Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It’s Called HURT for a reason!

In the air 37,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean the Thursday before I start my 100 mile adventure at HURT on Saturday morning and there are a million thoughts running through my head.  Today was a long day of travel starting with my awesome girl Karen coming out to Hillsboro to pick me up and drop me off at PDX to start this journey, which of course we had to capture, thanks girl!!
I met some awesome people in the security lines including a man who was bringing home a baby lab to his daughter in Texas for her birthday!  So cute!  I also had a great discussion with a new friend on various ear piercings and she is off to get one of the ones I have now!  Too much fun.  From PDX it was off to LAX and then a 3 hour layover- Seriously I am not sure what I was thinking when I booked the day of travel, but it turned out ok.  I got in and parked myself in a perfect spot by power and right at the windows bathed in beautiful sunshine.  I was also there to witness our CEO’s web cast on earnings and a record year- so that was great news to fly out on!!
So now here I am in flight to another great adventure with my pacer and host to pick me up when I touch down.  The RD’s give us 36 hours to do HURT, but, well some plans changed and I am booked to fly out of Hawaii Sunday at 3pm- which means I need to do this race in 30 hours 31 max in order to make my new flight time.  Some may question what I was thinking here on this travel plan, but well let’s just say that I need to get on a flight out to Phoenix and I need to be there for Sunday night!  Priorities, but I have a feeling that I can and will make it all work and that is going to be the best running weekend/AZ trip adventure to date.  I know that I can do this and I am going to stay positive.  I am very excited that I have the privilege to be out here with these amazing ultra runners trying to see what I am made of.  Game on to Saturday and HURT!!!  J 
Today is the 3 year anniversary to my very first marathon ever- PF Changs Rock N Roll back in AZ 2008 and I could never have fathomed that 3 years later I would be in beautiful sunny Hawaii running the HURT 100 miler and marathon/ultra number 55!  It’s been an amazing weekend to say the least!
I arrived in Hawaii Thursday night to a wonderful host and pacer, Rosie, greeting me with a super fun lie at Honolulu International in her totally hot blue jeep.  I knew from the second I saw her that we were going to have a blast together over the weekend. She brought me back to her very cute studio apartment where she had me all set up right down to the wonderful smelling plumera flowers on the linens, seriously she took care of me!  Friday Rosie was off to work for most of the day, so I did the vaca thing and enjoyed sleeping in, running on the beach, and of course playing on the beach! 

Rosie and I headed over to the HURT runner check in and prerace brief meeting, probably the last two to actually show up, but who knew when they said it started at 3:30pm that they actually were going to start then??  In the general Hawaiian tradition though not a problem at all and we even caught the last 5 minutes or so of the race briefing, LOL thinking about this now, it absolutely didn’t faze me, I mean what could I have missed?  Oh the course is hard and going to kick your booty?  Yup check- have known that for months going into this crazy adventure! But we did have time to take pictures!!

Next it was off to serious business- Fuel- or what some like to call dinner.  We decided on Kona Brewing Company and had a delightful dinner getting to know each other better and discussing official racer/pacer game plan for the next day.  Rosie was volunteering in the morning at the Paradise aid station and then we planned to have her join me running around 8 or 9pm.  We were both very excited and it was great to spend time with such a super awesome runner chick.  I am very much looking forward to pacing Rosie when she does her first 100 miler as well!

After dinner it was back to the house to get all of our gear prepped and ready for the big race.  I had 3 drop bags to prepare- and a final outfit drop- as I would be making a tight turnaround from the time I had to finish the race to a 3pm flight I had booked for my next adventure.  So we overtook the apartment with piles of running gear, food, clothing, and had a blast putting everything together and finalizing any last minute details.  I felt like I was in wonderful hands with Rosie and did not have a doubt in my mind that she was going to be awesome out there, not only for me, but for all the runners she worked with. 

4am came very early and it was up up and away.  I ate my regular pre race breakfast of a banana, English muffin, and peanut butter and then it was off to the starting line.  I checked in just after 5am and then took some time to sit around and visit with the other runners as well as lay down for a very long time!


