elite racing

Wasn't/Was: a tale of two races

A few months ago, my friend Ian Sharman sent me a message suggesting I run Carlsbad Marathon on January 27th. There was great elite support and a good prize purse/incentive structure that could make a good training run worth my while. I was in! Since I hadn't raced since Kauai Marathon in early September, I wanted to jump back into racing and use a race as a good training run.  I signed up and worked it into my training schedule with my coach.

Finally celebrating our honeymoon!

After a great first week of January, I was feeling confident in my training. I had rocked out a fun adventure run with Larissa and completed that week with 113 incredible miles feeling healthy, strong and fast. The week after that it was off to Mexico for our belated honeymoon.

Mexico was amazing. We surfed and did yoga with WildMex, stand up paddle boarding, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, and still managed a daily run. My mileage wasn't great in Mexico as there were not a ton of great places for me to run, but I didn't mind since we were so busy doing all the other activities. I finished each day exhausted. It was awesome to get away after such a hectic 2012. 

I felt pretty tired over the duration of our trip and on the last day had a really bad stomach ache. We returned on January 16th, back to work, life and the hecticness of trying to get MHBB off the ground. The fatigue and stomach ache persisted. I didn't have any other symptoms other than excruciating pain after eating, but consulted with my on call doctor brother in law for some answers. Thankfully, after 5 days the pain went away. Unfortunately, the fatigue did not. I ran over 80 miles that week, but just felt dead the whole time. I started to worry that Carlsbad was going to go extremely poorly. Race week came and flew by but I still felt weak and tired.

For some reason, I decided to fly to Carlsbad anyways. I hoped for a late miracle burst of energy or something. I hoped that I could simply train through the tired. I was wrong. I should have listened to my gut. From the moment the gun went off, I just felt dead. I was able to push myself into the low 6 min/mile range but was fighting myself the whole way on the very tough course. At mile 14, I simply stopped. I was digging myself into a hole and I wasn't enjoying myself. I was cooked. I had said that this race was suppose to be a workout, so what would I have done if it were a workout not a race? I would have stopped. It was a bummer, but it was clear to me that something was wrong.

After assessing the weeks leading up to the race, it was quite clear that there were two things going on. First, I likely had come down with something in Mexico and secondly, my iron was low again. I hadn't taken my iron supplement for nearly three weeks and whilst in Mexico didn't eat much iron rich food. When I returned back from Carlsbad, I immediately started back on my Floradix and scheduled an appointment with my doctor.

Coming on the DNF at Carlsbad, I wanted to go back to training but wanted to ensure that I wasn't simply going to pile on more fatigue and exhaustion. I decided to listen to my body and run when and for however long it wanted. By mid-week, it was actually turning into a good training week. On Wednesday, I was at San Francisco Running Company's soft opening to help Brett and Jorge out. The evening was capped off with a fun group run and a great turn out at the store. It was so much fun to see Brett get his doors open! Go check them out in Mill Valley. While there I was catching up with my friend Peter and frequent training partner when we still lived in the City. I knew Peter was going to run the KP half marathon on Sunday and was suddenly struck with an idea: running it with him. I inquired as to his pace/race plans and he said he wasn't sure since he was coming off a cold. I said, "I don't know sounds like a good plan to me, want to run together?" and promptly signed up. Although I was inching my way towards a 100 mile week, I decided that putting myself back into a race might help dissipate some of the bad feeling coming off Carlsbad. I didn't expect to PR or even be able to manage my marathon pace, but I wanted to run a race again before Napa, which is a race I want to do well at.

On Saturday, I went out for the grand opening of San Francisco Running Company and ran with a huge group of folks that showed up for a celebratory 10 mile jaunt with 1700+ feet of ascent in the Headlands. I was feeling better than I had been and hoped that Sunday's race would at least be a slight improvement over the previous week (aka not wanting to just lie down in the middle of the race).

