This is a story where I discover I’m consumed by a drive to do my personal best to the exclusion of everyone and everything else. And if that sounds like a positive trait, then I haven’t begun the story correctly.

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Sunrise over the Salton Sea on race morning.

“This is not about you,” Race Director, Chris Kostman, told the room full of racers and their crews during Saturday afternoon’s pre-race briefing. Designed to allow the greatest number of runners to experience the Salton Sea, Anza-Borrego Desert and Palomar Mountain areas of rural San Diego County with the smallest amount of impact to the landscape, the Badwater Salton Sea is a team event, wherein teams of two and three racers supported by a single crew car leapfrog their way through the 81-mile course. Unlike a relay, where racers “hand off” to one another throughout the day, Salton Sea requires runners to complete the entire 81-miles together.

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Cierra, Robert, Lisa and I at the start. Cierra and Lisa would crew for us through the day and night.

I began to worry about my partner, Robert, around the 25-mile mark, just over a quarter of the way into the race. The sun continued to climb in the sky and it was taking its toll. We were stopping more frequently for water, and despite my (likely not particularly helpful) needling, these stops weren’t quick. For runners like Robert and I in the middle of the pack, stacking up minutes at the aid stations (or, in this case, at the car serving as our portable aid station), can be the difference between missing a cut-off later in the race or being allowed to continue. And, quite frankly, Robert just looked bad to me. And sounded bad. All signs that did not bode well less than five hours into a what was likely to be a 24-hour day.

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Cierra snaps a photo of Robert and I approaching the car for water in the early part of the race.

Time Station #4, the California Riding and Hiking Trail trailhead at Mile 40, was my sole focus of the daytime portion of the race. The hiking trail would feature the toughest terrain, a nearly 4,000 foot climb over eight miles at the hottest part of the day. And, if begun too late, much of the climb would occur in the darkness.

The time goals I had mapped for us put as at the trail at 2:50pm on the early side, and 4:30pm on the late side. “I think we can make it to the trailhead by 2:00,” Robert said, as we neared the 35-mile mark, walking. Without a watch, he had no way of knowing the actual time. “Doubtful,” I said. “It’s 1:45.”

I arrived at the trail head, Mile 40.5, several minutes in front of Robert, violating race rules requiring we stay within 25 meters of one another. In truth, I’d been violating the rule for the better part of 10 miles. Race rules required that we be on the trail no later than 5:30pm or be pulled from the race. I hadn’t trusted, between the slowing pace and continued stops, that we’d get there in time. Instead of discussing this with Robert, however, I’d just walked faster.

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Robert and I at the California Riding & Hiking Trail head.

Robert and I stepped onto the trail together at 4:20pm, later than we’d both wanted, and disheartened by the thought of completing what we’d estimated to be a 4-hour hike in the dark. And, for the first time all race, I too felt I just wanted to throw up and take a nap (in that order). According to our crew, the car thermometer read 97 degrees.

We stopped and sat three times in the first half mile, a climb that takes racers nearly straight up, overlooking the parking lot where we could see the other teams filtering into the time station and beginning their climbs towards us. I looked at my watch, and suddenly had visions of this 4-hour journey taking six hours our eight hours, in the dark and in the cold without enough food and water, because we’d only packed for four. We got up to move a little further up the trail, every other team still on the course now surrounding us. A minute went by, and I turned around. Robert was gone.

We’d settled on the team name, Actus Reus, because we’d wanted something cheeky that gave a nod to both physical activity and the law degrees we both possessed. It is the latin term for “guilty act” which, when proved beyond a reasonable doubt in combination with the mens rea, “guilty mind,” produces criminal liability. It was ironic; because when Robert disappeared from behind me, quite obviously having stopped in the last 60 seconds to sit again, I didn’t go back to get him.

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After a near 100-degree day, the sun begins to set on the trail.

I don’t have good answers for this; only the rationalizations I made for myself in the moment and over the nearly six hours before I saw him again. I stayed put where I was. There were people all over the trail. I walked again slowly. I waited some more.

I emerged from the trail four hours after I’d gone in, nearly to the minute, and climbed into the back of our waiting crew car to change into my night time clothes. Forty-five minutes later, carrying two hours’ worth of food and water and without a sign of Robert, I got back on the course. “You have to make a right turn five and a half miles down the road,” my friend and crew member, Lisa, told me. “Call me when you get there so I know you’re okay.” I nodded. “I’ll be okay,” I said, knowing Lisa needed to stay with the car and wait for Robert. “If I run out of water, I’ll get some from another crew.” It was 9:00pm.

