Friday, September 26, 2014

IMTUF 100


My original title for this post was going to be "Mistakes Were Made." It's true. Mistakes were made, but after some processing, I think I did the best I could with what I was given. Truthfully, this was not my best race, but it is such a good race overall. It's gorgeous, well-organized and surrounded by a team of people with gigantic hearts who made me want to keep on in spite of everything.

IMTUF is in Idaho, just outside of McCall. Their acronym is not lost on them as it's typically pronounced "I Am Tough." They change the direction of the race every year and this year would go clockwise. With over 100 miles of trails and somewhere between 20,000 and 23,000 feet of climbing, it definitely tests out that tough part.
When I got to my pacer, Kelly Bolinger’s house the Wednesday night before the race, it turned out Kelly was fighting a cold. The hope was that it was just allergies, but it was worrisome. Our travel day the next day was pretty smooth and our flight was a little over an hour. We flew into Boise and went to REI first for a couple of supplies and then we hit Whole Foods for groceries. I’d rented us a room with a kitchenette so we wouldn’t have to scour this tiny Idaho town called McCall for Linda-friendly food before the race. It turned out the room was under renovation, so we ended up with a regular room without a stove top. I flew home with a box of gluten free pasta and a jar of pasta sauce. Oh well. We managed to find cute café that had all kinds of GF and vegan options and we were both very satisfied.

