Pacing the Wasatch 100 – Part 2

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The sun angles below the horizon as we climb. JC is ahead of me, like he has been for most of our run, and I can see by his posture that he’s feeling good. I’m relieved, because for a while he was struggling, though he never told me. I understand. Once you mention the fatigue, the pain, the doubt… you can no longer pretend it’s not there.

But now he’s feeling good. He runs up the hill, a solid pace that I’m scrambling to match. Although we share the same parents, he somehow got almost a foot of height advantage over me, and I swear it’s all in his legs. Fortunately for me, his legs were already going 33 miles before I joined him, or I would have no chance of keeping up.

As we crest the hill, we can see the Lamb’s Canyon aid station far below us. It looks like a bright little city in the darkening canyon below. It’s not fully dark, not up here, but the temperature dropped with the sun.

“Are you cold? Do you need your jacket?” he asks me.

He’s wearing long sleeves, his foolproof sunscreen, so I don’t think he’s cold, but one thing I learned in the past few hours is that this is not about me. The last thing I’m going to do is ask him to stop right now while he’s on one of the high points of this ultra-marathon roller coaster.

“No, I’m good.”

 

I met KC, my sister-in-law, earlier in the day at our staging point. The aid station at Big Mountain is so small that pacers are asked to wait at the staging area until their runner is approaching. The communication is pretty good, but pretty good for a backcountry 100 miler is not foolproof.

KC has been navigator, mobile aid station and co-planner through all of JC’s adventures. She’s also a skilled cyclist and water skier in her own right, not to mention gourmet chef and amazing mom. And probably other things that I’ll find out by accident one day.

Anyway, when word never comes that JC has reached the final checkpoint before the aid station, volunteers suggest we head up anyway. We have about fifteen minutes to cheer for strangers before we see him coming down the hill.

As we wave goodbye to family and head away from the noise of the aid station, I feel the full weight of my responsibility.

In most of my endeavors, I train and compete alone. Even if I’m with someone else, I’m focused on myself, my hunger, my pain, my thirst, my joy and misery. A month before the Wasatch 100, I helped some co-workers complete their first Spartan Race. This was an entirely new experience for me. It was all about them. I enjoyed my role a lot more than I thought I would.

But this is not the same. I’m not helping JC to experience something I have done. I’m helping him to get through something I can’t even comprehend doing. Ever. Running the Wasatch 100 is a huge endeavor and, of course, the welfare of co-workers isn’t the same as the welfare of my brother. So I worry for a bit, but we fall into a pace and I start to relax.

We climb through old forest, then drop for a while through some meadows. Sometimes we pass runners, sometimes runners pass us. Whenever this happens, my brother starts chatting them up like old friends. Just like my dad would do. The most I can usually muster on the trail is a nod or a good mornin! but here he is, dozens of miles in, having full conversations. One runner he seems to know pretty well. After they finish their conversation and the man heads up the hill ahead of us, I ask JC, “do you know him?”

“Yeah, his name is Rupert* I met him a few miles back.”

(*totally made up name)

Of course! Your old buddy from mile 20!

If you think people can’t change, you are wrong.This tall person running along in front of me used to be an introvert. He also used to be pretty lazy. Both of us were, really. We could waste an entire day trapped in the house avoiding the chores that would have earned our freedom. I would say he’s no longer lazy. I don’t know what happened.

We reach Bald Mountain and I warn him about the tiny horned toads on the mountaintop. He scoops one up to show me, which wouldn’t be that impressive in normal circumstances, but he’s got a lot of miles on his legs. As kids, we spent a lot of time in the summers hunting for lizards and snakes in the brushy hills around our home. I guess he never forgot that lizard-scooping technique from so many years ago.

After we come off of Bald Mountain, we drop for a while, then climb to a ridgeline. We’ll follow this rolling ridgeline for a few miles until we reach an aid station. Somewhere along this section, I notice some tension in his posture, his head drooping a little. He asks me to lead for a while. I lead until we reach the aid station, set in a field of long golden grass. He doesn’t chat much with the volunteers. I get him some broth and he sits in a folding chair. He starts talking to another runner, which makes me feel better, but he also starts looking a little too comfortable. I give him a time limit, which he honors, and we head off again.

