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

Monday, April 22, 2013

When the race throws you lemons...

Well, actually, first the life throws you lemons before race even approaches. I mean, in general life in the past couple of weeks has been hectic, and while those were good things "hectic", they still took every once of energy and passion and time I had. And then a weekend before the race week it was "Kaboom" - a long kind of coming one, but still, "Boom" and all...and life goes on.
These words come to me often. I don't know where the egg or the chicken is, as they both are one: I am a distance runner, and I am a stubborn person who marches on in life regardless of world crashing. I do gasp, cry, curl in a ball - and next morning the alarm goes off, and I am up, in my running clothes, off into the darkness, and on, and on...

I picked Free State 100k back in January, I think, as a "pinnacle" of this season, because, you know, I gave up 100 M races and stuff, but needed a goal. I picked it for many various reasons. It was longer than 50 miles, so it felt like a nice progression and a statement for the end of the "season". It was smaller and in mid-country, something Larry and I decided to explore (as we ventured to TN, AL and AR so far) and support. The course was all about my weaknesses - and I vowed to work on my weak spots (less mountain climb, more small rollers to flat, technical trails). And the RD, Ben Holmes - we go back in history. From the early blogging days in 2005, to him bringing Kansas Trail Nerds once I co-directed PCT 50 in Oregon, to some sweet personal email exchanges as we kept up and supported our lives being challenged, and to the fact that our running club HCTR, while I was residing as VP, was looking for a destination race, and Free State had 4 distances to choose from. While it ended up only 5 folks from HCTR to come (and about 5 more from Texas), that was a start. I made my flight, car and hotel reservations, and trained.

And then I got into San Diego 100 - unexpectedly and somewhat anxiously, yet totally excitedly. And Free State, just like that, had become a mid-way run-through. That, and a gal from the club, Brenda Rogers, had contacted me if I want to pair up. Well, I am all for saving a buck, even if as I get older pairing up with random people gets more difficult...

Sometimes Universe has a way with us. As we both landed (via different airlines) in Kansas City and picked up a car, it was a match made in Heaven. Yes, as I was told, Brenda talks a lot - but with the right person, I not only love it, I can out-talk and enjoy every minute of it! OK, laugh all you want, but in the next day there was hardly anything that was left un-said, un-discussed,un-gossipped...We drove endlessly as real Blonds with no directions or maps, looking for random coffee shops, salad places, hotel entrances...and we found it all, may be not as fast as efficient as the guys would, but that was fun. We managed to get to the package pick up, had a volunteer draw us directions to the park, and still make wrong turns - and laugh about it. We explored the Clinton Lake park, a place where the race would be held, and got lost between parking lots, trails, and views...but we found what the trail looks like and where to go in the morning:)
Brenda and I explore trails.

It has that many roots!

And this is not the worst section where the rocks come!

But it also has some stretches of a nice single track - and a perfect marking.

"Red Trail" by the beach is just a pile of rocks, but only lasts less than a mile (for sure).

Even the hotel, a dingy Super 8, was really neat, and the lady who checked us was simply awesome. And then we got turned away from a Thai place just to walk across the street into a Japanese bistro with nice setting and great food. And to top it off - we bought a quart of ice-cream and dug into it, girl-party style, while kept talking into late night (and yes, not only am I not supposed to be eating it, I shouldn't due to intolerances, but who cares, live a little!). Could you have a better pre-race day?

But lets focus on the race, it was, after all, a reason we were there. Morning came with 39F but calm. As we drove to the park, we saw hundred(s) of young solders marching with full packs, running some, as part of their training day, and that was inspiring to watch.
I would think of them often when things went wrong in a race...

Brenda was to run a marathon distance, so she had an hour later start. The RD had an arrangement with photographers that they got paid by the race and all the runners got free downloads, so the photographers were running around shooting, and runners were having a blast before we even set a foot on trails!
We found Texans in Kansas!
And finally, we were off at 7 am (I don't even remember if anything was said, I lingered behind taking off extra clothes and almost missed it!).
While we are "filing onto a single track", let me look back on my goals and share them. When I just picked the race up, even as a "final" one, and checked out the results that I could find, I decided that 12 hrs is a very worthy goal to go after. I knew little about course (to nothing), but somehow I always have a "feel" on what I should be running here or there. And then lately, as my races were going well, I got a big head - no, really, I, who always tends to be extremely realistic (not pessimistic, just real) - got a big head and figured "Why not shoot for 11 hrs?". Right. Granted I ran Miwok in 11:07...once, in 2005, and that course, while having far more elevation change, was where my strength is, climbs and fast long descends. Whatever, bring it - said I, stupidly! And twas were my predicted "splits" for 3x20.7M loops: 3:20, 3:40, 4:00, no room for error. What made first loop to be run at just under 10:00 pace...
Mile 4, feeling groovy...
Somewhere still early on.

