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Arrowhead 135 - So much to learn

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Arrowhead 135 - So much to learn

After finishing the Susitna 100 in Alaska last February I swore I'd never drag a sled again. But weeks turn to months and you quickly forget the pain and misery. I was itching to do another winter ultra as the summer season came to a close. So I found this amazing looking race in Finland. A little less than 100 miles at 160K in Finland! I was excited. It seemed unique and inspiring. But as the winter drew near my friends from the Susitna all got the itch as well. And we planned collectively to have a reunion at the Arrowhead 135. I knew it was too close to the Finland race to be able to do both and I knew I would never go to the Arrowhead by myself so I felt like this was my only chance to go out and do it. I put my Finland plans on hold for another year and entered the lottery for the Arrowhead 135.

When we all got picked for the Arrowhead I felt a little bit of disappointment. I couldn't find anything super inspiring about the race. 135 miles in Northern Minnesota!? But all my friends were doing it and I knew it would be a challenge so I began training and started to get excited. An adventure in any form is an adventure!

As race day got closer the anxiety started to set in. Winter ultras are logistical nightmares. From the gear, to the food, to the training, to the weather... You can never feel prepared no matter how many times you've done it. My first day was a complete travel day. We started flying at 6am and didn't arrive at International Falls till 6pm. Lourdes, Lester, and I were reunited and I was so excited to see them face to face again. My friend Scott (who took all these amazing photos) had also come along to enjoy the experience and take some photos.

After packing, unpacking, repacking, obsessing over gear it was finally race day. The race started on a Monday and was a balmy 15 degrees and snowing. This would be the theme for the entire race. Only dropping down well below 0 on the last day. There was lots of chatter about strategy. Lots of people don't run a single step of the entire race. People were warning about going fast. Others were pressing to get to the first aid station in 10hrs. Honestly I didn't have a strategy. I usually run fast out the gate and slow down later on. Lots of people pass me. But I like to get as far on the course as fast as I can before I start to break down.

Instead of running my own race I ran with Lester and Lourdes out the start. We walked mostly. Jogging a bit here and there. This race doesn't really work well for running with other people. We are required to stay single file on the right side of the trail at all times and there is only one track that is beaten enough to give okay footing. It was snowing a lot but warm enough that the snow was punchy. Every step felt like you were running in sand.

Lourdes, Lester, and I stayed together for about the first 24 miles. But my body was deteriorating fast and it didn't help that my brain was heavy with negative thoughts. My feet started to hurt at about mile 9 and I was convinced it was because they were already starting to trench. Unfortunately I think it was more because they were bruised from my rock solid already frozen shoes. The race was not off to a good start. Lester was already out of water and I had barely drank half a liter. I've never been the best at fueling and hydrating and this is not the race to test those limits. When extreme distances mixed with extreme cold. The body shuts down faster than you would expect.

I spent the next 13 miles alone walking slower than normal and playing the scenarios of my stressed relationship back home through my head over and over and over. The snow was falling faster and harder and my feet were throbbing with pain. But all I could think about was my failing relationships and how I was standing still in time. It was torture. It was mental torture. 

When I finally got to the first aid station which was a gas station off the interstate Lourdes and Lester were about 15 minutes ahead of me. Lourdes left quickly and I filled water, ate some food, popped some blisters and followed suit behind Lester. I assumed I wouldn't see them again till I reached Mel Georges the second aid station in about 36 more miles. I left feeling strong and rejuvenated. I was making good time out the aid station head down and marching quickly. I wished I had gotten my head phones out so I had some music to distract my wandering mind but instead I pushed to catch up to the blinking light ahead of me. 

It was Lisa a friend I had walked with earlier in the day. I welcomed the company and we chatted and walked for about 3 or 4 hours. She slowed me down at times and I was lacking in my fueling from a bit of an upset stomach. She pulled ahead for a bit and I couldn't keep up. I then realized how badly I was limping and how slow I was moving. The reality started to set in as I was now alone. In complete darkness, under caloried and dehydrated. I kept kicking myself for my ignorance. I sat on the trail. Legs crumpled in pain and ate some food. I was destroyed. I was completely destroyed. I had been running everyone else's race all day not listening to my body and being tortured by my own brain. The food didn't stay down for long. That and everything I had eaten at the last aid station came up all over the side of the trail.

I picked up the phone to track my own tracker. How close was I to the next aid station. To my surprise I had great cell service and I loaded my tracker. That was a mistake. Looking at the dots I realized I had been averaging 1 mile per hour for the past few miles. It felt like 1 mile per hour and I still had about 24 more to go to the next aid station. Next I called Corbin. I sobbed about not being able to bend my knees and the horrible loneliness that is eating away at my brain. His only response was you're tougher than this get up and keep moving. I put the phone away. Stood up and kept walking. It felt more like cross country skiing because I could barely lift my legs by this point. I just shuffled them over the top layer of soft snow. The 40lb sled pulling on my tender stomach didn't help the incessant need to vomit every few feet.

When I finally made it to a road crossing I was hoping I'd see Scott and he'd put me in the van and I would just go home. But he wasn't there when I got there and I sat on my sled with my head between my legs and screamed. I called Scott and asked for a pep talk. He didn't have much to say. I stood up and kept walking. I passed a few people here and there bivied on the side of the trail and the thought of a few minutes of sleep was inviting. I had about 20hrs to go till the next aid station if I kept walking at this pace. Then Julia called me. I bitched to her for an hour while I walked one mile and then I sat down. I needed to rest. My feet were fucked. My knee was so swollen on the back side that I couldn't bend it. I hadn't kept any food down for about 6 hrs. I was destroyed. I got the jet boil out and the sleeping bag and I got inside. Immediately I feel asleep.

When I woke up about an hour later I boiled some water and made some oatmeal which I was able to keep down. I drank some water and was determined to keep going. To my mistake I had left my shoes outside the sleeping bag and the sweat from the inside had frozen solid. Not to mention my feet had now swollen 8 sizes larger as well. I could barely squeeze my feet into the frozen shoes. Once I got the shoes on I stood up and packed the sled. Clicked the sled back around my waste and took my first step. Nothing. My legs were solid bricks. There was no bend in my left knee and my stomach was so sensitive I couldn't stand straight with the weight around my waste.

