There are lots of studies out there, but I’m a believer in the 30 minute window – that’s getting good quality carbohydrate on board within the first 30 minutes after exercise. Muscles are most receptive to reloading glycogen in a 15 to 30 minute window. If you’re not finishing your run at home, pack a bar or post-workout replenisher drink in your car. The protein comes into play here, too and for that I give it a 2 hour window. Have your carb replenisher, do your core workout, hop in the shower and then have your boosted smoothie or balanced meal of carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Check out the new recipe just posted for Harissa Roasted Vegetables, Coconut Rice, and Dark Leafy Green. This bowl is quite versatile for both a pre-long run dinner or a post-long run breakfast!
The recovery starts as soon as you’re done with your run. The goal is to replenish your depleted glycogen stores and repair damaged muscle fibers. Again, if we are eating a balanced diet of carbohydrate, protein, and healthy fats throughout the day, the less you need to be worried about the makeup of this meal – you’re already doing it!
There are lots of studies out there, but I’m a believer in the 30 minute window – that’s getting good quality carbohydrate on board within the first 30 minutes after exercise. Muscles are most receptive to reloading glycogen in a 15 to 30 minute window. If you’re not finishing your run at home, pack a bar or post-workout replenisher drink in your car. The protein comes into play here, too and for that I give it a 2 hour window. Have your carb replenisher, do your core workout, hop in the shower and then have your boosted smoothie or balanced meal of carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Check out the new recipe just posted for Harissa Roasted Vegetables, Coconut Rice, and Dark Leafy Green. This bowl is quite versatile for both a pre-long run dinner or a post-long run breakfast!
Post Run Hydration
Drink 2.5 cups (20 oz. of water for every pound lost during exercise). Of course to know this, you need to weigh yourself before and after exercise. Reference Creating your Hydration Profile for more detail on the topic of Hydration.
“The track is where the magic happens.” I may say this lightly, but I don’t mean it lightly. I’ve sat on this essay for years; in my mind it will never perfectly reflect what the track means to me, but I’m currently encouraging my athlete’s to share their running story—so I decided it’s time to share this one.
“The track (a.k.a the pain cave) can bring you to your knees, strip away all that is “safe,” cause you to stare in the face of the demon(s) (what I like to call my doubts) and bring out a sacred strength that can only come from the soul. I have come to feel at home here; never walking away without peeling away a layer, exposing something raw and beautiful.” ~Michele
In my running life, I’d always had endurance, but I lacked speed. In 2004, living in Bend, OR, I started to work with a running coach, Jimmy Clark, a long time high school track and cross country coach. We met on the track to talk about the interval workouts we would be doing. “Intervals are used to train the body to respond at the end of a race,” he explained. “To learn how to enter the pain cave, when you’re tired and you start to hit the wall, when you want to turn and run away with your tail between your legs.” I had never heard the term pain cave, but I knew what he meant. The more we run, the more we discover it's a metaphor for life. I had hit the wall before—a wall in life and I had stood with trepidation at the opening of life’s pain cave.
As Jimmy and I began to work together, we went through drills on how to effectively run laps around a track to maximize effort. “You want to look slightly ahead and run as close to the white line as possible. Anything else is extra steps. The key is in how you run the turns. As you run into the first corner, look ahead, lean to the white line, run it as if you’re part of the line, as if you’re painting it as you run. Running is not just about the arms and legs—its about using the strength of your entire body—having the ability to engage the abdominals and feel strength in your back when the pain sets in, and the strength of your mind—having the mental fortitude to enter the pain cave,” he explained.
So I went into the gym and I followed Jimmy’s routine like a new religion. I rowed, did sit-ups, weighted squats, and worked my triceps and biceps in a way that they would execute quickly and cleanly when I asked them to. We returned to the track periodically for interval workouts. I managed to improve without entering the pain cave, which, of course, did not go unnoticed. Jimmy made promises of an upcoming test.
And the test did come. It was 7:45 a.m. and the sun had already warmed the track enough that the heat of the black surface was piercing the balls of my feet. I was doing my warm-up, one mile on the track, sprints, drills, and dynamic stretching so we could get started as soon as he got there at 8:00. While warming up I was nervous, anxiously looking over my shoulder as I did my warm-up laps, waiting for him to arrive. At 7:55 he was there. His presence anchored me. He began to prepare me to run four times around the track as fast as I could—a time trial so to speak. I would want to start out conservatively, slowly building on the strength of each lap—the goal for the last lap to be the fastest.
It’s time for my time trial. “On your mark, get set, go.” I begin to run, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. I search for my comfort zone, for some control. Jimmy reads off the time of my first lap. I quickly think in my mind that I need to just maintain. Just maintain that same speed. Don’t drop back. I find a controlled breath, my legs working hard, but with reserve--my arms pumping rhythmically. I hear the time of my second lap--one second faster—just what I wanted. I start to take one step into the pain cave and I feel the doubt seep into my mind faster than expected.
I’m in lap three. The demons (my doubts) are running alongside me, spitting, calling me names. The white line is blurring and my form is sloppy. My mind is slipping. I can feel the weights they are throwing on me. My arms and legs flail trying to ward them off.
The next half lap I managed to kick one or two demons to the curb but at the same time I was haphazardly backing out of the cave. That white line comes a bit more to focus and I’m able to round the corner like I’m supposed to. I try to replay running the stretch in my mind and I try to run it aggressively, but I know, I know I still have one lap to go and I completely retreat from the cave. My third lap time sucks. I knew it was going to. I knew I’d slowed down. But I returned to the rhythm of my first lap. I returned to what my body knew and I felt comfortably fast as I turned the first corner.
I heard Jimmy yell from across the field and it hit me even though I knew I’d screwed up that one lap, it was not all lost. I could turn around and stare the pain cave in the face and re-enter—go a bit deeper. As I reached the second corner I let go of inhibition of form. Of not pleasing my coach or anyone else and I ran as hard as I could, telling myself to run through the cave’s opening. I entered the cave and I saw patterns—drawings of my high school track, childhood memories of listening to my father call out splits to his young runners, the smell of the grass mixed with the heated track surface, the sound of spikes over gravel came flooding in. I continued, my heart pounding, feeling as if my lungs might explode. I’m here. I continue. I go deeper and the path widens—the light of the entrance no longer guides me. I feel a surge of electricity run through my limbs and I gasp for air—wondering if breath will elude me. Time is undetectable and I grasp for the patterns on the wall—searching for something to hold on to.
I wrote this essay years ago and this is how it ended. In case you're wondering, I did finish that 4th lap. I think what I was reflecting on was that feeling at the end of the 4th lap, when I’d gone into the pain cave, but continued to feel out of control and had no sense of grounding - the feeling that stayed with me as I walked off the track that day; not knowing how it was the beginning of peeling away layers of fear; that the fear and the demons might always be there each and every time I step on the track, but they can be used for strength, not weakness. That I would someday have the opportunity to share Jimmy’s wise words with so many athletes, that the magic of that moment would lead to many battles won both on and off the track.
a Race Report of the Rio Del Lago 100 Mile - 2016; written by Michele Pettinger
"Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. -Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
This race report certainly turned out longer than I planned, but I feel that if I’m going to take the time to write a race report, I want it to be honest and authentic and hopefully be educational in helping someone else who wants to run 100 miles and wants to hear about what did/didn’t work for another; and hopefully help someone else prevent making similar mistakes or on the other hand help someone make a wise choice.
