Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Kayak Trip July 27 to August 2, 2015 - Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

This was our third trip to Glacier BayAlaska. Our first trip was in 2001 during our honeymoon and our second was in 2008. Kayaking in the icy cold waters of Glacier Bay surrounded by wildlife underneath and around me, has been the epitome of excitement, risk, adventure and beauty all rolled in to epic trips. Going back for a third chapter was a no brainer.

Cheryl at Reid Glacier, Day 2
Saturday, Pre-trip Day 1
We began our adventure on Saturday, flying out of the Sacramento airport instead of Reno as a convenience for Dave. We arrived in Seattle uneventfully on Southwest Airlines, went to baggage claim to pick up our two 50 pound gear bags, re-checked them on Alaska Airlines and re-entered security. Our flight to Juneau arrived on time that evening and we waited for our bags in the small baggage claims area of the Juneau airport. We met Paul and Bryan at the airport and shared our excitement for the coming trip.

Dave in Charpentier Inlet, Day 4
One of the 50 pound gear bags didn’t make it! Beside myself with panic, we filed a claim and anxiously explained that we had to have our bags the next day by 2 pm. I couldn’t believe that only one bag had made it! Dave was calm and optimistic that they would get our bag to us the next day. All I could think was that we would just have to book another flight home and call off the trip. The missing bag had our boots, tent, food and some other necessary gear for the trip. I couldn't imagine calling this off!

Sunday, Pre-trip Day 2
Alaska Airlines called us the next morning. The bag had been flown from Seattle to Juneau. Phew! They gave us 2500 miles for the inconvenience. I want our $25 for the bag check back, too!
Sunday afternoon, we boarded a huge catamaran ferry with Doc Warner’s Fishing Lodge clients and headed out to Excursion Inlet, about a two hour cruise. Our plan was to stay Sunday night at Docs, then Doc Warner himself, would take us out to our starting point, high up in Tarr Inlet in Glacier Bay National Park. Doc is Linda's father. Linda is Andy's wife. Andy had been on all three trips into GB with us and we were eager to see Doc Warner's Fishing Lodge - a unique fishing venue that offered no "guiding" but just provided the lodging, boats and gear to fish.

Zach (Andy & Linda's son), Lynda (Doc's wife), Andy, Linda
 and Doc on the pier at Doc Warner's Fishing Lodge
A lovely Sunday evening was spent at the Fishing Lodge – an excellent meal, a tour of the Lodge’s operations and meeting some of the staff preceded the tedious sorting of trip gear and food. All went into huge orange plastic garbage bags for the trip to Bartlett Cove the next day where we would rent our kayaks, attend a mandatory orientation to the park and pack up before we continued into Glacier Bay with Doc and his small fishing boat, Big Blue.
Doc Warner at the helm of Big Blue
on our way out to Glacier Bay
Monday, Day 1
Monday morning was rainy and cold for a Juneau summer – maybe 48 degrees, but the grey skies dampened our spirits. The sea was already choppy as we departed that morning around 7:30 am. Doc and Linda, his daughter and the wife of one of our five person group, Andy, traveled with us. So there were seven of us (Andy, Paul, Bryan, Dave and me plus Linda and Doc) in a tiny cabin in a small fishing boat on what would soon become fairly rough seas.

We made it to Bartlett Cove where it was drizzling rain off and on. Dismal. I tried to keep thoughts of a rainy week in the wilderness distant, but our trip in 2008 had left a huge impression on me. That year we had had rain for about 36 hours straight. By the third day, we were all exhausted from the constant wet and effort to stay warm and dry. There had been an extraordinary amount of attention to the details of keeping things as dry as possible. Nothing was dry except our clothes from our dry bags, and our sleeping bags. We had paddled in the rain, set up our tents in the rain, packed up in the rain and shivered despite the 50 degree temps. I dreaded having to go through that again. I remembered how hard we worked to stay dry despite soaking wet tents and an ever-present dampness next to our skin.

We sat through a mandatory orientation film with the Park Service at the Ranger Station in Bartlett Cove. Leave no Trace, use of Bear Canisters and bear and wildlife safety were covered. All things we were all too familiar with. Brown bears (Grizzlies) were really the least of my worries. I was more concerned with the rain and hypothermia from being wet all the time, and some unexpected hazard like a whale or a sea lion capsizing my kayak! Immersion in those icy waters was pretty much a guaranteed death.

Andy, Dave and Paul at the Park Service Office in Bartlett
 We loaded up our rented kayaks on the roof of Doc’s little fishing boat. The “yaks” precariously tied down to the roof and top heavy, Big Blue left the dock in gloomy, drizzling rain and headed out into the open sea and to Glacier Bay.

Big Blue plowed through the rough water and bounced along through the mist and rain. Doc had a GPS thankfully otherwise I don’t know how we would have known where we were. When we noticed the straps flapping against the back door we realized that the kayaks were coming loose. We stopped briefly in Blue Mouse Cove to re-secure the kayaks. I held my breath as Dave and Andy and Paul worked on the roof to tighten down the straps while Big
Park Service Office in Bartlett
Blue rolled on the rough sea. All it would take would be one false move up there and someone would slip and fall into the sea. Linda told me not to watch. So I moved back into the tiny cabin and waited while they fixed the yaks.

The long trip wore on. The sea seemed to get rougher and Big Blue had to slow down. Luckily none of us got sea sick. We began to realize that we wouldn’t be able to get all the way into Tarr Inlet. It was getting late and Linda and Doc still needed to get back to the Lodge, nearly 50 miles away in seas that showed no sign of calming. So we went into Reid Inlet and pulled up to the beach. We unloaded as quickly as possible, but the tide was going out and as Linda had calmly warned us earlier, Big Blue became beached.
Big Blue beached at our Reid
Inlet Beach with Reid Glacier in the distance.
We set up camp while Doc and Linda waited for the tide to come back up. We all went to pump water at a nearby stream and when we returned they had been able to sail out of the Inlet. At the end of the week, when they picked us up, they explained that their trip back to the Lodge was exciting with 5 foot high seas and little visibility. They arrived back around 10 pm to an anxious Doc’s wife and staff.

