Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hairy and Unimpressed

There's an LA Fitness right down the street from my office, and often thought of getting a membership there so I can have a place to work out, swim, or shower after a run outside and still be near to work.

Today, I decided to pull the trigger. The guy who signed me up was geniune and enthusiastic despite his salesman schtick. He asked what I like to do for exercise - I told him I'm a runner.

Well, I was in luck, he announced, because he is a running EXPERT and has completed THREE marathons! The emphasis on EXPERT and THREE was his...

He then paused so I could be suitable impressed... I nodded idly for several seconds before realizing he was still waiting for a reaction. Not wanting to be rude, I then raised my eyebrows, nodded, and said "Mmm-hmm," in what I thought was an encouraging tone.

Driving away I thought what an exercise snob I've become, where three marathons is more the norm than something that stands out as impressive.

I can look forward to more gems from this fellow next week as I get a 60 minute session with a trainer (him) free with my membership. Upon hearing this from him, my first thought was "Well, shoot... guess I'll have to shave my legs for that one..."

Hairy AND unimpressed... what a lucky fellow this guy is that he gets me for 60 minutes, huh?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Coyote Two Moon 100 Mile "Don't Call it a Race" Report

It was the Sunday morning following the C2M, March 20th, and I sat with my husband in a cozy breakfast spot in Ojia. I perched forward on the edge of my chair, my feet pointed out at odd angles as I tried not to put pressure on the two large blisters on my feet.

"What a weekend... MAN!" I said to him, my eyes gleaming, as I took a brief pause from shoveling the morning's breakfast into my mouth. "I mean, what an adventure! It was EPIC!"

Epic was really the best word for it. From the boner/bonus points to the alcohol at each aid station, from the aid station volunteers in animal costumes to the hallucinations and deluges of rain, from carrying a rock to the top of Topa to the snow and sleet that would eventually lead to the shut-down of the race... it had been one amazing, awesome weekend.

The ridge around 9PM Friday night

It all started quite festively on a Thursday night in Ventura Lanes. 

The weekend’s first pre-run event was bowling, where I not only distinguished myself by bowling 68, but was also able to meet a few folks in person that I had previously only know through the Ultralist and Facebook... always nice to put a smiling face to the name! Mark, Marie, Dave, Pat, and many more... so nice to meet in person.

On the day of the event, we had lunch at Boccali's in Ojai - Boccali's is a nice pizza place with a friendly atmosphere, excellent garlic bread, and a strawberry shortcake dessert they are known far and wide for… or at least, they should be. We had lunch around noon, sitting at picnic tables in the sunny field outside the restaurant.

Lunch at Boccali's in Ojai - lovely weather, eh?

Race Director Chris Scott stood before us, somehow managing to look both silly and distinguished in his stuffed alligator hat as he went through such formalities as presenting gifts to kids in the audience, to race participants who had traveled the furthest, and to the fasted and slowest seeds in the group, to name a few. The atmosphere matched the weather – friendly, sunny, and warm, and a few folks joked about how the weather had been as deceptively nice the year before. 

RD Chris Scott and the anticipated fastest and slowest racers

Chris Rios (I believe?) striking a pose in the blood/bile jacket...yum!

After that we had the sing-along, then lunch was over over... so it was off to the Start/Finish area to check-in. 

Drop bags at the Start/Finish area at Thatcher High School

By the time I'd checked in it was 3PM, so I went back to my hotel for a little while to try to rest, which I was not really successful at. Actually, instead of resting I ended up filling my time with a number of little tasks that all had two things in common: (1) they could all have been taken care of at another time, and (2) none of them were more important than the possibility of getting a few last hours of sleep.

By 8PM, we left for the start. My start group would begin at 9PM from Thatcher High School. My husband Zach and I jogged the athletic field; me bubbling with excitement yet nervousness as I anticipated the start. What would unfold in the next 24-36 hours? There was only one way to find out...

At the start

As we got to the S/F area, race volunteer Dave Combs was giving some last minutes pointers and instructions. He also informed us about an opportunity to earn some "bonus minutes" for our race time: we could take a rock from the Sisar Canyon Aid Station at mile 10.9 and carry it to the Vicki DeVita memorial at the top of Topa at mile 18.4. 

Listening to Dave at the Start and conducting last-minute checks

All but one of us agreed we would be honored to carry a rock for Coyote Veteran Vicki – it really had nothing to do with bonus minutes, we just felt glad we could participate in the ritual as a symbol of respect.

After that, it was countdown time as 9PM approached. Dave called out the minutes, until with 10 seconds left we all counted down together, and then... we were off!

And we're off... as fast as the speed of light?

We ran once around the athletic field then up through the orange grove and into the first big climb; 3000 ft in 4.1 miles to get up to Nordhoff Ridge.

