Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Leadville SR50 Week 9: What Happened to Spring, And My Motivation?

"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.  Attitude, to me, is more important than facts.  It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, say or do.  It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill.  It will make or break a company... a church... a home.  The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we embrace for that day.  We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.  We cannot change the inevitable.  The only thing we can do is play the one string we have, and that is our attitude... I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.
And so it is with you... we are in charge of our Attitudes” - Charles Swindle

I found this poem/quote in the back of a drawer the other day, something given to me by a coach of mine a very, very long time ago.  I didn't know back then how much it'd mean to me when I revisited it throughout the years later.

Yesterday's temps hit a howling 87 degrees (and I have a killer sunburn on my back to show for it) as I wrapped up my 10th week to the Leadville Silver Rush 50 with a nice little 35 mile jaunt on the bike with Kathleen.  Last week we had snow in the Denver area, today I'm being roasted to dissolution.  Somewhere, Spring got lost on it's way to Colorado and Summer's arrived at maximum speed.  I guess if there's one saving Grace to Spring's absence, my allergies are only at a code level orange instead of the normal red this time of the year.

I also just happened to hit my lowest running mileage during this training cycle, with a somber disposition to follow suit.

I guess it was bound to happen I'd eventually hit a major motivational slump, but I was utterly unprepared when it slammed me last week, and felt like a complete failure every day when I pulled up my killer training plan and couldn't muster up the strength or energy to run.  I logged a whopping 16 miles last week and about 900' vertical.  Go me.

I'm certain my bleak mood of having to lower my runner's flag to half mast was partly due to residual soreness from the 50k the week before (my calves were on fire all week, ouch), but I also think some of my doom was due to a plate that is just not merely full, but more so over-flowing with end-of-the-school-year activities.  When you're a working athlete-mom living the working athlete-mom life, these things happen, I guess.  But ugh, it hit me hard.  I'm sure in 2 weeks I'll be picking my nose out of sheer boredom....but right, I can't see one speck of that plate.

I tried to run last week, I did, but either my screaming calves or Mother Nature told me No.  Mid-week, when I found a window between Ryan's regional track meet events (he ran a new PR 1:56 anchor for the 4x800 :)), I scurried to the foothills to get in at least a few miles of vertical run in.  Got there, and it instantly started thundering.  I don't mind a little mind-cleansing rainy run to sooth the soul, but lightening's a different ballgame; I don't exactly relish the thought of being being burnt to a crisp on the side of a mountain.  I had a little meltdown, screamed to the skies above to just give me a stupid break, and soon landed back at the track meet.... missing Ryan's 2nd event.  I could have gotten on my treadmill later that night, but I didn't.  After the vertical fiasco run, I wanted stillness; I didn't even want a breeze to move my flag.

My attitude started to pick up a tad towards the end of the week when a group of women I work with threw me a 29th 50th birthday party.  I hate being in large groups ("hate" being the emphasis here), especially with a focus on me turning old, but the gesture was touching and I was deeply moved by their kindness.  I don't think I've laughed that much in a really, really long time.  I'm not sure why, but I even did a shot of tequila, and I rarely drink anything other than an occasional beer.  For some reason, I thought it was stupidly funny and doing it made me laugh....there is always a pocket of comfort in discomfort (a large group of people, for example) - I just had to be willing to find it.  My runner's mast was lifted, ever so slightly.

50-year-olds shouldn't be up so late, nor drinking margaritas and a shot of tequila; they may fall asleep on the table 
Saturday, I ended my coaching gig for Girls on the Run with our 5k "run".  The girls had an amazing season and progressed so much over the course of the past 12 weeks, I couldn't help but get choked up on race day, especially since I'm almost certain I will not return next year (I said that last year, too).  I've coached at the same school for the past few years; it's a low-income school where every girl is on a scholarship to participate.  Some of their stories of harrowing survival are heart-wrenching, I can't help but be reminded that, even when I have some pretty horribly down days, I could have it so much worse.  Flag rose again - how could it not!

