Monday, August 4, 2014

Follow up to TRT Race Report: Ok, maybe it's not the shoes, it's.... Morton's Foot?

I thought that my shoes had a lot to do with the reason why my feet hurt so much during my attempt to run 100 miles on July 19. Then I talked with my good friend Mary and told her that maybe my shoes were too soft and that I needed a firmer platform. Mary, a Master ChiRunning Instructor and extremely knowledgeable about the mechanics of injury and running, and what to do when things go wrong, not so gently suggested that it might not be my shoes and that I should look in to other reasons. Specifically, what was happening with my foot muscles and, as I learned later as I began my investigation, the structure of my feet that could be causing the pain.

So I began to re-think about all the pain I had in my feet and legs during the TRT on July 19. I began to realize that I always had pain in my feet especially after 50 milers when the trail was rocky and technical. I had always accepted it as part of the deal, but then began to realize that if I ever hoped to finish anything longer than 50 miles, I needed to re-examine my logic. Sore feet and legs at mile 50 would not take me through another 14 hours. Maybe instead of a firmer shoe, specifically a stiffer rear shoe to support the arch over the uneven trail surface, I needed to look at the mechanics of my feet and legs. What was I missing? I am a ChiRunning Instructor and have decent mastery of the technique. Perhaps that was what had been saving me these last 4 years of running ultras – my ability to relax, use alignment, gravity and the road to move me forward instead of power and lower leg muscles and strength – but now that I am fit enough to increase the intensity, duration and frequency of my running, and attempt 100 miles, I am beginning to feel the stress of an imperfect body, of the running biomechanics I was not blessed with.

I picked up the “Trigger Point Therapy Book” and began to read about feet and their muscles and the trigger points in the lower leg that can be used to relieve pain. I first learned about Trigger Point therapy from Mary several years ago when I was trying to find a cause and a solution to pain that I was having on the top of my foot after the particularly difficult Way Too Cool 50K I ran. Finding trigger points in my lower leg relieved pain at the top of my foot. I’ve been a fan of trigger point therapy ever since.

The Trigger Point Therapy Book described Morton’s Foot and although I have always known I’ve had Morton’s toe, or Morton’s foot, I read about it again with interest and a bit of amazement to discover that something I thought was a minor issue all my life was, perhaps, much more.

Description of Morton's Foot and The Elevated First
Metatarsal. The top picture shows the deeper space between the first
and second metatarsal and the longer second metatarsal.
The lower picture shows the elevated first metatarsal that 80% of the
population has according to Posture Dynamics.
Taken from Posture Dynamics flier
I resemble these feet!!
Morton’s foot occurs in about 25% of the population and is defined by a longer second metatarsal than the first. It can cause many different chronic problems and pain in the feet and lower legs including metatarsal head soreness (soreness in the ball of the foot), Achilles tendonitis, and plantar fasciitis. Not to mention problems in the knees such as runners’ knee from ITB syndrome, internal tibial rotation (knock knees) that can stress the knee’s ACL, hip problems, a forward tilt of the pelvis and upper body, and imbalances in posture and gait, to name a few.

I googled Morton’s Toe/foot and found that details the definition and what the solution is. Here is how to determine Morton’s foot:

  • Simply measure the length of the second metatarsal and compare that to the first. A longer second metatarsal is Morton’s toe. You can estimate the length by measuring the length of the toes from the heads of the first and second metatarsals.
  • If the space between the first and second toe is deeper than the space between the second and third toe, that is Morton’s toe/foot.
  • Do the knee bend test: From Posture Dynamics – “Without shoes, stand on a hard floor – your feet shoulder width apart, feet parallel and toes pointing straight forward. Do a ¼ knee bend. Keep your heels on the floor, and force your knees to move straight forward over your third toes. (imagine an invisible line from the center of your knee cap to your third toe.) If you have Morton’s foot you will feel your weight on the outside edges of your feet and little or no pressure under your big toes. From this position, move your knees slowly inward until you feel weight bearing pressure under the balls of your feet behind your big toes and on the inside edges of your feet. Stop moving your knees together when you feel equal weight over your first and fifth metatarsal. If the center lines of your knees moves past your third toes towards your big toes, you probably have Morton’s toe.”
Other physical signs of Morton’s foot include:
  • A hypermobile big toe - hard to see unless the foot is in motion.
  • An elevated big toe compared to the other toes. “An elevated first metatarsal can be observed when the feet are aligned so your knees travel straight over the middle of your feet when you do a knee bend. While the second through fifth metatarsals are firmly on the ground, the first, and strongest metatarsal is not on the ground and properly weight bearing. It is elevated.” Posture Dynamics.
  • A callous under the second and third metatarsals instead of the first (normal when weight bearing is distributed over the first and fifth metatarsal correctly.)
  • Severe Pronation as the foot attempts to ground the big toe leading to overworked lower leg muscles, OR
  • In my case, supination also leading to overworked lower leg muscles.
  • A duck footed (everted feet or splayed feet) gait. 
Right foot splay with compensatory left elbow and knock knees.
November 2013
It began to dawn on me that my running gait and all my non-running and running injuries and pain might be related to Morton's Foot: 
  • My tibial torsioned lower legs (knock knees) could have lead to increased strain on my knees leading to the two ACL injuries and multiple meniscal tears I've had from skiing. 
  • My life long duck footed stance and gait
  • The huge callouses under my second and third metatarsal heads.
  • The lower leg soreness and tightness, and sore feet at the metatarsal heads
I even wrote a blog about weighting my big toe back in December 2013 in order to fix my duck feet! I was able to focus on alignment and weighting my big toe, but it took months before it began to feel automatic. Perhaps, I had been forcing my feet to do something that would not help them compensate for the Morton's Foot which they had been doing my whole life through supination, foot splay and two point weighting. 

The solution to “fixing” Morton’s foot is simple: place a small pad under the first metatarsal to bring the first metatarsal to the ground so that weighting is distributed equally over the first and fifth metatarsal instead of over the second and third. Instead of weighting on an ice skate blade (one point under my second and third metatarsals and one point under the heel), I'd be weighting on tripods like "normal" feet!

Photo by Posture Dynamics
Correct distribution of weight over equal points over
the first and fifth metatarsal heads and the heel
forming a tripod
I cut out a small piece of an old shoe insert and taped it to the bottom of my running shoe inserts with Duct tape. The Trigger Point Therapy book said I only needed about 4 mm of padding to make a difference, but I think the pad I made was less than that. I went for a couple of runs with my home made inserts and really didn’t notice a difference. The balls of my feet didn't hurt though so this was good, I thought.

My homemade version of a Morton's foot fix
So I went back to the internet and found and Posture Dynamics. There, I read much more about Morton’s foot than what was in The Trigger Point Therapy Book, then called the owner of Posture Dynamics and asked about their flexible, ultrathin inserts. She was certain that I could relieve my symptoms with their inserts. I knew I was on the right track when she questioned me about my feet and running shoes. For the inserts to work correctly I would need to be wearing a neutral, non-motion controlled shoe without posting or a curved last. All my running shoes fit that description. The conversation made me hopeful and I was encouraged that I might be able to begin correcting a biomechanical issue that I had so far been lucky not to have debilitating injuries or pain from, but could possibly worsen as I age and continue to run. So I spent the $70 and bought them. She assured me that there was a 90 day trial period and money back guarantee.

I was to start with the insert with the 3.5 mm wedge under the first metatarsal, then after about 10 days, move to the 6 mm size. I ordered a pair and they arrived in time for me to do a 3 hour, 15 miler on trails yesterday.
I put them in my Skecher GoBionic Trails, a very soft, flexible, cushioned, zero-drop, neutral last shoe and took off to run the hilly, rocky trails behind my house.