Nathan dropped Peter and I off at 7:15 in the park. We collected our numbers, did a little warm-up, discussed our race "plan" and deposited ourselves near the start, greeting many friends along the way. Our race "plan" amounted to somewhere in the range of 6-6:20 min/mile pace. Or more like, just start running and see how we feel.

The gun went and off we went. As we made our way east out of the park, I felt surprisingly good. I felt like I was super comfortable and cruising. I was also afraid to look at my watch for fear that that feeling was because we were running more like 7:00 min/mile than the low 6's we'd talked about. Thankfully, when I finally plucked up the courage to look, our pace was actually 5:58 for the first mile. Sweet! I felt a smile creep across my face and I knew I was going to have a strong run. I still wanted the race to be a workout paced run, I didn't want to over-reach, so I settled into the slightly sub 6/6 min range.

I don't generally run shorter races such as this, but I have to say, it was a blast. I am hooked! I had an easier time pushing myself and playing with my paces because I knew that the race would be over before I even had a chance to think about it. I was having so much fun. 

Going into the turn around just before mile 10, I could see that I was in 8th place. I was pretty close to a few other ladies and so I decided to push the last few miles and go one gear beyond the easy cruise I'd been in. I was just happy to feel like I had another gear, I was just happy to be flying. I powered back down the Great Highway into a strong headwind and caught three ladies in rapid succession. I flew back into the park and crossed the finish line in 1:18:57.

After the race, Nathan, Peter and I did a nice cool-down through the park and I finished out the day with 23 miles. I was tired, but happy. To me, the place/ time were not the important thing, the important thing was feeling like myself in a race situation. What was lost at Carlsbad was found in my own backyard. Needlesstosay, what a difference a week makes.

Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon (56k) Race Report

It is a long way to go for a race. 22 hours flying over, 31 flying back. Fatigue, jet lag and being lost in time.

I wouldn't change the experience for anything.

Several months ago, I contacted the Nedbank Running Club about running Comrades with them. I knew that Kami, Mike Wardian, Ellie, Lizzie had all run with them in the previous iteration, so I was keen to sign up with them. Comrades was my big focus after the Trials. I figured it was a down year on the course and I had the speed that it would take to fight for a podium spot. I didn't even know about Two Oceans Marathon until the team managers Nick and Adriaan offered me a chance to come and run it. As luck would have it, my schedule allowed for it and I coordinated my details and set my sights on running a strong race in the 56k road event. I thought it would be an excellent introduction into racing in South Africa and give me a taste for what I had coming in June at Comrades. I trained hard for Two Oceans, researched the course as much as I could, and covered every little detail and before I could turn into a raving monster was on my way back to Cape Town, South Africa to race.

Flying for that long is an endurance event. Luckily, on the first leg between San Francisco and Amsterdam, I was able to upgrade to Business class using mileage and was able to get some sleep on the 10+ hour flight, which made the remaining 11+ hours a bit more bearable. I arrived in Cape Town, downed some food and went straight to bed on Wednesday night. Thursday and Friday I passed the time easily with short runs, hanging out with my Nedbank teammates, resting and checking out the expo. As much as I would have loved to revisit some of my old haunts from when I lived there, I was very focused on being boring and resting. I planned my days around eating and napping. The only excitement of the week came when I got to go to a press conference and answer lots of fun questions from the media.

I quickly realized that ultrarunning in South Africa is different. Not only does Two Oceans have 9,000 people running the 56k, it has live TV coverage, a course lined with people (even in the rain, I would find out) and is a huge deal. Ultrarunning in South Africa is not ultrarunning, it is just running. There is no dividing line between 42k and other distances. Running is just running. Coming from the states where ultras are so niche, it is down right shocking to have the "big city marathon" feel at a distance longer than a marathon. We could stand to learn a lot from the way they are doing things there. 

Race Day:

I was up at 3am downing sweet potato puree, bananas and sunbutter, staring out the window to see if it was going to rain. I knew it would eventually but was hoping it would wait at least until we were underway (thankfully it didn't start raining until 12k into the race). We left the hotel promptly at 4:30 am to head to the start with about 40 total athletes for the Nedbank "Green Dream Team". It was quite the international group and included runners who were doing both the half marathon and the 56k. We managed to get quite close to the start line and park away from the major crowds down a quiet side street. 

