Friday, August 30, 2013

Pikes Peak Marathon

A mere 5 weeks after I ran the Leadville 50 miler, I dragged my sinus infected lethargic self up (and down) that 14,115' pile of rock called Pikes Peak and completed my 20th (and first in Colorado) marathon - the Pikes Peak Marathon.

12 days ago, I had the privilege (?) of running the 58th annual Pikes Peak Marathon in Manitou Springs, CO. Considered “America’s Ultimate Challenge”, this marathon has drawn runners from all over the world to scale the 13.2 miles to the top at 14,115’, with 7,750’ of relentless climbing, then come back down the thing.  Events like these are destined to push us each to our limit, whatever flavor we may desire, and I definitely was not spared reaching both my physical and mental ceiling.

A couple months before Silver Rush 50, I was searching for ways to get out of running Pikes Peak because it dawned on me somewhere smack between the 188th bloody knee and the infamous pulled rib muscle that I was a wee bit tired of running relentless vertical walls of solid granite. I half-jokingly started begging runners at Silver Rush I spoke with mid race who were doing the Leadville 100 mile run the same weekend as Pikes Peak to please let me come back and pace them so I had a legitimate out for my own little sliver of upcoming misery.  My friend Samantha actually took me up on my pseudo-offer and had she emailed me to confirm within the two-week post-Silver Rush window when I was feeling the most apathetic, I would have taken the bait and paced - but she emailed back exactly one day too late, when I could actually move without excruciating pain, and thus had to decline the pacing duties (this confirms how selfish runners can be).

PPM has been one of those races on my imaginary to-do list for a ridiculously long time.  I've bailed on it a whopping four times over the course of 19 years (yes, that's correct - 19!); two of those were due to injury, one was due to being in super pathetic shape and another was just because I was chicken (that'd be 1994... though we could certainly clump the other 3 times into the 'chicken' category also).  It's one of those things that sits at the back of your brain and festers on the 3 remaining cells there, telling them repeatedly that you gotta this this monkey off you back now, while I'm still in quasi hill climbing shape from my Leadville training, and before there's a 5th entry in the 'chicken' category.

Let's take a closer look at this little gem of grueling vertical sickness, just for giggles, shall we....

In comparison, let's take a peek at a popular road marathon, say California International Marathon (which I'm considering in December)

Oh God, please help me!!!

I rode an hour down to the race (at the inhuman hour of 4am) with a co-worker and friend, Kerry.  Kerry and I ran Moab Red Hot back in February together but we hadn't run together since. She's a super fast ultra runner and I am...well...not.  But she offered to wait the 40+ hours after she was done for me so I welcomed the company for the commute down and back.
Pike Peak is that faintly gray colored blip in the upper right - which I swear is a million miles away
A bit of confusion as to exactly what time we started; Kerry and were standing on the sidelines, gabbing, when the starting gun went off.  Opps.  I grabbed my hydration pack sitting on the ground and jumped into the race - still needing to pee like a race horse.  I don't know if a race horse really has to urinate badly; it's a long held belief that people have to "piss like a race horse", so I'm going with it.  I'm sure I knocked a few competitors out as I slung my 10 lb pack on as we ran - oh well.  I'm sure there's a lesson to be learned in here somewhere, like maybe there's imperative race information in those "Final Instructions" emails sent the week before race day. Though I really wouldn't know.

Regardless, we're off.

Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon course

Start to No Name Creek (1:12):
This section (4.3 miles) has an elevation gain of 2,150' for an average percent grade of 13.4%.  If you think I'm all badass-like and "ran" all of this section, you be wrong.  I barely ran any of it other than the first mile, which was only about 8% incline.  I'll use any excuse in the book, but honestly, as mid-to-back of the packer on a "hill" this steep, your pace is at the mercy of whomever is in front of you.  The trail is narrow, the protruding rocks are plenty and passing is virtually impossible.  It was nearing 400 degrees and I was sweating profusely - which was a huge concern (me + heat = potentially pissed off stomach).  
Photo: Stolen from Happy Trails blog (thanks, guys)
No Name to Barr Camp (55:56, 2:08 total):
From No Name Creek to Barr Camp is about 3.3 miles with an elevation gain of 1,450' for an average percent grade of 8.3%. This is the fastest section of the course and even includes several slight downhill sections roughly 1.25 miles above No Name Creek. This is my favorite section of the entire course because I actually like to consider myself a runner vs. a hiker and I could actually RUN here.  I still felt pretty good, but the heat was starting to take it's toll; I could literally wring out sweat from my "wicking" shirt.  I was so relieved to get to Barr Camp, which is about the half-way point (in mileage, not in time (for me) - unfortunately).  Barr Camp aid station is like a carnival of cheering volunteers - absolutely uplifting.  I saw, and spoke briefly to, a woman who was volunteering whom I met while crewing at Zion 100 for Tim.  It brought a big (but short-lived) smile.

You can also get the first glimpse of the summit of Pikes Peak on this section, which has been hidden after the first half mile. Though it's only 7 miles away, it appears more like 200.

Barr Camp to A-Frame (1:06, 3:10 total):
Barr Camp to the A-frame shelter at treeline is 2.6 miles and 1,800' in elevation gain for an average percent grade of 13.1%.  13.1% at 10,500' and we're back to hiking, baby - every single step.  I pretty much hated the sun about now and doubted there was such a thing called the ozone layer.  Somehow. I managed to become the yellow-shirt in a peloton of about 20 behind me, which was weird because I didn't even think I had taken any EPOs at that point.  The ever increasing mass of people behind me may have caused me to increase my pathetic crawl up a notch to a now slow slog pace - and overdoing it slightly.  But I don't know for certain ... I felt I had one sloth-like speed but the growing mass behind me was stressful so at A-frame aid station, I pulled off to the side to let them slide by and felt a huge sigh of relief to be "alone".

