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This sunset reminded me of Arizona. And to be thankful.

I thought I had all the energy last night to write but I didn’t. Yesterday was the first day of this drive to the West Coast. I started rather late, having the intent to drop Mariska off to school before starting my long drive.

Thankfully it was not as bad. Emotionally, I should say. I thought i would be a mess but i wasn’t; it must be the nerves about the long drive, I figured. 

So I started in Jersey City, where I live. Since I-80 starts in Teaneck, New Jersey, it was easier to start the drive from Jersey City. Of course, right there, I already made the wrong start and took the long route but it didn’t take long for me to get to 80.

It didn’t take long for me to get out of Jersey, as well. Funny, because just one hour into driving, I started to feel sleepy already. Not a good sign, I thought. So I took the most sensible thing to do at the time when I hit the first sign I was nearing Mount Tammany on the Appalachian Trail, where we often hiked and run: I took the exit and parked to take a nap. I knew taking that “edge” off that feeling of sleepiness and exhaustion can go a long way. The power nap helped. I was ready to go again.

It was Pennsylvania after then. Man, PA is soooo long. I thought and wondered how my cowork, Mo, lives out in Pittsburg and work in Manhattan. Anyway, I must have taken a few pit stops. I realized that since gas is still cheap in PA, I might as well fuel up each time I took a break, regardless of how little was consumed in my tank. (As a side note: I already stored some gas in a separate container, just in case.)

Around 2pm, I took another nap somewhere. I realized that, indeed, we have those two periods in a day when our energy just dips. Just couldn’t remember what hormone that was. 

And then I hit Ohio. Man, that place is long, too. Long and flat. It flurried some but it was not as bad. I tried to remember what many of my friends said: enjoy the drive. So I did my best to look at the beauty of the highways and sun, even the clouds. Seriously, I tried. IMG_4718

Finally Indiana came. Then Illinois. I aimed to take sleep in a town called Joliet. Thankfully, I found a Motel 6 that took in dogs for free. That is a factor. And it was cheap.

There was not much to say about the first day except that it was “a PR” (personal record), as my friend Otto described it. I have not really driven 13 hours but I did. 

At 9pm something, I finally got to my hotel in Joliet. Then this part circumvents to my intro: I thought I had the energy but I was just beat. I guess thats what happens when you decide to pack 2 days your departure. But I have no regrets. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise. Onward and forward. IMG_3745Thank goodness, EZ Pass works in Illinois and Ohio.

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Syros is an island about 4 hours by ferry from Athens. It is what they call a Medieval island that fell in the hands of Venetians and French. I am not exactly great with history, so I am going to skip the historical details and leave it at that. 

I came to syros on the recommendation of my friend, Alex Papadopoulos. I met Alex last year because he is the Race Director for Tammany 10, a race a few friends did. This year, I met him again at the same race when I volunteered. Somehow along those hours, he found out I was planning to come to Greece to spectate at Spartathlon, when my friend, Otto, runs. Fast forward to months after, we started talking about how he was going to help me plan my trip to Greece. My criteria were: No touristy islands and cheap. 

Fast forward now to Syros.

I arrived in Syros via Blue Star Ferries in the port of Piraeus in Athens. Paid €30-something and I got an economy seat (no need to get Business Class, ok?). It was an accomodation enough for the ride. The boat is reminiscent of the trip from Finland to Estonia— minus the bountiful liquor they sold in that Finnish ferry. It has quite a bit of amenities and shopping. 

The son of the hotel owner, Stratis. I’ve never been picked up with a name card before.

I booked a hotel in Syros through “trust,” because I skipped Hotels.com, where I normally do my reservations. Trust because I had Facebook-friended one of the owners, as suggested to me by Julio, a Filipino based in Athens, who I friended and crewed with at Spartathlon. At Atlantis Syros Hotel, my €50/day covered my room, breakfast, and on arrival and departure, shuttle from and to the port (or in my case, to Ano Syros). The hotel was about 8 kilometers (do the math for miles) from Ermoupoli, the Center town of the island. It is owned by a family but as I would learn, owning a hotel doesn’t necessarily mean you own the  building in Greece. The mom told me, they aim to own the place, thus, they have to work harder. 

Anyway, the hotel is about a few steps from the beach. The thing about Greece is I have yet to find a beachfront that is not open to public so finding a place to swim is never a problem. 

Day 1, I spent it on the beach. I arrived at around noon and headed to the sea where I could actually wade or swim! It was quite unlike the US, where I constantly fear for my life because of huge waves and I can barely swim. In Greece, including the islands, the waters are calm. It almost is like being in a bay or whatever that is called, where you don’t get crazy waves.

At the beach, I spent a good amount of hours— 2, maybe— and just laid there, trying to even out my tan without going topless. I did wish  could. 

Lunch with traditional Greek drink, Ouzo. Pretty strong alcohol.

It was 3-something in the afternoon by then and because I had late dinner and drinks with the wonderful Irishmen the night before, I didn’t have much an appetite til then. 

On the beach there is a restaurant. Slightly pricey (I guess because they sold dishes by kilos, mostly), but I had a serving of an “island” food which had fava in it (dish suggested for the weather by the owner) and, yes, a glass of the Greek drink, Ouzo. I paid €9.40, which was not exactly bad. 

From there, I headed to the hotel and passed out for an hour. Some spam call from the US woke me up. (I thought it was Trump’s text.) Then I went for a run to discover some trails by the coast.

I needed that 5k to unload all the beer I drank in Athens. I called it a night early.

Non-technical trails that lead you to this magnificent view.

Day 2: I spent most energy on this day. I was bent on running to Galissas, where there is, supposedly, a church on a cave by the cliff above the sea water. Because I am stubborn, I disobeyed the clear instruction of the hotel owner to take the main roads to run and hit the next town to take the bus from. As I had said on my Facebook post, if you need to find walking directions in Greece, especially the islands, you are better off taking the driving the directions because walking directions will get you to back roads that don’t exist. Also beware of drivers there. Even on narrow roads, they drive fast and they talk on the phone while driving manual vehicles. Also, just because you are the pedestrian doesn’t mean you always get the right of way. Reminds me of how runners ran at Spartathlon.

Anway, it was humid during my run and those 9 miles took a toll on my sodium reserves as I saw so much salt from on my skin on to my bag. Two hours something after, I reached Galissas Beach, took a quick swim, and then hiked up a mountain (or hill?) for 2 miles more to Agios Stefanos— the church cave.

The hike up and down the cave church, Agios Stefanos.

I was alone in that hike up and down the cave and I really wished my mom didn’t call me out again.

It was an exhausting climb and I had just about 50ml of water left because all stores had gone into their siesta. I had to tell Alex that I was there, in case I fell and died or dehydrated and died. No one knew where I was except him. Not even my family. But I figured I couldn’t possibly die from dehydration because I do have some water reserves in my fat pads. A lot. 

So I came and conquered and saw this simple yet magnificent sight before me. I got emotional and cried some. There is a notebook there, where visitors left their names and the dates they came to visit. I signed and left a message, hoping all else I held heavy in my heart at the time would be heard by the saints and Gods and angels that dwell in the place.

Somehow, the climb back up the rocky section was not bad at that point. 

View of the church from the top.

