of my metaphor....) But, I realized, It doesn't always have to be fun. Sometimes things worth doing aren't going to be fun, sometimes they are going to be seemingly soul crushing at times. Sometimes they are going to be maddening, defeating and just plain incredibly hard.  

I am an emotional creature and I realize that one thing I do as an emotional creature is I am always working through my experiences in my head, trying to find a bright spot, trying to find a foot hold of understanding, trying to digest them in a way that makes for a happier life or personal growth. I search for deeper meaning. But like the 100 mile race, sometimes there are just those lows. Its not because something is wrong, its not because you've err'd in someway, there is nothing more meaningful about it than "it just sucks right now". Sometimes, there is no deeper meaning. I needed to realize that. I needed to find a way to take another step, another step, another step. Realizing it doesn't always have to be fun, means I can shut up, put my head down and just keep going.

Me and Lizzy just after the finish. It wasn't the most fun she's ever had, but she did it.

Life is like a trail race

Bestest Everest and I at SD100 (photo: Brett Rivers)

Life is like a trail race.

When I ran Vermont 100 in 2008, the course was marked quite well. Every "respectable" interval there was a flag or, better yet, a "confidence marker" which was a large yellow pie plate with a giant C on it. Flags and marking in a trail race are our life line to success. Yes, knowing the course helps, but in the end we rely on these tiny little markers to get us where we want to go. 

I followed the markers quite successfully for the majority of the race. However, at one important and not obvious intersection we (I was with pacer JB by this point) missed a marker due to some distraction (racers on horseback asking for directions) and blazed right past a crucial turn. We realized our error in less than a mile and retraced our steps back to where we had gotten off course. I lost a few minutes, but in the end, the mis-direction just provided me with a necessary shot of adrenaline to change up the pace of the later miles of a 100 miler and more importantly, made me be more cognizant of my surroundings and keeping myself present.

In life, we go along our path, living our lives, make our way and look for little markers along the way to know we are going the right direction. A reassuring word from a friend, a pat on the back, a reassurance, a feeling; our "confidence markers" can come in all shapes and forms.

In life, just like trail racing, we sometimes go off track. We take a wrong turn or go down a path that isn't the way we truly want to go. We lose the markers and go into uncharted territory.
When you make a wrong turn, correct it then don't look back.
UROC 100k (photo: Running Times)

But just like in trail racing, we have a choice to stop, look at a map, turn around and go back to where we got off track. Sure, it means took a little extra time getting there, but we make it there, maybe a little worse for the wear or a little wiser, but we make it there. 

Other times, we choose to keep moving forward, even when we haven't seen a marker in a long time. We keep pressing forward in faith that we know the way and are self-reliant for reassurance. I've climbed mountains this way, literally (hello Hardrock) and metaphorically. It is hugely empowering to proceed into uncertainty like this and finally be rewarded with a marker, a weigh station, a sign you are going the right way. 

We can be not so lucky when we move forward in faith. Sometimes we end up cutting the course, ending up at a dead end or other such disasters. It is then that we can choose to either change our goals or find our way back. No matter what path we choose, there is always a way to find a way back, to be true to ourselves and our journey.

I realize that this year has been a lesson in finding and losing, changing and rediscovering, my own path as a runner. At the end of last year, I decided that I wanted to focus all of my attention on being the best runner I could be and make a go at qualifying for the Olympic Trials. I was all in. I made my qualifier in my second attempt in a horrible weather day at the LA Marathon. This was a huge confidence marker along the way. My goal was not just to qualify but to be prepared to be my best come the Trials in January 2012. But somewhere along the way, I took a wrong turn. I started doubting myself, I started to question my goals, I let other's expectations permeate into my brain. I went down a path, ignoring the signs that I was getting away from where I wanted to go and plunged headlong down the mountain.

