Thank you, Mr. Steve, for snapping me out. That and Leah Jurek's "true story" of Brian Morrison's finish. What the heck am I complaining? I am alive, I finished, I managed myself well under the conditions, and after all - it's just another day, another run. There will be plenty more...
So here is my blow-by-blow of the weekend.
Gail, Mike and I flew to Sacramento on Thursday night, and it took us a whole hour to get the car - one guy at the rental died at work place...what a beginning, huh? We drove to the Alpine Meadow village by midnight and checked in to a cabin Montrail rented for some of us - that was a greatest treat I ever had! We shared a house with Kristin Jossi and her crew, Ryan and Lori Cooper, Luis Escobar and Paul Curran (a new Montrail team rep). So the morning was spent chatting and swapping stories and having a grand time. Eventually we moved into the Squaw Valley village for check in and medical.
This is the most fun part at the WS! Since this race is such a "big to-do" on every u-runner's list, all come here to either run, pace, crew, volunteer or simply hang out. Insane, but you see just about every single person you ever heard of, known of or existed in relation to ultrarunning. I went for a medical study I was a part of and chatted with Dr. Bob, then weighed in and got my wrist band.
Next on agenda was a meeting where an RD Greg and other board memebres talk a bunch (and only a few listen:)) and they call up last year's 10 top finishers up on stage. So I got my 10 sec of fame, and Tim Twietmeyer didn't even screw up my name! Then I chatted with a gazillion of friends, asked Scott Jurek on his perspective of favorites, ran around happily, took pictures with OR team and so on. It is very energetic to be at Squaw the day before the start.
The night before went un-eventful, besides me throwing up all my dinner and trying to re-supply with power bars. The sleep was usual - little and superficial with many bathroom breaks. 3 am I was up and getting coffee, a couple of power bars, V8 juice and Cliff stuff down. Gail decided to sleep in to be fresh and ready to kick my butt, so Mike and I jumped in a car and drove to the start. Oops - we took the wrong back and left my bottles behind! Turn around, another trip, come back - still plenty of time. But, while driving, I lost the Carbo-Pro packs from my short's pockets on the car seat. That will play some role later.
It was fun to get my number, for once in my lifetime opportunity:) I wasn't nervous to deliver, I knew better of the competition toeing the starting line, I just enjoyed the moment. More hugs and good wishes, and we got all crumbled by the banner with time counting backwards. Gun-shot - and off we go up to Emigrant Pass.
This year the return to the old course had to forgo some adjustment and we climbed same 2500 feet in 3.5M vs 4.5M last years. It still took me (and most) just the same time, so here we go, a mile behind in time. I didn't really care. By then my goal from breaking 24 (hey, I even had a 23 as a fantasy goal) was already pushed to 25, and all I was doing in the first 15 miles is followed my heart rate. We hike, jog some and hike more. At that first tiny AS I refill one bottle with water - and didn't bother to top the second one. Here comes another no-no. Basically, all my itsy-bitsy mistakes were due to thinking of the past 2 years I ran a different course.
So as we run through snow (much less and much better packed then last year) and up and down the streams and run-offs, I was thoroughly enjoying it. Almost all of those first 10 miles I ran with Tom Riley - fellow OR runner doing his first 100 (he obsessed about it for the last 6 months a ton, and hey, it helped - he finished in 24:29 as the "fastest bronze buckler" despite throwing up a lot). Some 1 mile before the AS Lyon ridge (10.5M) I am out of any water. Another thing I notice - it's barely over 7 am, we are still in the snow, and I am hot. The day should be very interesting to say the least...Not to mention at the AS I finally notice the absence of my powder mix and have to go with Gu2O, what is barely any calories. And, to make matters worse, i ate all my e-crank gels too! What in the world was I thinking? I guess nothing at all.
Next section is quite technical, up and down much rugged terrain, but provides great views. I notice my labored breathing and wonder why - only later did I realize it was an early sign of dehydration. But I am moving; just don't feel fluidity as I should have by now. Somewhere before Elephant Trunk Ronda passes me for good - you know, every year I am amazed that she sings as she runs! Shortly after Stacey comes by, but we keep close for many more miles to come, passing and re-passing each other tons of times - and that will be a whole separate story of her saving much of my run on Saturday.