I raced against time to beat sunset and hit Galissas soon, only to not find a cab. I must’ve been an aweful sight that an elderly woman offered to take me back to the Center town of Ermoupoli. I swear I was gonna fall and break my head because I didn’t have a helmet. Syros has rolling terrain and at times on those uphills, I would try to “lighten” myself in an almost-Kegel-like movement and I knew that didn’t really help.

Me, hanging on the the lady. Stupid idea to photograph this but this was something unexpected.

I had to send a message to Alex to actually ask if I needed to pay the lady but she didn’t speak English and she took off when she and her dog (yes, a dog was also on the scooter) dropped me at a corner. 

In my wet clothes, I had dinner at a restaurant by the pier and had 2 glasses of red wine (again, so much for saying ‘’No more alcohol when I leave the Irish.”) o

The main commercial center with all its restaurants and souvenir shops.

After dinner, I strolled on Ermoupolis, which would have been Louisa Lam’s thing with all the shopping there was. At past 9, most shops were closed. I do have an affinity for European buildings and even crazier obsession with alleys and walkways so I took a ton of pictures of them. 

The town capital building. But it was the church behind and above me that captivated me.

At around 10-ish, I headed back to hotel and the lovely owners were still up so I gave them a run-down of how my day went. It was almost like talking to family. 

Ano Syros, the Catholic settlement area. Built since the 1200s.

Day 3: I woke up so early, restless from my sunburn itch. So I got up and had breakfast— one that I would not forget because that was just genuine hospitality from the hotel. The owner cooked me so much food I nearly threw up. 

At past 9am, Stratis, the owners’ son, took me to Ano Syros, where many Greek Catholics reside. It sits atop Syros and has most of its structures are still from the 13th century. There are churches there, including the church of St. George (I honestly didn’t know George is a saint’s name til today). 

The church has a key that you can open yourself.

On a side note, if I had gotten to Ano Syros post-siesta, the place would have been more vibrant with all the shops and cafes open.

I walked down the town steps, past beautiful Venetian-inspired houses on to the main road that took me back to the port of Syros. I thought I was going to take forever with my backpack and all and miss my ferry but I thought I only lived once and ferries will come and go. It is what it is. 

The other church, St. George.

Narrow path, down and out of the village.

Soon enough, I was back at port, ready to get on the next ferry. I have not many take-aways from this trip in the island, except to say, I love Greek island hospitality. And that, if for any reason I missed some spots and failed to take some photographs, it is all because as Joe Schmo once quite said, sometimes, you just have to take it all in.

Also, I don’t know where I am going with this but I left my heart in that cave church. A feeling I may not ever have again but can only be thankful it happened. That being said, it, sorts of, reminds me of how the great Irish, Anthony Lee, described a boy we saw while we were all eating in Athens, “wisely” said in these exact words “That boy will not have the same feeling again, you know?” And, yes, I may never have the same feeling ever again. But it did happen and all that, was witnessed solely by that silence up above that sea, inside the cave.

More goods for sale.

Restaurants that abound the port.

Loofah: Just among the things you can buy in this seaport town.

The hotel owners. They were so wonderful and treated me like family.

(note: this one was written on a whim. unedited.)

I was going to write about my solo travel in the West coast last month. Somehow, when I opened my Word application on my MacBook, I saw an unfinished writing. I had not gone over it and read it all but one word captured my attention—something along the line of death. Now I am wondering what must have gone on in my mind at the time I wrote that. But then, again, I do not want to delve on it at the same time. Then again, as well, I find myself thinking again of death and how I lost one friend to it. Not too remote a time ago, but one that still remains fresh in my mind.

In June, we lost a good friend to suicide. I must say, I had lost a really dear friend before to suicide. Perhaps, because I was younger, but that other friend’s passing over ten years ago did not seem to hit me or linger as much as it did this time. I don’t know why and I can’t explain why. But I still think of your passing each day, my friend. I think of you every day.

I would like to not believe in spirits or souls that linger in this world. Perhaps, I am just scared to the core over the thought of the supernatural still lingering amongst us. At the same time, however, I am trying to understand if there was any closure I needed to have made with you before you chose to say goodbye your way.

At the same time, I know it is just me. My brain conjures all these things and it is in these conscious, sane moments that I find myself thinking that, yes, you are happy where you are right now. That no matter how hard it may have been for your family, for us to have seen you go the way you desired, it was your own peace. And that in all my fear, alongside my constant wondering on why you chose to, you are smiling, watching us from above.

I wish others, however, understood your bidding in manner on how you chose to live and leave. I pray people would stop to judge you or others, who opted to do just the same. I do not condone but, yes, that was a hard a decision. Maybe. Or a spur, a whim borne out of that moment when you felt that there was no turning back.

I hope you find your peace.

 

 

Iceland ALONE: 4 Days, 3 Nights

Posted: September 13, 2017 in Uncategorized
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Get an app beforehand, if you want to capture a photograph using your iPhone.

It was, initially, with a heavy heart that I left said goodbye to Mariska at border control in Geneva’s airport, the day they went back to the States and I, for Iceland. I would have wanted to see Iceland with her.

But I landed in Keflavik International Airport on a September afternoon alone. I was picked up by a bus that was to take me to the Reykjavik, to my hostel. Driving in, I was not exactly impressed with the modern buildings I saw. I was expecting more of older buildings or something more colorful, probably, the like those in Copenhagen. Right there, I was almost thankful I was only staying for 3 nights.

Hlemmur Square was right near the city center, across from the Penis Museum and a grocery, that made it convenient for everything. Plus, there was a noodle shop downstairs. It was hip, as well.

Because I have quite a restless soul, I immediately ventured out into the city. I met one person, an older English woman from Manchester, whose bunk bed was underneath one of the 2 that were available for me to take. It seemed like she was in Iceland forever. She seemed nice and I immediately felt safe in the room. I left soon after talking to her and walked to Laugavergur, which is the city’s version of main street.

It was a lovely stretch. “Quaint yet modern” may be the appropriate words to describe. It had a narrow road, cobblestones in some portions of it, probably spanning 2 miles at the most. Cars still traverse these roads, just not at 30mph. I walked it from end to end, at least, where the commercial district is and picked out which restaurants interest me.

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Laugavegur Street in Reykjavik. It is the Main Street of Reykjavik, I suppose.

Restaurants mostly had menus from outside, thus, it was easy to distinguish prices. Of course, that was when reality kicked in.

I remember working at triage at work one day, one patient walked in saying he had just come from Iceland. He told me how expensive it was. Having been to Geneva and Norway, where I thought restaurant food was expensive, nothing prepared me, still, for not only how expensive food was but everything in Iceland! Like everything. From grocery to souvenir items! (At least, in Norway, grocery items were cheaper.)

Anyway… a day before coming to Iceland, news got out that the Northern Lights were supposed to be highly-visible.

If you know me, within the past 10 months, I had gone to Ivalo, Finland and then Norway, in search of the Northern Lights. Both attempts failed. So I didn’t want to raise my hopes up. Because of this news, however, there it was again, all the way up to light years and beyond.

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My friends said on Facebook “Show us proof!” Here is your proof, fam!

That same night, I set out to walk by the sea, supposedly to find a spot with the least amount of light. Almost a failure and I thought I should have taken heed the advice the tour bus driver gave, when he told me to go to Grotta, a lighthouse about 5k away from the center. I met up with a friend, Pete, who also came from Chamonix, and together, we waited for the Northern Lights. We waited but it “never came.” Or so we thought. Maybe it did but eventually, we both decided it got too cold and headed back to our hostels. At that point, I figured, I NEED TO SEE IT and I AM NOT LEAVING ICELAND WITHOUT IT.