A-frame to the summit (1:36, 4:46 total)
From the A-frame to the summit/turnaround (14,115') is about 3.2 miles with an elevation gain of 2,050' for an average percent grade of 12.4%.  The trail is primarily loose gravel with one short section of broken rock and the section known as the 16 Golden Stairs being gravel with frequent step-ups of some 10 to 15 inches (the Golden Stairs refers to the 32 switch-backs remaining to the summit).  Yes, it took me an hour and 36 minutes to go 3.2 miles - you can stop laughing now.
These last 3 miles of this thing was an entirely different race than the previous 10 - which is to say I have never, ever, ever been so close to the end of me as I was during those 3 miles above tree-line (GZ says this race is actually 4 races woven into one - this I wholeheartedly believe).  Every single step was a decision. Pain.  No oxygen.  Nauseous.  Light-headed.   My head was a bowl of mush.  I wanted to stop so bad, but I couldn't.  I've crossed that proverbial red line in altitude before on Mt. Evans this summer but I never felt this miserable ever (PP is TWICE as steep as Mt. Evans, so there is that), but holy mother of peril was I wretched.  Runners were coming down in large quantities, and the trail which was treacherous for ONE runner to occupy, now squished TWO on the narrow trail.  The person going up got the short end of the stick (that'd be me) so a lot of time was spent hugging a boulder so some speedster could get down.  With about 2 miles to go, I saw my blog friend, GZ, flying down and got a high-5 (obviously, he's part mountain goat), which lifted the spirit a tad.  I just kept going.  One mile from summit, which is to say an ETERNITY from the summit, the '16 Golden Stairs' begins and the two-way traffic is insane.  My 35 min/mile pace felt like I was going flat out as I scrambled on all fours to climb up and over.  Somewhere on those stairs I must have looked like death was a better alternative to what I was doing because someone coming down told me I'd feel better the second I turned around - and suddenly I felt considerably stronger and clawed my way to the summit.  The enormous support from the amazing volunteers up here was incredible and I got a little chocked up.
NEVER wear a white shirt in a trail race.  Just sayin'.

Summit - 4:46.  If you look closely in the lower center of the photo below, you can see the display clock proving how God did not grant me any hill climbing genes.
Kathleen, look - there's Joyce right in front of me :)
Summit to A-Frame (49:29, 5:36 total):
I grabbed about 5 grapes and a few jelly beans at the summit and started my way down as I gnawed at my gourmet meal one morsel at a time.  Within 20 steps of descending, I felt remarkable.  It helped tremendously too that some clouds decided to stroll in which allowed the 5 hours my back previously spent swimming in sweat to finally dry out some. 

After scrambling past the intense staircase and hordes of ascenders still making their way to the top,  I reached the loose gravel section and was surprised I could actually RUN.  At 14,000'.  It's not a secret if you read my Leadville Race Report that downhill running and I are bff, but I decided I needed to play it safe for a few miles - I've never run this far, this steep down, and I didn't really relish the thought of blown out quads with 8 miles of intense downhills miles left.  I latched onto a guy for a couple miles who was from Minnesota and let him set the pace.  The one and only time I fell (I know, hard to believe it was only once) was on this gravely section; I hit a switch back too fast and went sliding down.  But no DNA left on the trail, so all was good. 

A-frame to Barr Camp (33:50, 6:10 total):
Mr. Minnesotan and I picked off about 5 runners before he decided he had enough of pacing me and pulled off at A-frame.  It was a relief to get back down to tree-line - you could almost FEEL the increased oxygen invade the lungs!  About a mile further, I started running with a guy who had done Silver Rush a handful of times, including this year.  We ran about a mile together; he was a lot of fun and had the most inspiriting words when he told me he couldn't believe I was 50 and how well I did at Leadville :). He was having some stomach issues so slowed some... and I realized here, I had a LOT left in me and it was time to see just what I could do.
I picked up the pace and was floating by so many people.  I couldn't believe how good I felt and how well I was holding up.  I also knew I was embarking on a big section of trail with a lot of rocks and tree roots, which could take notorious face-planter me out in a heartbeat.  I had some stupid song stuck in my head for hours (I honestly couldn't even tell you what it was any more) but it was time to let those lyrics go and instead think, constantly: pick up your feet, do not fall. Pick up your feet, do not fall.  Pick up your feet, do not fall.  I swear I said these words 500 times until I crossed the finish line.

Barr Camp to No Name (32:00, 6:42 total):
My confidence was soaring (for once).  Every person in the peloton I was holding back earlier on, whom I let go by me at  mile 10, were long ago passed.  Every.  One.  Of.  Them.  The support from fellow runners was extraordinary when I passed (and when they passed me up), and every pass generously had a pat on the back as I went by.  The bond of runners on Pikes Peak had its own sense of magnitude which I have never witnessed on any other trail race I've ever done.  Suddenly, I was showered with immense courage and I started soaring down this portion of the trail which has always intimidated and scared the crap out of me in the past.  Just three weeks prior when I was on this same section of trail training, I was side-stepping some of steep, rocky portions just to get down ... today, I was hopping off the rocks and floating as fast as my legs (and lungs) would let me.

No Name to the Finish (37:27, 7:19 total):
I stopped at the No Name aid station to grab more jelly beans and ingested a pickle for the first time ever in a race (well, ever, while running).  The pickle just looked good (and I've read successful stories of pickle juice fueling) so OK, sure.  It was getting really warm again but I was determined to keep up my zippy pace - visions of becoming a real trail runner one day entered my head as I counted  my 40th victim I passed from the summit.  A guy I passed with about 2 miles to go clipped onto my heel and was matching my pace stride for stride....the competitive juices oozed out (as if they weren't out already?) and when I hit the paved road, I kicked it into high gear and left him behind.  Gawd, I wish I had my Garmin at this point because I know I was well above my lactic threshold and gunning a sub 7:30 pace (just two weeks ago Kathleen and I hit this mile at 7:19, but I also didn't have 25 miles on my legs that day :)). 