Before going into the race report, I want to share something that happened while training for this race. In practicing this sport we are constantly learning, changing, adapting, re-working. Goals, environment, age, new science, data are all playing a role in how we move forward. Everyone’s path looks different. In training for the Napa Marathon last spring, when I was struggling at the track, instead of keeping my head down both literally and figuratively, I practiced “owning my space.” You have to believe it to own it; this mental adjustment not only changed my body position but my ability to hit my numbers. While I ran my first 50k more than 6 years ago, I’ve had long breaks from training on the trails; taking time off to train for road marathons. While I might not have hesitation in saying I’m a marathoner, I’ve never considered saying I’m an ultra-runner. I most often feel uncomfortable when talking with people about ultra running, as I feel like I’m a very tiny fish in a big pond of folks doing amazing things out on the trails. But something shifted as I progressed through this training. I ran a couple of 50ks that didn’t require more recovery than from a long run (I was adapting to all the hard work) and I had a 50 mile PR, I began to entertain the idea that I was an ultra-runner. That I could lean on that identity and draw strength from it. If I didn’t believe it, how could I own it? How could I own my space on the trail? When the chips are down out there; when I’m having a physically tough day, the weather is awful, when other life events seem overwhelming. I can think, but “This is who I am. This is what I”m made of; I have everything in me right now to persevere through this moment.” So I encourage you; regardless of what distance you run, if you have a difficult time saying “I’m a runner” or “I’m a half-marathoner” or whatever it is, consider changing that voice. Because you have the grit, tenacity, and beauty and strength of a runner inside you. Don’t be afraid to own it.
The above personal progress that I made in my training and the amazing in-person and online support that I received prior to the race gave me a huge collective boost in making me feel that I was not going into the race alone in any way; my friend and colleague Lori McConnell, put it so simply for me. “Just go do what you do and everything will fall into place.” I definitely drew on this a few times during the race when I was struggling; I repeated “just do what you do” “just do what you do.”
On the flight to Sacramento, I replayed my equipment and fuel list in my head for the 100th time, but felt fairly confident that I hadn’t forgotten anything. As I was drifting off into a nap, the vision of my hydration bladder on the drying rack popped into my head. Yes, the hydration bladder was still on the drying rack at home. Thankfully I had all of my Ultimate Direction soft bottles that would carry my Tailwind, but I wanted the bladder for water. As I about jumped out of my airplane seat when I realized; my voice of reason; my husband, Joe, was there to simply say, "I’m sure we can buy one." After a couple of phone calls, I determined finding a UD bladder was going to prove challenging, but there was an REI just a couple of miles from the hotel. While the bladder I ended up purchasing was awkward and annoying, for the most part, any major hydration bladder crisis was averted. So lesson learned; regardless of how many times you’ve packed for a race; having a reminder checklist to review is a good idea.
My thoughts around fueling are a 24/7 thing for me. I know that I can’t put in the heavy training weeks without making wise fueling choices. The week before a race, I go to simple carbohydrate, protein and healthy fat meals that are easy to make and easy to digest. And especially when traveling, I do my best to put myself in an environment that I can have my tried and true pre-race meal. Pasta with a non-spicy red sauce, and a caesar salad with toasted walnuts. Our room at the Larkspur Landing suites had a kitchenette that allowed me to stay on track and avoid a restaurant the night before.
The morning of the race I had 1 cup of coffee, A bowl of oatmeal with almond butter and sliced banana and 1 glass of Ener-C about 90 minutes to 2 hours before race time.
As everyone is standing at the start line in the dark, half listening to the pre-race course instructions, my mind and body are just ready to get started and my thoughts are bouncing all over the place. The Race Director said something that resonated and brought me into the pre-race space I needed to be in. He said. “This is your moment. The one you’ve all trained for and now you’re here together to execute all of your training.” It immediately brought me from feeling very small in this large group of strangers to feeling connected to the other 300 people; we weren’t just sharing this moment, but we’d shared similar moments for the last 6 months. I was cheering and rooting for them all to have their best race that day, too.
The start of a race in the dark, headlamps bobbing and water paks sloshing is this rhythmic and beautiful sight; everyone is in their quiet space. I had decided I was just taking this race aid station to aid station. So I was thinking about the mileage to the next aid station, and not further than mile 19 or so where I would see my crew again for the first time. I knew I wanted to watch pace in this section. It was a paved, slightly rolling bike path, but I knew I couldn’t run road pace; I’d blow my HR and legs up and risk the later miles of the race. So my goal was to keep my HR down and just run at a comfortable conversational pace.
We hadn’t been running long when I looked down to check on my pace, only to find that that I hadn’t pressed start when I crossed the start line. I was most concerned about knowing how long we’d been out there so that I could stick to my 30 minute fueling window. I quickly asked a runner if he had time elapsed on his watch. He did not have time or mileage, only HR; which I spent some time trying to wrap my mind around - How did he know when to eat? He could track mileage aid station to aid station; but I just could not wrap my mind around not knowing the time…so I moved on to the next person; he had time elapsed - 15 and change, so I started my watch, added on 15 minutes in my head and was able to easily adjust my fuel timing.
My fueling choices: Most of the time I had 2 bottles of Diluted Tailwind and water in my bladder. I was eating every 30 minutes; my pattern as follows - gel, gel, chews, waffle, gel, gel, chews, Clif energy food, throwing in the occasional boiled potato and potato chips from the aid stations. I followed that pattern for about 20 hours before my body decided it didn’t want anymore. By mile 75 my body really didn’t want to eat anything it had already eaten that day; if I tried a gel or other my body’s immediate reaction was “No!" So what to do? Start getting creative - broth from the aid station; slowing the amount of time between food. In the future, I will make sure my crew has more real food that I can eat when I see them; with more protein and fat. GF PB&J. GF Tortilla with Avocado; all things I’ve trained with, but didn’t put into the scheme that weekend. The above scenario worked great for 50 miles, but 50 and beyond I needed more real food on board, earlier. You’ll find out how I fueled those last miles a bit later.
Some would argue that 1 salt tab an hour is too much, but it’s the timing I started with and stuck with it through the heat of the day; during the night and later hours I know I went by feel and slowed my intake, but for the most part I staved off leg cramping except for a bit in the heat of the day and I did not have hand swelling.
In a 100 mile race, any number of things can go wrong and any number can go right and you hope that you err on the side of things going right. A key is that when things go wrong, success in working through it is how you respond; my plan was to not freak out and take the time to figure out what adjustments needed to be made. Since the first 19 miles are on a paved path with minimal climbing, I knew that I could be faster than even my earliest projected time coming into the first aid station where my crew was allowed. But I didn’t think I’d be an hour early. So as I rounded the corner and started to scan for my crew (really helpful to have someone in your crew in bright colors or waving something that is familiar) I was pretty confident they weren’t there; but it was OK, it was only 5 miles to the Granite Beach aid station where I could see them next. I was fine in my current shoes (I started out in road shoes because of the terrain), and I still had enough food and water. But how were they going to know I’d already come in? By the time they realized it they could have waited around too long and then miss me at the next aid station, too. And if that happened the entire day’s plan would need to be re-worked. So I took the time to stop at the aid station and find a kind volunteer that would let me use her cell phone. I left Joe a hurried message that I was leaving Beal’s Point and to meet me at Granite Beach. And also sent a fast and cryptic text with the same message. Surely they would get it and have time to get to Granite Beach.
But I can’t say I didn’t have monkey mind for the next 5 miles, playing around with the different scenarios of how I would move forward without my crew. I’d make the road shoes work, I’d use the aid stations for food and hydration. But sure enough there they were. I did a quick change into my trail shoes, refilled my pak, used the bathroom and was in and out fairly quickly. Nothing was hurting yet and I was optimistic at 25 miles in.
It would be another 11 miles or so before I would see the crew again at Rattlesnake Bar. I knew the next section my pace would slow with about 4 miles of it being a section called the Meat Grinder. It’s 4 miles of uneven rocks, sometimes narrow trail and a lot of ups and downs. Unless you’ve trained on that type of terrain or lived there and could practice the section, it would be challenging to move through it quickly. It was also starting to warm-up into the 70s and the shade was hit or miss. I was wishing I’d thrown a tank into the clothing mix. So note here, it never hurts to have all options - tank, short sleeve, arm warmers, long sleeve, and a light vest/light jacket. When you’re in the mountains, you just never know.