The race started at exactly 6am with the sounding of the conch shell after we joined hands and enjoyed a traditional Hawaiian blessing, lol but I think it did end with something like “kick some ass!”  It was still dark for our start and everyone was lit up with head lamps making it overall a very mystical starting line as we stood on top of the bridge getting ready to embark on this crazy journey.  The day was starting perfect with the rain of the past few days finally stopping but leaving the mud on the course and ready for us to enjoy.  We had 7.3 miles to the first aid station where I would say hi to Rosie and I decided to start this first loop wearing my regular road running shoes because well I generally wear these for every race.  This turned out to be a HUGE mistake which I found out very quickly as I was slip and sliding all over the place on the mud and roots.  They are bad enough in trail shoes- road shoes was a disaster and I took no less than 20 falls in that first loop to pay for this miscalculation.  Even though this was not ideal I was trying to make the best of it for the first 20 miles knowing that I had my cascadias waiting for me in my drop bag.  It was very easy to be distracted by the beautiful scenery, but the trail is so technical for the entire race that you risk a face plant anytime you take your eyes off every foot fall.  I debated on bringing my camera out there to capture the moments, but did not want to break it or get it covered in mud like I was after just the first leg.  I came into the first aid station to Rosie and the first thing out of my mouth was “I’m f*cked!”  The early miles of any race are usually hard for me, but add the technical muddy steep up and down hills wearing shoes that felt as slippery as running on ice and I was having a fabulous start!  But I was still smiling and determined to have fun- even with my rookie mistake. 

The rest of the first loop went really well all things considered and I had fun talking with many other runners out there and just taking it all in.  I totally felt a different kind of flow than I have ever felt at any other race on this course.  I try to remember where all the time went and it was like I was just there in the zone not worrying about a single thing besides what I was doing right at that time.  It was a great feeling to be out there and I looked around and just said thank you to no one in particular because I realize that there are so many things that had to fall into place to allow all of it to happen. 
I finished my first loop in under 6 hours but I knew that there was no way that I would be able to hold that pace through the night and therefore hit my 30 hour time goal so that I could catch my flight.  So I came around that first loop deciding that I wanted to do the 100k.  I did not realize what the night had in store for me.  The second loop with the trail shoes went much better and I had a blast out there.  I was able to run some of this with follow MM Gary and that was a great treat to have someone to chat without on the course.  He knows the trails as well so he was watching out for me and totally saved me on loop 3 in the dark making sure I did not go down the wrong trail!  I talked with Rosie and we had a plan that she would meet me at Paradise for my third and final loop ending the 100k back at this aid station for our quick getaway to the airport post race.  I am not sure Rosie knew what she was getting herself into!! 
Rosie and I headed out to run the final 20 miles.  Sounds simple enough, but I was 47 miles in and HURTing pretty bad.  I have never had stomach issues in a race before but this night at HURT that all changed.  Rosie noticed that I started getting low on intake and the next thing I knew I was trying to eat a gu and could not hold it down.  This happened again later in the night when I was just trying to get in some calories and a 5 hour energy.  When you are throwing up your fuel and your caffeine shot it makes for a very tired sluggish sick night.  I was running on empty and falling apart through a lot of the night.  You really start to learn what you are made of at 3 or 4am when you are crawling around in the mud throwing up!  They decided to hold me at the Jackass aid station- boy did I feel like one, because I apparently was looking about as good as I felt.  I told Rosie not to mention it to anyone that I had been barfing all over the trail, but like a awesome friend and pacer she made sure that they knew what was going on with me so that I was looked after.  I was not happy about it at the time, but realize that she did the right thing and was only concerned about my health.  After some miso soup, Japanese healing, feet up, and just about everyone in the aid station gathering around- lol apparently I created some fun for the middle of the night, we were back off on our way. 
This 7.3 miles from Jackass to the nature center were probably the hardest miles that I have had to cover in my life.  I was sick, hurting, tired, demoralized, and scared to death of getting my first DNF.  I had to crawl up many of the steep sections, literally on my hands and knees, because my legs and body did not have enough energy to make the climb like a normal human being.  And there were several times that I just laid down on the trial and closed my eyes.  Poor Rosie had a handful to deal with as I was losing it and I was losing it fast.  She did awesome though and never made me feel worse about the situation.  She would let me get a little rest in and then gently prod me along to keep moving.  There were also various other runners that passed and tried to help me out as well, and although I was probably to out of it to show how thankful I was at the time, their concern did help.  About 3 miles out, I was getting to the lowest dark spot of the night after making terribly slow progress I thought a DNF was inevatible and then tripped and fell on hands and knees into deep mucky mud that just covered me and I lost it.  I started to cry and just lose it saying- “I don’t want to be a quitter, I don’t want a DNF, I didn’t come here to fail!” and other such nonsense until I just got angry.  The race was not over and I was acting like it was.  So that was the bottom and I just decided, nope this is not how it ends.  Got up, and started moving.  My new mantra was “I will do this” and other such thing and I just kept moving with Rosie right next to me.
I came into the start/finish area just before 8am and realized wow I had been out there for 26 hours already and only covered 60 miles!  This course was insane and killer, but I knew I had to get the 7.3 more so I would be an official finisher.  So I did a very quick aid stop just to force some food down and gulp some water that I hoped all wouldn’t come back up as soon as I started running again.  We covered the last part of the course in 2.5 hours which felt great!  I was just determined not to think about anything but finishing strong and focusing on running and staying up right and not barfing.  That was a lot to do, but we did it and I came into the Paradise aid station with tears in my eyes knowing that I was done.  I gave Rosie a huge hug and hit the pavement to get off my aching feet and just sat there saying “wow did that really just happen?” Over 28 hours of the rain forest and the HURT course and I am a changed person today from the amazing experience.  Thank you Rosie for being there with me for the hardest 20 miles of my life, I can’t wait to return the favor to you when you do your first 100 miler!! 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Really???? Did that just happen?

