Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chimera - Dec 12, 2009

The Chimera is a beast from Greek mythology. According to Homer it is part goat, part lion, and part serpent. The question remains, which is the Chimera - the ultrarunner or the mountain?

When I first heard about this race from RD Steve Harvey, I was excited. I knew he'd put on a great race and that his meticulous planning would ensure the safety of runners and volunteers alike. So I signed up for the 100K having ran 100 miles at Javelina 6 weeks earlier and thinking that I wouldn't be recovered fully enough to attempt such a difficult 100-miler. Then at the beginning of the week, Steve announced that the weather forecast was bad and after Monday's rain, that the course may have to change. So I switched to the 100-mile. Afterall, if I had to run the Blue Jay-Candy Store loop 3 times, what was 2 more? My like-minded friend Jody also switched, figuring this was a great opportunity to attempt her first 100-mile (Shelli was already signed up for the 100-mile).

Friday afternoon I ventured up "the Ortega" to Hell's Kitchen to collect my race bib. It was raining and foggy but that didn't seem to dampen Keira, Steve or Pam's spirits. All reported that the race was going to be on the original course and that the trails were in good shape, albeit very muddy. Not being one to be deterred by having to run an additional 38 muddy miles (!) I reported the news to Jody and Shelli. We all had waterproof running gear, we'd be just fine - right?

Perhaps I should have heeded the omens; on Friday morning I lost a crown while munching yogurt and granola; on Friday afternoon I almost got my rental car stuck in mud on the side of the road on Ortega Highway having graciously pulled over to let some lunatic passed; on Friday night I worked late at Parents' Night Out at the dojo and didn't get done packing my drop bags and taping my feet until 11:30pm (that gave me less than 4 hours sleep); on Saturday morning it was thick, thick fog on the mountain and the race start was delayed 30 mins. But, I'm not one to let minor things like that get in my way so I was there at the start line with a hundred and something other "crazies", all dressed in our layers and waterproofs. It was so good to see so many Trail Headz and other folks that I meet at races.

The first 9 miles were damp and muddy at times but passed by uneventfully. Then came the climb up Main Divide and the Chimera reared her head and started to devour runners. Down came the rain, sheets and sheets of it. Gusts of wind so strong that they almost knocked your feet from under you. Rivers of muddy water flowing over our shoes. Rocks crashing down. Runners heading back down the mountain. We were soaked to the skin but were we demoralized? No, not Jody, Shelli and I. Up and up we went.

By the time we fought our way to the Trabuco Peak aid station, the tent was down, the volunteers were soaked to the skin. As I came into the aid station, one of the guys asked me how he could assist me. As he was struggling to hold the last remaining tent pole up, I thanked him and said given the circumstances I was happy to fill my own bottle. I waited for Shelli and Jody and then we headed up to Santiago Peak. That was probably the toughest 5 miles of my life. I barely made headway battling the wind. There was no shelter from the wind, driving rain or occasional hail storms.

I was now getting sleepy and cold as i trudged up the mountain. Survival instincts kicked in and all I thought about was getting to the aid station, warming up with hot soup and then heading down to Maple Springs to my drop bag and dry clothes. I had to get out of these soaked clothes/waterproofs, warm up and reassess the situation. Up at Santiago Peak came the announcement that the race was called off and we could either wait in the tent for rescue vehicles or head to Maple Springs to be picked up there. Jody, Shelli and I decided to wait, lured by the comfort of homemade tomato soup and delicious lumpy hot chocolate served by the Coury brothers.

A couple of hours and a scary drive down the mountain later, we were safe at the start/finish line and able to change into dry clothes. A hour or so after that, I was safely home and soaking in the tub.

Many, many thanks to:

* the volunteers who bravely stayed at their posts as the full fury of the storm hit and tents came crashing down.
* all the ham radio operators who relayed status of runners continuously to race central and ensured no-one was unaccounted for.
* Michael Muenzer and everyone who headed out in their vehicles to rescue the runners.
* Everyone who headed out to rescue Michael Muenzer's vehicle(!)
* Steve and Keira who remained calm under pressure and made the right decision to call the race.
* my friend Kristen who despite being under tremendous stress manning the radio at the top of Santiago Peak, still had a friendly smile and hug for me when I made it to the tent.
* Jody and Shelli for being crazy and like-minded enough to even think of attempting 100 miles with me in those appaling conditions.

This year, the Chimera won. Thankfully no-one was injured or suffered hypothermia. Next year, ultrarunners will rule the mountain. I, for one, have unfinished business with the Chimera!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Jalloween Fun!

October 31, 2009 - Javelina Jundred 100-mile Endurance Run

Schools were closed for a long Halloween weekend so we decided to make this a family roadtrip. What a great weekend it was! My best 100-miler yet (okay, okay I've only ran 2!) with a finish time of 25:17:24. Fun for the entire family. Camping in the AZ desert with Shelli and her family. Hanging out with friends from So Cal Trail Headz. The crazy costumes. The fast runners. The slow runners. Running through the desert at night. Halloween crafts and trick-or-treating for the kids. The best Halloween party ever!

