Saturday, July 3, 2010

Western States 100 Race Report



It is one week to the day I ventured on one of the coolest adventures of my life. A lot has happened since I finished and it has taken me until now to finally sit down and write this sucker. Where to begin? Where to begin?

The lead up…Qualifying:

Most of you know that I qualified through the Montrail ultra-cup at the Mountain Masochist 50 miler in Virginia, last November. I was going to go back to school and tick off some credits I needed in order to apply for ‘teacher’s college’. At the time, I thought I wanted to be a teacher. One of the classes entailed that I be at a mandatory math convention the same weekend as Masochist. At the time, my running goals were more important to me than school, and so I chose.

Training:

I had my highs and low’s during training. Specifically, I had one major low which had me contemplating my whole running career all together. Perhaps after 5 years of non-stop training/racing, I had hit a wall. I no longer understood WHY I was out there training. I didn’t understand WHAT it all meant to me. I spent a couple of weeks in the dumps, wondering how I was going to get myself out of this ‘funk’. I had to reanalyze my goals for western, and I did.
Goals:
Going into this race, I obviously wanted to finish, I think that is a given for most. And I obviously wanted to run under 24 hours, another given for most. I say ‘for most’ because some people don’t always care about just finishing, they want to win! Most of all, my biggest goal was to go out there, and have a really great time. I wanted to enjoy every aspect of the run. I wanted to finish strong, the way I know how. I didn’t want to slog out the last 30, 20, or even the last 10 miles. This was my very first 100 miler and I didn’t care to go ‘see what I could do out there’. I didn’t want to take any risks. I wanted to go see what it was all about and whether or not I liked it.
Getting there:
A great road trip with Peter and my cousin Caitlin. Caitlin is 20 years old and I have never told her this but she is one of my most favorite people in the world. Her laugh could light up a room and she is so sweet, so caring, and has a heart of gold. She really was my rock the entire weekend. The 2 days prior to the event, Peter’s crew (mom/dad/sister/friends Todd and Kristen) and my crew (mom/Caitlin) nested in a cozy Lodge a 5 minute drive to the start area.

The race:

I packed all of my drop bags the night before and I was happy to leave it to the last minute. Honestly, my least favorite part about running a 100 mile race is all the planning/organization and forethought. That stuff would include- making drop bags, forming a blister kit, thinking of possible splits to aid stations, changes of clothes, back-up fuel, packing fuel, etc. I have never had to do any of this before and I was always getting new information thrown at me about this product or something I needed and didn’t have. My boyfriend was a master at all of this and it stressed me out by how organized he was. There were just things I never thought of. Such as, spare batteries for my headlamp, multiple pairs of NEW socks (I brought one), sun screen, powder to dry my feet, a face cloth…the list goes on. I know for sure my lack of preparation and my last minute questions stressed him out.

Anywho, at 9:30pm the night before, I finally fell asleep. With that said, I had one of the worst sleeps I have ever had before an event. I tossed and turned for hours. Eventually, I just couldn’t handle it anymore and at 1:30am I got up and had a piece of toast. I quickly came back to bed and managed to sleep for about another hour before my alarm went off. I got up and had breakfast # 2 and I was happy to have gotten in more calories than normal.



Eventually it was time to head to the start line. I remember it being dark, but there were lot’s of lights to light the way up the first climb. Before the gun went off I grabbed my Ipod shuffle. When I hit play, nothing came out, and after trying once more I just assumed I had left it on and it was dead. Oh well, I had never raced with music anyway.

I was very excited as the countdown began 3..2..1 and we were off. The crowd just went nuts and I truly felt like I was apart of something BIG. The first climb is a bit nasty and it goes on for a while. I did my best not to get carried away. We were at a descent enough elevation that my HR way higher than normal and I did everything I could to keep it at bay. I have a friend named Hozumi and in every race that we do together he always passes me in the last 5km, ALWAYS! We had exchanged a few friendly emails before the race and I kept telling him I was going “pull a Hozumi” and I used that as my Mantra as I power hiked the hill. I just kept repeating in my head…’Pull a Hozumi…Pull a Hozumi…’ All the top females were sneaking away but I didn’t care. For me, this race was not going to be won here. I could hear Peter’s voice not too far back so I stopped and waited for him. It didn’t make sense not to be with him when we were so close. The view at the top of Escarpment was splendid.



