Thursday, July 3, 2014

Powerful Beyond Belief. WS 100 Race Report

"So when you're searching for that rainbow
I will help you find it
And when a mountain stands before you
I will help you climb it
Just follow where I lead
I'll give you what you need
A love that's always true
And someone who believes in you."
Air Supply

I don't belong here.
It's the thought that won't go away, and standing at the starting line of the Western States 100 with several of the worlds finest ultra runners, it nags me like a fly buzzing in my ear.  I try to shoo it aside because the clock is counting down, and here we go.......

Miles 0-16 
"Courage Dear Heart" 
CS Lewis
As we start the 2,550 vertical foot climb into Emigrant Pass, a quiet and nervous energy embraces us.  Blessed to be breathing 40 degree mountain air, I remember to look back and watch the tangerine sun rise over Lake Tahoe.  I am lucky to be here,  because Western States is a very hard race to get in to.  First, you must do a qualifying race.  Then there is the lottery process.  The probability of being selected is a function of the number of applicant names in the hat versus the number of slots available to be filled. For example, the number of entrants in the 2013 hat was 2295, with a total ticket count of 3555. Based on an expected draw of 270, the probability of being selected with a single name in the hat was 7.9%.  I would have had 4 tickets.  But still.

My friend Libby Jones was a race sponsor this year, and I was blessed to be asked to represent The Active Joe  as a qualified race participant.  But do I really belong here?

Everyone warned me to take this first climb easy, so I settle in behind the infamous Gordon Ainsleigh (race founder and trail god) listening to his stories of why he chose California as the place to hang his hat- something about Utah being too cold and Texas having too many snakes.   The hardest climbs always produce the best scenery, and I cheer seeing my friend Dave Carder at the summit.  I give him a big hug (maybe too big) and start to head down.  My legs feel great.  Misson #1 accomplished.  I really enjoy the rolling terrain, breathtaking scenery and the community of my tribe during this part of the race, and as I stroll into Lyons Ridge, my friend (Tahoe Rim race director) Squirrel is waiting for me.  There is just something about seeing people you love out on the race course that makes your whole body smile.  George helps me refill my  pack and reminds me to "be smart out there."  Yes.  I assure him that I am, but as I look at my watch for the first time I see that I am 10 minutes behind the 30 hour cut off time.  I try not to panic, as I took that climb slowly on purpose.....but there is that thought again.  I don't belong here.  I shake it off and keep running to the next aid station at Red Star Ridge.  Now 5 minutes behind.

Miles 16-30
"You have to leave the city of your comfort, and go into the the wilderness of your intuition."
Alan Alda
This is usually the best part of the race for me, the time when I sit back and enjoy the ride, but I am starting to worry.  I haven't seen this part of the course and it is much harder than I imagined it would be.  The climbs are tough and the downhill is rocky and slippery- much of it unrunnable for a mortal like me.  I slide down into Duncan Canyon, now 5 minutes behind.  It's starting to get hot, and the climb out of there is a son of a bitch.  I reach Robinson Flat to see my crew right on time.  Dammit.  I cannot get ahead, and now with all of the changing socks, eating and trying to get it together at this aid station, I am 8 minutes behind, and visibly pissed.  My crew is patient and calm, and Chris Knodel tells me to "stop worrying about the 30 hours and just continue making the cutoffs.  90% of the people who make it to Forest Hill will finish the race."  This seemed like something I could actually wrap my head around.  So I got out of that chair and headed onward to Miller's Defeat.

Miles 30-55
"What is so great about life is that you are constantly starting over, all the time, and I love that."
Billy Crystal
From here on out I know what the course looks like, thanks to attending the training camp in May.  I remember how excited I was on that first day of camp, how amazing I felt being there on this course, on that day; and I decide to hit the reset button; to literally pretend that I am just starting today's run.  After all, I've run on tired legs hundreds of times in training, so here we go- day one of training camp.  I put on my music and forget for a while, sailing downhill to the last chance aid station.  I am (FINALLY) 5 minutes ahead of pace at this point and feeling more in control as I start to pass people.  I take it easy, even walking much of the screaming downhill to the river crossing to save my quads, and climb with purpose (mosquitoes can be a great motivator) into Devils Thumb.  Still passing people.  That's good.  Down again, up again into Michigan Bluff where I see Laura beaming.  "You're smiling!" she sang.   I'm ahead of cutoff.  Still in the game.
" I'm ok.  Let's be quick here so we can spend more time at Forest Hill." I tell her.  Libby hands me my flashlight, and we're off.

Miles 55- 80
"Don't let fatigue make a coward out of you."  
Steve Prefontaine
Laura is beautiful and sparkly.
I am haggard and worn out. 
She wants to talk.
I don't.
She runs ahead.   
I lag behind.
I lost my expensive and perfectly powerful LED Lenser flashlight earlier in the day, and am stuck with a dull cheap one, and a headlamp that keeps sliding down to my eyebrows.  I can't see shit which makes me grouchy once again.  Laura chats up German car engineering with a few of the guys we're walking with (she really is the bombdiggity) and I hang on to her skirt tail.  Up and down and down and up we make it to Forest Hill where I see my Facebook friend Jose.  "I've been waiting for you all day!" he exclaims.
 "Yeah.  I know."