Javelina Jundred is six and a bit loops on the Pemberton Trail in McDowell Mountain Park, Fountain Hills, AZ. The neat thing about a loop course is that you are never really alone on the trail. The bad thing is that the fast guys pass you, then pass you again and again. It gets a little demoralizing at times... especially when you gain control of your over-heated brain sufficiently to figure out that Dave James is already 14 miles ahead of you and it's early days yet! The course is not as technical as some, nor does it have the elevation gain of most, but the unrelenting sun and no shade anywhere take their toll. Dehydration is a major issue, as is severe blistering caused by the gritty desert sand seeping through shoes, gaiters and socks to attack the feet.

I had a great race. I didn't really have a plan except that my pace needed to average between 15:00/mi (best case) and 17:30/mi (to meet cut-offs). Life, family and work had gotten in the way of my training and I simply hadn't gotten in the long training runs that I had going into SD100. I was relying on what I had in the bank and the shear guts and determination that my British heritage has bestowed on me. As I stood at the start line, I told Shelli that my plan was to be done in time for breakfast.

Shelli did not have a good race. The ankle injury she sustained in Costa Rica continues to plague her (because she simply will not take time off to let it heal) and it gave her problems right from the start. So nearing the end of lap 3 I made the tough decision to leave her and run my own race. I felt good the whole race, even on the last loop when a huge blister on the ball of my foot made it impossible to land on the ball of my foot. Eventually it burst and I suffered the usual red hot coal burning sensation. But at least I could run again! As Lorraine Gersitz once pointed out, you can only focus on one body part hurting at a time so I had no pain anywhere else.

Shelli paced me through the early hours on lap 5 and then again for my victory loop on lap 7 so she earned her 100K buckle.

I love this race. I didn't even mind running 101.4 miles in costume. It got hot, but not too hot; it got cold, but not too cold. The volunteers were terrific, the race organization outstanding. Fun for me, fun for the entire family.

And with two 100s under my belt, I can now enter Badwater 135....

Oh, the Angel wings - couldn't run with them, too much flapping. So if there's any costume designers reading this post, please bear that in mind. Yes, there is a whole subculture of crazy ultrarunners that like to run 100 miles in costume....

Many thanks to Will LaFollette and whoever else I stole pictures from....

Monday, October 26, 2009

Javelina Jundred

Collared Peccary (aka Javelina):
- native to the Chihuahuan and Sonoran Deserts of southwestern Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
- the only native, wild pig-like animal found in the United States.
- called Javelina because of their razor-sharp tusks, Spanish for javelin or spear.
- you may smell a peccary before you see it.
- the prickly pear is ideal food for the Javelina due to its high water content.
- Javelina have poor eyesight and good hearing.

So what does the Javelina have in common with a girl wearing an angel costume?
- The Javelina Jundred 100-mile Endurance Run, October 31st, 2009.
Yup, that's my costume (minus the heels, of course). Just imagine running 100 miles in heels, LOL!
I'm not planning to carry a spear but after 100 miles you will definitely smell me before you see me, I may resort to eating prickly pears if I run out of water and my eyesight definitely deteriorates as I get tired.
I'm probably not going to be feeling very angelic either after 70 miles or so. More like the Devil I think (Shelli's costume). This will be a blast! The greatest Halloween costume event ever.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Super that wasn't... or "Yay Us!"

Some races go text book right, some go horribly wrong. In fact, even a tiny thing being just not quite right can upset a whole race. This was one of those races...

I was intringued by the idea of running the Super Triple, back-to-back marathons followed by a 72-mile ultra. Could I do it? I decided to give it a go. Afterall, the Triple last year wasn't so bad.

I should have known it was not meant to be when Jody and I showed up at Shelli's ranch in Riverside early Thursday morning to find that she wasn't going. Family committments. Change to Plan B - we'd still take her (big) car and JD as crew and head to Tahoe. I'd run the Super Triple, Jody and fellow TrailHeadz member Jean would run the Triple.

We met up with Jean and Gregg, checked in at the hotel and headed over to race registration. Jody and Jean decided they'd like to try the Super so switched the registration. Afterall, both races cost the same, you just get an additional 46 miles with the Super... more for your money, right?

So Day 1 I took it extra easy. No racing, just enjoying the sights and sounds of running along a busy 2-lane highway around Lake Tahoe. The sights are spectacular, the driving skills not so much. If you like the excitement of hopping over guard rails to avoid being hit by the side-view mirror of a RV or run over by a boat trailer, this is the race for you. LOL!

That evening after a birthday celebration at the Riva Grill (did I mention it was my birthday?), Jody decided she'd probably switch back to the Triple. So she called the RD to find out it was no big thing anyway because... the 72-mile race was canceled. No permit, no race.

Day 2 was not such a good day for me. I felt deflated, never really got into the spirit of the race. I just ran when I felt like it, walked when I didn't feel like running. The camaraderie of the Triplers is amazing, the folks crewing are wonderful. But still I just didn't really get into it. The highlight of the day was soaking in Lake Tahoe at the finish line. The water is unbelievably cold but Jody is quite the mermaid and decided to swim. Not me!

