If you're lucky enough to be in the mountains, you are lucky enough.

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

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, June 23, 2014

Bryce 50M - running is overrated.

It's been a touch over a week after the race happen, and, as always, the immediate feelings had subsided, the words I thought of as I moved along the course had either lost their sharpness, or simply got lost, and it all seems vague and far away...But, alas, let me try and write something up, because who knows if I ever get a chance to participate in another ultra in this life.

Bryce 50 and 100 mile races is located, you guessed it, right on the outskirts of Bryce NP, my favorite of UT parks, and the course goes along so many features I love that it was a highlight of my day. My other highlight was that, though I never checked the entrants list because I wasn't focused on this "race" one bit (I packed feverishly the night before and knew I am not in any shape or interest to do well or even remotely ok), I met so many friends out there, a huge Texans group, many PNW folks, and random guys and gals I ran with in the past years. Ah, the benefits of having quite a long and extensive history of ultrarunning around the country...

So, the morning started (at which I panicked the night prior because the weather forecast said 23F and 40 mph wind and I had Texas outfit - but they lied!), and the 2 miles of dirt road took us to spread out, separate "real from pretenders" (I was a pretender), warm us up (I took windbreaker off by the end of first mile) and see the beautiful sunrise...

p.s. I took 100 photos during this run, so embrace your patience.

The first 9 miles went relatively well, not only I ran flats and downhills, I even managed to run some inclines (because once we were filed onto a single track, I felt locked in and responsible to follow along). My old buddy Beat J. - a crazy Swiss who travels around the world to participate in all kinds of insane things (like, 1,000 miles in Alaska or 500 miles in Alps or 300 miles in Vietnam...) - spent miles and miles with me, and we shared what happened since we last saw each other, our home lives, runs (or lack thereof), and even work. A few runners around us jumped into conversations, some new-comers, some not so much, and it was fun...but by mile 10 I was feeling the effects of my continuous effort to run and just kind of knew, it will be over before I blink my eyes.

The aid stations at this race are rather spread out far (not surprisingly, as the location was meandering through such beautiful places, cars wouldn't drive to them), and one thing for sure, I was consistently running low on water (carrying 1x20oz bottle and 1x14oz pouch) a good mile before hitting AS, and even that was considering I stretched out. But I was fueling and happy and taking photos and enjoying my day.

After the first 10.5 miles taking us through some nice forest and amazing  vast vistas, we refilled (in a line of a few peeps per water jag) and went on some more forest-y single track - and my wheels, slowly but surely, began coming off. I switch to a strong power-walk right away, and even Beat commented that I am the only woman he has some trouble to keep up with and can be commended as a "real European power-walker". A compliment I took with gratitude - and well deserved, because power-walking is, indeed, one of the assets that saved me many of races, this one included.

Another 8-9 mile stretch, and it getting hot outside, the shortage of my water carrying capacity was showing as an over-load of salt consumption, which I didn't catch right away (when taking salt, remember, it is not per hour, it is per water drunk, I didn't follow my own advice!). My tummy had bloated and the processing of gels stopped. It took me another 2 hrs to realize where I went wrong, and the rest of the way I was not taking salt anymore, but could only take gel "every other time" per my usual "normal" intervals, what, on top of (very mild) under-hydration, lead to under-fueling on calories.

At mile 18+ AS I ran into Tanya and Justin E. from San Antonio, and the happiness to see familiar faces (and finally getting water) pushed me out of said AS without my drop bag - even though I was asked by a volunteer "Do you have a drop bag here?" straight in the face. A quarter mile later I reached into a pocket for a gel - and found none, and it hit me - it WAS my drop bag spot! So, I turned around (lucky for me, I was so close!) and picked it up. But as a statement how I was not consuming enough, I had 12 gels left after I was done - and those were calculated for 12 hr run (and I was almost 40 min extra on that).

In this (third now) section between 18 and 28 miles I walked (and shuffled occasionally on some shallow downs) with old buddy Larry, chatted with Canadian gal Heather who reads my blog, and passed my TX friend Thomas on the climb. In fact, my climbing skills and power were incredibly strong, and I was passing folks there left and right the whole way...sometimes I wish the whole race is uphill!

The AS at 27-28 miles came pretty late for me, and while I knew 12:30 would have been my realistic time, I was secretly hoping for sub-12 (and was on "pace" until about 25M?). That AS, coming after a huge climb, in the heat of the day, sun blazing, altitude kicking everybody's butt, was a MASH unit. I refilled and left right away, though set briefly on the way out to get sand out of my shoes (lots of sandy single track on this course!). I walked out, feeling peppy as I always do after hitting the AS (the energy of people and the fact that another mile-stone is past do the magic), past another 3 or 4 guys, and entered yet another amazing stretch of views on the Hoodos.

