Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Weekend with Friends Old and New: 100K at the Born to Run Marathons

Carrie, Kevin, and Julianne on the course

It was a weekend of firsts at the Born to Run Marathons.

For the event itself, it was the first year they would be held. 

Conceived by Race Director Luis Escobar, the Born to Run Marathons were created "for runners by runners" and consisted of 100 mile, 100K, 50K, and 10 mile running events. As the event website put it: "Join us for a weekend of camping and trail running on the beautiful East Creek Ranch in Los Olivos California." 

Like the description on the website, the event was understated, casual, and comfortable. One runner afterwards called it "authentic." It seemed an entirely appropriate description of the event.

Barefoot Ted talks while we sit in the sun
Raffle for Moeben Sleeves and Drymax socks... everyone got something

Barefoot Ken Bob talks barefoot running

RD Luis addressing the crowd... yeah, he's the one in the chicken suit

For runners like Kathy Higgins, it was a first 100 Miler. 

Not content to merely complete the distance, Kathy would end up smoking the course in 21:21, distinguishing herself for not only blasting through each aid station looking as fresh as if the gun had just gone off, but for leaving her numerous pacers literally in the dust 10-20 feet behind her.

Kathy had an incredible team of friends and family supporting her all night, and turned in a jaw-dropping performance (literally... each time she would blaze past we would be left looking at each other with our mouths open and eyes agog). Amazing. 

For Mauricio Puerto, it was a first 50K run entirely barefoot.

Having never run more than three miles barefoot before, Mauricio decided to run the 100K distance barefoot "mostly because it was something different and was an adventure." During his run Luis would allow him to drop down to 50K after finding some sections of the trail quite hard on the feet; Mauricio would run or walk every step of that 50K barefoot. 

We saw Mauricio several times on the course, and while his gait signaled to us clearly that he was having some discomfort, his words were always positive and his smile cheerful... he would exchange words with us as if there was nothing at all unusual going on, and then he'd move on down the trail.

For Christi Crovato, Scout Phillips, Kevin Stuart, Julianne Whitelaw, Michael Epler, Carrie Dent, and many others, it was a first 100K. 

Carrie, Kevin, Julianne, and Christi on their way to 100K

I was there with my good friend Christi to see if we could make her first 100K attempt a success. It was a success, but for far greater reasons than we had anticipated, for not only did Christi finish the run, but she enjoyed nearly every step of the journey and made new friends along the way.

While completing Christi's journey, we met others on a similar track... they were there for their first 10 mile, 50K, 100K, or 100 Mile run. Not everyone finished the run that they set out on, but we all learned a little something about each other and ourselves before the weekend was through.

Christi and Scott Kennedy, who was running in the 100 Mile
Scout finishing her first 100K

As for the ranch... man, was that a beautiful ranch.

East Creek Ranch

The owner of the ranch was one Mr. Chamberlin (his first name escapes me at this time). He had graciously allowed us to inhabit the land for the few days as we camped and ran, providing, of course, that we leave the land as we found it.

The ranch was beautiful, with sweeping, grassy fields and large gnarled trees that provided both interest and shade, both while we reclined on the grass in the days before the event...

Enjoying the sun and the breeze at East Creek Ranch

...and while we ran the 20 mile loop the next day.

Beautiful trees giving shade on the pink loop

Which now, of course, leads us to the course itself...

"This course is not easy."

It was a funny thing.

The night before the run as we sat chatting in the campground, we all felt surprisingly unconcerned about the run itself. In less than 12 hours we would be getting up to run 100K, a distance far longer than some of us had ever attempted... yet the atmosphere in the camp was one of contentment and happy anticipation.

Not that Luis hadn't tried to warn us, however.

Prior to the event, in fact, Luis had sent the following e-mail out with "need to know information" to all the runners (the bold formatting is my own):

It is not easy. The course is twenty miles separated into two ten mile loops that intersect in the center... 
Etc. etc. etc., you get the idea... then he finished with this:

The course is very runnable but it is not easy. 
I don't know about you, but I think he was trying to communicate that... well... aw heck, I'm just not sure.

