Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What’s Next? P2P, That’s What.

“What’s next for you, Laura?” Whenever someone asks me this, I am happy to tell them. But I don’t typically broadcast to the world what my plans are. If people are interested, they will ask. But lately I’ve been thinking that so few people know what my next big thing is that perhaps I should just say it. Some friends may wonder why I didn’t say something sooner.

The truth is, I’m kinda afraid to let people know. Some more so than others. Some will think, “Yeah right, Laura’s gonna do that? She can’t do that.” Others will support me, pray for me. Those are the people I need to surround myself with, to have on my “team.”

The other day I followed a link to this blog post. Several statements in this resonated with me, including:
“I believe fear is a great motivator. If you’re not afraid, it’s probably not your thing, so let it go.” and
“I believe in declaration. Say what you want, say what you’ll do, and say it loud so others hear and hold you to it. This should scare the pants off you.”

Consider me pants-less. I am running Pine to Palm 100 in less than 2 months! It seemed so far off when I signed up in February.

The course is point-to-point across the Southern Oregon Siskiyous west to east, from Williams Oregon, to Lithia Park in Ashland. It has 20,000 feet of climb and 20,00 feet loss. I can’t even begin to wrap my brain around this. The longest I’ve run at once is just over 50 miles. My training run last Sunday was 26 miles and 4,000 feet of climb. Now quadruple the mileage and multiply the climb by 5. I can’t even imagine how much I will hurt or how tired I’ll be. As soon as I see that finish line, nothing else will matter though.

The strange thing is, I know I can run 100 miles. I know I will. I know I will run multiple 100s. My body is strong. I know I can keep moving. It’ll all be over in less than 34 hours. 34 hours is not that long. That’s less than a day and a half of my life.

It’s my mind I’m going to have to deal with. It will yell and scream, demand attention. I’ve been told that the more good shit I’ve got going on, the closer I am to success, the more it will scream. I decided yesterday that the next time it tells me to stop, that I can’t do something, I’m going to shove it into a small room inside my head, slam the door shut, and kick my focus in. I’m pretty sure after I get that sweet 100 mile buckle, my mind will change its tune.

I still remember that morbidly obese girl who drank a 5th of vodka or 1.5 liters of wine every night. Who could only manage 5 minutes on the elliptical the first day at the gym. Who hated herself. Who went to bed more nights than not hoping to not wake up in the morning. All this is still fresh in my memory. It was less than 7 years ago.

I am not that girl any more, but I would not be who I am today without her. I’m about to accomplish something she never would have dreamed of. And in the process, I hope a few of you are inspired to do something that scares the pants off you.

I’m anticipating the best run of my life on September 15–16.

That was then.

This is now.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I’m an SOB

Siskiyou Outback-er, that is. This is the 3rd year in a row I’ve run the race affectionately known as “SOB.” In 2010 and 2011 I ran the 50k, but this year was eager to step it up to the newly-added 50 mile distance. (It would be my 4th 50 mile race.) The races start at the Mt. Ashland Ski Area at about 6,800 feet elevation and more or less follow the Pacific Crest Trail with a couple diversions on to forest roads for a few miles. Course elevation tops out near 7,100 feet. There is some nice shady, forested running, as well as high, open, sunny ridges with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and hills. There is little flat out here. You’re pretty much always headed up or down. I regret that I have no pictures from this race to show you the beauty. I made the decision to leave the camera at home and focus on the run this time.

In the week leading up to SOB, I had done the math. I got really worried about making the time cutoffs, which came out to 15-minute/mile pace starting at miles 35.5 at Jackson Gap aid station. My longer runs with moderate elevation gain the last couple months had been very close to that. My concern got the best of me on my 10 mile run on Tuesday before the race. I was so consumed with worry that there were a couple miles I didn’t even feel like running, so I didn’t. I just hiked. Then I got to my favorite spot on the trail— one of my favorite views in all of Central Oregon. I stopped, bent over with my hands on my knees, and just cried. How the hell could I be so worried about something in the future as to not be able to enjoy the fact that I was moving, on my own two legs, through this beautiful place that I love? There are people that would love to be able to run, much less walk. And here I was getting in 10 miles today. I was walking— so what! Get over yourself, Laura, get out of your mind, and enjoy being able to move through the world! So what if you don’t feel as good or aren’t as fast as you think you should be. Why has it taken me so long to learn this? Why is it taking running to teach me so many important lessons? Be thankful, Laura.

