Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Black out or Get out

Whoop there it is. I am officially done with every undergrad class I ever need to take. Forever. However, as I like to say, #NeverStopLearning. I will soon be embarking on the wonderous journey that is studying for the MCAT. And soon after that, I will be able to apply to medical school. It's a long and arduaous path, one that has been forged many times by others- often unsuccessful, but will be my most challenging yet and I hope to come out on top.

Can't. Stop. Staring.
PC Steph Howe

Whilst bush wacking through textbooks and navigating through countless hours of practice tests, I will also be adventuring my face off. Gotta let out that creative energy and steam somehow...

Last summer I got the smallest taste of what the PNW has to offer; it was really just the tip of the iceberg. I have been dreaming all winter of skinny dipping in moraine lakes, scrambling high ridgelines, hugging innumerable trees, and picking every wildflower that blooms my way. While running to work through the urban jungle at zero dark thirty, primarily in the pouring rain, I have envisioned myself tanning amongst the mountain goats. I am particularly looking forward to falling asleep under the stars to lullabies of marmot whistles or elk bugles. Morning coffee tastes best with the cool, crisp sunshine illuminating the mountain views from my sleeping bag.

Doggie kisses sharing chocolate PB s'mores
PC Steph Howe
I have a great schedule of events lined up this summer:
-Travelling to the Italian Dolomites to camp all of June (including my 23rd birthday!) culminating in the Lavaredo Ultra Trail race on the 24th.

-After Lavaredo, I will be backpacking through the Julian Alps of Slovenia to return to the US on the 4th of July

-various big alpine days in the Olympic Natl Park & North Cascades Natl Park, some of my favorite remote areas

-the "PNW Triple Crown"- stay tuned ;)

-MCAT exam August 24. (yeeps!)

-"Ultra Trail du Mont Rainier" in September, a circumnavigation along the Wonderland Trail for my first "hundo" (93 miles, but yeah I'm rounding up)

Always studying. Anywhere. Anytime.
PC Steph Howe

Through all of this, I will largely be out of cell service and will delete my social media apps (except Instagram, because I love photography). If you wanna reach me, you can call me, beep me, email, or just follow my Insta/blog adventures. (@run_kels_run).

In my well lit, no cell service hole. #inwoods
PC Aimee Tetreault
I have decided to take a black out, because I get very distracted by all the glamour and discussions posted. I do enjoy seeing what others are up to, but I need to put my head down and focus on the task at hand. It'll be a grind, but so worth it. While at my job, I am interacting with doctors everyday, and this further reinforces my MD dreams, which is more important than anything I could otherwise be doing. I strive to be as transparent and authentic as possible, so I apologize in advance if this is a compromise. However, just know I will be working hard somewhere in the middle of nowhere, either running uppity up big mountains or working my flexor digitorum superficialis/flexor pollicis longus turning the pages of my MCAT books.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Question Madness

The North Face is celebrating the 50th anniversary. Though, I have not even been around for half of that time, it is inspiring to see the expeditions and progress that has been made as the brand reminisces on it's journey. It is also fascinating to see the new adventures and limits pushed by the athletes as they jump into the unknown future. Here are my thoughts with a storytelling exercise they have been promoting:

Why live a life that’s perceived as mad? As Jack Kerouac so aptly put it, “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’”.

Most of the world spends their time maintaining boundaries of safe, conventional, inconspicuous lifestyles that conform to set norms. With stringent social policies governing our actions, starting early in our formative years, individuality and risks are squashed; the teenager that enjoys solitude outdoors rather than on the football team is isolated. Our parents, through love and care, seek to protect us constantly in the face of danger, as we are often scooped up into their arms right before jumping off the monkey bars. Even evolution’s Natural Selection strikes fear into our chest as we peer over the cliff’s edge and hesitantly plant our feet farther back. However, with every aspect of our lives working against this infectious madness, we still break free of the boundaries towards the farther, higher, harder, and unknown.

 I live my life through passion. My affinity for the outdoors and pursuing new sights to behold is fueled by a captive wonder of nature’s intricacies. My academic zeal sets the tone for my curiosity of what the human body can accomplish physiologically. My manic desire for dreaming big is constantly churning creative adventures in the recesses of my mind, one that can push my mental attitude deeper than most would be willing. I consciously choose pain, discomfort, “to suck the marrow out of life” (Thoreau) than the sheltered vanilla. I may appear to be conforming to the mundane: commuting, working, studying, and exercising; but my goals far exceed reality: I want the prestigious accolades of medical school and to run longer, farther & faster. I have always been set apart from my peers at university or in the workplace to pursue my athletics & academics. I am repeatedly foregoing social interactions and expectations, but I wouldn’t have it any other way as it can be a raging party of one. Sometimes I would wake as early as 3:45 am in order to train in the mountains before heading to work, after which I would spent the evening hours poring over textbooks, only to repeat again and again. This kind of lifestyle did not allow for attendance of prom afterparties or frat beer pong Olympics. Often, I am completing these tasks solo, save for the company of a few quality friends.

