Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

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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!

 

With my Trail WhippAss team mates and friends. L-R: Matt Gerowitz, Juliette Ciacca, Stalina Gibson, Moi, and JC Sta. Teresa.

With my Trail WhippAss team mates and friends. L-R: Matt Gerowitz, Juliette Ciacca, Stalina Gibson, Moi, and JC Sta. Teresa.

A week ago today, around this time, I was in the Appalachian Trail, either run-walking up or flying down the beautiful downhills.

But before that even happened, I must say, I came to JFK 50 with fear. I have run and finished 2 50-milers before and I knew I CAN FINISH 50 miles. But then, as the cliché goes, no 2 races are the same. JFK 50 has a 12-hour cut-off for those starting at 0700 and 14 for those toeing the line at 0500. So far, one of those 2 50 miles I’ve done, I finished under 12 hours. But that was at Beast of Burden, which was flat as a runway. The other, TARC 50, I finished at 15 hours and 50 minutes of running, after I got lost at mile 48.5 or 49, sat, cried, and then given the chance to finish. So technically, I didn’t have a good history to bank on. On one hand, I thought that while BoB was flat, it was cold, I had my period, and went to the bathroom a million times. So maybe, there was hope that I can actually finish under the cut-off.

Still, the assurance was not enough. I freaked out.

And then, there were the whys. Why did I let Stalina talk me into this? Why did I even think I could do it?

My husband ran it last year and finished under 9 hours but that was him. Why did I even think I could do it? Or may be I could. But then, wait, was I even trained enough? Not in my opinion.

Since TARC in June, I had 2 DNFs. Two 50Ks— what would’ve supposedly been “training runs.” One, a week after TARC (who was I kidding?) and the other, in October. So talk about confidence. Then, I guess all the other “trainings” involved running some “hills” in Central Park, walking on 35-40% incline in our treadmill, probably 1 back-to-back 16- and 11-milers, and Steamtown Marathon followed by a 10-miler the next day. The only other essential part in my so-called training was trying to train/run on empty. So far, I’ve only managed running without nutrition or hydration for the longest distance of 10 miles. So was I ready? Not exactly. But I had to convince myself I was.

Fast-forward, November 21 came. With my family, we packed 2 more runner-friends, Stalina and Juliette, in our car and headed to Hagerstown. I was thankful the husband came because I could not imagine driving a day after the race. That Friday, we picked up our bibs at a hotel after eating Thai food. Then at dinner, we headed to Ledo’s Pizza (and their pizza was awesome!) where I had the quasi-mandatory dinner of vegan pizza and pasta. I swore I’d never eat that much before. Following dinner, we readied in our room. I skipped the FlatKat, the “traditional” laying down of race attire for photo-ops. I was scared as f#ck that might jinx me.

Then fast-forward race day November 22.

I had a good night’s sleep. When I woke, I had coffee and a wonderful bathroom visit.

That's my best poker face at the bib pick-up.

That’s my best poker face at the bib pick-up.

It was a cold morning. There were frostings on cars at the parking lot. I was wearing shorts. I had settled on a long-sleeved tech shirt with my Trail WhippAss (my running team) singlet over it. But I’ve also a loose tech running shirt over it for throw-away, then my Ultimate Direction Jenny vest.

After a quick stay in the gym for some last minute race announcements, we were heading out to the start. Jun’s (the husband) last words to me in our dialect “Don’t DNF.” Boom.

Gun went off just right after I used the porta-john, where I actually tripped and hurt my ankle.

Just as expected, it was crowded, but that was good. With over a thousand (?) runners, I figured I could never be the last person.

The first five miles were just relentless uphill on pavement. As soon as I heard a volunteer say “last uphill and you’ll be in the AT,” my eyes lit up. That trek uphill ate up so much of my time.

Soon enough we hit the AT.

I had to make a mental note about what how my ultrarunner, badass friend, Elaine Acosta told me to go slow in the AT, because per her experience, she was fascinated with it that she ran too fast and bonked in the towpath. But that wasn’t a problem for me; I can’t run fast, anyway.

But yes it was beautiful. I managed to run smarter, walking the uphills mostly. (I have been warned by a random runner and Jun to not run the uphills because they burn me out but I feel I can run better uphill than walking uphill.) Then I made up for time by running downhills, even in the most technical ones and along the switchback. At one point I twisted my ankle really bad and heard a snap and I was worried for a while but that didn’t do harm.

The AT was a beauty. Unfortunately, we only had about 9 miles of it. I have memories of the picture-perfect scenery but only in my mind because I turned my phone off to fight the temptation to take pictures.

