June 30, 2011

With a Little Help from some Friends. My First 100 miler Race Report

Wow. What a day!

I had trained hard but was unsure if I had trained hard enough. In knew the course, but not much - having never stepped foot on it before. I knew the competition, and wow - there was going to be some serious competition.

About 5 days prior to the race I was a bag of nerves. Last minute packing and prepping and a feeling that I really wasn't prepared in so many respects. But the day before, and even the minutes before, I was bizarely and unusually not nervous at all. I was concerned that it hadn't set in that I was about to run 100 miles. That's 160km! At Western States! That'll be the most well known 100 miler in North America! Ellie you should be terrified! Oh well, we were at Squaw, it was 5am and we were soon scampering up the snow covered escarpment. Too late for nerves now, we were racing!
I let a whole pack of ladies move ahead. I'm slow on hills at the best of times and decided that at mile 1 with 99 left to go was not a time to try to learn to run hills. But my power hike is decent so I kept in the mix as we crested the top of the escarpment and the sun rose over the snow. We hit the first descent and I shouted out 'it's a beautiful day!' Yep, I really did, and I think fellow runners agreed, though were possibly a little less vocal in their sentiments.

The snow was fun, my focus so absorbed in my footing that I could relax and not think about anything else, especially as Meghan was kind enough to yell out when I took a step or two off the yellow flagged route a few times. Thanks Meghan! There was no trail, it was just follow the flags and try to stay (mostly) upright.

Once we left the snow it was good to hit the trail though and gain a little speed and rythym. The field soon spread out and I would catch a glimpse of a runner here or there but I was mostly on my own. My aim was to get to 55miles/ 90km to my crew at Michigan Bluff in a state they would be proud of. It neatly split the race into a first longer half where I would be solo and a 2nd shorter half (45miles/ 60km) where I looked forward to seeing my 2 sets of crew regularly and having my pacer with me. 2 mini races seemed mentally much easier than one massive 100 miler!

Early on once we cleared the snow I just couldn't get my groove. My legs were just heavy and I didn't seem to have much energy. Nothing was exceptionally wrong, it just seemed harder than it should at this early stage. And soon nagging pains appeared. The usual suspects of tight hamstrings and tight glutes. i think I even promised myself to go to the physio when I got home at this stage :) I tried to remain calm but I wasn't one quarter into this race and it was hurting. I tried to ignore the fact that I had 120km (yikes!!!!) to go and already I was feeling less than ideal.

My first melt down at an aid station was on 4 of the best volunteers all day. I had learned to hand my handheld to one vollie to refill with water, my pack to another to fill with electrolyte drink and now a 3rd vollie was telling me to eat calories and not just fruit, whilst the 4th calmed me with his Dundee accent (my home town in Scotland!) Now just 5 days after the race this whole section leading up to Michigan Bluff is a jumbled mess in my memory - which is probably reflective of how I was feeling at the time. Downhills were good, uphills (even small ones) I was walking) and flats were so so. I made it from one aid station to the next, asking each one as I left where the next one was. Mentally I set tjhese as check points as well as distracting my grumpy brain wioth some math - calculating percentages done of the whole race, or the portion to Michigan Bluff, and taking it 10km at the time.

The canyons were fine and suprisingly cruisey and uneventful miles. The whole day I was amazed who hot it wasn't! The canyons were in fact a mental boost - I enjoyed the downs and hiked out of them, deducing that even if I was feeling stronger I probably wouldn't have been running much of them anyway. I was 4th female, and had heard progressively less encouraging times of how far back of the lead the further I moved on. Not really what I wanted but I just needed to try maintain my position. Then the worst came - whooooosh! - Kami ran past like she was on a 10km training run. Breezy, light, strong. I had my cap in the creek at a time. I looked a mess. She offered if I needed anything but I just whimpered that I was ok. I wasn't. I was beat, mentally as much as physically.

Move. Just move. One foot in front of the other. Keep on moving. The hamstrings were better (Tylenol from the aid stations, thanks Sean!) but I still lacked energy and as my stomach began to bloat I realised I had to stop drinking and eating for a bit but this was hardly going to help the energy levels. I had no choice. After maintaining my (rather hefty my female standards) 127lbs at the first few weigh ins, I now felt I wasn't digesting anything in my stomach. Some relief came on the climb out of the canyon below Michigan Bluff where finally I hiked with a guy for a while. I had spent hours running alone, so even a short conversation and the noise of someone elses footsteps nearby was so welcome. I pulled ahead but not fast enough, as I was hiking a section I really knew I should be running I saw Nikki behind me. I ran, I walked, I ran, I walked and then Nikki caught me. I'd never met Nikki before but now we were powerhiking and chatting (well Nikki was chatting and I was feeling nauseous) and again, the company was great event though she pulled ahead of me and left me in 6th as I bowled into the mayhem of Michigan Bluff in 6th.

