Western States

Strength

Sarah Bard and I all smiles at the finish line of Comrades 2017.

Sarah Bard and I all smiles at the finish line of Comrades 2017.

I can't believe I am doing this (terror- early miles)

I can't believe I am doing this!!!! (elation- finishing straight)

This is so hard. This is too hard.

This is dumb.

This is amazing!

Why do people do this? I am never doing this again.

I can't wait to do this again!!!

I feel terrible. I am going to pass out. I am going to barf.

I feel amazing! I can't believe I didn't pass out and now I feel so good!

This was a terrible idea. Who thought I could do this 2 months after breaking my foot.

May the lord open.

1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4

They are playing my song!!!

Ok, reel her in. Just don't cramp. Don't cramp.

Don't look back. Keep it cool. Pretend you've got it together.

(blubbering sobs) Holy CRAP, I did it! Gold medal!!!

These are my thoughts while racing Comrades. That in a nutshell is my Comrades 2017 experience. I've been trying to get motivated to write a race report for the race but honestly feel like I am over race reports for their own sake. I am just looking for the take-aways, the lessons, the things I want to remember. I raced Comrades despite having only a very short training block after Two Oceans and London, races which I did coming straight back from a very extensive and long injury.  I knew that Comrades would be hard. It is a hard, fast, competitive race and I was in good shape, not great shape. I was in good health, but not niggle free as my foot continues to adjust and settle and relearn. Comrades is hard period. And I tried to steel myself for it to be harder than a normal healthy well-trained race might be.

And it was freaking hard. I battled both mental and physical barriers to get to the finish line. I had a good day for my fitness level, but not a great day. I faced down a deep undercurrent of desire to quit that was almost incessant. I had to trick myself, distract myself, bribe myself, and make deal after deal with myself. There were moments where a DNF threatened for both reasons: mental and physical (great article AJW!). But somehow, I made the choice time after time to not quit. Yes, there were good, even great reasons (like when I nearly passed out), to contemplate quitting but ultimately, time after time, I found the strength to keep going. It was not graceful or easy or even close to a great race for me, I got super ugly, but I made it to the line.

Getting to the finish line of Comrades and two weeks later, coming in third at Rock and Roll Seattle marathon, as well as "watching" Western States stories unfold have made me think a lot about strength. Strength does not mean never breaking down, never falling, never failing. It means bending, adjusting, persevering, enduring, staying steadfast and yes, even sometimes knowing when to quit. Strength can be having a perfect day where everything clicks. Strength can be being ready for a great day and finding yourself in the chair for hours, but finally finding a way to move on. Strength can be recognizing that you have nothing left to give. In our sport, there is a such a beautiful display of strength from the first to the last finisher. We put ourselves through so so so much adversity. We prepare as best we can, but when you are out there on race day pushing limits, so much can happen. Strength is working the problem, strength is honoring the journey.

In my 11 years of ultrarunning, I have had near perfect days, had perfectly crap days, had days in which I unlocked the magical power of simply not quitting when I really wanted to, had DNF's that were both heartbreaking and some that I am totally at peace with. What I have realized through those experiences is that no matter what, whether I win, finish or stop, that it doesn't define my strength. My strength is defined by how hard I work, how much I am willing to endure, how much I honor the journey, the sport and who I want to be. Strength is going through the darkest depths and simply not giving in to the darkness, knowing that there will always be light again. Sometimes that light is a finish line, an outcome, a resolution. Sometimes that light is a new race, a new opportunity or a new life. 

There will be light after the dark.

There will be light after the dark.