It was sad when the run along the AT ended. I especially loved the view that overlooked the river when we started the switchbacks and the AS by the rails where we actually had to stop for about 5 mins for a cargo train to cross. But I didn’t really stop long in these ASs as I was constantly making sure I had enough time. I breezed through them just to get water to mix with my Drip Drop and a spare bottle to drink. Other than that, all I picked up at the AS spread apart were 2 PB&J Uncrustables and 4 pretzel sticks. Other nutrition only composed of 2 dates and 4 or 5 V-Fuel, which I took along the way.

Finally, we hit the 26-mile stretch of the towpath, almost flat as a pancake. Contrary, however, to the Beast, at least, there was some fall foliage to see. Fine. I’ll take that.

So it was the most boring part of the race. I was dragging my feet. I was only thankful I was wearing my Hoka One One Clifton as they were the lightest bunch. I also had to make sure I relaxed my hips because more than the legs and feet, they are the first to give up. But boy, did that hurt. Same muscles for 26 miles. But then again, if there was one thing I learned from pacing Gerald in Badwater 135 in the middle of the night going up Cerro Gordo, pain has its limits. You can always push past the pain. Because if it didn’t have a limit, the pain scale that we often use at work would not be a scale of 1-10.

A lot of things go on in your mind when you’re running 50.2 miles. Especially for a back-of-the-packer like me. Because that’s a verrrry looongg time. But the goal is to stay away from surrendering.

On the towpath, mind wandered from where my ovaries are relative to the fact that since they’re no longer anchored to a fallopian tube and/or uterus, where could they be? Are they bouncing like me? That question kept me going for quite a bit. Then there were thoughts of inspirational words I had received days leading up to the race like “Believe” and “Have Faith” from 2 of the best ultrarunner friends I know, Stephen Bandfield and Paul De Nunzio. And everytime my mind went off on a tangent, I had to override it with some thought I had from Michele Yates’ interview: stay focused.

I would also discover, my GPS was off by close to a mile at this point. And I had 2 Garmins on. My old 910xt was the one I relied on, as my 620 stupidly did not start until 8 minutes into the race. I had calculated my pace to never exceed 14:11-min/mi if I wanted to make it to the cut-off. But with a GPS reading that was skewed, it was hard to say what my actual pace was. So I mostly relied at elapsed time.

And of course, there were cut-offs I had written on my arm and covered with tegaderm. They came in handy. And yes, I only looked up and found out about the cut-offs the night before. And that’s when I freaked out. This is one bad habit I need to overcome: I don’t read instructions.

I had about an hour of buffer on the first cut-off time, even with all the walking that happened the first 5 miles. But the numbers just thinned out as the day went on.

Then boom, we were nearing mile-38, where, in my opinion, the strictest cut-off was. For some reason, nearing it, my GPS said we were close to mile-38, even with the GPS being inaccurate. But behold, we almost didn’t make it past that Aid Station.

The volunteer there blurted out “even if you continue now, you will not make it to the next cut-offs.” This, even with 3 hours to spare to finish 12 miles. For some reason unknown, or may it was exhaustion, I almost quit and call Jun to come pick me up. But for some reason, as well, I felt lazy about taking my phone out and thought that if I stayed, I would be cold. Stalina, my Russian friend, was feisty enough to talk me out of it, so we, along with 2 others went for the last 13.2 miles. Of course, I was a bit miserable when we left because I didn’t realize until later that in our haste, we had not gotten water. I only had about 6 ounces left. Good job.

And then, Stalina left me. And I couldn’t find her. Without looking at the cut-off chart on my arm, part of me thought that I may not make it to the next AS on time. I only remembered Stalina saying the night before that the last 12 miles of the whole 50.2 will be like doing negative splits, aka running for your life. While you are exhausted.

So I took my time, took my dates from the back of my pack, and ate those 2 dates. “Ahhh… Real food, finally.” In my not-so-hasty trek, I was surprised that after only 2.8 miles, there was another AS not far ahead. In my mind I was saying “Wait, what? 3 miles with an hour to work on?” I crossed that AS with about 10 minutes to cut-off and that was with walking. This time, I had more FAITH and I BELIEVED more that I could actually do it. My friend, Stephen, told me to have the same faith when I ran Steamtown Marathon where I PR’d by 15 minutes. My faith resurrected and I knew at that point finishing was possible.

