Monday, July 23, 2012

What to do when injury strikes

No, I don't have any magical words of medical advice.  I'm resting (read:torturing) myself for two more weeks, which will result in a total of three weeks with no running.  Looking down the tunnel now, I don't see how I'll survive but here are some things I've planned to help me pass the time.

1.  Read new blogs to stay inspired and remember how it used to be when I was a runner (insert dramatics here - like throwing myself onto the bed and burying face in pillow).
2.  Obsess about the injury and scare the crap out of myself on WebMD until I'm convinced that it's really a life-threatening-flesh-eating-disease.
3.  Try to watch my food intake to avoid 10 pounds of "injury weight".  Running burns a lot of  calories.  Whining to my husband about not running burns almost nothing.  Must adjust.
4.   Practice my yoga breathing when I see the early morning runners on the road.  Remember that their running is not designed to mock me.
5.  Practice more yoga breathing when my running vest, new road light and extra Amphipod bottle arrive in the mail - all accoutrement for the ultra marathon I just dropped out of... awesome.
6.  Download massive amounts of new running tunes while trying to convince myself that this break is a good thing... when else would I have the time to download new music? Such crap.
7.  Watch the Western States documentary Unbreakable every night - sobbing optional.
8.  Take a few jog-like steps every few hours, shake my head and say "yeah, I think it's all good now".
9.  Talk to my dog about not running while she's napping. Otherwise, even she will tell me to shut up.


10.  Rest.  The hardest part of all...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Western States - The Finish

Sunday morning at the finish... 7:30 a.m.
A new day dawns...Mark and I are up early and after getting lost a few times, we've found the stadium at Auburn.  Yes, I'm a confirmed Western States junkie sitting at the finish watching 26 hours and above. I can't hold back the eye watering as every runner finishes.  At these finish times you know that the runners have struggled and walked a lot (and probably puked a lot!) but every single one has run/shuffled the track - no one is walking it in.
So many families and crews surrounding their runners... Many runners stopping on the track to hoist their children onto their shoulders to run them in for the finish. Heartfelt hugs and tears of thanks from runners to their pacers as the pacers peel off to let the runner finish alone.  Some runners won't let go of their pacers hand and pulled them along for the finish.  Some runners doubled over in pain all the way around the track (and probably for much longer) but continue to shuffle - huge smiles spreading across their faces as they turned the corner and see the finish clock.
The announcer is reading the bios of the runners.  Does he have prior experience at the Olympics?  Because he's making me cry with all the backstory...
A man in his 60's carries his wife across the finish line for the 102nd time he's run 100 miles.  Yes, the 102nd time.  I'm bawling...
A German Shepard K9 named Bodie that was shot three times in the line of duty a few months ago in Sacramento belongs to a WS runner. They allow the dog to run the final track lap as his the runner's "pacer" with his leg in a full cast.  Runner and dog both hobbling together to the finish line.  You have to be kidding me, right? Sobbing.
Bodie, the injured K9 
The number of runners in their 40s and 50's completing their first 100 mile run is amazing and inspiring on a very personal level.  Mark is taking video of the finishers that we thought would be inspiring but then he just stops because everyone is inspiring and the iPad can only take so much. It started smoking back at hour 28!
And last but not least... As the clock ticked down within two minutes, the final runner that would be allowed to finish entered the stadium.  The crowd went CRAZY as the announcer called our the name "Jerry Bloom".  At age 61, Jerry was going for his 10th Western States finish. Everyone was on their feet, screaming for him to hurry.  Half way around the track, the clock ran out and the air horn blew.  A big group of various crew members ran down onto the track to create a tunnel of arms for him to run through and there wasn't a dry eye in the stadium.  He crossed the finish line at 30:01.00. It doesnt count as a finish.  Heartbreaker. (Video of Jerry's finish - grab some Kleenex)


After we left the stadium I was an emotional mess.  So much inspiration and human triumph had left me with a serious case of swollen mole-people-eyes and I was feeling so disappointed that I hadn't gotten the chance to test myself and come through for Wayne.  It's not like I can just come back next year.   My husband suggested we go run part of the WS trail on our way home.  It turned out to be the perfect suggestion.

We parked at No Hands Bridge and ran back to the Hwy 49 Crossing aid station (which was already torn down) and then back to No Hands.  The WS signs were still up along the trail and there were hundreds of footprints in the dry red dirt below my feet.  At least I was running in their footsteps!  I felt better and better with each kilometer.

