It feels so freakin’ good to be back…back to traveling to races, back to lovely California, back to see so many friends I haven’t seen in a long time, back seriously lining up the starting line, back to pushing it – and back to getting a result in return…It was an absolutely awesome weekend.
Friday was crazy sweet. I got picked up by my wonderful friend Georgie and met with a new RD of freshly returning Rio del Lago 100M Molly (yes, this race is BACK too!). We had a hoot going for a bib/packet pick up and socializing, first at the start location, then later at a Thai place – and something I had been missing felt good to have back as well – chatting up a storm about 100 mile adventures, puking, hallucinating, sleeping on the side of a trail in the wee hours, getting dirty, and most of all – loving it all. Stories were flying, and we laughed our butts off.
Next morning we got ready after a full 7 hrs of sleep, and bumped into more friends at the start line. The flashlights weren’t necessary for this SoCA 6 am start, nor my fear of being cold materialized. I had my predicted splits taped to my bottle along with race elevation profile, when Nick Lewis told me the course is different. Now, I knew that – but he said it was harder. That news made me nervous. What about my goal? And how do I mentally figure out what’s next?
This proved to be my only challenge for the day. This, and the wackiest fastest time I put for the first 8.3M to the first AS, which I made in 1:14 – and 2/3 of it was uphill! It threw me off big time – is the mileage wrong? (it wasn’t) did my watch stop? (nope) did I just screw up my day? (biggest fear) and who is this person anyway, because I don’t keep this pace on a flat road! So, next section I was worried and trying to calm down. Next section was also where I realized I can’t rely on my splits or the profile because nothing matched – what was supposed to go up went down, and what I planned to tear down – went up. The only numbers stayed correct were the miles for the aid stations.
So I went with them. I’d predict 3 scenarios: if those next however many miles will be up (longest time), down (shortest) or rolling, and just run, controlled, with popping gels every 20 minutes, scheduling my water intake (one bottle to carry), 2 S! cap per hour, and enjoying the beautiful rolling mountains, on the ridges of which the narrow single-track PCT lead us on and on…
I never felt bad. I had a sugar-low usual wall at 20 miles, which at first spook me (did I die? Was it a 50M race 2 weeks before? Is it my opening fast split?), but then I told myself that I always have a big bonk between 20 and 25 miles, and I recovered – just as I knew I would. I felt strong. I felt beautiful. I loved it.
Somewhere around here the lead men began to return – Jeez, it’s crazy – and then Michelle Barton, the running nymph with long red flying hair, glided by with a smile. I was yet to get to a turn-around at 29.5M.
To get there we were to bomb about 2.5M of a downhill on a fire road, and bomb I did. Saw Meredith and Kelly coming back together, flew into AS with Scottie Mills (RD for SD100 and long time friend) asking – where is your other bottle? Yeah, I know. It’s hot, in fact, very hot. Next section is the longest, and 2.5M of it is all uphill on this very same open fire road. I was lazy. I didn’t bring second bottle for the sake of one section – and he gave me his. Long live my friend Scott! He must have saved my day. I don’t think I would have died, but I could have bonked badly and lost some time to recovery. I didn’t need that. I was to have an awesome day…
I hike up, even shuffling some small inclines, right behind a girl who keeps turning around and calling me by name to encourage to come together. I settle 30 feet behind, and can’t close the gap. I feel I am supposed to know her, but it doesn’t click. Nevertheless, this girl can power-walk, and I should know, because my walk is BACK as well! At the turn from dirt road onto PCT I throw that extra bottle (which is empty now) to Georgie and Molly (who volunteer there for the directions). The girl pulls away…
I settle in. It’s mile 33-34 or so, and I feel pretty good, smiling to the thought: only 3.5 hrs to go. Make myself laugh. We, ultrarunners, are a crazy bunch indeed. Time flies. I make it to the AS and get ice in my bottle, as the Girl runs in – where were you? She pulled to the side for a pit-stop as I passed. This was to be our pattern for the next 8 miles – I pee, she goes by, she stops – I run ahead. We are never more than 20 yards apart, but not together. I get overwhelmed with feeling of gratitude, as we smile to each other and yell out encouragements. I am so thankful she is around me. Not that she planned it. But she makes me give it my honest effort. I work. I work not to “beat” her, and not to “not lose her”. I work because it is an honest thing to do. And because somehow she believes I can.
