Wow, WS 100 2016 is in the books. What a journey, what an adventure. I have already posted my race recap over on the Oiselle blog, so I just wanted to pull together a few resources in case you missed all the action.
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
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.
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.
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.
After JFK last November, I often wondered if I would ever again have an experience in a race like I did that day. That feeling of pure joy, ease and speed without pain, effort or faltering from wire to wire. That feeling, the inexplainable thing when everything comes together just as it should. That feeling of your entire mind, body and spirit working together for a common purpose. I wondered if I would ever again have such a day.
This year, for the most part, I have had good races but not like JFK. Lake Sonoma I won/set a CR, Miwok I ran a strong second against a deep field while staying in a controlled "eyes on the ultimate prize (WS)" mode. Both races I had highs and lows, but overall pretty satisfying days. WS was much of a polar opposite and didn't turn out well despite my best efforts. So I wondered if I would ever again have another day like JFK. I know I had set a high bar for myself on that day and I know that more often than not races will not go flawlessly. I didn't worry about it; that kind of day where everything falls perfectly into place doesn't happen every day. But when it does, it is beautiful.
This weekend, I had one of those days.
I was slated to run Tussey Mountainback 50 miler last year but contracted H1N1 while staying in NYC after racing Vermont 50 a week before. I was really keen this year, after spending the first half of the year focusing on 100 mile trail racing, to get road fast again and go after the 50 mile road national championship at Tussey. I thought it would be a great transition race from 100 mile trail races back to the marathon and an attempt at an OT qualifier (January in Houston).
After opting out of CC100 in August, I utilized my taper for that race instead as a nice extended mid-season break and added a week to it for good measure and extra rest. It felt like a true off season though it was short. I came back to training feeling ready to do the work to get faster and stronger. I don't think my training for Tussey could have been better. I was dedicated on the track and pushed myself in tempo workouts and long runs. I did numerous doubles, did strength and flexibility work with my trainer Josh and on my own. I ran my second most mileage month all year in September. And I felt great doing so. Each 100+ mile week that passed, I felt better and better and even capped off my training with a final long run of 25 miles in 3 hours flat. But without a successful race since Miwok, I was only feeling cautiously optimistic for the race.
I was very lucky for this race. I flew into Akron where Kristin (Nathan's sister, as well as his parents) lives and she was to be my crew, long haul driver, cheer squad and great company. Kristin is an extremely dedicated and gifted crew person. I cannot thank her enough. Akron is a 4 hour drive from State College, PA so it was perfect.
Prerace was pretty typical. Eat, relax, check stuff, try to sleep and fail. The drive out from Akron was beautiful (fall colors!) and easy (easy for me to say). We arrived at our host family's house, Dan and Kelly Wright. Dan and Kelly were running the relay at Tussey and were very gracious hosts. I cooked everyone dinner, my typical pre-race fare-white rice with butter, salad with sweet potato and goat cheese and a nice juicy steak. Unlike before my other races this year, I wasn't feeling any nervous energy or anxiety about the race. Kristin and I went over my fueling plan, checked all my supplies and I headed to bed about 10pm. Naturally I couldn't sleep and just as I was about to fall asleep around 12:30 my phone rang (had it on to act as my alarm). I didn't answer it, but when I listened to the message post race it was a friend asking for a gluten free cookie recipe: might I suggest consulting my recipe page?
Even though I wasn't nervous or even thinking about the race, I just didn't sleep great. I don't usually when I am not in my own bed.
Kristin and I before the race. Brrr. Mittens were necessary.
5am alarm. I was all business. Not nervous energy or anything. Coffee on, typical pb&j on Udi's gluten free bread and a banana. Still no nerves. I recognized the feeling from before JFK. Calm. Deadly calm. Even with the local paper hyping me and my potential for breaking the CR, my goal truly was just to run happy and enjoy a race in a way I haven't in a long while. I felt no pressure to run to prove myself to anyone or run a great "comeback" run. Comeback from what? WS. Nah, I don't see it that way. All I needed was to comeback to the way I run and experience running.
We loaded up the car and headed to the race start, a quick 15 minute drive. The race is interesting because it is an ultra and relay with the relay starting in waves beginning an hour after the ultra starts. What makes this interesting is the fact that the race and all the support vehicles share the same gravel road. Thus vehicles all have to be carefully staged and early in the race we all spent a good amount of time slinking along the shoulder of the road. It also meant Kristin didn't get to see the start of the race because they sent the vehicles off before the runners. Smart but it also meant I had to relinquish my jacket and (her) mittens and stand shivering at the start for a few minutes in the pre-dawn low 40s temps. Todd Braje (defending 50 mile champ, my 100k teammate and friend) and I huddled together for warmth and joked that between the two of us we might have enough body fat to keep one person warm. Soon Howard was leading us in the singing of the Star Spangled Banner and Olympic Marathoner Brian Sell said go.