I had to make the decision of missing a cut off or quitting early. There was no way at mile 55 in the state I was in that I would be able to turn my nutrition and hydration around as well as turning my brick legs back into limber. If I quit now I'll recover faster and be back training and doing the things I love sooner. If the finish is not an option. The decision isn't hard. There was no physical way I could have finished. I am sure of that. That being said I know I can finish the race but I need to race smarter.

I walked the mile back to the road crossing and Scott picked me up and took me back to the hotel. The sun was almost rising and I spent the next three days limping around cheering my friends on. Lourdes and Scotty took a finish and Lester came 30 miles before his body said no. My left knee wasn't able to bend for 2 days and I took that as a good sign that I made the right decision. Asking the veterans that have done the race 4, 6, 10 times why they keep coming back every year to do it. They all say the same thing. The race is a different race every year. You can finish it 10 times and DNF on your 11th because you never know what the conditions are going to be like.

I think failing at this race was the best thing that could have happened. I learned more from this failure than from anything else. Here are my main take aways. First and foremost run your own race. Tim pulled me through the Susitna and it was the best thing I could have ever hoped for but it is not guaranteed. Everyone is different from the length of there walking stride, to when they need to pee, to how much they need to fuel and hydrate and stop. I shouldn't be looking for my next Tim every time I catch someone on the trail. I should be listening to my body and go the pace that my body needs to go and not worrying about the rest. Similarly I need to have a more ridged fueling system. When I ran the Grand Canyon with Libby I had a watch and every 45 minutes we ate a GU. I felt great that entire objective until I ran out of water and missed my hourly GU. I remember bonking so hard it was a labor to just walk. I need to be strict like this again. It's important to have a constant stream of calories and I know what works well for me so I should stick to it. Also more walking. Walking is hard to do in training because it takes lots of time and is super boring. But if you don't train your brain to be okay with walking it makes it even harder. For this race in particular utilize the cell service. Don't wait till your brain is tortured to break out the headphones. And even though this race doesn't allow pacers. It's pretty much like having a pacer if you call up your friend and chat for a few hours. But the most important thing of all is you have to want it! You have to really really want it. Because when it gets tough if you don't want it bad. It's easier to go home.

Though I started this objective by saying there was nothing inspiring about this race. It's more than just a race. It's an experience, a hard ass challenge, and I can't wait to go back wiser and stronger and give it hell!

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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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Hardrock 100 Pacing

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Hardrock 100 Pacing

It all started when I moved full time to Tahoe and got involved with the Donner Party Mountain Runners. I was meeting a lot of rad people and would hear the mention of people I should meet. Betsy Nye was one of them. My introduction to Betsy was based on a mutual love for the hard tall Colorado mountains. I was looking for a partner for Nolan’s 14 and she was a crusher 14 time Hardrock 100 finisher. We chatted about the prospects of teaming up together on Nolan’s, and I offered to pace her in exchange on her 15th Hardrock 100. As the summer approached and Betsy’s injuries lingered we both agreed Nolan’s wasn’t in the cards for her this year and she had already got all her pacing shifts covered. I drove out to Colorado at the end of June to start my training for the summer. I already found a new Nolan’s partner and promised Betsy I’d cheer her on at the Hardrock.

On Tuesday three days before the start of the Hardrock 100 I got a call from Betsy. One of her pacers was injured and she was looking for a sub in. Conveniently I was super available and excited to help out. I had been battling a pain in my gums for three days, but I didn’t think anything of it. That night after agreeing to pace Betsy it hit me. I was up all night moaning and crying in pain. I tossed and turned crying and screaming for help. As the sun rose restless and in excruciating pain I walked three miles to the dentist tears streaming down my face unable to control the internal moaning of pain. I begged the dentist to see me immediately. They quickly got me in and sent me immediately to an oral surgeon. I had let a gum infection spread to my jaw. The oral surgeon who was booked till September, fit me in as an emergency and pulled a tooth to release some pain. I was also put on an antibiotic to hopefully kill the raging infection. This was Wednesday and the Hardrock was on Friday… I couldn’t let Betsy down. I was pacing her those 17 miles infection or not. 

The narcotics actually helped me sleep at night but the infection didn’t seem to subside even after a few days. Laying in my van the day before the hard rock I felt nervous about pacing Betsy. It was about her and if I struggled that wasn’t okay. I kept telling myself that it was suffer training. That if I could run 17 miles with a fresh hole in my mouth and an infected gum I could run any distance. I had been on a liquid diet for about 4 days and was living off of baby food. I could feel the hollow in my stomach. I was finding it impossible to get enough calories.

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Betsy started that morning at 6am and at 7pm I was sitting in downtown Ouray watching her tracker and anticipating her arrival. She’d be about 43 miles into the 100 and I would be taking her to mile 60. When she arrived we tried to get her in and out of the aid station as fast as possible. With only a few hiccups Betsy and I were walking our way to Box Canyon. This was my first time ever in Ouray not in the winter and I couldn’t help but remember all of the fantastic ice climbing trips I had taken to this canyon. As we moved along she asked about my mouth and I responded that it was best if we didn’t talk about it. The taste of blood was already strong in my mouth and I was fearful about the night ahead. Betsy was moving at a really good pace and I kept up right behind her talking about this and that and everything in between.

As the sun set we became silent and tried to focus on the trail ahead of us. Though it was dark you could feel the great exposure opening up beside us. Betsy, behind me at this point, commented on the fact that if you trip and fall you die. I didn’t feel afraid. Heights and exposure don’t scare me… maybe it’s from my years of rock climbing. As we got higher, the night got darker, and the air got colder. We had run through several creeks at this point and I could feel the deep sinking feeling of coldness soaking in. Betsy didn’t want to stop till we got to the aid station so I rotated which hand was holding the flash light and which was in my pants. When we finally reached engineering pass I was ready for a few extra layers. We sat by the fire for a bit trying to dry out our feet and get moving.