 I am mostly asked “why”, as the people around me do not understand what drives a person to live like this. I usually cannot answer why exactly, but feel it as I stand next to an impossibly tall tree while sweat drips down my cheek onto the smooth dirt of my favorite trail crunching below. As I gaze out at a vast expanse of beauty unfolding before me, I rejoice in the unknown and untouched land, save for the vibrant wildlife inhabitants. That fleeting moment where the golden sunlight illuminates my tango with the dancing shadows echoes throughout my dreams. The wind blowing through my hair, the flower crushed in my pocket, and the tight strain in my filthy legs rejuvenates me. Being brought to my knees after emptying the whole of my being running farther and faster than I ever have imagined brings a whimsical smile to my face. Tender moments that we, as explorers, are privy to stumble across are why & what we spend a lifetime chasing. Sometimes, though, I am tired, and would rather stay home than walk out the front door. But the will to be much greater than I am keeps me both intrinsically motivated and intrinsically satisfied. I always tell myself: This is my passion. This is what I strive for. This is madness.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Couch to 100km. #NeverStopSmiling

Shuffle run. 3 minutes. Walk. 1 minute. Shuffle again. Finally I reach a bench. I sit down and glare at the glistening Lake and watch the moon & street lamp cast shadows along the path. It's a beautiful, warm night and I'm finally able to somewhat run after 2.5 weeks confined to the couch. Yet, I can't appreciate the serenity and stillness of 10:48 pm. Instead, many self- deprecating thoughts encircle my mind. Why did you move here? You don't have any friends here. 2.5 weeks on the couch has made you fat. Why can't you actually get through a training cycle? You're dumb enough to have hopes of fulfilling your goals this year? Who are you kidding, this sucks. Running is stupid.
Warning. Melted crayons in mountains may not be potable.

I stood up and started the trot back. Why am I thinking this? Champions don't sell themselves short. People that go after their dreams have to start somewhere. Don't freaking feel sorry for yourself; that's what losers do. Failing is on the road to success. It felt as though both sides of the coin were sitting on my shoulders, tearing my consciousness apart. It was an endless cycle of feeling lazy, then guilty, then motivated, then apathetic.

1 month later I stood on the start line of the Waldo 100k. I honestly had no idea what to expect. I originally entered the lottery with pie in the sky dreams of winning the race. I actually imagined crossing the line, what I would do with my arms, and hugging Meghan triumphantly. When I stood next to friends in the darkness, I wondered if I would even be able to finish.

Pre race done right.
With two weeks of knowing I would definitely race, Meghan gave me all sorts of tips and I prepared myself mentally for a long battle. She instructed me to run the first half with my HRM and take it easy. Since I haven't worn one of those chafe-traps in forever- let alone longer than 6 miles, I was apprehensive about following it for 30 miles. Nevertheless, I lubed up and chugged up the first climb.

Loping along the singletrack in the early, pink light, I felt free and happy. It was as though I was a doe bounding through the woods (my spirit animal), and again, I let myself imagine what it would be like to bound along the final three Rosary lakes feeling like this.
My friends are amazing.
I made it up to Fuji Mtn and saw a glorious audience of mountains and felt even more rejuvenation. Meghan was at the top and greeted me with a big smile & I forget who I knuckle punched, but it was awesome. Coming back down, I was smiling and dancing, seeing all my friends in the race. It was pretty fantastic. Soon, I caught up with Andrea Thorpe (she witnessed a fun bush sesh- sorry again!) and Ken Sinclair right as we entered the Mt Ray aid station. Despite being in that ideal HR range, I was feeling pretty jazzed up, especially listening to the Chicago Broadway soundtrack and I bolted out of there. I was pretty much alone the rest of the way; I would catch up to some guys, hang with them for 100-400m or so, then be on my merry way.
Chloe. Sorry boys she's taken.
I knew I was in second place at this point, and couldn't understand how; I was just waiting for hordes of people to pass me. All morning I was sticking to my tried and true (thanks stephanie) plan of 1 gel every 20-30 minutes. I even had a watch beep just for the occasion. All of a sudden, my stomach decided it was joining the Olympic diving team, and started doing triple backflips. Long story short, from miles 27 to 41 I was puking. Nothing I could eat or drink could stay down. Now, I blame myself for all my alpine excursions, drinking from alpine streams and lakes unfiltered and eating questionable chicken the friday before. I don't blame the heat, because I never actually felt hot during the day. (I'm sure I looked REAL hot puke-running though. Boys on the course, if you didn't get my number, leave a comment below).
Before. PC LongRun
After. Sums up the day quite nicely. PC LongRun

In my mind, I thought of how badass Rory Bosio was with severe food poisoning during BOTH the Atacama Xtreme 100 & Lavaredo Ultra. I tried to channel her and do things with a smile. Because hey, if you're smiling, then things are alright. And, I reasoned that I was coherent (still singing T swift) and able to keep running, so I did.
Couch snuggles with Riley!
To be honest, I wasn't really paying attention to my surroundings- sure they were beautiful, but I was just watching the miles tick by and rationing out what food I could stomach over time. I kept imagining Stephanie rolling her eyes at my pathetic attempt at getting in calories. The one solid thing I remember in that stretch were the aid stations. Coming into Charleton lake, I was greeted by a raucous party. I saw many loving friends and back flopped into the glimmering waters (damn I wish it would float me away in a current). The same applied to the others- wonderful people treating me so well before kicking my butt back into the forest.

