Stories of an ultra runner and adventurer: an obsessive approach to the outdoors by Candice Burt

Monday, April 7, 2014

Zion 100 Race Report: A Win & Unlikely Friendships

Fitting Together

At mile 80 Sam's pacer
Asked me why I do it
He runs marathons, 
One for each state.
I really don't know right now, 
I answered, ask me when I finish.

Five of us jogged slowly
up the highway looking
for an arrow that would send us up 
the last climb in the race.
We moved like a centipede,
Many legs connected 
In a run-walk dance with the trail.

At that moment it occurred to me 
None of us had met before today
We were pieces of a puzzle
That the race arranged
That together made a picture 
And my puzzle piece 
Finally made sense.

Richard and me running together around mile ~14. Photo by Alex Santiago
I met Richard on the first climb. I wanted to say, stop talking to me I'm trying to breathe, as a line of runners two miles long pushed me and the other front runners up the steepest and longest climb of the race right out of the gates. Our hands grasped prickly desert brush. Our glutes and calves pressed the loose, fine red dust that Zion was so well known for into the earth. I was feeling introverted and a little grumpy. We still had 98 miles to go and my running groove just wasn't going to happen until we topped off at almost 6,000 feet at the top of Smith mesa. I was looking forward to running, not this hands-on-knees lung collapsing shoot up the mountain. 

Video pre-race chilling out in Zion National Park

I walked a flat section and Richard politely passed me. I had a feeling I'd see him later. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was in 1st place when a woman with bleach blonde hair and a tan that could only come from some serious dedication passed me as though she had an extra gear to drive from. Damn, impressive, but somehow I wasn't at all worried. I felt like I'd see her again. I was just trying to chill out and get my legs in a groove while calming my mind with some deep breathing.  My body likes to freak out when I begin on a steep climb. The feeling was familiar so I let it pass not giving it any energy. 
Game face. Photo by Alex Santiago
Near the top, I noticed Keira Henninger, a fellow race director and impressive athlete with some 100 mile wins to her name, had caught up to me on the climb and as we crested the top of the mesa she passed me and we ran together. I could tell there would be some friendly competition here. I stayed with her chatting about life, race directing, and relationships. Cool lady I thought. I hope we get to run together more during the race. We were at Aid #1 at mile 7 before I knew it and wow, I felt gooood. Keira went over to her crew. I hadn't eaten anything or drank any water on the climb, my pack was still full, so I skipped quickly through the aid station and began a fun and fast descent back toward Virgin, UT. 
Richard and me running early on in the race. Photo by Alex Santiago
Right away I caught up to Richard, but now I was feeling quite cheerful and we chatted like old friends the entire way down, blasting past other runners in what was probably a little fast for so early in a 100. Yet, it was so runnable: a paved steep downhill and I didn't want to over think my pace. I was just trying to go with the flow. I told Richard our pace and he looked surprised as well. We both shrugged, oh well, and I mentioned that I wanted to take chances in this race anyway. I don't always want to play it safe. We clicked off 7 min miles and settled behind the blonde girl with good climbing gears. Apparently my downhill running had leveled the playing field.