Tuesday, Day 2
That first night at Reid, it rained. All night. I reluctantly began to psyche myself up for a rainy week. We woke up to a wet tent after sleeping in until 8 am when the rain finally stopped. We were dry inside. The rain did stop long enough for us to dry the tent, fly and ground cloth out as well as our soaked rain jackets.

Left to right: Bryan, Paul, Andy, Dave, Cheryl. Linda took this while
she and Doc waited for the tide to come up to free Big Blue

We left our camp set up and started our first day of paddling north up towards John Hopkins Glacier with our lightened kayaks. The sea was calm and flat, it wasn’t raining although fairly overcast and there was no wind. We were hopeful for a good day. A long paddle up to Jawbone point gave us a good view of the Hopkins Glacier as we rounded the corner. Ice in the inlet deceptively covered huge icebergs underneath, but there were few of them, much less ice in the inlet than 7 years ago. A Bald Eagle watched us from high on a cliff. Our first sighting of a harbor seal thrilled us.
We paddled back to Reid stopping at Ptarmigan beach for lunch where we met Julie and Sylvan who were also paddling the Bay.  They were friendly and we exchanged our stories. They 
Jawbone point to left. Topeka Glacier to right
of bow. My view on the way to Hopkins Glacier

invited us for wine at their campsite at Reid.  We arrived back at Reid late.  About 18 miles and 7 hours of paddling. No rain all day, thankfully. We had a good meal and walked over to meet our new friends Julie and Sylvan. We begged off on the wine as it was late and we all had big plans for the next day. They told us where the old ruins of a cabin were under three Spruce trees and we walked over to look at a few rotting pieces of timber on the ground where the Ibechs had built a cabin and lived for 30 years in the early part of the 20th century.

Andy paddles towards Jawbone point and the Hopkins Glacier

Paul paddles near the Lamplugh Glacier

Lunch spot with a view 

Wednesday, Day 2
Wednesday we woke to rain but eventually it stopped. Able to dry the tent and gear, we packed up camp to head down to the Scidmore Cut which would be a portage into Scidmore Bay. Our plan was to camp at the entrance to the Cut. We met a young couple hanging out on the beach near the Cut who told us we could get thru with 12 feet of tide. This was an interesting bit of information as the Ranger had told us that we wouldn't be able to paddle through with less than 15 feet. As they drank sangria from metal camp cups (and shared!), they told us they had just paddled through most of the Cut with only 12 feet. They reassured us that we would not have to carry the kayaks very much. We bought that one hook line and sinker, as they say.
It was rainy and wet as we searched for a decent campsite near the Cut. The beach was very rocky and the grass was thick and wet. We managed to find a suitable campsite and set up our tents when the rain slowed a bit. Wild strawberries carpeted the area and beautiful purple flowers were everywhere. There was no bear sign and that was reassuring.
It rained that night, but once again, stopped in the morning and we were able to pack up with relatively dry gear. Our trusty light fly that kept us dry while we cooked and hung out under when it was raining gave us confidence that we would get through the week dry and warm.

A Rainbow camp near the cut Wednesday evening.
The red is seaweed. This is relatively low tide.

Andy's light weight tarp was easy to set up and saved us from the rain
while we ate and waited out any showers.
Thursday, Day 3
Thursday morning was gloomy and it rained off and on all morning as we ate our breakfast and planned out our day. We packed the gear without rain but it was a bit wet. We launched dry and headed to the cut, only a short paddle less than a mile from our camp. We arrived at 11:45 or so well ahead of the high tide to be at 2:00. High tide was a predicted 14 feet, a foot under the 15 feet that the ranger felt was needed to paddle through the Cut. But then we had talked with the young couple drinking sangria the night before and chose to believe them about the 12 feet. We paddled in about a half mile then were stopped. Only trickling water through a muddy creek bottom was in front of us.

We began the first of many carries thru rocks and mud. We soon realized that we had been terribly misled, at our own choosing! The tide was still coming up, but there was no way it would come up enough for us to float through the mile long Cut. We often pulled the boats thru small pools of water too shallow to paddle thru. The boats were very heavy with all the gear, probably 150 pounds. It was hard work. The group was impatient to wait for the water to rise higher. So we just carried the kayaks. One person on each end for a 100 foot carry before needing to rest.  It was very difficult. We finally got the last boat through and settled to eat lunch on the beach in warm weather and sunshine.

Dave (at the stern) and Paul (at the bow) carrying one of the kayaks
 the last 100 yards thru the Cut to Scidmore Bay.
We gazed at the vast Scidmore Bay ahead of us with its two large islands and green forested coastline. Scidmore Glacier perched high above the west beach. After lunch we paddled another couple hours through the bay. Packs of harbor seals everywhere. After about an hour of paddling and passing a big island, we crossed over to the west side through some rough water. After cruising the shore line for 45 minutes or so we found an awesome campsite that sat on a large mound above the beach. This flat area had nice trees and easily enough space for all three tents. Moose scat was everywhere, but no bear sign. Streams ran down from the mountain behind us on either side of the camp. The beach was steep enough so that the huge change in tide would make for a shorter carry of the kayaks at the end of the day.
Bryan enjoys a much deserved break and lunch on the
 north beach of Scidmore Bay after the portage through the Cut.

We saw Scidmore hanging Glacier to our west after our
portage through the Cut.
We set up camp and soon heard wolves howling close by. They started around 4 pm and at first it sounded like a lot of them. We listened to the deep howl of one wolf who led several others who chorused with yips and yowls. It was wild and eerie. They serenaded us all evening and we decided that we should not go up either of the creeks into the woods behind us alone.