My two run buddies.  We crossed just at exactly 40 minutes and the girls and I were super proud.  
Sunday marked an all chick's 5k race.  I talked my very dear friend, and old training partner, Tara, into running the race also.  Some long time readers (Maybe all one of you) may remember Tara's blog; she had a baby in the fall, and then fell off the blog planet, but she is a riot and makes me laugh - constantly.  Tara means the world to me and totally gets me and all my baggage; when she told me in the car on the way up there she was moving out of Colorado the weekend after we get back from Boise, I felt heaviness weighing like 5 million bricks in my heart.  I knew this day was coming, still....
Salty with tears and sweat.  I'm going to miss her like Whoooa bad 
The two of us twisted fellow Boise-bound friend, Katie, into running also (but we made her run the 10k, since running is her weakness.  Sort of like I should be on my bike 7 days a week since biking is my weakness.  Whatever, it's not always about me :)) and my Greenland crewing compadre, Julie, showed up as cheerleader.  Everyone needs a cheerleader, especially when my attitude towards running was still bouncing all over the map.  With my bleh disposition towards this race and Tara's horrendous stomachache, Julie got an ear-full of 4-letter words...but, as always, Julie just smiled and loved us anyway.

I'm not sure why I'm listing to the left, but I'm taking Tara with me
I couldn't decide how to really race this nor how much I really wanted it, which is never the best headspace place to be before a race. I decided last minute not to run by the watch and instead, turn it off and go by perceived effort.  But I had 'auto lap' on and the good ole watch beeped at mile 1: 7:04.

Crap.  Too fast?  I didn't really know.  I felt good but I had a sneaking suspicion my zippy pace wasn't going to hold for two more miles.  Right I was.  Mile 2: 7:18, mile 3: 7:40 (after slugging through some almost knee-deep waters where a creek over-flowed on the path, which left me spent and pretty much mentally giving up).  I finished with a fairly decent time, for me: 22:41, and a 5th place finish overall.
I swear, I only counted 3 women ahead of me, so not sure why I'm not 4th overall ...not that I'm being a
big baby about it or anything!
I raced it poorly, evident by my increased pace per mile, but my overall finish time was, I think, the 2nd best 5k time I've had in the past 5 years.  For a 'not a big deal' race, I didn't beat myself up over my lack of ill-paced stupidness, like I did a week ago at the Greenland 50k.  I had fun, I had a good overall finish time, and by the end of the race, I wanted that flag raised to full mast... the race, and time spent with people I care so deeply for during the past week, helped inch it closer.  I'm not really good around people most of the time, so this is pretty big stuff.

I finished the week with the leisurely sun-soaked bike ride with Kathleen, chatting about life's little hiccups, knowing that the things we're both dealing with won't always be as they are.  Suddenly, I looked at her, smiled, and knew I was ready to tackle Leadville again.  If anyone ever needs a lift in life, Kathleen can handle the job well!

My mindset may not be fully intact for the ambitious races I have in the upcoming weeks, but my training rut is officially over, just like Spring.  It's time to pursue my goals with the optimistic abandon of a child.  I feel the flag almost at full mast; I'm going for it.

Leadville, my game's back on - Maaahhhahahahahah!

P.S.  Brendan leaves Saturday (as in THIS Saturday) for 3.5 months with the Blue Knights.  So proud of that kid, he worked so hard for this...but damn, my heart's hurting, despite BK prep crap scattered from one of my house to the other.  He's going to have an incredible summer filled with some amazing experiences.  I hope he embraces the opportunity he's been given and never gets down on those days that are going to be super tough, just as Charles Swindle says (I'm going to copy the poem and put it in his backpack.  I'm sure he'll roll his eyes when he notices, but I know this kid well...and I know he'll cherish my sentiment).  Ah, the parallels between his Blue Knights and my Leadville journey ....

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Leadville SR50 Week 10: Pace Is Not A Goal

I want to start this post off by saying that I love my children.  All the moms out there probably know what is coming next, but in case you aren't a mom, I will explain.  When a mom starts off with "I love my children," the next thing to come out of her mouth will be a complaint about motherhood.  Kind of like when someone says, "No offense," the next thing to come out of their mouth will be horribly offensive.  (If you are from the south you can substitute "no offense" with "bless your heart.")  It is like the former statement offsets anything negative said in the latter statement.  Like, "No offensive, but your face makes me want to throw up."  And, "I love my kids, but if they don't shut the hell up I'm going to sell them on Craigslist."  "No offensive" and "I love my kids" made those totally acceptable statements.

No offense, but when I had the VERY rare opportunity to drag all my kids, and my achy post-race body to dinner the other night, after I had just run a brutally tough race where I conquered Mt. Everest (4 times),

I instantly found the Craigslist phone app when I asked my kids to pose for a "nice family photo"  ....

Bless their hearts .... do you think they are in need of some sort of family therapy?  Maybe I can find a group discount on Craigslist, I now have the app at finger's reach.

