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.

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Fight like a caged dog"

Ronda and I had a lovely exchange before my departure for SD100. I also kept coming back to Scott Dunlap’s post of why we do this ultrarunning gig. To sum up both of those thought threads, what I am thinking (and trust me, I don't really know myself, for myself, why the hell do I keep coming back for more after been beaten up at each of the race to one extent or another) is that. You start because you find out it exists, and you're curious if you can pull it off. Then you wonder if you can do better. Then you get to enjoy mountains and friends. In a meantime you want to prove to them (both) and yourself that you are tough/fast/combination of both. Then you don't care about the prove...but there are a couple of things that still drive you. And I am not just talking about simply signing up and making it to the finish line - that could be because we love mountains, trails, friends, community, spirit...I am talking about why we train hard and thrive to perform. I know I do...at least "hard" for any given time. Because at the end of the day (and night) I am the ONLY one who knows what went on...and whether or not I had given it all I had. Because I want to look myself in the mirror, straight in the eyes, and say - I am proud of you, girl…
But here is the question – why 100 miles? Why not 50, 26.2, 3.1? Because each and every distance presents an opportunity to test that pride. And you have to pick one yourself. I pick a 100. 100 miles is a lo-o-ong way to go…and lots of things happen. Sometimes a few too many. Sometimes just a couple. But however many or few, you can bet that your day and night will develop unknown challenges beyond simply (if 100 miles can be called “simple”) going the distance. And when it does, what you do with it is what draws me to 100’s. What will I do? How will I react? How will I deal with it? What will be my thoughts? Not only how can I get past those new hurdles physically, but what emotions will it stir up, what thoughts, what mental awareness? Most of these can not be put in words…but I’ll try to relay some of what I was thinking at San Diego 100…