I just realized I was off course. I was going the wrong way. Sure the path I was heading down was a suitable path, totally acceptable and safe. But it was not where I wanted to head. No, I set my sights on being the best I could be and I don't want to relinquish that. I don't want to settle, I want to make my once in a lifetime experience (because making the Olympic Trials could be once in a lifetime!), magical. That is where I want my path to go for now. I lost that dream, that goal for a while. I pushed it aside because I was scared. I let it move to the back burner because I wasn't respecting myself as a multifaceted runner.

But that is where I want to go. I finally stopped going the wrong way, I realized I was off course and I corrected my path. The Trials are in just over two months and I plan on doing everything in my power to be as prepared as I can be on that day. I finally see the signs that that is the right way for me to go right now, that that path is the one that is true for me in the immediate future. From there, I am sure I will dream other dreams, pursue other paths and be lost and found all over again. But for now, I see the signs and I know I am going the right way. And I can't wait to see where this path will take me.

The difference a year makes

Vermont 100-2008

Earlier this year, around late Feb/ early March, I signed up for a 100 mile race (Burning River). I felt at that time, for the first time since Vermont, that I was completely intrinsically motivated to race Burning River. I felt excited about the race, I was all in.

However, after my racing unfolded as it did soon thereafter- qualifying for the Olympic Trials and securing my spot on the 100k National team, my racing goals for the year had to realign with those events. Sadly, I withdrew from Burning River and shelved my 100 mile aspirations for the year. I know that I COULD run Burning River this summer and still race the 100k in September, but I know that it would not have me in top form for that race.

Last year, when I toed the line for WS100, I was not all in, I was not primarily intrinsically motivated to do the race. After what happened subsequently at that race (which has nothing to do with my motivation, but more with the sometimes freaky weird curveballs of ultrarunning), I was not excited to tackle the distance and decided that I would wait to run another 100 miler until I really really felt compelled to. I finally was able to overcome the pressure to run 100s (whether real or perceived) and accepted that being an ultrarunner doesn't have to mean running 100 milers. It took me sometime to unravel everything surrounding WS, but I came to a good place. I knew I'd be back, but I was in no hurry to rush back and try my hand again this year. And then suddenly, one cold wintery day, I decided I was ready again. It is significant that I decided I wanted to run a 100 miler again when I did because it wasn't a feeling I got immediately following pacing/crewing/attending a 100 mile event. It was just a random day. And that is why I know for sure the desire is there.

Anxious on the way to the pre-race meeting, Vermont 100-2008

Now that the 100 mile season is upon us, I am even more excited about the possibilities of future races. And by excited, I mean absolutely petrified and exhilarated, all at the same time. I really love the 50 mile and 100k distances. They suit me well- road, trail, everything in between, I just love the distances. I don't know if I love 100 milers or not yet but I remember how much Vermont 100 changed me, how much of a journey the process was and how I felt I had lived an entire lifetime of emotions in one day. Getting to the start line of a 100 miler is a terrifying thing. It is scary as hell to line yourself up for such an undertaking. I see now that my ability to take on a 100 mile race mirrors my current ability in life to tackle the things that intimidate me or are daunting to me. Last year, I was not in the right mental frame for such an undertaking. Now, I am enthusiastically taking on challenges, ferociously going after the things I want and following my heart without fear.

I will run 100 miler again. And this past weekend, I realized I will run Western States again too.

Crew, pacers and runner Brett Rivers on the track at WS100 2011
Brett ran 17:38 for 16th place.

Even though I had decided I wanted to run a 100 miler earlier this year, I was pretty resolute that it was not going to be WS100. Last years experience was scary. And after that experience, I realized that I have really, really, really want to go back to WS before I consider attempting it again. I cannot go if I feel pressured into it or any other extrinsic motivation. 

I was, however, very excited to be a part of my fellow ninja, Brett River's, 2011 WS crew and have the opportunity to pace him from Foresthill to the river.

Nathan and I surfs up on the snow
Photo by bestest everest

Nathan and I headed up to Squaw Valley on Friday morning after a nice hard tempo run, caught up with lots of friends at the pre-race meeting and then ran up the mountain to enjoy some nice views from the top of Escarpment. It was fun to run through the snow with Nathan, Randy and Jonathan and even more so because the altitude which last year felt problematic (between 6200-8200 feet), felt like nothing at all (yeah for awesome altitude training with our Hypoxico system!)

