From Forest Pain Cave to Surreal Ultra Rave: The End of My CCC

I’ve been writing a lot about my CCC race experience, but it’s been answering questions from Trail Runner, Trail Sisters, and Trail Runner again. And talking in this post-race I Run Far interview. And UltraRunnerPodcast.

In case you’re still curious, here are some of my own musings about the start and end of my CCC race. I have much more to say in general, especially about how much I thought about my motivations during those 12 hours. But for now, here’s just a tidbit about the race itself.

The Climb Out of Courmayer, Italy

I started with poles up the first, largest climb of the race. I was hauling ass. But near the top of the mountain, Maite Maiora passed me like I was standing still. Now for context, I shouldn’t have been surprised considering this woman has been unbeatable in recent years. Still, I stupidly asked, “Where are you from?” A guy behind both of us yelled proudly, “Espana!” I hunkered down for what I accurately surmised would be a long, painful, but exuberating race ahead.

Maite opted for the power-hike-hands-on-knees method to climb. I glared at my poles and realized they weren’t helping me. Back home on my Colorado training grounds, I reluctantly practiced with poles a handful of times and thought it sufficed as adequate pole training for CCC. It didn’t. I put the sticks away and didn’t take them out again until the tail end of the last climb.

>>Fast forward 90 kilometers, three countries, a liter of Coca Cola and 35 Honey Stinger gels.<< 

The Climb Up Flégère and Descent Into Chamonix, France

By the end of the last climb, I was leading the race, but running more scared than I ever had run in my life. I envisioned Maite just seconds behind me, waiting to pounce. I knew the poles would help me run up the final part of the douche grade climb, and they did.

Note: ‘douche grade’ means a steep climb, but not steep enough that you can’t run. Road or track runners turned trail runner usually love douche grades because they’re monotonous slogs and pure fitness testers.

Yet, at the end of a 100k in the Alps, running any grade was pretty difficult. I’m sure that most people power-hiked that climb on Flégère, yet, I couldn’t bear the thought of hiking so I whipped out my poles and ran. Thank you to Zach Miller for giving me this advice before the race: when he won CCC in 2015, he didn’t use poles at all, but said they would have been useful on that last climb. Zach, you couldn’t have been more right.

I think I surprised the lone spectator on that climb—a nice British man named David who told me it wasn’t far till the top. I was practically whining “Are you sure? 400 meters? What’s your name?” I have no clue what he looked like because it was already dark and the air was pure white mist. I could barely see five feet ahead of me. Not that it really mattered because I was just focusing on moving as fast as humanly possible and one eye had been fuzzy for the past 20 miles after taking a hard fall in a downhill section of mud hell. My eye with the clean contact focused on the rocks below my little feet that were pattering away slowly, but laboriously—the way one finishes an ultra even when leading. I thought to myself: I can’t be preyed upon. I won’t let up.

I hit the top of the last climb, still unaware of how close Maite was, but determined that there was no possible way for her to catch me if I: 1) didn’t fall, and 2) went all out.

Coalescing these two objectives in a two-foot visibility misty darkness wasn’t the easiest task in the world. I had to take my headlamp off my head and hold it directly above my feet to ensure that I could see the trail and stay upright. In doing so, I froze my hand solid, but remembered that mountaineers get frost bitten hands and feet often and still summit; thus, I sucked up my chilly thumb. Going all out meant that I was repeating to myself over and over “Keep on going. Don’t slow down. It’s impossible she’ll catch you.”

This slew of positive mantras is how I operate best while racing and it proved to work well at CCC.

Exiting the trail section into the edge of Chamonix was one of the more surreal experiences of my life. It gives me chills writing about it now. The course changed from a eerily lonely and quiet forest pain cave of misty darkness to a glowing, energy teeming city of incoherent ultrarunning fans.

At this point, I knew I’d won the race and an Italian friend Paco was on the pavement with other cheerers to confirm that I only had a few minutes of running through the crowd-laden streets before crossing the finish line.

I thought to myself, “Am I going to cry?” But I didn’t feel anything related to happy tears; I was too tired and had no energy for emotion. Well, I guess I had just enough energy to dance and high-five my way through that final chute and to grin like a loopy puppy.

I can’t wait till I’m once again a loopy puppy in Chamonix.

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PC: Guillem Casanova Bosch
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PC: Guillem Casanova Bosch
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Super crew Dad!
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Mid race chaos. PC: Guillem Casanova Bosch
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Leaving the last aid station with only 3 minutes gap on Maite.
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Made it. PC: Guillem Casanova Bosch
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PC: Kirsten Kortebein
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PC: Kirsten Kortebein
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PC: Kirsten Kortebein
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What Is Happening With Our National Monuments? [My CCC/UTMB Motivation]

I’m running a 100k around Mt. Blanc this Friday, starting in Italy, ending in Chamonix, France. The race series, UTMB, is THE series for ultrarunning. I’m stoked. It’ll be my first real test after Western States. These mountains are insane. Sharp and steep, yet breathtakingly beautiful. Yet, I need a little more to get my engines turning than just a race. This week was a good week to add fuel to my fire, as back home, in the U.S., there has been an uproar about the inability of our Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, to do his job. Here’s the scoop.