Day 2. Pete and I were supposed to carpool in a car he was renting to go around the Golden Circle path— a tourist thing tourists did, seeing some of Iceland’s top sights. Somehow, that plan fell through because of some “manual vs. automatic” car issues.

So instead of driving around, I pretty much spent about hours of the day going from one tour company to another to look for the best deals. What’s great about Reykjavik is that a lot of the tour companies are in the Laugavergur area; there are also multitudes online. So in those hours, I managed to book a Northern Lights tour for that night starting at 9:30pm and a 14-hour bus tour to the Glacier Lagoon the next day.

The rest of the afternoon, Thursday, I spent running to a local thermal pool, where I paid about $9. Great experience, as it was mostly locals there.

I also went souvenir-shopping and ate at an overpriced buffet, that cost me 5900 isk or about $55.

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Just to be clear, souvenir shirts in Iceland are NOWHERE NEAR the US’s prices. They average an equivalent of $36/shirt.

Thankfully, my hostel is right at Bus Stop no. 10. At 9:30, I was picked up by the tour bus and the hour or so bus ride to somewhere started. We got there at 11 o’clock. The place was somewhere farther away from city lights.

I must admit that at first I was skeptical about where they had taken us. It, sort of, reminded me of where they took us to our Northern Lights hunt in Finland, on board sleds pulled by reindeers, into a flat, wooded area, where I thought we could have gone, ourselves. Only to see nothing.

On board the bus and while there, I had to make a mental note of what the bus driver the day before told me to make sure I do: I have to be patient and by that he meant refraining from looking at my cellphone (because it keeps me from adjusting to the darkness) and just to be patient. Period.

In no time, the skies changed and we started to see what appears to be streaks that can only be the Northern Lights. It started with one streak that disappeared. Then another at a different spot, then more simultaneously. It was magical, despite the absence of full color display. It was a dream-come-true. I tried to capture it on my GoPro but have to see that yet. But, oh, it also helped that the tour guides from Reykjavik Sightseeing were young because one of them advised us about getting an app that will help capturing the light in our iPhones.

Day 3. I woke early. Like 6am! That is so not me. I do not wake at 6am on vacation! But I did and drank my coffee from the downstairs bar of the hostel. For free. And ate a croissant. Pretty much what was how my breakfast looked like while I was in Iceland.

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I did not want to advertise this bus here but I owe it to the superb driver and female tour guide (forgot her name because it was too long). The tour guide was exceptional, especially with her input as a local in Iceland.

I picked a tour with BusTravel. Thankfully, I got the tour for about 9900 isk or $95. While it may have been expensive, that is actually half of what the others paid. I got my deal at 50% off through a British guy running a tour agency (GetLocal.com). The Glacier Lagoon tour takes you to south of Iceland.

The bus took us first to Skógafoss—for a lack of a better word— a beautiful waterfall. As the tour guide explained, the place has been used as a backdrop for multiple ads, like Mercedes Benz. A set of stairs took us to the top which serves as an overlook. By the waterfalls, it is fun to see rainbows that stand lower than the ridge line.

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Skógafoss.

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Glacier Lagoon: Surreal. Blue. I have no words.

The next stop was Glacier Lagoon.

I have to make mention, however, that in the hours that we were taken from one point to another, there were stop-overs for pee breaks. However, the most interesting were the lunch and dinner breaks in nondescript locations but with food that had exorbitant prices. They mostly showcase what Iceland has to offer—lamb. They had lamb leg and lamb soup, which is supposedly eaten mostly in the summer. Average meal price in these stops is $25.

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The nondescript lunch stop-over. So. Fucking. Expensive.

Glacier Lagoon was exceptional. I don’t know why they are blue, but they are blue. It’s a 1.5-stop with time utilized for those who opted to pay about $50 to go on a boat ride. I opted to stay inland and take advantage of my selfie skills.

I should not make any more comments about it and just let the pictures explain.

Glacier Lagoon was where we turned around and headed back the same road we took from Reykjavik. We saw the same, familiar “free-range” lambs and then cows, crossing, at some point. Then the geysers and waterfalls that abound in Iceland. We stopped for a bit in Vik, a town that boasts of black sand beaches. One of the beaches was right next to the dinner spot.

The most beautiful stop, however, happened in Seljalandsfoss—another waterfall but one that is the most magnificent, in my opinion. They particularly made this the last stop because part of this experience is going behind the waterfalls, which can get you wet. There, someone took one of the most beautiful photos I have had traveling in my entire life. IMG_5743

I went back to the hostel earlier that night—around 10 pm. That is pretty much the earliest since all of my stay in Iceland. The bus got us back to Reykjavik at 9pm, which left me with an hour to do last-minute shopping for souvenir. Most stores have closed by then, except for a few.

I don’t exactly know what I ate for dinner that night. Perhaps, I had combined my lunch and dinner. Who knows? IMG_5746

Day 4. The day I left. My flight was not ‘til 5pm. I was lucky enough to have found a remaining spot for an earlier time for Blue Lagoon that day.

I was told to book Blue Lagoon early, but of course, I did not so many of my prior searches with other websites turned up with nothing until the day before. Apparently, people cancel bookings so if you are a procrastinator like me, worry not. At some point, something will turn up.

 

Again, I was up early. I didn’t even get to finish my coffee since the bus came before 8am. If you ever plan to go to Blue Lagoon on the way home, there are transfer services that let you go to Blue Lagoon from the airport then to Reykjavik or from Reykjavik to Blue Lagoon to the airport. There is also a baggage deposit area.
It was just as I expected. Soothing, calming, beautiful. So many tourists. It seemed like I as in the US; it was mostly Americans then some other.

They have a bar on the water with, again, ridiculously-priced drinks. Even the smoothies cost an arm and a leg. The pool is wide enough and it allows you to choose depth and temperature to your liking. Also, the silica mud mask is something they offer for what you paid for. Towels and swimsuits are for rent, if you don’t have them.

Just be sure to heed their warning about making sure you leave conditioner on your hair because my hair was rough and stiff for 2 days even with that conditioner on.

I came at 9 and stayed until around 1230 and called it a day. I wanted some time to shop at the Duty Free at the airport.

At 1pm, I got on the bus that was to take me back to the Keflavik International and I must say, if you are taking Iceland Air, you need to give time for your check-in at the airport.

There are not lots of cheesy take-aways from this journey to Iceland, but I am making mention of them, anyway.

  • Learn to have the superb skills at driving manual cars again! Yes, I used to be an expert at driving manual cars, living in the Philippines. I can be intoxicated, drive a manual, and text at the same time. That was VERY IRRESPONSIBLE but yeah, I could do that back then.

Most cars in Europe are manual and you can save a whole lot and see a lot more if you can drive.

  • Be comfortable about taking guided tours ALONE!
  • Be comfortable about vacationing and taking time off ALONE! At the end of the day, I realized I needed that time off alone, with all the bickering I started to hear once I got home. It not only takes away the stress of having to think of others, it leaves you with time to just think of YOU and YOU ALONE! I thank my friend, Vivian, for telling me this. In retrospect, she was right. We all need it.

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    Rainbow by Skógafoss.

