Thursday, July 25, 2013

WS 2013: F(th)ree from Fate (F8)

A nightmare woke me up a few minutes before my alarm was set to go off. The details are fuzzy at this point, but it involved racing a tough mountain 100 miler; Dave Mackey, Hal Koerner and I had all dropped out, and we were huddling next to a rock in the middle of nowhere. I am only superstitious in the days leading up to races, and this didn't seem a good omen, but what was I to do at this point? Explain to my crew that my demise has been portended and that starting could be a pointless endeavor? I also didn't think it wise to share with Dave or Hal at the starting line (sorry, guys!).

I went into WS with a very loosely defined plan; planning, which requires thinking about the race, makes me nervous, and I try to avoid feeling nervous. I only panicked when I heard reference to others' nutrition plans or crew instructions. I didn't look at splits, and I didn't have a concrete nutrition/hydration plan, except to carry calories and fluid and consume them, enough so to keep running. I told my crew on Friday a few things that they could offer me at aid stations, but not to be surprised if I never touched them. Loosely, I hoped to consume gels every hour until I gagged on a gel, and then figure it out from there.  I hoped it would all work itself out, and I never seem to stick to a plan anyhow. I guess my plan was to do what I always do--gels and water/sports drink--until it stops working, because it generally stops working.  I hoped that if my legs stayed in it, that my stomach would to.

Based on last year's rocky second half, I knew what some potential issues might be--dead quads, and/or an the inability to get down enough calories, in part because of renal protest from the dead quads (overworked kidneys from too much metabolic waste coming from tissue damage--or at least that's my hypothesis). The other big factor would be heat, but that would be a factor for everyone, and I'd done a solid 3 weeks of sauna training, and in recent past lives I have lived in sauna-like places, liked heat and liked running in hot weather. I added a mantra to my list, "Soy chaqueña" (in reference to my sometimes oppressively hot Peace Corps home in the Paraguayan Chaco).  Most importantly, I wanted to enjoy it--to not have it turn into a slog in those last 40 miles, and especially those last 20, as it had the past 2 years. I really wanted to run around the track, because last year I barely managed to limp around it.

Lisa and I at check-in on Friday. Photo by Amy AL-khalisi. 
Western States has become what my sister and I refer to as "Sister Camp." I have just one OLDER sister (I can't believe people ask us this question!), and for the past 3 years, WS has become the one week each year when the two of us get to spend some quality time together. I'm uncertain if given the option between a week in Hawaii or a week at WS, Lisa would choose WS, but she sure fakes it enough such that I'd guess that she enjoys WS even more than I do and would choose it over other more exotic destinations. Maybe in a few years we'll move Sister Camp to a beach location, but in the meantime, Squaw Valley to Auburn it is.  Lisa crews and then paces me from Hwy 49 to the finish each year, and we both hoped that this year I would be running strong enough to drop her finally.  The last 2 years it's been such a trudge to the finish, and Lisa has had no problem hanging with me.

Lisa and I hanging out Statesmas-Eve at the Montrail house.  Photo by Jason Leman.
So, Lisa flew in to Portland on Tuesday night, and we took off late Wednesday afternoon on the road down to Auburn, stopping in Klamath Falls along the way, and arriving in Squaw Valley Thursday afternoon in time to jet over to the panel discussion. I would normally avoid settings such as these before a race, but Ann Trason was talking, and who doesn't want to hear a little something from the woman who dominated the sport (and since disappeared from it) for so long?  It was a good mix of advice from seasoned WS veterans, and I was happy to hear, "throw your pace chart out the window," because I hadn't yet created one. Although in my opinion, pace charts are more useful for crews, if only for them to know if they have time to grab a burger and a beer en route to the next stop. I'm usually moving as fast as I think I can/should be, and knowing how that compares to my goal time isn't always a good thing. In general, I had hoped to be sub-19 after 2 years in the 19s.

