Monday, September 3, 2018

New Wonderland Trail Funnest & Fastest Known Time


I was crawling through the window that seperated the cab of my truck from the seating area when I hit the panic button on my keychain. WOO! WOO! WOO! My truck screamed through the parking lot, all eyes on me stuck partway through the almost-too-small window. If I angled just a bit, hip upward, I could squeeze through but this wasn't the first time I'd set off the truck alarm while climbing through the window, it was a tight fit.

The trail work crew that was circled around their truck holding rakes and shovels was surely staring at me wondering why I was horizontal in the open window my head and chest poking through to the backseat and my feet and legs in the bed of the truck. This was me trying to be discreet as I'd slept in my truck the night before in the National Park and I wasn't sure if that might be frowned upon. I was running the Wonderland Trail today, hopefully faster than any other woman had ever run it while carrying all her own gear.
Night before my run prepping gear

The Wonderland Trail is a tough and rugged trail that circumnavigates Mt. Rainier, Washington state's biggest volcano. The trail is somewhere between 93 and 95 miles total, depending on who you ask or what you read and gains 25,000 ft of vert as it climbs up the peaks and valleys that make this mountain one of Washington's most stunning and domineering landscapes.

I knew I wanted to go back and run the Wonderland Trail after setting an unsupported FKT there in 2012 when I was just getting into ultra distance trail running. It was my first really big solo adventure and for some reason, perhaps because I'm competitive or perhaps because it gave me extra motivation, I chose to try to do the route as fast as possible. It's really a delicate process of pushing, but not pushing to hard, it's almost 100 miles after all. This time, I would again go for the unsupported record that had been set the year before by two women who ran the route together in August 2017 in 29 hr 12 minutes, about 1:59 better than my 2012 time. I was pretty confident after having run it in 31:11 that I could knock off a few hours if I didn't get lost like last time.

Unsupported means that you have to carry all your own gear and food from start to finish. You can get water from natural sources along the way. I also consider unsupported to be solo however the official site does not. Running with another person means you won't be navigating alone, you may not carry 2 maps or 2 GPS and you will have a safety fall back plan and company to keep you awake and alert... to name a few of many reasons.
Can you see the trail?

The car alarm is still screaming out. My keys are in my hand and I locate the panic button, pressing it hoping it will stop bringing attention to me climbing through my cab like the sketchy fucker I am. The noise stops abruptly and I grunt as I pull myself into the backseat, sitting for a moment wondering if the trail crew is still staring over at me. Opening the side door I'm cool as a mountain lake, as though nothing was amiss. I covered my messy hair with a pink Tahoe 200 trucker hat and calmly beelined for the trailhead bathroom with brush in hand. I don't take a single glance in the way of the trail workers. Cool as a fucking mountain lake. 

I was scared to run through the night, and I couldn't stop thinking about the dark. In 2012 while running the route solo I had to scare away a mountain lion, twice. It was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. There was no hiding in ignorance or denial this time around. I knew wild animals were on the mountain, in abundance. It is their mountain and I am a visitor. As I thought about the wild beasts standing at the back of my truck, tailgate down, I decided to pack an additional headlamp, making it three lights I was bringing. Probably overkill but fuck it. Two of the lights were headlamps and one was a waist light. I was going to light up the trail! It made me feel a little better but the fear still lingered. I knew if I wanted to overcome my fear I had to put myself in a place where the only way out, was the way through... in this case running through the trails at night until the sun came up again.
My pack at the end of my run, much emptier from the food being gone!
I began my bid for the new record a bit after 10:20am on Wednesday, August 29 at the Box Canyon Trailhead. Before you judge my late-as-shit-time, know that no matter what I'm going to be running through the night so starting time was somewhat irrelevant. Plus, I didn't arrive at the Box Canyon parking area until after 1am. Starting rested was a good plan. The stress and adrenaline of running in such an intense environment had deeply fatigued me the last time, almost requiring a nap on day 2 so I wanted to start out as rested as possible. Despite the sleeping in, my visual hallucinations the next day were on point. But I digress.