We quickly ant farmed at the top and didn’t really spread out much once we hit the snow. I stopped to pee and lost Peter for a good 15 minutes. I could have easily made up a lot of time on this section as I have a lot of experience running in the snow. Peter has taught me great technique over the years and we run in it for most of the winter. But, I just kept it mellow. I knew it was probably a good thing to be going super slow. My HR still wasn’t as low as it could have been for how slow we were moving and so I wasn’t too worried. People were slipping and sliding all over the place. I kept telling people to plunge their heels into the snow as I cruised on by.



Eventually, we got off the snow and started descending. I had to take another bathroom break somewhere here. I ran into Susanna Bon a lady I had run a fair bit with at Miwok in 2009, although she didn’t remember. I was a little nervous about passing her so early on in the game but just went with how my body felt. I passed another lady named Luanne and we chatted briefly. She was going for her 8th finish. Both ladies wanted to finish under 22 hours which made me happy about where I was in the pack.



I cruised along feeling good. The next 12 miles of logging road were boring and I was very happy to hop into some single track which bordered a beautiful lake. I sparked up some good conversation here, which was quickly interrupted by another bathroom break. The rest of the run up to Robinson flat is kind of a blur. I remember having a great conversation with a guy who was on College Jeopardy back in the day and shortly thereafter ran into Glen Tachiyama taking pictures. I got really excited and did one of those high jumping feet claps (does it have a name?) but he missed it and the photos look like I am karate kicking the air. Let’s just say I was having a fun time.



I first saw my crew at Robinson Flat. It was pretty much the only time I actually utilized them for the remainder of the day. I stopped, sat down, and changed my socks and shoes. My feet were a bit tender coming into here and felt 100% different by the time I left. I was a little stressed out because I am not used to people fussing over me during a race and here I was sitting in a chair changing my shoes with about 5 people just watching me, not saying a word. I wasn’t able to properly think straight because coming into the aid station I remember thinking that all I wanted was a cloth to wipe my face, and I had completely forgot by the time I had sat down.
There was another snowy climb out of this aid station. I quickly passed a few people who were impressed by my power hiking through the snow. This next section is also one big blur but I remember it starting to get hot and I ran by myself a lot. The heat was never overwhelming. There always seemed to be a nice breeze or shade which allowed me to cool off. There was a good mix of power hiking and running. I crossed many creeks. My stomach was starting to show signs of dismay and by the time I started the climb up Devil’s thumb, I was not in a good place. I knew I had 36 switchbacks until the top and at the time this seemed like a very daunting task. I didn’t have much fuel on me and I was running low on water. I ran into an acquaintance of mine, Ryne Melcher, from back home, and I remember being very surprised to see him here. He is a very accomplished mountain runner but wasn’t having a great day and was dropping. He was kind enough to hand me some water and thank god because I really needed it. I kept wondering if Peter was going to catch up with me and I was hoping he was because I was feeling sorry for myself and wanted someone to lean on. It was still early on in the race and I was very content to suck my way up this climb.

Again, there are more blurry parts but basically, this low continued, and it continued all the way up the climb to Michigan bluff. I stopped being able to eat my fuel. And, mentally, if I could not eat, how was I going to finish. There is an aid station just before the climb up to M.Bluff. I came into this aid station and broke down into tears. I didn’t know what I was going to do. The volunteers blanketed me in cold wet towels which helped to cool me off; however, my problem still was my gut. They offered me the world of food there but EVERTYHING looked unappetizing. Before leaving, I managed to take down a whole cup of Gu2O, which had some calories and tasted mighty fine. The next climb had 17 switchbacks and it proved to be my lowest point. I actually analyzed my entire running career. This was it, I was done. I was done racing. What was the point? I was feeling like shit, the exact same way I did at Mountain Masochist. I was having zero fun. I was going to go home and delete my blog and only run ‘for fun’. And then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, Eminem starts blaring out of my camelpak!!!!! I could not believe it. I took it out of my pak and plugged in and magically all my negative thoughts went away. Once I was able to distract my brain with music, I no longer had time to think about everything negative.