Another reason I wasn't stressing about the race was because I was stressing about my calf. About 7 miles into our weekly Tuesday night trail run (10 days before the race) I took a step and felt a twinge in my calf, which was reminiscent of the calf strain I experienced 2 years ago in Marin, but less severe.  If 100 rubber bands were released in the calf strain 2 years ago, this one was more like 10 rubber bands letting go.  Regardless, I freaked out, and while I could still run home, the calf wasn't great, and kept pinging at me. As luck would have it, I had a previously scheduled chiro/graston appointment scheduled for Wednesday and Dr. Forcum confirmed it was a minor calf strain, but thought I should be OK if I treated it aggressively and took a couple of days off, followed by some light running, with no fast/hard efforts that might re-tweak it during the healing process. I was nervous because while he seemed unconcerned, he still wanted to see me 5 times before the race. I had been feeling like I needed a more severe taper than what my schedule called for, so this forced me to take it. I threw the final workouts out the window--no track work on Thursday (or running), and waited until Friday morning to run gently again. Over the next 7 days, I had 4 sessions (graston, e-stim, ultrasound) at Back in Motion with Dr. Forcum and his team , and 2 massages from my favorite guy, Michael Bilyeu. By Friday it felt normal, although the start up the Escarpment worried me more than a little.

The introduction of the top returnees from 2012 and MUC qualifiers. The only place all year (and in my lifetime) I get to practice my pageant wave.  Photo by Shahid Ali.
The Friday pre-race festivities and visiting came and went too quickly, and it was soon time to sleep and get this thing started. Besides the DNF dream, I slept well and didn't feel overly nervous at the start in part because the heat gave me something to worry about other than just racing. Quick hugs to friends and crews and we were off under what was a very different feel from 2012--no gloves, jackets or blowing sleet. The climb up to the Escarpment felt good; I didn't feel like I was working too hard, and was keeping pace with the fast chicks around me. The trail up top, once you pop up and over the Escarpment, is one of my favorite parts of the race. It was also the most pleasant section temperature-wise all day, as being up above 8000 feet it was relatively cool. The sunrise over Lake Tahoe was gorgeous, and I noticed it for the first time in 3 years (last year was too cloudy to be able to see it, but the first year I didn't even realize there was a view of the lake from the top--what can I say, I rarely stop to look behind me during a race). I didn't notice the elevation much--not sure why, as I seem to be one of the few that hasn't jumped on the Hypoxico wagon or doesn't live in a mountain state. I passed Topher at about the same time I passed him last year--a rutty gravely section of road about 8 miles in, and we joked about deja vu. Shortly after passing Toph, and right after Lyon Ridge, I face planted going downhill, and scraped up my left knee. I was bleeding, but oddly, was more concerned about the fact that I chipped a nail. I know. So, while I ran and stewed about some chipped polish, Topher caught back up, some more women came from behind, we caught up to some others, and once things settled out, I ended up running in the vicinity of Kerrie, Aliza, Topher, and Pam, and we all headed into Duncan Canyon together at mile 23.

Hiking up the Escarpment in the early morning light. After 3 years, I finally saw Lake Tahoe from the top. Photo by Bob MacGillivray. 
After a few mishaps at Duncan Canyon, including a not-properly-closed bladder, and poor communication by me to my crew on my ice needs, I lost most of the group, but caught back up to Kerrie after leaving the aid station, passed her and within 10 seconds managed to face plant again, this time scraping up the right knee and elbow, but popping back up with no bruised bones (and no further chipped nails). I worked on getting Pam and Aliza, who were a few minutes up at this point, back into view. I felt OK through here, but took it easy and walked more than I should have, perhaps. I caught up to Aliza and Rory just as we were entering the aid station at Robinson Flat, again had a slower stop than either of them, and left the aid station a minute or two behind. I felt like I wasn't pushing too hard, and was running controlled.

An early pack of Kerrie, Aliza, Topher, Pam and I heading into Duncan Canyon (mile 24). Photo by Dominic Grossman 
Robinson is always a big lift, as it's a major crew spot, and this year I wasn't quite so antsy about getting through, but rather about getting everything I needed. In general, I was slow through aid stations all day. The heat was such that leaving without a fully filled and iced bladder, or without sunscreen (which I'd forgotten up to this point), could make for a long day. I made a list between aid stations in my head, and tried to recite it as I was coming into each one. Rory and Aliza were out of view when I left, and it took me a few miles to catch them, but I caught them on the road before Miller's Defeat and we entered the next aid station roughly together, and I passed them here or shortly after.  I expected to see both of them again in the canyons, if not before. Pam and Joelle were now in front of me, putting me in third. The stretch from Robinson to Dusty and on to Last Chance is one of my favorites (heck, it's all downhill), and I'd put in music after Robinson, which really seemed to provide a boost. My boss at work made me a mix for the race, "Amy's Alt-ered States" and it was super fun.  Some favorites mixed in with several things I hadn't heard, along with a couple songs that caused me to laugh out loud.