Homemade gel carrying device 

My new race kit 

 Rocking the bun huggers.

 Always travel with duct tape.

Eventually Mike Wardian and I roused from the car and went for a short warm-up jog down the street. I couldn't really tell how I was feeling. My legs felt fine, my mind felt fine. Not excited, just fine. It was like I couldn't decide where my head was at or how I could wrap my brain around the journey in front of me. I have never been in a race like this. It is an ultra distance race, but is going to take some serious speed to excel at. I really had no idea what to expect. I think my mind was torn between a marathon approach and an ultrarunning approach. Now in hindsight, I see that, much like the US running community, I just need a running approach. I need to run my races ferociously and be unafraid. I think when I toed the line at Two Oceans, I was a bit timid, my strategy conservative. I was not lining up going for broke. I was lining up playing it by ear. I don't regret my approach at all, but see now where I can work on for the next time.

I tossed my clothes in van and trotted over to the startline. Nick and Adriaan were suppose to be around to escort me to the front for media, pictures and a good position, but I was unable to find them, so I just tucked in to the front of the A corral a few seconds before they let the B corral move forward. It was packed, shoulder to shoulder with people. For 12 minutes, I just stood there hoping that when the gun went and the pack charged that I would stay on my feet. 

The most beautiful thing to me right before the race was when they sang the national anthem "Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika". Everyone around me raised there voices and sang loudly and unabashedly. When the singing was over, we all braced ourselves and with a bang, we were off.

I am not use to being in such a big crowd and I also knew that I had no idea how fast the leaders, mainly Elena Nurgalieva (one of the Russian twins), would go out. Elena and her twin (who was not running due to injury) have won the race a bunch of times. I knew I wanted to stick with her if it was comfortable and at the very least, whatever I did, not go out in front of her. 

Huge masses of people (ok men) took off like it was a sprint. I zigzagged around looking for some space and finally managed to spot Elena and the rest of the leading ladies. We fell into a pack of about 8, along with about 30 guys who were determined to pace off of us. Pretty soon we were joined by a small army of cyclists all clad in matching Garmin kits and they were trying to do a head count of the top ladies in the pack.

It took me a while to find my groove. I was hanging out at the back of the pack but found that I was having to significantly alter my stride to accommodate for the shorter runners in front of me. About 7km into the race, I hit the brakes for a minute and let myself get out of the back of the pack and have some room to stretch my legs.

There was ample water on the course, so I grabbed a pouch (like a water ballon) every other stop or so, whenever I was feeling in need of it. Soon it started pouring rain and I settled in for the long haul. At this point, I was still not sure how I felt. I knew there were some big hills ahead and I was uncertain how a big climb would feel immediately before and right after the marathon mark. I resolved to just play it smart and not run outside of myself. I made a conscious decision to run my own race and let the pack go if they pushed.

I was never at a loss for someone to run with. From the time the rain started at 12k until we began up Little Chapman, I was accompanied by a Swiss runner and a experience South African runner. We chatted, grabbed waters for one another and laughed at the ridiculous amount of rain that was falling. At one point we had to run out of the road onto the sidewalk to escape the completely flooded road. The Nedbank folks had handlers out on course at 27k and 36k and I grabbed another batch of Gu's from them each time.

We started to head up the long approach to Little Chapman (which is about 2-3km of 2% grade), it then pitches up much more steeply along a winding coastal road. My South African friend bid me farewall as he prepared to dig in for the climb. I felt good, so I kept motoring on and found a new group to run with. On some of the switchbacks I could see the lead women's pack a few minutes ahead and felt good about where I was. I was nearly 35k into the race and felt like I was just getting warmed up. I was relaxed and comfortable.