Coming into Rattlesnake Bar, I was hot, but was still feeling good and was just starting to deal with hotspots on my toes. Jeanette, the gal that was pacing me from miles 45 to to 75 had arrived. We still had yet to meet in person; she was a friend of my crew lead - Julie; who put us in touch via email. From her notes, I knew she had run the American River 50 miler, loved night running, and had an infectious drive for new adventures - just what I would need for 30 miles in the dark. I took the time to take my shoes and socks off and get some anti-chafe cream on the toes; had Jules stuff ice down one of my arm warmers that I could tie around my neck, connected my watch to a portable charging stick, loaded up some tunes as I was needing a break from my mind space and knew there was a big climb ahead. It was just about 9 miles before I would see them at the Overlook Aid Station and start the 30 miles with Jeanette. The ice definitely helped cool me down and I was feeling refreshed for the 3 mile climb. I knew the climb would be a speed hike and much of the mountain exposed. I put my head up, pictured the Squak Mountain fire road that I trained on, moved my arms, and climbed.
When I arrived at Overlook, despite the climb and the heat I was still running around the 24 hour mark and was feeling really good about where I was. At Overlook I had planned on eating some real food, but we didn’t have the Mac and Cheese made and I didn’t want to wait for it, so I left without taking in much real food outside of potatoes from the aid station. I think this was a mistake. I should have been patient. It was 30 miles before I would see my crew again. While I was confident in Jeanette as my pacer, I was a little nervous about running with someone I’ve never met before. I’m pretty quiet when I run, and even more so when I’m trying to conserve energy, so I hoped she wouldn’t take offense if I didn’t talk much. Jeanette was awesome, she was encouraging and patient, chatting the miles away. Shortly after leaving Overlook, I hit a bit of a rough spot; there was a lot of climbing and little creek crossings. I just physically and mentally didn’t feel great, but after time, I did hit a new rhythm. Hopping rocks on 50 mile legs can prove challenging. It wasn’t until 65 or so that I finally lost balance during a crossing and wound up with submerged feet. It could have been much worse; I could have ended up with butt in creek, and when you’re trying to manage as many things as you are out there, wet feet and shoes really doesn’t seem like that big a deal. As a side note, while I’ve determined I need a shoe with a wider toe box for races 50 miles plus, I was happy with how the Saucony Peregrines drained and dried quickly. It probably didn’t help with the two blisters I already had forming on my toes (i.e. the wider toe box). I knew that when I got into the Overlook Aid Station the 2nd time they would need to be addressed.
In the future, heading into the night hours, I will pack my light jacket. Once it was cold enough that I needed more than my short sleeves, it took way too long for me to change out of my wet short-sleeve and into my long sleeve. I would have been much better taking off my pak for a moment, putting on a jacket, and continuing to move. Maybe it was only a few extra minutes, but all the extra minutes over 100 miles add up.
Running in the dark is peaceful and mystical and sometimes scary. We could hear the creatures in the night, and it seemed we were alone for quite a while, but then during my second wind, I was climbing really well and we caught up to a group that we played back and forth with for several miles. One of the runners out there had a bell on; he was faster on the trails, but slower at the aid stations. He would pass me after a few miles out of the aid station, but then I would catch up and leave the next station earlier; it was comforting to know he was pretty close by with his bell ringing.
While post-race reports revealed that some runners were temporarily stranded by a mountain lion (between their whistles and another runner’s airhorn, the cat eventually left); I am curious though if they continued on after the next aid station. I do hope they were able to finish. We were startled by deer a few times, but other than that my experience with the wildlife was uneventful.
I was excited about my new Petzl Nao headlamp; knowing I would need it for up to 14 hours of darkness, and unsure of the reliability of my portable charging sticks. I bought a back-up battery. Also, with this headlamp, the battery sits kind of heavy on the back of the head, so I bought the extension cord which allowed me to keep the battery in the top zipper of my pak. This made it a lot more comfortable. I was both happy and unhappy with the headlamp. The amount of light it provided was perfect; but the battery life was disappointing; I was expecting at least 6 hours at its brightest setting, but feel like I got 5 at the most; but this also may have had something to do with them not getting fully recharged by the portable charging sticks between uses. The changing of the battery in the middle of the night did not go smoothly; as we somehow knocked Jeanette’s waist lamp to the ground and were for a moment without any light to see what we were doing. We didn’t panic (well maybe I did a little) and eventually we were reconnected. I definitely recommend having a small portable flashlight for moments like this and as back-up when the headlamp starts to dim. One other note about charging things. I was able to charge my watch with it still on. I had the portable charging stick in my shorts pocket and it charges in about 90 minutes. It was fine, but between the amount of time taken to get it connected and it being slightly awkward to run with, next time I may use two watches instead to avoid having to mess with the charging stick, etc.
So I think I came into Overlook 2 about 1 hour after I’d hoped. I think part of that was due to too much time trying to change clothes, the snafu with the headlamps, and too much time needing to re-stock at the drop-bag aid station.
So I came in, sat down, and took off the shoes, knowing I wanted to change socks; sure enough the blisters were at a state where they needed to be popped; interestingly enough I had no takers. I couldn’t understand why no one would want to touch my dirty 75 mile blistered feet? Even Joe avoided the job by running to the aid station to get hot water - My friend Mary’s sister, Caroline, (who I’ve met on several occasions - so she wasn’t a complete stranger) was their crewing and came to my rescue, popping my blisters. So lesson learned, I need to practice popping my own blisters and/or have a pre-designated blister popper on my crew. Again, the hot water was not hot enough and the Mac and Cheese was a complete fail, so again, lessen learned - more portable, easy real food next time around.
Leslie, my next pacer was there and ready to go; I knew what was ahead as we were returning on the 25 miles I’d already traveled in the opposite direction. We had the 3 mile descent, 2 or 3 miles of more technical trail and then a few easy miles in. I felt like I was cruising at a 12 minute mile on that first descent - no such luck - I think I might have managed 16 minute miles. This is when my fueling strategy was going sideways and any time I tried to eat something I was on the edge of the trail. Each of my pacers had different strategies; Leslie’s was to get far enough in front of me to call out rocks, roots, and to chat our way through the 9 miles, far enough ahead that I could hear, but that I wouldn’t feel obligated to respond.
Leslie asked me at mile 80 what it is I think about out there and at that point in the race; I just couldn’t get the energy together at the time to answer, so I’ll answer now. The dialogue in my head might go something like this…
“I just need to get to mile 75; once I’m at 75 I know I’ve got this. Then it’s just 9 with Leslie and 16 with Joe.”
“You are so selfish; this is selfish what you do; all the hours away from home training, putting yourself at risk - what if something happened?” (this was a dark point for me and when I was most likely needing calories; yes, my mind sometimes goes to these dark places; but this is where doubt and fear live and at the end of the day, I do not want to be driven by fear or live in doubt; I want to be strong in mind, body, and spirit, I want to be true to myself, and I want to be an example to my daughter.) Doing this IS being true to myself and I am always striving to keep it all in balance.
Going into the race, I said I would hypothetically free my mom from her Parkinson’s mind and body and we would fly together over those mountains, so I would repeat, “Tall and Light.” “You’re a fighter” “C’mon Mom, let’s do this together, fly with me; fight with me.”
“But I can’t go too fast, I need to stay upright; at this point it’s about getting to the finish line in one piece.”
“But am I taking the chances I need to?”
I picture my hair colorist looking me in the eye and saying “You’re going to nail it.” And I picture all of the messages on Facebook.
And then I run for everyone who supported me. And I continue to ride the line between conservative and brave.
All of this mental back and forth is mixed with my mind quieting in the darkness, looking up at the stars for strength, and running peacefully, fully in-tune with all of my senses, feeling alive and not wanting for anything to be different.
Leslie and I roll into mile 84 (back at Rattlesnake Bar) and we are scanning for Joe and Julie. We weren’t faster than projected time, they should be there. Leslie has received a text that they got lost and are on the other side of the Lake. Leslie finds out where they are on a map and asks one of the aid station volunteers about ETA and he says 30 to 45 minutes. There is no way I’m waiting around for 30 to 45 minutes for them to arrive! I’m realizing that it’s a possibility I’m going to need to go finish this on my own.
