Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hey, Fat Girl.

Yes, you. The one feigning to not see me when we cross paths on the running track. The one not even wearing sports gear, breathing heavy. You’re slow, you breathe hard and your efforts at moving forward make you cringe.

You cling shyly to the furthest corridor, sometimes making larger loops on the gravel ring by the track just so you’re not on it. You sweat so much that your hair is all wet. You rarely stay for more than 20 minutes at a time, and you look exhausted when you leave to go back home.  You never talk to anyone. I’ve got something I’d like to say to you.

You are awesome.

If you’d look me in the eye only for an instant, you would notice the reverence and respect I have for you. The adventure you have started is tremendous; it leads to a better health, to renewed confidence and to a brand new kind of freedom. The gifts you will receive from running will far exceed the gigantic effort it takes you to show up here, to face your fears and to bravely set yourself in motion, in front of others.

You have already begun your transformation. You no longer accept this physical state of numbness and passivity. You have taken a difficult decision, but one that holds so much promise. Every hard breath you take is actually a tad easier than the one before, and every step is ever so slightly lighter. Each push forward leaves the former person you were in your wake, creating room for an improved version, one that is stronger, healthier and forward-looking, one who knows that anything is possible.

You’re a hero to me. And, if you’d take off the blaring headphones and put your head up for more than a second or two, you would notice that the other runners you cross, the ones that probably make you feel so inadequate, stare in awe at your determination. They, of all people, know best where you are coming from. They heard the resolutions of so many others, who vowed to pick up running and improve their health, “starting next week”. Yet, it is YOU who runs alongside, who digs from deep inside to find the strength to come here, and to come back again.

You are a runner, and no one can take that away from you. You are relentlessly moving forward. You are stronger than even you think, and you are about to be amazed by what you can do. One day, very soon, maybe tomorrow, you’ll step outside and marvel at your capabilities. You will not believe your own body, you will realize that you can do this. And a new horizon will open up for you. You are a true inspiration.

I bow to you.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

My First Run Smiley 100k - Born To Run Ultra Marathon

Posted by Zapmamak @ Running Naked On Sharp Pointy Stuff
Photography by Larry Gassan - Mile 50 Heading out on my last loop.
I'm surprised he caught me with half a smile on my face
The DNF Banner at the Born To Run Ultramarathon had all sorts of excuses. My favorite was "I'm just a Grade-A Pussy." And... "Puke. Puke. Puke." There were some hardcore runners out there. Some barely hanging by a thread in the middle of the night to finish 100 miles. 

My post race restless sleep was interrupted by either the throbbing in my legs or the occasional runner being assisted by friends and family on their way in from their last loop. Salsa music blared late into the night while runners were still being announced by Luis Escobar himself as they finished their loops or headed back out. It was the music and party at the finish line that lured me in from those last miles. And the way that the cheering and music glided over the hills through the dense dark was seriously seductive, pushing me on to run the last four miles to the finish without stopping. That was my most vivid memory of my first 100k ultra marathon.

I had an eery confidence about this race. I wasn't nervous. I wasn't worried. Yeah. Sixty-two miles seemed like a long way to go, but for some insane reason I wasn't really all that messed up in my head about it. Since the course consisted of two ten-mile loops I looked at it like a regular workover - in terms of sets rather than the mileage as a whole. At any ten mile point I could just bail and drink beer. I just had to complete six sets of ten. Surely, I could do three sets and then I was half-way there, right?

Me with my ultra-running buds
Patrick Sweeney &
Alex (my not-so-serial-killer new friend)
So I packed up my running and camping gear and headed out early Friday morning to head down to Los Olivos, CA. I had to make a pitstop in the Bay Area at the Walnut Creek BART station to pick up an unknown fellow runner who, for all I knew, might be using the "no transportation" excuse as a means to chop my body up into little bits. Ok. So that's a little dramatic. If there's one thing I learned about this community of ultra-runners its that we are all a big family. This kid from San Francisco had the same motivations as I did: he was looking for an adventure and to challenge himself. He just didn't have a car and was, lucky for me, sans sharp objects. It was all good.

