Monday, October 7, 2019

Yeti 100: Embracing the “Suppering”

Zion was my last hundred.  It was #12 and the finish of the last few hundreds had been pretty rough.  Nausea, chills alternating with sweating and general misery were the symptoms of the aftermath and I decided that I was pretty much done with hundreds.  For the next three years, I stuck to my own adventure runs and not many races and my body was okay with that.

But then, after awhile, I felt that I wasn’t really a “real” ultra runner anymore.  A friend and I discussed how we took the ultra running stickers off our vehicles because we hadn’t run an official ultra in awhile. What’s up with that?  Do marathoners take the 26.2 sticker off when they haven’t run a marathon recently?  And why does it even matter if I am not an ultra runner anymore?

Anyway, this isn’t supposed to be about my psychological problems.  So let’s talk about the physical ones, instead.   In the years since Zion, I dealt with a persistent parasite, a foot injury, only partially fixed by surgery, and then a herniated disc that let my whole left side wonky and extremely painful.  I lost a lot of  weight because it hurt too much for four months to sit down. And then I hurt my foot again.  And again. And again.  It works now, but usually, within 6 miles, my foot starts hurting and my ankle swells and stiffens up.  Any pressure on the arch or side of ankle intensifies the pain.  As a result I have a whole closet full of shoes because, while one pair feels good on one day, it doesn’t on the next.  I have to try on several pair before I find one that works.  I have to be picky about where I run because some trails or sloped surfaces aggravate the injury.  But I still run, and I am thankful for that, even if it is different. Running hasn’t made the problem any worse and my surgeon, although not yet sure what is wrong, assures me the foot probably won’t fall off.

Somewhere amidst all of that, I had the urge to try a hundred again.  I have absolutely no idea why, given the previous paragraph. (See earlier psychological issues paragraph for a possible explanation).  At 53, I’ve quit trying to figure me out and I just roll with it. So, I entered and “won” the lottery for Yeti 2019.  This would have never been a race I was interested in.  I like mountains and climbs and technical single track, but this was a surface my foot could handle.  I started off training well, but then I would have another setback, so I had no consistent training, a lot of down time, with most weeks averaging 30 miles or so. I couldn’t do speed work and most strength work aggravated either the back or the ankle.

Even though I’ve run ultras for 16 years, I still read articles and books with training info and advice.  The general consensus is that 30 mile weeks are not sufficient training for a hundred.  Luckily, I also listen to my husband, who counters with the fact that I’ve done this long enough and my body knows what to do, and that understanding the suffering involved is actually the key. About that point, we read an article by a mountain biker, picking on a non English speaking biker, who said the key to success is to “Embrace the suppering.” And that’s one thing I am actually good at.  So I decided the only reasons to DNF was if the foot did actually fall off or, a very real possibility, not hitting a cutoff.

I showed up at Whitetop Friday morning, nervous for the first time at a start line because, for the first time, I didn’t know if I could finish.  Now, I’ve had DNFs, but I didn’t show up to the race thinking it was a possibility. I also didn’t know at what point the foot would go south on me.  Six miles?  Sixty? To top it all off, I had been sick for three weeks with a head and chest cold and didn’t know how that would figure into the equation.   And all the runners around me seemed so fit, confident, and happy. I felt out of place here.  But I wanted the stupid skateboard and buckle really bad and in addition to psychological issues, I suffer from an overdose of stubbornness.

My strategy was to not run faster than my training pace (11-12 minute miles due to no speed work) on the 17 mile downhill and take walk breaks every half mile.  I was a little disappointed that the downhill was so gradual at places that I was unsure if it was downhill, flat, or uphill.  But that would be okay in the middle of  the night as I headed back up.  I figured I could drop down to 15 minute miles until my body gave up (I was assuming it would) and then if I could at least get 20 minute miles throughout the night, I might make the cutoffs.

I stuck to the plan until around mile 25, when my back and foot started really hurting.  It was also extremely hot and I was starting to wear down. So I abandoned the half mile run settled into a continuous run/walk unpredictable pattern, which my body and foot seemed to like, but I’m sure annoyed the other runners around me.  At the 33 mile turnaround, I was feeling decent and I ate the hamburger Tony bought me, despite not being hungry, because hamburgers are miracle ultra food.  Then back to the walk/shuffle pattern back to the aid station/party at Damascus.