I put shorts on and walked around in my Tevas. Paul hung a clothes line and we dried socks, rain pants and jackets in the warm afternoon sunshine. The views from our camp were spectacular with the snow covered high mountains and the vast sea in the Scidmore Bay. It had been a beautiful warm day and an amazingly calm and peaceful evening. We sat near our tarp, enjoyed our hot Beef Stroganoff and watched the sunset around 9:30 pm.

Friday, Day 4
We woke up to a partly cloudy morning. No rain yesterday or last night, but briefly it rained in the morning before we got out of our tents. Sleep was easy in my Big Agnes sleeping bag and 3.25 inch pad. I was warm and dry and comfy in my bag. It was hard to get up.We decided to do a day paddle in to Charpentier Inlet then come back here to camp a second night. This was my favorite camp and a day paddle without a fully loaded kayak was always a good choice.

Paddling south into Charpentier Inlet. Calm, smooth
paddle going in. Different story on the way out,
We ate breakfast and packed lunch. We began our paddle south to Charpentier Inlet. A long paddle but flat, glassy water. Steep cliffs with waterfalls everywhere. A few porpoises surfaced. Huge salmon jumped completely out of the water. We made it to the end of the inlet. Seemed like a fairly easy trek on the way out. The return back to camp was not so easy. A head wind made the paddling difficult and slow. The water got choppy at the crossing. The paddle across required focus and persistence. I was very tired when we finally rested at the beach near a beautiful waterfall. It was another hour of paddling before we finally made it back to camp. A beautiful evening. Two bald eagles in the trees nearby. An otter cruised by on his back and two loons sang as they motored thru. A pink and blue sunset topped the day. Chocolate pudding for dessert. Another glorious day. We are so blessed!

View from our camp at sunset in Scidmore Bay looking north up the Bay.
My favorite camp, we stayed here two nights.
Saturday, Day 5
Saturday morning sparkled with promise. No rain last night. We packed everything up and began our last day of paddling. Out towards Blue Mouse Cove we headed. A stop on the opposite beach to pee and I was back in the boat pushing away to see a Hump Back whale blowing three times not 50 yards away! Wow. Four sea lions followed us. They raised as high as they could in the water to watch us. Porpoise in pairs swam easily ahead of us. Otters and seals everywhere. Andy banged on his kayak with his paddle to let them all know we were on the water. The last thing I wanted was one of those creatures to breach near or underneath me!
Kayaks beached near Blue Mouse Cove. This is Scidmore Bay where
we paddled with a Hump Back whale

Sundew Cove looking south from our campsite at low tide and sunset Saturday evening.
Doc, Linda and Big Blue would pick us up here on Sunday.
The whale showed us tail several times as he cruised through the Bay. What an experience to be in the water with a whale. And it was a beautiful warm day with puffy clouds and no threat of rain. The water was smooth and even though we were paddling against the tide the boats cut thru the buttery water smooth as silk. We beached for lunch after crossing over from the entrance to Blue Mouse Cove. Two yakkers walked towards us. Gabriel and his son Raymond were on Day 2 of their trip. Gabriel owns a restaurant in San Diego called Chiquita. Like the banana. He invited us to stop by and visit next time we were in the area. They were the third couple and last people we saw that week.

We paddled in to the south side of Sundew Cove where the map indicated there was water flowing from the hillside. We found water but also lots of bear sign – flattened grass and fish heads and tails! Not going to camp there! We eventually found a campsite with water and a good beach for Big Blue to pick us up. The view and peace and sunshine were sublime. The water in the cove was glass as we waited out the evening.

Andy, Paul and Bryan enjoying the afternoon in Sundew camp

A small yacht cruised in to Sundew Cove,
parked for the night and left early Sunday

Sunday, Day 6
Sunday morning was gloomy. We got up early and began to pack up. It began to rain despite my objections and loud assurances to everyone that it wouldn't! Not on our last day. We hastily set up our tarp and sat dejectedly waiting to see Big Blue, Doc and Linda round the corner from the south.

Then to our amazement, we saw Big Blue go right past the cove around 8:30 am. They eventually came back and found us because they saw Gabriel and Raymond in Scidmore Bay paddling. They told them where to find us in Sundew Cove. Around 10:00 we saw Big Blue round the north corner of Sundew Cove. Our ride home had arrived. And our adventure was nearly over.
It had stopped raining when they arrived and we quickly finished packing up. I helped raise the kayaks overhead as the boys pulled them to the roof of Big Blue where they lashed the boats to a more secure roof enhanced by another wood rail. While they worked I watched a seagull pull finger sized salmon from a small stream running into the cove. He must have eaten 15 or so while I stood there.

Then we sailed away to Bartlett Cove. Beautiful seas accompanied us. A much different ride than the one we took only 5 days earlier.
Loading the kayaks on Big Blue in Sundew Cove. The timing was perfect. 
Tide began to come in just as they got the last one on.
Paul, Andy, Bryan, Dave and me on Big Blue as she pulls away from
Sundew Cove. The orange "necklaces" are the keys to the 
bear canisters. We had 8 of them on this trip.
We showered at Doc's, had a good meal, then boarded the deadhead trip on the catamaran back to Juneau. Bedtime was early for a flight on Monday morning at 6 am. What a trip! What a memory!

Click here for more pictures on my Facebook page. You can access this link even if you don't have a FB account.

Notes to remember for next time:
Tortillas for cheese and bean dip and salmon for lunches was great. Bring packets of hot sauce. Bring more wheat thins.
An apple split between the 5 of us a day with peanut butter cups X 2 per Apple.
Pudding - we ate 3 for the week. Didn't need that much and it was definitely a hassle. Andy and Bryan didn't eat much pudding.
We went thru 2 large summer sausages - 1.2 pounds each. good call. Didn't eat the two small ones.
2 blocks (2.5 lbs. each) of Tilamook cheese was enough.
One packet of Trader Joes trail mix in with the cereal. Did this the last day. Wished I'd done it every day.
Mountain House favorites: Beef Stroganoff, Beef Stew, Chicken Teriyaki. Chicken wraps with tortillas.

