My Boston Marathon: Chasing the Unicorn

On Monday April 20, 2015, the 119th running of the Boston Marathon took place, and I was honored to have participated. It was my third marathon ever.

The day started early: my pre-race anxiety and anticipation took form in a lack of sleep and being wide awake in the middle of the night for a couple of hours, only to fall back asleep to nightmares of missing the race. That happens to everyone the night before a big event, right? There was no need to worry in my case, if my alarm failed me, my sister would not. She too was running the marathon, and we were staying together with our kids and other family members in a house we rented in Newton – a charming suburban city about 7 miles outside of downtown Boston. A family reunion, mini-vacation, and sporting event all wrapped up into this one giant memorable experience, and there was no way I was sleeping in that day.

Finding refuge at athletes village. We waited there over 2 hours.

Finding refuge at athletes village. We waited there over 2 hours.

Getting to the start line was an event in itself. I suppose the logistics of getting 30,000 runners plus volunteers and security personnel to one area on time make it impossible to show up 15 minutes before the gun and hop in line, as I usually like to do on race morning.  We were dropped off at one of the designated spots where we boarded a bus heading to Athlete’s Village, then spent 2.5 hours there waiting for our wave to get called down to the starting area.  The weather was cold and rainy, but we came prepared with extra layers and garbage bags for the long wait.

Cold is a state of mind.

Cold is a state of mind.

And then the moment was upon me.  Standing in front of a bank on Main Street in Hopkinton, MA in the 40 degree drizzling rain, the positive energy of thousands of runners was radiating and I felt excitement and relief with what lay before me.  A few years ago, and certainly all of the years prior to that, I never would have thought that I would be standing at the starting line of the Boston Marathon – one of the most prestigious and well known running races in the world! I never thought I would try, let alone achieve, running a marathon fast enough to qualify for this race. I hadn’t even imagined it.

When I started running 10 years ago, my goals were primarily health related, but I soon found myself starting to rely on that “runner’s high” and just like that, I was hooked. Over time, running became easier, both mentally and physically; I was covering more distance in less time. I set some goals in regards to time and distance, but the Boston Marathon was decidedly something that did not belong on that list. I felt great satisfaction in becoming a faster and stronger runner. Like anything else in life, what I put in I got back and as I became more dedicated, I began to realize small personal victories. It was somewhat pivotal for me that I had found something for which I was so passionate and the fact that I could do it well, could call myself a runner was always rewarding enough in itself. Yet there I was, with a bib that was assigned to me, ready for take-off, and this was not a dream.

The first few miles were all about trying to find some room to execute my run strategy. I put in an honest amount of training to get me here, remained relatively injury free, and felt ready to accomplish my goal of running a steady and strong race and hopefully finding some reserves in the tank to kick in the finish. In those first few miles, I felt myself going with the flow; it seemed the only possibility, as it was incredibly crowded. I recognized right away that this race and this place was living up to the spirit of “Boston Strong”. For over 26 miles, the streets were lined with people of every age and origin, proving that the notion of following your dreams will not be dampened by fear, much less some rain. It was a continuous celebration, and I found myself distracted by the festivities and nearly unaware of the pain that was building as I jogged along, observing and smiling.

Our Crew: Lucas, Brian, Natalia, Michal, Wilson, Jaydon photo credit - Keith Alber

Our Crew: Lucas, Brian, Natalia, Michal, Wilson, Jaydon
(photo credit – Keith Alber)

For several miles, I was anticipating my family cheer section, which would be somewhere around mile 16.8.  It has been said that a marathon is not a race, but a state of mind, and I can definitely relate. Knowing that I would get to see my kids cheer me on gave me a reviving boost after the half way mark. I felt so lucky and grateful to have such a wonderful entourage along with me on this part of the journey. Having my two sons, four nieces and nephews, my mom, another sister, and a brother in law there was empowering, as was the thought of keeping them proud, along with my loved ones back home in Truckee.

Feeling good at the family meeting spot photo credit - Laura Janicki

Feeling good at the family meeting spot
(photo credit – Laura Janicki)

For them, and for the million spectators who made me feel so honored to be there, I would not stop, I would give everything I had in me, because as one viewer’s poster read: “This is Bahston Bi***es, Run Fastah!!” and so I did until I got to the finish line. I managed to take a minute off my previous best marathon time, and hobbled away with intense pride and elation for getting there and getting the job done.

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Happy and sore with my sister Shanley after we each had a PR (photo credit – Margaret Murtagh)

So, is it ironic or perfectly appropriate that the Unicorn is the symbol for the Boston Marathon? In all those years of running, this event was a unicorn to me – something that didn’t exist in real life, nothing I’d ever see in my lifetime.  But when I look back, all those years when I would train for other events, focusing on my other goals, working hard and reaching them, one could argue that I was chasing the Unicorn all along. I had to get there, to prove that no matter how elusive your dream, if you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to make it happen. Unicorns do exist, and it’s time to search for the next one.​

At the end meeting with our mom photo credit - Laura Janicki

At the end meeting with our mom
(photo credit – Laura Janicki)

American River 50 ~ Race Report

I’ll be honest…I love AR50. I have some awesome memories at this run. Generally, I’m a 50k kind of gal but AR50 is such a beautiful and forgiving course that I have found my way to it several times.

 

start line
I first ran it in 2005 with my dad. It was just over a year after my mom had passed away and it was something we both really needed. It took us over 12 hours and it was hard, but it was one of the days in my life that I will never forget. That year, there were only 8 people in my age group and I was dead last. I ran it again in 2006 with my brother, who after hearing me and my dad talk all about it, decided he also needed to make it his first 50. It poured rain the entire day before and the course was a total slop fest but it was fun and good for us. That year there were 5 people in my age group and I was second to last. I ran again in 2011 by myself and at mile 45 I made my husband (and pacer) promise to never let me sign up again. But as all ultra-runners know, the memory of the pain fades and you get lured back time and time again.

It’s been exciting to watch the race grow over the past 10 years and I am happy to say there were 78 in my age group this year and I was nowhere near dead last.

