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White Mountain 100 - Cold Really Cold

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White Mountain 100 - Cold Really Cold

The White Mountain 100 is a race through the White Mountains of Alaska just north of Fairbanks. It's hosted at the end of March which allows for more daylight and less harsh conditions. I was excited for this race, really excited. But after my sole crushing DNF at the Arrowhead 135 just a few weeks earlier. I wasn't even sure if I'd make it to the start line. It wasn't till all the aches and pains had passed and I wrote about my Arrowhead experience that I realized my failure at the Arrowhead was actually exactly what I needed to get me to the start of the White Mountain.

The weeks leading up to the race were uneventful. I was relaxed and not even slightly nervous of what was in store. I paraglided a bunch and surfed and skied a bit too. The most important thing to me after the Arrowhead was that I was happy. I was happy when I trained. I was happy when I raced. And I was happy when I finished. I just wanted to be happy and if running didn't make me happy I would do something that did. The other two important take aways from the Arrowhead was consistent and appropriate fueling and staying positive even with a bored and ideal mind. The inevitable boredom and loneliness scared me the most. Still not totally sure how to train that other than extreme solitude... and with my dog Lopi I'm rarely alone alone.

The other elephant in the room was my rotated hips. I'm stuck in a forward rotation and have been my entire life. I had hip issues in high school track and field and pretty much my entire running career. However as an adult I barely notice the hip issues until I get 60+ miles into a run. It must be the constant bad form for hours on end that finally add up and explode. I've been in physical therapy now for 6 months and was finally seeing results after the Arrowhead. I however was scared of the idea that I needed to rebuild new running muscles in just 6 weeks so I stopped PT and decided to resume when I got back from Alaska. Better to run on my trained and tested muscles even though a body break down was inevitable. 

I flew up to Alaska the Friday before the race. It was cold when I got off the plane about 12F. Not unreasonable though and I was optimistic that the conditions would be actually warm. My friend Lourdes joined me that night and we got a hotel in Fairbanks. It's so cold there over night that you had to plug the car batteries in when ever you parked them. It's crazy to me that people live here all year round. I made sure to do a really good job this time of eating and drinking before the race. So much so that I kept make myself sick from forcing food down my throat. Though I knew I'd be in a caloric deficit after the race so I needed as much as I could now.

We breezed through the prerace checkin, got our bib numbers, said hi to some old friends, and started the long wait for the race to start. The night before the anxiety started to set in. I asked Lourdes how she survives the boredom. What she thinks about while she's out there. She said she thinks about nothing. Sometimes she counts or just repeats the same word over and over. I wasn't convinced I'd be able to do the same so I download a few more podcasts on my phone just in case.

We woke up early and made it to the start line thanks to the badass crusher Teri Buck who let us follow her. (She'd already be home in Anchorage by the time I finished) It's definitely a bikers race with less than 15 runners out of the entire 90 starters. You also get a feeling that they don't really like the runners that much since the very appropriately refer to us as walkers. I guess if it was just a biking race they could probably make the cutoffs shorter and the volunteers wouldn't have to spend as much time out there but I digress.

The race started quickly my plan was to run for as long as I could so that I could get as far on the course as possible before my legs started to break down. I had a strong start and was moving well. The air was so cold that I physically felt my nose holes freeze shut. A lot colder than I was expecting... this would be a theme. About 45 minutes in I ate some food and then reached for my bladder hose to take a drink. Nothing. I thought maybe the change in altitude from Fairbanks to the start had caused the hose to become pressurized so I waited for an uphill to check the situation. I took the pack off and got the bladder out. It was frozen. I was screwed I thought. I can't believe I didn't bring any other way to carry water. I'd surely not be able to continue if I couldn't drink in between aid stations. Then Lourdes came down the hill. I asked her if I could just have a little bit of her water to get me to the first aid station so I could fix the situation there. Instead she gave me one of her little bottles and we went on our way. Lourdes literally saved my race with that bottle.

The first aid station was just a table on the side of the trail. I drank a bunch of water and filled my bottle again. I needed to make it 21 more miles before I could sit down inside a warm cabin and really fix the situation. At this point Beat, Lourdes, Eric, Tony, Virginia and I were all very close. But I was starting to fall back from lack of hydration and fueling. This section also was when the trail turned from punchy runnable to soft sand snow. I could see Lourdes in front of me and I thought we might go back and forth between peeing and layering but it wasn't long till Lourdes started riding the downhills and gained miles on me. I was alone now and actually enjoying the scenery. It was beautiful and warm enough that I didn't need my face covered. My only wish was that my bladder wasn't frozen.

When I made it to the second aid station Lourdes was just leaving and we waved at each other. Inside the cabin Tony was trying to get some food down and warm up. I changed my socks and tried to dry out my shoes. I wanted to drink as much as I could before heading back out for a very long cold night. I ate a pound of bacon and my first PB and J of the race. I also drank a Skratch Labs Recovery shake and made another one in my bottle for the road. A skier who DNFed at the cabin gave me a second bottle for water and I was so thankful for his generosity. The sweep came to the cabin and said the next runners behind me were very far behind and I never saw them even once during the race. 

I headed back out on the trail about an hour before sunset. I was really hoping to make it as far over the pass as possible before it got really dark. I had put some music in my headphones at the last aid station and was hoping it would help distract my mind. Instead I just got to think about things with some background music. A few miles down the trail I came up on Tony. Tony had just changed into some serious winter over boots. They looked like they might have been rated for -40F. My shoes and socks were wet and as I passed him I started to think. Was it really going to get that cold tonight? Was I going to get frostbite? Should I put on all my layers before it gets really cold? The thoughts swirled through my head. I stopped waited for Tony to catch up and confessed. Tony I'm really scared. If something happens out here in this 23 mile section the people behind us are hours away and the people in front are hours away. I'd be screwed. You want to walk with me through the night over this pass for safety reasons? Tony was kind of enough to oblige and we chatted for a bit as the sunset. 

Tony shouted look up and the northern lights were dancing above us. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Vibrant greens and purples and pinks dancing across the sky. We stopped and tried to take a couple pictures. Then we kept moving to stay warm. I'd look up every once and awhile to watch them but Tony and I no longer talked. It was way to cold to pull the buff down from your face and the higher we rose the less tree coverage we had and the wind chilled us to the bone.