I fell into step with a fellow named Hans and we pushed our way to the top. Nearing the top, I caught up to a female runner who had been dropped from the pack. It gave me a nice boost of energy and I hit the top feeling very confident. The next 7k run you right back down the other side of the hill into Hout Bay where the marathon mark is. Running with Hans, I was very careful to heed all the warnings I'd been given and not trash my quads running too hard downhill. The kilometers clicked by quickly and I breezed through the marathon mark somewhere around 2:50. I had initially planned to possibly try and run as fast as 2:45 through the marathon mark, but the weather and the way the race unfolded lead me to be more restrained. I didn't feel like I was racing. I just felt like I was running along, enjoying the cheers from the spectators (to me there were a ton, but evidentially, when its not pouring, the course is lined) and clicking off kilometers. My brain wouldn't allow me to think about the race itself for some reason, it was only allowing me to focus on getting up and over Constantia Nek, the biggest climb of the day. It seemed my whole effort was moderated to get me to the top of the hill with minimal suffering. 

After the marathon mark, I began the climb to the top. I didn't back off on my effort level and put my rain soaked head down to dig in. Pretty early on the ascent, I was passed by Adinda Kruger who was 3rd in 2010. She looked super strong and so I didn't make any attempt to go with her (and her husband who was pacing her the whole way). I had resolved to run my own race up to this point, why would I change that now. It was the first time in the entire race that I felt a slight twinge of competitiveness. I told myself, "I'll get her on the down".

Constantia surprised me or maybe I surprised Constantia because I cruised up the hill very well and arrived at the top feeling good. Really good. Right at the top is the Nedbank Green Mile and I was cheered through an army of supporters and over the top. I waved my arms wildly and incited the crowd into a frenzy.

The slight twinge of competitiveness became a flipped switch. I was at the top. It was game on. Just like that, I had a moment where I realized that I had been running way too easy and I had way too much left. I also knew that the majority of the last 8km were downhill. The slight uphills were short and sweet and since I had nothing but energy to burn, I began the chase.

I tossed aside my remaining gels and turned into a hunter. I knew that the leader(s) were about 5 minutes ahead as of 48km, so I could only be sure that Adinda was close enough to catch. I began flying. I was possessed. My legs didn't hurt, the previous kilometers melted away, feeling like a simple warm-up to get me to the point of this tempo workout.

I hammered down the hill and spotted Adinda just ahead, now joined by one of the Garmin clad cyclists. I knew I was in 7th place at that point and on a slight uphill just past the 50k mark (which I went through in 3:23, a 50k PR), I passed Adinda and left her behind. She seemed to be spent and didn't try to keep up with me. I kept pushing, harder, harder, harder. I wanted to squeeze every last saved ounce of energy out of my legs. I knew I was strong enough to sustain the steep downhill pounding so I urged myself on.

And then I spotted my next prey. I was able to identify the next woman up ahead because she had her own bike escort (I had one at this point as well). I pushed to catch up with her and flew past her without a sound. I was into 5th place and she could not move to keep up with me. I rounded the next bend and spotted 4th place up ahead. I cracked a joke to my bike pacer about going in for my next kill and I swept past her in a turn, moving in to 4th place. I was ecstatic. I had gone from being overly conservative to back in it. I knew I had more in me and I also knew that the last two kilometers were rolling uphill and I would need to be ready to run eyeballs out to the finish. I was nearing the turn on to the highway which marked the end of the downhill and the final push to the finish line when I saw her- 3rd place. 

In that moment, I had to learn how to race. I knew nothing of how she was feeling, how much fight she had left and how my move on her would effect her. I knew I had to go by her with authority and not give her the chance to hang around. I used my ninja skills to silently approach from behind and then kicked passed her in a bold move. I pushed and pushed and pushed and didn't look back. I couldn't look back. I had to urge myself ever forward and not show fear. I had no fear, I felt too good to feel fear. I knew in my heart there was no way that she had enough to keep up with me feeling that way. I was flying. 

I didn't relent. I just pushed until with 1/2 kilometer to go, I looked over my shoulder and she was long gone. I kicked up my pace and shot off the road onto the grass at University of Cape Town which was now a complete mud pit and tip toed my way to the finish line in 3:47:29. Good for third place and a huge late race comeback. Crossing the line, I felt a deep abiding sense of satisfaction in my accomplishment and in my race.