I kept an intense focus on my feet for the whole run making sure that I was relaxed and being sensitive to any pain or tension in my feet or lower legs. I could feel the elevated pad under my first metatarsal head, but after a few minutes, the sensation disappeared and I relaxed into my run.

About an hour in to my run, I noticed that my feet were easily relaxed and I was weighting the inside of my foot and the big toe with what seemed to be less mental focus and less effort! My legs felt good, my feet were relaxed and felt natural, not forced to be in a straight line position. Wow.

oh geez is this geriatric?
That afternoon, I pasted the Solemates (a thick pad with adhesive) on to the bottom of my feet under the first metatarsals so I could wear my Tevas. The folks at Posture Dynamics had kindly sent me a sample.  I was reminded of my mother who used to put pads on her bunions! I felt like I had officially arrived on the geriatric doorstep.

That night, we went to see The Doobie Brothers and Boston at Harvey’s Outdoor Arena in South Lake Tahoe and spent the whole evening dancing on my feet. It was indeed a senior event. No one under 40 here!

This morning I woke up without soreness in my feet and my calves were supple and soft. I cautiously stood up to get out of bed and my feet weren’t sore! Wow, could I have found a solution to my sore feet, knock knees and duck walk/run?
I hope so.

What's really cool is just being able to think this through and experiment to find out what will work. I want to keep running for a long time. This is just another piece of that journey.

Oh and I signed up for Firetrails 50M October 11. So, as I begin to build mileage again for that little race for redemption I'll be interested to see how this "fix" helps my foot pain. I'm an experiment of one, so if needed I can go to a stiffer shoe, but for now, one variable at a time.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

RACE REPORT 2014 TRT100 Miles July 19... What? The ChiRunning Instructor blames the shoes???

I didn’t finish. Did not run 100 miles. Didn’t make it. DNF.

It was my shoes. Well one of the reasons anyway. A bit embarrassing to say, but yes, the ChiRunning Instructor who claims “it’s not about the shoes” had a problem with the shoes in my attempt to run 100 miles for the first time! There was another reason, too, that I’ll get into later. As I struggled through the last 20 miles of the 80 I completed, I thought that I would likely never ever try doing a 100 mile race again. And then, a few hours later after a great breakfast in Incline with friends and family, a shower and a few hours of sleep, remarkably, that thought changed. But I’m getting ahead of the story. So I’ll start from the beginning. With the shoes.

In the weeks leading up to the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 mile race, July 19, I was confident in my training and my fitness. I had had an excellent month of long training runs in June and knew that I was ready to attempt my first 100.  I started running in my new Go-Bionic Trail shoes by Skechers only a month before the race, and I loved them despite the color- pink that actually I grew to like. The longest run I did in them was 34 miles and I had less than 100 miles in them. I decided to use them for TRT – I loved the cushion, the flexibility and the aggressive sole for trails. They were softer than my Altras in the rear foot which didn’t seem significant to me at the time. And anyway, it’s not really about the shoes, right? I was confident that my running form was optimal and that my ability to focus would get me through tough times, so why be concerned about making a minor change in my shoes.... right? This from someone who took 8 months of transitioning from a fully supported, posted, orthotic inserted, high heeled, stiff and heavy running shoe, to a "minimal" shoe with little cushion, maximal flexibility and zero drop, 4 years ago.

I still had doubts about my ability to complete 100 miles, (who doesn’t?) and it seemed that other runners who know me had more confidence in my ability than I did. I realized with great clarity that it would be my mental preparation that would be critical to my race strategy and completion of 100 miles. I practiced visualization, positive affirmations and reviewed the race in my head over and over again. I practiced what I would think about when it would get “bad” and how I would express myself in a positive way. I practiced gratitude and acknowledgement of the opportunity to get to do this race.
Wednesday before the race I ran to the falls at Mt Rose.
Feeling good, feeling ready.

I had my nutrition/fueling plan dialed in, or so I thought, even though I had no experience over the 50 mile distance to test it. It was probably my biggest concern and as it turned out, I was right about that, but for reasons entirely different than I expected.

The week before the race I wrote out my race strategy and shared it with my crew. My crew!! They were amazing!! If there’s one thing I learned more than any other ultra, the 100 mile distance requires great people to get one person to the finish. And I had a great crew. My training partner, Ron Nageotte, was my crew leader. He has been my ultrarunning mentor, friend, and training partner for the last 4 years. We were going to train for and race TRT together, but in mid-May he couldn’t run due to a torn medial meniscus (cartilage in his knee). As my training intensity increased through June, he was there for me anyway, encouraging, reassuring and advising despite his own disappointment and sadness in not being able to train for, or run TRT. I knew I would be running TRT to validate everything he believed in me as a runner. I couldn’t let him down. It would be like letting me down.

Dave, my husband, was responsible for my supply bag and my cooler. He had also planned to pace me the last 20 miles. He made sure I had what I needed and I know that he had to bust butt to get to me when I came into the 30 mile, Diamond Peak Aid station earlier than planned. He made it look easy as he managed all my supplies and requests with unconditional support.

Carol Nageotte, the amazing 50 mile aid station captain, Ron’s wife, and no stranger to finishing 100 miles sent me out of the 50 mile aid station Saturday evening with an inspiring “you can do this”. With her bright smile and the intensity in her eyes, I left feeling like I could do it just because she said so!

My 81 year old dad has always been there for the biggest athletic challenges in my life. He decided to spend the weekend supporting me again. He also volunteered to work the 50 mile aid station with Carol and her team all day and had the time of his life. She put him to work and told me later that she wants to hire him for next year.

Lastly, I cannot find words to express how grateful I am for Ken Kasterko, my pacer. Ken learned ChiRunning from me in 2011 and has been practicing those skills ever since. His journey in life as a runner, pacer, ultrarunner volunteer/organizer, and friend of many, make him a jewel of our crazy sport. I had no idea how blessed I was to have him until well into the night when I couldn’t think anymore. Ken paced me from Spooner to Diamond Peak – all night and Sunday morning. He was there at the start at 5 am on Saturday morning to see me off. He's also a Pastor ministering to churches in Reno and Tahoe. Right before the start he took my hands and prayed to God for my safe travel. He worked all day helping to set up the 50 mile aid station and helping runners, then when I came in around 7 pm he helped get me ready to head out again with his gentle hands and serving presence that was powerful but never pressuring. As we left the aid station to head out into the night, we gathered ourselves alone in the fading light under the trees. He stopped me and took my hands in his and prayed for me again.

The Goddess of TRT Registration, Angela
customized my bib
Back to the start of the race.

I ate well the day before and on race morning, I woke feeling excited. The day was finally here! I ate my proven breakfast of instant oatmeal and cranberries. My dad drove me to the start and we arrived by 4:30 am. I ate a banana along the way. I was glad to not have queasiness and knew that I had under control any anxiety about the day. The starting area was full of energy and hugs were everywhere as we met each other in the bright lights and wished each other a great day of running.
Leslie and I before starting. She eventually met her goal to finish under 30 hours
and take second in our age group
 - photo by Cheryl Surface
Ron was filming every hug and greeting and I was happy that he had found something meaningful to do to keep his mind off not being in the race. Gracious and smiling behind the camera, he never showed his real feelings about not being able to run. A beautiful rendition of America’s anthem was sung and then, we were off running into the early morning darkness quickly turning light. Ron was at the edge of the group filming our start and I waived to him and all the others who cheered us.