Like I ever tried to pace myself like that! Idiot! Not only I never know what my "pace" is, ever, the Garmin, damn electronic toy, "eats" a signal when a trail twists and turns onto itself and folds back, as it catches a satellite and tells you that you haven't moved a spot! What meant I was going at some random speed and reading 10:40, 10:20, 10:29...and thinking, whoa, I am slow, yet it feels like I am booking, I must have been over-raced! This whole thing lasted until the aid station I knew was at 8.7M, and as I passed it, it hit me: my watch shows 7.53M. F%#*! It took a couple minutes to process, and at 9 (official) miles into the race I was in 1:20, all with 2 pit-stops to pee and 2 AS stops for water refills, making my pace sub-9...which is all I can do at that pace - 9 miles! Dumb ass!
Having a good time at the speed of light.

Oh, I got mad. And scared, And pissed off. And frightened big time. I am so s-a-cr-u-d! All I could think. And as I thought that - I caught my first rock under, torqued my body to catch myself, and tweaked my previously-torn-and-now-scarred hamstring to the point of scream. I stopped and grabbed it. Rubbed it, held it, limped a step. Then a few, walked some more, turned my head, and saw a girl coming. Just as well...and I shuffled, trying to shake off the pain. Everything got super-stiff. With that pace of mine, it was truly a tempo run, and as a true tempo, it left my every muscle of the lower limbs tight, stiff and unresponsive. What means, along with hamstring pain, I couldn't lift my feet anymore, and wasn't clearing all those rots and rocks. And the swearing went full swing...

"Damn, F8%*, Mother of God, focus, stupid b^$#&^, look, breathe..." - I just hope this wasn't what held those 2 guys and a girl behind for many miles, as I was moving slowly aplenty...
 We had to run up some road section (which then front runners were already running down on), pass the AS within arm's reach and get another 15 minutes or so on some trails and across a field (simply following the flags), before actually hitting that AS. I got my water and took off, still ahead of that group of 3 (although already passed by 2 guys, I think). Seems that was I able to separate myself a bit there (she, the girl, had a camelback, and it takes a tad longer to refill than a bottle), but as I continued to stumble over and swear, I saw the group fast approaching, and eventually, in slow-motion, they pass - and I get deflated, unfocused, and finally come to a full fall. Thank God the body itself hit a soft part of the trail! Isn't it enough signs for you, girl? Stop letting your mind wonder off!!!
Photo by RunLawrence

I was still mad, no matter how many times I tried to tell myself I don't care, and I contemplated to stop and drop and make sure I don't totally do something irreversible before SD100. It took many more trippings and many more waves of pain sent into my hamstring to finally calm down and make a pact with myself: "I will run my own race. I will move the way my body dictates, slow when needed, a little faster but careful when allowed to, I will eat my gels, drink my water, consume my salt caps, and I will smile my way through"...

"I am a distance runner. I've been trained to keep going, even when it's hard. When it hurts. When it sucks. When I don't want to. I look past it. Relentless forward motion to the finish. Call it what you want: stubbornness, determination, guts. Deep down, I don't know how to give up"...
Turning into finish of Loop 1 - yeah, I feel exactly that good.

And so I ran, fully slowed down, just ran, without a single thought beyond a step in front of me. And before I knew it, I came to the end of loop 1, in 3:31. Time to re-supply and re-access the goals...

I left on the loop 2 with the thought that my initial idea of 12 hrs was the correct one (go figure), and regardless all that, that I will run this second loop completely and totally relying on my senses, as I do best. I managed to fall one more and last time, and as I landed, the tie around my hand-held bottle blew torn away, and from now on I had to hold a bottle by gripping my hand...but even that didn't phase me anymore. I disregarded any beeping happening on my Garmin (and if I knew how to use that device, I would have changed the settings, but alas, I just know start and stop buttons), and as time went on, I grew stronger. Not faster, mind you, but felt that the strength I am kind of known for is filling me from inside. I reached the first aid at mile 5, and the boys had music - and as I declined anything but water ("I am so boring, boys, just water and gels"), they offered a dance - and I accepted, and we danced for a few seconds, moving hips - and yes, the hips were back to moving!

