When I came back to running this year, I decided to run a 50-miler as my goal race as opposed to going for a 100. I was staying in Hilo, HI, with a friend of mine who was signed up for Run Rabbit Run (RRR) 50-miler, and she encouraged me to sign up for it too. I had spent the last couple of years focused more on strength and obstacle course races (OCR), and had attempted to come back to racing a few months prior, but work had taken precedence and I had to bail on my races, including Pigtails 100.
At the end of 2018, my travel schedule was insane, and I found myself in peak training in Alaska in the middle of winter while I was also working long days and going out to business dinners afterward. I would come back to my hotel late in the evening and have to run on a treadmill in the hotel gym, then do it all over the next day. After doing a 20-mile treadmill run in the dead of winter in Anchorage, I decided I wasn’t enjoying it and pulled the plug on my races. It was merely a couple of months later when I found myself in sunny Hawaii saying, “Sure, that sounds fun.” Upon my return to Portland, I registered for RRR.
The new season of training started off strong. I still had solid conditioning from my previous months of training, and I made sure to complete all of my strength work along with the run training. I found myself feeling much stronger on the climbs than before, and I was really enjoying my runs. I was following an epigenetic nutrition plan, which was resulting in a feeling of renewed vitality and energy, while also helping me to drop pounds and build muscle. I signed up for two training races – SOB 50k and Volcanic 50 – to prepare for RRR, and was pleased when I finished each of them feeling quite strong.
As Coach Michele had encouraged me to do, I trained with my nutrition during the long runs and found myself eating on a cadence that worked well for me. I’d take a sip of water and take a bite of a Bobo oats and coconut bar every 10 minutes or so, then down half a Chocolate Coconut Gu Rocktane at the top of every hour. I supplemented my electrolyte intake with a Salt Sticks capsule and plain water every 45 minutes. It had taken me years to dial in my nutrition, and I had finally found the plan that worked for me. Everyone is different, and over the years, I had tried advice from many people, including some of ultrarunning’s best nutritionists and sports physiologists. The culmination of the information I had gathered before and the final suggestions of specific bars and the salt capsules with plain water from Michele had finally coalesced into the perfect combination for my fickle stomach.
Just before RRR, my travel schedule had picked up again, and I spent two weeks climbing and running in the Swiss Alps, then headed to Hawaii for two weeks during my taper, and finally headed home on 9/11 and then to Steamboat Springs the very next day. I knew the frequent travel would have some impact on me, but found that it wasn’t as bad as I had thought it might be. I am a flexible and positive person and I enjoyed the travel, friends, and freedom of being a wanderer in the world. I was excited about everything, and looking forward to the race.
I arrived in Steamboat on September 12, a couple of days before the race, and was a little surprised to find myself slightly winded while going up some stairs at the resort, which was situated at around 6000’ or so. I had spent time climbing at around 10,000’ in Switzerland and around 8000’ on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, and had experienced no real issues with the altitude, so I was a little surprised to be impacted by it now.
Race day came quickly, and my friend Andrea and I found ourselves standing at the early start line of the race at 5 a.m. It was a cold morning, and we were eager to get going. Soon enough the countdown was going, and we were off. We completed the initial 4000’ climb up to the Mt. Werner aid station, and although Andrea had expected to stick with me for the race, she found that she was feeling strong, and opted to go on ahead. Within the first three miles of the climb up to Werner, I felt some knee pain kick in. I had been dealing with chronic patellar pain in the left knee prior to the event, but had stayed positive, gotten lots of treatment – including chiropractic soft-tissue work, massage therapy, hot laser treatment, and Graston – but the problem persisted. The taper had reduced some of the inflammation, but the movement in the leg coupled with the climb had induced the sharp pain once again. I immediately started compensating for the pain by leaning more on my left chain of muscles. I could feel the shift in gait, and knew it might be challenging to complete a 50-mile race in this condition. I told myself I’d just run till the wheels fell off.
As it turns out, the knee issue slowed me down considerably, mainly on the downs. I had also rolled my left ankle during a long training run a few weeks prior, and found myself being tentative in order to protect it so as not to reinjure myself and have to drop from the race. As the course covered varying terrain, some technical, some singletrack, some steep climbs, and even a small bouldery section, I told myself to just be patient, accept the situation, and move forward relentlessly.
As the end of the race neared, I found myself fighting cutoffs, but each time I’d arrive at an aid station, the race volunteers would tell me to continue on. I was elated! In the last 15 miles, I ran much of the event with a guy named Christian who had fallen and injured his knee early on. I hiked more with him than I should have, but I enjoyed his company and was pretty sure we’d be cut from the course anyway. In retrospect, I should have pushed on a bit faster because I could have made the finish cutoff. That said, I did finish the race, and even though my time doesn’t count on UltraSignup, I had a spectacular experience running a tough and beautiful course with stellar volunteers. I kept a positive outlook and felt gratitude for the process the whole way, and I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. I may just get the opportunity since I plan to sign up for the event again in 2020, so I can make the finish official.
Massive gratitude to Michele Yates, who has coached me through many challenges and has stood by me. I’m also repeatedly in awe of her strength and determination in the face of huge physical challenges. She really inspires me to be the best runner I can be. She also fosters a real sense of community in her athletes, and we are all building relationships that will last a long time.
Up next for me? Planning to run a Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (R2R2R) of the Grand Canyon in March, and am reviewing additional plans for a great 2020 to come! In the meantime, I am focusing on PT, strength, and speed as I continue my training through the winter. One thing I’ve found is that in spite of all I know about legs, muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc. physical therapy has been helping immensely. I had thought the knee pain was a result of hyper-pronation in the left foot due to a large bunion, but it turned out it was related to my lower back and some glute recruitment issues. Strength work Michele has given me, along with her video analysis of my gait, show recommendations, and phone convos have really helped me to understand my issues and make things better. Here’s to another season of refining my knowledge and awareness, and enjoying some more solid training! Cheers!