So, on May 1, I became the proud owner of a mountain home. Honestly, I never really thought it could happen – buying a home as a single, self-employed woman. To my surprised, I was able to make it happen!
My new home is snuggled right up to the Rocky Mountains in the foothills at 9150ft. Wow. There are moose, deer, bear, mountain lions, bobcats, and the usual cast of smaller critters like rabbits, raccoons, foxes, and squirrels coming to my 1.25 acre yard of natural forest that includes pines and aspens.
There’s a peek-a-boo view through the trees of the mountains that are in the nearby state park. The park, Golden Gate Canyon, is just a couple miles away so I know I’ll be spending a lot of time there.
Being a mountain mamma has been on my bucket list for years. I love the fresh air, solitude, whispering pines, quaking aspens, and just living among nature. In fact, after moving in over the weekend, I had a welcome visit from a bear on Monday morning.
All this is to say, keep your goals front and center. Believe in them. And, work toward them. When you’re ready, it will happen.
For the past two years, I have gone with my two adventure friends Candy and Gary on an epic journey. First it was running/hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail in eight days in 2012. Then it was a double crossing of the Grand Canyon (R2R R2R) in 2013. So, when Candy asked about climbing Mt. Whitney this summer, it was game on.
Mt. Whitney is the tallest peak in the lower 49 states, taller than Mt. Rainier but shorter than Alaska’s Denali. There is an 11 mile (22 round trip) trail that takes off from 8000 feet before topping out at 14,496 ft. It wasn’t the easiest trail, being mostly of granite steps, boulders, and 99 switchbacks. The grind only made reaching the summit that much sweeter.
Mt. Whitney is in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains in southern California. This is where the famous naturalist, author, and early advocate of the preservation of wilderness, John Muir spent so much of his time. His words resonate with me so much that I thought it fitting to use them in this post with pictures from the trip. Be sure to enjoy the video that follows.
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains!
Sunrise on the trail
In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.
In my zone
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.
Junction of the John Muir Trail
Who wouldn’t be a mountaineer! Up here all the world’s prizes seem nothing.
Summit of Mt. Whitney
It was the afternoon of the day and the afternoon of his life, and his course was now westward down all the mountains into the sunset.
It took a lot of nerve to sit here
Keep close to nature’s heart and break clear away once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.
Pristine lake just off the trail
Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.
One of the 99 switchbacks
Now that you are inspired, go watch the full (4 minute) video. (For best results, view in 1080HD in full screen)
“You know, one little slip and it’s all over. It’s a fatal drop off on either side,” the voice said. “I know, but you hiked up more than 10 miles. You are so close to the summit. You can’t quit now!” said the same voice.
I had heard you could summit Mt. Bangs, the highest peak in the area at just over 8000 ft. Two years ago, we had hiked up to within about a mile, but it was winter and we had no intention of summiting that day, just exploring. Ever since, it’s been on my mind and list.
Mt Bangs, also known as Hancock Peak, is actually located in the far northwestern corner of Arizona. Several of us had talked about summiting but never seemed to get around to it. Most were talking about driving to within about 3 miles and going from there. I preferred the longer hike up Elbow Canyon, one I’ve done many times. The opportunity finally came and five of us were in.
Heading up Elbow Canyon
Gary, my awesome friend and running partner, and I chose to hike Elbow Canyon and meet the other three at the upper trailhead. That meant about 7 miles of hiking and about 3500ft gain just to get there. I knew there was a trail part way up the mountain from the trailhead, but also heard there would be a lot of bushwhacking on the final stretch. Little did I know, the tough part would not be bushes but boulders.
Discussing the trail options
We met the guys and all five of us continued up the trail, chatting and enjoying the scenery. As we got higher, the views got better and better allowing us to see vistas in both directions for many miles. To the south and west we saw the Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument and Gold Butte. To the north and east we could see St. George and Signal Peak, even as far Zion National Park.
Nearing the end of the trail
Though someone had nicely marked the trail with cairns and cut the brush back, the trail ran out all too soon. We hit a stretch that required us to scramble up a steep embedded granite boulder. Everyone else climbed right up, but not me. It’s where I got the first twinge of fear. These rocks can be slippery and I didn’t trust the shoes I was wearing. Gary suggested dropping my pack in hopes that would make me more nimble and secure—it did.