On to running, which isn't really as entertaining as my kids (after Leadville, I'm starting a "Stupid Things My Kids Do" blog)... unless I write about the brainless things I do running or cycling (I doubtlessly need to include myself in the new blog)...

I'm entering a phase in my training for Leadville where the miles and the vertical climbing need to get longer.  Joyous. I run 99.999% of my long runs alone (all runs, basically, not just long.  Cue the violins).  I map out where I need to go, drive a long-ass way to get there, run, go home, crash. Ignore kids, dinner, mail, phone...repeat.  This pretty much sums up my long run days.  I know my body pretty well and how it responds to these long, solo plights; fun at first because it's exploring new stomping grounds and tackling more vertical miles in a month than I've probably done in my entire running career.  I'm not complaining, I love that I'm embracing a world that has frightened me for so long and I haven't given up, I'm enjoying the rewards my body is reaping from the hill work - and more than happy not to hear any longer,  "No offensive Honey, but you have a big butt....bless your heart."  Hill work can have give the body some pretty impressive advantages!

But eventually, long vertical hours running alone can do some wild things to my headspace.  Thoughts of wild animals peering behind rocks, creepy old men lurking around, songs on my iPod I never want to hear again - ever ever ever ever, podcasts that make me want to vomit they're so pointless, audiobooks I've missed whole chapters because I got sidetracked wondering if creepy old man was looking at me the wrong way.

So to offset a few of solitary long runs, I'm entering the world of The Trail Race.  

I was brought up in a racing world where a time clock was held over my head and I ran laps repeatedly around a track based on a specific time (I watch Ryan go through this same scenario, daily).  Races were time tests and the reward of those tedious laps, if all panned out well, was a personal best.  You enter race, you performed your best.  Period.  But endurance trail running isn't like that, at least not for newbie trail runner me.  I'm learning (and not the easy way, either) to chuck the watch and let my ego fly out the window because pace means basically nothing; all I need to really know is time and elevation.  I thought as Leadville grew closer (Holy crap it's getting close!), I'd enter a few hilly trail races to use as long training runs.  Get me away from creepster old dude.  Put me in an environment where I am forced to keep moving forward ...matter ....what.  No more road racing here on out to Leadville (let's just not count the 5k I'm doing Sunday ;)), I'm entering the zone where every mile - on the trail - is really, really REALLY vital.

Since I know y'all stalk my blog daily (no offense, but the number of daily hits are dwindling rapidly.  Actually, I don't follow my stats, I don't really care - It was just perfect timing to use "no offense" again :)). you've seen I had two trail races since my last post.  Let's just do a quick recap, since you're chomping at the bit to hear all about the glorious triumphs (aka: I am still alive).

Cheyenne Mountain 25K, April 27th (15.44 miles, 1821' vertical)
I went down to Colorado Springs a couple months earlier to run some of the course with my friend, Kathleen (the .01% of the time I get to run with someone) so I had a little bit of an idea how challenging it was.

For some reasons only known to those who work for Garmin (no offense, but Garmin folks suck), my elevation profile display actually worked for once (normal display is flatlined, even if I run 3000', or more) so I get to share it.  Starting on an incline was challenging and I worried about my pace and if my effort was too ambitious.  Since the trail was a single track so for a good mile, my pace was at the mercy of those in front of me.  But it soon thinned out eventually and I could do my own thing....but the problem was, I wasn't really sure where my "own thing" needed to be - this thing had to be run on effort, not pace, and I couldn't get a good reading of my body and what it needed to feel.  I was running with my friend, Aimee (who I've never gotten the pleasure to run with awesome triathlete who is the kindest, sweetest woman) and we were trading positions in front for the first 4 miles.  When we got to the aid station at mile 4, I told her I was pulling back, I thought my effort was too hard, yet a half mile later, we came upon a sweet little descent (finally), and I felt my effort was too easy, so I took off and I left her.  My "effort" was all over the map and I struggled to feel exactly I needed to be.  Inexperience was evident.

Myself and Aimee pre-race.
That last climb from mile 7.5 to 11 was a doozie, and the terrain became pretty technical with large outcrops of rock.  I learned from my awesome hill running clinic that I just needed to put my head down, place hands on knees and use them to push down and power-walk this sucker when it became too beastly to run.  I found that my power-walk was actually as fast as most running around me so I wasn't losing too much ground on people (important for the competitive freaks like me), and bonus: once I'd get to the top of the uphill, I wasn't so winded like everyone else, and I was rewarded with an enormous amount of strength in me... I started passing people like it was my job; it was incredibly empowering.