Something had to change fast, and that something was my mind. I came up with a mantra that I repeated to myself dozens of times a day for the next few days: “Calm, Confident, In the Moment.” I believe you can’t worry if you are truly In the Moment. For me, worry generally comes from thinking about the future. The future hasn’t happened yet. So why are you worried about it? Just do your best. By Friday I was totally at peace and prepared for whatever might happen on race day.

The race began at 6am (which meant a 3am wakeup for me!). The first 8 miles are some of my favorite. The PCT in this section is absolutely pristine, cushy, and a dream to run on. I felt great. My plan was to put some time between me and the 15-minute pace cutoffs early in the day while it was cool, but to temper that with patience. So far so good. After the Siskiyou Gap aid station at mile 9.1, we were routed onto forest road 20 for what seemed like forever. The rocky road climbs steadily up. I thought I remembered running all of this in 2010, but today running more than short sections was a struggle. So I hiked. Then, at mile 9.2, Max King was the first of the 50k runners to pass me. They had started their race an hour later and had already caught up to me. My mind started going south as more and more 50k-ers passed me. Most said “good job” as they passed. Didn’t they know I was the back of the 50 milers? Why do I work so hard to get where I am, yet I’m still last, or nearly last? Why even run road 4601 in training? So much good it’s done for me today. I’m the cream of the crap, the worst of “the best.” Oh well, at least I’m out here.

A woman caught up with me saying that she was the sweep. Indeed, I was last. My mind silently screamed, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, get away from me!” Instead I politely said that I was surprised to see her because I knew that I was way ahead of 15-minute pace. She said she just ebbs and flows. I thought, but didn’t say out loud, “Well then, ebb the hell away from me.” Soon she did. That was a relief, and I started working on my mind. I had realized the first moment that my mind began heading south, and I had let it continue. Now I had to work to change it. The course got back on to trail, and now I had to hop out of the way for many more 50kers to pass me. That was really beginning to be a pain, but I tried to take it all in stride, just BE, and enjoy the scenery. By Wagner Gap at mile 12.5, I felt back on my game. At some point, I can’t remember when, I looked at my Garmin and was 10 minutes ahead of the cutoff. I knew that time cushion wouldn’t last because there was a hiking climb coming up. I decided then not to look at my watch any more.

Jackson Gap, at mile 14.5, was the turnaround point for the 50k and the 50 mile drop bag location. I saw a 50k friend of mine sitting in a chair, wrapped up, but shivering. I touched her head. How you doin’ honey? “I don’t feel good,” she replied. I said she should sit for a while and would feel better. She replied that she thought she was done. My heart went out to her. I am slow but I was feeling good physically. Be thankful, Laura. Be thankful. I grabbed the ziploc marked #1 from my drop bag and refilled my pocket with gels from it. From another ziploc I retrieved an already wet bandana packed in ice and tied it around my neck to help me stay cool. I refilled my water and dumped my garbage.

I was following my race plan to a T and was off again. A short climb out of Jackson Gap, followed by a few miles of gentle downhill. But first there was one big ol’ daunting snow bank across the trail to make it over. I didn’t like the looks of it, and did some hyperventilating (if my foot slipped more than a few inches, I would have slid clear down the snowbank and down the hill). Shortly after that, I was stopped in my tracks by one of the most beautiful countryside views ever. I laughed and smiled. There was a gentleman not far behind me. I waited for him, saying “Come over here, I want to share this view with you.” We put an arm around each other and just stood there for a moment, soaking in the view. We didn’t know each other, but in this moment it did not matter, and it was wonderful. These are the moments that running is about. Oh, and I did find out his name is Sean. We’d see quite a bit of one another the rest of the day.