Soon we enter that new/old course and run on very soft dirt that is also very dusty. Hey, what's an extra layer of stuff in my lungs! Who said we need to breathe to run? I am actually quite happy, and very much surprised when I enter red Star Ridge AS (mile 16) almost close to cut off. Oops, is something wrong? Grab water (no ice here) and Gu2O, a couple of gels (oh, surely I should have known it's not enough) and take off like a mad-woman. Surely I can get through 8 miles fast enough...not! I begin really feeling the symptoms of dehydration, the trails get dustier still, lots of elevation change on this new to me course part, and I can't estimate where I am and how far away. When I finally reach Duncan canyon (mile 23.8) - I can't even smile for Glenn's camera. Me, not putting a face for the picture? I pride myself with "it's more important how I look in the race then how I run it" thingy:) I tell Glenn I am "not feeling all that hot" and finally see ice! So I just stand there for a few minutes, choking on the ice cubes from 3 cups at once. I take one extra cup and sit at the exit of an AS, trying to inhale as much of cold "8th wonder of the world" as I can. This was the first time a thought of not continuing crossed my mind. I push myself up and start moving away from people and food.
What's 6 miles? Well, if 5 of them are climbing (not very steeply, but in the heat of the day along the burnt trees and on completely open to the sun terrain), it's long. After first mile of gentle downhill there is a Duncan creek - or, Heavens!
People are laying in it, and I stand knee high, splashing water all over myself, dipping my head and hat in, drinking straight from the stream (I am already out of two bottles - again!). I don't want to leave. neither does anybody else, but we have to. On to the climb...2 more smaller creeks - and water refill at each of them (a testament of how hot it become and how thirsty I felt)...push more...more...leap-frog with Stacey again...Robinson Flat!
Robinson Flat at mile 29.7 is the first official crew check, so it is wildly loud. It is also the first weigh in on the course - and I am 7 lbs under. While they are trying to talk me into drinking and asking what I want to start with, I see Mike and escape with words "I have my crew, they'll take care of it". Whew, that was close...I am here at 12:20, 5 min under 30 hr pace. Luckily, my brain is so fuzzy; it hasn't registered the information yet. I pop on a chair provided by Maura, Gail and Mike, and become a Queen for a few minutes. Socks change, V8 juice in, ice in hat and bandana, ice in both bottles, extra bottle on my waist pack, ready to be pushed out to the Little Bald Mountain climb, revived and hopeful.
I think I got over-excited with the fact I had all this extra-water and extra-carb mix, and I begun shoving it in in amounts a normal person wouldn't digest. Hence comes yet another mistake for the day. Pretty soon after the initial climb we go on gentle downhill first on single track, then on dirt road - and all in the open to the sun field amongst fire-ruined trees.
The image is quite sad, so gets my stomach. It decides it had enough abuse - and shuts down. Finita la comedia. No more food or water processing, it turns into a knot and hurts. So now I have plenty of stuff with me, but can't process it, can't even make myself get it in. On top of it when I try to run - my midriff giggles and it sends such a pain wave, I have to hold my stomach with my hands to protect it from bouncing. And I have a waist pack on!!! Shoot, that was a beginning to the end. And I thought dehydration and overheating was my problem. What still is, because as my body irradiates steam, at the same time it goes into chill shocks and shakes every so often. Fun and games we do onto ourselves...
I don't remember much about Miller's defeat (mile 34.4) and somehow end up at Dusty Corners (mile 38). This is where reality really hit me - I am 20 min under 30 hr pace (I didn't notice the Robinson Flat one, so didn't know I actually improved). I get my drop bag, and then try to do something in the bathroom. Nothing's moving in there. I get out and release myself on a chair. Here is Stacey again, and she is as cheerful as ever. She smiles and says - all we need is to wait for the dark to fall, we'll be back. Those were words that didn't let me quit at the aid station. It wasn't absolute cut off time, but I also had never been that close to 30 hr pace, and to think of how early in a race it was! I was scared out of my mind.