I was just 9 miles away and I think it was when we were donned the “vest of shame,” the vest that was to protect us in the next 9.2 miles because we were running on a road with actual traffic. But I didn’t mind that. I figured way before that if wearing the vest of shame meant I would finish, then so be it. I wore it with pride. And well, with my headlamp.

Again, I was reminded by what Elaine had said about how the last 9 miles are helpful because while it was rolling, you gain time in the downhills. So that was what I exactly did. I walked some incline and just ran the downhills. Ran some inclines and ran some downhills. Repeating the pattern in the next miles.

Along the line, it got a bit tricky staying safe. Because we were in a highway or main road, there were no shoulders to work on. In some areas, I actually had to stop because there were trucks coming and there was nowhere to run. But then knowing there were other runners made me feel safer. And I met John the Irish (I would find out his name after from Paul Grassie). He kept on giving encouraging words about how we were almost there. This went on for a few miles. And finally, when we hit the mile-44 (or 46?), I heard someone say “boiled potatoes.” I found that ridiculous because I have been looking for potatoes all day and never saw any. Now seriously, what will boiled potatoes do for me at the end of the race? So I brushed it off.

Finally, I hit the last few miles and there were mile markers, counting down. I could already smell the finish. And my family’s stench of fear that I may not have finished. Haha. It was also at this point I heard Mr. Incredible, on his bike, playing a boom box. “September” was playing. My heart was racing and when he was finally beside me, I asked him if he was the sweeper. He laughed at that and said “No! There are actually about 25 runners behind you” and he biked along.

I lost John the Irish somewhat and I had a sudden surge of energy as I passed some runners infront. I finally caught Stalina, who I saw had to do a double take and say“Oh, my god. I’m happy you made it.” I went and ran and at this point, I saw my pace was still under 14. But I knew that was no longer accurate because when we almost stopped at Taylor’s Landing, I paused my watch and we stayed there for 5 minutes. So literally, I didn’t have much time left. So I just ran, passing a few more runners. Until that final left turn on the highway where I was finally told the finish was waiting.

Sure enough, I saw the blown-up arch that said finish. It was slightly under 12 hours at this point but I was happy. I heard my name as I was approaching the finish. And I heard one of the announcers congratulating runners. The same announcer I heard talking last year, when Jun and finished.

I found myself making the sign of the cross and thanking God and thanking the Holy Spirit for helping me through it. The same way I had been praying so hard to just be guided in the past 50 miles, to know when to run, to pause, and to run again.

And with the intention to be photographed with my Trail WhippAss singlet, I took the vest of shame off about .1 mile away. And a few feet from the final timing mat, I saw Jun and Mariska and I jumped what was supposedly my jumping pic (unfortunately Jun missed it). And in Maggie Guterl’s words, I “pranced” to the finish.

Oh, my Lord. The clock read 11 hours 48 minutes something. I survived JFK 50. I finished under 12 hours!

With Herman Nichols Gilbert Gray and Paul Encarnacion.

With Herman Nichols Gilbert Gray and Paul Encarnacion.

It was one of the happiest finishes in my life.

I was ecstatic. I received my medal and then ran to the side to see Stalina finish and some other runners finish. Just like we all do in Ultras. But we had to walk out of the finish before the 12-hour mark sounded off. It was cold and I didn’t think I could handle seeing runners not making it to the cut-off. That would break my heart. But I’m not quite sure if anyone did not.

So I survived JFK 50. My thoughts and fear of having bought a JFK 50 hoodie and magnetic car sticker dissipated.

Sure enough, by the time we reached the public school cafeteria, there were no more ramen noodles. Back-of-the-packer problems. But who cares? I could very well survive the next days with just the runners’ high.

In retrospect, JFK 50 was a journey, a reflection. This is why I run ultras or why I sometimes DNF ultras. In my own twisted thinking, it is the experience that matters. When you’re happy or in pain but are able to digest things in life. Because if you can’t do that, then what’s the point?

Run careless. Run free.

Talisa and I at packet and bib pick-up. 6.6.2014.

Talisa and I at packet and bib pick-up. 6.6.2014.

They say, in life, we often see crossroads where one direction means success, the other failure. But how do we know that? It is a gamble. Often, we do not know what lies ahead, unless we take that step.

That is how TARC 50 turned out for me.

June 7, 2014 was going to be my 3rd attempt at a 50-miler. I was determined to have this attempt a success, having DD’d (dropped down) to a 50k at Badwater Cape Fear in North Carolina in March.