This is when things went really down hill. The temps read -28F and with the wind chill it could have easily been -30F. Even with 4 jackets on my arms started to go numb. The artificial hand warms were key and I kept moving my toes hoping they wouldn't get frost bite. But the worst of all was that everything was frozen and I couldn't pull my buff down long enough to put any food or water in. Tony's head lamp was comforting. Just knowing he was there made it feel less scary. But I started to think that if a snowmobile came by I might take the easy way out. But they never came and by 4am Tony and I had successfully made it to the 3rd aid station.

This was my favorite aid station. The volunteers were great, the warmth was amazing, and I ate literally 5 PB and Js. Lourdes and Eric were still there when we arrived but on their way out. Tony wanted to sleep so he passed out and Fred woke up and we chatted for a bit. Fred was fast really fast but was widely under dressed for the conditions. He had spent a good amount of time in the aid station warming up before going back out to brave the conditions. I left a few minutes before him and he quickly caught me. We chatted and walked together for a bit but my pace was too slow for him to stay warm so he took off. My headlamp was dead so I walked alone in the dark really appreciating the northern lights. I tried the counting thing but mostly found my self repeating over and over "The faster you run the faster you're done". This motivated me to the next medic tent and then finally to the last aid station. But my hip issues had caught up to me and around mile 70 I was unable to bend my left knee.

Walking became a chore and the only way I could even move fast enough was to shuffle at other peoples walking pace. I looked more like I was cross country skiing than running since I would swing my left leg out around by the hip instead of bending it. At the last aid station I sat down for a bit and eat one last PB & J. I was in the final 19 miles to the finish and it was now going to be a death march. It sucked that I felt so good and did everything right just to have my body go out first. But I knew it was going to happen so I pushed through the pain. Screaming in pain every time I had to run. Repeating over and over The faster you run the faster your done. I needed to make it to the finish before sunset. I didn't have a headlamp and I wasn't about to freeze out there another night.

I was in the final 7 miles to the finish when Tony finally caught me. I was so happy to see him. We were climbing up the wall right before the final horrible 6 miles of uphill to the finish. We chatted for a bit but he was walking and I couldn't keep up even at my shuffle. He kindly gave me his headlamp just incase and took off for the finish. I kept him in my sights for awhile but I started to hallucinate as the light started to get dimmer. I kept seeing Tony hiding in the woods. So vividly that I would shout Tony what are you doing. I kept trying to talk to him before he disappear into a tree. Then the pain in my knee became unbearable I would just start shouting like a crazy person every time I had to run. The faster you run the faster you're done! It felt like the finish took forever. Probably because it did but it was still daylight so I met my goal. 

I grabbed a bunch of food to eat and then jumped in the car and Lourdes and I headed back for the hotel. Now it was time to take stock. Only one blister on my big toe which I counted as a success. Lower back and shoulder chaffing from the backpack. Butt crack and inner thigh chaffing from well you know... Feet swollen from 37hrs of being on them and well hmmm that left knee ya that didn't bend for a solid 3 days.

I was actually in super great shape for running almost the entire race granted a shuffle run but still a run. Made me wish I didn't have messed up hips or might have been able to finish hours faster. But in conclusion I've canceled all my upcoming races to focus on my hips. I don't want to feel like mile 60 is the guaranteed death of my knee at every race because of my hips. And I'd also like to not have to use my high pain tolerance all the time. Stay tuned for full body reset. I know it'll take months and lots of work but it will be worth it in the end. 

 

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Wasatch 100 Pacing

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Wasatch 100 Pacing

Someone once said to me “Your family are the only people crazy enough to spend days on end with no sleep supporting you on some crazy run.” I told him he needed better friends. I’d support a stranger like I would support my family. when it comes to ultra running. We are all just vulnerable humans chasing the limits of our physical body.

It was a random May day in Yosemite Valley. My friend Blake and I had climbed a few things here in there. One day on a hike into the rocks she lamented, you should meet my friend Stacey she’s a badass ultra runner training for her first 100. I think you guys would be friends. Blake put us in contact and we phone tagged here and there as I travel in and out of Utah. It wasn’t till I failed miserably on my Nolan’s attempt till I inquired if she needed any help for the Wasatch 100. That’s how it all began.

Stacey asked how many miles I wanted to do. With my recent hip injury and oral surgeries I knew I was only good for a hand full of miles. So she gave me the shortest distance. Big Mountain to Lambs Canyon roughly 14 miles. I booked my plane ticket the next day. I started to feel nervous as the day got closer. I wasn’t in very good shape and all the physical therapy I was doing for my hip was just making me super fatigued. All I knew was Stacey was fasted and my worst nightmare was getting dropped. I can red line for 14 miles right??

Stacey picked me up from the airport on Thursday and I hoped in her little car with her and her friend Sal. I love supporting big races the energy and people in this sport make me unbelievably happy. We grabbed a bite to eat and headed to the pre race meeting. We got there a little early so we walked around Salt Lake for a little bit and drank some boba tea. It has been since I moved from San Francisco since I drank that and it did not sit right in my stomach. We went back and they explained the race course and sent everyone on there way.

That night we strategized or maybe just hung out. We got Stacey all packed up and ready to go. She went to bed early so that she could make it to the bus leaving at 4am and the race starting at 5am! The alarm rang and I sprung from bed. Stacey was up eating breakfast and getting ready to go. She asked again if she need a jacket and I assured her that she would warm up quickly. Sal drove her to the bus and I tried to catch another wink of sleep before I was to start running with her at mile 30.

Sal and I got up ate some food and headed to the staging area for the race. We sat around for a few hours refreshing her tracker till we got the text from Stacey saying she was headed our way. In a flash we drove up the hill and were waiting at the aid station. Stacey was crushing and I was getting more nervous that I would get dropped. The aid station was full of energy. I was screaming and shouting and cheering the runners on and maybe ringing the cowbell a little too much. Quicker than we had thought Stacey was charging down the hill and it was time for pacing to presume.

Sal and I checked how she was doing and how the tendinitis in her foot was. She was in good spirits... her foot not so much. The sun was just peaking and I know we were in for a scorcher of a run. Stacey unlike me enjoys running in the heat. I on the other hand I run 100s of miles in Alaska for a reason. We got everything together and got her to eat some food and we were off on our way to lambs canyon.