The climb to the ridge

I found myself at the front of my group, with one other guy was ahead of me in the dark. Together, we alternately jogged and walked briskly up the mountain. It was starting to rain. The trails were narrow and crowded in by trees on most sides; loose rocks and silt rolled under our shoes. The rain wet our faces. I felt gloriously alive.

The fellow in front of me had walking sticks, and I followed close behind, partly for the feeling of security provided and partly out of fascination, as I watched him maneuver the sticks over the rocky terrain. With his extra set of legs he looked like a stick insect. He moved confidently and with some speed, and I hurried to match his pace.

We had already broken away from the rest of the group. It was wet and dark, and I was grateful for the company, silent as it was. After a few minutes of following blindly however, he stepped to one side to let me pass.

After checking he was ok, I stepped out in front, feeling uncomfortable. It had been easier to follow than it would be to lead. The trees were thick and dark. I climbed on, hoping I was on the right track, and wondering suddenly if I was headed in the right direction… I glanced behind and saw nothing; no-one behind me.

I paused, uncertain, then saw my companion's light flickering down the trail... he was still there behind me; this was the right trail. I looked forward again, and considered how silly my sudden dip in confidence was. Mentally, I gave myself a slap.

Snap out of it. You’re fine – get a hold of yourself. Take the lead. You don't have to wait for someone else just so you can follow behind. You know what you're doing - you're a smart girl. Figure it out. I felt immediately better and continued moving steadily upward.

After over an hour of climbing, we reached the top of the trail… by this time the other fellow had caught up, and we ran along the top of the ridge together. We would follow the ridge for a few miles, then head down to Sisar Canyon Aid Station at mile 10.9. We chatted back and forth, yelling as the wind and rain rushed past us.

I yelled to my friend as the wind picked up. “You know, it would almost have been disappointing if the weather had been perfect!”
"Yeah, that would have been terrible!" he replied, and we both laughed.

Sisar Canyon: Trash bags, rocks, and playing cards

By the time we got to Sisar Canyon, my headlight had fallen off its strap (I would end up ditching the strap after getting tired of fussing with it) and my windbreaker was on its way to being wet through. All in all, I was feeling comfortable, but a little concerned about my readiness for the weather to come.

The volunteers at the aid station were cheerful and helpful. “What do you need?” they asked, and then would busily go about getting it. Bottles were filled, food was offered, my number was registered, and they even offered me a trash bag to cover my clothing.

Bill Kee, who ran in last year’s similarly epic C2M, took hold of a trash bag and skillfully cut out holes for the neck and arms so I could pull over my clothing. I was exceedingly grateful – it would be windy on the ridge, and my first drop bag with waterproof clothing lay at Rose Valley, mile 26. I’d be fine once I got to it... but first I had to make sure I got there.

"Trash bags saved me from dropping last year,” Bill said.
"Thank you so much,” I said, feeling a gratitude I could not properly convey.

After this I was presented with the rock I would carry to Topa for Vicki, and I thanked the small girl that provided it. There was one other thing to do besides checking back out again, and that was draw a card from the deck being offered by a volunteer… I think I drew the 8 of spades.

"Is that a good one?” I asked.
"I don’t know!” said the volunteer. “You’ll pick a card at each station, then at the end we’ll see who has the best hand.”
A fun idea… ultra poker!

And then, I was off again. The climb was 4,600 ft up to the Lyon Canyon Aid Station. I don’t remember much about the climb expect it took a while, but I just locked in my pace and put one foot in front of the other, and the time passed easily.

In the meantime, however, it was getting cold. The wind and rain were picking up, and jacket and gloves I started in were water-resistant, but not water-proof. My gloves were dripping; my fingers frozen. I was very glad for my trash bag, as it helped stopping the wind from biting right through me. I began wrapping my hands under it too, while still allowing my small used-to-be-a-headlight-light to poke out from underneath.

Finding Lyon Canyon

As I reached the top of the ledge the wind hit hard, but I was encouraged by a red neon glow stick swinging wildly in the dark. On the ground, white arrows pointed left and right, but I was unsure which to follow first - this, of course, would have been easily answered had I studied the map more closely prior to the event. Thankfully, I had Plan B in my pocket: a “cheat sheet” of the course, provided by race volunteers at the start.

I fumbled to take off my gloves as the wind blasted harder, then crouched quickly under a tree to try to dodge the gust. My frozen fingers gripped the cheat sheet, which by that time been reduced to a small, folded-up, soggy semblance of what it had been three hours ago, before the rain.

I suddenly felt very small and foolish, huddled in the wind on the mountain. What was I doing up here, having not studied the map enough, with no cover on my cheat sheet, without a suitable rain jacket, and with a light that was already falling off, just 15 miles in... just what the hell had I been thinking when I prepped for the start?? Clearly, I hadn't been thinking hard enough. That was no way to prepare for an event like C2M.