A little after Aid #2, mile 14, Richard took off or I slowed down for a gel. I let him go. I noticed that I was at the 25k distance in just over 2 hours and 30 minutes and again thought, hmmm that's a bit faster than I expected especially with almost 3,000 feet of climbing. Oh well. I caught up to the blonde gear girl again and we chatted. This was her second 100 miler and she was from Utah. Although I wanted to stick around and chat more, the pace was a little slow and so I passed and rode the roller coaster corners down the hill loving every second of it and passing early starters in groups. The early starters had a 1-2 hour head start so that they could make the 32 hour cut off.
Photo by Cory Reese from 2013 race, the first climb up Smith mesa
Mile 20 in 3 hours. It was fun to run a "runnable" course. I was in 1st place again, and without any crew I was completely unaware of what place I was. I thought I was in 2nd place, but I wasn't worried since it was early in the race. Just before mile 31 and Aid Station #4, the trail shot up a steep 1 mile climb that gained something around 1,000 feet. Wow, that was painful and I had been out of water for the past 3 miles. All I could think about was the pleasure of chugging about 5 glasses of ice cold H20 and 5 glasses of ice cold coke. I climbed one foot after another, hands on thighs steep. I could see that I was getting a sunburn. Shit. Should've gotten some sunscreen on sooner. I considered grabbing dirt and rubbing in on my skin. I decided to wait since I had sunscreen in my drop bag just up the hill. Some people wooped encouragement from the top of the mesa and I hollered back Woohooo!!! Excited to get to the top and despite feeling a bit worn out, I was going to have fun damn it!
Photo by Rico Sesto
Up to this point I'd only been having VFuel gels, coke and a bit of perpetuum in a water bottle. I'd trained on very minimal calories and water the past few months and it seemed as though my body just didn't need much.  I've found that for me personally overeating is way more disastrous than under eating. I've gotten pretty good at finding that sweet spot where I am eating just enough without over filling my stomach. Despite this I'd felt a little unsettled in the tummy all day, from the first climb and then on and off.  Probably due to the faster pace and more runnable miles.
Coming into Aid Station at mile 31. Photo by Alex Santiago
I reached Aid #4 at mile 31 and immediately chugged water. One glass. Two glasses, three glasses, four. Coke, more coke. Stupid horrible cupless plastic cups. I think my sports bra drank half the coke. I hurried to my drop bag and applied my sun screen. I'd rather put on sunscreen than a shirt. As I was heading out of the aid station I noticed Keira's crew walking back from the trail and I realized she'd slipped right past me while I was getting sunscreen! I saw her through the desert brush and within a minute I was behind her. I had the feeling that I wasn't supposed to know she'd passed me, but the cat was out of the bag and I felt good. I said hi and since I still had no idea what place I was in I asked Keira. I think she was surprised by the question, and she said, "We're in first" as though we were tied for the lead. It was a nice gesture considering that she was a few steps ahead of me. Awkward, though perhaps.
Photo by Rico Sesto
Keira stepped aside to use the proverbial bathroom and I said, Ok, see you in a bit! I was thinking this would be a fun race and we could push each other to a good finishing time, how exciting! I picked up the pace weaving and rolling through the slick rock. I was going to make her work to catch me! It was fun at first running through the slick rock section but increasingly stressful as the markers were often hard to follow and I did not want to get lost. As a race director I am especially careful to watch for markings and not just blast through an intersection. This was no ordinary trail, it was an up and down roller coaster of rock hopping and a little sand trail running between the large rock slabs. The views were incredible. The climb had been worth it. Every miserable upward step. I was in love with the red striped rocks that exploded from the valley into incredible mesas for as far as the eye could see.
Photo by Rico Sesto, unknown runners. 
After a few miles Keira still hadn't caught up which I thought was odd, but not too crazy. After all I hadn't seen her from mile 7 to mile 31, so maybe she was chilling out and grooving back there. A short 1 mile out and back to another stunning mesa viewpoint and still no Keira on the way back. That meant she was at least a mile behind me already. Hmmm. Again I was surprised, but I was hoping to win the race, so I thought perhaps I'd just increased the lead with my faster pace.

The next 6 miles flew by and I ran with a  couple runners who were in the 100k. As it turned out, the man who was running the 100k had seen Keira heading back to the aid station at mile 31 to drop. What??! I was shocked. It turned out that she had fallen and had her hip popped back in place. I sent a little prayer for her and finally understood why she had disappeared. Side note, she is okay, but recovering.
Photo by Rico Sesto, Richard running the road section.
The next few sections were a bit tedious dirt road running with crew's vehicles kicking up dust much of the way. Around a bend I was super excited to see Richard. He was walking and I jogged up to him. He was going through a low point he said, but then proceeded to run the rest of the way with me to Grafton Aid Station, mile 49 in 9 hours in 15 minutes. The guy was able to turn around his low so quick! We grabbed some soup, coke, and more gels at the aid station. After a slight hesitation I grabbed a burrito. I never eat real food this early in a 100, I told Richard. He didn't appear concerned as he chugged chocolate milk and grabbed two burritos. What the hell. This was supposed to be fun right? 
Bummed out after getting significantly off course
We jogged out of the aid station to the soon-to-be-infamous unmarked turn. We'd been following pink and green flagging and at a Y in the trail the green flags went to the right and the pink ones went straight. We paused. Which way do we go? We were just far enough from the aid station that we didn't want to go back. Well we were following pink earlier we agreed and so we followed the pink all the way down a big climb and through a few mesas where we ran into two men who told us we were going the wrong way. Shit, fuck, & damn it! They had also gone down the climb, one of them (he'd been in 2nd place) going almost all the way to Eagle Aid Station (4-6 miles) before running into the eventual winner, who told him that he was going the wrong way. The other man, Jan Kriska, had been 1/4-1/2 mile ahead of us, and both men were contemplating quitting. At this point my legs felt so shot (it was only mile 52) that I also considered dropping. It was so disappointing to get off course by so much!
Richard and me coming into Grafton after getting off course. Photo by Alex Santiago

