Rock Bottom and Back: my Hurt 100 Mile Run

I am finally attempting to revisit my “vacation in Hawaii” … the HURT100 mile trail race. Thinking about HURT makes me hungry, so I am eating peanut butter from a knife, and all the frozen perogies from my boyfriend’s house.

Why? ? ?

Last year, I paced a friend for 40 miles / 64 kilometers at the HURT100, and I was instantly sold. There was delicious food the whole way, amazing trails, and a vibrant, loving community of runners behind the event. The terrain is a technical trail runner’s dream, full of slippery rocks and routes and cliffs. I LOVE that type of terrain, and I was captivated. I ran with a ukulele my mom loaned me, eating amazing homemade food and singing and strumming to help my runner along, while playing in the roots. I desperately wanted to try running the course without the ukulele. A few months later, I entered the lottery without a second thought.

Oh – Before we really delve in… for those who are blessed to not know too much about the event, Josh does a great job of explaining why it’s particularly fun in his blog here.

HURT was going to be my 2nd 100-miler, and at the time of signing up, I hadn’t even done my first one yet. I was pleasantly oblivious, just going about my registration and thinking about the roots and rocks. And as all these lotteries seem to go, I got in, because I really, really wanted to.

This Will be Fun!

Two months before HURT, I started to worry. I had just run the World 100k in Qatar and felt pretty badly burnt out, but I also felt unprepared for what I would encounter at HURT. The 100k was on the road, so I hadn’t run on technical trails in months, and I stopped any kind of hill running. This seemed quite opposite to HURT, and I worried that I wouldn’t be ready in time. But I had already booked my flights to Hawaii, and I had even enrolled my boyfriend, my dad, and my stepmom to come along too! I decided that I would forget about the anal training and approach HURT as a pure fun run, just there enjoying the awesome people, the fun trails, and the delicious aid station food.

Julien Swing

Galivanting around Waikiki on a day before the race.

 

Boy, was I in for a special surprise!

Realization: Laps are Not Fun!

Fast forward to Hawaii and it’s lap two of five in the race. I was really well-behaved in the first lap, going out pretty casually and letting a few women ahead of me without thinking about it. But now on lap two, the warm, humid Hawaiian weather came out to destroy us, or maybe just me. Quite quickly I became nauseous, and the idea of completing 70 more miles, going round and round, seeing the same trees over and over, seemed like a horrible trap. After Qatar, there was no way I was going to do another death-like, hot, nauseous, multi-looped course, that soon! I wanted to escape, and I found lots of supportive reasons inside my head… My purpose was to have fun. What am I doing out here if I’m not having fun? (No answer found.) DNF-ing has a bad reputation, I think it’s fine. Everyone will totally support and agree with me. Plus, everyone will love to get out of here and go to the beach, get Mai Tais. It’s okay, ultras aren’t my thing.

I decided I would quit.

Downward Spiral

I still had one more aid station before the Nature Centre, but I decided I couldn’t make it the 10 miles back to the Nature Centre, I would just DNF at the next station. Plus, this way, I could easily quit without friends and family around! I would walk all the way there, slightly grinning in satisfaction.

About a kilometer from the aid station, I started being more honest with the runners around me, sharing proudly that I was about to quit. Then there was this great guy named Greg who walked beside me for a bit. I don’t know what he said, but he turned my spirits fully around, and I was convinced I could go at least one more station, to the Nature Centre.

I had seven miles to the Nature Centre, and it was plenty enough time to sink right back down to Quit status. My nausea was coming and going, but I had already resigned, I wasn’t ready for all this suffering. Lots of other friends running were on my case, trying to help me stay in the race with positive messages, even random energy drink packets… (Thanks Ace!) To my delight and just in time, I started to feel light knee pain! I knew that no one would argue with potential injury.

Finally, I walked it in to the Nature Centre with a grin in my face, to tell everyone I was DONE! I had completed 40 miles of HURT! 40% Done. I’ll take it! I was stoked to pull the plug and hear everyone’s excitement to go to the beach.

Walking in with the plan to quit HURT, glee!

Walking in with the plan to quit HURT, I have a big grin going on!

You look way too fresh! Is what they said instead.

Matt Barry came over and diagnosed me: Knee pain? Where? Oh, that’s just the IT band, you can stretch it out, it’s not a bad injury as long as you stretch it out. Here, take a seat, put your feet up, and eat this.