It was so fun to go from practically zero spectators on the entire course all day (aside from a handful of hearty soles who drove to the summit) to the sounds of many cheers along the sidelines as I hit downtown Manitou.  I eased up slightly on the pace because I thought the finish line was about a half mile further down the road where the start was (info in the "Final Instructions" email, perhaps? :)) and I was getting a little cooked.  I rounded a corner and suddenly, was across the finish line.

Descent - 2:32
(Ascent: 4:46)

Total Time: 7:19:51

Overall: 406/707
Female: 81/170
Age Group: 11/18
Miles: 26.4
Vertical: 7750' (all but about 50' is in those first 13.3 miles to the summit)

Pikes Peak Marathon -
The views...
The intensity...
The majesty...

I wasn't sure what my fifty-year-old body could hold out there just a few weeks after the longest run of my life in Leadville.  I didn't really care what my time was on the clock at PPM (not entirely).  I pushed past some seriously low lows to rebound and give that race every ounce of strength I had in me.  It was by far the hardest race I've ever done (it shredded me much more than Leadville did, even).

19 years of chasing.  

Finally caught.

I did it.

And THAT matters to me.

The shirt's pretty ugly, actually.  Whatever!
Back of shirt
If your dreams don't scare you, my friends, then they're not BIG enough.

Run strong!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Guest Post: Crewing for Leadville's Silver Rush 50

Rockstar runner, Terzah!
Terzah, her husband and their awesome twins.
When she can't run a race, she volunteers
While I'm prepping (or stalling, same thing) my race report from the Pikes Peak Marathon I just did over the past weekend, I'm going to let my friend, Terzah, recreate the Leadville day from the viewpoint of a crew-er. It's short and sweet, unlike my relentless babble race report, so without further ado, here's Terzah....

Crewing for Jill at the Leadville Silver Rush 50
Last month I was lucky enough to be included in the crew that supported Jill in the Silver Rush 50. As you know if you've read her race recap, it was a triumphant day for her. Here are some of my memories of that day, to give you the point of view of a crew member who didn't run a step.
--The people: -- Of course there was Jill, who surprised and impressed us all with her relative calm from the moment we arrived on Saturday night to the scene at the finish, when she sat under a tent in the pouring rain and glowed; Kathy, Cynthia, Marcia, Melissa....I'm lucky to count these women as my friends; and Jill's son Ryan, the most competent high-school-age male driver I've ever met (and he's a great runner, too) and so proud of his mom in his quiet way.
Kathy, Moi, Terzah, Marcia, Melissa (MIA: Ryan and Cynthia)
--The start: I loved how most of the runners....didn't run. There was a steep little hill at the beginning, and though a few wanted the honor of being first up it, most of them speed-hiked, wisely conserving resources for later. There would be plenty of hills to climb.
I wouldn't really call when I did up this thing "speed-hiking"..."slog" would be a better fitting word for me
--The aid stations: I had to stay clear of them. The spread was just too tempting. It's almost worth it to train for an ultra just for that (note that I say "almost"). We had a bag of her handpicked snacks/drinks/painkillers for Jill, and it was enough for me to keep my hands out of her M&Ms (I might have stolen a few).

--The scenery: Leadville and its environs are stunning. You can actually feel how much closer you are to the sky. When the storm that Jill just managed to outrun moved in, I felt we were in the clouds, not merely being rained on but rained around. I am jealous of Melissa, who ran some miles with Jill and got to see more of the course than the rest of us did.

--The stress: There was actually very little of it. The only time any of us felt stressed was when we had to decide whether it was worth the risk of missing Jill at the last aid station she expected us at in order to see her at the second-to-last one. We decided it wasn't. I felt bad about that later (she *was* looking for us, we learned), but she did so well anyway that in the end it came out OK. I can see, though, that if you are crewing for a runner who is having a bad day, decisions like that can be huge.

--The letter: I had the privilege of being the one to deliver to Jill a letter from her friend Tara, who moved away before this race could happen; the letter was meant to give Jill a lift when she came to a bad place....but she never did come to a bad place, so I decided at the last aid station to read it to her anyway. When you're running 50 miles, you need a lift when you have seven to go, even if you're having a great day.

Tears were shed during this reading, I promise
--The storybook ending: if you followed Jill's training for this little 50th-birthday gift she gave herself ("HEY, I think I need to run 50 miles!"), you know it wasn't all smooth sailing. There were rocks that leaped up and bloodied her legs, and a strained rib muscle; there was interrupted training, and the worry she felt constantly that she wasn't getting enough "vertical;" there were long drives to the mountains to run, which meant long drives back in bad traffic and too much time away from her family (and too little downtime); uncertainty about her first coach.......and yet....In the end, she finished nearly two hours faster than she thought she would. She finished serenely. Yep, that was what I saw on her face: serenity.

Cynthia, Kathy, Melissa, Marcia, Ryan and I were standing at a spot just at the bottom of a little hill where the runners come down and make one last turn to the finish. We could see the storm clouds building to the west, and the wind was turning chilly. I loved watching those runners come in. Some were met by their small children, who ran them into the finish line. Some pranced like they'd just gone for a little walk in the woods, not run a rugged ultra. Most had a smile on their faces. We bobbed up and down, hoping Jill would beat that rain.

When she came around the bend, the announcer (who'd given some personal attention to everyone who crossed that line), said something like, "Here comes Jill Parker! Jill is third in her age group." And we--Jill's little crowd--went wild. We'd known for several hours she was doing well, but to get an age group placement!  Wow!  After jumping up and down like crazy people, we jogged our own way to the other side of the finish line, just in time for that dump of rain to begin. We got her under the tent, and a nice spectator surrendered his seat to her. We hovered like mother hens (I was worried she'd get hypothermic), but she didn't need any mothering in those moments.
I have no idea how it feels to run that far, over terrain like that, at those altitudes (much less how it feels to do it well). Even after watching Jill do it, I know you can't know until you do it yourself. Maybe someday I'll try. For now, though, I'm very proud of Jill for giving herself the gift of that race, and grateful to her for letting us be there for her that day.