I hit the start button on all my GPS devices. I had 4 devices if anyone is counting: my Garmin Fenix watch, my handheld garmin 64st, my Inreach explorer for live tracking for any remote spectators (and to prove that I was doing/had done the route in the time I said I did it in), and my phone with the Gaia app. My pack weighed an impressive 19-22 pounds depending on how much water I had at any given time, still nothing compared to the backpackers I encountered! Scroll to the bottom of the page to see my (almost) full list of gear.
Alpine views early on day 1
To me, a 20 pound pack wasn't too big of a deal. I had just come off a 120 mile week course marking for the Bigfoot 200 Endurance Run, one of the many events I organize year around as a full time Race Director (see my website here: Destination Trail). We carry that kind of weight up to about 40 pounds every day for a week while doing 15-25 mile segments to mark a 200 mile course. I was used to the chaffing, the weight on my neck and shoulders, the pounding on my legs. I figured it was all good training for today, the day I'd go for the FKT. Although in all honestly I wasn't sure I was doing the route until just a few weeks before I did it. It was just a thought and the thought grew and grew until I could no longer ignore it.

Right away, the views of Rainier were stunning. The trail climbed and climbed. In 10 miles I'd climbed 5,000 feet. In 23 miles it was 9,000 feet. I didn't notice the climbing too much, the pace felt easy and I was enjoying the quickly changing views. Overall, the entire route is well signed at intersections so early on I didn't need to navigate much. I paid careful attention through washes and over rivers as it can be easy to lose the trail when you're just going over rocks and scrambling up riversides. I'd forgotten how technical parts of the trail were. I took a lot of pictures (96) and a few videos (10). I wanted to document my journey and I was averaging 3.5 miles an hours it wasn't too hard to stop and take a few pics. In hindsight, I might have saved a bit of time by taking fewer pictures. Fun first, fast later. 
My first view of Rainier
With all the little things I had to do to take care of myself, time was adding up and I kept slipping under the 3.5mph average I was hoping to keep: filtering water (I stop filtering to save time), getting food out of my pack, changing layers, taking photos. On top of that, I started to worry that I wasn't going to have enough calories. I had brought about 200 calories per hour for a 26 hour run. There wasn't much past that. Shit. I need to start conserving and I was only 10 hours into the run. There was no other option though, it was conserve or run out completely. I would make it work. It was all just part of the ever-changing challenge. Go with it. Go. GO GO!

"I hope you're not going to fast to enjoy the views," A man with a camera remarked as I glided past him on a downhill. The thought crossed my mind that many people who don't run really don't understand how much fun it is to enjoy the scenery quickly. I get to see far more in a shorter period of time. It's not better and it's not worse than any other speed. It's just the way I enjoy the mountain. There's something incredibly powerful about moving like this through the environment. Just thinking about that feeling of ease and speed, it gives me goosebumps writing about it.

As night began approaching, a new emotion emerged. Surprise. I was surprised that my fear wasn't growing. I strapped on two of my three lamps and proceeded down the trail. As the light faded away I descended farther and farther into river valley that thundered with the force of the melting glaciers coming off the mountain's impressive face. In this commanding environment I was both humbled and reverent. I was exactly what and where I should be.

I crossed the river and about 1/2 mile later came to a closed trail sign. Dammit, I'd done it again, only the opposite direction. I remembered trying to go down this trail 6 years ago and losing a good 30 minutes. I turned around and proceeded to take the detour that took me around the washed out trail.
Running into the night
For the next 9 (or was it 10?) hours of darkness I counted down the hours and minutes until daylight knowing that my mind was my biggest challenger. In my mind, the night was the only thing holding back from finishing this route. For 9 straight hours I listened to episodes of Radiolab out of my phone's speaker in an attempt to scare off wildlife and to feel some human connection. Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich investigating a strange world as I navigated a strange, wild world pushing through brush, one step after another leading me up, up, up through brown forests of thick old growth trees. Noises reverberating across the valleys. The mountain slope angling above me as though there would never be any sky or any light ever again. Science and philosophy blending into a harsh, beautiful and magical world.