The next section was very steep up hill. We kept moving because after cresting over the summit it would be all down hill to the aid station where Angela would take over pacing. Once we started to go downhill Betsy just took off. For over 50 miles on her legs she was moving quick and efficiently. I jogged along beside her feeling the swollen right side of my face jolt up and down with every step. I had come to the conclusion that I wasn’t feeling any pain because my brain was trained to block out pain when I was running… unlike when I sleep and the pain can only be subsided with narcotics. We made fast work of the downhill and showed up at the aid station greeted by her friends and family at 2am. We got Betsy all fixed up and headed towards Handsies. I was feeling happy to be done and head to bed with my dog.

I caught a ride with Betsy’s dad and was asleep in my van by 3:30am. We woke early the next morning and I joined in on the crew for Betsy. We met her at the last aid station and got her ready for the finally push to the finish. As the sun just barely began to set Betsy came running into downtown Silverton and kissed the rock for her 15th Hardrock 100 finish! It was such an amazing experience to get to witness and be a part of! The next day we got to join in on congratulating all of the finishers and all of the people who didn’t finish in a family style ceremony. It made me really appreciate races that aren’t over run by sponsors and money. It reminded me of all the great people I met in Alaska and the way it felt like a family. As I finally said my goodbyes my heart felt warm and heavy and my face still very infected. 

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I spent the next week going into my second mouth surgery and planning my next snow 100 miler. So thankful for all the people I met and all the time spent in the mountains! 

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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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Run a Fun-K and Join a Running Club

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Run a Fun-K and Join a Running Club

Let’s talk about me for a second. I gave up racing after cross country in high school because I didn’t like the person I had become. I’ve always been a super competitive person coming from team sports like soccer and basketball. I feel in love with running when I was a Freshman in high school after giving up team sports. I joined the cross country team and realized the excitement of competing against yourself and the elements and not against the people around you. Running was physically hard and the personal challenge intrigued me. I took a class specifically in running and training from BYU and started to realize how limitless the body was with proper training. I moved to Colorado after finishing high school and decided to take an academic life style and give up running. Two days into living in CO I discovered rock climbing thanks to my cousin Anthony who was living there at the time. This community of people covering ground in the vertical world was exciting. I was hooked. But then I discovered the CO 14ers. I spent three years in Colorado running, climbing, and summiting tall peaks but doing it because I enjoyed it not because I needed to train. I accepted a job in SF shortly there after and moved to the city. I hated everything about it and used running as an outlet for my stress. I ran every day of the week and quickly discovered the crazy community of ultra runners in the Bay area. I became strong and raced my first 10k with in weeks of moving. The stress that overcame me and all the pressure to train was overwhelming and though I was the third female finisher I never wanted to do it again. Racing to me wasn’t worth it. I wanted to run because I loved to run not because I needed to place in some position in a race. 

So I looked into a running club. Running with other people is way better then running alone. I discovered the San Francisco Running Company which was just down the road from where I was living. Excited to meet like mind people I introduced myself and showed interest in there Saturday group runs. The lady said to me “We do a minimum of 20 miles on Saturdays. You probably couldn’t keep up.” That stuck with me. I never did show up to a group run instead fell back in with the community I felt welcomed in, the climbing community. Yosemite is the only place I’ve ever felt fully at home, and I consider the people there family. Everyone is pushing the human limits, and everyone is excited to see other people succeed. Those were my people.

Fast forward to a year later. I’m gearing up to make an attempt on Nolan’s 14 a burly mountain run through the mountains that I first fell in love with. I’m not racing against other people. I’m racing against the power of my mind. Against the will power in my being and against the muscles in my thighs. This is were I fell in love with running again. Traversing large amounts of terrain in rugged environments with nothing but your body. I ran big runs in Tahoe, Yosemite, The Grand Canyon, and Zion but I had a big question mark in my mind. If you change the way you approach racing can racing be fun? Can it be just like training for a mountain objective like Nolan’s 14? I also didn’t have any runner friends. I often found myself out alone or dragging a climber through the mountains. My other question was were there people like me in the ultra running world?

I moved away from San Francisco for good and settled in to Tahoe. This is when I decided to give racing and running clubs another chance. I picked the Susitna 100 in Alaska because it seemed the closest race to not being a race. The extreme cold and rugged environment make the race more of a race against yourself then against other people. I also chose to become a member of the Donner Party Mountain Runners. I admittedly was nervous at first. To me running clubs carry a clique vibe. Everyone knows each other and everyone runs together and the new person is usually greeted with judgment of speed and fitness. But this was different. I was immediately welcomed with kind words and encouragement. They invited me on group runs and even to run one on one. These weren’t the San Francisco ultra runners that won’t welcome you in unless you place a certain time in a certain race. These were the mountain runners. The people I had been searching for in the running world. 

Needless to say I decided to tackle my hatred for racing again this time in a snowshoe 10K hosted by the DPMR. The race was fast and fun and I got third but honestly it didn’t matter. I never stressed or felt any pressure and that was all that mattered. Next stop Alaska.

You can catch the running clubs newsletter here with a few of my blog posts in it DPMR Newsletter! Not to mention if your in the Tahoe sign up and drop me a line! Let's run together!

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Triple Crown of Trail Running

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Triple Crown of Trail Running

The Triple Crown of trail running encompasses approximately 100 miles and 25,000 feet of elevation gain. 3 Rivers, 6 Rims, 3 National Parks, 2 Months, 2 Chicks, 4 Sticks. The Rim to Rim to Rim of Yosemite, Zion, and the Grand Canyon. As climbers going fast and light in the mountains is really important. Being able to cover large amounts of distance in a short amount of time with only your legs and large amounts of gels is the name of the game. We coined it the Triple Crown of trail running because of the famous triple crown in our home park linking El cap, Watkins, and Half dome.