Some nice downhill running for most of the next 7 miles. About mile 16, I started seeing the front-runners coming back the other direction. I did some quick math. Wow, they were running like twice my pace! How anyone can do that just amazes me. I can’t even comprehend it. This is why I like out-and-back courses. I get to see people. I don’t mind people passing me from the opposite direction. It is much easier to get out of their way than when being passed from behind. Plus I can see their faces, and it’s easier to give encouragement and connect. After a few miles of downhill, I started thinking, “Wow, this is gonna be a lot of uphill on the way back.” Then about mile 19 there was a wooden sign indicating the Oregon/California border. That was pretty damned neat-o! I had run to California!

At Wards Fork aid station at mile 22, I prepared for the 3 mile climb to the turnaround. I handed off my hydration pack to be filled with ice and water while I did a few other things: downed a cup of coke and some grapes, rewet my neckerchief. Co-Race Director Timothy Olson (winner of this year’s Western States 100) poured ice into my sports bra. Of course I had to work the moment. I feigned a moment of ecstasy, moaning, “Oh, thank you Tim baby, that was so good!” I donned my iPod to rock out the climb and someone handed my filled hydration pack back to me. At least I assumed it had been filled. I will never again assume.

Out of Wards Fork, I knew it was a 3 mile climb to the turnaround, and I was ready with my tunes. I left the aid station singing, with Sean not far behind me. Before long I started seeing several of my friends heading back down from the turnaround. I saw Todd and asked how much farther to the turnaround, a mile? (It’s amazing how long 3 miles can seem.) He said it was still a ways and it gets steep, and to keep pushing. Then I saw my friend Lori. She said I was just about there, that it was like climbing a rock wall. Uh-oh. My mind began running amok. Before long, we were off the trail and following flagging cross-country. Not for very far though. It was fun, but taxing. We climbed up to a rocky outcropping where there was 360 degree views. I felt happy and on top of the world. I had made it 1/2 way! I raised my arms in triumph and screamed, “Fuck yeah!!!!” I didn’t care who heard.

My friend Anne was manning the turnaround and was going to be sweeping the way back. She said I had a little over 2 hours to make it back to Jackson Gap, but that they might not be super-strict on that cutoff, but would be on later ones. I did some quick math in my head. Running the next 10 miles—7 of which were basically one long climb—in just over 2 hours was not going to happen. So I decided to just keep doing my best and have fun.

I turned around for the 3 mile descent back to Wards Fork. Sean and a woman who I will refer to as “blue shorts” (I never got her name) were on the last pitch up. The woman looked like she was nearly in tears. I was getting thirsty. I sucked on my hydration tube. Nothing. Oh my. My water had not been filled at the last aid station after all! I told myself not to get angry or upset. It wouldn’t do any good. All it would do is suck my energy. So I didn’t get upset. That decision to stay calm and focused was actually was quite refreshing, and a good change. I’d run without water before, I’d be fine. Just run consistently to the next aid station where water awaits. I did not attempt to take any gels or salt during this time. Pulling in to Ward Fork again, I already had my hydration pack removed as was yelling (as politely as possible), “I need ice and water!” What did I need to do here, now, under the circumstances? Calories: Coke. Grapes. Gel. Salt. More ice in the bra, re-wet the bandana. I felt pretty efficient leaving that aid station.

There was an orange sign saying how many miles to Jackson Gap, and that it was like 1750 gain and 170 loss. Oh boy. Here’s that long hill. Most of it was at a grade just enough that I really couldn’t run much. So I hiked. There were a few short spots of flat terrain or descent, and I ran those, even though it was perhaps only 50 feet, or even 10 strides. I don’t recall ever doing this before. This also was a good change. I was getting a little tired though. Thankfully nothing hurt, but I was a bit low on energy. Perhaps I was in a deficit because of the water situation, or maybe this would have been a natural low point anyway.