This year, I picked up my race packet the day before and I was stoked to find my bib number was 500. I’ve never really noticed my bib numbers before but I was happy about this one. Little did I know how much fun it would make the following day.

Many of us met at the Auburn Overlook at 4:00am to catch a ride to the start line. If you’ve ridden a pre-race bus before then you know they pack you in like sardines, which can be a little worrisome when you don’t know who you’re going to sit with for the long drive to the start. Fortunately for me, I got to sit with a guy named Dan from Seattle who was excited about running his first 50 miler. We chatted all about our plans for the day and wished each other well as we unloaded at our destination.

It was one of those days where all the stars aligned, or maybe I should say the moon aligned because we had the extreme good fortune of having a total lunar eclipse or “blood moon” grace the sky at the very same time we were preparing for the 6:00am start.

The race was set to start in waves and as a slower runner, I was sure I’d be in the second wave so I decided not to bring a headlamp. Lo and behold I was in the first group, which I was stoked about but also left me unprepared. Fortunately for me, most everyone else had great headlamps so they lit the way for the first 20 minutes of darkness. After doing ultras for over 10 years you would think I would learn to listen to the race organizers and do what they say, but every once in a while I find myself thinking I know more than they do, which of course is never the case.

The race starts in Folsom and weaves its way up to Auburn and is a mix of pavement and single track in the early miles. The second half is all on dirt and covers some of the most beautiful territory you can imagine. The flowers were in bloom, butterflies were everywhere, the river was peacefully moving and the trails were in perfect condition.
We passed through several aid stations as we made our way to Beals Point at mile 24. This station is in a park and there are hundreds of people around so it’s a fun half-way point for the runners. Many people choose to leave drop bags at this location, but I didn’t have a drop bag so I just kept on truckin’.

I like to listen to quiet music when I’m running but there are times when the deafening sound of my screaming muscles and joints cuts straight through the music. So this year I decided to try out podcasts, and they were awesome. I was laughing and crying as I listened to hilarious and heart-wrenching stories. Other runners probably thought I was a little crazy but that’s not really anything new, and it silenced my aches and pains allowing me to drift away for a while.

granite bay

Coming into Granite Bay

 

As I entered the Granite Bay Horse Assembly at mile 29, I was excited to pick up my husband, Justin, who would pace me for the next 20 miles. A great athlete in his own right, running has never really been his thing, but he joins me on many of my runs because its quality time that we get to spend together. In between mountain biking and road biking he’s squeaked in a few running races too, and I’m going to go so far as to say he’s been enjoying them. A few snacks and a refill of the bottles and we were off on the challenging nearly 9 mile stretch until the next aid. It’s a tough section with some technical single track and many areas exposed to the heat of the direct sun. But it’s beautiful, really beautiful.

We entered Horseshoe Bar at mile 38 and it was a welcome sight! I had just finished up both water bottles and was ready for a refill. The next ten miles hold some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. The American River meanders below you and the rolling trails are shady and in prime condition.

At the outset of the day, the announcer said there were over 300 volunteers on the course and I believe it. This race is so well-organized that as a participant you lack for nothing every step of the way. I was also impressed by the number of spectators at most of the aid stations and at the finish line. It didn’t hurt that everywhere I went people were cheering for bib number 500! I guess it’s just not as easy for people to yell “go 2432” as it is to holler out a cool “500”. It was so fun!

At mile 47 we started the steep climb to the finish. Initially when you get off the single track, you start heading up the hill, and it is steep, really steep. But then it gradually eases up and you start to see the mile markers… 3 to go, 2 to go, 1 mile to go and all of a sudden your energy comes back! It’s funny how that happens.

finish line

A PR finish!

 

I don’t know if it was the good fortune of the bib number, the blood moon, or my amazing husband (probably a bit of all three) but I PR’d by just over an hour that day (10:38) and I was very happy.

I had a really fun day and met a lot of great people along the way…and of the 632 finishers, my bus seat buddy Dan from Seattle, finished within one minute of me.

An article in Runners World last year stated “AR50 has all the buttons you need for a top-notch ultra: incredibly beautiful course, easy enough for a first 50 mile attempt, but challenging enough for the grizzled veteran, [and it has] impeccable event organization.”

I couldn’t agree more and I’m looking forward to next year.

 

post race

Happy at the finish

Quad Dipsea Recap

The 32nd Quad Dipsea happened on a rainy November day just like the very first Dipsea race over 100 years ago. It was wet and muddy but not as bad as we feared.

DPMR board member Betsy Nye ran a little faster than last year, securing a top-10 women’s finish. Her sister Julie Nye completed her tenth Quad Dipsea.

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Julie and Betsy at the finish line party

Tahoe City’s Tom Eckert was there for his 8th finish on his way to getting the black jacket. I ran slower then last year and thoroughly enjoyed my time on the trail. The double out-n-back course provides runners ample opportunity to say “Hi” to friends and keep an eye on the competition.

Course record holder Dave Mackey finished second behind winner Chikara Omme. Mackey’s course record from last year however, remains intact as does DPMR member Kathy D’onofrio’s which has lasted 17 years!! Wow! The women winner this year was Caren Spore of Davis.

I encourage mountain runners in Northern California on Thanksgiving weekend to experience the “Quad.” But please note both the course and entry process can be challenging. The 300 entry limit was filled in less the 1/2 hour this year. For those of us technically challenged, be prepared to press”send.”

Also, when attaching the timing chip to your shoe the instructions say to loop the device around your lace into a “D” shape. You may think this loop looks awkward, weird or cumbersome, it could catch on vegetation and is aerodynamically inefficient. Resist the urge to squish it like a pancake and cram it under the laces. Apparently, this renders the chip useless. Oops.

P.S. It was great to see Peter Broomhall supporting runners and exploring the course. Maybe he’s got the Quad itch (or poison oak).

CIM 2014 Race Report


This won’t be a typical race report; for reasons about to be outlined I wasn’t aware of really anything that happened, I couldn’t tell you what the course looked like, or how much gain and descent I covered. I was part of the small percentage of runners to not run through 26.2 miles, and hitched a ride to the finish only to congratulate the illustrious Helen Pelster, and to get my drop bag and free Kind bar. 