Photo by Rico Sesto
We slowly trudged up the technical climb and it was at that point that I knew that Richard and I would finish the race together. I can't explain exactly why, but he wasn't going to let me drop that much I could tell. We finally got back on course and told the aid station about the confusing intersection hoping no one else would make the same mistake.  As we were heading out toward Eagle Aid Station, we ran into Jan again, but he was walking back to Grafton, the wrong way. I'm dropping, he said. Just run to the next aid station with us, I encouraged him, We're running together I said pointing to RichardTo my surprise, he said, ok. Wow that was easy!
The Trio of Jan Kriska, me, and Richard Kresser leaving Eagle Aid Station. Determination!
From there on we made a silent and strong pact to run together for the rest of the race. And we did for 48 miles we jogged, walked, ran, suffered, and shared a joy that you can only experience with fellow runners, all in it to finish it. It was magical and unique. It was as though we were the same heart, the same legs and we pushed each other and rested with each other in synch. A true gift of running friendship.
Jan Kriska, early on in the race. Picture courtesy J.K.
Just after nightfall, our posse of 3 caught up with a talented nubie ultra runner, Sam, who was doing his first 100 miler. Sam was a team player too and joined us despite saying from time to time that he would have to walk the next section or that he'd never felt so much pain. The guy was an animal. He kept overcoming his mental and physical obstacles and ran with us for the next 20+ miles along with his pacer, Rahim, a prolific marathoner, who insisted he wasn't ever going to do a 100 miler. Yeah, suuuuure, Richard said. I agreed, yeah right that's what they all say. It was funny but true. Sam and Rahim stayed with our trio, now 5 strong until the last 9 miles where he walked the downhill to appease his painful legs, finishing in a strong 23:30-something.
Rahim, Sam's pacer on the left in orange jacket and Sam on the right in green jacket enjoying some post race beers. Picture courtesy of Rahim. 
Jan, Richard and I ran step for step the rest of the way finishing holding hands and embracing in a way that only people who have experienced life on the edge can embrace. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world! After all was said and done, I finished in first place in 23:04, slower than expected, but with at least 4 bonus miles and a 1,500 foot extra climb. It was my most enjoyable 100 miler to date. It was a beautiful picture of friendship and team work.

A big thank you to race director Matt Gunn, the many, many volunteers, and race sponsors. Big thank you to VFuel Endurance for fueling me to a win at The Zion 100 and Ultimate Direction for their excellent Ultra Vesta, perfect pack for the race. Thanks Pearl Izumi/Running, Trail N2's helped me navigate the course and performed spectacularly in the desert terrain.

Most of all, thank you to Richard, Jan, Sam, and Rahim. <3
A little pre-race yoga in Zion National park the day before the race. 
Photo by Jason Sung

Sunday, April 6, 2014

How to be Tough as Nails Mentally for Your 100 Miler

The mental game is everything in a 100 mile ultra marathon.  I've done enough 100's to know that it is usually the mental piece that leads to a DNF or a poor performance or alternately, that leads to success & other positive outcomes. Here are several proven (by me of course) strategies for maximizing your mental potential in the Queen of Ultras, the 100 mile race:

1. Just make it to the Next Aid Station: Forget about thinking of a 100 miler in terms of 100 miles. Instead think only about getting to the next aid station. Chances are that as bad as you feel at any given moment you will admit that you can make it to the next aid station. This rule is all about staying present where you are and not letting your fears take over. It's very hard for the mind to grasp 100 miles, or even having another 30 miles to go when you've just done 70 miles, but it's as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.

2. Remember it's #2 Kind of Fun: In other words, it's the kind of fun that you will look back on and say, "Gee that was so much fun! I'm so glad I finished that race!" Despite being miserable as hell for 80 miles. As odd as this sounds, it's true that you will most likely look back on your experience with a certain fondness and a new appreciation for what your body is capable of.  This rule is courtesy Richard K. who kindly explained to me the difference between Fun #1 and Fun #2 (Fun #1 is fun at the time of the event like having a beer with your buddies, in case you were wondering).

3. Have a Bad Memory: Or rather a selective memory. It's important not to stress out about your perceived shortcomings, especially ones that are based on past experiences. Be gentle with yourself about past DNF's and poor performances. In fact, just forget about them as negative events and instead mine them for the gems that they are. My first 100 miler was a pretty big disaster at least according to my goals at the time but I learned that I needed to train with gear I'd use in the race and to fuel more mindfully to avoid the dreaded 100 mile nausea.