Miles 48.5, the end of the trail, through 68, are virtually all downhill; technically the easiest part of the course, if you ignore the fact that runners have now been on their feet for nearly 15 hours. I’d taken off running, and made it a mile a half before Lisa caught up with me in the car. “You need to come back,” she said. “They’re going to disqualify you.”

To many, crewing sounds like the easy part of a race. After all, the runners are running it; crew members just drive around in the car. But crewing is much more than that. It involves long, arduous hours of captivity to runners’ needs. Lisa did not only that for me, be she acted as my advocate when I wasn’t there to advocate (and, likely didn’t deserve to advocate) for myself. I made the mile and a half trek, now uphill, back to the trail, where two gracious race officials, bundled to their cheeks in winter hats and hoods against the now dropping temperatures at the top of the trail, explained to me what they never should have had to: “You have to stay together, or we will disqualify you.”

Robert and I, now together again 15 hours and 20 minutes into the race, walked what felt to me to be very slowly. “How do you feel?” I asked him. Just okay. “Do you think you can go any faster?” No.

Ninety minutes went by. In the distance, the now-familiar tail lights of our crew car, blinking in the night time, stopped just before the right-hand turn. We’d walked five miles. I turned to Robert and had the conversation I should have had with him seven hours earlier on the trail. “I don’t think we can do this.” In response, he did for me what I was incapable of doing for him: he gave me the opportunity to finish.

At Mile 55, 11:20pm, the crew made the call to the finish line at the top of Palomar Mountain. Robert was officially dropping out which, according to the rules, meant I could continue on my own. I crossed the finish line at 5:40am, 23 hours, 19 minutes and 20 seconds after starting. Lisa was beside me, Cierra, asleep in the car, and Robert sitting on the couch eating noodles. If anyone cheered, I don’t recall it.

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Finished, and after the requisite (and staged) finish line photos by myself and with the team, the Race Director snaps this one of me sitting for the first time in nearly 24-hours.

Robert and I disagree about whether we could have finished within the 28-hour cut-off. At the time he dropped out, we were minutes ahead of two other teams, both of whom would go on to finish in just under 26 hours. He’d spent the entirety of the trail portion with one of the teams. From my vantage point, he’d been struggling for nearly the entire race, and would only continue to get slower as time wore on and we were faced with 5,000 feet of climb in the last 12 miles.

It doesn’t matter who is right. My actions were wrong.

Robert plans to come back next year and finish the race. It’s not likely to be with me. For all the ways I’ve written that being a distance runner makes me a better person, this event brought out the worst in me. And for all the people I’ve had to make right with over the last two days: Lisa, Cierra, race officials, Race Director Chris Kostman, and, of course, Robert, I at least owe it to them to figure out why. While the experience is still fresh, I think it has something to do with having certain standards for myself and being unwilling to compromise on them. And, if you think that an inherently positive trait, I’ve not told this story correctly. As Chris quite plainly put it on Saturday afternoon, “this is not about you.”

The post script is this: Robert, Cierra and I are still friends. Lisa and I are still friends. And I don’t think Chris Kostman hates me, though he will probably create a new, written rule for next year’s race outright prohibiting “unofficial” mid-race separation. I appreciate their willingness to forgive.

The true epilogue will come later. I’m 110 days away from my 40th birthday. I have 18 more races to go this year, and hundreds more training miles. And I’ll use them all to just try and be a little bit of a better runner and a better person than I was before. At base, this is what 40bibs is all about.

 

 

 

The last thing she does before turning in is pull all the sheets out from under the mattress into a pile in the middle of the bed. I look down at my own sheets, tucked tightly around the queen frame, just how I like them. You learn things when you share a hotel room with someone you’ve only ever spent a couple of days with. But runner days are like dog years; normal people time, multiplied by intensity.

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Nicole, Lori, me and Beth. The GirlSquad pre-race.

I met Nicole around mile 14 of 2016’s Dupont Trail Marathon (now known as “Crazy Man Trail Races“). The race was one of many small trail half and full marathons that dot the Seattle/Tacoma metro area nearly every weekend. I was in the latter weeks of Umstead 100 training; Nicole, in the early stages of training for the White River 50 Mile.

Unlike road races, trail races breed camaraderie. Words of encouragement for fellow runners, whether they are passing you or the other way around, are expected. And it’s not uncommon for runners to stumble upon one another mid-race and, after hours of solo miles, decide to run together until one of you gets tired and wants to slow down, or the other decides to speed up.