I look Leslie in the eye and I say, “I really want to cry right now.”
And she responded perfectly, “I know you do.”
She validated how I was feeling and then asked what she could do.
I said, “You can help me figure out what I need to go out there on my own. I’m going to need to pack food and hydration from the aid station.”
I knew that I had the Meat Grinder in the next section and that it would be a long 11 miles back to Granite Beach.
Meanwhile Julie is breaking speed limits and laws to try and get to Rattlesnake Bar, as Joe is stuffing his face with “to-go” French Toast from Denny’s and spilling syrup all over Julie’s car. (Honestly, one of these race reports someday will need to be written from the crew’s perspective). Leslie is trying to stall me in hopes that they will roll in.
Just as I’m putting my last water bottle in my pak to head back out, we hear Julie calling my name.
I’m pretty darn irritated at this point; and of course (sorry Joe); it was all Joe’s fault. And in my dear husband’s fashion; instead of walking up and saying, “I know you’re irritated right now,” he says. “So, are you ready to dance?” as he does some sort of awkward middle-of-the-night trail dance.
While I rolled my eyes and maybe half smiled, it at least made the other crew members laugh, and I kept all negative words as an “inside voice.” And we were off.
For the next 9 miles Joe focused on making sure I stayed upright through the Meat Grinder and he was also successful in getting me to eat. He knew I was off a fueling strategy and that I would need to try something new.
From behind me I hear, “How about a candy bar; a little reverse trick-or-treating? I have candy in my bag and I’m handing it out,” he chuckles to himself, hoping I might find a little humor in this.
Initially I say, ‘no’ but I then realized that I have no other options outside of what wasn’t working for calories at that point and I might as well give it a try. “What kind?”
“Dark Chocolate Milk Way.”
“Ok, Let’s start with one bite.”
One bite went down without any adverse affects, so for the next few hours, one bite at a time I ate two Dark Chocolate Milky Way bars. Something that I would normally turn my nose up at saved my bacon. As Joe says, it was the worst best decision I made.
One benefit to having a pacer is also to help keep an eye on the trail markers; thankfully the orange markers had reflective strips and while the trail was well marked, we did take one wrong turn. At the time, I wasn’t paying attention at all and it was an intersection with more than one way to turn. But thankfully I don’t think we went more than 100 yards out of our way before realizing we were off trail.
One of my goals was to not hallucinate on this 100; while I did hallucinate to a degree, trees and bushes began to take on a 3-dimensional shape, I did not hallucinate any people this time around. As we neared the finish, which you can hear for miles by the way and seems like cruel and unusual punishment at the time, we started to run into people that were out cheering others in; and we were getting the message “just one more mile.” “you’re almost there,” I had enough wits about me that I knew that it wasn’t true - that there was at least 2 more miles. Seriously, why do people still do this?
There are so many things that could have gone more wrong, I could have immersed my entire body in the creek, Jeanette’s headlamp could have been permanently broken, Joe and Julie could have not made it to Rattlesnake Bar in time, I could have been stopped in my tracks by the mountain lion, I could have gotten lost and gone more than 100 yards out of my way. So at the end of the day I’m just stoked to have crossed the finish line, being the best that I could be that day.
I love this sport, I love the people it brings into my life and the deepening of connections of those around me. Julie, Joe, Jeannette, and Leslie, you were all such an integral part in successfully getting me from the start line to finish line. I’m so very grateful for the time and energy you gave to the adventure. I have another experience to add to the toolbox and I have time to keep getting stronger, and to keep learning and growing as an ultra-runner and all of the other hats I put on throughout a week.
What now? Recovery! What is that going to look like? Lower mileage and mixing in yoga and swimming and practicing patience as I wait for December 3rd (The Western States Lottery Draw) to reveal my 2017 goals.
A few weeks ago, I published a piece on Pre-Run Nutrition; the next natural step is fine-tuning how you fuel during your run. As with many aspects of fueling, timing plays an important role. When you start to fuel during a run can be dependent on your pre-run meal and the length of your run. I have athletes that fuel from every 20 minutes to every 45 minutes, depending on their physiology, length of race, and the amount consumed at each fueling.
Generally for exercise 60 minutes or more you want to fuel with 30 to 60 grams of Carbohydrate per hour. How much and the type of fuel is highly individual. For example, someone who sweats heavily may prefer a gel with higher sodium content or you may prefer the flavor and texture of one gel over the other. There are some who find that real food settles better with their stomach. (Check out the Homemade Fig Bar recipe).
During your training and if you have any practice races leading up to your "A" race is the time to experiment with what does and what doesn't work with your system. Again, I've created a chart of some general guidelines to use as a launching pad for creating your perfect strategy. For during-run hydration please reference Creating your Hydration Profile.
One of the questions I'm asked most is how one should fuel around a run - this includes pre-, during and post-run nutrition. The answer is not straightforward and unique based on weight, training intensity, and in some cases dietary restrictions. I have done my best here to provide a general guideline or starting point for fine-tuning what works for you. The amount of food and timing are key to optimal performance for all 3 intake periods (pre- during and post-run). As you can see in the chart below, the more time you have before exercise, the more you can eat. If it's been more than 4 hours since you last ate, you definitely need to take in some carbohydrate before starting exercise to maintain blood glucose levels. Click here for one my favorite Pre-Run meals.
by Michele Pettinger, RRCA Certified Running Coach, ISSA-SFN, ACSM-CPT and Lori McConnell, RRCA Certified Running Coach, LMHC
Here in the Pacific Northwest we experienced some earlier than normal warm temperatures. Then we had a bit of a cool down, but now summer is here and the higher temps will be back. In addition, many are traveling to train and race in parts of the country where it’s already warm. Practicing your hydration goes hand in hand with practicing your fueling. It is a good time for you to start creating your individual hydration profile. You will find more than one theory out there and it can be difficult to decipher what might be right for you. Below are basic guidelines based on our own experiences as well as our athlete’s experiences training and racing in the heat.
Studies have shown that marathon performance in 75 degrees negatively affects performance by 7% and at 85 degrees by 10%. There is a metabolic response to exercising in the heat that includes increased sweat loss, resulting in the heart pumping less blood; therefore less blood is being delivered to the muscles. In addition, with less oxygen there is an increase in lactate levels; while our individual level of fitness can determine our ability to efficiently clear lactate, it may affect muscle contraction and overall performance. In addition, your body’s core temperature rises and your heart rate increases as it works to compensate for the dehydration.
The good news is that adaptation can occur. It can be a constant evolution to discovering what is ideal for our situation; even the elite’s make mistakes, learn, and go back to the drawing board for moving forward. After struggling with dehydration at the Olympic Trials, Shalane Flanagan knew that she needed to reevaluate her race nutrition and hydration strategy going into the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. If interested, you can read more about this here. While the majority of us do not have access to the technology and individual scientific studies of experts in the field, there are steps that we can take to dial in our individual hydration profile.
What can we do to adapt and minimize risk?
The good news is that you will acclimatize to the heat. Studies show that this adaptation can start happening in a few days, but full adaptation make take a couple of weeks.
Calculating Your Sweat Rate
There are a number of sources to get your electrolytes. Again, not all agree with everyone’s chemistry. So during training is the time to experiment. Below we list some options, but there are many more on the market to choose from and some athletes create their own.