For the first time, the trail is wide enough to run side by side. It’s also a long uphill and we walk most of it. We talk a lot. We talk about our kids and our grandkids. He’s wearing a wristband with a bead symbolizing each of his, his good luck charm. We talk about our mom and how proud we are of her. Her mother feared many things, and our mom pushed beyond all those fears, adventuring far beyond her comfort zone. We can probably blame her for the crazy things we do.

Then we’re back to single track, and a final push uphill before the course drops to the next aid station. The sun is starting to set. We pass a few runners and he’s chatting them up again, back to his old self. I’ve never run as far as he is running today (and tomorrow) but I’ve run long enough to know that the bad times always end. So do the good times, but you don’t think about that. Now he’s feeling good. We run down some switchbacks into a dark canyon. We put on our headlamps and I follow him and his light, regretting the baseball cap that is serving to block most of my own headlamp.

I ran this section twice while training, and twice I got lost. JC doesn’t. In the dark, 45 miles in, he takes the correct turn. We make our way up a gravel road to the noise and lights of the aid station. We see a single headlamp, someone standing outside the tent.

My husband, B.

He hugs us and leads us into the tent where he has already retrieved JC’s drop bag.

After a few minutes with the two of them, I have to leave. KC has come to pick me up, and parking at the aid station is not allowed. KC will take me to my Jeep and I will drive to the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon where I plan to sleep for a few hours in the back of the car until it’s time to wait for them at the aid station.

JC is my big brother. He’s older, smarter, and much more athletic. But as I climb a little rise to meet KC, I worry for just a minute. I hope this all goes well, I hope he achieves what he wants. But I know, that at least for this next leg, he’s in good hands.

 

B and JC reach Brighton Ski Resort in the darkest part of the morning. Their leg included cold temperatures, ridiculous vertical, disrespectful foxes and adorable burrowing owls. Oh, and a grilled cheese sandwich, but only for B.

When they reach the aid station, JCs next pacer has not arrived. It turns out there is a marathon going down this canyon on the same day, and runners are coming up the canyon on buses as KC tries to get to the aid station with the pacer! We did not know about this. B can’t continue pacing because he has to get to work. I can’t continue pacing because I’m basically in jammies. We send him off into the dark almost alone (Follow that guy! Go!) and then we just feel bad as we hurry down the canyon minutes before it’s closed for the marathon. His pacer does arrive at the aid station, and with his fresh legs, he’s able to catch JC. They make it to an aid station around the 75 mile mark, but just over the cutoff time.

This, of course, doesn’t dull my pride at all. Or his determination. He is currently training for a 100 miler in Bryce Canyon. My schedule won’t allow me to join him, but rest assured my heart will be there with him for every step.

Antelope Island Fall Classic 50k-2016

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The Antelope Island Fall Classic 50k starts with a couple of miles of easy uphill. Somewhere to the east the sun has risen, but for now we run in shadow. In a canyon on our left, coyotes start to howl, welcoming the morning. Runners stop, look at each other. Some of us stand and listen for a moment before we continue. The sun is peeking over the horizon as we reach the hilltop.

100_0823It’s a perfect day, in the next ten miles all my extra layers will be discarded. I tend to dress a little on the warm side, so I’m really happy that I decided to wear a tank top as my first layer.

The next few miles are fast and flat followed by a downhill to Death Valley. Everybody seems to make it through Death Valley alive, in spite of the buffalo grazing on the hillside. More fast flats, and we climb to the first aid station.

100_1348I get some Coke and PB&J. Can I just say, and hope that all race directors will listen, that Coca Cola is amazing at an aid station? I don’t know what it is, I don’t drink Coke any other time, but it is perfect during a race.