Michigan Bluff - first crew and supporter accessible point in this snow year. 90km done! Jackie pulled me into the shade, I downed some coke, my weigh-in confirmed I was 2.5lbs up. I was a snivelling mess (they had heard through the grapevine already that I was not doing good). Jackie was just getting me fixed up when Ana had to suddenly jump back - ah well, least with some serious vomiting I was probably back to normal weight and sporting a new stomach :) Jackie told me to back off on the salt, she gave me a new pack, told me to drink water and one gel before I got the Forest Hill and Ryne at 62m/ 99km. She kicked me back out onto the trail. It's the best thing she could have done.

When seeing Jackie and Ana I urgently told them to get a message to Ryne not to push me. I knew Ryne would be eager to pace me and keep me going to do well. I wanted him to know that a wreck was arriving and he needed to go easy. Some where between Michigan Bluff and Forest Hill I began to feel better. The stomach subsided, I trundled along steadily and took a gel, and knew that within an hour I'd have Ryne pacing me and I'd 'only' have 60km to go.

Forest Hill was busy, Ken put ice on my back (bliss!!!), I drank a refreshing coconut water, changed my shirt, shoes and socks and told Ryne, 'Ok, I'm in 6th. I want to try maintain this, and if not then try for top 10. I might want to come back next year'. It might have seemed ambitious but this was basically me telling Ryne, 'I ain't going to win this thing', something I had certainly thought about and discussed with Ryne pre-race. Sean who had seen me at my worst, had to laugh - was this the same person who had looked like she was ready to drop a few hours before, now saying she at least wanted to be top 10. Yep, I was feeling better and getting back fighting!

Ryne and I rolled out of Forest Hill and within less than 3 mins I overtook both Nikki and Anita. Yay - back in 4th! And now it was time to just click the miles away, still 60km to go so no need to go crazy, just chat away the miles with Ryne. I think he got a dose of verbal diarhea from me for the first hour or two - it was so awesome to be with a buddy finally and not running solo :)

Ryne would tell me about the terrain coming up and I'd run ahead dictating the pace. I was running some easy hills or taking only the briefest of walk breaks, it finally felt like I was making in roads on the miles ahead and on my speed. I was concerned not to get caught by women but Ryne also was repprting back my pace and was confident that I must be gaining on at least some of the 3 women ahead.

I'd had some blisters all day but nothing serious, they were there but runnable. It was only coming down the descent to Rucky Chucky river crossing that I hit a rock with my little toe - yowza!!!!! This prompted me to take off my shoe and sock, Topher came along and in a slightly more subtle way told me that I just needed to run on it and it would be fine. At this point I had not much choice anyway, so back on went the sock and shoe and I jumped into the raft for the short river crossing with only the smallest of delays as a got some more fuel on board.

On the otherside of Rucky Chucky we hiked the 3km or so upto Green Gate. My powerhike was still good and although it was cooling a little I tried to keep to the shaded side of the trail whenever I could. I can't recall if I was in 3rd or 4th at this point but Kristin and ken told me that I was looking much stronger than that ladies ahead. yeah. well they would say that I thought!! However, I did have to concede that I was feeling ok. My stomach was still sensitive but I was obviously managng to get enough calories on in one form or another and knew when to back off and let it settle for a bit. But the energy was coming in ebbs and flows and as we began to approach Auburn lakes I'd more than once said to Ryne that it could still end up being a death march to the end. With 40km to go the kms seemed to become longer and I tried to knock the thoughts out of my head that I still had almost a marathon to go.

As I came into an aid station I mentioned that my stomach was really not great and a vollie immediately directed me to the ginger ale. 2 cups of that, a salted potato and off we went. I'm, then not entirely sure what happened but suddenly I was out of a slump and again back rolling along the trail. I think Ryne wondered what was going on too, I think he was concerned that maybe I was pushing too soon, but I knew I had to make the most of feeling good and I was powering along.

Coming into Browns Bar with just 17kms to go Ryne and I got out our headlamps and agreed to part ways. I was certainly not running even splits in the this race and there was no way Ryne could have predicted that I was going to surge this this.

So off, I went, bowling down the trail, flashlight in hand to aid my vision on new terrain and solo in the dark. I was loving it. I was feeling strong, I was running awesome new trails, and I was going to make it to the Western States finish line (something that earlier in my race had seemed unfathomable)! Next up, I saw HWY 49 aid station - I nice descent to pick up some pace, I yelled at Kristin and Ken that I didn't need anything and they yelled back that I was 3 and 9mins back of 2nd and 1st. OK - let's get moving! Very soon I passed Tracy and her pacer, I didn't think she would follow me but I still pushed hard ahead. I saw another guy periodically ahead and then passed him but felt safe on the dark trail knowing that other runners were still around. As I moved along the trail in a steady rhythm I saw another runner ahead, I gained on them and their pacer, and I passed....Kami! Oh my gosh, I had about 4 miles to go and I was leading Western States and I was running scared. Kami had looked like she was still moving so I knew she might follow and now literally every step would count.

