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

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Mountain Goat in Grasslands

Grasslands 50M was exactly what the name says: Grasslands. This land is grass, short shrubs, sand, sand, more sand, and heat in the open. It was a complete and utter suffer fest…

I was feeling flat all week. Whether I am burnt out with hard training, or just with hard life, I don’t know, but my workouts were lousy even for a taper week. Friday wasn’t a good day (between not finding a parking spot at work, getting new projects on top of all the old ones, not finding a hotel in Decatur, getting a smoking room, forgetting computer mouse and not having directions to the race…). I was not excited to go race at all. But when I showed up at the start to get my package, and everyone was so thrilled and happy, and even though I felt lonely, quite a few happen to say hello…well, you know, I felt guilty for my negative emotions and decided instead of going for a crappy race to put in a great training run. It’s all about attitude…

The race is 1 out-n-back correction trail and 4 various size loops. All I knew is that every loop is about a mile shorter than the previous. Yeah, I wasn’t into it…but I was ready to go. And since a handful of folks commented how much weight I lost and how good I look (does it mean I looked bad before?), I was in a pleasant frame of mind…until I got off course a mere mile and half into the run. Now, I have to admit, that those horse trails were perfectly marked and color-coded, but it was dark at the start, I was looking down and running in no-man’s land: 4 guys far in front, and everybody else quite far behind. So, I ran off to some lake, asked fishermen if they saw anyone, turned around and caught on a bunch of trains of runners mid-field. While I didn’t care much (common, it’s only took me 3-4 minutes!), the adrenaline still pumped and the heart was too fast. I told myself to calm down. Not the first time happened, not the last time for certain…

Before the race RD Kevin said it’s going to be upper-80’s and in the open will feel like a 100F. At 2M in I took my shirt off. I never – NEVER – raced with no shirt. Now, I learned to run on training runs in TX wearing only sports bra, but this is only when nobody I know would see me. It was a race! I could care less – I needed to let my body breathe and cool off. Speaking of breathing, thankfully first 3.5 hrs we had mostly clouds and a breeze!

But back to the course. Once on a first loop, the warning (I wish I knew before signing up) were sand, sand and more sand. Fine sand, dust, coarse sand, an inch high, a couple, ankle deep…into your shoes, can’t run, hard to walk…am I on California beach???

But, I was out for a training run, and although I knew I am running up front, I was calm and quite positive, asking names of guys around, taking out my map at various intersections to make sure I am on correct color-coded loop, looking for markers, opening and closing the horse gates (which were so high up, I either reached standing on my toes, or couldn’t no matter what and crawled under). And I kept plowing forward.

At 11:30am the sun burnt up the clouds, and the heat came full force. Soon after I reached an AS I figured was roughly soon after half-way, and a volunteer, commenting on my being first female said some name and “she may still catch you”. Now, I may not be in a race, but I surely hate the idea of being passed by anyone in second half. At that time, despite feeling every small muscle from my anatomy book due to sliding in the sand, I was feeling rather strong and moving well. Second big loop was done, and it turned out to be a whole mile further in a distance than I thought – 31.1M instead of 30! Amazing how little I was prepared – and how little can get you excited. I went on loop 3, more sand – and the running was over…couldn’t. Zapped. Done. But the powerwalking was still good…apparently, since I pulled up on a few guys. What meant even though I am falling apart, others are not fairing any better (I know, it sounds bad, but it does help to keep moving). Last 3 miles on that one-before-last loop a guy I caught up with took off, running on testosterone (well, he did look strong, he was just hanging out with his struggling buddy). He wasn’t getting chicked, my man Steve. That was ok. I came to loop’s end and saw him there, and exhaling “last 9M, 2 hrs” left ahead.

And – couldn’t run a step again. OK, I said, I powewalked whole Palo Duro, I can make it with 9 miles. I was baking, dehydrated, hot, with chills under my skin and goosbumps under my hair. When Steve passed me once again, I told him to go ahead. Mentally, I was still ok, but in true ultrarunning style things change in a second. I was walking and telling myself: 8 miles left, 7.5, 7, 6.5…I remember distinctly being happy when number 6.5M came up…and literally a few seconds later I repeated 6.5M left – and was horrified. It seemed like an eternity. That I will never ever be able to make it that far. Amazingly, I started to add running bursts, in 20 seconds or so at first, then a bit longer. But the mind was done. I came to the last AS to see Steve again and told him I hate him for being able to run so well so late. Refilled my bottles with ice and water – and left before him. Of course, he caught me in a minute, than we walked together through like a mile stretch of sand. And then I was jogging. Then he was. I was walking faster, he was running stronger. We played leap, and eventually with 3 miles left I let him go. As he disappeared, the dark clouds of dehydrated fried mind came over. I was an emotional ball on the verge of tears. I didn’t want to be passed. I was afraid to look back. I never asked at any of the AS if anybody of the ladies was close, because I was petrified I would have to race – and now was mad. Getting passed in the last 3 miles would squish me. I was vividly picturing if that happens, I would just curl up in a ball and not move. I wanted to cry and couldn’t – no water, no energy. I wanted a hug. I wanted to be home. I was telling myself, now that the last ultra here is done, I don’t ever, never have to run another ultra in TX. Heck, I may never run another ultra, period! Then I thought I might be looking like zombie. I felt like one. I had my mouth open, eyes with blank stare, face unmoved – a photographer would have been thrilled. Somehow I was still throwing in lots of shuffling runs. There was so much angst and pain in me, when I popped up, I hardly realized I am a bit off the other side where I had to be.