National Monument Review

Secretary Zinke just submitted his report concerning 27 National Monuments. Trump asked Zinke to review these monuments in April, as he was concerned about their size and usage—Trump suggested that the review would be an exercise “ending abuse of monument designation”  and to “return control to the people.

Yet, under the Antiquities Act, Presidents have the executive power to designate National Monuments. Monuments are usually smaller than National Parks, as their designation requires only one item of interest, i.e. objects of historical, cultural, and/or scientific interest. There are a handful of National Parks that were originally National Monuments, including the Grand Canyon. National Monument designation has been a gateway for National Park designation, which is hugely important for anyone who cares about protecting lands of historical, cultural and scientific interest.

I’ll cut to the chase. Trump asked Zinke to review 27 of these monuments to see if they could be shrunk. Zinke just wrote this report—I’ve also added it at the end of this blog—after the 120-day review period.

I’ve underlined the key, i.e. vague and suspect, parts of this report summary. It doesn’t say much other than that millions of Americans laud our National Monuments and are in overwhelming support of keeping them protected as is, but that some monuments are too big, if they are to abide by the Antiquities Act. The DOI’s press release also said that Zinke visited eight of the 27 monuments under review, and virtually toured a marine monument. Are we supposed to be impressed?

This is pathetic, in my humble opinion. The facts of his visits are clear: he mainly met with opponents of national monuments, “including representatives of the oil, gas and timber industries. He arbitrarily “pardoned” six national monuments, without providing any criteria for his decisions to leave current protections in place.” Such a pardoning is a win for the monuments, but where’s his reasoning? He needs to provide full reasoning to the public for any pardoning and/or shrinking suggestions. There is no basis for his suggestions, and we don’t even know what his shrinking suggestions are!

This vagueness is why many organizations, including the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity have already filed for a Freedom of Information Request to see the full report.

Sign the Sierra Club’s Freedom of Information Act Request HERE so we can see what the report says.

REPORT SUMMARY BY U.S. SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR RYAN ZINKE

In 1906, Congress delegated to the President the power to designate a monument under the Antiquities Act (Act). The Act authorizes the President singular authority to designate national monuments without public comment, environmental review, or further consent of Congress. Given this extraordinary executive power, Congress wisely placed limits on the President by defining the objects that may be included within a monument as being “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest,” by restricting the authority to Federal lands, and by limiting the size of the monument to “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects.” Congress retained its authority to make land use designations without such limitations. Even with the restrictive language, use of the Act has not always been without controversy. In fact, even Theodore Roosevelt’s first proclamation of the roughly 1,200 acre Devil’s Tower in Wyoming was controversial. Since that time, the use of the Act has largely been viewed as an overwhelming American success story and today includes almost 200 of America’s greatest treasures.

More recently, however, the Act’s executive authority is under scrutiny as administrations have expanded both the size and scope of monument designations. Since 1996 alone, the Act has been used by the President 26 times to create monuments that are over 100,000 acres or more in size and have included private property within the identified external boundaries. While early monument designations focused more on geological formations, archaeological ruins, and areas of historical interest, a more recent and broad interpretation of what constitutes an “object of historic or scientific interest” has been extended to include landscape areas, biodiversity, and view sheds. Moreover, features such as World War II desert bombing craters and remoteness have been included in justifying proclamations.

The responsibility of protecting America’s public lands and unique antiquities should not be taken lightly; nor should the authority and the power granted to a President under the Act. No President should use the authority under the Act to restrict public access, prevent hunting and fishing, burden private land, or eliminate traditional land uses, unless such action is needed to protect the object. It is Congress and not the President that has the authority to make protective land designations outside of the narrow scope of the Act, and only Congress retains the authority to enact designations such as national parks, wilderness, and national conservation and recreation areas. The executive power under the Act is not a substitute for a lack of congressional action on protective land designations.

President Trump was correct in tasking the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) to review and provide recommendations of all monuments that were designated from 1996 to the present that are 100,000 acres or greater in size or made without adequate public consultation. This is far from the first time an examination of scope of monuments has been conducted. Existing monuments have been modified by successive Presidents in the past, including 18 reductions in the size of monuments, and there is no doubt that President Trump has the authority to review and consider recommendations to modify or add a monument.

The methodology used for the review consisted of three steps. The first step was to gather the facts which included the examination of existing proclamations, object(s) to be protected, segregation of the objects (if practical) to meet the “smallest area compatible” requirement, the scientific and rational basis for the boundaries, land uses within the monument, public access concerns and authorized traditional uses, and appropriate environmental and cultural protections. As directed by the President, the second step was to ensure that the local voice was heard by holding meetings with local, state, tribal, and other elected officials as well as meetings with non-profit groups and other stakeholders, as well as providing an online format for public comment. The final step was to review policies on public access, hunting and fishing rights, traditional use such as timber production and grazing, economic and environmental impacts, potential legal conflicts, and provide a report to the President no later than August 24, 2017

The review found that each monument was unique in terms of the object(s) used for justification, proclamation language, history, management plans, economic impact, and local support. Adherence to the Act’s definition of an “object” and “smallest area compatible” clause on some monuments were either arbitrary or likely politically motivated or boundaries could not be supported by science or reasons of practical resource management. Despite the apparent lack of adherence to the purpose of the Act, some monuments reflect a long public debate process and are largely settled and strongly supported by the local community. Other monuments remain controversial and contain significant private property within the identified external boundary or overlap with other Federal land designations such as national forests, Wilderness Study Areas, and lands specifically set aside by Congress for timber production.