The area above that rock was ok but the ridge was narrowing. Looking straight ahead along the ridge, you could see both sides from the corners or your eyes—and it was a long way down. The guys scrambled up another set of larger boulders, waiting for me to follow. I had some serious hesitation. But, with coaxing, I made it up that set only to find more boulders and an even narrower ridge.
Boulders on the knife edge ridge to the summit
This was becoming a real test of my will and wits. “Go ahead, I’ll just wait for you here,” I said several times. But they wouldn’t have it. They extended hands to me and encouraged me to keep going and not to look down. I scrambled a few more and stopped again. The internal battle in my mind continued. I mean, after all, what’s the big deal about making it to the top? How important is it anyway? I haven’t even seen my new grandbaby yet. It’s not worth risking my life!
With my heart pounding and my body physically trembling, I scaled another boulder wondering how in the hell I would get ever get back down. I imagined myself like the woman recently stuck on the side of a hill, afraid to move, ultimately rescued by a search and rescue team. This climb topped the list for being one of the times I was the most afraid ever. The guys were so great, encouraging me, grabbing my hand, placing their own bodies on the outside so I could climb up and through with more confidence.
Mentally exhausted at the summit
After every scary boulder set, I desperately wanted to stop right there and wait. It often took several minutes to get me to agree to carry on. With their help I pushed on, climbing a few more boulders and finally, we were all up. At the top, I held tightly to the rocks – staying low. I enjoyed the view but never really relaxed. And, I was happy when we decided to head back down, but apprehensive about having to actually do it. Strangely, it wasn’t that bad and we were off the rocks pretty quickly.
Although we still had another 9 miles to go back to the car, I was happy and proud to have conquered the mountain. I could never have done it without the help and support of friends. And, the best part is, I never have to do it again.
Basking momentarily after conquering fear
Fear can be so paralyzing. So, when you are able to do something to break through it, you feel free as a bird. I spread my wings a little that day.
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. – Nelson Mandela
Honestly, I’ve been afraid to face the elephant in the room–my lack of speed. As with any activity, we tend to spend more time on things we think we’re good at and less on those we think we aren’t. I’ve always given the excuse that because I’m not fast, I might as well go long. But, the opportunity came up to run a local 5K charity race and for once, I didn’t have to help put it on. The race organizer asked me how fast I thought I would run it and I offered up that I’d be lucky to break 30 minutes. Surprise surprise! I ran it in 28:33. That’s just under a 9 minute mile pace!
As it happens, in October I was extremely busy putting on the Huntsman World Senior Games Track and Field Meet, hosting over 400 athletes from all around the world for three days. Following on the heels of that was the Gold Butte Days 5K and Half Marathon races, along with the Gold Butte Days Festival, that I helped put on. So, not much time for running and certainly not any long runs. And, probably for the first time, I was forced into recovery – resting this body that has seen so many miles in such a short time.
Without a particular goal, I decided to start all over with a 50K training plan. Of course the first several weeks call for short runs of 2, 4, and 6 miles. At the same time, my training partner Gary decided he wants to build speed again (and thinks I should too), so we’ve started weekly track workouts as well. It all seems to be coming together nicely.
My road runs have gotten much faster. Instead of 10:30 to 11:00 pace, I’m at or under 10:00 pace. I even hit a 9:22 pace on a 2.2 mile run from my house, with a big hill. At the track, I’ve been running 200’s at around 50 seconds, which is pretty fast for me. And, this has all translated to a great trail run a few weeks ago to the Bunkerville Train. It’s about a 13 mile round trip with about 1800ft gain. I went up at about a 15 min pace and down at 11 min pace.
But, the speed work is sneaky tiring. You get home and feel fine. In fact, you can do several runs and feel fine. However, it soon catches up to you. After about three hard weeks of this, I’m feeling a bit beat up and tired. For once, my legs want to quit before my lungs.
I’ll press on, adding a few miles a week, looking for that next big goal.
All I could think about was 11 miles over 11K feet and how, in previous years, people experienced altitude issues like headaches and nausea. Being somewhat sensitive, especially to stomach issues, it definitely tempered my excitement about doing the 2013 TransRockies Run–a 6 day, 120 mile, 20K feet stage race in Colorado.
I signed up just about a year ago with my running partner and good friend, Gary. We entered the 80+ Mixed category along with 35 other running pairs. The race starts in Buena Vista and ends in Beaver Creek, though it’s not completely continuous. You are shuttled to and from race start and finishes. When you’re not running, you’re camping with 350 of your new best friends.