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Racers making their way along the Yakima Skyline Rim, more than 4500 feet of gain over 25 kilometers.

Fifteen months after that chance race meeting, Nicole and I joke about our Dupont finish. We remained together from mile 14 through the final mile, a demoralizing uphill stretch on crushed gravel, punctuated by a 100 yard slog through knee-deep water to the marathon finish line. “I kept waiting for you to stop,” she laughs. I was doing the same thing. It wasn’t that we were waiting for the other to peter out so one of us could take the lead; it’s that we were both tired and wanted the other to be the excuse to take a break. Neither intended to leave the other behind.

Facilitated by social media, Nicole and I formed a friendship that day. One that has grown through Nicole’s first 50k last summer, a half marathon plus training run (when we decided to finish the race and run a few extra miles), a handful of training hikes, and Sunday’s Yakima Skyline 25k. Her runner friends have become my runner friends.

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Nicole and I pause from our climb for a quick selfie.

Nicole is sunnier by disposition. A veterinarian, she is often holding handfuls of newborn puppies on her Facebook feed. These photos encapsulate her personality. She’s not as sarcastic as I am, and doesn’t drop F-bombs like I do. On the trail, Nicole is a stronger climber and, despite the inches I have on her, will always leg me out across the finish line. I am steadier, holding us consistent from the first mile to the last. When I finally make it into the Western States, Nicole will be the first person I tell, as she is my first choice for a pacer, and she has promised to oblige.

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Big smiles at the finish line. For Lori, a fourth place age group finish, while Beth completed her longest ever race. We all celebrate.

We crossed the finish line of Sunday’s race within 4 seconds of one another; Nicole first. She is just weeks from a Grand Canyon Rim to Rim hike; me, just days from the Badwater Salton Sea. I don’t know when I will see her next, but we’ll both provide words of encouragement via text and social media in the interim.

This is what runner friends do, and I am grateful.

This blog was born in the waning days of 2016. I landed on the goal of collecting 40 race bibs quite easily — I’m going to be 40 in 2017. I gave myself the to the end of the year to achieve my goal, however, as my 40th birthday actually falls in Week 34 of the calendar. Running more than one race per week seemed unreasonable.

But here I am, just 16 weeks into the year and I’ve made it to the half way point. It seems like a good opportunity to reflect on the first half of this journey.

  • Total Races: 20
  • Total Miles (including training miles): 722
  • Total Racing Miles: 369.4
  • 5ks: 1
  • 10ks: 2
  • 15ks: 2
  • Half Marathons: 7
  • Marathons: 5
  • 50ks: 1
  • 100ks: 1
  • Other Distances: 19.6 mile

And the memories:

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Most Recent Race: Bib #20 – the Magnuson Park Earth Day 5k, 10k, 15k and Half Marathon. My yellow bib identifies me as a half marathoner, leading a pack of 5kers with their green bibs around the first of 4+ 3.1mile laps at Magnuson Park in Seattle.

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Farthest From Home: Bib #7 – The Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon – 7,403 miles from my Seattle home.

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Closest to Home: Bib #13 – Seattle Hot Chocolate 15k – Just 1.5 miles from my front door to the start line, I traveled to the race on foot both ways.

 

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Closest To Nirvana: Bib #19 – The Deception Pass Half Marathon in Oak Harbor, Washington. After days and days of rain, racers were blessed by blue skies and 55 degree temperatures.

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Closest to Death: Bib #12 – Black Canyon 100k – Rain pelted racers for nearly the entirety of the 62 mile race, the conditions turning particularly brutal after dark. I was treated for hypothermia and hypoxemia (low blood oxygen) post-race, but still managed a time good enough to qualify for the Western States 100 lottery, my sole reason for running.

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Most Memorable Race: Bib #4 – Walt Disney World Dopey Challenge Half Marathon – If the Black Canyon 100k was memorable because it was miserable, the Disney Half was memorable because, well, it wasn’t. With less than 12 hours before race time and severe lightening in the forecast, race directors canceled the event. Undeterred, thousands took to the streets and resort areas around Orlando to run their own 13.1 mile “races,” many donning their race bibs to do so. Spectators came out, unofficial aid stations popped up, and lifelong friendships were made. At the time, I wasn’t sure if this race “counted.” With the benefit of hindsight, I can say affirmatively – it counts.