Like many runners signed up for CIM, I thought a certifiably quick marathon time sounded like a great running accolade, and had pipe dreams of qualifying for Boston. A little less common to the running masses, I wanted to do it while dodging my friend, shadow, and ever-present running companion: Ulcerative Colitis. As ugly as its name, this autoimmune disease has my gut constantly attacking itself (nutrition was ALREADY hard, man!). In short, and without too much gory detail, if I don’t eat the right things or don’t rest enough or am under too much stress, I am subject to painful bowel movements of all varieties, intense stomach pain and cramping that radiates to my lower back, muscle spasms, fevers, and prolonged blood and fluid loss leading to severe anemia of different types. 

After moving to Truckee to escape the grind of Bay Area living, and enter a more balanced lifestyle while I trained for the Bear 100, I was still suffering from the worst my disease had ever been. After a few wonderful months of carefree mountain running, my health took a turn for the worse, and I spent most of August in and out of the hospital, barely able to walk on account of malnutrition, anemia, and just plain pain. 

I was lucky enough to be a good candidate for an infusion treatment, which I receive over 5 hours every 8 weeks, and my strength SLOWLY began to return. The illness left my left leg completely decimated, as much of the muscle is newly rehabbed from a 2010 knee surgery, and I signed up for CIM as a motivator through dark times to work on being able to walk without a limp, jog, and finally run for real. 

I worked back up to 70 mile weeks with decent speed workouts, and my marathon prospects looked good! The night before the race was spent out at a restaurant with family, and despite my cruel demands of the waitress on the ingredients in all of the food I ate, I got very sick. This carried on through the night, through my 3:45 wake up time, and through the entire CIM slog down lovely, scenic Fair Oaks Blvd. 

I hopped out of the car at the water treatment plant near Folsom Lake at 6:30AM that morning not feeling well, but hopeful that some awesome sunrise running, and kind words and support from my wonderful (and speedy!!) boyfriend, Lucas, would turn things around. Seeing a DPMR sticker on another car in line was so cool, and helped to raise my spirits. However, from the time I crossed the start line, every step was increasingly painful. Knowing the power the mind can have over physiology, I tried to boost my own morale by thinking about the pain I endured in the hospital, all of the treatments I had to tolerate, and about how far I had come to even toe the line. This, and some pocket fuel, helped me out from miles 9-10, but darkness prevailed and I had to stop to walk by mile 12. Crossing the half marathon mark at sub-2 hours came as a surprise, and would normally have been enough to rally my spirits, but my stomach would not cooperate; the intense pain began to have a dizzying effect. At mile 17, I called it quits and a wonderful CIM volunteer medic let me use his phone so I could arrange a pick up from my awesome family who came to cheer me out of the wall at the elusive 20 mile mark. 

While it was sad not to cross the finish line and get burrito-wrapped in festive aluminum, I always race knowing that my body might not cooperate. Even runners without disease or disability encounter that reality all the time! It was incredible to be surrounded by family, including my mother who drove down from Truckee to surprise me at the finish! 

Nobody was disappointed in me, and despite the initial cathartic release of tears at the medical aid station, I was not disappointed in myself. Although I have only run a few ultras and trail races, I now call that community my home, and everyone I’ve encountered speaks to the soul searching and emotional transcendence of hard efforts in beautiful places on rough terrain. In that medium, pain endured feels meaningful and beautiful, and running is nothing more than movement with purpose. The prevailing wisdom, even among many elites, is that if your heart isn’t in the race, or your body isn’t working for you, there will be more mountains to run if you take care of yourself. This isn’t necessarily the best athletic mindset, just the one I choose for myself. I didn’t feel that during CIM, and it feels easy and righteous enough to say that IMG_2646I had a bad day because road running isn’t my thing. The truth is, had I felt better I might have found beauty and purpose on that course, too. My body was simply saying, “no” to the effort, and there is no glory in silencing that. I run to feel strong and empowered, and I strive to train my body to be able to do the things I love. Working against it will accomplish nothing. If I had killed myself to finish, and had more complications with my disease, that would have been the true disappointment.


I have found a treatment that has me feeling pretty great, pretty much every day. Here’s to a lifetime of adventure overrun with the unrelenting warm embraces of soul, purpose, camaraderie, and aluminium blankets, covering us on frozen wild peaks and marathon finish lines.

Race Report: Hark the Herald Angels Run, Angel Island

Saturday, December 13, 2014

angelisland

This race report is all about the importance of persevering until your second wind kicks in. I headed to the Bay Area to do a 25K with a good friend of mine after we both decided to skip the NorthFace Challenge due to other demands on our time (and a lack of interest in running in the mud). I have only trained sporadically this Fall due to the demands of school so I didn’t have any aspirations and figured I could pound out 25K largely on the residual fitness from this Summer’s Ironman Lake Tahoe training (yet another race I didn’t do, although not by my own choice).

If you’ve never run on Angel Island you are in for a treat. It’s a short ferry ride from Tiburon and there are gorgeous views in every direction, with a nice mix of fire roads and single track. Enviro-Sports puts on fun, family-oriented events and before the race began we all sang “God Bless America” while standing under the American flag. There were two races, a 12K and a 25K, with the 25K being two loops of the 12K course with a little extra to account for the remaining 1K. The 25K runners left first and when we gathered at the start line there couldn’t have been more than 30 of us, with the usually mix of age groups you see at every trail race.

The route was basically a mile or so of climbing to the top of the island and then a rolling fire road that went 1 1/2 times around the island before descending back to the start. Then you did that again.

As is typical for me, I went out too fast, thinking that running at sea level would be a breeze after training in the mountains. I stayed with the lead group for about a mile but then started to fade and was eventually caught by some of the 12K runners who started 10 minutes after I did. At that point I settled into a steady but unimpressive pace and ran by myself for most of the first lap. Once I was at the 6-mile mark and was descending back to the start/finish, I started to think about not doing the second loop and just dropping out. I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired to do the climb back up and I figured my friend, who was ahead of me but had said she may not go the entire 25K, would be waiting for me and we would just catch an early ferry back to Marin.