Actually, I had a brief start upon first seeing his e-mail, then realized he was doing exactly the right thing by reminding us that while we had signed up for a "relaxed" event on a "flat" course with "gentle, rolling hills" - well, we would still have to run 62 miles. Or walk it. Or whatever.

In every race, I try to remember to respect the distance. Luis's reminder was a timely one: have fun, but respect the distance.

A good night's sleep, and then... we run 

The campfire and music were going until about 9PM at night, at which time Luis named all the runners who would be competing in the 100 Miler the next day into the loudspeaker, then bid us all goodnight. 

Camp site

We were woken at 4:45AM to the sound of Luis announcing "Wake up, it's time to get up!" before blasting some Merle Haggard over the speakers. We started giggling in our sleeping bags like kids as it dawned on us: we'd be running our 100K today!

Gathered at the start for coffee and instructions before the race

At the starting area, Luis went over the instructions one more time, which included such gems:
"First, you'll do the pink loop. It's NOT an exact loop. It's about 10 miles. There's one aid station. How far away is it? I don't know. About a bottle." 

"The pink loop is marked by pink ribbons. They'll be on your left hand side - keep them ON YOUR LEFT. Except for sometimes... when they'll be on your right. Other than that... KEEP THEM ON YOUR LEFT."

"We are not tracking your time and when you start and stop each loop - I don't care about your time. If you care about your time, keep track of it. This is ultrarunning. No-one cares how many seconds you came in on."
And, finally, my favorite:
"This is ultrarunning. In the next 24 hours, something bad WILL happen to you."
Swearing the oath... and the start

After Luis had finished, Caballo Blanco steped to the front and we all raised our hand and swore an oath:

"I understand that doing this run with Luis and Caballo might not be a good idea. If I get bitten by a rattlesnake, lost, injured, or die, it is my own fucking fault. Amen."

We all swore, clapped, and cheered, then stepped to the starting line... then with a shotgun blast from Mr. Chamberlin, we were off and running.

And now, pictures from the course

After that, we spent the day running, hiking, laughing, and talking.

The course consisted of one 10-mile "pink" loop that started and finished at the S/F area, then a 10-mile "yellow" loop that did the same thing, but over different ground. Luis called it a 20-mile figure 8, but all the runners seemed to think of it as 10-mile loops... it was easier to process in your head while you were out there.

I could go into more detail, but that's really all there is to it, so instead I'll share some pictures from the course... I took my camera with me on the 2nd yellow loop, having decided on the first time through that it was my favorite and knowing I'd like some more pictures to remember it by.

The majority of the terrain was grassy fields with rolling hills

More paths past cool trees

Scott and crossing the creek bed behind Christi

Single track with great views... favorite part of the course.

So... how was it?

The running itself was awesome. Christi and I completed our run in 13:13, or thereabouts. Our splits for each 20 miles were fairly even: 3:50, 4:10, 4:40, then we did the last 2 miles in 23 minutes.

The approach to the S/F area and Home Base... nearly there!

I cared about our splits because I wanted us to run an even race... no bombing through the first 20 miles because we felt good, or like we "should".

I also knew we would need to stay on top of our nutrition, so in this run we also kept our focus on fueling, and it went off without a hitch.

Overall... we done good.

After the event, Christi would ask me if we should have gone faster (I think it was mostly out of curiosity and that tickle in your mind that makes you wonder what else might have been achieved), but at the time (and after) we were happy to cover the distance... that was an appropriate goal.

It was her first 100K, for goodness sake. Finishing the run and enjoying ourselves was more than enough.

After the finish

When we finished, we got a magnet from Luis to put on the fridge (and I wish I'd taken a picture, because the words "refridgerator magnet" just don't do it justice, but that's ok).

On the magnet was the iconic shot from the cover of the book Born to Run. It's a gorgeous shot with intense colors, and it will be nice to see it everyday as a reminder of the run.

For the 1st place male and female finishers, a plaque was given - it was a beautiful metalic plaque mounted on wood that could be hung on the wall, again showing the image from the cover of Born to Run, the same image that is on the Event Website.