I was quickly ushered into the press room to answer questions at the press conference, then off to pee in a cup for drug testing. The rest of the day flew by in a flurry of socializing, awards ceremonies, and dodging the rain and mud puddles.

Looking back on this race now, I realize that I barely tapped my potential in this race. And that is ok. It is awesome to think that I am still in a place in my running where I can learn more, do more, race differently. I have room for growth. I played this race very conservatively because I had no idea how to wrap my head around everything: the course, the distance, the pace, the competition. In the end, I ran one hell of a gutsy race and a flawless finish. I am stoked, so stoked to have made it onto the podium in such a huge race. I don't think I have ever come in 3rd place in an international race or a race with 9,000 people. Two Oceans was just the beginning. Now I have my sights on Comrades and I am excited and nervous to see what I can do at it; the world's biggest ultra!

 Nedbank teammate in the top 10!

Ladies Top 10

Some fun post race adventures before getting on my flight:

UROC 100k race report

I went to the well. And the well was dry. So I found a shovel and dug deeper.

I have never been so perfectly happy with an imperfect race.

Two weeks ago, I was primed, I was ready. I was fit, tapered, fueled, rested. My workouts had been fantastic, I was focused, I was sharp. I was ready to rock at the WC100k which I had set my sights on winning and had focused all my energy on. And yet, it wasn't my day.

I came off that experience wanting to utilize my fitness and do a confidence rebuilding race. I needed to get back on the horse. Luckily for me, I was all set to run the inaugural UROC 100k in the Blue Mountains of Virgina on Saturday September 24th. 

Unfortunately for me, the WC100k and subsequent food poisoning had me in a tough spot. Instead of feeling like I was primed and ready and, more importantly, recovered from those fast 70k in the Netherlands, I was feeling physically destroyed. I was unable to eat much for a few after the food poisoning and probably dropped between 2-3 lbs from the food poisoning. That is saying something considering I am running at my lightest race weight this year. Not eating immediately after a hard race also wrecks your muscles. Once I was able to fuel again, my runs felt awful. I was exhausted, dead legged and super sore. My muscles felt like they had been through a cheese grater. A week ago, I did a 10 mile trail run on Saturday and was throughly convinced that there was no way I would muster the energy or stamina to take on a tough 100k in one weeks time.

As I considered whether or not I would get on the plane and go to Virginia, I searched myself for what my motivation for running UROC 100k was. I didn't feel like I wanted or needed redemption from the WC100k. I didn't feel motivated by the money or trying to beat a good field of competitors, nor was I intimidated by it. Instead, I felt like I just wanted to get back on the horse. I wanted to run a race that good or bad, I got through. I finished. As I set my sights on my next event that I want to be sharp and hungry for, I knew that I didn't want to go into that race (JFK 50) doubting my own abilities to (literally) go the distance. I needed a confidence boost. 

So I got on the plane. Despite being at about 75% (healthy, rested, of my abilities, etc), I got on the plane. Thankfully, the flight didn't break me this time as it is known to do. The travel did however destroy me a bit more than when I started out. I flew a red-eye and then endured a grueling marathon of waiting, cancelled flights, and hanging around at the airport. I made it finally to Wintergreen resort after a fit of tears while sitting on the airport floor, slightly before 5pm and was pretty delirious. I participated in the elite athlete panel and stated that my goal was to "just not quit". Afterwards, I headed back to the condo I was sharing with Geoff, Dave, Matt, Eric (on a side note, it was fantastic to get to spend some time with these super stars & get to know them better. They are good people.) as well as iRunFar's BP and the TrailRunner folks. It was a great place and I got a room to myself!

I figured I would sleep well considering I had been up for two days, but unfortunately some of the non-racers who were staying in the house were up pretty late having a lively discussion. And let's just say I am a light sleeper and some people need to work on their "inside voices". I managed about 2 hours of sleep and despite that, felt fine when my alarm went off at 5am. A quick body check and I was happy that at the very least I didn't feel too tight, sore or tired.