100_1346Fast downhill again. The course, overall, is pretty easy for a 50k. The website shows 3500 feet of vertical, but my watch ends up closer to 3000 feet. For a Utah race of any length, that’s almost flat. Don’t get me wrong, the lack of vertical doesn’t mean things can’t go horribly wrong.

Respect the distance.

20161105_104629The west side of the island is very pretty in a wild and barren sort of way. This summer 50% of the island burned in a wildfire. I expected to see more signs of this, but the island seems almost normal. Most of the vegetation is grass, with very few trees, so recovery is easier than it would be in many places. There is an ashy, burnt smell when the wind dies down, and some areas look charred, but life has fought back quite well.

At some point, I look at my watch and realize I haven’t eaten in over an hour and a half. I eat a couple of slices of running potatoes (my own recipe) and keep going. Probably should have eaten a little more…

There is a pretty substantial hill coming up where the course crosses over to the east side of the island. I remember the hill from this race three years ago, and I dread it, but my troubles begin before this hill makes its appearance.

There is a part of the course that runs right along the shoreline. There are big rocks, fun to run on, and I jump from one to another like a gazelle…I might not look exactly like a gazelle, but it is fun. After the fun rocks is a section of sand alternating with smaller rocks. I start to really slow here, my pace completely falters, and at one point I just stop, stand in the middle of the trail and look around.

20161105_104506It’s not a steep spot, but I suddenly decide I can’t take another step. The next aid station is about two miles away, but that seems like an extreme distance. My husband is ahead of me somewhere, so I decide to call him so he can come and get me. I decide this although I’m not anywhere near a road, my husband does not have his phone on him, and besides that he is running! Then I remember that there is very spotty cell service on the island, especially at the finish line where I parked my car.

This thought process is a lot harder and more time consuming than you would think. It wasn’t until much later that I realized my ridiculous plans were the result of low blood sugar. My underfed body had depleted my underfed brain of all its sense.

I start walking for a few minutes, then stop again. I’m so hot! I’m so hungry! I’m so glad I’m alone so I can’t whine to anyone! I take off my pack and shed my extra layers of clothes. I try all of the mantras that usually work. My current favorite is Finish on Empty! That one has been great during Spartan races, but it doesn’t work so well when you’re already on empty with miles to go.

I sit on a flat rock on the side of the trail and eat. A couple of runners pass and ask if I’m okay. I’m not sure what my answer is, but it must be reasonable, because no medical helicopter shows up.

20161105_113851Only a week or two before I had written a post for you guys called Under the Bridge. I start thinking about the advice I gave in that post, and realize that’s the advice I currently need the most.

I get up and start going again and reach the dreaded hill. I start to feel better, but my hoped-for time has been completely blown away. I start thinking the whole field has already passed me, and the man coming up the hill behind me is sweeping the course.

But he’s not the sweeper, and the hill turns out to be not so dreadful. I reach the aid station at the top, not quite half way, and tell the kind volunteers that I’m having a rough day. They say, “well let’s see if we can turn it around!”

And they did. More Coca Cola, PB&J and some advice to DRINK MORE!

20161105_101758I drop down to the west side of the island. This side isn’t as pretty, but there are nice views of the mountains of the Wasatch Front. This half is mostly flat. I usually have trouble with flat, but my day truly has turned around, and I maintain a pretty good pace for the rest of the race. The race three years ago had been short of a 50k, but the course this year has been modified, adding about a mile of pavement at the end.

I collect my finisher’s cup (chili bowl) and have it filled with buffalo chili. The buffalo chili at all the Antelope Island races is made by the race director’s wife, and it is delicious!

20161105_093346Like every race, I learned something. Like most races, I finished. My time was slow, but for me, not shamefully slow. I mean, I am The Trail Snail.

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BOOK REVIEW: Daughters of Distance by Vanessa Runs

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2015-11-01 08.17.19My epiphany came in the mountains of Colorado, right in the heart of the White River and San Isabel National Forests. I was halfway through a six-day stage race called TransRockies that would run us from Buena Vista, Colorado to Beaver Creek: 120 miles and 20,000 feet of elevation gain in six days. That week I climbed a vertical personal record, reaching altitudes of more than 12,500 feet. I felt amazing.

