Overall - 152/164
Age - 30/34
Fashion Report: White short sleeve tech shirt w/pink piping around the sleeves and neck, hot pink sports bra, black shorts, hot pink gaiters, dirty used-to-be-blue Mizuno trail shoes.
Last year, this race kicked my a**. Royally. It was my second 50k (31 miles) in two months time, and I was ill prepared for what was in front me. Consequently, I was met by the Grim Sweeper and pulled from the race at Mile 21.9 for not meeting the cutoff time of leaving the aid station by 11:45, let alone even getting there before that cutoff. I wasn’t even close.
This year I was going back for revenge, although about six weeks ago, I was seriously worried about my abilities and, quoting from my own blog, was afraid that mountain was “going to eat me alive.” Between gall bladder surgery and an ankle that had been acting up, I was feeling “weak.” (That’s for my buddy, Denise.) However, the further I got into my training for this run, the more confident I began to feel, with finally my main worry being the altitude. My mantra going into this race was “Stuff Your Face with Food” and “Relentless Forward Motion.”
The Siskiyou Outback (SOB) 50k meanders off and on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), starting at 6500' feet and climbing to 7100', with 4200' of elevation gain between. On Saturday, my buddy, Karen, her daughter, Kimber, and I made the 3-hour drive from Eureka the Ashland, OR, with two soon-to-be well-deserved stops along the way: the DQ in Cave Junction for an ice cream cone, and Harry & David’s in Medford for fruit, Jalapeno Moose Munch, and dark chocolate truffles (yum!). Karen’s sister, Kate (an amazing ultra runner), was planning to meet us in Ashland after driving 6 hours from Northern OR; ironically, however, we came behind her on I-5 just outside of Grants Pass, and she followed us to Harry & David’s.
After a short shopping spree, we headed on to Ashland, checked into the Manor Motel (very cute little place), drove the short distance to town to pick up our race packets at Rogue Valley Runners, the running stored owned by Hal Koerner, Mr. Western States 100 winner himself (FYI - He completed the race in 16:24:55, and finishers 2nd-5th place finishers did it in less than 17 hours. Ho-ly crap!), on to pasta at Martinos (or something like that), then back to the motel to rest up and get ready for the next day.
Saturday morning dawned too early (as usually) at 4:30 a.m., as Karen and I were taking the 6:00 a.m. start to ensure finishing within the 8.5 hour time limit. Kate wasn’t participating in the race, but since she’s getting ready for 100 in the Hood in September, was going to drop us off, go do her 20 miles on a section of the PCT that Hal had told her about the day before, then pick up Kimber and meet us at the finish line in the early afternoon.
It was cool up in the mountain, but we knew it wouldn’t be long before it warmed up. (Actually, it stayed very pleasant the entire day with a nice cool breeze.) The early field looked small compared to last year, but with a ring of a cow bell, we were off. We hadn’t gone far when I had to chuckle. Last year, I wasn’t even out of the parking lot when I had a wardrobe malfunction. My outer sock (I wear 2 layers) slipped down into my shoe. I should’ve known then that it was a portent of things to come for that race (mental eye roll).
But no slippage this year, and Karen and I chatted easily as we moved along with the crowd. Toward the bottom of the first service dirt road, we took a right-hand turn onto the trail with Karen leading the way. It was pretty cool to look up and see the snake of runners ahead of us. We had a gentle pace going with a number of folks behind us, but since we were all trying to get our breath under control due to the altitude, no one seemed in a real hurry. Part way up our first climb, Karen dropped into the 20/20 run/walk combo we’d been practicing, and I followed suit. The guy directly behind me asked to pass, which put a new guy behind me, Steve. Steve was from Jackson, Missippi and another sea level runner.
At one point during a walk/run combo, and after the first aid station at Mile 2.7, another runner or two asked to pass, Karen, Steve, and I stepped over, I popped in behind the last of the passers, and Karen ended up somewhere down the line. I would see her only one more time during the rest of the race.