I signed up for TARC 50, after having spectated at the inaugural TARC 100 last year, when the husband ran it at its old course in another part of Massachusetts. I figured it would be nice to go back to the race. Last year was my first ultra immersion as a spectator and I did like the experience. Plus, it was only 20 minutes off Boston, which is one of my favorite places in the country.

So off I travelled with my friend and running buddy, Talisa, on Friday. This would be Talisa and my 3rd race together. We’ve run The North Face Bear Mountain 50k in May 3rd and Dirty German 50k May 18th. Nothing proved nicer than going out of town for a race with her.

 

This time, however, we picked up another runner, Bradford; a runner uprooted from Florida to Croton-on-Hudson, NY. The 3 of us drove up to Weston, Massachusetts, where we would meet 2 more runners, Jess and Brad.

Mile-2: I took my singlet and visor off. It was hot.

Mile-2: I took my singlet and visor off. It was hot.

Soon we arrived in Dedham, where our hotel room was (yes, 5 of us shared one hotel room, on the premise that Bradley would be running 100 miles overnight Saturday, anyway, while Jess paced him, so we would have more space Saturday night after the race). Thankfully, we would find out that our hotel sat right beside a Chinese restaurant and was right across a Whole Foods flagship store. That was convenient for nutritional purposes.

After checking in and a quick late lunch, we went to packet pick-up at the Hale Reservation where the race was taking place.
It was low-key. I liked that. I screamed for Otto, the only other good, close friend Talisa and I know, who was running the race. No sight. We would eventually see him at WF later that day and wish each other a good race the next day. Otto was also running a 100 and this would be his 2nd TARC 100. He ran the “mudfest” last year, too.

After doing flatKat, which has now become a “tradition” for me, where I’d lay my “attire” and essentials and take a photo, we finally decided on getting rest. Talisa and I shared a bed, Jess and Brad shared a bed, and Bradford slept on the floor.

Now when I said “rest,” I must have been delusional. Because sleep never came. Or barely came. Despite Talisa giving me a pair of earplugs, the snoring session Bradford performed that night was unbearable. I since, then, made a note to self to screen future hotel roommates for snoring.

Where the hell is Otto?

Where the hell is Otto?

And just when I thought I finally dozed, I heard noises of people getting ready for the race. I estimated the max amount of sleep at 2 hours.

Already a rough start to a day that was going to be spent running 50 miles and I know myself to be less functional with sleep deprivation.

I forced myself out of bed and got ready. I put my usual Asics split shorts on, my Asics Trail WhippAss singlet, my pink polka-dotted C3 Fit compression sleeves, IceBreaker socks, Hoka One One Stinson Trail shoes, and UltrAspire hydration vest.

Days prior, I had bought a Garmin Fenix 2 watch but being that I have not used it in a race, I decided to wear that along with my Garmin 620— just in case. I was stoked wearing the Fenix 2 with the promise that it will last 50 hours.

After some breakfast with left-over plantain and bagel and coffee with almond milk that I brought from home (yes, running vegan, I learned to be self-sufficient with my hotel breakfast), we headed out. Thankfully, since becoming vegan, going to the bathroom prior to a race is no longer an issue. That was taken care of earlier on.

Talisa in one of the steep, less-technical climbs.

Talisa in one of the steep, less-technical climbs.

 

 

At the race start, we gathered by the lake in Hale Reservation. Since it was June, it was a little nippy but comfortable enough. It was predicted to be upper 70s on race day and I knew it was not going to be long until I start shedding off my singlet and my visor.

I placed my plastic box drawer of nutrition in one of the grassy sections by the lake. In it were some Hammer Vegan Bars, Vega Bars, MacroBar, and some SL and S-Caps.

The lake was beautiful and the water at that point looked pristine. I could’ve really just stayed there and watched the runners run, instead. But a job had to be done.

After a few selfies with Talisa, gun finally went off (or was it the yeti with the gun?) and we all headed our merry way out of the beach into a section that would serve as the trailhead.

Just as I predicted, 2 miles into the race, I had to stop at a race marker and take my singlet and visor off. At the upper 70’s, it was too warm for me. I figured, I would be able to come back for them later in the race.

Pre-race selfie by the lake.

Pre-race selfie by the lake.

The 50-mile race was 2 loops of 25miles. Race description of the 50 showed minor elevation. I have run part of the course when I was in Boston in April and I figured, this race could not be so hard. Days prior, however, I was a little apprehensive, realizing this was my first trail 50-miler. The other 50-mile race I ran was in a towpath. Flat as hell. Not that I know hell is flat. The TARC elevation profile, as described at the sign-up website, somehow, did not bother me. Or so I thought. After all, the course was described as “friendly” for those new in ultra trail running .