I was standing at the top of a long climb waiting for my husband Shacky to catch up when I realized: I was getting stronger (not weaker) as the days progressed. The elevation, the terrain, and the climbs were no longer obstacles that I had to overcome, but a jungle gym I was lucky to play through. I was no less an extension of the wilderness than a weathered Douglas fir or a soaring red-tailed hawk. The memories of my office cubicle were a past life, a pre-existence before my actual trail-birth that day.

Essentially, I took up ultrarunning as an excuse to be in the wilderness. Fewer people question your sanity when you say you’re “training” for hours on end instead of admitting what you’re actually doing: frolicking like a child ignoring her dinner call.-Vanessa Runs

Daughters of Distance delves into the mythical history of the wild woman archetype. Mother Nature, the author points out, is a woman. The parallels between women and nature are everywhere. Cycles, seasons, the power to grow life.

2015-08-30 12.24.57Although Daughters of Distance explores the mythical, most of the book is made up of stories of the real-world experiences of women (and men) living and playing in the endurance sport world.

Vanessa Runs explores everything related to being a woman in the wilderness. She explores the unique problems and joys that being a woman brings to the sport. There are chapters on tears, mommy guilt, and the dangers of being a woman running alone.

Throughout, she draws on the experiences of a multitude of women with sometimes polar differences of opinion. This is probably what I love most about this book. When talking about the term “chicked” (a man being passed by a woman) she has managed to find a wide array of opinions on the topic. Some women find the term to be a compliment, some find it degrading. She also has men weigh in on this (and every other) topic. The answer seems to be that there is no right answer. What is your own perception? I guess I have “chicked” a lot of men, but out on the trail, particularly during an event, the gender of the other runner makes no difference to me. I’m happy to pass anybody!

In a section titled In Defense of Teen Girls, the author delves into society’s disrespect for the passionate obsessiveness of teen girls. She recalls: As a young girl at my church, I picked up on insinuations that the passions of young women could easily turn into dangerous or unhealthy addictions, so repression was important. Girls obsess over horses (I did), books (I did) and the outdoors (yep, me too). Her message is clear. We need to nurture this, not repress it. Girls aren’t a joke, they are future women, and what they are is what the world will be. Repression, ultimately, is the real danger.

2015-08-30 13.19.15She quotes feminist playwright Eve Ensler: I think the whole world has essentially been brought up not to be a girl. How do we bring up boys? What does it mean to be a boy? To be a boy really means not to be a girl. To be a man means not to be a girl. To be a woman means not to be a girl. To be strong means not to be a girl. To be a leader means not to be a girl. I actually think that being a girl is so powerful that we’ve had to train everyone not to be that.

How do you insult a boy? “You throw like a girl.” My husband is a big fan of women’s softball, and I can tell you that throwing like a girl is something everybody should aspire to.

I think the most important thing about this book is the question: What are we teaching our children? From insulting our own bodies in front of our children, to telling our sons not to cry, we create a perception that’s unfair to ourselves and our children. On the section about crying, several men talk about how they become emotional during events and break down crying on the trail, or at the finish line in front of everyone. They aren’t ashamed and they aren’t judged. Can anyone question their toughness? If we could just all be human instead of allocating certain emotions and traits by gender, I think we’d all have a lot more fun.

On the more nuts and bolts side of things, Vanessa goes deep into the women’s specific issues that we face. What if you’re on your period during an ultra? What if you’re pregnant? Training with an infant in tow? Breastfeeding? Going through menopause? Each of these topics is addressed in depth, with real-life solutions and a lot of input from women who have dealt with them.

2015-08-30 12.25.05Another subject covered in depth is how endurance sports affects relationships. Not only how to deal when only one partner in a relationship runs, but what if one partner crews? What about a couple that is in fierce competition with one another? This section made me very happy that my husband also runs, and that we are both happy to run together or apart, without worrying unreasonably about one another.