We took two days to drive to Buena Vista. Along the way, we stopped at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. What a beautiful canyon-so steep, deep, and dark. Pictures don’t do it justice. If you’re ever in the area, be sure to see it. It’s not too far off the road.
Next, we stopped at Monarch Pass, which is on the continental divide and sits at 11,312ft. We took the tram up to see the view and also see how we handled the even higher altitude of over 12K ft. The view was stunning–a 360 degree look at the Rockies and the altitude was not an issue (though we were only there a short while).
Day 0 – Buena Vista. We checked in and picked up our race bags and goodies. The bag they give you is pretty big, but it must hold your sleeping bag, pad, pillow, race snacks, clothes for running and for lounging (both warm and cool clothes), race gear, and anything else you bring. Because I have smaller sleeping gear for backpacking, I had a slight bit of room left over, but not much.
We contacted our soon to be new friend Monica. She had to go solo this week after her partner had to drop out. We connected with Monica ahead of time to work out a way to bring our cars forward along the race. We ended up playing leapfrog with the cars which worked, but cut into rest/social time. It was a fortunate friendship though. Monica is a totally fun girl who is sharp-witted and smart. We had a great time while transporting cars and at dinner, though we never saw her during the races since she’s a speedy one!
Day 1 – Buena Vista to Railroad Bridge: 20.9 miles/2550ft elev. gain. It was a cool morning, as every morning would be. We started at the back of the pack and stayed there most of the day. You get lots of time to chat as you huff and puff your way uphill. I met Deana, a water researcher from the midwest and Christina, a woman doing the 3-day solo from Seattle.
It was also on this first day I met Phil and Barbara from Brooklyn. They started each day with us and were great fun to be around. We had told them about our nicknames of “Dirt” and “Skirt” and they greeted us each day this way. It felt good knowing there were other racers who knew you were out there and cared about how you did.
Seeing friendly faces was such a welcome sight. My friend Sherry that I met at Desert RATS in June was working the aid stations by day and doing massages at night. Her smile is infectious and warm. You can’t help but feel good when you are around her. She took good care of me and all the other racers during the week. She and the other aid station volunteers were always cheery and helpful. They were a welcome sight indeed.
This first day seemed to go on and on but did end with a nice foot soak in the river afterwards. Because I had some leg pain that started before we arrived, I decided to get a leg massage. It felt so good I vowed to do it every day afterwards. Unfortunately, I never found the time again.
Day 2 – Vicksburg to Twin Lakes (via Hope Pass): 13.3 miles/3250ft elev. gain. The bus ride to the start took about 30 minutes–enough time to build up nerves of anticipation. I was going to crest the famous Hope Pass. It sits at 12,600ft and is challenged twice in the Leadville 100 race. Thankfully, we only had to go over it once. It was a crazy grind to the top, following along in a conga line on a narrow, steep single track. At one point, someone yelled out to whoever was leading the line at the time to “pull over if you can’t keep up!” I desperately did not want to be that person, so I pushed hard to keep up with the stream of racers. Climbing over 3000 feet in about 3 miles may not sound like much, but when that goes from over 9K to over 12k feet, your lungs are begging for mercy.
At the top, Gary (still in race mode) told me to go! There was to be no lingering or savoring the view. It was time to pass those who did. So I never even got to turn around and see what I’d just climbed. This is where I really found my strength. I flew, almost wrecklessly, down the hill. I was passing people left and right. I probably passed two dozen people. The best part, probably for the whole week, was being called an “ass-kicker” as I passed a group of racers. You never know that what you might say to someone can really make their day, or even their week! I’ll never forget that moment.
Day 3 – Leadville to Camp Hale: 24.2 miles/2800ft elev. gain. Leadville is a cute old mining town–almost. It has potential but it hasn’t been realized. Stage 3 began in Leadville and ran through the town and down the highway before turning up a dirt road. The dirt road immediately began to crank up. It seemed like every time you might reach the top, there was another hill to climb. The uphills are not my strength and took so much of my energy. Plus, my legs were sore to the touch from the previous two days!