And the next time she wants to do something like this, I'll be honored to be there again. Thank you, Jill--run on, my friend.

Thank you, Terzah.  And thanks again to all who made this day a very, very special one!

And now, I must get back to writing up last weekend's pretty cool race up Pikes Peak so it's not four weeks post race, like others *ahem* have been....

Monday, August 12, 2013

Leadville Silver Rush 50 Mile Trail Race

I guess almost 4 weeks post the 'biggest race of your life' is a sufficient gap to write a race report. Most have moved on and are now asking, "What race did you run again?"  

So yeah, I ran a little 50 miler in Leadville.  50 miles.  In Leadville!  The Leadville Silver Rush 50. Unless you're dead and therefore not on FB to have witnessed the live onslaught of race vomit postings by my loving crew-mates (I say that affectionately to them, btw), most know already that yes, I DID IT, and not only did I do it, but I felt amazing and well and STRONG.  It sort of feels surreal, actually, like it didn't happen and was instead just a mere fragment of a convivial dream – except for days upon my return home my quads felt like a truck ran over them 80 trillion times, and my still-to-this-day lingering fatigue announce that yes, I did just run 50 miles.  At 10,200' Leadville! 

As you can clearly see, the course is very flat from mile 25.01 to 25.02.  Nice! 
Entering an unknown 50-miler world I didn’t have much of a gauge where I’d land across the finish line on race day.  Sure, I had some great training runs and incredible race results early this spring to give me a generic template, but then disaster struck: a dehydration nightmare at the Sage Burner 50k in late May formed a gelatinous head; almost no sleep in 3 days following the Boise Half IM early June caused my body wincing in fatigue for weeks after, and yet another fall on the trails in Leadville late June produced a pulled rib muscle - trying just to take in air was excruciatingly painful, so much so that that little thing called 'running' became problematic (it’s a requirement, btw, that all race reports be over-exaggerated – but these were pretty true facts).  I felt my fitness slipping quickly after Boise when I produced nothing of quality running-wise.  When Tim told me he thought I could realistically finish around 11-hours, I wanted to throw-up and hide in my closet!  Bleh, no way.  Never in my wildest happy finishing SR dreams (and I had plenty) did I think I could pull this thing off in 11-hours, not even when I was more fit and better trained in the spring. 13 hours is what I realistically thought now, 12:30 was best hope.  Basically I had no clue. All I knew for certain was that even though I'm pretty good at undermining my abilities, I can be also be pretty stubborn about what I want.  I got my head back into the game about a week before the race.  I wanted to finish Silver Rush.  Period.  

And I knew I would.  Finish time, it didn't matter.

Race Recap (aka: the boring ad nausea details)
When Marcia caught word I was running Leadville, she graciously offered to fly from the Windy City to help crew for me.

Soon, friends Terzah, Kathy, Cynthia and Melissa jumped on the crew and cheerleader bandwagon, along with my son Ryan (who was crawling out of his skin with excitement); before I knew it I had an entire entourage.  Melissa, I met exactly once, when my keys were lost somewhere on Mt. Evans back in mid-June (lucky girl got to see me have a complete melt-down the first time I met her); I can't figure out what I did to deserve such gifts in my life.
Best crew-ers ever!
L to R: Ryan, Cynthia, Marcia, Kathy, Terzah, Melissa.
I picked up Marcia on Thursday evening and we immediately high-tailed it up high to get our altitude acclimation groove on.  I always have some issues the first day with the altitude and whatever annoying alpine allergens are in thin air so it was crucial I spent as much time up in altitude as possible before race day.  We had a great time in Leadville Friday trying to dodge piercing, horizontal, torrential rain for three hours when the notorious late-summer Colorado monsoons arrived weeks early.  This did wonders for the already forming knot in my stomach; who doesn't dream of running in 35 degree freezing rain for 13 hours!  The only caloric intake my stomach could handle seemed to be ice cream and beer.  At least I was carb-loading.

Saturday, Marcia and I defined the word “slug” pretty well while Ryan went on some 200 mile sub-5 minute run.  My stomach was starting to feel better, but I was starting to become fixated on race details, like which rain jacket to take with me for the race. Rain threatened to be a constant on race day.  I modeled the two jackets I had with me to Marcia about 400 times; I'm sure her only thought was, they’re both identical.  Saturday night the banshees arrived and the living room became filled with pizza and war room race cheering strategies.  I went to bed a bit later than I had wanted, but feeling pretty calm.  By 2:30am I was wide awake - with a solid (okay, broken) 4 hours of sleep for the race. 
Race Day:
I've learned in trail racing, no one lines up an hour early to jockey for a good starting position like we insanely do in road marathons so I wasn't too worried with my 15 minutes to spare arrival, I ended up bumping into a friend, Samantha, at the start line (an incredible ultra-runner who I had the pleasure of running some with at the Sage Burner 50k back in May). It was a crisp, overcast 40 degree morning, and I was surprisingly excited to get the ball rolling.  A quick snap shot of my favorite crew-er before the start….
I had enough crap in my pack to cloth and feed a 3rd world country - just in case
And up the insane first hill (of thousands) of the day.

Marcia happened to snag a photo just as the sun rose right after we took off.  Kind of an ugly place to have to run 50 miles, huh?

Start to Black Cloud Aid Station (mile 7):
I ran a bit with Samantha during the first early miles; she knew everyone out there, I knew no one; I just listened in on her conversations and took in my surroundings.  Somewhere around mile 3, Samantha had to do some business in the trees so I bid her farewell and said I looked forward to seeing her when she passed me. Samantha had a goal of 10:30.  I did not.  I figured she’d be passing me eventually.  I chose not to wear my Garmin after deciding that this little device could potentially destroy my day if I got my head tangled up with it's display; I needed to [try to] go on instinct and have faith in my own judgement. I wore my trusty generic Nike watch - simply because I wanted to be sure I was fueling, hydrating and salt in-taking precisely when I needed to.  I learned the hard way at Sage Burner your stomach will hate you for eternity if you screw around with these things - they are what can take you out of a race this long in a nanosecond and vital to one's success.  I didn't even hit "start" on my watch, I simply used it to keep track of what went into my gut.