But as I was approaching the turnaround, I saw her coming at me on the start of her second loop saying “go! go!” so I didn’t stop, just grabbed some pretzels and trail mix and started the second loop. Since most of the 12K runners were done, this part of the race was pretty lonely, but I kind of like running by myself (expect when it comes to Monday night trail teasers). And something odd happened, my whole attitude changed and rather than glancing at my Garmin to see my pace and distance, I got into that nice dreamy zone we all know when the running seems effortless.

At about 13 miles I noticed a few runners ahead of me so made it a goal to catch them. When I did that I saw a few more so started to focus on picking off each runner ahead of me, one at a time. With about a mile to go and my legs fading, there was one guy ahead of me but I had to walk a short climb. So did he and once he started running I started running and maybe he was more tired or just didn’t hear me but it took me about 2 minutes to catch up to him and make the pass with less than a 1/4 mile to go. From there it was a fast downhill to the finish.

So I was glad I didn’t drop out at the halfway point. Better than that, and the real point of recounting this story, is I won my age group. Granted, it was a small field and there were only 3 men 45-49, but #2 finished 16 seconds behind me. Yep, it was that last pass I made. And #3 was only 3 minutes behind him. So in about 2 miles I went from last to first.

As Lenny Kravitz would say, it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

UTMB Race Report

Its 4pm Friday evening and its go time!  Paulo and I make our way to the start line and contemplate where to cram in to the hoards of runners.  As we approach the church a race official motions us and proceeds to move one of the barriers to allow us in.  Then as we enter I am stopped short as the race official points at me and says “NOT YOU!”.   You see, Paulo had a low bib number that qualified him as an elite and making him eligible to move up to the very front of the start line.   Our plans to start and try to finish together were suddenly in jeopardy.   Paulo looked at me, then looked at the head of the line, hesitated for a second and looked at me again.   “Have a good race man!” he said with a smile as we hugged and said goodbye.  Not that I blame him I would have done the same thing if I had the opportunity to stand just meters from the likes of Anton Krupicka, Timmy Olson, and others!.  Plus he worked hard for that bib – having a great race at AR50 and Western States the last year.

 

Shortly after our goodbye I squeezed myself squarely in the middle of the pack of runners.  “So this it what sardines feel like” I think to myself.   Gray clouds loom above us.   The  UTMB theme plays loudly (Conquest of Parradise – Vangelis) as the French announcer speaks indecipherably but commandingly into the loudspeakers.   I hear bits of French and German from the other runners surrounding me representing over 70 countries.    As the countdown clock approaches five  minutes to the start, suddenly the clouds open up and fat, cold rain drops begin to fall creating the perfect landscape for one of the hardest ultras in the world.   Could it really get any better than this??  The runners around me quickly reach into their packs to grab their rain jackets.   Finally the countdown begins “CINQ!,  QUATRE!, TROIS!, DEUX!, UN!” and the crowd cheers loudly as 2300 runners and I begin are slow march through the streets of Chamonix towards Les Houches.

More to come! Check back soon!

Lost Sierra Race Recap

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted a race report. The Lost Sierra 50km deserves some attention because of the challenge, support and great course that it provides. And, that it is in a section of the Sierras that are less traveled by trail runners. Several founding membIMG_4225ers toed the line (Kathy Hess, Ben Tedore, Carol Walker, Susan Reynolds, Javier Castellar, Paul Sweeney), though Javier was the only one proudly wearing his golden “Unafraid” jersey.

IMG_4822It was a chilly start. I was wearing a beanie and gloves till moments before the start. I shed the extra warmth and moments later we were off running down the highway. A mile and half of pavement (felt longer) and then we were in the woods. This gradual climb of about 10 miles varies between fire road and single track. It was all in really good shape and easily runnable. I ran the first 1/2 marathon with Ben Tedore and one other dude. We reached the top of Mill peak together which would be the end of the social part of the race. The fire road descent to Gold Lake was just to0 fast for me this day.

A few minutes behind I came into the aid station where Helen was waving the jersey for me to wear (because I asked), but I declined, just stopping for a small bit to eat and drink before heading into the super scenic and challenging portion of the race. I tried to keep my head up and enjoy the area. But the trail is so darn rocky that I was more concerned about falling.

Miles of up, down, around numerous lakes before we reached the Long Lake dam. A small aid station and the climb up Mt. Elwell began. The climb started by maneuvering over a large boulder strewn trail before it hitting dirt again where it just got steeper and steeper. The switchbacks and the top seemed to never come but when it did, the start of the decent was so technical that it seemed to be just as slow to go down as it was going up.

The toughest sections were behind us but there was still a 7-mile downhill to tackle. As we progressed down the temperature gradually got warmer. Wth 5 miles to go we got to the last aid station where the Castellar Crew was waiting. With a quick stop, some ice to cool off we departed for the final, seemingly never ending, last 5-mile stretch. The finish line was changed from the first year I did the race. This time we finish in a big open grassy park. We were greeted by an enormous amount of festivities, food and the biggest bounce house I’ve ever seen.

The small town of Graeagle really makes a great venue for ultrarunning. The small town and its vibe exemplifies so much of what ultra runners look for in racing. I’ll be back again for this race.

 

Tahoe 137.7 Mile Fun Run, Martis AS Shift & Ramblings About My Year in Running

I could write a short book about all of my thoughts and experiences from the Tahoe 200 Mile Endurance Run and the months leading up to the first ever single loop 200 mile race in the United States. However, I will just share a bullet list of highlights from the race, after some ramblings about the last year of running for me.10639654_291591154379317_7273935876725203020_n

The funny thing is that I never really considered myself a runner until I completed The Bear 100 in the fall of 2012. Sure, I had run the Lake Tahoe Marathon a couple of times back around the turn of the millennium and completed the Silverman Full(Iron) Distance Triathlon in 2009 and 2010 just to check them off my list, but running was still only something to distract me in between climbing, skiing and biking. I always felt like running was really hard and didn’t actually enjoy it as much as one would think for how many miles I had run in my life. It always made me uncomfortable when people called me a runner and I certainly did not have running at the forefront of my mind like I do these days.