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Nearest Miss: Bib #18 – Blooms to Brews Marathon – Running one or two races per weekend means my year has been more about quantity than quality. At mile 13 of the Blooms to Brews Marathon, however, I found myself on marathon personal record pace. At mile 15.5 I decided to take a run at my own record, set at the 2016 Chicago Marathon. I came up just 20 seconds short. Not bad for the 5th marathon of the year, and the day after a trail half marathon with 4,000 feet of gain.

So what’s on tap for the next 20? In just 7 days I will embark on my longest race of the year, the Badwater Salton Sea 81 miler. And I have my sites on my 40th bib — the Runner’s World Half Marathon on October 22, a race I will be running for the 6th consecutive year. I don’t know what will happen between now and then, any more than I could have predicted what was going to happen during the first 40 races. I do know I look forward to continuing to share this journey with everyone who has followed along so far, and am truly grateful for all the support!

 

The word “glorious” has always had a religious connotation for me, likely the result of many hours spent in Catholic church as a child. As an adult, the concept of “church” has a more liberal definition. (For example, posting a Facebook photo of my husband and I from our seats behind the Mariner’s dugout on Sunday and captioning it, Happy Easter – from our church to yours.) But “glorious” is still reserved for something bigger than myself and those around me.

And trail scenery.

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My shadow, the only blemish on the dunes of West Beach, the race’s start/finish line.

The Deception Pass Marathon & Half was held in Deception Pass State Park, named for the straight separating Whidbey Island from Fidalgo Island. The Pass gets more than 2 million visitors a year, despite its remote, northwest Washington location, nearly two hours from Seattle.

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The view from Deception Pass Bridge, a pair of bridges connecting the various islands within the park. Racers crossed the bridge twice.

This is why.

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Temperatures remained in the 50s for the entirety of the race, the only clue that we were in Washington, and not on a tropical island.

The race provided amazing views of just some of over 100,000 feet of saltwater and freshwater coastline from beside, and above the race course.

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With 2900 feet of climb in the half marathon, racers earned their views.

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Racers around the 8 mile mark, still enjoying the views.

Not simply a race, this was a near-religious experience.

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Kayakers emerge from one of the narrow coves, visible just steps from the edge of the running trail.

By 4:00am on Sunday, I was back to normal. Sure, it was an ungodly hour, but it was approaching the ungodly hour when I am at my best. That time when the black sky of night slips into the deep blue of morning, still nearly an hour to sunrise. My favorite time of day.

I made the two hour and twelve minute drive from Seattle to Woodland, Washington, 20 miles north of the Oregon border, engrossed in the heart of the Audible recording of Big Little Lies, all the rage right now in the 40-something female set. My failure at Saturday’s Squak Mountain 50k was not quite a distant memory, but it was distant enough.

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The sun rises over Woodland’s farm land on the race course.

I hadn’t intended on making a race of it, but just 6 miles in I found myself struggling to stay behind the 4:15 pace group; I wanted badly to pass them. With a 4:13:41 marathon personal record from October 2016’s Chicago Marathon, I have no business running with the 4:15 group on a training run.

But at the split — 13.1 miles — I was still with them. Still not just holding on but holding back. And I started to think about how amazing it would be to PR the race, the day after a brutal trail half marathon and in the midst of a training week. At a 4:15 pace, I’d have to make my move with 9 or 10 miles to go to break 4:13; 10k to go at the latest. But at the 15 mile marker the pace group leader stopped for water, and I didn’t. The move was on.

My official finish was 4:14:01. 20 seconds short. “And to think,” I wrote on my personal Facebook page later that day. “Some people actually taper for these things.”

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Race number 18, and marathon/ultra #6 for 2017.

“486!” The volunteer shouted as I emerged from the trail into the parking lot that served as the Squak Mountain Trail Run main aid station. To her left, a large, black blow-up arch with the word FINISH plainly written in white lettering across the top.

“Can I take a half?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said, gesturing with her right hand toward the arch.

Like a soccer player who finds themselves suddenly, inexplicably and embarrassingly holding the ball, I was on the other side of the arch. The side that doesn’t say FINISH on it. Just like that, I cut my marathon in half.

I’d actually started my morning with a 50k. (You can check out my live start line video here, when I still thought I was going to run a 50k). Just three weeks out from the 81-mile Badwater Salton Sea, my longest race of 2017, I’m in the thick of long run training weeks. A 50k on Saturday, followed by the Blooms to Brews road marathon on Sunday, is not atypical. And, in Washington at this time of year, there are several road and trail racing options weekly, most allowing sign-up on the day of the race. So when I’d finally committed to both of these races less than seven days before, I glossed over a couple of crucial facts: Squak Mountain has over 9000 feet of gain in the 50k; and Blooms to Brews is 2.5 hours away, with a 7:30am gun time.

