In my post-New Year’s optimism, I signed up for two summer races. One was the Bryce race, and most recently, the Tushars race. I had been drawn to the Tushars race since seeing the beautiful alpine pictures of the area. Fir and pine give way to treeless meadows of blue lupines and yellow sunflowers. Billowy white clouds dot beautiful clear blue skies. It’s a touch of heaven on earth.
While I didn’t expect to be impacted by any heat, there was the fact that the race climbed up over 12,000 feet. Fortunately, I generally have no trouble with altitude. The race offers a half marathon, a full marathon, and a 100K, all on trails in the Tushars range, just outside of Beaver, Utah. Given my continuing health struggles, I chose the half marathon. I was glad I did.
The trail goes steeply up
It was a fairly cool morning. I wore long pants but short sleeves. I had both a water bottle and hydration pack, with snacks stuffed in the pockets. The race started at the Eagle Point ski resort, heading steeply downhill. I was surprised at my immediate high heart rate, climbing over 170 beats per minute in the first few minutes – going downhill!
Just third of a mile later, it turned uphill, climbing steadily for nearly two miles, topping out over 10,000 feet. Right away, I was not only at the back, I was last. But, I was ok with that. I fumbled around and got my music going and then started power hiking. I quickly caught up with another woman about my age and we agreed to stick together. Her name was Kim and we chatted away for the next 3 miles to the first aid station.
Our new pack heading up Mt Delano
By that time, I was feeling much better and able to go faster, but Kim and I had an agreement and I wanted to honor that. We lost a bit of time at the aid station while she used the restroom, and when we headed out, she started not feeling well. Turns out she has pretty bad asthma that is aggravated by exercise. She was only doing the race to be with her husband, but when he saw she had a friend in me, he raced his own race and left us in his dust.
About mile 5, the trail turns up Mt. Delano for the big climb. We caught up with three guys from California. They were quite nice and cheerful and one of them was struggling too. I would go about 20 steps then wait for Kim. The guys were doing the same. About a quarter mile from the top, Kim was ready to call it quits, but I encouraged her to take 10 steps at a time then rest. We finally made it to the top and the views were incredible! Sadly, we just missed the mountain goats that had been there earlier.
Kim and I at the summit
While Kim caught her breath, I asked if she’d mind if I went on back without her. I knew she’d be fine and she told me to go on. As much as I would have loved to bound off the mountain, the path was treacherous, steep with loose rocks. I carefully made my way down, putting on the breaks constantly, which made my legs pretty sore afterwards. Back at the same aid station, I took a small sip of coke and had a few jelly beans then took off again.
I was feeling good, but the trail had some pretty good ups and downs those last three miles back to the finish. I was running some of the downhills where the trail was clear enough, but the uphills were slow. I was constantly resting to catch my breath. However, I was lucky to have a large male deer run across the trial just five feet in front of me! At about 2 miles to go, the trail comes down steeply again. I happily passed a few people there and, instead of finishing last, I was only 8th from last, haha.
The best part of the day, aside from the views, was that it was the first race in a very long time that I did not throw up. I actually felt pretty good at the end, though tired. I was able to have some of the recovery food they offered, sitting around a roaring fire while I waited for Kim to finish. When she did, I gave her a big hug and thanked her for her company. I think she was happy just to be done.
Feeling good at the race has given me new hope. I do believe things are getting better, but I still need to figure out why my heart escalates to quickly. The journey continues.
The change to the new year always brings a fresh, optimistic perspective on things. I fell for it, hook, line, and sinker. Feeling like I am certainly on the road to recovery and maybe even normalcy, I signed up for two summertime races – the Bryce 50k and Tushars Half Marathon. The Bryce race runs just outside the park but lets you experience the crazy hoo doos of the area up close. Tushars is a mountain climb to over 12k feet and back and the previous pics are gorgeous. I hesitate calling them races as they are more like hiking experiences for me with some running thrown in.
It seemed all spring I was feeling better and better. Back to sleeping just 8 hrs instead of 10-12 and waking up feeling like I was actually awake. I’d been walking and running some, trying to be as regular as I could around my other activities, especially putting on the Mesquite Senior Games which takes quite a bit of time and effort every spring. Maybe my actual lack of regular running was helping?