I don’t exactly know where to begin writing this report or epistle about the road I took towards my Barkley experience. Several times, during runs or hikes since then, I found myself trying to figure out how. Perhaps, because the experience is surreal. Normally, I am pretty good at it, especially in those solitary moments. I guess it will be safe to begin with how I got the Barkley wind.

I have known Barkley to exist years back because a then-boyfriend and now the husband of a friend ran it. However, it was only in December 2015, when Apple released the movie and I to fully understand the concept of it. The Apple release came months before the Netflix release so I, pretty much, got hooked on it even the rest of the world did. Watching the movie became so addicting. Perhaps, it is not from the fact that 2 amazing runners finished at the top 2 spots (apologies, Brett and Jared), but more because a 3rd person finished— one who was more of a mortal and a relatable character.

I cannot count the times I watched the documentary. I can almost memorize each line. It was almost my go-to movie when I used to train on treadmills for speed work. I had my quasi-intimate relationship with it. So when that movie came out on Netflix and everyone started to talk about it, I was, somewhat, devastated that that small race down in Tennessee became too exposed in the mainstream running world.

Z-Poles fail.

Now I am not the strongest runner. But I can be stubborn and ambitious. Weeks after watching the documentary, I thought relentlessly about the Barkleys. It was not about FOMO or the fear of missing out on this race. Far from it. But not exactly sure what it is.

One day I posted on Facebook about wanting to be the Sacrifice, if that was the only way to get in. After all, at that time, I knew I was way in over my head. Much to my surprise, one of my friends sent me a private message about helping me out and the husband. He said he was sharing the information on the basis that he actually thinks I have a shot at being a Sacrifice, while the husband has a high probability of finishing or, at least, doing well. It was at this point that I learned one “truth” about the Barkleys: the entry process can (almost) never be sought; it can only be earned through trust.

Long story short, we both applied and Jun (more known in the race as Conrado) got in a day before the race, after being in on the weight list; I didn’t. He finished a loop and 4 books. At the race, somehow, Laz found himself with an injured shoulder and Sandra asked for anyone who can help her put the make-shift, yellow sling on him. And I am talking about this for a reason…

Now, just as a recap, I did have a crappy 2016, running-wise. Except for finishing a trail 100-miler in February, I had mostly DNF’d and DNS’d races I signed up for. Then I had non-running-related back injury in September that took me out from the Barkley Fall Classic, which I thought killed my chances at being considered for the big Barkleys. I gained weight and just lost my interest in signing up for races. Outside of running, all I personally achieved was finishing grad school, which took 5 years.

Fast forward I applied when time came and I got the condolence a day after I sent in my application.

Shit, I thought to myself. Thankfully, though, I had gone back to running again and back to a plant-based diet that helped me shed unnecessary weight.

I guess when the appropriate impetus comes, you are propelled to take necessary actions so you can rise to the occasion.

For starters, I am a flat-lander, living in Jersey City. As an ER nurse, I work 3, 12-hour shifts a week and some of these are on weekends, so the question was getting in my mountain or hill training. So I did the unthinkable at the time: I signed up for a gym membership. I hated going to the gym so the criteria were to sign up where I would not have to donate hundreds of dollars for non-appearance AND for it to be close to home so I won’t have to drive. Thankfully, I found Blink Fitness, which was half a mile from where I live AND only costs $24.99 for a “passport” membership (allows you to attend other Blink gyms).

So I went to the gym and surprised myself on how I actually loved spending my time there. I got on the Stair Master and spent every visit there using the machine. I worked on my upper body for strength and did arm exercises. I must admit that before getting my condolence, I barely did body strengthening.

Also, after finishing grad school, I thought I was done with studying for anything academics. I even shoved aside any thoughts on pursuing doctorate studies because I was SO DONE WITH STUDYING. I decided to enroll, instead, in Norwegian language lessons after falling in love with Norway when I visited in January. Of course, I did this before thinking that the Barkleys will take up so much of my physical and mental self. Seriously, who studies for a race??? So after spending $$$$$ on Norwegian language lessons, I had to cancel that to focus on studying for Barkleys.

I enrolled on orienteering lessons, bought books, and listened and watched YouTube videos.

And every other time when I was not working, I spent in the gym, running, hiking, and doing hill repeats in Mount Tammany—the only sensible place to go that’s near Jersey City. To train, when I can’t come to Tammany, I ran up a section in the Jersey City and Union City that had a bit of an incline and did that over and over. When you’re a flatlander, you make do with what you have and improvise. I also did some hikes on our treadmill that did 40% incline.

On a side note, what is hard about getting into the race is that you have to keep your mouth shut. I had to keep myself from saying anything each time people asked me on social media about what race I am doing when they see me “training hard.”

Not even my closest friends knew I was running except for Susie and Harald and Rudy. Harald, who also did the Barkleys years back, found out, after he asked me what was next for me, race-wise, during a bagel breakfast. And then Howie and Francesco. And, of course, the person, who taught us the entry process. One or two had prodded but the more these people prodded, the more I shunned and got sarcastic and repulsive.

The end of March finally came and Joe Galioto (who also got in) and I traveled to Tennessee. We are almost two clueless runners going out there. But Joe is a much stronger runner than I am, with a stellar running resume attached.

We headed to Oak Ridge and stayed at a hotel for 2 nights, despite having 2 nights rented on a campsite in Frozen Head. We both figured how we want comfort in preparation for the race. The day we got there, we immediately headed to FH to walk on the Cumberland Trail. I hiked without poles and managed to keep up with Joe’s pace.
The day after, my family came after a long drive from Jersey. Earlier, Joe and I went to hike Cumberland again and I had used my Z Poles and decided against them for race day, as it slowed me down tremendously.

Those two nights we were in a hotel in Oak Ridge, I tried to sleep well and eat well. I thought that if the race started early Saturday, I would need to bank on sleep.

Friday, the day before April Fools’ Day came and we headed to camp to register. Big Cove already got crowded with all the runners. It was so great to see runners from different parts of the country and the world.

Unlike the year before, Laz set up registration a little late this year— roughly around 3pm. From that, we kind of assumed the race would start later on Saturday. But then again, with Laz, you never know so I also imagined that race will start in the middle of the night to fuck up with our brains. After all, that’s, partly, what Barkley is about, in my opinion.

Getting in line to get registered, while Howie, also a Barkley veteran, looks and smiles on.

I lined up among the few early registrants. Honestly, I was hoping I did not get bib number 1—the Sacrificial Virgin’s number. Of course, when Laz handed me the bib, I can only laugh out loud. Darn it. I handed him a Philippine (because I am a Filipino citizen) license plate that reads IRUNDFL (I Run Dead Fucking Last), which is a replica of my New Jersey license plate, because as a virgin, that’s what he asks you to bring.

Soon after plotting the course from the master map into our own maps, we headed to Wartburg for Chinese restauarant dinner that would take eternity to cook. Gary Robbins would be in the same place, too, waiting for their take-outs.

By 8 pm or so, we were back in camp and I took a shower. I headed to sleep in our tent by around 9pm, still thinking the race could not possibly start early. I fell asleep and somehow woke up a little less than an hour to pacify a fight between Jun and Mariska. (Yes, this actually happened.) I fell asleep back again but then, come 0042 (12:42am) I heared a conch blow faintly and then another one, more loudly. Mother fucker. I looked at the time because, somehow, I felt somewhat rested that I actually thought it was later in the night. It was not. I only had about 3 hours of sleep.

Mind you, I was not so nervous about the race, except for the part where I would get lost and not getting enough sleep. So far, the lack of sleep part was taking shape at this point.

