A bend in the road is not the end of the road unless you fail to make the turn....

It's gonna get harder before it gets easier. But it will get better, you just gotta make it through the hard stuff first.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Agony of Da Feet or The weird distance of 100km.

MiWok 100k trail race was supposed to be my tune-up race for the summer 100 M, WS100 to be exact. In beautiful Northern California, meters away from Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, the one that all the dirt junkies doing as a tune-up. Who is who and what is what are all there. So I had to be too. Not to mention Scott Jurek highly recommended it as a mid-goal, and since under his guidance my training blossomed to unbelievable highs (or is it simply because I am running on the mountains of Northwest?), I sent my application in December. Big part in my decision was influenced by the fact that I would see my friend there. You know, the one who you only met once at some long run and felt as close to as to your own sibling. Jason Arth ran the same race in Montana last August as I did - the Bridger Ridge, and we kept in contact. It was time to see if the friendship developed via emails will hold on. Besides, he just finished Marathon de Sables in Morocco and I wanted to know how in the world people survive this crazy feat.

Friday night I was in San Francisco. I love this city. It is absolutely gorgeous! The hilly streets, the architecture, the bay, and the mountains next to it…it is my dream to live there, but it’s a whole different story. Jason and I had dinner and quickly went over the race description and time points. He runs those trails on regular basis (it is practically in his backyard) and knows every ditch by heart. I had relayed to him my proposed splits. I have a weird system of predicting time over unknown distance and course. First of all, I never ran 100km. It is neither 50M nor 100M. What kind of effort should go into running it? I know I bonk hard between 50 and 60 miles so finishing won’t be fun. Next I looked up times from the last 5 years and tried to find people I knew or heard of, compare their times to mine in the same races as I ever participated in and make some kind of average. Next comes my favorite “3 goals” thing: 12 hrs as must do, 11:30 as a very good day and 11 hrs if stars align and the Fairy will be nice to me. From there I look at the elevation chart (MiWok had 10,000 feet gain and same for loss) and make assumptions for aid station arrival. Easy. Jason graciously agreed to crew for me (silly, he didn’t know what he was getting himself into) and pace for the last 12 miles.

Thus comes the race morning. Run starts at 5:40 am (first light) at Rodeo Lagoon on the sand beach. I saw only a few familiar faces due to darkness. Rick Hasse and Van Phan, beloved Maniacs, were there and ready to go. Off we went on the sand, pretty hard packed and only for a short period of time (no complains). Bottlenecking at the narrow trail, and then onto the road up up up. First climb of 800 feet. Surprisingly, I ran most of that thing. I never ran uphill before! I guess I am finally at the point of my training that I can. That felt nice. My compartment syndrome was acting at a very mild level and I was happy. At some point I remembered Scott’s suggestion not to run uphill sections in first 20 miles and started power walking. Van joined me for good 5-mile stretch and we talked about life and jobs. On downhill I caught up with Michael McCarthy from my town and we did more talking to pass miles. At the second aid station at 11.9 M (did I miss the first one?) I saw Jason. Personally, it makes a world of a difference when I see someone waiting for me, like running from aid station to next one is all worthwhile now. He readily gave me my Ensure can, new gel packets and off I went. I did manage in those 30 sec to complain on the brutality of fire roads. Because, you see, I love soft trails and spoiled by them. Running those first 12 miles vividly reminded me Mt. Masochist 50M in VA. Same experience. Both times the balls of my feet went raw right away and there was nothing I could do about it. Just suck it up and run the rest of the race with my feet on fire. Oh, well, at least I’ve done it before so I knew it is possible and nobody ever died from blisters, even if they are the size of an egg.

Life was great for a while after that, we moved on to the trail section and enjoyed the scenery. I had to work on my eating habits getting ready for 100 mile runs this summer so I was religiously taking a gel every 30 min and consuming a bottle of Perpetium between aid station, where I would add either a can of Ensure or a few pieces of boiled potatoes with tomato juice. Despite my effort the amount of calories wasn’t enough and I kept getting dizzy for about 15-20 min before coming into an aid station. On top of that I made a stupid mistake to pack Endurolyte salt tablets (I am used to Succeed! which have more NaCl in it) and was cramping quite badly. I haven’t had muscle cramps in a year and that wasn’t something I wanted to deal with in my tune-up race. Anyway, every aid station was relatively on time, according to Jason I was 5-10 min behind the schedule, but I wasn’t much worried about it. I had my usual bonk at 4 hrs into the run, on an amazing section with open slopes covered with wild flowers. They were everywhere! Orange, blue, white, yellow, purple! So many, I turned my head trying to inhale the beauty (and thinking about Glenn Tachyama who highly recommended to do just that) and tripped over a rock, hitting all my toes on it and catching myself inches off the ground. These hills lasted for 7 miles and seemed much longer due to rolling terrain and an obligation I felt to run the whole time. I knew Jason was waiting for me with the watch in his hand. I recovered from my bad mood after I saw him at Bolinas Ridge aid station, where I also talked to a few Vasque people (the RD is Tia Bodington from Vasque ultrateam), and I went on to an out-and-back section of the race. After a couple of rolling miles we saw the first guy coming back - Dave Mackey. He was gliding uphill absolutely relaxed as if he was on a Sunday stroll in the park. He was on a record setting pace, but got lost at the end and still finished first just under the course record. The next guy came a good 15 min behind. Third was Scott Jurek (he finished strong second). Then front-runners started to show up one after another, including locals Sean Meissner and Kami Semick (eventual female winner). It was such an experience to see them in action, running easy and encouraging us with nice words! We came to a turn with narrow horse fencing, and what do you know, Luanne Park, who was third female and going back, waited for 6 of us, slow pokes, to go through it first! After the race I walked to her to thank and ask why she did that when her time was more important. She simply responded that we are all equally important out here!