Anyway, it’s so easy to be inspired from the armchair. Reading trail running magazines, watching videos, and just seeing other people enjoy the mountain trails makes me think there’s no reason I couldn’t be doing that too. They make it look so easy, like even I could do it. And, the pictures are SO beautiful that I want to be there too. The dopamine that makes brings on addictive tendencies is surely present.
The hard part is that after my work with Mesquite Senior Games wraps up, our weather immediately turns hot. That makes training extremely difficult. Local trail runs can be dangerously hot during the day so I tend to run roads at night, with an occasional nighttime trail run up on our mesa. There is not a whole lot of elevation gain and certainly no real altitude to train by, but you do what you can.
Gathering for the race start
Given my lack of training, a month prior I smartly downgraded to the Bryce Half which is only 13 miles instead of 31. Race day came and the weather was gorgeous. However, it had been and would be a good 10-15 degrees hotter than normal. Right away, the race took off up the mountain. It was a hiking congo line which was great for me. Allowed me to get warmed up before being peer-pressured to run.
The hoo doos were awesome. Getting to hike/run right beside them was something else. Did I mention we went uphill? Up and up and up. Until mile 4 when it went back down to the road. That was a sweet stretch and I ran the whole way. From the aid station there, we hiked and ran another mile back towards the hoo doos through a sparse forest. It was getting HOT. I was doing well hydrating, but the sun was intense at 9000 ft.
After leaving the forest, the trail began a serious climb! Switchbacks that had you resting every time you got to the corner. Lots of people sitting along the side. It was exposed and hot. Once at what we thought was the top, I started not to feel well. I was still drinking but my stomach felt nauseated and my body was overheating. I was passing people sitting but also being passed as I was going pretty slow.
By mile 11, I threw up on the side of the trail. Immediately felt a bit better and was able to run the slight downhills before the next uphills. I passed someone laying down with friends helping her. Soon, I was nauseated again. At mile 13, I was sitting on a rock when another racer insisted he helped me find shade. I really didn’t want to move and felt horrible, but also felt obligated to let him help me. I walked about 10 feet and laid down on the dirt. He went on and I began dry-heaving. That’s the worst. Someone offered to find me help.
Before I lost my stomach
I really didn’t need help. I just needed to keep going and get out of there. At mile 14, I made it to the dirt road leading down to the finish line. Fortunately, I could slowly run and 6.5 hours later, I finished a half marathon. It’s crazy. Others weren’t so lucky. Lots of trail carnage. Rumor has it there were 15 IV bags hung on trees for various downed runners. So glad I didn’t do the 50K!
While the race was beautiful and it was great to get out and be a part of it, it probably taxed my resources. Still working on eating whole foods, nothing processed, drinking lots of water, and sleeping—lots. Hoping I will have built up some new resources to tackle the Tushars race! Stay tuned.
January 1, 2017. After a very tough 2016, full of a variety of mysterious health issues that turned out to be related to Hashimoto’s autoimmune thyroid disease, I resolved to get back on the running track again. I wanted to be driven to a goal, so with lofty exuberance, I signed up for the Bryce 50K in June and the Tushars Half in July. I dusted off an old training plan and, with new hope, I starting running again. Then I got my tests back.
Getting the thyroid balance right is not easy. Doctors raise your levels very slowly so as not to overdose you. Apparently, too much thyroid hormone can cause heart issues or even strokes. So you spend way too long being under-dosed. For most of 2016, I was tired, cold, foggy, and fat (10lbs up). It sucked but I was willing to be optimistic that I was on the path to getting better. Other people with Hashimoto’s seemed to be able to live active, normal lives so there was no reason I couldn’t.
In the fall of 2016, I was definitely better than I had been, but still not great. My running had slowed to just a couple days a week at a frustratingly slow pace. But, my thyroid results showed everything was fine! I will never forget my endocrinologist looking directly at me and saying, “I really don’t know what else I can do for you!” I was devastated. Was this my new life? Will I be low-energy and achy forever? This must be what it’s like when you get old. I should just accept it. But I can’t and didn’t.
Fortunately, I was listening to a podcast one day about functional medicine. It had always been in the back of my mind, but it isn’t covered by my insurance and I wasn’t yet fully convinced that Western medicine couldn’t fix me. Well, I was all over it now. I listened to the same podcast twice. Then I made the decision to give it a try. I pulled $2000 out of my savings and decided I would commit to at least 6 months to see how it goes. I made an appointment that same day.
