Monday, September 15, 2014

Ironman Wisconsin: Uncovering Truth

I climb into bed, the sharp ache of the effort gone leaving only the emptiness of fatigue throughout my body.  The darkness surrounds me and doubt creeps into my mind.  I break the silence.

Me:  Do you think I'm wasting my time?

Him:  (long pause)  Let me ask you a question.  Is this what you really want? 

Me: Yes, I

Him:  Are you willing to keep working?  

Me:  YES, I 

Him:  Are you tired of it?  Do you have a passion for it or has that worn off?

Me:  No!  I really want it.  I will do anything I have to do.  I knew going into this that it was going to be a 2-3 year process.  I'm OK with that.  But... what if I can't?  What if I never get any stronger on the bike?  

Him:  You will.  But it doesn't matter.  Look at it this way, you don't have to be a Meredith.  You can be a Rinny. You don't have to be the fastest one on the bike.  You have to be as strong as you can possibly be so that you can run to your potential.  That is how you will win.

A quote from my coach's recent public speaking engagement runs through my mind as it does now almost daily.  If you're willing to keep showing up longer, and again and again and again, after everyone else has given up'll get to where you want to go.    

Contemplating the road ahead.

I sit on the rickety spin bike with almost no load on the flywheel.  My legs turn the crank and my calves remind me of the effort 36 hours past.  My Garmin 510 is in my hand and I am flipping through my bike ride for the first time.  I scroll through the splits, divided into 4 neat segments of the 112 mile course.  In my mind I know the truth before my coach has to tell me.  This isn't going to cut it.  If I want to get to Kona one day I am going to have to get stronger on the bike.  I upload the file onto my phone, take a deep breath and email the data to my coach.  Is it wrong that I'm almost embarrassed to send her this information?  I am relying on her to help me get stronger, but having no prior power data to speak of, this is my first test.  And I feel like I've failed.  I know this is a stepping stone, and I keep reminding myself this is a process.  I cannot be impatient.  I have to be present every moment.  Do the work.  Keep chipping away at the proverbial rock.  Never give up.

Reenactment of the proposal.

5 years ago we got engaged at this finish line.

She calls me in the afternoon to deconstruct.  I have been napping and now we're getting ready for dinner.  We talk about the positives from the race.  I tell her it probably didn't look like anything special on paper, but there was a lot of good stuff.  I felt super strong in the swim.  I had an opportunity right at the beginning, literally 5 minutes before the gun, to affirm my commitment to my plan.  He wanted me to line up closer to the buoy.  You're strong, swim with the main pack.  No, I said.  I have to stick with my plan.  I lined up far right to avoid the pack and a subsequent panic attack in the first 200 meters.  My plan worked, I had smooth sailing all the way to the first turn buoy which I reached with the front pack.  

I admitted, the bike ride crushed me.  So many people passed me in the first loop like I was standing still.  I felt like I maintained my effort and kept my pace consistent for the second loop, but I was hurting.  I definitely felt the effort.  But, I didn't get negative and stayed present.  I would not let my mind turn on me.  I remained positive and though I cursed at those shitty, rutted farm roads MANY times, I didn't let the thoughts remain.  I verbalized, took a deep breath, and pedaled on.  We confirmed that I need to take in more calories on the bike, but now that we know what works, we can up the intake.

I fought back on the run.  Despite a bad patch in the middle, I fought back and finished my final 10k strong.  This was a first.  Generally once I've fallen off, my pace continues to slide.  But I was using this race as practice.  Even though I knew my pace was well below the leaders in my age group, I still used other athletes on course to work off of.  I didn't want them passing me.  I fought to stay with them when they did.  This is important work for my progress as an athlete and necessary for me to see that I CAN make myself run hard even when it doesn't feel good.  This was my most important piece of the puzzle.

140.6 miles:  11 hours, 49 minutes, 45 seconds

Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Finish

26.2 mile run:  4 hours, 24 minutes, 59 seconds.

Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Finish Chute

Mile 139.9.  The guy I've been back and forth with all day catches up to me again on State Street.  We congratulate each other briefly as he passes me on the way to the finish line.  He's a graduate student in physics at the University of Wisconsin.  His fiance is on the east coast and couldn't be here to see him finish his first Ironman.  His friends are here and he is in good form.  He'll be fine.  I climb the final hill to the capital.  I make the final lap around the capital listening to Mike Reilly's voice.  When I hear my name, I raise my arms in victory and smile for what feels like the first time all day.  I smile in relief because I'm done and I can stop running now.

Mile 133.4.  I'm walking up the hill at Observatory Drive.  In one hand I have a cup of salty potato chips.  In the other hand I have a double shot of Coke.  I keep telling myself, the race starts at mile 20 of the marathon.  I have to pick it back up.  I had been running strong for the first half, but somewhere along the way my energy dipped.  I have been trying to get back in front of my calories now for several miles.  This is it.  There's another girl in Smashfest coming the other way.  I will not let her pass me.  I pick up my pace a little bit and force my aching legs into the effort.  At every aid station I grab a little bit of calories.  Another Honey Stinger gel.  A cup of Coke.  Perform.  Chicken broth.  Keep the fluids coming.  Pretty soon, my legs begin to respond and recognize my pace.  It hurts just a little bit less and I pick it up a little bit more.

Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Run Course

Mile 128.4.  I'm heading toward the Camp Randall Stadium for the second time.  I'm still feeling good but not quite the same as my first 8 miles.  My mind knows I'm too far off pace but this is my opportunity to practice racing.  I keep running.  I see him coming from the other direction.  He doesn't look good.  He's wobbly and staggers a little bit to my side of the road.  He's been puking for hours.  I tell him there's an aid station around the corner.  Go there, rest, and get some calories and fluids.  He tells me he's dropping out.  I keep running.

Mile 120.4.  My mind and my body are reeling.  I have zero recollection of hills on this run course.  I feel like I've been slapped in the face.  A rude awakening.  With the gradual climb through the neighborhood, and the several steeper climbs, I am feeling every ounce of effort.  I stick to my plan taking in gel at regular intervals and water at every aid station.  My stomach has been solid all day affirming that my new hydration/ nutrition plan on the bike works.  But why didn't I remember these hills?

Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Run Course

T2.  I'm so happy to be off the bike.  I can't wait to start running.  I dump the contents of my  transition bag on the floor.  I slip into my running shoes, grab my race belt and visor and run out the door.  2 minutes 9 seconds.

112 mile bike:  6 hours, 17 minutes, 3 seconds.