Down to the lights and noise of No Hands bridge and I raced through. Jackie ran after me - 'you need anything?'. 'No!' and I I was gone, I knew I couldn't let up at all if I wanted this win. It was then along the trail by the side of the river I saw two little eyes reflecting in my torchlight, I swung my torch up and saw the blig dark hulk of a bear mid trail. What!!!! You have got to be joking me! I turned to look back and saw a headlamp coming, I just prayed it was a guy and not Kami, thankfully it was. My shouting alone had not budged the bear but with the two of us yelling it climbed a tree and looked down on us as we scurried by. I flashed my torch back to check that it was not following and noted the distance on my garmin to report it's location to the vollies at Robbie Point up ahead. Now I began to climb up to Auburn, hooting and hollering up the trail until I popped out onto the tarmac at Robbie Point. Still I was pushing as hard as I could. Had Kami followed me? Was she gaining on me? Run, run, run!

Then all of a sudden Jackie was running alongside me and soon Ryne, Kristin, Ken (www.runningstupid.net), Ana, Topher and Geoff. They were so excited for me as I approached the track at Placer High. All I could say was 'I'm not there yet!' But soon I was, and all I can say was that run around the track in Auburn was pretty sweet :) It was a rough road to get there but worth every second, and I certainly couldn't have done it without a little help from my friends xx

Photos: Faccino Photos & Bob McGillvray @ Drymax Socks

June 11, 2011

Out There! Calgary, this Tuesday!

Click on image to enlarge for more details. See you there!

June 4, 2011

The Spirit of Comrades (87km, South Africa)

5.20am in the dark and humid streets of Durban. A mass of huddled 16, 000 bodies of nervous anticipation. 4th row back, side by side with Kami and Lizzy. A myriad of languages around. The South African national anthem sung. Chariots of Fire blaring over the speakers. Boom - the pistol is shot and we are off! A sprint start, picking up the feet to avoid falling in the crush of racers pouring forward, eager to make their way along the 87km of tarmac inland (and uphill) to Pietermaritzburg as fast as they can. I let runners pours by me, I keep an eye on Kami, hoping our starting pace might be the same, and I'm grateful it is.

I love the darkness, it hides the four lane highway of the opening kms, it brings a calm and a collness, it sets a muted tone which helps me to not go out too fast. I had agreed with Norman (Wilson of UK Ultra) to shoot for a 6h30m finishing pace, but to be prepared to reassess in the first 10km if it feels too fast. It will put me at two back to pack marathons at aroung 3h07 pace, plus a bonus 2.6km, oh and about 2000m of ascent and 1400m of descent thrown in.

I'm excited to be part of the Nedbank team, one of the main sponsors. I'm sporting their kit and in less than an hour it is light and my sunglasses are down and Kami and I are getting cheers for beong towards the front of the women's frield and for sporting our green Nedbank kit. For the first 20km I double fist packs of Clif shot bloks, take water from the aid stations and pop salt tabs early (no repear of AR50 here!). The water stations are busy so it's a juggle to try run the inside bends (the shorter route) and grab water too. I soon learn that if you pass the water station you grab at least 2 baggies, one for yourself and one to pass to another runner. It's just one early sign of the Spirit of Comrades.

kami and I exchange short conversations, the pace feels good and we hit the first nedbank station at 66km to go (Comrades km markers count down to the finish). i grab my first bottle of Clif dribk and a Clif gel. We are already climbing the first of the 'Big Five' hills - Fields. Many people come to South Africa to see the Big Five (lion, elephants etc). Comraders come to run the Big Five. I repeat their names in my head like a mantra, 'Cowies, Fields, Botha, Inchanga'. I don't bother with the final one (Poly Shortts); I know that once I hit that I will be in survival mode.

So far the hills are fine, typically a couple of hundred metres of elevation gain over 2 to 3km. They remind me of my training on Mount Norquay Road in Banff. Steady, runnable, and dare I say it - enjoyable.

I have my handwritten wrist band so I remember where the Nedbank support crew will be. This breaks the race down and the first time I spot Norman it is thumbs up, I feel good and I know I am around 6h30m pace (I have a few course graded splits noted too thanks to Norrie Williamson). The crowds are amazing; hooting and hollering, cheering and cooking up a storm on their braais. There are quieter sections to enjoy but we are passing through lots of villages and small towns and as we are now on narrower roads the supporters are close and the atmosphere is electric. The Spirit of Comrades.