Public comments can be divided into two principal groups. Proponents tended to promote monument designation as a mechanism to prevent the sale or transfer of public land. This narrative is false and has no basis in fact. Public lands within a monument are federally owned and managed regardless of monument designation under the Act. Proponents also point to the economic benefits from increased tourism from monument recognition. On this point, monument status has a potential economic benefit of increased visitation, particularly to service related industries, outdoor recreation industries, and other businesses dependent or supported by tourism. Increased visitation also places an additional burden and responsibility on the Federal Government to provide additional resources and manpower to maintain these lands to better support increased visitation and recreational activities.

Comments received were overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining existing monuments and demonstrated a well orchestrated national campaign organized by multiple organizations. Opponents of monuments primarily supported rescinding or modifying the existing monuments to protect traditional multiple use, and those most concerned were often local residents associated with industries such as grazing, timber production, mining, hunting and fishing, and motorized recreation. Opponents point to other cases where monument designation has resulted in reduced public access, road closures, hunting and fishing restrictions, multiple and confusing management plans, reduced grazing allotments and timber production, and pressure applied to private land owners encompassed by or adjacent to a monument to sell.

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I’m not effing around, people, we shouldn’t be complacent. Photo: Ben Duke

 

 

Summer recap #3: En Route to Luscious Latvia

Latvia: I was supposed to be visiting my brother, Eric, who I wrote about here. Eric was supposed to be studying Russian and doing army things, but the military nixed those plans last minute—this is the norm for his life, and most people’s in the military.

But, yours truly still had a plane ticket to Latvia, so I found this trail race. Considering the website didn’t have distances for the races, just animal pseudonyms that I was incapable of understanding or translating, it was a small miracle I ended up racing at all. Week of the race, I discovered that the 30km ‘bobcat’ (~19 miles) was the longest race, which was a perfect distance for my training leading up to CCC (the 100k of Ultra de Mt. Blanc).

I left the U.S. from D.C., where I’d been for a friend’s wedding and where I’d gotten so trail-sick that I promptly rented a car to run in the Shenandoah Valley (a delightfully verdant and rocky National Park just a few hours outside D.C.). In Shenandoah, I enjoyed two rainy, but good, runs, which sandwiched a less than awesome back-seat car sleep.

From D.C. I had a long layover in Frankfurt. Unlike most long layovers, I was stoked about this because I’d read about a trail system a mere mile from the airport. To anyone considering a long layover in Frankfurt to run: do it! But, you don’t have to take a hotel bus to get to the trails, as other blogs suggest online, just Google map “hotel steigenberger Frankfurt airport,” run there, and you’ll be at the trails. It’s so close, taking a bus is a waste of time; I tried. Just run!

Anyways, Latvia is eerily quite and serene. Upon arriving late at night, I took a taxi to the countryside near where my race would be. I slept in a trailer cottage abode thingy and felt like I was in the middle of nowhere, which was later corroborated by a Latvian friend who said most of the country is extremely sparsely populated countryside. The entire country has less than half as many people as Colorado (under 2 million versus over 5 million)! Latvia, square mileage-wise, is about the size of West Virginia. It’s a small place.

One quirk about Latvians I immediately noticed: they love sports. When my cab driver, who spoke hardly a lick of English, realized I was from the U.S., and then Colorado, said,

“Colorado, Avalanche, hockey!” I was aghast.

Sandis Ozoliņš, he play for Avalanche and from Latvia!”

“You like hockey?”

“Oh yes!”

The rest of our hour-long ride was silent.

Then, upon waking up on the farm, all that was visible other than farmland, large homes with exquisite potted flowers on every porch–albeit there are maybe 10 homes per square mile–were soccer and volleyball nets.

After my race, I spoke with the woman who placed second—she was a godsend of a translator—and she said, “I grew up in the countryside and when you live in the countryside you have nothing to do. So you find sports!”

The race itself started in a slightly more inhabited village, Milzkane, which is also the name of a nearby ski ‘hill’ we ran on. It was steep, but I can’t say I’ll be going back to Latvia in the winter to send it.

The race start was energetic and beyond confusing. There were supposedly 2,000 people running all of the races, from a 5k to my 30k race. It was the strangest juxtaposition to go from seeing hardly anyone to seeing, and mainly hearing, so many Latvians. They love music and their local music sounds like a Viking chant mixed with Top 40, but mainly just Viking drumming. It permeated my soul in the hours surrounding the race. And after a little reading, I learned that Latvian music is one of the reasons the country has kept its identity throughout centuries of foreign rule.

Once we all counted down in Latvian, us lead runners ran a raucously fast first two miles on pavement exiting the village. Upon entering the forest, I slowed my pace, and even though no less than five men surrounded me during the first five miles of the race, and the quiet spell of the country returned.

It wasn’t like most trail races that have pleasant banter. Everyone was serious. I’d say “Good job” to guys passing me; but, always, no response. Except for one man. We raced the last third of the race together and he encouraged me in Latvian, I’d mumble back in English. He eventually got sick of me, or so I presume, and charged ahead. I got the feeling that Latvian men are not used to women being at the lead of the pack.

