When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.

The heart of the difference is not ability or even talent, but desire

The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A fire of a weekend

I can’t start on a race report before talking about devastating fires that hit San Diego area that week and the following week. As we spent our Sunday through Tuesday in Poway, 8 miles from the fire line and inside the official evacuation zone, it was very difficult to soak in all the fun and accomplishment of a race while seeing people pulling in their cars filled with what they managed to grab on the way leaving their homes. Sunday night reported 100 houses burnt and 250,000 square acres on fire – by Monday 10 pm it went up to 700 houses and 385,000 acres. The numbers blow my mind. There was smoke in the air at all times and the surfaces covered with ashes – you hold a cup of coffee and it quickly gets a layer of nasty grey stuff on top. The town was empty and quiet, almost like in some movie about the end of the world. My thoughts are with all who was touched by this disaster…

The whole weekend was a bit messy, but the race is always a highlight of my trip. It started with delays at the airport – first flight from Portland to SFO was by 4 hrs due to some part broken (and later fixed) on the plain, then the next flight couldn’t find it’s pilots for 3 hrs (some crew switch didn’t work out). So instead of 10:30 am Adrien and I made it to San Diego a little after 5 pm, where his brother Marcel waited for us endlessly since morning. Of course that meant we missed the pre-race dinner and chat with the friends.

But we made it to the motel and had dinner on our own, after what Adrien went to bed, while the two of us hit the bar – hey, it’s my vacation time, ok? What I get for hanging out with young boys – little sleep and lots of drinking…sometimes this is exactly what I need!

Pre-race jitters and many many friends, more pictures are here.

6 am the RD gave it a go (thanks to race organizers for picking up on fire danger and relocating the race to a different place in a matter of month!). This new course advertised 15,000 feet of elevation change, but some GPS claimed around 12,000 feet of gain only. Not a brutal per se, but not as easy as we expected – add to that no shade practically ever, high sun in a desert, close to 90F and you’ll figure out how the energy gets zapped rather badly.
Marcel and I hit the breakfast (this is one of the easiest courses in the US to crew, every check point is within 10 min drive, while runners take an hour to run a section) and made it to first AS on time to see Karl Meltzer and David Goggans come in. Soon after the runners trickled in and Adrien comes some 15 min ahead of time. The sun just came up and lit up the high desert with sunrays – a pretty view, although I am definitely all about the green trees. We kicked in our job and sent him off to the next section.

By mile 20 we are all revved up and jumping with Adrien’s progress, expecting him to cut another few minutes off the chart. 9:20 am rolls around – no our runner. Other people started to show up who were behind – no Adrien. Time passes, and it is obvious something is wrong. The rumors of a wrong turn begin to pour as runners explain the dirt road downhill and a small trail arrow that may be missed. All in all 12 runners went as much as 4 miles (out-n-back) here, and eventually Adrien showed up an hour after we expected him. Although still on a pace chart, this extra distance will have knocked a wind out of him not only for sheer physical drop, but more so for emotional and mental zap of energy…

 By next AS it gotten really hot, and we could see runners begin to struggle as they entered the parking lot from the road. The AS was a bit up the hill, and we see our boy, still smiling and hanging out with a couple of guys. Another bottle exchange and mouth-full of food, and we send them off to a worst climb on the course, all of over 3 miles on dirt road, while taking a shortcut to the next aid station by a way of 1.6M jeep uphill trail. We had to stretch our legs too! After a couple of minutes Marcel asked me about “that famous power walk you have”, so I slowly kicked in a gear and made a most out of this lesson – 20 min for 1.6 miles, after 3 min of a slow start. Who needs to run?

At the next AS we had time to explore the hills and have fun while waiting.