Total Organization
Josie and the Rhino Drop Bags
Friday we drove out to the IMTUF 100 briefing/race start area. It ended up being only 45 minutes away, not 1:15 like the maps said. Very nice. We checked out one of the cabins there at Burgdorf Hot Springs to make sure we were happy with our decision to not camp there and pay more money for a hotel. The cabin was cute, but without heat, electricity or plumbing and you needed to bring your own bedding. When we found out it had gotten to -3C that night, we were pretty proud of ourselves.
Jeremy and Brandi Humphrey are the race directors. They are young, good looking, healthy, clean cut Americans who love to run, love the mountains and love beer. I loved them. Kelly later stated she felt like Jeremy and Brandi were people Gary and I should be hanging out with. Jeremy won Bear last year and CCC the year before. He’s very tan. They began the briefing by getting a little emotional. You could tell they’d been working hard and nonstop and were exhausted and proud to see this thing come to life. It’s the 3rd year for IMTUF and this is the first year they’ve had more than about 30 people sign up. Being a Hardrock qualifier has certainly helped that.
Most of the briefing seemed typical. Everything would be marked; it would be hard; don’t worry about the sheep, but their sheep dogs might be a problem, so don’t make wolf noises at them; we might see elk or wolves; you’re not allowed to ride the goats who packed stuff into one of the aid stations; don’t worry about the hunters Lee and Larry because they’re nice and they might offer you beer. That kind of stuff. The one thing that I should have really, really listened to was it was important to keep our feet dry and that the moon dust would get into our shoes and cling to the wet and be like diamond shards. And then Jeremy told us that they'd worked so hard on this race and all he wanted was for us to work hard in return. He wanted to celebrate our finishes with us, to high five us and share beers with us. That hit me in the chest. Knowing what kind of work these races are, and watching the joy and satisfaction Gary gets at the finish lines of his races when he hugs every single runner, I felt Jeremy was a kindred spirit and he deserved that same feeling.
Kelly and I enjoyed a decent night of sleep in our warm hotel room. We drove out to the start where it was still below freezing. I quickly put on the arm sleeves they’d given us the day before along with gloves and a jacket. We huddled into the tiny lodge and waited for a bit before walking out with the crowd to the start. Then we were off.
Me, Kelly, Mike and BJ pre-race
Photo by Erica Deese
I ran the first few miles with BJ and Joel. I met BJ in April in Kauai at a mutual friend's wedding. He’s San Diego based and a big guy with a big heart and lots of great personality. He eventually pulled ahead. Joel, who I've known from Seattle for years, stuck with me. 
The run itself was pretty uneventful for the first parts and awfully dang pretty. It's probably the prettiest race I've ever done. I said that about Bear last year, but this edged that out. The area suffered a forest fire 10 years ago. You could see dead trees and fully charred logs that were oddly shiny and striking. Intermixed with all of this was new, green growth and old trees that had survived and fall colors everywhere. I much later (around mile 95) said, "It's an amazing mix of death and life, decay and growth." Apparently fatigue brings out poetry. 
Such a pretty course!
Photo by Joel Ballezza
Joel and I chatted lightly and we'd occasionally run with a third party and trade stories around. I was having a really good run. After a big climb to mile 26 or so, the trail became a gradual decline and was fairly rocky. This is my kind of terrain and I easily picked my way down to a water drop. As I was filling my pack, Joel caught up to me and mentioned I was moving well on the descent. We took off together again, but I couldn't go any slower without running an unnatural gait and I soon found myself alone. I made it into mile 33 alone and it wasn't until I was leaving that Joel cruised in. I thought he'd catch up again, but he never did. 
At this time, I was with BJ again. This section was fairly flat and a bit rolly and it was easy to chip away at it. Eventually, I pulled ahead and cruised my way to mile 43's aid station. Jeremy, the RD was here and I told him how much I was loving this gorgeous course. He leaned into me, "Are you a Robbins?" Yes, yes I am. "Is Gary around at all?" He looked around him as though Gary would suddenly appear. No, he's directing his own event this weekend. "Ah, man, I wanted to meet him. I follow his funny blog and his Canadian exploding feet!" Of course, I laughed. Jeremy is obviously a fan of our sport and knowing he's a stout runner, I felt confident in offering Brandi and him entries to Squamish 50 (although I said I might get in trouble, it seems I've been given the thumbs up). I took off up the service road climb.
Minor climb
Photo by Joel Ballezza
I knew at the end of this long road, I'd see Kelly for the first time. I was definitely looking forward to it. I felt great and kept trying to slow myself down. I walked the downhill here to save some energy for the burly second half. I caught up to another runner named Ryan who was contemplating dropping. After a very successful Western States, he just didn't have it in him any more. He bragged about his wife, who although she is a back of the packer, has a huge heart and pulled off 70 miles at a 48 hour run. He looked about to burst with pride. 
Finally, I came into the aid station and saw Kelly. We moved me in and out fairly rapidly. The one thing I made sure Kelly understood was that I'd need to change my socks when I saw her next (I had socks in that Josie and the Rhino Drop Bag). The dozen or so stream crossings had left my feet wet and that moon dust Jeremy warned us about was definitely aggravating my feet and toes. The first stream I encountered, I tried to cross without getting wet, but I hit a rock that moved and in I went. After that, I stomped through a couple on purpose because in my experience, I can usually do that and not feel any effects. I hardly ever blister. Since I've switched to DryMax socks, I average one blister per 100 miler. I didn't have a single one at Miwok 100k or at Squamish50m/50k. But this terrible, terrible dust was killing me and no sock could stop it. I would have needed full shoe gaiter coverage to prevent it from doing the damage it did. I did attempt to avoid getting wet after those first few streams, but either my legs were too short to leap or the rock I chose would shift and I just wasn't having much luck. When I left, there was a big creek crossing and Jeremy yelled to me to keep my feet dry. Like an idiot, I responded, "I think I want to try rinsing them off." He shrugged and I knew he knew better. I tried again to stay dry, but sure enough, I hit a rolling rock and went in. Fuuuuu....
The climb out of here was substantial. I tried not to push it too hard and would slow when I felt my heart pound and even stopped a few times to catch my breath. I could hear all kinds of people close by just chatting away like they were on a stroll. I wondered what that would be like. The trail briefly leveled out to reveal this lake surrounded by colorful trees and alpine rock. Seriously? I wondered, how is this even real? So pretty. I mistakenly and thankfully only momentarily thought this was the top, but then I saw two figures way up and ahead, so I knew I had more climbing to go. And so I went up. Two guys behind me were catching me and just in time for me to get confused about the primitive trail. They got me back on the course I'd missed by like 3 feet and I let them pass. I heard one say he was from the Seattle area and the other was from Wyoming. I made a mental note to chat with them once I could speak again--which came right when we crested the top and started back down.
Turns out the Seattle guy, Eric (actually from a town called Arlington) started ultra running because he heard of Cascade Crest and emailed now race director, then volunteer coordinator and one of my besties, Rich White to see if he could come spectate. Rich put him to work instead. Two days of volunteering and Eric told Rich he wouldn't be back to volunteer. He'd be back to run it. Two years later and 70 lbs lighter, he finished. It also turned out he volunteered there this year and loved seeing Gary come flying through. Eric had said casually, "I heard Gary Robbins's wife is running this" to which I responded, "That'd be me." 
The Wyoming guy, James was moving really well but complaining of a knee issue and saying he wanted to drop. By the time we got to the next aid, he was feeling well enough to continue. We separated for a little while right when it got dark and creepy. I was grateful to hit mile 60 to pick up Kelly and company.
There's always that tiny moment when fatigue tells you not to bother doing something you know you need to do to take care of yourself. I had a momentary argument about changing my socks, but I won out. We pulled them off and they did not look good. Trench foot had already settled in and all the toes on my right foot and a couple on my left were completely raw. Mother effer. This place was super helpful and I had Brandi and Jim Skaggs of Utah (another RD) and I think a guy named Cody and Joel (dropped because of similar foot issues and gotten a ride to this aid station) and Kelly all bringing me whatever I needed. Cody fixed up my feet after we cleaned them by putting moleskin on the toes and Brandi helped me slather cream between the toes. I knew it would be a temporary fix, but what else could I do?
