Castle Peak 100k

Test your fortitude at this demanding point-to-point run on trails forged by early emigrants to California. The Castle Peak 100k takes place in Tahoe National Forest and on some of the most scenic mountain terrain that Truckee / North Tahoe has to offer. Proudly presented by the modern pioneers of the Donner Party Mountain Runners. Registration now open on UltraSignup.

Race Report – Bryce 100

Bryce Canyon National Park
Dramatic clouds over Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon is a spectacular natural feature in southern Utah. The Bryce 100 is an out-and-back race in the National Forest adjacent to Bryce Canyon National Park. The course features some 18,600′ of climbing, with most of it higher than 8000′. Although daytime temperatures can be quite dry and warm, the weather for the race this weekend was mountainous ~ cool with multiple thundershowers.

As the small field (<120 runners) congregated around a fire pit at the start line, I considered leaving my cap in my start bag. “No,” I thought, “best not to make a mistake that I’ll regret later.” Little did I know, I had probably been making a critical mistake all week.

Warming by the fire pit emblazoned with "Bryce 100"
Warming by the fire pit emblazoned with “Bryce 100″

The route starts with 2 miles of dirt road so that the field can spread a bit. By the time we turned onto the single track, there was plenty of room for everyone to enjoy the forest trail. This first section was a sampler of the beauty to come: lush forest alternated with the exotic red sandstone formations that make Bryce famous.

Sometime before the first aid station I peeled of the trail for a quick pee stop. I watched the stream of urine and was puzzled to see the color somewhere between “mountain dew” and “coca-cola.” It was early and I had been drinking fine. I refilled water at the first aid station and cruised on.

My training and taper for Bryce 100 had gone really well with the help of Coach Peter (Run on Dirt), including fun practice races at The Canyons 100k and Silver State Trail Half Marathon. The only hiccup had been a bit of a hamstring strain two weeks before the race. Panicky to heal up in time, I had been taking NSAIDs (Ibuprofen or Aleve) right up to the start of the race.

The miles clicked by as I comfortably ran the lovely single track. I visited with a few runners, but then remembered to save my air for running – it did feel thin as we neared 9000′. Somewhere before the second aid station, I peeled off for another potty stop. This time the urine included red. It was bit early for my period, but possible. Maybe that was it. I would investigate at the next aid station.

I was going though my aid station list in my head when a chap on the trail told me I was the second woman. I kinda hated knowing that only 28 miles into 100. I got into the aid station and asked where I could find the honey pot – a tiny tent with a toilet seat atop a bucket. I was alarmed to see straight bright red blood. It was definitely not my period.

I left the aid station alongside another runner who turned out to be a doc and he shared some insights. He told me how hard pain killers are on the kidneys and that he had literally never taken them in his life. We discussed warning signs that I should watch for, including: lower back (referred kidney) pain, swelling in the lower extremities, or unusual muscle fatigue.

I decided that I would drop as soon as possible if I noticed any of these symptoms. I also decided that I would not run solo into the night if my urine wasn’t substantially cleared up by then.

The next section was rolling hills up at the highest elevations of the course. Intermittent morning rain showers had cleared to dry and pleasantly cool weather. I was happy that I had kept my cap to keep the rain off my glasses. (Needless to say, I had been carrying my water-proof jacket the entire day.) I felt good and enjoyed the ride. I hydrated well and tried to tuck away my pee worries.

My best Pacelette yet! The superimposed elevation profile was invaluable.
My best Pacelette yet! The superimposed elevation profile was invaluable.

Next the course descended to an aid station at mile 41 before a climb to the Pink Cliffs Aid Station. Dark clouds gathered for the forecasted afternoon thunder showers. The rain started as I came around the corner to one of the most dramatic views on the course. Thunder, lightning and hail soon followed.

I arrived at the Pink Cliffs Aid Station (mile 46.5) to find a few runners taking shelter from the hail, including the first woman. I did not intend to stop and get cold. Betsy had taught me better.

Instead, I grabbed a dry long-sleeved shirt and gloves from my drop bag, and found my way out of the aid station, off that hilltop, away from the first woman, and into the storm.

Running alone in the storm gave me a jolt of adrenaline. I moved quickly, but also remembered Murray from Hardrock. He had to drop one year after an agitated descent in a thunderstorm. He said that he was so wound-up and focused on the storm that he failed to eat or drink. He ended up too cold and spent, and didn’t recover to finish the Hardrock. I was careful to take care of myself on the way down.