Just for the hill of it is right; there was only up & down on this course.
I went out with a comfortable stride. Other than being quite cold, my legs felt really good. All the aches, pains and weirdnesses acquired in taper were all gone. I had a mild concern for my lack of ability to um, clear the pipes, pre-race but I figured I wouldn't worry about it and cross that bridge if I came to it. I warmed up a bit as we climbed up the first leg, a 3.2 miles steady climb. Things were clicking along. I carried one small gel-bot and felt like my Salomon Exo 3/4 length tights, technical shirt and sleeves were a spot on selection for the race. I fell into a comfortable pace and watched a decently deep field of men's leaders, plus a few fool hardy and overexcited runners, dash away from me.
I felt fantastic on the climb which quickly became switchbacks. I keep thinking- look at how easy this is; running up these hills. Let's be real, "just for the hill of it" (the race motto) is spot on. Tussey may only have just over 5,000 feet of climbing but this course is all hill. Even the "flats" are at a slight grade.
I rounded one switchback and glanced to see how the field behind me was shaping up. I knew my main competition was Connie Gardner (who is also a friend, mentor and amazingly talented runner). She just won the 24 hour national championship and a week later ran Akron Marathon. I saw Connie but no other woman, so I settled in to run my race.
Kristin and I decided that she shouldn't go to TR1 (transition 1 aka aid station 1) because I wouldn't need anything and it would be much easier. I had given her a range of times which were the earliest she should expect me at the aid stations. They were pretty ambitious times with nothing but good training to indicated that kind of fitness. But they sounded good, so I said why not. I knew Anne Lundblad's CR was very stout at 6:36 and also knew that Tussey and all its hills was likely a slower course than JFK. But I still gave Kristin times for a 7:30-7:45 min/mile range for pace (that is a 6:18-6:28 finishing time).
I came into TR1 about 25 minutes and then got to enjoy stretching my legs out for 4 miles of downhill. My stomach was a little gurgly and I needed to pee but there were many many cars on the road heading from TR1 to TR2 and I had to hold it until the aid station.
I arrived to a cheering and prepared Kristin in 1:23 which was right smack int he middle of my expected range. I took my salt cap and dixie cup of gatorade and switched bottles with her. But not before I hit the porta potty and made everything right in the world (well in my digestion). I have to say everytime I had to pee during this race I thought "yeah my kidneys still work!". I headed out of the aid station feeling great. Another 3.8 mile downhill section passed without incident. I was starting to enjoy fewer and fewer cars as the field spread out.
And so it went. I just comfortably cranked out the miles. I looked forward to seeing Kristin every few miles, taking a new bottle every other station, a Vespa every 1.5 hours. The scenery was beautiful, a perfect fall day among the vibrant fall foliage.
I passed through 20 miles feeling like I hadn't even been running at all. Mentally, I felt a mixture of "f-yeah" and curiosity of just how long I would feel so good, solid, speedy and downright giddy.
Although the mile markers were way off, I crossed the halfway point under 3:15 and was very pleased. Kristin had acquired a new passenger, Jason Bryant, who won StumpJump a few weeks ago and is Nathan's La Sportiva teammate. He was having back problems and was forced to drop. I was bummed for him but it multiplied my cheer squad which I didn't mind. I was so damn happy & feeling good that I couldn't stop grinning and being excited every time I saw them.
My fueling plan was working perfectly. I had a plan of taking 2 gels per 70-80 minutes plus water and 1 Saltstick tablet every other time I saw Kristin. It worked perfectly with the Vespas every 1.5 hours. I never felt an energy lull. I didn't lose the bounce in my legs. I didn't feel mentally or physically fatigued despite getting no sleep the two days prior to the race. I hit the 50k mark in 3:56 and started to realize, or more accept, what I had been hoping for: this was my day. This was the day when nothing would go wrong, it would all click. I stayed comfortable and didn't press as I was already ahead of CR pace.
Getting ready for the lift and spin. Mile 37 is a great place to do ballet moves with strangers.
