Posts Tagged ‘#veganrunning’

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.

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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.

  • Teeny-tiny eyeview of where the run started.

    Teeny-tiny eyeview of where the run started.

    This one is for the record. Writing about a race two days after the event is, in fact, a record for me. In fact, I have not even    arrived New York but I am already tip-tapping on my phone. Just taking off from Phoenix! Bravo. I guess I owe that to the levels of hormone that somewhat contributed to the outcome of my adventure in Utah, running Grass Roots Event’s Moab’s Red Hot 55k.

    Okay, enough about hormones.

        Let’s talk Moab.

         Where do I even begin?

    Perhaps on the fact that I wasn’t supposed to run this race, which is all the way in Utah. It was my team mate, Joe Delano (or JD, as we would call him), who planned to run this months and months ago. I was just an accidental runner. Somewhat. JD had incessantly talked about “Moab” and invited us to run with him since forever. Since forever that, in fact, I managed to schedule this post-Valentine weekend off of work, thinking that I may actually decide to run it. But as it would turn out, I signed up for NJ Trail Series’ FebApple, instead. This was scheduled a week after Moab.

    Photo-bombing my team mate and travel buddy, Joe Delano, who talked non-stop about running "Moab." Taken a day after the race.

    Photo-bombing my team mate and travel buddy, Joe Delano, who talked non-stop about running “Moab.” Taken a day after the race.

    Honestly, part of me was a bit hesitant about traveling all the way to Utah to run a 55k. I mean, I thought that if I were to travel, anyway, it may as well be for a 50-miler or longer.    Then again life happened and I would end signing up for Moab 55k Tuesday, the week of the race. And– a day before race registration closed. When I met the cool RD for the race (who JD and I would call Chrick because we weren’t sure whether his name is Chris or Rick), he would tell me they recognize me somewhat as the runner from Jersey. “Usually, its runners from Colorado who would sign up last minute… not from Jersey.” Yup! That was me. In Moab. From Jersey.

        I’ve always been in love. But not like this.

    Oh, my god! Utah is beautiful. Moab is even more beautiful!

    The place just mesmerized me. I was transported into that state again where I would declare “I want to live here.” And I think I could. Now that I don’t eat seafoods, I will not miss what the sea would offer. Besides the sea itself. So maybe.

    Moab is a small town. Quaint yet not the usual quaint town I have seen in the east coast. As I would learn from a 711 cashier, for you to live in Moab, you have to either have money, be artsy, or have a business. So I asked “Is there a hospital?” Yes. There was the other unspoken option. Ha!

    I could really live in Moab. The dream will live.

        Clueless.

    Before I came to Moab, I only had a faint idea of the race I was running. I only found out about the elevation profile days before the race. I would also only find out how “big” (aka popular) the race was few days before February 15, with Anton Krupicka, Karl Meltzer, and Jenn Shelton (sorry, I had to throw her name in there) as among the guests/runners.

    Package pick-up was at a restaurant-bar called McStiffy’s. Yup, that’s no typo. No pun intended, but it was kinda tight and packed a venue for the packet pick-up. I was expecting more like a JFK50-ish expo. The line was long and extends from a nook in that resto-bar to the entrance. But I couldn’t complain. I was in quasi-fugue state.

    I can't complain; they have vegan pizza!!!

    I can’t complain; they have vegan pizza!!!

    One other important thing I missed or misread were the “rules.” For some reason, I was a bit complacent taking the race seriously because I had somehow misread the “12:30 pm cut-off for mile 18 ” (before they declare you as having DNF’d) as a 12:30 (read 12 hours, 30 minutes) cut-off for the whole race. My thought process was “yeah, that’s easy-peasy.” Count on me to finally read the whole race rule the day I flew to Salt Lake City; it was only then that I found out that there was an 18-mi cut-off at 12:30pm!

    The race was to start at 8:00am. Sonofagun! 4:30 to finish 18miles. Thank goodness for gogoinflight services! That’s when I started to freak out. By my marathon time, I knew I would be done with 18 miles before 4 hours and 30 minutes, I figured. But that was marathon! On a flat surface! JDC, another friend who encouraged me to run Moab, would over and over try to appease me and say “Its all in your mind.” I would use that as a mantra although sometimes, admittedly, it failed. But on race day, I would hang on to these words.

       Running Slickrocks. 

    So what ends up when you’re mostly unprepared and without expectations? You get a good beating.

    The race was in the canyons of Moab. Over slick rocks and mountains and loose dirt.

    It would start at in a valley and all you did from when the gun would fire was climb. Or run on some elevations. And run on some more elevations. And climb. And climb for many miles. And yes, uphills are not quite my friends yet.