I sang. I clapped. I did what I could to keep myself peppy and positive. Soon the blue shorts lady passed me. She passed me strong. She was hiking, and hiking quickly. She’d gotten a second wind. Good for her! I wasn’t moving as quickly, but I was moving. Sean, with Anne the sweep, were behind me. Occasionally I’d look back and could see them. There were the same amazing views on the way back, and since it was apparent I wasn’t going to make the cutoff time, I decided to stop for a moment to soak it in and smile contentedly. Then I continued on.

1/2 a mile before coming back in to Jackson Gap was that goddamned daunting snow bank again! If I thought it was daunting before, it really was now! I started across but turned back, nearly in tears. I looked up for a way around. If there was one, it wouldn’t be any easier than just crossing this thing. I knew Sean and Anne were just a couple minutes behind me, so I stopped and admired the view while waiting for them for some physical and moral support to get back over this thing. Sean went ahead and Anne was a great help to me. After that I was home free. I felt good, and alive, and began to run again. I looked at my watch for the first time in a long while, and my heart sank. I was way past the cutoff.

I pulled into Jackson Gap, stopped running, pounded my quads hard and repeatedly with my fists, and burst into tears. My friend Marilyn (aka “Mel,” who I ran the Rogue River trail with in May) had been volunteering at this aid station all day, and was suddenly there giving me a long, heart-felt hug, saying over and over, “You’re ok, you’re ok.” I was so glad she was there, and I’m sure she knows exactly how I felt. I was invited to have a seat. I didn’t want to sit. I was restless. I milled around, walking in circles, stopping to look at the grand view, quietly mouthing lyrics to songs still playing in my ear.

My drop bag was here. I might as well be good to myself. Boy, that’s a switch from decades past: take care of myself instead of beat myself up psychologically. So I made use of the supplies in my drop bag, even though I wasn’t continuing. I changed my shirt. I put on a clean, icy cold, wet neckerchief. I ate the baggie of Trader Joe’s mini cheese & cracker sandwiches. I was so disappointed, but I had done my best today. And with 6200 gain and 5800 loss, it was a good long training run. My best was good enough, dammit (just not for the time constraints).

Jackson Gap aid station was packed up and a few of us who didn’t make the cutoff here piled into two vehicles. It was a beautiful drive of over an hour on forest roads back to the start/finish. The roads are cut right into the hillsides. One side of the road is steep uphill, the other side steep downhill. Once again, no flat to be found. The views go on forever and make my heart soar. A few miles out from the finish, we could see runners still making their way toward the finish. We stopped and yelled out the window in support. I was a little sad and jealous ‘cause I love the last few miles of this race, and longed to be out there.

At the finish I talked to the woman in blue shorts, who had barely made it through the cutoff at mile 35.5, but didn’t make the cutoff at mile 41. She said her second wind hadn’t lasted. She did, however, say that when she came up behind me before passing me on that long climb, I was singing “Call Me Maybe” and she found it hilarious. Sean chimed in that he’d heard me singing “Safety Dance.” Yep, I listen to everything from 80s to current bubblegum-pop. My friend Seth joined in saying I looked to be one of the happiest people out there. When he passed me coming down from the turnaround, I was singing Rush’s “One Little Victory” right to his face and pointing directly at him. I sing not only for myself, but for you, my friends. Whether you find it hilarious or uplifting, that’s why I do it. Consider it my little gift to you. I also talked to many people who finished the race, but who said it took a lot longer than they thought it would. A tough course indeed.

I had mixed feelings immediately after the race. This is my 3rd year ultrarunning, and I’ve had 2 DNFs, both this year. In fact, my last 2 races were the DNFs: Yakima Skyline Rim 50k in April, and this one.   But these were also the two toughest courses I’ve run yet. At least I made the attempt. I can either let this rip me apart, or make me stronger. I’m choosing the latter. My best is good enough.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Western States 100 Training Runs

“I like having stories to tell.”
That’s what Mary, my massage therapist, said should be the first line of my book. Now, book, I don’t know. But I will do her the honor of starting this blog post with it, since it’s quite appropriate.