On the way back to No Hands I was enjoying a long lovely downhill stretch and had put some distance between me and Mark.  My height and his bad knee both give me an advantage on the downhills.  Happy to note that my short stature is good for something!  As I was looking down the trail to pick my path, a huge brown bear came flying up from the gully below, jumped onto the trail right in front of me and then leapt up to the ridge above.  I could've touched him.  Two more steps faster and he would've plowed right into me.  I freaked.  I started sprinting back up the hill to get to Mark.  When I reached him and told him about the bear he started laughing so hard.  In his words, all he saw coming up the hill was "eyes, teeth and knees screaming bear! bear! bear!"    Very funny.  For some.

The rest of the run was beautiful and uneventful - except that I felt happy and satisfied that I had claimed a tiny part of the trail for myself.  I rode home dirty, dusty, exhausted from the release of emotions and so grateful that I allowed running into my life.  I see now that I would be a different person without it.

The takeaway...
Western States is simply insane on every level and at every turn.  If you ever have the chance to go, even just to watch it all go down - DO IT!  It will leave you with the doors wide open in terms of what is possible.  Watching so many people accomplish something so inconceivable for the hell of it is just amazing.  

No, I didn't run.  But I did say "yes" when asked - even though I was scared.  I completed the training.  And I leant support to my friend in every possible way I could think of.  To include an impromptu nine day RV adventure up the California and Oregon coast that began the day after the race - but that's a story for another day :)
I am absolutely richer for the experience.  THANK YOU Wayne and Angie Miles!  
Somewhere on the Oregon Coast...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Western States - Game Day

Saturday, June 23, 2012  Runner Check-In Squaw Valley

Awake at 3:00 a.m. and ready to rumble.  After a quiet breakfast we headed over to the Olympic Center at Squaw to get Wayne's bib and timing chip.  Runners, crews, family members - loads of people everywhere.  I stood in the breakfast area just watching people.  The runners wear white bibs so it's easy to spot them.  I saw I tall bald guy wearing a pink leotard, pink tutu and pink leopard gators over his shoes.  I saw some girls with tiaras.  I saw Nick through the crowd and gave him a big good luck squeeze. I saw Cowman (pic below).  I saw a wild assortment of footwear.  Some runners were wearing nothing more than racing flats, some wore traditional running/light trail shoes and then some had on more of a hiking boot. I saw a lot of nerves and a lot of smiles.  Again, great people watching. 

*Must give a big huge shout out to Molly Knox - she knows why :)  Great to meet you Molly!

The start. 4:45 a.m.

The fire pit in front of the iconic Western States time clock was blazing and surrounded by people. Bruce Springsteen was blaring ‘Born to Run’ followed by The Plimsouls 'Million Miles Away'.  Both excellent choices.  The energy was a very strange blend of subdued excitement. The task at hand is absolutely no joke. 
All of the runners and their crews were standing together as one huge group in the small starting area. So different than any other kind of race. I realized it's true that Western States is a shared experience by everyone who participates. I kept tearing up as people came one after the other to wish Wayne good luck.  I was thankful for the cover of darkness.  
A runner next to me was a little panicky.  She was talking to her girlfriend and just kept saying  " I am so nervous, I am so scared, I am so nervous."  Her girlfriend took her by the shoulders and said all the things you're supposed to say... “You are going to be amazing. You've done all the training.  ENJOY every step.”  That's when the runner started laughing and said "Yeah... where is that bitch Joy that everyone keeps talking about?!  I haven't seen her on any of my runs!"  The laughter cleared the air and she was literally glowing after that. All the hours. All the training. The impossibility of even getting into the race... I could see the start clock behind her head ticking down under 50 seconds. Amazing.
As the clock wound down, spectators started climbing the hill to get a good view of the start and to cheer on the runners. It was so surreal in the darkness and I was blown away by how many times I had watched the start online... And there I was, standing in the midst of the runners. 
The gun went off and the crowd went nuts. Wayne's green wind breaker passed by us and the 30 hour miracle began. 369 runners. 1600 volunteers. 50 doctors. 75 nurses and hundreds of crew members and pacers all converging for the "Boston marathon" of ultras. Bang!