Across the Years is a fixed time event with 72, 48, and 24 hour races taking place in my home state AZ and running across the New Year.  The event is hosted at Nardi Manner on the Westside of town amid farm/agricultural land.  This year I was granted entry off the wait list into the 24 hour event that started on Dec. 31 9am and ran through the conclusion of the entire event on Jan 1, 2011 9am.  The weather had been freakishly cold for AZ and we were expected to get the coldest night during the New Year celebration which in fact happened dropping to the low 20’s.  The .4 mile track is made of hard packed mud/clay what was flat to run on, but did not have any give whatsoever.  In the center of all this fun was a large tent set up to house runners and provide some relief from the cold. 

Arriving to the race I promptly ran into my running friend Sara Duncan from Portland who was running the 48 hour event.  She was ½ way through and still moving and greeted me with a smile.  I set up shop next to her tent located inside the main tent near one of the heated rooms.  I did not bring too much gear because I did not want to be tempted to get comfy and sleep during the night. 

Promptly at 9am a group of about 25 of us headed out to start the adventure.  I had my race plan ready- RUN.  No really this was the plan.  I knew the later it got it was going to hurt just as bad no matter if I ran fast or slow in the beginning and no matter how many breaks I took, so I determined that for the first 12 hours of the race I would run nonstop- no food breaks, no walk breaks, no slowing down, just run hard and hold pace to see how many early miles I can rack up and this is what I preceded to do.  My girls Stacey and Alex were the first to show up from my support crew at 10:30am.  Stacey would stay with me for the rest of the event and be a constant source of motivation, love, smiles, and encouragement to keep on trucken! 

The early miles felt great, I was rested and ready to run hard.  Stacey and Alex were on point with water and gu’s and taking clothing from me as I shed layers as it warmed up from the cold 20’s at the start.  Char came out next and took switched off from Alex running some laps with me.  Char and I had a blast catching up on life and work and it was great to have her out there for the laps I did and get in that quality girl time! The next of my crew to show up was Kim and she brought with her snacks, more warm clothing for the night and much positive energy.  Seeing her every lap while she was there was a great source of motivation.  Mail also started to roll from people watching/tracking online.  These “greetings” were printed out by ATY race staff and placed in our individual mail boxes and my wonderful crew would pull these out at different intervals to read me so words of encouragement.  Each message was so special to me and brought smiles to my face and kept me going strong.   
The next of the crew to show up were Jeff, Grace, and Joe all very close to the same time.  They all ran some laps with me and provided more awesome conversation.  It was getting later in the afternoon and I was happy to have these amazing friends out there with me.  It really was an ultra running party!! 
After the main crowd took off it was Stacey and I out there and she could not run any laps with me due to her injured hamstring so we called in Danica a bit early as I originally asked her to come at 10pm but thought that I needed some company a bit earlier.  Danica being the super awesome friend that she is hopped right over and was there by 8:30pm or so and jumped right in providing updates on life since our last run together where she was one of my superstar pacers at JJ100 at the end of Oct.  We just picked up right where we left off an it was funny to think that it had been almost 2 months.  Danica was super attentive to what I had been eating and ensuring I was still drinking as we crossed over the halfway mark.  I was still moving good, but starting to be a bit out of it. 
My face was getting really really cold and I said this to Danica while we were running.  Sara my awesome awesome friend overheard this and on the next lap appeared with a bondi band to cover my head and face!  She was a total life saver without even being asked!!  LOVE you Sara!!!
A bit before midnight Dania was asked to stop running with me because others were complaining that I had a pacer.  I was somewhat upset about this because at no point in time had anyone out there set the pace for me but me.  They were just there with me talking but never driving the run or the pace.  Many people had friends out there running/walking with them and I felt at this point that the rules that were laid out were not clear and I was being penalized for having many people on my team.  At one point I burst out singing on many of the laps just so show the complainers that I was rocking it out with or without my friends.  LOL it was silly and people thought I was crazy, but I had to channel that angry energy into something positive.  I rang in the New Year with Danica as I pulled her back in for a couple of celebration laps with me and we enjoyed a shot (shot blocks).  At the time I had another surprise guest visitor and supporter there ringing in the New Year with me.  I didn’t get his kiss until the morning but having him there spending our first New Year together was amazing and I am looking forward to many many more!! 