The run up to Marlette Lake was a combination run/hike as expected and I felt good as we all chatted our excitement and settled in to our pace. I saw Leslie Wunder, a veteran of several 100’s and in my age group, and Helen Pelster, a few years younger and in her first 100, and noted how strong they looked. I was running with them and that helped my confidence.

The climb up to Hobart was uneventful, running wise anyway. A man dressed in a red circus tux sat on an eight foot high unicycle cracking a large bull whip near the Hobart aid station – Circus theme this year. My friend Mary Berge-Hataway was bike patrolling for the race and she cheered as I ran by. A few yards later I saw the sign that she had made for me hanging from a tree – “Go Cheryl” in bright pink Jerry Garcia lettering. My adrenaline surged and my hopes soared that this could be my day to finish 100. I arrived at Hobart feeling strong and I left quickly after eating some fruit, PB&J sandwich and filling my plastic bag with more. I was drinking well, but it was cool and I didn't need to fill my pack to make it to Tunnel Creek, the aid station where I would visit 6 times if I completed the run. The climb to Marlette Peak was beautiful in the early morning light, and the descent into Tunnel Creek was easy and fun. I met and ran with Pedro, from southern Cal, into Tunnel – his easy, non-braking pace on the downhill and smart hiking of the rollers made us a good match. Right before TC I drank a mouthful of ASEA (and continued to drink ASEA throughout the day about every 4 hours.) Rolling in to Tunnel Creek around 11 miles, I felt good and spent little time there eating fruit, Cosco’s version of Ensure, and PB&J sandwiches. The RedHouse Loop, 6 miles, went by fast, thankfully. I ran it well, hiking only the steeps and long gradual uphills and running all the flats. I saw Jenny Capel fly by in her 50 mile race where she eventually took second for women. When I climbed out of Red House with Leslie and came in to Tunnel Creek (19 miles) for the second time, I was well on schedule for my pacing goal and my weight was down only 1.2 pounds. I ate fruit and PB&J and Ensure again.

Heading out to Diamond Peak on the rolling, mostly uphill trail, I felt strong and was well settled into a comfortable pace. I noticed about this time that my feet were a bit tender, especially my left medial arch, but I didn’t think anything of it. I usually don’t have a problem with my feet so I thought it wouldn’t get any worse.

At the top of Mt. Rose, about 3.5 miles from Diamond Peak (30 miles), I realized that I was way ahead of my pace. I was running with Pedro again and we began the descent on the Tyrolean downhill into Diamond. It was somewhere during that descent that I realized I better call Dave and my crew because I was going to get in much earlier than I had planned. “Sorry to call so late, but I’m gonna get there sooner than 1:30 pm. I’m trying to go slow, really!”  "Take it easy, Cheri, you've got a long way ahead of you", my dad said over the phone. Except for my slightly sore left foot which I had been focusing on relaxing as much as I could, I felt tremendous and was excited that this first 30 miles had gone by so well. I didn't feel like I was pushing and my energy was great.  I passed Leslie running down Tyrolean and thought that was a good sign for me that I was still running near her.

Dave had to scramble to get to Diamond Peak. Ron and my dad quickly left Spooner to drive up to help crew me.  Since I was 45 minutes in earlier to Diamond than expected, I took time to eat, change my socks and cool off with the cold water from a hose that Mark was so generously spraying on the runners! Leslie came into Diamond after me, but left a good 10 minutes before me. I was confident I might see her again or at least be closely behind her. I had arrived at Diamond Peak 15 minutes faster than I did last year for the 50 mile race and yet I felt energized and not like I had pushed.

I hiked the 2 mile, 2400 foot climb out of Diamond Peak at my goal pace and began the 3.5 mile descent in to the Tunnel Creek aid station. I noticed that my quads were slightly tender and thought how unusual that was. I shouldn’t feel any soreness this early. And my feet were getting sorer, too. I took more ibuprofen. Not good signs and not typical for me at this distance, this pace and this trail that I knew so well.  I ran with a nice man from Atlanta, for a bit as we approached TC and he asked me if it was going to rain over Snow Valley Peak. “Nah, I don’t think so,” I answered. The confident local who knows these mountains. Right.

I left TC AS quickly, once again eating mostly fruit. I was still doing S Caps about one per hour.  It started to sprinkle. I had not brought my jacket that I had stashed in my drop bag at Tunnel. From behind me, I heard a man’s voice, “Hey weather lady, it’s the guy from Atlanta, I thought you said it wasn’t going to rain!”  We laughed as we climbed Marlette Peak together. It was a long hike, but I was feeling ok except for my feet. I arrived at Hobart again, left there quickly taking Kirkland “Ensure” once again for calories. A steady rain began to fall as we began the long climb up to Snow Valley Peak. As I climbed out of tree-line, lightening lit up the late afternoon sky dark with heavy black clouds – all very close. The lightening cracked loudly with almost simultaneous thunder. It was enough to make me jump except I didn’t have the energy. It was exciting and I was more thrilled at the incredible beauty of a thunderstorm high on top of a ridge line than I was scared. Oh yeah, a little dangerous to be on a ridge at 9200 feet without cover in a lightening storm! But what was I to do but keep moving forward and enjoy the show?  I passed several runners on the trail, a few were terrified. Light rain still, but I was acutely aware that I had not picked up my light jacket from my drop bag at TC. Damn. I hoped the rain wouldn’t get heavier.

As I approached the last climb before the Snow Valley Peak AS it began to rain harder and I got drenched. Wearing only a singlet and shorts, I got cold quickly as the slight breeze cooled my wet skin. A man standing outside the Snow Valley Peak AS said, “m’am, we don’t advise you going into the tent due to the lightening danger”. I just looked at him and thought, ok, but I’m soaked and I need food and a trash bag to get off this mountain without hypothermia. I ran into the AS tent. Mile 44 I think it is, and saw a few other runners huddled in jackets and trash bags. The AS volunteers told me they didn’t have any trash bags left. All the runners before me had taken all they had. I had two choices; sit there and hope for the storm to pass and risk getting hypothermic waiting there, or; take my chances and run down the mountain, get below the ridge and in to the trees where it would hopefully be warmer and I could dry off. After a few seconds of contemplation and not eating, but knowing my water supply was good, I looked at no one in particular and said, “I’m outta here, bye.”

I ran out of the tent into the downpour thoroughly soaked with cold arms and legs, but my core was warm and I thought I would be ok. A little scared that I would get hypothermic, I began to run and willed myself to stay warm. If the wind is blowing at Snow Valley Peak, the few hundred feet right after the AS is where it blows the hardest and indeed, as I left the relative warmth of the tent, it hit me full force. Driving cold rain. BRRR, I was cold. I ran, forgetting the pain in my feet and the growing pain in my legs especially in my upper left quad. I ran past people struggling with their trash bags or their jackets. I ran down my most favorite part of the TRT course and for about 30 minutes forgot the rain, the cold and the pain. I was in the moment just loving that I could run on my beloved trail. The lightening and thunder continued and I watched with excitement and wonderment at the beauty of the mountains. Like a hero in a comic book, I thought I could outrun the lightening and stay safe. So I did.

Below tree line, the warmth increased, the trees sheltered me and my skin dried. I had escaped a hypothermic episode despite my stupidity of not grabbing my jacket at TC. BUT the pain was increasing and I found myself walking with about 4 miles left to go before Spooner (50 Miles). I called Ron for some encouragement and to give him an update. He reassured me and told me to just take it easy and that they would get me warm and take care of me when I got in. It was good to hear his voice and I imagined he was running with me on the trail, happy and smiling at the "adversity" that we would surely overcome. But I was worried. I love this section of trail and I have always run it no matter how tired I am. Now here I was walking because my feet and quads hurt too much. Not good.