So what exactly is this made up adventure the Triple Crown of trail running you might ask. Here are the separate trip reports:
Yosemite Trip Report - Topo and Elevation Profile
Grand Canyon Trip Report - Topo and Elevation Profile
Zion Trip Report - Topo and Elevation Profile

Though you don’t have to do them in any particular order we seemed to do them in increasing in difficulty. Not as a strategy more as an accident. Yosemite is the shortest of the three at about 17 miles and 7,000 feet of elevation gain. A start at Glacier Point sends you down to the valley via the 4 mile trail. The valley is only about half a mile wide so it’s fast progress getting to the Yosemite falls trail were you ascend quickly and then return the way you came. We completed this in the end of October when the days where longest and we were on familiar terrain. Our Grand Canyon adventure happened a month later right before Thanksgiving. The days were shorter and the distance was more than doubled with even more elevation gain. We had perfect weather though for late November. Covering 44 miles and about 12,000 feet of elevation gain via the South Kaibab and North Kaibab trails. The final and star of the entire adventure was Zion. We completed Zion on the shortest day of the year right before Christmas. Night running, snow, and cold for hours on end as we charged for about 40 miles and 6,000 feet of elevation gain. Navigating the East and West Rim Trails of the valley.

I could talk your ear off for hours about these amazing adventures. There is no way to really see a park then by experiencing it by foot. I hope you get inspired and hike or run these lines as well!

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Rim River Rim River Rim *of Zion

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Rim River Rim River Rim *of Zion

Bang Bang Bang! There was a loud knock on the door of Libby’s mothers house. Who could that be we thought? When we opened the door it was the cops. “Excuse me miss but we got a call from a neighbor about a suspicious econoline van being parked outside this residence.” Ironically I had just crawled from my bed in the back of the van maybe two hours earlier. It is my home and even when offered a bed in a house I often choose the van. Libby consoled the officers letting them know it was fine and everyone went on there way. So what were Libby and I doing in Las Vegas a few days before Christmas? Let’s rewind.

The idea to run the Rim to Rim to Rim of Zion happened a little after the half way point of the Grand Canyon. It was Libby’s idea and in the moment it seemed like the best idea ever. We trotted along the trail scheming about how easy Zion would be. I distinctly remember us saying something along the lines of “At least we have the hardest one almost done. Zion will be easier than Yosemite!” The planning was immediate, laying in the back of the van legs paralyzed from the Grand Canyon and already looking at topos for Zion. You would have thought we might have, just maybe, learned something from the beating we just endured. Runners highs will do weird things to the brain. The initial idea was to run from the river to observation point back down to the river up to angels landing and back down. However this would be considered a River Rim River Rim River… and that just didn’t fit right with us. 

A few weeks went by and Libby and I had planned out the epic three day adventure for the end of December. This time it involved a van, plane, and a Las Vegas rendezvous. I didn’t do much of any running between the Grand Canyon and Zion and I didn’t expect Libby to have either. Libby was in Ukraine being a bad ass nurse healing hearts, and I was in the Bay quitting my job. I picked Libby up on December 19th from the Las Vegas airport. I was already in the area because the previous few days I was climbing with my sister and friends in the St. George and Red Rocks area. That night we got an alright sleep and in the morning was when the cops showed up. We ran a few errands and then headed for our bivy spot outside of Zion.

The plan had changed from the original idea and we were now going to run the East Rim Trail to the West Rim Trail back to the East Rim Trail this would be a total of about 60 miles round trip and allow us to do a proper Rim River Rim River Rim. Our longest run yet. Since we both live in California winter isn’t really a season. And the past couple of years that was the truth. Climbing in tank tops in Yosemite in December and running in a snowless Tahoe in January. I for some reason had this idea that there wouldn’t be much if any snow in Zion. But we called up the backcountry office to get the details on the trails. They pretty much said I don’t know it might be snowy. I imagined a few hours of post holing in knee deep snow on the rims followed by lots of dry and fun trail running. I couldn’t have been farther from what we were about to endure.

We woke up at 4:50am and started towards the East entrance. We wanted to start moving close to dawn. The roads were icy and as we got closer to the East Rim the snow on the sides of the road became more and more apparent. We both packed our bags and stuffed a bagel and cream cheese down our throats. It was about to be a long day of goo, trail butter, and baby food. We were a few miles in when the sun finally rose. It was this brilliant red. Libby made a comment about a red sky being a bad sign. We were about to see a lot of bad signs. We charged through the snow for a few hours. We kept thinking the snow would lessen as we lost elevation but it seemed to just be getting thicker. The crunchy snow turned our ankles side to side and stressed our metatarsals. While the champagne powder felt like quick sand as it splashed up over our knees. The moving was slower than we had expected and we kept trying to make mental notes of the surroundings just incase if the storm hit early and covered our tracks. 

As the sun rose it was hard to tell that it did. The ominous sky was gray and was foreshadowing for the storm forecasted for that night. The sun never graced our skin and I stayed tightly covered all morning. As we ran through the snow we could hear the woods come a live in the morning. The barking of the coyotes in the distances and the sound of snow crunching under our feet. It felt therapeutic almost like meditating. We barely talked mostly because it was hard to hear each other over the sound of snow crunch. 

We came across a few trail junctions and ended up following a fainter trail that went out right. I was hesitant and shouted back to Libby about getting the map out. We never did and continued to trudge on. I was following the tracks of a single person which should have been the first warning but by the time we reached a trailhead half a mile from the junction it was clear we had made a wrong turn. A little extra mile detour to add to the mornings joy. We turned around and got back on the correct trail. We need to keep moving. It was after all the shortest day of the year.

