Thursday, August 11, 2011

AC 100

When I first started dreaming of ultra running as an onlooker (from my humble beginnings as a triathlete), I admired a friend doing Western States. It seemed cool, impossible, challenging, but not for me. I was interested in something else. Re: AC100. I sent a friend an email about it, and he kindly informed me that it was harder that WS100 - and then reminded me that I had yet to finish anything over 18 miles (Javelina Jundred 08 was my first ultra on the books). I'm never really good and leaving these types of comments alone. One sure fire way to get me to do something is to tell me I can't.

I have a confession to make, I've kind of been obsessed with Angeles Crest 100 for some time. I've read countless race reports touting the race as "low key" and "back to ultrarunning's roots." The fires in 2009 kept me out of the race, and my own inability to sign up early kept me out in 2010. I feel as though I have a connection with the race that I simply cannot explain. Driving through the Angeles Crest National Forest in 2009, and stopping in Pasadena on the way home from a long road trip left me longing for a return trip. I never got the chance to preview the course, train on the course, or even step foot on those trails until 5am on July 23rd, 2011. I was anxious.

I signed up for the race in January. Friends scolded me for not entering the WS100 lottery, claiming it would better my chances for future years. I have no clue if this is true, and I didn't care. I was ready for one California race, and my summer would be devoted to Angeles Crest 100 and my 6-year old son, Alexander.

Training went well, and without going into too much information (a girl needs her secrets, kidding), I vowed to work HARD. Hill repeats in 100-degrees, late afternoon runs in AZ summer, R2R2R, and countless trips to Flagstaff. Just as I though I was going to reach my breaking point, taper madness set in, and I went crazy, craving a long trips in the mountains. Patience...soon, I would get this opportunity.

The Race
So many AZ folks were there to race. Good friend Jamil said he would stay with me for the first 50, which was pretty cool (although, we ended up playing a game of back and forth the whole day - both too caught up in our own races to really commit to staying together).

(Jamil and I before the race)

I had the pleasure of ultra-running-stud, Dave James, as a pacer, and my own stud boyfriend, John as chief crew member.

(Dave, John, and I pre-race)

I knew I was in good hands! I had the race day jitters, knowing the day would end up being interesting. Sure, I wanted to win. I knew I had a shot, but man, 100 miles is a LONG way to worry about such crazy notions. I told myself from the beginning that I did NOT want to get myself into a race situation right away. When we took off, I was ready - ready for the day that presented itself to me, knowing that flexibility is a trait that is necessary in ultrarunning.

The run through town was awesome. I love little mountain towns. Getting up to the acorn trail was taxing, but at that point, I didn't care. I was in awe of my surroundings. I enjoyed so much of this first part that I don't remember talking to anyone in-depth or listening to music, I was just in the moment. Right before the climb up Baden-Powell, Keira Henninger approached me and exchanged kind words and a play-by-play of what was going on up front. The ladies race was brutal, and well, I didn't really want to enter it yet. I listened to what Keira said but didn't allow it to take me over. Then I watched her disappear up Baden-Powell. The climb was fun, as far as climbs go. Just nearing the top, I got a spook from Jamil. Running down Baden-Powell was one of the highlights of the day. I stayed mostly with Jamil, and we reveled in the beauty of the wilderness. As if that wasn't enough, we encountered a large group of Asian hikers that were so positive and supportive that it became infectious. Hearing "You Win" and "Good job" from 30 courteous and positive hikers left a smile on my face that just would not fade.

Dave and John were awesome with aid stations. I was in and out, quickly, which was one of my goals. Dave, who should have been sleeping, was like the bouncing tigger all day (mom reference - if you don't have kids google it). He kept reminding me that the race wouldn't begin until I picked him up at 52.

The middle of the race is kind of a blur. There were more encounters with Jamil. I got to run some miles on the road and through the canyons with Keira, which was cool. This was the second race we've done together, and it was nice to relax together. I also remember clicking off some miles with the infamous Jimmy Dean Freeman. I felt good most of the day.

Mt. Hillyer was probably a bit of a low point. It was hot, and I was in need of some encouragement, but it felt like days until I would reach John and Dave. Keira and Jamil left me in the dust, and I choose to hike slow, trying not to get too dejected. I did relatively good, but somewhere maybe 2-3 miles from the 52 mile checkpoint, my IT Band started to kill. I decided right there that my body would not dictate this race. I was ready to trash myself. I could take the rest of the year off to rest and get fat, but dammit, this was my race.

At 52, I sat down, needing my socks changed and I saw Lizzie! That was a big boost. We spent some good miles up in the mountain training, and she's a great person to see 52 miles into a race. I also got to pick up Dave, which was nice. Little did I know, I'd better have my game face on, because Dave was about to push me - time to see what I was made up.