Day 3 is Tahoe Marathon day and is the only day that has aid stations and crowd support. I decided to hang with Jody and Jean and just have fun. "Yay Us!" was our motto and fun we had, even on the Hill from Hell. We caught up with fellow TrailHeadz Jakob Hermann who had run the unofficial "fun run" 72-mile. The 3 Amigas had fun, fun, fun all day and boy, was it a long day. Here we are at the finish line and afterwards on the beach with Jakob.

Would I do this race again? I don't know. I'd like to finish the Super but I don't know how much faith I have in a RD that "forgets" to add the 72-mile race to the official list of events and hence is denied a last-minute permit application. I just didn't drive all that way and take 4 days away from my family to run an unofficial 72-mile race with no published results. I can run 72-miles in the mountains of So Cal. Thankfully, the friendship and fun of just hanging with Jody and Jean (two of the most fun-loving, positive people I've ever met) made it a memorable trip. And I would like to take my family to Lake Tahoe on a camping trip because it is a spectacularly beautiful place.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Home safe

Ultrarunners are amazing people. They came from all over Southern CA to aid SAR in the search for Gina. Some who know Gina, some who don't. But all with a common goal. To find two of our own, Gina and Fidel, and return them safely to their loved ones. Charlie found Fidel's truck. Trail Headz, Bad Rats, OCTR and more were embedded with the SAR teams providing valuable knowledge of the rugged terrain.

The story has a happy ending; Fidel walked out on his own in amazingly good shape for having spent 3 days in the mountains; Gina was spotted by a helicopter 5 hours later, in bad shape but alive and anxious to get out on the trails again....

Welcome home Gina and Fidel! Rest, get better and tell your story so we can all learn from your experience.

Lost on Los Pinos....

Fellow ultrarunner Gina Natera and her brother-in-law Fidel Diaz went out Sunday for a 6-8 hour run, probably on the Los Pinos trail in the Cleveland National Forest, and never came back. Their cars have been found, they have not. This morning the search for them begins in earnest with dog teams, SAR personnel... and the local untrarunning community who know the trails better than anyone and have ideas as to where they may have been heading.
Gina and Fidel: my thoughts and prayers are with you. Hang in there. Help is on it's way.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Time flies....

It's been a busy few weeks since my entry into the 100-miler Club with the San Diego 100. I've rested a lot, ran some, raced a little, spent time with hubby and kids and had the opportunity to test the Saucony ProGrid Xodus trail shoe. I've been a huge fan of the Brooks Cascadia 4 since I got them earlier this year but I'm also a fan of the Saucony Triumph 6 which I use as my road training shoe. Even so, I was a little wary of trying something new.

Straight out of the box, the Vibram sole seemed stiff. Indeed, my test run involved a 2-mile pavement section before hitting the dusty horsetrails around my place of work and my initial impression was not favorable = rough and clunky. But then I hit the trails and I got it... wow, the collaboration between Saucony and Vibram has resulted in an impressive shoe!

It's light, well cushioned in the mid and forefoot and the Arch-Lock really held my foot in place on fast downhills. I have a narrow foot and this shoe just hugged my foot - secure in the heel cup, no rotation in the midfoot and the not-so-roomy toebox means my feet don't slop around. No blisters!

The Xodus performed well on the trails, providing both stability (even though it's a neutral shoe) and flexibility. It's pretty light at 11-ish ounces and I hardly noticed it on my feet. The grip is excellent on all surfaces, the cushioning good. So where did I test it?

* Mt. Hood PCT50 - soft dirt, not-so-technical trails through the pine forests of Mt. Hood. Even on the cambered single track, these shoes gripped and felt stable. And no bothersome caking through the muddy sections.
* Mt. Disappointment 50-mile - asphalt (yuck!), rocky, technical single track, dirt fire roads, and hills. Boy, those climbs - on hellish fire road to Shortcut Aid Station and the final soul destroying climb on the Kenyon Devore trail to the summit of Mt. Wilson. The rock plate protected the forefoot, the cushioning felt good. There was no slip on the rocky downhills, even when try to slow my descent.
* Bulldog 50K - fire road, rocky single track, smooth rock faces. The Vibram outsole dealt with it all, unfortunately my left hamstring did not.

115 race miles and numerous training run miles and they're holding up well. No appreciable wear, no breakdown in cushioning or outsole. I'm impressed and would recommend the Xodus for technical trails and longer runs, when protection, grip and cushioning are crucial. The marriage of the Saucony fit and the Vibram grip is a solid one. Still love my Brooks Cascadia but I can't wait to try the Xodus on the muddy "trails" through the rain forests of Costa Rica. No slip-slidin' for me next year!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

1st 100

On April 12 2008 I ran my first trail 50K.
On March 28 2009 I ran my first trail 50-mile.
On June 6/7 2009 I ran my first 100-mile - the San Diego 100 Mile Endurance Run.