The flora was indulgent and the trails were deliciously soft; we often ran directly on moss carpeting the trail, or on a trail so skinny that little fern bushes covered it completely from eyesight. Whoever made the course has a great imagination because we winded and twisted and went up and down constantly. You can see my run here.

There were no long stretches of anything monotonous. I imagine most of southern Russian temperate forests to be like this, because well, this isn’t that far from Russia and was part of the U.S.S.R.; hence why most of the older generations speak Russian, but they don’t speak English. Today, younger generations are much more likely to speak English, but not Russian. Regardless, Soviet Rule thankfully didn’t destroy Latvian forest, as most of the country has primary forest still intact.

I was exhausted throughout the race thanks to the fast start and thanks to jet lag. It was right in that prime sleeping time back home: 3am – 6am. My body hurt, but the lush forest, which made me feel like a forest fairy creature plodding along without a worry in the world, and the appeal of not having to run this fast for my next race, CCC—which I anticipate to be more of a mountainous suffer fest—got me to the finish.

Next time I come to Latvia, it’ll be with Eric, and he will be fluent in Russian and we will do more of these trail races. How ‘bout that, Ewic? Get your forest fairy shoes all shined up!

Onwards to the Alps, but first a pit stop in the Dolomites. Not excited at all…

Mountain Time Reality

Part 2 of my summer recap.

After I realized that I could, in fact, run without pain, summer reopened its doors. I’d like to think that I would’ve adjusted my summer plans with a smile on my face had my knee needed more time to heal—swimming every day and finding pleasure in non-running related activities—but I’ll be honest, nothing beats running in the mountains in the summer.

Now, this may seem like a 100% fun and free and happy-go-lucky lifestyle. With the right mindset, it is. But to an outside observer, it’s anything but fun.

A dear college friend, Nina, recently visited; she hadn’t witnessed my ultrarunning lifestyle yet and was surprised at some aspects of my lifestyle that I’ve grown to take as normal. I guess they’re not. So here’s to debunking the glamor of ultrarunning:

  1. It’s dirty. You want to run for a few days back to back while sleeping out of your car? Well, let me introduce you to a product: Wet Wipes.

I’ve gone well over a week without looking in a mirror. That’s my new normal. It rocks. Obviously, sometimes, I could smell better.

  1. You must constantly plan, yet simultaneously be flexile, while sleep-deprived and hungry. In order to maximize weekend after long weekend after full week in the mountains, you’re perpetually planning ahead. Yet, you can’t really plan when you’re already running in the mountains, so you have to make loose plans, all of the time, remember dates and friends and logistics, and then be okay with falling short on logistics. Like who brought the Sriracha? Who brought a sleeping bag? Where are we sleeping? What mountain are we running today? Will I ever get to sleep 8 hours?

The beauty of warm weather running is nothing is terribly critical planning-wise, as long as you’re at a trailhead with some running shoes, a pack, some water and some calories. 90% of summer in the mountains is getting to the trailhead. Then it’s all sweat, laughs, maybe some blood and pain and dealing with injuries. Oh, and a shit ton of exercise. I guess since all of my trail running buddies are constantly running, I forget that’s not normal. A long day out in the mountains means you’re stoked on hiking for hours, being hungry or grumpy, hot and cold, and then slamming your body downhill for some more hours. Then sleeping on the ground. I swear, this IS THE LIFE. Did I mention wildflowers??

This chaotic mindset of non-stop thinking ahead, whilst being present in the moment and constantly moving could make you go crazy and want a weekend in bed. But, I warn you: in order to maximize summer, you must stave off any and all anti-stoke thoughts!! Every opportunity counts! You want that sunrise! I can’t tell you the last time I watched TV. I do moan over the fact I don’t have time to read as much as I’d like, but I’d take that any day over boredom.

  1. Trail running is comically inexpensive. I barely spend money except on food and gas. And acupuncture. When people in cities look forlornly at my weekends, lamenting at how they wish they could be in the mountains, I say WELL, WHY AREN’T YOU? A weekend in the mountains is grossly cheaper than a weekend barhopping and Uber/Lyft-ing. You carpool to trailheads, i.e. share gas, you eat gels and candy and stale tortilla chips. You rarely rent a place to sleep in on the weekends, because you’re in your car or tent. The argument for staying in an urban bar scene falls short to me, if you do, in fact, want to get outside.

To my friends and readers who don’t live close to mountains, I’m guessing you live close to some trails or wilderness. Get your planning and stoke shoes on, organize a crew, and get dirty. From my experience, there’s no chance you will regret it, even if you don’t see one wildflower.

I’m so grateful to have the time, which is the most important aspect of my lifestyle right now, to be able to capitalize on mountain time in the summer.