Next section I continue to battle same stomach problem. I can't run much, it hurts in my insides. I feel very defeated to say the least. My mind stirs up with thoughts of quitting. What and who do I need to prove anything? Why do I have to go on when it stopped been fun 20 miles ago and I still have another 60? What's in there to me personally? Do i want to be pulled off because I missed the cut off - after what I've gone through at Leadville and after? I know I am going to miss it sooner or later, is there a reason to "run" for another few miles? I should take 6 months off from this ultra-crap thing. I haven't booked my airfare for AC or Masochist yet, and WR and WW are local, so I only loose entry fees. Who cares! I am fed up with this stuff! I am definitely fed up with WS - done that, don't want anymore, will come pace next year and won't even bother trying for lottery...and all the stuff alike.
Somehow my mind skips Last Chance AS (mile 43.3), though I do remember a painful slog to the bottom of the canyon before the "Mother Climb". I catch up with Stacey and her ever-lasting smile again (because she was bathing in the creek) and we start up on Devils Thumb. That little mother-f* is 2.5M with about 1800 feet gain, and last year I thought nothing of it. Actually, this year I thought nothing of it either. You know, it sounds crazy, but climbing "The fear of them all" was a highlight of my race. Stacey and I were moving! My stomach wasn't bouncing on this steep hike, and from pushing so hard, things began to move inside of me! Air (hmm, there are other words, not polite for general population) had started to come out of both ends, and I was happy! Yeah, I am going to be all right! Let just this thingy to get out...one more...and it will start absorbing fuel, and it won't hurt anymore, and I'll be running, because, heck, I practically haven't run yet, so my legs are totally fresh! On this climb I passed Jay Batchen (Lisa's husband), and looking at his face and exchanging a few words I got that he was in the same situation and feeling as crappy as can be. He looked pretty dead to me. Just a step forward - Jay had set at the top of DT for quite some time and was completely reborn and flew by me on the Cal loop section to a 3 hr faster finish - may be I should have done something like this?
Never mind, I am up at devils in 47 min - only a mere 2 min slower than last year, what gives me another boost of confidence. I down a cup of soup, wash myself in ice-cold water, fill 2 bottles (and finally get rid of that stupid painful waist pack under the tables) and go out with a hoop-la! Stacey is right next to me again, and we are happy. Me - not for long...as 2 miles down the trail from all that happy bouncing I get all my stomach pain right back at me. And there is a pretty steep trail to Eldorado canyon for another 3 miles, that I walk, wincing in grimace, but mostly emotionally broken down - I am walking downhill, where I could make theoretically at least some time! I lost Stacey here for good, she did "come back" as she promised and finished in 26-some hrs. The only hope I have now are the uphills, which I decide to "walk with a purpose". This is exactly how I talk to myself - I will walk with a purpose. I can not drop, I have two pacers who flew here with me, and even though they will not enjoy pacing me the way I am going, they will also not be happy to go find somebody else or, worse yet, do nothing at all. As I get down to the bottom, the AS tells me that only about 100 people or so had passed by. Great, i am like an hour ahead of 30 hr pace, and that's how many people been here? Verybody's hurting. You can see it on runner's faces. In their posture. In their hobbled walk. But I have another climb ahead, I am on a mission. Walk with a purpose. I am half way in.
The climb doesn't disappoint, as I near the turn, I see George Velasco (a crew guy for Jay), who later in his report states I looked like I was "going to the park for a picnic". Don't know what this meant, but I was so happy to see him! Half a mile - and Steve (Jay's pacer) runs to me with all this "you look strong" crap and a report on how many dropped and who is slow. Oh, my friends! Michigan Bluff is the best place on Earth! To feel that you have to experience the Climbs, the Canyons, the Heat, the Absence of people for hours on end...because suddenly after all the lonely pain you turn the corner - and a crowd goes wild screaming your name! I think dead come alive if they were there. I always make sure to put a one-actor show for all the great people who stay at this AS hours waiting and worrying and finally cheering you like you are their own long-lost child, the most precious thing in this world. I run in and even do some jumping and dancing for the crowd, and after a weigh-in re-unite with my crew of Gail and Mike. My i-Pod died about half hour ago (as expected by time, I just hoped to be at Foresthill by then),
I tell them I am useless in terms of running but can walk pretty hard, that I haven’t peed in over 14 hrs (since the start), my stomach is shut down, but I’ll see them at Bath road soon. I get my flash light and a bit ticked off that it’s not the one I planned – but then again, the planned one was meant for next stop. My apologies, guys.