I managed hydration and nutrition fairly well, but the continual climb eventually got to my psyche. So much that when it finally flattened out, I could hardly run. It was the only time I tripped and nearly fell, which made me even more angry. Reaching the aid station at about mile 14, you leave most of the climbing behind and begin a steady descent. It’s over 11k feet there and you cross the continental divide. It was a great, run-able portion of the trail, but my legs (and lungs) would not cooperate. I ran some and walked some, but it was more walking. I was frustrated with myself. After crossing the highway, with about 6 miles left, we entered a nice forest trail.
For whatever reason, I got a second wind. Again, I flew down the hill for the next 3 miles to the next aid station. I passed numerous racers and felt fantastic. The final 3 mile stretch is a flat dirt road. Gary pushed me to my capacity there, but no one passed us on this section and we finished pretty strong.
Day 4 – Camp Hale to Red Cliff: 14.1 miles/2900ft elev. gain. The morning began with diarrhea. Perhaps nerves? Then I found out I wasn’t alone. The “camp crud” had made its appearance and about 25% of the racers had it, including Gary and I. After a second time in the bathroom in short order, the medical team gave us Imodium. Fortunately, though it continued after the race, I never had any episodes during the race and it really didn’t impact my energy.
Although this was a shorter stage, I knew it was also a steep one, climbing quickly with crazy grades of 29%. About two miles out of Camp Hale, the road turned up the hill and the climb began. It was innocuous at first, but turned ugly and angry. We were climbing rutted roads that even a jeep wouldn’t want to take. People were using their toes to dig in and make the climb, some slipping and almost losing their balance. “This is nuts!” I kept thinking. But, for the pain, you are rewarded. These were the views you saw in the brochure–the ones you paid the big bucks for. And, you deserved the great views after sacrificing all your energy to get there.
As you crest, you traverse a bowl and then a ridge for a few miles, continually taking in the amazing views. I met Silas, another racer’s partner who had never done more than a half marathon before. As I flew down the hill with him and his partner, he said, “You are amazing!” His partner said, “Who? Me?” And Silas told him, “No! Her!!” Made me smile as I bounded down the hill. Reaching the creek crossing, I waited only briefly for Gary and we trudged through the water. The trail goes about 1/4 mile directly through the creek which felt good at first, until my feet started going numb. Again, Gary pushed me to the finish. I was finally figuring out his M.O. Push me hard to finish, then apologize later for doing so.
Day 5 – Red Cliff to Vail: 23.6 miles/4200ft elev. gain. Each night after you finish and limp around camp, you don’t think you can take another step. You start questioning how on earth you will wake up and do it again! Somehow, morning comes and you get caught up in the moment. Today, I was fearing the extremely long, extremely high-altitude day. I knew there were probably 11 miles over 11k feet and I’d heard of so many people having altitude sickness on this day. Although I brought a drug called Diamox with me, I decided not to take it since it can also cause dehydration. I’m not the best hydrator to begin with, so I took my chances going without. One thing I did do was take Gingko Biloba for the week. I’d read that it was supposed to help. Maybe it did since I never suffered any altitude issues.
Red Cliff is a darling town out in the middle of nowhere. We were bused in and the local sports bar and grill served up coffee and hot chocolate. They even had a fire going outside. It was a beautiful day but I was still nervous. The music they’d played at the start every day, Highway to Hell, started playing and we were off. I was immediately surprised I wasn’t tired at all. I began walking faster and faster, even running some. Having started off nearly dead last, I passed many racers in those first 6 miles. Even Gary wasn’t keeping up and that was a first! I actually had to wait for him at the first aid station and he actually had to hustle in! There’s a rule in this race that you must be within 2 minutes of your partner at each aid station and at the finish. Although you’d assume you’d always be together as partners, you’re not. So, sometimes it can be a challenge.
The road turned to single track and climbed even steeper. I motored right on up and we finally reached an opening with a wonderful view. The trail went up and down for a bit before we reached the back of the Vail ski area and climbed the switchbacks of one of its bowls. Although tiring, it was the most beautiful section of the whole week. The trail wound through wildflowers of all colors while Rockies stood watching in the distance. You could see the train of racers marching up the switchback trail.
We stopped to take a few pictures, including this one on the rock. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the legs or mental focus to do anything other than stand there and smile. Usually I try to do some kind of crazy pose, but not today.
The trail continued along the top of the ski ridge, passing by a couple chair lifts and finally finding the singletrack descent through the forest. By now you’re getting a sense that I LOVE running downhill, especially a soft, carpeted forest trail. I hammered down catching up to our friends Rachel and Helen from the UK. They always finished ahead of us but not today! What a sweet couple of “proper” British girls….so I thought. Turns out Rachel flashed her boobies for the photographer. Some people will do anything to get their photo on the nightly slideshow! She’s a fun gal.