A few miles from the trail junction the trail was covered in blood… fresh blood. It was scary seeing the white snow so bright red. It looked like a bunny had been eaten for breakfast and we took that as another bad sign for the day. We continued down hill in a couple of areas that were definitely no fall zones. We were loosing elevation quickly and I joked that running was my favorite snow activity as we sneaker skied down pillows of powder. Soon the view of the valley came into sight. It was breath taking and we were both relieved to finally be making some sort of progress after what felt like forever of snow slogging. Libby wasn’t doing well. She was already setting the ground work for an early turn around. She said just letting you know that we may just do Angels Landing and then turn around. My knees are hurting really bad and it’s early to be having this much pain she reiterated. I reassured her that I would do whatever she felt was right. Though an early turn around at Angels Landing was feeling very enticing. The thought of being out here in the dark for 7 or 8 hours in a potential snow storm was making me nervous as well. 

We hit the trail junction for Observation Point and finally found a place to slip on our spikes. Now it was just the quick run down to the Weeping Rock. We made quick progress of this with the extra sure footing that the spikes on our feet had to offer, and I snapped a few pictures of the views to distract myself from the extremely urgent need to poo. It was quickly becoming an emergency. As I stood a thousand feet above the trailhead toilet I peered down at what seemed like my freedom. I looked back at Libby and said I’ll see you at the bottom as I launched myself into a full out sprint. The trail was packed with early morning hikers and I wasn’t about to ruin there morning with an explosion of trail side diarrhea. Though for a few minutes I thought it was inevitable. My gait opened wide and I let gravity take me down the trail, across the parking lot, and into the bathroom. Without even time to lock the door, backpack still on my back, I pulled my pants down just enough and lost control. I can most definitely say that was the closest I have ever been to shitting my pants.

Pants up and spikes off, Libby and I made our way on the mile long section of road between the Weeping Rock trailhead and the Grotto. The Grotto was the only place we would be able to fill up water that we knew of so we made sure to drink a lot and fill up as much as possible. We never stopped for very long because it was so cold. The longer we stopped the more cold we got so our stops were often quick and to the point. It was surprisingly cold even down in the valley which was not a good sign for the weather on the rims. When we headed up the Angels Landing trail we decided we weren’t going to make a decision until we got to the split between Angels Landing and the West Rim trail. I knew Libby was leaning more towards the Angels Landing option but I still had some fight left in me. We charged up the trail in a extremely fast pace. We were finally hitting our second wind. By the time we reached the junction I knew we should keep going and Libby did too. It was very apparent at this point how low Angels Landing actually is from the true rim. It does not even get close to the West Rim height. Loosing a little elevation and then gain some again we finally reached the West Rim. 

We sat down and looked at the map. We had planned to take the Telephone Canyon trail which would save us about 2 miles of distance getting to the West Rim trailhead. Unfortunately since the recent snow fall nobody had taken that trail and it was completely untracked. Our lack of a GPS left us in a tricky situation. Do the longer option adding another 20 miles on to our trip and risk getting stuck in a snow storm, in the dark, in an unfamiliar park. To me we had already finished half of our goal. We had run Rim to River to Rim now all we had to do was get all the way back to the van. Tagging the trailhead of the West Rim would be nice but it was where it was located so far away because of where the road ran not because of where the true rim was. Running from trailhead to trailhead in the Grand Canyon made sense because the trailheads were actually at the rims but for Zion the trailheads were 10+ miles from the rims just because of the nature of the valley. Here was the dilemma Libby was jet lagged, in pain, afraid of the dark, and nervous about the weather. I was nervous about the weather, in pain, and afraid of the dark. We made the call. We turned around at the rim and we both kicked ourselves at first. Trying to justify our decisions. We played it safe and I think we made the right call for us as a team, on this day, with these conditions. But because we are both motivated people it was hard to turn around. But the faster and faster we lost elevation and the darker and darker the sky got the better I felt about our decision.

We had committed to our decision and there was no turning back now. Libby kept commenting the faster we move the faster we get back. It kept us moving. Nothing seemed more exciting then laying in my bed in the back of the van. I wanted to make it up the East Rim climbs before it got dark. The route finding was a bit cryptic and I wanted to avoid getting lost at all costs. We ran down the paved Angels Landing trail wincing with every move. Filled back up at the Grotto and made our way along the road for the final mile before heading back up the East Rim. At this point we still head 11 miles to go and a ton of elevation to climb. It was around 3 pm and the sun was already setting.

When we put our spikes on at the bottom of the Weeping Rock we knew we wouldn’t be taking them off until we got to the van. I struggle to run in the spikes because they tweaked my previously broken first metatarsal just right that by this point the pain was not just ultra pains but broken bone pains. Something I was not unfamiliar with when it comes to running. Up we went hardly talking at all. We were on a mission to get the hell out of this canyon before we had lost all of the light. We made it up both major climbs before we needed to strap on our head lamps. We were 5 miles from the van and in complete darkness. There was no moon or stars because of the storm clouds. The worst part of this all was that we were now in the woods. My headlamp illuminated the snow in front of me which showed tracks of animals coming in and out of the woods. Nothing feels more eerie then being in the snowy woods at night. I kept my creeped out feelings to myself and agreed with Libby to stay close. Heads down we studied the tracks on the trail, bunnies, deer, coyotes, maybe cats, human foot prints, big human feet, little human feet. It wasn’t fun but we kept moving and in the silence I would think of the worst case scenarios and then quickly forget and daydream about laying in my bed getting a back and calf massage. Every time I lifted my headlamp I half expected to catch the glow of an animals eyes but never did. I was happy about that.

We had done really well about fueling and kept a good strategy all the way up to the end. About 2 miles from the van we both popped a goo and congratulated ourselves on never having to eat another goo for a really long time. I was feeling very sick and barely kept down the last 3 goos I had taken. All I wanted was real food. Anything of substance anything to stay down. When we made it back to the van everything went away. All of the fears of getting lost everything. It was all over we could rest now. Eating a little here and there and changing a few layers we both examined our bodies. Our feet didn’t fare well… blisters, bruises, and sores. I know it would be a long few days of compression, stretching, and icing. But our ultra was far from over as always. We still had to drive back to Las Vegas.