I arrived at Spooner on time! Well almost. Ron said, “You’re a minute late!” My goal was 14 hours and I did it. Ok, 14:01. But in the back of my mind was the sobering thought that things weren't optimal. My legs and feet were not doing what I expected and I didn’t know how or if I could correct it. The cheers as I arrived at “Stone Henge”; the nickname for the 50 mile aid station, were loud and uplifting. I smiled as I climbed the few feet to my crew who surrounded me and led me to a chair.

I felt like a Ferrari in a NASCAR pit with all the people helping me and asking me what I wanted to eat, drink and wear. I took all my clothes off under the cover of towels and blankets as a lot of people stared at the organized chaos of a crew trying to help their runner all at the same time. I stuck to my plan of tights and long sleeve Patagonia shirt with a light jacket despite the fact that I could tell it was warm from what people were wearing around me. New socks and a new pair of Gobionics. I packed my homemade coconut oil bars in my pack (coconut oil, rice bran solubles, activated barley, dates, almonds, dash of cinamon and salt) knowing that they would sustain me for much of the night.
The energy was high and I had no time to even consider how badly I felt. I just hoped that my quads would recover and the sitting time would relieve the pain in my feet. Ken worked gently on my legs and silently prepared me for our night. Ron asked me four times if I wanted a potato with salt. I opted for broth and Ensure instead.

The Second Half
Ken and I left Spooner at 7:45 pm to start the second 50.  I was walking at a decent pace and was grateful for the hills as an excuse. We dropped in to Marlette as the sun was setting. Chet ran up to us from behind and I asked him how he was doing. His back was really bothering him and I told him that my quads were shot. He laughed and said "blown quads are nothing", to just keep moving. Then he was gone with a wish to me for a good night.

The climb up to Hobart was accompanied by swarms of biting mosquitoes that kept my arms flying around my head and neck and my mind off the pain. We saw a couple of runners who had turned around to go back to Spooner and drop. One told us she was terrified of going back up on the ridges with the storms and lightening. Ken and I talked about my feet and how I couldn’t figure out why I was having such soreness. It was unusual and unexpected. Ken suggested that I put on my Altras that were in my drop bag at Tunnel Creek. As we talked, it began to dawn on me that maybe my Skechers were too soft for what I was used to.

We passed a runner going up the steep hill to Hobart. Ken asked how he was doing and he replied that he was “in a bit of a slump.” He didn’t have a pacer and I invited him to join us if he could. I said I had a great pacer and he was a pastor, too. He said, “well at least he can give last rites.” Too funny. “Hey Ken, you can double bill yourself as a pacer who can give last rites.” I’m not sure, but I think Ken thought it was funny. Maybe I was just giddy, but it’s still funny to me even as I write this. Morbid runner humor.

Many times during the night, Ken gave his usual, “Great job runner!” as they came towards us or passed us. One said, “You must be a pacer – you’re too chipper!” Ken wanted to help everyone who seemed to need it and he did when he could catching up to me quickly as I plodded along.

We arrived at Hobart, about mile 56 and I sat for a few minutes despite Ken telling me not to. Ensure and broth and I was on my way again. Made it to the top of Marlette and began the descent in to Tunnel Creek.  Ken tried to get me to run the easy downhill and I was able to shuffle a few steps. It was not pretty. I so wanted to run and had so expected that I would be able to on this section.

Arrived in Tunnel Creek for the fourth time and I sat to drink Ensure and broth. John, Lon and Robert greeted me and asked how I was doing. I put on a good face and we chatted about my chances of getting around the Red House Loop in time. I put on my Altras to see if I could save my feet, but I didn’t notice a difference and realized it was probably too late at this point. As we descended in to the Red House loop, I saw Leslie coming out. She was at least 2 hours ahead of me and looked great. She would go on to finish sub-30 hours and second in our age group. It gave me hope to see her, but I could feel her energy was strong and in comparison to mine, I was no where near that.

We walked the Red House Loop and arrived back at Tunnel Creek, 6.3 miles and 3 hours later. Slow is hardly the word for it. My legs were spent. I sat. I was only 30 minutes ahead of the cutoff to leave TC. John and Lon squatted down in front of me to be with me. I told them about my painful quads and how every step was a knife. Lon massaged my left leg and found a huge knot at the top. He asked me what I had been eating all day. I told him fruit, Ensure, about one S-Cap an hour. He shook his head sadly and said that I probably needed salt, S-Caps were often not absorbed properly. I knew that, but the truth was now really beginning to hit home. He got up and came back with a potato covered with about a ¼ tsp of salt and told me to eat it. It tasted good. It was then that I realized I had not had any real salty food all dayexcept some broth. No potato chips, no pretzels, no potatoes. AND, despite my instructions to my crew to ask me to eat potatoes with salt at aid stations, I had refused their offers at every aid station.

It was 3:53 am when John told me I had about 10 minutes to leave Tunnel Creek. The tears came briefly as I realized in my heart of hearts that I could not possibly finish. Anger. Saddness. Relief.  Disappointment. Even embarrassment. I had two choices: drop and wait out an agonizing few hours of disappointment at Tunnel before I could get driven out, or continue to move forward knowing full well I would be fairly miserable and I would drop for certain at Diamond. I chose the latter knowing I wanted to give everything I had. The race would have to quit me. I was not going to quit.

I sat there for a few moments struggling with this choice, as John and Lon stayed with me not encouraging me either way. Then I said let’s go. Ken handed me my pack and I stood up and began to walk. John said something like, “you’re a brave lady”, and “you have a lot of courage” as I walked in to the darkness. So this is what courage is, I thought.

Arrived at the Bullwheel aid station as the night became day and a volunteer had just crawled out of his tent to greet us. I still had about 8 miles to go to Diamond Peak. My race was over and Ken and I both knew it. We just weren't saying so. We should have taken a left turn and walked the 2 miles down the mountain, but it didn’t occur to us to shorten the agony so we continued on the trail. The sweeps caught us before we got to the top of Mt. Rose and, at my request, they followed us at a respectful distance cleaning the course. Ken called my crew with an update and they began to hike up to meet us. They met us with about 4 miles to go. Carol, Ron, my dad and Dave greeted us with warm smiles, high energy and laughter. I was thankful for their words of congratulations and encouragement instead of the somber looks of pity and sympathy that I imagined would be on their faces. Carol was thoughtful to bring me some hiking poles to help relieve the downhill pressure on my screaming quads.

And finally, it was over in the parking lot at Diamond Peak: 80 miles with the last 15 hours of just my will moving me forward.

So what did I learn? Two critical amateur errors cost me the finish.

1) The longest run I did in my Skechers was 34 miles and that was only 4 weeks before the race. I failed to notice that they are more flexible in the rear foot than my Altras. My feet weren’t strong enough for the more flexible shoe. I had violated a basic rule in running – never, ever change something that close to a race (I didn't think it was that close, but this was 100 miles, not a 50K!) and even more basic, always progress gradually with any kind of change. Not taking the time to run many miles in a shoe over several months of training (I had less than 100 miles in them) and thinking they would be good on my feet for 100 miles in 35 hours was a mistake.