I still don’t remember whether next section should be up or down, but it is a 3.5M downhill on a single track, indeed, and I let it rip. I fly. I almost get chocked on tears – I haven’t lost it one bit. I really, truly fly, barely touching the ground, almost afraid to fly off the ridge, yelling at people to step away – and I loose her, my Girl…I really want her to be around, but boy, did it feel good, just like old times.
Sue Jonston just before next AS, and Walter Edwards, a friend from Seattle I haven’t seen in years, si there as well. I gulp a cup of coke, and now I know – we have 3.5M uphill. I kind of like this idea, it’s time for a hike, a good hard hike – as I announce that I don’t like running all this much anyway.
And I hike. It’s hot. The heat radiates from the ground, you can feel it surround you, around, fire-like, inside the fire pit, dry, high-temperature heat. The sweat pours down, the one that was evaporating during the running portions, and my armpits burning from chafing before as I try to flop the arms far aside. I hike as hard as I can, and make myself run small flattish sections. Running is something that’s not getting a good welcome from my body, but I make it nevertheless. I pass some more folks, and I bargain – the final time is still not a given, I still have to work for my goal. So I work. I just need to get to this last AS, and it’s 3.9M, all downhill…
Exhausted, I motion to a lady at the AS my bottle and whisper “smiling takes too much energy”. She waves arms as if trying to say something. I have 50 minutes to make it down and break 9:30, so I don’t focus on her, but as I turn around to go – the meaning of her gestures hits me: there is a hill in front of me.
Everything sinks, and my heart drops. I got nothing, suddenly, and swear quietly. How come? Wasn’t it all downhill here? How long is this thing? I walk, I shuffle occasionally, and it takes me a full 12 minutes before I can see the road go down. And even then it is not consistently down, and I want to stop, crawl to the side and close my eyes.
But I don’t. I am calculating feverishly and trying to remember any landmark, as absolutely out of nowhere, I see a drop to the parking lot – my watch doesn’t make any sense – and I cross the finish line in 9:14.
Holly cow, was it hard, this last section! Mentally, it knocked me out of my feet, almost killed me. That was all I could think about at the finish, as I bowled my eyes for a few moments. Yeah, I know, I am a cry baby…
I am thrilled, absolutely thrilled and happy with how it all went. I have no regrets, not a single one. I wouldn’t have changed anything at all in this race. I had ran one of my most perfect performances, on a perfect single track, at a 50M race with some 9,000 feet of gain, on a hot day, 2 weeks after another pretty good 50 miler, with a great plan that I followed, I never felt that I want to give up working on my goal, and I am so proud of everything. Even my last section – it’s like I’ve calculated my race for 46 miles, not 50, but still, I made those last 4 count. I feel good about my run – my time – my fitness – my ability – my everything. And I love how it feels…
And the Girl – Tracy Bahr. The girl I ran with many moons ago. The girl who helped me so much this day and whom I hugged for the longest time at the finish – and then talked to for even longer about life.
…As well as with Walter. And Memphis Billy (man, what a surprise it was to see you there!), Sue, Chris, Catra and Andy, Kelly and Mer, Keira the RD, John Medinger and his lovely wife Lisa, Earl “The Rocket”, Georgie and Molly, and so many others. And this is what it’s all about to me.
I am excited about a year to come. I am excited next year to try and focus on 50 milers. I am excited about upcoming San Diego 100 – my next goal. Goals…they are not that bad after all! :))