As for the finishers?
We hung around long enough to see several of those that we had been running with that day complete their run. As we stayed close to the campfire near the finish line, Julianne, Kevin, Ben Morgan, and Scout all crossed as they completed their 100K.

All were exhausted... all were very happy.

Julianne finishing her 100K

For the 100 Milers, we got to see Kathy Higgins blasting through at mile 70, in typical fashion with her pacer far behind... then, as we had all day when we saw her, we cheered her on and then looked at each other as she left, shaking our heads in amazement at her scorching performance.

As mentioned before, Kathy would finish her 100 Mile in 21:21, the first female. The first male was Guillermo Medina in 18:58. We saw Guillermo several times throughout the day also, always far, far ahead and looking peaceful and... well, fast.

There were many other successful finishers, and many other runs that did not get finished for one reason or another, but overall, it seemed that a good time was had by all.

In conclusion... finally...

Well, heck... it was just a really wonderful event.

Luis wanted to create an event "for runners, by runners"... I thought I knew what he meant before going to Born to Run, but now I know for sure what it means... and I know how it feels.

I'm already looking forward to next year.

Thanks again to the volunteers - Bill Kee, Jennifer Cline, Mara Klassen, Beverly Escobar, Kelly Griggs, and a bunch of other folks whom I cannot name but still need to thank - like the family at the bottom of the hill, who had the aid station and whose little kids filled up our water bottles as we stopped by. 

Thanks to Barefoot Ken Bob, Barefoot Ted, and Caballo Blanco for sharing their advice and experiences about barefoot running and running in general... and of course to Luis for putting the event together. It was, by all accounts, an exceptional event. 

Born to Run 2012, here we come!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

SBER 100 Race Report

Well, the good news is I've already accidentally erased this race report twice while trying to write it up, so you're in for an unexpected treat: a race report that is significantly more brief than the original. 

Let's hit the highlights, shall we?

Race HQ was at the beautiful Rancho Oso Guest Ranch

The SBER was held in Santa Barbara this past April 28th. It was the inaugural event, and while I was terribly excited to jump into another 100 miler and apply some of the things I learned at the C2M, I still felt a sense of uncertainty as the event approached.

In readying myself for the race, I prepared a few "cheat sheets" for reference and orientation while on the course, including a chart of the aid stations, and the elevation profile. On the back, I added some quotes that I felt would be a source of inspiration, should my spirits need bolstering in the later hours of the race.

At the bottom I placed my favorite quote, printed it in bold:
"You're stronger than you think you are. You're capable of more than you think."
And while I found myself repeating that quote quietly to myself a number of times during the race, at no point did I ever find the need to dig out my quote sheet and look at the rest of them.

That is to say, my race went pretty well.

It didn't go perfectly, mind you, and I still learned a lot of things... but there were no major lows or giant hurdles. All in all, it was an extremely enjoyable event, one where I'd not only prove that I can come within range of going sub-24 if I plan well enough and push a bit harder, but also got to be there as a new friend turned in a killer performance and finished his first official 100-miler in incredible style.

As for the new friend? That would be Mr. Ken Michal, known previously to me only by his "All Day!" sign-off that he employs on forums and blogs where he posts. Ken had also been present at another race I was in, which is where I recognized him from at the SBER pre-race dinner.

The race we had run before was the Headlands Hundred in August 2010, where Ken completed the 100 miles but missed the cutoff by 10 minutes, so it was not an official finish. He was at the SBER due to the 48 hour cutoff, and to make claim to what would be his first 100 mile finish within the time limits.

I liked Ken immediately, as do most people who meet him. He's optimistic with a great sense of humor and very experienced in ultra-running, and I was very much pulling for him to finish this race.

It was lining up to be one exciting weekend.

Before the Race

At the registration and pre-race dinner, I got to meet some of the other folks I'd be sharing the trails with... Ray Sanchez, Aaron Sorenson, Steve Ansell, Vance Roget, and a few more... and if I didn't meet them then, I'd get to do so the next day out on the course.