I kept running. I didn't know how it was possible and I was still incredulous that I was doing this, and doing this in second place. There MUST have been a fire breathing dragon blocking the trail from Andrea and the others... I watched my watch tick past 50 miles, the longest I've run since White River 50 mile, a whole year plus before. At this point, my body was starting to cramp up from dehydration & lack of calories. But nothing was stopping me. I KNEW it was possible to get to the finish line. I reasoned with the same logic as before; just keep moving and doing what you can with what you've got. I plastered a smile over my grimace- because smiles can do anything. (Must've looked like SUCH a lunatic). Soon enough, I came to the Maiden Peak aid station, where I had volunteered last year. They gave me a popsicle and cheered me up to the summit. I knew these last 12 miles- Monkeyboy took me on a bonkalicious death march the summer prior. It was just 3 more miles of up and then down.
Best Friends! At Trampled By Turtles
Up at the summit, the cramping turned to pain. I was embraced by Kim at the top and I almost started crying in her arms. But she pushed me away down the mountain before any tears fell. Like I told myself a month ago on the park bench, I would not cry. I have come so far and gone through too much in the last year that the crying was over. I was chasing AND getting my dreams, so I had to smile.
I love the Queen! PC LongRun
I smile-grimaced, laugh-shouted through utter anguish on the leap of faith. Woof, man. That just did me in. The rest of the way was all downhill, unlike how I remembered it from my run with MB. My knees felt like someone was unscrewing them with a dull knife. My calf & feet felt like they were being incinerated. Yet, I kept moving. I knew if I stopped, it needed to be at the finish line. I kept calculating and recalculating the time left and wondered if I'd ever get to the side path from the PCT.
LB getting his WS qualifier PC LongRun Pic Co
I was running like a baby cow with three legs taking it's first steps, but I realized I was going to finish. And I let myself acknowledge that I'd get second place. I immediately, in classic fashion, fell down and started sobbing. I had withheld so much and gutted through so much pain to get to the finish that it finally came flooding out. It was quite an embarrassing scene as the ski patrol medics carted me off in a wheelchair (totally unnecessary- I was broken but I could've probs just shuffled).
Chloe get er done. PC Golden Mama Elke
I feel so so fortunate to finish this race surrounded by so many integral members of my friend group. Meghan- basically my more-than-running-life-coach, was the RD and got me to BOTH lines; she also has introduced me to her friend group, which basically hunted on a saturday in oregon rather than a tuesday in auburn. There were really too many people to name that were amplifying the stokage that weekend. I will say, I really owe a lot of my mental strength to my beautiful friend Chloe Romero, who was a certifiable badass finishing the race; she sent me flowers with a note saying "Stay gritty" during a pretty bleak period. Stephanie Howe is always such an inspiration & best friend, and just by sending a text saying "you can do anything you set your heart & mind to" really stuck with me, hard. And then I got to go to a concert with her & Zach in Bend and wake up with ocean rolls on her birthday!!! (Felt like more of a present to me than it probs did to her, ha!) Thank you to my super rad sponsors for supporting me with all the miles (The North Face, Julbo USA, Sisu Girls, Victory Sportsdesign). Additionally, all the various people back at home that believe in me, I'm truly grateful. Sometimes it's hard to believe in myself, but having such a lovely community, really makes me smile. And that's all I need.
Next up.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Fre$h Outta Compton (JK College)

It has been a month since I graduated, and even longer since my laptop has been opened (Thank you Senioritis). So, without further ado, I have my BS in Cell & Molecular Biology from California Polytechnic State University. Aka a super expensive, unframed, somewhat thick piece of paper that informs people I know some things.

Since my last post, I have been enjoying life as fully as I can; hence the no laptop thing. A lot has happened in my little world, but that's pretty trivial stuff and I won't bore you. So here's a quick N dirty bullets of the highlights:

Sass [HIGH]
- Running all three days of the WS trail running camp with all the good people I love dearly 

- Not studying for finals

- Turning 22 the day before graduation & doing my favorite things with my favorite people
This Fish is going to Medical School!
(and LOTS of cake)


- Auburn/Tahoe shenanigans of every sort with a VK race thrown in there
Kayaking with Keely on Lake Tahoe!

- Crewing Zach Violett in a bikini at Western States & LOTS of tequila with "Dr. Wifey" Howe

- Moving SLO -> Seattle, WA

New Home!!
The last bullet point is actually kinda a big deal though. I am full throttle pursuing my dreams of applying/attending the U of W Physician's Assistant school in the future. As of July 1, I am the newest resident of Washington. I have (now) secured a full time job as a medical scribe at the downtown Seattle Polyclinic. In the next academic year, I aim to take the last two pre requisite classes & EMT certification courses at community college. With my in state residency, current scribe job and hopefully later as an EMT, I will gain a bunch of hours and quality experiences to boost my 3.007 Cal Poly GPA (barely made it, man). So, it will be a couple years in the making, but I have no qualms about what I am doing and what I want to pursue; biking past the medical campus here, I KNOW it is my purpose.

Fourth of July S'mores with Keely & Crew
Lots of you have asked me, "Soooo why Seattle?" I find this question somewhat frustrating, to be honest. I mean, why not? I've spent four years at Cal Poly in SLO, 22.09 years in California, and want a change of scenery. I want to experience real weather, seasonal changes, and of course all the above reasons. Sure, I could probably apply to any PA school in the country (no guarantees of getting in, this is just hypothetical here). But why not set sights high? UW is one of the best medical schools, set in an amazing city. I am a huge believer in do what you love & live where you love. Seattle is just a rock skip away from some pretty amazing places: North Cascades, Mt Rainier/Mt St Helens, Olympic Natl Park, Canada, Oregonian awesomeness, and much, much more.

The Olympics (No, not those ones) PC Keely
I am very stoked to check out some rad places. I really want to expand my exploring to so much more than running- I want to be able to climb, ski, backpack, navigate wilderness, camp, etc. I feel that being in Seattle, I can balance pursuing my career goals with nurturing a deeper awareness/respect/awe for nature.

Welp. That's pretty much it. I'm currently taking any & all suggestions and tips for adventuring out here in the Great PNW. I'll be summering pretty hard, but I'll try to write when I can. (Then comes falling, and wintering, and springing.... etc).
Gothic Basin, North Cascades. Yeah.

Monday, May 2, 2016

How Deep Is Your Love?

This year started off better than ever. January I put in one of the best training blocks I had ever thought to accomplish. Running splits in workouts faster than I even thought I could, surprising myself continuously every Tuesday. Followed up with back to back epic long runs. Then in February I was sidelined with an awful back injury. It came out of nowhere and quickly turned all my plans and goals for the year on their head. Black Canyon 100k ended at mile 20 with my second DNF (2nd in a row, too, to add insult to the previous six months of injury & rebuilding). But that story was already told...
Bishop's Peak. My new favorite workout arena.

I hit PT hard. Pilates, weights, squats, one day off mandatory per week... I came back gradually. So gradual, it felt unbearable. I checked all the boxes and crossed all my t's. I was becoming really strong from the cross training and had a good base. Soon, I was crushing some of my runs. It felt really, really good. So I got comfortable. Cruising up the coastal mountains and gliding over technical trails, I had grins bigger than a Cheshire cat pasted on my face. Things started to look up and I dreamt up some big ideas.

I'd follow Loren Fisher anywhere in the world.
Three weeks ago I started to feel very tired. My runs seemed to be dragging and I accounted that to lack of sleep. Then when I took a 3 hour nap after class inadvertently (after sleeping 10 hours the night before), I knew something was up. Of course my mind went immediately to Lyme Disease. It presents like mono and I have had it before. Some days that week I couldn't run. I was sleeping a lot and missing out on daily activities. I got a blood test and that came back negative for Lyme (thank god). but I had low ferritin. Stephanie told me that anemia only occurs when low ferritin is in combination with low RBCs. But I was still SO tired. Biking two miles to school I felt like I was going to pass out from exertion. I started taking iron anyways.

The anguish and frustration set in. I wasn't myself and I was stressed. I hated how the act of standing up from my desk caused fatigue and light headedness. I didn't even want to go to class most days, as waking up seemed almost impossible. I was an endurance athlete! We push our bodies for HOURS... DAYS even!
I have a journal I write messages to myself of various sorts.

I went to visit my best friend Loren and her boyfriend, Chad, up in Bishop over the weekend. She was car camping, skiing, running, climbing, and adventuring for the entire month of April. We had made plans to run up White Mountain, a 14er that we had both yet to check off The List. I took my boyfriend Zach with me. We climbed in Owen's River Gorge, he got to mountain bike, we hiked at Convict Lake, he learn to glissade on Esha Peak, camp, soaked in hot springs, and we did a light jog (read: 15 min max for me). It was a perfect weekend. However, being at 9000' made me feel like I was at 18,000'. I accidentally took a parking lot nap while they played on Esha. I was thoroughly disappointed I couldn't play in the mountains as hard as I wanted to. I felt bad because I was probably holding him and the group back, too.
Hiking in the Gorge
So this week, I planned to start running. I wanted desperately to be back on the damn horse. I decided I had been sucking for far too long and that was that. Of course I then get a kidney infection. Super fun. Hit again with more fatigue and an aching back, I was sidelined for a couple more days. As my roommate Ashley says, Nerts. I got on antibiotics and that helped a ton (I have more to say on the subject of antibiotics vs nothing, aka stupidity). I immediately started to feel human by Thursday. I even went on a 20 minute run! (with about 3 stop breaks) So, progress. I was determined and regained some hope. I was excited to run and get back on the trails. I even went to the gym Saturday! I have energy and a smile has started to creep back on my face.
Froyo solves all the world's problems

Wednesday was a different story, though. At around 3 pm I totally lost it. The anxiety, frustration, depression, and general crapiness had been slowly rolling inside; turning over and over. I felt royally of crap and people treated me like crap that day. The pot boiled over; I hit my breaking point. It seemed like every part of my body was failing me. I was sad and anguished over the mess of it all. I had already wiped my 2016 drawing board clean and rebuilt ground-up several times since last July. I didn't want to go through that again, especially this soon. It seemed like I couldn't catch a break. Face down on the floor, I hated myself. I hated everything about what I was doing at the moment. The people at my school, the small town with no forests, my boring intro classes, but mostly I hated my body... I have such big dreams and aspirations, but seem to be failing every time I set my sights on something with one health issue after another. I was doing everything right in my eyes. The feeling of helplessness and ineptitude took hold. I didn't want to text Stephanie because I knew exactly what she would say. I just wanted to wallow in it all.