Smiling heading into Robinson Flat. Photo by Gary Wang. 
I felt strong coming into Dusty, and heard that Pam and Joelle had switched spots, and that Joelle was just a couple of minutes up. I soon passed Joelle and then stopped to make a somewhat lengthy pit stop, where she caught up to me, but then faded back again. I was a little crushed because I really hoped she'd continue to crush it off the front; she's simply a faster runner than I am, and I'd love to see her have a great day at WS and knock it out of the park. Although I was also excited to think about what a great story Pam's race would be, comparing 2012 to this year. Maybe I should have focused more on trying to catch Pam, but I was just starting to have stomach issues at this point, and was more worried about keeping food down.

Running down into the canyons. Photo by Michigan Bluff Photography. 
I left Last Chance with who I thought was John Burton who I'd met on the initial climb, and couldn't figure out why he wasn't as friendly as he had been earlier when I exclaimed, "You, again!" His accent had changed, but his clothes hadn't. Turns out there were more than a few dudes with completely matching Salomon kits. I would run the rest of the race within a few hundred meters of this new dude (Adrian Lazar), without actually ever running a step with him. We went back and forth throughout the day (and he warmed up to me), and he'd eventually finish seconds in front of me.

On the dirt road leaving Devil's Thumb. Great shot by Luis Escobar, but this one frightens me a little bit. Looking slightly possessed.
I can usually survive on gels until about mile 80 and then start to gag on them. This year that only lasted about 50 miles, and climbing up out of the canyon en route to Michigan Bluff I knew that I needed to take a gel. It'd been a good hour since my last gel, which was probably only #5 or 6 of the day, but I also knew that there was a distinct possibility I'd gag on it. I did, and proceeded to get rid of some really weird looking things from my stomach. I'm guessing it was a combination of 16 oz. of beet juice from the day before, which had dyed everything coming out of every body orifice a brilliant shade of fuschia, and that gummy bear shards were the "things" but I tried to look away. It also resembled organ bits. Suffice it to say, that I was done with gels, officially nauseous and was only half way through.

I complained to my crew at Michigan Bluff that I'd puked (I generally am strongly against puking and try to avoid it at all costs and am really never a puker except recently in 100 milers). From here on out, I opted out of gels, and switched to gummy bears, coconut water and sprite/coke/ginger ale all in small quantities.

High-fiving John Medinger as I pass through Foresthill. Photo by Bob MacGillivray.
Despite not feeling great and lacking a bit of energy because I couldn't get calories in, my legs felt great, and I arrived in Foresthill looking a little crappy, but generally feeling pretty good. I tend to look a bit intense when I race, and I'd guess this race wasn't much different. I swear, for the most part, I'm having fun. My face just shows it differently than others and some of the race photos scare even me. Foresthill was festive, as always and I was happy to pick up my pacer, Robyn. Robyn, one of my early morning running buddies in Portland, was a WS/ultra newbie, and the absolute perfect choice for a pacer. I'd warned her beforehand that I don't like to be motivated/lied to ("You look great," etc.) and she kept up her end of the bargain, keeping up a fun, light conversation on a variety of topics. At the same time, I could sense from the excitement in the way that she talked about the weekend, her impression of the race thus far, hanging out with the crew, etc. that she was really enjoying the whole experience, and was witnessing a special event. It's really hard to grasp all that goes into a 100 mile trail race without experiencing one for yourself, and Robyn seemed to be soaking it all in, and seemed genuinely happy to be there and be a part of my race.

This is where one of us should have explained to Robyn that her pacing duties were done.  Restocking before heading across the river at Rucky Chucky. Alas, it all worked out for the best in the end.
My crew this year doubled in size from past years, with my sister, Jason, Dylan, and Jill, with Robyn joining until she jumped in to pace me from Foresthill to the river. I had the option of having Jason jump in at Rucky Chucky, but in years past, this section, from Rucky to the finish, has been the one where I've struggled most, and I felt that not having a pacer might actually allow me to push a little harder if I was hurting. I tend to want to put my music on and grunt--not something I like to do in front of a pacer (and to be honest, I'm not sure that I've ever grunted while running, but I thought this year might be the year).  As Robyn and I were approaching the river, she asked if I needed her to continue on, and I considered it. She was great company, but I had already planned to tell Jason that I didn't need him to jump in, and decided I wanted to go it alone.

