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.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Chasing a Buffalo Skull

I wouldn't even know where to begin. That's what happens when you don't put your thoughts down right the moment you're done and have an access to a keyboard - too many new thought come around and become more important.

But I'll try.

The week of the race I haven't run a step. In fact, I was in so much pain with my back, then shoulder, then back again (I think for that day and half the shoulder pain came in, it outhurt the lower back), I tried to walk a mile on Tuesday morning and bailed.

I woke up on Wednesday morning still in pain, came to work, got an email saying "Are you ready to check in?". I checked in without a single thought, and sent an email to Larry saying just that. To which I got a response "Why are we checking in 48 hrs in advance? Aren't we supposed to fly out on Friday?".

You would think so. When I booked the flights, this is what I meant to do. Apparently, I didn't actually do that. And thus the whirlpool began...We had work to squeeze in, notify our unhappy bosses, pack - oh, God, pack! - and Larry's shoes were still not delivered, and I had a client in the evening...

But all works out in the end, right? The shoes showed up at the door that evening, work was done, to some extent anyway, my friend who was getting a massage for his own race that coming weekend had discovered, thanks to my mistake, that he had the same one (booked a flight for Thursday instead of what he thought should have been Friday) - and got his packing done, I re-booked a car, we got our hundred-plus gels ready and decided to treat that extra day as a vacation. As previously divorced parents with children's obligations, we don't get "just vacations". This time though, Stephen was in a sleep-away camp (a total blessing for this disaster!), and Harrison with his mom.

We suddenly had a whole day to ourselves...
Wind Cave

Dudes at Mt. Rushmore

Just chilling.

That Thursday we picked a rental car (Subaru! Oh, how I missed this car!), drove to Mt. Rushmore, Wind Cave, Crazy Horse monument, ate at a restaurant where the waitress was the best and loved her job and her clients, and checked into a hotel for a reduced price with plenty of time to spare and prep the drop bags (where I had discovered that TSA went through them MISPLACED all my stuff and poked a couple of gels! What would it be if I hadn't checked into it due to hurrying up?).

Found a real birch, not an aspen tree, but a birch, a tree I grew up around!

Most beautiful and tough girl, Beth Simpson-Hall, and her other half (behind with my other half) at the pre-race check-in.

Just views at Blackhill mountains.

Second day gave us an opportunity to drive around the area (and realize it is totally awesome on the West side of the highway, away from Badlands), check out some of the trailheads and aid stations, and have a good time with our friends at the pre-race check-in and pasta dinner.

Now, a little bit of a background...

Blackhills 100 was created last year as an alternative to WS100, to which it is more and more difficult (if not impossible) to get into for a regular human being (a.k.a. not qualified per Montrail cup race and such). Larry has told his story a few times, but as any ultrarunner out there, he had a dream of getting into it. This dream has been shuttered year after year, 5 times. Last December, as soon as he got the bad news, again, he quickly signed up for Blackhills 100. Another thing in history lesson? Larry had DNF'ed in 3 consecutive 100 milers in a row in the last 2 years. This cloud rather hangs over...and thus I figured I'll play my part to help. Since each of us chooses to go crew-less and pacer-less, I wasn't going to break a streak, and signed up as a racer - figuring last 100 he did finish was MMT100 where he ran first half away from me, and second half after me. Or something like that:) We don't take stock, and I am grateful in our family we can make fun of it with a light heart.

Bottom line is, I wanted Larry to finish. I could care less who comes where, but I wanted to ensure however I could that he can out-run the voice in his head. He tells his story very well in Larry's Race report.

The morning had come, and everything in this race is very convenient. 5 minutes to the start line, ample parking...

I would be totally lying if I said that just because I signed up for this race to help Larry fight his demons, I had no goals. I never go into a race without one (or few). I knew last year had thunderstorms and that the course is decidedly hard, without being obvious. A very few finishers last year didn't give much to work with, but I had thought that I can for sure run under 28 hrs, a pretty close shot at 26 hrs, and if things are perfect I will get just a hair over 25 (the pace chart stated 25:10). 11:35 out was on it too.