When I got to mile 11, I stopped to take a salt tab and a guy passed me who told me to come with him.  He looked strong and I knew he was my meal ticket to finishing the last 4 miles well, so I clipped in behind him and we shared a few laughs together how I was his wingman.  He was all for it and so encouraging to me.  We were flying down this mountain, and climbing strong the hilly parts - I was having a blast, finally, and my stupid head stopped playing mind games with my effort.  With a little over a mile to go, we came to the last aid station and I grabbed some electrolytes (both calves cramped up a mile earlier like a total mother ..), gave my speedy pacer the thumbs-up (with a nod of approval from him) and off we went.  It only took a minute before the finish line came into view ... and no offense, but I dropped my pacer like a once bad drug habit (not that I have any experience in that arena).  I actually felt a little bad about using him to drag me to this point, but that thought only lasted a microsecond; he told me to gun it in if I had it in me, and somehow I did.  I sprinted like it was the last lap of my old infamous mile races from eons before and I crossed - feeling pretty dang satisfied.

Um, yeah...that's a podium 1st place 50-99 age group finish, thankyouverymuch
AG: 1/9
Female: 14/100
Overall: 50/188

Greenland 50K, May 4th (30.81 miles, 2198' vertical)
Ah, Greenland 50k, my first completed "ultra" distance and longest run I've done to date.  It should be ranked up there as one of those greatest accomplishments in my running career, but I'm not sure it honestly was.

The website describes this race as:
"Colorado’s fastest 50K! With Pikes Peak as your backdrop, you’ll cruise over a soft dirt trail on your way to a new personal best.  The entire course is run on dirt trails. With wide, smooth double track trails, the Greenland Trail 50K is a very fast course and also very beginner friendly."
Let's review that statement from my perspective and compare:
Pikes Peak was definitely my backdrop (gorgeous, blanketed entirely in white).  I did not cruise, I felt lethargic from step one.  The dirt wasn't exactly soft, the first 3.5 miles (times 4, because this was a 4 loop course of 7.75 miles each) mimicked something more like a walk along the beach in thick, heavy sand.  It was absolutely not fast.  And if this is a beginner friendly course, then I'm going to die in Leadville.  I did get a personal best though (hard not to when it's a new race distance), so I'll walk away with at least one check mark in the positive category.

At the start line, terrified
My friend, Bob, who I happened to run into before the race
(he finished 23/238 place).  Incredible runner
with an incredibly warm heart; he waited after his 25k race to help me

 right after my 3rd lap
Greenland really wasn't a bad course - it was actually very beautiful and the 4 laps didn't bother me mentally whatsoever, like I thought they would (just the climbing Everest 4 times is all).  But something was off I and struggled to keep a consistent paced time each 7.75 mile lap.  Instead of pulling back when I felt labored early on, I instead pushed through those difficult miles, trying to maintain a pace which felt more like a tempo run than a long, slow ultra paced run, even though my watch read a number far slower than my base paced training runs.  Red flags were billowing in my head but inexperience at this distance told me to ignore them and it'd get easier.  I'm not sure where I got that idiotic idea, it's not like any marathon I've ever felt too fast at the start ended in a glorious finish, so why adding an extra 5 miles to any marathon distance I've done is going to miraculously get easier was beyond me.  I just didn't know what to expect, I guess, and went with a pace in my head instead of an effort. Stupid watch.
Lap 1: 1:14
Lap 2: 1:15
Lap 3: 1:19
Lap 4: 1:21
When I look at those stats I pulled from the website, they don't paint a picture as to what I actually experienced.  I felt like I pretty much succumbed to the proverbial death march around mile 24 and could only muster a few runnable yards here and there as I climbed up - and up and up.  I long ago turned the 'pace' display off my watch - I didn't want to look at that nauseating number; all I wanted to see was distance, and somehow try to get my head out of the bowl of mush it was swimming in. I started lap 4 trying to be cognizant of where I was in that moment and bare witness to all the glory that surrounded me instead the initial dread I was beginning to feel.  I remember looking at the mountains and feeling so blessed to live in such a beautiful place.  I remember hitting the last aid station, which just so happened to be placed precisely at the marathon mark, around 4:25:something and being pretty damn pleased.  I remember climbing the last vertical climb of the day, smiling, that I still had the strength to do it.
I remember reaching the top of the last climb, knowing I had two heavenly miles of downhill to the finish.  Downhill running must be my strength, apparently, because somewhere, I found the energy to run - HARD - again....and man did I run.  The race had thinned out considerably by now and only a few souls were scattered here and there, so I put my head down, ran as fast as I could, and picked off everyone I focused on.  I ran those last two miles in a sub-8:30 pace (I checked my Garmin later :))....on legs that were absolutely spent.  If I walk away with anything good spent in those hours on the trail, it'll be the remembrance of those last 2 miles...