The last year has been a pretty hard one for me. I feel like it has been like jumping from bad patch to bad patch, with only temporary glimmers of hope that have kept me pressing forward, slowly, painfully. There have been things in my life that I was certain would fail. There have been things in my life that I was ready to abandon. There were times when I had absolute certainty of what must be done. And yet, I did not quit and do not want to quit. Instead, I started to look at the struggle and say, "perhaps this is the only way through, perhaps what is on the other side of this is growth, is a deeper sense of connection, deeper understanding, valuable lessons and a deeper understanding of strength, both mine own and others". Perhaps, enduring what can be endured is absolutely life affirming. When I made the choice to stand on a start line, begin something, involve myself I had good reasons, big goals, positive feelings, hopes, dreams, etc. So when things go south, does that mean that I was wrong to make a start? Usually not, usually it just means that just because something isn't easy, doesn't mean its not worth doing. Just because it gets hard at some point, doesn't mean that this is a "stupid race and I am a stupid idiot for ever thinking it was a good idea". Yes, sometimes we have to stop. Sometimes we have to change, let go or choose a different path and that's ok. But sometimes we can endure things that are hard and face shredding and come out the other side saying, "I am so glad that I survived that. I am so glad I did not quit". We don't have to laud a sucky experiences, but we can be grateful for our own ability to go through tough shit, to survive and the once again live in the light and thrive.

Strengthening my weakest link

I only ever want to be laid out by giving it my all, not by getting ill.

I only ever want to be laid out by giving it my all, not by getting ill.

"Sickly D"- that was my college boyfriend's nickname for me. And pretty much sums up my entire life. For someone remarkable durable both muscularly and skeletally, my endocrine and immune systems are most definitely not. Throughout my life, I have struggled with illness. I can catch any cold or flu that comes within the same county as me, I have had more stomach/digestive issues than the entire graduating classes of most high schools and my endocrine system often seems to be living on another planet in a distant universe. It is remarkable that for how many times I have been sick and how much of my lifetime I have spent at the doctor, that I haven't in fact had any truly serious illnesses or been hospitalized. (Let's just say everything in this post just gets one big knock on wood). 

When I was in elementary school, I missed months of school at a time with a never ending flu. In high school, I got mono. I missed my first Boston marathon because I had pneumonia. That may not seem like a lot, but in between those notable episodes have been so many "minor" illnesses, so many trips to the doctor, so many tests. In my 13 year running career, I have had to cancel or change my racing plans because of illness/health problems almost EVERY single year.  Over the past 3 years whilst opening and running the bakery I have had some issues so serious/painful/awful that the doctors were very concerned that it was something terrible/dire. Or nothing. That was their other suggestion. This is either an ulcer or nothing. This is either cancer or nothing. Really? How can those really be the only two options. Maybe you just need to quit your job? Maybe you just need to stop running so much. Those are their answers.  Just scrolling back on my own blog for the past 6 months, there are countless examples of the huge impact endocrine and immune system problems have profoundly impacted my life. After the terrible month of March I had, I was over it. I KNEW there had to be a more complex and nuanced story to my health somewhere between "it is nothing" and "it is something terrible". I am not dying (which is awesome), but I am also not truly healthy, how do we address that space? How do I not run myself into amazing shape and then have to hope and pray that I don't get sick again the week of a race. Forget the idea of "not being sick", how do I become optimally healthy? I want the same level of durability that I enjoy muscularly and skeletally to also be true for my immune and endocrine systems. So I went to my doctor and got the same song and dance as I always do- no answer at all.

I decided to take a different approach. On the recommendation of badass friends Amelia Boone and Michael Wardian, I decided to get in touch with InsideTracker.  InsideTracker looks at biomarkers differently. They are not looking for illness, they are looking for optimization. They are looking for areas you are at risk and areas that are problems. Not problems by medical stand point necessarily, but problems when it comes to feeling your best and healthiest. They believe that #BloodDontLie and I wanted to know the truth about my health. I wanted to find a way to strengthen my weakest link. As they say, "Know Better, Do Better".

I have now had three tests through InsideTracker, each revealed something that has been instrumental in my health and wellness as well as my training and racing. 

Suns out, guns out and still Vitamin D deficient?!!

Suns out, guns out and still Vitamin D deficient?!!

The first test revealed something interesting, I am chronically low in Vitamin D and magnesium. Vitamin D is absolutely instrumental in immune function. When I uploaded my previous year's worth of blood tests for comparison (which is a cool feature of the InsideTracker dashboard), it revealed this as a persistent issue. Same for the magnesium. Magnesium is instrumental in good sleep and I am an absolutely terrible sleeper. Stress can cause a magnesium deficiency and let's just say that opening a bakery (and then working on the night shift) did nothing for my stress levels. I immediately started taking a Enduropacks liquid multi vitamin as well as extra Vitamin D to help bring my levels up. Slowly but surely and even through peak training and racing, my levels are rising. 