We headed to the start around 6:30am for our 7am elite start (which in my opinion, is not absolutely essential, although it did spread the field out nicely by the time we reached the more congested out and back sections). I met up with the other ladies and took some pictures with some other runners. I stripped down to my new Salomon international team kit and tightened my Salomon SpeedCross 3s. Earlier in the week I had had a hard time deciding on shoes for a course that is half hilly road and half technical trail complete with slippery rugged rocks, but the SpeedCross were ultimately PERFECT for the combo course. I checked the pockets of my Salomon XT Advanced Skin 5 SLAB pack and made sure I had all the GU's and Chomps, Saltstick and Hyper Vespas that I envisioned needing. I was set and I was feeling pretty calm.

Before I had much more time to think about it, we were off on our journey. We did a processional loop around the parking lot and immediately hit a trail into the woods and the men's pack of elites disappeared ahead of us (us being the 5 elite ladies including Ragan Petri, Anne Lundblad and Andi  Felton). We ran into some tree cover when I felt a sharp sting on my back. Damn, I got stung by a nasty bee or wasp or something. Turns out one of the first guys had to have stirred a hive because there were numerous reports of stings at mile 1. My lower back got a bit swollen but I just laughed it off and kept on running. I knew the first 5.5 miles had a big climb to the highest point on the course, so I just relaxed into the climb and ran where I could on some of the technical trail and ran the uphill on the road sections. We alternated between the two surfaces and I wondered if that would be par for the course (i.e. very short sections of each). 

I was hitting the road sections pretty good and left the other women pretty quickly behind and started running with Mike Oliva whom I had run Breaker's Marathon with a few years back. I knew there was a $200 bonus for the King/Queen of the Mountain at the mile 5.5 mark, so I made a few quick checks over my shoulder en route to the top.

Queen of the Mountain- where's my polka dots?
(Photo by the amazing David Clifford)

The small success of winning Queen of the Mountain was a nice boost. I figured that I might as well make as much money as I could now in case things went sideways later. I didn't push myself to get there, but it was cool. We started a big descent, ducking and weaving again between trail and road. On a technical section of rocks about a mile after the 5.5 mile aid station I slipped and smack the side of my ankle on a rock. For a second, I could barely hobble and dance around like an idiot, but the pain subsided as I continued and hit the road for a long quad busting descent. I knew that the end of the race finished on this road and I can't say I was excited for a 3.1 mile climb up a steep road. Mike and I hit the bottom on the hill and turned up another road which was steeper than the one we came down. I alternated walking and running between each course marker- which were between 50-100meters apart. I arrived at the mile 9.3 aid station in 1:34, 3 minutes ahead of Anne and Ragan. I asked what the next section was like as I filled my pack for the first time and someone said that I would hit road soon enough, so I popped back on the road and settled into a good clip. I could tell I didn't have my road speed of two weeks prior. A low 7 felt no where as easy as it had then, but I had expected that. I zipped along and kept my eyes out for confidence inducing orange flags. I didn't see any for a long stretch of road and started to get worried. I decided I must have missed a turn on to a trail because the flags had been close together up to this point. I stopped turned around and sprinted back up the hilly road. Then I saw Anne and Ragan, I yelled to ask if the road was the right way to go and Anne yelled back yes. I was a bit bummed that I had just blown any cushion I had. I decided to let it out a bit on the road and risk my legs a bit. They seemed to be able to handle it and I made it to the next aid station in good time. That entire 4.8 mile section was road but we were rewarded at mile 14.1 with a long section of trail, which was a great mix of super runnable and more technical terrain. Mike and I were still running together, happy for the company. After a while, we got to see the lead men coming back. I was feeling good, taking in my gels 1/hr and salt 45mins-1hr. It was humid, so I wanted to make sure I was managing my hydration better than I had at WC100k.