Mile 82.4.  Almost there, almost there, almost there.  I keep telling myself this so that I don't lose focus.  I am counting down the miles till I'm back on the stick heading toward the finish.  The roads on the course are brutal.  Jarring.  My body is trashed from bracing against every pothole and rut in the road.  My bike feels like it's falling to pieces.  My xlab has completely slipped, that happened in the first 20 miles.  My derailleur which was nice and quiet at the beginning of the ride now resists changing gears and is making a lot of noise with the effort.  There are still people passing me, just not as fast now.  And I am passing a few people back.  That feels pretty good.  My energy levels are stable.  My mind is clear and focused.  I am getting this done.

Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Bike Course

Mile 32.4.  I can't think about how far I have left to go.  I have to stay in the moment.  One down side of being a good swimmer and an average cyclist is that I am literally getting passed by everyone.  I take a deep breath and keep going.  I have to race my race.  Keep my head in the game.  My watch beeps to remind me when to eat.  I stick to my plan.

T1.  I swam under an hour.  I swam under an hour!  Confirming my progress wasn't a fluke, and sticking with my plan at the start line was the right decision.  I swam under an hour.  How long is this freaking transition?  I am spinning up the helix and into the change tent.  The volunteer is trying to be all calm and taking her time.  I throw my bag on the floor, not even bothering to sit down.  I strap my helmet on, grab my shoes and sunglasses and run out the exit.  I holler thanks! over my shoulder as the volunteer is explaining how she'll pack up everything for me.  I'm gone before she can finish her thought.   5 minutes 40 seconds.

2.4 mile swim:  59 minutes, 54 seconds.

Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Swim Exit

Mile 1.9.  I am going nowhere.  Am I going nowhere?  Why do I feel like I'm swimming in place?  Since making the final turn toward shore I have hit some type of current and literally am swimming upstream.  I kick a little harder.  I try to pick up my turnover.  I can see the exit I just don't feel like I am getting any closer.

Mile 0.8.  This is freaking awesome!  I look to my left as I breathe and I am with the front pack as I converge with them on the first turn buoy.  I feel fantastic.  So strong.  My turnover is perfect, I am swimming a straight line.  Is it possible to get a runner's high while swimming?

Mile 0.0.  The national anthem is playing.  We have 5 minutes till the start.  He encourages me to move closer to the actual start buoy.  Swim with the main pack.  You're a strong swimmer.  I shake my head.  I think back to Texas.  I don't have time to explain all the thoughts running through my head right now.  There's no time.  I have to stick to my plan.  *BOOM*  The cannon sounds.

T minus 3 hours.  My alarm beeps.  It's race day.  

The capitol building in Madison, WI.  Backdrop for the IM Moo finish.



Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wrapping Up

Summer in the Valley of the Sun is the same and different from everywhere else in the country.  In most areas summer marks the season of vacation, of travel, of time off from school and more time with family.  In Arizona especially, people look for a reason to abandon the heat for a week or a long weekend.  For those of us without children and with full time jobs here in Arizona, there is less vacation and more of a "hibernation".  Either hibernation inside an air-conditioned building or as a triathlete, lots of long solo hours of training since everyone else is indoors.  Summer is about putting your head down and getting the training done in the hot, endlessly sunny conditions.  There are no races to speak of because no one wants to race when it's over 100 degrees at 7 am.  So between June and September everyone goes into hiding.  Myself included.  Only this summer, I've been holed up in my own little world trying to balance work and training and sleep.  I have been working my ass off, and loving every second of the training, pushing myself to new limits.

As summer wraps up and I am a mere 3 days away from the start of the fall racing season, I can look back over the last few months and see the progress I've made.  It's been a busy summer.  It seems like forever ago, when in reality it was 9 weeks ago when I was running across the Golden Gate Bridge.  And 6 weeks since I ran through the woods in Tahoe.  4 weeks since I was in Canada crewing for Ultraman.  And the week after Ultraman I raced the Mountain Man Half IM in Flagstaff.  Rather than recount every detail of Mountain Man, I thought I would share the recap I gave my coach in my workout log:


For starters, I have been feeling really good physically.  Nothing more than what I would consider normal soreness which is great given my last 4 weeks of bonus activities.  The last night in Canada I only got 4 hours of sleep because the awards banquet lasted until after 11 pm and I had an early flight .... I know better for next time.  That set me up for a rough week because I was only getting 6-7 hours of sleep for the rest of the week.  

So waking up on Sunday morning, my brain felt like it was ripped out of a deep sleep (I'm usually always awake when my alarm goes off no matter how early).  I immediately felt nauseated and a little headache from not enough sleep.  The nausea lasted until I started the swim.  At one point in transition, I was kinda hoping I would get sick so I'd have an excuse not to race.  I'm glad that I didn't because it turned out to be a GREAT training day for me. 

Mountain Man is a really small event, and I'm generally trying to compete more with the men than the women, especially when there's not a lot of fast girls that show up.  AF told me in the morning that it would be my race to lose. 

I took off fast in the swim to gain a little separation from the group.  DB said by the first turn buoy (maybe 300 yrds?) I had two body lengths lead over JP (I think you met her?)  in second, and then dropped her shortly after the turn.  She was 2 minutes back coming out of the water.  I didn't push the swim after the first turn buoy, knowing I'd want a little oxygen in my legs when I hit the bike.  I was happy to come out of the water in 29:23 since I know I could have swum a lot harder, and there were only two boys who swam faster.  And I was 2 minutes faster than last year. 

On the bike, I pushed as much of the flats/ downhills as I could.  On the uphills, I switched to an easy gear to spin but kept my effort consistent.  I ended up passing a lot of guys on the ups.  We had some horrific crosswinds in the final 15 or so miles.  Normally wind is my kryptonite, but I just remembered what you told me months ago- and I was seriously talking to myself out loud... Keep my rear in the saddle, and my weight in the aero bars....  By focusing on that I didn't get freaked out, and was able to stay aero and just go with it.  Came off the bike in about 2:56, 5 minutes faster than last year.

It's really hard to compare this run course to other half im's.  Clearly, I ran no where near my "normal" half IM run pace for something like Oceanside.  But this course is a lot harder, and at elevation so I try to just compare to previous years.  I have always blown up on this run course.  At 1.5 miles in, there is a 1.5 mile switchback that you climb, turn around and descend, and then the final 9 miles are slightly rolling hills (no crazy hills, if you were just out for an easy run you might not even notice that you're going uphill).  This year, I made a conscious effort not to go out crazy in the first mile and half.  I got my run legs under me, took the hill comfortably and then when I got to the top, I picked up the effort a little.  When I hit the final 9 miles, I was pretty much spot on 9 minute miles for the rest of the course, which for me is a HUGE improvement in pacing.  I looked at my splits from last year, and in the final 5 miles I lost 10-15 seconds per mile.  This year, even when I was feeling bad, I was still able to push myself and hold onto my pace.  I think I was a little slower than last year overall pace, but the course was also a half mile longer than last year and I haven't looked at the pace on my garmin yet so not exactly sure.  But this is the BEST I've ever run on this course performance-wise.  And I was reeling in guys every mile.  (Ran 2:02 for 13.6 miles),  finished 16th out of 92 people:  5:32:07 (this is decent for me on this course, not my fastest.)