My ferritin levels have been chronically low and I have known that for years. The doctors don't know why. I have had to have endoscopies to look for intestinal bleeding, I have been poked prodded and finally given up on, as the WHY of my woeful ferritin levels. They wager it is just the running. So it is something I have had to keep my eye on for a long time. When I got my InsideTracker results, I was stoked. My ferritin was 75! The first time it had been over 30 in years. Guess we finally found something that worked! But I knew, going into peak training, being at altitude for a month, that it was something I would need to stay vigilant about. So I ate my Inside Tracker recommended beef liver and supplemented a bit more iron in my diet. One thing I found interesting is that plenty of iron was getting into my body, but not all of it was being absorbed (Total Iron Binding Capacity) which leaves me susceptible to feeling tired and weak also. I had to find a balance between getting the iron in and not getting too much. I have had a similar issue with the thyroid and my hypothyroid meds, the meds are getting in there, but they are not being absorbed and getting where they need to go.

After gathering all the initial biomarkers, InsideTracker walked me through a series of steps to determine which items to address based on my goals, how I want to deal with those things (diet, exercise, supplements, lifestyle change) and distills the information down into 5 action items. My first test had me eating lots of seaweed, beef liver, eating fish 2x per week, taking a vitamin D supplement and watching my calorie deficit(not having too big a deficit as it was messing with my sex hormones). Between the end of March and my next test 10 days out from States, I meticulously followed my action items. We retested before States to get a glimpse of what my biomarkers look like during my peak. And all systems were go. Many of the biomarkers had not in fact improved, BUT that actually does show improvement because they didn't drop during the most extreme period of stress. In other words, I was ready to race. It felt good going into the race knowing that all systems were go.

We also tested 3 days after WS 100. It is fascinating to see what running 100 miles does to your biomarkers. I also talked with one of the Inside Tracker coaches to help me understand the results. To put it plainly, I left it all out there. I am sure the early dehydration in the race didn't help, but by the end of WS, I had used up my available resources. I did what I could with the day that unfolded in front of me. My biomarkers for inflammation were very high (AST/ALT) and the InsideTracker coach recommend that I take my recovery seriously. I found this very valuable because I didn't try to do too much too soon. I respected my bodies need for recovery, I didn't try to bully it into doing too much too early. I allowed myself to be tired and worn thin. I took my new set of InsideTracker recommendations and posted them where I could see them and I have seen my recovery happen. Today, I went out and crushed a workout that would have been a lot during peak training. It was possible because I used the knowledge I had from my InsideTracker results to let my body recover. I slowly, patiently was able to pull back the layers of inflammation and tired, I was to power my recovery in a methodical way. I didn't rush back, I didn't try to do too much. I waited, I listened to my body. I feel confident in the way forward towards my next race and my next goals.

Knock on wood, I haven't had a serious medical issue since March, I haven't gotten really sick (though I had a very close encounter right before States!) to me that is immense progress. I am a firm believer that InsideTracker's testing and approach have helped me begin to strengthen my weakest links. I will continue to utilize them as I train and race and try to live a more healthy optimized life. 

If you want to try InsideTracker out for yourself, use the code FASTFOODIE for a great discount. You will absolutely not regret it! And thank you InsideTracker for helping me on the road to optimal health! #blooddontlie  

 

Sean O'Brien 100k

Photo credit: Billy Yang

Photo credit: Billy Yang

After my performance at Javelina last year, I was naturally a little nervous lining up for my next ultra. Especially a ultra that I had one goal for: qualify for Western States 100. A goal that I had sacrificed the Trials for, a goal that I had really set my heart on. I was nervous for this race before I signed up for it, or more precisely, after Javelina, I was nervous for whatever I would do next. I had had such an incredible race there, I unlocked things in my mind that made me a more capable racer. I didn't want Javelina to be the exception, that doesn't mean breaking records every race, it means running to my full ability. So many people told me after Javelina that it was the performance of a lifetime, that I would never be able to top it, that it was above and beyond. I chose to see it as a breakthrough for me, a sign of amazing things to come. 