They taught me that I do have a lot more physical strength in me when my feeble mind tells me otherwise and I am capable of so much more than I think I am.

AG: 3/9
Female: 8/30
Overall: 50/125
I won a gift certificate for coming in 3rd to a local running store :) 
I cannot express in enough words how thankful I am that my friend Julie came down to help me with this race.  I knew my head could land in a heap of trouble if I let it after each lap, it was so comforting to have Julie there - that familiar face of comfort that I had hoped I provided for Tim in Zion.  She let me vent about the "F-ing course" after my first lap and was always upbeat and positive.  If it hadn't been for her enormous hug she gave me at the finish and stating how proud she was for finishing my first ultra, I'm sure I wouldn't have been the emotionally teary-eyed marshmallow I had instantly become.  Thank you, Julie - I sincerely appreciate your long day out there for me and you helped me realize that though this day was much harder on me mentally than I ever imagined it'd be, I accomplished something pretty crazy amazing.

I did it, I ran my first ultra....and honestly, it wasn't nearly as bad as I let my head think it was.

I have a lot to figure out about pacing and fueling and everything-ing before Leadville.  But one thing I am not going to do is beat myself up further about is the pace.  It is not my goal to cross the finish line of these lofty races with a specific pace; pace is a reward of the vertical work I still have yet to do.  Instead, these races, and the hefty upcoming ones, are there to teach me all the things I need to learn to make Leadville a success. It's as simple as that - I just need to get word to my head to accept this.  I am making significant gains in my training.....thank you, Tim.

Looking at those pictures of my kids above reminds me that training and racing isn't my whole life; it only enhances my life.

No offense, Jill's head, but she ran a pretty sweet first 50k.  So shut the hell up and get her get on with Leadville  training.

A last quick note: kuddos Ryan who just ran an incredible 1:58 anchor leg in the 4x800 and his whole team.  His smile says it all (second from left).
4x800 both girls and boys: New PRs and state qualifiers!

"Fill all thy bones with aches." 
-The Tempest's sorcerer-king Prospero

Run strong,

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Leadville, Backing up to week 12: Crewing Zion 100

Standing on a cliff, around mile 20, of the Zion 100 mile race
I missed a week (actually now two, no three...I'm really 10 weeks out to Leadville. gasp) of this weekly journal to Leadville Silver Rush 50 thing.  Life is traveling faster than the eye can see and I'm in a bit of an overwhelmed funk.  I can't articulate the words I want to write, they aren't effortless and fluid anymore and I don't really know what to say.  Life right now feels like Humpty Dumpty, fallen and broken, pieces shattered everywhere on the ground.

But I do miss the blog, friends, and writing, if that matters any.  And I have lots to say, though most of what's taking up my brain space is related to things not blogging (for one example: Brendan leaves for 4 months, performing with the Blue Knights, in a mere 13 days Whaaaa).  So I'll just sum up the past couple weeks and hope I can get back on track after this.  Grab your coffee mug, this could get lengthy.

Week 13 found my biggest vertical climbing yet at 6300' and 50 miles.  Sad, really, because this isn't even close to what I should be climbing.

Week 12 was my lowest vertical week with 850' and about 42 miles (I have yet to tally up my data, which for those who know me well, speaks a telling tale).  It was a back-off week so I shouldn't beat myself up...still, the lack of anything vertical was a bit deflating.

Week 11 saw the worst mileage in training yet with a tad under 32 miles.  Because of a fairly vertical race sandwiched in the middle of the week, I was able to squeak in 2000' of vertical, which is pitiful (hence, the fear part of my training...I'm going backwards).  But the race was good and I felt far better than I thought, so I'm not writing off the week as a complete loss.  I'll try to touch upon that race, and an upcoming one, later this week.

But let's back up to week 12, specifically April 19th, and see if I can formulate a few pitiful words about the adventurous experience I had in a little remote part of the earth, an incredible geological gem, near the Zion, Utah National Park region.  I'd skip it and move on to whatever current week I'm on but the scene was one of those moments in life that will just be forever laminated in a small corner of my brain, and I wanted to share some of it.