I lost count of how many times I said (out loud or to myself) "I am so happy I am not racing" while I was there. It was great to just be at the race and feel all of the excitement but none of the nerves, the fear, the taper crazys. I know that is part of running and racing, but it is a part I struggle to grow fond of. 

We grabbed some dinner with Brett, Larissa and Randy (the all-star runner and crew) and headed to bed. This year would be a different crewing experience for me since there was no crew access until Michigan Bluff (mile 55). Thus, instead of the usual mad dash into Auburn and up to Robinson Flat, we had a leisurely morning, packed up our things without hurry and headed in to Auburn to have brunch at Awful Annies with Sarah and Steven, who were pacing and crewing for Rick. We bumped into fellow Salomon athletes Ricky Gates and Simon Mtuy and they joined our crew for breakfast. Ricky and Simon are both individuals that I find hugely inspirational and they just happen to be bad ass runners as well.

Leaving Foresthill with Brett

After we finished a leisurely meal, we headed to Foresthill to get our pacer numbers and then Michigan Bluff to finally see Brett. He came through all smiles and business and we got him in and out quickly. It had been really cool hanging out at Michigan Bluff anticipating all the front runners. It was fun to cheer each of them on. Once we saw Brett, we hightailed it back towards Foresthill as it was my turn to pace. I hopped out at Bath road and ran the 1+ down the road to where I would meet Brett. I had a few minutes to socialize with Topher, Kim and Krissy before Brett was popping out of the woods and ready to rock. He was running smooth and comfortable and we ran/walked up the hill and into Foresthill. We got him in and out of the aid station quickly and were on our way back to the trail.

See you in 18 miles!

Brett had talked a lot of smack leading up to the race to both Nathan and I, mostly about how he was going to drop both of us. Despite him throwing down this challenge, I was pretty certain that from miles 60-80 my job was to keep Brett together, eating, and moving quickly instead of trying to break him. I had set a goal to run 2:45 for this section and get Brett to the river at 6:30pm and running with Nathan by 7. I didn't tell Brett this goal, but kept it under advisement as I monitored our progress. We flew throw the first few miles as I filled him in on all the happenings in the race and all the various dramas and scenes playing out. After the first aid station, we settled in and Brett went quiet and just kept plugging away. We were a little slow on this section and I could tell he was hurting, not bad, but he had lost a bit of time in the 5 miles leading to Cal 1. We passed and started running with David La Duc whom Brett had run some miles with already for the day. We probably ran a good 8 miles with David and his pacer until Brett finally found another gear and we passed them for good. A few minutes after passing David, Brett's laces on his Salomon Crossmax came loose and he caught his foot in them crashing to the ground and snapping his lace. Since the lace is one piece and not meant for tying, this could have been a big problem, but I calmly macgyver'd his shoe lace and informed him that he would have to cut off his shoe laces at Green Gate where he intended to change shoes anyways. It was a turn around moment though and Brett started flying. We hammered to the river crossing passing an additional 3-4 guys before hopping in the boat and meeting Larissa and Randy on the other side. We ran Brett up to Green Gate (nearly 2 miles) and I handed him off to Nathan to finish the day. I had done my job, we had reached the river at 6:25pm, Brett was in good shape and ready to run hard to the finish. 

Crossing the river before 6:30pm. My job is done.
Photo by Gary Wang

We hustled to Hwy 49, saw Brett and Nathan there and then sprinted to the track to drop our car and run to Robie Point to run the final mile in with Brett. That final mile, actually all the miles I ran with Brett, were some of the most pleasant pacing miles I have ever done. It was super exciting to bust on to the track with Brett and help push him to the finish. He crossed the line in 16th place in 17:38. I am very proud of Brett and our whole team. Soon thereafter, we got to witness Ellie coming in for the win and then Kami and Nikki sprinting in for a close battle for second.