Kelly and I finally left and we caught right up to Eric and James and instantly Kelly began entertaining the fellas. They fell in love with her and laughed at everything she said. She had aid station workers ask her to stay with them because she was so much fun. She's beyond the best. 
In my pack was the avocado mashed with salt in a ziploc Kelly'd made up for me. I took it out and took one slurp and it was like heaven! Kelly had accidentally gotten pickle juice into the bag and the mixture was one of the best things I've ever consumed. I have no idea if I would like this in real life, but apparently it's gourmet after 60 miles.
This 6 mile stretch to mile 66 took over 3 hours and zapped my energy and began killing my mood. Once we got there, we were told it would be 8 miles to light aid and then another 3 miles to better aid. I patted my pockets and became concerned I wouldn't have enough to eat. Someone gave me a honey gel and Kelly wrangled up a granola bar. 
I ended up being fine, but the next 8 miles were long, very long and then it wasn't clear if it was actually 8 miles. Had it been so, the aid station would've been at mile 74, but their sign said 71. And to make matters worse, it wasn't 3 miles to the next aid, but 6. Sheezus, what?! This crushed me. I was so tired and my feet hurt so badly, that I'd lost all capability to hold it together. I cried and got snappy. Thankfully, Kelly stopped me and I turned to leave the aid station so I could be grumpy by myself. I felt badly that I'd been snippy to the nice aid station people. I tried to say thank you to one, but she was so busy, I don't know if she noticed. This group in particular were so sweet and trying so hard. They'd packed all the supplies in on the backs of goats. My biggest regret is that I didn't take the time to meet the goats. I can almost guarantee that would've made me happier. I love goats.
BJ and his goat. No goats were harmed or made out with.
Photo provided by BJ Haeck
We forged on and climbed some more. Poor Kelly was suffering as her cold was developing in her chest and was burning. The amount of dust in the air did not help. It was like running through fog, it was so thick. I dimmed my headlamp because it helped having less light on all the particles, but it was still hard to see and frustrating. I stopped once or twice to shake stuff out of my shoes and do a cursory wipe of my feet. Every now and then I'd kick the ground and a tiny tsunami of dust would cascade onto the back of my leg and into my shoe. So terrible and Kelly was just hacking away. We decided she'd get me through the night and then I'd figure out how to finish on my own. I told her I would make her proud.
The sun came up and I found a bit of energy. A bit. I had another sock change at what was supposed to be mile 76, but they said it was actually mile 80. That would seem nice if I knew I'd only have 20 miles left, but Kelly read somewhere it was 103 miles. This was messing with my head way too much. It was a rotten seed that festered for the rest of the race in my brain. I took the time to really clean my feet and even wet wiped the inside of my shoes to hopefully clean them out. This aid station was delightful, their dog Dylan was awesome and billows of dust puffed out of his fur every time I patted him. We ended up with BJ again for a little while. We were told not to run the downhill because it had too many rocks, but I needed to kill some time and we managed to trot a fair amount of it. In a moment of a better mood, I told Kelly I really hoped Brandi and Jeremy would come run Squamish 50 because I wanted it to destroy them (not really, they're lovely people). 
Then we hit a flat, un-runnable section known as "Terrible Terrance." Story goes it's named after an uncle Jeremy doesn't like. I don't like him either.
A service road brought us into mile 84. Or was it 88? Who knows?! I was a mess. Tired, cranky, needing something to bring up my spirits but unsure what that could be. Turns out it's rehydrated potato flakes. Mmmm, mashed potatoes. I ate a plate of them, saving them from the adorable dogs whose eyes told me they'd finish whatever I couldn't. (This race had race dogs at more stations than not. I pet and kissed every single one of them. It made me miss Roxy so much.) Veggie bullion cubes were brought out just for me and Jim Skaggs was there again to give me lots of encouragement. Wyoming James was here and had finally decided to follow through on that drop he wanted. I was bummed for him, but it seemed Eric was still out there and having a good day. 
It was decided BJ would "run" the last stretch with me. He wasn't keeping food down and it seemed silly that either one of us would pull ahead when we kept catching up to each other again. His wife, Erica was a dream and took such good care of him. He loves her so much and it's obvious why. 
BJ and I left yelling encouragements at each other and making ourselves laugh. He was convinced we only had 12 or 13 miles. I no longer believed anything. We had a good flat section and then a bitch of a climb to get to the final aid station. There was a lot of stopping and breathing. BJ kept saying, "1 mile and then Cloochman."
"Get Clooched!" read the sign as we got close to the aid station. Someone ran down towards us and as we got closer they asked who needed a hug. I burst into some serious ugly crying and said, "I do!" Mariah wrapped her arm around me and I sobbed into her neck. God, I loved her. I asked how much further and said to please not be double digits. She said 10 miles which started the hiccup part of my crying. "They...keep...making...it...longer!" She told me she was telling me the truth and that she knew I could do it. They sat me down and rubbed ice all over me. Ryan, who I walked with earlier was there, having happily dropped. He gave me a neck massage and I jokingly asked if he wanted to come with me and keep doing that. He tried to say yes, but his wife wisely stepped in. But another young guy drinking a Stella said, "I'll go." Are you sure? I'm so slow? "No, I'll go." He was very eager. He'd been there to pace Ryan, but since that didn't work out, he was just willing to go with anyone. BJ and I got up and started moving up our 2 more miles of climbing while this guy put on socks and shoes and then caught up to us.
Brady stayed with us until the finish. It felt never-ending and my feet felt like they were exploding with every step. And then one did. Jeremy should be following my pseudo-Canadian exploding feet. A blister blew when I hit a rock and it took everything I had not to crumble to the ground. BJ soon started distracting me by asking me about my pets. Why I don't just talk about Roxy and Shazzar for 100 miles, I don't know. They are pretty much the only topic that puts me and keeps me in a good mood. 
I wanted to run in with BJ, but he requested that I pull ahead so he could have some time to reflect. Brady and I shuffled off together talking about pets and giant tents and finally, finally I finished. 34:18 of dust and beauty and pain and fatigue. Kelly hugged me and it seemed like forever before I got to sit. I'd threatened to curl up and cry in a corner, but I think I was so happy to be finished that I couldn't stop smiling. I caught up with a few friends, high-fived Eric who finished about 40 minutes ahead of me. Hugged BJ who finished 30 seconds behind me. Chatted with a guy named Walter and his crew Jill. Our friend Mike had come in 5th for men. Our friend Wendy won and set the course record. Kelly had to pretty much drag me away. 
I hated so much of this--being in pain and being helpless to do anything about it. My recovery has been very slow. Working all week is not helping. I almost cried twice at work on Tuesday, but thankfully my coworkers are wonderful and they've been very understanding and helpful. Yesterday my feet looked like feet again and today all the skin is starting to peel off. My feet look dirty, but it's all dried up blood. I have scrapes that go completely around my ankles from the dust that settled into the tops of my shoes. So gross. My legs feel incredible save for one spot on my shin that barks if I'm on my feet for too long. I'm not running again for a long time. I'm still not sure about doing another 100. I've said that before, but usually that feeling passes within 24 hours and now it's been almost a week. I emphatically told my running partner, Linda Wong not to do one because I never want her to hurt that much. We'll see what I do. I have a long time to think about it. Gary insists that I'm good at these things, mostly because I can power through whatever and still finish. I'm not sure if that makes me "good" or stupid or if that means I should do another one. Anyway, they give out belts to first year runners and buckles to second year. Not sure I'll ever get that buckle, but I've been wearing my belt. 
Thank you, Jeremy and Brandi, for putting on a gorgeous, incredible event. It's apparent every step of the way how much work you've put into it. Thanks to West Vancouver Salomon for keeping me geared up right. Everything worked perfectly. Thank you to all the volunteers out there and to all the runners I came by who were so positive, even when they were suffering. Brady, thanks for inching along those last miles with me. Jim Skaggs and Erica Deese, thank you for the spontaneous crewing. BJ, I will learn to be as positive as you someday. Thanks for being with me and showing me the way. Kelly, I can't believe you went as long as you did with feeling the way you did. Thank you for making me feel loved and cared for. I can never repay you, but I sure will try. And of course, to Gary for loving me and believing in me.
Race Nails: IMTUF in silver sparkles
Blister on my heels and forefoot and sides of both feet
Still puffy. What looks like dirt is dried blood.
My f'n awesome belt that I even wore to sleep post-race.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Crewing Cascade Crest 100