However, this was only a distraction from my thoughts, not from my stomach issues. I came into Michigan Bluff with a plan. I was going to switch to a liquid diet, using the carbopro 1200 I had brought. I weighed in, bypassed the food station, and went straight to my crew. I sat down, told them about my low and magical resurgence because of music. I told them about my new nutrition plan and asked for the carbopro. My cousin searched high and low and it turns out they didn’t have it, it was in the car! All I had was 200 calories worth in a handheld bottle. Not wanting to carry a bottle, they dumped it in my camelback and because I just couldn’t focus properly at aid stations, I thought it was a great idea. I didn’t take any of my gels because they were the last thing I wanted and I was on my way. About 5 minutes later I started to think “ok, I haven’t eaten for a while, and all I have is 200 calories in a 1.5L pack, which usually takes me over 2 hours to finish…SHIT”. I started to curse myself and wondered why the hell I didn’t actually take my time to try and eat something at the smorgasbord of food they had at the aid station. I contemplated turning back to go eat. I sat down. I cried. I didn’t know what to do or how I was going to go on. I had one gel in my bag and I decided I would not move until I got it down. So I sat and I ate. As I did this a guy came around the corner. I jumped on his tail and we ran together for a bit. I ran pathetically for a while until the next aid station. I was letting my mind take over my body. My mind had my body convinced that without more fuel it would not be able to move properly. On to pof that, the carbopro was making me even more nauxious.

I got to the next aid station which was run by the Auburn Running Company. I sat in a chair and I told them my situation and that I didn’t know what I was going to do. The guys there were so amazing and they came up with a plan. They pumped me up as best they could and sent me on my way. At this point, Suzanna and Luanne both passed me here, which wasn’t helping my confidence. I only had a 1.5 mile climb up to the Forest Hill aid station. I walked it and then ran the road in. My mom greeted my at the aid station and all I remember saying was that I needed to go pee. I was weighed and then sent into the high school to use the bathroom! It was so random and I even had to wait in line but not because of other runners. I came back out and found my pacer Gerell. Gerell actually found me on the western states website because I had posted saying I needed a pacer. He had paced Beverly Anderson-Abbs in 06’ to a 9th place overall finish. I told him he was going to have to be patient as I was not feeling well. I spent a bit of time trying my best to get down some broth and spent another 2 minutes with my crew who tried to feed me but I just couldn’t take anything. Poor Caitlin was so upset that she forgot the carbopro concentrate at Michigan Bluff and was so excited to have it at Forest Hill. But, little did she know that b/w that time; I was already done with it and didn’t want it.



It felt as though something was stuck in my throat and I just needed to get it out. I tried to gag a few times but had horrible technique and nothing happened. I probably stopped to gag about 4 times until I realized that I should just stick my finger down my throat. WOW. I had found the ticket because literally at that moment I WAS CURED! I felt 100%. I was now able to eat. I was able to run and move like the wind. I literally did not stop running unless the grade was obviously too steep. Gerell kept commenting on my form and how good I looked (hopefully he was serious?). He kept me distracted and we chatted and chatted. All of a sudden I just felt like I was out for a nice Saturday LSD run with a friend. I stopped worrying about how much I ate. I just ate what I could off each aid station. Usually it was ¼ of a PB & J sandwich and a bit of fruit. I filled my pack with ½ water and ½ GU2O. I felt like a machine and couldn’t remember when I had ever power hiked the hills so hard. The weird thing was, I felt like I was moving but my HR would never jump over 135, which is really low for me. I am not sure if my body was in survival mode but I think a low HR means something.

I continued on rocking it out and was super excited to hit Rucky Chucky. It was just starting to get dark and by the time we crossed the river it was. My crew had not come down to meet us, which sucked because neither of us had a headlamp. We walked the entire 1.5 miles up the aid station in the dark, which in the end was totally fine. I remember feeling a bit cranky towards Gerell and I remember saying “didn’t you think to pack a headlamp”. I remember self talking to myself before saying it and kept repeating “who cares, he doesn’t have one, saying a sassy comment won’t change anything, don’t say it, don’t say it”. But, I said it anyways and I still feel bad. Sorry G! Eventually we got to the top and I saw my mom and Caitlin. There endless enthusiasm was greatly appreciated and it really did help. I grabbed a handheld full of pepsi from my cousin and kept re-filling it at every aid station from there on out. I also picked up my Headlamp. I had done Way Too Cool 50km last year and new the next section of the course. It is extremely runnable and I enjoyed it very much. I love to run and found myself cruising along effortlessly.