The daylight met me at the top of one of the many climbs, I was eating berries hoping to get some extra calories. As I rounded pillars of rock, a beautiful and light (light!) meadow greeted me at the top, and the most perfect deer was just standing there. I gasped she was so perfect. Her coat was light brown and as shiny and thick as I'd ever seen. I couldn't believe she was real. Not afraid of me, just staring at me, curious. Her baby stepping out of the brush, just as perfect as she was. They walked off and the metaphor wasn't lost on me I, too, was born into day 2 of my journey. My fear was gone and there was a lightness that couldn't just be explained by my quickly diminishing calories. It was time to get this shit done.

If I was going to claim back the FKT on this route, I had to run the last 30 miles faster per mile than I'd run the first 65 miles. Shit. Shit. My brain was still calculating, an impressive task after so many hours of running and pushing. What were the chances I had it left in me to push so much harder? I shook my head as if that could dislodge the reality of the pace I needed to hold and refocused on the task at hand. Get that time. Go get the time or come back in 2 weeks and try again. The mere thought of having to come back so soon was enough to kick my legs in gear. My legs, the ones that felt like they were made out of glass that was slowly shattering. Focus.

For hours I kept calculating the miles, the time, the mph I needed to move and the mph I was moving at. Could I do it? I kept having to stop: to eat, to put on a jacket, take off a jacket. Each pause was agonizing. I was so tired I was nodding off on the trail running. It must be the adrenaline from the stressful night I thought because I wasn't up for that long. Suck it up. I slapped my face, wake up! I popped a caffeine pill, ate some food, forced myself to drink some water. The water helped because basically since 10:20am the day before I had virtually no saliva and chewing was difficult. This always happens to me when I run. I can't barely chew or swallow. Each bite takes like 2 minutes until I eventually give up and choke it down. Probably didn't help that I brought peanut butter sandwiches with me. Six of them. I know, right? I set myself up for chewing failure.
Water source, no filtering. I used LEKI poles the entire way and fell in love with them
As I got closer to what was no less than Heaven to me... Box Canyon... 16 miles... 12.5 miles... an energy began growing in me like that melted glacial water. I was on the move! Now you might not think it sounds too impressive, but I was roaring down those trails 82 miles in... 26 hours in... clicking off 8, 9, 10 minute miles. I hadn't sat for more than a few minutes and certainly had not rested for all those 26 hours and now I felt like I was sprinting. From the outside, I probably appeared to be a dust devil that was exhausting her tornado like tendencies, slowing turning back into dirt. But I was just gaining speed, whirrling with a new found energy.
Some technical running early on
I was so excited 6 miles out (BOOOOX CAAAANYOOON I'm coming for youuuu!), I KNEW I was going to do this. In the last 30 miles I had just hoped to get a few minutes under the previous FKT of 29:12, but in these last 12 miles I'd gone from being a minute or two from getting the FKT to what was going to be about 30 minutes faster than the time, if I continued at this pace. I cannot explain how my brain was able to process this high level math so far into an ultra, but stay with me here, I wasn't going to just get the FKT. I was going sub 29 hours baby!!!

And there it is. That's how I set a Funnest and Fastest Known Time. I set a goal, slept in my truck, ran all day and all night and part of the next day until I got back to my truck. As I unlocked the door to my truck, my heaven, I even managed to not set off the panic button, and I collapsed into the front seat crying with joy. Trying to hide my emotions from the busy parking lot and wishing there was someone I could share the moment with, who might understand melting glaciers, strange worlds narrated by Jad Abumrad and perfectly groomed deer. Instead, I wiped my eyes, put on my sunglasses and changed my clothes as quickly as I could before my fingers turned white and my body shook with cold.