But there was no more time for lectures - I needed to make the best of it, and choose a direction. By gingerly pulling the leaves of paper apart while also shielding them from the wind, I could just make out the directions… I had to go... RIGHT! I carefully folded my cheat sheet, placed it back in my pocket, pulled on my gloves, and ran forward.

I knew the aid station was near... and there it was! The trailers and pit-fire at Lyon Canyon beckoned. I rounded the corner and walked up the table. “Hey!” I said. “I’m really glad to see you guys!”

The folks at this aid station were as responsive and efficient as at the last. I got the chance to meet Manley Klaussen, the aid station caption, with whom I had exchanged e-mails prior to the race. He asked if I was staying warm.

"I’m ok!” I said. “And I’ve got my rock.” Manley told me where to go with it; follow the path 1.3 miles up to the summit of Topa. I should look around once I got there; there would be a memorial for Vicki and a deck of cards. I was to place my rock at the memorial, grab a card, and bring it back down to the aid station.

Climbing to Topa

With these instructions in my mind, I headed off. The path was fairly easy to follow; snow was accumulating slightly on either side, and the trail between was a darker brown. My hands were becoming more numb, so I transferred my light to my mouth, gripping it between my teeth as I wrapped both hand tightly under the trash bag.

After what seemed like some time, I reached the top… and saw nothing. Slightly panicked, I shone my light around and quickly picked up the outline of some rocks that had been stacked in a widening circular formation. I put my light on the ground and reached in my pack for my rock. I placed it on top of one of the stacks.  

This is for you, Vicki, I thought, and for a split second my face crumbled... but no tears came, and the moment quickly passed. I was cold, and had to keep moving.

I looked around for the deck of cards, and saw a second smaller group of rocks next to a purple glass globe and a framed picture of Vicki. I crouched for a moment to study the image. In the photo she was running through snow… snowflakes now coated the frame and the rocks around it. There was something quiet and magical about that windy, stormy spot on the mountain on that night. I felt so glad to have made the climb - it seemed important, somehow. It's something I won’t soon forget.

I reached to pick a card. Unlike last time, this time I could look at the faces of the cards... I thought of my husband and our two kids, and then selected the 4 of hearts.

I tucked the card in my jacket pocket, fixed the light in my mouth, wrapped my hands in my trash bag and jogged slowly and cautiously down the mountain. I stepped carefully, afraid to fall and lose my light… but I did not fall. I passed several runners on their way up, and we exchanged yells of encouragement.

Back at Lyon Canyon, I delivered my card, grabbed some food, got some last-minute directions and headed out again. 6.3 miles to Rose Valley. I moved with purpose and good spirits along that stretch, encouraged by my progress and the return of feeling to my hands.

Rose Valley Aid Station: 1st visit

After many twist, turns, stream crossings and hill-climbs, I arrived at Rose Valley aid station. It was warm there, and the volunteers were responsive and friendly. By this time I believe it was between 2 and 3 AM. My husband was there, and he helped me change out of my wet clothes and into my dry gear. 

Cheesy grin to go with my sandwich

Marie Boyd was also at the aid station, getting bundled up to go back out on the course - she had missed the turn for Lyon Canyon and had instead come straight to Rose Valley. At that hour and in that weather, I remember being astounded she was going back out to finish.

"Oh, I'm not done yet!" Marie told me. "They're going to have to throw me off this course! Chris would expect as much," she said then, referencing RD Chris Scott. As she talked, she shook both fists in front of her resolutely. I was astonished and impressed. Marie left the tent then to get on the course, and  I followed her shortly.

After that, it was 6.3 miles back to Lyon Canyon (where they had some incredible hot breakfast burritos... yum!) and then 7 miles to Ridge Junction. These miles passed with relative ease; my mind was tired yet happy, and I felt pleased with the steady persistence with which I was pressing forward.

When the daylight came, it was overcast yet invigorating. I ran along the top of the ridge knowing there was nowhere else I would rather be, nothing else I would rather be doing. I am so lucky to have this, I thought.

A shot was taken from the ground by hubby-crew; is that Topa?

After passing through Ridge Junction and chatting with the smiling folks there, it was on to Rose Valley, from another angle this time. This time, the descent was steep and uncomfortable. The trail dropped 1600 ft in 2.1 miles - I was glad to reach the bottom.

At the Rose Valley aid station I was disappointed to miss my husband, but I got everything I needed, left word for my husband, and turned to go back the way I had come... this time, uphill. The steep climb up was slow, but got done step by step. 

Up this slope, I found myself dozing off slightly before awakening just in time to take the next step.... in addition, I had started to feel nauseous, and attributed both things to not having slept in a while. I had also grown weary enough that I was no longer removing extra layers of clothing when hot, choosing instead to leaving them on and sweat through them, forgetting what the effects of these wet layers would be once temperatures dropped.

Howard Creek and the Dance Party Crew

It was 6.4 miles to Howard Creek, and I have to say, all things considered, the trail was delightful. It was a thin windy trail that wove over hills and under trees so the sides of my face was brushed by the wet leaves as I passed. I was exhausted, but the beauty of the hillside was refreshing and unmistakable.