I casually mentioned to Tim a couple months ago I would gladly help crew for upcoming his Zion 100 mile race if he was in need of a clueless crewer.  I've never crewed for a race of that length before, nor have I even witnessed a race that long in duration where one human being was on their feet for an entire 100 miles.  At one time.  So with my beefy 100-mile crewing resume, it seemed fitting I'd blindly raise my hand for a ludicrous beast like the Zion 100 (sort of similar to when I signed up for the Leadville Silver Rush 50 where I only half knew what I was getting into).

It's been a tough process for me to sum up my 22+ hour Zion 100 feelings without getting too tedious; the gamut of raw emotions I felt was vast - from sheer excitement, to utter sympathy (with a couple tears mixed in).  Whatever words I do manage to muster here are going to fail miserably compared to what I actually experience out there in those 100 miles.  But I guess most race reports and summaries can't ever paint a real picture in a single blog post anyway (and I'm not writing 6 editions), so I'll just sum up the day, and the feelings I endured, as best I can.

Selfishly, I thought volunteering in such an environment, hands on, would give me some sort of quick, magical insight or tips to overcome pain, malice and fatigue for my own little race in Leadville this summer.  I wanted to witness how one bounces back after hitting a low and then still miraculously runs 50 more miles - or more.  I wanted to hear runners' tales of perseverance and witness grand triumphs of heroism.  I wanted to hear what deep thoughts enter ultrarunners' heads when they have their 'dark moments.'  I'm going to hit a low at some point in my measly 50 miler at Leadville; any clues I can walk away with to help my plight surely had to be found here during this incredibly long day.  Plus, come-on - what geology geek doesn't want to spend time in such a beauty as this:
But, mostly, I volunteered because I've read enough 100 mile race reports, especially Tim's, to understand the importance of having someone there.  Not just to drastically cut minutes off the finish time (it did), but also just someone you know, a familiar face, for when those low points hit (they do) and the miles become long - and arduous. I know Tim's perfectly capable of doing this 100 mile thing alone, but the worrier in me just wanted to be there to hopefully make it a tad bit easier, and, perhaps, a dash more comforting for him.

This is only the second year this race was run, so I have to give a huge pat-on-the-back to Matt, the RD, who had the vision to put this thing on and pretty much single-handily pulled the thing off without much incident that I am aware of.  I know the race was brutally tough, evident by Tim's, and other's, disposition I witnessed towards the end, so I do hope the RD takes note of their feedback and makes some changes next year so those poor runners aren't crawling up the most difficult section of the race (2000' up in a single mile, with a rope on some parts, because it's - oh my god - so steep) - on legs with 85 miles on them.  But overall, I think the consensus was, though this was a crazy, merciless course, it was also very well-organized, well-run throughout and an incredible race overall.

My only grumble about my small measly part of the 22+ hours I was out there, if there is one, was the inconsistently worded, and lack of detailed instructions, for the crewers.  I found myself hopelessly lost and panic ridden countless times; had it not been for the incredible people I met to guide me to the right places, I'd probably still be somewhere along Grafton Mesa writing out my last will and testament and throwing it in my Diet Coke bottle to the bottom of the canyon for someone to read to my kids one day.  Those kids aren't getting squat, because, let's face it - I have nothing, but it'd be nice for them to know I actually do love them.  Sometimes.
Tim, flying into, and out of, aid station #1 around mile 10.
In retrospect, it probably wasn't so much the minimal instructions from aid station to aid station that had me in an occasional frenzy out there, but more so, the fact I was soloing this sucker.  I discovered early on, like within seconds into this race, that most people out there running didn't just have one crewer or a pacer - they had teams of up to several people crewing and pacing for them.  Teams where one would sleep or fuel between stations, so the other was fresh and ready to roll when their runner came in.  Or the team would formulate a plan to get to the next stop - together.  The couple crewers I met who were flying alone, most (if not all) had all done this crew gig before.  I had clueless me.  And that was absolutely OK, but I'd better step out of my normally introverted ways and ask every single soul out there for directions and opinions if I was ever going to finish this thing in one piece - and somehow find Tim along the way.

And questions galore I asked.