I have mixed feelings about the time I spent at Forest Hill.  I ate, changed everything, and to Libby's disgust popped about 4 blood blisters and redressed them.  It seemed like I was spending forever there, but I knew that I needed to take care of myself going into the night, and that this was the place to do it.  Laura and I hobbled out of there, and as I choked down half a sandwich I wasn't sure how I would start running.    But once we hit the trail, I was able to shuffle off again.  My toes felt better, and I knew the time spent at the aid station was worth it.
Most of 63-80 is a complete blur to me.  I know I had some sections of good running coming out of Forest Hill.  I remember Laura pulling me.  I remember yelling at her (completely uncalled for and I owe her something in a blue Tiffany's box now ) when she could not tell me what mile we were on leaving Peachstone.  I remember a heartless climb somewhere around 73, and  saving another runner's ass from making a wrong turn there.  I remember looking for the illusive Rucky Chucky gate, finally reaching it, and the second river crossing.  Of course, right on freaking time.
Laura was so excited crossing the river, and on the other side a handsome volunteer (call me!) changed my wet shoes and socks (I love you!).  I changed clothes and ate again, preparing for the 2 mile climb out to Green Gate.
Where there is a river crossing, there is always a climb out.  

Miles 80-100.2
"When the train goes through the tunnel and it gets dark, you don't throw away the ticket and jump off.  You sit and trust the engineer."  Corrie Ten Boom

Libby has a much more detailed account of this part of the race on her blog if you would like to read it, but this is where I am fighting hard.  1 minute ahead of the stupid cut off.  I don't belong here.  I can't get ahead.  Damn this is frustrating.  I have to keep running. 
I try run intervals, counting to 100 in my head and then taking a 30 second walk break.  I decided to put my music on instead and to zone out.  Libby is great, telling me "2 miles to the next aid station."
"Now one mile to the next aid station."  We come into Auburn Lake like clockwork and spend no time messing around as the warning horn blows.  We could hear the music as we headed into Browns Bar, but we couldn't see it.  I was finally going to be ahead of cut off?  Where was it?
We ran past the blaring music.  "Fuck!  That's just a speaker.  Where's the damn aid station?"  I lost it, and Libby lied and told me she could see it ahead to pacify me.
My delirium was averted a bit, though when a familiar face at Brown's Bar put his hand on my arm,  looked me in the eyes (cue the music!) and told me I was going to make it.  I nodded a weary (and somewhat dreamlike) yes and moved on. I reached deep in the hollows of my brain to try to decipher why that guy looked so familiar.
"Was that Hal Koerner? " I asked Libby.
"Yeah.   He wanted your autograph.....but we needed to keep moving."

The climb before HWY 49 was a real bitch.  I just put my head down and followed the feet in front of me.  It was hot.  It was hard.  Slippery.  Rocky.  My feet hurt.  Please shoot me and put an end to this misery.  But as we roll down into the aid station gorgeous Laura is there again to take care of us.  "You've got this." an aid station worker told me, and I burst into tears.  "What if I mess it all up now?  At mile 93?"  I say through sobs.
 (I don't belong here)

"Time to get going" Laura answers.  The three of us hug and Libby and I are climbing again. 
Passing people on the way to No Hands Bridge (and only passed by the girl in the Luna sandals- dammit ) my confidence begins to increase.  As exhausted as I am, I finally start to relax.  My friend Jose is there again waiting, and Libby tells me I have an hour to do a 5K.  For the first time I actually believe I'm going to make it.
Right here. 
At mile 97.

It was getting really hot.  We would run, counting to 30, and then walk counting to 30 until we reached the last climb.  Sheer will pulled me up to Robie Point, knowing I would soon be on the road one mile from the finish.  This seems to be the longest road EVER, but my friend Jesus is there with a goofy smile, beer and camera in hand, telling us we have 4 turns to the finish line.

Something weird always happens to me in the last mile of an ultra,  and here that feeling is again as I run around the track at Placer High.  I don't want it to end.
Crossing the finish line with  17 minutes to spare was surreal.
I had found my brave.
 I had the buckle in my hand.
I belonged at that awards ceremony.

Do you even know how strong you are?  Do you know what you are capable of?   There is a collective universal energy that makes us powerful beyond belief.
I know that now as I read your many posts and well wishes sent along the way.

"I was tracking you all day and night."
"Come on Jenn, you're a fighter."
"We've been cheering for you from Dallas all day!"
"You're my inspiration."

Thank you for believing in me when I did not believe in myself.
I finished the Western States 100, finding the place where I belong.
Maybe Gordy and I will be neighbors someday. 












4 comments:

  1. New follower....well done!

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  2. Wonderful post! Loved the quotations, especially Alan Alda's. Thank you and congratulations!!!

    ReplyDelete