I hoped behind the drivers wheel and started to make our way slowly towards the interstate… very slowly. My night vision is terrible and so are my headlights on the van. Poking along at 20 to 30 miles under the speed limit we made progress. This isn’t anything new. Libby laughed remembering how slowly I drove away from the Grand Canyon. It almost felt like deja vu… until the flashing lights showed up in my mirror. O boy I was getting pulled over. The officer came up to the window and was surprised to see two emaciated females behind the wheel. I half expected him to be pulling me over for going way under the speed limit but instead he told me my license plate light was out and gave me a warning. If there is one thing I know, driving a creeper van sure does draw the attention of the cops. 

We headed on our way and I stopped at a Mavericks to get gas. I put the pump in the van and hobbled to the bathroom. I was surprised though I felt much better then after the Grand Canyon. When I returned to the van I opened the drivers door to find Libby hanging out the passenger side and like any good friend ran to take a picture. The first vomit of the day which was then followed by several other vomits at different Mavericks along the way back to Vegas. By the time we got home Libby limped into the house, and I crawled into the back of the van. I could finally relax it was finally all over for a bit. I crawled into my sleeping back and tried to fall asleep. Unfortunately I wouldn’t be so lucky. The pain in my broken foot was excruciating and I tossed and turned all night unable to sleep. When I woke I was worked. Libby gave me some pain medicine but it didn’t seem to take the edge off. It had been 6 months since I broke it but I guess I never really rested it. RICEing real hard right now. Libby headed off to the airport to go back to her job in the bay and I loaded up Lopi and my sister and headed back to do some climbing in Red Rocks. Like always life returns back to normal faster than you’d expect.

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Rim River Rim River Rim *of the Grand Canyon

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Rim River Rim River Rim *of the Grand Canyon

So here I sit. Legs up a wall and laptop slightly falling into my face while I try to type in this awkward position. I am searching to find the words to explain the amazing adventure we had in the Grand Canyon. I hope I can capture it here.

It was September some time and I was in the Valley. I tried to motivate to climb but instead I joined the gathering of climbers sitting in the shade around Tom Evans. We must have sat there all day talking about climbing and everything in between. Cheering on the crushers pushing in the heat to send El Cap. I was on the tail end of my fractured foot and itching to get back out running long distances. The previous morning I had free soloed Tenaya Peak, and that morning I had motivated to get in a short run up Cathedral gully finally boulder hopping my way back down at a clipping speed with minimal pain. Needless to say, I was feeling rather invincible. So there I was sitting in the meadow dreaming about my next big objective. Nolan’s 14 crushed me and breaking my foot had made dealing with the crushing even worse, but now I was coming back and ready to train. 

Libby and I on the yoga mat. Photo Credit: Tom Evans http://www.elcapreport.com/ 

The idea to run the Grand Canyon had been in my mind for about a year now. In my mind I always imagined it being this epic feat of days on days on days of running, but when I finally sat down and Googled the distance it only came out to about 42 miles. I was psyched that seemed reasonable and totally doable in a day. The only problem was that I wanted a partner. I made the bad decision to attempt Nolan’s 14 alone. Though I don’t regret it. I think it would have been much more enjoyable with company. This however is a problem I face often. I don’t hang out in running circles. I hang out with climbers. Badass crusher climbers, who don’t particularly enjoy running or at least running for hours on end. But sitting in the meadow my foot finally healing, stoke level high, and sharing a yoga mat with Libby Sauter I had an idea. Libby, an expert in suffering and badass crusher climber, had been running a little bit. A very little bit. I later found out only 5 times in the past 4 years since badly breaking her leg. I thought Libby would be the perfect partner, she’s determined and not afraid to suffer. So on a whim I asked her if she wanted to run the Grand Canyon with me around Thanksgiving. Initially she wasn’t sure if I was serious, but then she got stoked. The only problem was that we had about two months to train for a massive run, and I was still recovering from a broken foot and she had some big El Cap plans.

All this to say we trained… actually not at all. We met up once in Yosemite Valley to run the Rim River Rim River Rim of Yosemite which entailed starting at glacier point running down the 4 mile trail across the valley up the Yosemite falls trail down the Yosemite falls trail across the valley up the 4 mile trail. Roughly 20 miles and approximately 9,000 feet of elevation gain which meant 9,000 feet of elevation loss as well. It would simulate about half of what running the Grand Canyon would be like. When we finished we felt good but that quickly turned into calf cramps and funny walking. In only 3 more weeks it would be the real thing and we would be deep in the Grand Canyon not on the familiar terrain of the Sierras.

 

We were on a tight schedule. A super tight schedule. Libby only had 3 days off of work so we knew we would be pushing hard to drive down, run, and drive back. But we were psyched! We met up Thursday night made sure we had all of the essentials and started the journey to the Grand Canyon. I had chatted up one of my good friends who guides down there and he made plans to meet us in the bottom of the canyon and help pace us out. Unfortunately he bailed last minute for splitter climbing in Red Rocks. I couldn’t blame him. I’d rather be climbing in Red Rocks instead of running the Grand Canyon. At this point I had entered the apprehension phase, as I like to call it. It’s a phase that happens during all big objectives. The phase where you doubt all of your training and doubt you ability to do anything and everything every again. You think about how great it would be to just take this time and do some nice warm sport climbing in Red Rocks instead of dragging your ass across the Grand Canyon and back. During this phase you come up with a million different ways to get out of doing what you had planned to do. Sometimes you even draft up a text to your partner explaining how your recently fractured foot or bad head cold is going to keep you from following through on your plans. You never do send anything. This phase always passes, but I think it’s natural to feel this way sometimes.

Libby and I drove most of the night Thursday night before tucking away in a interstate rest stop off the 5. The next morning we finished the drive talking about everything and anything to pass the time and getting more and more nervous as the landscape quickly changed to desert. We talked about water mostly. Mainly because we were trying to hydrate, which entailed peeing every 150 miles on the side of interstate. This made the drive drag on forever. And also because Libby had expressed concerns about a 30 mile stretch of the canyon that might be waterless. We talked about it a lot and she planned to carry more water because of it. I on the other hand was very unconcerned about the water issue. I felt like a liter and a half was more than enough for the sections we couldn’t fill up at. I continually tried to assure her we would be fine and it wouldn’t be a big deal. This has often been a fault of mine. I tend to take a no big deal attitude to a lot of things that are actually a pretty big deal. Being with out water in the Grand Canyon with no way of getting out but by foot would have been a pretty fucking big deal. When you first come into the canyon it is littered with signs warning death by dehydration. Maybe Libby was right. I was about to find out.

When we got to the Grand Canyon Friday night the sun had just set. We drove to the entrance gate to ask the rangers questions about trailheads and water. They assured us the water would be off from Phantom Ranch to the North Rim and gave us instructions on parking for the South Kaibab trail. It looked like we would have to park a mile away from the trailhead which meant we would be adding an extra 2 miles on to the run, one before and one after finishing the canyon. When you are already running 42 miles an extra 2 miles doesn’t seem like a big deal. We drove out of the park and slept in a hotel parking lot about 5 minutes away from the entrance. We got the van organized and started to pack our food talking about what and how much we needed for fueling. The excitement started to surge inside of me. It was finally going to happen. We made a game plan for the morning. We would wake up at 4:50am and drive into the park locating the pull out where we could leave the van. Then we would eat breakfast, get dressed, and prepare any more food and water for the trail. We wanted to be running just as the sky got light enough to see. We were in bed by 7pm.

Click headlamps on. It was morning and I was excited. We drove into the park and found the parking spot no problems. We quickly prepared and peered out into the darkness. It was 5am and the moon was set. The night was dark. Very dark. But not only dark it was bone chilling cold and the icing on the cake was the wind. We knew the night running would be slow so we wanted to make sure we did the down hill in the daylight maximizing our fresh legs and gravity. We both laid in my bed in the van in our warm sleeping bags just waiting for dawn to break. Staring out the windshield we laid in silence. At 6:15 am it was time to go. Everything on, car keys check, time to go! A quick glance at the clock showed 6:22 am as we started our way on the paved rim trail. We quickly gained warmth and Libby shed her puffy before we even got to the trailhead. At the trailhead we didn’t miss a beat plummeting down the extremely icy trail and trying not to loose it in front of a few men standing with there hands on there watches looking like they were ready to start what we had started a few minutes earlier. When the trail stopped being icy we knew we were rapidly loosing altitude and could relax a little bit. Libby looked back at me and said “I think we are going to get passed today. Those guys looked fast.” As the sun rose the canyon opened up below us. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was beautiful.

We made quick progress of the South Rim. Using the GoPro a lot and taking photos of the views. We had both forgotten to use sunscreen which we feared would by a huge problem by the end. Libby joked “A ginger and a cuban run the Grand Canyon without sunscreen. Which one gets more burnt?” followed by “A runner and rock climber run the Grand Canyon. Which one gets more worked?” Libby shouted “Damn it I get fucked in all these scenarios!!” When the Colorado River finally came into sight we felt a relief that 1/4 of the objectives was finished only 3 more to go. The trail was closed for a bit which redirected us through a campground but we kept moving till we got to Phantom Ranch. At Phantom Ranch we chatted up the tourists and refilled our water. Our plan was to carry a little extra water for another 5 miles and then stash it before summiting the North Rim. This would help break up the 30 mile stretch which we feared could be waterless. Libby took an extra 2 Liters and I added an extra 1 Liter to my pack. We headed for the North Rim. The problem with the North Rim is that it is ever so slightly going up hill for 15 miles. So slightly that you don’t really notice it and don’t understand why the flats feel so hard. We made progress but barely talked at all. We had distance between us and the extra weight on our backs wasn’t helping our speed. We stashed the water were we thought would be appropriate and felt a little lighter and faster. Less then a mile from our stash we came up on the campground below the North Rim. It looked under construction and a few people were milling about. I tried the water and to my surprise it began to run. Damn it I thought we didn’t need to bring all that extra water! O well we kept moving. By the time we reached the final 5 mile push which ascends the North Rim we couldn’t believe how terrible that section of trail was. Neither of use were excited to retrace our steps through that on the way back. 

At this point almost 20 miles into the run the two fast looking men we had passed at the beginning finally caught up to us. We chatted for a bit of the up hill and then they charged on ahead. Libby and I couldn’t believe it had taken them so long to catch us. Even after we kept what we thought was a crawling pace for almost 10 miles. We ascended the North Rim slowly making jokes and chatting along. We could tell we were getting higher as the trail became more icy. I looked back at Libby and said “Just remember it only hurts because it’s hard!” To which she responded “And it’s only fun because it’s hard.” We continued up hill. When we reached the North Rim the two men were just leaving we exchanged hellos and figured we might see them again on the downhill. The North Rim kind of sucked. There were no views and everything was covered in snow. Libby and I sat in the road with our puffy jackets on to keep us warm and eat a bit before heading back down. I lamented that the nice thing about the Grand Canyon in the winter is that you have no other option then to finish at this point. We laughed a bit at the thought we were only half way done. Our laughing often turned into painful coughing which then turned into occasional gaging. The North Rim was the closest I came to vomiting as Libby made a joke and I laughed coughed gaged a bit.