While I do like experiencing adventures, some of them are so profound, so soul-filling, that I don’t know where to begin to tell the story— so I just don’t. This was the case with the 3-day Western States 100 Training Runs, which I attended over Memorial Day weekend this year. It was so amazing to experience 70+ miles of the course, to be around so many dedicated runners, many of whom were training for the race this year. To soak in the history. To meet the volunteers, the current and future Race Directors, statesmen of the sport of ultrarunning. To see so many people selflessly giving of themselves so that I, and many others, might have such a wonderful, life-enhancing experience. On every single run since then, I have thought about writing a blog post about it, and in fact have written these first paragraphs over and over in my head. It’s never too late to start, right? So here I begin, more than a month later, to tell the story…

You may or may not know that at last year’s Western States, I paced Melanie, from Scotland, in her first 100-miler. I was with her for 38 miles, from Foresthill to the finish. Pacing was a very challenging and gratifying job. Everything you do is for that other person. I would do it again in a heartbeat, and will many times in the future, I am sure. This year, though I really wanted to be at the race, I felt that because of the physically and mentally challenging winter and early spring that I had, I would not make a good pacer. My training was ramping up and now going pretty well, so I decided I wanted to do the training runs instead. This time would be for myself, to see all the miles in the daylight that Melanie and I ran through in the dark last year. But the trip itself was very daunting. This would be my longest solo road trip ever. I am not a fan of driving long distances. I would stay 5 nights alone in a hotel, eat breakfast and dinner alone every day. Recover alone. But for 3 days I was in heaven, running the Western States 100 course. Another bit of a very big dream come true. I wanted to be there bad. I was going to make it happen and make the most out of it.

A change in routine.
I generally eat a pretty simple pre-race/run breakfast of bagel and turkey or a couple eggs and toast. But this was going to be 3 back-to-back long days of running. I knew I’d need more fuel than that. It might not have been wise, but I’ve never had and gastrointestinal issues or nausea during a run. My stomach is pretty iron-clad. So I took a calculated risk, and ate a hearty breakfast daily consisting of 2 eggs, greasy hashbrowns, 2 strips of bacon, and 2 slices of toast. Every morning, as early as 4:30 am, I sat alone at Denny’s, meditatively listening to M83’s “Outro” (which is featured in the movie Unbreakble: The Western States 100), eyes closed, head bowed, hands folded as if in prayer, soaking in even this experience. The 4-minute song contains just 4 power-packed sentences:
“I’m the king of my own land.
Facing tempests of dust, I’ll fight until the end.
Creatures of my dreams raise up and dance with me.
Now and forever, I’m your king!”

Day 1: 32 miles. Robinson Flat to Foresthill.
We were bussed from Foresthill to Robinson Flat (mile 30 of the race), a drive taking about an hour. As the bus climbed the winding, narrow road, many people, including myself, were shocked to see new snow in the trees. I was wearing only my lightest shorts, a tank top, lightweight arm warmers, and light gloves. I usually run hot, but this got me scared that maybe all the people wearing multiple long-sleeve layers had it right. Turns out, once moving, I was fine. Until later.

Getting started at Robinson Flat. Do I look cold?
The first climb out of Robinson Flat was a light dusting of new snow over remaining old snow. At the top of the climb, we were enveloped in fog. The trail switchbacked down through a burn area. Fun, rocky running. Soon we were to the section with lots of mining claims and old mining equipment. I was in heaven, ’cause I love that kind of stuff anyway.

Runners in the fog coming off the climb out of Robinson Flat. I wished I could have seen the view.