Picking up my race packet
and welcome necklace
The drive down was relatively uneventful. Once at the ranch we handed our waivers over to the "greeter" at the front gate and drove on in. I spotted Patrick Sweeney (Bourbon Feet) setting up camp along with his buddies from the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon, Caleb Wilson, Fran├žois "Flint" Bourdeau and Mike Miller. Later, some of the guys from Luna Sandals joined us along with Caity McCardell (Run Barefoot Girl), Maria Walton (Micah True's girlfriend) and the sweet Guadajuko, (Micah's loyal pooch). Eventually I spotted Shacky and Vanessa and enticed them to set up camp with our crew. We snacked and then headed over to the registration table to pick up our bib numbers.
Tarahumara ball races.

Shortly after picking up my race packet and grabbing a cold beer, race director Luis Escobar briefed us on the course loops, ribbons, and signage. He made it perfectly clear to everyone that there would be no whiners at this race. I loved his tough love attitude. "If you get hurt, lost or die its your own damn fault" our host announced over the loudspeaker. We would be repeating the Caballo Blanko oath again the next morning as part of our pre-race ritual. And I loved it when Luis said... "This is not Wildflower. We are not pretty people. We are dirty, gritty, ultra runners." (or something like that) I loved this guy. He was honest and genuine. And a hard ass. I can appreciate that.

Hanging out by the campfire.
Caleb looks happy to see fire. Ha!
(Photo credit: Anthony Sanders)
While I was eating dinner the Rarajipari (a Tarahumara ball race) began. People's names were drawn to compete against one another in a running/ball "flicking" race to cross the line. Then after a couple more beers, and a little visiting with friends... I was asleep in my van. Well, sorta. I didn't sleep all that well, but who does the night before a race?

Someone was carb loading
the night before.
It was a chilly, foggy morning come race day. Mexican music bellowed through camp at 5:15am. I made the decision to run with two handhelds (one water and the other full of Nuun) and a single flask of my homemade gel iskiate (which I planned to refill back at camp every 10 miles). I filled my hydration pack and left it back at the car just in case I decided to switch. I lubed my toes with body glide, put on my Merrells and a muffin and a banana later I was on the starting line ready to roll. I forgot to brush my teeth. Ewww.

Me and Caity McCardell
(Photo credit: Patrick Sweeney)
I have never seen so many men in skirts in my life! Apparently, this is THE race to well... just let it all hang out! According to Patrick, if you're sans the underwear its technically a kilt, if you're wearing underwear its a skirt. Either way it was totally hot. I could already tell this race was going to be a good one.

The gunshot cracked the crisp air and we were off.

Heading out on the first pink loop.
(Photo credit: Anthony Sanders)

Initially my goal for this 100k was just to finish regardless of time. But, after I had completed the first lap of the yellow loop my goal had evolved. I really wanted to make it to the finish line before dark. There was a very short but pretty steep section of single-track just after the last ridgeline that was dubious in daylight with strong legs let alone the depth deprived darkness after fifty-five miles. The last thing I wanted was to end up on my head at the bottom of the hill at mile fifty-eight. Ugggh.

I was lucky enough to have somehow caught up with Anthony Sanders (one of the Luna guys and a United States Marine) who was also running the 100k. My pace locked in with his and he was my metronome for 30 miles until his knee laid down the smackdown and he was forced to DNF somewhere around the 40 mile mark. 

Its not often that I get to run with people. Running with Anthony was really nice. There's something oddly calming and meditative when your pace matches up with a fellow runner's. It was also nice having someone to chat with and keep me on trail when I missed the turn. Yeah. I did that. Glad someone was there to keep me on track.

Jacobus Degroot
wearing a
Zaps Threads Shirt!
Coming into camp (the center of both loops) after each lap was always a treat. By the time I had completed two loops Patrick (uber ultra runner/Guiness Book record holder for longest distance sand running) was already back at camp and finished with his 50k - taking first place. That wasn't a surprise. Coming in from each loop more and more people appeared back at camp, raising their beer to cheer me on. Is was a big motivation to see people as the day got longer and longer.
Stuffing my face and coming out
of the Barbie Aid Station.

Photo credit: Anthony Sanders

Funny how it took me until about mile 20 to realize that I had no knee pain, no hip pain and the tight hamstring I was worried about had loosened up and was a total non-issue. I had my fiyah! 