Julien took Matt’s instructions and started to kill my IT band back to life. Meanwhile, my dad fed me sandwiches, and a wonderful volunteer made me feel like I was actually golden, with a few words. You know, I’ve never been through here in this time, you’re doing awesome, you have tons of time, you could even take an 8-hour nap and finish. Take your time and see how you feel in a bit!

Linda Barton-Robbins even brought me a beautiful bird, which she was feeding from her hand. It was magical!

As my friends and boyfriend and family and all the volunteers came to help me, everything turned around. I went from angry and out of place on the course, to stoked, motivated, full of life and love. I was really excited to get back out there and get to work, and see what I could do with what I had left. Nothing like a thirty minute break!

HURT can be fun

HURT Takes a Village

The next three laps are still surreal to me. I ran them with fairly even splits, even through the night, and my last lap was my fastest. The whole time, I felt this sense of love, from all the amazing HURT supporters. With that feeling powering me, I slowly caught about 20-30 people until my deadline, the finish line, at 100 miles. I got to run one fun lap with Julien, and together we went on this fun running hunt from 30th place overall, to 12th overall (2nd female). It literally took a village to come back and find enjoyment at HURT. It was over 28 hours in the end, and I’d say a good 22 of those were really fun, thanks to all the people who kept my spirits high.

Because I didn't quit, I got to stand beside these champs and we all won amazing, hand-made ukulele's with wood derived harmlessly from the HURT course!

Because I didn’t quit, I got to stand beside these champs, the top three men and women. We all won these amazing, hand-made ukulele’s with wood derived harmlessly from the HURT course! Come play in our new ukulele band!

Try to Avoid Sleeping on the Ground After 100 Miles

Back at the campsite a few hours later, I made a pretty bad mistake and almost suffered from heat exhaustion. Napping in the hot tent, in retrospect, was not a good idea. Thankfully, I was carried into the cold shower at the campsite and any remaining mental health was salvaged.

Also, just FYI. If you plan to buy a “camping setup” from Walmart Hawaii, I would not recommend their 1-inch mattress cover as the “bed”. You might as well not buy anything and just sleep right on the ground, I think it would feel the same. Maybe also consider not camping, what an idea! Remember, you will be acting a lot like a hospital patient, and you may be better off in confinement, in a small hotel room. I always learn tons of new things after 100’s!

Batter Up?

If you plan to run HURT, soak up all the love from those people around you, it will get you through! Those awesome trails are only fun for so long, (10 miles) and after that, you better have another reason!

You can check out all the results from my HURT buddies this year here. 🙂
And also, great reports by my North Van pals Josh and Nicola, and by amazing Oregonian Amy!

The more typical Hawaii!

The more typical Hawaii!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My First 100: Cascade Crest

I wake up in the middle of the night to the intense roaring of a train. Mid-dream, I feel like I’m the protagonist of an action-adventure movie, until I realize, oh, ya… the race director had warned me about this!

I’m in Easton, Washington, sleeping about 100 feet from the active railroad that goes through town, and about 50 feet from where I’ll start the Cascade Crest Endurance run tomorrow. With friends and family as my crew, an amazing circle of friends supporting, and a unicorn dress all set to wear during the race, I’m calm and ready, and the train can’t change that.

I’m lucky to be here…

Two weeks ago, that was not the case. I was exhausted by iron deficiency and accidental heat stroke, and I could barely walk up the stairs to the office without feeling horrible. Each time I went to work, I laughed, gauging how difficult it was for me to climb the one flight of stairs, and comparing that to the 21,000 feet of climbing I’d have to do at Cascade. But it was a nervous laughter. I didn’t want to admit that 100 miles on that course was looking like a dumb idea, but… that would be an understatement. I was too far into denial to tell a single other person, but if my health persisted like that, I was indeed planning to can it. Starting out the race on an empty fuel tank didn’t seem like a good idea!

My roommate's dog Benji is impersonating me here.

My roommate’s dog Benji is impersonating me here.

I took three weeks to rest, and took my mom’s advice to pop multivitamins, start eating meat, and dial down the rest even further– apparently biking home up 900 feet was not rest!  And just in time, my dream came true. On Monday, five days before the race, I started to feel like myself again, with full energy. I wasn’t sure where my fitness was at because I hadn’t well run in over a month, but I let that go. I had my baseline health back, I had the energy to do good work and hang out with my friends again, and alas, I felt energized in the mountains. I was so excited to have a chance to simply start the race.