The first few miles of this section are a very gradual uphill on mostly dirt trail/jeep road.  I walked when I felt my HR start to climb, and ran when it lowered.  My strength on the trails are my quads and running downhill comes naturally easy to me, but I knew I had to hold back in those early downhill miles; I had no idea how my quads were going to fare at say mile 40, so I had to play it safe. Not an easy task for the girl who loves to race and pound the downs.  I stayed exactly where I intended and never got wrapped into what anyone else was doing around me (which is a pretty huge feat for me).

Eventually the trail turned into a dirt and rocky road which started to climb.  I just kept plodding forward with my run/walk method and eventually ran up a short steep hill and suddenly was into the first aid station where I was greeted with a welcoming cheering squad.  I had made a quick ETA schedule for each aid station - which was based on absolutely nothing concrete.  Ryan and I sat with the course map one night looking at the elevation and guesstimating where the course mile marking might possibly be in relation to the elevation.  I'm sure there's precise data out there somewhere if I searched long enough or emailed the right people, but the official map per se was pretty useless in this department, so I just came up with a game plan in my head based on a 13-hour finish time and threw in some random paces for each section.  I've never been good with race strategy; it works much better if I just go on instinct so now wasn't really the right time to start.  "Left, Right, Repeat.  Are you dying?  No!  Then keep going."  Easy.  The crew had strict instructions to let me know if I was fell behind my 13-hour target - my biggest fear was to not make the cut-offs. When I got to Black Cloud, Cynthia told me I was right on schedule so I smiled, thanked them all, and away I went -  feeling really, really, really, REALLY good.

Black Cloud to Printer Boy (mile 14):
Photo: Leadville Race Series
I know it's hard to believe, but this isn't me
Out of aid Black Cloud was a steady uphill climb eventually topping out well above tree-line for the first of six 12,600' peaks.  This was one of my favorite views on the course; the enormous granite walls are simply breathtaking (or maybe that was lack of oxygen). But it was a bit rocky in spots so I ran cautiously.  Those who tell you to look around and become one with your surroundings in ultra races are apparently not big face planters; I was constantly looking down so as not to leave more blood samples on those trails.  I looked around occasionally, but whenever it was rocky, my view was the ground.
Photo: Leadville Race Series
Once finished with the first major climb, I knew my time to gain a little ground was going to be on the nice 5-mile descent into the next aid station.  This section was a wide dirt-packed road with loose gravel - very runnable. The race's 450 runners had thinned out considerably by now but I tagged onto a group of five guys who had all done this race before, all in the 11-12 hour range.  As we started passing a lot of runners, the worry of whether I was running too fast and therefore would be dead at mile 30 also started.  But they were the funniest guys I run with all day and that made the miles clicked by in what seemed like seconds, so I hung with them anyway and felt a pang of sadness when I lost them at the next aid station.  Like Samantha, I just figured as the day progressed I’d see them eventually when they passed me.  I got down that hill and knew I had just checked off one of the 4 major climbs/descents, which was a huge mental uplift.  I felt fantastic.  I rounded the corner and heard my fan club eagerly cheering!
All that cheering causes lots of leg fatigue and much need to re-fuel, it appears
Cynthia checked the bladder in my hydration pack and sternly told me I wasn't drinking enough - I had only consumed about 10 oz of my water in those 14 miles and she was adamant half of my water be gone when they saw me next, which was in a mere 2 miles.  I was slightly ahead of my ETA here, but I told them I didn't want to know by how much...only tell me if I got behind.  I wasn’t even aware of the time on my watch.
Terzah clearly captivated by my tantalizing words:
"I'm doing well.  I feel great.  No, I don't want any food.  Do not give me a jelly bean, I'll barf it up.  Water, what's that?  Am I running 50 miles TODAY?"
Printer Boy to Rock Garden (mile 19):
Out of Printer Boy aid, we took a sharp turn onto some single track rocky trail in a wooded area and headed downhill.  I was flying (for me) and passing so many people but keeping my concentration on the rocky terrain.  This race isn’t very technical overall; there are only a few miles scattered where you need to be cautious with protruding rock.  I just happened to have been lucky enough to fall on them all in training.

Done with the downhill, quickly cross a paved road, and headed up on on wide gravel road on the other side.  There seemed to be more people around me now than the previous hour; I was ecstatic I was, for the most part, matching walking pace with those around me (which hasn't been the case in any other uphill trail run I've done prior to this year), and even passing some.  If there's one thing I have learned about vertical trail racing it's that your pace is based on effort and if that means walking, you walk.  I was thrilled to find my walk pace is getting quicker (one doesn't really know this unless you're around others doing the same :)).

I saw the crew just 2 miles after I last saw them (now mile 16), which is remarkable since I was now well ahead of my so-called 'schedule' and for them to reach me at this point they had to haul ass out of the last aid station, back into town, and down some some un-named road - which could be anyone's guess.

"Redneck" would be a great definition for Leadville
I stopped when I saw the crew to deal with some tape on my foot which I had put on to hopefully prevent the never-ceasing blister from Hell.  I felt a build-up of pressure on the 'problem area' and decided the tape was an utter fail and could actually exacerbate the situation, so off it went.  I thought about changing shoes but didn't want to dink around with the timing chip removal, and besides, Kathy is an ob/gyn nurse so I figured at least I'd have medical help close-by :).  Ryan loaded me up with more salt tablets and off I went on my 2nd major climb to 12.600' of the day.  I wouldn't see the gang until close to the turn-around, which was a couple hours away.