By now I lost Larry behind (he eventually dropped at 40, so did Heather), and Beat was "in and out" of my vicinity. Frankly, there was a stretch on the road I was very moody with all the boring walking, no matter how strong and fast, and he kept saying I need to re-think my "why I race" and just stroll through. Well, doesn't quite work for me - I come to either do my best, or why pay if I can "stroll" on my own with no time constrains? If there is a clock, I want to shorten my time "out there", if there is no such thing - I never want to leave (my Larry can confirm this, as every hike and backpacking trip I cry and go very slow at the end). So, Beat would be either lagging behind at times when I walk too fast, or running ahead when he had energy (and I, as I said, didn't) - but we were never far away, and talked each other's ears off. At some point Timmy Olson ran towards us all (supporting Krista in her first 50) and I stopped and chatted and hugged - and it was a mental break more than anything. I have to say, explaining about 20 times why I am the way I am and far behind was really time consuming, especially since by now I really don't even know what to say, and I am tired to try and make sense of all this.

There was a cute shirtless young guy running around, moving ahead, falling behind, and I kept wondering what in the world, he has a good clip going, why are we still stride in stride when I am walking? Beat and I did chat with him/about him, the "eye candy" for us, old and crippled and ugly "used to be runners", and that took some mind off the developing by now feet pain.

Which, of course, did come. One downside in my power-walking is my feet. I came to "run a race", which means I came in quite minimal shoes I love (and ran up to 25 miles by now, as I am testing a newly developed Merrell shoe - report to come), and walking, especially walking with sand and quite a lot of rock too, beats up the feet - coupled with dehydration, trouble didn't wait long.

By mile 30 I felt 'em both, by mile 40 I would have loved to kill somebody - and even short 100-yard shuffles on downhills were shut down for good. Thanks God Beat kept me company - kind of almost yelled at me for my piss-poor attitude (lasted about 5 minutes), then Hal Koerner came by (crewing Carly in a 100), and we stopped and talked, and hugged (and another "can't run anymore" story followed), and he made me laugh, and I finally made it to mile 40.

40 miles was a good spot. I walked out (yelling to my "eye candy" to run faster and catch up, and "why are you around me when I am walking?") strong, passed those who over-exerted themselves big times and were not running anymore, and who's walking techniques were not developed (everyone hopes in mid-pack to run the whole 50? really?), and got back onto a single track under the trees...but sadly, not for long. We entered a 5M climb to the highest peak on the course (9,500 feet), ALL on fire-road with rocks, rocks and rocks, and no views! That sucked! On top of it, my Garmin was over-shooting the distance, so when the road ended (and the first guy from a 100 miler came towards me on his trip back) - I still had a rocky field to climb some more, worrying where the AS is!

That AS (where I met my old buddy Jim Skaggs and shuffled with him some) and the 5.5 miles "downhill" back to finish were my lowest, where, as I told Hal at the finish, if someone offered me a gun, I would have taken them up on it. My feet were trashed - and the down was rockiest dirt road yet, technically the grade was that I could have kind of ran, but I simply couldn't. Have you walked on downhill? It really sucks. The 100 milers were coming back up (I thought kind of late comparing to where I was), James Kerby, Suzanna Bonn among them, and at least I had to pretend and put a smile on my face and cheer them o. Both Beat and Jim finally had enough of my down-walk and ran on, and I was left alone with my misery, and even as the road turned onto a trail, it was still rocky - though it did provide a few views.

The course was longer, and thus my 12:30 got ditched...nor did I care. The "eye candy" finally caught up with me just prior the final turn, but let me finish 10 seconds ahead - and then he (his name is Stephen, by the way) asked his wife to take a photo with me. Oh, the fun we have in those ultras...12:38 was what it took to walk 50.5 miles with 10,000 feet of elevation gain.

Hal at the finish asked me how much would it take for me to turn around and go back 50 miles. I glared and said: "Not any amount of money would make me do that". He laughed and apparently felt the same:) Hope he makes it to UTMB, new daddy and all!

And that concludes my story, moral of which is: unless you're seriously aiming for a top-10 (or 20?) position, please learn how to power-walk! While my time seriously sucked where my personal goals are concerned (I am not obnoxious, I am talking about personal abilities here), I was 8th female and 41st OVERALL (results) out of 131 finishers (and some 200 starters). That is NOT a good thing to be proud of. That just shows, yet again, that ultra-"running", for the most part, is experience, resolve, ability to manage one's fueling and hydration, and never stopping moving forward.

On (only!) one negative note, the "finish line" for 50 milers completely sucked. There was no real food (it was simply an AS to turn-around), it was remote - with no cell service (I did carry my cell with me so I can call Larry once done, waiting for me back at the start area), the crew were discouraged to drive and pick runners up in this very remote area (thus while Larry was at the start), and the bus was doing 1 trip every 2 hrs - and when it finally came (1.5 hrs after I was done, frozen and hungry) - it stood for 30 min to wait for more finishers (understandably, but why do I have to sit?). Anyway, it just has to be arranged a little better. The RD's gave us THE best trails per mile, indeed, thank God (otherwise I would have never enjoyed my walk), and this one thing just needs some attention (more mini-vans instead of one bus?).