    Now to begin with, Utah already has some altitude. Put that in the context of actually running with an elevation. I was gasping for air. I hate runners who make those heavy breathing sounds but I knew that day, other runners probably hated me because I just panted. For good 4 miles or so.

    I would also meet an Instagram friend, Francesco, from Salt Lake City at the race.

    I would also meet an Instagram friend, Francesco, from Salt Lake City at the race.

    The course was point-to-point, except for one AS that repeats at miles 13 and 18. This only means no going back for anything I may need like shoe change, nutrition, etc.

    The markers for the 55k were in pink! Brilliant against the orange dirt and lime-colored rocks.

    The scenery was beautiful but I think I was done and beat and exhausted by mile 11.

    However, all I could think of at that point was beating the 12:30 cut-off. I thought I did not come to Moab to DNF. And DNF IS NOT AN OPTION. I had other things that would motivate and push me to push on that only I know personally know. “Push past the pain” is another.

    Running the course was just brutal. Being in the back of the pack proved difficult when the markers became few and far between. Most often, I ran the course alone and in those instances when I could not find the markers, I would end up in another hill by the time I finally retraced the course. Time lost.

    But if there’s one thing I figured running trails lately is that I have developed a penchant for getting lost. Of course, it is imperative to find my way back. Duh. But I loved the solitude. Of being able to tell myself I am the master of my own destiny, literally.

    Some of the climbs through slickrocks.

    Some of the climbs through slickroc  On one hand, one great thing about being a back-of-the-packer in these ultras, too, is that it is easy to pass gas or pee behind the shrubs when there is hardly anyone near you. If you’re on vegan diet (and eating a lot of  beans because Mori emphasized the importance of beans to powering legs), you’ll understand how much gas I passed.

        Finally!

    At 11:53 or 3 hours 53 minutes or so on my garmin, I crossed mile 18. I could not be happier enough that not only did I make it to the cut-off, I also managed to cross it before 4 hours. I was exhausted and dead, by then. However, I knew I only have to endure the remaining miles (although I honestly didn’t know and still don’t know how many miles I was supposed to finish at 55k).

    One of the AS's, manned by absolutely wonderful volunteers.

    One of the AS’s, manned by absolutely wonderful volunteers.

    So I ran and walked. And I not ashamed, at all, to admit I walked many uphills. But then  what’s weird about running elevations is that you realize even walking hurts and that running would hurt less. So I braved some uphills and actually ran some.

    What got me through those difficult moments running or walking was the idea that with uphills came downhills, although not always in that fashion. Some climbs through slick rocks were just succeeded with more climbs over some cactus-infested hills. At mile 24, I remember going up a slick rock (not a boulder but a rock the size of a hill, I should say) so pretty in pink with the marker on top, but what the fuck?! There was nothing to hang on to to climb it! Going up that rock took a lot of thinking.I finally realized that going over and through it meant crawling and positioning one foot on this tiny crevice on the side, that one slip could mean my death. Thankfully, my analysis of the situation was right and my Hokas didn’t fail me and I managed to reach the apex. I think it was at the same point that my hormones peaked because I remember crying at mile-24. All the emotions in my life just poured out.

         Downhills, I Heart You!!!

    Then there were many steep but lovely downhills from there. Somehow I knew and figured out lately that my quads and overall, my legs, have become pretty good and tolerant with downhills. I was flying. If only uphills loved me the way I loved downhills.

    But it was also around that point that I decided to stop looking at my watch. I just ran and sucked it up. There was no doubt that I can finish. It was just a question of when.

    I would finally reach the last AS, manned by elderly men and a woman. They would tell me that there will only be 5 miles left. I looked at my watch and saw 28miles. That couldn’t be 5 miles, I thought. Still I gave them the benefit of the doubt and told myself “These seniors couldn’t have travelled so far to man this AS, so its probably just 5 miles.”

    Some of the climbs through slickrocks.

    Some of the climbs through slickrocks.

    And thus I ran and brisk-walked and peed and ran again. At that point, there were a lot of flats yet running on a flat terrain hurt, too. I prayed for downhills but there were barely any. Yet, towards the end, part of what  motivated me to push on was not wanting to be “chubby chick’d” or end up DFL, if I, in fact, ended getting “chubby chick’d” and all the others behind me didn’t make it to the cut-off 12:30 pm cut-off at mile-18. So I made a dash for the last remaining miles. Eventually, I would see a runner infront of me being met by a friend. That’s when I figured we couldn’t be far from the finish. I would also see more people, kids included. And ATVs that looked fresh.