Admittedly though, my right foot was feeling pretty beat up by mile twenty-five. This, I kind of expected and has been pretty much par for the course for most of my races. The ground was hard-pack and gravelly with smaller sections of grassy, holey, uneven bits. My brand spankin' new, barely worn Merrell Pace Gloves worked like a champ, but the thinner sole of the minimal shoes still felt every sharp and jabby rock. My left foot was good. My right foot... not so much. The pain in my foot came and went. Apparently, that foot still pronates slightly which is probably why I ended up with an inconsequential blister on the bottom midfoot below my big toe. The small bunion on that foot gives me trouble from time to time when I run. By mile 25 the bones felt like they were separating when I landed and I would get a few sharp pains every now and then. I also had weird sensations like bleeding between my toes and tingling. As long as the pain wasn't consistent I was going to keep running. So I did.

The guys back at camp.
Flint, Alex, Caleb and Patrick
By noon the mist had burned off and the temps were heating up. I was lucky enough to get the iced-soaked denim treatment at Wild Bill's aid station close to mile 30. They sat me down and draped heavy-weight ice-soaked denim over my shoulders. Then they soaked my visor and strapped it back on my head. It felt amazing! Coming through that aid station after the next loop the volunteers told me I looked much better. I had no idea I looked so bad.   

Besides the ice cold denim drape, the shoulder and neck massage I got at the Barbie aid station was fabulous! They even made Vanessa and Caity mimosas to take with them while they literally inched their way barefoot back to the start line. It was a brutal course for 100% barefoot. I have total respect for both Caity and Vanessa. With the way my feet felt IN SHOES I can only imagine the pain that would ensue barefoot. Those girls were TOUGH!

The aid station volunteers were an amazing, caring, motivating and an observant crew. They were truly watching out for each and every runner out there. Words can't describe how thankful and grateful I was to each and every one of those people. My heart was filled with gratitude each and every time I left an aid station.

Coming in to mile 50.
Photo credit: Patrick Sweeney
So the fiyah happened for me around mile 30. In fact miles 30-50 were absolutely magical. I did more running in those miles than I did in the first 20. Instead of feeling tired I felt like I was getting stronger. The hills were a bit harder (I had to use Pablo's trick of walking up some backwards on the last ten miles to alleviate the burn), but I fell into my mojo easier on the longer stretches and felt more relaxed than I did in the beginning. I was surprised that my legs never felt wobbly or weak, which I expected.

Speaking of expectations... my hope was to not only complete this 100k, but to also have some kind of transcending experience. I wanted to dig deep with this race. I wanted to suffer and push through. I wanted that experience. I've never hit a wall. I haven't even really had to struggle too much mentally with the longer distances and was, in a strange sadistic way, hoping to find my limit somewhere within 62 miles.

So did I find my limit?

Not really. 

Well... it was hard heading out on that last yellow loop and walking away from camp (the top black and white picture was taken as I was heading out on my last loop and was shot by Larry Gassan ( a professional fine art photojournalist who photographs endurance athletes) All my buddies were hanging out at the finish line getting dinner and beers and cheering people on. The salsa music had started and people were getting their party on. Not only was I hungry for a big ol' fat burger, but my eyes had started getting droopy and I was feeling a very large nap coming on. It was hard not knowing what the last 12 miles would be like especially knowing that I was on my own, in my own head and would be solo in the dark at some point (I was hoping I wouldn't need my headlamp until after I got down from that last ridgeline). But, never for a moment did I doubt that I could finish. In fact, during the last 15 miles that was all that I could think about. That I was going to do this. And I did.

Start/Finish Line and the funky manequin
And even though I didn't make it to the finish line before dark I achieved my "Plan B" goal which was to make it off that little steep bit before dark. It was twilight when I pulled into what was to be my last aid station on the yellow loop. I sat down for a few minutes and chatted with Bill, the volunteer, and another guy running the 100 miler. I grabbed a handful of red vines (I have no freakin clue why those looked so delicious to me) turned on my headlamp and trotted slowly out of the aid station and onto the dark road.

My 100k finish!
(Photo credit: Patrick Sweeney)
With only 4 miles to go my feet were on auto-pilot and I was being summoned to the finish line. It actually hurt more to walk at that point because the road was hard packed and gravelly. Running with a headlamp in pitch black darkness is like running in a box. There's not much to look at except maybe 10-15 feet in front of you and a small peripheral area. With nothing to look at I was bored and in my head a little more than I wanted to be at that point. That's when my other senses took over and I found myself being seduced by sounds and smells. It was a pretty cool experience.

Coming in to the finish line I had only a small two-mile out and back to the funky lingerie manequin to do. I was re-energized by the cheering and the music which made those last two miles tolerable. Everybody was salsa dancing and partying. It looked like a fun place to be.

My Kukini finisher's amulet
And upon final completion of 62 miles in order to receive the official kukini finisher's amulet, I had to... hula hoop. 

Wha??? You say.

Oh yes. Hula hoop. With a big, ginormous hula hoop. 

So I did. I had no idea I could hula hoop after 62 miles. Then the hot shirtless guy with the pink skirt (I think his name was Jacob) tied the amulet around my neck, picked me up and spun me around until I was sufficiently dizzy. Honestly, dude could'a just put a beer in my hand and called it good. After setting me down, he had to hold on to me for a few seconds to keep me from falling on my ass.

I wish I had party in me left to stay at the finish line and join the cheering crowd as the other 100k finishers and 100 mile runners were coming through, but honestly, there was good beer waiting in my cooler back at camp and once I sat down to enjoy my Torpedo IPA it was all over. That's OK, though, because I'll be back again next year.

Who knew I could hula hoop after 62 miles!
I did it. And not only did I run 62 miles, but I completed it in 15:38 which I honestly don't know if that's a good time or not, but it was enough to make me a top overall women's finisher in 3rd place (there were 12 women who finished the 100k). I didn't figure that out until a day later when my coach Seth facebooked me and congratulated me on my finish. That's when it all sunk in and I thought to myself "HOLY FUCK I JUST DID THAT!!" Not only that, but my longest training run to date has never been anything over 4-5 miles. And I did it all in my minimal shoes.

The video above is Caity McCardell's video of the weekend shenanigans. She also captured me finishing my 100k and hula hooping. (Fast forward to 3:30) She also got video of Maria's tattoo, ball racing, and the salsa dancing party at the finish line.

I can wholeheartedly say now that my training is working for me. I'm staying uninjured. I'm strong. I'm well prepared and in shape for these long miles (though, I have some strengthening in my right foot to do) and I've got serious fiyah. I'm able to achieve distances I never thought were even possible. It amazes me just how far I've come (literally) just within the last six months. Words can't even describe how thankful I am to my coach, Seth, for putting up with me and all my doubts. Lets just see where this takes me from here.
My ultra running family. (Anthony, Me, Vanessa, Shacky, Alex, Flint, Patrick, Maria, Caleb, Mike, Caity and her children, with sweet pooches Guadajuko and Nigel). Someone I really wanted to meet was not in this picture. Funny how we left a spot for Micah. I'm sure he was there in spirit running the trails with Maria, Guadajuko and the rest of us.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Check out more of Larry Gassan's photography from the Born To Run Ultra Marathons.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review : Nathan HPL #020 Hydration Vest

  • Gear type : Hydration
  • Use : Endurance running
  • Price : 120$

Nathan’s line of hydration vests are a frequent sight in ultra running events. Their clever design, lightweight build and versatility have made many adepts over the years. All vests use the same bladder type and patented bite-valve that is highly functional and, an important matter for its durability, easy to clean and maintain.

The HPL#020 is Nathan’s original vest. Now with a broader offering of hydration solutions, it sits between the Minimist, an ultralight stripped-down model, and the Endurance, a full-featured vest with plenty of additional storage.

Field test
I have been using an Endurance model for a number of seasons now and I’m very pleased with it. This is a very well-conceived piece of equipment, obviously made by runners. No matter what size you are, it will adjust to your torso and sit lightly on your shoulders, won’t swing around and offer minimal slushing (the effect seems to be more obvious when the bladder is really full).

The HPL #020 is similar in almost every point to the Endurance, save for an extra couple shoulder strap pockets that count for an ounce of added overall weight and the positioning of the back storage compartment, that sits on top of the vest rather than at the bottom.

Like its bigger brother, the HPL #020 offers a rubbery gizmo that might not look like much at first, but that is very useful to stash a lightweight extra layer you were wearing in the morning (say, a vest). Just squeeze it in between the gizmo and the bag, pull the shock cord and you’re done. I have used it several times while running in the Copper Canyons, as can be seen in this video (at 1:05, 2:26, 2:48) and it never failed me. 