Yet, I have always been someone who struggles in believing in my own abilities. So I worried about holding on to that "Javelina" feeling. I wrote down lessons and strategies from it. I learned how to pump myself up, talk to myself. I want to believe in myself.

Heading into Sean O'Brien 100km, I felt good. I had recovered well from Houston Marathon. Nailed some great trail workouts and put in some good mileage in the 3 weeks in between the races. I didn't taper quite as much as a 100km might warrant, but arrived at the line feeling fresh, focused and firey. 

Early miles. Photo Cred: Billy Yang

Early miles. Photo Cred: Billy Yang

And then the race started. And my mind rebelled. It was a gremlin, demon free for all, up in there. Seriously, the things I say to myself. I would not say those things out loud to anyone, I would never say them about another person, why do I say them about myself? It was nasty. But as long as my body felt fine, I just resolved to ride it out. Maybe it would get better. I pelted my mind with mantras of "I'm awesome, I'm awesome, I'm so fucking awesome." for miles, but the gremlins wouldn't relent. It was annoying and demoralizing. And when the going started to get tough, it made my desire to fight zero.

What the hell was wrong with me? I clicked off miles, pissed. But as I ran I realized something. I was suffering from a classic case of Imposter Syndrome. 

Impostor syndrome is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.
— Wikipedia
All aboard the struggle bus. Photo credit: Billy Yang

All aboard the struggle bus. Photo credit: Billy Yang

Maybe Javelina was just luck. Maybe like people said, it was my once in a lifetime run. Maybe when it really matters, I wouldn't be able to rise. I struggled, I ran. It was hot, my knee hurt, the course is brutal. Gremlins fed my imposter narrative with everything they had. Everything. You are not enough, you are not worthy. Why is it so easy to believe the negatives, not the positives?

The course is unrelenting and the day was hot. About mile 26, my friend and new training partner Amelia Boone passed me on a crazy long climb and I really struggled. I wanted to stop. In fact, I had come up with a million different reasons I could drop for about the last 20 miles. I power hiked the hill and felt sorry for myself. And then I received a gift. First, my Bay Birds teammate Jessi who was running the 50 mile (which started later) was coming down the hill. She cheered, I lamented. She threw her arms around me in a hug and said, "it worked for you last time (at Javelina)". Yes, a friendly hug and words of encouragement really had saved Javelina. And my longtime friend Jess Mullen, from Seattle, gave me a hug and a no nonsense, "you'll be FINNNNNNEEEE." Then heading up towards Mile 42, I spotted a Oiselle jersey on a girl named Halley (sorry if I spell it wrong!!!) and she ran with me and gave me words of encouragement. It all helped. They held up a mirror that said, "hey Devon, you are ok."

At mile 36.3, I had been able to run well for about 3 miles, although my knee hurt. I decided to try ibuprofen at that aid station and I wanted to see if my knee was a mild irritation or injury. An injury would not have been solved by 2 ibuprofen, so I took them and decided to see if I could make it to the mile 42 aid station. Like Javelina, 2 ibuprofen and some caffeine were a game changer for me. (Please not that aspirin and ibuprofen should be used very carefully during ultras and not relied on. I do not take more than one dose. If I needed more than one, I should not continue to run!) I realized that I had simply twisted my knee awkwardly at some point, but that it wasn't injured. I left the mile 36 aid station and began to run. Really run. Like I did at Javelina at mile 60, it was like I finally found my groove. And my wings.

When I start smiling, it means it is game on. Photo credit: Billy Yang

When I start smiling, it means it is game on. Photo credit: Billy Yang

With each step of running, I gained confidence. I moved well, felt good. I had been fueling optimally even in the heat (high 70s in February!!). I was able to run up hill. Heck, all systems were go. I was not going to back down. I was not sure I could catch Amelia. After all, by the time I got my groove back I was being told that I was 15-20 minutes back. I knew that WS spots were 1-2, so that I just had to run hard enough to not be caught. And so I pressed and pushed and gave chase.

Be patient with everyone, but above all, with yourself... Do not be disheartened by your imperfections. How are we to be patient in dealing with our neighbor’s fault if we are impatient in dealing with our own?
— -Saint Francis de Sales

Coming into Mile 42, I thought of this quote. Maybe I just took 40 miles to get warmed up and into my groove. Why was I so impatient and unforgiving? As I headed out onto the out and back section to Bulldog turn around, I chatted with Billy Yang. For the first time all day talking to him (on camera), I was happy, I felt good, I believed in myself, I smiled. I believed I could do this. I wanted that WS spot and I was not going to give it up. 

Crushing it. Photo cred: Billy Yang

Crushing it. Photo cred: Billy Yang

I opened up my heart and mind and let my inner unfuckwithable badassery come out. I ran hard and I ran free. No more gremlins, no more demons. I simply outran them.

I didn't think I would catch Amelia. She is insanely talented and while this was her "first" "runnable" ultra, I knew she was fully capable of running an insane race. I pushed downhill as hard as I thought safe and clipped along trying not to think of the ridiculously difficult climb back up the same mountain after the turn around. I was nearing the bottom, picking my way through the park when I saw her. I belted out "Circle of life" (as we both have a love of the Lion King) and ran up next to her. She was hurting, her calves were betraying her on the downhills and she was bonking. I gave her a little pep talk, reminded her to keep her eye on the WS prize (1-2) which is why she came. I reminded her to be patient, not give in, that it could and would pass. And then I pressed on.

When I regained the lead, I did not want to give it up. I had thought I only cared about getting the WS spots but I was feeling so good after the turn around at mile 49.5 that I wanted to push and see just how hard I could finish. This race is brutal, especially on a hot day. Since it was an out and back, I knew that when I passed Amelia, I moved into 3rd overall and I got hungry to keep that too. 

My mind was on board. I worked the uphill, I pushed and pressed and my mind said YES. I asked my body for more and it said, here you go. I smiled and found myself with a happy heart. Ultimately, that is what I want to find. I want to run with a happy heart, especially when I am working so so very hard to achieve a goal. It would feel like a waste to put together a solid race and not enjoy it. But I was, I was loving it. 

Mile 55.9 Almost done! Photo cred: billy yang

Mile 55.9 Almost done! Photo cred: billy yang

I came into the mile 55.9 aid station flying and smiling. I was going to do this. Not an imposter, not lucky, this was me and this was what I was capable of. I flew. Down (ok, more like up, down, up, down, down, down, creek, up, but who is counting) towards the finish line. After one little last climb just past mile 61 (thanks Ginger Runner for the heads up!), I pushed hard towards the finish. Damn. It feels good to fly that free. I crossed the finish line in 10:27. 1st woman, 3rd overall. WS ticket! 

YES, Team Lion King goes 1-2 and we are on to States! Hakuna matata. Photo cred: billy yang.

YES, Team Lion King goes 1-2 and we are on to States! Hakuna matata. Photo cred: billy yang.

I have been working very very hard to change the inner narrative I have. To change the habits of my mind. Today, I realized that I can, with patience and perseverance and strict non-indulgence. My brain tells me "you suck, you should stop.", I counter, "whatever you say" and keep going. I acknowledge it and let it go, not hold tight to it like it is truth. It is not the truth. I am worthy, I am enough. Running is an incredibly opportunity to test myself and to learn so much and I am truly grateful for it and for the small victories I can have like today in be braving and truly daring greatly.

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.

Party like an ultrarunner

Krissy and I after her 30th birthday run

A few years ago, right after I met Krissy when I moved to Seattle, she celebrated her 30th birthday. For her birthday, she decided to get together a bunch of her friends and do 30 miles to celebrate the day. It was a blast- we had a roving aid station and I think Krissy and I cemented our life long friendship when I agreed to run around the parking lot after we came off the mountain until her watch said exactly 30. After the run, we celebrated over delicious food made by her awesome Ma!

Since that run, the birthday run has been my top priority when conceptualizing how I want to spend my birthday. Two years ago (2009), my birthday fell immediately after the WC100k, so I was unable to run 27 on my 27th. Instead, having just moved back to San Francisco, I invited some new friends out for a nice 15 mile loop: Brett, Larissa, Nathan, Will and Caitlin.