The people I met out there were incredibly forthcoming in advice and invaluable getting me where I needed to go.  I met a woman early-on who was the caretaker of the Barr Camp, a hut found mid-way on Barr Trail to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs.  She was instrumental in getting through a couple of the most harrowing sections of road my poor car would drive through.  I met one of Tim's friends, Ryan, who understood my worry when I'd stand and wait for Tim to come in.  As I anxiously awaited for Tim at mile 37, Ryan drove by, stopped, and told me saw him about a mile up.  I met Kelly Agnew's wife, Jo, who witnessed me at my worst in the middle of the day when I discovered the road I was to embark upon was some of the most horrific stuff I'd ever driven.  We later shared countless laughs for a couple hours at the finish line when I was so deliriously fatigued and my normally closed-off personal life suddenly became a best selling book.  It was these people, people I don't normally socialize with, that brought me such relief that day (along with Tim's very gracious appreciation :)).  I realized somewhere out there I have missed out on a lot of incredible stories and possible formed friendships by standing in the corner too much of my life.

Anyway...  at one point while standing on this ledge, 1500' above the valley floor, I remembered it was my 50th birthday.  I was so wrapped up in the job at hand (and really, does anyone actually care they're turning 50?) I had completely forgotten.  As I stood there watching a couple runners come up this crazy beast, I had someone snap my birthday photo.  Lame, but I wanted the memory forever coated.  I couldn't think of a more fitting setting to celebrate the day - totally immersed in geology heaven, surrounded by those with an impeccable desire to run a really, really long way.
Happy Birthday, me

Tim looking super strong, climbing at mile 20.5
I tried to give Twitter updates via Tim's account, which proved difficult not only because here I was in a land so vast without any semblance of cell phone coverage, but my Tweeting skills are as lengthy as my 100 mile crewing resume.  I actually set up an account two years ago - I have no idea what my username is.  Tim gave me pointers and said to be sure I said "Zion 100" in there so people could follow.  I think I managed four updates, one may possibly had the proper wording.  I apologize for my lack of Twitter day I'll jump on the bandwagon.

Not long after Tim came through mile 37ish, I knew I had a bit of downtime (aka: able to breathe again) and I actually got in a little run of about 5 or so miles.  It felt good, but I was starting to feel the fatigue standing on my feet all day and the pressure of my job :).  I had a great run though and not too soon after I came back, I ran into the infamous Cory coming in to the aid station.  God, it was so good to see him, he's like this big rock star - EVERYONE knows Cory and we were all clapping him in.  Tim and I managed to hook up with Cory and his beautiful family for a couple brief minutes the day before the race at packet pickup...

So I easily recognized him when he came through at mile 37.  We talked for a couple minutes and I realized that I'd probably never seem him again, which hit me pretty hard for some reason.  The day was starting to get long, Tim was starting to take a front position, and crewers I'd been around prior, the ones vital in aiding me to the next check points, were thinning. It was starting to become just me out there, for the most part, and it was a bit scary.
Cory at mile 37
As you can see by paper and pencil, I was very diligent in my crewing duties.
Cory was such a bright ray, what an incredible upbeat attitude - constantly!
Tim came into mile 52 shortly after Cory left at 37.  I had his gear bag all set up on a tarp so he could sit, if needed.  He did.  God, he was in so much pain...and it was here I encountered, what was to be many episodes throughout the rest of the race: total helplessness.

Help: The one thing I wanted to make his journey easier, I felt completely unable to do for him.  This, combined with the fact I was having a hard time reaching certain aid stations via my car before he'd attain it on foot, was starting to rip a hole right through me.  And as the day progressed, and Tim fell into some rougher patches, the hole grew larger.

I could write a million words about my whole experience in Zion (I know, I'm close). How I got lost repeatedly, how I lost my car key, how my car - and bike - were covered in 15" of red sand.  And more.  And more.  And more.  But to hurry this thing along (thank God), let me just jump to mile 83, because this was a big turning point in the race.  For me.  (And I'm really tired and need to finish this thing up :)).

As I was sitting and reading my book in the car while waiting for time to pass (and trying not to fall asleep), a guy named George tapped on my window and told me to come and join his motley crue of aid station helpers.  They were a lively bunch having the best time together and I momentarily hung with them... but it somehow felt wrong to be there, having fun, while these runners were out there suffering, so I just went and stood at the corner - waiting and watching.  George was incredibly nice; as the evening progressed and I starting to worry about Tim's whereabouts, George would run ahead on the trail for a half mile or so, check to see if he was coming, and report back to me.  A older gentleman, who was manning the radios, would come over periodically and tell me, repeatedly, "He'll be along soon, don't fret, Honey."  He'd make me run back to the campfire at the aid station to get warm for a few minutes, then I'd quickly run back to my post after my feet thawed.  This scene was repeated at least 15 times.  But the kindness found at this aid station made those long hours there pass by faster and helped calm me some.  I talked to the eventual second place finisher's (3rd) pacer for a good hour - a great bunch of very young guys all traveling the country, racing (and pacing) whatever suited their needs.  How they afforded their really nice Jeep is beyond me, but we had a really great sub-surface conversation that wasn't so mundane as what seems like my life has become anymore.  Sometimes, it's the small things like this, just the tiniest of intellectual conversation, that make me think eventually, I can lead a better life.