Dave quickly got me up to speed on eating, hydrating, and getting some electrolytes. He established a schedule and helped me follow it. I watched him float down the poodledog bush ladden trails, cautioning him about the plant's danger. Funny, he said he was just about to pick some and give it to me! My IT Band was still hurting. I finally fessed up to Dave what was up. He said, IT Band issue weren't real. He said I need to eat, drink, and replenish my salt. He said this would eventually go away. And, for the most part it did. Ahh...the power of positive thinking.

It was time to race. Dave and I caught up to Maggie Beach, who I learned was in second place. It was nice to finally meet her. She was super positive an encouraging. After taking off from the aid station, we would have some rad downhill running for some time where I was able to regroup. At one point, I had to go to the bathroom, and those trail don't really have bushes to hide behind. I'm not modest, so I risked it. Soon after I was in position, I heard discerning footsteps. It was none than Jamil and Mike Carson...OMG. "Don't look," I yelled, as I laughed. John later told me a funny comment Mike said to someone that said I was pretty. Is it wrong that I find his comment completely appropriate? :)

Back to the races. When the trail started to go back up, I though, good...time for an uphill hike, but Dave was ready to put me in high gear. I, somehow, 60 miles in was no completely ready to succumb. I learned the value of a pacer that day. Mentally, Dave pushed me at times that I would have otherwise turned inward, doubted myself, and untaimatley this could have cost me my race. Once I finally stopped doubting his method, it was so easy - put your head down and follow. We ran uphill, downhill, flat, fast, slow...sometimes he tricked me, saying I needed to "stretch" out my legs and work different muscles. But it worked. I never went to that dark place of doubt once during the race, and I think Dave had something to do with this. Getting to Chantry was a blast!

At Chantry, I changed shirts and bras. John and Melia (Jamil's sister) tried their best to keep me covered. I even shouted, "Don't look, I'm about to take my top off." Of course, I looked over and some guy was staring at me, but I guess that's the nature of 100 miles. I wanted to get out of there quick. If I stayed too long I would start to get sad, thinking about how much I would miss John. So, Dave and I quickly sped out of the aid station and up Wilson.

I felt really strong up Wilson, and I even passed someone (we would go back and forth all night). Getting to the aid station felt like forever, but I was just going aid station to aid station at this point. Once going dowhill, Dave remarked on how fast I was going through the dark, single track, and honestly, I was just worried that Keira would catch me. You see, we passed her going into Chantry, and well, all of my friends thought it best not to tell me this info. Funny, but appropriate. So, I would glide down the smooth trails and trip on the more technical stuff Dave kept reminding me to "stay within myself" but this was becoming harder and harder. I just wanted to be done! The anticipation of the finish line was killing me.

Again, nothing really memorable besides some sightings of Nick and Jamil and a few too many bathroom breaks. All of this would change in the last four miles. I told Dave that we had 1:20 to reach the finish line for the sub-24hr finish, and that I wanted it. He assured me we would. I also had the thought of Keira and Maggie in the back of my head. Two miles into a pretty technical and crazy trail that went up, and down, and around streams, and I began to think this was out of my reach. I resolved that I had to do everything in my power to keep my lead and go sub 24hrs. Then, Nick and Jamil flew past me! WTF :). I kid, because, I had a healthy desire to finish before Jamil - but he was moving fast. The last two miles were crazy. I need to go back in the light and see for myself, but I was begging Dave for a road! LOL! When we hit the street, I felt like I was going sub-6 minute miles, but I asked Dave and he said we were only about 9 of 10. I was worried that we still had a while to go, luckily I saw the finish line, and well, about 100 yards from the line a guy passed me. Really?!?! Oh, whatever!

Yes, I did it! It felt sofuckinggood to finish a 100, and run a solid race. In some ways, I was prepared to have any kind of day, but I had the best day, and my finisher photo showed it.

I felt great, and then I left the finish all went downhill from here. I'm gonna spare the details, but I do have some people to thank for helping John and I get on the road that day.

The New Balance rep was awesome for giving me some electrolytes. I was underprepared. Jimmy Dean's crew helped me with some nourishment. His wife, Katie, made a special trip to the store for me...LIFE SAVER! The Courys went to Chipotle and got me white rice for a very upset tummy. So, after a long recovery, and trying to sleep/socialize in a hott park all day, John and I headed home, feeling worn out and renewed.

John and Dave were amazing as crew/pacers. What a great day in the mountains with friends.
Finish time: 23:47, 1st female, 7th overall, and this awesome piece of hardware: