Saturday, October 15, 2011

Western States 100 Mile: the River Crossing to Green Gate

Little did I know there was the potential for aliens on the course. I had pepper spray for bears/cougars, I had snake proof gaiters for rattlesnakes, copperheads (do they have these in CA?) and a cape to make myself large for the puma's. But I had nothing for alien abduction...but in the future I will be prepared.

This was at the alien aid station which was filled with super nice and helpful volunteers (as with all the aid stations at Western States 100 miler). I am a little confused about what the alien was holding in it's hand but I believe it might have been the course marking ribbon. Or it could be a human probber. It's a tough call.

I do not believe I was abducted however, I think Iva and I might have seen a fox and/or a skunk. As I recall foxes do have a scent like a skunk and at the same time I smelled the skunk like odor is when I saw the fox like creature.

As we waited for the next runner to catch up for the ferry across the river I chatted with the volunteers. I re-thanked all the volunteers along the steep climb down yelling at the top of my lungs. Then I burst into song! It was time for “Row Row Your Boat!:” I may have changed the words a bit including the suggestion they should row row row the boat to Auburn! I was not above skipping the next 20 miles or so particularly since a lot was to be in the dark. And I love raft rides.

I may have made a spectacle of myself. But I was having so much fun and everyone was so WONDERFUL! And by this time I was no longer hearing the air horn creeping up behind me so I was starting to believe that I could make it to the finish assuming all went well.

As we waited patiently for the next runner his pacer joined us in the boat. It was my friend Jimmy Dean Freeman’s brother from the SoCal Coyotes. I knew Jimmy from JJ100 so it was cool to meet his brother. Finally his runner arrived. Sadly his runner did not appreciate the crossing as much as I did. And he looked a bit pukey. I tried to discretely move away because I think puking is contagious and on a boat you are kind of limited in how you can escape. In fact after finishing we learned he did puke pretty quickly after getting to the other side of the river.

The crossing went pretty quickly. Perhaps even faster as I started yelling, “Faster, Faster!” to encourage our rowers to get the lead out (or whatever the boating term for rushing is). They did row quickly and efficiently thus all too soon we were across and my brief stint at sitting was over. Because of potential puking guy, I scurried out pretty quickly. Somehow I was relieved of my life jacket (this I really have no recollection of) and I was being gently handed from the boat personnel to the land personal over a small jetty. And it was back to running/walking.

After a quick “Thank you” to the rafting volunteers and a really loud “THANK YOU” for the volunteers on the other side I was ready to head up the 1 + mile hill to Green Gate. What an AMAZING experience. In fact I would say it is the memory that may be a top 10 in my life.

As we passed the far Rucky Chucky aid station I grabbed a bite or two and a small glass of ginger ale to ward off sour stomach. Although I had a drop bag at this aid station, I did not make use of it but simply headed up to Green Gate which I was going to get a fresh pacer: Pacer Shane.

Hiking up to Green Gate I knew it was going to be a bit steep and long. But it was nothing compared to earlier in the day. And at the top I would get to see Shane and Tristan. This motivated me to keep moving forward with purpose. I was getting pretty excited and knew that I was feeling super strong and so happy. I had made it 78 miles and I was moving forward with purpose.

As Iva and I arrived at Green Gate I was impressed with the green gate decorated with christmas lights. It was really cool. But there was a problem. No Tristan or Shane. I ate and drank than moved along a bit alarmed. I told Iva I could keep running by myself because by this time she was fatigued and her legs were starting to bother her. She had committed to 25 miles and had made it that far so I was happy. I knew the sun would be rising moderately soon. And I have dropped pacers before and although a bit of a bummer I figured I could keep moving forward alone. This anxiety was soon lifted when we rounded the final hill and there was Tristan and Shane as well as other pacers and pacers. Unfortunately the volunteers were not letting them go to the aid station and the aid station volunteers were not communicating this information to runners, which was very disconcerting.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Western States 100 Mile: Foresthill to the River Crossing

You are only allowed one pacer in this area so Iva and a very nice volunteer help me with my shoe change. During my shoe change, I am not the well-oiled machine I hoped to be. But I don’t screw up either, which is good. I take off everything on my feet and wipe up fastidiously. This gets some comments from the peanut gallery. But I am happy to be off my feet for a few minutes and ensuring my feet a clean, dry, well glided and do not have any issues that could become catastrophe’s are important to me. I then do the same for my other foot. This time I pay particular attention when putting on my zensah sleeves having experienced a bit of a fiasco earlier in the day.