The Official FKT website: https://fastestknowntime.com/fkt/candice-burt-wonderland-trail-wa-2018-08-30
My Garmin at the finish. Finish time: 3:05pm!
I also took a screenshot of the time of day when I got to Box Canyon. 
My gear:
Ultimate Direction hardrocker pack
LEKI poles Micro Trail Pro
Kogalla Light
Black Diamond Headlamp
Petzl headlamp
4 extra AAA batteries
2 extra AA batteries
Battery pack
3 cords
Ultimate Direction Rainjacket with hood
North Face taped seams Rainjacket with hood
Gloves
Smartwool long sleeve shirt
Extra t-shirt
Altra Superior 3.5 Trail Shoes
Injini socks
Trail gaiters
Garmin 64st handheld GPS
Inreach Explorer Live tracking device
Phone
Fenix Garmin watch
Aftershokz Trekz headphones
iphone headphones
Katadyn Filter Bottle
2 - Ultimate Direction Soft Flask 16 or 20oz bottles
6 Peanut Butter sandwiches
variety of Muir gels
10 (ish) Larabars
Jellybeans
Honeystinger chews (2 packages)


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

2018 HURT 100: The Love and the Hate

“What is my why?” I asked myself for the 100th time. To be honest I've never been entirely clear why I run ultras, this moment was no exception. I was 30-some miles into one of the hardest 100 milers in the world and I felt like any moment I was going to lose my stomach and I couldn’t figure out why I was doing it. It's not like I didn't know what I was getting into, this was not my first time running HURT 100, it was my 5th. I was pretty sure I knew my "why" before the race – this year I was going to set a PR and enjoy time with other runners. By “enjoy” I really should say “suffer”. I knew there would be suffering, but it wasn’t until the race started and I began that cruel ascent up Hogs Back that I remembered how much suffering this race really required. How had I forgotten? What was wrong with me that I could let myself do this again, and again and AGAIN. It had been 2 years since I had run this race – I took last year off from the race to enjoy Maui with my children who had never been to Hawaii, ages 9 and 12, and in that time I had made the race into some sort of jaunt in paradise. Dammit. Time is a potent amnesia and my body was letting my brain know what an idiot I was to have accepted this challenge once again. So was my stomach. Please make it stop.
 
Me and my crew extraordinaire, the one and only Catra Corbett
2017 was marked by a strong desire on my part to return to racing (but that wouldn’t really happen until the end of the year/start of ’18) as well as a good effort on my part to cope as a very overwhelmed human being. I'm not complaining and I say this because I know some people will judge my words, I'm just explaining mostly for my own understanding. 2017 was a necessary 'just survive and get through it' kind of year to get to where I want to be. My business was taking off and growing quickly (we doubled our numbers in 1 year) and with it, my work load was growing massively as well. I organized my most complicated and challenging events thus far. 
Loop 1, mile 20
This was the first year I’d be organizing three 200+ mile races in less than 3 months. As daunting as competing in all 3 may sound to you, the reader, organizing the events felt even more challenging to me, an experienced ultra runner and race director. Last year I organized two 200 mile races plus another 7 separate events for a total of 9 events. This year I had 10 events, including one extra 200 mile race that was really 238 miles, the Moab 240, and with it many more permits and a very increased work load and responsibilities that would’ve broken many people. It almost broke me honestly, but I chose it and dammit I wanted to be successful! 

My point in explaining this is to paint a story for the reader as to where my mind and body was July through early November. I was on site for organizing, marking and directing my 200 mile races from early July through October, a total of almost 4 months. From mid September until October, in just 2 weeks, I prepped for the Moab 240 (orders, final permits, employees, etc) flew to WA to see my children, had surgery for a hernia, and gave up alcohol for good. To say that I filled every moment with something significant is an understatement. September was one of the worst months of my life, with some of my lowest of lows and yet, my race directing business was taking off. It was a month of change, and although it was painful in many ways, it was a catalyst for all the good things that 2018 will bring.
Hogs Back, the first climb. You must do this climb 5x for a finish.
All three 200 mile races went incredibly well, however as a business we had some growing pains after my new truck’s engine died costing the business over $20,000, the business’ new RV broke down, and some internal strife (read: issues with our race crew including missing cash from merchandise and the need to let go of some people due to their actions being out of line with our mission). Through it all I began to fine tune some aspects of my race organizing team and through it all a deeper understanding of the kind of people I need to have on hand in order to do my job the best I can and continue to organize the biggest an best 200 mile races in the USA.