4. Less is More: Set yourself up to succeed mentally in your 100 miler by not overtraining and by tapering properly. If you feel good for longer physically during the race, you'll be ahead of the game. In training it means that it's better to do less mileage than too much. For example, if you overload your body with 10-20 more miles a week than your body can adapt to, you are back tracking your training. If you'd done exactly the milage your body can handle you would hit that sweet spot where you are getting maximum benefits for maximum mileage. Here's the trouble with trying too hard to hit that perfect spot: we don't have any way of knowing exactly where that sweet spot is each week or day other than listening to our body and our intuition. That is why it's better to err on the side of fewer miles than too many. Cross training can help close that gap between doing too few miles and your sweet spot-- without stressing your body out in the same way that only running mileage does. That being said, you can also under train which can be disastrous in a 100 mile race. You want to be prepared and have your body ready to handle the stress of the race. 

5. Exercise Your Mental Muscles: I'd right out say just do yoga everyday, but I admit there are other mental-physical practices that will get you similar results. For me, yoga is perfect for honing my mental muscles as it combines physically difficult poses with flowing breath which activates deep calmness during extreme physical strain. I enjoy hot vinyasa power yoga as the heat adds another element of stress to the body, further challenging my mental fortitude. This heat is great for runners who find regular yoga to not be challenging enough or who need heat training for an ultra.

6. Strategic Visualization: We visualize things all the time. How often do we visualize exactly what we want? Leading up to your race take a little time each day, preferably after a meditation or yoga practice when you are relaxed, to visualize your race going exactly as you want it to. Be very detailed in your vision. During your race return to the vision when you find yourself moving into fear or visualizing negative events.  I can't stress enough that this is the most important key to 100 mile mental success. If you only do one of these mental strengtheners, do this one. Well, on second thought do the breathing one too.

7. Breathe: This one is deceptively simple and it's often overlooked. Feeling overwhelmed during a race? Breathe. Getting overly negative? Breathe. Climbing 5,000 feet in 5 miles? Breathe. Breath calms the body and connects us with the present. Being present is the key to mental strength. I highly recommend a regular breathing practice like yoga as it trains you how to use the breath through movement, something you can't learn during a 100 miler, you must practice beforehand.

8. Eat and Hydrate Regularly: The brain and your mental will power will fail if you do not hydrate and fuel properly. It's not as simple as it sounds of course: 100 mile nutrition is an art and it varies for each individual. That being said, you'd be best off trying to figure out what works for you as a well fed body will deliver incredible results.

9. Make Friends: Put away your Ipod and start talking to the runners around you. There's strength in numbers and strength in sharing our joys, pain and suffering. Not only will the miles fly by but you'll make new friends. At Zion 100 this past weekend, I made more friends than I've ever made in a race and not so coincidentally, I had more fun than I've ever had in a 100 miler. Three of us got about an hour and a 1500 foot extra climb off course and instead of suffering by ourselves we made a pact to run the rest of the race together and through that friendship we were stronger than any one of us was alone. It was a powerful lesson in the magic of friendship and camaraderie. I also make an effort to say something encouraging to every runner I cross paths with, it reminds me to smile and I hope it gives them a little boost.

10. Smile: Even if you have to peel your lips up your face, do it. Smiling works: it activates the brain to begin to think more positively and amazingly it helps you actually feel like smiling. Plus, you'll surely entertain the runners around you with your clown grin.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Shade was Pinot

I don't remember the lipstick's name,
It was dark like an expensive pinot noir
I put it on my lips like a drunk
Thick and plentifully
I told myself I'd get that mountain lion
Leaping down my abdomen
Like a man's hand
And me, drunk
On pinot.

Yoga in Zion, with Some Trail Running Thrown In

Why always settle for yoga indoors? If you're feeling a little lack of inspiration in your practice and weather permitting, go outdoors and do some of your favorite asanas. I love stopping mid-run, even to just do one pose, like bridge or a headstand. Visiting Zion National Park today, I found a little parking spot off the road and scrambled about 1/2 mile up the rocks to find this little piece of heaven to write, meditate, and do some yoga!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Yoga for Ultra Runners

Yoga is an integral part of my life as an athlete and as a person. I practice so that I can rest in Shavasana at the end and visualize my life as I want it to be: my body, mind, spirit. Through my daily practice of power vinyasa yoga, I have become stronger than ever before in my life. I believe it has helped me become more mentally tough in ultras and flexible in life. I usually choose to practice hot vinyasa yoga. The intense sweating is an incredible detoxifier, warms the muscles making them more flexible, and provides the side benefit of heat training for ultra marathons. On a mental level, hot yoga helps me feel very calm, relieves stress and allows me to connect to my body and the rest of the world through flowing breath, heat, and asanas.