Cascade Crest 100! I have to say, this was THE most fun I've ever had crewing. No exaggeration. I mean this, holy crap, this was nuts, absolutely nuts. Ben Gibbard, combined with either Justin Jablonowski or Max Ferguson (@WoodpeckerMax), it was the perfect combination of hilarity and intelligent conversation. Our quiet moments were few, but even then, they were comfortable or excitingly intense based on the situation. I felt perfectly at ease with a rock star sitting next to me all day. We had Ben do the driving in his beat-up Prius and he was totally cool with Roxy in the car and any time he would scrape or bump something, he would make a funny comment letting us know it really didn't matter to him. He'd lean way forward over his steering wheel, as though that'd get us somewhere faster. He was so into it. I wish I could just tell you word for word every bit of every conversation all of us had and all the times we laughed at something. It just flowed effortlessly and was continuously back and forth. No one dominated and everyone was interested in everyone else. All of us kept spontaneously saying, "I'm having such a blast!" Best. Team. EVER.

As for the race, man, it was good. Going into it, Gary was concerned about his energy level having just spent the prior week doing all things Squamish 50. His fatigue definitely showed for the first 35 miles or so. He came into the first crew spot at mile 23 not looking good at all and saying "This isn't the start I wanted." I think he was 5th at the time. By the time he got to 33, he looked haggard, pale and defeated. He said his legs had been seizing and cramping for the entire run. He insisted on sitting down and Ben, for some reason, brought over the lowest chair he could find. Who knows why, but we made fun of him all day for it. I crouched in front of Gary and then Ben, Justin, Rich (one of my bffs and the RD) all semi-circled around him. James Varner of Rainshadow Running came over in his coconut shell bikini and grass skirt and gave him a talk about salt tabs and made him take a few and I kept telling G that all I wanted was for him to get out there and enjoy his day--to forget about course records or placement, but to finish the race and try to enjoy the adventure of it. Then local legend James Kirby (who paces Jamie Gifford at HURT and everywhere else, they're besties) came over and flat out asked Gary if he wanted to finish the race. Gary said he did--that he felt like shit, he didn't know how he would do it, but he'd walk the entire way if he had to. Finally, Justin suggested that he take a poop. Then Rich said he should probably try taking a poop. Then Ben did and then I did and then it seemed like everyone in the vicinity started saying taking a poop would make him feel better. "F**k you, guys," Gary smiled and then got up and left.

We rushed off to Meadow Mountain, mile 42 and figured we'd have lots of time. Gary had slipped into at least 8th, if not farther back since he'd let so many people run by when he'd sat down (aid stations kept track of times coming in, not out). Seth Swanson came casually running through, patted Roxy’s head and I impulsively blurted to him that his daughter was beautiful. Seriously, like impossibly beautiful. I'd seen her squeal-giggle at the last aid station and I thought there was no way she was real and not a cartoon. He'd placed his hand on the back of her head so as to see her pretty face better, then kissed his lovely wife and quietly ran on. I kept saying, "He's so nice." To which Ben would respond, "But we will crush him" or "F**k Seth Swanson."

Anyway, 2nd-4th came through and we thought we had more time when all of a sudden, I hear Gary's Woooooo! Roxy perked up and oh my god, it was Gary! Yesss!! He was rallying. He ran right in and congratulated the aid station captain, Ultra Pedestrian Ras on his latest "thingermabob" and then starting inhaling the watermelon. Ras was seriously beaming at Gary and I loved that G had even remembered that Ras had just done some massive self-supported hike. Ras told me later it was his favorite congratulations he'd received. Gary asked for soup, and then more soup, then more, and on the 4th cup I asked if he could just take the whole pot, but thankfully Gary was ready to continue.

Now we had some time to reorganize. We took Justin and Roxy back to the cabin our friends Eric and Kelly had rented right in the middle of the course, so they could rest. We eventually made our way to Hyak, mile 52, where we met pacer 1 of 2, Max Ferguson. Max is the perfect level of adorable nerd and very funny and very fast. He's had a rough year, and just dropped out of Squamish 50 miler the week before, but he seemed pumped and excited to go with his pacer bib folded to read ACE. He fell right into step with the team dynamic. 

Hyak always does a Christmas theme. Local mainstay, Eric Barnes even grew a short gray beard (which he claims is Gary inspired) to go with his Santa costume. Ben, Max and I had just put our chairs down across the pathway from one of those giant light-up, blow-up Santas people put on their lawns when all of a sudden, some drunk ~25 year old slams into the thing and falls to the ground, effectively flattening it. He gets up, laughing and starts walking away. Eric Barnes yells Hey and then the kid bolts. Well, Eric has a history of chasing criminals (long story of finding someone in his backyard who the police were chasing) and so Eric, in full costume, chased him down, grabbed him by the hoodie and yanked him to the ground. By this time, Rich had pulled up and was just in time to call Eric off (the actual quote is "Eric, disengage!") and they managed to get the kids, who'd dared the guy to karate kick the blow-up thing, to fork over $50 for it. 

In the meantime, Seth had already sauntered through and we saw 2nd, 3rd, 4th and then GARY! He came in pumping his fist in the air and ready to get rocking. He took less time here than at previous aid stations, gathered some more clothes and he and Max and took off. Things were getting exciting! Rich was seriously jittery with stoke over seeing Gary so revitalized.

As I was gathering up our supplies, Ben walked over to me holding a water bottle with gels stuffed into its pockets. "Is this Max's?" he asked. Oh shit. It was. Max had left without his bottle or nutrition. Thankfully, they weren't too far away and there was a short cut through a field. Ben bolted off and caught them just in the nick of time. Disaster averted!

Ben and I went back to the cabin to gather up Justin. We had a bit of time and Roxy was all over me and I couldn't figure out why. She'd been fed and had snacks, but she kept bumping into me asking for attention. When it was time to leave, we started heading for the door and Roxy, thinking I was following her, very enthusiastically bounced to the bedroom. She thought we were going to bed and she was so excited about it. She'd been begging for us to go to bed. Such a sweetheart. I tucked her in and told her I'd be back later.

Kachess Lake is mile 68 and generally fairly busy as it's often where people start pacing. The previous-to-Rich RD, Charlie Crissman was there, so we got to catch up for a bit, and then Rich showed up again. Seth was in and out with little fanfare and then 2nd came in, then 3rd and then GARY! Gary was in 4th! Max came in ahead of him and barely even acknowledged us, he was all business. Gary was ready for some more clothing and there was a quick panic as we couldn't find one bag that turned out to be stuffed inside of another bag. I told Gary he was looking awesome and that he was in 4th now and he gave me this look with a full-on twinkle in his eye. My heart skipped! At that moment, I knew he was on the hunt. Then, Gary was ready to go. He did a final visual sweep of his Josie and the Rhino drop bag (a la Kelly, everyone get one!) when his headlamp blinked. F**k. We weren't scheduled for a change for another 1-2 hours and this one had only lasted 2 hours. Not good. But at least good that it happened at that moment and not 10 minutes later when he wouldn't have access to a lamp change. He grabbed his fresh lamp and I had to switch out batteries for our next meet up.