No caption needed.
Thursday morning I biked to school and was listening to my tunes. I was gripping the handlebars a little tighter than usual and had a grimace on my face ("resting bitch glare"). If looks could kill... On shuffle, my ipod came up with the Calvin Harris song, How Deep Is Your Love. To preface this, every song on my running playlist has a purpose: they are upbeat, funny, joyful, and have a mantra of sorts. The line "Hit me harder, again. How deep is your love?"... well... it hit me hard. I thought about how you have to dig deep and really battle yourself more than anything in this sport. The mind is the most dangerous opponent. Physical obstacles are just roadblocks that sideline us. But the questioning, doubting, and fear they instil is incomparable. In the psyche, this has two outcomes: either takes you down into a irrevocable spiral or makes you stronger for it while lighting a fire. Listening to the techno beat, I decided for the latter.

I still feel wildly out of shape (I know fitness is there, it's just hiding). I'm trying really hard not to lose it again and be smart. It's hard and the mental Olympics are even harder. I have some goals and I will make them happen. It's still, after all, only May. I know my body is a fierce fighter through all these issues and I have been incredibly lucky. So I'm going to keep fighting. I guess I should start playing the Grateful Game again, huh Steph?

"So tell me how deep is your love, can you go deeper?"

Monday, February 15, 2016

Black Canyon 100k. #QuittersNeverWin

So much Happy
Three weeks ago I had the best training week after one of the best buildup I've ever had. Starting soon after TNF Chile 100 mile attempt, I intended on earning a golden ticket to Western States 100. Over winter break, I had a couple awesome training runs on the course, which lit the fire even brighter. Running 35 miles for Camille Herrons birthday with the Queen was the best. Putting in long solo miles in slo was mentally tough, but instilled a confidence in myself that was unprecedented. Three weeks ago, Meghan gave me a workout that scared me. The mile repeats were set at a pace way faster than I had ever done and the doubt was high. I crushed it though. I didn't know that I could do that and still feel so fresh, despite being in the midst of a 92 mile week. It got me really excited for Black Canyon 100k- the race for the golden ticket. 

That Friday, I was gliding through SLO's neon green hills and imagining the best possible scenario at BC. I was giddy with the possibilities that could unfold and not a trace of doubt was in my mind. The next day I did my medium long run out in Santa Margarita. I greatly underestimated the climbing in those 18 miles but knew it's a route I always get dehydrated on. I wanted race prep to be flawless. However, halfway through the run I felt a little something tweaking in my low back/ butt area. I thought maybe it was a bruise from some dance move pulled downtown at my roommates 21st birthday celebration. So I ignored it and pressed on.

That night the little pain never went away. I woke up the next morning for my 32 miler and tried to stretch it out. I met my professor Nicole Kulikov (3x OTQ marathoner speed demon and newfound trail buddy) for the first part of the run. We were moving super well on the rocky trails but the pain never went away. Gradually it got worse and worse, slowing me down. Running back down the road with her it was agonizing pain. I had to stop and go home. Nothing I did, short of sleeping, alleviated the awful pain. 
The dream
She told me it was my SI joint. She had gone through similar injury after the 2008 Olympic trials. For the next two weeks everything I did was painful. I only sought relief biking and sleeping. I didn't want to wake up in the morning and go to class or do anything. It was very depressing and I felt trapped. I could see all my hard work and dreams unraveling and that filled my heart with anguish. Since I was severely handicapped and couldn't run, I sought to ease my frustration with baking. Inspired by Steph Howe, I made almond croissants and biscotti among other things. Meanwhile, I tried everything. I saw a chiropractor, sports massage, and went to physical therapy. The week before BC I all of a sudden had the pain diminish in my daily activities. The PT was helping and making me stronger. She diagnosed my injury as a nonfunctional glute. Instead of firing and doing work, my hip flexor took over and pulled on my low back.

She was confident that I could run black canyon and excitedly I regained hope. Wednesday, at the last possible second, Meghan and I decided to go for it. I packed my bags and hopped on my flight. I met up with Keely Henninger and we hung out in Tempe with her friend Hillary. Keely was running the 60k and Hillary volunteered to pace me the last 11 miles. 
Pre race hip thrusts are all the rage

Day of the race, I diligently did my glute exercises in the gym and mingled with running friends. We meandered out to the start line and off we went into the desert. The sunrise was spectacular. The gorgeous mountains were illuminated with purple hues and the pink-orange Sky cast a golden light onto the trail. The cactus were in full force too. The course started with a fast downhill 50k and then started rolling in the hills. We went out fast, but surprisingly the 8 min or faster pace felt like a breeze despite not running for three weeks. I cruised through the first two aid stations, intensely focused on pushing hard and squeezing my butt so it fired properly. I could feel a niggle in my back but mostly ignored it. I could handle that. For some reason, there weren't any gu at the aid stations so I stuffed my pockets with gummy worms and chomped on those. My stomach felt great and so did my legs. I was actually on PR marathon pace and felt great. I tried not to get too excited that early. 

Around mile 16, the jarring little dips in the trail got to me. My back started to really hurt and it greatly slowed me down. I had to stop several times cause the pain was too much. I tried to do my PT exercises but to no avail. I pressed on to see if it would dissipate. I knew that when the pain was giving me chills (it was probs 75-80F at that point), it was time to quit. I dropped at the 20mile aid station. Taylor swift sang "Should've Said No. Should've gone home. Should've thought twice before you let it all go" as I walked it in. That girl knows me too well. 