At Damascus, my old friend and awesome ultra runner, Sarah Lowell, met me to pace me.  She had surprised me the day before by telling me she was coming.  I rarely have pacers or aid during the night, mainly because I don’t want to inconvenience anyone and a lack of one makes me keep going until the morning because I don’t have anyone to help me if I quit.  This time, since I wasn’t sure how far I would make it, I didn’t even consider asking anyone to help.  But Sarah showed up and I am glad she did.  As I told her, in the middle of the night, I knew having a pacer was a big advantage.  I remember at Zion, in the early morning hours, running loops in the desert, crying because I couldn’t stop shivering. Compounding my misery was seeing pairs of headlamps everywhere because everyone else had a pacer helping them.

So, I had one last burger and an ice cream sandwich with Tony at Damascus, the halfway point.  I knew I was getting blisters from the fine cinder/gravel, so I dumped out the right shoe but I left my bad foot alone.  I didn’t want to mess with it because, aside from the blisters, it was comparatively comfortable.

 The following  ten hours with Sarah went quickly and I was surprised that my body kept on autopilot with alternating runs and walks, especially on the uphill.  Somehow, it also stuck to the 15 minute mile plan.  It rained on us briefly, which was concerning, but it stopped before we got cold. Then, as we got closer to Green Cove, the sky cleared revealing a beautiful moon and a sky full of stars.  Sarah kept stopping to look up at them, but every time I tried, I only got a brief glimpse before I got dizzy. We talked about this being a reason why we run ultras, to see things like this that most people don’t have an opportunity to, because they are home in bed.

Sarah kept me entertained and distracted all night and I have no idea how we filled up 10 hours with conversation, but we did.  Before we knew it, she delivered me back to Damascus with a 2 ½ cushion on the cutoff.  That was a huge relief.

My ankle had been hurting the whole time, but not enough to make me limp as long as I was moving.  However, anytime I stopped, even to get water at an aid station, it stiffened up to where I had to walk a couple minutes before I could run.  Luckily, it also stiffened up if I took too long of a walk break.  That kept the walk/run segments going, even if I was walking 10 steps and running only 25.  Not speedy, but a consistent shuffle.  I knew I had blisters, but at that point I just needed to keep moving.  Experience helped here.  (Or bad experiences…I had 27 blisters at my first 100, the Massanutten.)

When Tony and my niece met me towards the finish, I was “embracing the suppering” but knowing I was going to finish. In the end, I finished in 27:38,  way ahead of where I thought I would be.  The ankle and foot ended up swollen and actually bruised, but still functional and attached.  The 30 mile weeks were not ideal,  yet in the end, my body did remember what it was supposed to do and no one was more surprised then me.  Heck, my brain can’t remember what I did last week,  but my body remembered what it did four years ago.

So now a week later, the swelling and bruising in my foot and ankle are gone and I am back to the “normal” pain.  I guess I am an “ultra runner” again, although my intention is to retire and work on my mountain biking.  Until I run the 36 hour race I just signed up for.

And I would tell you what an awesome race this is, with a happy vibe and super supportive volunteers and random people around the course cheering you on. And how the RD, Jason Green, is genuinely happy to share his neck of the woods with you and hug all the stinky runners as they cross the finish line.   And how beautiful the course is, both day and night.  But then you might sign up and reduce my odds in the lottery for next year.

Equipment and nutrition

Nathan pack, swapped out at night for a larger camelback
All liquid nutrition: GU Roctane powder packed in plastic bottles for ease of dumping in the waterbladder.
GU Roctane and regular gels
Succeed S-Caps
5 hour energy
Hoka Clinton 6 shoes .  Never swapped out to the back up shoes.  Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
Vermont darn tough socks.  The cinder/grit actually ended up inside the socks, which I didn’t know until I finished.
Gaiters which  I think were useless for me.  See above.
Black Diamond Carbon Z poles, only used for a short time before I got frustrated  not being able to use my hands
Fenix headlamp
Lithium batteries (headlamp lasted all night on one set)
Handheld flashlight
Inhaler, space blanket, first aid
Super light jacket.
An iPod with a dead battery 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Tarsal Tunnel Surgery

I see I've had a couple year hiatus on writing, which just so happens to correspond to my two year bout with Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome.