By the time November rolled around, I was ready to train for the HURT 100, my 5th time racing the event. Heck, I was ready to just run in general after all the work commitments of the past summer and fall. Work and life had other plans for me however. In November/December I put in an offer on a house in Washington State, opened the Tahoe 200 registration (we got over 250 people in 2 months), sold two trucks and finally got a new truck to replace my dead truck and closed on that house in Washington. Life stayed overwhelmingly busy. I made two trips to Washington State and got a new puppy and trained my ass off while dealing with a chronic hamstring injury. I raced the Ray Miller 50k getting a break through 3rd place after years of not racing anything less than 100 milers. By breakthrough, I meant specifically mentally for me. It was uplifting to see that I still had a little speed, but I worried that I had not raced longer than a 50k in prep for the HURT 100, a race that I knew would test every inch of my body and mind.
 
Mile 40, still smiling, but not feeling well
In December I trained with a bit more gusto running most days through cold, snow, and injuries including the aforementioned hamstring pain and a separated AC joint in my shoulder. Despite the injuries, I felt stronger than I’d felt in years. Yes, years. Just last summer I DNS’d the TRT100 when my new coach David Roche explained that it would set me back if I did – he was right to say so. Last summer I couldn’t even run up a short hill. My body was drained and I’d been pulled from the Desert Rats 150 mile stage race for medical reasons after a string of issues that culminated in extreme abdominal pain and a massive drop in my blood pressure (I was measured as 60/? As the doctors couldn’t even get a read on the bottom number). It was recommended that I immediately go to the hospital, I refused, survived, and ultimately was pulled from the race for my own safety.

As I write all this I realize that as excited as I was to return to racing, I may have returned too soon. I should’ve built a stronger base including more short distance ultras in preparation for such a tough 100 mile race. I found myself getting quite nervous for the HURT 100 as it approached. I was excited to have my good friend Catra Corbett joining me as crew and pacer and I felt confident that I was well trained and ready, yet I knew that it was ONE HUNDRED FREAKING MILES. Anything could happen and I hadn’t trained more than 31 miles in one day in prep. I really felt that I should’ve done a 50 miler, but I was carefully managing my hamstrong pain. I had done a 3 day but it ended up being shorter than planned due to my hamstring and 6” fresh snow. My three day block ended up being 26 miles-10 miles- 20 miles 3 weeks before the event. I hoped it would be enough.
 
Beatrice trying to convince me she will fit with all my other race gear for my trip to Hawaii
Race week: my runs were still feeling good, great actually, but my nerves persisted. I had high expectations for myself, after all this was my 5th year and I’d finished the race 3 times (twice in 2nd place, once in 3rd place and one DNF) and I thought I could get a PR. My fastest time was 27:58 good enough to just squeeze into the women’s top 10 fastest times ever. I felt like I had not really reached my potential at this race and I hoped this was the year I could do that.

I didn’t do it. Here’s how it went down.  
 
It's worth noting that on loop 1 we all thought there was a missile coming to Hawaii to possibly kill us all. Puts things in perspective. This is a screen shot from Catra's phone when they finally let everyone know that we were not in fact being bombed. 
Miles 0-20 (loop 1)
Felt stronger than I’ve ever felt on Loop 1 although I came in slower than my PR year. I ran it in 4:28 this year, my fastest being 4:17 and despite the relatively fast pace, I was still running 3-6th place woman. There were about 7 of us that were relatively close on that loop and loop 2. Looking back, I believe this was actually the most competitive year I’ve run the race. I felt good on this loop and 4:28 was not too hard for me, although the 4:28 felt a bit faster than it was. I was hoping to do a 4:15 on that loop, but keeping it easy and light was my plan so 4:28 it was. Running into paradise was waaaay slipperier than I remembered it from other years, however the rest of the course seemed drier, save for the creek crossings which were more intense and my feet stayed wet the entire way. Squish, squash, squish, squash.
 