Watching the race and being part of such an awesome crew really got me fired up again to try Western States. Everyone had fun-runner, crew, pacers. Everyone was easy- no drama. Everyone was present. I really liked that. Being a part of such a positive experience helped me come full circle on my own experience. I am able to see that I can have a different experience and that I am in a completely different place now then I was then. While before the race I was saying "I am so glad I am not racing", after the race I am thinking "I look forward to the opportunity to try again". 

I am fired up to be a part of the race again and to run another 100 miler. Now, I just practice one of the main skills of 100 mile running- patience, and wait until the time is right to go after it again.

Zen and the Art of Following Your Heart

This post brought to you by my new sponsor Udo's Oil, Oil the Machine!!!

I recently re-read one of my favorite books. It's called How to be an Adult. Bad title, great book. After a summer full of feeling emotionally and mentally exhausted, constantly pulled under by the next big wave crashing over my head, I was in need of a little inspiration. I was in need of some help with integration of all of the thoughts, beliefs and emotions going on in my head. One quick re-read of the book (it's about 85 pages long) and I was feeling empowered.

I was reminded that it is ok to say "Yes", "No" or "Maybe" and mean it. It is possible to change your mind, be assertive and not have to explain yourself. Being assertive is awesome. Listening to your own heart and mind, even when it appears to go against the grain, is, frankly, liberating.

Me and 1/2 of my fan club, Steve Stoyles

I have been all over the map this summer when it comes to my running. After being pulled out of WS, I struggled with where my running was going, why I was doing what I was doing (in choosing races) and if I was making the choices I was because it was really what I wanted to do. I've cried, roared, struggled, gone back and forth, gained clarity, failed to act on it and finally, found my truth.

Immediately after WS, I was keen to hasten into the next 100 mile effort. I felt like I had to prove that what happened at States was a fluke. But that feeling wore off. I didn't choose to step off the course, something outside of my control happened and it was the only option. And prove myself to whom? I have successfully run 100 miles (actually won), I am a great runner and don't need to prove that to anyone. I was really happy to realize that and I was glad to not head into another race for that horribly wrong reason. 

Deep down, I really only wanted to run long enough to get a Glenn photo.
Since he wasn't at Goat Peak, I had to continue. Thanks Glenn!

Instead, I decided that what I needed was some good old fashioned rest. Then I had one good run and I was back to training and training like a mad person. Yes, for another 100 miler. I had signed up for it way back in February and figured, what the heck, I love the race, the people, the place, maybe I can find motivation and indomitable will to get through it, even though I had realized that I really didn't want to focus on the 100 mile distance right now. I figured I could train my body and my mind would follow. The reality is, I should have listened to my own heart and head and kept on resting.

But I was still not saying "Yes" "No" or "Maybe" because I wanted to. I had let some perceptions and misconceptions of the running community infiltrate my mind and muddy the waters. I proceeded with the plan to run CC100 partially because following through on commitments is something that is hardwired into my DNA (and taught to me as a child) and partially because I let myself be talked out of my own truth.

As the race crept towards me and I tapered, my mind was able to refocus on my own truths. I fundamentally believe that rest days, recovery and off seasons are as valuable as the miles and workouts we do. They are not things to be feared, avoided at any cost or looked down upon. I believe that moderation is the key to life long sustainability and keeps you connected to the reasons you do the things you love. If you do something immoderately, perhaps you need to examine why you push yourself so hard, why you are doing what you are doing and why you simply cannot do what you love in a way that will let you do it forever. I am a very, very hard worker and I am not arguing that we should all only run 50 mile weeks, goodness knows I don't. I am saying that it is sane, rational and healthy to take days off and take an off season. It is okay to recover after a race and take your time coming back and its okay to celebrate your accomplishments before you rush off to do the next thing. Moderation and balance are my fundamental truths.