This next stretch of trail is known as The Trail From Hell. Rich now calls it the Trail From Heck. It used to be covered with downed trees and was very technical. A lot of those trees have been cleared and some of the trail, from what I understand, has been graded and made more passable. Most people take between 2-3 hours for this 10k stretch. The last 3 guys to break the course record have all done it in 90 minutes. I'd told everyone this was the trail Gary had been waiting for and even if he did nothing else out there, he would eat up this bit like he does a box of popsicles. Gary did it in 79 minutes, the fastest ever during the race, and that was with a casual walk up the hill drinking soup. 

The drive between Kachess Lake and Mineral Creek, mile 74-ish, is about 40 miles. We knew it was going to be tight. Ben was laser beam focused and dealt with the highway construction's odd placement of their orange barrels like a champ. The drive takes you through Roslyn, of Northern Exposure fame and even the race's directions mention that it's a speed trap. We were stuck behind a very slow car when it finally turned right, Ben started to accelerate and in an instant, red and blue lights started flashing. Justin said he saw that we'd only been going 24mph in the 25mph zone, so we knew nothing was wrong. The officer put his face into the window and said Ben had a light out in the back. He took his ID and registration and Justin pointed out that the officer was obviously sniffing us out to see if we were drunk. The cop came back and said, "You all with the race?" This struck me as odd because we were one of maybe only three or four crews that had driven to Mineral Creek. Most people skip that spot because it is such a tight turn around. When we finally got to the spot, I told this gal we know in someone else’s crew that we'd been pulled over and she says, "Me too! He said I was speeding, but then let me go because he also said he really was just making sure I wasn't drunk. I told him I was with the race." It all made sense.

Mineral Creek is a quiet spot, since, as I said, most people skip crewing here. We hung out with one woman who was crewing who'd never been so far out of the city before and couldn't stop talking about the stars. The other crew belonged to Salomon Flight Crew member, Andy Reed of Alberta. His wife, Saira had her boys turn out their lamps and we all quietly stared at the universe. It was a lovely moment.

Jeff Hashimoto came through in 2nd. He's a local favorite as he's the cross country coach for a nearby high school. Again, a super nice guy who was hard to root against. But Gary was right on his heels. Gary, however, wanted a few minutes to sit. This time, we gave him a decently sized chair and started feeding him and putting more clothing on him. Within minutes, Gary was shaking from cold and we had to boogie him out of there. I made him drink some hot coffee and then Justin and he were on their way. I wish we had a photo of what Justin was wearing. He had on some crazy patterned tight spandex shorts, his SQ50 shirt and the wig Gary wore to pace me at Grindstone, all Justin's idea. It was awesome.

There wasn't much else for us to do now. Just wait and see. Ben had brought Red Bulls for us because as he said in an email, "They give you wings and whatnot." He and I had slammed Red Bulls together at Mineral and we were both regretting it as we'd compromised our ability to sleep with all that whatnot. Ben, however, fell asleep as soon as he hit the couch. Max, too. We got into the cabin and he disappeared, melting into a couch before anyone knew he’d gone. Me? No dice. But I rested for a few hours and then woke the fellas up to get going again.

Everyone was noticeably tired. Roxy tried to not come with us, but we all stumbled to the car and our energy started coming back. We had one last stop before the finish line. Silver Creek is mile 96 and pretty much a place where people drop all their things and go. Seth had already won in a smokin' new course record of 17:56, beating the old record by over 30 minutes. We set ourselves up and Roxy barked at a far off dog who was barking at her. Pretty soon, Jeff came flying through and barely paused at the table. Gary was about 15 minutes behind him. He wanted soup, which the aid station hadn't even started yet, so he side stepped like a crab looking at everything on the table and in his bag before he grabbed some chocolate and shot out of there. 

We ran back to the car and rushed to the finish line. We saw Jeff come in, looking happy and proud. Gary made 5 minutes up, so was only about 10 minutes later. He ran that last section in only 34 minutes, which would’ve been another section record if Seth didn’t exist with his 29:50 minute split.

I gave Roxy the word and she rushed out to greet Gary in her loud, hilarious style we’ve all come to know and love. Gary came barreling through the finish line and ran straight at me for a huge hug, almost knocking me back! He was so pumped and so amped! He started thanking everyone and congratulating Jeff and Seth and was speaking faster than he was running and so loudly! I think he scared soft spoken Seth who I witnessed take a step back from Gary when he was babbling on. I reached out and did my "turn the volume down" arm brush and Gary glanced at me and laughed because he realized what he was doing. Then he started hugging everyone with great enthusiasm--big armed bear hugs. I told Seth to hurry out while he had the chance (he and his wife needed to go get their kids). Oh, it was so fun to watch! 

Since then, we've both been catching up on rest and odds and ends regarding work, Trail Running Canada and Coast Mountain Trail Series. It's been a busy week with brains that just want to shut down and sleep. Every day is a bit better and I'm grateful we had the last couple of days off. Long weekends mean neither of us gets many emails. Gary's been living in his Cascade Crest blue hoodie (so jealous of it) and periodically picking up his buckle to admire it.
CCC Crew with Ben way in the background
driving back to Seattle
Proof Ben Gibbard was there...
...at least with Laura Houston
Photo by Laura Houston


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Knee Knacker Goals - LBR


Knee Knacker North Shore Trail Run is this Saturday (!) and I’ve been inspired by Salomon Flight Crew member Tom Craik to put my race goals out there for the world to see. However, my motivation is a little different. You see, my husband Gary Robbins won this thing last year. I will not. I do not want there to be any confusion as to why my performance out there pales greatly in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, running the entire Baden-Powell trail end to end is no small feat. I just won’t be doing it at the same kind of blistering pace as Gary did. Not even close.

Please note: This is GARY winning and NOT ME.
So what are my goals? I tend to break my goals down into A, B and C goals. A: An easy, approachable, sure to make me feel like a success kind of goal. B: A push me a bit and keep me honest kind of goal. C: A “reach” goal, one in which if everything were to go completely perfectly, I’d be thrilled and almost shocked to achieve.