Pre-race dinner at the Stone Lodge

Briefing by RD Robert Gilcrest

Oh yeah, Goeff Roes was there too... I was struck suddenly shy the first time I saw him at registration - go figure - but after that, all hesitation fell away, as he is as approachable and friendly as anyone else out there.

It's just that he's usually way out in front... way, WAY out in front.

It was great to hear stories from the races these guys had competed in. It was interesting and invaluable, and what's more, everyone was friendly, and the atmosphere was comfortable. It was a nice little group.

The Race

I'll dispense with any more pre-race chit-chat and jump right into the event itself. 

Starting Line

The race started at 6AM with a 6 mile hike up the hill. The climb was gradual and the views were lovely as the sun came up. We all moved with purpose, running and walking off and on and chatting with each other as we crossed paths.

The mountains behind us as the sun came up

Ashley Walsh and Steve Ansell headed up the hill
At the top, we grabbed aid from the station and headed on to Angostura Pass. At Angostura we would turn north and descend 10.5 miles to a turnaround point at Red Rock Gate. After that, we'd climb back up to Angostura, then venture east for 21 miles to a second turnaround point that marked 50.5 miles into the course.

Then, quite naturally, we'd turn around and do it all again. It was pretty straightforward, and we were left to admire the views and focus on our respective races without having to worry too much about getting lost.

Well, all except Ashley Walsh, that was... she would end up tacking on an extra 9 miles before the event was through due to a wrong turn.


The course

Overall, the course was really enjoyable. It had enough climbs and descents to be challenging, but not enough to be really tough. The word of the day was definitely "runnable" - as in, "This course is really runnable, I keep having to remind myself not to go out too fast!"

A few of us runners did at least attempt restraint, especially after speeding through the first 25 miles of the course in well under sub-24-hour pace. I did the first quarter in 4:30, which was a brisk pace for me but one that felt comfortable and manageable at the time.

I did have to constantly remind myself to walk up the slopes, and to take it easy when I noticed my heart rate creeping up. 
The terrain as we got further out

In monitoring my electrolytes and fuel, I did an outstanding job... well, mostly outstanding. There were a few slips now and again and a few things I still have to figure out, but overall it was far better than how I've managed in previous races. I was pretty pleased with myself in this regard.

I reached the turnaround in 11:15, from what I can remember. It was either that or 11:45, but I believe it was the former.

I had seen Geoff Roes a couple of times on the out-and-back sections. The first time he had a runner named Scott Hambly by his side, but when I saw him the second time he was on his own. "Great job!" he called out when he saw me. 

Goeff Roes just said great job! my inner fan said.

"Thanks, you too!" I squeaked, trying to sound casual, yet encouraging - I'm pretty sure I pulled it off.

The course was a lot of fun. The hills got steeper in and out of the turnaround, but nothing lasted for so long as to make you throw up your hands in despair, as you knew that was the most challenging part, and that it would be over soon. It was actually really enjoyable.

It the night, it got a bit tougher... the winds made it difficult to get in and out of the aid stations, and in the case of Romero Saddle, nothing whatsoever could even be set on the table or on the ground without being swept away. But still, the volunteers managed admirably, as did the runners.

My plan at each station was to gather my supplies as fast as I could and then get out of there and back onto the trail. At the time, I remember thinking it was probably tougher for the volunteers than the runners, as the runners were at least generating heat by moving around. The volunteers, however, were left to huddle under sleeping bags and wrap themselves in blankets to try to stay warm, then would emerge from their covers as we approached to help us in any way they could.

At 75 miles in, I was still doing pretty well. The wind was knocking me around a bit and I was getting cold from the repeated blasts, but it was nothing too serious and my focus remained on moving forward.

At the same time, I'm not especially pleased with how I handled the last quarter of the race. It was ok - but it could have been better.

Essentially, up until the 80 mile mark I had done a great job of staying on track with regard to pace, nutrition, electrolytes, and fluids. I was feeling good - a little achy perhaps, and a bit weary - but nothing unusual given the circumstances. In fact - and here's the important part - if I could have just maintained a 3.5 to 4 MPH pace through the 80-90 mile section uphill, I could probably have brought it home for a finish in under 24 hours.