Down in Easton…

tara and alicia storm easton

The night before the race, I eat most of a 12″ Issaquah pizza to myself, (yayyy!) down a few beers with Tara to polish off the pre-race calorie party, and then fall asleep beside the start line, the rest of the crew joining us around midnight.

yup, I ate this singlehandedly!

I’m the image of health! No I did not eat the little plastic white thing in the middle. (Why do pizzas really need that anyway?)

On race morning, I wake up after the interesting train sleep to the most enjoyable pre-race experience I’ve ever had. People are milling around in a low-key manner, hugs are going around like they’re free, and friends and family are eating delicious pancake breakfast in the morning sun, fresh from the volunteer firefighters. 10am start time… brilliant. Even though we all know the race is all about tough trails, the atmosphere is like a family barbecue, with a no-worries kind of vibe.

The source of my inspiration for this run was the people you must meet, Angel and Tim Mathis. In the 2013 Cascade Crest, Angel showed the ultra community how to kick ass in 100 miles, and have a party while doing it. She ate fancy chocolate croissants, wore a pink unitard, had a theme party following her around, and told me the funniest stories of my life, all while finishing in the top ten or eleven women or something ridiculous. I was lucky to crew and pace Angel for the last 32 miles, which were fun and magical, and ended in us becoming international best friends, and inspiring me to run my first 100 at Cascade Crest this year. You may remember this picture, it’s gotten around quite a bit and onto people’s WTA calendars from our run last year:

From 2013 by the talented Glenn Tachiyama!

From 2013 by the talented Glenn Tachiyama!

Before the race starts I’ve already calculated that I’m the luckiest runner around. I’ve somehow lured to this race three of my best friends, my mom and her boyfriend, and my boyfriend, and they’re planning to wear costumes and feed me at various places along the way. My Angel, my American best friend running the race, has even assembled some kind of band for the last few miles. I’m feeling selfish, but I remind myself that the hilarious people I assembled will have so much fun together. They’ve got some beer and some unicorn costumes, and I’ve gifted them my shit car for the day to rip around on the dirt roads. Yesss!

the unicorn crew

Given my recent health b/s, I planned to go out and have fun, with no expectations. It was pretty funny because people expected greatness of me, but I did not… Hah! But before long on the first big climbs, I end up getting told that I’m first female. Ahh! Not what I was planning. Oh well, I think, it’s more about how I’m feeling, not what rank I’m in. Everyone else is irrelevant, except myself. To help me focus within, I develop a system. I figure, I’ll be super chill on the ups and flats, and let myself run faster on the downhills. Yes! For the first ~50 miles, I run with that plan, and I feel great. Yipee!

James Varner always there with his beautiful coconut breasts

James Varner always there with his beautiful coconut breasts

I wasn’t at all aware, but sources tell me that maybe I was running a little fast. Maybe at course record pace? Woops! Funny thing is that I was running oblivious to any of that kind of stuff. Just runnin’ free!

Enough about that, let’s talk about my crew.

My crew is like the best traveling circus you’ve ever seen, minus the tropical animals. I run into Stampede Pass, and see my mom, she has an iridescent cape tied around her neck! Tara, Jo and Nancy are wearing homemade unicorn horns and tutus. Julien never wears costumes, and here he is, wearing a beret coupled with colourful tie-die blouse. They’re like Burning Man meets trail running, and I love it.

Yup... this is my life.

Yup… this is my life.

And here they are all together! This is before they found the costume trunk, I gather.

They almost look normal here.

Don’t you just want to hug all of them?

I’m pretty quick through the aid stations, but they splash some cold water on me, and try to offer me the food I’m already not really loving.

Royal treatment

Running = ropes & tunnels & metallics.

I run some beautiful PCT miles mostly alone, and just before sunset I reach my favourite part of the course, a super fun cliff down-climb with ropes. I’m really lucky, I get to do this in the light! After that I run toward the 2.5 mile pitch black Snoqualmie Tunnel, and after a few minutes of running without light, I decide to turn on my iphone light to avoid stomping on one of the rats running around. It’s fun at first, but soon enough I get tired of weird liquid dripping on my head from above, and of running alone. Mile 53 is soon, and I get my first pacer there!

After the dark tunnel I’m pretty stoked to see my crew at Hyak, mile 53, and be surrounded by a flash hoola-hoop party. Julien, who typically shies away from costumes, is wearing tight silver pants and a colourful blouse to come pace me for 15 miles, up and over another long and gradual climb.