I always set goals for the year and this was one of them; the other was to finish The Coastal Challenge Rainforest Run in the Expedition Category (which I did). The few weeks leading up to the race were not ideal for training with financial pressures, working a ton of hours, sick kids, injury etc. so I started the race with only one goal - to finish and do so in under 31 hours.

The SD100 course is two 50-mile loops that allow runners access to their cars at miles 20, 50 and 70 (the start/finish area). It is amazingly well-managed and supported.

Shelli and I spent the night in luxury in her motorhome, parked right at the start/finish area at Camp Cuyamaca. It was unseasonably cold and windy and when we saw fellow Trail Headz Kirk preparing to sleep in the bed of his pick-up truck, we invited him to come inside to join the party. Race morning was also cold and windy, not quite what we expect in So. Cal.

Off we set, deliberately keeping the pace slow, hoping to preserve strength for the second 50-mile loop. At the first aid station, Sunrise Hwy, the wind was so strong that I fought to keep upright. It was so cold. Same at aid station #2, Pedro Fages. I took a bad fall, catching my foot in the low brush lining the single track. Back to the relative warmth of Camp Cuyamaca where I rewrapped my toes and headed out again. Miles 20-30 were uneventful except for the long climb out of Big Bend during which I amused myself by picking a runner ahead of me and striving to catch him. We were right on schedule coming in to mile 50.

Shelli and I had not found a pacer for mile 50-70 so we were delighted to hear that Alexa's pacer, Wendy, had offered to pace us (Alexa dropped due to knee pain). This is us heading out....

All races have high and low points. The next 20 miles were my low point. As soon as we started climbing, the wind hit us again. It was cold and oh so dark. The coyotes were howling. It was spooky. Fighting the headwind sapped my strength and by mile 70, my legs hurt so badly I thought they were about to fall off.
My crew was great. Henry had hot soup ready. Kristen, Dennis and Kate were there to help rewrap feet. Lorraine fed me copious amounts of Vitamin I and told me that my legs were indeed supposed to hurt - it was, afterall, a 100-mile race! Hot soup, warm clothes and I was ready to hobble out with Maya leading, Kate bringing up the rear.
It took some time to get out of the daze that I had entered and when I reached the Paso Picacho aid station at mile 75.3, I had no idea who the two guys were that were waving a bottle of Coke in my face. I will never live this down - it was my boss Sensei Paul along with Sensei Marco from Zen Dojos, who had come out to crew and see just how bad a shape I was in during the later stages of the race! Luckily for me, Coke and No-Doze woke me up, I realized who everyone was and I was good to go. In fact, I got stronger from that point on. Once the sun came up, my spirits rose too.

Last aid station, L to R: husband Mike, pacer Maya, Sensei Paul, Sensei Marco, son Colton and me.

A change of pacers and Shelli and I now had Kristen leading with Dennis bringing up the rear. There was no running at this point, rather a determined march towards the finish.

And here we are, running in to be greeted by RD Scott Mills at the finish line. Official finish time 29:49:45

My first buckle. Bronze for sub-31 hour finish.

Many, many thanks to:

  • my pacers (Wendy, Maya, Kate, Kristen and Dennis) for keeping me on track for a sub-30 hour finish.
  • my crew (Henry, JD, Sensei Paul, Sensei Marco) for keeping my spirits up and providing to my every need.
  • RD Scott Mills and his army of volunteers for making this a great race in every way from trail marking to aid stations to ham radio support to medical support. They all worked extremely hard and most froze their butts off to make this a successful race.
  • all the Trail Headz who were out there to offer support and cheer me on.
  • my husband Mike who puts up with my crazy ideas and is always there to support me.
  • my boys Colton and CJ who were there at mile 92.4 and the finish to cheer Mom on and who just can't stop telling everyone they meet that Mom just ran 100 miles!
Thanks everyone! Now to get that silver buckle....

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Krav Maga

Krav Maga. The name in Hebrew means "hand-to-hand combat". It is not a martial art by traditional standards but has taken many techniques from martial arts.

Techniques generally focus on training combatants in conditions approximating real-life scenarios, situations where losing would be potentially fatal. Its attack and defense techniques aim to neutralize the threat and facilitate rapid and safe escape. These include a variety of fast and fluid crippling attacks to vulnerable body parts through various efficient and often brutal strikes.

Krav Maga is the official self defense system of the Israeli Defense Forces, and has been taught to US Special Ops, British Special Forces, hundreds of law enforcement agencies and thousands of civilians in the US.

Why am I blogging about Krav Maga? Because I take classes. I am a runner, I run a lot alone, often in the dark. I need to know how to deal with an attacker. Unfortunately there are bad guys out there. I'm a realist. I have a family. I want to survive an attack.

Plus it's a killer aerobic and anearobic workout. In a few short weeks my upper body and core strength has improved drastically. I'm fit, I run insanely long distances but I'm bad about cross-training and this is really helping me. It's fun. Where else do I get to beat the crap out of a guy twice my size? (Dr Laura would love that comment!).