It is a beautiful course. I forgot how beautiful mountains around San Diego are, and how real they are. Huge, massive, so different from one another, some covered in trees, some – in bushes, some just have grass, many have rocks, and even those differ – huge boulders or smaller loose rock. It is a course that is absolutely awesome for crews – access to each every station is off one main mountain highway minutes from the previous, while runners go miles on trails. And it is a course where it is easy to underestimate the real difficulty of it…why in the world did I think that 18,000 feet of climb will allow me to sub-24 when 19,000 feet of gain at MMT100 gave me 27 hrs finishing time? Why did I not treat 6,000 feet elevation as an altitude worthy of carrying my asthma inhaler? Why did I decide that temperature in mid-70’s in high desert under the beating sun is not as threatening as 100F in Texas and can be managed with one bottle? But can be there more fun than finding out answers to all of these and more questions??!
Honestly, I don’t even know where to start. I’ve written so many reports by now, the beginning seems to be problematic, especially for the writing perfectionist – I got trained in a school of Leo Tolstoy and Fedor Dostoevsky, and repeating oneself is not an option. But what else can we say sometimes, besides – “I came, I ran, I conquered”? What lies between is the juice. So, lets hear the juicy parts.
I love running first couple of sections with friends, both old and new. The body is strong, the mood is high, the conversations are flowing. I must have talked everybody’s ears off, but it’s nothing new if you’re ever around me in those first 10 miles or so. I shared trail with Austin local Dimitry, and he tells a few newbies a story how he emailed me 5 years ago with questions for his first 100 – how I gave him (valuable) advice – and how he didn’t listen half of it. I think he still doesn’t But this opened up a conversation for a whole bunch of guys on their quest for the first 100M finish. I shared miles with Jess Mullen, my PNW friend, a great strong runner – and we discuss body fat, diets and healthy eating, asthma and quitting smoking, various foods and even more friends. I run with Tina Ure, a friend from OR, Monica Scholz on her road to most 100’s in a year by a female, Rick Gaston, a long time friend (who mentions afterwards that every time we enter a 100 together, we both end up having problems…here goes Palm to Pine in September, dude!), and so many more. The group around changes “positions”, but stays pretty consistent for many miles – and in fact, many of us finish pretty close to each other. The single track is absolutely stunning, narrow and twisting. I have a pace chart that potentially should bring me in 23:25, and I hit first 4 aid stations right on target and proudly brag to Georgie, my crew-extraordinary (at one AS a volunteer asked me how am I doing on my splits, I guess word travels, ha?). But I also notice that while usually those “splits” just happen by themselves, this day I feel like I am working from the get go. I am thirsty (I only have one 16oz bottle till mile 14), I am wheezing (so much for telling Jess I am done with my asthma), and by the time we enter 8M downhill, what should have been my bliss, I had developed a bladder infection (due to dehydration and concentration of urine, which crystals rub the bladder), and this gives me great pain while “shaking” my body on the downs, as well as makes for painful and unproductive (no pee) stops. Ah, so many details…
I come to mile 31.3 AS 10 minutes behind – and that’s after a downhill section! My spirit is low, and I am considering dropping my skirt – and I am not joking. Because the rubber band of it presses right on the bladder. I manage to pull it all the way down (kind of like teenagers wear their pants with underwear showing off) and gulp 3 cups of water to try and catch up on fluids. . As I go out back on a trail, I see a good friend Bruce Grant coming backwards, and stop with “WTF?”. He says it’s a lolly-pop loop. Would have been nice if for once I would have studied the course, huh? I see Roch Horton and others, and after a short spur we go up…apparently, with my new pain in the bladder as well as developing gut issue (due to the same origin of a problem) going up is no problem. In fact, I had really become a strong climber, even stronger than I used to be, and the pattern from MMT100 is followed – all my passing happens on the uphills. By the time we hit down on the back side of the loop, the stomach is manageable, and I can run somewhat (unless crazy biker tries to take me out – there were plenty of those on the course). Coming back to the same AS (again, if I had known it, I would have left the pack there!), I drink lots again, Howard washed me with an icy sponge, and I am off for the 8M climb.
Well, while climbing is what my new love is, climbing for just short of 2 hrs on the absolutely open terrain under the beating sun with 32oz of water is something that brought most of the field to their knees. We all come out to the road leading to AS Pioneer Mail at 44 miles beat up, heat-exhausted and hardly smiling. I scan the aid station for Georgie, my crew extra-ordinary, find him, gaze dully, replenish my gel supply, drink V8 and go – I actually gained 5 minutes back on my splits and trying to think positive. I am not giving up that easily. I am fighting for my 24…
We go up for a couple of miles on a dirt side road, and then enter a blissfully beautiful ridge trail, super-narrow, overgrown (think a.k.a. Zane Grey), rocky, ledgy, with views that take your breath away. There is something else that takes my breath away that I can’t ignore no matter how much I wanted to – due to dehydration my feet grow blisters, right where it hurts (besides just around toes, what I don’t care about) – on the balls of my feet, under calluses, getting worse with every time you hit the step – and how many times we do that in a 100 mile race? I was in denial from mile 20, simply because I haven’t had blisters for 2 years, since Drymax had become my sole sock provider, and since Karl Meltzer told me to discard the idea of “ultrarunners need a shoe a bit on a bigger side” bull – sliding is what causes the friction. But it’s real, dehydration does cause blisters, and I had arrived to a moment where I know it’s here. And I had never had them from so early on…
At Sunrise AS, mile 51.3, I am 20 minutes behind. I still have a cushion on my 24, in fact, I believe if you make first 50 in 11 hrs, the chance is good, and that’s where I am, but while at MMT100 4 weeks ago at half-point I was fresh as a daisy, this time around I feel like I’ve been in a train-wreck…like I am still continuing that other 100 miler, not running a new one after race and recovery. My mind is at a low point, and I ask Georgie to call Larry and tell him I won’t be able to do 24. I try and stuff some food in (the stomach issues left all my gels, which I religiously take every 20 minutes, sit like a glue in my gut), and I walk out with heavy feeling. Three pairs of runners and their pacers get by me, and I am, like, “where is my help?”…and then Ronda’s words come up. “Fight like a caged dog, girl”. I am not giving up. Who am I to stop fighting? Whom am I here to prove what? And just like that, slowly, I begin to run, moving my feet in short steps, picking it up, reeling all three of those groups and passing them by. The hope dies last, I tell myself, and reach for a packet of peanuts I stuffed in my pack from the airplane. Eat, girl, drink, and keep moving. After all, that’s all there is to do…