We made it to Sherando aid station at mile 17.5 with (apparently) a 2 minute lead.  The longest climb of the day lay ahead of us up to Bald Mountain. Mike and I climbed steadily, running a great deal but also not hammering the climb. I felt good. I paid good attention the trail because it was very technical and rocky and knew I would return this way later. We were nearly at the top when I looked back and saw Ragan within a few 100 feet of us. After the summit, we descended on a fire road to the mile 25.9 aid station. I blew through it and tried to get a little gap on Ragan on the road. I started to feel pretty average and didn't have the steam I wanted at that particular moment. I just kept repeating my "feel good mantra" of "baby goats, puppies and kittens". Mike and Ragan were about 2 minutes behind me on the 3.4 mile section of road to the next water only aid station. I stopped to fill up my pack which was cumbersome considering the size of the water jugs. Thankfully Mike and Ragan stopped too and we tag teamed the water. Mike dusted us for a bit and Ragan and I ran down the dirt road together. As soon as we started to ascend a bit, Ragan got a bit behind me. She said her strength wasn't the uphill, and I soon caught up to Mike. I was feeling good again, so I went with it. 

At mile 33.1, the next in race bonus occurred for "leader of the pack" (think green jersey) and I snagged it before we hit an out and back on the Dragon's Back which was beautiful runnable single track. Ragan was 30second-1 minute behind and I was feeling even better so I pushed the pace a bit on the section. We made it to the turn around sign at mile 37.2, retrieved the password and headed back. It was fun to see the lead men on this section. Mike and I alternated carrying the pacing back to mile 41. As we approached mile 41, I started to feel, well, a little off. I got in the aid station and the three of us all grabbed water, gels, bloks and I grabbed my first sip of delicious flat coke. I strapped my pack back on and tried to run out of the aid station for the 7.2 miles of road back to Bald Mtn aid station but suddenly I realized my legs had shut down. My hamstrings and glutes where I had seized at WC100k were locked up and I could barely do a death shuffle. Ragan ran by me and encouraged me to keep up. I know that I have the road speed to dominate these sections and there was absolutely nothing I could do. My legs wouldn't function. It wasn't calories or hydration or cramping. They just seemed done. My energy was good, I didn't feel tired. As I watched Ragan run up the road, I felt calm. I knew going in that the potential for having a bad or average day was possible. I said out loud, "and now we've reached the 'I'm just not going to quit' portion of the day". I walked, I shuffled. By the time I'd gone a 1/2 mile, Ragan had gone a mile. There were runners heading outbound to the Dragon's back (they told me how far she was) and each one I encouraged and cheered for. I put my headphone (just one since I was running on open road in the fog!) and listened to music.

I was calm. I was at peace with the face that I might have to walk the entirety of the last 21+ mile, of which only 5 mile were trail. I just wasn't going to quit. I was in good spirits and despite the fact that Ragan was gaining a good 8 minutes or so on me per mile (in theory of course, I couldn't see her), I didn't care. What someone is doing, has nothing to do with me.  Anne had been about 15 minutes back approximately on the out and back, so I figured at some point she'd likely catch me the way I was moving. I was walk/shuffling maybe 15 min miles at best. 1 mile, 2 miles, hike up the dirt road to the water only aid station at mile 45.1. At some point I started asking those outbound if they had any advil. I figured if I was going to walk, I might as well not walk it in like a cowgirl. I know the risks of advil, but figured 1 dose would be enough. I stopped asking after a while when no one had any. On the parkway, the fog was super thick and I felt like I was in a zombie movie watching the runners emerge from it. I said as much to a group of runners and we all did our best impressions of the undead (which is what I felt like). I laughed and at the last moment asked the guys for an advil. The guy said, no but I have one better, I have celebrex. He was a rep for the drug and unsheathed one for me. I popped it and thanked him. At that point, pain relief was my priority. 