A couple years ago, the arch of my left foot started to hurt when I ran.  It would take four or five miles to develop and downhills would really aggravate it.  I assumed I had injured it and maybe scar tissue had developed, but I also assumed it would get better.  I looked for shoes that would not put pressure on my arch and I continued to run.  Eventually it got to the point where the pain would radiate out of my arch, into my ankle and through my whole foot. The pain continued when I was not running.

Running was not fun anymore, so I finally told my doctor, who referred me to a podiatrist, who gave me a couple cortisone shots, which did not fix anything.  In the meantime, I researched everything I could research, tried every "cure" for whatever it might be and even cut holes in my shoes so they wouldn't aggravate my arch. By this point, the muscle in my arch was visibly enlarged.

During these last two years, my running dwindled.  I withdrew from Mount Mitchell.  I downsized Zion 100K to Zion 50K.  I did a 50K and went home at Black Mountain Monster.  I ran my own 100 mile adventure run, which I quit at 100K.  I withdrew from Georgia Jewel 100. I took a bad fall in my modified shoes, which gave me a nice scar and a bursa on my ACL repaired knee.  My last race was the Naturalist 50K, which was pretty painful.

Finally, I asked for an MRI, which showed small tears deep inside the muscle and that the muscle was partially pulled away from the bone.  My podiatrist had not seen anything like that before and put me in a walking boot for six weeks, which I extended to eight because I could see that the muscle was shrinking some.

Optimistic, I started running back very slowly.  For a month, I did short walk-runs, and then for the next two months gradually built up to a long run of 12 miles.  But it still hurt. I went back to the doctor, who referred me to a foot and ankle surgeon.

On my first visit, after I explained my symptoms and the doctor examined my foot, he immediately suspected tarsal tunnel syndrome, which I had never heard of.  Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome is where the tibial nerve going into your foot is compressed as it goes through the tarsal tunnel, behind and below the ankle.  I was given a nerve study, which quickly confirmed the nerve was in fact compressed.  The only solution was surgery.  I could suck it up and keep running, but there was no telling at which point I would damage the nerve. 

I told the doctor that I had planned to run a 100 at the end of September.  Would I still be able to do that?  He did some math and told me that if four months was enough time to train, then yes, I could.  (One December, Sarah Lowell had called and asked if I wanted to run 100 in two weeks.  I figured that if I could get ready in two weeks, surely four months would be great. Of course, I haven't really run much in the last eight months, or two years, for that matter, so we will see).

As I awaited the surgery date, I did what everyone should not do, and googled pictures of the surgery. (I was going to put one here, but you can just google it if you want.)  Which, of course, made me a bit anxious about what was about to happen and the possibility of me actually running again.  Which was further reinforced by reading horror stories of bad surgery experiences in which the writers wished they had never had the surgery because they were in constant pain. They struggled to walk normally.

In the end, the surgery went well.  They found that the fascia was wrapped really tight in there, and the nerves and blood vessels had formed little balloons from where they could not get through the tunnel.  The surgeon cut open the fascia to release the pressure, moved some tissue around and sewed me back up.

Recovery involved two weeks off work (they had wanted me to miss 6-8 weeks), crutches for about three weeks, then weaning to one crutch and then off.  I could do some upper body work and stationary bike with no resistance (that was pretty exciting).

By my six week check up, I was walking around pretty normally and I was given the green light to start running. But use common sense. (The common sense part was delegated to my husband.)  They did say I wasn't going to mess up anything they did in surgery, so that was a bit of relief, and to expect to have pain for 6-9 months.

Progress pics:

That visit was four weeks ago.  Last weekend, I ran 15 miles (slow with walk breaks) at the Black Mountain Monster.  My foot started hurting around 9 miles, so I changed shoes and did two more laps.  My foot told me at that point it was done running.  Later, though,  I walked three more miles.  My ankle swelled, but after a short walk the next day and an icing in the Nantahala River, it improved. I did a couple short, easy runs and now, a week later, it's back to where it was.

At this point, I've got a  new nasty scar and that whole area feels tight.  I don't know if the pain I get running is from the surgery or if I still have some issue. I'm assuming it's from the surgery, since they did find an issue and fix it. I'm currently in a hunt to find shoes that do not aggravate the scar.(Actually, UPS just showed up with another pair to try. Sorry for all the returns, Running Warehouse and Amazon.)  

Mentally, I get really frustrated with my running, but I have to keep reminding myself that not only did I have the surgery, but I hadn't been running much since I was put in the boot eight months ago.  Patience.   