I don’t recall details of the next couple of stretches besides that the mood swings were from left to right and back left, the time was slowly slipping away between my fingers by very small increments, yet consistently, John Medinger (the editor of Ultrarunning magazine) while manning an AS, asks me if I am pregnant pointing at my huge protruding belly (yeah, right, just about to pop), and many a times wishing I'd be home, in bed, with my hubby, cuddled up and not hurting...By the descent to Paso Picacho AS at 64 miles in the dark (during which I also swear off ever having only one flashlight again, and where my feet scream at me as I hit the rocks with the steps) I come to conclusion I need a good kick in my panties. Georgie sits me down, because I announce I am changing my socks – while nothing is going to save my blistered feet, the feel of the fresh clean fabric next to burst raw skin IS good. I take a look at the bottom of my feet, and my stomach churns – would have been better to be oblivious. I get up and abruptly say – I might drop at the next AS. Georgie, being who he is (and whom I expected him to be) does what I needed to hear – “You ain’t dropping nowhere. You can still even make it 24.” I know this idea is pretty much out of the question, but I what I also know is that I am going to push it so I can figure out just how close (or how far) to 24hrs can I come, all things considering. On top of it, I have an elated light bulb – I have drugs with me! Why didn’t I think of it earlier? I have pain killers, which I pop, and in roughly 20 minutes the pain in my feet goes from screeching-sharp at every step to a dull ache. Stupid idiot! I pick up the pace, the climb turns out to be pretty easy, and run downhill in a lot more places than I thought I would be. I pass a few people, I feel pretty strong, and I keep re-calculating what is possible scenario…I see a skunk running right in front of me for a bit and a story of Tim Twittmeier and his WS run for the win away from Ann Trason makes me laugh…I fall and land into something very prickly (and then pick torns out of my hands) and my right calf goes into twisting cramp (which I run off)…I run hoping that I am back in business…and I run, and run, and there is no AS in sight. I keep checking on the trail markers. I keep hearing the road near by. There is no way it’s 8 miles section! It took me 1:50 for 8.1M, in the sun, all uphill – and this is more downhill, it it’s 2:15 already! When I finally reach Sweetwater, I am pissed beyond believe, and bark at my poor crew guy that this section is long. He says that’s what most people said. What doesn’t make my life any easier. I think I scared George away, because by next section (which, by the way, was also 8M, but ALL up, I walked every step of it, and had same 2:15 split) he didn’t show up – he slept through my arrival in his car. Probably for the best. Whith only one detail – I was out of gels, AS was out of gels, it was 2 am, a full hour behind my prediction, and my i-Pod died. Well, thankfully, I carried Larry’s as a spare, and I also picked 2 small PayDay bars. That was all I was to have for the next 7.2M along the ridge…
I actually felt pretty darn good as I was making my way on the sharp ups, hugging the open mountain ridge, listening to the music that was unfamiliar to me (Larry runs tempos to THAT? How does he not fall asleep? Why is he so freakin' fast?), and because my food is non-existent and because I am afraid this is the time I usually feel drowsy and look for a nap stop, I start popping chocolate-covered coffee beans. Not 20 minutes later I get nauseated (WTH? I never feel like that!), and then have a sudden stop, make a super-loud noise and the inside liner of my stomach tries to come out. The problem is, I got nothing besides half a cup of water in, and after that hits the ground, the convulsions continue dry and loud and scare the heck out of a runner with his pacer, as they are passing by. They silly ask if I am ok and if I need help as I nod “yes” and “no” through the retching. Then I unfold and keep moving…oh, the things we do for fun! At least this incident kept me awake and I never needed a nap! And - I did look up the sky...oh, my God, the stars and the Milky Way were absolutely stunning!
Suddenly, the ridge trail is over, there is a ribbon on the right side, I am facing a dead-end parking lot, a road on the right and nothing else. I walk a bit back, to make sure I haven’t missed the marker, and even to the drop off of the trail – nothing. I walk around parking lot – nothing. On the other side of the road – nope, no trail. I decide since the marker is on the right side, and usually means this is where the turn is, to go up the road, which I follow for about 7 minutes, until I figure I never read we have a road section. So I run back. Repeat search again, and go back onto the trail in hopes to meet someone – what, thank God, I do, very soon! Only 20 minutes lost...and he is local! And Morgan (the dude) knows we have to cross the parking lot and pick a dirt road on the other side – which, again, if I had studied the course, or at least memorized the AS names, I would have realized as well, because we were here before, in a day light!
I was ticked off beyond belief, and only at myself. Here goes my last hope, my very last hope of anything remotely close to 24. This was officially the time to adjust the goals. And just do the best I can…
As we get to Pioneer Mail at mile 87.5, I replenish my gels (finally) from a drop bag, drink nice and warm tomato soup and tell the lady volunteer it’s only half marathon to go (although all of it mostly up). Georgie is nowhere to be found (tired of dealing with me? Taking another much needed nap?), and the lady is stunned to hear I have no pacer. “How are you going to do it? Aren’t you scared? It’s not your first time?” I smile, “nah, just one foot in front of another” and leave.
Well, and that would be the end of the story. In an hour the dawn comes over the mountains, and I turn off my lamps. I sit down on a rock and try to take care of the blisters bursting on my toes (nothing will take care of those on the bottom of my feet). I walk some, and shuffle some, only to discover that because my left foot in a much worse state than my right one, I over-compensated subconsciously and developed tendinitis along the front side of my right leg, and it swelled up and hurts. I am out of drugs, but I kind of don’t care much for pain anymore. I took a jacket and a hat off at mile 91, and feel the warmth coming into a new day as I make my way further along. There is a girl behind with a guy pacer, and the guy is THE most talkative I ever met – I hear echo of his stories being carried over the ridge for hours (even if can’t hear a single word), and it entertains me big time. Eventually they pass me just past last AS, and I cheer them on, still walking. I stop with just over a mile to go, as I see the campground from afar, because I am overheated in my long-sleeve shirt, and stuff it into a pack. I turn my head back and see 2 guys chasing each other – and damn it if I get passed in the last mile! So I run. The pain on my feet is crazy, especially as I enter the last 0.5M on a dirt road covered with loose rocks, and the tears stream down. It is unbelievable I am done, and done far ahead of what was my worst prediction of 26 hrs, which I had thought of back after getting lost and being totally demoralized by all those sections longer than they should have been. A slight uphill right before the clock makes me walk – right into the arms of Skotty Mills, the RD, a friend, a fellow ultran.
I can finally sit down.