So... although I'm happy with the win, I'm most happy about my improvements from last year on the swim/ bike and how I did on the run.  I think it really showed me what is going to be required of me on the run course at ironman, and that when I feel like shit, I CAN still hold onto that effort.  There were so many times when I wanted to stop and walk and I refused to let myself do that.  Plus, I felt like my nutrition/ hydration plan on the bike really contributed to how I felt on the run - I came off the bike feeling fantastic (nutrition/ hydration-wise)  and just held onto that through the run-- staying diligent with my plan.  

First place Eagle trophy!  My teammate got the Bear for the men's title. 

And as much as I wanted another bear trophy, I decided that the eagle was more appropriate.  The eagle is a bird of prey, and from now on, I am a predator.  I will be the hunter until I have captured my prey.  


The next weekend I biked Mt. Lemmon with a friend and finally stopped to take a photo at the sign I've wanted a pic of for the last 3 years:

Ha!  Middle Bear!  That's me!

Made a few upgrades to my bike! 

New Powertap!  Thanks!

Don't mind the sleeping kitten...
And who doesn't love kittens??  My babies are 19 weeks old.  They are finished with their kitten vaccines, and breezed through their neuters with flying colors.  From here on out it's cuddling, sleeping, eating, and entertaining everyone around them!

Blackie and Moo birdwatching.

Looking forward to my first race of the season in a few days, I am relaxed and confident.  I believe in my training, I believe in my coach and I believe in the work we've done over the last 8 months.  I know exactly what it will take for me to achieve my goal.  In a word:  Everything.  It will take absolutely every ounce of energy, every bit of focus, and every last thread of effort for me to do what my heart so desires.  I am not the most talented, but I like to think I have that little something extra.  The sheer will to accomplish the impossible.  

In my mind I know that when I signed on with Team HPB in January, I committed to a 2-3 year process to achieve my goal.  But in my heart I want it so badly it hurts.  The only other time I have felt this way about a goal was in 2009 when I was running to qualify for my first Boston Marathon.  Only this time, I don't control the outcome.  For Boston, there is a time goal.  I hit the time, I qualify.  For this race (affectionately known in my circle as "That Which Shall Not Be Named"), it is all dependent on who shows up on race day.  First place punches the golden ticket.  Everyone else stands in line and hopes there is an extra slot available at the end of the day.  If I give everything I have and execute the best race of my life, it still might not be good enough.  That is the toughest pill to swallow.  

I am committed to the process regardless of what happens on Sunday and am staying focused on the long term plan.  Sunday marks the 5 year anniversary of my engagement to my wonderful husband.  He has supported me all summer (year!) long and has driven me to and from both races in Flagstaff (I hate driving!!), been an awesome cheerleader and sherpa, and has encouraged me through all my ups and downs.  He was with me in Napa when I qualified for Boston, he's run Boston with me twice, and he knows the deepest desires of my heart.  I know on Sunday he will be with me from start to finish.  Regardless of my placement when I cross the finish line on Sunday, we will be celebrating.          
Vegas Marathon Run-Through Wedding Ceremony.  Where else would we get married?  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Stripped: Ultraman Canada

July 10.  10:13 pm.
The message from my teammate read:  Team HPBers!  My run pacer for Ultraman just bailed on me.  Anyone want to go to Penticton July 31-Aug 6- all expenses paid?  Let me know if you are interested and I can provide more details.  Would need someone to run with me 2-3 miles, every other 2-3 miles, after mile 20.

July 11.  4:09 am.
I saw the message on the team page.  I sent a quick response:  Let me check my schedule.  This would be awesome.  Not getting my hopes up... but I'll let you know in a couple of hours.

July 11.  7:59 am.
I arrived at work.  My calendar was completely clear.  I had enough PTO to take the two days I needed to make this happen.  The other 5 days were my normal days off during this block.

I texted HPB:  I can get the time off for Ultraman Canada to help Barry.  I would love to go but I'm guessing it's really bad timing for Wisconsin training.  Tell me I have to stay home...

July 11.  8:14 am.
I received a response from HPB:  Haaa!  Honestly you can totally do it.  You have so much work in the bank already that we can afford to do this.  No pressure but if you want to!  ...

She continued:
You would be perfect for it because you can be a hard ass and plus you are a cute girl so he won't be able to wimp out in front of you- all key...  

Blame it on me...  I'm putting it on your training plan. 

By 4:30 that afternoon, the announcement had been made, I was officially crewing and pacing for Ultraman Canada... something I had been secretly dreaming about since Barry first told me about it at our team camp in February.  As an ultrarunner, I have been crew/ pacer for several friends tackling the 100 mile distance.  I know from experience that there is no better way to gain experience than by crewing.  Ultraman is something that I aspire to do one day and this was my chance to go backstage and see how it really plays out.  I didn't know it then, but I was in for the ride of a lifetime.


July 31.  4:20 pm.
After a long flight, and what seemed like forever in the car from the Kelowna airport in British Columbia, I arrived at the Days Inn Penticton hotel and conference center.  The crew meeting was already underway so I found an empty seat near the back until there was a break and I could join my team at their table.  I was so excited to be there!

The race director covered the bike and run course in detail.  Instructing crews on the rules and pointing out specific road hazards that might be encountered.  I had read every ounce of material on the website so there was nothing unfamiliar to me.  As I looked around the room, I saw 29 athletes surrounded by family and friends.  Already, this felt nothing like Ironman.  The air was electric with energy, but not ego.  

After the meeting ended, I had time to squeeze in a quick shake-out run before the team picked me up for dinner.  I got to meet our team captain, Rich Sawiris of fame.  Richie, as he is affectionately known, was the brains of the operation.  He had a spreadsheet outline to keep track of calorie and fluid intake, time and mileage at each checkpoint, as well as predicted and actual calorie (kJ) expenditure based on Barry's power meter.  It was insane to see how close Richie's predictions were to the actual numbers... literally within 20 calories throughout the entire 12 hour stage.  I recognized immediately that Barry was in good hands and began plotting ways to convince Richie that one day he should crew for me at Ultraman.

The final member of our crew was Barry's wife, Johnna, otherwise known as Trophy Wife.  Johnna has enough energy for 10 people.  Johnna and I had hung out and biked together at our team camp in February and I was excited to spend more time with her.  About 2 months before Ultraman she underwent open heart surgery to replace a valve that had been abnormal since birth, but only recently had begun to cause problems.  She said there was never a question as to whether or not they would still go to Ultraman.  As long as she was cleared to travel (which she was) she was ALL IN in support of her husband.  Johnna is pretty bad-ass in her own right, as an athlete and an attorney, but crewing together at Ultraman I was exposed to her nurturing side as she endlessly tried to anticipate Barry's every want and need.  She did an awesome job helping minimize his energy output whenever she could.  