Thursday, June 2, 2016

If You Can't Stand the Heat, Don't Mess With the Dragon: 2016 Cruel Jewel 56 mle race

The Cruel Jewel got to my head in the month before the race.  I had signed up for the 100 sometime late last year, knowing it would push me to train harder.  Which it would have, had I not also signed up to run Monument Valley six weeks before Cruel Jewel.  Two totally different races required totally different training.  Monument Valley meant lots of relatively flat running and I did not spend much time climbing in the months preceding it.  That left me approximately four weeks of climbing training if I were to factor in recovery from MV and a taper before CJ.

In the meantime, Cruel Jewel psyched me out.  During the long, difficult training runs, I began to lose my desire to suffer for extended periods of time.  (Where else but in an ultra report would a sentence like that even make sense?) If my training runs were nine hours, would I really want to extend them by thirty-one more hours?  Thru-running the Bartram has been my only run over 35 hours, and I predicted CJ would take me more than 40.  I was okay with suffering so much for the Bartram, because I had a goal of being the first to do it, but I couldn't find the motivation to spend 40 plus hours on that terrain for the CJ. If I lacked motivation before the race, I knew a DNF would more than likely be in the cards.  So, I downsized to the 56 miler, still with a respectable 17,000 feet of elevation gain (about the same as the Massanutten, in half the distance).

The start

The race started 20 hours after the 100 milers, at their halfway point at 8 a.m., which I appreciated.  I hate getting up at 4 a.m. to drive to a race start.  (It was bad enough at 7 a.m. at 40 degrees in an open Jeep.) The check-in was very well organized and efficient and the start, like most ultras, very relaxed. (I also appreciate the fact that everything, including my shirt, was already in a bag with my number on it.  So many times I have shown up to check-in, only to find that they are out of my size of shirt.  "But we have women's extra smalls or men's extra larges left."  Really?  I signed up months ago and don't even get a shirt that fits?)

Hit the Road

The first section starts downhill out of Camp Morganton (I love downhill starts) and then follows paved roads to the first aid station.  It was during this section, that my right shoe began to feel not quite right.  I stopped and retied it but then at the aid station, discovered that my insole was not staying in place.  I actually had two in the shoe, a thin flat one under a regular one in an attempt to make the shoe fit better, but the top one kept creeping up and out the back of my shoe.  So I again stopped to deal with my shoe and took the thin insole out.  As a result, at the first aid station, I was already at the very back of the pack.  Well, I was ahead of three people.  I ran the next few miles with one insole in my hand in an attempt to cut down on time if I had to stop and make adjustments.  And I would.  I think I could have knocked another twenty minutes off my time if I didn't have to keep dealing with insoles!

The loop

The next section is a loop that had a lot of runnable terrain, which I ran (despite being advised by a fellow runner, whom I sure meant well, not to wear myself out early in the race. I must have looked like I hadn't done this sort of thing before.)  The trail was not very technical and the loop went by much faster than I expected.

Now the fun starts

After leaving the aid station, the first real climbing starts.  I broke out the trekking poles and headed up the mountain to an intersection with the Benton McKay Trail.  (A word on the trekking poles....I loved my trekking poles!  I used to use them as a hiker, but after putting them away for over a decade, it took awhile to get used to them again and I wondered if they would just end up aggravating me.  But not only were they great on uphills, but helped with balance on downhills and technical sections after I got tired.)  After making a right on the BMT, there was some nice downhill running.  And more downhill running.  And it just kept going.  And the race leaders were heading back up the hill, so I knew there was a lot more downhill left.  (And they looked so darn happy as they were running uphill). There was so much downhill, that I began to wish for uphill.  When I finally reached the aid station at the bottom and turned around, I dreaded the three mile climb back up the hill, but it turned out not to be as bad as I thought it would be.  Maybe that's why the leaders were happy. It felt a lot steeper coming down than it did going up.  When I reached the top, I ran on some nice rolling terrain down to the next aid station.

On the road again

This section started out nicely, on a dirt road, downhill, in the shade, which was a nice break from trail.  But soon, it turned to pavement, and while much of it was rolling and runnable, it was getting hot.  I took lots of walk breaks in the shaded areas and eventually reached Shackleford Bridge.  (It was across the street here that Tony and I worked an aid station the first year the race was held.    The race was MUCH smaller then, and I think we only saw two runners come through during our shift.)  The course then follows the river on a road and takes a sharp left, back onto trail, and back to steep climbing again.  My legs and body were not pleased with this turn of events, so I stopped for a minute to use my inhaler, take a 5-hour energy, adjust the darn insole and eat something. I continued climbing, which did not last for too long, and then descended into the next aid station.