That whole deal didn't account for 2 things: the sudden rise in temps above 95F with high humidity for this mountain area, and a few too many ATV trail sections with rocks thrown around like Zeus was mad. That, and the relentless ups and downs (often steep) that never allowed you to fall into a certain gait and pace.

Now, one thing I always stress when talking about racing: go for time, this is the only legitimate goal you can control. Competition will take care of itself where it is. It doesn't mean I don't look who else is coming, and with Ultrasignup.com it gotten very easy. I knew one woman from MI (Laura) won Hallucination 100 in low 20 hrs, along with some 8-hr 50's. She was my main concern. But she was from MI (cold) and also had little experience in the mountains. And then was Andrea Risi with a couple of 100's under her belt, but not really. I knew one thing - patience and experience will pay off. And those are my biggest essences.

Well, you know I don't do race reports as course descriptions, although a few folks are interested in this particular one. I will do my best to combine. Running 100 miles is like going through life (as Scott Dunlap pointed out to me after the race, often he doesn't know what my blog has more of, life or running). I do what I can to take it one step at a time - and to take immediate care of myself on the go.
RD's at the start, photo by Scott Dunlap

The course is designed as an out and back from Sturgis to Silver City with total estimate of elevation gain of just over 16,000 feet (I am not sure if new course,which changed the last 4 miles, had been re-measured). We ran out of a track on a bike path for a mile and half and entered a grassy field, then the hills. I was dripping sweat within first 20 minutes, and I am not a big sweat-er...So, I drunk my water, ate my gels and monitored my salt intake armed with new knowledge from the seminar I attended given by Meredith Terranova (bottom line is, since I switched gels and was too lazy to pay attention to their content, I was OD'ing on salt, getting bloated and would stop processing calories, not to mention battle a lot of pain. Had no such problem this time!)

And then, BAM, by mile 3, literally, something was bothering me on my right heel. I tried to dismiss it , then stopped and looked - my socks had a hole on the back, right at the spot where my Hoka shoes end! And I already had a bloody blister. And because I haven't had this problem in years, I didn't carry any bandages. Larry came from behind as I searched in my Ultraspire pack for a anything resembling it, and as I pointed my new development out, he said to not try to use it as an excuse to be beat by him. I wasn't planning on it:)

One of my best qualities that help me in running an ultra is an ability to block pain. That's why I often come to the point of serious injuries (like last year's OD100, and that's why I don't have regrets about my 2 DNF's with injuries at Cascade Crest 100 and Angeles Crest 100). So, a couple miles down the trail, I blocked my bleeding heel, and enjoyed the mountains. However, of course, while the mind is a powerful creature, the body knows better (I always say "listen to your body"), and my running gait had inadvertently gotten altered. I knew that. I just simply chose not to pay attention.

The hills rolled, the single track was beautiful, the temperatures soared high, and the carnage was appearing left and right non-stop. Beginning to pass runners at mile 17 is not something I do in a 100. It was weird and worried me some, but not enough to be concerned. I was taking good care of myself. I found a duct tape at mile 22.5 AS, tried my best to wrap around the heel (which already had a healthy hole in it), and not even half a mile later, as I was out-hiking a few more guys, giving them a hard time, I saw Larry...now, that was unexpected, and a lot of emotions stirred up. I contemplated if I should slow down, stay together, be tough, be nice and kind...He was battling a bad back pain, and had accidentally lost his packet with Ibuprofen. Yes, both of us carry a number of those Vitamin I pills. I stopped and gave him all of mine. Hiked a few steps, pulled an emergency spare extra packet with more of the same, and gave it as well. I knew I am running a risk of not being able to help myself when needed (I guarantee, I always need it somewhere along the second half, more often than not a couple-three times), but first of all, I wanted to help my boy badly, and secondly, I wanted to remove as many obstacles as I possibly could on the way of his success. I pressed on, telling him not to give up.

The turn-around for 50M runners was just ahead, and they trickled in, looking battled badly. I tried to encourage them to smile, "You are going HOME!", but nobody did. Wow, that was bad. Funny, I didn't feel it...