As we started on our way I asked again how she was doing. As I jogged along behind her, her limp was super noticeable. I knew she was in a lot of pain but I also knew she was tough as nails. A few men passed us and one guy stuck around for a while as we chatted about ultras and what not. He jetted off and we were alone for a bit. Stacey would curse every time she stepped wrong on a rock and I'd try to distract her with another Lopi story. 

She was low less than halfway through a 100 mile run and having to walk from the pain. I reassured her that this was normal. Everyone walks and that no matter what she was getting to the finish line before the cut off. We ran for a little and then walked for a little and another man passed us. She turned to me and said this sucks. I knew she'd pull it together as we chatted about Salt Lake. She was like you said your race in Alaska was a death march I don't want to death march for 60 miles.

The next aid station came faster than expected. Stacey got some much needed salt and we filled up some ice cold water to put on her neck. Only 6 more miles till I handed her off to Amy at lambs. This stretch was hard. It was 1 million degrees outside and I was definitely not hydrated or salted. Stacey needed to walk more to keep her bad foot from giving out to quickly. And then we passed a runner with an epic bloody nose. I gave him all my toilet paper and then ran to catch up with Stacey. He later charged pass us with the toilet paper jammed up his nose. Lambs was just a dot on the horizon as we could see it for almost the entire 6 miles. It never got closer.

But then there we were finally. We got Stacey all situated I gave her a hug and said see you at Brighton. I knew Amy was going to keep her on track even though she was in a really low spot. Sal and I hung out at the aid station with my Canadian friends for a bit before we went back so Sal could get some sleep before he started pacing.

After Sal realized sleep wasn't in his future we headed to the seedy part of Salt Lake to buy some fries and then up to Brighton to wait for Stacey and Amy to arrive. Around midnight she showed up still smiling. She looked amazing for having almost 70 miles and raging tendinitis in her foot. We let her sit down and she looked at us and dead serious said I want to quite. I'm giving up. We said okay thats fine as we forced her to eat more InandOut fries and a sandwich. It wasn't long after that she was wearing my jacket, holding my poles, and I was putting her backpack on her and saying see you at the finish. 

Then I epiced. I drove away from the aid station with no charge in my cell phone and a city I knew nothing about. O boy I thought I hope my memory doesn't fail me now. I got my way back to down town Salt Lake and at about 3 am I knew I was doomed unless I got some charge. I rooted through a bag Sal left in Stacey's car and found a charge. I sat there on the side of the road exhausted trying to get just 1% so that it would turn on. Once it turned on I realized I didn't know her address so I scrolled google maps till I found were I thought it was. I was close only about a mile away. By the time I tucked into bed it was lights out but I needed to get up at 8am sharp to drive the 1hr to the finish and also get everyone food. 

By the time I reached the finish it was only a few minutes before I spotted Stacey and Sal walking up the road! I was so excited she did it with all the pain and death march it was. She finished the Wasatch 100 and with about 150 people who dropped that's a damn good accomplishment. She took a shot of whiskey and we sat around for a bit before heading back to Salt Lake. After a nap, some indian food and a full night of sleep I was back on a flight to Reno happy as could be. Man I love this sport and all these amazing people!

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Western States 100 Pacing

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Western States 100 Pacing

It was February 2016 I stumbled out of our red Prius rental car and shuffled my legs across the icy ground. Everyone looked in much better shape than me. But less than 24 hours earlier I was deep in the woods of the Alaska wilderness running. The Susitna 100 was an epic 100 miler race across frozen Alaska. This year it only saw 28 runners actually finish. Of those finishers only 9 were females. Karen Johansen was one of those 9 females and so was I. At the award ceremony the next day she looked almost completely recovered while I stayed firmly in my seat trying to hide my obvious limp. I didn’t know much about Karen at the time other than that around mile 40 her and her friend Lourdes effortlessly floated by me at my lowest of lows. We all chatted about the race, our up coming races, and where we were from. This is how Karen and I connected on the Western States 100. Excitedly she asked if I would pace her and even more excited I obliged.

It is now June 2016 and the hype for the Western States 100 was growing in Tahoe. Karen had a super limited schedule so we barely got to sync up before race day. It was Friday afternoon when we finally saw each other 5 months since our last chat in person in Alaska. Karen was super sick. She could barely sit with us for more than a few minutes before getting nauseous. We made a plan to have me pace her the whole way from Forresthill to the finish and then she went to bed. I started to feel nervous about her health and the heat of the coming day but if I knew anything about Karen it was that she was one tough cookie. I decided to pass the time by going paragliding which proved to be a mildly bad idea. I stalled my paraglider close to the ground and fell right on my ankle. A sprained ankle the day before an ultra. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy.

By the time I woke the next morning Karen was already at mile 10. I continued to watch her tracker like a hawk. She was averaging a good pace and I started to estimate when I would need to be in Forresthill. By the time she reached mile 30 I had a good estimate of when she would be at mile 60. It started to dawn on me that I would be running for some very strange hours. Entirely all at night. I quick grabbed another nap and headed down the hill. I kept massaging my ankle just hoping it wouldn’t cause me any problems. I put on my running clothes, packed up my backpack, and put on my compression socks in an effort to combat the swelling in my ankle. The sun was setting already and I was feeling super mentally unprepared for what the night was about to hold. I kept reminding myself that Karen had 60 miles on her legs and I had 0. This isn’t about me. This is about her. 40 miles on fresh legs is nothing. 

By 9pm all of the spectators started to go to bed and clear the streets. It was dark now so I put on a jacket because I was cold. I said goodbye to some people and then it was just me standing waiting. Karen rolled through the aid station around 9:45pm and we were off running together at 10pm. I had already shed my jacket as we ran down the street together chatting. I couldn’t believe how fresh Karen looked! Distracted we missed the turn straight out the gate and some people behind us yelled for us to turn. Wow that could have been bad I thought as I cleared my head and focused. The course wasn’t as well marked as I thought it would be so I made extra sure to always be looking… I mean we all had heard what happened to the number one guy getting lost before HWY 49. 