One thing I really am sort of ashamed to admit is that I really bought into the "superiority complex" that I perceive in ultrarunning. Just like in marathoning, where everyone asks you if you have run Boston, in ultrarunning, its the same about running WS's and 100s in general. 100 milers are not superior to any other distance. They are simply longer. They are different yes, better no. I think its perfectly okay to want to run 50k, 50 mile or 100k. Have we forgotten that those distances are incomprehensible in and of themselves? It is an accomplishment to be able to run. It is an accomplishment to be able to run ultras. If I don't decide to focus my life and running schedule around 100 mile races, that is ok.

The second part of this is the idea that trails are superior to roads. I seem to be one of the rarer ultrarunners who loves, yes loves, the road as much as I do the trails. But this year, I have bought into this as well and haven't done a single long road run. They are completely different animals. And I value both of them. I don't really get why road ultra accomplishments are looked at differently or looked down upon. Frankly I think its amazing that on the road the kind of pace and effort runners have to sustain. They are different, neither is better.

The third part of the "superiority complex" I bought into is that uphill running is superior. There is much more to racing than just uphill, yet in my years as an ultrarunner there have been numerous occasions where my uphill abilities have been, let's say, commented on. Which in and of itself is hilarious since I have won several races with gnarly elevation gain, as many as I have without. I bought into this one very early on in the year as I prepared for WS. I focused on getting better on the hills (which is good), but at the expense of my leg speed and downhilling strength. I have spent a good deal of the year being harder on myself (mentally) than I need to be because I bought into this. Consider for yourself you have looked at an elevation profile for a race and said it "only" had such and such elevation.

To realize all of this, is game changing to me. I derailed somewhere and bought into something other than my own truth. Thankfully for me, it never sat right with me and I was able to resurface, re-evaluated and be true to myself. About a week and a half before CC100, I found my way, my truth again and could see more clearly what I wanted and needed to do. I found the heart of why I do what I do. I dropped the lies and stopped caring about what I thought everyone else thought I should do. I got reinvigorated for the future. And I am happy I did. 

I did not however, walk away from Cascade Crest. I figured, what the heck, I am super well trained, I have a great plan, crew/pacers, plane tickets and t-shirts. I also figured that since my mind was free of illusions that I would be able to run the distance just to enjoy it and to just have fun. The race crept closer and I was very uncommitted. Running 100 miles is not something to be undertaken lightly or without complete certainty that you will do whatever it takes to get to the finish line. I lined up at the race with a fresh and healthy body, but a mind that was not certain I wanted to waste myself just because I said I would. Just because I didn't want to walk away from a commitment. My head was already on to my next race but I was hoping I would just have too much fun at CC to even think about it.

The reality is, I was just not that into it. With my body working well, my legs feeling strong, my fueling/hydrating plan on point, I was left simply clipping along, in my own head thinking: "you got it all clear, you figured it out, you know what you really want to do and yet, here you are". I knew I would pay a heavy physical price to finish the race and I wasn't really enjoying myself. I really didn't want to put 100 miles on my legs when I have other plans. I had 5 miles in the entire time where I actually thought "ok, now we are talking". I should have never even started. I knew that I did not have my heart into it. So I changed my mind. Yes, I changed my mind. 

Jumping for joy at changing my mind

I wasn't physically suffering in any way. I just had decided I didn't really want to do it (a long time before the race ever started) and I just took 34 miles of running to be strong enough, to muster up my strength to say "No, this is not what I want". I changed my mind, I quit. And really, no one cares. It was the final gesture in getting back to myself, my truths and following my heart. I am so happy with the decision and proud of myself for not carrying on for, literally, no reason.

Totally worthwhile stomachache. Baked goods at Macrina.

I walked away from the race with relief, joy and excitement. I enjoyed myself throughly in the decision and the rest of the weekend was spent goofing off (see above pics and below) on the run, playing, laughing, eating delicious food (gluten included), drinking coffee and generally letting myself just enjoy. I am not speeding onwards to training again this week. I am resting HARD in preparation for my next training block. I will have had 3 good down weeks by then. 

The seasons are changing again and I enter the fall feeling like I am more myself than I have been in a long time. I am excited and invigorated. I am also feeling quite liberated by all of this. Who knew being an adult could be so much fun?