Warning signs to pay attention to running in the heat:
As you are experimenting during training, these are warning signs that should not be ignored or pushed through:
1) Heat Cramps: muscle cramping, beginning to notice thirst, profuse sweating, and fatigue
2) Heat Exhaustion: Weakness, pale and cool skin, fatigue, profuse sweating, and thirst,
beginning to notice early signs of faintness or dizziness, cessation of sweating, chills or goose
bumps, headaches and nausea
3) Heat Stroke: Confusion, hot and dry skin, strong and rapid pulse, faintness or dizziness,
cessation of sweating, chills or goose bumps, headaches and nausea
A safe plan is to be patient in allowing your body to adapt and slow down, drink to your sweat rate and with the right balance of electrolyte to water based on your needs, don’t let it “get in your head” that you are needing to slow down, and don’t ignore any warning signs.
by Lori McConnell, RRCA Certified Running Coach, LMHC
Lori's career in the mental health world has prepared her to help athletes with mental training, a very important, and often overlooked aspect of running. She has spent 16 years helping people to identify and change negative thinking, learn relaxation skills and positive self-talk to overcome anxiety and to believe in themselves once they have learned the necessary tools and techniques to thrive. Lori believes that the mind can be a main component in getting started with a running program, setting and reaching goals, overcoming performance anxiety and reaching peak performance.
There are bodies of research that have proven that mental rehearsal improves performance.
Professional athletes have long used this knowledge to their advantage and it is a valuable part of their
training. In this article, I will teach you how to visualize a perfect performance. Each time you practice
this, your brain will create neural pathways that will encourage your muscles to work exactly as
To begin creating your own visualization, it is most helpful to have vivid images of yourself performing
perfectly, these images can include sights, sounds and smells. Remember visions of the start line,
scenery from the road, the look of the pavement or trail you ran on. Draw on the sounds of past race
environments, such as people cheering, the sound of runners en masse, the call of “water” from
volunteers at water stations. Your brain can store the sense of smell intensely; this might include the
minty smell of ointments runners have lathered on to ease sore muscles or the smell of perspiration.
Recall the way your body feels during workouts and races when you are at your peak and other positive
experiences you can remember from other sports as well. Recall the emotional states you experienced
during peak performances and solidify that in your mind. Hear and feel your foot strike on the ground
when you are running with your most efficient form. If you are feeling stumped, you can watch footage
of elites to picture idyllic form in your mind’s eye. You can cut out photos from magazines and have
them posted around as visual cues.
Now that you have collected your stimuli, you will break your own personal visualization down into
segments: pre‐race, during and post‐race sections. I will walk you through this by helping you identify
points to focus on in each and then give you an example of what the narrative might look like. Once you
have learned to put together your own narrative, I will describe how to structure your mental rehearsal
Your narrative will include details that you find useful and therefore will be more personal. Please note
that the language I use in the example is stated in present tense and is free of negative statements. To
make this drill most effective it needs to be done as if it is happening in present time, not the past or the
future. The brain doesn’t process negatively stated thoughts effectively. For example, rather than
stating, “I have no tension in my neck”, it is better stated as, “my neck is relaxed” for in the first
statement, the brain will focus on “tension” rather than registering the “no” placed before “tension”. It
is imperative to reframe statements in this way.
The creation of your visualization should start with your pre‐race routine. Picture yourself arriving to
the race location with confidence and a deep belief that this is YOUR day. You feel prepared and ready
for the experience that lay ahead. If pre‐race jitters begin to creep in, you take in a few deep breaths
which center you and remind you that you are ready. If you are familiar with creating affirmations, it is
good practice to place affirmations in this part of your visualization.
Example: I am driving into the lot at the race, I am in my element and it is my time to shine. I feel very
aware and present, I know that today is my day. The crowds that are gathering increase my focus and
my calm. I am meant to be here in every sense. As I begin my pre‐race routine, I am very aware that my
body is ready to go, I am executing the warm‐up perfectly and I feel very much in the flow. My muscles
are engaging and are relaxed yet ready to fire. My breath is easy and the rise and fall of my lungs feels
comforting to me. Everything is feeling great, my outfit, my shoes, my pre‐race fuel, it is all as it should
be and all sensations are easy. It has come together for me today and as I toe the line for the race to
begin I feel the energy of the spectators and the sounds, sights and smells of the race environment are
serving to enhance my sense of confident centeredness. I have such excitement to begin this event!
The next section of the visualization is to mentally rehearse the actual race. Again, you will call on your
recollection of your top achievements to date. Utilize these moments to gather material on the
emotional, spiritual and bodily sensations you had when all was going right. It can be useful to picture
yourself going through the entire race for a shorter race and key moments for longer races. Imagine
how you will feel as you approach each mile marker. These thoughts should be of you making your goal
splits or feeling the emotions that you want to have at each point of the race. Line up your mental
rehearsal with your desired outcome for race day. Focus on areas that you wish to improve, for some
this might be race strategy issues, maintaining positive self‐talk, dealing with fatigue, or staying focused.
If you are familiar with mantras, this is a good point of the visualization to include those. While mantra
construction is a very in‐depth and personal process, the general rules are picking a short phrase that
motivates, is positive and invokes the feelings that you wish to have. Some people use things like “Be
strong.”, “Nice and easy.”, “Fiercely fast.”, “Better than ever.”, “Smooth as silk”, “Powerhouse” or “This
is what you do, be you”.
Example: I begin running and my legs are flowing effortlessly across the terrain. I am encountering each
mile marker smiling as I realize I am easily hitting my splits and the miles are flying by. My body is
smooth and graceful and I am meeting each difficult point with the ease of one who has prepared well.
Even though I am pushing, I only feel stronger as the miles tick by, my shoulders are relaxed, the muscles
in my arms and legs are firing with precision. My breath is keeping me focused and relaxed and it is such
a nice, natural rhythm. This is what it feels like to be in the zone and this is my day. Each foot strike is so
efficient, my turnover is light and quick. The sounds of the crowd are adding to the enjoyment of the
experience as there is a synergy in the environment, I am fully in my body and the crowd is simply
supporting my performance....this is the only thing this is the only moment, I am in the flow. The hills are
proof that I am conquering this race, I get to the top of the hill, my legs are strong legs, this is evidence
that I have more in me.
Lastly, create a visualization for the end of the race and the post‐event celebration. Again, you can
utilize past experiences of crossing the finish line with your goal accomplished. If this has not yet
happened in real life, use your imagination. You can call on emotions from achievements in other areas
of your life. Imagine how this success feels in your body and the types of thoughts you have when you
have attained a goal. Create a scene for the finish area, this may include your medal being placed
around your neck, adoring fans screaming your name, your timing chip being cut off, the finish area
food, the sounds of a finish line party, anything that motivates and excites you.
Example: Now I see the finish line approaching, I am elated and overcome with emotion as my training
and performance all come together just as I had dreamed. Every ounce of my body feels alive and filled
with joy and gratitude. I am thinking, “I am a champion! I did it! I knew I could!” I hear the announcer
say my name as I cross. I stop my watch and my eyes fill with tears as I see my fastest time yet. I pump
my fist triumphantly in the air as a lovely volunteer places my well‐earned medal around my neck. The
weight of it against my chest feels like victory. My smile is permanently plastered on my face. This is the
best day ever!
Now that you have each piece of your visualization: the pre‐race routine, the performance, and the
finish line celebration, weave it all together into one narrative. Review it to make sure it flows exactly as
you would like and that it conjures up vivid images. Tweak it as you see necessary to bring it to life and
make it more positive. Next, record yourself reading the visualization. The best way to practice your
visualization is once per day, with about 3‐4 sessions the week of the race. I recommend that you do
not practice it the day of the race as it could fatigue you. When you go through the visualization be in a
quiet place and choose a time of day where you will not fall asleep, sitting up in a comfortable chair or
couch. Begin with diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. You can then begin to
listen to your visualization.
There are a few instructions to leave you with before you begin your process of creating your
mile markers that are obstacles for you, put them in your visualization and see yourself
conquering these factors.
cadence, the sound of footfall, your shoulder tension, arm swing, sounds and sights on your
routes etc. This is all data for you to draw on to make your visualization vivid. You want the
experience to be more like you are in the movie rather than watching it from a seat in the
theater. This can take practice and if at first the best you can do is being an observer, do not
fret, with practice you will “feel” the mental rehearsal as if you are actually doing it.