“Driving” some old mining equipment alongside the trail

I was running easy and having so much fun. This truly was an adventure! Next came the canyons: Deadwood, El Dorado, and Volcano. I kept waiting for it to get hard. On the climb up to Devil's Thumb from the bottom of Deadwood Canyon, the answer came to me: It doesn’t have to be hard. Not today. On race day, runners would be at mile 47 compared to my mile 17. And today it was cool and drizzly. I’m sure those people wanting to get some good heat training in were disappointed (it can be over 100 degrees in the canyons on race day), but I for one was loving the temperature. Until the climb out of El Dorado Canyon to Michigan Bluff. That’s when it began hailing, then pouring rain. The hail did not feel good on my bare shoulders. It almost hurt. I hoped it wouldn’t get any bigger. I passed a number of miserable people on the climb up to Michigan Bluff. We were all drenched, but I wasn’t miserable.

The aid station volunteer who dressed me in my rain poncho.
Note hail stones on blue jeep and rain coming off the canopy.

I had a plan for Michigan Bluff: get my Emergency Rain Poncho on, fill my water, and get the hell out of there as quick as I could. A few people who arrived at the aid station right behind me dropped from the run at that point. One young couple was getting into someone’s car to warm up. I wondered if they would even continue. I was wet and cold, and about to get a little scared. I left Michigan Bluff with no one visible in front of me or behind me. I followed the street through Michigan Bluff until it turned to jeep road, then trail. All the while I was looking for the yellow Montrail ribbons that marked our course. But had I been paying close enough attention? I saw some plain yellow markers. I got a little scared. My thoughts flashed back to earlier in the day when I had heard some girls say that the previous year they had gotten off-course by inadvertently following some plain yellow ribbons instead of ones marked with “Montrail.” Had I gotten off course? Don’t panic. Keep going, Laura. Pay attention. After a while, Thank God! I saw a Montrail ribbon. What relief! I was also warming up a bit. Though it was still raining, it’s amazing how a thin, dollar-store poncho can help keep you warm. I keep one in my pack for all my long “mountain” runs, yet this is the first time I’ve ever had to use it.

The last canyon, Volcano Canyon, was not as deep. As soon as I hit the paved road coming back into Foresthill, I was very excited and started running again, even though it was some decent uphill. A car drove slowly by, and someone yelled out the window to me. I had no idea who it was or what they said (I was wearing my iPod, having fun, and totally rockin’ out), but I smiled, waved, and kept running. Later I found out it was Assistant RD Craig Thornley and Andy Jones-Wilkins driving out to see if anyone wanted a ride back. They said I looked happy. I genuinely was. And I didn’t need no damn ride.

Day 1 elevation profile. Looks benign, but this is 7,000 feet gain and 10,400 feet loss!

Day 2: 19 miles. Foresthill to Rucky-Chucky (+ up to White Oak Flat to shuttle)
I arrived at Foresthill Elementary School a bit early. Some people were starting ahead of the official start. Someone said that yeah, if you knew where you were going, you could start early. So I did, giving myself a 20 minute head start. I knew I’d be hopping out of the way for a lot of faster people soon, but I didn’t mind. Because of my strategy, the day was filled with hugs and high-fives. I was ecstatic to be here, to be experiencing so much of course in the daylight that I had only seen at night. It was magical.

Before long the front-runners came through. Scott Wolfe gave me a hug as he ran by. Soon I heard someone say my name and I got hugs from Amy Sproston, Meghan Arbogast and Denise Bourasssa as they passed by. One thing about ultrarunning that really touches me is that front-of-the-pack runners take the time to love on us back-of-the packers. I asked if any men would like to give me a hug, which resulted in a couple more hugs.