I carried a watermelon. 
27th birthday run. Present from Nathan.

I was completely fried on that run from the 100k and insisted that the others go on ahead of me (brett and larissa had to turn back early to get to work, leaving just Nathan, Caitlin and Will) and just wait for me at the top. In a sign of things to come, Nathan, whom I had just met in person for the first time the day before at Tartine, came back for me while running up Marincello. And if I wasn't swooning enough, he presented me with a watermelon after the run as my birthday present. It was cute and thoughtful and also hilarious since I then had to run home carrying a watermelon like a football under my arm. I can easily say, I've loved the Baker since I met him.

Last year, my birthday enjoyment was compromised by my running at WS100. Tapering for a 100 miler is no way to spend your birthday and ultimately it was not the most fun I've ever had on my birthday.

This year, I was bound and determined to spend as much time with friends and family, celebrate for days on end and gosh darn it, I was getting in a 29 mile run for my 29th birthday. It is not even my birthday yet (as I write this) and I can easily say, I've had the best birthday in a long time.

Bestest everest Jonathan and I at SD 100. Photo by Brett.

Two weekends ago, Nathan and I headed down to San Diego for pacing duties and to join a huge gaggle of our friends from all over while they participated in SD100 in various capacities. It was such a blast to be a part of. Nathan was pacing for Topher and I was returning to pace Jonathan once more in San Diego. Several ninjas and seattle friends were racing and my sister and Steven were down to help crew for Jonathan. Simply put, it was an event that struck serious FOMO (fear of missing out) into the hearts of those unable to attend.

I really love my sister. Photo by Brett.

We cheered, we laughed, we paced. I saw friends cross the finish line and friends make tough decisions. Jonathan had to pull out of the race due to a medical issue, so he handed me off to Larissa who I paced for a good few hours in the night. I am so proud of Larissa's finish and all of my friends who rocked it-Krissy, Topher, Rod, Yassine, Walter, Roch and everyone else I am forgetting since it felt like I knew half the field. It was like one big pre-birthday party!

Dinner at Local 360 with Krissy, Steven, Jason, Sarah and JB!

No sooner had I unpacked my bags on Monday, I was repacking them for a trip up to Seattle to visit my family and hang out with Jonathan (who was also up visiting), Krissy and Jason. On Friday night, the whole gang joined me for dinner at Local 360 which totally knocked my socks off. I loved everything I tasted and really enjoyed the thoughtful, hyper-local, organic fare.

Clearly, I REALLY enjoyed the Peanut Butter Bon Bons.

I spent the rest of the weekend hanging out with family, having another fantastic birthday dinner at 50 North and running a bunch. On Sunday my sister and I headed up to Tiger Mountain to attempt the 12 summits run which is about 34-ish miles with a ton of climbing. The June gloom was doing nothing for our motivation, healing my cold or making my sister's hurt leg feel any better, so we changed our route, got lost and ended up with a nice 22 mile run.



Sarah is freezing in June, not awesome.

I went out and ran 9 more miles that evening en route to my mom's house where I enjoyed homemade pot roast, mashed potatoes and salad with my mom, sister, steven, cousin Erika, Ananda and Maya. It was great to be able to get so much good time in with my family. My life is pretty hectic and it can be hard to always feel as in touch as I would really like. I love my family intensely and am happy that I decided to come up for a visit and see them. I returned home on Monday morning, tired and with a cold but bound and determined to have a fantastic birthday week.

I had decided that since I had Wednesday off from work that I would run 29 miles for my 29th birthday. I figured that no one would be available on a Wednesday to run with me, but with Western States this weekend, I knew I would not have another opportunity. Western States is to my adult life, what the end of the school year was to my young life- totally getting in the way of my birthday!



