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.

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 Mortonsfoot.com 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.” http://www.mortonsfoot.com/pickingrightpci.html
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 Mortonsfoot.com 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