I can take my socks off. Those blisters under calluses – raised, some burst with skin hanging off. The toes – burst, bloody, toenails missing. There is a huge bloody messy one that draws the most attention. I get a special treatment by an EMT who proclaims my feet “the nastiest”. The shower is awesome, as I moan trying to stand straight on my feet. The friends exchange the war stories. I try to catch on the nap unsuccessfully. A few hours later we head out to the airport for a flight home – and back to work today…
Are there lessons? Are there points to make the story worthy the read? Not really…just another day at the office…
p.s. Would I have been able to break 24 on a good day? I'd like to believe so. Although it wouldn't be piece of cake. Would I recommend this race? Heck, big time YES! Scotte and his crew did an awesome job, the trails are absolutely totally gorgeous, the organization is top-notch, the campground, the dinner, the meeting, the showers...just everything is great. I am considering coming back.
p.p.s. Out of 149 starters 59 people dropped. That makes it for a 60% finishing rate. At the pre-race meeting Scotty said "This race is sneaky-tough". Best description:) My time was 25:12 (in case it wasn't obvious from the finishing photo, the side bar and the race link). I took 32nd place overall. It was also 11th female place - what means out of 32 first finishers 11 are ladies. Girls rock! Guys are a bunch of slow sissies:) Scotte also said that he will extend the cut offs to accomodate a new 32 hr time limit. Sneaky tough, huh?!