Having lost Gary again, I waited briefly and together, we flew the rest of the way down, running some pretty fast miles. I nearly petered out at the finish but he pulled me through. Working that hard for so many miles with such focus at the end took its toll. For no reason at all, I broke down and cried, The tears just fell and I couldn’t stop them. I suppose it’s a form of stress release–not sure. But I got myself together and felt proud of how we did on the hardest day, so late in the week.
Day 6 – Vail to Beaver Creek: 20.9 miles/4900ft elev. gain. The night before, I sneezed more times than I have in a long time. Was it allergies of some kind? My head and chest felt heavy, though my legs still felt pretty good. By morning, I realized I had a full-blown head cold. Really? A head cold now? I hadn’t had a cold in several years. But I guess that’s what you get when you’re sharing things at camp. It sure doesn’t help when you need every ounce of energy and every breath you can take to run at altitude.
This stage was my least favorite for a number of reasons. It wasn’t fun racing while being sick. Any other day and I would have been in bed! As the trail got steeper and my breath got shorter, I got frustrated and sad. I had to keep stopping and let other racers go by. I knew we were losing ground but there was no way I could keep up. It was a slow march up the hill and the only thing I could think about was not quitting. I’d come this far and had done so well. I also owed it to Gary who was the best race partner I could ever ask for. He often towed me up the hills, dragging me by the hand. Though I knew there were times he could have gone much faster, he was always patient with me.
The ascent went on for about 11 miles and I felt awful the whole way. At that second aid station, the trail turns and goes down a very gnarly singletrack. You could hardly even call it that since it was narrow and cut like a V. It was more like a narrow dry water trough. It took a few hundred yards to get my legs again, but then I was in my zone. I let gravity and momentum pull me down the hill. I passed over a dozen people as I danced and hopped my way down the rocky terrain. Four miles later and I was back in town.
The route winds through the town of Avon in a sneaky and cruel way. Because you’re back in civilization, you feel like you’re almost done. But really, you have 5 more miles and about 1300 more feet to climb. Leaving the last aid station, you climb once again. Up, up, and more up. Every time you think you see the racers in front of you top out, there’s another hill. I had slowed considerably and now my stomach wasn’t feeling so hot. I forced myself to drink but didn’t want to. Gary was patient, sometimes pulling me and sometimes letting me catch my breath. I just had no energy left.
After nearly 4 excruciating miles of climbing, the route finally turned downhill. I tried to run and just shuffled, even though I could hear the finish. Even crossing the final bridge with the finish only a hundred yards away, I was walking. Gary grabbed my hand and pulled me through the line where I just broke down. I cried about how lousy I felt. I cried about the hard work I’d put in all week. I cried that this adventure was over. I cried that I had accomplished something so difficult yet so wonderful. Our racing friends Phil and Barbara were there and gave us big hugs. Our other racing friends Rachel and Helen also gave us hugs. We all hugged celebrating everything we had gone through, everything we had done that week. How can you ever top an epic adventure like that?
We finished 22nd out of 36 in our category. The 120 miles and over 20K feet gain took 33 hours to complete. Lessons learned: 1. If there are aid stations, use them and don’t carry a pack full of stuff. 2. Identify your strengths and weaknesses ahead of time and work on the weaknesses (like uphills). 3. Turn around and look at the view once in a while. Who knows if you’ll ever be back!
I went back and forth with this choice: Stay with the 50K race and know I can finish or attempt the 50 mile race and possibly fail. About a month prior to race day, I took the risk and upgraded to the 50 mile race. After all, I did 43 miles in March and survived. What’s another seven?
I took comfort in the fact that I knew much of the 50 miles of trail having been there last summer. And I felt relatively prepared, but still a bit nervous and unsure. 50 miles is a big deal. Checking in a packet pickup, I felt a little out of my league, guessing all the other runners had so much more experience than I did. Plus, the weather forecast went from saying race day would be 75 degrees (average for this time of year) to now a heat wave of 90+. Somehow I always end up with less than optimal race day weather conditions.