This volunteer ran in with me, and that was so uplifting, I just can't tell you...

At Howard Creek, the theme was disco party... all the volunteers had wigs, beads, and the like. In fact, they even asked if I'd do a little dance for "bonus minutes..."

So, I complied.

After that, I got to pick a card...

Pick a card, any card

...and then I was off again. From Howard Creek, it was just 4.1 miles to Gridley Top, and it passed easily.

Meeting the crew at Gridley Top

The Gridley Top aid station was a welcome sight on the ridge - I had heard about this station's crew and their affinity for dressing in animal costumes, and in particular, I was excited to meet Luis Escobar, the aid station captain.

When I saw him out front in his chicken suit, I grasped his hand and shook it eagerly with both of mine. After meeting Luis, I turned to a man in a rabbit suit to my right. "I'm Peter!" he said, extending his hand. I shook it and laughed.

Inside the station, the crew got me what I needed in the way of water, sandwiches, and hot soup, while Luis peppered me with questions about the markings on the course and if they had been easy to follow. I assured him that they were very clear, and in any case, the cheat sheet provided excellent back-up.

RD Chris Scott was also present in a pig suit, which he wore quite smartly... well, as smartly as anyone can wear a pig suit. He told me I'd get bonus minutes for taking a shot, and while the kid in me actually thought about it for a second, I was still feeling a little nauseous and decided to stick with the soup. "Maybe later," I said, feeling like a flake. He rolled his eyes at me. Oh well.

All aid stations had a good assortment of food... and drink!

After that, it was time to hit the trail again - it was 7.7 miles down to Cozy Dell, then we'd climb back up. In the following 15 miles of the course, I would begin not only to have hallucinations from the sleep deprivation, but I would slip into an emotional funk that I had to shake were I to finish the race.

Descent into Cozy Dell

It started out innocently when I thought I saw an old woman walking beside me, but when I turned to the left, she was gone. Next, I saw a little brown bulldog sitting on the path. Upon closer examination, he had the metallic spinning top from Inception sitting on the path before him... it was tipped over. Both disappeared as I approached. Next, the flag of Texas, bold and flapping in the breeze from a metal flagpole to the left of the trail. After a minute, both flag and pole vanished.

My spirits were still good despite these developments, and I began chatting with a runner named Jen that I had been crossing paths with all day. We were similar in pace and alternated walking and running on the trail, catching up and falling back from each other as we liked. 

As we went further down to Cozy Dell, however, I felt my mood slipping. We had been running for a while... where was the freaking aid station?? I was exhausted, hungry, and tired. I knew I should eat - it had been over an hour since Gridley Top, but I knew hot food awaited and didn't want to fill up too much on snacks on the path, so I waited.  

Trail leading to Cozy Dell

We ran further through the trees. I began to hallucinate again and thought I saw the aid station, only to have it disappear as I got closer - this happened numerous times. One time I saw my husband's car, and felt overwhelmed with relief, only to watch it vanish. I felt a flash of bitterness and frustration, but pushed that down and reminded myself that it was just my tired brain playing tricks on me. Don't get sucked down into all that, I told myself.

But the emotion was hard to keep at bay, and by the time we reached the aid station I was impatient and snippy. 

Jen and I making our way to Cozy Dell aid station

My husband Zach was there to greet me. He had been there for some time, for which I rewarded him by being irritable. The crew at this station were as kind as any, and I have to apologize to them for not being nicer. In retrospect I think my electrolytes and sugar level may have been pretty askew... it's something I'll have to do a better job with next time.

Climb to Gridley Top: "Let's stick together."

The climb back up to Gridley Top was fairly rough, to say the least. I felt the lowest I have ever felt while running, or in this case, walking. I pushed forward, step over step, hill over hill, reminding myself that with each step I got closer towards the finish... but the trail seemed never-ending.

I was having to shake my head sharply from the hallucinations, and focused my attention straight down on the ground in front of me where the hallucinations seemed to be the least active. I was sad to be missing the beautiful hills around me, but it was becoming too hard to admire them with the tricks my eyes were playing.

More and more, I thought about dropping when I got to Gridley Bottom aid station, 2 stations away and mile 78 on the course. It would be then next point I'd see Zach, and the only other place we'd meet before the finish line. It would be my chance to escape... after all, I wasn't having any fun anymore. Wasn't that why I did this, after all? For the fun?

But as soon as it occurred to me, I knew it was a poor excuse. After all, if I expect every minute of every race and every training session to be fun... well, I won't be running much longer. Sometimes it's hard work. Sometimes you have to fight for the finish. But in the end... well, that's where the real fun lies. The fun is in the adventure... in the people... in the learning... and in the challenge. I had signed up for C2M because I wanted to learn more about 100 mile running... and boy, was I.