A: My primary goal of any race in which Gary and I have both participated is to not double Gary’s time. So far so good on this one in races past, regardless of distance, although someone named Ryne Melcher could possibly fact-check me on this. Last year, Gary ran a 4:41 which gives me a luxurious 9:22 to finish. The cut-off time is 10 hours and I’m not generally a cut-off chaser, so I feel pretty confident that I’ll make this goal. But on the off-chance I’m just not having my day out there, this gives me a nice cushion of time to relax, slow down and ensure that I continue to have fun. My general rule has always been if I’m not having fun, I probably need to slow down a bit and I definitely need a snack.

B: Around 8 hours. This goal will keep me in check and make sure that I’m not dilly dallying out there too much. I’ve run a fair number of these babies, so I have an idea of how hard I can push myself without doing anything too stupid, but I’ve also been known to get caught up in conversation and forget that I’m actually in a race. This is a time goal that I feel is reasonable. It will make me push, keep me focused, yet not completely crush me.

C: Around 7:30. Ultrasignup has me finishing in 7:25. I’m kind of flattered by this because most of the time I see the Ultrasignup prediction and I’m appalled at how slow it thinks I’ll be. As an example, it has me finishing my next 100 miler, IMTUF in 42:51 where there is a cut-off of 36 hours. C’mon. Although I have a basic understanding of the algorithm Ultrasignup uses to predict finish times, the full explanation is a thecret only Thad knows. I try not to put too much weight on this prediction for KK, but given how well my training has been going and given how often I run on the Baden-Powell, I’m feeling like if everything goes right, this could actually happen. And as my eventual crew member, training partner and other half of Linda Squared, Linda Wong said, “They’ve put so many boardwalks on the trail in the second half, you’re bound to go faster than you think.”
Doing a KK taper run at Rubble Creek with half my crew, Linda Wong.
Side note: USA! nails
Overall, I'm pretty excited for this day. Gary will be down pacing and crewing for Adam Campbell at Hardrock, so Linda Wong and Kat Chong have offered to be my support team. I'm pretty low maintenance and I don't think I've ever had crew for a 50-ish-k, but I'm absolutely looking forward to seeing these two smiling at me and giving me hugs in spite of sweat and grime.

I'm especially looking forward to participating in the oldest 30 mile race in Canada, one that is virtually in my backyard and means so much to my adopted Canadian trail running community that has so wonderfully accepted me into its fold. It's so fun to see everyone get all hyped up and nervous for this event and I'm positive this energy will feed me all day. Let's do this!


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Grand Canyon R2R2R Double-Crossing


This trip report is from Salomon West Vancouver shop team runner Jeff Pelletier. Read the full report on his blog.

 

The Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim (R2R2R) double-crossing is an amazing 46-48 mile journey, depending on your route, with over 11,000′ of elevation gain in temperatures varying well over 70 °F (21 °C).

It’s on many an ultra runner’s bucket list, and for good reason. The incredible views and beauty this route offers at every turn are hard to beat.

I recently had the chance to do the run with two friends. Read my trip report including a video on my blog.

Monday, November 18, 2013

5 Peaks Ugly Sweater Holiday Trail Run!

Brought to you by the same organizers as the Halloween Glow Run that was hosted at the store last month, we're happy to promote the 5 Peaks Ugly Sweater Holiday Trail Run coming up Saturday November 30th! 





Saturday November 30th


8am - 12pm

Learning Lodge, LSCR, North Vancouver.

$20 cash

3-5KM (route to be announced) loop, as many or as few time as you'd like, in the 4 hour allotted time period. Build your own custom run in terms of total distance and speed. Not a race, but a fun holiday socializing event!

Refreshments - homemade baking, hot chocolate, apple cider, coffee, etc to be enjoyed between loops.

Baking contest - test your favorite holiday recipe against your peers!

Special holiday souvenir for all participants!

Amazingly talented photographer Robert Shaer will be capturing our great event as well!

Prizes, prizes, prizes - stay tuned for exact details, but expect lots of swag!

Grand prize of a full 5 Peaks Season's Pass (all 5 races) will be drawn from all registered 5 Peaks runners that attends the event!

Collecting warm donations for the homeless - jackets, sweaters, toques, gloves, scarves, etc - please help build our pile of donations!

Going to be the holiday party that you are NOT going to want to miss! 


ALL details can be found on the blog post at http://www.solanaleigh.com/2013/11/08/5-peaks-ugly-sweater-holiday-trail-run/
 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

VOKRA-BEAR 100 Running for KITTENS Shoe Draw

Happy Halloween! It's time for a treat for a couple of winners.

Last month I ran Bear 100 and decided to do so to fund raise for Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association. VOKRA is a wonderful non-profit organization that helps rescue cats and kittens throughout the Lower Mainland. They coordinate foster homes for rescued cats where they monitor each one's health until they can find them forever homes--teammate Jeff Pelletier got his cat from VOKRA and very recently, my friend Shannon got her new Alfi from them. They also help spay and neuter feral cats in a capture and release program. If they capture a pregnant mother, they will care for her through the birth of the kittens and then care for the kittens so they might be adopted out. If the mother cannot be tamed, they spay her before releasing her again, but they continue to provide some food and water and some health care. They do all of this through the help of donations.

I love animals to a ridiculous degree. My Twitter feed will often have a new photo or video that I can't handle from the cuteness. If ever I need a pick me up, I'll run certain routes in my neighborhood I know to be extra dog friendly because doggy antics and dynamics always puts a smile on my face. I baby our pets and would do anything for them. Roxy definitely gets away with a lot more now that I'm in her life and Shazzar pretty much gets away with murder (much less so, however, now that she's an indoor kitty). To get an idea and in honor of Halloween, this is my most favorite thing where my love for animals and books collide into one mass of adorableness: Animals in Bookish Costumes. As you can guess, raising money for VOKRA was an easy decision. Animals bring so much joy into so many people's lives. There are many of them who need our help and I was ever so happy to do what little I could.

I want to thank everyone who donated. Overall, I raised about $700. I didn't have a goal because I didn't know what to expect, but this does make me very happy and will help a lot of very sweet little kittens get the care they need. I love our community!
Shazzar, not sure what's about to happen.

