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