These rockstars went 1-2. boom!
Going into this weekend, I knew it would take a miracle to finish. The dreams and confidence I had built over this training cycle were so large that my hope burned too brightly to be easily extinguished. In my pre race freak out texting Stephanie, I knew that I had to pull the plug if it got bad; I didn't want to be out longer than I should or regret not trying.
Sitting at the aid station talking to the medic, I was oddly calm. I knew a drop was unavoidable and I am completely fine with it. The grief and anguish I had experienced the previous Sunday thinking that I wouldn't even go to Arizona, was insurmountable. But I did. I made it there. I was on the start line and ran 20 miles better than I have in a race feeling better than ever. I knew my fitness was great, but this injury held me back. I gave it my all and I tried my best. I couldn't ask for anything more and I'm extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to try. 

Now I need to start the healing process and make my body stronger than before. I'm so lucky to have amazing friends surround me and help me through the depressing reality of injuries. I have a couple ideas for this year and I'm really excited for what's to come. 

Huge congrats to Keely for almost stealing the overall W in the 60k and the winners of the golden tickets in the 100k. It was a brutally hot day and tough course, and I have so much respect for every starter and finisher. Kudos to Aravaipa Running and Jamil Coury for putting on a fab event. Post race was fantastic, Keely, Hillary and I hit up the downtown Tempe scene and drank/danced until I had to make my flight to SFO. The tequila induced clubbing had some great laughs. Now to make up my homework and eat half priced chocolate...

Big thanks to all the support and encouragement I've gotten along the way up to and through this. I really, really appreciate it. Major props to TNF & Victory Sportsdesign (too bad I didn't get to use my drop bag) & Julbo USA, as well as the love from Sisugirls & Stance.
West is Best

Monday, November 2, 2015

TNF Chile. My First 100 Miler. My First DNF.

"The first cut is the deepest, baby, I know..."-- Sheryl Crow.

Friday, October 16, 11:13 pm. No, no, we couldn't possibly be going up there. We should have turned downhill by now. Oh cool, look at this blue rock...

25 minutes later... I stood knee deep in snow and the cool, wind whistled around me, blowing my braids in my mouth. Spitting out a wad of hair, I looked up. The white cinta, or markers, had been swallowed by the mountain, along with my willpower. I only knew that I had to continue trudging up by the fluorescent orange jacket and click-clack of poles making their way up, up up into the thinning air.

What seemed like eons away, in some other life, was the bustling of anxious nerves, strong and leathered legs, and flashing headlamps gathered around a rope. Looking out at the twinkling lights of Santiago, I made a concerted effort to focus on my breathing. I stood picking at my sparkling nailpolish, simultaneously fully expectant and completely oblivious to what lay ahead. Soon, the small, intimate group of men and women around me started counting down in Spanish. People with flashing cameras crowded in around us. I wondered if they were going to move, we would stampede them, or we simply would not start. Zeroooooo! The tape went up, the cameras moved aside, and we took off. Very quickly, I found myself bent over with my hands on my quads moving upwards into the unknown. This was the position I would be in most of the day...

September 6, 8:20pm. To Meghan Arbogast: "I have confidence that I can finish 100 miles in October. It'll be tough and I won't run as much as I should if I was 100%. But I had May and June and most of July. And those were great months. And I'm getting to be a good hiker. I thought about it all day. I can do what I can until I can't. Then I can hike"

From the get go, I was hiking. Through the darkness, I tried avoiding sharp, low-hanging branches, and cautiously used my hands to scramble over rocks. I tried making small talk with the men grunting around me, but nobody was listening. Perhaps they were listening to Taylor Swift. I made a mental note to ask Stephanie if she had my headphones, as I had seemingly forgotten them. Drat. Oh well, maybe this would be good for personal development, or I can study for physiology...

The ridgeline kept moving upwards, I wondered when it would end. Mira! A man shouted behind me. I stopped, turned around, and stood gazing at the most incredible sunrise I had seen. The lights of Santiago, were still twinkling through the hazy fog. Green waves of ridges rose from the depths of the fog until they disappeared into the snow-capped peaks of the Andes. The sky, bluer by the minute, cast orange & pink-mixed rays of light onto the mountains. They looked warm, inviting, and sparked a love in my heart. I smiled, then continued upwards, still stealing glances of wonderous joy at those far, far away mountains.
Fresh as Daisies!
The trail, after 5 miles, finally topped out onto a grassy field. The sky was still getting brighter when I switched off my headlamp. I followed the leader down through cow fields. Weaving through trees, we mashed our feet into thick, globby mud. Mis pies estan pesados! I laughed, but nobody else joined me. Sigh.

I could hear the shouting before I could see them. Happily, I ran into the first AS where my energetic crew awaited me. Mario & Rocko from TNF South America, my mother & Stephanie Howe greeted me. Stephanie forced a Snickers bar into my hand, as she helped me load up on gels. It would be a while until I saw them again... Mario filled up my water bottles and told me the three women leaders were 13 minutes ahead. I didn't really care since we were 12k into a 160k race; I'll do my own thing and just focus on finishing.