A word on nutrition...

Tailwind sponsored this event, and despite my recent reliance on GU liquid Roctane, I decided that it would be a whole lot easier not to have to carry all that powder and simply use the Tailwind.  I bought some prior to the race to test it out on my stomach and it was agreeable.  The orange flavor was good and that was what they had at the aid stations.  But by this point in the race, it was too much.  It seemed to work fine energy-wise and stomach-wise, but my mouth started wishing I had some plain water instead of that somewhat salty flavor.  I dumped it and drank plain water until the next aid station, where I had my drop bag and Roctane.  I used the liquid Roctane the rest of the way and felt great.  The flavor did not bother me and my energy level stayed steady.  I combined it with a shot of Roctane gel every hour and never felt hungry, so I didn't need anything at aid stations.  Both my tummy and my mouth were happy.  I think I would be good with Tailwind for shorter periods of time, but I am really, really happy with my Roctane combination for long runs.  It has taken years to figure out what works for me.  I used it at MV and it worked well, but here I went without solid food for over 19 hours and still was not hungry when I finished.

And that's the end of the rolling stuff

After that aid station, the terrain involved many more steep climbs and descents.  Some of the climbs were really unpleasant and I took several short breaks here and there.  But I felt okay on the downhills and continued  the same steady pattern for the rest of the race.  The last half of the race was difficult, but was not as difficult as I imagined it.  Of course, if I had already run 75 miles on it, it would have been extremely difficult, but after only 25, I still felt good. I was enjoying the ridge tops and the cool breeze from the incoming cold front.

Wilscot Gap Aid

All the aid stations were great.  They were not out of anything when I went through, as is sometimes the case in races.  The volunteers were encouraging and helpful and I left every aid station with everything I needed.  They filled my water for me and fought to get it back in my pack. Even though they were busy, I was never ignored.  Wilscot aid station was the only drop bag location (another difficulty of CJ), so I spent a little extra time there digging through my bag.  Throughout my time there, the volunteers were getting me things, mixing my Roctane with the water they got for me, offering me wet wipes (was that a hint?) and body glide, making suggestions and giving me the great advice to go ahead and change into the new shoes I had stuck in the bag even though they only had a few miles on them.  My feet were very happy the last half of the race, especially since I no longer had to deal with insole issue.

The Dragon

For much of the remainder of the race, you are on the Dragon's Spine, a series of sharp uphills and downhills (hence the name).   Okay, to be honest, I don't really know where it started since it seemed most of the course was up and down, but I am assuming it was somewhere around here.  The course was very pretty up on the ridges, with abundant, healthy poison ivy lining the trail, alternating with ferns and may apples. It was somewhere in this section that Ray from Ohio, who was finishing the 100 mile, joined me.  Unlike all the other 100 milers I passed at this point, Ray could still run downhill just fine and was good with my slow uphill pace.  He was good company and kept me from any whining or complaining or thinking that I was doing any suffering.  After all, he already had 50 miles and twenty hours on me.  He also gave his long-sleeved shirt to a runner who was dehydrated and shivering, which exemplifies what makes ultras so special.

The last climb

We finally came to the last manned aid station. (The workers joked that they had seen our lights approaching and moved it up the road another mile.  "Do you know how hard it is to move an aid station that far?").  I think there might have been some Horton miles involved in that section.   Anyway, I was dreading the next and last climb up Coosa Bald. My only experience with Coosa was from the other side during the Death Race and I remembered a long hard climb.  The elevation profile at the aid station looked a little scary so I headed out expecting a lot of vertical.  When we got on the trail, it was uphill, but not too steep.  Ray remarked that he was good with the grade, at which point, of course, the grade became significantly steeper.  But then it eased up and there were actually a couple of little flat sections.  By now, the wind was howling and I am sure the wind chill was below zero.  My hands were numb from the cold and I kept moving as fast as I could to get up and over the top. I know Ray was cold without that extra layer he gave away.  We started heading downhill pretty quickly and I kept waiting for the last hard climb, but apparently it was not as long or hard as I thought and we were actually on the last long three mile downhill.  Here on this section, we passed a lot of people who were suffering pretty badly, 100 milers, I assumed.  There was not a lot of downhill running going on and there was some crying.  I know that feeling well (it's hard to run and sob at the same time) and was very thankful I was still feeling great at this point.