2 pair of tights was good
1 pair of shorts good.
Two fleece, yellow kayak jacket, rain jacket and pants good. Need a better rain jacket with gortex or something similar. It got wet quickly both inside and out.
3 pair of socks was good but bring 4 for a trip this long.
Underwear every day good.
Shammy important as well as bandana.
Warm hat and CR Hat as well as purple rain hat all good.
Bring a book!!
No need for hand lotion. Small container of sunscreen worked fine. Used it just once.
Never used a flashlight.
Beef jerky good. Salmon packets good. Bring 3 salmon packets. Ate few snacks because lunches were so good.
Tevas were great to have in camp.

Lodging: extended Stay was $186 for one night! Yikes. Do something different next timed, like arrive the same day as leaving for Bartlett.

Bryan, Paul, Andy, Dave and Cheryl on Reid Glacier.
This map shows our route, in red, and camping spots for the week.

This map shows the west and east arms of Glacier Bay National Park.
We have been up the west arm twice. Our first trip, in 2001, was in the east arm.

Friday, July 24, 2015

How I discovered that a DNS is worse than a DNF - TRT 50 Mile Race Report 7-18-15

Every ultra is different for even the most experienced of ultrarunners. The Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Mile race was no exception for me. It was like no other in my experience. If you are interested in just the race day report you can skip down to that section. But the lessons I learned that day were more about what occurred the month before and the decisions I made about my training approach in the final weeks before the race and during the race itself. I had never arrived at the starting line this way before. This ultra would be different. And so this is a story about starting a race with little confidence that I would finish knowing that the experience would be about getting to the starting line and discovering what I would learn as I ran.

Pre-race Drama
It was the end of April and the only race I had run this season was the challenging Escape from Prison Hill Half Marathon in Carson City. Usually, by this late in April I had run two ultras and had a solid training foundation, but I chose a different training plan for the early spring that didn't include racing. I knew that I would need to bank serious miles in May and June to make up for the base that I didn’t create well enough in March and April. And so I did: modest weekly miles, but with big back to backs - every week.  No usual 10 to 14 day recovery. Instead, only 6 to 8 days of easy running between back to backs. I had paved the road to over reaching my training and risking injury.

Fast Forward to Late June
A long easy run on the TRT left me feeling unusually tired. I had felt pain in my left calf and soreness in my heel when I stood up out of bed in the mornings leading up to this run. Suddenly, the heel pain was so sharp that I winced. I’d been stiff in the morning with soreness, but never like this. I would groan as I limped to the bathroom. Massive trigger points throughout my left soleus and gastroc muscles were the culprit. Foam rolling left me gritting my teeth.
I cut my mileage to nearly a third of what I had been doing the last week in June and continued to foam roll, use ice and cold water soaks, and use trigger point therapy. (see "Recovering from AR50M - Trigger Point Therapy") I had one friend who found trigger points at the head of my gastroc and soleus that sent me through the ceiling! The pain was incredibly stubborn and all I could do was rest and wait for healing.

No Running the First Week in July
A planned back packing trip over Kearsarge Pass out of Independence, CA occupied the first week of July. A group of us packed food in for our friends hiking the John Muir Trail from Tuolumne Meadows to Mt. Whitney Portal (over Whitney summit). Sherpas with an extra 10 to 15 pounds of food in our already heavy packs we labored up Kearsarge Pass – I had about 55 pounds on my back.
We hiked about 30 miles that week and had a nice run during a day hike up Glenn Pass. My foot hurt a little the first day up the pass, but was ok as the week went on.
Hiking up Kearsarge Pass 6-29-15 with
Jason and Rick. Photo by Shannon Hataway

Tapering Continues with a Race on the Fourth of July
We hiked out of the beautiful Kearsarge Lake region on July 3. The next morning, I ran Angel’s Ponderosa Ridge Run which is an old fashioned race that starts at Spooner Summit and finishes 9.5 miles later at the Kingsbury North trail head. It’s mostly uphill and I knew it would be a test for my leg. I finished the fastest I'd ever done the course with minimal pain in my heel and calf at the end. But it was only a two hour race and I knew that this was only a small test.   
The next two weeks consisted of short runs no longer than 2 hours. I began to realize that the only way I could even consider starting the race was to make sure I had no pain and rested as much as possible. I thought about downgrading to the 55K, but just couldn’t believe that my risk for not finishing 50 miles was that bad. And I had never been in this circumstance before. What did I know? My ego told me to start 50 Miles.

Another week went by and the race was only a week away. The trigger points in my leg began to subside and it was easier to loosen up so I could walk without pain in my heel. I was hopeful that I could attempt 50 miles. Instead of thinking I wouldn't start at all I thought I would start and see how far I could get.
Could I put my ego aside and stop if I began to have pain? Or would I tough it out and finish anyway risking an injury, but not wanting to be a “wimp”? I decided to start the race and pay attention to how the leg was doing.

I found this on FB 3 days before the race. Thanks David Stretanski for posting.
Yes, I thought, I think I could be at peace with however this race turns out.
Race Morning and the Questions Go On
I awoke at 3:30 am after tossing for 3 hours. I think I slept maybe 4 hours total that night. I kept dreaming about the different sections of the course. I know the trail very well. I would visualize a section as I lay there half asleep and realize how difficult it would be if I were in pain. Was I crazy to think that I could run 50 miles today?
I was calm at breakfast with my usual coffee with heavy cream, a scrambled egg, toast with coconut oil and some instant oatmeal.
My dad drove me to the start. I breathed slowly through my nose to calm my nerves. Was I trained enough? (So who doesn't ask that question before a race?)
My husband Dave, said he would pace me the last 20 miles. I told him I’d be surprised if I’d make it that far. At the same time I couldn’t believe I was starting a 50 mile race knowing I might quit at 30 miles, or even 12! How could I think that? Of course I could and would finish. This would be at least my 10th 50 mile start. But maybe I wouldn't finish. What if the pain came and I didn’t want to stop running? Would I? Would I let my ego take over and pride keep me going despite the risk of serious injury? Or would I be smart and graciously exit a race I thought I would easily complete a year ago when I signed up.