I wouldn't trade this for the world.

I looked about 20 feet up the path and saw Jen, trudging along in front of me. I increased my pace to catch her up... I knew what I had to do. 

"Hey! Hey, how's it going!" I said.
"Not good," she said. "I'm in a really bad place," 
"Me too." I said. "I was going to ask you - do you mind if we stick together? I'm in a really bad place in my head, and I'm not sure I can get through this otherwise."
"Yeah - yeah, that sounds good." 
"Ok, good," I said. "Let's just stick together, let's keep it light, let's keep moving forward, step by step and let's finish this thing," I said, "because... I really want to finish."
"Me too." Jen said.

Moving together, we kept going up all the way to Gridley Top aid station. I was relieved to see the volunteers again. Jen sat down briefly and I got my bottles filled while waiting for a grilled cheese sandwich, which I devoured. Before we left, we got directions from Luis, and we assured him we'd be sticking close together.

Luis looked suspiciously at my light before I left. "What is this?" he said, poking my used-to-be-a-headlamp. 
"It's my light," I said. "The strap came off,"

He walked over to the aid station and came back with a small hand-held torch, which I promised to bring back on my return to the station. I would be grateful for this torch later in the night.

The trek to Gridley Bottom

At first, the climb down to Gridley Bottom passed relatively quickly. Jen and I bantered, invigorated to be climbing down instead of up and energized by each other's company. As the climb went on, however, our energy waned. The wind picked up, and the rain grew more fierce... soon, I realized that I was again cold to the bone. My gloves and my jacket were wet through. By then, it was late Saturday night. The wind was picking up, and my body was starting to shake. 

We pressed on down the hill, our torches cutting a thin beam in front as we scurried over the mud and the rocks. In some places the ledge we were walking on grew very thin indeed, and we had to concentrate to keep our place. After what seemed like several hours, we saw the orange and silver reflective tape flapping in the breeze... course markers.

We followed the markers through a road crossing and down towards a rocky creek... the markers indicated we needed to climb down. We climbed over the rocks and under the trees, thinking this can't be the way, surely this isn't the way, climbing down further and further until we saw... the lights of the aid station. 

By this time I had learned not to trust my eyes, so I refused to get excited until it was absolutely certain we were there. But, so we were: Gridley Bottom aid station, mile 78.0. My husband was there with my clothes waiting for me. I asked for a dry shirt and he peeled my jacket off. I was shaking pretty hard and could feel that my clothes were soaked though. At the time I did not think I had enough extra clothes to change into, so I just traded out one of my three layers for a dry one and put my jacket back on.

I was shaking hard, and my resolve was wavering. My husband glanced at my frame, then looked me straight in the eyes.
"Do you want to stop?" he asked. 
I looked at him with quiet, desperate eyes. Yes! Yes, I want to stop now!

But instead, I said "I can't - we need to finish." I looked over at Jen. "You ready to go?" 
She met my eyes squarely. "Yeah, let's go."

We left the aid station and started the climb back up to Gridley Top. At that moment I realized I had barely eaten anything at the station... I'd had half a taco and a cup of coffee, but that was it. I reached back into my pack. I had one Power Bar Chomp and 2 gels, neither of which had caffeine in them. Looks like I now had even more reason to hurry up and get to the next aid station.

"I had to get out of that station," Jen yelled.
I understood. "Yeah, me too," I said. The longer we had stayed there, the more I felt like dropping... and I didn't want to drop. I wanted to finish.

We walked slowly up the hill. By now I was weaving back and forth across the path, alternately dozing or hallucinating then snapping back into focus in time to take another step... all while getting soaked with the rain and wind. I was getting colder and colder the longer we were out there, and my shivering was getting worse.

I was seriously beginning to question the decision I had made in leaving the lower aid station... after all, Chris had made it very clear that if we didn't think we could make it up to the ridge AND back, we should not even attempt it.

But, regardless of that, however, I had left the station... and I was climbing to the ridge. It was up to me to make sure I could finish the job, on my own steam.

I called up to Jen. "Do you think they have trash bags up there?" It sounded like a silly question, but I felt like if I could just get up the aid station, get a hot drink, pull on a trash bag, and then keep moving through the final 13 miles down to the finish, I could still see finishing this thing... I crossed my fingers for trash bags, but I wasn't counting on it. I knew the ridge aid stations were short on supplies, and that we had been warned well in advance that we would have to fend for ourselves in cold weather. Well, it was cold enough now.

News from the top

We climbed. And climbed and climbed. I stumbled and weaved. As we neared the top, we began asking runners coming down how much further... until on group of 3 stopped to give us news from the Gridley Top aid station. It was Jakob, whom I had met via the Ultralist, and his running buddy Carmella. They had just come from the top and told us a blizzard awaited. 

"You can't see anything up there, it's like a white-out," they told us. "We're going down to drop." 
Jen had already moved past them to keep going up. "Wait," I said.