Overall, I loved the race, and if it has to be my last ultra (as I mentioned, who knows what is going on with my running, it's absence, my body's refusal to cooperate, not to mention Texas summer is upon, and no way am I going to try and solve it right now, and I am kind of done seeing doctors and pretending to solve this puzzle) - this was a place to have that "last ultra" with an accord of irresistible beauty.

We spent a week vacationing in UT, visiting national park, doing hikes in the mountains, with Larry and his son Harrison, and the albums to various photos can be found HERE (everything from Bryce 50 and from there on forward).

Fully back to crazy work schedule, we will be sitting quietly in TX for the next 5 weeks, until our August 1st trip to NM for the weekend. We need a break, our house needs a lot of tending, and the jobs don't pay us just because we're cute.

Have a great time, my friends. Regardless whether you're running - or walking! :)


ultrarunnergirl said...

whenever I tell people who don't run ultras about them, I say, "anyone can do it, if they want" and I also always say "it's really like a hike with running thrown in the mix" because you are right - the power walk is a huge part of it.
I'm feeling stronger than ever, though it is taking some time, using the Maffetone program. It might just be worth a shot for you ...
Regardless, I think you are awesome all around. Hope to meet you sometime in the near future, on trail or wherever. Have a good summer!

Olga said...

Kirstin, you are awesome! In fact, I'll make a devils' deal: if I get to meet you, I will consider coming to walk Grindstone...otherwise, this idea is out:) Just 2 nights and no huge views are hard to swallow for a walk.
Thank you, dear!

Olga said...

p.s. I will try Maffetone, I kept promising my buddy Steve Pero...but may be after the summer is over here. Frankly, right now I have a gagging reflex even thinking about being outside. I have a whole post called "Half-way over" for my TX gig stay.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful pictures. I haven't run in 3 months (at all), sometimes I just need to read something like this to get me out of the house and start training for something. Good job at Bryce, great post, hope to see you in COlorado soon! I'm off for the first short trail run in ages. ~Iva

Larry said...

Iva, go for fast walks! That's about all I'm doing nowadays. Covered 3.5 miles in 45 minutes this morning and worked up a good sweat. Committing to training for a race just isn't something I'm interested right now. Basically, if I can't commit 100% to training (ok, maybe 80%), I won't do it. Too much life going on outside of running... :)


What a GREAT account of the adventure! Meeting you in person was certainly a highlight of my run ! We were a bit delusional, thinking it would be a lot more like Bryce Canyon... The first 10 miles were, but there was a lot more singletrack uphill in trees (we get enough that at home in vancouver bc) . I came for the views! so was happy we DNF'd at 28 miles cuz the altitude got to my hubby- the big guys were dropping like flies ! lol! Sounds like we diddn't miss much after that= made me feel better cuz the next day we went for a magical 3+ hour run IN BRYCE canyon ! amazing ! Always an open door if you are ever out our way !


So many people were mad at themselves for DNF'ing that I felt the need to do a post about 'the good things about DNF'ing' - die hard optimist I am ! Congrats to you for finishing. I have a little ache that I wished I pushed on- but there are always other races.

Toni said...

I had fun reading this post. You look so happy in your pictures. It seemed like running gave you such an experience. i just love how you out your fellow runners. I really can't say a lot about running since I'm not a runner myself but i do have friends that run but I don't think that they can hold a candle to you when it come to running. My friends say that running is so much fun but I can only take their word for it since I haven't experienced it yet. I might just join them one of these days seeing this post inspired me.

Olga said...

Toni, join them. Make sure it's on single track trails and in the mountains and more than 1 hr, this is when endorphins hit!

Olga said...

It was wonderful to spend time talking to you! You are a hoot! We went for a 9M hike in Bryce the next day, and also hit all the touristy spots by car and little walks. I actually thought they did a great job on the course, because Bryce is not just Hoodos, but forest too, and I love exactly that - a combination of both (I am not a big fan of just rock formations, it's nice and all, but doesn't touch me inside). I am a "big trees" lover. Being to Vancouver once, ran Dirty Duo 50k there, in 2005! Great trails!

Olga said...

ALWAYS find a good thing about a not-so-good one!

Unknown said...

Olga, I'm glad to hear you had such a good time in Bryce. I did the 100 last year and got my *ss seriously kicked by the altitude, but the views were amazing (except the 100 mile finish was terrible last year). Beat was trying to get me to join him this year, but I really can't afford it right now in terms of time. After reading this and hearing Beat's stories, I do wish I could have been there, though I know there's no way I could power-walk at your and Beat's pace!

All the best

Olga said...

Brother, I wish you DID come! Because, you know, we did talk about you too:) You can always jog next to us! Speaking of Beat's compliment, I should have used some brain cells, because the proper response should be "Duh, I AM European, you know". :)

Unknown said...

Olga, Maffetone does work...but it's a patience thing. It works great for ultras, but for shorter events you must do some speed, but not until that aerobic base has been built. I think that you actually already have ;-)
Good fun race you had, they all hurt at the end! Hope to see you again sometime in the future...off to Silverton for me & Deb, our annual pilgrimage.

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