I am thrilled that you will experience the beneficial effects of formal mental training. I enjoy
hearing from athletes about how this exercise elevated their race performances. If you need
guidance on creating your visualization or wish to share your success story, please email:
by Julie Hurlbert
We have a guest author this month! Julie Hurlbert is my best friend; as many of our life’s adventures together have started with a “challenge,” the story behind this blog post is no different. As Julie pursues her career in Sustainable Business Practices and I pursue offering more resources via the P3|Running website, we challenged each other to write a blog – hers on a topic relevant to sustainability and mine on, well, running. But a funny thing happened on the way to her sustainability blog… and she ended up writing this! And with the Napa Marathon just around the corner, I thought it a perfect time to share.
I have known my BFF for over 20 years. I was there for her 3rd marathon when she said she would never run a race that long again, and I was there when she said she had just signed up for another marathon. Of course I took that opportunity to remind her of her previous declaration, after all that is what BFF’s are for, right? So from the 4th marathon began a new journey from tech writer to personal trainer to endurance runner and running coach. As her
bestie, I supported loudly from the couch with my wine and charcuterie. Distance between us was not the only distance that grew, she added miles while I added pounds.
Then, in early 2015, I received an email from her announcing the Miwok 100K race in my neck of the woods the first weekend of May. Would I come see her and spend a weekend in a beachfront cabin in Marin, was her question. Does a bear poop in the woods; of course I was there! In fact, I said I would crew for her. I really had no idea what that meant but I thought it seemed like the right thing to say.
Just a few short months later, there we were in Marin stocking up on pre-race essentials, gallons of water, pasta, sauce, bananas, and peanut butter cups (yes, peanut butter cups). This was my 1st lesson in endurance athlete nutrition. They consume a lot of crappy, sugary food and drinks during races. And that was the 1st time endurance running appealed to me, I mean salt is more my thing, but I would not turn down a peanut butter cup, or a chocolate chip cookie, or/and a chocolate milkshake. Maybe she was on to something.
The night before the race was consumed with measuring and portioning all sorts of little powders, gels, gummies, and potions. There was a diagram created to ensure specific items made it into the designated pockets at the start of the race and at every aid station after. And, there were recipes for properly mixing the correct amount of powder to water at every refill. There were worries about socks, shoes, gloves, shells, hats, and bells. Yes, bells, you see the spectators and crews ring cow bells as the runners come into the aid stations. Not sure why cow bells as there is not a runner one with any extra fat, and I saw none chewing their cud, however the next day I did see a few lay down, seemingly content to stop and stay awhile. As I lay my head down that evening, I ran through all my diagrams, pockets, and recipes, suddenly the idea of crewing did not seem so fun.
I was up at 4:30am to drop the runners off at the start and begin my 15 hour chase. I must admit I went back home to sleep a few hours after the drop off, but I was at mile 13 on time and with all the necessary supplies, and again at 26. In fact, I was even able to make it to mile 30 for a robust round of cowbells and cheering. And that is when I saw the beast. She was on fire, smiling, nostrils flaring, sweat dropping, and spit flying. I knew right there is she was in
her element and nothing, not even gummies in a wrong pocket or powder to water ratio incorrect would stop her from finishing. And as I yelled, cheered and called her a beast she picked up her pace and was out of sight.
Nineteen miles and many hours later the beast emerged running down a hill in full flight. I soon learned the pace had more to do with her bladder than her legs, but she looked good doing it. Once again, I busily mixed water to powder, chided her for not drinking enough, demanded she eat more sugary things, and helped her ease back onto the trail with her pacer. And off the beast ran into the forest not to reemerge until long after sunset.
Dinner came and went for the crew; I finished a book, took a hike, and walked down to the finish. The winner had completed the run hours earlier, but he was 25 and had grown up running these hills, so was it really a challenge for him I asked myself silently. The minutes ticked by and runners appeared in the darkness, 1st as a little bobbing light peeking from the thicket of trees, then disappearing around a bend until finally emerging onto the street and through the race corral. Pacers split left, runners to the right. Many raised their hands in victory; some simply smiled, too tired to offer much more. I anxiously watched the race clock tick by knowing the time the beast had desired to finish. Seconds became minutes, and the goal moved closer and closer. Oh where in the woods was she? Others heard of loved ones stuck, stopping unable to continue, and friends raced up into the trees with headlamps hoping to coax them down to the finish. But somehow, I knew she would not need that support (good thing since my big butt was certainly not capable of finding her), I had seen the beast within, and as suspected, she came barreling out of the forest and down into the corral mere seconds after expected.
And now, with several 50ks, 50 milers, a 100k, and even a 100 miler behind her, we will once again meet as beast and crew. Our practice run (yes, our run, as she has inspired me to find my inner beast and I have taken up running again) will happen at the Napa Marathon on March 6th, 2016. She will run the Marathon and I will test my inner beast with a more modest 5K. I do not have much in way of crew responsibilities at a road marathon except being at the finish to cheer. However, come November, her next 100 miler; I will be there ready to follow diagrams, recipes, and ring a few cowbells and maybe, just maybe, I will be the pacer following the beast back out onto the trail.
P3|Running is pleased to announce that Lori McConnell will be joining the P3|Running team as a coach starting February, 2016. To start, Lori will be actively involved in Tuesday Night Group Training Sessions and will begin coaching and be open to new clients in March, 2016.
“I am looking forward to Lori joining P3|Running. Most importantly, her passion for the sport rings true to the philosophy of P3|Running. This coupled with her well-rounded experience will only enhance what we are able to offer our runners.” ~Michele Pettinger, owner of P3|Running.
Lori is an experienced runner who fell in love with the sport and began her running career during her years at the University of Portland where she was surrounded by great races and plenty of trails to explore. In graduate school, she ran her first half marathon and upon finishing went straight to sign up for her first full marathon. Lori is proficient in several areas that pertain to a runner’s lifestyle. As the co-owner of West Seattle Runner she enjoys working with runners of all levels on a daily basis, from proper shoe fit and gear to coaching new runners to their first half marathon. After opening West Seattle Runner with her husband, Lori spent several years as a running coach for the Team in Training program where she coached participants to run a half or full marathon, while they raised funds for blood cancers.
Lori holds a Masters of Science in Mental Health Counseling. Lori’s running experience teamed with her former career as a mental health therapist allows her to couple sound training principles with helping client’s develop mental strategies for training and racing. Lori will finalize her RRCA run coaching certification in April 2016 and looks forward to working one-on-one with athletes to take their running to the next level.
“Running is a way of life for me and sharing that gift with others is one of my passions. I believe that this sport is transformative; part of the beauty of it is that it is one simple activity that has different meanings for each person. One of my strengths is listening to what that meaning is, what the desired goal is and offering guidance on how to get there. I believe that with proper training, solid guidance, mental fine-tuning and determination, you will create your own fulfilling journey with running.” ~Coach Lori
It was in the dark of night that I believed. The predominant sound my foot strike on crushed rock, my headlamp illuminating shadows of the forest. Location: Lake Annette, near North Bend, WA. It was one month before Mountain Lakes 100 and we were doing a practice night run. For the night run, I was determined to run through 30 miles, a spot in races where I struggled in the past. We ran to 33 and I stopped with the feeling that I could keep running. It was the icing on the cake of months of preparation. I was at peace with my training. I was mentally ready to run and finish my first 100 mile race.
Over the next month, the sense of calm lingered. I approached my training and the race like it was a job. The time, money, and resources that go into training and prepping, not to mention the sacrifices of family and training partners, I couldn’t take it lightly. There was more discovering I had to do – about myself, about ultra-running, about what it would take to run 100 miles. And deeply ingrained since childhood, I finish what I set out to do. But I made sure to keep myself in check. Be confident but not cocky. I didn’t have all the answers. Unexpected things would happen. I was about to run 45 miles farther than I ever had before. But I knew that I had done the physical work needed and my mind was ready to do the rest. I did have a few moments thinking that I wasn’t nervous enough, but my first set of nerves hit the Thursday morning before the race as we packed the car. The good kind of nervous. The kind that makes one race ready. Plus I had my crew with me, my husband and daughter, Joe and Anika. And my running partner and pacer John Wallace III.