So, check it out at Zen Dojos Martial Arts Studios in San Juan Capistrano. Sensei Paul is an amazing instructor. Zen Dojos is a great studio. Krav Maga and martial arts are a great way to get in shape. Don't worry you won't get hurt - we use pads and protective gear but the idea is to practice techniques at full strength and experience the impact you would feel when getting hit.

I work there too.... stop by, say "hi" and try out a class.

Monday, May 25, 2009


The Nanny Goat Mascot - a yodelling plush toy, an indication that this race was unlike any other 12/24 hour trail race in the country. My partner in crime, Shelli Sexton, a veteran Tevis Cup Rider, and her parents hosted the race over the Memorial Day weekend. The race took place on their twenty plus acre horse ranch in Riverside, CA.

The 1-mile dirt and grass course started and ended in one of the barns. Runners arriving early got their pick of the horse stalls and set up their chairs and tables. Breakfast of coffee, pancakes, donuts, fruit was provided before the 9:00 a.m. start.

The race followed the dirt road along the paddocks, then turned onto a grass path lined with pastures on one side and a rose bush hedge and palm trees on the other. The grass ended where the orange grove began and then onto an asphalt road for less than a quarter mile, and finally back to the dirt bridle path and through the barn where the Nanny Goat Café awaited customers.

Barista Kris served coffee-to-order. Ted and Jean cooked burgers and tri tip. Bottles were refilled. Annie, Shelli and Jeanette baked pizza and made numerous trips to the grocery store to restock supplies. EKP, Lori and RD Steve counted laps. All day and night.

Round and round and round I ran. Actually, I ran 42 laps as part of a 3-person relay team with Shelli and Beiyi (94 laps total - 1st place team). Chris Martinez won the men's 12-hour with 67 laps, "Croc Lady" Lorraine won the women's with 57 laps. Christian Burke won the men's 24-hour with 111 laps, Mary Ntefidou won the women's with 78 laps. My friend Kristen did awesome, completing 43 laps - her first time over 50K! LT ran 101 miles despite taking a "nap" for a few hours (then ran the LA Marathon the following day!) And lsdchris ran 68 miles - his first time over 36 miles! Way to go everyone!

Fun race, great venue. Many thanks to RDs Steve and Annie and the Sexton family for making it a fun weekend.

Now if my eldest son had only managed to not rip off his toenail in the Sexton's swimming pool and require a trip to Urgent Care during the race - I may have ran more laps (or eaten more tri tip, or drank more soy lattes). Oh well, next year....

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Where's Sue?

Having blown off PCT50, I decided to join fellow Trail Headz Lorraine, Marisa, Kristen and Sue on a run to the top of Mt Baldy. What an adventure it turned into!

L to R: Lorraine, Marisa, Rachael, Kristen, Sue

Rachael at peak

Lorraine & Marisa w/ Mt Baldy sign

Chapman Trail

The day started out uneventfully enough. We carpooled to Mt. Baldy Visitor Center, picked up a wilderness permit and trail maps and headed up Bear Canyon Trail to the top of Mt. Baldy. Wow, what a tough trail! Probably one of the toughest around. Sue and Kristen both suffered with altitude sickness so it took longer than expected to get to the peak. There was still snow on the trail too so we had to slip-slide across some sections. Fun, fun, fun!
I was greeted at the peak by someone shouting my name - there were two gals I haven't seen in years. Laura and Kat from my Moms' Club days, out on a hiking weekend. Pretty amazing really.
We took Devil's Backbone to Mt. Baldy Notch and the Ski Lodge. Lunch gave us time to regroup and plan the descent. Kristen, still not feeling too good, would take the chairlift and then run down the road back to the Visitor Center. Lorraine, Marisa and I would take 3 Ts trail (Thunder Mtn., Telegraph Peak, Timber Mtn.) to Ice House Saddle, Chapman Trail from Icehouse Saddle to Ice House Canyon Trailhead where Kristen would meet us with the car. Sue wanted to run up Thunder Mountain, back down to the Ski Lodge and then down the fire service road to the Visitor Center.
Good plan, bad execution. Kristen made it no problem. Lorraine, Marisa and I had fun with the climbs and downhills, losing the trail at times because of snow and rock falls but laughing all the way. We made it back to the car 45 minutes later than anticipated. But where was Sue? We drove up and down the mountain looking for her before heading back to the Vistor Center. Still no Sue. Lorraine called it in to SAR. The dispatcher called back to say we were all reported missing. Lorraine convinced the dispatcher only Sue was missing. The dispatcher found Sue waiting for us at a McDonald's on the I-15. Yes, she had made a wrong turn coming down from Thunder Mtn. and ran down the back side of the mountain. Luckily someone found her and took her to safety.
So, what went wrong? We broke one of the most important rules of trail running. We allowed one of the group to run alone. Luckily, this run had a happy ending.
Who called us in as missing? Bruce, Lorraine's husband. He didn't even know I was with the group as I hadn't signed up in advance but I had called my husband collect from the Ski Lodge to let him know we were running late. Didn't think to ask him to let Bruce know how we were doing.
Lessons learned. Never run alone. Always file a flight plan. Always carry SPOT.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Speed Bump....