The alarm was supposed to go off at 4am Saturday morning, but I was already awake at 3:45. I laid there wondering how the day would unfold, knowing that the next time I climbed into this bed, I’d have the answer. I hoped the answer would be a good one. Dressed and ready, we headed out to the start. I put on my two-bottle waist pack. One bottle had water and the other had ade.
The horn blew and the runners were off. We chose to take an extra few minutes to visit the porta potty and let the crowd disperse. Soon, we were in the famous “conga line” following the train of runners and walkers up to Marlette Lake. All systems were go and I was feeling great passing several along the way. We quickly flew through the Hobart aid station at mile 5. I topped of the quarter of a bottle that I drank.
Around mile 6, we hit some great vistas of the lake. It really is “other-wordly.” If there is a heaven for runners, this is it. You wished everyone could see and experience what you were seeing. It’s just so beautiful.
Coming in to the Tunnel Creek aid station at about mile 11.5 I still felt awesome. I was happy to be about 15 minutes under my estimated time. I dug out my sun cap, drank an Ensure, and topped off my half-empty water bottle. I hadn’t yet done the upcoming Red House loop but heard it was a doozy. So, I set out ready to conquer the challenge.
As much as I really wanted to charge down the steep grade, I held back trying to save myself for the miles to come. In fact, as I was jogging down the hill in a nice rhythm, the gal behind me paid me the sweetest compliment. “You have the prettiest running gait. It’s so graceful!” Man, these trail runners are the nicest people.
I rounded the loop and made it back to the Tunnel Creek aid station at about mile 17 still feeling good but starting to heat up. The nice volunteers helped me use their icy sponge bath to cool down and put ice in my water bottle. The volunteer, dressed as superwoman, wrapped up ice in my bandana (formerly snot rag) and tied it around my neck. I had to quickly untie it before my head exploded from an ice headache. She meant well.
Off we went the next three miles to the Bull Wheel aid station. We tried to run but kept getting stopped by mountain bikers coming at us. They’re allowed on the trails on even-numbered days, which this was. However, most don’t know that they are supposed to yield to people on foot. Instead, we stepped off the trail nearly every time. Probably two dozen bikers passed us in those three miles.
Despite having a hanky of ice in my hand, I was getting pretty hot. I tried to keep sipping my water and thought I was doing ok, but soon felt an ache in my stomach. I told Gary either I am hungry or I’m getting a stomach ache. I feared the latter. We hit the aid station and they had cantaloupe! I chowed piece after piece and filled my half drank water bottle. I was pretty exhausted and not feeling all that great. I asked to sit on the chair and the kind volunteer suggested I could just walk down the hill and drop out if I wanted. Something NO volunteer should EVER suggest – even if it might be true.
So, I plowed ahead knowing there was only about 5 more miles of trail before we hit the downhill and could get down from nearly 9,000 feet. It was already in the low 90’s and the direct sun was HOT. Those 5 miles took forever. I felt awful and was walking at a snail’s pace, just focused on putting one foot in front of the other. I knew it had to end at some point. I wasn’t moving fast enough to be breathing hard but my stomach was a mess. I couldn’t even begin to think about putting anything in it besides water, which I only had a half bottle left by this point.
Those 5 miles were fairly flat and the next 4 were a downhill drop of about 2200ft, so this section should have been a breeze (relatively speaking). Unfortunately, it was where it all fell apart. I wanted so desperately to sit down, but knew I needed to keep going in order to get down from the altitude. By mile 27 we still hadn’t dropped much and my stomach was really beginning to revolt. We stopped to take a quick break and, as another runner passed by, Gary told him I wasn’t doing well. Maybe it was suggestive because my body chose that moment to purge what very little was in my stomach. My apologies to the runner having to witness that.
Immediately I felt some relief so we moved ahead. We walked in silence mostly. Although I knew it but didn’t want to admit it, I finally said to Gary I wouldn’t be going on at the next aid station. I was done. Gary agreed and said he would drop out too. If I hadn’t been feeling so bad, I would have been more sad. I was just happy to make it to the Diamond Peak aid station at mile 30. It felt so good to sit down and drink. The next two miles would have been too challenging in my condition and on that hot day–1700 foot climb in 2 miles under the ski lift fully exposed to the afternoon sun.
I got in touch with my good friend Holly from Tahoe who was all set to pace me at mile 35 and bring me in. She heard from the aid station that we dropped and headed back home. I was sorry to have let her down. I was even more sorry to let Gary down. He was overly kind to me and ran my race not his own. That night, I had a good cry about all of it. It still hurts even though I know many runners DNF for various reasons all the time.