Locked & loaded, I left. I started with gels every 20 minutes, just as Steph had instructed me to do, but they were not settling well. it took considerable effort to get one down. Hopefully the Snickers would be better...

The next mile or so, we ran through beautiful, green fields (again, not on an actual trail). Some sections, we were surrounded by tall, yellow mustard flowers and trees. My heart was so happy to see so much green, flowers, and trees! It took the edge off the discomfort of forcing down a Snickers bar... Soon, my stomach started really hurting. I took this as a sign that I should back off the pace and maybe walk for a bit. A woman came up behind me and asked me how I was doing and what was wrong. I said my stomach hurt and she offered me food, but I politely declined as I had a pack full of goop. She encouraged me to run with her and told me about herself. The language barrier was a bit steep, but I got to practice my Spanish. I told her she was the first person to talk to me all day, and she laughed. We got to a muddy hill surrounded by long-horned cows. I pointed and asked how to say what they were in Spanish. Vaca, she replied, and again, laughed at me. She and another Argentinian scooted up the hill past me, and I was left to myself.
Soon after PC1
Here is where things started to fall apart. Rolling, punchy climbs and steep, slippery descents, caused me to freak out. I was tired already and only 12 miles in. I started crying when it was time to eat another gel. F this. Where the hell am I. This is hard. How can I possibly do this?

Crying & stumbling, I made my way along the trail. Stupidly, I had forgotten to ask Stephanie for my headphones, so I was left with my thoughts- my own worst enemy. I sobbed as I sucked down a Gu and meandered down a trail-less, angry cow-filled grass hill. I sloshed through a stream of cold, ice melt and dragged myself up the hill. I saw a photographer in the distance and knew I would approach the second AS soon. I wiped my tears and put on a good face running in. The RD, Nick, and several new friends from the SA team were there and helped me refill my bottles with coke. (Yes, straight coke). They asked me how I was doing and I replied that I felt awful. Nick gave me some words of wisdom and told me to keep fighting. They cheered as I left and I felt renewed.
At AS2. The coca cola begins. PC Matias Bull
Bubbling with energy, I started running up the gradual slope. As the slope got steeper, the AS fading into memory, and the mud more slick, my energy gradually drained. I resumed a quiet cry and my hands-on-knees mountain-climbing pose. A man passed me and asked what was wrong. Again, I pointed to my stomach and he asked if he could help. No, I'm fine. And he disappeared above. Already, it was time to eat again and I groaned inwardly. I reached into my pack and found a Peanut Butter packet. At 200 kcal/packet, I only had to sip half of it per time chunk. Surprisingly, it wasn't as bad and I could get it down without gagging. The combination of fizzy coke and hearty peanut butter must have done the trick because I made that next hour my b*tch.

I power hiked the shit out of that hill. I passed the man and he was shocked. Estas mejor?! Siiiiii was my reply as I began running the now-flatter part. I thought we were at the top. We had been climbing for four miles, so it must have been time...
The crew & Vero Bravo
But the white cinta kept leading me forward and up. A giant peak with snow towered in front of me. There was no way they would make us go up and over that thing. When I was close enough to make out brightly colored jackets against the snow, I gulped. The slope turned drastically steep and I assumed the "mountain-climbing position". There was no time for tears as it was very cold, and I was intensely focused on finding blue rocks under the snow. I found a couple and put them into my pack (Don't ask...). Soon, the snow got deep enough where I was hopping into other, previous runners' footprints as it was mid calf-knee deep. Soon, the summit came and I found two brave souls at the 3rd AS ready to help. I refilled with coke and took off downhill (finally).

Sucking the energy from flowers
The first two miles of the fire road downhill, was more like skate skiing through the snow. This was maybe the most fun I had all day, despite the fact that my hands were really cold and I had stupidly given my gloves to Stephanie at the first AS because it was not (required gear). Then the snow disappeared and we weaved our way down. I fell into pace with Pablo from Peru. His English was fantastic and we shared the entire downhill, talking and laughing. This was incredible. At Mile 12 I wanted to quit, but he kept me going and distracting me from those negative thoughts. His stories were awesome and I will definitely cherish those miles for a long time. The 20k downhill was actually more like 13.5m, but who's counting... I grabbed a golden poppy I saw on the side of the trail and put it in my braid. It made me think of all my friends in CA and how they would want me to keep going with a smile.

At about 52km into the race, I arrived at the 4th AS to see my amazing crew. I gave my rocks to Stephanie in exchange for those awful gels and refilled my bottles with more coke. They shooed me out and up before I had time to drop, which had been my plan. They said they'd be at the next AS, "just 10km away", and by the time I remembered how much I wanted to drop, I was too far up the hill and they had taken off.
I began crying heading up the steep, technical, loose-dirt, cactus-filled, hateful hill. At some parts, it was so awful that I had to stop so I could cry a bit harder. Pablo soon passed me and told me to keep going and see him again. My mantra for this section was it was just 10km...

More false summits, some snow, and steep, narrow ridgelines later, I was at 11km and the AS was nowhere in sight. Pablo was ahead and I was sobbing uncontrollably as I stumbled down the hill. Tears clouded my eyes and I could not focus on where the steep, loose trail was going. Snowy Andes mountains and the ridges I was traversing, cut through the fog sharply all around me. I tried to fill my heart with the joy from those mountains I had felt so, so much earlier. It didn't work.

