Saturday, August 27, 2011

Western States 100 Mile: Devils Thumb to Michigan Bluffs

So happy to be crossing the bridge over El Dorado Canyon. I had been on this bridge before when Tristan and I had hiked during the Memorial Day Weekend Training run (which I highly recommend to gave a sneak peak of the course, I met lots of other runners and it is a beautiful course much of which I covered in the darkness).

By this time I was starting to feel good about my race because I knew exactly what to expect for the remainder of the race. In my opinion knowledge is power. Especially when that knowledge allows you to know the course gets easier, not harder, as the miles increase.

As I get on the scale I am a little overweight. I believe I am about to get the talking to as well as possible sat out for a few minutes. But wait…I have my snake proof gaiters on. I know they weigh 2 lbs. I take them off and am back within specs. WAHOO! I ask the nice volunteers to put them in my drop bag since the sun is starting to get low on the horizon and I feel the rattlesnakes should be going to bed. I also grab my headlamp and put it on as well as a light shirt.

The volunteers as usual are really great and are super nice and helpful. But I want to get away from my air horn stalker. I grab some soup, get my hydration systems filled up and head off. As I exit I hear the single horn alerting runners to less than 10 minutes to the absolute cutoff. Yikes! Time to put some pep in my step.

Running out of the aid station I run with a gentleman for a bit of time. He is good company and suggests that the next section is runnable and the switchbacks to El Dorado Canyon are not too steep. This is comforting. At some point he pulls ahead because even with not too steep downhills I struggle.

The sun is starting to set slowly. But sporadically I end up in a place where there is still direct light. Although I have a long sleeve shirt on I realize that I should take it off so I don’t get overheated, sweat then get chilled. I am reminded of how many wardrobe changes I typically make in any race. I do spend a lot of time thermoregulating via wardrobe changes but I think this is sensible although it does waste a bit of time.

As I run I am getting a little worried. It is dusk and I am alone. This is when mountain lions eat. And they might like a moderately slow runner for dinner or a tasty snack. This is very alarming to me. But I have some defense but not all my defenses. I have pepper spray but I do not have my spot rescue beacon. Alas I have my super secret weapon: singing. I have done this before during other hikes. In fact Tristan and I were busting out with the Sponge Bob Square Pants theme song during a hike near Mt St Helens. And there we were a pair. Here I have to sing alone. I start with 99 bottles of bear on the wall. But I get a bit bored with this even with all the different versions I learned in girl scout and church camp (which in retrospect is kind of an odd place to learn this).

I then change my song to something more motivational. I start singing “Go the Distance” by Micheal Bolton. I think about how I wish I had hair as nice as he does. I also wish I knew the words. But I make do and mumble various words I do know and make up words I don’t know. But I know I can go the distance!

Starting to go down the switchbacks I am back to being content and happy. But not for long. As I jog I hear some rustling in the tree’s and bushes nearby. It is getting closer. I am very worried because that is when the majority of cougar attacks occur. I get out my pepper spray and unlock it for the second time that day. I am ready to start spraying and will ask questions later. Right before I let loose I realize it is another runner. I re-holster my pink pepper spray and tell the young lady she is lucky she did not get sprayed. I am not sure she appreciates how close she was to being the recipient of my hair trigger panic finger. In fact I was a little surprised that as she approached she did not at least mumble “passing”, “hello” or any other greeting. I always alert runners to my whereabouts because when you are in a zone it can be kind of alarming to have a runner next to you. And my strong fear of serial killers really makes this panicked feeling even worse!

She moves ahead of me slowly since we are on the downhill which is my weakness. But she might have been spooked by my statement about cougars (or maybe I picked up the pace for some company). As we get closer to the river I was getting really excited. We could hear the water and I knew as we got close to the base of El Dorado Canyon I knew the remainder of the course from the WS100 memorial training run. We turn a bend and I realize we are very close to where Tristan and I had a yummy picnic lunch. I take a picture and tell my friend about our meal of bread, fruit and cheese. It is a really nice memory. Then we get to the bridge.

On the bridge there are many volunteers. It is great to see people. This is my last aid station where I will be conceptually alone. It is after 8 already and that means when I get to Michigan Bluff I will be able to pick up my pacer Iva. The volunteers are super helpful and as usual attend to all my eating and hydration needs. I grab a few items, refill my bottle and very soon I am on my way. I want to get as far as I can in the light. I know there are a few segments that are a bit tricky and would prefer to get through them with as much light as possible.

Going up the mountain I pass my friend and wish her luck. Then I am moving swiftly power hiking. I am excited to be on trail which I am familiar with. I even jog a bit going up this hill. I am moving quickly because I know the DNF line is creeping up behind me. And I know each mile I move forward I have that much less distance alone. This makes me very excited. I know there are switchbacks then a segment we go down briefly, we cross a small stream then continue up for a bit on the single track. Then we get on a jeep road and pretty soon I will be at Michigan Bluffs. My excitement is building.