Before even getting a mile into the run we both had to use the bathroom. We cleaned up and continued downhill. It was a lot of downhill. I thought we were making really good time. We were talking about running, our personal lives, and everything in between. The first aid station came and went and I was back on familiar trails. I had worked the Cal 2 aid station for the Canyons 100k so I felt a little less lost in the woods. I couldn’t believe how dusty and hot it was for how late at night. We made it to the Cal 2 aid station were everything was buzzing. We saw a few people who had dropped and ate a little food. By this point we had finally settled into together. We had tried Karen running in front and me following and vice versa but settled in with me leading and setting the pace. We reached the next aid station quickly and everyone couldn’t believe how great Karen looked. I really lucked out. She was so strong and good at running ultras. She knew exactly what she needed when she needed it.

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As we left that aid station we started to go uphill again. Karen is a really strong ascender even with 70 miles on her legs. We set a really solid pace on the uphill and passed several parties that looked like they were hurting. The next stop was the river crossing and I was getting nervous about the prospect of the fridge water at 3 in the morning. The river came faster than expected and Karen flew through the aid station before the water. A spectator grabbed me by the arm and said Jen!! what are you doing here?? Immediately confused she realized I was not Jen Shelton. This wasn’t my first time being mistaken for Jen. We both laughed as she continued to rant about how I could be her sister. Karen was already at the river as I sprinted down the stairs to catch up. They put a life jacket on both of us and it was time to go. We waded waste deep across the river making sure not to twist an ankle on the slippery big rocks below. This was a first for both of us. The water was cool, welcoming, and refreshing! I was feeling revitalized and ready to take on the rest of the course. Karen took her shoes off to realize what she thought was a rock was actually bad trench foot. She changed her socks, but the damage was already done. She knew she just needed to grit it out. 

We went up hill for the next mile or so and the heat had already dried most of me out. We were at mile 80 now and we had a small 20 miles left to go. The trail goes down hill for a bit and then turns into a very runnable angle. We capitalized on this and set a slow but steady pace. We passed a young man who was really hurting. His cough echoed through the canyon. I kept thinking how lucky I was that Karen was in such good shape! I turned around and asked her how she was doing again. She responded with the usual good! Though I knew she had terrible trench feet, 80 miles on her legs, and horrible chaffing. The strength of an ultra runner is insane. We ran with in close distance of this young man and his pacer for awhile and had to listen to the awfulness of his pacer. Sometimes its better to let the struggler struggle and encourage them instead of being so hard. Karen and I shot each other a glance and pulled away from hearing distance.

I refilled my water and fueled up at the next aid station. My hand flashlight battery was dead so I pulled my spare headlamp from my pack. The sun was just barely rising. But it was dark enough to need a light. We were roughly a half marathon from the finish. We wanted to cover as much distance as possible before the sun hit us and slowed us down. Then it hit me… the gut rot. It was only 3 miles to the next aid station I could make it. I trotted along the trail in fear of shitting my pants. All of my energy and thoughts were consumed by keeping it together. Out of no where my friend Chaz chipper as ever came flying by. When did we pass Chaz I thought? He had come through Forresthill in the day light!! I was super happy to see he was still going and hadn’t lost his sense of humor. The aid station came faster than expected and I disappeared into the portapotty. I made it quick and found Karen on her way out of the aid station. It was a quick section to HWY 49 and then we would be in the home stretch. The sun had risen and it was already smolderingly hot.

This was my lowest point. I was sick. My hips were hurting still from the Broken Arrow Skyrace the previous weekend. I was over 30 miles in. Karen was going to finish whether I was there or not. She was doing so good. I contemplated stopping at HWY 49 and getting Corbin to pick me up. It wasn’t like I was racing. Crippled over on the uphill Karen still looking strong she knew I was hurting. I joked doesn’t it feel good to see someone with less miles on there legs hurting worse than you? She laughed and said kind of. We both laughed and I started moving a little better. This is when I realized what made pacing hard. It’s the motivation. When you’re racing you get your motivation from the belt buckle, from the finish line, from the idea of crossing something off your list. I didn’t have these motivations. What was it that I could draw on to keep moving? It was Karen. It was getting to see her succeed. It was getting to share in her accomplishment. It was getting to make sure she finished. I told her I’d run with her to the finish. I was running to the finish. 

We could feel the energy of the finish line when we reached HWY 49. Everyone was screaming and cheering. We were a short 6 miles from being able to close our eyes and sleep forever. I knew all of these trails I had run them before. Karen wanted to run so we ran. Even on the uphill. By the time we reached the no hands bridge which was the second to the last aid station a sense of relief came over us. Karen was finishing this race. There were no cutoffs left to miss and just a short 3 miles and a big up hill between us and the finish line. I runner came up behind and me and said hey Jen it’s Blah Blah from race Blah Blah remember me? At this point I just said it’s so good see you again! And Karen and I left the aid station. Karen laughed and looked at me and said wow I bet everyone is wondering why a professional runner is pacing me. 

 

Karen started to become teary eyed as the prospect of finishing this race became more and more a reality. I quick grabbed the phone and turned it to full speaker on some jams. We were walking up this hill and we were going to do it in musical style. We passed a few people and got passed by a few people and after the final aid station we started to run again. Less than a mile from the finish I couldn’t contain my excitement. I was screaming and clapping and cheering and maybe dropping the F-bomb more than I should have. As we hit the pavement and ran through the neighborhoods of Auburn, Karen and I started to belt the lyrics to the song playing. Right now the name of the song escapes me but this moment was really special to me. Karen had been awake for 28 hours, had 100 miles on her legs, and was so happy and alive! The track came into view and I handed my phone off to my friend Lucas to take photos of us finishing. I looked at Karen and she said run the track with me. We ran the entirety of the track and as the finish line got closer and closer I didn’t want it to end. And just like that it was over. She had did it. And no one can ever take that away from her. She will always be a Western States 100 finisher!

We laid on the track drank some water and parted ways. To me pacing the Western States felt more rich and more meaningful than any race I’ve ever done. There’s no doping, no cutting course, no glory, no finish line, the selfishness that has made me hate running sometimes was stripped away. It truly made me appreciate what Tim had done for me in Alaska. He could have finished 5 hours faster but he stuck with me. He stuck with me and made sure I finished too. The selflessness in these serious endurance events makes me really love the people I choose to call friends.