I started playing leapfrog up some switchbacks with a woman using hiking poles. The constant click click click click of the poles was driving me batty.  I'd pass her on a teeny descent and she'd re-pass me on the up; this went on for a few miles until the constant 'click' made me want to grab one of her poles and wrap it around her neck.  The Rock Garden aid station arrived quicker than I thought; I had a volunteer here grab my iPod out of my pack so I could drown out the incessant pole clatter.  I vowed then and there I wouldn't use the poles Tim lent me - even if my feet fell off and I had to crawl on my knees at some point.
Photo: Kelly Agnew
Looking to the west from Rock Garden aid station
Rock Garden to Stumptown (half way):
Source: Kelly Agnew
Heading east out of Rock Garden aid station
I've been on these middle miles training so I was familiar with what I was about to face, which was good because this area is some of the most grinding vertical on the course.  Rocky and steep.  But also incredibly scenic.  I ran well out of the aid station down to tree-line and through the trees, even when the rocks threatened to take me out. Then climbed back up to 12,600' again.  I saw Ken Chlouber, founder of the Leadville 100 race, standing at the top of the peak, smiling this evil grin which pretty much said, I'm so glad I'm not you right now.  I told him thanks for the awesome hill. He laughed and told me the rest of the race was all downhill from here. I didn't even remotely find his words funny.

Miraculously, I managed to get down the steepest section of the course without incident by side-stepping some of it.  Yeah, really. I started to have some minor calf cramps a couple miles back and they were getting slightly worse by the time I got down to the creek, so I stopped and stretch a bit before I started climbing again. 
The trail after the bridge is really runnable, but I thought it was better if I implemented a run/walk; I was still worried about how the body was going to hold up hours later and this is the section where I had the rib disaster 3 weeks prior.  I took my eyes off the ground for a nanosecond and saw Tim coming the other way. When he saw me, he turned around and walked with me a bit up the hill, which I couldn't be more thankful for.  He told me that I was doing great and killing the race; it was SO good to see him out there and it brought such a kick of energy that I was able to run the entire rest of the way to where I saw my crew at about a mile to the turn-around.  

The cloud cover for the majority of the race was now gone and the sun's heat was becoming pretty noticeable - and made me worry a bit.  It was great to see the crew (mile 24ish); Cynthia told me I was doing better hydrating after checking my pack (and my calves were much better now, I'm certain there was a correlation between these two) and said I was now well ahead of schedule.  I walked a lot to the turn-around; I had heard there is a mother hill right when you get to the half-way point and  rumors turned out to be true.  Thankfully it was short-lived and I got through the halfway arch in exactly 5 hours 20 seconds ....and turned around to head back out and repeat the course in the opposite direction.  I was half way done.

And I felt incredible.

Half way fanfare
Photo: Leadville Race Series
Stumptown to Rock Garden Aid Station (mile 31):
The crew was planted where I saw them last, about a mile from the half-way point.  I quickly told them I was doing well and ate something at the last aid station, so I didn't stop.  I knew I was about to embark on the toughest section of the whole race and I just wanted it done.  In a few minutes I ran past Samantha; she didn't look that well but she said she was doing fine. A few minutes later I passed by the group of 'fun guys' and they all screamed and yelled for me which was, admittedly, uplifting.  (None of them, btw, ever did pass me :)).

I ran by the rock that busted my rib a few weeks back and laughed at it....which was really juvenile. Whatever. I got down the hill in one piece and put my game face on for the mother of all hills I was about to embark upon: a half mile with 700' elevation gain, and filled with loose rock.  

I've been on this beast in training but never with 28 miles on my legs, so the crawl up this thing seemed much worse (imagine!).  Inching up this thing simply sucked.  To exacerbate the carnival fun, my stomach was becoming nauseous and the higher I climbed, the more I wanted to bend over and barf.  Ugh . I tried not to panic, but the symptoms were similar to those early stages of disaster at Sage Burner. I forced down some water and a bit of a gel, but my gut was on a full-blown strike.  My iPod, which saved the life of Clicking Pole Woman earlier, was oddly making my stomach even more queasy, so I instantly yanked it out.  By the grace of I'm not sure who, I somehow got to the top without losing half my stomach; it took an entire geological era to get up this thing.  I had a great opportunity to run down the other side but my stomach was still a mess and I couldn't run.  A woman passed me and I quickly felt this frustration overcome me that I couldn't run with her.  Shockingly though, I never got negative or angry, I just keep moving forward.  I realized here though - the race was starting to become a little more....competitive.  That racer in me started shinning through.

Eventually, the stomach started to cooperate as I downed more water.  I ran though the trees and once I was out in the clearing, climbing to 12,600' for the 5th time that day, it started to hail.  Awesome.  Let me just say for you who have never been in rain and hail at 12,000+ feet - it was freezing.  And excruciatingly painful on exposed skin.  I wanted to stop and get my jacket out of my pack but decided to proceed to the aid station which was coming up soon. When I got to the aid station, I just stood there for a couple minutes trying to assess what the nutty weather was going to do.  I finally got my pack off and dug for my arm warmers and wind jacket (my crew had my heavier rain jacket - the thing I obsessed for 2 hours over the night before,  I didn't even have it with me). I took in some watermelon, oranges and some Coke, but I couldn't choke down anything solid they had.  I knew this was a sign my stomach was not happy, but at least it wasn't in previous barf-mode.  I stood under the tent for probably 10 minutes waiting for the hail to stop, which was utterly ridiculous...and starting to upset me I wasn't moving quicker.

Rock Garden to Printer Boy (mile 36):
When I finally pulled myself out the dry shelter at Rock Garden, it was raining steadily but the hail stopped and I was warm and the wind jacket seemed to be keeping me dry.  In typical Colorado high country weather, 10 minutes later the rain ended, the sun poked out from the clouds, and it turned 200 degrees.  I thought I'd see the crew in a mile so I just decided to bake to death in my layers until I saw them.  But when I got off the trail and entered the road where the crew was to be, they weren't there.  I understood there could be a chance they'd bail on this stop since they were so rushed to get here the first round, so I didn't worry - but admittedly, I was hoping to see them, just for an energy boost.  I was still feeling really great, but I'd been running the longest I've ever run before...the enormous length of the day was starting to creep into the head. I stopped to take off my jacket then took off running, keeping a woman up ahead on my radar - she just looked like someone I could eventually pass, and it was great to keep my mind distracted in something other than how long I had been out there.  I made some gains on her during the road's ascent, but once it crested and started to descent, that's when I nailed her.  I felt really strong!   I got to the bottom of the hill, crossed the road and looked up when I heard someone yell my name; it was Kiki - a really cool local(ish) woman I've met who is training for Leadman and was there with some friends cheering.  It was so good to see her, even if was just for a mere second - it gave me a big lift for the next short climb.