Our first meeting was all about history. There was a lot I could say no to. But in a way, that made it harder. If there was something obvious in my past, the treatment path would be more clear. So, we started with two tests to see where I was at. The first is called a GI Map. It’s a test for virus, bacteria, and parasites in your intestines. They check for things like candida, norovirus, h. pylori, c.diff, e.coli, etc. The second test was a hormone test called the DUTCH test. It looks at your various hormone levels 4 times over the course of 24 hours.
The GI Map tests your poop. Collecting and prepping the sample is kinda gross. The DUTCH test looks at hormones in your pee. You pee on the paper and let it dry to send off. Then I waited and waited. It took over three weeks to get the results. And, the results were quite interesting! I don’t know why Western medicine does not run these as a matter of course. It turns out I tested positive for salmonella, staph, and giardia. What? I never drink unfiltered stream water. Oh, but my dog does… and he likes to lick faces. Crap. (no pun intended)
The hormone test was a bit more complicated. It showed overly high free cortisol on waking that then plummets all day. Additionally, my other hormones (estrogen, testosterone, progesterone) were all under range too. Turns out to be a sign of adrenal fatigue. Sounds easy – just let it rest. Unfortunately, it needs to rest a long time. Average recovery is 9 months. I also tested high for gluten antibodies and low for gut health. This means my intestines are as porous as can be, letting in all the bad stuff. Plus, now I have to be serious about no gluten. That really sucks.
All of this news really took the wind out of my sails. A few weeks after the results, I jogged about 7 miles on Saturday and hiked 8 miles on Sunday. Nothing hard and nothing at all compared to what I used to do. But, I paid for it for three days after. I had what is called “wired and tired” where I was anxious but couldn’t sleep, as if I had too much caffeine too late at night. Apparently, your body just does not have any reserves at all.
I am on a large handful of supplements three times a day, in addition to the normal vitamins and supplements. I have sworn off gluten, as hard as that may be. I am eating and sleeping well. I even started yoga. The supplements will treat safely and slowly versus the quick and dangerous of pharma drugs, especially the anti-parasite drugs. I’ve since gone way over my $2000 budget, but after being on these meds for nearly two months now, my need for thyroid meds has been cut in half and the nodules I have, that so many experience, have shrunk 25%!
From the first pictures I saw of the Hardrock 100 race, I knew I had to find a way to get to those mountains. The pictures are stunning. High altitude peaks rising far above the treeline, streaked with ribbons of orange and gold that stream down to lush green meadows. So, when I found the Silverton Marathon/50K race, I knew I wanted to sign up. It was the perfect way to get introduced to these beautiful San Juan mountains.
Silverton is the home of the Hardrock 100. The Silverton Marathon/50K race starts and finishes there, just as the Hardrock 100 does. The course follows some of the same Hardrock trail, starting at 9300 feet and topping out just under 13,000 feet. I couldn’t wait to experience it.
From the minute the race started, I was back of the pack. It’s a familiar place for me. But, I’m checking my watch, and as the slowest person, I am doing 12-minute miles. The rest of the pack is just gone! The first six miles are fairly level. I was able to do a run/walk combo but catching my breath was not easy.
As the route turned into a climb, I power-walked as fast as I could. I was able to stay ahead of about 4 others, so at least I wasn’t last. But, after stopping at the 12 mile aid station, I was nearly last. Although the road led up a nice valley, it was at about 12,000 feet and my lungs weren’t feeling it. I was plodding along when I got passed by the remaining runners, except one—an older man who was walking the whole thing.
It was then that it really thought about why I was there. I had no illusions of winning or even placing in the race. I had no thoughts of even getting a PR (personal record). I was there to experience the beauty of the mountains. I smiled and kept on.
Some friendly ATVers took my picture as I headed up the bowl. Although you could see people up on the ridge, it was a long steep mile to reach them. This is where the course topped out at just under 13K feet. Sleet was hitting my face sideways and my mouth was so frozen I could barely talk. A nice man offered to take my picture, so we found a suitable backdrop and I smiled for the camera. Now I was dead last.
Over the first pass
The course took a small dip before the next pass. That’s where I came across a couple in a Jeep that were lost. I stopped to help them figure out where they were and how to get where they wanted to go. After spending about 5 minutes with them, I carried on again.