Dalton Lake AS rolled in at mile 29, where I had my second drop bag, and I did 2 things (besides drinking custom tomato juice and replacing my gels with new batch): put an extra water bottle in my pack (I knew long sections are coming up, and it's HOT!), and changed my socks (during which process the duct tape came off). I also left an extra empty bottle in Larry's drop bag and told lady to make sure he is using it (apparently, he prepared his own, but again, I just wanted to do my part), and to tell him to NOT DROP!

Off we went. The amount of people sitting at the AS with their heads down and puke buckets around and ice in their cups was staggering. The drops piled up. The 100km race turn-around saw more unhappy people, who wouldn't respond to my cheering. I passed a girl...Andrea, as it appeared to be. And a mile before Nemo AS at mile 36, the place Larry and I scouted on the previous day, I saw Laura. We were running on pretty seriously technical ATV rocky trail, and she didn't seem to fare well. I waited a bit, and as the 0.5M road section got into view, came from behind.

"Hi there" - "Hi. Hot." - "Yeah, kind of warm. But pretty" - "Too technical, I wasn't prepared" - "Yeah, somewhat, my friend told me we'll have a few of those". With that I slowly pulled up, came onto a young lad (first 100, dehydrating and cramping, read him lecture as we ran up the road section). Laura passed me right before the AS, where her crew was waiting for her. I ran in, refilled my bottles, washed my whole body with a cold sponge (HEAVEN!) and ran out without looking back. It was way too early to take the lead for my comfort zone, but when things happen, you've got to make decisive moves. I ran up the dirt road and entered the trail.

It was hot. Relentlessly hot, relentlessly bad footing on ATV section of the Trail 89, and the gels that TSA pocked in our luggage leaked into everything, making me use extra water to clean my hands after each intake. I hiked with a purpose. I passed Eric Clifton (he remembered me!), and a few more lads. My extra bottle was handy, and I felt strong. Feet were getting blistered under calluses due to my gait being adjusted to avoid rubbing on Achilles (the hole on my heel has gotten deeper), but nothing like I haven't had before. I blocked this one as well. Another AS came and left, more stragglers. I powered up the hill and entered a sweet single track. Finally...I was able to run well! Soon enough the leader came back (I figured he had 10 miles on me, made perfect sense), then a mile later 2 more guys one after another. We did some rollers, turned onto Trail 40 (the only deviation from Centennial Trail 89) and began a super-steep descend into Silver City and its Fire Department. I didn't want to think about coming back up...

Coming into mile 50, photo by Nancy
I was ok. I mean, I was having run 50 miles on quite rugged terrain in some crazy temps, but ok. What I saw was petrifying. Folks puking. Scott Dunlap peeing blood and trying to "sit it out". Volunteers concerned. I got there exactly 11:35 into the time, retrieved my drop bag (myself, it always seems faster then asking for it), downed the elixir, got gels, headlamp, put my visor away, got i-pod on, and quickly left. As Scott said to AS personal "she doesn't do chairs". I don't. Everything has to be done while standing. Saves time. Doesn't let your mind wonder. Sets you out for success. Leaving that AS was a success on its own. Just because of that I RAN from it.
Hurrying out of the war zone, photo by Nancy

I climbed. I worried where Laura is (she dropped). I saw Andrea and calculated I got 40 minutes on her - in a 100 not enough time to relax. I pushed more. I was looking for Larry, worried sick if he is still in a race, and also if I could ask for some of my pain pills. My feet were getting unhappy - not not only where the blisters counted, but now the Anterior Tibialis tendonitis on the right shin was aggravated (that thing from OD 100) as well as my Plantar Fasciitis on the left (the one that tore and in the last month was rearing its head again during training). Larry came, and I was relieved. In fact, I was so thrilled, I forgot all about Ibuprofen! We kissed, he said his complains, I said my "go on", he told me I am whatever overall (7th or 9th?) - and I laughed inside like he doesn't even mention I am first girl. I couldn't spend more time as some seizing would grab the muscles, and we parted ways. I chirped happily. My man is making it!