If mile 41 had been the lights being shut off with one foul swoop, mile 45.5 the lights came back on. It took about 2 minutes from consumption to feeling all the way better again. I could run again. I could run hard again. The 45 previous miles, melted off my legs and I found the patented Devon finishing legs. I was now 20+ minutes back but I also knew that I had the speed and felt good enough that if Ragan faltered at all, I would catch her. My confidence and hope swelled and I beamed. I had gone to the well, the well was dry. So I found a shovel and I dug deeper. I pushed, I ran, I smiled at going forward when things weren't going right. I was happy to be blessed enough to do these crazy things. I didn't for once lament the day I was having, I just ran. I didn't run to chase, I ran to become, to be and to breathe.

I hit Bald Mtn aid station and popped onto the trail again. I navigated the rocks and sketchier parts with care but was bombing downhill. I felt better than I did at the end of Miwok and many other trail races I remember. I fueled myself, hydrated and stayed rocking out. I crossed the road and descended into a section with lots of crazy switchbacks. I got nearly tripped by an "aggressive plant" that left gashes on my leg like I had fought a cat. I laughed it off. Everything about this entire trip had been one big comedy of what can go wrong will. And then I got lost, again. I caught up to a guy that had passed me when I was walking and we both dead ended in the bottom of canyon. We quickly turned around found the error of our ways (the indicating marker for the turn had been impossible to see as it was 5 feet down the trail after a sharp turn). I'd lost a good 4+ minutes. I just laughed and kept running strong.

I hit mile 53. 4 aid station ready for the final 9.1 miles on the road (the course was 62.5- per the course description, so more like 63+ for me!). They were unable to get my pack open and I was in a hurry so I just grabbed a double fist of cokes and shot them down, content with how much water I had left. I rocked the road. I settled into a solid pace and jammed through the dense fog. I felt strong and made it to the final aid station in great time. After the mile 58.2 aid station, you have 1 mile of steep descent than the 3.1 road climb to the finish. I destroyed my quads on this descent, determined to take back as much time as I could and run as hard as I could for as long as I could. The Bryants, Gina, Ashley drove past me and were cheering for me. They turned around and drove up the hill as I started the steep ascent with a powerful hike. I was unsure, even feeling good, if I could run up the hill. I power hiked and was moving. They stopped the car and got out to cheer. The grade started to be about 1% less than the first 3/4ths I had hiked and I broke into a run. I ran the rest of the way to the top. Along the way I was joined by one of the race camera and I had to, at times, pull my hat down over my eyes to hide the emotional tears that were welling up. I was about to finish this damn thing. It was not perfect, it was not the best, it was not the prettiest but I was perhaps more proud of myself than I have ever been. I didn't know if I could do it and I proved to myself I could.

I crested the hill and was rewarded with a downhill to the finish in the thick fog. I sprinted, tears flying off my face, laughing. I crossed the line and exclaimed "I didn't quit!!". I was so proud of my effort and my day, I had a 94% great running day despite my body being less than 75% at the start. It was fantastic to realize what I am really capable of in that circumstance. I came to UROC 100k to get my mojo back, to find my trust in my own abilities and get my confidence back. I didn't need to win to accomplish that, I needed to persevere. And I did. I am damn proud of that. I did what I could with the body I had to work with on that day. 2nd place, 11th overall (which considering the stack men's field is saying something)
Finishing strong
(Photo by iRunFar)

UROC 100k is a great race. I really do hope that it becomes what it set out to do. It favors no runner, except the well rounded one. There are huge climbs and descents, there is gnarly terrain, slippery rocks and sweet single track. There is rolling and unrelenting road. 12,000 feet of ascent and the same of descent seems like the perfect challenge. I highly endorse this race. I would run it again, I think I could go sub 9:50 on a better day. It was a lot of fun. And not to mention this was a first year race and there was not much that showed that to be the case.

I am very proud of the way I ran my race. Not winning, is not a source of disappointment to me because I had the day I did. I didn't have a Devon Day, but I had the day I needed to. One that has me excited for things to come. One that has made me feel "back on the horse" even though I am walking like a cowgirl with busted up quads. I learned things about myself. I learned I can dig deeper, I can be more flexible, I can have a peaceful quiet mind, even when things are going wrong, I can laugh it off- all of it.