I guess I assumed, wrongly, that when we got to the river, Robyn would know to stay with the crew, and I guess the crew thought Robyn and I had discussed this, which we had, indirectly, but without specific guidance. Robyn and I had also mentioned several times about getting to the river and how good it would feel, so I'd never actually told Robyn that she didn't actually get to cross the river. So, my crew handed me my headlamp on the nearside, and I crossed the river on foot, which was a joy as I was one of the first to walk across, which had sounded so appealing for so many miles. The river is actually kind of difficult to cross, as there are big rocks that you have to skirt around and over, while trying to hold things like music devices up and out of the chest-high water. There's a reason for that rope there and all of those folks helping to guide the way. I got out of the river on the far side, and low-and-behold, Robyn is behind me. My first thought was "Jason is going to think I intentionally deceived him." My second thought was, "Robyn doesn't have a headlamp and she's in it for the long haul," as the logistics of getting her back to my crew, now on the other side of the river, were more than I wanted to ponder. I shouted out for a spare headlamp, and a very nice guy not only gave us one to borrow, but then chased us up the road to swap it out for something brighter. I also asked if they could somehow let my crew know that my pacer had accidentally crossed the river, although I'm guessing they had no idea what I was talking about. Robyn was smiling, and seemed happy to have crossed the river, and happy to continue the journey, so we were off. And I was happy to have her along for the company. Being that I hadn't noticed Robyn in the water, I also hadn't noticed that Nikki was right behind Robyn, so we soon had even more company, and it was nice to chat with Nikki for a few minutes before she powered off in front of us on the climb up to Green Gate. Nikki helped light a spark under my butt, and I pleaded with myself not to let Nikki put 40 minutes on me like Krissy did when she passed me in the same spot last year. I didn't have a whole lot of fight in me to battle it out for second, but didn't necessarily want to give up any more spots.

Crossing the river. Photo evidence that Robyn (in white behind me) did enter the water and none of us noticed. And Nikki in orange is closing quickly. 
I've heard several comments about what an exciting race it was to "watch" from home, via the webcast or twitter feed, but as is often the case, it's hard to know what's going on behind you, so while there were a number of women in close proximity, I never had any idea how close behind they were until the finish. Once I passed Joelle around mile 40, I only saw one other woman all day, and that was Nikki when she passed me on the way up to Green Gate (mile 78). I guess I saw her twice, because she passed me climbing up, but I caught her again briefly at some point between Green Gate and Alt, but then never saw her again. I would hear that she was 2 or 3 minutes up, but I never closed the gap. I had no idea that Meghan was 5 minutes behind at the river, which is about the difference at the finish. So, while it might have been an exciting race to watch from the aid stations or from an armchair, from the WS trail it was kind of lonely. There was scant male carnage to be passed along the way, although again, some of that male carnage wasn't so much fun to pass (Jorge at mile 90'ish as an example), because they were friends who were not having the days for which they'd hoped and not people I should be passing unless they were suffering.  I was 20th at Foresthill, and 16th at the end, so in general, there wasn't much company along the way.

Robyn, knowing that I wanted to run from the river alone, took it upon herself to become my silent shadow so we plugged along, almost catching Nikki once, and going back and forth with our buddy Adrian, who I'd seen probably 10 times at this point. Somewhere along here Adrian asked if I was Amy, and I asked his name so we officially met around mile 85. Robyn was replaced by Lisa at Hwy 49 (mile 93.5), so recorded her longest run to date (31 miles) both time-wise and distance-wise, and her first experience running trails in the dark. Later reports confirmed that she loved the entire experience, even got a bit choked up when describing it to the rest of the crew, and plans to try a trail race or two in the coming year. My plan worked!