The first miles and hours of my 2011 were COLD!!  With temps dipping to the low 20’s it did not feel like an AZ New Year!  My goal was to keep moving as best as I could throughout the night with no breaks.  I was not putting down any solid food and was starting to feel the fatigue of this hitting as well.  Danica and Stacey were keeping me going with hot chocolate in my hand bottle and trying to get me to eat anything and everything they could find.  At around 3am I ducked into the tent to get some heat and take some fun picts with the girls, but I did not stay for longer than 5 minutes and was back out there on the course moving as soon as I could feel my hands again! 

After popping back out of the tent I had a good talk with the first place woman leading the 3 day, Vikena and she let me know she had been following my progress and was very impressed with what I was doing and that I could and would beat her PR of 109 miles.  I was so out of it at this point that I didn’t think over 109 was possible, but I did feel very appreciate for the lift and energy she gave me with her very sweet words.  Later on as I was staggering along wondering how on earth I could get more run in my shuffle, Iliana, who was doing awesome in the 3 day as well joined me and said “Melissa you stay with me you are going to win second place.”  I had no idea what she was talking about but thought that running with her and her good pace sounded like a pretty stellar idea so off we went!  She then pulled out her Iphone and started looking up the times of the other leaders and said that I had to hit 110 miles to hit second place overall.  She called out some numbers with this and I am pretty sure she was doing calculations on what were need to pace, but I was so out of it I just matched her pace and said yes to whatever she told me to do.  She got right on top of my fluid and food intake from the start and made sure I kept taking in small portions of whatever I could handle as we went.  These early morning hours with Illiana really saved my race- she pushed me and kept me going.  She warned me that I had one guy that was on my heels about a mile behind and that we could not let him lap us and get the lead.  I was also joined in the early morning hours as the sun was coming up by Stan and Charles, other Sole Sports runners and then joined the journey for the finish.  Iliana was the main driver of our group and what she said went.  I literally had to get approval for my 30 second potty break!  LOL and it was absolutely what I needed for these late miles when you can forget to focus. 
We held pace and I was able to come in with just over 112 miles and the second place overall win- beating all the guys that were out there! Finishing was sweet and I really was amazed coming across that line that it was over and that it all really just happened!

The post race party was great with delish food and sweet awards and of course catching up on all the texting I had missed out on as I did not carry my phone on me the entire event.  It was awesome to finish with Stacey, Charles, and Stan there for me because as it turned out I really needed it.  Stacey helped me change into dry clothes, the guys ran around getting me warm drinks and other essentials, and everyone helped me pack up and carry gear.  My team out there for this event was amazing- everyone that was physically out there and everyone that sent in notes and well wishes and love.  I could not have asked for a better group of people to be surrounded by.  This race was a totally different experience for me.  It was the first ultra where I was supported by a crew for the entire event and I am amazed at what I was able to accomplish with their help.  I was out there pushing and running for my team, not for me and that made a huge difference.  Words don’t do justice the feelings I have so I just will have to close with a huge THANK YOU to the amazing people I am so blessed to have in my life and with me that day on this journey.