We were all able to sleep in Friday at the All Seasons Hotel in Detroit, OR. John and I did an easy 2 mile run to shake out the car ride and nerves. We followed that up with Eggs, Bacon, and Hashbrowns at the The Cedars Restaurant and Lounge. And then spent the rest of the afternoon, making sure the bins of fuel and clothing were organized. I had pre-measured baggies of Tailwind and had ziplocks of fuel for each aid station that I would see my crew to re-stock my pack. The pasta feed started up at the race start/finish at 4 o’clock. The race directors who had a cabin at the start were kind enough to let me boil water for my Gluten Free (GF) pasta. It was a beautiful night and I was happy to get to participate in the pasta feed. Something I’ve shied away from in the past. It felt like the right environment to be in. Eating outdoors, next to the Start line, with my family and pacer and the new family members I’d be spending the next couple of days with on the trail.
I slept roughly 5 hours, and the morning of the race I felt relieved more than anything. I was just so happy the start was near. That I could put the planning, logistics, and organization behind me and just do what I really wanted and that was to run. That was the one thing I had control of. I couldn't control the weather, technicality of the course, the aid station food or placement. But I could move my body and I could stick to my plan. To take the course aid station to aid station.
A lot of people asked what I ate on this run. I’ll go ahead and cover that now as it will make sense while I was for the most part only taking in water at the aid stations. With a GF diet, I have to pack my own food, to make sure I’m not relying on Aid Station food, which outside of Fruit and Potatoes and some candy is mostly not GF. For the first 70 miles, I rotated between Blueberry and Chocolate Coconut Rice Cakes from the Feedzone Portables Cookbook, FeeGF Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, VFuel Gel, Honey Stinger Chews, and Tailwind Liquid Nutrition in my hydration pack. I was getting about 100 calories from the Tailwind and 200 calories from food, for a total of 300 calories/hour. I knew I would want more substantial calories and had packed some GF Annie’s Mac and Cheese to have at Miles 55 or 71. I write later about what went wrong with the timing of the Mac and Cheese and what I fueled with the last 30 miles. We are unique when it comes to nutrition and I would say that it’s going to take continual practice to find the exact combination that works for me, but for my first time attempting this distance, I feel good about the nutrition plan I went in with.
The course started at the Olallie Lake Cabins and headed south along the lake before connecting to steep jeep roads. The first hour of darkness was peaceful and a non-technical section. I saw plenty of headlamps run away from me but I was able to stay within myself. This was my first 100 miler. The only person I truly had anything to prove to was myself. Of course, I didn’t want to let my family and pacer down, but I knew they would support me no matter what happened out there. The voices of seasoned ultra-runners rang in my head. Conserve. Conserve. Especially in the first 50. The sunrise was uneventful as I was still on fire road. In retrospect I think about how it was the first sunrise of the run. At the time it was just a sunrise and the time I put my headlamp and flashlight away. Just prior to the first aid station I had some chatty guys behind me and I was feeling the pace pressure. In the past I've made the mistake of wasting time and energy stepping to the side. This day I trusted that if someone wanted to pass they would ask me to allow them to. We all floated through the first aid station (outside of grabbing water) at mile 5.3 the friends naturally passed me and it was the first long stretch that I was alone as I headed to the next aid station at Mile 11.4.
The route followed a long, steady downhill dropping from 5500 ft. to 3600 ft. During this section I thought about the fact that I'd finally told my parents what I was doing. I thought about how nervous I’d been to tell them before my first 50k. And then again for my 50 milers. It just never gets easier. I never want them to worry. And I knew they probably wouldn’t understand. “Why?” My mother asks from time to time. But what I realized before I told them was that I was OK with them not understanding. They didn’t need to. And while, indeed, they told me they didn’t understand, better yet, they told me what I'd hoped for. That they would be praying for me and that they supported me.
I also spent the time mentally preparing for the next section. It’s when the longest climb of the race begins. I rarely run with music, but I planned all along to use it during this section. I’m human and it’s still easy to get too much “inside my head” and the music seems to ward that off from happening. I listened mostly to Imagine Dragons' album – Night Visions – it has some great lines directly related to my task at hand – I played “I’m on top of the world” several times. It’s exactly how I felt. The childlike sense of freedom, the connection with the dirt, the embrace of Mother Nature, both in fear of its power and in awe of my ability to move through it with strength and determination and confidence.
We ran past several small lakes and climbed just over 2600 feet towards Ollalie Lake. It was around this section that I met up with Laura Kantor. I met Laura just over 4 years prior at my first ultra – the Siskiyou Outback 50k. She was a mutual friend of my running partner at the time, Dave Bilyeu. Over the years Laura and I became Facebook friends and I felt an affinity for her through following her ultra endeavors and daily and weekly inspiration she shares in her posts. It felt nice to quietly traverse the mountain with her and have a break from the solitude of traversing alone. We eventually parted ways and I continued to climb until the quick descent down to the next aid station. The huge breakthrough I had in my attitude this year was in climbing. I no longer felt as if I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders as soon as I started to speed hike. I embraced the fact it was a part of ultra-running.
After the aid station at 20.8 we turned around to climb back up the descent and then eventually reconnect with the jeep road along Olallie Lake. It reminded me of the descent off Sun Top at the White River 50. Similar in distance and grade. And we eventually had clear views of Ollalie Lake and Olallie Butte. My legs still felt fresh. But every time I considered pushing I thought about the fact I was not even 25% of the way through the race. I anticipated mile 26.1 (the first time I would see my crew) and walking through the transition – no change of clothes, just switching out bottles, new food, and a bathroom break. Joe mentioned later that I didn’t even look like I’d been running at the 26.1 aid station. I still looked fresh, was alert and centered. During that transition, we found the replacement hydration bladder had a leak so we took the time to pour it into the new hydration bladder. Still, Joe and John were a well-oiled crew machine and I was in and out of the aid station in 8 minutes.
Finally, on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) I was to travel just 3 miles to the next aid station. This would also be the last 3 miles of the course. I didn’t feel great on this section as it took me the full 3 miles to get back into a rhythm on the single track trail. But once I hit the Mile 29 aid station I was feeling pretty good and outside of taking in water I cruised through.
Mile 29 to 38 was the longest the race went between aid stations and it was also the most remote. It had great downhill mixed with some rocky sections before it climbed 700 feet back up. This was one of my favorite sections of the race – the lush beauty of the PCT. I thought of Cheryl Strayed in Wild and the other blogger’s stories of their time on the PCT. I thought of all the reasons why they had come to this trail. To heal, to break down, to challenge, to discover. I felt honored to be running on hallowed ground - to be creating my own story. It translated into a very blissful 9 miles. I hit the sweet spot in the run where I feel connected to my soul, where I feel more like myself than I ever have before, where I feel like I could run forever, and I want to cry because of the depths at which I feel alive.
Miles 38 to 43.9 continued in much the same fashion. I felt really good. Mostly running by myself, I tried to take in my surroundings, chat with runners when I had the opportunity and spend as little time as possible at the aid stations. I did take the time to put on my head lamp at 43.9 as I wasn’t sure if I’d make it to 49.4 by dark.