The day before the race, published a blog about “The Disappointment Muscle” written by AJ Wilkins. I recalled its main message as AJ related in an article he read: “A psychologist friend of mine has spoken about this ‘muscle’ and suggests that too many of us have poorly developed disappointment muscles as a result of too many years of being shielded and protected from adversity in an attempt to stay happy and content. …. we must be aware that our kids need disappointment and adversity in order to find ultimate success.” Light bulb: My disappointment in not finishing could ultimately be my success. I was determined to make my experience be a positive one that would continue to build the foundation that I would need to run and race for a very long time to come. I would learn much from starting a race I was not likely to finish.

The Race
Sorry to take so long to get here, but this is the short part of this report!
Quite simply, I arrived at the start of the race undertrained, but pain free. I was rested, but I could feel in my body the lack of long runs in the past 4 weeks.
My strategy was to start much slower than I ever have for this race and allow the legs to loosen and warm up. It took a lot of patience to climb to Marlette Lake walk / running and holding back.
Running in to Tunnel Creek around 12 miles, my leg felt good and I knew I would tackle the Red House loop. I was fueling well and despite the undertrained feeling I felt strong and able to tackle whatever distance my leg would let me.
A conservative run down the long steep Red House loop hill was also part of the plan. It paid off as I easily ran the gradual climb to the Red House. I pulled a long train of runners through the flats after the climb out of Red House and felt strong climbing back up to the Tunnel Creek Aid Station. The sun began to come out after an unusually cloudy and cool morning and I could feel the first warmth of the day.
The trail up to Marlette Peak, about mile 10, with Ken behind me.
Photo by Sharon Fong
Back up to Tunnel Creek, and about 18 miles, I felt strong, but my heel was beginning to feel the pull from the tightening Achilles/Soleus that had been stretched on all the climbs. The hills were taking their toll and it was as I had expected. I was pretty sure that I was not going to last the whole 50 miles.

I took my time in the Tunnel Creek Aid station chatting with friends and volunteers and coming to grips with the fact that I would probably just make it to Diamond and 30 miles where I would drop. I left the AS with a slight limp having stood and not moved so that the left leg had stiffened. I began a slow jog about a half mile down the trail letting my crew and friends know how I was doing by phone.  I ran with Ken as we headed up the trail to Diamond Peak. It would be his first 50 miler and he was running strong mentally and physically. His joy at running his first 50 kept me motivated and positive. He has been my student of ChiRunning for several years and I was very proud to see him be successful in his first big ultra.

The descent down the Tirol to Diamond Peak was enjoyable. I ran the first part with Ken, but then left him as he slowed to deal with a sore ITB. My heel was hurting despite the two ibuprofen I took and I knew my race was over. Despite my certainty that I should drop I still fantasized that I could finish the 50 miles. I considered several times that I would continue as I cruised through the technical Tirol turns. My fueling and hydration had been good and I knew that if my heel and calf hadn't been a problem I could finish. My mind went back and forth between the decision to stop or continue; acceptance of what was so to hoping for how I thought it should be. 

I arrived at Diamond Peak with little fanfare. No one was there waiting for me but thankfully I knew the volunteers and some runners and crew. I was glad to be done, disappointed to drop, and grateful that I had the experience and wisdom to know it was the right decision.

Lessons learned:
  • I made a race plan and followed it. The slow start and conservative downhill run in to the Red House loop allowed me to have a nice 30 mile training run.
  • Although I didn’t mention it in my report, my ChiRunning skills served me well in keeping my lower legs relaxed and keeping impact to a minimum. I only took ibuprofen to take the edge off the pain once it was there. I paid close attention to how and when the pain was developing so I could mindfully cope with it by focusing on technique.
  • Anticipating an outcome that was less than ideal allowed me to accept it in peace when it occurred.
  • My pride was not bruised. Instead I was proud of myself for listening to my body and making the right decision to stop.
  • I’m so glad that I started the race. If I had not started, I never would have known how my leg would feel, how I would behave and react psychologically, and what actions I would take. I would not have learned that a DNS can be worse than a DNF.
Follow up

As I write this 6 days later, my leg is doing well. My right quad was sore the next day possibly compensating for the left leg, but that was all. I have had nice easy runs this week and my leg is continuing to recover, the pain lessening. I’ve decided not to pursue a 100 miler this year, but may do either Firetrails 50M or Javelina 100K. We’ll see. Whatever I decide it will be what is supposed to be next! And that has left me in peace. 

Peacin out on our boat the next day 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Race Report Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Mile Race October 11, 2014 - Redemption

Redemption: “the act of saving something or somebody from a declined, dilapidated, or corrupted state and restoring it, him, or her to a better condition."
I have heard some ultrarunners use the word redemption to describe a race or run where they prove to themselves they have what it takes to get it done. It’s really a religious word, but given how profound and spiritual it is to finish an ultra… well, redemption doesn't seem to be too strong of a word to use.

Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Mile race was my redemption last weekend when my ego got saved and returned to a better condition after a DNF at my first attempt at 100 miles at the TRT (Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs) this year. That was a tough day for me, but the lessons learned were invaluable and I don’t regret a moment of those amazingly difficult 29 hours. And I never would have finished as well as I did at Firetrails without those lessons. Firetrails restored me to a better place after the misery of a DNF.

The Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Mile is one of the oldest around. I ran it last year and found it to be a true challenge with its long climbs and steep downhills. In the bay area, with the highest elevation around 1800 feet above sea level, Firetrails is a joy to run for someone who lives in Reno and trains above 5000 feet most days.
Firetrails elevation profile
The months of training leading up to this race were unusual and unlike anything I would normally do. I enjoyed a wonderful August, the two to six weeks after TRT, just enjoying myself with some challenging backpacking trips and running as usual, but not focused on big, long runs. September came and I got serious about mileage and long runs – a few 20’s and some big back to backs, but no more than 55 miles per week. The week before the week of Firetrails, I was very involved with the course marking and sweeping of a local Half marathon, 10K and 5K trail race (Kokannee Runs) that had me running at least 13 or 14 miles per day for 4 days in a row for a total of 65 miles for the week. High for me and a little unnerving the week before a 50 mile race. So much for a taper. I had to recover from the arduous days of course marking that had utterly depleted me due to the long hours, poor nutrition and stress of getting the job done with very few daylight hours and people to do it. Waking up on Monday before Saturday’s race day, I knew I needed major recovery time. As each day went by I felt I needed another day off. So, I took the 5 days before the race off completely. NO RUNNING for 5 days before a 50 miler. My intuition told me I was right to rest and, indeed I was. The shortest taper I had ever done for such a big race. But back to the story.

Saturday morning, October 11, was dark, windless and cool, but not freezing when I got up at 4:30 am – a perfect day for running, I thought. I dressed in my favorite pink flowered Patagonia shorts, blue TRT tech tank, Brooks PureGrit 3 trail shoes; and body glide in all the essential spots; then ate two packets of instant oatmeal with coconut oil and cranberries and a 20 ounce cup of coffee re-heated in the microwave of our cheap hotel in Castro Valley, CA. Won’t stay there again, but that’s another story.
The Brooks PureGrit 3's -
bathroom jitters, not runs
just jitters
Ron drove me to the starting line at Lake Chabot Regional Park in Castro Valley while Carol and Dave slept in for another hour before they would begin getting ready for the marathon start at 9 am. We arrived by 6 am, but the parking lot was already full so we parked on the street and walked the ¼ mile in. Picked up my bib and wrote down the cutoff times and AS mileages on it.

 I stretched and did my body looseners before the start using Ron for balance. Ron, my long time running partner, recovering from knee surgery and unable to run, kept me positive saying things I needed to hear, smiling and giving me last minute pieces of advice. Camera in hand always, he filmed and shot photos all day while he crewed me, Carol and Dave at a few of the aid stations - a logistical challenge for sure which had him driving all over the Berkeley Hills trying to find a gas station at one point!
About 250 of us lined up for the start and we all counted down the last seconds to “go”. And just like so many starts, we were off without fanfare, chatting nervously, laughing and making snide remarks about how we only had another 49.8 miles to go. Some wore headlamps, but I knew that daylight would come in about 10 minutes after the start, so just relied on those around me and the bike path to be clean enough that I wouldn't trip over anything.

The first miles were quick and I knew I needed to hold the reins in tight so I wouldn't burn through fuel I would need later. I had run fast the first few miles last year and didn't want to make that mistake again.  My Garmin data showed that I ran an average of a 9:40 pace that first mile this year. Good compared to the 8 minute pace I ran last year. I ran a few minutes with Tony Nguyen – “Endorphin Dude”, also on a mission of redemption for a failed 100 miler this summer. An inspiration to so many, it was fun to run next to a famous local. We wished each other luck and a good day of running.

I climbed the first hills confidently sensing my body as it warmed up and getting it accustomed to the idea of running all day. All systems go. Nothing to be concerned about… especially, the short taper. I felt good. Darkness turned to grey early morning light and the potential of the day was all around us. The sun wouldn't show for a while with all the fog. I was grateful. It was going to get into the 80s later in the day and the cool morning was a blessing. Mile 3.2 and its aid station came quickly at the top of a hill. I stopped in briefly to fill my water bottle, grab some potato chips for salt, take an S-cap and be on my way quickly.

These first easy miles found us in big eucalyptus so typical of California’s coast; their fragrance seemed calming and peaceful. Gordy Ansleigh, the guy who started this crazy ultrarunning sport in 1974, caught up to me with his loping, and long pendulum stride. Bare chested already, he carried nothing in his hands or on his body. Our pace seemed nicely matched and we ran easily together chatting and reminding each other where we had last met which was up on Snow Valley Peak during the TRT 100 in July. He was easy to talk to and I enjoyed his company of those first long miles. My 180 cadence must have drove him nuts.

We ran through beautiful rolling terrain, some of it in Redwood forest with a soft carpet of pine needles amid the silence and dim light. Much of this first section was on firetrails and dirt roads in the scorched brown dryness of the California hills. Gordy and I would get into an aid station and he would be there for a few minutes eating and socializing and I would be on my way quickly. He would eventually catch me and we’d run on together until the next aid station. We repeated this until I finally left him at Sibley Preserve AS, around mile 18. He had taken his third fall for the day, the second one had been the hardest when he fell and hit his head on an exposed tree root. The gash bled badly for a few minutes and when he arrived at Sibley, the volunteers at the AS tried to tend to him.

By mile 18 I knew I was doing well. A glimmer of hope started to build inside my brain: had the changes I made as a result of my lessons learned at TRT100 going to work?

First there was my attention to fueling and electrolytes. I started using VFuel, a gel that uses dextrose instead of fructose, as well as MCT oil, a few months ago in training runs and was impressed with the results. My head would clear and my ability to focus improve dramatically. It was as if I got my youthful-start-of-a-run energy back three and four hours into a training run! Was that in my head or was my body re-energized??

For Firetrails, I could only carry 8 VFuel gel packets with me in my waist pack. Since I had never used that many before I decided to go conservative and do one per hour instead of the recommended one every 45 minutes. And I didn't start taking them until two hours in to the race (instead of one right before the race.) The difference was dramatic. My energy levels were stable and my motivation to push remained high throughout the race even when past experience said that I should be tired and wanting to stop. As my ultrarunning friend and Master ChiRunning Instructor David S. told me, “if the melon is not happy it will tighten you up and slow you down.” Keep the melon happy and the rest of the body will be too. So it really is true: ultrarunning is 90% mental and so is the other 10%. Yep, gotta feed the melon.
melon brain

I ate at each aid station – PB&J (at least 2 sandwiches worth throughout the day, but very hard to get even ¼ sandwich down in the last hours due to little saliva);  boiled potato rolled in salt at EVERY aid station. I was religious about this since it was lack of salt that helped to destroy me at TRT. I also had two grilled cheese sandwiches (rolled in salt) and a cup of chicken soup at mile 26, the turnaround. And 1-2 S-Caps every hour.