Well, I had fun. Until it dawned on me how technical the course was.

I love downhills!

I love downhills!

There were so many— and I mean, so many— rocks and roots. Rocks and roots. Rocks and roots.

It actually reminded me of Bear Mountain 50k. No seriously, it was a mini-version of Bear Mountain spread in 50 miles!

This is how I liked to describe it: the elevation was not “bad elevation” but they were steep when they were uphill.

I also remember a section with really loose gravel but was really quite steep. And there were climbs that required some hands. Like one of those in Tammany or Bear Mountain that would be like climbing rocks, leaving you cursing a bit or being swarmed by mosquitoes because you’re going too slow. But as in any uphill, the hard work is often paid off with breath-taking views when you reach the top. This was no exception.

It was like that.

And then you hit the Aid Stations. Very well-supported. The first AS even had the vegan/gluten-free option (aka avocadoes and oranges side versus the pretzel or bread side, duh). Talisa would laugh at the memory of that AS with the gluten-free option.

Not 2013 TARC mud.

Not 2013 TARC mud.

Then there were some mud, but not TARC 2013 mud; just enough mud to get our feet wet and dirty.

Eventually, I finished the first loop. I decided to sit on a bench at the AS to apply some Trail Toes. Then a cramp hit me. And I never had leg cramps ever. I figured, however, that might have just been from sitting and rubbing my feet. Yet I screamed. It was painful. Some friendly AS volunteers helped me. That was very comforting. Something I love about the trail slash ultra running community. People are just there for you.

However comforting that was, I did not stay long on the chair. The husband had already inculcated in me that notion “beware of the chair.” I left the AS. I was confident I was going to finish sub-13 hours at that point, having had the eye-view of the course at this point already.

I went about my way, passed mile 27 and saw my visor and singlet still intact. Passed the same AS’s along the way and intermittently, Talisa and I would take turns passing each other. However, she is always fast at coming in and out of  Aid Stations.

Halfway into my 2nd loop, I was still confident I would actually finish at sub-13.  I was going to be happy with that. I am not a fast runner so there isn’t any delusion of grandeur there. Days before, I actually was being talked into by the husband about finishing sub-12, but I wasn’t sure about it. I thought I was capable but you always maintain the cliche “I just want to finish.” But of course, deep inside, you have your own secret mission.

But then, exhaustion started kicking in. Still my mind was set on a sub-13 finish. Or faster.

Of course, a bummer of a text would come from the husband, who would tell me, I am “predicted” to finish around 14:33 or something, and that really dampened my spirit and for a while, made me cry. What a motivation!

NIGHT FALLS TARC

My Petzl.

I pushed on. Yet the inevitable darkness would fall and although I had my Petzl headlamp on, I would slow down, especially on those uphills with rocks and roots.

My time would further drag and I reevaluated my goal to finishing just slightly under 14 hours, rather than my earlier target of finishing sub 13:30. (Yeah, I have this crazy thing in my head where anything over half an hour on a given hour “would not count.”) And yes, that shit was kinda hard.

So one foot after the other, taking some walks at this point to prevent nasty falls. I was comfortable and I was optimistic to finish under the cut-off despite losing the battle on the secret mission. I was focused and determined—- until, I reached mile 48.5 or 49.

DARKNESS FALLS TARC

Darkness falls.

There, I lost track of a trail marker and lost 2 other runners that I intermittently ran side by side with, passed or get passed by (I would later find out they were Annette and Gwen, who I am now Facebook friends with).

But I wasn’t alarmed. At least, not at that point. I thought I still had over an hour until the 15-hour cut-off and I was only over a mile, at most, away from the finish. So I navigated through the darkness, with only my headlamp as my guide. Once I tried to scream for help, saying “hey, I’m lost.” I saw some headlamps from all sorts of direction but no luck.

So I ran and raced, walked and raced, now with the cut-off haunting me. I finally found a marker and threaded that path. Sighed a sigh of relief. Ran on. Then I reached an uphill, which I sort of suspected that was not supposed to be there. Yet I continued and followed the markers.

Earlier in the day, but when I ended up in this section for the 3rd time that day, I suspected I was about to get lost.

Earlier in the day, but when I ended up in this section for the 3rd time that day, I suspected I was about to get lost.

When I finally hit a flat land that would take me to a right turn on the coursel, that’s when it hit me.

I was lost.

I was on my way back to the mile 45 AS.