20 comments:

  1. Ha ha ha. Great post! The nastiest. And for what? Nothing! There's no point. You are too funny, Olga. I love the pic of you at the end sitting down, too. I won't mention that fact that it's very cute how you look like a boy. Oops, just mentioned it. Congrats. You really do have a way of finding strength in the middle of these incredibly long and hard races from God knows where. Well, it's awesome.

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  2. Sorry the race didn't work out how you wanted it to foot issues are the worst! But way to tough it out. And your time is so good regardless!

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  3. Damn girl, tough as nails!

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  4. You are a f'ing rock star Olga!! Great job!!
    Seya soon and I hope that I have half of your determination. 8)

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  5. Thanks for a great report. Hmmm...getting lost, angry and questioning why I do these things. That sounds all too familiar. I need to finish my MMT report before this weekend.

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  6. Olga, you are truly an amazing runner and writer. And to describe you as inspirational is a gross understatement. Thank you for the marvelous race report -- kudos to you for gutting it out and hanging on for another great finish.

    P.S. I was the volunteer at the 4th aid station who asked you how were doing with your splits.

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  7. Enjoyed it as always Olga. I like the new look here. I'm thinking about some changes myself.

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  8. Loved the story. As always, I felt as I was almost there and feeling your pain. Regardless of how the race went, one thing is for sure, you're one hell of an ultrarunner by the strictest of standards!

    PS - What happened to Georgie? :)

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  9. Good to see you last Saturday and congrats on the solid finish!

    Also no worries about the hug....I am not contagious.

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  10. Girls rock and so do you! OMG your foot is disgusting. But you seem to look happy no matter! Congrats on toughing it out!

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  11. I'm worried about Pine to Palm now! Be back to read the rest of the report. Great day for a struggle though and the eventual finish.

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  12. Ahh, the 100M race. It just never gets dull! Just when you think you've done so many that all the bases are covered we learn a few new things. Way to fight girl and that foot....uhhhh that's harsh. Thanks for the report it made me laugh and smile because I can just see you out there pissed but still rockin the pace. Congrats!

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  13. Great report and performance Olga! You do inspire. What you say about dehydration is so true. I went for a run in the heat last weekend and I couldn't figure out why I was so weak and tired and got so many blisters. It was the heat and being unprepared for it (not enough water and salts) of course! Sorry to hear the bladder issues are plaguing you still. Why didn't you try the meds I recommended? They will help.

    I love the "fight like a caged dog" comment. If I ever have the courage to try a 100M, I know I'll have to fight like that to finish.

    Good luck recuperating! Wish there was a salve that could magically heal blisters.

    Cynthia

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  14. I thought bachelor-pad pizza farts were gross, but I think your feet are worse. Glad I could only see them. Not that they didn't smell like flowers, of course. Maybe a few days from now my appetite will come back. Thanks for helping me to lose weight. You're very thoughtful.

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  15. "Then I unfold and keep moving…oh, the things we do for fun!" -That's one of my favorite quotes of this report.

    It's undisputed that you're one tough cookie! Thanks for bringing us along for the ride. :)

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  16. It's always great to read your race reports Olga...You Rock Girl! Looking forward to meeting you one day soon at a race.

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  17. Another inspiring report, Olga. Dry heaves and all. :)

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  18. Running a race with you again felt like old times and it was good and perfect. I too was thinking "Bighorn" and it was great how you were thinking that very same thing. Got several 100s on your plate this year and I think you are crazy having P2P a mere three weeks after Cascade. Again, what else is new, I've always thought you were a little crazy!

    Yeah those southern California mountains are huge. I remember running last year's course and thinking that they could make the race a lot harder, well crap they did. Thanks for the 18,000 ft. info, I heard that somewhere too. Awesome I really thought I was might have been the only complaining when it was only 72 degrees. If you thought it was hot and you know live in Texas then it was hot. "Sneaky-Tough", I didn't hear that at pre-race but shit he was right on. It's a good thing we are the same. We are sneaky-tough.

    You and Bob like to take pictures of your nasty feet, bleech. I don't want to see that stuff, makes my feet hurt and I think WS 2006 all over again or Bighorn 2007.

    I'm going to end with this. I'm scared we are in Pine to Palm together. I'm going to get another beer and think about that.

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  19. Finally got around to reading the full report - Awesome job girl!! That does sound like a race for the calendar (though I think your love of 100s is 50s for me).

    That is one great foot picture - hope they are healing up well.

    Every race answers the Why question - often in a different way.

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  20. Reading your training logs and race reports are amazing. Thanks for taking the time to share your, in detail, the "good, bad and ugly" of training and racing! You have a great talent for recapping details that I'm not sure that I could do only racing a half-iron distance race!

    Great work!

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