I was feeling really good going into this race. Very nervous, but good. This would be my first race of the year, my first race after a few months of living and training at higher elevation. I was anxious to see how my racing would change, if I would feel different. I remember thinking when I ran Leadville in 2012, “someday I want to be able to run UP mountains” I was frustrated because all of my uphill “running” in the mountains reduced me to a slow hike. I could not physically run UP mountains and I so badly wanted to. I wanted to know what that felt like.
Ready for some fun???
In the past 3 months I have had more than a taste of running UP mountains in Flagstaff, AZ. The trails here are brutally rocky and rooty, and where they aren’t rocky/rooty they are sandy/slidy. My uphill running still feels weak ,but I can tell I am improving significantly, and the really techy terrain is training me well for the more technical terrain of the Skyrunning type races that I really love.
Ok, ok so the race. I did my warmup just before the start and felt really good with a really responsive heart rate. I lined up with the lead girls, hoping to hang with them for a while and see if I could stay with them. There were several girls there with pretty phenominal race histories and times, HardRock 100 and Western States 100 top 5 finishers, girls that blew me away by over 2 hours last year at Speedgoat. I was definitely intimidated, but I wanted to see if I had improved and could close the huge gaps between my times last year and theirs, just kindof a measuring stick to see if I am really improving. At I the word “go” from the race director, I settled in and kept the lead girls in sights for the first 3 miles.
The pace was fast, but not too uncomfortable. The trails were technical, but not nearly as technical as Flagstaff. Around mi 4, the girls were creeping farther ahead and I knew I was at my maximum effort that I was going to be able to maintain so I didn’t push any harder. I continued to ride that “comfortably uncomfortable” feel/pace. We hit more technical terrain at about 5-8 miles with some silly steep short decents and climbs. I was passing people on the descents and really feeling grateful for the technical terrain of home trails. I heard lots of complaining from other runners as we went about the rocks and roots, and I just kept thinking, “oh this is sooooo nice compated to home!” My oldest son came with me to crew and my dad and stepmom….and aunt and cousin that I haven’t seen in a couple of years showed up which was just so special for me! I met my dad and stepmom at mi 10 and they cheered me on.
The longest climb of the course was from about mi 9 to 17-18. Several thousand feet up Pajarito Mountain. I was anxious to see how much of it I could run. The trails were smoother here and I was able to run most of the switchbacks and climbing, continuing that upper moderate effort, but a little more comfortable than the first few speedy miles. I dont usually run with music, but slipped my headphones in thinking it would help me climb. That lasted about 5 minutes, the music just seemed distracting and annoying, so I tucked my earbuds away for the rest of the race. Not without music entirely though, somehow I got Beastie Boys, “You gotta fight for your right to party” in my head and climbed with that, it was fun to have that in my head as I tried to feature what I was doing a party. I was definitely fighting for it! I did struggle early on with mild nausea, that was unrelenting. I was trying to sip Tailwind- a sport drink as I could, but I’m pretty sure I dipped low on calories for a few miles. At mi 16-17 I suddenly just lost my legs. My effort was high and my gluts were on fire. My run turned into mostly a hike with a little running from mi 17-18. The nausea was high as well. I tried to force more calories and my stomach was not pleased with this.
Here I am during that rough patch...
We finally topped out at 10,200ft and the decent into the ski lodge about a mile or so below started. It was off trail down a steep grassy section initially. My legs felt weak and wimpy all the way in to the aid station at mi 18.6. Everyone was there and I pretended I felt great. I intentionally took a couple minutes to regroup (mostly my mind), I was hoping to plow down that descent and be feeling really great here. I reloaded my pack with Tailwind, endurolytes and water and ate a gel with caffeine to try and regain my mojo. Hugs and kisses to the crew and I was off again.
This next section was only about 3 miles of rolling up and down, but I was still struggling a bit with nausea and low energy. I pushed my effort and really focused on making the most of every minute, running every section I possible could and hiking much of the climbs. I passed a few people here which surprised me.
Hit the next aid station at around 22 miles and took in more electrolytes and some heavenly ice cold watermelon. That seemed to turn my stomach around and I hiked up and out of that aid station. Around mi 23 we started to descend more and I was trying to really run hard these sections. As soon as I started decending my low back started spasming. Wow that was painful! It slowed my descent some along with some side stitches. I was really getting frustrated, but so glad to see the next little climb, hoping to get some relief. I was with another runner who offered some ibuprofen. I gladly obliged as I knew I was well hydrated and wasn’t worried at this point closer to the finish of problems with kidney damage. That saved my run! within about 15 minutes my back was improving and the next decent I was able to be more aggressive. I picked up momentum as I went, the trails a little more techy here and hit the 25 mi aid station. More watermelon and ginger ale and it was on! I finally got my mojo and legs back and I hit it hard all the way to the finish.
The last mile or two were mostly uphill, but I was pleased that I was able to run uphill again and passed a few more people. At about mile 27 i gtadually caught another runner on a downhill section. He pulled away going up so I worked harder to try and catch him. As he went down i closed the gap and he would work harder going downhill to stay ahead. We did this several times and got into a really cool rythm of actually pushing eachother harder. No words, just a sense that we were working together To get the most out of each of us. He pulled me up the hills faster than I wanted to go and I pushed him down faster than he wanted to go. This went on for several miles, we both just seemed to understand what was happening without words. He never relented on the uphills nor did I on the downhills. It was so cool. We hit the last aid station at mi 32 and greeted eachother amd we were off again. He finally eased up on a climb and I passed. We had a great chat at the finish as we both appreciated the combined effort that really made those last miles count. I finished and as always amazed at how terrible I can feel so early on and how I can come back and feel great 10 miles later. It defies logic. That is the amazing thing about ultras, there is so much that happens that defies logic. I have also learned never ever to trust how I feel as a determinant of how the race is going to go. I have yet to encounter an ultrarunner that has not experienced the same thing. It is truly the one thing you can count on.
Lest I forget....one last little nasty climb up a boulder wall a stream had cut through and there was my dad at the top encouraging me on! My aunt, son, cousin all snapping pictures of me and cheering me through the finish was so incredibly special. I finished in 7:04 and 6th female…..and came within 30min to 1 hour of the women that bested me last year by more than 2 hours at this distance. I was so pleased with my effort, my hr and my run. I never gave in, I never let up. I adjusted and adapted to what I needed to do at every moment. I hiked when it was necessary and ran everywhere possible as aggressively as possible every moment. I didn’t let the really terrible feeling moments predict my race or my finish. I treated the problems, acknowledged the pain, but didn’t give it any power over my run. Really proud of my race. Would love to have had a better clock time, I was hoping for 6:30 finish, but that is totally eclipsed by how well I feel like I executed my day. The BEST New Mexican food and beer at the finish! Cheers!