The other major changes were made for my feet. Morton's Foot is common and I've got it. Since August, I had started wearing a 6 mm lift under my first metatarsal heads. I also started running in the PureGrit 3's, a stiffer sole in the rear foot that I hoped would give me a flatter platform over uneven trail so my arches wouldn't be working as hard. I hoped that the forefoot soreness that I experienced at TRT could be solved with these corrections. More details about Morton's Foot here.

The long climb up to mile 21 was grueling through technical trail but with some downhills to relieve us. We began to see the marathoners (Golden Hills Marathon) coming towards us. They had started at 9:00 am. Dave (my husband) and Carol (Ron’s wife) ran up the hill towards me – their mile 6 and my mile 18. A quick hi, hugs and kisses, and best wishes (ha! That rhymed) and we continued on our opposite, but so very similar journeys.
The fast 50 milers were coming back towards us too on their return trips; flying down the hills at an unbelievable pace, their focus intense. Some relaxed and fresh looking, others spent and on the edge of the envelope. It always amazes and inspires me to see humans perform at max, to see what we are capable of doing. People like me are inspired to do our best even though we are not THE best.

Mile 21.7 aid station is the “top” and the start of a long 5 mile downhill to the turnaround. Steam Trains AS is aptly named for the real miniature steam trains cruising around the park. You can hear them from a distance away! Ron was there to greet me as I came up the hill. So glad to see him there and weird to have him crewing for me instead of running with me. He had his camera going as I helped myself to food and had my water bottle filled. I started the long hike up the hill before heading downhill to the turnaround and he joined me to chat, encourage me and check in with how I was doing. He promised to see me at the turnaround, mile 26, at the bottom of the hill. I looked forward to it.

Being watched at Steam Trains AS, Mile 21
The sun was really beating down on us as we began the long descent on this side of the mountain where the dirt road was exposed and open. I saw Chris Jones hiking hard up the hill – another inspiring runner out there giving a high 5 to all who know him. The first place woman was also climbing hard and looking strong.

I finally arrived at the bottom of the hill, mile 26, and there was Ron waiting for me with grilled cheese sandwiches. I told Ron I was doing well, hot, but good. I had finished the last of my ASEA before reaching this 26 mile mark, about 8 oz for the day, and decided not to take any more with me for the remainder of the race mainly because I didn’t have enough space in my pack. I thanked the AS volunteers profusely for their service and especially for the grilled cheese sandwiches. The VFuel was working and I was cautiously excited that my plan was going to get me the strong finish I so wanted. I walked out of the AS back up the hill with a wad of grilled cheese sandwiches rolled in salt in one hand and a cup of soup in the other. Ron joined me for a half mile or so.  As I left the turn around, I saw Gordy running hard into the AS. I thought he would catch me going up the hill, but I never saw him again. He still had blood on his forehead. He wouldn't let anyone clean it for concern about infection.

Gordy & I at Steam Trains AS
The blood from a gash on his head a few miles back
from a fall on an exposed root 

Extolling the benefits of grilled cheese at mile 26
Last year when I climbed this dreaded hill, Ron kept dropping me and I had a terrible time keeping up and staying motivated to push. This time, I almost felt like I could have run it, but knew it was too steep and too long and would be a waste of energy, so I hiked it pretty darn fast and the time flew by. It was hardly the hill I remembered it to be from last year.

As I got to the top, I began to realize that today was my day, my race that I had wanted all summer. I began to sing along with my iPod – Shakira’s “Empire”.  So here I am hiking up this ungodly long hill and singing. I felt great! Tired, but energized. And passing people who were walking slowly, people who had flown past me only 15 miles ago and now were staring at this woman, me, who was singing phrases of songs between breaths. It seemed that I arrived back at the Steam Trains AS really fast. 30 miles done. I was thrilled. Only 20 more miles! Stop singing, Cheryl, I said to myself. You're wasting energy. Focus now. This is where the race starts.

And my watch was at a little over 6 and a half hours total time for these first 30. Could I do the last 20 in 5 hours???? Hell yes was my thought. And then a tiny whisper in the back of my head, “what if I could do it in 4 and a half hours?” Could I run that fast this far into an ultra?

I ran hard on the downhills. The uphills were an exercise in patience and focus on good ChiWalking technique – relaxed ankles, short strides, pelvic rotation and driving arms. My obliques were getting sore. I thought of George Ruiz, TRT RD, advice he gave me at TRT – “let it come to you and it will.” This race was coming to me and I let the thrill of success begin to roll over me in enjoyment and appreciation for being given the gift to run like this.

The beautiful section of Redwood forest found me running 9 to 10 minute miles and once again catching and passing many people who had passed me much earlier. I was on fire with energy. I couldn't believe myself. When I put the pedal down, my body responded. When it hurt, I just observed the pain, mostly in my quads, then relaxed some more. “Good” pain would not kill me. This was a good pain, the kind that comes from pushing hard, not the kind that says there’s something wrong. That was the kind of pain I had at TRT and it was devastating.

I think it was at mile 37 and the Skyline Gate AS where I first saw Helen Pelster, an amazing ultrarunner and ChiRunner who finished her first 100 miler at TRT this year with an astounding 10th place for women, finish. She was crewing for her husband Javier who I taught ChiRunning to several summers ago. She greeted me with a big smile and of course told me I looked great. I was so happy to see her because I did feel great and here was a person that knew me.

I saw her again at the next AS, mile 41.5, the Big Bear Staging Area, and again she greeted me with a big hug and tons of cheers as I ran through. My heart soared. A quick stop for more salted potatoes and a refill on the water bottle and I was headed out for the last 10 miles. The voice in my head was getting louder. “You could break 11 hours. You can do this. You are strong. You will not tire. You got this.” What if? What if I really could?