At any level, the sport can seem very obsessive from the outside. How could anybody go out and run alone for that many hours? That’s not healthy, normal or sane… is it? Co-workers, family and friends might think you’re crazy if they aren’t involved in anything quite as all-consuming as endurance sports. Why train so hard when you know you won’t win? They probably won’t get it. Personally I’ve given up trying to explain. I just shrug and smile, like “I know, I’m crazy, right?”

These are some, but not all, of the joys and problems unique to our sport. Everyone should read this book. If you are a woman, it will make you feel proud and understood. If you are a man, well, same thing. There are a few stories of insufferably horrible men, but don’t let this stop you from enjoying this book, since Vanessa tells as many stories of bullying, insufferable women.

2015-08-30 11.48.03So wear your nice clothes, even if you’re running alone. Wear your makeup to an ultra, if that’s what you like to do. Wear a skirt! Nurture others without shame. Women are good at that! Cheer each other on no matter what pace, body type or age. And listen to Vanessa when she says, “get in the pictures”! How many times have you looked back at a picture and thought, “I looked good back then! I thought I was fat! Or old!” You’ll look back on current pictures in the same way, so don’t be afraid of the camera. Don’t be absent in the pictures of your life.

What feels right for you? What brings you joy? Embrace that part of you with pride and make that your life.

The author tells the story of La Loba (The She-Wolf) from Dr. Clarissa Pinkola’s book, Women who Run with the Wolves:

La Loba lives among the rotten granite slopes in Tarahumara Indian territory and her job is to collect bones. Over mountains and along dry riverbeds she searches and searches, until she has pieced together a full wolf skeleton. She then sits by the fire and thinks about what song to sing. When she is certain she has the right song, she stands over the dry bones and raises her voice.

The bones begin to flesh out and grow fur. La Loba sings some more and the creature begins to to breathe. Finally, she sings so deeply that the desert floor shakes and the wild animal leaps up and runs down the canyon. As Clarissa tells it, “somewhere in its running, whether by the speed of its running or by splashing its way into a river, or by way of a ray of sunlight or moonlight hitting it right in the side, the wolf is suddenly transformed into a laughing woman who runs free toward the horizon.”

All women begin as a bundle of bones lost somewhere in the desert. A few of us-the lucky ones- will live to howl the songs of our souls from the depths of our wild, wild hearts.

I am one of the lucky ones. Daughters of Distance reminds me why I love my solitary days in the wilderness. It articulates that which is hard to explain, that as I run along some singletrack, among scrub oak or pine or barren hilltops, my heart feels that it is right, that this is where I belong.2015-05-30 09.40.01

Daughters of Distance, by Vanessa Runs (ISBN: 978-1508875123) is available at Amazon.com for $19.99

PRODUCT REVIEW: ULTIMATE DIRECTION’S ULTRAVESTA

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IMG_20140715_124611_236 It’s mid-August. Hot, of course. The plan is twelvish miles, based on a map I made in my head while trying to sleep last night. The heat, and the distance, mean that my running buddy Clayton the Malador will have to stay home. He’s more of a cool weather guy, and this run will take me miles away from the muddy streams he uses to cool off.

Twelve miles can be a nice morning run. Or twelve miles can be hours of climbing, flying downhill, climbing again; searching for a little shade, just a little, a shrub, a blade of grass?!?

Heat induced delirium can make cactus look like a bunny

Heat induced delirium can make cactus look like a bunny

This run was the latter.

But I wasn’t entirely alone, because I had a good friend on my back, Ultimate Direction’s Ultravesta from the Jenny Collection. I hope Jenny Jurek doesn’t mind that I just call my Ultravesta Jenny. Sometimes, alone on a hillside, I’ll do my best Forrest Gump impression and say, “I love you, Jenny.”

Because I do. I do love you, Jenny.

Why do I love my Jenny? I’m going to tell you.

10 oz. bottle, phone, whistle!

