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