What’s up now: I’ve left Colorado for a college teammate’s wedding in Virginia (GO TIGERS), and then will go straight to Latvia (more on that soon) and then Chamonix, France to race CCC, the 100k version of UTMB. I’m eager to get to Europe, but also know that a grimy, chaotic Colorado mountain weekend is where my heart is. I’m okay with my new normal. 🙂

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Abby doesn’t need a mirror to tell her she’s ready to run. 
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I promise the photos get better… 
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You can’t run if you’re not able to run… 
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Being stoked, and committing to exercise, when you can’t run is imperative for general well being. 
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Guy doesn’t care that he’s dirty and he just got a new tattoo! 
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As long as they’re weird, you should hang out with them. 
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The most special of places in Colorado. 
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Hiking with Guy Love. You don’t have to go fast to be outside! 
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Running into friends on mountains. It’s contagious. Mt Massive with Ginna and Jessica (of FROST’D.) 
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Anna doesn’t care that she’s tired. She stoked.
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Ginna, arguably, is the reason I’m running this summer. From acupuncture to emotional therapy. Friends rock! 
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Friends who race! Heck yes, Anna!! 
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4am photo shoot appears to be a fail…
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4am photo shoot turned epic. 
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The people! Ultimate Direction knows how to run a business. 
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Stoke. Even when sleep deprived. 
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Oh, and there’s the whole racing thing! Hardrock 100 was pure insanity this year, crewing Mike Foote who got second to Kilian Jornet. The most inspiring weekend. 
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ALL TIME PEOPLE!!! 
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Ice Lake, Silverton. Not happy at all. 
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Wildflowers…
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Columbine Lake, Silverton, with Gina of Trail Sisters. 
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Plenty of room for two in the Golden Nugget! My 06 Highlander Hybrid…
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Kirk is sponsored by Skratch. 
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Abby Levene is so stoked she forgets she broke her wrist winning a 50k in June. This is what I’m talking about! 
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Silverton, CO
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High Lonesome Loop, Indian Peaks, Colorado
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My non-car abode for the summer! 
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Who has time for Netflix when you 1) have to roll 2) don’t have service…. 
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4am wakeup calls at 13,000 ft are worth it when you shoot with Fred.
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Scouting the WURL route in Utah. What this picture doesn’t show are the two 8 hour drives that book-ended this trip! SHRED! 

Summer Recap #1

This is the first of three summer blogs. Enjoy!

  1. Western States DNF recap.
  2. Recovering (miraculously) and diving head first into the joys of summer Mountain Time.
  3. Preparing for the rest of the summer: Latvia and CCC.

Western States: What the heck happened?

I was recently interviewed for The Trail Run Project about my DNF (link coming soon). Here’s part of the interview, which explains what actually happened in my final miles on the WS100 course.

What mile did you pull out of Western States?

It was around mile 93. I never made it to the aid at 94.3

Why did you have to drop out?

I started feeling something strange and tight in the back of my left leg around mile 70. I was rolling down the Cal Street section, feeling great otherwise and ignored it. As I was in third, ignoring issues like that at mile 70 in a 100 is justified, or so I thought. I was in the race to podium. But then around 85, the back of my knee became more painful. I knew it wasn’t a cramp, as I took copious HOTSHOT and salt pills and was eating and drinking really well all day, but especially since mile 70 when I felt that first twinge. I mustered from 85 to 89 still slowly running/jogging/fast walking, but it was excruciating. I was sobbing for most of it and grabbing the back of my leg, trying to get it to work normally without the sharp searing sensation.

Then at 89, I didn’t take my time at the aid, as I knew I didn’t have much time on 4th. I walked out of the aid and then couldn’t run again. Walking lasted for a mile or so, then my inner groin on that same leg became numb. I couldn’t straighten my leg fully or bend it fully; it was stuck in this weird limbo. Without my groin/hip flexor to help hoist the leg up, I succumbed to literally side stepping, leading with my good leg, and essentially dragging my left leg. I sidestepped across Highway 94, sobbing, not knowing what was happening, nor why. The traffic control volunteers were very confused because I think I was still in 3rd or 4th at that point. The whole time my pacer was being very kind, but she has had no clue what was going on and I couldn’t really talk that well because I was so upset.

Then after Highway 94, the trail steepens into a rocky uphill section and I could no longer side step because I couldn’t hoist my bag leg up high enough. So I sat down on my butt and dragged my ass up the hill. Glamorous crawling. I made it maybe a half mile in 45-min. By this point, probably 50 runners had passed me. No one recognized me because I had put my pacer’s tee shirt on; I was shivering since I was moving so slowly. Then my pacer, being concerned, went up ahead to the aid station and returned with two medical volunteers. They warned me that if they touched me I’d be DQed. I said “no thank you” and tried to continue crawling up, hoisting my butt over the trail and dragging my legs behind. I’m guessing this was around mile 93. But, I couldn’t do it. I thought about how long it would take me to finish those 7 miles, and I doubted I could do it in under 10 hours at the rate I was going. The cut off would be long over by then. I acquiesced to help and the volunteers hoisted me back down to Highway 94 where eventually my parents picked me up. I don’t really remember much after that.

Describe the mental process/decision behind dropping?

The issue of being unable to move made a DNF a non-option. It’s not like I was just tired or upset or sick. I couldn’t move.

What did you do immediately after the race to recover?

I cried a lot. I tried to laugh a lot, too, about the ridiculousness of it all and about how I can’t blame myself for the DNF. Physically, I was unable to walk normally for a week. This was a small miracle, as I thought I’d be bedridden for a month. I received intensive acupuncture and massage treatment in my legs, and I saw an orthopedic surgeon who said I likely had a Baker’s cyst develop during the race. I’ve had horrible knee troubles with this knee in the past—I’m missing a 5mm circle of cartilage under my patella and I’ve had a PRP injection there—which could explain the Baker’s cyst developing as protection to the knee.

She said I may have torn my meniscus, but my recovery hints otherwise (fingers crossed). Surprisingly, my hamstring was okay, but I strained my gastroc head (the meaty calf muscle that attaches behind the knee). This was treatable with acupuncture and rest. I swam for a week after a week of complete immobility, then started hiking, and eventually tried running and have been sort of okay since.

How much time did you take off post-race? Did this differ from what you normally do when you finish an ultra?

After Leadville, I took off closer to three weeks of complete rest. But I went into WS100 more capable of the load and since I was injured during the race, my recovery ended up being much more aggressive. Not finishing makes me extra eager to be ready for my next race, CCC, in Chamonix, France on September 1st.

What helps you bounce back mentally from this? (i.e. do something different than running? Drink beer? Focus on another race?)

All of the above. Being around my close ultrarunner friends in Boulder really helped. My TNF teammate Stephanie Howe Violett was especially kind and supportive after the race, explaining how it’s a necessary experience to DNF and that there’s always next time. I happened to be going through a bad breakup during these weeks as well, and that took away from the pain of the DNF. I was, and still am, dealing with more important issues in my life than a DNF. But, physically, I’ve been wholly focused on being healthy enough to get out every day, with CCC in the forefront of my mind. My sleep has suffered immensely since States, so that’s my next item of focus. I know I need to get back to feeling as normal as possible, and I’m still far from that.

What advice do you have for other runners who have to stop a race early?

Assess all of your options. Can you take an hour nap? Have you eaten and drank everything you can? I wish I’d sat on the trail for a few hours more, just to ensure I couldn’t move even after taking an extended break. I still wouldn’t have made the cut offs with how slowly I was moving, but that’s the one thing I regret about the way my DNF played out.

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“Water is life” by Alexis Berg for The North Face 🙂 

 

 

 

Race recap without race recap

More so: What does one do after Western States?

And what if that person, at Western States, had the race of her life, surprising herself, until mile 90. It was around then, the back of her knee gave out, and eventually her entire left leg became an immovable, burden of an appendage, and her race ended around mile 93. In running, we call this a DNF: did not finish. Stigmas surround DNFs—was it an emotional blowup? Did she quit? Was it mechanical?

Physical Road to Recovery 

Fast forwarding through a race recap, here’s what’s up currently.

After a week of doing no exercise, other than biking a half mile to the pub one day this week, I tried to hike and run a little downhill while in the mountains. A tester to see if my leg/hamstring/back of knee is healing.

I had felt fine walking around all week almost to the point that I wondered if it was, in fact, my hamstring that blew up. During the race, I was convinced it was my upper calf, because pain had started there around mile 70 and I began compensating for bad blisters around 35. By 80, I was sporadically grabbing the back of my knee and upper calf, and when 89 hit, I was grabbing the back of my knee for all of those final agonizing miles.

But the morning after my race ended, a medical helper had told me that it was likely my lower hamstring attachment that was strained. Made sense. In my mind, I went with it, have treated my hamstring aggressively, and have hoped that when I tried to do more than walk to and from the kitchen, I’d be okay.

Not the case. Upon the first step I took running downhill this past weekend, one week post-States, I felt that exact searing sensation that ended my race. I’m equally as puzzled as I was during the race. I cannot straighten my leg without the stabbing.

“No, it’s not your hamstring,” my acupuncturist and physical therapist friends said. “It’s probably your popliteus.”

“My what?”

“A tiny muscle buried three muscles deep in the back of your knee.”

“Hmm. Okay.”

Thus begins the process of getting an accurate diagnosis and treating the problem.

Even though I’m only 25, I feel like I’ve run a thorough gamut with injuries. As I wrote on this blog earlier this year, as only a sophomore in college, I was sidelined for over 10 months with a patella cartilage hole. Since then, I’ve had stress fractures, tendonitis from my groin to my feet, chronic sprained ankles, muscle strains, you name it.

I like to think that I’ve had enough bodily tweaks to realize that running cannot be intrinsically linked to my happiness.

Yet, as I sit here, now almost two weeks after Western States, I’m not outstandingly happy. Yes, I’m bummed about the outcome of the race, but I’m more concerned with the fact that I’m still injured, and I don’t have a timeline for when I’ll be able to run, let alone train again.

I try to think positively, knowing that I have time before CCC (a 100k version of UTMB in Chamonix, France on September 1st), but it’s hard to stay super duper happy when I can’t run. No matter how supposedly mature-with-injuries I become, I don’t think not being able to run will ever get any easier.

So anyways, that’s where I’m at physically.

Mental and Emotional Road to Recovery 

I’ve been surrounded by dear friends and family since the race, had many laughs and fond recollections of the highlights of States.

I’ve celebrated Cat’s win with our Boulder crowd of crazies, collectively relishing in her seminal accomplishment.

I’ve also had many, many retellings, in person and via text, messenger, and email, of my final three or so miles when everything stopped. And via this podcast with my awesome friends at the Southeastern Trail Runner.

In my playbacks of the race, I’ve learned way more than I ever would have had I finished on the podium. DNFs force you to learn, whether you like it or not. I suppose I’m grateful for the forced looking back.

One thing I didn’t expect from this race is my understanding of my mental-ness. I went into States a bit unsure of my fitness, as I knew I didn’t feel as strong as I had felt going into Leadville last year.

I was dealing with a touch of chronic fatigue, unexplained high heart rates, a bit of manic moodiness, all mixed with really quality workouts. So the months leading up to States were a confusing smorgasbord of feedback that made me physically unsure entering States.

Now, in hindsight, I realize that in order to compensate for my physical uncertainty, or maybe just lack of confidence, I knew everything would come down to what’s above my shoulders.

Preparing With Blinders On

Two weeks before States, I honed in more than I ever have in my life. I prepared my mind for States more thoroughly, but recklessly, than I knew I was capable of. It was not all for the better.

I committed to doing-away with any and all fluff leading into the race, assuming I would have a heightened sense of clarity. I extinguished anything that I thought was a distraction.

Running-wise, it worked. I went into the race extremely confident that my mental strength would make up for any physical deficits. The night before the race, I told myself I was capable of winning. That confidence came from my two-week crash course in self-belief and focus.

During the race, I felt more challenged than I ever had in my life, but I stepped up to the plate, mile after mile, until I couldn’t out-mental the challenges anymore.

Yet, in those weeks leading up to States, I didn’t process any emotions unrelated to the race, let alone ask myself if I was ignoring non-States related parts to my life, i.e. important relationships.

Even though I can come across as a carefree jokester and as someone who doesn’t take herself too seriously when it comes to running, internally, I was far from that. Realizing, in hindsight, that I was far from balanced is almost as painful as my DNF.

Thus, before my next big race, I aim to not shut out everything and anything unrelated to my mental race preparations. With time, I hope to learn!

Cheers to everyone recovering, training, and just being.

4/3/2 IT is a BIG deal

Western States is known for its sizzling heat. This weekend should be no exception.

Pertinent timing to talk about IT, especially considering hot temperatures across the globe have received increased attention recently.

Surprise! Repeated days of over 95F heat cause devastating and deadly impacts. I’m not talking about ultrarunning.

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IT is climate change. IT is the most important reason I run. Talking about the impacts of climate change, about what’s it’s doing to our Earth, to our home, needs more traction. I don’t care if people think they know it all already. IT is constantly growing in magnitude. Thus our conversations about it, about what we can do should follow suit.

For many of us who don’t live in coastal communities or at high elevations, we won’t see extreme climate change impacts for a few more decades. This isn’t the case for people who live in tropical coastal communities or in desert environments, like Sub-Sahara Africa.

“As the coastal cities of Africa and Asia expand, many of their poorest residents are being pushed to the edges of livable land and into the most dangerous zones for climate change. Their informal settlements cling to riverbanks and cluster in low-lying areas with poor drainage, few public services, and no protection from storm surges, sea-level rise, and flooding.”

After studying coral ecology in places like Bermuda and Palau and living in coastal southern Thailand for over year, these communities immediately come to mind when I think climate change.  

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Sand bags preparing for impending sea level rise in southern Thailand.

I envision homes slowly creeping underwater. Stilts and sand bags can only do so much. I envision potable water becoming more and more difficult to access. I think of the increasing severity of tropical storms, which is one of the most frightening and deadly impacts of climate change.

Remember Typhoon Haiyan, also known as Super Typhoon Yolanda, which hit the Philippines, Vietnam, Micronesia and Southern China in 2013?

The death toll was between 6,300 to over 10,000, in the Philippines alone. Almost $3 billion in damages resulted. If this doesn’t seem like a lot, remember that the GDP per capita of the Philippines is under $3,000. In the U.S. it’s $55,800.

From a humanitarian perspective, it is horrifically unfair that poor, coastal, developing countries will be disproportionately affected by climate change. They will consistently have to deal with storms like Haiyan. Thousands of people will die. Community repair is devastatingly expensive without developed infrastructure.

Concerning Sub-Sahara Africa, food scarcity is the number one problem. If a 1.2-2 degree C increase in temperature happens, farmers will lose 40-80% of cropland for maize, millet and sorghum. This means hungry people.

These reasons, among others, are why I find it morally wrong for a country like the U.S. to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. As one of the largest emitters of total carbon dioxide and per capital, the U.S. plays a critical role in the future of climate change mitigation.

WHAT CAN WE DO

Now I could go on and on. But I won’t. I wholly admit that I am not doing anything other than trying, on a daily basis, to lower my carbon impacts and to heighten the impact of conversations about global climate change.

Even such small actions have an impact.

Whether it’s choosing to eat less or no meat, biking and using public transportation as often as possible, saying no to anything new I don’t need, committing to never buying a new car, voting for government officials that have track records of caring about our climate. Telling current public officials how much climate change mitigation means to me. All of this makes a difference.

VOTING

Since November of last year, I’ve never felt so woke to the power of an individual. I’m not just talking about the frightening type of power. I’m also referring to the power of people like you and me.

We have to believe that we can, in fact, impact a family living in Micronesia that’s preparing to move their house inland due to storms and sea level rise, by taking an extra hour to research which of our Senators care about climate change.