Did I mention it's a hard work to be a crew on this course? :)

After a bit of it I went down to meet Adrien and soon saw him, right on time, with another guy, and they seemed to have helped each other on this section a lot. But we can see that our runner had struggled some, and it is only mile 36. This is dry heat, and the sun is at its worst and highest, dehydration sets in before you even notice it. This is where crew is indispensable – cheer on the runner! C’mon, baby, soon the night will fall and you’ll be just fine!
We had a quick local market stop for a frozen burrito and a beer (did I say I drank all weekend?) and made it to next aid with only a minute to spare to get ready. Adrien was like a clock, still on pace, despite loosing that hour at the beginning. But that will change…the 7.5 miles to the mid-point of the race and end of loop #1 is not pretty at all, as I’ll see later…
The chart said 5 pm for one loop, 50 miles, 11 hrs from the start. 4:40 pm we get anxious – we already got spoiled by his good progress. 4:50 – not a sign. 5:05 I go out to meet Adrien and it takes me good half a mile to finally spot him coming. I shove a cup of soup in his hands (and take his bottles) and lead him to AS. There is a blister developed and need to be taken care of, as well as a clothes change for the coming night. We do that, trying to be efficient.

I send Adrien and his brother Marcel, who will pace for the first 20 miles of the second loop, and then take care of the “Swiss dude” with some Achilles problem (I think I crewed for another dozen or so runners there while waiting – why not, I love it! How many people had me shoving potatoes in their mouths and changing their socks I am not sure, but bossing around is what I do well:)) I did forget to access how quickly it becomes dark at this time of the year, and the boys went to run 6 miles without flash light – making it to the aid just as the sun was setting down. Few, that was way too close!

Mile 64 AS is in the open field, and it’s quiet windy to stand around, but between talking with volunteers and helping them out to take care of runners it’s a lot of fun. I spent there a good hour and half (it was a 5 min drive from previous aid station, and I stayed 40 min after waiting for some other friends I felt responsible for by then).

Marcel put Adrien back on a pace chart, so I took off to next check point and got myself ready to run. Guys showed up 10 min ahead, and we didn’t waste much time to get going again. The climb was long, but I am a brutal pacer, picking up runners one by one and making Adrien run lots more than he might have wanted. He is a good boy and complies; even with my feeding him gels (imagine what it tastes like after 15 hrs!). Somehow, despite good moving speed and effort, we don’t gain a single second on this stretch but feel almost over-extended. Marcel is waiting with Adrien’s bottles and soup, and I get Gatorade for my bottle (I ran with one bottle and first section I went on only water).

Caught in action - the art of a nose blow:)

We keep the energy high and pass more runners on next stretch – although it feels like work now. I don’t let him think low and entertain once in a while, but not much, more just short phrases. 5 min gain on this section – but! remember that picture of s snoozing brother? - as we come around the a parking lot before AS and I see the car, I don’t see Marcel at the aid! Should have looked inside I guess…and we are out of gels, and Adrien doesn’t eat solids (neither do I, though I did put lots of gummy bears in my pockets just in case), and we have that long climb on rocky dirt road ahead…oh, well, do as you can. Thankfully, I had a packet of HEED in my pack what I mixed for his bottle, and a packet of Cliff Shot blocks, what I fed him on the way. That was all he had – and it showed. Slowly the pace turned to walk of a staggering runner, and even on small downhill stretches little running was done. The 24 hr was slipping way by chunks. I decided not to bring it up and just move forward.

Marcel is at the next AS, walking through the night that very same 1.6M, ready with all we need, including sock change, gels, soup and bottles. But we are a good 20 min late, and still need to sit down. This is not good at all and doesn’t look promising. I am re-evaluating next splits by comparing them to what Adrien ran during a day and readjusting a goal to 25. That is if he doesn’t start to crawl…

We leave the AS and enter a somewhat short climb, still slow. Some 10 min into it I hear a question from behind: Olga, are we making 24? I pause, I am afraid to turn my head back, and say: it’d be stretching. There is silence all around, and it filled with disappointment and fear, I can palpate it. I stop, look at Adrien and say: it can happen, if you clear your mind completely, focus on my feet and follow my every move and every word exactly, but it will need all you have mentally and physically. I don’t hear respond, so I turn and start running. I hear steps right behind me. I pick up ever so slightly and the steps follow me same 2 feet back. OK, hypnosis began to work, now I need a plan. I calculate endlessly all I know about next 13.5 miles and decide we need to use every running surface we can, but still would be able to power-walk the hills. Should be possible, but we can’t let go of any small mistake. There are lots of rocks on this dirt downhill road, and we hit our toes a lot. I swear so loudly, the headlamps quarter mile ahead of us keep turning back. We run on and close in to 3 pairs of runners, one by one, hanging out with 2 guys for longer. Adrien even chats with them, and as we finally pull away, I tell him not to waste energy. No kicking in either – to early, OMG, how way too early it is, and we are almost flying (when not stumbling). I push and push, gave him my Gatorade and wonder how long I can hold this pace myself. We see the lights of the last AS and make up not only 25 min we lost before, but 10 more on top of it. I am almost scared, but have no time for it. As we approach, I yell: Marcel, we need Red Bull – and instead hear volunteers say: we only have soup and Gatorade! Man, where is brother? I let Adrien go through without stopping and fill bottles with red mess of Gatorade, and take off after him – and happily see Marcel on the side serving his brother gels – but no Red Bull, it’s in the car. Well, gotta do without, as I go around leading again, up to a climb of 2500 feet on a single track. We breathe hard, but don’t slow down a bit, Adrien is same 3 feet behind me, step in step, neither is talking. Some 5 min later there is a runner comes from behind (no! we can’t be passed!) – and it’s Marcel with a can of red Bull. Halleluiah! I take two sips, make Adrien do the same, and we are off. At times I go back in memory to Bear 100 and oh, this climb is just as endless, isn’t it supposed to be San Diego with low elevation change race??!! But I say nothing and just push, we run every flat, incline and down we can find, and soon under fueling hits me (in those 30 miles I had 1 cup of soup and a total of 1 bottle of water and 1 bottle of Gatorade). I get fuzzy and begin hallucinating. No kidding, last time I was like that back at Wasatch! I see a mirror and some skeleton hanging on it and tell Adrien RD decided to go for Halloween theme – but Adrien sees nothing. Hmm, may be I should shut up now and don’t scare him. I see more things, but what freaks me the most is that sometimes I am afraid I am not running anymore and it’s all in my head. I can’t not run, I have responsibility for my racer! We push really hard. I have no idea how Adrien does it, and I have a ton of newborn respect for him, just a ton. He matches my every move, and I am struggling keeping this pace – but hear no complain, in fact, not even a grunt or hard breathing, like an out-of-this-world experience, like it is not my runner doing it after going for 93 miles, but somebody else. I don’t think he realizes he is running at all.
The climb is finally over. I am thinking of a new goal by then – I know, I am sick with goal setting. I’ve never been on this section and can only estimate how much of 7.5M total we’ve gone, but I decide we need to run 23:30. Why? Who knows. May be because I promised Adrien in weeks leading to the race he is capable of 22:30, and after he spent an hour at mile 20 wandering, 23:30 would be exactly it. May be because I like this number. May be because I can see in my memory that turn some half a mile from the finish line, and I picture it to be reached at 23:25. I have no idea, I already know we are breaking 24, but I also know if I slow down a bit, his focus will fuzz away, and we need to keep moving fast. We go down now, and stumble again on rocks and roots – damaging anything now would be a disaster! I see the lights ahead and say: this is your finish line, enjoy this last of a run. But the space boy is just that – a space boy. He only says: I need you to go all the way through the finish line, or I’ll loose it before. I smile. I guess those invisible threads from his eyes to my feet are that strong, so I better move it.

We make the last turn, and stream to the finish, I only have a couple of seconds to warn Marcel, who did not expect us for at least another 15 minutes. Adrien crosses a finish line – 23:33. Mission accomplished. What a run, what a runner, what a hero, what a heck of a team work!

You know how it is, once you’re done – you are done. Not to mention, there was no physical Adrien, it was his mind and heart that brought him to that finishing time. So I yell to his brother – pick him up, hold him! Nobody sees the reason, until a second later Adrien begins to collapse and goes into this haze that is scaring volunteers. I get a chair near by and Marcel puts him down, we put a blanket around and I try to calm the folks at the finish – he’ll be OK, we’ll take care of him. Pour boy did not see how he was awarded a buckle; but soon opens his eyes – is it over? We laugh. Yes, it is. It is over. Mission accomplished, first 100 miler is done, goal is reached, experience is lived. We can go home now…

It was a hell of a great time. I only ran like that 4 times in my own races, and I know what it feels like and can certainly appreciate Adrien’s battles. He did awesome, absolutely amazing. Mind over matter. The pain, the dehydration, the blisters, tiredness, stomach aches – everything was put in the back of the mind for those two and half hours. And that is a real deal…

We drank more than I imagined I could that day, hanging out with brother’s college friend Travis, and had a lot of fun (between dosing off in motel room). Next day brought soberness with news of outraging wild fires. We made it to the beach and enjoyed it somewhat, but the horror of happenings didn’t allow us to relax enough, and seeing people wearing masks was a strong reminder of real life.