That would have been pretty cool... but it didn't happen.

What happened instead is I decided to let up on my pace through the 80-90 mile section of hills, and in that section I lost enough time that I could no longer finish in under 24 hours. Not only that, but I neglected the "hot spots" on my feet, disregarding the signals my feet were sending me to stop and take care of the two blisters that were developing there.

The result of this was that my last 10 miles downhill was not all that speedy, with my jogging gingerly downhill to ease the pain on my blistered foot.

Pretty lame....literally.

At the time, I remember being pretty tired and not thinking I could finish in under 24 hours, so I decided to stop pushing. It might have been true - I might not have been able to finish in under 24 - but looking back on it, I find it hard to believe I couldn't have given it more of a go.

In the end, I finished at 7:06AM on Saturday morning, with a final time of 25:06. It was a good time, but there remains some regret over not pushing harder.

Finished... yes!
But with all that said, it was a truly enjoyable event. I showed restraint with my pace and got see what it was like when I did a better job of monitoring myself during the race, and for these things alone I am pleased.

And perhaps, I should leave it at that.

But isn't over

Except... that there's still one more to finish.

As of Saturday afternoon, several more runners had finished, coming in gradually as the day went on. As we rolled into the second night however, just one runner remained, the rest having either finished or dropping out due to injury, or in one case, hypothermia.

By 9PM that night we got a report on the remaining runner: Ken Michal had cleared the last aid station and was making his way down the hill. By all reports he was moving slowly but with determination, and was making steady progress, despite having to stop for some time at some of the aid stations in an attempt to get a break from the wind and warm up a little before moving on.

By 10:30PM, only the Race Director and I were awake, and he (the RD) was exhausted. He pointed out his tent - it was right next to the finish line - and told me to wake him I wanted to go an find Ken. I agreed, and told him to go to bed... after all, he had been up for days like the rest of us, and I could wake him if need be.

Following that I took a 45-minute nap, then got up again and went to wait for Ken. I sat in my car with the lights off, fixated on the finish line and the line of forest directly behind it. I sat and waited, my eyes scanning the trees, wondering what Ken's spirits must be like by that time.

He had been out there for close to 43 hours, over 2 days and nearly 2 nights. He had not been to sleep. He was probably cold, likely delirious, and had nearly certainly been depressed at some point (I'm making an assumption based on my own sleep-deprived experiences). I hoped he was well, but I readied myself to wake Robert and set off on foot to find Ken if he needed our help.

But it hadn't yet come to that, and as I waited, I remained certain, somehow certain, that Ken was still making his way down in the darkness and cold all on his own.

I didn't have much longer to wait.

A few minutes after, I saw two lights flickering, bobbing, dancing madly over the trees and the shrubs just past the finish line. Someone was coming. It had to be Ken.

"Ken!" I shrieked, getting out of the car and running up the hill with my flashlight pointed out over the ground in front of me. "Ken! Over here! Ken!"

I could see the lights kept coming, and then, I started to hear a sound. "Auuuuughhhh!" went the sound, slightly muffled. "Auuuuuuugh!"

"Ken!" I yelled, still running. I didn't know what was wrong with him, but if he was freaking out, I wanted to encourage him and get him in. "Ken! You're done! Over here! Keep it up, Ken, keep it up!"

"AUUUUGHHH!" said the noise again. "AAAUUUUGHHH!"

Suddenly, out of the woods burst Ken. He was running like a bat out of hell and headed straight for the finish line, his arms and legs pumping as hard as he could. "AAUUUUUGHHH!" he yelled as he ran.

"Ken, right here, right here!" I said, pointing him to run under the sign, as he started to go around it (like it really mattered, at that point). Ken stopped yelling and did a little dance to go under the "Finish" banner rather than around it, then forcefully threw his hand-held bottles on the ground and started shrieking with joyous relief.

"I did it! I did it! I finished! I'm done!" he cried, looking happy and exhausted and overwhelmed all at the same time.