The only downturn to my day at this point was that I had a severe pain forming in my left knee. I took 1 Tylenol at Green Gate and tried to forget about it. If I ran, it seemed to ease itself. If I stopped, which I did at every aid station, it would seize up and I would be in a lot of discomfort. It got worse and worse as the race went on and became a big hindrance to my running late in the race. I again just focused on running from aid station to aid station. I enjoyed seeing the headlamps off in the distance and catching them. At the party of an aid station a guy told me that I was in the top 10 and that I was in probably 6th or 7th place. This got me real fired up and I really kept it up as to ensure no females passed me. I passed Luanne somewhere before highway 49. I was a little discouraged coming into this aid station because my knee was in excruciating pain and I still had 6.9 miles of trail/road to run. It was here that I passed Suzanna Bon, which fired me up even more. I walked most of anything that had a grade to it and if it was a steep hike, I had to lead/side step with my good knee and put all the weight onto it. Eventually though we got to the last descent (2.5mi) of the day to no hands bridge and I knew it would be torturous to have to walk it. I started to run and I just sucked it up as best I could. I was moaning, groaning and swearing and I felt bad for Gerell to have to listen to me.

This guy knew everything about the trail and it really helped to have him tell me what was coming up. I never had to wonder how much more climbing there was because he knew. He remembered where all the aid stations were going to be. He was brilliant. I kept thanking him because if it weren’t for him, I don’t know if I would have finished. I didn’t stop at the aid station at no hands, I just kept moving because I knew my knee would seize up if I stopped. I just kept moving and power hiking like a mad man. I felt possessed. My body didn’t feel tired. It felt energized. I got to the final aid station and picked up my mom and Caitlin and we started the final mile towards the track. We were talking and having a great time and I was so damn excited to be finishing this thing. We passed a group of people along the way like they were standing still, which is sort of a bitch move but dammit I felt good! I remember thinking that I wanted to come in and round the track with my entire crew but as soon as I stepped foot on it, I was overcome with energy and I started sprinting. For that minute or so, my knee didn’t hurt anymore, and I carried a huge grin on my face. I was so damn proud of myself. As I rounded the corner though I realized I had dropped my mom, and I slowed and looked for her. Realizing she was walking across the field I continued my run and finished with my signature high foot clap kick (still don’t know the name). I remember thinking to myself about 20 miles out that I was going to have to walk it in because of my knee, but here I was sprinting, feeling like God. I finished in 21 hours and 40 minutes.



The feeling I had at the end of this race was unlike any other. I went to hell and back and came out on top. I overcame so much adversity and came out a winner. There were times when I thought 24 hours was out of the question and to come in 2 hrs and 20 minutes under it, was crazy to me. I made up so much time in that 2nd half. I owned it! The only weird thing was that I ended up being 11th female. Now, I am very happy with my placing and I think in any other year, with my time, I would have been top 10 for sure. I was just confused because the guy at the aid station said I was 6th or 7th and I went on to pass 2 more females. Oh well, in the end, it was not my goal for the day. I accomplished everything that I set out for myself on the day.

Post-race:

I was part of a study on hyponytremia and they took some blood directly after the race. Up until they took my blood I felt great and immediately after I felt light headed and horrible. My results showed that I had one of the lowest sodium levels all day and that I should get onto an IV bag. I was not allowed to eat or drink anything for an hour. Being in my delirious state, I thought I should probably drink some water and eat because I wasn’t able to eat a ton for the last bunch of hours. However, I wasn’t thinking that an IV bag was the equivalent to ‘drinking’ fluids. I asked the guy what he would do if he was me and he said he probably would not have signed up for a study. So, with that, I decided not too. In hind sight I wish I had because I spent the next hour lying down light headed anyways not wanting to eat or drink! At this point, I could hardly walk. I iced my knee a few times and got some massage treatment to help ease the pain. I felt very useless and was very reliant on my Caitlin. She was a rockstar and helped me out in so many ways –picked me up, put me down, got me water and food and she never ever complained!