So I got up and Jun made me coffee. I have not had real coffee in 2 days, because I was hoping to bump up the potency of my caffeine intake on race day. And no, I cannot not have coffee for 2 weeks prior to a race like many others do because that would mean I will end up killing patients by accident when I work.

Jun also made some (burnt) vegan chicken strips and hotdog and I popped my Carbo Pro Motivator (caffeine pills) and VO2 Max and Amino Acid. He also mixed some Carbo Pro liquid carbs in one of my bottles. In the camp bathroom, I was so thankful Kendra Miller (Howie’s girlfriend) was there to help me by braiding my hair. That was my “game time” hair.

With “Frozen” Ed Furtaw, who, I may have not done without in finding the books.

I decided on my compression capri, loose pants over it, a long sleeved shirt, my thin down jacket, and Gore-Tex rain jacket to wear because it had started to drizzle. Soon after, we were by the yellow gate.

Before the race, I had planned on following a veteran so as not to get lost. I had my eyes finally set on one before the race. I also thought about Frozen Ed but as Jun would say “He is fast for you.”

Going up on Cumberland, however, I ended up behind Frozen Ed. Eventually, it turned to become a 4-person group of me, Frozen Ed, Lynn Turner, and the French skipper, Cristophe.

Lynn Turner, also a Barkley veteran, who was instrumental in hearing the frogs’ sound. Can’t elaborate more on that.

Getting to the first book was not easy. It was foggy like no other. After almost 2 hours, we found the book, courtesy of Lynn’s keen sense of hearing. Not to elaborate, but it was the “frogs” that helped us find it. Soon enough, we were headed to Book 2. Oh, my lord. That climb was sick. I have not climbed, shooting up like that, ever, without any switchbacks that when I actually got on the switchbacks later, my Achilles hurt but made the hike up all the switchbacks going forward easier.

We climbed up and down looking for Book 2. In one of the downhills, however, I almost lost the rest of the group because of the dense fog. I thought “This is the part where I’d get lost.” But because I did not want to be in that position, I looked at my bearing on the compass and trusted the faint light I saw in the end. I managed to finally to catch the rest.

In our trek to Book 2, another group caught up to us and I glanced to see an image that resembled Mike Wardian. I asked if that was Wardian and, holy molly, it was him! That never happens in any other race and that’s when you know in this race, speed does not necessarily equal success at finishing. Sorry, Mike. However, because they were the faster pack, our group lost theirs, eventually. We stopped for a while to gather our bearings and after a while, we found Book 2.

Cristophe, 2nd from right, and the rest of the French team at Barkleys. (Photo credit from Cristophe’s Facebook page.)

However, Frozen Ed had to decide at that point to go back to camp because of some health considerations.

I decided to continue, at least, to Book 3 with Lynn and Cristophe, and take it from there.

The fog was still thick and it continued to be battle of feeling cold on the downhills and hot in the uphills. I had already taken my down jacket off and stowed it in my back pack, thankful that I decided not to bring poles because there was nowhere to stow them.

We got into Book 3 and I was so happy to have found it myself underneath a rock. Lynn decided to go back down where Frozen Ed had gone to head back to camp. At this point, I had asked Cristophe about staying with him going to Book 4 AND if there was any access to Quitter’s Road, should I need it from there… a question I should never have asked.

We got on our trek to Book 4 and Cristophe showed me the significant landmarks. Rhonda-Marie (a blind runner, who did it last year) warned me about a crevice on Sonofabitch Ditch and I finally understood what she meant when I got there. It was at this point in the race that I, despite the fog, got to appreciate the beauty of the course, perhaps, owing to some light overhead.

We got to Book 4 in a semi-open spot. It had a cairn and rocks arranged.

Before Frozen Ed left us, he entrusted Cristophe with the ashes of Stu, a Barker who had passed. Cristophe was to spread them on the memorial set up at that spot.

So when we got there and found Book 4, Cristophe did what he promised to do and laid the ashes to their final resting place. It was such an experience to be there and the experience became somewhat spiritual.

However, that also became the turning point for me, when I decided to end my Barkley journey.

I had still a lot of energy and physical strength to give but something in me did not want Cristophe to slow down because of me. I had to make that painful decision to have him show me how to get to Quitter’s Road.

The ever talented Howie Stern found me on my way back to camp from Quitter’s Road and on South Mac Trail, where this photo was taken by him.

After waiting for Cristophe to get water from the water drop, I found myself alone on the jeep road. Nick Hollon’s words reverberated “Quitter’s Road is so long…”

Now what’s bad about Quitter’s Road is that not only does it branch many different ways, but the farther you get to the race, too, the longer it takes to come back. I found my way walking back to camp, constantly looking at my map until they tore into pieces, and had sooooo much time to contemplate on what worked and mostly, what did not.

Quitter’s Road is so bad because it makes you introspect and question your decisions. And believe me, regrets came way too soon. I felt I should not have quit just yet, that I should have spent more suffering out there. It was also at this point when I realized I needed to learn more about navigation, which, in hindsight, was my weakest point, because I had apprehensions that if I fell behind Cristophe, I may not be able to find my way back. I thought, that if I only had that as a very strong asset, I would be more confident.

That is not to say the course was easy. It was hard– and I only reached Book 4; there were still the other mountains and Rat Jaw. While there were switchbacks, there were also crazy downhills and climbs that didn’t follow a trail, meaning, steep inclines. I remember jumping off a rock cliff or rock formation going into Book 1 that was about 15 feet high that further dropped into another loose soil that ran downhill. That was one of those moments, when I thought I’d give my mom a heart attack, if she knew what I was doing…

After an hour or so of walking, I managed to find myself heading towards the Fire Tower. I met 3 lovely people, Jean, Ron, and Pete, who were on their way back to the campsite. Jean’s husband, Hiram, was running and both Pete and Ron were helping and they were also on the weight list.

From the Fire Tower, it was another 2.7 miles to camp. En route, we saw other former Barkley runners, Fegy and Julian. It was not long until I was near the yellow gate and heard Laz yell “Is that Kat Bermudez?” After explaining to Laz what happened with the fog and all, Dangerous Dave, with his bugle, played Taps for me. That marked the end to my Barkley journey.

These two. Amazing.

In hindsight, there is a lot to learn from this experience. I noted some of them above but also, I realized one important thing: When you run this race, you are on equal footing with other runners. There is no preferential treatment because you are a female runner. No one will wait for you and you have to work your ass off to keep up. I realized that when I fell behind the rest of the men in my group butt-sliding a steep mountain. They continued on their pace. And that was to be expected.

I learned the need to read up on the weather. Such a simple and trivial thing to think about on a day-to-day basis, but something that was utterly needed in races such as this. I knew that had I known the hourly weather forecast, I would have know that the skies would eventually clear out as the day progressed.

Another thing I learned is that this race is not all about speed. A back-of-the-pack runner like me can be there when Laz falls (because I still think part of the reason why I got in was because I helped Laz with his sling), take a shot at the application process and, if fortunate enough, be picked, and train. Hard.

And why did I do it? Do I have a self-destructive behavior, as some people people would say upon learning I was in? I do not. It is, perhaps, more because I needed to do something for myself, from the depressing state I was personally in in the past months. It was not for glory or fame– not that I stand a chance at having it, given my running record. But there was something about self-flaggelation and pushing one’s self, myself, to that level and beyond where I can do what I, otherwise, didn’t know I can or am capable of.