After taking care of my feet it is time to wet wipe my hands and take out my contacts. Ahh! What a relief. Because my contacts are so thick (thanks to very bad astigmatism), my eyes bother me a lot when wearing contacts. Mix in lack of humidity and dust and my eyes were a disaster. In fact later at Dardenelles my eyes continue to bother me so much I ask a volunteer to put my eye drops in my eyes because I am not skilled at this (in fact I am not skilled at much and sometimes it just shocks me that I make it through any given day!). Finally I complete all my tasks, it is time to eat.

I grab a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of soup and head off for the finish line. I am past mile 62 and for the first aid station since mile 20 I do not hear the air horn! I want to keep it this way.

Running out of Foresthill I am a little bummed that I seem to lose members of “Team Tammy”: Tristan, Shane and Bella pretty quickly although they could run about half a mile with me. Oh well, it’s probably because I am running too fast!

Once Iva and I get to the turnoff of Foresthill Road I warn Iva that we are going to hit a fairly steep section soon. We have a brief respite then somehow the steep section I make it down without any issues. It is kind of odd because I had made a mental note that we had a pretty challenging section immediately following Foresthill. Perhaps it was being so excited about not hearing the air horn, being well fed/hydrated or knowing for the remainder of the race I would be escorted to the finish!

After announcing how I spent my day: running, followed by more running, with a little more running for good measure I ask Iva about how everyone on “Team Tammy” spent their day. This includes what they did as well as what was eaten (in fact a good meal can entertain me for hours!).

Iva chats about their daily activities. After getting woken up by my cell phone (the SPOT people called that cell phone as well to assess my situation), Iva, Bella, Shane, Tristan and my dad packed the hotel room then headed to Donner Pass to see the museum. Each of my friends learned what a disaster it is to go to a museum with my dad who likes to read all the placards. After several hours they all bailed while my dad stayed at the museum until likely closing!

Iva mentioned that the highlight of this museum was seeing how deep the snow was. There was a schematic that indicated where 20 feet was which is how deep the snow was that winter. She also mentioned that the museum was a bit disappointing to Tristan and my dad who knew the truth of the Donner Party (eating each other is the unvarnished truth). In fact there was no mention of the cannibalism in the museum but it sounded like both Tristan and more so my dad tried to incite the docent into admitting to what happened. I think I would have asked even more pointed questions along the lines of “human, white or dark meat?” But alas I guess in this day and age history gets re-written all the time. In fact in war, whomever wins definitely gets to write the history of battles how they see fit. It does sound like they all enjoyed the museum particularly since it was free and on the way from Squaw to Auburn.

The course here goes up and down with undulating hills. Sometimes we are close to the river and other times we are moderately high up. We are running parallel to the river and I recall that during the Memorial Day Weekend training run this section is very pretty although at various points there are sheer dropoffs alongside the trail. Luckily I am feeling pretty strong and am not overly worried about tripping. I try to describe the scenery to Iva, but I do not think I do it justice.

As we get to one of the aid stations I am having significant eye issues. My eyes are watering and it is creating some issues in my vision. I have had similar issues before but this time I am prepared with eye drops. Unfortunately I am not prepared with how to use eye drops. At the aid station I ask if a volunteer can get them in my eyes. I feel like a cat because I am squirming away from getting drops in my eyes even though I know this will help!

After attending to my eyes I get a few treats to eat and drank a little. My stomach is turning sour but I am sure I have gotten enough calories in me over the day to get to the finish without any worries.

We continue moving along slowly but steadily. Iva has a Garmin and my goal is to keep ahead of 17 min/miles at a minimum. I would prefer to go faster but my legs may be a limiting factor. Iva gives me good news indicating that we are moving along at a modest clip of about 15 min/mile. This means I am slowly inching my way ahead of the DNF line. But I don’t want to make any mistakes. I pay attention to my footing and keep up a conversation with Iva. Most of the time we are alone but sporadically we pass a runner or two. I am feeling pretty good and am so happy that I am in a segment I have run before and know that relatively speaking is not too hard.