Over dinner we talked and laughed... a LOT.  Aside from being a technical genius, Richie is also very entertaining.  There was never a moment in his presence that I wasn't laughing.  Together the team reviewed the game plan, but also recognized that day 1 would be a lot of trial and error and we would make adjustments along the way.

I sat down with Barry the night before Ultraman to ask him a few questions.  I was scrambling to take notes as he was talking so these are not exact quotes, but I tried to convey responses as closely to his answers as possible.

Barry, when did you decide you wanted to do Ultraman?
I scoped out the race a couple of years ago but wasn't prepared physically.  I started working with (coach) Hillary (Biscay) 2 years ago, and my training level began to increase.  One cocktail too many in November and I submitted my application.

What was Hillary's response? 
I didn't tell her right away as she was getting ready for the Ultraman Hawaii Championships.  I waited a couple of weeks and then told her.  She was psyched.  She's always looking for an excuse to turn up the volume and intensity.

How did your training change after your application was accepted?
It didn't really change until after Oceanside 70.3 (at the end of March).  I signed up for a 200 mile bike ride (double century) in February, and we had the 5 day training camp which was a lot of volume.  After Oceanside I had two-a-day workouts almost every day.  I couldn't come home from work and chill, rest up for the next day.  I was always doing another workout after work.  I had a lot of 10k swims, about one a week.  Lots of band-only (swimming freestyle with a band holding ones ankles together) work in the pool and lots of PBB (pull sets with paddles, buoy and band).  The good part of training in May and June was that I couldn't eat enough.  I was burning so many calories with training I could eat whatever I wanted.

Did you have any tune-up races between Oceanside and Ultraman Canada?
I raced the Whoos in El Moro 50k which had about 6500 feet of climbing.  It was hot.  I ran at a "run all day" pace so I felt good, except for the last 3 miles which were all downhill.  Every rock hurt.  (Note: he finished in a respectable 6:24:16).

And I raced Ironman Coeur d'Alene in June.  I was instructed to swim all out, and ride my hardest IM bike leg ever.  I came off the bike in 8th place in my age group, and I'm never in the top 30.  Then I had to run the marathon at my "run all day" pace.  It was the best I've ever felt after an Ironman.  Except that I got food poisoning 24 hours later after eating a half price yogurt parfait.  (Note to self:  do not buy discounted perishables...)

How did you manage training and recovery? 
The hardest part was managing my work schedule and training schedule.  I found myself a lot sleepier June and July.  Prior to Oceanside I was training 15-16 hours per week, with a typical month being 60-65 hours of training.  In my buildup for Ultraman I was averaging 25 hours a week.  In June I hit 102 hours of training.  July felt like a taper though I had a couple of long weekends.

The key thing with volume is recovery.  I was able to stay healthy through training.  I used the recovery pants about four times per week, got a deep tissue massage every couple of weeks, and tried to go to bed early.  And Hillary is really smart about scheduling the volume.  It made it really bearable because there were not a lot of days when my legs were so trashed.  I never felt like I couldn't get up and do the workout.

Now that Ultraman is here, what are you most excited, and most nervous about?
I am most excited to just get going.  I am most nervous about the length of day two... and what happens past mile 30 of the run.


August 2.  6:00 am.  Stage 1:  10 kilometer swim (6.2 miles) and 90 mile bike.  12 hour time limit.

We were bursting with restless energy waiting for stage 1 to begin.  The swim is point to point in Skaha lake, and on race morning the surface was like glass.  Each athlete was assigned to a paddler to lead them in a kayak for safety reasons (the lake is open to boats).  The kayak would also carry any food/ fluids that the athlete might need during the swim stage.  Barry got really lucky being paired with Wayne, a very experienced kayaker who led the way to his stage victory beautifully.  

Me, Richie, Barry and Johnna.  Our T-shirts read:  You cannot be serious.  :)

Barry comes from a swimming background, and secretly we were hoping to match the swim course record.  He came close with the second fastest time in race history of 2:31:23, and about 27 minutes ahead of the next athlete.  As crew, we had a lot of fun watching the final 2 kilometers of his swim.  We were perched on a dock overlooking the water, and we could just barely make out his kayak in the distance.  When Barry made the final turn to cross the lake, there was not another swimmer in sight.  We were screaming our heads off as he swam the final meters to the swim exit and ran him through transition in 3 minutes 42 seconds.  He was quickly onto the bike course and packed up our stuff and headed to the car to follow.

Swim exit.  Photo credit:  Rick Kent, official ultraman photographer.

The second half of stage one our time was spent leap-frogging Barry on his bike.  Richie had scouted out the course in the days before the race, and had planned where the best feeding spots would be.  We tried to find a good incline to hand off food/ water as we knew Barry's pace would be slowed some, and it would be easier to run alongside his bike to replace bottles and hand off food.  We kept track of how much he was eating and drinking and whenever necessary we would shout at him to "DRINK!"  Barry is pretty quiet, but eventually he began to tell us what he wanted (coke, ice, etc) which reduced the guessing game we had been playing most of the day.
Little mountain shower keeping the athletes cool.

Being first out of the water, he was a hunted man on the bike portion of day 1.  He was passed about half way through by the eventual winner of Ultraman, and we never saw another athlete until we were down to the final 20 miles.  At that point we knew he had a solid lead and would hold onto 2nd place at the end of the stage.

Day 1 Bike Finish.  Photo credit:  Rick Kent

Day 1:  Swim 2:31:23 + Bike 5:10:41 = 7:42:04, 2nd place overall.

August 3.  7:00 am.  Stage 2:  171 mile bike.  12 hour time limit.

Recovery from stage 1 was a little bit hectic.  We wanted to make sure Barry was off his feet, eating and drinking and heading to bed early.  Johnna and I did were able to get out for a bite to eat which was the first real food we'd had all day.  We made plans for the following morning and had everything lined up for the final day as well since we'd be spending the night in Princeton after stage 2.

Day 2 we were a little more prepared for when we needed to stop and how often, though adjustments were still made on the fly.  After leaving the start area, we made a quick stop in town and then headed out to start leap-frogging.  When we passed Barry we took note of where he was on the course relative to the other athletes.  We pulled over in one of the first small towns the course travels through and waited for Barry to come by.  When we noticed several athletes who had been behind Barry come through we knew there was a problem.  We whipped the car around and a mile or so back he was on the side of the road getting ready to change a flat.  Richie jumped out of the car with a spare wheel, swapped wheels lightening fast, and had Barry back on the road in no time.  He lost less than 2 minutes with that flat.  Unfortunately it was his second one of the morning and he felt pressure to catch back up with the lead group.