Ron called on the phone again. “Don’t give up.” “Keep pushing.”

It might have been at Bort Meadows, mile 44.5, where I was greeted by AS volunteers dressed for the Oktoberfest theme. They were quick to serve me a shot of beer! It tasted soooo good!!!!! How cool is that??

It was hot and my skin was wet with sweat. A climb at about 42 miles that seemed to last forever, but was only a mile and half and less than 500 feet of elevation gain, almost took the wind out of my sails, but I continued to pass people and realized that I was strong and had only 7 or 8 miles to go. I had one VFuel left when I got to mile 45.5 and Clyde AS. My watch said about 10 hours total time. What if I could do 4.5 miles in one hour and do sub 11 hours? I had no idea what the terrain was like for these last miles. I knew it would be rolling trail back to the finish, but how hard would it be and especially how hard with 45 miles on my legs?

I left that AS with a mission. I called Ron and told him how much I had left to run. I don’t think he expected me to beat 11:15 and I didn’t tell him I was after an 11 hour finish. I hung up quickly, knowing I had to conserve energy and focus. It would take everything I had to go after my goal and I didn’t want to regret anything.

I continued to drop and pass people again. I ran the flats and downhills strong. I even ran the few slight uphills. My quads hurt especially when I started to run after hiking uphill, but the pain was just that, pain. Nothing to get upset over and especially no reason to walk or slow down. I just went faster and focused. My respiratory rate was increasing and I knew my heart rate was up there. My focus was narrow and intense. Y’chi.

There was the dam for Lake Chabot, less than 2 miles out from the finish. And the rolling bike path around the lake as it headed back to the finish line in the distance. That sure looked like a very long way! My watch said 10:45. What if I could run less than a mile and a half in 15 minutes? Ha! Going to try, I thought. Tried to call Ron to let him know I was gonna be early, but my phone died. I knew they would not be expecting me this soon. Well, they were going to be surprised. I was not going to give up. I could push hard now. It would be over soon and I wanted no regrets.

I ran hard, pushed and focused in a way that I never thought I could after running for so long and with so many miles on my legs. The highlight of that section was seeing a group of about twenty kids ages 8 to 15 maybe, on the trail with a few adults. They excitedly shouted, “here comes a runner”! They moved to the side as I ran towards them. All I could do was smile and breathe. One by one they lined up and stuck their arms out with open hands so that I could high-five each of them as I ran by. One of the adults said, “wow, she’s really moving, I hope she can keep up that pace!”  Too tired and focused to respond, I said to myself, “yeah, me too!” I felt like a rock star! My adrenalin surged and I felt invincible. A couple of hills slowed me to a walk, but I kept pressing hard determined to never give up. I was almost there and then it would be over.

Katra, in her famous pink hair in pigtails and multiple facial piercings and body tats was out there sweeping in the last marathoner and I waved at her to say hi. “Redemption for TRT” I yelled back at her. She smiled and offered her understanding and congratulations. She would know.

And then it was there. The finish line. The most extraordinary feeling on the planet, in my opinion, is crossing the finish line of a race, any race, and especially one where you gave everything and know that it was the best you could give. A platitude for many an ultrarunning race report, but incredibly true and moving for anyone who has ever experienced it.

Carol and Dave and a volunteer greet me at the finish
A big smile on my face, I ran through the finish line strong and happy to the core of my being; fully present in the exhilaration and the moment. I had finished in 11:02. A negative split for the second half. A full 30 minutes faster than last year and good enough for third in my age group. A solid middle of the pack performance - 122 out of 247 finishers and 27th out of 80 women. Ron and Carol and Dave were surprised to see me so soon. Ron said at the finish, “now you can start fast and then run faster.” Yes, that may be possible now.
Carol ran a PR, nearly 35 minutes faster than she did this marathon last year. Dave ran 20 seconds faster in his second ever marathon. Ron crewed us all and kept a smile on his face with the perfect words of encouragement and congratulations even though I know in his heart of hearts he wanted nothing more than to be racing himself. Next year, buddy, next year. Thanks for all the photos!

Thank you to my core running family – Dave and Ron and Carol, and my running friends who thought of me and posted on FB. Thanks to my dad who taught me to love the outdoors and adventure and will always be proud of me. He tracked me the whole way as he always does via “Find My Friends” app on iPhone, and anxiously awaited the report of my finish from Dave. Thanks to Helen Pelster for her cheering and rubbing magic lotion on my aching quads at mile 41. Thanks to the volunteers at the aid stations - quick to assist and costumed brilliantly! I am forever thankful to my ChiRunning family especially Danny Dreyer who created this ChiRunning thing so average people can do extraordinary running. And to my dear friends, Master Instructor David Stretanski who turned me on to VFuel and ASEA, and Master Instructor Mary Lindahl who always listens to me, encourages me and coaches me.
Redemption is Sweet and Life is Good
at the finish line with Dave
photo - Chris Jones

Lessons learned:
1) VFuel works!!! When the melon is happy, the body can perform. Do more frequently, every 45 minutes, and pre-race.

2) The shoes worked. My feet were tired, but not sore.

3) I need lots of calories. At least 200 per hour. My best races have always been when I eat a lot. The VFuel, 100 calories per, aided absorption significantly.

4) Can’t do too much salt. S-Caps, food with salt frequently.

5) I can push hard when fueled well. I am much stronger mentally than I thought. Imagine success. Imagine outside of who I think I am. Pain is just pain. There is a difference between good and bad. Knowing which is which is the key. I get it now.

6) "Start fast, then you can go faster. "  Yes, this might be possible in the future, but always with the goal of running a negative split. I'll stick to start slow and taper when needed.

7) Strength work – air squats and lunges will be high on the agenda during the off season

  “Fear and negativity is imagination undisciplined… Faith is imagination directed.” – Tony Robbins.