Wanna do what you want to me
But you can not stop me…
Ain't nothing in the world that you keep
me from doing what I wanna do
'Cause I'm too proud, I'm too strong
Life by the code that you gotta move on
Feel excited for yourself
and got nobody no way
so I...Held my head high
Knew I survive
Well I made it
I don't hate it
That's just the way it goes
I done made it through
Stand on my own two
Took so long to get me here
But I won't live in fear
…I paid my dues
(Photos curtesy of Angie and Johnny Lyons)
Well, boys and girls…what can I do, spill it right away or hold it till the end of the story? No, you can’t peek. I’ll just start by saying I had an “a.k.a.” race (see below for Zane Grey goals). Another hint: there are two negative things about this race – altitude and crazy rocks, and two positive – gorgeous and tough (see negative). I loved it all the way…
I flew to Phoenix on Friday, picked up a rental car, and right away managed to get lost 5 times on the way to Payson. Very nice beginning. Lucky for me, Angie and Johnny, who already got there and checked in to our room, were trying to guide me and eventually I made it to Hwy 87. The first thing that struck me – I was thirsty. It was certainly hot, dry and high. Second – cacti forests! Not a cactus, but lots, huge, arranged just like normal trees in normal PNW! Beautiful! I arrived and finally met the cutest couple alive in person. Blog land is the best! It was so easy to talk, like we knew each other many years. Later Catra Corbett and her friend Julia drove in, and five of us went to dinner/packet pick up thing. I didn’t eat there – good call. I boiled some water in a room and made my mashed potatoes. But the dinner was great, and the meeting, although a bit long to my taste, was nice. We got back and chatted for a couple more hours before tuning in to sleep around 10 pm. Johnny was getting sick, and the whole night he was coughing and sneezing and walking. But in the morning he was ready no matter what. It was quite interesting to see 5 of us getting ready all in the same room. I am pretty gloomy on the race morning and not talkative, rather whiny and trying to express something like “can I stay?” and “why am I here?”. It is normal to me, but I had to explain it to Angie as she was worried.
We drove in, all in one car, checked in at registration and set in a car to stay warm. It was about 30F at the start…brrr! With 5 min to go we got out, Angie took a couple of pictures, and off we went. Up. From the start at 5400 feet it shoots almost a thousand more in 2 miles. Trails are rocky. No, this is understatement. Big boulders about 5 inc across lay scattered around loose, everywhere, there is no trail in normal definition, but a washout/animal track/side of the rim. Here is a piece from the website: The route is in and out of canyons, along a "high line" on the Mogollon Rim where the climb to the top of the Rim becomes vertical. Hence the name of the trail - Highline. The trail is very rocky in long stretches. There are several water crossings, and A LOT of downed trees to climb over. However, the rewards are magnificent views, cool canyons and fulfillment of your masochistic needs.
For the first time in my life I am wearing a HRM. It proved to be the smartest idea that saved my race. From the first steps I can’t breathe. Me and my altitude-induced asthma-like symptoms. But that’s not all. I look at the watch and see my HR at 185. Slow down – 183. One running step – 185. It stays there for the first 3 miles and scares the hell out of me. Johnny stays behind and tries to talk, but I am so occupied with “what’s wrong with me”, I don’t respond. Then I fall…3 times in a row, once my right leg slides down the drop-off into sage-bushes below. Yep, how could I forget – the sage-bushes. I think, Capitol Peak 50 mile race in 2005 found its competitor in splashing runner’s bodies. They are thick. And in-grown. And sharp. And on top of making you bleed, the catch on my I-Pod wires, and it annoys me. So finally I stop, tell Johnny to go (or rather he said he saw it on my face), let another 25 people go, then another 10, and start shuffling on my own. Now I can concentrate on my body and what’s up with it…
I slowly walk and my HR finally comes down to 175. That’s good; I try to keep it there as I move forward. The sun is breaking out and lights up the mountains. I manage to sneak on some views – magnificent! Downhills are plain dangerous, and at first I do try and run them full blown speed, but later decide that my main goal is to finish no matter time, and if I break my leg, I can’t finish, thus times becomes irrelevant.
I love being alone on a run! Me, myself and my music. We are a pretty awesome threesome. I am glad I let more than half the field go and have no pressure. I get to the first aid station 1 min behind, thinking of Rob’s warning to Angie to give me a hard time for being late.