Video of the start taken by my husband... 
Saturday morning - 6:00 a.m.
I came back to the room with a few hours to kill and used it to take a long hot shower, drink a huge mug of my greens (as I've easily gained 7 pounds in anticipation of this trip, I have to watch the crap food from here on out) and settled in front of the massive hotel room window looking out at the beauty of Squaw Valley to peck out my thoughts. 
There are black clouds moving fast over the mountain tops. Angie seems worried about the rain but I’m hoping that the lower temps will benefit the runners.  Its traditionally in the upper 90's to low 100's for a good part of the run.  I know from experience that when you train in hot weather, cold temps can make you feel bionic. 
We’ll leave in about 90 minutes to start our crewing adventure. My run doesn't start for another 14 to 15 hours IF everything goes well for Wayne.  I could be in for a 20 mile walk if things go bad.   He's warned me numerous times to rest today - don't hike into difficult aid stations, sleep in the car when possible and eat and drink water all day long... I shall obey.
12:30 p.m. Robinson Flat aid station. Mile 30.6  (written after the fact - once I was warm!)
There were only two shuttle busses running up to Robinson flat so we waited with hundreds of other crew members in a long line of anxiety and anticipation.  We were finally going to see our runners for the first time.  It was a long six miles up a logging road that rocked my motion sickness but once we got to the top the weather was so awful, the motion sickness was replaced by fear sickness for the runners.  Mid 30's and cold rain falling somewhere between a drizzle and spit. The runners had trained and dressed for soaring temps and here they came into the aid station freezing, soaked and calling out to aid officials to get back down the trail to help injured runners.  We heard that one of the top women had just been taken out with hypothermia.
Wayne and Angie's daughters were watching on line and texting us when to expect him. 30 minutes, 20 minutes, 10 minutes. Runners struggling as they came up the trail. Crews all looked worried. 
When a runner drops from WS, the arm bracelet that's placed around their wrist at medical check-in is cut off their wrist by a race official and then radioed in to race headquarters.  While we waited at Robinson Flat, a race official walked by us with several cut bands in his hands.  More worry.
As Wayne's green windbreaker made its way up the trail, I could see that he wasn't smiling.  We rushed forward to the barricade and called him to the side to collect his aid bag. When we asked how he was doing and if he was cold, he didn't respond.  Immediately, a doctor came up to walk alongside him and started moving him away from us and over to the med tent.  The three of us completely forgot it was freezing rain as we stood there trying to catch a glimpse of what was happening.
After his weigh in he made his way to us but the doctor was right along side.  The only thing I heard the doctor say was "It has to be your choice Wayne.  If you want to go on, we'll send an aid official to run with you to the next station".  The doctor left to attend to other runners and there we all were, facing each other.  Wayne took a big breath and said "I can't do this anymore. Not today and not ever again."  My heart just sank. His hips were a mess from all of the rubble on the trail and his "non-existent quad" could not handle the pressure on the down hills. (Oh, did I mention that Wayne had cancer in his quadricep and had it removed last year? Technically speaking, the hamstring wrapped around his thigh bone is currently filling the role of a quasi-quad. Just FYI.  He's amazing.)
After making that statement, the second guessing and negotiating began... How much further did he think might be possible? The next crew station with transportation was 25 miles away at Michigan Bluff so if he needed to drop in the middle, it would require assistance and resources from race officials. Guys he used to run with came by and offered up various scenarios.  They would do anything to help him continue - it was amazing to see the support of the ultra community in action.  
But Wayne had spoken his truth with the first sentence.  It was over. Not just the 2012 Western States, but the end of his 100 mile race career. Everyone was tearing up.  Watching him walk back to the med tent to have his bracelet cut was the final straw for me. Bawling.  My husband took me by the shoulders and told me that even though I wouldn't be running, my job was not over.  Now was the time to pull it together and be supportive of the decision.  Set the pace sister!  He was right.  Wayne didn't need a sobbing girl on his hands.

We hitched a ride down the six miles to the parking area with some aid officials.  Total silence.  Everything started to sink in. We rode the two hours back to their home in El Dorado pretty much in silence.   