But the pain persisted. The single track back into (now) 57.5M (Pilot Knob) was fun, and I was able to run it all, cheering folks going in. The AS was quiet, only filled with lots of folks from MN (they came from TC Running store on their own bus! and were super-friendly!). Volunteers seemed to be tired, or subdued, and I almost snapped trying to ask for my bottles being taken care of while I emptied gel pockets and had a cup of coke. I have to give it to them, they were regular folks, and seeing all the others hardly moving didn't put in their minds ideas that some people might race in here. 99% was trying to survive.

I left and passed that "TC Running" guy with a pacer. I hiked hard. The ran some. Hiked more. Powerwalked. Finally rolled into Nemo (mile 64) some minutes (15?) after 9 pm. My goal was to not reach into my backpack for the headlamp before that. The AS folks were super! Best ever was the crew at that AS. They announced I was 4th overall, and the ladies screamed how amazing I was. I perked up, and finally had enough brain cells to ask for Advil, promising that I am an MD with 100 ultras under the belt and knew what I was doing. They had some!!! I took 2 there, and stashed 2 away. A guy helped me with a lamp (Larry gave me one of his, pressing that it gives better light than my 10 years old one, which was probably true, but I am super-simple and had no clue how to turn it on). I left in good spirits.

Until that ATV crap began right off the road. And all those aches already hurting gotten stronger. And because I chose to turn my i-pod off for a section, the questions were popping in my mind. Really? I have to injure myself again? Why? Why in the world would I want to do that?

There were sections I power-walked hard. And then there were those I just strolled, thinking lots of thoughts. Before we left, Larry asked me what do I use to motivate myself to not give up. I gave him a handful.
- I worked hard for this, spending precious time and depriving sleep, to not make it
- I paid serious money to get to the race, between fees, flights, accommodations, and gels eaten, I need a result for that
- I have obligation to people that know me and who think of me as an inspiration
- Quitting is simply not an option in my life. If you quit once, it becomes a trend everywhere else. I never in my life had anyone whom I could rely on, and so I had to rely on myself - what means I always have to make do, and do to the end. And since I can hardly figure out which case is more serious than another, I prefer to not quit, just in case it wasn't bad.

So I knew, all I needed was to get to Dalton Lake at mile 71, and I will make it.

I did. I got my drop bag and left quickly. There was a lot of walking and thinking from there on, again. Getting to Crooked Tree AS was my worst part physically and emotionally, as I walked even downhills. My left foot hurting in plantar, my right leg hurting in shin, both knees angry (who walks downhill?), me questioning if continuing is smart, worrying where is Larry. 2 guys passed me - one TC runner, and then Danny from WA state with whom we leapfrogged since mile 38 or so and continued - he was running better, walking slower, had a pacer, but was sitting down at aid stations and leaving after me. I took my last Ibuprofen doze with 17M to go.

The night didn't provide much relieve from the heat. It wasn't oppressive, but it was very warm - and very humid. Because I sweated so much during a day, all my clothes were wet, and I rubbed raw in every single place including those where the sun doesn't shine. Pardon details, but I used my Moeben sleeves to try and relieve some pain from chafing, with none happening. It just hurt. Last time I had that problem to this extent was Vermont 100 in 2005...

More walking. I saw a snake and jumped over it (a rattler, sleeping on the trail, 2 guys behind me saw it and screamed as well). Danny (who passed me soon after snake) saw 2 cougars, and since we were minutes apart if that, those creatures roamed around close to me as well. I turned my headphones off and listened, but wasn't looking. I always prefer not to look for danger, choosing if things happen, I didn't see them coming.

Not even 4am, and I saw grey above the trees on a horizon. Since then I kept looking for more, to turn my lights off. Birds began chirping by 4:30, and the headlamp went into a backpack. The new dawn was coming, and with that the mere glimpse of a thought to drop was long gone. I was making it. And now that this was obvious, I wanted to not give up my position...

I smiled at every runner, and ever AS volunteer, for 83 miles. They all confirmed it at the finish. By Bulldog at mile 90 I was done with that. The couple serving that AS was nice and bundled up asleep. Again, I left quickly, after grabbing a potato. The thought of gels made me gag, and I reduced the consumption to 2/hour.