I turned back to Jakob and Carmella. "Is the race still on? Are they letting people finish?" 
"Yeah, if people want to keep going, they're not stopping them," they said. "but it's crazy up there. Come down with us. It's not worth it."
Jen looked at me. "Come on, let's keep going."
"I don't know," I said. I was freezing. 

"Come down with us," said Jakob again. "There will be other races."
"Not for me," said Jen. "This is my last race. I'm not doing any more. I have to finish." 
I looked at Jen. "I'm not going to leave you by yourself. I'm going with you." 
"You don't have to," said Jen. "I'll be fine by myself." 

I looked at her face and believed what she said. I also believed that I was getting to the point where soon, I might no longer be able to take care of myself. I couldn't let it get to that point. I had a responsibility - to myself, to my family, and to the race director, to handle myself to the best of my ability, on my own steam, through this course... but still, I wavered in my decision.

If we could get to the top... if they had trash bags in the aid station... if we just kept moving fast enough along the ridge... we could push through and make it. But then my mind thought of the winds ahead, of the white-out conditions they had mentioned... I was already hallucinating. What would happen if we got up there and got lost on the ridge, or missed the turn to go down the mountain? How could I explain to Zach that I had knowingly chosen to run back up to the ridge when I was already shaking and wet, and knowing a windstorm awaited?

At that point, I made my decision. I no longer felt that the conditions were safe enough to continue.

I turned to Jen. "I'm not doing it," I said. "I'm going down." 
Jen said "Ok."
Then we went through a little song and dance where I tried to find the torch for Luis so she could give it back to him, but I couldn't get my fingers into my pockets to grab it, so there it stayed. "You can give it to him tomorrow," Jen said.

And then, she was gone. 

I turned to go down the mountain, calling out to Jakob and Carmella who had gone before me. "Hey guys! I'm coming!"


After making my decision, I felt both relieved and dismayed. Relieved that I was stopping - I knew it was the right thing - but dismayed that I had decided to turn around while Jen pressed on. Under the circumstances, it was the only thing to do... but there was still a sense of loss there, and that's ok. I had done the right thing. I worried that Jen would be able to continue, and hoped they would not let her leave the upper aid station by herself.

In the meantime, there was still the matter of getting down the mountain. It was another 5 or so miles back down to the aid station. I was relieved to be stopping, but the wind was still hitting us on the exposed sections of the trail and with my hallucinations and shivering at an all-time high, I had to focus now more than ever on keeping my feet on the trail and not slipping or stopping until we reached the bottom.

It was a long 5 miles down the trail. I stamped my feet hard to stay warm and shook my head constantly to clear the insane visions that danced in front of my eyes... the fellow in front of me had a light that he was scanning back and forth, back and forth across the path. When I looked at its beam, I saw brick walls... train tracks... lawn furniture that crawled and danced in the wind... Winnie the Pooh... everywhere I looked, creatures danced and crawled. I shook my head hard and focused my eyes on the trail in front of me.

Step over step. Step over step. It was agonizingly slow and at times I wanted to take off down the trial in front of my companions, just to warm up and get to the aid station faster... but I considered the consequences if I happened to get lost after leaving the group (highly likely in my condition) and knew it wasn't worth the risk. I was exceedingly glad I had this group to walk down with.

At long last, we glimpsed the lights of the aid station... we had come back to Gridley Bottom. The aid station workers welcomed us warmly, gave us blankets and food, let us sit in their heated cars... and told us the race had been canceled.
I called my husband from someone's cell phone and told him where I was. He was minutes away, and there in no time to pick me up. 

After gathering my belongings, we bid thanks to the unbelievably helpful volunteers at the aid station, got in the car, and went back to the hotel, where I got a warm bath, got dressed, and then passed out on the bed.

It was 3AM on Sunday morning. I had started the race at 9PM Friday night. What a freakin' adventure.

Epilogue: What did I learn?

In retrospect, there were a number of things I should have done differently.

Learning #1: In a 100 mile race, never underestimate the weather. I should have checked the weather reports more frequently - had I done so, I probably would have noted that I would need my waterproof gear well before mile 26, by which time, it might have been too late to help.

Learning #2: Have a reliable, bright light source... oh, and have another light source too, just in case, because at night, it's just that important. My light actually gave up halfway down the mountain on the final 5-6 mile stretch, but luckily I was with friends and I had Luis's light, or I would have had to navigate the rest of the way in the dark.

Learning #3: Be methodical about fueling, hydration, and electrolytes. I was way too casual about when and how much I took of each of these, simply because a fairly loosey-goosey approach has worked for me in the past... but in 100 milers, there is less room for error. I think it was an electrolyte imbalance and perhaps low sugar that may have contributed to my irritability and depressed feelings in the latter portion of the race, which I look forward to experimenting with in future races.