It was then that my world started to crumble. I looked at my watch. It was now 14:23 into the race. It registered 49 miles. My mind was racing.

Then another sound dug the hole for me. My watch gave me the signal “Battery Low.” What the fuck?! What happened to 50-hour battery life Fenix 2 ads promised?

I think I died at that moment.

Epic fail or human error?

Epic fail or human error?

For the first time, I couldn’t decide on what to do. And I am mostly decisive.

And I did, for the first time, something that I have not done before. I paced few steps to the left, few steps to the right. I did this over and over and over.

And I did what I often do. I called Dylan, my friend and “little brother.” Of course, I think he was drunk again.

I explained the circumstance. And even as I’m doing this, I was pacing left and right. I literally didn’t know what road to take. I would just take a few steps left, few steps right.

I was facing a grassy, flat section at this point. Right meant DNF. Left meant DNF. Right meant going to AS 45, declaring DNF, and asking for a ride back to the AS. Left meant taking the same route where I was on twice before, attempting to find the finish with the prospect of getting lost again, and, of course, not making to the cut-off.

I tried to make myself cry. And I couldn’t. So I hung up and I did what was logical at that point. I walked the longest one or two-mile walk ever to an AS.

Nearing AS 45 (for the 3rd time that day), I was hallucinatory. Or paranoid. I saw a man in a spotted cow costume. And for a while, I wasn’t sure why he was there. I wondered if he was a psycho with a machete out to kill me.

I would learn his name was Chris Agbay, a runner volunteering at the AS. He and another runner would volunteer to pace me back and I remember saying over and over that there was no point running to the finish as I would not make it to the cut-off.

Mile-45 AS volunteers at my declaration of DNF.

Mile-45 AS volunteers at my declaration of DNF.

For some reason, they assured me not to worry about the cut-off. I didn’t understand that but one of them said the RD was not implementing a really strict cut-off.

Still I decided on a DNF. My first DNF. Chris drove me to the start/finish. As I neared a quasi-suicidal state where I asked myself the question why I DNF’d a race one mile from finishing.

I was disappointed. I knew I had put my 100 percent into that race and I was this close to finishing.

At the start/finish AS, I saw Bradford, who was already comfortable and clean.

However, for some reason, after talking to him I decided to walk up to the tent, where the RDs would be and told them what happened. How I would not find the trail maker on that final route to the last AS.

For some divine intervention or something, Bob would ask me how far I was from finishing. And he would ask me, too, if I am still up to running 1 mile.

I didn’t quite get what he meant. He had to clarify if I wanted to “finish” the race and I could do 1 mile.

“And I’ll be a finisher?” Duh, what a stupid question to ask. He said yes. What does one say to that? Oh, hell, yeah! I tried to show him my watch to prove how far I’ve run but, perhaps, under the unspoken honor code that exists in ultras, he took my word for it.

So off I went with Chris, pacing me in the last one mile that would seal my fate as a TARC 50 finisher.

Time 15:55. Fifty-five minutes over the supposed cut-off that was now down the drain. But who cares? That’s the beauty of ultras. Unless you are elite or competitive, the spirit is in finishing. And so I did.

Talisa would finish shortly after. She had gotten lost, too. And so did many other runners. In and around the same area where I had started to get lost.

But Hallelujah!

There were lessons learned. One essential point is to never give up. Or maybe I did when I declared a DNF and hopped on Chris’ Audi. But then, I guess approaching the RDs at finish was still, somewhat, a testament of some hope lurking in the background. And it paid off. With some faith and perseverance.

My time was poor. But then again and again, I am not an elite. I could not even run a track 8 years ago. So I went home happy. Poor time. But happy, happy trails.

Anticipating-a-finish jump.

Anticipating-a-finish jump.

Say "RUN!!!"

Say “RUN!!!”

I will never be a fast runner. But I can be faster, relative to how slow I am. That may sound confusing but it really isn’t. Simply put, I will never be fast like Boston Marathon-fast. I hate speed work. And it doesn’t help that I only started running 2 years ago.

Lately, however, I’ve been trying to push better at some of my runs and tried not to settle with a comfortable pace. So I think setting a PR in Philly’s Dirty German 50k is a testament to that.

Flashback August 2013. I ran my first 50k at the Wildcat Ridge Romp’s under Rick McNulty’s NJ Trail Series. That was a horrifying experience that I swore I will never do again. That took me 11 hours 6 minutes. I was close to being dead fucking last. And almost hit the cut-off. This first attempt at running an ultra came only 3 months since running my first marathon. Who was I kidding?