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Full marathoners and 50kers, awaiting the start of the toughest course in the Evergreen Trail Run race series.

I write a lot about racing because it’s my passion, but I also have a high pressure job and a husband. There is laundry and groceries and meal planning, none of which happen unless I make them happen, and which only occur on the weekends because most workdays are 10 hours long. And we are dog-sitting for friends this week, at their house. I’ve added an hour to my weekday, traveling to their house after work to sleep, and then back to my own before my 4:15am run. All of this got more real as race day approached. As did the cold, driving rain the forecast for Saturday.

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One of many long climbs in the 9800 feet of gain for the 50k. Marathoners would experience 8200; half marathon: 4100.

At 2 hours and 15 minutes in, at the 8-mile mark, I decided to drop to the marathon. I would have to traverse the same, half-marathon course a second time, plus a 6-mile loop section of the course a third time for a total of 31 miles, a heartbreaking thought. Not to mention the race’s 9-hour cut-off, which I was almost sure to miss. I have never missed a cut-off. It began to hail as we descended from the mountain.

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A runnable section of the course, lush from the higher-than-normal amount of rain Seattle experienced through the winter.

 

I could hear the clamor of the finish line at nearly 12 miles, the point where marathoners checked in, and literally turned around to go back out and do the course again. My watch read 3 hours, 37 minutes. Times two would be over seven hours. Rain would start within the hour. And I had drive home. And shower. And do a load of laundry. And then there are groceries. My alarm would go off at 4am for the 2.5 hour drive to another marathon in the morning.

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Heavy wind and rain the night before crashed trees into the course in several places, forcing runners over and under.

I emerged into the clearing with little on my brain, except that I needed to be done. The race wasn’t too hard and I wasn’t hurting. But it was just the one thing on Saturday that I couldn’t do. And I needed not to do it.

“Can I take a half?”

For just a second, I stood on the other side of the finish arch in shock. Race rules allowed transfer from one race to another mid-event, so this was not a dreaded DNF (“Did Not Finish”). I would be listed as an official half marathon finisher. Still, I’d never done this before. I worried that I had somehow opened horribly magical door giving me permission to drop out of races in the future. I went home and did 7 more miles by my house as a sort of penance.

Quitting is not okay. But restoring balance is. I was way out of balance on Saturday; it took walking through that finish arch after 3 hours and 37 minutes to fix it.

(And if I did, in fact, open some magical door on Saturday, it didn’t lead to race failure. My alarm would go off at 4am on Sunday morning for the long drive to Woodland, Washington, where I would run the second fastest road marathon of my life, missing a marathon PR by just 20 seconds.)

Bib #16 – Canalathon 50k

We all remember our first. First 5k. First half. First marathon. First trail race.

First race in Europe.

With a job that can take me (voluntarily or otherwise) to more than 20 U.S. states and six continents, I have an easier time than most justifying a destination race. So when a colleague scheduled a business meeting in London, I was on the ahotu international marathon site before confirming with him that I would, in fact, attend his meeting. In a matter of minutes, I had registered for Manchester Canalathon 50k, a two-hour train ride from London. (And then I accepted the business meeting).

To be clear, this was not my first race outside the U.S. In fact, my very first marathon in 2014 was at the Great Wall of China and, earlier this year, en route to a business meeting in India, I’d stopped in Dubai to run the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon, Race #7 on the year.

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Posing with my first ever marathon medal at the Great Wall of China while friends and family in the United States slept.

But the Great Wall and Dubai races were international fields; races that, in many respects, are identical to Boston or New York or Chicago; featuring many thousands of runners from all over the world such that you get little sense you’re not at “home,” apart from the scenery (in China, anyway. The Dubai course looked like any hot, dry city with greater-than-an-average-number of mosques and few women.)

The Canalathon was different. It was a legit, non-Americanized race. Here’s how you can tell:

It was a 50k/75k/100k: Fair, these distances all exist in the U.S. But anyone who has run one will tell you that trail races, especially ultras, are decidedly more low-key than road races. A race like the Canalathon draws just a couple of hundred people at most (264, in fact, across all three distances), making it a “local” event, akin to your neighborhood 5k. (Okay, 5k times 10 or more). While I have no way to confirm, I’d bet my race medal on the fact I was the only American in a sea of Brits.

It’s not “race stuff,” it’s a kit: Sure, they speak English in Manchester. But not the English we speak in the U.S. So, the night before in my hotel I wasn’t busied by “laying out my race stuff” the way I typically am at home, but instead readying my “race kit.”