Little step back for my splits. I already talked about it in my Miwok-2204 report, but here how it goes (since it freaks out many people how I hit it right without ever been on course beforehand). I go to the race website and search its data for finisher’s time. I find runners (preferably girls – because guys are known to be testosterone driven and go out fast, then die out) who run approximately my pace in other races. I get a few of them and average their time (because you never know who had a good day and who didn’t). From that proposed finishing time I begin looking at the race profile (and description if supplied). Knowing where my stronger points are and where the weaker, I predict AS arriving times…so far I hit it 90% of the time. And you can’t say I push for them, because first of all, there are no mile markers on trails, so I don’t know when the AS is coming. Second, once I make a “pace chart” and paste it on a bottle, I never study it again. This chart has 2 meaningful functions: for my crew to be ready, and for me to judge how to sustain with the water I am carrying. Like if I know I have another hour to go, I better have a full bottle left and conserve if necessary.
OK, back to that first AS, mile 8, Geronimo camp. Angie is there all ready with my bottles (one water, one pro-carb) and 2 gels. I get rid of long sleeve shirt and gloves and ask for my inhaler. Thank you Nikki Kimball for advice and actual sharing of Albuterol inhaler! 10 min after I leave, my breathing stops being erratic and my HR comes down to 165! Oh, yeah, I did have to take care of some personal business a few times too, because with my luck I managed to have a period at its worse day (sorry, boys, I hope you’re over 15 and heard the lecture from the nurse in your high school about “that time of the month”). Second section repeats the first one – 9 miles, up and down, mostly up. But I am feeling good. Like really solid good. I begin picking up people, even though it’s a bit too early for me in a race. I play this game where I am a hunting dog, and there is a prey ahead. No, I don’t speed up. But I look at that person’s back, and figure when I would reel in, and exactly 20 min later (or 10, or 15) I’ll be passing. I am not mean, it just keeps my mind occupied. Besides, I didn’t tell them to go fast from the start, did I?
I enter second AS, Washington Park, 17 miles, right on the spot of pace chart. I smile and say “Am I good or what?” Angie switches my bottles, from now including ice in each of them. It’s getting hot. In fact, I ran out of water 20 min before the aid station here and next one.
Next stretch goes through burnt forest, and the smell stays very strong, like it just happened yesterday. The site of black trees is sad. The trail marking is perfect, with silver diamonds on trees and yellow ribbons on intersections and for confidence as well. I do manage to step off a number of times, but for a very short (no more than 5 steps) time and by my own fault – looking under my feet prevents watching the markings. Here a large elk dashes 20 feet in front of me across the trails and scares the life out of me. I later saw lots of them on the mountain side.
Finally I climb to AS 3, Hell’s gate, mile 23 (it bills as 25, but by many people’s Garmin it’s 23), 10 min ahead of schedule. This is one aid station where crew is not allowed. I had a drop bag with a backpack and extra bottle in it, fill my bottles, gulp a cup of coke, and make it out with 5 min to spare.
Next section is the gnarly 10 miles in a heat of the day. The sun is beating down on you, and even though I don’t think it’s ever gone much above 70F, with no shade and altitude it is noticeable. Even 3 bottles is not enough. But I feel strong and push on. Nothing interesting happened here beside at the end, when first there were 2 ranger patrol men sitting and I thought the AS is near – wrong, then 20 min later there were photographers – and again, no AS, and the third time were just a couple of cheering people – and it took me another 15 min to come to AS 4, Fish Hatchery, 33 miles.
Angie was there, but Johnny didn’t come through, what surprised me. Later I learned that his sickness developed and the fever shot up, and he was pulled at mile 25 for uncontrollable shivering. I tell Angie I need to change socks – the rubber bands on my socks died (they were too old and not holding around my ankle), and they crumbled under my feet with a few blisters looming. Ang – Pink Fuzzy supplied my fuel and some ice in my hat and off I went.