I ran Dirty German 50k on May 18, 2014 on a whim. More like unplanned.

I was off that weekend, supposedly, because I was going to bandit a race in Minnesota on a course where my first attempt at running a 100 was going to be. But because I am broke from all these races, I opted to stay. Instead, I agreed to go to Jun (the husband’s) race in Virginia for the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100. But as fate would have it, we would argue over license plates  and I declared I was not coming to watch him.

So I decided to do the Dirty German. Luckily, while the online registration was closed, there was a race day sign-up.

Race-day sign-up was not something I am used to. I was nervous about driving to Philly and not being guaranteed to run. So I emailed the RD, who assured there would be same-day registration, just minus some swags.

Fine by me.

Thank you, AS volunteers!

Thank you, AS volunteers!

Now, I think I may be lucky that I have races almost every month. I had just finished running The North Face Endurance Challenge’s Bear Mountain 50k 2 weeks prior to Dirty German. I kinda figured, my legs may be capable of running the same distance, minus the highly-technical stuffs, the climbing, the scary decents. Also, I quite figured that since I had also run Bear Mountain 6 days after pacing NJ Marathon, this might be something doable.

And so I went to Philly, drove alone on race day. It was not something usual I’d do. I thought about inviting some other friends to go but I also decided, I wanted to give this my best shot, so I didn’t want to run this alongside anyone. I also decided to run this as a marathon and not an ultra; not quite sure if you get what I mean but what I am trying to say, I thought I was not going to hang around and chit-chat and take my time.

So off I went. Thankfully, a friend agreed to watch the kiddo. I drove, got to Philly early enough to have some spare time in case I get lost. And get lost, I did.

It was in a park called Pennypack Park. Its just funny how you go to one side of Philly and see signs that would say Pennypack Park and actually fail to find the entrance there. I must have a driven a good mile more on another side of town when I saw another sign that said the same: Pennypack Park. I needed to pee so bad at this point that I could barely stand when I got out of the car to ask a stranger  in a parked car for some directions. He didn’t know, either. Then decided to call my friend, Ken, who finally directed me to the right address. Note to self: read race instructions on addresses. Siri doesn’t know everythin

Beauty!!!

Beauty!!!

So I finally found the entrance to the park. I couldn’t hold my bladder so soon after I parked on the highway, I ran down a semi-ravine and peed right there. My logic behind this is I am a trail-runner; I could pee anywhere.

It was so great to finally relieve my bladder. Soon enough I went to where the race would start and saw my friends, Violet and Maria, then Talisa. Then Ken and Christine and Evy and Lisa. Somehow, I didn’t find Maggie, who was one of my missions in coming to Philly (note: an autograph signed by Kara Goucher that I needed to give her). It was going to be a beautiful day of running with friends, I thought.

I had some time to go back to the car about .2 mis away to retrieve my drop bag with Talisa.

I barely finished fixing my hair— aka my bangs— when the gun finally went off.

And so we ran. Into the woods.

It was beautiful. I felt good, I think.

The race description was, in fact, right in saying that it would be a race within the city limits, but that runners will not be seeing cars or traffic. Spot on.

The first few miles went fine. The race followed a loop that formed an 8 and you had to do that twice for the 50k. A couple more for 50milers.

It was beautiful to see streams along the course, some random strangers. I do not have much memory from what I saw mile to mile to mile. I remember running through some mud. I remember seeing runners trying to avoid them while I just plunged into the them. I figured, whats the point? That was when I finally decided, I love some mud. Not TARC 100 2013 mud but yeah, some mud. It makes running fun.

Mile 7-ish, however, after I hit the 2nd AS, I felt my stomach cramp. It was not a bad cramp, but I’ve never had an abdominal cramp before while running before. I thought it must have been the Hammer or Heed that I took at the AS or the combination of that and my secret electrolyte drink that messed me up. I dashed to the porta-johnny, thinking I may just need to poop it out (that was a scary thought because I have never pooped in a porta-potty) but it wasn’t. All I had was gas. I made a mad dash out of there and ran. Then I had the cramp again, that I had to stop one more time.

I decided this might actually be my first DNF.

This was painful aka The Pavement.

This was painful aka The Pavement.

Somehow, however, I decided to go back and run. It wasn’t helping that I also had other GU (read: genito-urinary, not GU the gel) issues going on. I ran, paused some, and just continued running. It was also around that point that I felt something weird, something painful on my L knee, where I had surgery on for a torn meniscus in 2010. I was almost, almost, almost convinced I was going to DNF it. I texted my “little brother,” Dylan, to tell him about the knee pain.