Life was going great, training was going great, I was moving full speed ahead until... I hit one of life's speed bumps.

  • Hubby lost his job
  • I tripped at work at A Snail's Pace and badly gashed/bruised my shin
  • That, along with current household financial crisis, led to me not going to Leona Divide 50-mile - I didn't need the stress or expense plus my shin still hurt like hell.
  • Everyone got sick with colds
  • I tried to work 2 jobs and be a Mom/wife, got very run down and came down with the family cold
  • I quit A Snail's Pace to work more hours at Zen Dojos Martial Arts Studio (which I love!)
  • PCT50 suffered a last minute course change and was rerouted to the SD100 course. Shelli and my plans were derailed last minute and neither of us made it to the race.

But life goes on. I believe we have two choices in such situations - sink (wallow in self-pity) or swim (figure it out). I choose to swim...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Easy Recovery

People I meet through working at A Snail's Pace often ask me how I can run 50 miles one day and not be sore the next. While I'm big on training smart and taking time off to recover, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet in general (chocolate excluded!) and post-run refuelling (carbs and protein within 30 mins of finishing), I also take a supplement from Wicked Fast Nutrition. Recover-Ease.
I was introduced to Recover-Ease by my good friend and ultra running fast chick Michelle Barton. I admit I was sceptical at first but soon became a fan. This stuff works. Totally minimizes muscle soreness and fatigue in general. In fact, I have even stopped taking it for periods of time to test the effect = dead legs, general fatigue, even a little depression, which all goes away when I take it again.
Can I say it'll turn you into 7-times Western States 100 winner Scott Jurek or my fellow TCC racer and winner of Umstead 100 David James (15:05 - way to go Dave!)? No. Only proper training and an intense desire to win will do that. But it does help. So why not give it a try?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Great day at OG50!

The elevation profile for OG50 - using his very accurate hand-held GPS, LT recorded 13400' of climb over the 50.1 mile course.

This was one of those days where it (mostly) came together and I had a great run. After DNFing Twin Peaks in December, staggering through 25 times the 2-mile loop at Big Cat Challenge and then going through a tough recovery after TCC including DNFing at San Juan Trail 50K two weeks ago, I was not very confident about even finishing this one. But I did!

I heeded the advice of ultra-runner and fellow TCC participant Kelly Ridgway and fueled throughout the race. A few bites of Shot Bloks or JustFruit Bar or #9 Chocolate Agave gel (low glycemic index and oh so yummy!) plus SaltStick Caps every hour and lots of fluids really helped. Ensure seems to be my magic fuel. I ran in the dark with my R2R2R friend Robbi Woolard and although I was around 30 mins slower than I had hoped at the 20-mile mark, I picked it up and never stopped moving. I even got to run the last 8 miles or so with Bill Ramsey who has such a wealth of experience and knowledge to share that it makes the miles fly by.

This was one of those races that was meticulously planned and executed by RDs Steve and Annie Harvey. The aid stations were frequent and well-stocked, the course well marked and the volunteers - well, what can I say! The Forestry guys were out patrolling on dirtbikes to ensure no runners were taken out by over-zealous motorbikes and Hummers. SoCal Trail Headz were out in force and dressed for the part - from cowgirls to pocahontas to the angels at the top of Santiago Peak. Everyone went the extra mile to make it a hugely successful event. Shelli and JD packed in supplies on horseback, Jean Ho played her harp at the top of Santiago Peak (BTW guys, the "Stairway to Heaven" signs made me laugh on the long climb up - thanks!).

Me and Bill at the finish.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Springtime in So.Cal

Sunshine, flowers and baby snakes....

On beautiful days like this, I often think just how lucky I am to live here, to be able to run these beautiful trails almost daily and to have family and friends who support what I love to do. I also think back to past experiences and figure out what I can learn from them. Take TCC for example. I met so many wonderful people, both runners, crew and race support staff. They taught me a lot, the race itself taught me a lot:
  • Trail runners always help other trail runners. Watching Project Athena Team leader Robin carry her team-mates on her back and literally pull them up steep slopes was just amazing.
  • My friends are always there for me, no matter how tired and sore they feel themselves.
  • My friends don't care if I smell like a wet dog because my clothes won't dry; they smell like one too.
  • My friends don't care if I cry; they give me space and wait until I can laugh again.
  • If you don't laugh, you'll go insane. There is something funny in every situation - find it.
  • You are stronger than you think you are. Dig deep and you will finish what you start.
  • You can never have enough pairs of dry socks.
  • Clothes simply don't dry in Costa Rica, even technical running gear.
  • Costa Rica runs on Tico time. It'll happen when it happens so don't stress about it.
  • Everywhere in Costa Rica is "only 3K" away. They have no sense of distance.
  • Elite runners like Scott Jurek are happy to hang out at the finish line and cheer you on, even though they were done hours ago.
  • Life is short, enjoy it to it's fullest.

There was one point in the race when we were running along jungle trails, mangrove swamps to our right, dense jungle to our left, canopy overhead, when the words to Brain Damage from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon got stuck in my head:
"The lunatic is on the grass.
The lunatic is on the grass.
Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs.
Got to keep the loonies on the path."