Back up the hill and through the trees.  OHMIGODDD, this report is getting long, redundant - and boring!!  I think a 4th grader could write better crap than this piece of garbage. Whatever. Uphill, downhill, blah blah blah - let's continue on.... 

I got up this section feeling pretty damn good, and if there's one thing (okay, two...three....ten) I will forever remember about his race it was the look on Ryan's face at this very moment: his HUGE smile and the high-five he gave me as I came into the Printer Boy aid station at mile 36. 

I can't even explain how it feels to have your child so incredibly proud of you.  It's a pretty cool feeling inside to see your son have his mom take on a huge challenge, fight, and eventually succeed.  I could go on and on about that, but I think my 4 hours of 'free time' at the coffee shop is about to expire and my mandatory 500 word RR limit has been far surpassed four thousand times over.

Printer Boy to Black Cloud aid station (mile 43):

As I got into Printer Boy, there was one last major climb - the spot where the fun people and I were passing runners earlier in the day.  I knew this was going to be a death march climb, but also relieved it was the last climb to 12,600' of the day.  Melissa graciously offered to "run" a few miles with me, and I welcomed the company.  You're not allowed pacers at this race, but she wasn't "pacing me", she was keeping me company and just there a few miles ... and best I could tell, the roads and trails were wide open and anyone could be out there running, or driving (which they were, occasionally). I was starting to feel slightly fatigued and it was great to have Melissa keep my mind occupied.  We talked about useless stuff, mostly mocking everyone in the race, myself included.  It started to rain, heavily for a bit, as we climbed, and climbed, and climbed, and still climbed more.  I was walking, and apologized profusely to Melissa for our pathetic snail's pace and the fact she was soaked to the bone (I finally had my obsessed-over rain jacket, but she had nothing to protect her.  I worried about her...something to keep my mind occupied).  I was getting frustrated I couldn't run here; it seemed fairly runnable, but my legs couldn't do it.  I looked around and the few racers left around me were also walking - so I was a bit more encouraged about my crawling pace.  The hill wouldn't end; we just climbed forever and whenever I thought we'd reach the top around the next bend, we didn't.  I told Melissa "sorry" 5 million times how slow we were going and I'm certain a few expletives came out of my mouth...remember, I had met this girl a grand total of once, and I was in a foul mood then.  I can only imagine what was going through her head now about me.  Melissa had her Garmin on and I slipped once and asked her our pace.  It was deflating - I'm not even going to mention it, but it was slower than the 17:30 avg overall pace I needed to finish within the cutoff.  I was well ahead of schedule by now, so I wasn't worried, but this hill was starting to become mentally draining.  

About 480 hours later, the hill and rains simultaneously stopped.  I took off my raincoat, gave it to Melissa, and decided it was time to pound out the next few miles to the last aid station, which was an awesome tactic, btw, since I still had some rolling hills to climb later.  But at the moment I didn't really care; I felt strong and this insatiable need to run hard just entered my head.  So we did.  Melissa said our pace was in the sub 9's, which at this altitude on legs with 40 miles on them, was probably stupid - whatever.  I really had no rhyme or reason for what I was doing and winging it at this point.  But as the miles at this over-zealous pace continued, I was getting cooked.  My sour stomach started to rear its ugly head slightly....getting to the next aid station became my new obsession; I was craving orange slices like you wouldn't believe, which I knew was a sign I was dehydrated (again). I couldn't even tell you one thing Melissa said to me here, other than I needed something solid in my stomach, which almost caused me to vomit.

Black Cloud to the Finish (mile 50):
By the time Melissa and I reached Black Cloud, my stomach was on full strike.  I ate my weight in watermelon and orange slices and nursed some gel, anything and everything liquid, until I felt good to get moving.
Mile 43: "research" indeed!
As I headed out for the last leg of the day, Terzah said she had something to read me, something from Tara that...well....I knew would shed a tear - or ten; just the mention of Tara's name caused me to lose composure, never mind the words....
Terzah reading note - my absolutely favorite picture of the day!
As a side note, I can't help but laugh at my hair here, it was a massive ball of sweat, rain, dirt, bug spray and sunscreen

Sniff sniff.  
Tara moved out of Colorado the week before my race; I'm still grieving that she's gone.  It was tough not to have her there so the note meant so much (It's currently hanging on my bathroom mirror).

After Terzah read me Tara's note, I continued down the road trying to run, but quickly started to struggle some.  I don't know for certain what was going on - I just sort of zoned out and in an odd way, no longer felt "part" of this race.  I started playing leapfrog with a guy whose legs were killing him.  I told him I felt great, nothing sore at all, so why wasn't I running more?  This was starting to irritate me; there was no explanation for my lack of speed, but for some unbeknownst to me reason I just didn't want to run much.  2 minute walk breaks turned into 5, simply because I didn't feel like running anymore.  It was so ridiculous.  I was a bit tired, sure, but nothing hurt.  My legs felt great.  My stomach wasn't the best but it wasn't nauseous anymore. My feet were blister-free and no soreness at all.  Whenever I wanted to run again, I'd look down at my bracelet Kathleen gave me for my birthday and drew strength from all her positive and encouraging words she gave me the past 8 months. This girl is going through some tough health stuff right now and yet whenever I got down or tired or complained about one tiny thing to her, she'd quickly remind me how precious life is and the pain I feel right now is only temporary (we're not talking only race pain).  I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been at the start line of SR had it not been for her continuous belief in my mission.