I was proud to have been hitting my estimated times through mile 20. Proud to get to mile 30. But I was really disappointed in myself for not doing a better job with hydration, especially at altitude and especially on such a hot day. I’m pretty sure that’s what did me in. Huge lesson learned for next time.
“Can I pick up your foot?” “What?” “Can I pick up your foot?” “Why do you want to pick up my foot?” This was the confusing conversation we had as I was waking up after passing out for the first time ever.
My training plan called for a 10 mile run today. And, as usual, I’d much prefer dirt and trails to hard, hot pavement. I also knew it might be a few degrees cooler getting up near the hills rather than to run in town. See, it’s an unusually hot week this week and the daily highs are expected to be near or more than 110 degrees.
I made a plan to run my cross bajada 11 mile route at 6am. There’s over 1000 feet of climbing in the first 5 or so miles, so it’s a steady grind on the way up. Then the trail gets rocky and technical as it rolls across the bajada and turns back to a smooth, wide dirt road all the way back down. Though I had planned to go solo, as I’d done a number times before, my running buddy Gary decided he’d join me.
We met at 5:45am and drove out to the start of the route. “What’s your PR for this route?” he asked. “2:14,” I said. “Are you going to beat that today?” he replied. I told him maybe, not wanting to sound anything more or less than open-minded. You never know which runner you will show up as on any given day. Sometimes you feel unmotivated to run but end up running your best and other times you are psyched and get out there only to find your legs under full protest.
We set out just after 6am running at a pretty good pace. The interspersed walk breaks were short, and about 4-5 minutes apart. For some reason, it always takes me about 2-3 miles to get fully warmed up and able to hold a steady run. This route’s climb and Gary’s pace made that even longer. He quickly pulled away. I briefly caught him just before mile 4 but he pulled away again.
I was working hard and my stomach was not. Hard to say if it was the belly full of oatmeal or the full water bottle I downed before the start, but my stomach was not very happy. I kept sipping my water hoping that would help, but it didn’t.
I always love the technical part of the trail but this time it was difficult. I was breathing hard and my gut was wrenched, like someone punched me. I took way more walk breaks than I would have liked to but kept it up. The smooth downhill was a welcome but brief relief and with about a mile to go, Gary, who had turned up a side road for extra miles, passed me and yelled, “PR baby!” I knew I was making good time and it would be close but I was really beginning to struggle. I just focused on making nearby milestones and soon the car was in sight.
I finished in 2:18. Not a PR but a good time, nonetheless. You’d think that your body would breathe a sigh of relief not to be running anymore, only I now was having a hard time catching my breath. I walked around for about 3-4 minutes and started feeling even worse. I took a sip of my protein drink (always bring those for after long runs) and it didn’t sit well. Then my head started really spinning and I felt nauseous. “I REALLY don’t feel well,” I told Gary. So, I sat down on the ledge of the back seat of the car. My head started tingling. I almost told him I feel like I’m gonna pass out. But, I didn’t want to sound melodramatic and really didn’t believe it would happen.
Next thing I knew, he was asking me if he should pick up my feet. I couldn’t understand why he would ask that since I was sitting in the car. I opened my eyes and found myself sitting on the dirt! “How did I get here?” I asked, confused. “You just slumped down and slid out of the car. Did you hear me ask if you were still with me?” Gary asked. “Um…no?” I replied. I guess he asked me a couple times. It really was a strange feeling–just like I went to sleep for a few minutes and woke up.
I laid down in the backseat and put my feet up on the headrest. Immediately, I felt so much better.
So, was it because I:
ran too hard?
ran too fast?
ran on a full belly?
ran when it was too hot?
I’ll probably never know, but chalk that one up to yet another new experience.
PS. This might explain it. Also read that your blood pressure can drop after intense exercise. The two might be related.
When people are involved in high intensity exercise over at least several minutes, they require a LOT of blood flow to the working muscles. So the blood vessels in our muscles, especially the legs, dilate to accommodate all this increased blood. Now, our body depends on contraction of our leg muscles to push blood from the legs back up to the heart. During intense exercise our ability to maintain adequate blood pressure depends on this pumping of blood back to our heart by our legs. If you suddenly stop running, the blood return from your legs to your heart suddenly drops and so you don’t have enough blood to pump to your brain–plop, down you go.