Pretty soon I run into folks indicating just a bit to the aid station, then I hear dogs barking, see some houses and make a sharp left turn. I am approaching Michigan Bluff. I am EXCITED. I get to the aid station, check in and immediately see Iva, Shane, Tristan and Bella. What a treat! Nearly my whole pacer/crew/family team is there.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Western States 100 Miler: Last Chance to Devils Thumb

On Swinging Bridge on my way to Devils Thumb.
This bridge had a very alarming sign on it indicating maximum one horse or 6 humans. I was ready to start yelling at people if there started to be more than 4 others on this bridge with me...

Apparently many runners will take a dip in this river to cool off on an access path right after crossing the river. As you can see by this time in the race I had put my moeben sleeves on and was alternately putting them on and rolling them down to stay a bit cooler.

Last Chance AS a small disaster occurred. Luckily it did not adversely affect me as much as it could. As I got to the aid station I was weighed in. While being weighed in there was a lot of confusion as they told me to get on the scale while simultaneously telling me to take off my hydration pack and fanny pack. This is where I learn my ensemble weighs 15 lbs as I get on the scale and it reads nearly 150 lbs. Yikes! Then I get my items off nearly having to put them on the ground. I think the look of horror on my face got a volunteer to take it (since I was the only person in this area I could get this kind of service). While standing there I ask for my drop bag. After confirming that my real weight of ~135 is close to my original weight I can move forward to the aid station. At the aid station I eat, drink and be merry. Everyone is super helpful and nice. But a disaster occurs. I am told that my drop bag is not there. Luckily I have not real goals for seeing my drop bag except maybe to resupply my M&M stash. So I say it is fine and continue munching.

As I exit the aid station I see my drop bag. But by this time I don’t really care and simply plan to get to the next aid station where I have a drop bag. But I do take a picture. Also I know I am now less than 20 minutes ahead of the DNF line. The DNF guy with the air horn is now stalking me!!! I keep seeing him at all the aid stations. He is now my arch nemesis!!

The course continues to be fairly runnable. I am feeling pretty good and the scenery is very lovely. I am having a great race except for the DNF line encroaching on my personal space! I know that I have a lot of energy and am feeling strong. But on the other hand I am nearly 1.5 hours behind the recommended 30 hour pace. I am just about 30 minutes ahead of the absolute cutoff and these are not numbers that brings any confidence in my ability to finish. But I vow to keep on moving until told or forced to do otherwise by race staff or my body.

Leaving Last Chance we go down a slow gentle decline. I jog along happily pondering my thoughts. I know I am getting closer and closer to the part of the course I am familiar with. I just need to climb up to Devils Thumb then head to El Dorado Canyon. But this is a lot easier said then done.

As I get to the base of the first canyon I am excited to see swinging bridge. I am alarmed by the sign on it that states “limited to one horse and rider of 6 runners” Trust me if there were 6 runners near me I might have had to bust out the pepper spray to enforce this rule. Alas there is only one other runner nearby. I ask if he will take my picture and he kindly does. We both head up the sheer cliff that is Devils Thumb. I am pretty excited because I am moving smartly and uphills are my strength. This hill is really no worse than Maryland Heights near West Virginia where I have spent many hours, miles and verticle feet climbing. This makes me feel good because the final canyons I will climb, El Dorado and Volcano Canyon I have already seen during the WS100 memorial day training run.

As I climb up I pass 5-10 runners. Some I pass very quickly and am worried about because we are all very close to the DNF line. Others I pass but remain close to me. At some point we get to a bit of clearing where you can see into the canyon. It is a beautiful view but it is also very alarming to me. We are very exposed and just a step or two to the left is a sheer cliff about 1000 feet deep. I stop abruptly. I am paralyzed by fear. I really, really, really hate heights. I am even more worried because at mile ~45 I am not very stable on my feet. I give myself a pep talk saying I have to move forward. I cannot go back because the last aid station will be closed. And I need to finish WS100. I cannot disappoint my friends, family, pacers, crew, pets, etc. I give myself a pep talk. My usual “you are strong, you can do this” does not cut it. I have to harness my inner Puffi. Puffi is our youngest cat who is not afraid of anything. I tell myself she would not let this challenge stop her and I should not let it stop me. Finally I get my courage up and just do it. I am so thrilled with this accomplishment but am worried I will have more of these sheer drops I need to do. But I have faced down this challenge so I savor my victory!

As I climb I hear something I have heard before but the other times it has been after I leave the aid station. This time I hear the Air Horn warning signal of three beeps and I am not at the aid station! This means I am now less than 30 minutes away from the DNF line. But I am getting excited as each time I see brief glimpses of what appears to be the top. And pretty soon there are random folks who are clearly not runners. This means we have to be close to the top. Yippee!!! As I get to the top I am excited to see some horses. I even take a moment to pet one. I need a bit of animal loving.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Western States 100 Mile: Millers Defeat to Last Chance

Along this segment there were several warning signs. Most were related to mining rights. I felt a little alarmed that there might be a person coming out with a shotgun...and my tiny bottle of pepper spray would likely not do much good.