And it’s packed for the zombie apocalypse: Canalathon represented my 7th ultra since January 2016, and the first one I’ve ever participated in that didn’t allow drop bags — individualized bags runners leave at certain spots in the race (typically at aid stations) where they can stash extra clothing, a change of running shoes or other necessities. As ultras can last five hours on the short end, and over 24 hours on the long end, sometimes you need things as weather or other conditions change. But no drop bags were allowed at Canalathon. Instead, there were strict requirements about what needed be packed in the kit to be carried on our backs (or, a backpack in U.S. parlance). Specifically: (1) an extra shirt; (2) a waterproof raincoat with taped seams; (3) waterproof pants with taped seams; (4) a hat; (5) gloves; (6) a headlamp; (7) a whistle; and (8) two foodstuffs (like chocolate or a granola bar). No joke — race officials checked for all of these items before we were allowed to step onto the course, and warned that, if we failed to pass a random, spot inspection mid race (by ditching some of these unnecessarily bulky items, for example), we’d be disqualified.

Those that have run ultra before are reading this and thinking, this is ludicrous. And, if you’ve never experienced an ultra before, now is the time to think to yourself, this is ludicrous.

The Canalathon course traversed a wide, flat, dirt and stone trail from Manchester in the south to Sowerby Bridge, 50km to the northeast. At no point during the race are runners more than a 5 minute walk to civilization; 10 minutes to a pub, even. I point this out because I’ve never been required to carry this much gear in trail races at 14,000 feet in Colorado in the summer where you can experience freak rain or snow and can be up to several hours from aid if you need it. And, sure, I’m the person who was treated for hypothermia at my last ultra, but the weather for my last ultra also wasn’t this:

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Fifty-five degrees, and not a cloud in the sky or in the forecast for days along the Canalathon trail. Good thing I’m carrying a raincoat, rain pants, a hat, gloves and headlamp for my 5.5 hour race that starts at 8:30am.

“Hey, you never know,” I heard the race official performing another runner’s bag check say. No; I’m pretty sure I know.

And NO HEADPHONES! Okay, a lot of races discourage headphones. But the last time I’d received an, ANYONE CAUGHT USING HEADPHONES WILL BE DISQUALIFIED warning was during a half-marathon in 2006 (where I found my rule-abiding self surrounded by runners in headphones, none of whom were disqualified). In 2006 Miley Cyrus debuted on the Disney Channel as Hannah Montana, and iPhones weren’t invented yet. You get my point; we’ve evolved.

And no electrolyte: Ultra-marathoners are alternately fuel obsessed and fuel agnostic. For example, the same runners who insist they can only race with a specific brand and flavor of electrolyte drink also have no qualms about eating cold bean burritos, moderately stale pizza, and scalding, sodium-laden Campbell’s tomato soup mid-race. Most ultra aid station offerings read like a megaband backstage buffet rider (minus the alcohol). After 50km or more of constant forward motion, the body wants what the body wants.

Canalathon’s two 50k aid stations (few and far between by the way), get two stars. There were these cut up peanut buttery fudgy things that, surprisingly, were not very sweet (much appreciated after standard gels and gummies start to feel as though they are burning away your stomach lining from the inside out); some bananas (not my fave); Coke (love); a little hummus; and no electrolyte. Again, for the uninitiated — imagine showing up to a wedding reception hours and hours from civilization for a couple that you don’t know and learning it’s a “dry” event. Had you known, you may have made a different choice.

But … lest you think I regret my European race adventure — think again! Races, for me, are like chocolate cake — even when it’s bad, it’s not that bad. Canalathon wasn’t even bad, only different than what I experience in the U.S. And isn’t that why we travel in the first place; to experience something that we can’t experience at home?

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The Canalathon medal – much nicer than my other 50k medals (made of wood, glass, ceramic, and plastic). Maybe there is something to this European race thing.

I will remember my first European race fondly, and look forward to my next first race adventure!

It’s 83 degrees, and the marchers have been out there for nearly 12 hours.

 

I’m sitting on my hotel room bed, typing my blog and enjoying a movie and a glass of wine. Before that, I made an emergency trip to the mall across the street after my hair dryer broke mid-blow out. Before that, a shower. A post-race snack at a local pub. The 40-minute drive from the White Sands Missile Range. My own race finish. And, in all that time, the other racers have been out there on the course.

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Opening ceremonies at White Sands Missile Range, near Alamogordo and Las Cruces, New Mexico, began at 6:35am. 7,000 marchers participate.