    Finally, as I would see one more downhill that runs on a zig-zag pattern, I would hear a white man sitting call out some name. Oh! My name! It was JD! Already in his sweatpants and– taking pictures. I would pause to ask to have a jump picture taken. He obliged.

    You know I just had to jump in the end. Still need to work on that facial expression business.

    You know I just had to jump in the end. Still need to work on that facial expression business.

    He would pace me in the last few stretch.  I would finish at 8:21 (on my watch). And I wouldn’t forget to stop my Garmin this time.

    Then it was time to do the traditional jump again. This time, at the finish line.

            My take on this race?

    me and chris

    With Grass Roots Events RD, Chris Martinez. Such a cool guy!

    Beautiful, beautiful course that any runner should have this on his bucket list.

    Great race to meet new friends. Moab Red Hot 55k reminded me again why I have learned to love ultra/trail/ultratrail-running: it is the sense of   community.

    Few of the wonderful people I met were Lisa and Bruce W., Maureen H., and Julia L. from Colorado, Rachael B. from Idaho, and Francesco P. from Utah.

    Cool, cool, new friends from Colorado and Idaho.

    Cool, cool, new friends from Colorado and Idaho

    Enjoying the company of a team mate in a new land, who can actually make you cry and takes your crying in stride (I hope).

    Meeting really cool RDs, who would take you running trails the next day.

    Above all, experiencing the beauty of Moab. I will forever be thankful to you, JDC.

    The final take is that some friendships may have been severed during this trip, new ones formed, but memories (both painful and wonderful) will forever be cherished. But that some words that were uttered and feelings felt in the journey towards finishing a 55k in Utah, will have to remain in Utah.

    Now I dig this trucker's hat.

    Now I dig this trucker’s hat.

It's not a Buckle. Yet.

It’s not a Buckle. Yet.

I will start off with what a new (running) friend had said in her race report. The context goes along this line: she did not consider herself an ultrarunner until she    finished a 100-miler. I exactly felt the same way, except that I have not finished my first 100 yet. I sort of felt I am not an ultrarunner until I ran and finished my first 50-mile race. This was back then.

So some time ago, while waiting for my 8-year old to finish her piano class, I found myself inside my car, signing up on an impulse (and based on ego) for the Beast of Burden Winter 50. No, I was not ready for 100. I am not ready for 100, thus the choice to go with the 50. It was based on a challenge by Otto Lam, a quite well-know Ultrarunner in the NY/NJ area. Bottom line, I signed up for BoB50, in that 30-minute wait inside the car.

Of course, I was mocked by people who were personally close to me for signing up for an ultra in the middle of winter— in upstate New York, particularly, in Lockport, New York, which is ultimately synonymous to Buffalo.

Signing up probably happened in November. Or say, late October. Either way, I felt I had enough time to “train.” I know it is “just 50.” Not a 100-miler in Vermont or Utah or Colorado or California. But when I signed up for BoB50, the word DNF was never an option.

For those of you who know me, I am not a fast runner. Nor am I a runner, born and blessed with fast-twitch muscle fibers. I came from a country that did not quite place enough leverage on physical activities in educational institutions, back in the day. I also happen to have been hit by an SUV in head-on, while crossing the street in 2009 that left me with a knee surgery a year after.

No excuses. Bottom line, I. AM. NOT. FAST.

But I happen to have the resolve and determination to finish what I start— at least, when it comes to running. I think that is the only form of artillery that I arm myself with each time.

So on January 18, I ran BoB.

Being that I had planned few weeks before Beast of Burden to run Badwater Cape Fear, I decided my goal was to finish under 14 hours, primarily because Badwater had a 14-hour cut-off. I sort of figured that was a lofty-enough goal. That was a rather slow pace, yet realistic for me. But even that made me nervous.

I knew BoB was flat. And that it was going to be in a sub-freezing temperature. But yes, it made me nervous setting the 14-hr goal. Not because of the “cold;” rather, because it was flat.

Now I am not a hill runner. But so far, I know some of my short distance PRs were in Central Park where there are “mounds.” I even PR’d in Bethlehem, PA for my half-marathon by 12 minutes. So yes, the “flatness” of the Beast’s course scared the hell out of me. Why? Because that meant using the same muscle group for 50 miles. So I wasn’t exactly afraid of the cold. I knew Icebreaker got me prepared for that. Besides, I have always had this belief that when it comes to forces of nature, I can only deal with them and not fight because they are what they are.

For some reason, however, the night before the race, over dinner with friends who came from NYC and NJ for the race, I somewhat decided I’d aim for an even-loftier goal: finish in less than 12 hours.