Stage 2 Bike.  Photo credit:  Rick Kent

By half way through the 171 mile course, we had the logistics down pretty well and Barry had caught back up with the main pack.  We were stopping much more frequently on stage 2 because the road conditions were worse and we didn't want to chance another flat or mechanical issue.  Plus it was getting really warm as the day wore on and we kept him cooled down with ice and water.  We kept a very close eye on him.   Each time we stopped we also got to cheer for the two or three athletes in front and behind him on the road.  It was fun to interact with the other crews and support each other in this venture.  Nothing like 171 miles to make you feel bonded!

Stage 2 Finish.  Photo credit:  Rick Kent

At the end of stage 2, Barry's stomach was not feeling great.  He did a great job of refueling that evening, and tried to take in as much fluids as possible, but after 2 straight days of endurance racing, we were in a big deficit.  Each day he weighed in before and after the stage.  And after both stage 1 and 2, he had lost over 7 pounds of body weight in fluids.  To say he was dehydrated would be an understatement.  I was frantically texting Hillary for suggestions knowing that everything was going to play out on stage 3 and he needed to be in the best possible shape at the start of the day.  

Day 2:   Bike 9:35:32 + Day 1 = 17:17:36, 4th place overall.

August 4.  6:45 am.  Stage 3:  52.4 mile run (or 53 miles as it were...).  12 hour time limit.

The final day.  Gathering around the start line I couldn't help but feel a little anxious.  It's now or never.  The last stage.  It's make or break time.  I was hoping with everything in me that the day would go smoothly, that Barry would have the race that he dreamed of having.  I had the same feeling of melancholy that I get when I am about to start the Tahoe Rim Trail... all that work and it's going to be over in under 12 hours.  You want the pain to end, but the experience to last forever.

Stage 3 Start.  Photo credit:  Rick Kent

Everyone was ready, and the director started the athletes off a few minutes early.  There was no sprinting off the start line, just the steady beat of footsteps heading into the morning.  It took a lot longer for separation among the pack to occur than during the bike ride on stage 2.  This contributed to a bit of congestion along the course as all the cars were in leap-frog mode from mile 1.  We elected to stop on the half mile (1.5/ 2.5/ etc...) to avoid some of the traffic.

Each time we stopped, Johnna and Richie tried to get me to stay in the car.  Get off your feet... you have to run later!  But I had too much nervous energy and simply could NOT stay in the car.  Every mile we handed him Gatorade or water, and every 30 minutes we offered him some calories.  He looked super strong and his pace, though a little slower than he had hoped, was steady and consistent.

Stage 3 Run.  Photo credit:  Rick Kent

Several runners had pacers with them from the start.  Each time they ran by they were chatting and smiling and making it look so easy.  At one point near the half marathon mark I told Barry if he needed any help with the hills to let me know.  But he was still charging along and didn't ask for help until mile 19.5.  We were standing by ready to hand off drinks and he asked if I wanted "the 32 mile option, the 30 mile option, or the 26 mile option."  It was run time!!  I hopped back in the car, layered some more sunscreen on, and at the next exchange at mile 20.5 I jumped in for pacing duties.

Time on the run course went by a lot slower than time in the support car.  Instead of constantly having my mind occupied with what we needed for food/ drink and where the best place to stop was, I had only one focus:  to keep Barry making forward progress.  (And to not annoy him in the process.)  As a pacer, I take on new identities depending on who my athlete is and what they need at the time.  I've been fun run pacer, I've been hard-ass-meanie run pacer, and I've been let's-not-get-lost-in-the-woods-cause-you're-delirious run pacer.

Stage 3 Run.  Photo credit:  Rick Kent

Running along with Barry, I maintained the attitude of "everything us cool, everything is fun", borrowing a quote we overused at team camp.  When everything started to fall apart a few short miles into my pacing duties, I tried my best to pretend like this was normal and to be expected.  At mile 25 Barry took a gel.  An instant later he was vomiting on the side of the road.  Vomiting a LOT.  I put my hand on his back in a gesture of support and glanced back toward the car as Johnna retreated with a look of shock on her face.  It was really difficult for her to watch him suffer, though before the end of the day this episode would look like nothing.

When he stood back up, I put on my best poker face and announced that it was time to get moving again.  I also reassured him that now we had a clean slate.  The stomach was empty and we could start over.  Over the next few miles, Barry continued to feel like crap.  Finally, I made the call to have him walk at an easy pace for 10 minutes and drink about 8 oz of chicken broth.  He was so dehydrated, and I thought maybe getting some salt in would settle his stomach and allow him to start absorbing things again.  My suggestion was based on experience in endurance racing, not just something that I pulled out of my ass.  It was a gamble whether it would work for Barry or not, but at the time I thought it was worth a shot.  The effect seemed positive and we had a solid 10 miles in the middle where everything went smoothly and he was able to run steady again.

Richie ready to drape the towel on Barry for cooling.

There was a final 10 kilometer climb before reaching the summit and subsequent 8 mile descent into the finish.  During the climb, Richie offered to jump in and pace while I ate a sandwich in the car.  I figured on the climb they would be doing more walking than running, but Barry must have felt good or didn't want to be outdone by a non-runner because he ran quite a bit of that stretch.  Richie and Johnna continued to provide fluids and cold towels every mile.  Barry was wearing a Mission cooling towel and arm cooling sleeves which when kept wet help manage core body temperature.  I was using standard issue hotel towel soaked in ice water.  I wore it for 30-60 seconds on average during beverage exchange and after I handed it back I could still feel the cold on my arms and shoulders for several minutes.

Stage 3 Run.  Photo credit:  Rick Kent

Eventually his stomach woes returned and the vomiting along with it.  By the second, third and 4th episodes his whole body shook as he expelled the unabsorbed fluids and he was left weakened and further dehydrated.  I held onto his hips for support as he leaned over the edge of the road puking, afraid he would fall headfirst down the cliff.  I kept telling him we had plenty of time to get to the finish before the cutoff.  At one point I gave him a predicted finish time if we maintained 15 minutes per mile (which was well over the pace he had been running).  I was happy to see that he was still in the game mentally when he corrected my math... reminding me that it was 52.4 miles, not 50.  (Note to self:  Don't play the numbers game with a CFO... he's better at numbers than you are.)  After each episode of vomiting, I tried to push fluids again knowing that he still had too far to go to NOT try.  Even if he only absorbed a little bit, it might be just enough to get us to the finish line.  I'm sure he was cursing me in his head as nothing sounded palatable this late in the game.