Bib 15-7 (March 19)

Sun rises over the Missile Base during opening ceremonies. While a chilly 59 at sunrise when this photo was taken, the temperature would climb to 91 degrees during the course of the march.

My friend, Robert, and I commented as much on the drive back to the hotel, when we could see marchers out our window around the 16 mile marker, the temperature nearing 90. This is, after all a “death march.” (Check out my live, start line video here).

Bib 15-5 (March 19)

Members of the Black Daggers parachute demonstration team show off their skills before the march.

Begun nearly 30 years ago to commemorate the Bataan Death March, the Bataan Memorial Death March drew 7,000 marchers in several categories for this, the 75th anniversary of Bataan. Most notably, the Military Division, requiring marchers to wear full, regulation uniforms for their branch and unit; and the Heavy Division, requiring marchers to carry a 35 pound backpack for the entirety of the 26.2 mile race.

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Marchers in the Heavy Division weigh their packs the day before the race. Bags will be weighed by race officials when marchers cross the finish line. Anyone not meeting the 35 pound requirement will be disqualified — after their finish.

The original Death March was not so easy. On April 9, 1942, the Japanese Army forcibly transferred 60,000-80,000 Filipino and American prisoners of WWII, forcing them to march on foot approximately 60-70 miles.

The march was characterized by severe physical abuse and wanton killings, and was later judged by an Allied military commission to be a Japanese war crime. – Wikipedia

Thousands died along the way.

And thousands came out on the morning of March 19 to honor them.

Bib 15-4 (March 19)

Marchers coming out of the aid station around mile 8.5. After this short downhill portion, they will climb over 1000 feet over the next four miles.

A mix of paved road and sand trail (approximately 20 miles of the latter), the march is akin to a trail race.

Bib 15-3 (March 19)

Marchers coming out of the aid station at mile 14.

With high temperatures, deep sand in places, and the majority of participants in full military uniform and/or carrying 35 pounds, it is a slow race. The final finishers in several categories crossed the finish line over 14 hours after beginning, right around the time I was eating dinner and finishing my second glass of wine.

A lover of long distance races, I don’t typically have the “easy day.” But running in the Civilian Light Division, in technical shorts and a t-shirt, and with nothing but my body weight and a small, hand-held water bottle, I am acutely aware that my own 26.2 could not have gotten much easier. I’m reminded of the poem written to commemorate the original, 1942 march and read at the opening ceremony:

We’re the battling bastards of Bataan; No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam. No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces; No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces. And nobody gives a damn. Nobody gives a damn. – Frank Hewlett (1942)

The marchers and I can’t go back and change what happened in 1942 but, in our own ways, we can all give a damn.

Bib 15-1 (March 19)

Reading up on the original Bataan March, from the comfort of my hotel room after my race. The final finishers will march on for 3 additional hours.

 

Perception: the way in which something is regarded, understood or interpreted.

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Perception is a funny thing, especially when interwoven with memory: the faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information. For example, Saturday’s weather forecast for the Northwest Trail Runs Spring Run for Fun was clouds for the 8:30am marathon race start, with an 80-100% chance of rain from 9:30am until 2:00pm; the entirety of the race. I thought that, of my 14 races this year, 10 of them had to have been in the rain and/or otherwise terrible weather. I even commented as such in my live, start line video.

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It was a dry start for the 60 marathon runners at Redmond Watershed, but the rain would begin one hour into the race, at the same time an additional 142 people began the 5 mile, 10 mile and half marathon races.

The beauty of a race blog is the objective evidence it leaves behind. It has actually only rained in three of my races, not 10. And this got me thinking about why my perception was so off. I came up with a few reasons:

Temporal proximity. This is the obvious one. It has rained for two of my last three races. We remember what happened most recently. And while I’ve raced in the rain three times in total, there were three other races I ran in which it rained during the day of the race, even though I didn’t actually run in it. I understand psychologists refer to this as reconstructive memory. I remember it raining during some races because I both raced and it rained in the same day, evening though they didn’t actually happen at the same time.

Expectations versus reality. Now it gets interesting. Runners plan. Training plans, meal plans, race week plans, night-before plans, race morning plans, pacing plans, fueling plans, drop bag plans… We like to control absolutely everything we can control to ensure that our races go precisely how we expect them to go. In all of that planning — often times months in the making– there is only one thing we cannot control: the weather.