Fireside at the start  
Wayne and beautiful Angie
Wayne and Molly


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Western States - Pregame

Everyone who attends Western States 100 has their own unique story. Runners, pacers, crew, family members, aid station workers - everyone is looking through their own lens.  This is mine.  Some written on the spot and some after I could get a little perspective.  
Perspective is (in fact!) at the crux of all of this... how does a 66 year old man who has somehow survived terminal cancer get out and run 100 miles in under 30 hours?  How does he cope with the fact that last time he ran it, he was 9th overall - before the cancer?  How does it change my life to see people accomplish the seemingly impossible?  I’m still grappling with it all but for now, the following musings will have to suffice.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012 7:30 a.m. - Bridgetown, Barbados
So here we are... on the plane and on our way to the Western States 100!  
Don't be alarmed that I haven't blogged in over a month for THIS is why!
Running, running, working, training, running, recovering, watching videos, studying maps, running- everything leading up to getting Wayne across that finish line.  The entire country of Barbados must be breathing a collective sigh of relief - the crazy girl is outta here!
Hoping for some beautiful California produce tonight and a good night's sleep.  Wayne is taking me out for a run tomorrow on some local trails to "see how I move".  Sounds like an audition to me but I'm ready to tackle anything at this point. Bring it.
We'll leave for Tahoe on Friday morning to get Wayne cleared through medical, attend the mandatory runner's meeting and I'll get checked in as an official pacer. 
Before I get too far along in this journey, I just have to raise up thanks to Rachel Corbin, Poonam Lewis, Dawn Arriola, Hillaire Campbell,  Angie Gerber and Alice Nielsen for providing the kind of support and encouragement that only your running girls can provide.  When people ask "Why the hell would someone run 100 miles?" - your girls know why.  You're in my heart every step of the way.
Thursday, June 21 2:06 p.m. - El Dorado, California 
Had a great 13k run with THE Wayne Miles around a beautiful green water lake at 3500 ft.  Beauty abounds.
The run was a little faster than I anticipated for someone who was supposed to be fully tapered for a 100 mile run but I could keep up. Can I keep up for 20 miles? THAT is the question!  Mark assures me that Wayne won't be running anywhere near that fast by mile 62.  I also need to remember that trail running isn't my norm. What I lack in trail experience I will surely make up for in adrenaline!
Friday, June 22, 2012 4:00 p.m. Squaw Valley, California 
Walking up to the check-in station my heart started pounding in my ears.  If I was checking in to run 100 miles, I think I would've had a heart attack.  I looked at Wayne and said "wow, I'm nervous!" he smiled at me and said "I'm scared to death!". So, I guess it doesn't matter how many times you do it. Duly noted.
When we entered the check-in area the reaction was instantaneous - WAYNE MILES!  So many people came up to wish him luck, ask about his health and some just kind of stood around with their mouths open... What is HE doing here?  I quickly noticed that all of Wayne's running buddies were working the race. Not running it. Hmmmm.
The medical check-in began with the emergency contact card and race photo. Easy peas. Then we moved onto the stuff that matters - weight and blood pressure.  If you weigh in heavy, the medical officials might pull you off the course on race day for losing too much weight between aid stations. If your blood pressure is too high, they might not even let you start the race.  Wayne weighed in five pounds over his normal weight which he planned for but his blood pressure was sky high from nerves.  The med staff let him calm down for a few minutes and tested him again - borderline at 152/100.  Much higher than his usual blood pressure but they cleared him.  Lord knows if they had slapped a cuff on me they would've called an ambulance!
I had a couple of people to try to find at WS... One of them was Nick Triolo.  He's a friend of my friend Alice in Portland.  Nick is a young gun (and a great writer) who won a 50 mile race prior to arriving at WS.  I had tried to find a bigger picture of Nick on his blog to no avail but I was keeping my eyes open.  As I accompanied Wayne through the medical check-in he introduced me to his friend Lisa who was doing the weigh in, the guy behind me said "Lauren?"... Of course, it was Nick. Cuz that’s how things work.  We had a minute to chat and the light in Nick's eyes was undeniable.  That cat was ready. 
After Wayne's check-in was finished, we walked over to the pacer tent and I signed my life away to get my bib.  It seemed like peanuts in comparison but my heart was pounding and my eyes were tearing up nonetheless.

The last item of the day was the mandatory runners gathering at Squaw.  Here we got to hear about the course conditions, meet the race directors and learn a whole bunch about how to properly poop in the woods.  Enlightening.  That aside, the people watching was fantastic and it was pretty awesome to see all of those crazy people gathered in one spot.

Wayne, Me and my precious bib...

Under the world famous Western States time clock

Runners meeting at Squaw

Oodles of crazy people
Strangely, Wayne has no pre-race rituals, meals, etc. so we're off to dinner at the restaurant here at the Resort at Squaw Valley.  Is there any chance of sleeping tonight?  Odds are low.