I didn't really start worrying about Barry's physical state until we got down to the last 5 miles.  Now when the urge to vomit came over him, nothing came up.  There were no fluids left in his system and the dry heaves seemed to take more out of him than vomiting.  With 4 miles left, he was too depleted to run so we walked.  Richie jumped out of the car to encourage him, and forever the comedian, ran by us wearing a pair of my runderpants with "Get Used to the View" across the rear.  I had packed them thinking that if Barry needed a little motivation, it might be enough to get him moving.  I imagined them on my own ass, not necessarily on that of Richie though we all got a good laugh and Barry claimed that this was something he couldn't unsee and made Richie get dressed before it made him sick again.  In Richie's defense, he could totally pull off the runderpants look.  I think if he were a triathlete, he could rock a speedo.

When we got to the final mile, and Barry's garmin told him he should already be done he wanted to stop moving.  He says he was joking when he asked to sit down, but there was some truth in the plea.  I kept encouraging him to keep moving, wanting him to get across that line and be done with the suffering.  We could hear Steve King announcing at the finish line for almost a mile.  Finally... finally, we rounded the corner into the parking lot and could SEE the finish banner.  I told Barry this was his moment.  As he ran the final couple of tenths into the finish chute, I dashed through the crowds of spectators to meet him on the other side and give him a big hug of congratulations.  He did it!!

As much as he wanted to go sit down, I made the crew gather for our finish line photo and I'm glad we did because it wasn't long and the finish chute turned into a real mess.  And by the time Barry recovered enough to move again, the finish banner and all evidence that anything had taken place was torn down.

Ultraman Finish!  Crew:  Richie, me, Johnna, and Wayne.   Photo credit:  Rick Kent
Day 3:  Run 11:29:41 + Day 1 + Day 2 = 28:47:17, 10th place overall.

We helped Barry over to the massage table.  I hopped into the ice bath and enjoyed some pizza and a beer while he was getting worked on.  Unfortunately his stomach didn't calm down in the hour after he finished and when he was done with his massage and lying on a towel on the ground we were looking at a very long night, possibly in the ER.  Richie and Johnna tracked down the medical personnel and explained that he had been vomiting for over 6 hours and not able to keep anything down.  They hooked him up with a liter of fluids, and a bit of dextrose to buy him some time until he could eat again.  With some fluids on board, we got him into the car, stopped for Gravol (potent ginger root) at the pharmacy and stocked up on Sprite which was the only thing he consumed for the next 16 hours.  By morning things seemed better and we enjoyed a late breakfast.

Nurse Johnna attending to the patient. 
Over the course of three days Ultraman strips you of everything not vital to survival.  You check your ego at the door prior to race day when you meet the athletes and crews that are joining you in this venture.  It is humbling to learn everyone's backgrounds and stories, and to see the amount of support surrounding each athlete.  There is a lot of love in a room filled with family and friends.  You learn to rely on others for support and help.  As someone who does everything herself, and has a hard time asking for help, I imagine this will be a huge learning experience for me one day.  It's tough to be vulnerable and rely on others for needs so basic as food and water.  Many athletes struggled at one point or another.  Whether it was getting though a nearly 6 hour swim, or dealing with heat and long miles on the bike.  Or gutting out a double marathon when you're puking your insides out.  When all you can do is put one foot in front of the other, minute by minute, you need to hear it's going to be OK and we'll get there.  It's comforting to know that your family is there, no matter what, and they've got your back.  They will make you laugh.  They will share your tears and pain.  And they will cheer the loudest when you finally make it across that line, whether it's under the time cutoff or 6 minutes too late.

As we sat through the awards banquet on Tuesday evening our emotions were on our sleeves.  We listened to story after story of trial and error, misstep and triumph.  Everyone had a different experience, but shared the same story.  The story where you have a dream, and work endlessly month after month (year after year), and eventually come together to make that dream come true.  This is the story I want to tell.  The story of Ultraman Canada 2016.


In the days after Ultraman I messaged each of our team members for a little post race follow up.  In the aftermath, it's important to write down what you would have done differently, or what went really well so that you remember it for next time.  There are no lessons learned from inattention to detail.

Q&A with Rich Sawiris:

Richie, when were you asked to crew and what were you told your job would entail?

RS:  Some time after registering, Barry asked me to crew.  I was told my job would be technical and mechanical support for bike equipment and feed support.  I pretty much did what I expected.  I didn't expect to run, but I couldn't sit in the car anymore.

Would you crew again?  (Please say yes...)

RS:  I'm not sure about crewing again.  You'd have to ask me in a month or more after the pain wears off.

What would you do differently?

RS:  On the bike we got lucky with no mechanicals.  We just didn't have enough tools to repair a (real) mechanical.  Crew needs to be fed during long days when they are in the car.  Make sure there are no personality conflicts (among crew) or you're in for a very long weekend.    

And lastly, on a scale of 1-10, knowing you are missing the last data point, how certain are you that I am a unicorn?  (Please watch this video on YouTube for reference... this became an ongoing joke among our crew.  Seriously laugh-out-loud funny....)

RS:  I think you might be a unicorn, but mathematically it's impossible to be less than a 4-5 crazy with all the training you do.  This leaves tranny as an unfortunate but highly probably solution to the equation.

Q&A with Johnna Plaga:

Johnna,  first of all, how did you get the nickname Trophy Wife (this is what Barry refers to Johnna as...)?

JBP:  (laughing) OK, remember the story I told you about at dinner where we divorced (briefly, many years ago) and then got back together?  The second wife is always the "trophy wife".  Just so happens that the second wife is the same as the first wife!  (Every couple has a Jerry Springer story, right??)

Ha!  Love it.  How did your responsibility on the crew change after your surgery?

JBP:  My responsibilities changed a lot due to surgery.  First I was less involved in the nutrition and planning of this race than I would normally have been.  I would have planned out all possible needs for food/ hydration, etc and that just didn't happen because I was going to the doctor or resting/ sleeping more than normal.  I also would have run with him on day 3 before surgery, it just wasn't in the cards after surgery.

How did the weekend compare to your expectations?  Was there anything that surprised you (good or bad) about Ultraman? 

JBP:  The weekend far exceeded my expectations.  I knew Barry would have a great swim.  I was worried he didn't believe in his cycling abilities, though he had a great IM CDA bike, so when he hung with the big boys on day 1 and 2 I was so happy for him.  I think it was a much needed mental shift for him-- he does have cycling legs!  Day 3 was harder for me because of the vomiting.  I did not expect this.  I expected walking and cramps, but not vomiting.  It was hard for me to watch, I think I am more emotional since surgery and it was hard to watch him suffer, especially since I helped him after CDA when he vomited for 36 hours.