Lisa jumped in at Hwy 49 and we were off, as I'd seen AJW enter the aid station right behind me, and this lit a little spark. I'd finished ahead of AJW at both Ray Miller and Sonoma earlier in the year, but WS is his race, and I really didn't want to be one of the many that AJW was able to hunt down after Foresthill, so got out of the AS quickly and tried to pick up the pace. Plus, my goal was to drop my sister, so I had some work to do. She hung on until we got to the climb to Robie where I finally succeeded in dropping her. I thought that maybe she let me, but also know that she didn't really want to miss the finish, so I think I officially did it.

The finish. Happy to be done.
Jason was waiting for me at Robie, and Dylan met us en route, as well, and we made it to the track, which I was able to run around, sandwiched in between Adrian who sprinted by me after Robie, and AJW who entered the track as I finished. I finished third in 19:25, so did not meet my time goal of sub-19, and was 14 minutes slower than last year, but 5 places higher.  I was thrilled to finish top 3 in that field, and feel like I finally had a good race at Western States on a really tough day. Maybe not a great race, but it was a solid day, considering the conditions, and I'm definitely happy with my race. Temps in Auburn reached 102 on Saturday making it the second hottest WS in history. It was also exciting to be part of the heat-savvy Oregon contingent, bringing home 4 of the top 10 women's spots and 2 of the top 10 men's spots.  Pam had an amazing day and got revenge on 2012, Meghan continues to defy the aging process and gives us all hope for running well into our 40s and beyond, and Denise rocked out a great race to take over my favorite number, F8.  On the men's side, Yassine had a super solid day, breaking into the top 10 and of course everyone knows how Timmy faired. There are loads of other stories out there, as well, and friends that finished strong and others who didn't finish, but this is already a bit wordy. One of my favorite tales is that told by Sarah and her pacer, Desiree.

Western States is one of those races that feels like you've been away for weeks when in fact it's only been a few days, and it takes some time to adjust after getting back to the real world. Luckily Sister Camp continued on through Monday with a relaxing day on the Oregon coast, but as always, I was sad to send Lisa off on a plane the next day, and am already looking forward to Sister Camp 2014, most likely held once again from Squaw Valley to Auburn.

Lisa, Anpanman and I at the finish. Happy to have made her work a little harder in the final miles, and thrilled to have dropped her.
Many many thanks to my awesome crew. I had a great crew and pacers, who did an awesome job with the minimal instruction I provided. If anything, it reminded me that they are there to help me, and are making a huge sacrifice to do so, but can only do so much if I don't tell them what I need. My fear of planning is not always 100% helpful. It was also great to see my Uncle Dennis and Aunt Maria who came out to watch the finish and spend Sunday morning in the scorching heat at awards, only hours after a trans-Pacific flight home from Japan.  It meant a lot to have them there. And of course hats off to Craig, who knocked it out of the park in his first year as WS RD, and all of the merry volunteers.

The positives..
My Quads: Rocked it.
Last year my quads were starting to hurt really early, during the earliest descents--and were fairly dead by Michigan Bluff. This year, my quads didn't start to go until after Highway 49, and I only really felt them on the last descent to No Hands Bridge and from Robie Point to the finish. So, I'm not sure what I did differently, except that I backed off in the canyons a bit to not push it in the heat, and also paid attention to how I was landing to baby the calf. Sadly, I can't point to something and say "this worked!" but it does give me hope that I can endure the downs and still run late in a 100 miler, which will become key as UTMB rolls around (and there are more, and steeper downs). My quads were sore on Sunday/Monday, but not horrible, and feeling almost normal by Wednesday or so.

The Heat: I haven't lost my roots.
The few days leading into the race I kept trying to remind myself that I've lived in hot places 36 of my 39 years on this planet, hopeful that 3 years in the land of cool, green sogginess know as Oregon hadn't permanently damaged my hot weather skills. The heat wasn't horrid, and I felt as prepared for it as I could have been. Sauna training seems to work, or at least fooled me into not feeling miserable. To stay cool I used an ice-filled bandana tied around my neck, which really did help make it feel cooler. I also drenched myself in every water opportunity that arose (creeks, aid stations). My feet survived surprisingly well considering that they were wet all day.