I’d actually like to stop right here and say a huge, huge THANK YOU to all the aid station workers at SOB - along with all the other races in which I’ve participated. If you’ve never participated in a trail run, especially an ultra, I cannot begin to tell you what a God-send these folks are. They spend hours manning these stations, providing food and fluid. I mean, we started our run at 6:00 a.m. These folks were out at their stations much earlier than that, finalizing all the preparations. We, the runners, could not do what we love to do without their aid and support. So a BIG, BIG THANK YOU to anyone who has ever worked an aid station.
Siskiyou Aid Station, 9.1 miles into the run, provided comic relief and the first opportunity to rummage through our drop bags. All the guys were dressed in drag, including one guy who had on some “sexy” lacey, nighty with tennis balls for breasts. On the second time through, I told him he had the boobs of a 12 year old girl. But I digress . . .
I was already carrying a 26 oz bottle of fluid in my waist pack, but after thinking about last year, which was so warm, and some discussion with Karen the night before, I opted to go ahead and pick up another hand-held, just in case. I was bound and determined this year to not cut my own throat by being under-hydrated or under-fueled. I already had my Ultra powder in my bottle, so I handed it off to an aid station worker to fill with water while I filled my sandwich baggy with pretzels, potatoes with salt, fig bars, and a chunk of banana. With everything all set, I took off with Steve in tow and began the climb out of Siskiyou. We weren’t far up the service road when I had to visit the little girl’s room behind a tree. Steve offered to hang onto my hand held and kept marching up the road. I soon caught up with him, and he pointed out that Karen was up ahead of us. I yelled out something out to her (can’t remember what), and I was greeted by the world renowned single finger salute, to which I had to yell, “Is that your number of friends or your IQ?” I’m sure she smiled at this (‘cause she loves me), but that was the last time I saw her until the end of the race. Later, I would find out that due to Steve’s unwelcome assistance, he had thrown her mind off of what she was doing at Siskiyou and ended up leaving her salt pills behind. She ended up with the squirts, which threw her race off by a good margin. (Sorry, sweetie!)
The next aid was Wrangle Gap (12.5 miles) where two sisters were hanging out to provide water and Gatorade. These ladies are a hoot, and I thanked them profusely for being there for us. It was some where between here and the turn around at Jackson Gap Aid Station (16.4 miles) that Steve and I ended up getting separated. He was a nice man and I had been happy to have his company for awhile, but by this point I was ready to be on my own, with my own thoughts.
Jackson Gap Station can be seen long before you get to it, so it’s fairly deceiving as to how far away it is. Between Wrangle Gap and Jackson Gap, I couldn’t help but ruminate on how by this time last year I was failing in a really bad way, from nausea to dizziness to an inability to run hardly at all. A radiologist name Phil had stayed with me for quite a bit of the run last year and I know it was because he was very worried about me. (How I ended up with these guys hangin’ with me, I have no idea. I seem to recall another guy named Russ who tagged along with me for the final 3 miles of my first 50k at Forest Park. ;o) ) This year, although I was by no means fresh, I could run, I could breath, I could enjoy myself and it was, well, a remarkable feeling.
The trail from Wrangle to Jackson is also one of the prettiest sections as you are afforded breathtaking views of alpine meadows and the mountains beyond. Last year there was quite a bit of snow, and although it was cooler this year, there was only one small strip. At Jackson, although it was windy and cool, the workers, along with the runners, were in great spirits, and they readily filled my hand-held while I stuffed my baggy again. I asked the time, and was extremely encouraged to find that I was well ahead of the cutoff time of 11:45 - the cutoff for going back through Siskiyou Gap. I gave the puppy dog there a couple of good scratches and pats, and I was once again on my way. And again I thought about last year. It’s downhill leaving Jackson, but by that point last year I was such a mess, I couldn’t even think about running. This year, I grinned like a fool as I ran down that service road.
The return trip took us past the sisters at Wrangle Gap again, then onto a long stretch of single track, technical trail - and this is where I started having problems with my IT band and the sides of my calves. Much of the trail slants to the left with little room for error or you’ll go tumbling down the side of the mountain. Every downhill stretch put unwanted pressure on that band and, I guess from the slant, the sides of my calves, especially the left, started to feel the pressure. I stopped a couple of times to massage the band in the hopes that it wouldn’t get any worse, and although it talked to me the rest of the race, it never became a big issue.