Now, the shoes. West Vancouver Salomon Shop donated two pairs of shoes to help me encourage donations. For every $5 a person donated, their name went into the draw, so if you donated $20, your name went in 4 times. I printed off all the names and cut them out into small pieces of paper. Shazzar was my assistant in the name draw. I put them into a little cup and decided I'd rain them down on her and see if she'd play with any particular pieces and if so, they would be the winners. Well, it didn't work exactly like that. I rained them down on her and she bolted, but quickly came back to find out what the heck had happened to her. I grabbed the pile from the floor and threw them up over her. Again, she bolted, but this time, two pieces stuck to her fur as she ran off. I followed her and picked up said pieces when they fell off and here they are, your winners!

David Papineau and Jennifer-Anne Meneray! Congratulations, you two! I'll be emailing you both with details of how to claim your shoes.


There, you see! Two pieces!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Bear 100

Bear 100! This was a race I’ve been wanting to do for years, ever since a stress fracture caused me to withdraw my name from the entrants list back in 2008 and since I paced Jamie Kiezer in 2009 and saw its incredible scenery. I signed up this year as a way to train my way through wedding planning and well, to ensure I’d look fit for our photos. I’d think it worked.

While in Hawaii the week prior to race day, I thought I was getting in some great heat training. Bear’s tagline is “36 Hour of Indian Summer” and has typically hot weather during the day. At night, it’s frigid. I packed to run warm during the day and then as though it was winter at night. By the time my plane landed, I’d received several emails from Gary and our friend, Luke Nelson who lives near the course saying it had snowed and it was calling for more over the weekend. Well, crap. Pacer/bridesmaid/bestie Kelly Bolinger and I hit REI in Salt Lake City to panic shop for warmer things. I bought some Salomon tights and an Arc’teryx hat that bonus, was super cute and apparently called Hepcat, which makes me love it even more. We also scrounged up some Yak Trax and mega-sized hand warmers.

Kelly in her moose hat and gloves, which she sadly for me, didn't wear to pace.
Deb McInally on the other side of me, fellow PNW'er and 9th woman.
It was freaking freezing. My lungs were not ready for that. I don’t think anyone’s were. Even if I’d come from Vancouver rather than basically Honolulu (where it was at least 80F/25C), my lungs would’ve been breathing 60F/15C air and now suddenly it was 30s/0 in the day and as low as 23F/-5C at night. Add to that the fact the race starts at 4800 feet and only drops back down to around 5000 feet twice with most of the climbs going over 8000 feet and two up to 9000 plus. After mile 60 or so, we stayed over 7000 feet until the final descent after mile 95. That’s a lot of thin air for this sea level living lady. I was coughing with a tight chest by mile 25. By mile 80, I’d started wheezing. By 85 or so, running felt impossible. Every time I pushed myself I felt like I was either hyperventilating or having an asthma attack. Later on we heard from others that they’d experienced the same thing. Owen Connell hit his inhaler over and over thinking it was his asthma. We passed a guy who was coughing up blood in the last three miles. Not good.

Our REI trip proved to be wise. I used every hand warmer I had available, putting one set on the inside of my hands and the second set on the outside while I pulled my fingers into my gloves to keep them even more protected and to wrap them around those little packets of heat. Kelly had some down her tights, which created a few odd-looking lumps and giggles from me. For the daytime, I wore a short sleeve shirt with a long sleeve over it and my Salomon Starter Jacket. At night, I added a second jacket, a rain jacket from last year's Salomon line. My hat and gloves stayed on for about 30 of the 33 hours I was out there. I wore a thin buff around my neck and put it over my face whenever the wind picked up. At night, I added a fleece buff to that, which helped keep my face from getting numb. My cheeks and nose, however, we were still wind whipped by the end. We left the Yak Trax in a drop bag because we didn’t want to carry them, breaking one of my rules that if you think you even might need something, bring it. I’d slipped several times on icy down hills before I picked up Kelly at mile 61 and knew we’d do so again, but my mental wherewithal was too fatigued to insist we make room in our packs. I regretted that decision for the rest of the race. Kelly became the gopher who would walk ahead of us each time the trail looked icy so that my tired legs wouldn’t have so much to navigate. A few other runners figured this out and we had a few tip-toeing parades going on behind us.

Photo by Willie Roberson

Kelly also saved the day a few times finding course markings. Bear is sparsely marked. For the most part, it is enough, but at night there were a few times when we wished for more. I know in the past, Bear has dealt with local hunters who get angry that a bunch of runners are traipsing through their hunting fields and so they’ve removed markers, causing people to get lost and confused. I did hear gunshots at one point and someone behind me remarked, “Runners are in season.” We also saw a big truck driving out with a moose strapped on the back (sad face), so I’d argue that we small runners aren’t doing much to spook game out there, at least not any more than their trucks or the ATVs that go zooming by. Anyway, my suspicion is that the markers are set up to be just enough for us to find them, but not so much that they’re super noticeable to people who aren’t supposed to be looking for them, like hunters who might mess with them. As such, we did a little circling from time to time to make sure we were going the right way. During one of our parades. Kelly and I let a group of guys pass us up a climb. When we hit the top, that group had dispersed in all directions looking for the next marker. Headlamps were pointed everywhere and it was an oddly amusing sight. We stopped in our tracks and Kelly looked down and to her right and called, “It’s here!” She was everyone’s hero.

Something that was unnecessarily frustrating were my contact lenses, which started bothering me as early as mile 30. I’d be interested in hearing from other contact wearing runners if they ever experience this phenomenon. Every now and then in a race, my lenses will feel dirty and it will be difficult to see through them, which seems like a reasonable thing to happen. This time, however, it felt like they were fogging up, like a car window does on a rainy day. Were they freezing on my eyeball? I don’t know. I can sometimes blink this kind of thing away, but nothing doing. I usually carry eye drops, but damn it if that wasn’t the one thing I forgot to get. Kelly was only able to crew at mile 19, so I couldn't to ask her to pick any up for me and I didn’t see her again until mile 61. I found some eye drops at the mile 45 aid station and that helped for some time. I had to stop a couple of times and risk putting a lens in my hand and cleaning it with water from my pack, which I know isn't the safest, cleanest thing to do. But really, I'm mostly glad I didn’t drop the lens or rip it. By the time Kelly and I were almost to mile 75, it was dark and I felt like I was running behind my own personal fog. Thankfully, this aid station had saline solution and said I was the third person to come in with this complaint. I cleaned one lens in the saline bottle cap and then the second. The second lens didn’t want to stay in my eye and so I tried putting it back in the cap. And then it was gone. Holy hell. “Nobody move!” someone yelled. Everyone froze and started looking on the ground and my lap and Kelly took the cap from me. “Found it!” It had folded itself up and was on the wall of the cap. I put it in my eye and it stayed clean until almost the end. Miracle of miracles, I could see!