I may not have been smiley all day, but I was definitely smiling here. Only minutes after this photo was taken, a wave of nausea returned and I was curled in the grass yacking up nothing and my face went a bit gray, but that was short-lived and I was eating pizza an hour later. Definitely the best I've felt after WS.
The negatives...
Nutrition: What 16 oz. of beet juice looks like the next day.
I'd guess I'm not exaggerating much to say I ran the last 50 miles on well under 1000 calories (and probably closer to 500), and likely consumed not more than 1000 in the first 50, too. First half diet: many oz. of water, 5-6 gels, 70 oz very watered down sports drink (weak, then added in ice), 1 popsicle, 10 gummy bears (minus several that were rejected after El Dorado Creek), sprite/coke at aid stations. Second half: max 20 gummy bears (minus a few that were rejected after Cal 1), a couple slices of watermelon, 2 potato chips (didn't end well), a glass of sprite/coke at every aid station (except Cal 1 where I tried to drink 2 and they were rejected), a cup of chicken noodle soup at 89, a water bottle's worth of coconut water that took me from Foresthill to Alt to finish, and starting at Brown's Bar, about 20 oz of diluted sports drink. I drank water in addition, more in the first half than the second. So, I'd guess I consumed somewhere less than 2000, maybe closer to 1500. Not ideal, but it was enough to get me to the end, although I'd count that as my one major area of failure on race day. I knew that nutrition could be a problem, and didn't really seek to change anything up, and proceeded with what I know doesn't really work for me. For me, I think I need to try some real food sooner (because once I start gagging I just can't do anything I have to chew and swallow), and/or switch to drinking more of my calories, and starting to drink them earlier.

The 2013 top 10. An awesome group of women there, and 40% from Oregon. The 2012 IAU women's 100K gold medal team also represented taking F1, F3 and F4. Go Team USA. Hoping we get to show our stuff in South Africa later this fall.
Gear: 
Montrail Masochists (lucky red ones from Japan)
Mountain Hardwear W's Ultrapacer Short II
Mountain Hardwear W's Way2Cool Tank
Mountain Hardwear Fluid Race Vest
Injinji Run 2.0 Midweight Mini-crew
Ice-filled Bandana--homemade 

Thanks to my sponsors, Montrail, Mountain Hardwear, Injinji and Clif for the awesome support!

7 comments:

Olga King said...

I cant' imagine running on so little calories, and hear a lot of you guys do. At least Pam seemed to have been consuming something...I only stop eating many gels last 20, and even then I swallow at least 1 an hour, and I am much slower too...Congrats, Amy, what a great run, regardless the gels, and a fun read.

Jill Homer said...

Awesome. I've been waiting for the inside story. :)

And I wanted to thank you again for allowing me to join your crew. It is a really fun way to experience these races, and it was great to meet your sister and the others.

I admit I hadn't had much interest in WS in recent years. But seeing the event firsthand has turned my thinking around. I met with Ann Trason yesterday and when she described some of her experiences at Western States with tears in her eyes, I could feel the strong connection she has to this race specifically. I got the sense she left the sport for several reasons largely unrelated to running ... but she still loves running and Western States. I'm a convert now, I suppose. I'll probably never run it, but I hope to be involved in some way again.

indigosage said...

Congrats on a great performance out there! I always enjoy reading your write-ups of what you were experiencing during the race. Very glad you didn't have to deal with quad death again this year and that you got to run the track!

Lisa Sutter said...

Way to rock it, Amy! I can't wait for 2014 Sister Camp!!
Much love,
Enus

amy said...

Thanks, Olga! I didn't intend to run on limited calories--I just couldn't stomach much. I need to figure it out...

Jill, I had a very similar impression about WS, and even had that impression after pacing WS the first time. I thought it was a bit over-hyped (and maybe still do to some degree), but being a part of it has made me appreciate it more and for whatever reason I keep returning. For me certain races/course call to me, and others not, and sometimes that's just a feeling, and may not have anything to do with how tough they are considered or the size/hype associated with them.

Thanks, Sarah! I really enjoyed your report, as well. I teared up more than once.

Can't wait, Enus! Love you!!

John Burton said...

Congrats on the awesome race Amy! It was nice running and chatting with you for a few hundred meters. Hopefully next time I can at least hang with you to the top of the Escarpment. LOL. Congrats again!

Radhika Ganesh said...

Depending upon the region and weather condition one should drink a minimum of five liters of water/day.

Nutrition and Hydration week 2014