Being the Sacrificial Virgin is trivial. The experience is priceless.

I do not know if I am even able to come back, considering I was picked as a Sacrifice or if, based on how I performed, I am still worthy of a spot. But, in hindsight, as well, the time spent at Barkley and in preparing for it, was a time worth giving attention to. The discomfort of it all gave me a new perspective, not only during the race but in my day to day affairs since then. I now have this new dictum of being comfortable with being uncomfortable. Because life is never always comfortable.

Cloudy start. I was in my short-sleeved shirt and shorts. Not right for February. #climatechange

Cloudy start. I was in my short-sleeved shirt and shorts. Not right for February. #climatechange

You know that classic enabler-abuser relationship? How about that sadomasochist dynamic? In my opinion, there is not much difference between the two. In both situations, one receives the pain, the other gives, and the situation is based on the assumption that there is some form of justification why this pain must exist. Other than that, it appears that there is the promise of pleasure or change or reward awaiting in the end.
Weirdly enough, these are the exact, same thoughts that reverberated while I was doing the loops at Mount Tammany today, as part of my training for a mountain race.
Being a flat-lander, living in Jersey City, the best hope for mountain training is a trip to one of the nearby mountains and doing repeats.
As a background, Mt. Tammany is in the boundary of NJ and Pennsylvania. It is a 1250 climb to the summit at 1.5 miles from the base. The loop (covering the Red Dot and Blue trails) is a total of 3.5 miles (http://www.njhiking.com/mt-tammany/). Of course, compared to the Rockies and other mountains out west, it is tiny, but being that it is part of the Appalachian Trail, the challenge is in doing the repeats on a very technical terrain.
I have not been out on mountain trails in a while. Blame it on the lack of races that often motivate and the lack of motivation, itself.
So for me to be out there today, after having gone just recently— Saturday, to be exact— means I am seriously training for something.
On Saturday, I failed on my attempting 4 loops. Having left the house rather late that day, we didn’t get there until past noon. That was a mistake. Then after my first loop, I decided to eat and took my time. Another mistake. It was slushy that day. And colder. So after the 3rd loop, I decided to stop because by then, it became slippery, owing in part to the huge crowd that was there that day. I also stopped because it was late and I DIDN’T HAVE A HEADLAMP!

This photo does not justify the technical incline.

This photo does not justify the technical incline.

So today, I came back. still left a bit late but earlier than Saturday, nonetheless.
I got there and God bless the available parking.
After taking some Carbo Pro VO2 Max and Amino Recovery, I went for my first loop.
The first is always hard, I felt. The muscles are not warmed up at this point. I finished the whole 3.5-mi loop in 1:26. It is almost always at the first loop when I take photos and today was not an exception. It was a bit cloudy at the time but I had my short-sleeved shirt and shorts, anyway. I eventually warmed up.
Once finished with the 1st loop, I stopped by my car to replenish myself with the one and only bottle of Soylent I brought and my Carbo Pro products. I did this with every loop. I rationed my Soylent, a soy meal, which, on an ordinary day, would have been enough with the 400 calories it provides. Somehow, I thought the 4 slices of toast I had this morning was enough but it was not.
The 2nd climb. Somehow I thought this to be faster. But it was just about the same pace as the first. I tried hiking the red dot trail with no poles but eventually decided about half-way to the summit. I finally confirmed the value of trekking poles at this point. I realized that the effort your legs could have been making is actually translated to “arm work.” This is where upper body strengthening comes in handy. One hour and 26 minutes later, I reached the parking lot again and replenished. I was not happy with the time I logged for the 2nd loop. I felt I was stronger and I remember that one or two times when I finished a loop under an hour. Gone are those days, I guess.
The 3rd climb was not was not any easier and by then, I started to get a bit bored. However, it was during the 3rd loop that too many things went on in my head.
I thought about the impending sunset and how, HOLY SHIT, I FORGOT TO BRING A HEADLAMP AGAIN! So I sought Google for the time the sun sets today. 1744 (yes, I prefer military time… okay, that is 5:44pm). Phew! that should be enough, I thought, to, at least, hit the summit with some sun light on. But then another thought hit me. A stupid question. “Does sunset mean the sun is totally out or that the sun starts to move down and out?” That was probably a question fit for an elementary student but at that point, my brain was not functioning anymore. (Okay, honestly, I still don’t know the answer.)

Lights out.

Lights out.

Another thing that bothered at the 3rd loop was missing time with Mariska. Much as she has evolved into a non-listening monster, I still value the time I spend with her. When I was training for Rocky Raccoon last year, among my biggest issues with training was the time I missed spending with her. This was one of those days and I thought about how I had come back in the same cycle. And I am certain I am not the only runner with kids, who is facing the same predicament,
But things had to be done today. I figured that if I even went home without a 4th loop, it will haunt me. So I brushed those issues aside and after a near-fall, I pushed harder on the downhill.
Once I got to the parking lot and after downing the remainder of my ration and some Carbo Pro pills, I headed out for the 4th.
It was a comforting thing to know that coming down the blue trail on my 3rd, I saw some hikers still coming up. I thought that, therefore, I will see them on their way to the red dot as I go up. I also figured bears will still be in hibernation, so the probability is low that I’d see any of them (and I am very scared of bears).
The 4th was a slog to beat the loss of daylight. While going up, I sent a photo I had taken of myself earlier and sent it to a few running friends on a Facebook email thread we share. I told them it was for them to know how I dressed, in case I went missing. (Yes, I am crazy like that.)
While I wanted to finish the hike up-run down with still some light out, I made a commitment to reserve the 4th loop as a time to actually enjoy the trails.
That is what I did, if only to avoid thinking of the bit of exhaustion that had hit me at that point.
And near the end of the red dot trail, I saw it. I saw the most amazing view I have ever seen while on Mt. Tammany. It was a view I had not seen before, probably because I always went there on broad daylight. What I saw was the sight of Mt. Minsi and the other mountains nearby. It was kind of spiritual. Unfortunately, I could not dwell on it long enough, but made sure that apart from my memory, I had it captured on my GoPro.

If bears won't eat me, I can live here.

If bears won’t eat me, I can live here. This beauty.

Further on the way up, I saw one of the hikers I met while finishing 3rd. And then 2 more and then 1 and then 1 and then no more. I was alone. I reached the top with still a bit of light but the sun was nowhere to be seen at this point. But I had reached the blue trail and it was a bit dark once I hit the descent on the blue.
While that was all downhill, that was not that easy, at all. I loved technical downhills but at that point, the goal had become “to not fall” with all those loose rocks and some soil erosion. When darkness finally fell, I decided to take out my iPhone and use it as a flashlight. I wasn’t enough but good enough to help avoid accidents.

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The darkness was fascinating.
Besides Rocky Raccoon, which was flat, the only other time that I’ve been out in the darkness alone was in Washington, when I went on the course of Bigfoot. There is something different being alone in the woods. My mom would not approve if she knew, but it was liberating.
The experience for a slow-ass runner like me wasn’t so bad; it was great! After all, some time soon, I will be out in the woods at night so this was a good refresher.
It was a slow finish at 1:47 for the final loop. But I was glad it is in the books and I am proud of myself. And while I know I need to put more training, I felt I accomplished a lot today.
It was painful, it was blissful. And again, as it is in sadomasochist, abuser-enabler relationships, there is justification for the pain. That promise that something good will come in the end.