During these miles, I observed that my urine would substantially improve with all the hydration, but once I picked up the running intensity, it would get bloody again. I arrived at the turn-around point (mile 51.5) and considered my options. This would be a good place to drop, in terms of getting a ride, but the reality was that I was moving well and I felt fine. I made the turn around and headed back up to Pink Cliffs. My hands were swelling, though not more than on a hot race day. (Of course, it was not at all a hot race day.)

The return climb to Pink Cliffs went faster than I had expected and the storm subsided. I arrived back at the aid station on top about an hour earlier than I was expecting. It was 6:15 pm and this was a big stop for me to switch over to the night gear. I received VIP treatment as the first woman and worked quickly through my prepared checklist. I left the aid station buoyed by my efficiency and headed down the other side of the hill.

I had 5.5 miles to make a go or no-go decision. The next aid station would be the last opportunity to get a car ride off the course before going back to the higher elevations for the night. I was still running in first place amongst the small field of women. But the better I ran, the worse my pee looked. I felt my wrists tightening into my watch and pacelette. I poked at my lower legs to check the swelling. They were swollen, but not horribly so.

The descent leveled and I had 2 miles to go to make the call. Like a mountaineer grappling with a set turn-around time, I knew that I was too close to too many of my “drop criteria” to risk running alone into the night. Some combination of factors had combined to create a “perfect storm” for my kidneys, and I couldn’t ignore it any longer.

Was my health actually in danger? Was I irresponsibly risking a hospital stay far from home? Would I ever get to run in the front of the field (albeit small) at a 100-mile race again? I can’t know the answer to these questions. Ultimately, I considered my parents, husband and children, and knew that my day would ending at 100k instead of 100 miles. I slowly continued on the trail as I unpinned my race bib to turn in when I reached the aid station at mile 62.

I was grateful to hitch a ride back to the hotel room, where my friend Claire greeted me with kindness and sympathy. She would be running the 50k the following morning (and by running, I actually mean winning). I was sorry to keep her up late.

Afterward

In the morning I made two trips over to the finish line. First, to gather some bags and see a few of the ladies finish. I unfortunately arrived too late to see the first woman arrive, but I did get to greet a number of finishers, including the incredible Tonia Smith, who finished in second place with half a pancreas. Yes, you read that correctly: Tonia survived pancreatic cancer and many rounds of chemo just last year, then came to Bryce to finish a 100-mile run in absolute style.

Pancreatic Cancer Survivor Tonia Smith finishing in second place
Pancreatic Cancer Survivor Tonia Smith finishing in second place

Next I spent some time exploring inside Bryce Canyon National Park. While the race course is beautiful, it is only a tiny taste of the spectacular vistas inside the National Park. I can’t wait to return with the family and explore every craggly corner.

I returned to the finish area a second time to greet Claire. I was not surprised when she was the first woman to cross the 50k finish line (and I believe third overall). She is running strong and ready for her second Western States in three weeks.

Later in the afternoon I retrieved most of my drop bags. They were wet and dirty. Some items were spent, but others items – like the batteries for night running – sat untouched. Claire was out of the room for a bit, so I finally succumbed to a round of tears, mourning the loss of my third 100-mile finish. Claire must have noticed my red, swollen eyes when she returned, but was gracious enough not to mention it.

We made a plan to see the sunrise over Bryce Canyon before we embarked on our drive home via US 50 (The Loneliest Road in America). We spent an hour in the park, watching the sun slowly illuminate the clouds and red sandstone earth. It was magical.

Bryce-100
Claire, contemplating the sunrise over Bryce Canyon

We returned to a beautiful summer afternoon in Truckee. I picked up groceries and fixed dinner for the family. We enjoyed our first meal of the season on the deck.

I am happy to report that my urine is clearing and I feel fine. I know that I don’t have unfinished race business with Bryce 100. My first-ever DNF (Did Not Finish) was a successful failure. I will keep investigating the cause of my “angry kidneys” and look forward to a summer of running followed by Wasatch 100 in September.

This photo does not capture the beauty of Bryce’s Sunset Point

Bryce 100 – Stalking Guide

“You live a charmed life,” my Mom commented on the phone today, with absolutely no hint of sarcasm or judgement. I had matter-of-factly been describing my day as I prepare to embark on a 100-mile running journey in Bryce Canyon, Utah.

Bryce 100 drop bags loaded and ready to roll
Bryce 100 drop bags loaded and ready to roll

The Bryce Canyon 100 Mile race starts this Friday, June 5, 2015, at 6am. It is an out-and-back course in the high desert along the Bryce Canyon National Park. The weather forecast is showing a good chance of thunder showers starting in the afternoon and going through the night. This should work in my favor, so long as I keep warm and moving.