Pretty soon we see the lights of Rucky Chucky. I am super excited because it means I get to sit down for a few moments. And of course I get a raft trip. I tried really hard to convince my pacers/crew to go on a raft ride (my treat) on Saturday and yet no one took me up on this offer. I love rafting so I have been looking forward to this all day. In fact I have been looking forward to it since learning that it was a high water year and we would be going across on a raft. This is going to be so fun!!!

As we arrive at the aid station I take a drink of ginger ale and a coke then move along. I know there is another aid station on the other side. And have I mentioned I am excited about the raft ride??!!

Leaving the aid station we are guided to a steep climb down to the river. It is lit up with luminaries and Christmas lights. It is beautiful and surreal. I take a moment to absorb it. Then I start my walk down this sheer cliff like path. But Western States takes such GREAT care of it’s runner I have no problem maneuvering down. As I step down a super sweet volunteer will take my hand and point to a place I should put my feet. They then hand me off to the next volunteer and upon confirmation many of these volunteers would give me a pat on the back, rubbed my shoulder or patted my head upon handoff wishing me luck and strength to finish the race. It was so wonderful.

All of the volunteers were so helpful, encouraging and so sweet. I wanted to savor the moment because it gave me such a warm feeling inside. Then all too soon I was being outfitted with a life jacket and handed off to the volunteers in the boat. I climbed in and sat down quickly followed by pacer Iva.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Western States 100 Mile: Michigan Bluffs to Foresthill

I take off my hydration pack and give it to Tristan. I put on my super bright headlamp (*thanks to Jamie Donaldson and Meredith Terranova for this suggestion) and put on a few layers and tie some others to my waist. After refilling my bottle and munching a little bit it is time to get moving.

As I get ready to leave I hear a voice asking if anyone has a spare headlamp. In fact I had my beta headlamp on since Devils Thumb but have switched it out for my super strong headlamp. I yell that I have a spare headlamp. A volunteer comes over and takes it. She asks my number. I give it to her “271” but have no expectations of seeing it again. I have gotten used to giving away headlamps and clothing and never seeing them again. But oddly enough when I arrive home and unpack my bags, there is my headlamp with a small piece of paper and my bib number in my next drop bag. It is really cool to get it back but I wish the runner had also left his bib number on it so I could check on his status. I hope he finished!

I am super excited about heading out of this aid station because the faster I get through Michigan Bluffs, the sooner I will get to Bath Road where everyone can pace me for about a mile.

Iva and I head off into the darkness. I know the course and describe it to Iva. We have a long up hill with a really sharp left hand turn we need to pay attention for. I fixate on this because I don’t want any bonus miles and I am pretty sure that the DNF line would pass me if I did end up off course. We pay particular attention and finally the turn occurs. We then start heading into Volcano Canyon. This decline is pretty steep but I am able to walk and jog slowly. I know we need to keep moving forward with purpose.

Our conversation flows easily and covers many topics. I ask what happened about my SPOT rescue beacon. She indicates the race staff did not contact anyone, but Tristan was contacted by the SPOT personnel. When they ask him if I am okay he is unsure and thus they do send a rescue helicopter to help the injured safety patrol runner. Based on conversations at the aid station it became apparent to them that this rescue was needed and that it really helped the young lady as she was in bad shape and ill prepared for waiting for help. When I left my rescue beacon I vaguely thought about giving some clothing however, I realized that I could potentially need my layers if anything happened to me. And I assumed that they would have some more layers in their bags (this might have been a bad assumption but considering I had just given up my lifeline I was not ready to give up additional items that could be critical if I had to self rescue).

As the jeep road turns into single track we hear water running. I warn Iva that we are about to cross a stream. My feet are already wet and I am not very stable on my feet so I will be simply walking across. But Iva prefers to go across via rock hopping. I offer to cross then come partway back to give her a hand on the upper side where she can rock hop. She accepts and is successful at keeping at least one foot dry.

We then head up the single track and pretty soon we are on the Jeep Road. I know we only have a short bit and we get to Bath Road where we rejoin Bella, and Shane. And next thing I know there they are!

We walk up the hill (as any respectable back of the pack ultrarunner does). We chat about various topics and everyone is so nice and encouraging to me. I indicate that I want to change my shoes at Foresthill. I know I am behind the suggested 30 hour pace but I am closing in on 1 hour ahead of the absolute cutoff. I know shoe changes take 20-30 minutes but I justify that this will help my feet and me in general in the long run.