I guess somewhere in that state, I just decided to push past the pain.  And intermittently heard Tom’s voice in my head, asking me, “why? are you bleeding?” My answers were no. That must have been what made me just run and suck it up.

It was not a perfect run. Especially not in those sections of running pavement. That was AWEFUL. I decided to run off the concrete road and into the grass or sidewalk with gravel whenever they came up on the course. It was horrible. It was one of those times when I confirmed I belong on the trails. Apparently, I wasn’t alone. This is what we talked about during dinner after the race.

But you learn to suck it up.

Like I said, no race is perfect. You do not always find satori in races. But you need to learn to overcome the negative thoughts. There were times when I actually walked little uphills, just to get through it.

And I tried to enjoy the downhills, which I think I have become quite good at. I even tried to enjoy that part of the course that formed a crazy spiral in the woods, the switchbacks, where you actually feel like a little mouse, trying to find the cheese at the end.

I tried to live by what Otto once said, run it “aid station to aid station.”

I finished the first loop and started my second loop pretty soon. At that point, I was a bit exhausted. I assumed I ran my first loop too fast for my standard. Regardless, I decided to go out right away after retrieving some nutrition from my drop bag. (One of the things I learned and did on this race was actually pack a set of nutrition and electrolyte supplements in a small ziplock bag just so I can do a grab-and-go and not have to scramble).

I went out for my second and final loop and yes, got lost on the way out. Thankfully, someone guided me to the right way. Sigh.

I think somehow I forgot about the abdominal cramp. Somehow, the knee pain disappeared. And after being in this course once before, I kinda knew what to expect.

Now, let me say that before I came to run this race, my goal was just to finish. Then to finish within 8 hours. At that point, I thought my 50k PR from another course was 8:06 or something (at the Greenbelt Trail Ultra 50k, which, by the way, still does not appear on my Ultrasignup race results). So I figured I wanted to beat that PR. Apparently, as I learned few days ago, my 50k PR is prior to Dirty German was at Badwater Cape Fear 50K at 7:48, which also, does not appear on my US race results. Ugh.

The Maggatron, finishing her 50-miler at an awesome 7:40ish time.

The Maggatron, finishing her 50-miler at an awesome 7:40ish time.

So at some point, I finally decided I actually have a shot at finishing under 7.

There would be times when I doubted that I would. The biggest shadow of doubt came when, few miles nearing the finish, I felt that it took forever to see the last AS. We passed it on the first loop, which had a sign that said “1 mile to finish.” I ran and ran but could not seem to reach that final AS. I doubted more and more that I would I actually finish under 7 hours when I failed to get to that AS soon enough. But then the course became so familiar and reminiscent of the final approach to the finish. A stack of horse manure eventually would prove that.

 

Soon enough, I could hear the noise and cheering from the finish. I gave it a mad dash. It was probably a mile away or less when I just ran for my life. I was dry-heaving. And I had not taken a puff of Albuterol that morning to fight some allergy-induced asthma that I self-diagnosed myself with, which I often get during the allergy season. I thought while I was gasping for air that this must be how runners struggling and fighting for their lives to qualify for Boston must feel.

 

 

Failed jumping pic. Not setting up to kick someone.

Failed jumping pic. Not setting up to kick someone.

=I just ran like I’ve never run in Ultras before. I saw my Garmin and thought I didn’t want to just finish under 7 hours; I wanted to finish under 6:50, otherwise it doesn’t count. It was cutting it close.

So through my heaving, I sprinted to the finish. My mad dash led me to a 6:45:08 finish on my watch. And I didn’t forget to stop my watch this time.

I crossed the finish line under 7 hours. No, under 6:50, my lofty goal. Right on.

By fast runners’ standards, thats not fast enough. But considering how my first 50k had turned up the year before, I figured I did so well. I was happy.

And then it was time for  a jump. I always have the energy for that.

I went home back to Jersey that day after some beer with friends at the race venue and late lunch at a Cracker and Barrel. I had a great time with everyone that day. I knew I was happy. To know all these great people that have become friends and who were actually proud of me for finishing with a good time.

 

In retrospect I think of Dirty German and say my stars have aligned.

Post-race dinner selfie with Talisa, Mary, Maria, Violet, and Eric @ Cracker and Barrel.

Post-race dinner selfie with Talisa, Mary, Maria, Violet, and Eric @ Cracker and Barrel.