That was the worst section of the trail. 11 miles to the next AS, I began to feel tired. I wasn’t bonking per se, but was just lazy to put an effort. I was actually at peace with myself. Happy with how things went so far and proud of myself, I lost focus for an hour or so and slowed down. A girl passed me, and I encouraged her to go, recognizing the tattoo on her calf from last year’s WS100 (I followed her in the first 15 miles or so and never saw her again later). She didn’t say much and soon pulled away. I was contempt with whatever time I was making and just happy to be out there. A few times a desire to sit down was overwhelming, but I knew as long as I keep putting one foot in front of another I am making a progress toward finishing line. Sitting on myass would not bring me closer to the end of the trail, though stopping even for a second would have been nice...Eventually I re-concentrated and started to push again and came upon her. She looked back, and despite my friendly chit-chat quietly put an effort to get away. Whatever. My stomach felt somewhat slushy from all the water and just before the AS I had a bit of a puke. I was planning to have some solid food like chips and coke to make stomach feel better.
I come to final AS 5, Christofer Creek, and suddenly instead of Angie see Johnny with my bottles there. It threw me off, so without stop I dropped my backpack and moved on. My excitement hit it’s all-high. I was 15 min ahead of predicted time, and now, even if I crawled on my hands and knees, I had 2:15 for 6 miles to break 13 hrs. Heck, I could still make 12:40! This knowledge, and some ice-water to sooth my stomach and a gel to get energy had me pumped enough to start running. On top of it, this section was the “easiest”, shady, and with lots of runnable trail (even though still going up and down a lot). I started finally running. A few times tears would start rolling, and I had to shut the emotions down. It was amazing! I was making it to the finish of the most difficult 50 miler in a country! On time! Strong! And enjoying it! Half-way in I toyed with idea of breaking 12:30. I couldn’t believe I am thinking about it. I didn’t care what place I’d be in, just an elation of finishing. How far had I come, to be out here, all by myself, and pushing it, and loving it all the way! A hiker greets me and says – 0.5 miles to the finish. I look at the watch and – 12:15? Is it possible? I can not explain all that was going on inside of me at this moment. I finally saw Johnny with a camera and a finishing banner, and didn’t notice the time.
I stopped and burst into crying. Johnny and an RD ran to me asking what hurts, and I said – I am so happy! Just very, very happy! I walk around, crying, for a few more minutes, with salt of tears mixing up with dirt and salt of sweat on my face, and then hear that I placed 32nd overall of 150 starters, 4th female, 1st in my AG, and the finishing time of 12:15:15!!! And they give a nice buckle, a cup for placing, and lots of other goodies. BTW, that girl with tatoo that passed me - we left last AS together and she finished 20 min later!
After changing, we drove to a hotel, took a shower and a quick meal and returned to wait for sweeping Angie. She came in absolutely happy with her day, all smiles, longest run since her 50k (17 miles), best crewing support and just a lovely girl all around. Finally we retired to sleep.
Nothing hurts. Nothing. Well, may be that "fat roll hanging over the running shorts", because it was jiggling so much:) Amazing. May be because I hiked some 70% of the course (plus or minus, an estimate by blurry mind)? I didn’t even need a cold bath – besides, with scratched legs I don’t think I could stand it.
Gerenima 8 6:40 6:41
Wash park 17 8:50 8:50
Hell's gate 23 10:30 10:20
Fish hatch 33 12:50 12:40
Chris Creek 44 4:00 3:45
Finish 50 5:40 5:15
Angie said – you warned us you’re a second half runner, but by so much!
What I did right:
No pasta the night before, Immodium at night and in the morning – no diarrhea!!
Fueling and hydration by the clock.
Monitoring my HR.
Concentarting on my own race – I can only control how I run and not how anybody else is doing.
Sticking with the plan and believing it will turn out to be just fine.
What I did wrong…nada. Perfect race day. I have no complains at all.I hit even splits in a 51 mile race on a horrific course!!
As I was on my way home, I thought: just like Jason and Rick love to come back home to San Francisco and see the Golden Gate bridge and the lights of the city, I love flying over Columbia River Gorge with views of snow-capped mountains, Mt. Hood being the prettiest of them all.
Home is where you want to come back to.
You can read more and see picture later here
p.s. I have so many emotions stirred up, I can't stop...Would I recommend this course? In a herat beat. But it's not for everybody. Being fast has nothing to do with this race. Even hard training will not prepare for these whicked trails. Peservierance. Will to go on. Adventureness. Craziness if you will. And the awards are priceless.