Another noteworthy test, although involuntary, is a pretty bad spill I took while running the trails above Creel one morning, crashing on rocks and rolling over. My vest, its bladder and even the tube came out of it unscathed, which for me speaks volumes about their toughness. The bladder itself is surprisingly sturdy; you can flip it inside out to dry and the material stays floppy like new.

The HPL #020 is a very good hydration vest. Personally, I have to say that I prefer the Endurance model because it has more front pockets, but I’m known as a runner who brings a lot of “stuff” on the trails. Like all the other models, the HPL #020 offers very good balance, sturdiness, breathable fabric and ease of maintenance. Nathan vests are widespread among ultra runners, both on trail and road.

High points
  • Lightweight and breathable material
  • Very adjustable
  • Front pockets on the shoulder straps
  • Extra storage in the back compartment + shock cord
  • Sturdy bladder system
  • Easy cleaning and maintenance

Low points
  • Not as many front compartments
  • Higher back pocket raises the center of gravity
  • Kinda sits in-between the Minimist and Endurance

The equipment for this personal review was supplied by Nathan Performance Gear, free of charge, without any conditions.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Experiencing the pacing smiles

As we seem to be sharing photo's of Running Smiles (just see Chris's grin at the end of his Bear Mountain Ultra), I thought I would share some photo's too.

These photo's aren't of me, but of friends that I know.

The first is my friend Tracey who ran her first 10K in over 3 years due to injury.  She just entered and went for it.  As you can see at the post-race drinks, she was jubilant and she had every right to be.  It was a fantastic performance -- on occasion I had a hard time keeping up with her.

The second photo is of my friend Ellie, who ran her first ever race on Sunday.  She has only been running  for a few months and this is a real achievement for her.  This race proved to her what she can accomplish.

My job at these races was as Tracey's and Ellie's pacer.  At both races I ran behind them just giving encouragement and making them laugh.  I was like annoying running fairy;  Just out of reach and making them giggle.

I was very honoured to be part of their races -- to share their joy and achievements.  I don't think I have ever had so much fun at a  race in a long time.  Seeing these wonderful, determined and frankly in my opinion awesome people push themselves and run with enthusiasm made me remember what running is all about.

It reminded me how it felt to reach that first running goal -- to realise that you can do this.  To have that feeling in your stomach, as if you are on top of the world; that you can achieve anything you put your mind to.

There is nothing more powerful than that feeling and I can't help but smile when I thank them for allowing me the pleasure of being a part of that.

Sometimes running at someone else's pace is all you need to Run :).

Sunday, May 13, 2012


I've talked about my mom in previous posts and about how she told me running was like flying to her. She used to go out into our ghetto Chicago neighborhood and run all winter long while Chicanos hollered at her out of their hooptie windows. The only women on the street at 5am were selling something or other, and it made her jogs a bit of a toll to be grouped in with them. Despite this she always came home talking about flying. She always got back from those outings better off than when she left. One of the last things I said to her before she died was that when I came back from working out or running, the smell on me reminded me of those days.

Today when I went out to barefoot it, the first thought I had was that I was out to fly with the memory of mom, to do a little service to the memory of a person who spent much of her life fighting for rare moments of relief which should have been moments of pleasure. She was a tough broad my mom. She was sick most of my life but in the words of one of her friends: "She always had time to make others feel like they were the most important part of her day". Everyone felt like the most important part of her day.

While I was out running with another barefooter today (thanks for being out there Tom), we were witness to a pretty bad bike accident. A 12 or 13 year old kid went over the handle bars and got a face full of chip and seal, broke a wrist, went into shock and got carted off to the hospital after 20min of us sitting and talking him and his family through it while he screamed and bled. I've seen my fare share of such accidents but today it really made me feel grateful for my time with my family, my friends, and the soundness of my body and mind.

As we end this Mother's Day 2012, let's not forget that the flowers you're supposed to buy and the dinners you think you should cook are not the point. Mothers, you are the water and the soil on which we all grow and thrive. Thank you for your love, your patience, your inspiration, and your mighty examples.

Love you Moms!
Thank you for everything.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ultra Smiley (Bear Mountain 50K)

I just posted a report of my first every ultra-marathon over at my blog, and I know some of the smileys might be interested.  It was long, it was hard, but I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face!