I hadn’t really told anyone about what my goal was (remember that 14-hour goal?). Or maybe I did tell Vivian. But then, no one else.

So when I decided on dropping my goal to 12 hours, I felt I was about to explode, not having anyone to tell it to, share it with.

Morning of the race, I had to hit coolrunning.com and check what my pace should be. “Okay, doable,” I thought to myself. So I had set that out for myself. Less than 12 hours.

Ten o’clock in the morning, the race started. There were flurries. I could only be thankful for a 10am start. That meant sleeping in after that dinner that ended a bit late.

And then the race started.

It was an out-and-back of 12.5 miles down (or up or whatever) alongside the Erie Canal. And for some time, I thought about what another running friend, Dylan, had repeated over and over: I don’t want to f#cking run on a straight, flat course on a tow path!!!

It will always be my choice for 26.3 miles and beyond. Thanks, Hoka!

It will always be my choice for 26.3 miles and beyond. Thanks, Hoka!

That statement lingered for a bit. Actually that lingered before I came to Lockport. I thought, for some weird reason, that the course would literally be straight— like airport runway straight. That was dumb of me to think. Of course, it bent some. Curved some. But yes, it was flat. Almost as flat as a runway could be. And it was a towpath. Thankfully, there was no slush, which mortified me. I looked down the towpath and for a mile or so, all I saw were loose soil that resembled chia seeds.

For some reason, I had fun. I rushed past the first AS in Gasport (about mile 7), not knowing I was supposed to stop there for the splits. Thank goodness for Kino! I was just “high” and full of adrenaline. I was happy running. Soon enough, I reached Middleport, which was the turn-around point before taking the route back to the start.

Then THE moment of torture happened.  The headwind was horrible. It was, what? 25mph? 30? I don’t know. I just knew it slowed me down and it was blowing against my lungs that already have issues with cold air (read: weather-induced asthma, which I diagnosed myself with). I could barely open my eyes and with the dryness, I looked to my right at one point and saw a field of what I assumed was a plantation or something. And then I hallucinated. Or was that my blurry vision… of Santa Claus in the middle of the field. I had to rub my eyes over and over when I stopped. Finally, it cleared. It wasn’t Santa Claus. It was a red fire hydrant near the snow-covered field. Who puts a fire hydrant in a field, anyway?!

That was a horrible time coming back. But I managed to reach Gasport then the start line. And I was smiling again.

Still smiling. Approaching the halfway mark at the start line. 25 miles more to go!

Still smiling. Approaching the halfway mark at the start line. 25 miles more to go!

In a way, again, I remembered one of the best encouragements I received the night before. “Fifty miles is just less than 2 marathons! You will crush that towpath.”

Again, thanks, Dylan!

Having finished 25 miles, I knew taking 1.2 miles more and I would, in fact, be less than another marathon towards finishing a 50. So off I went back out, saw and greeted some runners, and ran, ran, ran.

Reaching the Middleport station at 8 hours 9 minutes since the start of the race, I felt I had a chance to finish in less than 11 hours, instead. I somewhat figured that it couldnt possibly take me 4 hours to finish 12.5 miles. So I went for it, hoping to finish sub-11 rather sub-12. It even propelled me further to aim for that “new goal” when Violet told me the wind has somewhat dissipated. Ha!

But then, I think at that point, some exhaustion had set in. And yes, there still was wind, although not as horrible as it had been that morning.  By then, it was darker and colder. I had already put on an extra shirt, put on a pair of borrowed mittens. It was a fast turn-around, considering the excellent crewing of Ken Tom, who had helped me put my hydration backpack with so much ease, primarily because he got authorization that he “can touch my boobs.” What am I talking about?! I don’t have any!

Regardless, that was some saved time at that point. But of course, little did I know coming out of Middleport that I had forgotten to turn my head lamp on and now with mittens on, that had become a somewhat difficult task. That was when I slowed down. I had to take the mittens off then the other layers of gloves underneath. The whole process just ate up so much time.

And then my hydration back pack seemed to have loosened. Then my bottle was leaking. Again, I had to remove my gloves and mittens. More time wasted.

From then on, it was a struggle. Murphy’s Law. Five and half miles from Middleport to Gasport seemed like eternity.

Eventually, I would reach Gasport and leave it one last time.

Now I did not pee before leaving Gasport. I sucked it up and because I am a nurse, I was pretty good at it. At least, for the time-being. I would see Tiger and run alongside her, walk a few feet, and catch up again when I ran. I knew the only reason I was able to keep up with her was because she was running a 100. On an ordinary day, I knew I wouldn’t. I would eventually go ahead. But not for long. I had to pull over and hide behind a tree.