And just like that, suddenly, I stopped tripping. I stopped thinking far ahead, far behind, and anywhere in-between. I looked directly 3 feet in front of me, I saw every root and rock, I was able to clear the obstacles, and even sneak some glances at the beautiful lake we were running by all this time, and note the canoe, a kayak, a motor device, a floating log...Life was good, life was back to normal, where I belong...

In the middle of Loop 2, contempt with myself and my run, no watch time noted.
And so I was, coming up the hill into the start/finish area (4:03 for 2nd loop), focused on one thing only: get ready to get out for the last loop. I see Ben telling me I am running great, I see Brenda, who finished her marathon, trying to help me...

I rip the sleeves off, throw my gloves, grab my V8 juice...Brenda asks what to do, and I point "gels out" - she dumps them all on a chair, as I shove them into pockets of my pack (which, by the way, for some reason chafed my shoulders big time that day, never before!), practically order her to open a can of Red Bull to pour into my bottle (later in a day my thoughts: "I hope Brenda didn't hate me for being so short and bossy!", Brenda's: "I hope I did ok and Olga will not ditch me as a race/travel partner!").
Brenda's helping to re-supply.

And as I am about to leave, I finally raise my eyes to a level above my pack...and see that girl and 2 guys leaving! Well, darling...what was supposed to be "just get out and get 'er done" had now become "It's hunting time"! And the blood rushed to my head, as the senses peaked. Calm, dog, calm...take your time...run your own race.

I turn onto single track, and see that they are not far. I order myself to not reel them in, just take my time - 20 miles is a long time. I sip on a bottle with Red Bull, hating every drop of it, and just run, holding it back...but within a mile there is nothing I can do but pass. The 2 guys pulled away a bit, leaving the girl behind, and as I get around, I smile and say: "Hold on, honey, last loop. The way I think about it is now we all counting backwards!". She smiled and replied "I like that. Good job", as I ran on forward, and pretty soon, I lost her behind.

I stayed calm and focused, not to mention that Red Bull was not sitting well, and soon after I retched it all out in a quick stop, and emptied my bottle. Another mile ahead, I passed the boys, and ran into the "Dance" AS with not a smile on my face. It was all game now. The race was on. "Water, thanks" - out.

The course seemed so familiar now, by 3rd loop, and it was like between last time and this not 4 hrs, but 4 minutes passed by, like I was there just a few seconds ago. It was surreal. I ran more than walked, and continued to not trip, not fall, not even as much as kick a rock. I was floating off the ground. The next AS comes, and they seemed to have been surprised to see me (later I learned that one of the volunteer was to pace that girl and expected her to enter ahead). I was a freight train, "Water, please, thanks" - out. The dance was over, it's all work.

And with that, the "2 guys" re-passed me, again. Really???

As I ran by that weird AS before the field wrap-around, someone yelled my name. I vaguely realized it is Justin from my running club, and thought "Sucker, show off, already finished and showered!" - and into the woods - and who do I see but those "2 guys", and I blast by with not a word now. "Here, get it, kids!" - and got back to AS to Justin taking photos and trying to encourage me. "Water, quick, please, coke, thanks a bunch" - out. Nope, the smiling and talking are not going to happen...
Photo by Justin

I ran down that little road section and saw the girls, the one I passed and her pacer, and there was the second time I smiled on the 3rd loop:" Lets go home!!!" as I pressed on a gas pedal. Yes, I am like that, nobody passes me in the last 10 miles of the race. This is MY territory...

The rest went like in a fog. I ran as much and as strong as I could, and despite being totally focused, I felt a joy. Yes, I love pushing - or more so, the feeling that you're capable of pushing. The feeling that you believe in yourself, trust your instincts, and the body complies. The feeling that I am strong, in my mind, in my body...

"I am a distance runner. I've been trained to keep going, even when it's hard. When it hurts. When it sucks. When I don't want to. I look past it. Relentless forward motion to the finish. Call it what you want: stubbornness, determination, guts. Deep down, I don't know how to give up"...

Miles clicked and when the signs began "3 miles to the end", "2.5M..." - I chocked up a little, but couldn't allow myself cry yet. Tears are emotions, they drain energy. Things happen in the last mile - I can not fall, I can not make mistakes. I have to focus.