I thought about what I had told Meghan. I was so excited about my first 100 miler, this opportunity to see Chile, and to gain points for UTMB- an ultimate dream I have held intensely for the last five years. I believed so much in myself, it was incredible. I was confident and excited. At that point, high above Santiago, I was so supremely sucked of everything within me. I had been feeling so empty for so long, too. I had no will, no hope, no joy, no drive, no energy... nothing but tears and extreme disappointment. I knew it was over. I knew it was too much for me. Everything in my body ached and I was broken.
Pablo from Peru & some of the others before PC5 (Not my Pic)
Finally, I made it to the Aid Station. But my crew was not there. When I didn't see Stephanie's silver puffy jacket, a weight inside me dropped. I didn't think I could feel more low, but then I didn't underestimate how wrong I could be. I immediately sat down on the aid station and cried harder. With my face on the ground, I created mud with my tears. Pablo was there and sat to rub my back, comforting me. He told me it's just 10 more kilometers and the hill was just like the first we had come down together. Seeing as there was no way down other than to run, I slowly got up and ate a banana and filled my bottles, again, with coke (we're at 5L now consumed). I had run out of food about an hour and half previous to that AS. I made my way down the hill, which took a lot longer than promised and I half cried every time I wondered when I would see my mom and Stephanie.

The downhill ensued and I came to a highway. Police escorts led me across it and directed me to go up. I made my way from the highway through a couple neighborhoods. Without the course guides and white tape, I would have been completely lost. Soon, I was directed towards a small bridge and back to where the trail seems to have resumed. I craned my neck upwards to stare up at the rock before me. White tape waved in the wind, high, high up and I had my right hand holding the chain that had been bolted into the rock so I could make my way up. I let go of the chain, sat down next to the rock, and cried. Hard. A man soon came up behind me and urged me on. In Spanish, that I could barely understand, he told me just 1 km more after the short hill. He continued on ahead and I hauled my ass up that rock. With so many false corners, a continuous uphill, and more than 1 kilometer, I cried as I slowly walked. Out of nowhere, Rocko came bounding up the trail. He scooped me up into a giant embrace and I hugged him as if my life depended on it. After I had wiped snot and tears all across his shirt, he encouraged me to walk with him.

I love this girl more than chocolate.
We talked for a bit and he told me about his climbing. He was so encouraging and it lifted my spirits as much as it could. I told him we needed to run (as it wasn't that far away now) because I didn't want to get caught in the dark. The sun was beginning to set and cast a pink glow on the mountains behind me. I arrived into the AS and immediately fell into Stephanie's arms and told her, at halfway, I couldn't go on. I was absolutely petrified at the prospect of going farther, let alone into the night. I knew how long it would take, how much my body already hurt, and the idea of having zero distractions in the dark. Plus, the obstacles presented by the trail would be just that much more magnified at night. I sat down and cried. Since I hadn't eaten in around 2.5-3 hours, I downed as many pringles as I could. Shivering and crying, I knew it was done. My journey ended there. My mom encouraged me to get into Rocko's truck, where it was warmer out of the wind. That was the nail in the coffin for my DNF. At this point, I had stopped crying. There was nothing left.

Driving back to our hotel, I gazed out the window at the fiery, burning orange sunset sparking the tops of the snowy peaks. Soon, the peaks faded and skyscrapers replaced them. Several things led me to this failure: a giant buildup of caloric deficit and inability to consume anything, not being ready physically with little training after a comeback from injury. These multiplied and grew out of proportion as I emotionally and mentally lost it. With all of this, for my first hundred, given the course, it was way too hard. There was simply no way. I was not physically injured, but simply broken.

After, Stephanie and I got to tour Santiago through wine, Pisco, food, subway, chocolate, and a quest for wifi to study. We had a blast. She taught me what the Grateful Game is, and that's definitely helped put my bitter, disappointment over not finishing, into perspective. So I'm going to play:

-I'm grateful for amazing sponsors that would invite me to explore such a unique area and experience a completely different side of the world. The crew at TNF South America have been so hospitable and helped immensely to get me as far as I did.
-I have amazing people in my life encouraging me always- friends, family, professors... I am especially grateful for Meghan. She coaches me and helps me strive, to the best of my ability, for those far-out dreams I conjure late at night. She is more of a friend than a coach, at times, but always positively pushing me forward. Stephanie Howe has been an infinite source of last minute advice, tips, and companionship. I am so lucky to have had her with me and as a friend. My family is always infallible, bottom line.
-The people I met were so, so lovely. They went out of their way to help me, despite running 100 miles themselves. The camaraderie and love I experienced was unlike anything else; I will hold onto those precious moments.
-I got to the starting line healthy and I finished half of the course without serious injury. I am grateful for a working, healthy, strong body.

HERE is the Pre Race Preview provided by Matias Bull of TrailChile.
HERE is the course review by TrailChile
HERE is the post run write up by Kit Fox & Red Bull.
HERE is my Strava data (I had missed a couple miles due to stopping my watch & time includes sitting at the end)
HERE is the race website- I HIGHLY recommend this race. It is beautiful, well put on, and awesomely hard for those wanting a challenge.

Congrats to all those who had finished the race! Bravo!