 

Oh yea, did I mention I was actually a running model before becoming a real runner?

Oh yea, did I mention I was actually a running model before becoming a real runner?

Shortly after completing The Bear, having let my mind and body heal from those nearly 26 hours of being on the move, I decided that I should probably start calling myself a runner. I also was tired of the dumb-founded looks people would give me when I would tell them that I am not really much of a runner, probably managing to offend a few runners in the process.

Not only did I become comfortable saying “I am a runner”, but I had become hooked on running and signed up for several races in 2013. After going into a few races over trained and suffering more than need be at the end of them of all of them, I made a very conscious decision about running in my life. I decided that every day I hit the trails for now on, whether for a race or just to get out in the woods, I would make sure that I was always having fun. If I was not having fun or feelin’ the trail love out there, then I would call it a day or turn my run into a hike or a peak bagging mission.

My new attitude about running seemed to have worked well as I went into my last race of 2013, Founding Member Sean Ranney’s infamous Euchure Bar Massacre, feeling rested and ready for some fun. This was a race I was excited for and scared of at the same time, because as near as I could tell from the vague info Sean provided on the FB event page, he was going to have us going straight up and down the trail less and cliff strewn mountainsides of the American River Canyons, provide us with no course markings and a couple of pages of written directions on how to navigate your way through the course. As the day and the course unfolded, I managed to survive the massacre better than most (less than 10 people managed to even complete the course)and made it out of the canyon depths and to the finish before everyone else.

Winning a race for the first time since middle school sure made running seem a lot more fun and fueled the competitive fire in me. Then along comes the Tahoe 200, a race and a distance that suited my strengths on a course that runs right through my backyard trails.

This is something I felt I could be competitive in!

So I started training like a mad man. I also volunteered to organize an aid station in exchange for  guaranteed entry into this sought after event that went to lottery in its first year because so many people were interested in giving it a go. For those who have not heard the story yet, the AS became the catalyst for the Donner Party Mountain Runners.

I now was part of a running club to train and motivate with, made lots of new running friends and had an incredible race around our beloved Lake Tahoe to look forward to. Running was becoming more fun by the minute!

Enter the 2014 race year. My first race,  The Me-Ow Marathons, went great. I was pleased with my results and despite getting lost several times on this unmarked, and often trail less course, I had more fun than I had ever had in a race. 1 for 1 on the year so far.

Injured... but still having fun as I hobble into Foresthill and my dropping point at States.

Injured… but still having fun as I hobble into Foresthill and my dropping point at States.

Next up, the iconic Western States 100 Endurance Run. Ideally, I would not have gotten picked in this year’s lottery because I already had a lot on my plate for the season, but who in their right mind turns down their ticket to States?!? I felt rested, confident and like a caged animal going into States, but my body rebelled only 34 miles into the race, and I ran/hobbled another 28 miles before dropping and barely being able to walk by that point. Sure it was disappointing, but I managed to keep things fun and enjoyed the full experience(minus the finish and the coveted buckle), sleeping on the track with everyone else and attending the awards ceremony. Helen told me I was the only person that stood when they asked all those who DNF’d to stand for an ovation. DNF’ing and the resulting injury were something that never crossed my mind before starting the race. 1 for 2 on the year now, with my first DNF.

2014-08-08 15.46.33After States, I was having difficulty walking and working, and running was not even a possibility for the next almost 2 months. That was definitely not giving me any confidence of being ready for the rapidly approaching T200. 6 weeks after WS100, I finally felt just slightly confident enough in my injured leg to not cancel the 2 week backpacking trip I had planned in the High Sierra with my wife, Liz. The backpacking was awesome and I felt like I was not doing anymore damaged to my injured leg, but I still could not fathom running yet. After 2 days rest from our backpacking trip, my leg was still talking to me and it really started to sink in that I might not be able to start the T200, that was now less than 4 weeks away.  I mentioned to Liz how I was feeling and we decided I would continue resting and wait at least a few more days before making the call.

Two more days of rest and with a little too much time on my hands to kill before my next physical therapy appointment , I decided to spend that extra 30 minutes that I now had, by taking a walk in the woods. As usual, I tried running a few steps, but for the first time in almost 2 months, my leg felt OK. I ended up going about one and a half miles that afternoon, running probably 1/4 mile of that distance. Not bad.

I then went to my appointment with Physical Therapist and Founding Member, Kristan Walstad, and got the yellow light from her to start testing things out.

The next morning before work, I put in 3.5 miles on the trail and ran about half of it. Still no pain! My thinking changed and I began considering starting the T200. Later that morning, Sylas Wright from the Sierra Sun, gave me a call and put me on the spot as he is was about to write his pre-race article on the Tahoe 200 and is always good about featuring our local runners. Without really thinking, I told him that I decided I was going to toe the line and see what happened.

I felt mildly confident that I could at least, maybe go out and hike the 200 miles, but would drop from the race in a heartbeat if I felt anything even remotely close to an injury going on with my body.

Tahoe 200 Race highlights:

~ I ran more in those 49 hours than I had in 2 months! I did not suffer at all while out there in comparison to the MANY sufferings I have put myself through in life. Only 2 tiny blisters that did not show up until the end of my race at Tunnel Creek AS. The flare up in my foot/ankle that took me out of the race did not start talking to me until the top of Tunnel Creek Rd and did not cause me any pain until a few minutes after I stopped at the AS. It did not become an injury because I stopped as soon as it told me to!

~ I was 45th out of 90 at the first AS 10.5 miles into the run. Just where I wanted to be and running my own race. I had some good conversations en route and was really soaking it all in, including a few minute stop at a rock outcropping overlooking the Lake about half way up Homewood.

~ Spent some quality miles with Founding Member, Jon Arlien, out on the Rubicon/McKinney Trail and the most remote part of the course.

~ The first real break took place on a comfy and large log on the Rubicon with UltraPedestrian Ras, Willie McBride, Jon Arlien and another guy. No hurries and no worries.