Unlike Day 1, today was sunny and warm, but thankfully not super-hot. Whether it was the warmer weather, because I had just run 32 miles the day before, or knowing that I had plenty of time since I started early, I was considerably slower today. Arriving at the aid station at Cal2 (Peachstone), Assistant RD Craig Thornley was there and filled up my water. Andy Jones-Wilkins was there too, barking aid station offerings (I couldn’t help but smile) and giving encouragement to runners: “Miles of buffed-out sweet downhill single-track await!” I had hoped to pick up the pace on this section, but it was just rocky and “downhill” enough that I wasn’t comfortable picking up the pace much (we are so spoiled by our smooth, runnable trails in Central Oregon). One passing fellow said that he liked my stride, that it looked efficient, something between a walk and a jog. Yeah, that’s my “wog.” While I can’t say I appreciate or even like it, perhaps I should. Perhaps it is what keeps me injury-free and moving over long distances, albeit slowly. I don’t need to be fast to do what I’m going to do. I need patience.

The trail above the American River

Day 2 was filled with nice shady forest running, long gentle downhill, steep rocky downhill, and open areas across ridges with views of the river. The trail flirted back and forth above the river. The water was so tempting along this stretch of hot, dusty, sunny trail, yet was not accessible until Rucky Chucky. It was a few miles before Rucky Chucky that I met “Mama Lisa” as she introduced herself to me. Mama Lisa was sitting on a rock along the trail due to cramping. An accomplished ultra runner and Team In Training coach with several Western States and other 100-mile finishes, she said the radiation treatment she was going through was really messing with her. We walked together for a while, then began jogging. Mama Lisa was moving good. She said it was because I was pulling her along. It was an honor to pull you along, Mama Lisa, an honor indeed. She dropped from the run at Rucky-Chucky. As I left Rucky-Chucky, I looked at my watch. Had I started 20 minutes later with the official start, I would have barely made the cut-off time at this aid station. This was when I began to get worried about Day 3.

Me and Mama Lisa at Rucky-Chucky

I donned my iPod and began rocking out for the 3-mile climb up a sunny, hot, dirt road to White Oak Flat. Snakes stretched across the road, drunk on sunshine. I was happily hiking, rocking out, singing, clapping. Hiking uphill with music gets me in a focused groove. I call it a “party in my head,” which is better than the alternative. There were lots of hurting people on this climb though, who were barely moving. I continued happily hiking strong, singing to them as I passed. I hoped they could pull some energy from me. Then, with a mile left, we were funneled back on to a trail. I had figured we’d be hiking up the road until we got to the place where we’d catch the shuttle back to Foresthill. I was wrong. This is where my mind quit on me and was the only mile the entire weekend that I was just ready to be done.

The trail was almost flat, for maybe 50 yards, then pitched up again. Though I really wanted to run, I was too tired to run the ups and just wanted to get to the end. I did, and hotdogs awaited! Boy did they taste good. I didn’t even need a bun, just a dog in the hand. My body only wanted the fat and protein. It was here I got to meet WS100 Race Director, Greg Soderlund. What a kind, gentle soul. We talked about poison oak, he warning me that if I thought there was a lot of it today, just wait until tomorrow. He introduced me to one of his medical people who has an anti-poison oak method he swears by. On the way back to my hotel, I stopped by Worton’s store in Foresthill to pick up white vinegar and Tecnu and used both back at the hotel room.

Day 2 elevation profile: 3,600 feet gain and 4,650 loss. 
The evening of Day 2 was a special panel discussion/dinner with four multiple-time Western States finishers (an understatement!) and hosted by Andy Jones-Wilkins. I was fortunate enough to sit in front and take notes. Afterward, I got to officially meet and talk with some greats of ultrarunning, givers all of them. It makes me want to give more of myself. There was a lot of experience and wisdom in the room that night, and I was soaking up as much as I could. You can get the same information by watching this 70-minute video of the evening’s presentation. Although I enjoyed myself, I was becoming increasingly concerned about running even slower on day 3 and possibly not making the cut-offs at the 2 aid stations.