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Recovery - The Struggle is Real

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Recovery - The Struggle is Real

Recovery. It's the most important part of a race. For me recovering from a 20, 30, 50 mile run doesn't take very long. Maybe a day of rest and listening to my body and then I can jump back up and start running again. However the Susitna 100 was a different story for me. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, the snow , or the sled. Whatever it was I just couldn't seem to come back. A week went by and I was still limping around. I was struggling to sleep without my legs being restless. I was depleted and no matter what I did I couldn't seem to come back. Icing, stretching, slow walks with lopi. I must have slept in two hour increments for days on end. The worst part was I could never make it through an entire night of sleep.

Corbin was concerned and kept making suggestions that my diet wasn't right. His solution was that I should start eating meat. I didn't agree, but I had a feeling my less then stellar diet might have something to do with it.

So I turned to Skratch Labs again. I was determined to take control of my diet. I wanted to run and feel strong. Karen, Lourdes, Tim, Lester... Everyone was running again. I wanted to run too!

I searched the internet and found solace in a few articles like this one that made it seem like your first 100 was always the hardest and longest to recover from. A couple others suggested 6 weeks until you were completely recovered. That felt like an eternity.

So here I was resting in Boulder for work just a week after Alaska. I was still not sleeping and things seemed to be getting worse. My chest started to feel tight and my heart seems to beat faster then I remembered. The truth of the matter is my body lost a lot of blood after finishing the Susitna 100 (a detail I left out of my race report). I believe mostly from stress. I've always kind of teetered on the anemic side since being a vegetarian for 9 years but the extra blood loss I think pushed me over. I thought back to my friends Tom and Theresa and the story they told me about the weird things anemia made there bodies do. Tom is a long long time vegetarian and swore by some iron pills that allowed for easy absorption.

So step one was to turn my diet around with help from Skratch Labs and step two was to start taking those iron pills I'd been neglecting. Baskets full of veggies with extra beets for beet juice and a bottle of iron pills. I was going to get to the bottom of this.

I was in Boulder for the time so I decided to stop by the Skratch Labs office. I met with a few of the awesome people behind the business and talked training, nutrition, and recovery. The knowledge and experience they have with this kind of things is something I can only hope to skratch the surface of (pun intended). They tipped me off on a few things, first there Raspberry daily electrolyte mix actually has iron in it naturally from the raspberries so it will be an easy way for me to maintain the iron levels after I bring them back up with the pills. Second the sad reality is that unless you know your body really well and are a diligent vegetarian it's super hard to be a high performing endurance athlete without eating a little meat. It sucked to hear but after reading the introduction to the FeedZone cookbook when they talk about vegetarian cyclist David Zabriskie I kind of had a feeling that was the case. And as much as I think I’m good about my diet… I’m no Scott Jurek or anywhere close to that. I live in a van. Most my meals are centered around nut butters and eggs. Which is apparently not what my body needed after the Susitna 100. Last they warned me of the terrors of over training and how hard it is to recover from the constant fatigue. Right now though I was just concerned with getting running again not even training!

I left Boulder feeling like I had a plan of attack until a series of unfortunate events happened in the airport and I cried for a bit. Anyways back to recovery. The terrible airport experience made me want Yosemite because Yosemite is where you go for answers and where you go to heal. I picked up a prenatal vitamin because they have a huge amount of Iron in them and it’s also what the doctor suggested. This was my third week of recovery and I was spending it in Yosemite. I drank water from the springs, laid in the sun, climbed a lot, and finally slept. I slept every night like a baby. I was worked and after leaving Yosemite realized some of that fatigue was linked to an impending cold. So the next week I spent laid up in Tahoe sick as a dog. At this point I’m taking my prenatal vitamin along with an iron plus pill. Climbing a bit in the gym but mostly just working and sleeping. I had made up the tasty Scratch Labs beet juice recipe and had a glass everyday. I always noticed a big spike in my energy levels after a glass of beet juice.

About 28 days after I finished the Susitna 100 the weather in Tahoe finally cleared, my cold was gone, and I went for my first run. It was slow but I felt mentally and aerobically stronger than ever. However my legs felt like bricks. I didn’t seem to have the same turn over and my knees and hips got really tight giving me pain. I stretched and foam rolled right after I finished but still found myself limping around the next day. I’ve always been a really bendy person but for the first time ever I was sore from a 5 mile run. I couldn’t do all of the poses,  but I went to yoga anyways. The weather turned back to snow in Tahoe and I cursed the cold. You can’t blame me for not wanting to run in the cold and snow for awhile. But I was eating better with no meat yet, taking the iron supplements, and planning to spend the next few weeks with short distances at a regular interval. All in all no better feeling then being able to run again.

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First 100 After Math

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First 100 After Math

I'm trying to recount everything that happened that night I finished the Susitna. It feels like my recovery has taken an eternity and I want to capture all the details of what happened to my body.

So here is my trip report Link. In summary I was in motion for close to 37 hours straight with no rest. I was moving over undulating icy and snowy terrain with a 30 pound sled strapped around my waste. Every step was deliberate and forceful.

Here is what I remember from those days post race. When I finished at 9pm I was wide awake I was afraid to take my shoes off so I sat inside eating and drinking for about 30 minutes. When it was time to go Corbin pulled the car around but I couldn't stand. I had no control over my lower legs. I couldn't straighten my knees or bend them so they always stayed at a slight angle. Corbin lifted me from the chair and I put an arm around his neck. Though honestly he was supporting all of my body weight while my legs slid on the icy ground beside him.

Once in the car I finally removed my shoes and socks. Immediately my feet swelled to an abnormal size and the pain on the bottom of my feet was so extreme I started to moan. I couldn't tell if they were frost bitten, and I was convinced I would never walk again. I had over 20 blisters covering the bottom of my feet. I quickly placed them under the heat and fell asleep. When I would wake up I realized I was still hallucinating. I saw faces in every object that passed and the sound of snow machines still echoed in my brain.

By the time we got to the hotel I wasn't even able to use Corbin as a crutch. Unable to bend my knees my legs stuck straight out in front of me as he sat me in a wheel chair and wheeled me into the elevator. I was so swollen at this point I looked 30 pounds heavier. Once we reached the hotel room Corbin laid me on the floor where I was convinced I could crawl to the shower. My knees were so sensitive that I resorted to an army crawl but only an inch of dragging my legs uncovered the pain all over and instead I laid helpless on the floor. At this point still fully clothed in what I had run in I was going in and out of shock. My teeth would chatter uncontrollably and my body and muscles would convulse. By now it was almost midnight.