I was surprised how much prep Richie put into knowing the bike terrain and mapping out where to feed/ water.  It was really helpful.  I don't think anything else (other than how I felt about Barry vomiting) surprised me at Ultraman.  It was good to see that crews were as helpful to each other and the athletes as I had been told they would be.

Having been through this, do you think next time would be easier?  Or more difficult.. knowing how much he's going to suffer?  And what would you do differently?

JBP:  I think the next time Barry does Ultraman it will be much easier.  First I will know not to sweat the small stuff, like missing Barry for the first flat.  After hearing stories from other crews about losing their athletes for hours, running out of food/ water/ ice/ etc.  One crew forgot to buy bottled water so they filled the cooler with water from a hose and the athlete complained it tasted like shit.  (The crew tasted it and confirmed it DID taste like shit.)  And one crew was no longer speaking to each other after the race.  So we batted 1000!  Second, I would be more prepared for nutrition, I like to have all options covered.  I hated possibly running out of chicken broth, which I wouldn't have even had if I hadn't bought it to make the rice!  There were no Tums in the medical bag, no organization in the cooler.  I would have had more than one cooler.  I would have had everything covered, listed, posted and re-organized each night so there is no guessing.  I would include more "real food" on the bike, and I will get Barry to practice it during training!  PB&J, boiled salted potatoes, etc.  Third (it will be easier) because I know the suffering will be temporary.

What things did you bring from California that you were happy you had, and what would you add for next time?  

JBP:   I was happy we brought the rice cooker and Nutri Bullet for protein shakes.  Cold bike clothes --cause you just never know!  (Note:  when it started raining on Day 1, the crew was frozen!!  Thankfully our athlete was kept warm by his effort.)  We had the recovery pants (which got used every night), extra bike shoes- which I originally thought was overkill!.  We had extra run gear and extra wheels, which came in handy.  We discussed bringing an extra bike, but short of the bike being crushed in a fall- which would have rendered Barry unable to ride- we knew Richie would fix any mechanical.  Next time, more tools for the bike (Richie mentioned some he wished he had), more variety for nutrition on the bike and run, and plenty of it.  Oh!  And good food for the crew!!!

Last question... do YOU ever want to do Ultraman?

JBP:  That weekend totally made me want to do Ultraman.  I am so far back in my fitness at the moment that it seems almost absurd, but it's on the list.  I spent 2013 with a torn calf muscle in January, a broken collar bone in March, 2 collar bone surgeries and 6 weeks on crutches in the fall with a tibial stress fracture.  I thought 2014 was going to be great- then heart surgery.  So I will be 55 years old probably before it is possibly a reality, but hey, better late than never.  I hope you saw Hillary's great talk on Mind Body Green- best advice ever- I intend to just keep showing up!

Q&A with Barry Plaga:

Barry!!  Post race recap... How are you feeling physically after Ultraman?  Are you back in the swing of training?

BP:  I am feeling pretty good.  This week my legs feel a little tired.  I think the post race high has worn off, but it did last almost a week.  I ran 20 minutes this morning, and everything still works!  I think Hillary has me pretty easy this week.  She hasn't posted the weekend yet, so we'll see.  

Looking back, was there anything about the race that went better/ easier than you thought?  Or harder than you expected?

BP:  Looking back, everything went close to how I envisioned it.  Having done IM Canada (now Challenge Penticton), I knew the location and the setting so a lot of anxiety was not there.  I spent a lot of time during training and recovery thinking about the race, the day to day, the meals, the prep, etc, and I got pretty organized.  I was more nervous about packing than about racing.  I knew if I had everything I needed at the race, and in the car, Hillary would take care of the rest and I would be able to execute.  I thought everything went perfectly-- you guys allowed me to just stay in the zone, stay in the zone, stay in the zone.  

What would you adjust for next time?  ....There will be a next time, right?!?

BP:  The only thing I would change would be hitting me earlier on day 1 during the bike.  I probably could have drank two more bottles during the first hour.  Other than that, just a better breakfast.  My best morning meal is scrambled eggs, a little toast and some good Greek yogurt.  For next time, I would schedule more days off work to sleep and prep for the week coming up.  I was the walking dead some weeks, especially when run block and bike block collided into Big F'ing Block.  I think our CEO was a little pissed at me, but hey, I showed up on Thursday and hit our earnings call out of the park with wall street.  

In terms of next time... uh, uh, uh, YES I want to do it again.  I kind of wish I was doing Challenge Penticton this weekend.  I feel like I could do well.  Maybe that post race high hasn't worn off yet.  :-) 

All smiles at the finish.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Running on High

On recent back to back weekends I was fortunate to be able to tackle 2 races at altitude, something that I enjoy and is good for pushing my aerobic endurance to its limits.

Mountain Man Sprint Triathlon

Mountain Man Events hosts several triathlons in Flagstaff during the hottest parts of our summer here in the valley of the sun.  It's so nice to escape the heat, even for a day, and race in a cooler, overcast climate.  I have raced the Mountain Man Half every year for the past 5 years, but I've never raced the sprint distance which is held a month earlier.  When I emailed my coach a list of local races, she selected the sprint race and I (though somewhat surprised) was happy to oblige.

Swim start

 Mountain Man Sprint turned out to be a perfect race to blow out the cobwebs of my endurance laden body.  As a sprint distance (750 m swim/ 12 mile bike/ 3-ish mile run) it is all out from the get-go, no pacing involved.  My husband wasn't racing but was there as my one man cheering section.  When the gun went off, I took off as fast as I could sustain in the water.  Swimming at elevation is a little like breathing through a straw, but if you can remind yourself that it's just the thinner air and you are, in fact, not dying, you can still push yourself quite hard.  He told me later that within a short amount of time I had several body lengths lead over the next woman.  By the time I hit the first turn buoy, I glanced back and couldn't see anyone near me.  I swam as fast as I could and was thrilled (shocked!) to come out of the water in just over 12 minutes, about 2 minutes ahead of the next girl.

Having sprayed my limbs and wetsuit generously with TriSlide before getting in the water, I whipped my wetsuit off in no time.  Grabbed my bike and ran out of transition as if being chased.  (Technically I was being chased...)

Ready to roll.
The bike course is an out and back on relatively flat ground, but with a little bit of a head wind on the way out I was still required to put forth an effort.  After the turn around I calculated that the next woman was at least 2 minutes behind me still.  A good lead, but not one that I was super comfortable with.  I knew I'd have to keep the pressure on.  Rolling back into T2 everyone was excited to shout at me that I was in first.  Yay!  A first for me!  In and out, and back onto the run course in just over a minute.

On the way out my first 2 miles clocked were under 7:30 minutes.  I was happy with this, especially at 7,000 ft of elevation.  I kept running hard, and after I made the turnaround I was checking the faces of all the girls behind me to see if there was anyone who looked like they were running comfortably.  Thankfully I didn't see anyone who seemed to be bombing through the field.