With 2 miles to go the skies turned dark gray and thunder was prominent; I knew a heavy storm was moving in and not going to move out quickly like the previous rains I had run through that day.  This sort of lit a small fire in me, but not a full-fledged flame. I kept hoping I'd see Tim or Ryan - anyone - pop out from behind the trees and tell me to get my ass moving faster - I felt very much alone, I'd long ago passed the white coat guy I was leapfrogging with earlier and now there were no runners in sight and I just felt this overwhelming need to see someone.  As I came up on the last hill (seriously only a sadistic RD would put another major hill, however short, when you can actually SEE the finish line, yet have you run a mile away from that line) the dark clouds released their fury and it started down-pouring.  I ran (yep, finally RAN) past the arch at the top of the hill where I had run through many, many, MANY hours earlier, and heard them call out my name from below, where the final finish line chute was.  I had no idea how much further I had to go....all I wanted to do was get out of the rain.

It was only a minute at most when I turned a corner and started running downhill ... and there she was, in all her glory: the finish line....
Pretty anti-climatic finish line fanfare, eh?
I knew by my beloved little Nike watch I was ahead of my self-imposed 13-hour timetable,  but my watch display was all fogged up and it was off by a few minutes from the starting gun, so I thought running down this stretch to the finish line (with adoring fan club cheering loudly off to the sidelines - a vision I will never forget ) I was a few minutes over the 11th hour.

To say I was STUNNED to see the finish clock display is an understatement.....

2 hours and 8 minutes faster than where I honestly thought I'd land! 

And - 3rd in my age group!

A silver mining pan as an age group award!  Be still my heart!!!!!!!!!!!!
The Finish:
I can tell you with 100% certainty I was smiling when I crossed.  

And I can tell you I was proud.

I can also tell you with 100% certainty I was BEAMING when I got a huge unexpected finish line hug from rain-soaked Sandra seconds after I crossed.  Though I never really met Sandra before for more than a minute, we've exchanged countless emotionally-filled SR and ultra running emails during these past few months and I knew exactly who this girl was running out towards me.  She wasn't suppose to be there that day, but plans changed and there she was....not for me exactly, for another friend, but at that moment it was for me.

I was home.

Official results:
Start to Printer Boy: 2:59:36
Printer Boy to Stumptown: 2:17:44
Stumptown To Printer Boy: 2:33:59
Printer Boy to Finish: 3:11:58
Finish time: 10:52:15.24
Avg Pace: 13:02

Female: 30/113
AG: 3/12
Overall: 206/449

Miles: 50
Race Elevation: 10,200-12,600'
Elevation Gain: 7950' 

The Aftermath:
I always struggle to write race reports because I never think about one damn thing when I'm out there, not even for 50 miles, so all there is to share is what happened at that time or point in a race.  Sure, I had fleeting thoughts but nothing continuous; I just had a sense of calmness during the race and it's hard to capture those inner momentary thoughts into words. 

I suspect the reason why it's taken me so long to write this report is that, honestly, I've had a tough time upon my return.  I've had long, and thus exhausting wars within my head about this race. I think the biggest reason Sandra and I are friends is because we mutually ran this race for the same reasons: to find our breaking point, the point where we say no more, we've found the limit of mental or physical capacity where we will choose to not go past.  It seems to answer the question of why we do something like this more often than not.  When I crossed the finish line of SR I barely shed the emotional tears I envision for months I would, nor Molly Shannon my ass high in the air. In fact, I felt a little bit of a let-down.  Maybe it was the rain and the fact I was soaked and frozen and wanted to instantly leave, but I honestly thought I'd cross that finish line and walk away from it with something, something more tangible I guess.  The answer I was seeking wasn't out there, which is funny because I couldn't even tell you the exact question was I was searching for.

The race almost seemed .... like it was just handed to me.  

For days after I got home after SR, I fought with this.  The day was inexplicable and I had to take some time to process it all.  Maybe the shiny silver box with a bright blue bow at the finish line wasn't meant to be something tangible, or touchable, but rather was meant to teach me that I have a lot more in myself to give.  I mean, If you don't learn something about yourself in a race of this magnitude, then you aren't paying attention. I feel I could have done a lot of things differently out there: I didn't have to wait so long for it to stop hailing; maybe I could have pushed harder up and down the hills earlier on; I know for certain I could have pushed a hell of a lot harder those last 5 miles; and I'm sure I could have been more dialed into my nutrition and hydration.  

But I worked like a madwoman to do them to best of what my ability allowed.  And I did it fantastically.  Tim was spot-on where I'd land across that finish line based on my training - and that says a lot about him.  But it also says a hell of a lot about me!  I know me and I know my shit and learned in this 8 month process that the scope of what I believed was possible has expanded and I DO have the talent to do these things if I set my mind to them - and work for them. Next time, I'll know I have a lot more to give - and maybe then I'll find the answers I seek and reach my breaking point where I say this is enough.  And maybe I won't.

And that's okay, it's even great really -  there is beauty in that.  So for now, it's good enough for me.  

I was the most positive I've ever been in a race.

I am proud of what I accomplished.  I AM happy.  

And Tara....I will never, ever give up fighting.  Ever.

My heart is bursting with gratitude for the amazing souls who graciously took time out of their lives for me that day. Tim, whose words of pride I know were not just given without warrant.  My crew who took time away from their families to be there for me were simply incredible and lifted my spirit every time I saw them.  My friends Kathleen, Jen, Sandra, Gary (your note made my day!) who always had the best things to say to me - just when I needed them most.  Craig who helped me a lot the last couple months, and GZ whose generous words made me understand my post race doldrums were not unique and it was okay to feel a little hard on myself.  Ryan and the rest of my understanding family who I spent countless hours away so I could train.  And you, all of YOU who've been by my side all these months and believed in me. I am deeply filled with gratitude. It was an incredible day; I was honored to take you with me; it meant a lot.  THANK YOU!

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity...Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow."    - Melody Beattie