Loop 1. Photo courtesy HURT 100
Miles 20-40 (loop 2)
This loop makes it or breaks it for most runners. If loop 2 is too difficult, it’s incredibly difficult physically and mentally to continue for 60 more miles on such difficult terrain. Basically this is the loop that went bad for me. Right away I got very nauseous. I panicked – I was fearful of a repeat of the abdominal pain that almost sent me to the hospital last summer and I knew that this pain would take away all my leg power if it continued. I thought fast and realized I’d had a lot of plain water at the Nature Center at mile 20 and I might need more electrolytes so I added Liquid IV powder to my hand bottle in a strong concentration. It worked within minutes and by the time I was at the top of the climb 3 miles into the loop I felt good again. I had two entire coconuts worth of coconut water at the road crossing (after banging my knee incredibly hard on the medal fence) and proceeded to Paradise Aid mile 27.

Leaving Paradise, a very gradual uphill began to feel tougher than it should. I wanted to walk but I knew I should be running. My level of effort to keep a similar pace to loop 1 was much harder than I hoped and I knew lack of calories and subpar hydration was taking a toll, as well as possibly my lack of training over 50k and a mind that wasn’t strong enough. I began to have doubts about my abilities creeping into my head. Stay positive I told myself. I knew everyone would be slowing down and I anticipated this loop would be 30-60 minutes slower than loop 1, a much bigger difference than was ideal. Dammit. General nausea was hitting me again on the way to Nuunuu Aid (mile 33) but I keep trucking along, I still had a long way to go. As I descended to Nuunuu I counted the women in front of me: 6. Wow, I was pretty far back I thought. Looking back, I realize I was being way too hard on myself, judging myself on previous years but this year was its own year and who knew what would happen? It was still early, yet I couldn’t see that at the time. I was beginning to deflate.
 
Coming into Paradise Aid Station, mile 27. Sweating is just part of this race. A lot of sweating. 
Nausea continued to get worse after Nuunuu and I struggled to keep pace. I had to sit down as I felt shaky and sick. I tried to get calories in, but I didn’t want to eat. Thoughts of dropping were comforting and I began to really consider ending the suffering I was feeling. By the time I reached mile 40 (5:30hr for 2nd loop and 10 hr total) I had decided I was done I just wasn’t sure how to tell Catra. I could not imagine continuing 60 more miles with the extreme nausea I was feeling. Catra convinced me to go to the next aid at mile 47 and I agreed because I knew I owed it to her to try. The climb out of the Nature Center was incredibly difficult as I had to sit many times to calm my nausea. I hate you Hogs Back! I felt so sick, and on top of that I felt sorry for myself. I wasn’t sure I could make it to the next aid. People kept passing me. Sit down, walk, sit down, hold stomach. Just before the turn off to the Nature Center, I texted Catra. I knew I needed to go back. I didn’t feel good enough to continue. And that was it. All my hopes and dreams of my race, of another finish that year were done.
 
Catra wiping me down at Nature Center, mile 20. 
You can be disappointed without being hard on yourself. That’s how I was. People kept telling me not to feel bad, not to be hard on myself and it was confusing. Why can’t I be disappointed? I wasn’t beating myself up, I was bummed out that it ended the way it did, but I did what I had to do for myself. I did the best I could in each moment. I did not have regrets; I was just disappointed. I didn’t want anyone to tell me how to feel, I just wanted to be home with my loved ones and a pair of skis. I was ready to take a break from everything HURT 100. Is that so bad? I’m a complicated human. I dream big, work extremely hard, feel fear, disappointment, joy, and love. I also felt that I did not reach my full potential which is always unacceptable to me. I’m not sure how to reach my full potential in races, but I’ll just keep trying. I guess that means that I will probably be back, despite the many (negative) feelings I had about the course while running it and afterward. Love and hate are really just ends of one spectrum, intimately connected. 
Still smiling, promise!

Couldn't be more excited to go home to my pups and kids