Nice smooth downhill trail
As I reached the second pass, I started wondering if I would truly be the last one in. Although I was ok in placing last, I didn’t want people to have to wait for me. So, I was determined to do a run/walk combo the final 10 miles. After a stop at the last aid station, where I chatted briefly with the volunteers, I worked my way to the finish. The views continued to be everything I hoped for and I had enough energy to run across the finish line. 15 minutes later, the older man walked across the finish line.
In this race, it really was about the journey and not the destination. I look forward to using another race as an excuse to have a new and awesome experience. And, if I come in last, so what.
Three nights before my second 50K, I sat down with the course map and elevation profile and plotted my estimated time. Funny, my estimate of 7 hours 45 minutes was within just a couple minutes of my first 50K finishing time. But I wanted better. I recomputed what it would take to get a finish under 7 hours. I was ready. Bring it on!
Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ
I chose the Antelope Canyon 50K because I wanted something new that was still relatively close to home. The course offered some amazing views which I thought would make it that much sweeter. And, lately the weather had been unseasonably warm. Little did I know, my visions for the day were going to be radically changed.
It may have started when I got a cold four days out. Or maybe when the weather forecast was changed from 40/70 to 22/45. Or maybe when the race started before my GPS was aligned or when the snow started falling in the first five minutes. Whatever it was, it was a sign that things weren’t quite right.
My GPS aligned about 3 minutes into the race, then off I went into the darkness. I would have been last except my running partner Gary was still in the porta-potty. I passed a few people quickly and headed down the hill toward the mob of runners–only now, they were coming back up the hill at me! Every single person had missed the turn onto the trail. The extra mile I ran blew the first part of my plan right out of the water. It’s like getting a triple bogey on the first hole. You immediately want a do over.
Snow fell on the Page rim trail for about 2 hours.
The trail ran level along a rim around the northwest side of Page (AZ) and along the Colorado River canyon. The sky got brighter but the snow fell harder. It snowed for two hours, but it was amazingly pleasant–the views were great and I wasn’t cold at all. Thankfully, there were volunteers guiding us to the first aid station. Goal time was :58 and I was in at 1:06. Not super bad and maybe I could make that up?
Really nice couple took my picture…more on that later.
We finished the rim trail with a super fun, super sandy downhill. At the top of the hill, I met a nice couple taking pics and I asked if they would send me some later since I chose not to carry a camera. They agreed and said, “Smile!” I turned around in time to get my picture taken before bounding down the hill.
Slogging through miles of sand.
Well, the sand didn’t stop there. The next several miles across the desert were sandy with places ankle and shin deep. It was not run-able for me at all. So I walked as fast as I could, knowing my goal time was slipping away. I refilled my water bottle and left the next aid station running across a bit of sandstone but that quickly gave way to more sand and more walking.
Following the fence line to Horseshoe Bend
I reached the 14 mile aid station at about 16 miles. I grabbed a few items and quickly left, ducking under the barbed wire fence and toward Horseshoe Bend. Runners were starting to thin out at this point but I was able to keep someone in sight for a while.
Literally running on the edge
Going along Horseshoe Bend was pretty cool. Slick rock scrambling and hopping right along the edge. The view was spectacular but there was to be little to no running. Too many ups and downs along the slick rock. But, it was fine with me, I love that kind of scrambling. At least, unlike the sand, I had footing on this stuff.
Eery feeling to be all alone in the desert
About two miles towards Horseshoe Bend, I now only saw runners in the far distance. I started noticing how hard it was to find the next flag. I’d walk or run to a flag, then stand there scouting the horizon for the next one. At first, I could find another. Then I couldn’t. Pretty soon, I was all alone in the desert. No people, no flags, nothing moving, just a whisper of a wind. I felt like I was in some bad western movie.
I kept moving, getting more and more frustrated. I probably went for about 30 minutes, climbing every high point I could find. No flags and no runners. I kept moving in the direction I thought was the route when Marie, a 50-miler, caught up to me. She was young and cheerful but had no idea which way to go. Together, we kept going and continued to scout for flags. We saw none.
Just kept moving forward
I pointed in the direction of the highway and told Marie that was where I was going to head. My fear about following the canyon too closely was coming to a dead end with either a chasm to cross or wall to scale. So we stayed “inland” and made our way towards the highway. Marie was much younger and faster than me, and she was on a tighter timeline. So, she politely excused herself and headed off.