The nurse in the runner me could not hold her pee. My butt was numb and I had forgotten to turn my headlamp off, but I didn’t really care. Another few minutes lost.

Finally. I went back into the course. Ran alongside Tiger and went about my merry, tired way.

Photo taken from the start line. Across the canal is part of the course, approximately 2 miles away from the start/finish. If only swimming was allowed, it would have been closer. But it isn't and I can't even swim! This last stretch can feel like eternity. At least, it was for me.

Photo Courtesy: Lockport Photographer (My apologies for not remembering who took this photo). Taken from the start line. Across the canal is part of the course, approximately 2 miles away from the start/finish. If only swimming was allowed, it would have been closer. But it isn’t and I can’t even swim! This last stretch can feel like eternity. At least, it was for me. At any rate, this sight is reminiscent of a Van Gogh, except I can’t find stars.

Finally, too, I saw the finish line from across the canal. That only indicated the final 2 miles. But even that would seem like forever.

I looked at my watch and saw I was nearing the 12-hour mark. Where did time go?

Damn it. At that point, I really thought I’d murder myself if I didn’t make it to the 12-hour “goal.” It just wasn’t acceptable at that point to finish past 12 hours. It. Was. Not. An. Option.

So in exhaustion, I made a mad dash for it. The 2 miles became 1 until I reached the bridge called Exchange-something that marked the point where I’m finally home stretch. I struggled to run as fast I could, whatever fast meant at that point in time.

I kept looking for the blue tent. The freakingly elusive blue tent. But finally, there it was. And there was Jim.

Finally it was the end. Jim hugged me. But then I had to push myself inside the tent. I don’t know if I needed to but I felt I needed to clock-in! Boom! I looked at my time: 11:51. Or 11:51:53, according to UltraSignUp.com.

Okay, I was happy. More or less. Part of me was actually disappointed. I had wanted my sub-12 to be sub 11:30. Yes, I could never be satisfied.

Thus, I resumed the revelry with more hugs– from Ken and Denise and again, from Jim– that I didn’t even notice the RD give me my medal. I took the Jello-shot, only to realize after I took it that I had already sworn not to take alcohol again. But “whatever” was what was in my mind at that point.

Jello shots!!!

Jello shots!!!

And then I cried some. Eventually, I would settle on a chair, covered by volunteers with a warm blanket. (Oh, no, no, no. Not the Christmas Tree blanket!!!) And I would see some runners finish, some runners turn and go for their halfway stretch, and just witness some of the remarkable events that can only transpire in ultra races.

It was a beautiful experience.

It still is. And I still smile at the thought of the Beast of Burden. Of how beautiful the people are at the Aid Stations, at how friendly, at how kindly they make you feel like family. Now I understand what Lisa C. meant when she referred to her “BoB family in Lockport.”

It is funny now. Someone had said that that being in Lockport was like being in Redneck New York. I did not feel that being there.

Beast of Burden was an experience that was beautiful overall. A lot of things had happened training for it, which, thus, led me to call this article a non-race report.

Bottom line, preparing for the Beast was life-changing.

I have made so many friends. Learned so many things. Gained a whole new experience.

1026271_10202953076970981_1446902105_o

Sorry, RD, I did not even notice you.

Equally important during the preparation for the Beast, I have turned my diet around one that was so ingrained on animal products into one that is plant-based, aka vegan. And in running on a vegan diet, I didn’t feel weak, at all. I felt great. I barely walked (besides inside the ASs)!!! In total, I’d say that in all the 50 miles, I had only walked about 20 feet in the course.

Surprisingly, above all, I did not suffer from the same hand swelling that I often suffer from running races prior to the Beast. I am not quite sure if it was turning vegan that made that possible, but considering that I have nothing else to attribute that to, then why not say it was because of that. Why not?

So thanks, Joe, for the influence. I will have this stamped for life.

So going back to where I started with Violet saying “I felt like I am not an ultrarunner until I ran a 100-miler.” I hear you, Violet. For a time, I felt I was an ultrarunner as soon as I finised a 50. I still do.

But then what you said about running a 100-miler is a reflection of what I am feeling now.

Pre-race dinner: Linguine with Mushrooms. One of my favorite pasta mixes even before turning vegan.

Pre-race dinner: Linguine with Mushrooms. One of my favorite pasta mixes even before turning vegan.

Its time to up the ante, push the envelope, and say, I feel like I am not an ultrarunner, until I finished a 100-miler.

Let’s see what September brings.