And I began some running spurs. No more than 10 yards at first, a short one here and there, more consequently, longer. A field crossing before last AS - I run. Danny, as always, sitting there eating. I leave fast, and he passes, again. We power up the "bitch climb", and he pulls away. I am determined - not for him, but to not have a girl come from behind in the last few miles. I didn't know how much I slowed down, time seems to be not bad at all by he clock, but I was aware I was walking slowly in many places contemplating on life rather than caring about racing.

Danny looked back and saw me on his heels - I do power-walk strong when I want to. So he ran. I let him go, and saw him across the field right before that final 1.5M bike path. He put some time on me in those last 2 miles, dropping his father-pacer behind.

The sun was up and hot again. I thought of all the runners still out on the course far behind. That was a petrifying one, and I vowed to not do a 100 if it requires me to go into second day. Or another 100 in general.

And then I kind of shuffled on that pavement, walking some, and looking over my shoulder, just in case. The track came into view, and I entered it, anti-climatically, and shuffled 200 yards because people were cheering. My Oregon friend Steve Peterson was there with his sister (they ran a 50), a photographer (whom I gave hard time so many times on the course, but his company did awesome being in so many places, I can't wait to see the photos!), 2 RD's (Chris and Ryan), the first 5 guys (I was 6th), some volunteers from closed AS's, and there I was, first female, with 4+ hrs course record (26:11:43) and pretty darn close to my estimated time. (Steve Peterson later said: you were late by 11 minutes!)

The adrenalin left the body, and the feet went on fire immediately. I laid on the bench and pulled my Hoka's off. For the first time since mile 29 I pulled my socks off and looked. Scott Dunlap took pictures. I shivered a bit. Got water. Wobbled. A gal Holly from local newspaper interviewed me for an article (15 minutes talking, and one sentence!).
This and below photo (eew!) are courtesy of  Scott Dunlap

Then the awards came, and I was so hoping Larry would come around the bend while I am shaking hands. I asked the RD to check on his status, and he left last AS (about 6miles away) at 9 am. We started all that official stuff at 10:15 am. I told Ryan I may not take the Bull Skull back home because I don't collect awards (ever since my ex-husband "suggested" I put them away from his eyes, I threw the old ones away, and rarely if ever accepted new ones). (Larry later decided he wants this one home, and the race organizers will ship it.) I kind of mingled. Then I saw him, my darling. Larry was entering the track, and the weight has been lifted - the DNF curse was over. For 100 mile races. For difficult situations in life. For raising children. For making our life together work.

It was wonderful, and my heart ached for him, knowing how much pain he's been through, physically and emotionally. I saw tears in his eyes. And then he was just tired. Just like I was...

We took a shower at some motel's room for cash, and I screamed and cried having water stream over my raw body. My feet were so swollen, I gave up trying to put even flip-flops on. I wandered around airport wearing socks only - but the folks were nice and supportive. Our connective flight was delayed, and we didn't get home till 3 am. At 6 am I had to get up and go to work. Life was going on.

Lots of thoughts. But for now, I'll end here. It was a great weekend, from a sudden vacation to an ending we both will cherish - Larry's finish and my win. I pulled my name out of Tahoe Rim 100. I can't see my ankle bones (still) and walking requires tremendous concentration (at least I stopped crying as I was yesterday). Sitting down is actually not pleasant as well (remember those no-sun places?) The course was lovely (although I could get away without all the ATV sections), the views beautiful, and the organization - top-notch. The venue was awesome. The course is tough. the times will be comparable t Bighorn, just in different ways. Like they say on the website: "To make a boxing analogy, it’s like taking a few big uppercuts to the chin versus a bunch of body shots.  Both will eventually put you on the mat if you’re not prepared." It WILL knock you out. Be prepared best you can.

Blackhills 100 - website.

Full Results - over 50% drop rate in a 100M (39 finished vs 83 started)

Picasa Album (full trip)

Larry's Race report

Awesome video by Danny to give an idea!

Race official photos (when available) 

Article in local paper.


Anonymous said...

Great report!! Love to hear you dig deep and get it done! Also, it's such a great connection to have your spouse out running 100's with you.