Tim made it in, of course.  I think he was running,I really can't remember anymore.  Regardless, he was starting to crumble physically, and mentally he was a marshmallow.  I and had no power whatsoever to help him feel better.  He eventually ate a bit of a pb&j and I got his jacket out as nightfall, and cold temps, set in, and watched as he took off for the final, horrific, stretch of the race.  Tim told me not to drive to the last aid station because there wasn't anything he needed from his crew bag, so I wouldn't see him until he finished, around 4 hours later.  This was hard for me ...  as he started that climb out of the aid station, I kind of fell apart.  I so badly wanted to witness this very moment, a moment where the toll of the ultra race takes over your soul, yet you somehow keep moving forward ... yet I was emotionally unprepared to be more than a bystander watching his agony. This was incredibly tough for me to watch.  I couldn't formulate any encouraging words and uttered something stupid like, "Good luck."  No one needs luck at this point, and worse - they don't want to hear it ... they need the internal will to survive.

I stood and watched him crest this hill until I couldn't see him any longer - I hoped it was possible for Tim to draw a new starting line here, just when he thought he couldn't muster another step, and persevere.

Four hours and twenty some odd minutes later after I last saw him, after tacking some of the most brutal sections of the course, in sheer darkness, he made it across the finish line.

He did it:  22 hours and some change.

I couldn't help it, I was emotionally choked-up.  I was glad it was one could see the tear streaming down my face.  He was a mess.  And I couldn't do a thing to help ease the pain; damn if that didn't just tear me up; I'm sure the words I tried to speak just after he crossed, to give some sort of comfort, were bleak and ridiculous.  I was so happy for him; he finished this ruthless course in a very admirable time. I was proud in one of those really hard tried to process ways, so I tried only to think of the good this race brought him.  I realized soon, time was the only thing going to fix him.

When I was a kid, I spent summers at my grandmother's country house on the outskirts of the tiny town of Lansing, Iowa, in the NE corner of the state.  I didn't have the most glorified childhoods (that's an understatement) so all my adolescence memories, those which were spent there, are the most sacred and most clear.  I remember the way her house smelled, the way the breeze would rustle the big white birch tree in her front yard, the big backyard where you could see rolling farmland for endless miles, sitting at her vanity and brushing my long, blonde hair and trying on her pearls.  I had no program.  I just played, ran around, fished, played cards, wandered around the old one-room school house, and spent hours reading old issues of Reader's Digest (I loved the "Drama in Real Life" stories).  To this day, when I need some self-imposed therapy, I go to this magical place at my grandmother's for a few minutes - and smile.

My experience in Zion isn't necessarily a place I will wander my mind when things heat up in my life and I need to go to to that "happy place" for a bit, but I know it will be one of those occasions where I return when things get difficult in my running: when I think I can't take another step because it hurts way too much, or that my running sucks, or I'm not good enough to do it anymore.  Instead, I will return to Zion to remember Tim and the incredible people who fought so hard to overcome some pretty intense moments to reach their glory.  Despite how much that race zapped me upon my return, I'm glad I did it - and I would never throw that experience away.

Thanks, Cory, for the awesome rocks - my kids and I love them.  I placed them in a jar and set them on the perimeter of my bathtub along with other past race souvenirs of rocks, sand and seashells.  It was so cool to meet you and I hope our paths cross again soon!
Be still my heart
Thank you, Tim, for allowing me to be a big part of your incredible day in Zion, it was truly an honor to be your crew person.  I know you weren't overly thrilled with your performance out there...but I witnessed you overcome some pretty deep stuff, on many levels, and persevere.  This means more to me than I'll ever be able to truly articulate and I will carry those memories of success into my own little hell in Leadville - and I know now I can do it.  Crewing for a 100 mile race probably isn't the best gig for someone who's a habitual worrier like myself, but I wouldn't trade those memories on my 50th birthday for anything, thank you!

"Pushing your body past what you thought it was capable of is easy; the hard part is pushing yourself even further....past what your mind wants to let you.  That's what ultrarunning is all about; introducing you to a self you've never know."

Ah, The world of the sacred institution of ultrarunning....

....Bring on the Leadville Silver Rush 50!