Learning #4: Know the course. A no-brainer - know the course, or don't be angry when you get lost - it's your choice to make.

Learning #5: If you can, shed layers when you get too hot. At least, don't do what I did, which is to wear them and sweat in them until the temperature drops, at which point you now have the cold lining of your jacket and gloves clinging to your skin. Take them off, let them air out... then put them back on when dry.

Learning #6: Don't be afraid to ask for help. It was hard for me to approach Jen and ask that she stick with me through the race... I don't like asking for help, or appearing dependent. At that moment, however, I recognized that I needed her help to finish the race... and it was ok to admit that (and bone-headed not to).

Learning #7: Know your limitations. On the way back up to Gridley Top, it was tough to admit that it was getting beyond what I was capable of dealing with, but as I considered the conditions that lay ahead and how my declining physical and mental states would reckon with that, it seemed clear that my limits had been reached.

In those circumstances, it would have been far sillier to press on and have to be escorted down later - end of story.

Learning #8: I think I have what it takes to do these 100 mile events. I signed up for three 100 milers in 2011 for the purpose of learning more about what they're all about, and so far, I'm learning - boy, am I.

I have suspected this might be the distance for me... I've only done one before this, but so far, I like the grittiness of a 100 mile event, and how the mental game becomes a larger piece the further out you go.

After 85+ miles on the C2M course, I feel confident I can handle myself pretty well out there. I think this is a distance I can get used to, and I'm looking forward to the next one.

Concluding thoughts... and thanks

All in all, it was an incredible event. It was a fun, mysterious, challenging, thrilling, and daunting few days that taught me a lot about myself... and a lot about the types of things I want to be doing.

A big THANK YOU to everyone who participated in this event for contributing to the great experience that was C2M, especially, of course, to the volunteers and the race director! In their capable hands we felt cared for and safe, even as the winds and rain rose and snow flurried around the ridge. The conditions were extreme, but the race crews handled it with professionalism and compassion.

I wouldn't hesitate to participate in this race again... in fact, I'm chomping at the bit. Just tell me when and where, and I'll be there... rain jacket and torch at the ready this time. I'll be there... and I'll be carrying a rock.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Coyote Two Moon: Before the Race

It's 4PM the afternoon of the race, and I'm in my hotel room in Ventura, waiting for my husband (who is also my crew, yeah!) to get here sometime between now and the race start time... and my head is spinning a little.

It's been a long week at work. We launched a website for a new product line - always a lot of work - and I also had my first (and hopefully only) corporate performance review in which the phrase was uttered "I don't want to fight with you - I love you."

Thankfully, I work for a tough yet kind woman whom I am also very fond of, or that might have been really weird...

But, enough about this week... let's look forward to the C2M!

The groups are staggered so that most people will finish in the timeframe from 6AM - 10AM Sunday morning - this means that Race Director Chris Scott, in his ultimate wisdom, had determined that I will most likely take between 33-37 hours to finish.

That seems like an awfully long time.

I was surprised when I first read that estimate - after all, I did the Headlands Hundered in 25 hours and that was my very first one... but, there are some pretty big challenges that are unique to this race, so I guess we'll just have to see how it goes, and respect the distance and the course.

Challenge 1 is the climbing - 27,000 ft of it. There were over 22,000 ft of elevation in the other 100 miler I did, but to compare them is probably silly - I have heard this terrain is very tough and an extra 5,000 ft of elevation is no small deal. It will be fun to see how my body deals with it.

Challenge 2 is the nighttime. This might just be a big one. I entered the C2M specifically because it was a night race, and I did so poorly in the night section of the Headlands Hundreds... and I'd like the opportunity to get better.

In the Marin Headlands of the Headland Hundreds race, I was completely taken off guard by the mist and fog, and allowed it to slow me to as little as 2 miles an hour in some sections. As for my mental state? I was low, man. I don't remember crying, but I did swear a lot as I stumbled along that night section alone, muttering sentiments similar to "Let's finish this bitch," along with other rather rude references to the course...

Sorry, Marin Headlands... it wasn't pretty stuff. You don't deserve that... I love you, I don't want to fight with you.

In the Coyote Two Moon, we'll be running at night not once, but twice... so I'm expecting to be learning a lot about night running out there.

All this is fine, of course - I need to make mistakes; have new experiences in new conditions, and see what works and doesn't work... that's why it would even be a good thing if we get rained on hard tomorrow. I don't get exposure to rainstorms much here in CA - how better to learn to run and race in the rain than to have it happen?

It will be a great race. The Race Director is so organized and on-point, and I have nothing but the utmost confidence that we are in good hands, with a great team of race volunteers who are smart and savvy and not willing to put up with crap, but still kind... these are good folks. I'm glad to have met them and excited to hang out with them more these next few nights.