So that you can watch me moving along, I will once again carry our InReach satellite messenger. However, I don’t plan to pick it up until the Pink Cliffs Aid Station (Mile 56.5). If all goes well, the first tracking point will be sent out by 7:15pm local time (or 6:15pm PST). The unit will send subsequent tracking points about every 10 minutes. You can compare the tracking map to the race map to get a feel for my progress.

It is a privilege and decadence to partake in any 100-mile trail race. When I hit that tired low during the dark and cloudy night, I will remember that I do, indeed, live a charmed life, and that my dear friends and family may just be watching, so I will do my best to keep moving. And not chase squirrels.

Race Report – Silver State Trail Half Marathon

I had no intention to race a hard trail half marathon last weekend. Or ever, for that matter.

We already had a sitter booked for out-of-town plans that we had decided to cancel. After the previous two weekends of preparing the family for big race weekends, I had lost all enthusiasm for heading out of town. I asked Coach Peter to pitch some fun running plans closer to home instead. So he suggested topping off a high-mileage week by racing a half marathon?!

The Silver State Striders have produced the SS 50/50 Endurance Runs in Reno, Nevada, for 30 years now. It was my first time at the event, despite being an easy 35-minute drive from home.

A number of friends and fellow Donner Party Mountain Runners were running the 50k and 50m distances, as well as working two different aid stations. Inspired by the example of Gretchen B, who routinely races then volunteers at aid stations, I jumped right on that bandwagon. My husband, Javier, and I were signed up to help at the top of Peavine for the afternoon closing shift. It was shaping up to be the perfect running date weekend…

I was pretty exhausted by Friday afternoon. I had run over 80 miles in the past 7 days, including several hard workouts. So it didn’t seem surprising that my stomach hurt and I felt awful despite it being a “rest” day. I felt a little relief after an unpleasant bowel movement and went to bed.

The wake-up call on Saturday was a luxurious 5:30am, which is about when I wake up mid-week anyway. I went through my normal pre-race routine, including coffee and Vespa, which both can contribute to an “explosive” gastrointestinal environment. My gut was still feeling pretty bad, but I was just going with it.

We arrived at the start and I pleasantly realized that Javier would be able to help me at the start and see me at the finish with no kid distractions! Our wonderful Reno running neighbors greeted us with big smiles at check-in. I needed to hit the porta-potty twice, but otherwise I was feeling pretty good for the start.

I whined to Coach Peter (Run on Dirt) earlier in the week that I had no idea how to even race a trail half marathon. We had run a 10k time trial on Wednesday, and he told me to go hard like that for the whole time.

The course is over 1500′ of climbing in the first 8 miles, followed by the same descent in about 5.5 miles (a heavy half-marathon according to my Garmin). I struggled to find the “correct” effort level in the first mile or two. I called on the memory of Wednesday’s time trail to dial it in. I soon assessed that I would just have to “hang on” to the field ~ not let anyone slip away ~ for the 8-mile climb and then I could have some fun on the downhill.

Man, it was tough to hang on! I used music with one earphone for the entire climb. Once in a while my mind wandered and the pace dropped, “Ah, this is a sweet song. So nice that Javier will be waiting for me at the finish… ”

I had to constantly remind myself to focus just on running and breathing. No chasing squirrels, I told myself.

The climb flattened between miles 6 and 7, and here I sensed that I might finally catch the gal that I had been trailing by about 200 yards. I took a moment to appreciate the fact that she had been there to pull me up the hill then re-focused on running and breathing.

I caught her on the final steep pitch where I hiked for the first and only time all day. Then I saw the white tent of the Ridgeview Aid Station, staffed by fellow club members on behalf of The Canyons Endurance Runs. Accordingly, I made sure to look like I had been running the entire climb and blew through the aid station.

Phew! Now all I had to do is run downhill hard for 5.5 miles. I found a tall fellow to follow, and, dang, it was hard to hang on to him! I had to put away the earbud and just focused on staying with him.

Warning: here are were things get really gross. Actually, downright crappy. After about 15 minutes of fast descending and barely hanging onto my tall, fast friend, I felt my disturbed bowels grumbling.

Stopping was not an option. There wasn’t a tree in sight and I had nothing resembling tissue, in any case. I’ve held it for longer, I thought, but it’s gonna be painful. And then, suddenly, the decision was not mine to make. My bowels moved on their own and I was thankful for compression shorts. Unfortunately, this was not a one-time deal. Things kept moving… in an explosive manner. I just kept running.