Day 3: 22 miles. 1.5 miles above Green Gate to Placer High School, Auburn.
My brain tends to work things out during sleep. In response to my concern about being too slow and not making cut-offs, I awoke thinking, “Oh no, I will not sabotage myself today. Just because I’ve never done this before doesn’t mean I can’t now.” A song was also stuck in my head: Florence + The Machine’s “Shake It Out”:
“It’s always darkest before the dawn…
And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back,
So shake him off…”

This song was my mantra all day. I sang it over and over in my mind. It gave me a rhythm to run to, and a positive message. The devil would not cause me to fail today. Only 22 miles stood between me and my goal, and I was gonna do my damnedest to succeed.

The pre-race meeting was at the finish in Auburn. Mr. Soderlund warned us, in a nutshell: The bus ride out to the start is long, and when you get off, you’re gonna wanna pee. Don’t. The people who live out there have guns and they don’t want to be bothered. So wait until you cross the marker we’ve laid across the trail to pee. He wasn’t kidding.

It’s interesting how you can be all stiff and hobbled in the morning, yet once you start running, you loosen up and your body responds. This was especially true for me on Day 3. I felt the best that I had all weekend, and I had a plan for success today: I was gonna work the downhill and flats early on. I was gonna keep a steady pace but not push myself too hard. I was going to put as much time between me and the cut-offs as possible the first miles. My plan worked. I felt great and clicked off mile after mile. Each mile, I actually exclaimed out loud, “yes!” as I put 4, 5, even 6 minutes between me and the cut-off every single mile for the first 14 miles. I love this section of the course. It’s shaded forest trail, followed by rolling hills through grasses along a ridge and weaves in and out of small creek drainages. It was a warm day, and I made use of many of the creeks to wet my neckerchief, wash my face, and wet my hair and visor to help me stay cool.

The first of two aid stations was at 14 miles. That’s a long way when you’re rocking an average 13-15 minute/mile pace! We were, however, told about a trail-side water spigot at 7 miles that was safe to drink from. When I got to the spigot, I reached back and poked my hydration pack. It felt like I had plenty of water left. But I thought, “Don’t be stupid and pass up water, Laura. You never know what could happen. It’ll only take a minute to refill.” So I did. And boy was I glad I did. The next 7 miles to the aid station were sunny and much warmer and I was staying on top of my hydration and ran as many of the hills as I could. I had filled my 70-oz bladder full at the spigot, and by the time the next 7 miles were gone, so was my water. I had drank 70 ounces in 7 miles! I also checked my watch. I was WAY ahead of the cut-off time! My plan had worked! I had enough time that I could walk the final 8 miles if I needed to, so I took it easier for the next few miles until No Hands Bridge at mile 19.

I love this area between Hwy 49 and No Hands!

On No Hands Bridge. The aid station for the training run was on the west side. Boy was I happy here!
After No Hands, I picked it up again. By this time I was really excited. I knew I had this. And I knew this climb. I was here last year pacing, and I was here the day before the training runs to do a little shake-out after the long drive to Auburn. Today I hiked strong up the climb, singing, passing people. Once I hit the pavement though, I started slowly running again. I was almost there. Just a little more up, then the little white bridge and downhill to the finish. I put on the Eminem feat. Bruno Mars song “Lighters” for the last mile. I sang along at the top of my lungs:
“This one’s for you and for me, living out our dreams
We’re all right where we should be…”

I was right where I should be. I crossed the little white bridge, turned left, ran flowing and free down the road to the finish. There were three ladies cheering. That was the end. No spectators milling about. No finish line festivities. No one to excitedly share my accomplishment with. I momentarily was a little let down. I know this is “just” a training run. Training run my ass. For me this was so much more: something special, a life-changing event, the next step in a very big dream come true. And I did it! One day I will earn a silver “100 Miles, One Day” belt buckle at Western States. One of the sweet ladies at the end cut off my wristband, the method of keeping track of the runners each day. I told the ladies that if I died right then and there I would die happy and fulfilled. It was the honest truth. But I’m glad I didn’t. I’ve got more work to do and dreams to fulfill.

Day 3 elevation profile: 3,600 feet gain, 4,400 loss