Which was wonderful because this was a spectacular course, just stunning. It is definitely the most beautiful 100 mile race I’ve done and possibly among the top most gorgeous of all the races I’ve done. Given the time of year, the trees were turning their fall colors—red, orange, yellow all mixed into green. The tops of the mountains were dusted with snow, which only added to the glory. I would come around a corner and be greeted by a big rock face that was not just grey, but oxidized and lightly painted with blues, greens, yellows and purples. Even chunks of rocks on the trail looked this way. Every climb and every labored breath was worth these views.

And I would be remiss if I, of all people, didn’t mention animals--which was pretty much just cows. When I thought I was full fledge into a low point, I rounded a bend and saw a group of cows, who also definitely saw me. Four mama cows, one blonde teenager (who in my mind was a punk teen who’d probably bleached her hair to be different) and one baby all perked up with nervous eyes when they saw me. I thought I was going straight and would miss them all together, but then I noticed they were standing on course markings. I had to make a right turn and potentially run right through them. We had a conversation and I explained my intentions and they skittishly moved on out of my way, so as not to upset or offend me and I swear I heard them saying "Oh dear, oh me, so sorry, we'll move, oh my."

Throughout the race, I’d occasionally hear cows mooing off in the distance, which was a strange sound after the sun went down. As Kelly was pacing, she stopped ahead of me and asked, “What is that?” She sounded nervous and said she was sure it was an animal. I looked ahead with my headlamp and saw two, widespread, bright, shiny dots aimed back at me. It looked unreal and it took me a moment to understand it was cow eyes. It looked alien and very creepy. Once I told Kelly what it was, we realized we had another right next to us off to the right. It’s disconcerting, being surrounded by cows in the middle of the night. I don’t know why. I announced to the cows that we were walking through and reminded them that if they got nervous, Kelly eats them and I do not.

As much as I love cows, cows unfortunately mean cow patties and huge ones. Huge. I avoided what I could and tried not to think about the ones that had mixed in with the mud or whatever I might’ve hit during the night. That mud, that shoe-sucking, slippery mud came from the ice that we slipped on after it melted in the almost warm sun. Not fun, especially not in those last 15 miles when all I wanted was to be done. Although, I don't know how I'd have felt about running on frozen mud either. I know I probably say this about every race’s finish, but those last 8 miles really were terrible and the longest of my life. Muddy and steep to start and then steep down with very loose rocks. It didn’t help that at this point, my breathing was labored and painful, so any chance to run was cut short and made me very frustrated to the point of tears and cursing. Thankfully Kelly was there to tell stories about bunnies and kittens to help pull my spirits up. She knows how much I love bunnies and kittens.

And if that didn’t work, the glimpses of the finish area sure did. Breath-taking, literally and figuratively. Bear Lake looked massive and bright blue, surrounded by all those fall colors. It was a great thing to focus on and felt like it had a gravitational pull. I somehow got there.

Kelly and me just a few miles from the finish. Look at the view!
Photo by Willie Roberson
I do these runs for so many reasons--to test and push myself, to look great in wedding photos, to be surrounded by what the world has to offer, but my favorite thing is getting the chance to meet so many incredible people. I ran with Scott Snyder who was finishing the Rocky Mountain Slam, having already done Big Horn, Hardrock, Leadville and Wasatch 100s. I spent some miles with David Fuller who was running as a celebration of his marriage and his wife’s recovery from a long-time illness.There was Willie Roberson, who was very gentlemanly and gave my father-in-law a momentary thrill when he thought I might be running with the guy from Duck Dynasty. And John Sharp, aka Texas, aka the loudest person I’ve ever met. He definitely kept me entertained. I ran with first timer and local Trent Poulson for hours and hours and met his entire family, from his little kids to his siblings to his mom Patty who paced him for those last horrid 8 miles in her cute track suit and sparkly sunglasses with a huge smile of pride on her face. Trent’s determination was impressive. He’d only run one marathon and one 50 miler before this race and fought his way through leg pain, fatigue and didn’t let low points mess with his decision to finish. All of these people were out there with the same goal and same love of the challenge, regardless of their motivations. That’s what keeps me inspired.

I had two mantras out there. 1) I’m a machine. This was derived from both a conversation I had with Heather “Anish” Anderson about her speed record on the Pacific Crest Trail when she said after about 10 days her body clicked into machine-mode; and from Gary’s best man, Mark’s wedding speech when he stated that one machine, Gary had married another machine, me. Whenever I felt myself fading, I said this and it made sure I took care of myself and did whatever I needed to do to keep me working. 2) I’m doing it for the kittens! That’s right, kittens. This was so much more motivating that I ever could’ve imagined. I said this before and during training runs when I didn’t really want to be out there. Imaging kittens needing me, their little fuzzy faces mewing and their tiny paws reaching out for me always put a smile on my face and kept me going. Yes, I am that girl. I’ve been doing races for over 10 years and never run for charity. I felt it was high-time I did so. After a joke with Sophia Ballezza about how I could raise awareness (whatever that means) for kittens, I got to thinking that I could probably find a charity and actually do some good. I found Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association (VOKRA) and began to fundraise. West Vancouver Salomon Shop has generously donated two pairs of shoes to give away. There’s still time--you until October 20th before I draw the winners. Every $5 donation puts your name into the contest. Help me help those kittens! Donate here.

Allison Moore, me, Kelly and the legendary Hans-Dieter Weisshaar.
Look him up, if you don't know who he is.
Photo by Owen Connell
Buckle and Plaque
Turns out I was actually 119th place. Should I get my money back?