I exchanged a few pleasant words with the tall fellow and a short bit later he decided to take it down a notch. He yielded the trail and I hesitated for a second to pass him; worried how I must look and smell. I went over it all in my head as I continued to descend as hard as I possibly could:

There is no other way off this course. There are no trees and nothing to clean myself with. If I slow down, there will just be more human interactions to deal with. At least it doesn’t sting… just imagine it’s mud from a fall.

From there, I continued as hard as I could still muster and thought only of my egress to the ports-potty upon arrival. I saw no other racers those last two miles and crossed the finish line in 2:01:04. I waved Javier over as I continued running directly to the facilities, where he was amazingly patient during the slow clean-up process. And he told me that I was the third woman finisher!

A very uncomfortable 3rd-place finish
A very uncomfortable 3rd-place finish. Photo by Javier

After many wet wipes and lots of hand sanitizer, I put on clean clothes and decided that we needed to go up to the aid station regardless. I certainly wasn’t going to serve food or drink to any runners, but I could at least take numbers and provide some cheer.

Hanging out at the aid station was a ton of fun, minus the waves of intense stomach pain. I got to see lightning-fast Emily Richards come through fresh as a daisy. She would go on to finish the 50-miler less than a minute behind the first male finisher. I also enjoyed cheering many club members, including dear friend Jenelle Potvin before she jammed down the hill to her own stellar 3rd-place finish.

Eventually I was able to eat some food prepared by Aid Station Captain George Ruiz (a.k.a. TRT Race Director). George really showed us how it’s done with fun music and hot food for the runners! I’m so glad that we didn’t bail on him ~ although I wasn’t much help, at least Javier was able to contribute.

The next day I topped off my Bryce 100-miler training with a slow, 19-mile run on the Tahoe Rim Trail with Javier and a few friends. Still a bit weak from the whole stomach episode, it was a chore to finish,  but I was proud of the big training week and looking forward to a solid recovery / taper.

Not at all a crappy weekend.

Race Report – Canyons 100k

I could see the bright yellow team jerseys through a filtered tree view. The promise of arrival at our Donner Party Mountain Runners aid station had pulled me through the heat of the early afternoon. I yelled out our motto, “Unafraid!” and zipped around the corner to the most incredible aid station reception imaginable.

This feeling of excitement, community and accomplishment sums up my experience at the inaugural Canyons 100k race yesterday. Last year I ran the 50k distance, when the club was in its infancy. One short year later, our club members represented in force, including the ever-exuberant RD Chaz Sheya and both his assistant directors, Pete Broomhall and Chris Perillo.

Our club is now a wild teenager and we must have had a least a dozen runners on the course and easily another dozen volunteering. I felt the home-court advantage in a big way. I could not have been more proud of everyone out there and an experience like that makes all the work of the club worth it.

Enjoying the finish with the DPMR crew
Enjoying the finish line reception – photo by Jack Meyer

The Canyons

I started the race with the smart & funny Jennifer Hemmen. She likes to talk as much as I do. We ran at a perfectly comfortable pace up and down the canyons, chatting the morning away. I can only imagine how annoying that must have been for some around us.

Jennifer is training for her first Western States, but she is no novice. She has paced, volunteered and been involved with the venerable race for years and years. She was a 7-time lottery loser until now. The Canyons 100k is basically out-and-back in two separate directions on the States course. Jennifer’s knowledge of the course terrain and pacing between aid stations was a great help.

We arrived at the mid-point in Foresthill in under 7 hours, about 45 minutes ahead of my dismal 50k finishing time last year. I was delighted and took a few extra minutes there to recoup. My coach and co-race director for the Castle Peak 100k Peter Fain (Run on Dirt) was there with my drop bag ready. He was walking on air after just winning the 50k and setting a course record.

Last week Peter and I discussed strategy for the day: go relaxed in the Canyons (the first 50k), let loose a little and cruise down to the river, then the race begins with hard work on the way back.

Cruising to the River

I left Foresthill feeling pretty rejuvenated by all the positive energy and started out on the 16-mile section down to the river. I caught up to Jennifer and soon found myself leading a small train of four runners for several miles. In the past this may have pushed my pace, but I didn’t let it and just did my thing, according to plan.

The day was really heating up now and it was a very long 8 miles to the club aid station at Cal 2. Jennifer and I submerged ourselves in nearly every creek crossing. I was really amped after leaving our aid station, and then delighted to encounter my bestie and running mentor Betsy Nye running the trail in to work the aid station. She was so excited to see me ahead of schedule and I was already looking forward to seeing her there on the way back.