We tackled each section with surgical precision. Kristin fueling me up and telling me exactly what the next section contained, me running my little heart out. I pushed on the downhills, banking speed for the bigger climbs that I knew were waiting at the end. I came into TR 9, did a spin around the course monitor and prepared myself for a grueling 5.8 mile uphill which I knew would only deliver me to TR10 and the hardest climb of the day.
This was the only exposed section and I was warmed by the bright sun in a nearly cloudless sky. I had relinquished my sleeves at TR9 and settled in to do work uphill. It was crazy how good I still felt. My pace was slightly slower with the grade but I was on. I took a Roctane gel, the first caffeine of the race for me, to add a little pep to my step on the hills. I passed another runner and moved up in the field. I knew I was top 10 overall at that point but wasn't sure where exactly. I was running along when I heard a man from one of the houses along the road (there were very few- I saw more hunters than I saw houses!) say, "getting tired yet?" I looked over to see a lone old man, sitting on his porch, watching the runners come slowly past. "Nope!" I replied. "I feel great!"
I hit TR10 and Jason told me to expect a .8 mile steep uphill then a .8 mile steep downhill then a flat section to the turn around and then back .8 mile up and .8 mile down back TR 10/11. I had seen Dave James leaving the out and back and I knew I would get a chance to see how some of the race was shaping up. The only runner in front of me I didn't see was Todd, who had taken over the lead. I saw Howard powering up the final climb and he gave me an "atta girl!" and I felt equally as pleased for him to be racing so well. It was a comeback run for him after recovering from an injury. Howard told me later I'm the first woman to ever be on the out and back with the top me. I climbed the hill and chuckled at the fact that the hardest hills by far were between miles 41.8 and 45.8. And even they did not dampen my spirit or make me feel more tired. All I could think about was how excited I was to reach the top of the return because that meant it was all downhill to the finish and I was ready to blaze it.
I hit the top and started cranking. I came back into the aid station and declined my new bottle from Kristin telling her I wanted to go light and fast. They relay was finally catching up and the aid station was full of relayers and their teams cheering.
I picked it up. Here I was at mile 46 and felt amazing. My legs were nibble and fresh. I joked to myself that I should do the final 4 miles as a tempo run so I could finish tired. I laughed, naaaaahhhh. Why would I? I was far ahead the women's field (having not seen the 2nd woman, Connie, on the out and back) nor were there any men close enough to chase and none were chasing me. I had 4 miles and 45 minutes to break the CR and didn't need to crack myself. I still sped up though. It was sweet downhill and I just had to open it up a bit. I felt like a machine. At mile 48 I got really choked up, finally realizing the magnitude of the run I was having. Holy s**t was it my day. I kept myself together though. When I saw the mile 48 marker, I calculated that even running 7:30 miles, I would arrive at 6:24 and some change.
I was in fact running faster than 7:30 and hit the mile 49 marker and pushed a bit more. I kept rounding corners expecting to see the finish line but it didn't come and didn't come. I glanced at my watch: 6:25, my mileage at over 50.5 miles. Finally, I broke out of the trees and saw the finish line. "Kick! Kick!" Howard yelled. I picked it up and crossed the finish line in 6:28. A new CR by 8 minutes and a PR by a minute on a harder course! National Champion and a perfect race. I embraced Kristin and then Howard (who finished 3rd and first Masters!!!). We walked a bit as not to cramp up and I couldn't stop smiling. Kristin exclaimed (having crewed for only 100 milers before) "man I love 50 milers so much more than 100s!". I couldn't agree more. I changed, cleaned up and chatted with winner Todd Braje who had broken the men's course record by 5 minutes, as well as 2nd place Dave James, Howard and Mark Godale (5th). I was 6th. Turns out that everyone's watches measured the course as nearly 51 miles (50.7+) meaning I averaged a rocking 7:39 min/mile.
Wow, what a day. I didn't go into this race feeling I had something to prove. I went into this race prepared and ready and just desiring to be consumed with joy, floating in the present and enjoying the the ability to run. This was my day.
We gathered up our stuff about an hour after the race and drove back to Ohio. It felt like such a dream that when I woke up in the morning, my legs barely sore, it took me a moment to realize that it was, in fact, not a dream at all. How cool is that.
I still feel a bit like the above picture would indicate. This is right before they put in the first IV at Michigan Bluff. Things didn't turn out like I hoped but that is a part of why we challenge ourselves to do these kind of races to see what we are capable of when there are so many factors. I will write more once I am feeling a bit better, but just wanted everyone to know I am ok and will be back in action in no time.