David Jacobson said...

Great account Olga. I'm inspired by your description of what it takes mentally to complete a 100. Thank you.

Devon said...

So proud of both of you! Way to persevere! I know about curses and glad he was able to break his!! Recover well my friend!

ALM said...

Congratulations Olga! What a day! I am so glad to hear a WIN for you and a FINISH for Larry. Great description of the course. Did you find the Hokas cumbersome on the trails?
Hope you are recovering well and that you and Larry are on still on a high for your successes. I love what you said about reasons not to quit, I'll have to remember that the next time I'm wondering what I'm doing out on the course in temperary misery....!

Julia said...

Olga, This is so wonderful. I am so happy for both of you.

Anonymous said...

What a great report. It is always so nice when everyone meets their goal....and great reasons not to quit....I'll have to file those away!

Stephanie said...

What an amazing race! I am so inspired by your report and your strength. Thank you for all of the details - lots of good advice to learn from!

Sarah said...

Awesome! Congrats to you and Larry! As one who is inspired for you, I thank you for not quitting, but hope you haven't done any damage. :-) Recover well!

Julie B said...

Congratulations to you!! You were just incredible! Sure wish I would have been running as originally planned. We will meet one day! Rest up and heal quickly.

Danni said...

You are both so tough!!! Sounds like miserable conditions.

Olga said...

Hoka are fine on trails, I was surprised as well, but I ran a marathon, 2x50M and a 100M in them. I am happy to not wear them just because I like to flex my foot and feel the ground. But for rocky terrain they are great, like tanks.

Olga said...

Devon, I'd love to do what you do (not at the level you do), but I want to push faster and "shorter" stuff, actually. I think those things are totally hard and inspiring and worth discovering for yourself.

Olga said...

Cheri, thanks for the warning on ATV crap!

Anonymous said...

Your back at it! Congrats on your 100 mile victory Olga. So happy for you.

Anonymous said...

davidultra49 has left a new comment on your post "Chasing a Buffalo Skull":

Your back at it! Congrats on your 100 mile victory Olga. So happy for you.

Carilyn said...

So freakin' awesome, Olga! Big congrats! Big hugs! And tell Larry - he's the man! :)

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! All your hard work and those steamy Austin runs are paying off.


Gombu said...

Way to go, I really enjoy reading your run reports.

Bob Combs


Doc said...

I do like your reports, honest and sincere. Reading them (including the horror) makes me want to do a 100. I'm working my way up though, my first 100k kicked my ass but I'll be ready this time next year.

keep it up. Love it...

Scott Brockmeier said...

Great report Olga! And what a great effort.... When I saw you you didn't show that you were hurting. You looked determined. And that makes sense after reading this report. I hope you heal up quick. You are one tough and talented runner! And congrats to Larry!

Steve Wray said...

Hey Olga, I'm the guy with the Grasslands shirt. I came across your report when I was looking up results. It was nice to meet you up there in SD. Great job!

Thomas Bussiere said...

Huge congrats to both of you. One of your best race reports with lots of emotion. You touched on so many points. Really enjoyed reading this. Funny how we have the same thoughts about never running another 100 miler 70 miles into a long run and thoughts of stopping enter the mind. Then when you hit the 80+ mile mark you feel bad but with renewed confidence of finishing. Running in hot and humid conditions makes it so much more challenging - You rocked it big time.

sea legs girl said...

Awesome, Olga! Congrats on 1st woman! Way to show those Northerners how to run in the heat :).

Rick Gaston said...

95 with humidity sounds like hell, one reason why I've never returned to the midwest after Kettle Moraine or entertain notions of running in the East Coat in the summer but you are acclimated to it. I would have been one of the 99 percent trying to survive. Who walks downhill? Everyone when both legs are shot, including knees!

What a story, such a victory for the both of you, you with your first place finish and Larry finally breaking the dnf streak at 100s. No doubt you were an inspiration to him on the trail. To life together and 100 mile races. At the start of the San Diego 100 I told a friends who was running her first 100, "enjoy this, life is harder". She finished 30+ hours later, we ached for her for being out there so long but inspired she didn't quit.