There are also a couple of good climbs through this section, and I moved over a number of times to let faster runners pass. One guy told me, “Oh man! You were my rabbit! But you’ll catch me on the down hills.” I didn’t see him again ‘til the end, but I could definitely relate to the “rabbit” remark. Often if I’m struggling a bit, I will fixate on one person ahead of me and do my best to keep them in eye sight. It helps pull you along, forcing you to keep moving.
At the encouragement of both Kate and Karen, I had decided to leave my Garmin behind so as to not fixate on pace and time, so it was hard to judge the distance between the stations. Just when I was wondering when I’d reach Siskiyou Gap again, there were signs that read “Feeling Hungry?” “Too Tired To Be Naughty?” “Take a Break” “With a Bagpiping Hottie.” I could then hear the band playing, and finally popped out of the trees into the aid station - where I was once again greeted by the cross-dressing workers. They had a great little bluegrass band playing, and it really helped lift the spirits. It had also warmed up a bit, so I got a worker so soak my Coolmax Bandana with water, while I ditched my hand-held and filled my baggy, then took off for the final 9 miles.
As I said before, Siskiyou Gap is where I was pulled last year, so I was facing unchartered territory. There were a couple of short, nasty climbs out of Siskiyou (well, they seemed nasty ‘cause I was so tired) that I opted to walk. Two guys, then a third guy and a girl, then a 4th guy passed me. I began incorporating my run/walk climb to the best of my ability, and ended up passing 3rd and 4th Guys, albeit at no great pace. They remained a short distance behind me, but not so far that we couldn’t commiserate with one another. 4th Guy and I ran down into Willamette Meridan Aid Station close together, where the worker informed us that it was three miles to the next aid . . . and it was all up hill. Those, my friends, were the longest three miles of this entire race. Karen had told me about it last year, but until I actually experienced it on tired, worn out legs . . . . ho-ly crap. I stayed in front of 3rd and 4th Guys, and I remember at one point one of them saying, “Is this climbing ever going to end?” Man, it sure didn’t seem like it. There was very little of that three miles I was able to run, but I tried as often as I could.
Just when I thought the climbing would never end, we popped out of the trees onto a fairly flat single track that ran along the end of the mountain. I could see the aid station in the distance, and my remark to the great guys who greeted me was, “those last three miles sucked!” They smiled, filled my bottle, told me I only had another 2.6 miles to go, and encouraged me to get moving. I asked the time, was very happy to find out that I was more than half an hour ahead of the cutoff time of 1:15, thank them for being there, and took off for the final 2.6 miles. I would hit one more aid station with the workers greeting me with shouts of “Good job, 206!” and fresh cold watermelon (YUM!!), and sooner than seemed possible, I could see the service road on which we’d started our run.
With shouts from a couple of guys telling me I was only .80 away from the finish line, I hit that road and incorporated my run/walk as much as I could until I topped out onto the pavement where I dug deep and started running as hard as I could without puking all over myself. I was actually getting goose bumps with the realization that I was going to finish this race. . . . . . .Then I rounded the corner and saw the clock at the finish line. I was going to finish this race in less than 8 hours.
To cheering from the crowd and the announcement of my name and number, I crossed the finish line in 7:39:13, had my finisher’s medal hung around my neck, and got a huge smile and hug from Kate who, with Kimber, was waiting for Karen and me at the end. I cannot begin to express the overwhelming feeling of not only finishing, but in beating my time from my very first 50k (Forest Park) a little over a year ago by more than hour.
This race is a turning point for me. Up until now, I have had some pretty big doubts about my ability to participate in ultras. As I said, my first ultra in May 2008 ended up with me finished in 8:45 and barely able to walk, my second at SOB last year found me pulled from the race at Mile 21.9. This year - WOO HOO!! Those doubts have officially been erased by this finish, and I am so very ready for my next challenge!