My goal? To finish - and to finish in 30 hours or less. From looking at the times of people who have done this race and the other 100 miler I did in 25 hours, it seems like it will take me 29-33 hours to finish this one... and let's face it, the longer I'm out there, the uglier it will get, so I'm going to try to stay focused, more forward consistently and smoothly, keep postive, and finish strong!

I'm gonna move through the night with as much focus as I can muster and then hit the day hard (but with steadiness) so I can see how early in the 2nd night I can finish.

I'm ready for my adventure... into the night we go!

Me finishing the Headlands Hundred - I want this feeling again this weekend!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Finding focus

It's been a bit of a weird few weeks.

About two weeks ago, I was hyper-focused on all things running - I had gone from running 35 miles a week to 50 or more, I had reached out to a local running coach (Coach Jimmy Dean of the SoCal Coyotes, HOOOOWWL!), and I was feeling in excellent shape, both mentally and physically, for the upcoming Coyote Two Moon this March 18th.

Since then, however, I've been feeling distinctly less focused. I've been lingering before training more. I've been staying up a bit later, and saying "Yes," more frequently when my husband asks me if I want to watch a movie, instead of hitting the sheets by 9:30 or 10PM (ok, so I've done this twice. Sue me).

On the other hand, I've been finding myself more focused at work. I've been wondering less what training tips and conversations are being kicked around on running chat boards, and more about how I can be increasingly effective in managing my work responsibilities (Boss, I hope you're reading this).

Hard not hang out with this little guy.. 
And to top it all off, I've been enjoying my kids more. For the past two weekends I've found myself blissfully satisfied with just hanging out with my kids and my husband as we go about our typical weekend routine... nothing out of the ordinary, just grocery shopping, going to Home Depot, stopping by the park and Toys R Us. Ordinary, everyday activities, but ones that have filled my heart and smoothed over the chips and cracks that I had not noticed were lying there. 

Making cupcakes on the weekend with Sevilla
I have felt more restful, more at ease than in previous weeks - but at the same time, my focus with running has been off. And actually, I'm ready to start honing it in again... a tad reluctant to step away from what feels like the warmth of the family's embrace, but ready.

After all, I can always linger close and will no doubt find myself cycling back for my family's comfort as I need them and they need me, for there is no exclusivity; rather, there are only degrees of overlap and of symmetry in these worlds. 

I've come to anticipate that many of my moods and interests - beit towards school, work, "hobbies", sports, and the like - go through cycles like this. I seem to experience periods where I am hyper-focused and goal-oriented for weeks at a time, only to shortly after feel adrift and out-of-touch with what had seemed like such sharp focus.

But, this will happen over the course of many months, not weeks, and I can only assume it is the natural course that happens for all of us as we strive to navigate our way through life; juggling roles and responsibilities two and three at a time, while we also strive to quench our creative, spiritual, competitive, and/or inquisitive urges and tendencies... 

Sevy, Caden, and friends
What a complex and beautiful world we live in.

In my more naive, more confident (er, more out-of-touch) moments I think of myself as "having it all"... and in a way, I do have it all. I have so much that so many do not.

At other times, however, I can only feel the pressure of what can result when one tries to juggle it all... or juggle too much.

But that's ok, because the cycles will work themselves out again, and balance will result... I have faith in this system. So, when the time comes that I feel that hype-focus in running, I will welcome it with open arms, knowing that focus will cycle out again as projects from work mount or my heart yearns for my family's chatter, play, and touch.

I'll find that balance, find that focus, and don't have to worry about pushing it or forcing it too hard to where I think it "should" be... I have faith that I will find it, in the same way that I know I will find myself.

Zach, our kids, and their buddies at the beach. A beautiful evening.

My Dad had a favorite quote, and while I cannot find the exact phrasing or to whom it is credited, I recall it as being thus: "I have the answers I need inside me. I just have to be quiet enough to hear them."

I know I have the answers to where should spend my time; where I need to place my focus. I can trust in that instinct and in my decisions, which are based on my understanding of what is important for myself and also for my family. I just have to be quiet enough to hear them.

At the same time... I'm still darn excited for the Coyote Two Moon. Again, what a complex and beautiful world we live in...

Friday, March 4, 2011

Moon gazing

One of the cool things about running in the early morning is that it has let me feel more at peace in the dark.

I used to feel tired in the dark, or suspicious of what lurked in the shadows - now I feel energized. I look up at the night sky and sign happily at the moon. I think about people in different parts of the world, in different timezones, and how they must look up at that same moon when it is their turn for darkness. We may be thousands of miles away both geographically and culturally yet we still stare up at that same moon and breathe in the beauty of the night.

I think how lucky I am to be out and running. Those that are still in their beds may have slept in longer, but are not necessarily feeling more healthy or rested - in fact, some are probably moving much more slowly and with less energy than I. I don't envy them in their beds.

Yes, I'd rather be out - most mornings, that is... except Sunday.

Sunday is sleep-in day... before the week and then early mornings spent running and moon gazing begin once more.