From 43.9 to 49.4, we dropped an additional 500 feet, crossing the Warm Springs River. Then ascended 900 feet. The climb is long and technical in sections, but the trail eventually flattens out. Again, I didn’t have much to do here, but get excited about seeing Joe, John, and Anika in about 5 miles at the Clackamas Aid Station (mile 55). It was dark now and my first struggle came. The trail drops over this section a total of 850 feet so it wasn’t due to climbing but something felt off. I believe now it was the first sign of nutrition challenges and the darkness. It took some time for my eyes to adjust and I slowed considerably. I remember wanting to push more but I also wanted to stay upright. I was only halfway done with this thing. Even between the headlamp and flashlight it didn’t feel like enough. I could have used stronger light. There was a mind/body disconnect here that I didn’t feel in control of. I eventually heard the voices and cheers from the Clackamas Aid Station, the largest Aid Station of the race. I came in, grabbed some mashed potatoes and headed to the porta potties. I would need to put on warmer clothes. I didn’t change my bra or shorts but put on a dry tank and dry long sleeve, and added a beanie. At this point I came in 30 minutes past the 27 hour target I’d been on until then. And it was my longest break. About 20 to 25 minutes. Joe and John got my pack refilled with Tailwind and Food. And John and I were off (he was allowed to start pacing at Mile 55). This is when I should have taken in my last calories from real food. This is when the Mac and Cheese would have helped. And as Joe remembers 55 was the first time he saw that I was a little fuzzy in my thinking and taking longer to make decisions about what I wanted.
I’ve known John Wallace III, my pacer, for 4+ years. We run together often and when I mentioned training for Mountain Lakes, he offered to pace early on. He was a huge support through all of the training; even when I was doubting myself, John offered encouragement and turned things around. I knew that he was the right person to have pace; experienced, patient, kind, willing to have tough love if needed. I owe a huge amount of my success to him.
From Mile 55 to 71 the course travels around Little Crater Lake. I remember not liking this section at all. In my mind it was going to be a lot less technical and I had no sense that I was running around anything. It was also when my body decided it no longer wanted to digest food. I would eat food and a couple of minutes later I’d be on the side of the trail; my body trying to get rid of any excess. It took me some time to figure out what was triggering it. I was focused on continuing to get calories in and my body was telling me to take a break. It was letting me know it couldn’t work so hard to digest and it needed simpler carbs. Anything more than a gel my body would not accept.
By mile 71 when we were back at the Clackamas Aid Station, I was dry heaving. My body was still trying to sort out what to do. It was going to come out one way or another. I knew from reading blogs and talking with seasoned 100 milers that a little dry heaving or vomiting did not mean the race was over. It was really just a blip on the radar and it was more about recovering as quickly as possible and then moving forward. Before the race I had asked Joe and Anika, that no matter how bad things looked, to never, ever doubt that I would finish. I did look at Joe and tell him that I was hurting, but he gave me no pity. He simply followed through on my request. He looked me straight in the eye and quietly told me I could do it. I could totally do this. He never looked at me with worry, only belief. I can’t begin to explain what it means that he was so quietly 100% there for me.
Mile 71 was also the first sign that my hip flexors were cranky. After the stop at 71 they tightened up and it took a good mile or two to get them warmed up and running again. We were now on our return trip back to Olallie Lake. We wouldn’t see Joe and Anika again until mile 97 – another marathon on the trail. The return trip felt completely different and is probably the fuzziest part of the run for me. It was a new moon and pitch black, the only light from our headlamps; which between the two of us was adequate, but I felt like I was in a long, dark tunnel. With altered vision it’s also about not tripping and falling. We talked some, but we were quiet, too. Around midnight I remember feeling so incredibly sleepy. I had slowed to a walk and felt like I was sleep walking. I was able to keep down a PocketFuel Cold Brew Coffee and that seemed to take the edge off. It was also during this section that my pack broke. I went to tighten the top, front strap and it snapped right off, leaving my pack to not fitting tightly around my shoulders and jostling around. I didn’t want to take the time to stop and fix it, but eventually realized that it needed to be done or I was just adding another controllable element of discomfort.
Another runner joined us for a while; she was sans pacer and not a big fan of the dark. I don’t know if she was sans pacer for the whole race, but kudos to her for her bravery and self-motivation and determination to get through those 12 hours of darkness alone.
The darkness was sitting heavy and I longed for some daylight. I craved being able to see my surroundings. And slowly it gave way to the sunrise. When I think about this point in the race. I see it in black and white and shades of gray and the memory of it slowly transitions to color. My stomach was still trying to figure what it would keep down (it decided on gels and 7-up or Coke). My hip flexors didn’t want to fire and every step was painful. I remember the exact spot on the trail that I realized that despite the stomach issues and painful hip flexors that I’d never thought about quitting and I knew at that point that I was going to finish, but I asked myself how I would feel if I was riding home in the car without the prized belt buckle (Belt buckles are handed out to all who finish in under 30 hours). All of the time that went into training, the time and energy that my family and pacer had put into my succeeding. I remember turning to say to John that I would not go home without a buckle. He acknowledged and said something like, “OK, let’s do this.” But in order to do that I knew I needed to pick the pace up, so I started to run again and focused on my breathing and mentally relaxing my hip flexors that so badly wanted to seize up. John also started to call out my pace so I had something else to think about. After some time, I heard John say, “I like the perseverance.” And it was all I needed; the recognition that I was trying my best, that I wasn’t going to succumb to the pain.
I saw a white canopy down on the road. We were much closer to the next aid than I thought. There were even quiet voices coming from that direction. I asked John if he saw the tent. He didn’t. Then there were cars, and more white canopies, and the voices…I soon realized that I was hallucinating the last aid station. I was sure that I saw my family. Joe in a green puffy jacket. Anika in her blue fleece, but they gave way to trees. I saw cars, tents, flags and signs. Only to find fallen trees, bushes, foliage and tree stumps. I could no longer trust my eyes. I needed to just focus on the trail in front and not look around. I so desperately wanted that aid station. I would see Joe and Anika, be able to drop my pack, and have just 3.1 miles left to the finish. I also knew that the time to finish in under 30 hours was tight.
When I arrived at the mile 97 aid station, it was 11 o’clock (1 hour to spare). Joe was ready to take my pack and hand me a gel and 7-up. One of the volunteers at the the aid station looked at me and said – It’s 11 o’clock. You can still do this. You’re going to have some climbs, but when you’re walking you need to move your hands as quickly as possible. Your feet will follow. Use the downhill. You can do this. John who had been running behind me since mile 55, asked if I wanted him to lead, I said ‘Yes’ and he became the rabbit. I put my gaze on his feet, dug to the very depths of my strength to will my hip flexors to fire, moved my arms as quickly as I could and I fought. After 2.5 miles John dropped back behind me. He said about .5 to go and told me to run it in. That .5 was the longest .5 of my life. I have never fought for anything so hard in my life. I finished in 29 hours, 58 minutes, and 15 seconds. 1 minute and 45 seconds to spare.
I’m addicted to the pain, the deep ache of bone that comes, the pain that I have now pushed through, accepted, and learned to sit with as part of the process, stripping down to my most vulnerable and being willing to rely on others to maintain this state. If I wasn’t willing to be in this state I don’t think I would have finished, let alone under the 30 hour cutoff. I suppose a combination of that and perseverance. If I’d for one moment thought I wouldn’t finish or become complacent with finishing without the belt buckle then that is what would have happened.
I had someone tell me that the first 50 of a 100 was physical, the next 25 mental, and the last 25 were spiritual. For now I think the entire 100 was a mix of physical and mental – definitely more mental in the latter half. With a few moments of spiritual sprinkled in. The spiritual is post-run – as the ache settles in - when I’m reminded of how deeply I went. When I sit in awe of how deep I was able to go. The fear that comes with understanding the power of my own mind.
While the buckle is awesome. I’m more stoked that I’m walking away with my love for running, a greater affection for the ultra-running community, a better sense of and respect for the distance. My time on the trails makes me a better mom, wife, friend, coach. Balancing it all can be tough. But I’m determined to walk the delicate line of an all-consuming sport and the other priorities of life as this sport is the compass for how I live. I believe that if I continue to seek a raw and vulnerable state; with a willingness to both be there for and lean on others, the balance will follow.
Coach Michele is passionate about helping people take simple steps in improving their running and nutrition. She is the owner of P3 Running and is an RRCA Certified Running Coach and a ISSA Certified Specialist in Fitness Nutrition.