~ Great time with Rob French, Mark Cangemi and Kent Dozier making our way to Sierra at Tahoe from Wright’s Lake. We decided to stay together through a large portion of this stretch for safety reasons, as it was so remote and Rob and I had gotten off course for about a mile at one point. Mark, Willie and I would continue to leapfrog each other all the way to Tunnel Creek AS where I dropped from the race.

~ Picking up my good buddy, Mike Ehrlich, at Sierra at Tahoe and having him pace me to Big Meadow. The stretch from Showers Lake to Big Meadow was my strongest in the race and I really enjoyed those miles with Mike. It had been a lot of years since we had spent that much quality time together.

~ 20 minute nap in the sand on the side of the trail during the heat of the day as I ascended out of Big Meadow and suddenly couldn’t keep my eyes open. I just hoped that no one would come along and disturb my rest and no one did. Felt great again after that.

~ Chillin’ at Armstrong AS with my friend, Tattie Baily (who was volunteering there on top of all the course marking and cleaning she did), Willie’s crew and my pacer/crew extraordinaire Mike.

~ Skinny dipping in Star Lake, moments before the sun went away for the day and while still warm enough to go for it.

~ Text from Founding Member , Jeff Brown, as I was dropping down into the Heavenly AS seeing if I wanted him to pace me at all since his runner, the current TRT Unsupported record holder JB Benna, had unfortunately dropped early in the race. “Hell yes, how about picking me up at Spooner?! I should be there around dawn”

~ 3 hour nap and half of a cold, yet gourmet, burger that I got to enjoy in bed before dozing off. Damn, that thing hit the spot.

~ Heavenly to Spooner section. Mike was back on pacing duty and I felt rested and strong. Fun miles with some solid running in between the fast walking.

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Getting ready to depart Heavenly with Mike Erlich after my gourmet burger and 3 hour nap, Photo Credit: Jerry Gamez

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Just grin and bear it! With Jeff Brown at Tunnel Creek AS having completed my 137.7 Mile Tahoe Fun Run.

~ Spooner to Tunnel Creek with my new pacer, Jeff. I have known Jeff and his wife for many years, but never had the chance to spend this much quality time with him. Good conversation sure makes the miles go by faster.

~ Hugging it out with Willie in the middle of the descent to Twin Lakes on the TRT just before Tunnel Creek Rd as he and his pacer, Yassine Doubin, passed Jeff and I on the long  and gradual downhill. Willie is a good friend of Mike Erhlich’s, and someone that Mike told me I should look out for and hopefully meet while running the Bear 100. Willie happened to be the first person that I spent miles with at the Bear and after chatting for a few, we finally introduced ourselves and were psyched that at the small world moment of our meeting. Willie is also a climber, so we got to talk climbing while running 100 miles. Good times.

~ Gearing up mentally for what it would take to finish the race since everything was going so well up until the top of Tunnel Creek. My pacers and I both thought I had it in the bag as we ran from Heavenly to Tunnel Creek. That part was really fun and satisfying for me since it had been so long since I could really run.

~ My awesome wife and our good friend, Marianne Klemm, showing up at Tunnel Creek AS shortly after I arrived. I realized only about 15 minutes after being their that my foot/ankle had flared up on me and was likely going to force me to drop, so it was great to have them there for comfort and a ride. Surprisingly, Liz was not letting me pull the plug as easily as I would have liked, but she knew how important this race was to me and wanted to make sure that I was making the right decision for ME. Jeff was the perfect pacer to have at this point and put no pressure on me to continue as he understood what I had just been through with my injury at States. He understood that I was not going to let anyone talk me into continuing if I thought an injury might to occurring. I was in a fair amount of pain while at the AS, until the ibuprofen really kicked in. My foot/ankle was super sore to the touch and swelled to softball size. I really appreciated the Reiki work Marianne performed on me while there.

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Good times! Photo Credit: Jerry Gamez

~ Putting in an approx. 24 hour shift at the Donner Party Mountain Runners’ Martis AS. That was an amazing and humbling experience on so many levels. I am so appreciative and proud of everyone that helped out up there and wound up working way longer hours than they expected. We were much busier up there than anyone could have ever imagined. Not one single person involved with the race could have ever guessed that 67% of the racers would have made it the 152 miles to our AS, let alone the 202 miles to the finish. Everyone I talked to, including myself, guessed about a 30-40% finishing rate. We had 62 runners with their pacers and crews come through. It was all handled smashingly well by the DPMR, with many “Best AS yet!” comments from runners and crews. However, we all learned a lot about what it really takes to run an aid/sleep station that is 152 miles into a 200 mile race and open for 45 hours.

~ Showing up to the finish line in Homewood with Liz, 2 minutes before the 100 hour cutoff, and witnessing Koishi do a head first “Pete Rose” slide across the finish with 4 seconds to spare!!!!!!!!

~ I am going into the end of the running season injury free! I have never injured myself like  I did at States and will not be letting something like that again

~ THE DONNER PARTY MOUNTAIN RUNNERS!!!

The Blue Bunny gets it!

The Blue Bunny gets it!

Next Year? There is a good chance that I will attempt the T200 again next year. I have my own entry for helping out with the race beyond  just our AS and the DPMR will still get a free entry for running our AS. I WILL NOT run, though, if my body is telling me “No”. So we’ll just have to see how she goes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DPMR Aid Station at Tahoe 200

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I’m not exactly sure what it takes to run 200 miles (ultrarunners are sooo crazy), but I have a pretty good idea now of what it takes to handle a 48-hour aid station during a 100-hour race.

It takes a solid group of enthusiastic, untiring, caring ultravolunteers and a kick-ass Aid Station Captain. The Donner Party Mountain Runners 152 (ish) mile aid station had all of these, led to success by our fearless leader, JP Prince.

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JP and Joel, all business.

We were fortunate to have Mike Tebbutt have the advanced vision and organization of the aid station in the months prior to the event, which was conveniently held the week after Mike returned from Burning Man.

Tahopia, his camp at Burning Man, came straight from the playa and was converted to what we were later told (multiple times by runners, pacers and crew members) was “the best aid station yet”.