Races 2-5 this year were at Walt Disney World in Orlando, where it is typically in the 60s overnight in January. This was the case for races 2 and 3, but severe rain and thunder hit on the morning of race 4 and, on the on the overnight before the 5:30am start of race 5, temperatures dropped into the low 40s. Living in Seattle, I run in the 40s all the time. But I hadn’t planned for it in Orlando. I purchased enough cold gear ahead of time to be comfortable during the race (including a hat, gloves and hand warmers), I recall that marathon as being freezing cold.

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I’d started the week in shorts, but I ran the Disney World Marathon in Orlando with capris under by running skirt, two t-shirts and a long-sleeved pullover, ear warming headband, and hand warmers stuffed inside my gloves.

Similarly, the 2016 Black Canyon 100k outside of Phoenix was reportedly in the 90s. But race day 2017 was in the low 40s, with torrential rain for most of the race. I handle heat the same as or better than the average runner. Cold, on the other hand, especially wet cold, is disastrous for me. In was treated for hypothermia and hypoxemia when it was over, despite having all the proper gear; more clothes, in fact, than most of those running alongside me.

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“Fun” at the Black Canyon 100k, just 19 miles into a 62-mile day.

When I registered for Disney and Black Canyon, I expected warm weather races. And even though I’d known the actual forecast before I stepped up to the start line and was dressed accordingly, in my head remained the expectation of warm weather. More so than remembering the actual weather, I think I remember that the weather didn’t match my expectations.

Seminal experiences. It’s been less than 30 days since I ran the Black Canyon 100k. It was traumatic, physically, mentally and emotionally. I can’t say definitively that my race would have been better if not for the driving rain, but I know it would have been different. I learned a lot about myself during that race, much of which I’m still processing. That race has changed me; I’m still figuring out how profoundly. Regardless, I feel confident I will not forget the rain on that day.

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The marathon course in Redmond got progressively muddier as the day (and the rain) wore on. After the race and back at home, I would take off my race tights and socks in the shower, only to discover my bare feet were actually caked with mud as well.

I finished well in Redmond, given that this was a training run for an upcoming ultra at the end of April, and given the conditions. The photos will keep me honest — it did, in fact, rain during the race, unlike the dry-sky and sunny photos I have from 11 other races before it.

My next race is just one week away, the Bataan Memorial Death March marathon in New Mexico. The forecast is calling for overnight lows in the 50s, with a daytime high of 81. My body is not accustomed to such conditions. Despite 2017 races in Orlando (#2-5), Dubai (#7), and Phoenix (#13), I’ve not yet run in anything over 70 degrees. At this point, I welcome the opportunity for shorts and a tank top. I secretly hope it will usher in a series of warmer-than-expected races. Perhaps by June, I will be posting about all the races being too hot.

Bib #13 – Hot Chocolate 15k

Google defines fomo as, anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website. I having raging race fomo.

So when Jennifer, a member of my online running group Run the Year, knowing I lived in Seattle asked if I was running the Hot Chocolate 15k, I registered before responding to her.

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Members of the Run the Year online running group from as far away as Phoenix, sharing some team spirit before the 15k.

For the uninitiated, the Hot Chocolate series is a thing. Held in 25 cities in the U.S. and Canada, the race is known for the swag and the sweets: there are a lot of both. As a result, it draws a lot of runners — more than 10,000 in Seattle between the 5k and 15k, with proceeds going to support the Ronald McDonald House Charities. (Check out my live start line video).

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4500 runners, ready at the 15k start corrals. Another 6,000 ran the 5k.

 

 

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The Space Needle marked both the starting and the ending beacon for 15k and 5k racers.

For what is the epitome of a “fun run,” I was a little surprised by the course, which seemed to hit all the hilliest parts of Seattle inside of 9 miles. While I opted not to partake in the strawberry and chocolate marshmallow stops to get me through, I did happily stop for a mouth full of M&Ms around mile 6.5. Because, as I understand it, that’s what you’re supposed to do at Hot Chocolate races.

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With a mile left in my race, those in the latter corrals are working hard, with more than 5 miles (and 4 significant climbs) between them and their hot chocolate.

While the sun was out for my race, it was still only in the mid-40s, making it a perfect day for hot chocolate when the race was over.

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The coveted Hot Chocolate finisher’s mug. Sure, you can see the healthy banana, but there’s fudgy dipping sauce in there that you can’t see.

I think my first Hot Chocolate was a success! I got to meet some amazing women from my online running group; I completed race #13 for the year; and I got to each chocolate disguised as “race fuel.” It doesn’t get much better than that!

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The one thing at the Hot Chocolate race that I couldn’t eat. But I tried.