Real me when not for camera. As I walk out Jorge Pacheco comes to me, all dressed up – he dropped. It is sad. Too many people are out, and I am thankful I am still in.
I get to run a bit on a dirt road leading to Volcano canyon and as the trail switches to steep and rocky, walk again. Suddenly I realize (after been so busy with stomach pain) that my feet are trashed. All those tiny and not so tiny rocks, roots and whatever elicit a new misery on me. I try not to pay attention – not yet. This will be yet another thing I should have taken care of.
I make a pretty good time to Bath Rd and Mike meets me just below the AS. I pass on this one and go on to the last push-off point – Foresthill School, mile 62. Here I do a complete change of shirt, sport-bra, socks, drink my last V8 can and walk out with Mike, my first pacer for the night. As we hit the trail and I am trying to explain how I need to pee yet all I get are painful empty urges – I have to step aside. Ooh, good Lord, it’s happening! Mike laughs and says he feels like a proud Daddy with a newborn baby – really, as an RD mentioned at the meeting, the relationship between a runner and a pacer is the next closest thing to marriage. I still can’t run because of cramping stomach, and I feel bad for my pathetic walk. That’s not what my friends came here to see. But they are both also experienced enough ultrarunning to know – stuff happens. It’s life. And I count my blessings as I exchange our usual jokes with Mike.
People are flying by me on this section, Jay been one of them. It’s night time, no more heat, and it’s a gentle trail mostly downhill. I am sad I can’t use my totally saved-up legs, but between stomach and developing blisters I am a struggler at best. Suddenly, shortly after Cal 2 (mile 70.7) I begin running. OK, may be it wasn’t what you call running on a good day, but it was the fastest I moved all day, and it gave me so much inspiration! I started passing people, at least 2/3 of those who went by me in the prior 8 miles, I am feeling OK, the trail is good, I feel the “game” and I am dreaming that may be something like 26-27 is possible after all, if I could just keep this momentum going. I also think of the river crossing and how this is the busiest time for the raft people and I don’t want to stay in line. Whatever it was – it was flying in my books. We reach the Rucky Chucky and get to sit for 5 min waiting for the raft. On the other side Marty is waiting for Chris and Glenn and tells us Brian Morrison won. Nice, I say, I know him, it’s so cool! We power-walk up to the Green Gate, not bad, only 3 min slower than last year, though I begin to run low on energy – seems I spent a bunch extra during my 7 mile run before the river.
Gail is waiting for me at mile 80. While they take care of my fueling and the car location, I start falling asleep. That was also new to me – usually at this time I am further along in a race and am capable to focus on the finish. Now I still have a long 20 miles to go…if I only knew how long they would be.