Guess I was worried about running into a crocodile in the mangroves or snake in the undergrowth....

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Coastal Challenge Rain Forest Run 2009

The Coastal Challenge Rain Forest Run
6 days
234 km (147 miles)

10,400 m (34,000 ft) elevation gain

Over the next few posts, I'm going to attempt to put into words my experience at a race that was by far the hardest but most wonderful thing I have ever attempted. It was a physical and emotional roller coaster to say the least.
Note: all photos courtesy of Tim Holstrom, Andre Vargas, Henry Kass, Shelli Sexton, Kristen Trujillo, Beiyi Zheng and myself.

PRE-RACE: Best Western Irazu, San Jose

We arrived a couple of days before the start of the race so had time to relax, get used to the climate and cuisine and to watch other runners arriving at the hotel. Some were obviously old friends meeting up again, some were veterans of this race, most were obviously experienced ultra marathoners and then there were the rest of us… with the “deer-in-headlights” expression. And to top it all, I had been assigned the coveted race #1, usually reserved for “elites”. Was I expected to run really fast and at least keep pace with Scott Jurek and GENr8-sponsored David James or was it because I signed up on the day registration opened? What had I gotten into?

DAY 1: Welcome to the Jungle!
Quepos Beach to Rafiki Lodge, Savegre Valley
33.5 km, 850 m total ascent


We were up at the crack of dawn to make sure our action packers actually got on to the truck and to get something to eat at Denny's. "Typical" Costa Rican breakfast is egg (usually fried, sometimes scrambled) with rice, beans and coffee. I got brave, decided I may not eat again for a week and choked it down. Then we climbed on to the bus for the 3-hour ride to the beach town of Quepos.

A couple of stops later and we were at the start line, pacing nervously, sizing up the competition and trying to smile for the cameras. As the sun came out so did the humidity. Then we were off, at first on paved roads that gave way to dirt/gravel roads under construction (Note: pedestrians do not have right of way in Costa Rica!), over a bridge that was barely more than steel bars with large gaps between and then into the plantations. The heat (100 deg) coupled with humidity (~100%) was unbearable until we got into the rain forest.

Our first encounter with indigenous wildlife came 1:31 into the stage when Shelli narrowly avoided being bitten by a long, skinny and mean green snake. Forest trail, more dirt road and then a pull cart “surprise” to cross a raging river. Oh, and it rained and rained and rained during the latter part of the stage, while we in camp trying to unpack our stuff and get ready for the next day and then on-and-off through the night. Welcome to Costa Rica. Pura Vida!

DAY 2: Slip Slidin’ Away
Savegre Valley to Dominical Beach
39 km, 2250 m total ascent

We were up at 3:30 eager to eat breakfast, pack up the tent/action packers and head out into the rain forest. Now this is Costa Rica and everything runs on “tico time” so the 5:30 start was more like 6:00. Off we went down a scenic dirt trail and then straight up a muddy jungle trail, made muddier by yesterday’s rain. What a climb! The mud was so deep that it sucked our shoes straight off our feet, we had to use our hands to haul ourselves up and over obstacles and I got attacked by huge black wasps. Some of the trails were not really trails, more like muddy ditches that we would attempt to walk down the middle of. Up, up, up, fighting the mud all the way, then down before more up… would it never end? What goes up must come down and we certainly did. On the way, we narrowly avoided sinkholes, slid down muddy slopes, got stung, prickled and shredded by every sort of insect and plant imaginable before finding comfort in the fresh coconut juice served at PC #2. We made the time cutoff and finished the stage with a run on the beach that almost made up for the heat, humidity, mud and swamps of the second day.

DAY 3: River
Dominical Beach – Ventanas Beach
52.5 km, 2450 m total ascent

We were told to be ready on the beach at 5:15 for a 5:30 start. Up again at 3:30 (by now it’s becoming routine) but tico time meant a late start. Another long day ahead with a time cutoff to meet made me a little nervous. The first 10 km was in a riverbed. By now I should have realized that there was no way Rodrigo (race designer) was going to have us run in a dry riverbed. No, there were numerous crossings in the rapids, a section so deep we had to swim with our packs and a waterfall to navigate. We were told that to get out of the riverbed meant disqualification so on we battled. It was breathtakingly beautiful but having wet socks on my feet for a good portion of the day resulted in the start of bad blisters.

By the time we made PC #4 (time cutoff) and got out of the jungle trails, onto a beach and finally onto a paved road, the blister on my right foot popped. It was so excruciatingly painful and I screamed so loud that a motorist stopped to ask if I needed help! Shelli kept me moving and we limped along the road until we reached the “surprise” – an additional 2-3 km “no trail” through the jungle in rapidly failing light.

This was the day I decided that my revenge on Rodrigo for inflicting this amount of pain on me would be to bury him neck deep in sand, let the hot sun bake him so his skin turned black, let the sand fleas and crabs do their thing and crawl in/eat away at his eyes, ears and mouth, and finally let the incoming tide slowly drown him. Us Brits excel at torture – do not mess with us!