I’ll start with the front. On my left side, there is an upper drawstring pocket that holds one of the included 10 oz. bottles. I have Gatorade in this one right now, because it’s about 90 degrees, but I can stuff the pocket full of gels if I don’t need that much hydration. The drawstring closes tight enough that I don’t worry about losing anything even as the pocket empties. There’s a lower pocket that closes with a bit of Velcro. I have my phone in this pocket, mainly for the camera, since there is no reception up here. My phone pokes out the top, but it’s a nice snug fit so I don’t have to worry about it falling out.

Oh, and above the pockets there is an attached whistle. I haven’t used it yet, but I like having it within reach.

10 oz. bottle, zipper pocket

10 oz. bottle, zipper pocket

On the right side there’s another upper drawstring pocket for the other 10 oz. bottle or food. Under this is a pretty sizeable zippered pocket. Running alone like I am today, I have my pepper spray in this pocket. It’s also a good size for gels or a baggy of real food (like running potatoes). But what I really love about this pocket is that there is a smaller pocket inside. This holds my lip balm, a few pepto tablets, a bag of salt tablets, and matches. I kind of wish this pocket was more accessible, since I have to get past the big pocket contents to get to the little pocket, but I’m still glad to have it. Those tiny items are too easy to lose if they’re mixed in with everything else.

On the back of the pack there is a horizontal zip pocket at the top. This pocket seems small, but right now it’s holding an inhaler, a knife, and some tissues. I think there is still room for my headlamp when the time comes. There’s a hook inside that’s perfect for keys. It comes with an Ultimate Direction ponytail holder that would be really cool, but I recently chopped off all my hair. Someday…

Internal bungee

Internal bungee

On the right side of the back is a vertical zipper pocket that holds up to a 2L reservoir. I read reviews before I bought this and it sounded like a 2L reservoir was kind of a tight fit. I suppose that’s true, but I haven’t had much trouble with my 2L UltrAspire reservoir. It takes just a little bit of wrestling to get it in there when it’s full. There’s a Velcro strap at the top of the pocket so the reservoir doesn’t sink down, and… drum roll please… adjustable bungee cords that hold the reservoir in place and can be tightened as the reservoir empties. I’ve never tightened them during a run, but I snug them up ahead of time and I have effectively killed the slosh! The top of the reservoir kind of poked me in the back at first, so I keep a bandana between the reservoir and my back.

External bungee

External bungee

On the left side is another vertical zipper pocket. This pocket is almost as big as the reservoir pocket and sits on top of it. This is like the Ultimate (get it) gold mine for extra storage. On this gorgeous August day I have extra gels in here and that’s about it, but by fall I’ll include hat and gloves, a big garbage bag and an emergency blanket. Even then, I’ll have plenty of room to spare.

On top of all these pockets is an external bungee cord that is currently holding my trekking poles. Separate from the bungee cord are two loops that keep the trekking poles from sliding out from under the cords. This bungee cord is plenty big enough for a jacket, even while holding the trekking poles. There’s a loop for an ice pick but I don’t own one, so I use it to hang the pack up.2014-10-19 13.35.52

I’ve run out of water on runs. In hot weather, nothing pushes me to the edge of panic like running out of water. So I really appreciate the substantial amount of hydration this pack carries. Another great thing about the Ultravesta is how well the weight is distributed. It might be so heavy it’s difficult to pick up, but once it’s on my back, it’s barely noticeable.

Oh, and it’s a beautiful deep purple blue color.

2014-10-19 13.35.46The Ultravesta has two clasps in the front that are easy to use even when delirious. It has two front straps and two side straps that make the fit easy to adjust on the run. Like all packs, it irritated the hell out of me on my first run, but I knew from past experience to use it on a short run and get it adjusted until it seemed to disappear. It didn’t take long.

I have a smaller pack that I use for shorter runs. But if I’m out for a longer run, especially one that takes me far from help, I like to know I’m prepared for the little jokes Mother Nature likes to play on me.

And for that, I love you, Jenny.