The day became hotter and the creek crossings became fewer. The thing that kept me moving was the promise of fully submerging in the river. I put my tunes on for a while and that was fun, too. The river did not disappoint. It felt as glorious as it did last June when I crossed with my friend Tom while pacing him at Western States. Tom’s sub-24 finish that day provided plenty of inspiration and good memories as well.

My body (and especially my quads) were so over-heated that I spent several minutes fully submerged in the river and still did not feel cold. It was highly effective in restoring my core temperature as well as refreshing my legs. I walked up the stone stairs from the river to find Jennifer not looking so great… she was having some bad allergy/breathing issues, but didn’t quite realize it at the time. She sent me on my way up the river. This is where the race begins.

The Race Begins

Refreshed and refueled, I was ready to work hard. Our Wednesday morning club workouts and my Monday sessions with Coach Peter have helped me (and my body) learn that it’s ok to push harder.

I had committed Peter’s pre-race text message to memory, including his signature grammatical mistake: Know that your [sic] in really good shape and don’t be afraid to stay outside your comfort zone.

I felt pretty solid for the first couple of miles up from the river. Then I started to realize that my quads were super-trashed. At least this direction is “up” from the river, I mistakenly told myself. While the course from the river is net uphill, there are plenty of short and sometimes steep downhills. Those hurt. I mean, really, really hurt.

Luckily, there were also many sections of runnable uphills. For those, I drew on my experiences with Betsy to push myself.

My inner dialog went like this: Would Betsy run this? Yes. How far? To that tree. Ok. Go.

I was so fired up as I approached our Cal 2 aid station. Our Aid Station Captain-extraordinaire Mike Tebbutt came cruising down the trail toward me. He was pleasantly surprised to see me coming in so soon. He informed me that much of his crew would be leaving once the saw me again. (That was very sweet ~ I felt so loved!) So I apologized to him for coming in so promptly.

Betsy and the gang hurried me through and I enjoyed more VIP attention. Betsy lamented that she wouldn’t be at the finish (but she was anyway.) I left Cal 2 for the second time feeling great.

I promptly overtook a poor gal having stomach problems. It is a race, after all, and I thought about my husband Javier watching the live tracking from home and seeing me move up to 4th place. We were all wearing GPS tracking devices that were supposed to provide our families with real-time tracking. It didn’t work. It never does at ultras.

At this point every little downhill was excruciating, yet I couldn’t just give away the free speed. This is the time in a race where I start to entertain myself by crunching numbers. My dream time would have been sub-14 hours, but I was calculating something in the neighborhood of 14:30, which would still be an hour better than my finish at Bishop High Sierra last year. It would depend on how fast I could do the climbs.

I just had in my head that it was miles and miles of steep climbing. But it wasn’t. I guess nothing is really steep compared to the first 50k in the canyons. I pushed myself up the final climbs, not entirely sure of the final distance to the finish. Suddenly I heard Betsy calling my name, but I couldn’t see her. She was at the top where the course leaves the dirt for the final mile or so of pavement.

She was so excited for me and hauled to the finish to prepare my welcoming party. I suddenly realized that I’d be coming in under 14 hours! My finish-line reception was so amazing that I almost cried. My own cheering squad into the finish line followed by sweaty hugs all around. I finished 4th woman in 13 hours and 56 minutes.

Postscript

My legs have never hurt so bad during a race and I had never pushed myself as hard. And, yet, it was not my most difficult day racing ~ that distinction goes to my first 100k at the Gold Rush in 100-degree heat. Nor was it the worst I have ever hurt ~ I’m pretty sure that natural childbirth will always hold that record.

It was definitely the best I’ve ever raced. While many ingredients came together, the most important ones are all human:

  • Peter, for his confidence in me, superb coaching, and just good friendship
  • Betsy, for her love, enthusiasm and mentoring
  • Javier, for his absolute unwavering support of all my endeavors (including waking up at 2:15am just in case my alarm didn’t go off)
  • Chaz and his team, for an excellent job producing an inaugural 100k
  • And, of course, all of the Donner Party Mountain Runners
Finally a photo op with the wonderful race directors of the Canyons Endurance Runs. After enjoying a few hours (in my Recovery Pumps!) cheering 100k finishers.
Finally a photo op with the wonderful race directors of the Canyons Endurance Runs. After enjoying a few hours (in my Recovery Pumps!) cheering 100k finishers.