I finished about 40 seconds behind Steve. While I was congratulated and given something into my hands, I couldn’t speak, smile or react. It took me quite a few minutes to say I am ok. I am sorry I was such a wreck. I know you guys were happy for me. I wasn’t – that was, probably, a first for me. Not for the win, for the time (9:52), for the end of it…I think I am still not reacting properly. I think my neurons short-fused and fried. I need to go drink…

The male winner was in 7:46, and second guy in 7:52. I was told I was 5th overall. After hanging out for 30 minutes, no female came in, so that’s as much as I know. Wish I knew it, may be I would have pulled back on an effort…may be not. I drove 4 hrs home, and Larry had to wash my filth and dirt. I do have to give a shout-out to La Sportiva shoes and Drymax socks – with all the sand and dust and sand, no gaiters and no changes, I had not a single blister. The built-in protection in the shoes and technology of the sock was flawless.

I apologize for such a dry report. It's a first for me. And it doesn't do justice to a race and it's organizers. It was done perfect, the single track was great, the marking awesome, and volunteers are angels. I really, truly loved how it was done. I am just not a heat runner...I need a break now. I am surprisingly not sore at all, in any places. I am just fried in my brain. Kind of traumatized by the burning heat and sinking sand during a 50 miler:) One more thing to add. Racing in Texas at anything above 50k is all about surviving skills, not the speed. Being fast is all good when you go 3-4-5 hrs. Then it's about taking care of yourself, knowing your body, drinking and eating and taking salt...and in this part I did as good as possible. May be that's why I survived the quickest:)

I’ll get back later. May be I’ll talk about that weight loss for a change:))

Recap with photos by EnduranceBuzz


  1. Congratulations on a wonderful race! Take care and have a nice recovery.

  2. Wahooo, awesome Olga! I've seen you walk and it's fast especially of there is a grade involved. Congratulations on your race girl! Sounds like you suffered but hey you rocked it.

  3. Just awesome to see you this weekend...and after all the years of reading my blog about TEXAS heat...I wasn't joking. ;-). I am so proud of you digging deep and your performance...wow...incredible.

  4. I know what you mean about the heat. I don't do well in it either, but something about it keeps me going back for more. I have a race this summer in the thick of it, and I know it will hurt me just to survive. But I have some unfinished business!

  5. Great job, Olga. You are running and racing awesome! I hope to see you out on the trails this year. Keep up the good work.

  6. No more ultras? Ha! I've heard that one before ;-)

    Great race and way to struggle it in, that's what ultrarunning is all about!

    Your teammate,
    Steve (no, not that Steve)

  7. I think I was most impressed that you could actually walk when you got out of the car after driving for 4 hours post-race! And, I quit ("Never Again!!!") during almost every one of my races. Very proud of you for more reasons than just running. :)

  8. Wow sounds hard core. Sufferfest? But you did great. Of course. You can suffer through about anything. You were probably smiling.

  9. Good grief! I can't believe you apologized for that being a "dry report." I had to go back twice to make sure I'd read correctly that you had to crawl under horse gates. Incredible work. You're my hero. And I love the part where you actually tell another runner that you hate them during the race. :) And how a photographer would have been thrilled by how rotten you thought you looked. Isn't that the truth!

  10. I think every 50 mile race or longer I do I want to quit ultra running. It was a tough day for you. But you hung on. Better ones will be back. Oh yeah....the heat sucks! We miss you! Bret-Gail.

  11. You had my attention with the first line, it sounded horrid and I just had to throw up my hands up in protest a few paragraphs later when you said "sand, sand and more sand. Fine sand, dust, coarse sand, an inch high, a couple, ankle deep…into your shoes, can’t run" Heat plus all of that...umm I surrender, no race like that for me in the future.

    Ah yes you were a bit of a pig before but now you look amazing. No, no I bet what they really meant was that you looked even better than the last time they saw you.

  12. Congratulations Olga, on a brutal race. Wow, off course with the fishermen and everything. You pulled out the win. That's amazing, even if you don't care! Who knows-maybe you will come to love the heat? It is 8F here with 11 inches of snow on the ground.

  13. I'm back. I forgot to add, way to go on finishing a race like that; no mountains or trees, lots of heat and my not so favorite ingredient - sand. And to do do so well....