My clothing smelled of piss and sweat an extremely foul smell, and I wanted to shower immediately. I had been moving for two days and had peed countless times without wiping with anything but snow. Not to mention a few times I may have peed on my shoes at wee hours of the morning. Needless to say I smelled bad and I couldn't move. Corbin returned from putting back the wheel chair and assisted me in my clothing removal. My body was in worse shape then I had imagined and I found that the sides of my thighs were extremely bruised from the poles of my sled rubbing. Not to mention the horrible chaffing around my waste from the sled belt.

Now came the hard part getting to the shower. Corbin lifted me on to the toilet while he sat a trashcan upside down in the tub so I could shower without standing. This is when I realized how severely dehydrated I was. My pee was the deepest color of blood orange. I was unable to support my own body weight and as hard as I tried I couldn't left my legs over the side of the tub without using my arms. Corbin sat me on the upside down trashcan and started the tub. I couldn't figure out how to clean my self while sitting so I got rid of the trashcan and laid horizontal in the tub. I splashed water over my body and soaped as much as I could while Corbin sat near by making sure I didn't drown.

Then came the shock again. My teeth started to chatter and I started to convulse. I felt helpless as I urgently asked Corbin to get me warm. I was unable to free myself from tub. He lifted my body out and held me over his legs while he used the hair dryer to blow heat on my skin and toweled me to get the water off. I slipped some clothing on and he placed me in the bed.

The pain and swelling was so extreme there was no position that didn't hurt. I wanted my legs elevated because I still couldn't feel any of my toes mostly from the swelling at this point. He stacked all 8 pillows from the bed under my legs and made me some dinner. He was forcing Skratch Labs Recovery powder down my throat and making me eat even though I didn't want to. My left knee was worse then my right and the swelling and pain was strangely behind the knee. I think from the heel first walking I did in sections. So Corbin filled a few bags of ice and I iced my left knee all night. At this point it was now 1am.

Corbin was tired and I was set for a sleepless night anyways so he passed out in the bed beside me while I shifted and moaned all night in and out of small pockets of sleep. At 6am I realized I need to urinate and it was an emergency. I woke Corbin up and he quickly carried me to the toilet and back to the bed. He then snuck down to the lobby and grabbed me a big breakfast. By the time the sun rose it was shaping up to be the first bluebird day in awhile. Corbin got my trekking poles close to the bed and I urged him to go skiing.

I was now alone tossing and turning in pain. I needed to unpack and repack the sled for the flight that night. I couldn't sleep so I called my family and talked on the phone most of the day laying in bed with my feet propped up the wall. But then it hit again. I needed to pee. I positioned myself sitting at the edge of the bed with the trekking poles in each hand and stood up. Still unable to straighten or bend my knees I shuffled with the trekking poles to the bathroom. I was mobile now so I used my hands to lift my legs into the tub and used the railings to hold on while I took a solid shower. I could stand without the trekking poles now but I couldn't walk without them. I dried myself and put fresh clean clothing on. I felt good and wanted to put my compression socks on in hopes of making my feet feel better. So I sat on the couch with a knife popping some of the bigger poorly positioned blisters. Puss oozed out all over my feet and I applied as much Neosporin as I could.

I got the sled packed and unpacked and then Corbin showed up. Now was the true test. Could I walk without the poles? It was slow painful and awkward, but I could hobble unassisted. We went to the award ceremony and I got the belt buckle before heading back to the hotel. It was 9pm at this point an entire day after finishing the race and I could finally sleep. While Corbin packed his ski gear I passed out into the best 3 hours of sleep I could have asked for. We then headed to the airport for our 2 am flight back to Reno. I hobbled through the airport and to the gate where I fell asleep on the floor. Corbin woke me and I got onto the plane where I immediately feel asleep in Corbin's lap. Off this flight and on to the next a similar story. I was so destroyed I couldn't interact with other human beings. I couldn't formulate thoughts or words.

Corbin drove us back to Truckee where I laid horizontal on a couch unable to operate my car or move quickly for 3 days. I couldn't sleep. I could barely work. I couldn't walk Lopi without becoming extremely fatigued. Everything was a chore I was drained. The most empty I've ever been.

But I picked myself up on the fourth day and drove back to Incline. I showered and did laundry. I unpacked the sled and packed myself for my next trip to Boulder. I took Lopi on a walk and I enjoyed the little improvements in mobility that I gained daily. I still couldn't feel two toes on my left foot and my feet needed to be lotioned daily. But life keeps moving on even if your not ready for it to.

I flew to Boulder 5 days after returning from Alaska for work still unable to walk without limping. But everyday seemed to get just a little bit better and I found myself walking 1 to 2 miles everyday limp free after day 8 of no running. But I still couldn't sleep. It wasn't till my final night in Boulder that I got a goodnight sleep. I account it to the late night and good conversation with friends. Or maybe it was the climbing I had done that morning. Non the less I finally slept for the first time in 10 days.

I feel like I went through hell with this recovery and I've finally come out on the other side. I've learned so much about my body and what I need. I know next time things will be different.

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Susitna 100 - A Race Across Frozen Alaska

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Susitna 100 - A Race Across Frozen Alaska

I watched the sunrise, then the sunset, then the sunrise, and then the sunset again. I don't even know where to begin to talk about the Susitna 100. I'll try to start from the beginning.

I had originally heard about the Susitna 100 from a good friend who was working at Happy Trails Kennel. He raced it two years ago in the bike division and at the time I thought it sounded crazy. Flash forward to August 2015 I'm coming back from a soul crushing (and foot crushing) Nolan's 14 attempt looking for a sufferfest to satiate my sadness. I looked seriously into the Zion 100 but couldn't bring myself to register. The terrain seemed straightforward and the challenge was more of distance and less of elements. Weeks went by and something sparked my memory of the Susitna 100. I did a quick Google search and found myself entangled in the logistics of a race across frozen Alaska dragging sled! A few hours later I was registered. At the time I don't think I realized what an epic endeavor this would be.