The End

The last 3.7 miles are mainly uphill, another cruelty of the CJ.  But a good bit of it was gradual and runnable and I was surprised that I and especially Ray were actually still running.  We finally hit Vogel State Park, still running and crossed the finish line sometime after 3 a.m...  Ray got his huge buckle and I got a very cool coffee mug.  Inside the warm cabin next to the finish, there was a lot of food being served by Leigh Saint and a lot of people enjoying it.  I was not at all hungry and was in a bit of hurry to get into our doorless Jeep for the 45 degree ride back to the hotel.  And instead of going to sleep at the hotel and waiting for my call, Tony had been waiting at the finish for me for a very long time and we were both exhausted.


For the last couple years, I haven't done many races and the ones I have done, I have been at the back of the pack.  In this race, it was hard to tell where I was, but I assumed with my slow but steady start, I was again at the back of the pack from the first aid station on.  I passed a lot of people in the last half of the race and assumed they were mainly 100 milers.  But to my surprise, I ended up finishing in the middle of the pack and fifth in the women's race. I felt good all day and the race restored a bit of confidence in myself as a runner.  I was a little afraid I would be disappointed that I did not do the 100, but no, I'm good. Well, for a couple of days I felt like I had been hit by a truck, but other than that I was good.

A week later, I was applying IvaRest liberally on my legs, stomach, hip, jaw and nose.  No, I did not roll around in the poison ivy at any point.  But I know it was on my poles and shoes and I guess I got the oil on my hands and then transferred it everywhere else.  Lesson learned:  be careful blowing snot rockets and using the restroom after exposure to poison ivy!

I ran three days later, fully expecting to feel horrible, but I actually felt great.  Granted, it was only a three mile trail run, but it felt really good. 

I would highly recommend any race directed by the Saints (  They are great people and their events are so well-organized and thought out.  If you aren't up for a lot of climbing, but like running in circles, try Merrill's Mile.  If you are okay with a little climbing and and little circles, try 12 or 24 hours of Hostelity. And if you just aren't quite right, the Cruel Jewel is for you, either the 56 or 106 mile options, depending on just how not right you are.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Into the Sandbox: Monument Valley 50 mile

In the past couple of years, I have stopped racing for the sake of racing. Instead of doing several races a year, I have done only a couple, preferring to spend the money on races that allow me to see new and interesting places. Running lets you experience a place in a way far more intimate than simply visiting an area. Races let you access areas you might never have gone on your own, use trails you didn’t know existed and see sights that you would never see from the car. After I run a long race in an area, I feel like I know the “place” and have a connection with it. 

This year’s first installment in my ultra-tourism was Monument Valley 50 miler. Ultra Adventures, the same people who put on Zion 100, hosted this race and had worked with the Navajo people to let runners into areas that are normally off limit to the public or accessible only with a Navajo accompanying you. As the date of the race grew near, I debated making the trip, but in the end, of course, I was glad I did.

We ended up flying into Denver so we could spend a couple days in Moab before the race. I am not sure long runs on slickrock on Thursday and Friday, while Tony biked, was all that great of an idea. But then again, I only wanted to be well ahead of cutoffs so I could actually enjoy the race.

We managed to get a last minute-cancellation at The View Hotel, the only hotel on the reservation, and “The View” was spectacular. In addition, the race started and ended at the hotel and since there was nothing within 20 miles or so of the reservation, this was a luxury. When we arrived, I picked up my shirt, hat and bib, bought another shirt and a piece of jewelry from Zion 100, that I ran last year.  The packet pick-up was inside a traditional Navajo hogan and we were treated to Navajo dancing and flute playing.

The race started at sunrise and after a very brief run on a dirt road, entered the sandbox. I knew there would be a lot of sand, but I did not expect so much of the race to be in the soft sand. In the first few miles, I began to get very concerned. If that was what I would contend with all day, I would be hard pressed to make the cutoffs and I really didn’t want to have to drop down to the 50K. But still, I remained positive and thankful that I was allowed to be running where I was. That was reinforced when I passed an older Navajo man who was taking pictures of the runners passing through. The sun was peaking around one of the formations, and I remarked to him that it was a beautiful day. Yes, it was, he said, because you (referring to the runners) have blessed it.