Happy ending.

Happy ending.

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With the Rocky Racoon 100 Race Director with my Buckle

 

It all began with Arizona. Otto and I were gonna go to Arizona and run Black Rock Canyon 100k. I don’t know exactly why Black Rock Canyon. I think it was a Western States qualifier and Otto needed another one or something. I’m not totally clear. But there were were, middle to late November 2015, ready to take on Black Canyon. Why not? Its “just” 100k. I talked to one of my silent voices, my ultra-fast, ultra-runner friend, Michael Daigeaun, who did Black Rock Canyon. He mentioned about the climbs and the heat. Yet, my mind was set. Somehow, too, however, Otto checked the prices for tickets to AZ. After all, that’s what he does when he’s at work: use the internet. As it turned out, airfare to AZ cost soooo much. He did the math. Too much $$$.

With all the discussion, the topic somehow turned to Rocky Racoon 100. I must have smirked. Seriously, I had no plans of running 100 miles soon. At the time, I was actively training for The North Face Bear Mountain 50-miler in San Francisco.

But because Otto is a Jedi, I said yes to doing Rocky. Much as I say yes to almost anything he tells me. Somehow he talked sense into the fact that because it is a loop, I will never feel like I am alone on the course. If you know me, I hate the torture of loops.

December 1, Otto booked the airfare. Considered Rocky a done deal. But I didn’t really sign up til late December or so. Before they said I’d likely run out of race shirts. (Hey, now. I am a sucker fo race shirts. If I’m to run a 100-miler, I might as well get a shirt).

So forward to December, I DNF’d San Francisco. Yeah, I am not mentally strong. I got those comments. Because there really was no reason to DNF San Francisco but I did at mile-22 plus.

One would think, however, that with a “100 mile race” in 2 months, training will happen soon enough. Umm, no. I waited 1 week. Got fat eating ramen and all. So technically, I didn’t start training for Rocky until December 14.

For those who know, I train under Michele Yates, Ultra Runner of the Year for 2013, owner of Rugged Running, based in Colorado. I’ve signed up with her since January 2015. Supposedly to train for Oil Creek in October 2015— which I “tried” to register but did not send in my payment for. Her training plan is time-based rather than distances. It involves a lot of running but not all of them are long runs and it does not call or demand for back-to-back long runs as most conventional ultra-running trainings do. Which makes more sense because for a fast runner, 10 miles can be over in 1 hour and for me, that takes almost 2 hours.

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Our preferred pre-race lunch.

So I had been “training” since early this year and I’ve had shorter races here and there but have had some DNFs and drop-downs, too. So pretty much, besides the 22-plus miles I have in San Francisco, coming into Rocky, my longest run, distance-wise, was 12.1 miles and time-wise was for 2 and a half hours. And honestly, over 75% of my runs were on the treadmill (our treadmill goes up to 40%, though). But I consistently ran according to a rehashed training plan I had at hand from Michele, asking for some tips here and there from my good friend and Trail WhippAss president, Dylan, who also trains with her.

Fast-forward to February 4, I started to pack for the flight to Texas the next day. That included my drop bags and all race essentials. I learned my lesson from San Francisco to take care of my nutrition, so I hit Whole Foods that day. The next day, while New Jersey was snowing, we flew to Houston– Otto, me, and Paul Lee, a much faster runner but was also going for his first 100-mile buckle. We were going to meet my crew slash pacer aka “race bitch,” Sally, in Texas. Like me, Sally works in the health care field and on flex schedule, so she is one of the most easy-to-ask persons if you want company on a trip. She is that “fucker” that I know I can ask to come with me for an adventure.

(On a side note, let me mention I was going to ask Sally to pace me but could not afford to pay for her trip. Dylan jumped in and said he will pace me and pay for his trip and I gladly accepted because I am broke as hell. But still, Sally decided to come for fun and offered to help out and because she’s a Physician Assistant, who makes so much money, she also paid for her trip. But Dylan, apparently, broke his foot or maybe he just has a new girlfriend, so he couldn’t come. Or maybe he thought it was going to be a long ass walking he’d do if he paced.)

Anyway, when we got to Huntsville, Texas, Otto gave clear instructions against socializing. Even at dinner. “We want to eat and just stay at the hotel,” in his really scary, non-cursing voice. So that’s what we did. We picked our packets, took pictures, had Mexican dinner.

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Somehow at dinner, I told Otto and Sally or asked “Why do I think I am going to finish this race?” I was almost 100% resolved on the fact that I will go home with a buckle.

Almost. That slight percentage happened when, Yoshiko, infront of Chris Solarz and some other runners asked me what other races I did before Rocky. I guess that’s the tradition— using shorter races as training runs. “Well, I DNF’d San Francisco at mile-22.” I felt the table go silent. Then the doubt came back for a brief second.

You see, Jun, the husband, had doubts about the fact that I did not have long runs or back-to-back long runs, either. So that question at the Mexican dinner? Yes, it brought some scare for a while.

But race day came, regardless. We woke at 4am D-day. No, I lied. We set our alarms at 4 but I woke so many times and finally got up at 3:45. It rained while I was getting ready, as was the forecast. I had a small bowl of my natto with rice (hey, I am Filipino! I eat rice in the morning!), half a bagel, and made sure I dumped. Unfortunately, gauging by the look of my stool, I had not emptied fully but I stopped, anyway. The rain stopped just as we left at about 4:45am. I said goodbye to Sally, who I was not meeting ‘til, I said, about 4 pm that day. Somehow, my goal was to finish each 20-mile loop in less than 5 hours. At least, while there was sun.

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Two of the best people ever pacing me.

Race start was at the State Park in Huntsville, TX, which was close to the hotel. That gave us enough time to go back to the bathroom for one more shot at shitting. Which I did. Good riddance.

I made sure I sucked in that bottle of Carbo Pro drink 30 minutes before the race and popped 3 Carbo Pro Recovery and 3 VO2max.

We saw Ken and YoJo and took the obligatory photo-ops. And it was 6am and we were off.

It was dark and we had headlamps on. I had shorts but with a long sleeved shirt and jacket, given the forecast called for sun coming out. I had my Nathan vest, which my other good, fast-runner friend, Maggie Guterl, gave me (yeah, I have so many cool friends!). I had stashed a buff in there, too, as well as some VFuel gels, a Macro Bar, some TP, and a jacket.

Now Rocky Racoon is not rocky, at all. If any, it is “rooty.” Lots of roots that I found myself praying to God and the Holy Spirit for me not to fall. And it was not flat, either. And you do 5 loops of 20 miles with some sections that are quasi-out and back or lollipops or both.

As I mentioned, my goal in the first loops was to finish them in 5 hours or less.

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Photo Credit: Sami. Taken at DamNation AS, while I loaded some CarboPro.

By 7 am, the sun was out but it was still cold. From the start/finish, there was an Aid Station (AS) at a 5k distance (Nature Center) and then another after 2-something miles. It was called DamNation.

Now before the race, Otto kept bitching about how, after leaving DamNation at 5-ish miles, you go out on a loop and then a mini out-and-back back to DamNation. That loop is a 7-mile stretch. He kept bitching about it that, somehow, running it, it psyched me ready, making me thing it wasn’t a bad strech. As I had told Otto after the race, it may have also been the presence of a timing mat at the 9-mile mark of each loop that was after Dam, that, somehow, signified some sense of accomplishment for you and those tracking you.