As soon as we leave, my feet burn in Hell. That was the end of any hope to run, surge, power-walk or do anything that would make Gail proud. She got me for the worst part. And to think that these little creatures, these blisters, so insignificant comparing to injuries, metabolic problems and so on, can ruin your race! Unfortunately, unless you’ve had it, you wouldn’t understand…and I know how many people had their day thrown out the window due to this issue (Meghan for one had this painful experience, as did Rick, and pretty much 90% of those I saw in the last 20 miles had the same “funny” walk). So now it’s a test of “get to next AS, move out, focus on RFM (relentless forward motion). I stopped talking. I asked permition to cry. And cry I did, while I ran (I actually did manage to do so for some parts of the dirt road) on the way to Hwy 49 and then on that nasty rocky downhill to No Hands Bridge. Somewhere after Green Gate we passed Kathy D’Onofrio, and it was heartbreaking to see her crawl. Soon after Chris Fagan and her pacer Glenn passed us. We just kept moving. I lost excitement and swore off coming back – yet again. By the time I came to the last climb to Robie Point and Mike joined us again – I couldn’t even open my mouth, it was too much to ask from my body. Small steps, up, on the road, pass some dude, another one, a track in sight…
I ask Gail and Mike if I can not come around the track. I am not sure I want a finish today. It is hot. I am not disappointed – I am just emotionless. I walk on for half the way around. Then I hear my name called in a megaphone, and a roar of a crowd. I look back and see those two guys approaching fast. I suddenly want my moment to not be stolen, so we each can have it separately. I break into a stride, faster, looking over a shoulder, faster…screaming people, Gail next to me “Way to go, Olga!”, finishing banner closing in, sprint like you did in a workout…I didn’t even look at the time. It’s over. I am actually happy. What good friends can do to you…
Medical study, food, hobble to the shower, lay on the bench in there for some 15 min, wash out, amuze at 9 dollar-size bloody blisters, hobble back, get massage (was that nice! I actually asked a guy to marry me!). I am now again not sure of what to think of this whole thingy and ask Mike to get my buckle; I don’t want to go to the award ceremony. But as I hear people been called one by one, the emotions stir up again and I make my way to the tent. It is nice to get my buckle, whatever color it is. I deserve it. I am tired and cranky and not very positive about the race, but this is MY buckle. I want to have it…
As we sit at the airport and chat with Joe Kulak and his pacer Dave Bursler, I slowly get OK with my race. I am thinking about AC100. Heck, I am thinking about WS100 again! What would I do different?
1. Carry a pack with extra bottle from the start through all first 50 miles, as well as all my extra packages – it was insane to rely on having a few in short pockets (even if I didn’t loose some, still not enough). After all, that’s why I bought that pack and practiced with it in all my 50 milers – what stopped me from taking it? I still don’t know.
2. Take care of the feet as soon as anything wrong is happening, any feeling at all.
3. May be if stomach cramps, over-heating, dehydration and other things arise, sitting down is not such a bad idea. Many people got revived by that, why do I have a fear of aid stations?
4. Maintain electrolyte balance. May be because I wasn’t hydrated but still was taking salt tablets as if I were, my bladder shut down as well. It was wasting time and rather painful to squat so often yet with no relief.
5. If I want to race for a good time – I need to plan more carefully and not think I have enough experience to get by. I don’t. And I never will. We all learn with every single race we go to. Conditions, course, personal struggles, little things can turn a race any degree, and good if it’s not 180.
6. More thourough heat training is in order.
I am humbled, yet not defeated. I am still the same freak I was. I want to challenge myself again. I want the pain and agony again. Because only after I get through this, I look at life calm. I am an addict. There is nothing I can do about it.
And for a finishing note – the song that was in my head as I went into the race.
Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
Travel the world and the seven seas
Everybody's looking for something
Some of them want to use you
Some of them want to get used by you
Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be like you
Whew, that was long! But so was my race and my post-race thinking. And if you read it all the way through - you are my hero:)
p.s. Photos had been generously shared by super-duper photographers: Rick Gaston, Mike “Bushwhacker” Burke, Bob “The Beast” Lynes, Lisa Bliss and Maura Schwarz. More pictures to folow once I figure out how to make files smaller.
p.p.s I can not leave this post without thanking my wonderful crew and pacers Gail Snyder and Mike Burke - really, if they didn't wait for me, I doubt I would have continued. There presence kept me moving forward. Big thanks to all the Team OR, as well as all my friends who cheered me on. To all of those who kept track of me all day and some night. To WS100 board of directors and their top-notch volunteers. To the forest folks who make and maintain tarils. To my husband for letting me have this "craze" - it's pretty hard on a Russian conservative man to have a woman wearing nothing and running around mountains with some dudes, also half-naked. To my parents for giving me "good genes". to my home-country for raising me on WWII stories, when pushing through and fighting is the only way to live honestly. To the Universe for having made this wonderful planet Earth. And to whomever sent people to enjoy it.