2)  I think my quad cramping and pain was likely due to not enough salt. I wouldn’t have realized this unless Lon had taken the time to question me at Tunnel Creek. I have always eaten salty foods at aid stations during my races for the last several years. Why I chose not to eat any salty foods despite my past habit and my instructions to my crew to ask me to, is beyond me. I went through aid stations quickly eating fruit and skipping the munching on salty foods in order to keep moving and thinking this would help me to resist the chair in later miles. And I took S-Caps during the day, but that was not enough. I skipped the eating routine at aid stations that made a bigger difference than I realized. Also, the fact that my feet hurt so badly probably changed my gait and form in ways that increased the tension in my calves and quads only exacerbating the altered electrophysiology in my muscles. Ken noted how my form had "gotten really bad" as we dropped in to Marlette Lake. I was reaching forward with my legs. It hurt my quads to bend my knees.

3) Pacer and crew are incredibly important. Ken never gave up on me even when I quietly realized that I would not finish. I never doubted his genuine commitment to serve me. Tough love and compassion at just the right times throughout the night. His attention was always on me. The man has a gift. And my crew always made me believe that I was doing great and looking good. They followed my instructions to a T.

4) I learned in a most profound way how wonderful people are in their support and love for people who try. I learned that trying is as satisfying as meeting the goal. Once again, I am reminded that it is about the journey in life, not the end result. I am blown away by how runners love each other out there. That alone was worth all that I went through.

5) I am brave. I can be with pain and still move, still have some grace and presence of mind.

Thank You
I listened to lots of different people before, during and after the race, and let them support me. All my running friends, FaceBook Friends, past students, very old friends and family - Thank you for sending me such good energy, taking the time to do that and think of me before, during and after my race.
As my dear friend Ron has often told me, it is in the face of adversity that your true character emerges and the satisfaction of overcoming it is the greatest. He is right. I think I did ok, eh Ron?
Danny, I think I did this run with poise, patience and pace. Thank you for ChiRunning.
George, I let the race come to me to the full extent that I could. I only chased it when I wouldn’t quit.
Mary Lindahl, your friendship has meant the world to me. You are an amazing role model for me.
My aCHIeve group of ChiRunning Instructors reminded me of my ChiRunning skills that are about more than just technique, but the spirit and energy of running and the ability to figure out how to fix it when it goes wrong. Thank you.
My family was there for me as they have always been. I am blessed to have a father who still gets excited to see his daughter try something totally crazy. And dad, I wasn't even thinking about the Boogie man down in Red House!
And the running community! It’s been said so many times before how amazing we are to love a sport that brings together people of all different backgrounds, beliefs, ages, and abilities. The elites taking time to say "great job" as they ran past me at breathtaking speed and the ones struggling, like me, who wished me the best as I passed them despite their own pain.
Aid station volunteers are awesome. Unsung heroes all and critical to the success of a great race like the TRT Runs. Thank you for being out there. Thank you specifically to John Trent for being with me in that tough moment at Tunnel, Lon, Robert, Jill, Lief, Kathie, Tammy and others who paid special attention to me, and my needs. You cared.
Thank you to George Ruiz for his remarkable poise in dealing with a truly challenging race weekend. People love to work for you, George, because you treat each person as special and important.

Finally and if you got this far, you have more endurance than you think!
I want to believe that I am fit enough to finish 100 miles and that my mistakes were ones that I can afford to make at only lesser distances. I hope that I have figured out what might have happened out there. Processing the experience has been good for me and I am in a good place and quite ok with the result of my first attempt at 100 miles. I would like to test my theories about why I didn’t finish in a future race some day and prove that I can narrow the range of error when running long.

In the mean time, I will focus on recovering and running again simply for the love of it and not to train for anything. Then I will decide what is next. I am so grateful for this experience and that I have the health and fitness to run long.

"The difference in winning and losing is most often... not quitting."
-- Walt Disney, Animator, Film Producer

"I don't think anything is unrealistic if you believe you can do it."
-- Mike Ditka, Football Coach

Monday, March 10, 2014

Way Too Cool 50K March 8, 2014 Race Report

This is a long race report, but I wanted to remember as many details as I could. I wrote it for me, but maybe you will get something out of it, too. So if you make it to the end, leave me a comment if you're so inclined.. I'd love to hear your feedback!

Leading up to the 25th Way Too Cool 50K in Cool, California was three months of wishful thinking that started after Thanksgiving. I wish it would snow, I wish it would snow, I wish it would snow! But it just didn’t snow much and so the trails were dry and we ran. But when it snowed, we skied. And it has snowed maybe 4 times this winter for a total of maybe 5 feet of snow, about 40% of normal. Our preparation for Cool was grounded in the firm belief that the intensity of mogul skiing as much as four times per week was good enough cross training to get us through 50K. Running always comes in second after skiing until mid-February when I realize that I had better get some quality running in to prepare for Cool, March 8. So me and Ron stuck a few 20 milers in there and I did some quality tempo runs. I think my longest week was 60 miles a few weeks before Cool. There was one week where I only ran 10 miles but skied 5 days in a row!
My last race had been the Apple Hill 8.5 mile run in November, 2013 and my last ultra had been the Dick Collins Fire Trails 50 Mile run in October, 2013. Cool would be my first race of the 2014 season and I was a little anxious to get back in the game after taking a break from focusing on running for the 3 months from November to February.

I did this race when it was
The Cool Canyon Crawl in 1991
The Day Before
My long time training partner, Ron, his wife Carol and I drove to Georgetown to stay at the American Inn the night before. A quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast where the beds are way off the floor and the d├ęcor is late 19th century, the American Inn is classic. Betty, has been the Innkeeper there for 25 years. She took great care of us even accomodating our need for an early morning race breakfast with a nice spread at a neatly set table in the dining room near a fireplace. We were only 10 minutes from the race start so being in Georgetown, only 10 miles away, we didn’t have to get up at 4 am to drive down the mountain to get to Cool. Friday evening, before we drove into the American River Canyon and up the windy road to Cool and beyond to Georgetown, we stopped in Auburn to pick up our race packets at the Auburn Running Company and eat at MonkeyCat, a wonderful Italian restaurant where I indulged in a pesto tortellini with grilled salmon. A glass of red wine went nicely with it.
Desert was frozen yogurt at Tango, a little place down the street. It was so warm we stood outside and listened to two kids playing saxophone near a fire pit while we indulged in our desert.
When we arrived at the American Inn in Georgetown that evening, Betty had open bottles of wine ready for us. We sat in the living area near a wood burning fire and enjoyed the ambience of Georgetown’s rich Victorian past. I didn’t drink anymore that night – one glass of wine at dinner was enough.

Kicking back at the American Inn in Georgetown
thanks to Michael for the intro in 2012
I woke up race morning at 5:45 am before the alarm went off and got up. I felt good having slept very well the night before and then a solid 5 hours before I woke up that morning.  I drank 4 oz of ASEA before I headed downstairs for breakfast. Race morning breakfast was blueberries and melon slices covered with yogurt; a hard boiled egg, orange juice and coffee. I was amazed that I could eat. No butterflies! I felt strangely calm and relaxed. I practiced reduced breathing drills, nose and belly breathing to stay relaxed as we drove to the start.
We drove to Cool and parked on the road near the start. My dad was there with Emily (his hyper Golden). Dave would drive down later to see us at the finish. Start time was 8 am and of course, the porta potty lines were very long. Ron and I found bushes nearby – the men took one side of a bank of brush and the women were on the other.

the short line - Ken Katserko photo
Carol held our sweats as we waited for the start. The weather was supposed to be sunny with a high of 68 for the day. It was around 50 at the start. I wore a ChiRunning tank with black sleeves for warmth during the first miles and lycra shorts. My trusty Altra Superiors were my wheels. A 22 oz water bottle was held in my waist pack and I carried my iPhone, S-Caps, a 4 oz bottle of ASEA and some dried fruit in the zipper pouch.