It was time to go again. I moved slow on the initial downhill because of all the snow and ice. I couldn’t imagine how terrible it would be to slip and break or tear something that far from help. Libby moved a little faster ahead of me. Almost out of the snow Libby ate it hard. This was exactly what I was afraid of. She quick did a check and everything seemed okay. Phew now it was just downhill downhill and downhill. As we passed some backpackers we joked “It’s all downhill from here… Until its uphill again.” We could see the two guys in front of us. We were gaining on them slowly. Libby thought we might be able to catch them. After all, we were definitely faster then them on the downhill. But then it hit me.  “O my god Libby I am going to shit my pants right now. O my god I am going to shit right here. O my god!” I quick ripped my pants down kicked up a little hole by the side of the trail and relaxed. Rupturous farts exploded from me but I didn’t actually shit. I felt better. Lets keeping going I yelled. I had eaten my entire burrito on the North Rim and with an already sensitive stomach I knew I should have stuck to gels. My body was having trouble digesting and the constant pound on the downhill wasn’t helping. We never did catch the men but we were clipping along quickly. Almost down the steep part of the down hill I had another one of the stomach fits. This time there was no time to kick a hole. Almost simultaneous to my proclamation of immediate need to shit, Libby loudly announced she was going to vomit. So here is the scene. Two girls on the trail. Trekking poles and backpacks yard saled on the trail. One with her pants around her ankles making loud echoing farts, and one with her hands on her knees saliva draining from her mouthing coughing and gaging. This is what a horrified hiker, runner, or backpacker would have seen if they crested around the corner of the fourth mile on the North Kaibab trail. Libby held it together and laid horizontal on the trail trying to combat the need to vomit. I similarly lost no liquids or solids. A minute passed and we were both feeling worlds better. We continued down the hill to the next place we knew we could get water. Laughing about how absolutely ridiculous what just happened was.

We filled up on water and continued on our way to Phantom Ranch. It was clear at this point that we could make it there before sunset. We quickly made it to our water stash and drink a bit before pouring the rest out. There was no need to carry extra weight on our back. We kept light conversation excited about how we were more than half way done. Pounding a gel here and there and skirting along the river. By the time we got to Phantom Ranch it was 6pm. We filled up on water and talked with some of the tourist we had seen 10 hours earlier. They observed, “It’s good to see you guys are still friends. Laughing and having good time even after all of that.” It was funny because it was true. We were just as happy and laughing as we were when we rolled in optimistic and fresh that morning. We sat by the water spicket for a bit eating and drink before we headed in search of a bathroom. A quick bathroom break and we would be on a non stop push for the finish. At this point 12 hours in and the entire South Kaibab trail of climbing left to do we thought it unlikely we would do it in under 15 hours. But at this point we didn’t care we knew we needed to get out and it didn’t matter how long it took us to get there.

We were on a non stop march. There was only one thing left to do and we weren’t getting there any faster. We switched our head lamps on and started the journey. The moon was bright but we needed to stay focused. This is when we came up with… the bubble. There is no life outside the bubble. The bubble has no concept of distance, no concept of time. There is no start and there is no finish inside the bubble. The bubble protects you. Don’t ever leave the bubble or the bubble will leave you. When your eyes stray from the bubble the bubble shalt make thy trip and stumble. This banter back and forth lasted for a few hours as we marched up the trail not letting hour eyes stray from the head lamp bubble on the ground in front of us. The elevation and distance seemed to fly by and before we knew it Phantom Ranch was just a light on the bottom of the canyon. We switched our headlamps off and decided to finish the final miles by moonlight. It was cool out but not cold yet. The sky opened up with a million stars and the moonlight illuminated the tops of the mesas. We had no idea how far we had left. My watch head died hours ago on the North Rim. We just knew it we would get there some how. Everything hurting and we still had a ways to go. Libby proclaimed “Climbing is so much easier than running.” Explaining and comparing running and climbing for a few feet. I had warned Libby about this phase. It happens in almost every hard run I have every done. It is the period where everything in the world is easier than what you are doing and you can’t imagine why any one would want to do this. You saying things like “Climbing is so much easier. I’m just going to take the next few months and do nothing but climbing.” It goes both ways though. Often on really hard climbs I will find myself thinking “Running is so much easier! It’s so simple and easy.” 

Around this time however, I started to bonk hard. I had run out of water because I, in my delirious state, forgot to refill my water at Phantom Ranch. With no water I couldn’t eat the gels that I so badly needed and I started to inwardly moan with every step. At one point I found a nice looking bivy site off the side of the trail and I half jokingly stated we had reached our final destination. Libby was feeling it too. How glorious it would be to finally stop. To finally be done moving. The inward moaning turned to outward moaning and about a mile from the top Libby handed me some water from her pack and I took another gel. The feeling of life came back quickly and I knew we were going to make it out, which at moments I wasn’t totally sure we would. Out of no where there it was, the top. We had finally made it. Shivering we put on our puffy and finished out the final mile to the van. It felt unreal that we had made it up the South Rim in only 3 hours without stopping once. The clock showed 9:33pm when we check it at the van.

We high fived and celebrated that it was finally done. It however was far from done. We still had to drive back to San Francisco. When I finally sat down in the van my brain could tell my body to relax. It was over. There was nothing left to run. Relax. Even though it was cold I needed to get compression socks on my feet before the swelling began. But I couldn’t just put compression socks on I wanted all fresh clothing. So sitting legs outstretched in my bed I pulled my pants down. Immediately I started to shiver and subsequently my thighs started to cramp and spasm. Here I was unable to get my pants off of my ankles and shivering and convulsing. Every time I tried to left my leg up so I could reach my feet I was thrown into a world of muscle spasms and pain. This probably lasted for 15 minutes half naked and shivering. When I finally got the socks and pants on Libby was already sitting in the passenger seat wrapped in a blanket eating saltines. She was not about to take any of her clothing off it was too cold. Blasting the heat we headed for the California border. We drove all through the night exchanging stories from work and life. We were caffeinated from the gels we had eaten and riding a runners high. Not to mention we both knew that sleeping was not going to go as we wanted it to that night. Every movement would be painful. By the time we decided to bivy it was 2 am and we found ourselves at an Arizona rest stop only 20 miles from the California border. Libby promptly waddled out of the van to use the bathroom and I laid face down in my bed.

When Libby returned it had been several minutes but I had really lost concept of time. She was relieved to be back at the van and looked at me completely serious and said, “I really thought I was going to have to bivy in that bathroom on that toilet.” She had been unable to lift herself from the toilet and sat there contemplating how she would get out. It was kind of scary how helpless we were. We later after many bathroom breaks realized that the beta was to always use the handicap stalls. The extra handles allow you to lower and push yourself up with your arms instead of having to engage your thigh and leg muscles. We hunkered down there for the night and to no surprise slept terribly. In the morning we finished back to California. Just in time for us both to go back to work on Monday morning.

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