I laughed and nodded as he continued for the next few minutes to celebrate, not knowing for sure what to say but understanding that it didn't really matter.

Then, we turned and walked down the hill together, and I listened as he began to tell me of his run.

Finisher's buckle and medal... shiny

In conclusion

So, in conclusion? Hey, it was a great race - have I said that yet? I'm definitely interested in going back next year, regardless of whether they go back to the original course that was planned, or use the route we ran this year.

I hope the race attracts more participants, but only because it deserves to, not because anything was taken away by the small field - in fact, having a smaller group was nice in a lot of ways.

As for me, the race allowed me to see that I can be successful at tracking my nutrition and electrolytes over the course of 100 miles. Now, for the next challenge... breaking that 24 hour mark on a trail 100-miler.

I'm looking forward to it.

Next up in 2012... swimming challenges?

Why does the approach of my birthday always seem to usher in a spastic flurry of brain activity surrounding such phrases as "ultimate challenges", "the next big quest" and the like?

Besides the obvious, I mean.

Or maybe my mind is just frequently abuzz with such topics, regardless of birthdays... it does seem to be somewhat cyclical, however.

Looking forward to 2012, I've been obsessed this morning with the idea of delving into swimming endurance events... having researched this idea before, there are a few options I'm already aware of that have come back to tickle my fancy.

The Pennock Island Challenge - an 8.2 mile open-water swim around Pennock Island in Alaska. While the website currently only lists information on the 2010 race, there is a signup on for 2011 (in case anyone here is interested...)

The La Jolla Cove Swim Club's 10-mile relay - can also be completed as a solo event. Again, an open water swim, starting and finishing at La Jolla Beach in San Diego, CA. Typically held at the end of September.

The Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association documents and promotes the safe crossing of the Santa Barbara Channel by solo or relay swimmers throughout the year. There are seven channel islands and various routes to, from, and around them - distances range from 12 to 60 miles.

While the first two events listed above hold much appeal, the most attractive and suitable may be the third option, as we currently live close to Santa Barbara, so travel costs would be minimal.

In addition to this, the varying lengths of swims it's possible to try holds appeal - I can try the distance I like, and even up the ante over time (or not). Also, as this swim would not be a race, I might feel less pressure to compete against others and feel more able to focus on the swim itself.

Interesting stuff. And while the more logical part of me likes to pipe up with a reminder that I never enjoyed distance open-water swimming as a kid (so what makes me think it would be different now), there's still something to it all...

At the very least, it's an idea to be explored. After all, this line of thinking is not exactly new, which is why I was able to rattle off the three challenges above.

Swimming: the new challenge for 2012? Not sure yet... still slightly cringing at the idea of being face-down in the water with arms a-whirling for that long... but we'll see.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Having it all

Sometimes I wonder if I should ease up on the running just because I'm doing such a crappy job at some of the other areas of my life.

Then I think "Well now, let's not get hasty. No need to ease up on the running - after all, it helps you process stress, gives you confidence, and teaches you to overcome challenges in other areas of your life - just figure out how to keep the running, and get better at everything else as well."

Well, now that just sounds exhausting.

But, there's something to that. Or at least, if I can't do a good job on the other important areas of my life, I need to consider giving less time to running. It's only fair. Problem is, I don't wanna.

It's easier to give more time to running. It's more fun... and more selfish. Compared to figuring out how to tackle my biggest challenges regarding how to  be a better mother, wife, business professional, and loving and supportive family member, figuring out how to shave time off my next 50 miler is no big deal.

But it sure doesn't feel good when I am not doing as well in these other areas. When I am impatient with my kids, or frustrated by their latest squabbling, or can't figure out why Caden can't seem to stop smacking his sister or me every time he is told "no", or when I feel I'm not giving my kids or my husband the time to be the best person I can be, for them... it doesn't feel good.

I'd like to have it all... I'd like to be it all... the best runner, mother, spouse, marketing professional, sister, and daughter I can be. 

Is this possible? I'm not sure yet... but I've got to give it a go. I've got to!