Look up if your state has Senators up for reelection in 2018. What are the incumbents’ take on climate change mitigation; look up their take on the protection of public lands, while you’re at it. Colorado doesn’t have Senators up for reelection until 2020. That’s when Republican Cory Gardner comes up for re-election. Now a simple google search tells me that Gardner doesn’t know if he believes humans are causing climate change. He is also pro-Keystone Pipeline and pro-fracking.

What does this mean for global climate change? Nothing good. I will not be voting for Senator Gardner’s re-election in 2020. I strongly urge you all to look up the same issues, or any issues you care about for your state’s Senators. Here’s a list of contested Democratic seats you should be aware of.

The same goes for governors, i.e. gubernatorial elections, and representatives, i.e. house elections. Next round of those is also 2018. Look up your state. Get excited to exercise your vote!

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To come full circle, I was recently interviewed by a graduate student performing research on the mindset of endurance athletes. He asked one particularly interesting question: “Do you fall into a state of depression or darkness after a big event like a 100-mile race?” Now in theory, I would like to think I’m as mentally committed as the Olympic athletes who can’t think of anything but that their one event, or in my case, of Western States. That there is nothing afterwards.

But, that is far from the case. I’m already thinking about the importance of the 2018 elections! Sure next week, I likely will have trouble walking and won’t be able to stop eating. But that’s just a tiny piece in this big puzzle of running and of being concerned, active humans. I look forward to my races to push myself, but also to shed light on the importance of our power as individuals. Running is very powerful, as is voting. 

 

 

6/5 I’ve lost count

I’ll I know now is Western States is on Saturday and it’s going to be sweet. Very, very sweaty, but also sweet.

This story isn’t necessarily inspirational. It’s just normal, and normal can be great when tapering.

Last night, I recharged my batteries at my parent’s house, where I’m lucky to live only 40 minutes from. Before dinner, my Dad says, “Let’s check the worms.” We go into the basement to “check the worms.” The worms are basically a home compost system. They eat compostable food waste and crap out nutrient rich fertilizer.

We moved the worms and their compost dirt from one giant plastic container to another, leaving just their poop for us to take outside. We then raked the 30-pounds of worm poop fertilizer into the soil surrounding the many vegetables and flowers in my parents’ garden (espeically the beautiful light purple stevia flowers, which my dad’s bees adore).

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The point of this story?

1) Yep, my hands still smell like earthy poop.

2) Nothing beats some home-grown normalcy.

Benefits of a taper mean you have to slow down and not be on top of a mountain all the time, going from workout to computer to workout, or not be driving back from some godforsaken state park at 3am on a Monday morning.

Of course, there’s a time and a place for everything. 🙂

But yesterday, I was grateful to have time with my parents and my other older brother, Scott, who is interning at a Public Defender’s office in Colorado this summer. Most likely, Scottie will end up a Public Defender if he stays on this track. Thinking about his crazy intense trial-by-fire work, about my Dad’s worms, about the state of the world’s bees, about how ungodly nice my Mom is, making me ice bandanas for this weekend, I can’t help but tear up. I’m so grateful. Tapering makes me emotional.

I’m going to go look at the course map now. Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 18.18.20Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 18.23.21

 

 

8/7: A short film and graphic novel.

First, here’s a tearjerker that anyone, runner or not, should appreciate. Thank you to my TNF teammate, Hadley Hammer, for showing it to me. Hadley is a professional big mountain skier–she skis the big, steep, remote lines that would make anyone who’s remotely human cringe with fear. She’s a boss. She also ran the New York Marathon last year, very casually. So anyways, enjoy watching this.

http://thenewjock.com/blog/if-this-doesnt-make-you-cry-youre-probably-not-human

Second, looking for a new medium? A type of book that’ll make you feel like you’re in a video game, but also in a romance novel? Saga, the graphic novel, is a must-read. It’s a cosmic escape with a very human relationship depicted at its core.

I’m in a book club in Boulder with mainly runners, and very fast ones to say the least, and Saga was my choice this month. We discussed it last night, and I was stoked to hear actual debate on the worth of a art plus words medium versus a standard words-only book. Some prefer words-only, as they argue art leaves you, the reader, no room for creative imagination. I see their point. I also love graphic novels because for me, and others, the art creates a new baseline of a scenario or world. Then personal creative imagination can spiral from there. Some people we surprised at how graphic Saga is. It is indeed graphic, but no more than a P-13 movie.

Anyways, my brother Scott exposed me to Saga when I was a senior in college. I clearly was craving an element of escapism at that point in my life and I fell hard and fast for otherworldly graphic novels. I procrastinated schoolwork to read all of Saga and Watchman, some of Sandman, and others. I regret nothing.

After exposing my book club to this beautiful, exciting medium, I figure I’d share it here as well. No better way to prepare for a big race than to leave this reality and spend some time in another universe. I’m sure I’ll travel to planets depicted in Saga at some point on race day. Enjoy!

Note: Saga, at it’s most frequent, comes out in chapters, and those are really more like collectors’ items. They are single chapters a la a comic. The way to read Saga, in my opinion, is to rent or buy volumes, which contain six chapters. Or, now that it’s already on its seventh volume, you can start with book one, which contains three volumes, or 18 chapters. Whatever you do, just should probably just start reading! 🙂

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