Ron and I at the start
Race Strategy
I had given some thought to my race strategy and was excited and anxious to see if it would work for me. I felt that I was fit enough and experienced enough as an ultra runner to carry it out. But I was anxious because my training had been so haphazard with skiing taking a priority over the last few months. I had also suffered a minor right hamstring strain about 4 weeks earlier while skiing and was a bit concerned about that. Ironically, my left hamstring had started talking to me Thursday morning and I had no idea where that came from! I couldn’t identify a situation that would have aggravated it and I rarely have issues with my hamstrings. (I did run a very fast run with hill surges the Sunday before, but had no pain or issues with my legs that day or in the days following.) Trigger point massage on both legs for the two days before Cool seemed to relieve the tenderness. But I was a bit worried. Was this just an annoying niggle, or something I really needed to pay attention to and not run?

For the last two months, I had scheduled my training around the good skiing conditions, or trained when the skiing was poor. I was excited about this race because I knew I was fit and knew it was possible to run a good race if I felt good. I also held the possibility that I would use this as a training run if I didn’t feel good and my body wasn’t ready to push. I would work it all out in the first 5 to 8 miles where I would body sense how the hamstrings felt and how my overall energy was.
The last time I ran Cool was in 2012, I went out too fast and paid dearly but still finished well despite having to walk for 3 miles. This time I wanted to hold back for the first 8 miles which is a loop that takes you back to the Start/Finish line. After the 8 mile loop my plan was to keep my effort and pace steady and push through perceived fatigue through good ChiRunning technique so that I could really run the last 20 miles at the edge of my envelope – third gear, race pace, not survival pace. My plan was to gain every advantage I could by running mindfully fast downhill, which is where I excel, run a strong third gear whenever I felt good, stay steady on the flats and during low points focusing on relaxation and form, and efficiently transition back and forth from ChiWalk to ChiRun on the uphills. Also, I wanted to waste no time in the aid stations. I planned to eat salted potatoes, PB&J sandwiches, bananas and orange slices and refill my 22 oz water bottle as needed. I also had 4 oz of ASEA with me which I planned to drink somewhere around mile 18 to 22.

The Race
Timing was chip time so Ron and I ran across the start line about 2.5 minutes back of the leaders. Our pace was somewhere around 9:30 min/mile and it felt very easy since it was a slight downhill. I could feel the jolt of pain in the knot in the middle of my left hamstring and hoped that it would work itself out as it got warmer. We knew it was a fast start, but let that thought go and eventually eased into the 10 min/mile range. My hamstring eased and the legs felt good. Bottlenecks leading into single track further kept my pace in check and I resisted the urge to bolt around people as they slowed on up hills or crossing creeks.

Ron and I less than a mile in
photo by Kathy Duarte

Cool is famous for its mud and multiple creek crossings. The first creek was at mile 2. It was hilarious watching some runners pick their way across the creek over the rocks in an effort to keep their feet dry. Knowing that dry feet were an impossibility for today Ron and I ran through the water feeling the icy cold splash on our legs and soaking our feet cold for the first time that day. By the end of the day, I had crossed at least 20 creeks or drainages, and ran through so much mud and mud puddles that I just really didn’t care anymore! And that was so cool not to care how muddy I was! My feet were never dry. Once they got warm after a dousing in a cold creek, there would be another mud puddle or 20 foot stretch of muddy trail again or another creek crossing and the feet would be soaked. It would take more energy to avoid the water and the mud than just run through with a relaxed stride and steady cadence. My Altra Superiors were fine, but did get a bit heavy with all the mud and water.

 Ron Nageotte took this after we crossed our first creek at mile 2

The first mile or so is on road and then it funnels into single track. For the first 3 miles, my thoughts were all about how long a day this would be; did I really want to do this? How was my body going to do? Were my hamstrings going to flare up? Could I relax enough into my form to prevent issues? Could I really do 6:30 again? And on and on and on in an endless stream of mind chatter!! Clearly not in the present, I struggled with answers to my mind’s questions for the first hour. Finally, by the fifth mile, I had settled in, warmed up and realized that yes, Cheryl, you are a runner and this is what you are doing today. My focus on relaxing and positive talk about my strength and confidence as a runner began to connect with my body. I listened to music in one ear and smiled and chatted briefly with other runners and Ron as we ran. I began to feel good and my legs were fine. I was in the present and thoughts of the past and future were only brief intrusions. Soon, they would disappear or change into happy thoughts about a strong finish.
At the end of the 8 mile loop is the first aid station (and the finish line) and I was pleased with my time of 1:30. Slow enough to start and yet fast enough to meet my goal to run under 6:30.

Running through that first aid station at mile 8 was quite a boost with the music, all the people and the finish line right there. I barely stopped as I glided past the tables, thanked volunteers for the first time of many times that day, filled my water bottle, and put a piece of banana in my mouth, some PB&J sandwich in one hand and a potato dunked in salt in the other. I smiled at my dad, glanced behind me to see Ron at the aid station and decided that it was time to go. I left knowing that Ron would either catch me or not, but also that he would want me to run my race and he would be ok with me going ahead. Ron has been my ultrarunning mentor, training and skiing partner and friend for several years. His experience and wisdom around ultrarunning has been a gift. His friendship is one of the most valuable I’ve ever had and I owe him much. I hope he knows how much he helped me get to be the ultrarunner I am today and how much gratitude I have for him that he has been there with me as I've progressed. Thank you Ron. I wrote about Ron a couple of years ago when we first started running together. A Running Partner - the Essential Element

As I left the 8 mile aid station I began to feel a growing sense of confidence. I settled in and began the middle portion of the race. I crossed Highway 49 at mile 11 arriving there just as the aid station volunteer had stopped all the cars and allowed all the runners waiting there to cross. Great timing for me! There was Carol, Ron’s wife, cheering for me and snapping pictures.

Feeling great at Mile 11
photo by Carol Nageotte
I ran down the hill to the aid station, stopped briefly for water, another PB&J sandwich, potato with salt and orange slices. The next miles were run on the gravel/dirt road next to the American River and I relaxed into a comfortable steady pace focusing on relaxed feet, engaged core and a nice easy second gear. The air was warming, the sun felt warm on my skin. My legs felt fine without tension or tightness, but I was wary and hyperfocused on relaxing my ankles, engaging my core and keeping my stride out behind me. As we moved over rolling hills and through single track, runners would pass me going up hill and I would often pass them running down hill or on the flats. I reminded myself that a steady efficient pace was important this early in the race and that I would make up time later. A primary focus I used during a few low points from miles 14 to 18 was y’chi where I focused my eyes on a point about 30 yards ahead and allowed the energy of my focus to pull me towards it. The few low energy points quickly passed because I was forced to put my mind into the present and focus on energy outside of myself. I observed myself running smoothly following an endless energy stream ahead of me.
As mile 18 approached, I realized I knew I was doing well. I was able to stay steady and run the runnable uphills and fly down hills without losing my quads. I wasn’t hungry and felt I was fueling and hydrating well. I decided that I would take my 4 oz of ASEA. As mile 18 rolled into 19, I began to realize that this was my day to do the race I wanted. I chuckled that maybe ASEA was just a placebo, but 20 to 30 minutes after taking the ASEA and starting the long rolling climb up to the base of Goat Hill, I realized that my energy had been kicked up to another level! I felt a stability and uncanny feeling of unshakeable power that I just can't explain. I knew ASEA helped with fat burning. And because I had stayed away from pure sugar at aid stations, and hadn't felt hungry I figured I was burning fat for fuel instead of sugar and that my insulin levels must be stable. I wasn't experiencing roller coaster energy and that was very very cool. I cautiously began reeling people in and found myself leading long lines of runners at a respectable speed. No one wanted to pass me. Transitioning back and forth from ChiWalking to ChiRunning on the uphills, my pace was steady and efficient. My nose breathing training kept my breath steady, efficient and aerobic. I felt invincible, like I could run as hard as I wanted to the finish.