Shortly after, there was a fairly short steep downhill in deep sand. It reminded me of running downhill in the snow, except at the bottom I had to make what would be the first of several stops to dump sand out of my shoes. Gaiters did not help much, as the sand was so fine that it permeated the fabric of my shoes. (The next couple times I wore those shoes, despite having dumped the sand out, I still ended up leaving little piles of sand on the floor). 

Thankfully, I had a brief respite from the deep sand as the course began to follow a ledge overlooking the valley below. The views in all directions were beautiful, but too soon, we dropped down into the valley, into the deep sand and to the first aid station. 

In the next section, the course cut across that valley floor back to the “mittens”. Starting here, I would have many times where I would not see the people in front of me or behind me and had the feeling of running alone in the desert. I never used my iPod during the race and instead listened to the wind and sounds around me. I came upon two Navajo on horses, who, before I left, made sure I was carrying enough water with me.

The section after aid station two was the “worst” section of the race. Worst is relative, because despite the difficulty, the scenery made up for the struggle. In this section, you followed a wide, flat, sandy wash. The sun was high and there was no shade. The wind helped some, but also stirred up the dust. Running was difficult, but I tried to alternate running and walking. It was on this section I was finally in the desert with a horse with no name…

The wash ended and a trek up the main dirt (sand) road through the valley led to the Hogan aid station, which would serve as the aid station for the remainder of the race. There was quite a bit of traffic and other runners from the other races on the road, but the dusty running did not last too long.
Three loops started and ended at the aid station, each going through different terrain. These loops were much better than the Zion loops, which just seemed to meander through the same area. Here, the first loop took you took a beautiful view and then at the base of some formations and then back to the aid station. The second loop was the most difficult to run, but the most interesting. You ran through a lot of soft, deep sand, but passed by big sand dunes and several arches.

The third and final loop takes you up onto Mitchell Mesa. After leaving the desert floor, you follow a little narrow trail zig zagging through a scree field to the top of the mesa. The views into the canyon below were beautiful, particularly in the late afternoon sun. At the top of the mesa, you run along the edge to the end and all along the way are beautiful views down into the valley. You look down on the Mittens and mesas, which became even more beautiful as the sun sank lower. I kind of wished I had gotten there later to see them at sunset, but I also didn’t want to run back down that steep rocky trail at night. So back down I went.

It was getting dark when I got back to the valley floor, but before long I found Tony on the trail waiting for me. He ran back with me to the aid station for the final pass, right at dark. I grabbed a cookie and headed to the finish. The aid station had had a variety of food earlier in the day, but I did something a bit different for nutrition. Instead of using gels and whatever the aid stations had, I used liquid GU Roctane for my main source of calories. The only thing to this point I had eaten at the aid stations was some avocado and orange slices.

 The last segment of the race followed the valley road back to the hotel. I was glad I was slow enough to run this at night. I didn’t need a light for the most part because the moon lit up the road and the surrounding desert. The mesas were illuminated and it was quiet, except for the occasional vehicle and the faint voices of the people running ahead of and behind me. 

I finished right around 9pm, and Tony, luckily was able to get me a to-go order from the restaurant that was closing. (If I had finished later, it would have been a long hungry night, since the food stations at the finish had been broken down earlier in the evening.) The finish itself was rather anti-climactic, but as I wandered back to the hotel room, I appreciated the fact that they didn’t hold the 100 miler this year and I was able to take a shower and sleep, rather than running around all night. I had thoroughly enjoyed the race, but was glad to be done. 

And an update on my parasite:  It is roughly the two year anniversary of me adopting my parasite on the AT and I haven't written about it, so here's an update in a nutshell.  The first year I had frequent nausea, lack of appetite, and low energy.  My doctor sent me to a specialist, who didn't really believe I had picked something up in the water.  So, he ordered a series of tests (all unrelated to parasites), all of which came back negative.  I was still sick and when, after the completion of the tests, he scheduled me for a  4-6 week follow-up with no further addressing of my issue, I said good-bye to conventional medicine. I did intensive research for everything giardia related and came up with a mixture of  alternative medicines, which appeared to work.  I felt better for a couple of months, but when the symptoms came back, I went back to regiment and stayed on it for two months.  Since then I have sporadic episodes, but they are farther and farther apart and last for shorter periods of time. So, I haven't raced much and I certainly haven't written much.