This costume to celebrate my farthest ever miles!

This costume to celebrate my farthest ever miles!

For the first time in the run, I’m starting to feel a low coming on. I’m running one of the few ugly sections of the course, a road beside the I90 highway, and the calorie deficit goes straight to my head. Even though I know the solve, (eating!) it’s so hard to do, and my motivation takes a huge dip.  Why am I doing this? I ask, and in that moment, I can’t find an answer. Julien tricks me into eating, but I trick him back by eating my food reaalllly slowly. The joke’s really on me though, as the dwindling thoughts persist for a good couple of hours up the long dirt road climb up to Keechelus Ridge, and my speed deteriorates into a power hike from hell. I get to the top and I’m still the first woman, but I know it’s going to be short-lived. During that low up the hill, I resigned from my best self, and without a specific goal today, I can’t find a reason or any motivation to recover that other gear. I have no desire to push toward any goal, I just want to enjoy the run from here on out.

Funny how powerful the mind is, because almost immediately after my mental and physical resignation, three girls pass me descending the other side the dirt road during a bathroom break. And so begins my chill running in for the last 40 miles!

It’s true, I learn stuff the hard way.

After my section with Julien, I get to run with Tara for the last 32 miles. Funny enough, we enjoy the parts everyone else hates: the famous Trail from Hell is the Trail from Heaven for us, and the dreaded steep Cardiac Pumps are fun mini challenges with great views. My sense of urgency gone, I go from blasting through aid stations, to spending tons of time in them, hanging out, requesting mimosas, and getting full-on foot work done. I make lots of rookie mistakes which we laugh at, even though they’re painful. Like, not testing my headlamp before the race, it dying, and having to use one I hate on technical trails at night… Equally brilliant is my decision to never change my socks or shoes, pre-tape my feet, or use any anti-blister product on them, and getting swallowed by blisters from mile 70 on. But on the plus side, I learn about true friendship, as Tara offers to wear my dirty, sweaty, wet-dog-smelling socks at mile 80, and is only saved by the kindness of a volunteer I don’t yet know, the amazing Jennifer McCormack, who gives me her nice, dry injinji socks right off her own feet! And meanwhile, friends Deby and Pablo take the leap to touch my sorry feet in order to patch them up wherever possible, while feeding me tater tots. I aspire to be as kind and selfless as the amazing people who helped me at No Name Ridge aid station!

looks like a war scene. But wait, this is a fun hobby!

looks like a war scene. But wait, this is a fun hobby!

To be honest, running with that many blisters for 20 miles is mostly lots of pain, and Tara can attest to the amount of profanity I wielded to get through the rest of the run. What a good friend. She even took these shots of my backside climbing up Thorpe Mountain for me to share online!

Thorpe Mountain

Despite my rookie mistakes, there was definitely joy and beauty in sharing the early morning miles up high in the Cascades…

At this point, I start dreaming about mimosas at French Cabin aid station.

Early Morning Miles to French Cabin

 Shut up and get er’ done!

For months leading up to this race, I was dreading the final miles, which are on the highway. I come into the final aid station and tell the crew that we can all walk the last 4 miles together, that would be fun, right?! But Angel looks at me with a stern and disapproving look, and says, You’re running! Under 24 hours! I’m not messing with that look, so off I go to execute on Angel’s orders! And I finally earn my dream finish, after so long of waiting for my turn to run a 100, and thinking I would have to sit out only two weeks earlier… surrounded by the unicorn crew, and Angel and Tim there for my last turn, a part of my journey from being the original source of my inspiration last year, right to the very end of my own journey.

How can you not have fun while being surrounded with this?!

How can you not have fun while being surrounded with this?!

And this is my favourite memory. Drinking champagne before 10am!

running through the night, champagne for breakfast with the best company, then napping with a beer in my hand, what could be better?

running through the night, champagne for breakfast with the best company, then napping with a beer in my hand, what could be better?

I’m happy to report that my crew captain, Jo, has since signed up for her first 50k! And Tara will now sign up for her first 100! (Nancy? …)

Until next time.

I’ve already forgotten all the pain and looking forward to the next one. (Hopefully learn from all my dumb mistakes.) Here’s to my amazing support team, the race organizers, amazing & generous volunteers, countless friends and family who cheered me on, and the fun little town of Easton with awesome mountains. Cascade Crest is an amazing event, and I’ll definitely be back.