I gave up trying to find any more flags and made a beeline for the highway. As I got closer, I could see some cars and what looked like an aid station. I grumbled and huffed as I made my way there. But, to my dismay, it was just a house. Now I was at the highway, behind a barbed wire fence, not knowing if the aid station was to my left or to my right.
Marie had called her husband to help her find her way. Fortunately, he saw me, stopped, and told me it was two miles to the aid station–just follow the fence to the south and there will be an opening. I got more and more angry about the whole situation. I trained hard for this. I followed a plan consistently. I wanted to run a great 50K and here I was 23 miles in with two more miles to get to the 21 mile aid station. The sand had taken a toll on my lower back and it was all I could do to get myself to that fence opening.
I couldn’t imagine another 10 miles in deep sand with no course flagging. IF I made it, it would certainly be night by then. I told myself I didn’t care about finishing anymore. I didn’t need a stupid finisher necklace anyway. So, when I popped out under the fence and the aid station volunteer, my friend George, asked what he could get me, I said, “A lift!” I told him that this was ridiculous and I am done. He sat me in a chair and gave me his down jacket and a blanket. I stewed about the incompetence. I felt awful I’d talked my friend Gary into coming. He’ll never listen to my suggestions again. I was mad and sad.
I would not have finished without Omar and Lynne!
I always marvel how quickly things can change in these long distance races. You go from happily running along to stomach or body issues that you think will take you down to happily running again. Well, this race was no exception, only it didn’t happen quite like that. After about 15 minutes of sitting and sulking, my photo friends showed up and chided me to join them.
“Come on! You got this!” he said. “You can finish with us, we’re mostly walking.” she said. After a few more grumbles and groans from me and a few more words of encouragement from them. I put my pack back on and we all headed out.
Four of us going through Waterhole Slot Canyon
This next section started off with crawling backwards and downhill under a very large rock that might make some feel claustrophobic. Then a slide and jump down the slick rock into a slot canyon. And, to my surprise, Gary shows up! He came back to find me saying that after climbing the first ladder, he worried I might be alone and not able to manage it solo. He would have been right. There would have been no way I could have maneuvered the ladders alone.
One of many scary ladders up the canyon
The four of us, Lynne, Omar, Gary, and I, worked our way up the slot canyon. At times it was so narrow you had to contort your body to fit through. Other times, we climbed ladders not quite long enough to reach the top. Some ladders were precariously placed on piles of rocks. It would have made for an awesome hike, but was harder to appreciate when you were in the middle of a race and hoped to make it back in daylight.
Omar running in socks
Once out, the four of us motored down the packed sand road, following the power lines to the next aid station where our drop bags were. Omar had shoe issues and could barely walk. Lynne suggested taking his shoes off, putting his insoles inside his socks and going sock footed. Perfect solution! Note to self.
We got ourselves in and out of the next aid station with just 5 miles to go–still hoping to finish before nightfall. The course doubled back on itself but I thought I remembered it splitting off at some point. As we approached a major intersection, we saw lots of footprints, in the deep sand again, heading downhill. We double checked the sign but couldn’t tell if we should go that way or not. Lynne and Omar were already at the bottom, so we said screw it, let’s go.
Handmade finisher necklace
We knew we had lost the course at that point, but just made our way across the desert, back towards the town of Page. We chatted, laughed, and bitched about the race and other stuff. We also made plans to share dinner together. Finally, after 10 hours and 20 minutes, we hit the finish. Unceremoniously, we walked into the building, told the race director we were here, and he gave us a time. He also gave us our finisher’s necklaces even though were technically past the cutoff time. We ended up doing somewhere around 34-35 miles.
Afterwards, we ran into our friend Justin who is an awesome runner. He was leading the pack through about mile 20 when he came across the race director still laying flags! The race director said there was no way he could keep up with Justin, gave him a handful of flags, and told him to continue marking as he went. When Justin replied that he didn’t know where to put them, he was told to just follow the canyon. Unfortunately, Justin quickly ran out of flags leaving much of that section unmarked.
Terri, Gary, Lynne, Omar, Nick
Though the race didn’t even come close to playing out like I planned, it gave me a chance to meet some really cool people. Lynne and Omar were so much fun. I’m sure we’ll stay in touch. We also invited Nick, a 50-miler who finished at the same time, to join us for dinner. Lynne and Nick are both Aussies and chatted about that. We all had a wonderful evening getting to know each other and talking about what we love doing.
*With special thanks to Omar, Lynne, and Cory Reese for the photos.
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.