With still more than half way to go my hamstrings, glutes and hips are beginning to hurt. It's nothing new and I know that although unpleasant, I can run through it. I am a step or two ahead of Kami for a section but from the cheers from the sides I know she is not far back. We are in 5th and 6th. I know the 'Russian twins' (Elena and Olesya Nurgelieva) and Lizzy are ahead for sure, and learn that so is Farwa Mentoor, lead South African female.

I have now fallen in with a male runner. Eloi is talking with the crowds and thanking them for telling him that he is 5th female. he is a joker and helps me to soak up the fun. As Kami passes me, Eloi jibes me not to let her go, but for now I have to. the legs are beginning to hurt and I can only hope that I might catch her later, but I am a little disappointed to have slipped into 6th.

We hit Inchanga, Eloi chatters endlessly and all I can do is make short replies and thank him for hauling me up the 3rd hill to Drummond. Half the kms done; now onto the 2nd, flatter half. Eloi is a like a pacer offering me advice. I tell him I am cramping, 'Ok just relax whatever is cramping'. I tell him that my hamstrings are hurting, 'We are all hurting, we just need to keep running'. I start to walk on a small hill, 'No, not yet!' I don't dare disobey, I run the hill and soon crest the top. Eloi is the epitome of the Spirit of Comrades.

Up ahead I see Lizzy, I soon gain on her and in the hubbub of a water station pass her without being able to exchange words. I am happy to be back in 5th and Nedbank crew advise me that I am 2mins back on 4th. We pass through the Green Mile (cheering section) with 25km to go. I am still working but I am beginning to get a second wind. I spot my parents with their Scottish and Canadian flags. I am waving at the crowds and just soaking up the noise and the energy.

We are now on rolling country roads. It's now just about clicking off the kms. Run steady. Fuel. Relax. Keep up the pace. Out of the blue I let out a yelp of pain. Blister! I'm annoyed, I'm not going to let something as silly as wearing socks too thick for my shoes and the heat ruin this race. I recall Gary Robbins writing about how blisters only really hurt when you start running on them and after a minute or two the psin fades away. Ok then, one more reason not to be tempted to walk. Thanks a lot GR!

We pass through the 22km to go mark and Eloi mentions, 'don't worry, everyone finds the last 2okm tough'. All I can think is that it is tough already and we still have 2km to go to get to the 20km mark! Keep on moving. Keep on moving. Keep on moving. For now I have gone off gels and bloks so my strategy becomes to grab two baggies at each water station, one of energy drink to take salt tabs with and one of water to pour over myself to keep cool. The temperature is starting to climb. By the time I get to 20km to go, 19km to go, 18km to go I am feeling stronger and stronger. The finish is now in my minds eye and I know I'll make it. At around 17km to go I slip ahead of Eloi, the field is now spread out so I am running solo but passing men reasonably frequently as there are always a few runners in view ahead. And in Comrades it's never realy possible to run solo, kids want to high five you, ladies call out 'go sista!' and other words of encouragement. I'm flying high on the Spirit of Comrades even if I am pushing hard.

At about 9km to go I hit the final hill, Poly Shortts. It is gradual but seems tough so I switch to run, powerhike, run, powerhike and keep up with the runners around me. But when I spot Farwa ahead of me I know the walking has to end. That's 4th place Ellie, just run! So I run. It's slow. It's not pretty. But I ease my way past Farwa and into 4th. Wow - Ellie gaining a position on a uphill, that's unheard of! Now I definitely can't walk! 7kms to go and I'm watching for every km marker. It's count down time. The road continues to roll but I continue to run and soon I feel that I am on the flats and descent into Pietermaritzburg. It's tough but it's awesome. Many people had warned me in the days preceding the race that Comrades is tough for newbies. Elena and Olesya (who one again claim top two spots) have raced Comrades nine time and have 2h26m marathon PBs. How do you go against that? I am (barely) a 2h49m marathoner and a Comrades newbie. But I've run a smart race, I've soaked up the Spirit of Comrades and I'm stoked to be powering into 4th place. For the final 1.5km or so I've got a motorbike literally 2ms in front of me and a TV camera in my face. Ok, time to enjoy - I might never experience this again! On entering the stadium I am handing a rose and hold it high as I enjoy the crowds, but I am also wondering how many corners there are before I hit the finishing straight. I chuckle to myself, the stadium is turfed - aaaaah, bliss - finally I am back on my natural running surface :)

What can I say? 6:32:46/ 4th place and 6mins back of Kami and 8mins back of the twins. I am delighted and now have the answer to my question, 'Why have so many people run this race 10+ times?' It's the Spirit of Comrades.

Big thankyous to:

- All of the Nedbank crew
- Norman and Anne Wilson
- Ma & Pa Greenwood
- Montrail/ MHW, Drymax socks, Clif, Sundog Eyewear.
- Eloi of Boxers Running Club.