These probably sound like incredible benefits, and they are undoubtably amazing. I think the power of yoga is in the daily practice. Doing yoga once a week will certainly benefit you, but it is unlikely to bring the same magical benefits as a daily practice. I practice vinyasa power yoga anywhere from 5 to 12 hours of yoga a week, depending on where I am in my training schedule. I do less yoga in the 2 weeks before a 100 mile race. I do the most yoga when I am doing slightly lower running mileage 35-70 miles a week) but when I am still 3-8 weeks away from an event. I've included some links to a few of my yoga-inspired articles, tutorials and interviews as well as some informational links for anyone who may be interested in trying (or expanding) their yoga practice.

My tutorial on How to Do a Yoga Headstand for Ultra Runners:

Bridge Pose and Wheel Pose for Runners, Tutorial: 


Racing ultra marathons with high volume yoga trainingHURT 100 Race Report
PodcastUltra Runner Podcast, Candice Burt Interview

Yoga Inspired Posts:
Resistance to Life
Using Discomfort for Change: How the Worst Yoga Class Changed my Life

What I practice:
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga
Power Yoga
Hot Yoga

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Trail Running in Death Valley

I always like to take a little time to do some yoga. i find it gives me a better feeling for the area. Sound odd? Try it!

Death Valley: definitely a must do trail running adventure for those that enjoy the heat. In late March it was perfect temps, 90 degrees with a slight breeze. I picked up the National Geographic Death Valley map (foreshadowing???) a few days before at a map-shopping spree in Las Vegas (that's about as exciting as my party-in-vegas gets). Glad I did because as far as I could tell from the trails I ran on, they were more of a rocky wash that followed the contours of the land toward the pass than actual trails. I was able to use the map to discover which contours and mountains to run around, over, and past.

I imagine that to a child who has never seen the desert, Death Valley would be a sort of low saturation, almost black-and-white dreamscape of the moon. I loved every minute of my adventure. A big thank you to my intuition for giving me the heads up! After leaving the park it was as though I was energized from head to toe with something powerful and deep, did I tap into the energy of the land? The rocks were really incredible. Truly the whole area had a kind of intense otherworldly feel and doing yoga on top of one of the highest points in the valley was cathartic.

If you watch the video I will explain how I happened to find myself in Death Valley on a side trip running some trails playing hooky from a day of rock climbing clinics at Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas. In short, I was unable to resist the adventure when I saw the sign for the park. Sometimes adventure beckons and the best thing to do is to allow it to seduce you.  Enjoy the pics and let the mountains, the desert, the forest all beckon you to explore their earthy bodies.

For more on the park, see the NPS website: Death Valley

The pass is up over there, see it? Indian Pass
It was fun following the ridge!
The trail I took, National Geographic map

Looking down into the valley from atop a huge, mountainous pile of gravely-rock. I'm sure it has a name. 

The rocky parts of the land were tough running, even when they were flat.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Wedding

The Wedding

Two days
Nine hundred miles
Hearts of Palm
In a can
Rehydrated wakame
Raw salmon cubed
on a old bag of plantain chips.
My running shoes
Dusted with sunshine
from desert running.

I kept passing turnouts
Maybe that one was a trail?
How many trails would I pass
before I slowed down
just to try one out?

The sign said 20 mile Beach
Sounded so good, yet,
Red and blue lights
Spinning Frantically
Like I was back in Vegas

I was on to the next trail
Another beach pullout
This time it was a man
Glued to his small black car
Standing there staring at me

Back on the hunt for a trail
I knew was there.
A trail that would give me
a view on top of a mountain.

And there it was:
Shooting up the mountain of gravel
like a groomed rock slide.

My car key beneath a cairn
Nothing to bring with me
Nothing to hold me back
Just me and the Mountain,

Breathing like I was flowing
Through Vinyasa
Breathing, running
Unsure how far I would go,
Unsure how far I wanted to go

As I ascended,
Joy in the movement
Mirrored the ripening sunset
I was close to the top
When I saw the herd of nine white
Mountain Goats

They told me my story
Standing stoically
on the hillside,
And I was scared
for a brief moment

With a glance
they had me return
To the lake
To my car
To my possessions.

I ran down the mountain
A stone let loose from the hillside
Free to tumble and crash into its new

Around the last corner
A wedding party of four
Circled around a pastor
A Red Rose between her fingers
And now I was the goat
Wondering what was happening
on my Mountain.