Next few downhill miles I ran with Dawn Infurna-Bean, who I knew of from the WS100 movie, and we chatted about runs and her work as a school teacher. At the turnaround (which I finally reached smack on predicted time) she bid goodbye to a group of us and blasted uphill like she had a propeller! Now it was our turn to encourage people going down. I saw Van, Rick, Walter Edwards, Lisa Bliss, Ronda and Stacey, Steven, Jamshid, Catra Corbett and many many more. It was fun and made the uphill pass super-fast. Jason was there as the last support point - at the next aid he will join me for pacing duties. I tried to put bandage on my heels (those blistered as well) and took off back to the beautiful wildflower paradise. Life was good. My legs felt amazingly strong and I started picking up minutes. I entered the aid station at 49.5 miles 6 minutes ahead of schedule. Knowing that this is my last chance to eat my own food, I had a full can of Ensure, a can of Starbuck Expresso, a cup of coke, 4 pieces of boiled potatoes and a handful of M&Ms. A few minutes after beginning into the trail I realized I can’t breathe. My stomach was so filled up; it put pressure on the diaphragm. Not to mention, my bonk #3 came right when supposed to.

Pour Jason. Luckily, I knew what was coming, and said my “thank you” and “love you” just as we left the aid station, warning him I’ll be no fun for the next hour or so. I rehearsed this phrase for the whole 7-mile stretchJ. He survived me just fine. We even managed to have some laughs on the go. He would remind me to relax, think of the running form, and take a less slanted side of the trail… As he tried to encourage me to puke to be able to breathe easy again I thought of a joke from ultra-list, the one from WS100: “When we ran along the American river under beautiful sky full of stars, I told her - if you are a real hard ass, you’ll stick your finger down your throat, or I will do it for you”. Somehow I hoped I wouldn’t need that measure. I kept having problems with my digestive system and because now I had Jason my mind blocked everything but simple “left-right”. That was totally cool! Jason took matter in his own hands and had lots of fun with it. He surged ahead and set a pace, giving voice commands once in awhile. I was a cow in tow, and couldn’t even find sympathy for my pain as the man saw more blisters and chafing in a week of MdS than I ever will in my life. Shuffle - yes. Walk - aha. Right turn - ok. Pee stop - yes, sir. Last climb - thank, God! Liar! That last climb lasted and lasted and lasted…until it came to an end and the promised mile downhill to the finish begun. I swallowed my last Excedrin so my feet wouldn’t scream too loud, and opened up a stride. What do you know -from behind came a girl determined to finish ahead of me. I had no will power to fight. I was happy with my time and didn’t care. Running fast yet completely relaxed I crossed the finish banner in 11:07:59. And had a feeling that my legs could have handled another 40 miles on top of it rather easily.

The after-race party was great. Everybody together, chatting, eating great food, cheering on finishers, laughing and sharing emotions. What a great run. It’s on my “to do” list for next year, as well, as on Jason’s. Because he will have those splits that I worked out on to beatJ.

Next day, unbearably sunny and warm, we went back to those mountains and viewed the course from Mt. Tam up close and personal. It sure looked darn long! I am glad I didn’t see it before the race.

Am I ready for the Grand Slam? How do I know this? What certain is that I am excited about the prospect of giving it my best shot. Especially if my friends will be meeting me at the aid station and telling me how pretty and strong I look at mile 40 and how nice I stink at mile 70. Besides, I really like the finisher’s photo!

Two downfalls came out of this experience: the bottoms of my feet tore away as well as 4 toenails, but I’ve got another 6 to tackle next race, and Jason is reconsidering his decision to ever get married (I am obviously not the best example of what a good wife should be). Small price to pay for so much fun!