Approaching the finish!

At the awards ceremony an hour or so later I was awarded my (first ever?) 1st overall win!  And I got to take home the BEAR trophy!  There were trophies for 1st male/ female and 1st masters male/ female.  The other 3 trophies were sculptures of human form.  Mine was a bear.  Bear is a nickname I've had since birth so I was beyond excited about my new precious.  

Overall women's win! 

Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run

After a few more days of work we were off again to Carson City, NV, the staging area for the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs.  I had decided after my disaster at IM Texas that I would drop from the 50 miler to the 55 km run to minimize the recovery time I would need post race.  With IM Wisconsin looming in just a few weeks I didn't want to be out of commission for as long as it would take me to recover from a tough 50 miler.  I was kind of excited about taking on the shorter distance as I wanted to push myself more than I have in the past at this race.

I wasn't nervous at all until race morning.  I think just arriving back at Spooner Lake park I began to realize how much this was going to hurt, even if it was only 34 miles.  Everyone's spirits were high and I was happy to be back on my favorite trails.  My goal was 8 hours, which I thought was very doable as long as I held it together.  If anything went awry, it would be a long walk to the finish.

Checking out Spooner Lake

I knew this course intimately.  I knew when I was going to hurt.  When I was going to be walking more than running.  I knew when I'd need to fill my hydration pack.  I was ready.  I ran more over the 34 miles than I've ever run before on this course which I was so happy about.  In the past, by the time I get back to Tunnel Creek facing the final 15 miles I am so trashed that the climb from TC to Hobart nearly does me in.  I've hallucinated in that stretch.  I've been in so much pain that I literally hobble from one downed tree to the next looking for the next log to sit on for a minute to give my aching legs a break.

I knew that I would have half as many miles on my legs this time that if all went well I could push myself through that stretch and on to the finish.  I started conservatively on the first 5 mile climb of the day, which was basically a mile after starting at Spooner.  I ran as much as I could when the incline was gentle.  There were definitely short stretches that I walked, but I felt like I ran quite a bit of this section.  Reaching the first aid station I was still feeling good but knew I had a lot of climbing ahead of me.  Leaving Hobart there is a good climb for at least a mile or so (maybe 1.5?) and then a nice gradual descent through the boulder fields heading into Tunnel Creek.

I still had plenty of water so I cruised on through and headed down, down, DOWN the hill into the Red House Loop.  For some reason, I don't remember this descent being quite so long or quite so steep, but it was soooo long and soooo steep.  I guess that speaks to the fact that I am in triathlon shape, but not necessarily my best trail running shape.  Once I reached the bottom of the descent which was well over a mile, I settled into a nice cruisy stretch my legs pace.  There was a little bit of climbing mid loop, but mostly a nice steady run pace.  I had hoped to make it back up the climb to Tunnel Creek before filling water but as luck would have it, I was almost out by the time I reached the Red House.  It was quite a bit hotter that day than it's been in the past.  I debated waiting, but thought better of it.  Now I had a full liter and half on my back for the climb out.  Ugh!  On a side note... I love the Red House Loop.  Partly for the insanity of the descent/ ascent and partly for the water crossings!  We had 3 water crossings that were not quite knee deep and I always smile to myself watching people try to pick their steps around them.  I just go charging right through the middle of them.  I have found that the cold water is a nice relief for my feet, and my feet are generally dry again within a mile so no harm done.

I paused at Tunnel Creek long enough to dump rocks out of one shoe from the ascent then it was on to the incline back to Hobart.  It was rough, and I hurt, but mentally I kept my act together and power hiked as fast as I could till I got to the top and the mile-ish run back to the aid station.  I topped off my hydration pack and took off again toward Snow Valley Peak (SVP).  The last climb of the day!

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the climb felt.  I remember in the past walking the entire 3 miles to SVP.  This time, I was running quite comfortably, wondering when the climb was going to start.  Soon enough I emerged from the woods above the treeline and began the last mile uphill to the aid station.  The Snow Valley Peak aid station is manned by one of the local Boyscout troops.  They do an amazing job and take our safety and comfort very seriously.  They must have binoculars or something, but they know each runner by name before we even get close to the aid station.  And they send one of the boys out to meet each person, offering to fill packs and bottles and retrieve food.  I was set to cruise on through with plenty of water left for the final miles, but tossed back a cup of cold coke for good measure.

Tahoe Rim Trail

My husband, who needed to get his own long run in that day, had run backwards on the course up to SVP.  We started down the hill together with him a few yards behind me.  We ran this way for several miles, with DB dropping off the back a little during any technical bits (he doesn't usually run trails, and does not love the steeper downhills).  When we were down to the last couple of miles, I told him he needed to get moving so he would be at the finish line when I got there.  The last 1.5 miles is flat-ish, so he took off ahead of me and disappeared quickly into the woods.

I could hear the music and the party atmosphere at the finish nearly the entire last 2 miles.  It seemed to take me forever to get there even though it was really only 20 minutes.  Soon, I was across the finish and couldn't wait to sit down.  I always find it ironic how I can feel so good running for 34 miles, but the minute I stop and the blood stops moving through my legs I want to absolutely die.  It's all very dramatic.  I wanted my photo by the finish line banner, but stopping for 20 seconds (after working hard for 7.5 hours) to take the picture, my blood pressure dropped and everything started to go black.  A medical volunteer helped me into the med tent where I sat for a minute and collected myself, drinking a bit of coke and ice water.

Running into the finish:  7:39:01

After a LONG walk back to the car (that mile felt like 50) we loaded up just as the sky began to turn dark with storm clouds.  I wanted to hang out at the finish, but my legs hurt so badly and I was so hungry, so I begged my husband to drive me back to Carson City for some food.

On Sunday, we lazed around for most of the morning.  We drove around the lake, stopping to swim for a bit which felt great on the legs.  We finished driving the loop, and just as we were cruising through South Lake Tahoe the sky opened up and we nearly didn't make it back to Carson City as the roads were beginning to flood.  I couldn't help but think of the 100 milers who were still out there running.  Would I be tough enough to battle through the storms for my buckle?  I hope so.

In talking with a friend about the race, and about when I am going to do my first hundred, I said that I knew I wanted Tahoe Rim Trail to be my first.  I know I could find an easier course, something more beginner friendly, but I also know that for me, TRT is a calling.  It is spiritual.  Being out there, running through the woods in this beautiful place... I know it is meant to be.  One day, I will tackle the 100 miler.  Every day until then, I will dream of being back on the trail, running through my favorite forest, breathing the fresh mountain air.    

To obtain the air that angels breathe, you must (come) to Tahoe.  - Mark Twain