Photo by UltraSportsLiveTV
The base of Goat hill is about mile 25.5. The next half mile is a brutal 500 foot climb that goes straight up. I met a man my age trucking along fairly well. We celebrated our achievement together noting that age makes one appreciate the finer things in life like finishing ultras! We chatted about how extreme fatigue forces you into the present where there is only the trail and your feet on it and some weird thing that drives you to keep moving. We parted as I started up Goat Hill ahead of him, grateful for the brief meeting and bonding as kindred spirits. Thankfully the trail was dry, but I’ve heard tales of it being so wet and slippery that runners had to pull themselves up by the branches! In the last few hundred feet of the climb, volunteers cheered and cajoled runners up the hill. Inspiring signage marked the trail and one in particular hit home for me. It said something like, “Don’t give up. Don’t sacrifice the gift.” I knew I would never have this moment again in my life. I vowed that I would run as if it were the last time because every time is a gift. 
As I crested Goat Hill, I looked at my watch and incredibly saw 5:15. I could break 6:15 if I could run the last 5 miles in an hour. Could I do it? YES! I spent only a few minutes at the aid station and succumbed to the sweetness of drinking 2 small cups of sprite. I downed some more orange slices, another potato, and a piece of banana and took off.
The downhill out of Goat Hill is steep in places with off camber technical turns so requires a bit of concentration and a lot of relaxation. It’s followed by some gently rolling hills before dumping out onto Highway 49 again, the last aid station. Dave wasn’t there and no one I knew was there, so again, I made a short stop and got out of there quick. Only about 1.3 miles to go and I knew I could break 6:15. I turned again to a focused relaxation and constantly checking in with my legs for tenseness and keeping them aligned (I have worked on my duck feet forever). My legs were fine and my mind was screaming to be done, but it wasn’t up to my head anymore; the chi was flowing, it was all about this day, this race, this moment – because I would never have it again. I climbed out of the aid station pushing hard, my breath coming faster now. I needed to keep giving it everything I had. Only 20 more minutes of running left. 

Running around the corner only 200 yards from the finish, it is a slight up hill, then down steep, then slightly up hill to the finish. I cruised down and focused on arm swing and letting my legs swing out behind me as I ran the last hill and straight section to the finish. Cheers from spectators brought a huge smile to my face. Carol screamed my name and cheered me in. I crossed the line with my heart full of happiness! The most I can remember since the last time I did an ultra! I looked at my time in astonishment. It slowly dawned on me that it was only a few minutes slower than I had run it in 1991 when I was only 32 years old. Wow. What a testament to ChiRunning and a mindful focus while racing. 
Moments after crossing the finish line and right before I gave Chris a big hug!
photo by Chris Jones
After hugging Chris and my dad, I walked up the road to find Carol and Dave waiting for Ron near the trail. He finished in 6:35 looking strong and happy that he had finished 25 minutes faster than last year. 
And thanks to the race organizers and all the volunteers! Julie Fingar and NorCal Ultras put on a first class event with first class people. Awesome job as always!

In looking at my Garmin data, I see that I ran some very fast sections and averaged about a 12 minute mile which is pretty great for me for an ultra with nearly 4200 feet of elevation gain. I also spent very little time stopped in aid stations which I'm very pleased with. My official time was 6:07:50, only 3 minutes slower than 23 years ago.

Lessons learned
Race strategies work. Visualization and mental rehearsal and self talk works.
This race reinforced my tapering strategy – less is better. My last run was Wednesday – a short 4 mile tempo run. My last intense run was the Sunday before – a 10 mile hilly surge run. My last long run was 21 miles about two weeks before which brought my mileage to a modest 44 miles that week. Skiing moguls is good for running. Danny Dreyer, the Founder of ChiRunning, describes this learning process as the “Upward Spiral of Chi” – building on what is learned and starting the training cycle all over again.
ASEA works. Drink sooner - around 12 miles and every 10 to 12 after that when racing. Drink ASEA immediately at finish line. Thanks David Stretansky.
Skiing for cross training is great training for running.
Never give in to the mind. Always check in with the body first.
Primary focus: Relax, relax, and relax.
Run my race.
Don’t sacrifice the gift.
Dad, Emily, me and Ron post race
Ron and I with Dave enjoying the best beer we've ever had!
Thanks for bringing the beer to the finish line Dave!
photo by Chris Jones

the famous WTC frog cupcakes

We skied the next day and it felt GREAT!

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. 
C.S. Lewis

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Confession Time, a Review of 2013 and Owning TRT100

Last year was a breakthrough year for me in my progress as an ultrarunner. I had some races where my performances surprised and delighted me. Little did I know where it would lead me in 2014. So I'm fessing up and owning what's next for me. The journey that leads up to my confession is my 2013 running story:  brieflly for each race, but long for this post, and a poor substitute for race reporting which I rarely have the patience to write about. (One of my New Year's Resolutions is to blog more frequently though, so I'm going to get better at writing race reports.)

There was the American River 50 Mile race on April 6; a relatively easy 50 miles that takes runners along the American River bike trail in Sacramento for the first 28 miles until it begins to climb out of the Folsom Lake area and up to the Auburn Overlook Dam on beautiful single track trail. The last 3 miles is a brutal up hill climb out of the American River canyon to the finish. At mile 42 I knew I could beat 11 hours and I did, qualifying me for the Western States 100 mile race. I PR’ed the course by a full hour and felt strong and comfortable at the finish. It was a brilliant running day for me, the day before my birthday!
single track trail next to the American River
The Miwok 100K race was four weeks later in May. The race was shortened at the last minute to 60K due to severely dry weather and a high risk of fire in the hills above San Francisco. The start of the race was delayed 3 hours. I had a very tough day and was thankful that I was only running 60K! It felt like a 50 mile race and my finish was dismal and uncomfortable. I attributed the difficult experience to a lack of adequate recovery from American River and too much mileage between the two races. Lessons learned.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Miwok 60K (100K) trail

June was ushered in with big training weeks of 45 to 70 miles depending on when we did our long runs. The Tahoe Rim Trail training runs on Father’s Day weekend were finished well and the anticipation of a strong finish at the July TRT 50 Mile race was beginning to build.
The Tahoe Rim Trail endurance Races (50K, 50Mile and 100Mile) started on a Saturday morning in late July with comfortable temps before dawn at 7600 feet in the Sierras – an ominous warning of the record highs all the runners would endure that day. Ron, my training partner, and I cruised through the first 13 miles at an alarmingly fast pace, yet we felt comfortable and within our abilities; we knew that the potential for a great race was within our reach that day. Without going into too much detail, Ron and I got separated very early on and I ran most of the race alone. As unexpected as that was, I dug deep into my own mental and emotional strengths and finished strong, once again taking more than an hour off my previous year’s finishing time and winning my age group. Another lesson learned – I can drive my performance with my mental strength and confidence.

Marlette Lake from Marlette Peak on the Tahoe Rim Trail
with Lake Tahoe in the background

At the finish, my exhaustion was profound. As I tried to eat a little chicken noodle soup at the aid station, and relax into the realization that I didn’t have to run anymore and what I had accomplished, I watched the 100 milers coming in and then leaving again to run their second 50 miles. I tried to read their faces – some showed exhaustion, but would light up as friends and supporters tended to their needs and acted as if finishing the first 50 miles of one of the most difficult 100 mile races around was a normal thing for a human being to do. Others sat huddled under blankets trying to get warm and get some food in. Pacers and family whispered worriedly about the conditions of runners – dehydrated, cold, hungry, weak, mentally spent and begging to quit at 50 miles. Some did. Cajoled and coaxed by their pacers, others trudged out of the aid station to embark on the long night ahead with only their thoughts and pacers to keep them motivated.
I remember talking with George Ruiz, the Race Director for the TRTs, while he watched the runners come into the aid station that night with a trained eye. His concern for every runner is evident in every detail of the race. You can feel it when you talk with him and watch him observing and anticipating. His comments to me about finishing 100 miles on this course have stayed with me to this day. But more on that later.
As I recovered at the finish, I called my friend Mary, a Master ChiRunning Instructor, my good friend and mentor. I always call her when I finish an ultra because she gives me such great kudos for finishing and makes me feel like a champion. It’s good to have people like that in your life! She congratulated me on my finish as usual. I told her how hard it was, but how strong I felt over the last miles. I also told her how I had been watching the 100 milers coming in to the aid station and how difficult it must be to realize that they had to go out into the night to start a second 50 mile loop!
And then I made her promise that she would remind me how I felt at this moment so that I would never ever ever consider signing up for the TRT 100. She promised.

August arrived and I was recovering nicely. The Run on the Sly 50K near Placerville, CA, is a fun and hilly trail run with a lot of single track and the usual warm temps. Smoke from the Rim Fire hovered in the trees and the woods were silent - the birds were as unhappy breathing the stuff as we were. Ron and I ran well although I kind of tanked in the last 8 miles or so maybe because I fell twice and the second time scraped myself up pretty good. Ron had a good day and finished a few minutes ahead of me.

18 miles into Run on the Sly 50K, I crashed.
Then it was September, I think, when, on some training run high on the beautiful Tahoe Rim Trail near Marlette Lake, Ron and I were trotting along enjoying the perfection of the running day, when he suddenly said, out of the blue, “I’m going to make a commitment.” 
“Ok, I said”, thinking, this should be interesting. I wonder what he’s going to say.
“I’m going to do the TRT 100 next July,” he said.
“Oh, really?” I said. He went on to say that he wasn’t expecting me to make a decision about it and he would be happy to have me as a pacer again, or not because he knew I’d probably want to do the 50 miler again. I reminded him how I promised myself I would not do the TRT100…. Too too big and scary. I must have gone on about it for a while as we trotted down my favorite part of the TRT, from Snow Valley Peak into Spooner. But I have to admit I was thinking again about it. A little. I was certain that I wouldn’t be racing 100 miles on the TRT. Ron just listened to me jabber away. Or maybe not. His ear buds were in.

October 12 was Ron’s 64th birthday and we celebrated at the Dick Collins 50 Mile race at Lake Chabot in the southeast Bay area of northern California. With the same elevation gain as the TRT 50 miler of around 9,000 feet, but at a lower elevation, I was pleased with my faster time and strong finish at Dick Collins. Three weeks later we ran the Apple Hill 8.5 mile race near Placerville and I was astonished at the speed in my legs after only 3 weeks of recovery from the Dick Collins 50M.

A much enjoyed beer after finishing the
Dick Collins 50 Mile October 12 2013
November showed up with the anticipation of all the lotteries for ultra races opening up in December. Western States 100 was one of them and I put in my registration knowing that the chances of being pulled were slim, about 7%: some 4,000 entries for less than 300 spots. Relieved when I didn’t get pulled, Ron and I turned to Plan B. If I didn’t get in to WS100, then it would change our training plans with the focus on the TRT races.
And of course, the question rose again, gently from Ron and anxiously and surprisingly from within me – should I sign up for TRT100? Why was I even thinking of considering it?
I struggled with the question. Like a woman who swears she will never get pregnant again because she never wants to experience that pain again, and then forgets about it and decides to have another child, I found that the profound fatigue and exhaustion I had experienced only a few months earlier seemed to have faded from my memory. How could I possibly want to run 100 miles? By running it, I guessed.
I talked with Ron a lot about it. His answers to my persistent questions and expressions of doubt were simple and short – “you know you can do this, you’re ready, you know how to run an ultra.”
And I kept remembering George’s (the TRT RD) comment to me at the aid station that night when I finished my 50 miler. I had asked him how people continue after that first 50. His answer was simple, too. He said something like, “it’s all mental – you have prepared yourself knowing that you will do another 50 and you just do it.”
And I remembered my insistence that Mary promise me that she would talk me out of doing the TRT 100. Oh dear. I didn’t want to talk with her about it. I realized that I didn’t want to get talked out of it!
Two days after the TRT100 miler registration opened in December, I talked with Ron again. What is the one reason why I should do this, I asked him.
Smilin Ron on the TRT
“Because you can. You’re not getting any younger, you never know what will happen next to you and you are ready and able to do this now. Don’t pass up the opportunity that may not happen again.”
That was probably the best reason I’d heard yet. So I registered. And on December 31 Ultrasignup charged my credit card for the registration fee of around $277.
I’m in the TRT100!
While everyone announced their excitement about getting in to TRT on Facebook right before Christmas a few weeks ago, I held back. I’d told a few people, but was reluctant to make it public. I just didn’t feel like I owned my commitment to do the race, yet. I wanted to be fully in because of me not because of something else. I also wanted to feel worthy of such an effort, that I deserved the opportunity and that others would respect my confidence and ambition whether or not they agreed with my decision.
And I hadn’t confessed to one of my best friends, Mary that I was in. I felt badly that I hadn’t included her in my deliberations because I didn’t want her to talk me out of it as I made her promise. A huge loss on my part and something I’ll never ask a good friend to do again. Her input has always been important to me. Silly that I wouldn’t talk with her about it because of my own lack of confidence and commitment; and grateful for Ron’s counsel and friendship without pressure while I journeyed to the decision to finish a 100 mile foot race, I resolved to be joyously and fully in before I told everyone else.
And I did tell Dave, my husband and unconditional supporter. It hardly fazed him. He looked at me like, “Of course you would run 100 miles some day.” Duh.
Yesterday, I finally called Mary and confessed that I had registered for TRT back in December and that I was in. She laughed lightly –who knows, perhaps she even forgot about how I made her promise me to talk me out of it last July. Such a huge commitment on my part, she genuinely congratulated me on my decision and let me know that she knew I could finish it, too.

Me and Mary Lindahl at ChiRunning Instructor Weekend
November 2013
So this morning I awoke to write this story as the final piece to owning my commitment to finishing the TRT100 miler. It’s mine. It comes from my soul, that deep desire to reach for something that seems unreachable. Like leaning from my dantien, my center to increase my running speed effortlessly, my soul is at the finish of the TRT100 celebrating the accomplishment with an “of course” nod to my body that carried it there.
I’ll start on July 19, 2014 at 5 am. My goal is to finish that first 50 miles and get out of that aid station feeling well and confident that I will finish that second 50 the next day without injury, without huge distress and with complete soul satisfaction.
And that’s the end of this story for now. Bring it on 2014!

 "Until you commit your goals to paper, you have intentions that are seeds without soil." - Anonymous