I chilled out, mostly seated, and tried to catch little cat naps whenever I felt so inclined. My boyfriend was still out on the course and I was eagerly awaiting his arrival. His 2 crew members, Todd and Kristen, arrived at the track and said he would still be a little bit before he came in. After a bit I really needed to pee. I asked Kristen if she thought I would have enough time to go to the bathroom (without missing Peter come in) and she assured me I did. The thing is it took me a while to walk to the bathroom, get myself seated, and get back up and outa there. As I came back outside, I had this horrible feeling that I had missed Peter, and as it turns out, I did. I was so sad. I was so proud of him. I have so much respect for anyone who finishes a 100 mile event. They are not easy.

We started the drive back to North Vancouver the next day and we decided to take the scenic route along the coast. Unfortunately, I got very ill over the next couple of days and slept through most of it. I was very noxious and at a time when I should have been shoveling back copious amounts of good food, I was hardly having any. I was also very nervous about not replacing the sodium that I had lost but at the same time my desire for more fluids was slim. On a good note, my knee pain miraculously went away after 2 days on the road. It was not until yesterday that I truly felt good in terms of my belly.

To sum up, I am stoked and proud of my performance. I truly can’t wait to do another one but with that said, I would like to do a different one. I am signed up for Knee Knacker which is in one week and I am not certain at this point whether or not I am going to do it. I will take the next few days to assess the bod and go for a few runs to see how I feel. I really do want to do it though!

Alright, time to go soak the body in the creek. I just got back from my first massage since the race and it was amazing/painful all at the same time.
See you in the trails!

13 comments:

Peter Watson said...

You impress me!!!

Congrats to an amazing women who had her day and made sure to take advantage of it to the fullest.

Love you and I can't wait for the next adventure

Meg said...

Just amazing. I was following you all day, just amazing and I love this post. SO inspiring. I'm glad you're feeling better.

Devon said...

Congrats on the finish and for rolling with the highs and lows! You are a rockstar!

Derrick said...

Congrats on your first 100, and pretty amazing to do it at WS. Great race. Sounds like you learned a lot along the way. Recover well.

Steve Bell-Irving said...

Nicola,

Totally amazing experience. You really are a rock star, not just for finshing, and not just for achieving your goal of under 24 hours, but because you overcame such intense adversity and emotions throughout the race and beat them down! If only every racer could do this - no matter what event their competing in.

Keep on runnin' !!

"IKE" said...

Just incredible report !

I don't know how YOU or Peter or anyone else can DO IT !

I was there at WS in 1992, I think,
following along and supporting Lorraine Lees, also pacing at the end, IT'S COMPLETELY CRAZY,
as in CRAZY LONG DISTANCE RACE!

100 Miles is like 160 Km !
That's like 4 marathons in a row OVER REALLY HARD TERRAIN, HEAT, SNOW and THROUGH THE NIGHT !

It's INSANE! :-)

Congratulations and nice to see you back IN ONE PIECE!

Dirk IKE" Handke
www.kelownarunner.com

olga said...

Nicola, you ran your first WS100 like a pro, rolling with the punches. Way to go! You're right, any other year the time you finished in would have put you in top 10 for certain. This year was exceprionally talented...and I think it'll be getting better with gals like you coming more and more. Congrats to you and Peter!

Sunshine Girl said...

Woooohoo! Isn't it crazy the weird emotional Poo-Poo that takes place with these things? I was completely "un-Leslie" and was all over the place emotionally. Usually, I'm the epitome of positive and stable. I think it's the weird combination of exertion, the weird shit you're putting in your body and the lack of sleep. Either way, you're a stud and a fast one at that! Way to finish your first 100 Miler. Stud.

Caitlin Leahy said...

You're amazing and I'm sooooo proud of you!! Words cannot describe how gratefull I am that I was able to be a part of this crazy experience. You're so inspiring and I'm soo soo lucky to have such an incredbile cousin!
LOVE LOVE LOVE YOU!!!

Jude said...

great Report... quite inspiring.
Congrats on a beAUtiful WS finish.

SteveQ said...

I was following your progress with real-time updates and I completely forgot that this was your first 100; you had all the typical issues with weather, food, soreness... and you treated them like a pro. Nicely done!

HEATHERRUNS said...

Wow, what an amazing test of mental and physical strength! You are incredible!

Scott Dunlap said...

I am not surprised at all that you did so well. You've got the chops, you started out slow, and your low points never took you down for the count. Hope to see you back next year!

Sd