Months went by and I built a sled and did some long runs in Tahoe, Yosemite, The Grand Canyon, and Zion. Training was easy this year with the large amount of snow Tahoe received so I tried to get out often to run around with sled. Logistically the race is intimidating warning of frostbite and other serious damages from the extreme cold and extreme distance. I over planned and was sure I'd be ready for the worst case scenario. I wanted to leave there with all my fingers and toes!

Something to know about the Susitna 100 is that all racers are required to carry a -20 degree sleeping bag, a closed cell sleeping pad, a bivy sack, 2 insulated liters of water, 3,000 calories of food that you can't eat unless in an emergency, a headlamp, and a rear flashing light. At a minimum your gear has to weigh 15lbs but most peoples weigh well over. This is why all the runners drag a sled. So here I am weighing in at 118 lbs with a sled that in total weighed 30 lbs. My weight to sled ratio had me at a serious disadvantage from the start. But no matter what, this race wasn't going to be physically or mentally easy.

Corbin and I flew into Anchorage a few days before the race and explored around the area. A quick day in the Chugach and a awesome day in Talkeetna getting to see Denali up close and personal. It was nice to distract myself from the grim reality the next 2 days would be for me. I got the sled packed and all the gear dialed and was feeling ready but nervous for the day ahead. I honestly had no idea what to expect. When people asked me how long they thought it would take I would answer with anywhere from 32 to 38 hours.

At the start it was still dark and I checked in for the race. I walked around in a room full of athletes over hearing conversations that started with "The last three years I did this it was... " or "My last 100 miler was like... " My heart immediately sank and I couldn't join in on any of the conversations. A few people chatted with me and asked me about my last race or my other ultra races. I was left codfish mouthed. My response was uh... I don't race but I really liked running the Grand Canyon.

All the racers funneled out to the start line and I positioned myself directly behind the woman who has raced it 15 times. I figured if I could stick close with her I'd do well and not get lost. The gun went off and the adrenaline started pumping. I was determined to keep up with these ladies. I was in first for awhile, then second, then third. By mile 5 I knew this was not a pace I could sustain for 100 miles, but I kept charging. I wanted to stick close to the front of the pack. By mile 10 I must have been 5 or 6 back and by 15 I realized that I needed to walk. The first aid station was 22 miles from the start and it felt like an eternity to get there. Kept thinking I must be getting close. Two men that were keeping the same pace as me caught up, Dustin and Tim. I kept with them till we got the first checkpoint in a little over 5 hours. I left the checkpoint before them because I was moving much slower then them so I knew they would catch me in the next 15 mile stretch to Flathorn Lake. This was the section of the trail that conflicted with a dogsled race.

Zoom another group of dogs ran past and then another and another. It was crazy to watch all the mushers out there running the dogs and for a few minutes I also felt like a dog dragging a sled. My thoughts wandered to Lopi and how much I love that dumb dog. I played out scenarios in my head of Lopi getting picked on by the sled dogs because he's a California softy. It's the little things that keep your mind distracted from your current state.

Tim and his friend Lester zoomed past me and Dustin stayed pretty close. It was the infinite awfulness of the dismal swamp. The never ending flat icy miserable miles of nothing. I was happy to have the micro spikes on my feet but now 30 miles in I could feel the bruises building on every step. I just wanted to get to Flathorn Lake before the sunset. The temperature had dropped considerably since the start of the race and just in a light pair of gloves I thought I was going to lose my thumbs. I kept shaking my hands trying to rush blood back into them.

It was a relief right as the sun was setting to finally make it to the check point. It felt like an eternity as I watched the checkpoint get closer and closer traversing the miles over the frozen lake. It was busy with people. I dropped the sled and started to prepare myself for the long cold night. I pulled out my big black diamond expedition mittens and a few hand warms. I thought my feet were doing fine other than the bruising on the bottom so I didn't change my socks. I pulled out my puffy and a second pair of pants and headed into the checkpoint. My plan was to make it quick I was feeling better and want to making it through the night with all my fingers and toes. I had drank almost all my bladder so I planned to fill it up and get on my way with a few bites of food. Any icy hill led up to a small hut that was booming with warmth. As I started up the hill I watch Tim slip badly and fall down it. He seemed okay so I kept moving. When I got inside I layered up and ate some food the warm couch was so inviting I knew I needed to stay focused. I went outside to fill my water bladder and ended up filling it with freezing cold water. This proved to be a crucial mistake. As I headed back inside for a brief second I realized my backpack was soaking wet and there was water everywhere. I checked to make sure I closed the bladder only to realize the cold water had burst the seams. Well there was no way I was going to put a soaking wet backpack back on my back so I cut my loses and threw it in the sled. 

It was dark now so I had my headlamp out and was ready to keep moving. As I left Flathorn Lake I had a million things racing through my head. How was I supposed to run another 70 miles with no water!? I had a Nalgene in my sled but having to stop and take the sled off every time I needed to drink was going to take too much time. I continued contemplating my options for several hours. The bruising on the bottom of my feet had become unbearable and I removed the micro spikes after dropping down onto the Susitna River. It was about to be a very long 18 miles on a cold flat river to the next checkpoint and at this point I wasn't positive I was going to finish. My demeanor quickly changed from wanting to finish towards the front of the pack to just wanting to finish period. It was no longer a competition to me but pure survival. I didn't train and travel all the way here to just give up. I was going to finish. I kept repeating in my head my motto... never give up, it's not that bad, just keep moving.

The miles ticked by slowly and my pace had slowed considerably. My thoughts drifted to comfortable things like being in a warm hotel room with Corbin just snuggled up fast asleep. I mentally struggled to push through. I thought about how much easier it would be to like simple things. To take a vacation to Alaska without running 100 miles. I thought about my other options. How I could be a stay at home mom and never run again. I picked up another handful of snow and shoved it in my mouth. It was the only way to get a little water in. All I could see on the horizon were red flashing lights and when I looked behind for miles dots of headlamps. It was nice to know I wasn't completely alone yet. 

My legs were now starting to cramp. I could barely bend my knees. I had stopped fueling because I had stopped hydrating and now almost 50 miles in my body was taking a toll. The bruises on my feet felt better when I jogged so I found myself shuffling slowly. A red light in the distance kept getting closer until it was right in front of me. It was Tim and he was standing in the middle of trail just standing. I looked at him and dry mouthed sputtered can I have some of your water. He kindly obliged and I got a few calories and water in. He was hurting bad from the fall he took down the icy hill at Flathorn. We ran together for a bit talking about this and that. He would share his water with me every for miles and I greatly appreciated it. Time seemed to go faster with his company and my mind wandered less to the comfortable things. 