Luckily I moved quickly through this section and did not try my hand at mining in this segment!

In fact I did try to read the various warning signs because I figured they could warn of hazardous animals, unspent munitions, nuclear (or other toxic) waste which I would need to be on the look out for!

I go through Millers Defeat pretty quickly. I know the DNF line is very close to me. My friend Melanie H had sent me a tiny printout of the aid stations and 30 hour suggested pace as well as the absolute cutoff. I am within 30 minutes of the cutoff. This is quite disturbing, but I am hopeful I will be able to pick up the pace now that I do not have to worry about any more snow.

Knowing the aid station cutoff is very soon, while at this aid station I ask if anyone is going home after volunteering. I am not sure my question was well understood because I was just trying to alert my husband to my status. That I was running along and doing fine but my SPOT was elsewhere. In fact I was really hoping my husband might have the sense to realize since I was moving but my SPOT wasn’t that he could give me his bulkier and older SPOT. Unfortunately it sounded like the volunteer I spoke with was not going anywhere with internet or phone service. This bummed me out a bit. I just hoped my family/crew had been informed of my status. In fact not having my SPOT did suck a bit of energy from me. I was worried about various disasters befalling me. And since I would not be able to help myself I imagined it could take hours (or maybe up to a day as in my husband’s case) before I got help if something tragic happened. Time for another self pep talk!

The next miles were spent trying to move quickly and efficiently. Here we were on a jeep road that was pretty nice in my opinion. I could move solidly forward without having to worry too much about my footing. And we were in the woods so it was not too hot when running with purpose. The one highlight of this section was the “Mining Claimed” area that indicated the land was claimed. I found this rather amusing and was curious what kind of stuff was being mined. I also was curious where the mine was but clearly had no time to explore.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Western States 100 Mile: Mosquito Ridge to Millers Defeat

With one of my ultra-running hero's: Tim Twietmeyer.

Tim is really nice and so encouraging to all. I met him first at the California International Marathon in December. Then I met him a second time at the WS100 mile lottery the next day (where I may or may not have made a spectacle of myself). Then I saw him at the WS100 training runs and throughout the race weekend.

Although he has won the race numerous times, run it even more times he is really down to earth, friendly and a genuinely great person (as so many affiliated with the WS100 race are!)

I actually saw Tim an additional time later on the course (about mile 96 but at that point I was being hunted down/chased by the DNF line)

Very quickly I arrive at the next aid station. In fact for a bit I feel like every hour or so I am arriving in aid stations which is good, but also means they kind of blend together in my mind. The aid station volunteers take really great care of me. I resupply my beverages and refill my bandana ice burritos. I am feeling really good and my race continues to go very well.

This section we have a 4 mile out and back loop then we will be rejoining the original course. This is exciting to me because I am vaguely familiar with the original course through reading and studying blogs and course descriptions. In fact Craig Thornley is definitely a WS100 icon and I tried very hard to memorize his descriptions of each section. Sadly this was of limited use until Millers Defeat!

Heading out of the aid station I am alone again. This is okay until I run by a fairly new DEER CARCASS!!!! Seriously, I have read others blogs, race reports and course information and no one mentions this. I seriously nearly end up walking (actually running back) to the aid station I just left. But I give myself another pep talk. And by the time I realize it is a deer carcass I am pretty close to passing it. My contacts really do not work very well which is kind of a good thing when you are about to see something horrifying! As I pass I actually have the sense to take a picture but it is from behind and I am moving pretty quickly. In my other hand I have my pepper spray out and unlocked! I am ready to take on any beast that might be about to supplement it’s deer meal with a person dessert! But I was not going down without a fight…or without seasoning myself:-)

This section was more fire road so I was able to run with a bit of speed. I ran with Antoinnette for a little bit. She was very festive with her rabbit ears and was moving along solidly. Sadly as was the case throughout the day my pace did not match hers as I moved along.

At the end of this loop the RD suggested we would travel the “roughest” section of the race. This actually is too kind a definition of what we ran through. I was really glad for my snake proof gaiters as I scampered over tree’s and branches. I know the RD and the volunteers had to work really hard considering the issues with the course and they are to be commended! But I still struggled here. I was extra cautious because I did not want to fall. Then the final section of this “rough section” was a snow slope which I nearly took a header. Alas at the last second I was able to regain my balance as I slammed into the jeep road at the bottom.

The jeep road return to Millers Defeat kept having small snow sections of a few hundred meters followed by dirt. I was glad to be getting to the end of the snow pack but found this almost harder than the original snow because at each of the section breaks you had to cautiously get on or off the snow. Or at least I should say I had to…others seem to run recklessly through the snow but I tend to be very hesitant and really did not want to mangle myself.

Heading into Millers Defeat I was very excited. I was about to get back on the WS100 course. And reportedly there was no more snow. WAHOO!!!