DAY 4: The Long and Winding Road
Coronado – Palmar Sur
37.5 km, 2950 m total ascent

By now, the atmosphere around camp is somewhat subdued as the effect of little sleep, scant food, arduous days, blistering heat/humidity and injuries begins to take its toll. I say scant food because by now I am starving; I am gluten intolerant and despite promises by the race staff that my dietary needs would be met, they are not. I am surviving on rice/beans, scrambled egg, chicken or fish, whatever energy products I can force down during the day and the occasional cold Coca-cola purchased from a village store.

We started the day with a bus ride over a condemned bridge to the start area and then we were off, climbing up, up, up – 3300 ft over 4 miles on rainforest trails before we hit miles of rolling dirt roads. The views were breathtaking – the Talamanca mountains on one side, the ocean far below us on the other. But, as before, what goes up must come down and we had to scramble down a grassy mountainside, moving from marker to marker lest we fell into a sinkhole. This wasn’t just knee-high soft green grass; this was machete grass so tall at times we could barely see the path and so sharp it was cutting us to ribbons. The race was becoming a test of survival – a need to meet the time cutoffs, the will to keep moving so as not to be out in the wilderness after dark but at the same time try to conserve enough energy to get through whatever the next day will bring. I was exhausted. Shelli had badly twisted her ankle and my blisters were so bad that I could no longer bear weight on the balls of my feet. Back to camp in time for Doc Duggie to bandage my feet, choke down some food and try to sleep.

DAY 5: Man Eater
Sierpe River – Drake Bay
47.5 km, 1450 m total ascent

Today’s surprise was a boat ride to the start on the banks of the Sierpe River. Tico time again meant a late start but it allowed us to see parrots in the trees lining the river bank and white-faced monkeys hanging by their tails eating fruit. Then the boat driver got excited and pointed out that what we thought were logs floating beside the boat were in fact crocodiles. And the logs on the bank where we got off the boat were also in fact crocodiles!

We headed into the Oso Peninsula, one of the most desolate and dangerous places in the world. In fact, while I was training for TCC, I watched an episode of “Survivorman” where survival expert Les Stroud gets totally freaked out by the sounds and sights of the rainforest and is stalked by a panther as he heads to safety in a nearby village. Where exactly was that village again?

We started with a climb then a descent to pass by farms that must be entirely self-sufficient. Poverty here is heartbreaking. Schools are boarded up, books left on the shelves. We passed families riding on horseback with the father leading the way and more often than not, the mother holding a sleeping child and a sack of rice or grain. We ran along the banks of the mangroves, always wary of logs that might be crocodile and snakes that fall from the branches above. We crossed streams, so many in fact that I ran out of dry socks and threw my water bottle in frustration at not being able to keep my feet reasonably dry. I cannot describe how painful every step had become. Shelli was wonderful and stuck with me, encouraging me to go on when I thought I couldn’t move another step and quickly spraying me with Deet when I stepped on an anthill and was swarmed by fire ants. I finished the day, too tired to walk another step, too tired to eat and sleep. As one of my fellow competitors, Tim Meyer, described it “If it is hot enough and if you are tired enough, you can be in the most beautiful place on Earth and all you can possibly see is the mud 3 feet in front of your wet, soggy, stinky, shoes and all you can even comprehend is just finding the finishing line, some food and your tent”.

DAY 6: The Final Countdown
Corcovado Loop
23.7 km, 450 m total ascent

This was the shortest and probably the most scenic day but I simply could not run. Every step was so unbearably painful that even copious amounts of painkillers could not mask the pain. My feet were shot, my mind too. I simply no longer cared what was around me, I just wanted to finish and was willing to crawl if I had to.

Of course, the day started with a climb and then descent to a riverbed. We scrambled across and up a massive waterfall so slippery and dangerous that I was sure I would break an ankle. We climbed a fixed metal ladder with medic looking on and made our way to the roads and trails along the border of the Corcovado National Park. Beautiful. Lots of wildlife: hermit crabs, spiders, butterflies, monkeys, lizards. Navigating jungle trails and running along the beach. Over one last bridge where I stopped and insisted I could go no farther. But I did it. Shelli made me go on and I finished, albeit exhausted physically and mentally, limping in pain and crying.

What an amazing experience. What a test of physical and mental toughness. It was a true emotional and physical rollercoaster. There were good times, there were great times and there were times where I was so deep in despair that I no longer cared what happened to me. There were times I stopped to take photos and marvel at the beauty surrounding me and there were times I screamed at Shelli to get the camera out of my face. There were times I fell down, got up only to fall again. I ran, I hiked, I shuffled, I crawled. There were times I missed my boys so badly my heart almost broke and other times I was thankful they weren’t there to see the agony and exhaustion I was battling.

Would I do this race again? You betcha! We’re going to win next year; 3rd place Expedition Team simply won’t cut it. Pura Vida!

Individual result: 28th place Expedition category
Team result: 3rd place Expedition category
1st place Most Creative Method of Torturing Rodrigo