The Wednesday prior to the event, Mike,Liz,  JP, Kathy D, Pete,Erin, Siri and Joel set up all of our structures.

Stephanie, Mark and Kale spent the day on Saturday at a west shore beach and then stopped by Homewood to pick up all of the AS food from the organizers and drove it up to join the rest of the opening crew for the final setup and the long day(s) ahead. This included putting the rest of the playa dust covered tarp walls on the sleep station, making creative and fun signs for the racers as they neared and entered our AS and arranging the station in a way to create a good flow and get runners through efficiently.

Covered in Playa Dust, our opening crew had everything set up and ready for runners by 6:00pm on Saturday night. For fun, we put together a little pool to bet on various items like:

1. Time the first runner will pass through (we were all WAY off)

2. Number of drops at our aid station (we were all off – it was ZERO!)

3. Number of runners to reach our aid station (we all under-estimated this one by a lot)

4. Number of runners to cry at our aid station (none- we were all wrong)

5. Number of runners who would arrive a) happy or b) angry (we were off- more were happy than angry)

6. Number of runners who say this is the “Best Aid Station” (almost everyone did!- and a lot of them without our pointedly asking the question) :)

We had a little meeting to go over the aid station instructions, runner tracking, protocol etc. JP said we should do a trial run to prepare for the first runner. His line of questions:

“What’s your bib number? Ok. Do you want to drop?”

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Mark setting up camp

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Mark and Stephanie

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Kael Blume and Siri Broomhall helping with signage (artwork courtesy Stephanie Blume)

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Stephanie with one of her killer signs

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so we later changed the word “facts” to “science” and added a couple “ish”es as we were learning that our numbers were not quite correct.

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Mark. Unafraid of playa dust.

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ready, set , wait….

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Diana, Sam, Mark, Stephanie, Jenelle and JP (not pictured)

Diana, Sam, Joel, Stephanie, Jenelle and JP and Mark (not pictured) the first night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The waiting game began, and around 12:30 a.m. we decided that the 1st place runner was at least 4 hours away, so we shut down the generator and took a 4 hour nap.

After a restful few hours, we were all up, lights, music, bicycle horn  ready as the first runner, John Burton, came into the station at 5:03 a.m. (11 hours after we had arrived at the aid station).

He took a one-hour nap, refueled, and was on his way at 6:50 a.m.

Shortly after he left, crews began arriving for runners. Our kids on hand made friends with Jackson, from Australia, who was waiting for his dad Ewan.  We decided to go for a little hike to watch for his dad, expecting to see him in about 1 hour. He surprised us by showing up within 5 minutes, and the kids helped run him in to the aid station.

He was pretty stoked when I told him he was less than 2 hours behind the leader. He left the aid station running in a matter of minutes, and gave Jackson a high five on the way out.

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Race winner Ewan Horsburgh is second runner in to our station as his kids Jackson and Avian, along with Siri Broomhall, pace him for the final bit in. With the good news  that he is closing the gap on the leader, the race is on!

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Ewan getting some love from his son Jackson

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welcome sign by Avian

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hoping to clear up any confusion at the hwy 267 crossing

We were expecting more runners, but no one was coming. I took off down the trail to see if I could see anyone, and found a few runners, who were distraught that the aid station was further along than they expected (which would become a recurring theme). So, we increased our signage and did our best to let everyone know they were getting close.

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Runner Kerry Ward with the Blue Bunny. Kerry just got back from Burning Man also so he felt right at home with us!

As the day went on, business picked up at an increasing rate.

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JP leading Gia, first female, into the aid station

Our first female came through, noting that she had dropped her pacer. She left after a couple hours rest, pacer free, and ready to win.

Pete Broomhall went from working the AS to pacing the second place female finisher, who was in a little rough shape upon her arrival, to Tahoe City. Pete loves that kind of work! He then hitched a ride from TC back up to the AS  to continue his shift.

At one point, we had a runner from Australia, who was solo without pacer or crew. Looking a little scared and super stoked to have “people to talk to”, until JP asked him, clipboard in hand, if he could show him his visa. After a panicked look he relaxed and laughed with us.

Mike Tebbutt joined the party after completing over 137 miles of the course in 49 hours. He was shut down due to an ankle injury, but his spirits were not hurt and he was excited to help and provide support for the other runners.

Shortly after Mike arrived, his pacer from Spooner to Tunnel Creek, Jeff Brown, stopped by to see if we needed anything. He made a grocery run for us, since more runners than anybody ever anticipated were making it this far in the race. We had more than 60 racers, along with pacers and their crews, come through the Martis AS. This is about 70% of the starters!

By the time I left for the night, the aid station was filled with crews, spectators, pacers, volunteers, and a steady stream of runners.

JP, Sam, Julia, Lucas and Mike worked tirelessly throughout the night and next day, on little or no sleep.

SuperCaptain JP made it on less than 3 hours of sleep (Saturday night), working the longest stretch, nearly 45 hours straight!!!

Responding to a post on FB, DPMR member Julia and her boyfriend worked the night and morning shift. Everyone was grateful for Julia’s expert blister treatments. Lucas also stepped up to pace Ingrid from Brockway to Tahoe City and played a crucial role in getting her to the finish as she chased the cutoffs!

Just to add to the bizarre atmosphere that racers were experiencing in their sleep deprived and hallucinatory state on Sunday night, they ran through a full blown and quite real “Full Moon Rave” out in the woods near Martis Peak and about 5 miles before reaching our AS. Most runners knew that it was too good to be true that they were already arriving to the Martis AS, and the bright laser show in the distance and the ground shaking beats heard from 1/4 mile away made them wonder just what kind of AS was coming up. Though disappointed that they still had further to go to find us, they were elated to finally find a use for their glow sticks that were a part of the mandatory gear.

On Monday, Helen, Joel, Dana and Stephanie came up and assisted with the final runners and “cleaning the shit out of everything” as JP put it.

It was an inspiring and exciting weekend and we can’t wait for the next T200!