Nonetheless, this morning, I headed out to Mountain Home Inn with Nathan and we did one of my favorite loops around the North side of Tam. It was beautiful and sunny and warm. We ran above the fog that pretty much hugged every elevation below us. It was a swift 12 miles and felt good. Originally, I had planned to grab my pack out of the car and just run all the way home through the Headlands, across the bridge. My calculations had that at a 33-34 mile run which I was fine with, but upon arriving back at the car, the temperature was about 10 degrees cooler than on our picturesque loop and the fog and wind were blowing sideways. I felt like I would be descending into a cold miserable slog instead of continuing the fun we'd been having together. So I decided, "it's my party and I'll do what I want to" and went home with Nathan, ate some food and took a nap. It was a fantastic decision and it made it easy for me to rally in the afternoon and run an additional 17 miles to get in a full 29 miles. Tomorrow, my actual birthday, I will get to run with my ninjas and continue the celebration the best way I know how: running (and then eating good food, of course)!

Today, as I ran those final 17 miles on the road, I felt completely connected to why I run. I was not running 29 miles to log miles or burn calories. It didn't fit into my training schedule or have a specific purpose, instead it was just about the act itself. I ran fast, despite the headwind, and felt free, unencumbered. That is ultimately what I love about a birthday run- it is purely about the act itself. To me, celebrating birthdays are not about gifts or attention or parties, it is about celebrating life and the journey we are lucky enough to be on.

Routine as white rice and butter

Our first CSA box from Eatwell Farms

I haven't felt routine in a while. We moved, we had guests, more guests, races to prepare for, nesting to be done, shelving to be built and hung. While bucking routine is nice to change things up, I do enjoy routine. I think one of the reasons I thrive as a runner is because I get to plan, organize and execute a training schedule. There are curves in that I can depend on. I like that. I like spontaneity too, yeah but that is a bit different than just being caught up in a rapid fire of change. Thankfully one of the things that brings me a great deal of comfort and dependability (beyond running) is cooking. And I have been cooking.

Gluten Free Sugarplum Vegan Carrot Cupcakes- a reward for a 48.5 mile run

I may have not been journaling, tweeting, blogging, photographing or following along on the news, but I have been cooking. Routine things. Moderately interesting things. We've been getting a CSA the last few weeks, so there has been lots of greenery. I have been peaking in training, so there has been lots of steak. We've made sandwiches, stir-frys and boring white rice with butter (which suddenly has become one of my favorite things). I have been making coconut granola and crusty breads.

Gluten Free Crusty Boule

With family in town and family leaving town, we have eaten out a great deal. Green Chile Kitchen, Nopalito, Outerlands, Starbelly, Foreign Cinema, Fish (Sausalito) and noshed on fresh fruits and treats from the farmers market.

Ferry Building Farmer Market

It's been a whirlwind, I tell ya. And I am not complaining. No, not at all. This post is more about remembering those dangling little participles before they are swept away than any firm resolute point. I have to share the pictures, the moments before they are pushed aside in the mind by another deep, rich moment.

Family brunch at Outerlands in the Sunset

I had been really good about journaling, but over the last two months have been crap. Really crap. And I don't really like that. That is a routine I need to get back into. Blogging too, because I have much to do and share. There is work to be done, along this funny road I am traveling on. For the next 10 days, I have a one track mind though: Western States 100 mile race. That's got my brain going and my body resting. Over the next week and change there will be a lot of steak/meat. It is my favorite pre-race fuel. And possibly lots of white rice and butter.

On Sunday, it was round one of the steak fest. The baker and I cooked for his mother who was visit from Ohio. We made peri peri rubbed rib eyes, seared in the cast iron. Cooked to a medium rare perfection. We wilted greens from the Eatwell Farms CSA box, cooking them down and down, simply. Olive oil, salt, a dash of water. The risotto was something special. Risotto has a special place in my heart because it is the first recipe I learned that required specific technique and care. I learned porcini mushroom risotto and have made much since that day. Ours was simple and fresh as the late spring day we enjoyed, herbed with basil and parsley, sugar snap peas and a nice sheep's milk pecorino. The Baker stirred and stirred and stirred it to perfection. The meal was simple but beautiful. While complicated, ornate, involved food can be fun, to me there is nothing better than simple good food that lets amazing ingredients stand up and speak for themselves.

Peri-peri rubbed rib-eye, sugar snap pea and herbed risotto, wilted greens