Once you hit DamNation the second time, you are mile 13-ish and you go back to a course that sort of takes you back to the same road that took you to DamNation although instead of taking the trails back to Nature Center, you take an unpaved road with sections covered with lime stones (or so I think), on to I-45 back into the trails, and crossing a road that will take you to the final AS at Dogwood, which was 4.3 miles (or so they say. I think its more 4.5 miles) to the finish.

Now those 4.3 or 4.5 miles to the start/finish were really long and felt forever. I hated that more than the DamNation loop. That just took forever with all the non-stop winding trail and semi-switchbacks.

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Finally met my IG friend and Texas-based runner, Sami. She volunteered at DamNation for so loooong.

I hit my goal of finishing the first loop in less than 5 hours. I remembered the last-minute tip from Jun (the husband) to walk even the small uphills and go easy even with the downhills at the start, making sure my heart rate does not go up. I obliged and it really made sense. Keila Merino, another good friend I look up to because she is so smart and a really fast runner and CarboPro Ambassador, also gave me last-minute teaching on how to take my CarboPro pills. Her words were “… and snack through the race.” Those things stuck.

So much as I hate AS food, I ate bananas and PB&Js. But they key was being on point with my CarboPro. I took 3 Recovery and 3 VO2Max every hour since 7 am and started taking 1 Motivator pill since 11am. By 3pm, I had increased my intake of the Motivator to 2 and had 2 or 3 instances when I loaded 1 pill of each in between when I felt tired.

It was amazing. If you know me, too, my ass is always the first to hurt when I run. It did at the start of the race but I owe it to those pills because as the race progressed, I didn’t feel any muscle soreness. And I was sharp and awake without feeling jittery or antsy despite the fact that I only had about 4 hours of interrupted sleep.

Finished loop 2 also less than 5 hours. On target. My spirit was high for some reason. Not once did DNF cross my mind.

Starting Loop 3, I told Sally my goal was less than 6 hours because it will be dark. After shitting once on the woods and once on the porta-John, I did just that and came back past 9 pm for Loop 4. I decided to change into pants because it got really cold and was going into the 30s overnight. I didn’t waste time to go to the porta-John and because my shorts always have the built-in undies, I had to actually put on an underwear just to wear my pants so I did the most logical thing to do: I stripped my shorts right there in the middle of the crowd, underwear-less and butt-naked, put new undies on, and then my pants. I also changed into my Hoka road shoes because at this point, I still didn’t have any blisters and I figured I can suck up one loop, and go back to my Altras if I did end up having any.

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Low point at 4.5 miles away from the finish.

I have to just say here, by the way, that between loops 1 to 3, Ian Sharman (who won the race), had passed me several times. Twice, we had a very short, 5-second conversation. He finished after only over 13 hours of running.

Going back. Loop 4 was also the point I picked up Sally as a pacer. So we threaded on, talking, at times quiet. But by god, Sally walks so fast, I realized. Like New Yorker-fast! And that helped a lot with the uphill. Sally was only going to pace me for this loop because she had not trained prior to this, she said. I also kinda figured that with the final loop, I can suck things up for 2 or 3 hours in the dark and the sun will be out.

But as the 4th loop started to come to an end, I kinda felt scared about the prospect but at the same time, relieved, that I will be on my final loop. My4th loop goal was to hit the star/finish before 5 am, so I will have, at least, 7 hours to play with and not rush against time. We reached that goal and I was in and out of the start/finish in no time.

But goodness, I had to poop again. I blame myself for eating the same potato soup at the first AS that gave me the runs earlier. Mind you, I was far from DamNation and I didn’t have TP! I thought of what to wipe my ass with and could not think of any. But a bulb light flashed and I remembered having a North Face buff around my neck, so I did the smartest thing I could think of at that point and went behind a tree. Goodbye, my buff.

I hit DamNation and had a pancake. This time, my friend, Sami, a runner who I met on Instagram, was no longer in DamNation volunteering so I didn’t have the boost I had in all the 4 loops prior. Still, the prospect of that timing mat felt good and I crossed it at close to 7 am, leaving me with 5 hours to complete the last 11.5 miles.

However, somehow those 5 hours seemed scary. Or those 11.5 miles. Those were trail miles and not road miles. Miles that needed to be done by tired feet. And somehow, too, I messed up something on my right ankle/Achilles from banging against my shoe that made it hurt to run. But I ran and finally hit DamNation the last and final time and went back to the road to the last AS. I hated that road, by the way, because there was so much dust and I had horrible wheezing episodes that necessitated taking albuterol.

Then it became a death march, an interval of runs and a lot of fast-walks. And the prospect of hitting that last AS that had annoying 4.3 or 4.5-mile stretch to the finish just started to kill me.

But from out of nowhere, I saw Otto!

Yes, 1 mile past Dam, I saw him and asked him to pace me. He had jeans on and no socks. But because he had a “moral obligation,” he surrendered and did so. That gave me back the boost from my moment of desolation. Between that time before saw Otto and when I saw the rest of my friends like Sally, Paul, and Ken waiting for me at the final AS, I was getting towards my low point. Even with some time on my hand, I wondered if I would end up not finishing because of the nagging ankle pain that kept me from running at a speed that will translate to a time within the 30-hour cut-off. I was not even sore on my muscles but the pain on the right ankle made it hurt to run at that point. I remember how I started thinking “This is really stupid! I don’t know why people do this shit.” And telling people at the final AS “This is really stupid! Don’t do this shit.”

But Otto, being the pro at pacing that he is, paced and coached me on the last 4.4 miles. I ran, walked, and passed many other runners. Otto told me to forget about the pain, concentrate on my breathing, and “stop crying!”

Otto and Paul finished under 24 hours!

Otto and Paul finished under 24 hours!

Finally, we hit 2 road crossings and the final road crossing that would take me to the view of the FINISH. It was only then that it sank in. I was really, definitely finishing my first 100-mile race!

And it was the greatest feeling ever. Seeing the finish line on a bright, sunny day when everyone is awake, felt great! It is, in fact, good to be a slower runner because everyone is up! I didn’t even care if another female runner passed me, who had a zealous husband who egged her on to rush ahead of me. I just know that that was the same finish and I am crossing it, no matter what! And I am not Dead Fucking Last!

And I crossed! 29 hours, 13 minutes, and 17 seconds.

When I hit that finish line, everything in my body just shut down. But I had little enough energy to pose for a buckle with the RD after hugging all my friends, who waited there to support me.

It was a lovely end to a long journey. Honestly, I used to believe that running is a solo sport. Okay, I changed my mind from hereon because I would not have finished without my awesome friends. Not just those who were at the race but including the silent voices, who always encourage me.

I have a lot of “take-aways” from this race. But among the most important is, you do not need to kill yourself with back-to-back long runs for ultras. All you need is a great coach like Michele.

Believe. I was once called a “slow runner” by someone. I am no way fast but I can run distance when I put my mind into it. So can anyone. John Fegyveresi has a word for that in the Barkley Marathons documentary.

As what Jun had said in a video everyone said he posted, I was hit by an SUV 6 years ago while crossing the street, had surgery for an injured knee from that a year after, was never a runner until 2012. And while I never did drugs, I smoked a lot.

But, by God, I crossed that finish line on to what they say as the Dark Side.

Ah, amazing products!

Ah, amazing products!