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Aid Station crew Sunday afternoon with a few pacers/crew/other volunteers

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Mike Tebbutt, who had to drop after 137 miles due to an ankle problem. Not slowed down by 49 or so hours on his feet, Mike worked throughout the evening into the next afternoon.

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One of Sam’s famous tacos, prepared for the RD herself.

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Hey NICE SHIRT

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Ruby taking requests from her superstar pacer mom

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Liz ready to sprinkle unicorn fairy dust on the runners

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Joel and Pete with their new BFF

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Julia tending to a runner’s trashed feet. He later finished the race with 4 seconds to spare, in 99 hours, 59 minutes, and 56 seconds.

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Koishi, who finished the 200 mile journey with only 4 seconds to spare, spoke almost no English. He did however, very clearly communicate 2 things as he entered the AS, “number 1-4-6″ and “beer”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 and a half beers and over an hour later, Koishi leaves the DPMR station only because it is 1 minute until the cutoff.

 

Speedgoat 50k Race Report

After the race, Sarah and I went back to our hotel room where I opened my laptop and re-read my Canyons 50km race report and had to laugh. I felt I had run a pretty good race in Foresthill and I wrote of “running with gratitude and smiling”. Speedgoat was a completely different beast, almost a different sport, and involved a whole lot of swearing, snarling and teeth grinding.

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Speedgoat elevation profile (without the new finish climb)

Once at the start area I tried to position myself sixty or so runners back as I had decided earlier that seemed like a reasonable place to start. Karl sent us off and we immediately began our first climb of the day.  It was close quarters for a while until the field sorted itself out over an hour later. Some of the running here was off trail, but nothing too rowdy yet.  We emerged out of a meadow and onto the rocky switchbacks leading up to Hidden 1 AS.  Sarah met me and got me in and out quickly.

The grind up to Hidden One

The grind up to Hidden One

The descent to Larry’s Hole is where the sun emerged and the wildflower extravaganza began.  Flowers I recognized like penstemon, indian paintbrush and phlox but then lots of other stuff I’d never seen before. I was quick through Larry’s Hole AS and after a short climb, began the descent to Pacific Mine.  I found myself at the top of what looked like a steep, boulder choked dry creek bed but was actually an ATV trail and part of the course. Mary Ellen Gulch…my worst nightmare. (I had popped my ankle at the end of training run three weeks earlier.  I had stayed off of it, cross trained a bunch, acupuncture, massage, etc. but hadn’t made the final decision to race until the Sunday before the race.)  My ankle was feeling great at this point, but what I saw in front of me made me feel like a hemophiliac in a razor blade factory.  The trail got progressively less techy and I was able to rejoin the pack and start picking a few people off. I moved into Pacific Mine AS quickly got water and bailed.  There were lots of racers milling around here and I gained quite a few places.

The climb out of Pacific Mine back to Larry’s Hole is largely in the aspens which afforded a fair amount of shade.  It was still hot, though, and a small group of us worked up the multitrack. Around this time I developed a blister.  At first I thought it was a rock in my shoe so stopped and emptied.  I stopped again shortly after because I thought the culprit was in my sock.  I swore as I put my shoe back on and at that moment a woman piped up, as she ran by, “Hey…I’ve got some second skin.  Jog along with me.”  Score! Stopped a third time to apply.  My new best friend and I rolled into Larry’s Hole together.  I refilled, ate a few oranges, grabbed a handful of potato chips, put some ice in my headband and I was out.

As I would soon learn, this is where the course gets serious. This climb up to Mt. Baldy was the second to last climb of the day and it was a bonafide chinscraper. Mostly off trail, I worked up the mountain like I would boot up a snowy couloir, occasionally throwing in some French step to give my calves a break. The slope was south facing, I was cooking at this point, and there wasn’t a whisper of wind to be had. I saw several people in front of me take a step up, struggle, wobble, list over and catch themselves. This section of the course was also choked with the brightest wildflowers imaginable. The beauty/pain dichotomy was too much to wrap my brain around. All I could do was laugh out loud to myself.

After I crested the ridge I turned north and began the descent to Tunnel Aid Station. I entered the tunnel, which spat me out on the other side of the mountain, and I began my descent down to the Ridge Trail. Once at the bottom the course worked its way up the Ridge Trail to Hidden Peak 2.  This is where the real high quality swearing, snorting and teeth grinding went down. Karl had been sending us through stupid terrain, aggressively, all day, and it was beginning to grind me down.

But wait …more lactic acid and wildflower fireworks. One guy hung on to a pine off trail and wondered aloud why he kept puking and couldn’t keep anything down. More carnage littered the ridge as My Second Skin Hero and I slogged towards the tram station at Hidden Peak. I pushed up the last section of Hidden Peak to the applause and cheering of an almost European sized crowd.  I was in and out of Hidden 2 quickly and began the final descent.

For the time being, my quads wanted to cooperate on the downhill and I quickly picked off a few runners in the first few minutes out of Hidden.  I was in the groove, down climbing a loose ravine when I heard heavy, almost panicked breathing above me.  I looked up and saw a woman who I had seen earlier in the race.  She had an expression that is best described as desperate and crazed. “Oh hey!” I said, expecting either a wounded howl or a string of expletives as a reply. Nothing. Just the sound of loose rock tumbling down the ravine as she took the fall line.  We were soon running together and began talking about the new finish and the additional 100m of climbing.

On cue we left the trail and were routed into more subalpine mixed terrain. More steepness, off trail and totally demoralizing.  We had been hammering on fast multitrack for good while and now we had to deal with this crap?! We slogged onward and eventually thought we might be lost and running the beginning of the section of the course, not the new finish.  Line of sight on the final few miles was short and we hadn’t seen anyone at all in at least fifteen minutes. Soon enough we had convinced ourselves that we were lost.  Oddly there was no discussion of backtracking. We struggled through this last hateful bit of the course and got spat out onto some multitrack where I soon saw a photographer. Saved! I’m not gonna DNF after all.  The base area was in sight at this point so I unloaded, separated from Animal Girl and picked off a few more runners to cross the finish line in 8:08:20 and 82nd place.

SG finish