Karl Meltzer won a race, and Kim Holak took women’s division. Lots of friends were met there – some old, new made, laughs, smiles, hugs, tears, all that makes this ultrarunning such a beautiful passion. Some had bad day, some - better. It is all about trying, and giving your heart. I know I gave mine.

Team "Adrien" - thanks, boys, for inviting me along! You kicked butt with your work! I am mighty impressed!


  1. WOW What a fun weekend u Had Olga , but umm not sure when you are at an ultra event that you didn't have a blast :-) Way be a big HEART_y support peep!

    awesome re-cap & love the pics, ahhh chalk up another fantastic Olga Ultra weekend!!

  2. I was thinking about you down in SD with the fires! That was a heck of a run! And a riveting report too. Just goes to show that the mental aspect is so important. Congrats to Adrien and to you too for leading the way! Yay for Red Bull!

  3. fallrunner24/10/07 15:45

    wow, miss Olga you should write a book.

  4. fallrunner24/10/07 15:47

    sorry, need to clarify..by my other comment I mean it was such a wonderful reading and the story so inspiring, I could read entire books like this. Congratulations to you and the runner Adrien.

  5. great story and great pics. those fires are getting pretty scary.

  6. I already know about your pacing abilities and it sounds like Adrien was a worthy recipient. A huge congratulations to him on a job well done.

    Don't worry about me. I can follow through on plans :)

  7. Sounds like a great time. Great report.

  8. way to run adrien.. you had me scared when he passed out (reading it of course, i wasn't there). and as usual the mvp of all crews/pacers was olga.

    olga we gotta talk about race nutrition.. i can't believe you drink gatorade!!

  9. Yup, really just a walk in the park... Next time that I go for a walk in the park with Olga I will bring Pampers, Vicodin, and my mommy. Reader beware: It is a lie if Olga tells you that Russian vodka is a pain remedy. "основывает вверх по!" Trans: Bottoms up! -Adrien

  10. What a great report, Olga. It felt like running there right beside the two of you.

  11. thanks for the comment about the baby! I think I'm getting my training for staying up all night when I tackle my first 100 :). Great pics and recap. Oh and good form on the "snot rocket!!"

  12. Olga,

    Nice snot blowing picture! I can so believe that you, of all people, chose to put that one online! But, I gotta say, you look good doing it! ;)

  13. Nice crewpacing, and congrats to Adrien for his sub-24, a lucky man to have you on his team!

  14. Well done, Olga, to you and your runner!

    I was forced to drop at mile 56, due to an IT injury, but coming up from AS mile 20, you were walking down the driveway and told me "Good job!". Thanks a million for that!

    All in all, a much tougher course than to be expected. Great job yourself!

  15. Nice run Adrien!

    I like the Vicodon & pampers ideas. :-) I can just picture running into an aid station: "I need fresh bottles, a couple gels... and diaper change!".

  16. You know, for years I've wondered about all the adult diapers on the shelf at the grocery store. One month, there weren't any and the next there were like 15 different brands. Now I get it! The explosion of ultra-marathons has created, er, explosions of a different kind ;-)

    Awesome job, Adrien. Olga, as ever it was a treat to read your report.

    Cheers comadre,

  17. gatorade= yikes! man i took a swig of that stuff at Glacial and spit it out. Too strong, but I do like gatorade when I am not running. Maybe it's the endurance brand that is too strong.

    great job Olga, you're fantastic!

    Congrats to my good friend and fellow northwoods native Kim Holak on the win.

    hope all is well. I think it's getting to be rest time.

  18. Wow, Olga, what a way to get your runner to a sub 24 first 100 miler!! That was great!!

  19. Hiya Olga - Nice to formally meet you out on the course in SD. Thanks a lot for your enthusiasm and encouragement out there, it sure helped me along. I look forward to seeing you at more races!


    p.s. say Hi to Mike Burke for me!