The final stretch to the 5 Star Tent checkpoint went on forever. Tim would stop every few minutes to lay in the snow and stretch out his back and I found myself more and more often needing to bend over and stretch out my legs. The cramping had become so severe I was constantly making a plan for the next check point which involved a Skratch Labs Rescue drink and a lot of salt. When the checkpoint finally came into view we told ourselves we would be quick and get as fast as we could the 11 miles to Eagle Crest Lodge. The tent cabin was warm and inviting and being able to sit down never felt so good. Tim took his shoes and socks off and his feet looked like hell. I should have changed my socks too but instead I continued to stick it out. A couple people there had given up, and I made a pack with Tim that we would not give up. We were making it to the finish even if it took us 48hrs.

When we left 5 star tent we were moving well. We chatted about our families and friends. Tim was excited to have dry socks on and I was excited to finally have some salt in me. Miles passed and my body started to deteriorate again. My thoughts wondered to the bikers who by now were showered and sleeping in a warm bed. The race was a memory to them. Something they did yesterday. But for us we were only half way done and it was still very much a reality. 1 am, 2 am, 3 am... it was early and I was wide awake belting the lyrics to I believe I can fly. Tim on the other hand was exhausted he wanted to sleep. I encouraged him and we kept moving. The air had gotten colder and our breath lingered around our faces. Every time Tim would breath a cloud of minty fresh air would sit in the air and I would walk straight though it. He was chewing gum at this point to keep himself awake.

When we reached Eagles Crest Lodge it was the last point we had to give up and we were determined to finish. I finally got to use a bathroom inside and see the carnage the sled had done to my hips. We left the Lodge early in the morning and were headed towards Cows Lake. We knew we would be watching the sunrise on the way. A few miles from the lodge I was hurting again. The weight of sled was taking a toll on me. I needed to make it lighter. We stopped and dumped all of our liquids from the sled. We were now just sharing one camelbacks worth of water between the two of us. We sat down in the darkness and laughed about all the shit in the sled we didn't need to bring. But we weren't going to drag it all the way out here for nothing. So we lit up the jet boil and made a cup of hot chocolate. The best cup of hot chocolate I've ever had.

As the sun rose we could finally turn our headlamps off and Tim made a comment about all of my hair being frozen. Next the hallucinations started to begin. We had been moving for 24 hours non stop at this point with over 30 miles left to go. Giant houses with airplanes and dog kennels appeared and disappeared in the woods. Tim was seeing similar things and a few times we would ask confirmation on if something was there or not. I found myself falling farther and farther behind Tim. In an effort to keep up I would walking directly behind him in his foot prints. This seemed to help the time pass but I found myself getting fatigued faster. The steep icy uphills with the sled felt traitorous and the icy descents often ended in me and the sled sliding down together... involuntary. 

When we reached Cow Lake we knew we weren't going to make it to the finish in the daylight but we hoped we could at least make it to the 90 mile mark at sunset. This was the hardest stretch for me. The trail jerked steep up and then steep down and repeated this for miles on end. A few times I found myself taking the sled off and sending it down the hill without me. Tim at this point was well ahead of me. He would a go three or four miles and then fall asleep on the trail and I would wake him up when I finally caught up and we continued  to do this almost the entire way to mile 90. The checkpoint never felt like it was going to come and we passed under power lines for a few miles. Out to the left something caught our eye. A moose I screamed! It quickly turned and looked at us and I immediately regretted my decision to shout. It started to kick its legs and for a few moments I wondered if I was hallucinating it but now Tim saw it too. The checkpoint was right around the corner and I pounded a pop-tart and a bottle of water before we started the final stretch to the finish. We were going to actually do it! This 10 mile stretch went quickly while Tim and I talked about everything to distract ourselves from our current situation. We planned our ways of destroying the sled. Burning, pissing, running over it with a car. We were determined to never do this again. A couple of times Tim shouted in fear of an actual hallucinated moose and I thought I saw Corbin on the side of the trail multiple times.

When the finish finally came into sight I thought I was going to cry. My body was depleted and my mind was too. Corbin cheered us on as we pulled the sled up the final hill. 36 hours on my feet with 40 hours of no sleep and we were finally done. Tim and I laughed about the craziness we just endured and we sat inside eating and drinking food for a bit. I know for a fact I would have never finished if it wasn’t for Tim pulling me along the last 30 miles.

Now came the biggest challenge. The race was over and now my body was done. I tried to stand up but couldn't. Corbin carried my limp body to the car where I finally took my shoes off for the first time since starting two days ago. Pruney, white, bruised, swollen, and blistered. The pain was so extreme I wanted to cry. In my delirious state I asked Corbin to cut my legs off. And then I was out. Corbin said I would moan every once and awhile and say words like pop and then laugh. When I regained consciousness we were at the hotel. I was still hallucinating and I smelled bad of piss and sweat. Corbin dragged my limp legs into the hotel and pushed me in a wheel chair to the room where he dumped me out on the floor. I was determined to make it to the bath tub. But my legs didn't work and I laid on the hotel floor in pain.

I wanted out of my smelly clothes and I wanted a shower. I got naked on the floor and Corbin lifted my body into a warm bath. I've never felt so helpless in my life then when I asked Corbin to supervise so I wouldn't drowned. The warm water felt nice but I soon went into shock convulsing and violently shivering. He lifted me from the tub and toweled my off before placing me in the bed. He then elevated my legs, forced calories and water down my throat, and iced my knees before falling asleep. I don't know what I would have done with out him. I slept like shit from the pain maybe getting one or two hours. In the morning I urged Corbin to go ski and I laid helpless in bed for hours. Tossing and turning moaning in pain. But without Corbin there to help I became mobile. At first using trekking poles to get around and stand in the shower, and then fully supporting myself as I limped around. 

As we headed back to Tahoe that night my legs seemed to get better as my exhaustion increased. I would fall asleep everywhere and on everything in an instance. 

I learned a lot and I appreciate more now then ever before the importance of foot maintenance. Hopefully my next 100 will feel a little bit easier after that... and it will most definitely not involve pulling a sled!!

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