With a quarter mile to go, someone yelled, and as I crested the little hill, there was Brenda! Sweet Baby Jesus, it was awesome! A wave of gratefulness overwhelmed me, as she snapped a couple of photos and ran in front of me.
Photo by Brenda

Last hill, which I ran every step of, every loop!
And there it was, a relief, it was over. My journey, so different than I planned on, and oh, so wonderful. As I say again and again, this is why we keep doing ultras - things go wrong, guaranteed. We keep looking for that perfect day, but when distances and time are such long, like in life, stuff happens. It's how we deal with it and make the best out of it what matters.

Telling Ben stories.
And this is the moment worth the struggle for.
My 3rd loop was run in 4:07, what with the re-supply time probably means I ran same time as the 2nd loop. Nobody in front of me had done it, and only one person far behind ran last loop faster than 2nd (what likely meant he was running mid-portion with somebody else?). My final 100km time was 11:42, and I can't complain. After all, again, my initial instincts on what I should be doing here, were right. Go figure:) I talked a lot of smack at the finish ("You wanna piece of me?", "Experience and wisdom over youth and speed" and such), when in fact I don't think anybody cared, and that was just because I was excited, and pleased that I could turn my day around when I was about to quit, and because there were friends near-by happy for me, and friends at home I knew will be cheering for me once they hear about it...

As always, it is not much of a description of a race course, or even the race itself. I suck at those. I process everything in life through emotions and visceral feelings. Take it for what it is.

Ben Holmes and his Trail Nerds do a great job putting on races. I am so glad I was able to fit it into my calendar and come run one of those, and to spread the word, and to bring some Texans. I got some serious swag, and even though usually I turn it down (I don't collect things) - this was beautiful, and it was easy to see in my house somewhere, minimal that it is.
Belt buckle was given too.

 Brenda had a grand time at the marathon, and Justin, unfortunately, had to drop due to injury (so much for "show off"). We drove back to Kansas City and Larry was able to book us (on a fully booked weekend for a bunch of events happening) at Hyatt, and were actually got a 20% discount (I walk in and yell "I am the King...no, really, I am, and I just won a 100k trail race!") on a perfect room. We ate at a perfect Ruby Tuesday across the street, took a perfect bath, and slept in perfect bed. And just like that, the weekend of a dream was over...

Not surprisingly, my chronically injured knee is stiff and hurting, and my streak of running every day was supported by a stiff shuffle. I, of course, am quite drained off energy, and my body not only retains a bunch of water (normal post-race), but bloated due to ice cream and some other nicks and knacks I consumed -  and no, I do not feel guilty, even if feel ill. I'll get it back in order. After all, this weekend deserved the spoil.

The events in life haven't changed just because I had a perfect weekend with a weirdly-perfect race. But, you know...

"I am a distance runner. I've been trained to keep going, even when it's hard. When it hurts. When it sucks. When I don't want to. I look past it. Relentless forward motion to the finish. Call it what you want: stubbornness, determination, guts. Deep down, I don't know how to give up"...

Race website, race photos, more photos and my album (includes photos from previous links). Results should be here.


  1. Way to go, Olga! Sounds like a tough but wonderful race for you. Loved the race report! :)

  2. I wish I could have been there to play tour guide. I should do a race there one of these days. Congratulations on a pefect race.

  3. You can take that first sentence, "I am a distance runner.", and change it to, "I am Olga.". That describes who YOU are as a person and has nothing to do with running, but about who you are as an individual. :)

  4. How fantastic - and inspiring! The whole way ultras are like life (and marathons and long runs too) - you plan, you try, stuff happens, how do you deal? - are so appealing to me right now. As is your glee at the finish - congratulations! And I'm saving your wonderful quote. Best to you!

  5. Brilliant stuff, well done. Very inspiring, as always!

  6. Come back to Kansas anytime and bring more of those Texans.

  7. Come on back to Kansas anytime and bring more of them Texans.

  8. Kelley Lightfoot23/4/13 14:02

    Congratulations Olga! It sounds like an amazing experience.The photos are great! Thanks for sharing the memories.

  9. Congrats on another great race, Olga!

  10. Nice win! I love the "tree branch" tunnel!

  11. Nice win! I love the "tree branch" tunnel photo!

  12. Excellent! I'm glad you had a great trip and congrats on your win. Life is for living! Thanks for showing us how.

  13. Thanks for sharing!

    "I am a distance runner." I won't give up. I am trained! Twelve weeks of rehab for my fractured hip sucks and hurts but I will get past it. Relentless forward motion to the finish.

    Because I have felt the same smile on my face at that finish line that I've seen on Olga's!!

  14. I am glad I was not the only won that tripped a few times. Great race report and way to go on the win.

  15. Olga, that is so great! Congratulations! As always, you hang tough and it pays off! Great report!