Monday, June 18, 2018

Western States…I can’t believe I’ve made it.

What a journey this has been. My thoughts and emotions are raw as I sit here and type this. To be honest my eyes are welling up, my throat is tight, and my stomach feels like it has a ‘pit’ in it. I am beyond grateful at this moment to be healthy and ready to run the Western States 100. If you haven’t figured it out by now, this is my most favorite race and it means so much to me to be a part of it.
If you are just catching up to what happened to me last October I will give you a quick rundown. On October 22, 2017 I was running a 50K trail race and sustained an injury during the final half mile of the race. An MRI showed that I had a complete facture in my lateral superior pelvic rami and a stress fracture in my inferior pelvic rami (basically I broke my pelvis). I was to be non-weight bearing for 4 weeks followed by several weeks of minimal activity. It took me up until February to actually start running again (on an anti-gravity treadmill). I didn’t start running outside full weight bearing until March. Since then I have gradually increased my training load under diligent guidance of my physical therapist, coach, and doctor.
A constant reminder I saved on my phone.
It was exactly one month after my injury I was given one of the coveted spots to run Western States by the Ultra-Trail World Tour. I knew right then that I had to become focused on recovery. I had this opportunity and I was not about to waste it. Thankfully this meant I did not have to rush my recovery in order to race for a Golden Ticket, which was a huge relief.
Reflecting back just 6-months ago when I was unable to run and barely able to walk, I was uncertain if I was even going to be healthy enough to run 1 mile let alone 100 miles. The future looked so bleak at times, but I kept the faith and continued to believe that if there is a will, there is a way…so they say. In time I was able to start running on the anti-gravity treadmill. I’ll never forget that first time at the 17:00 minute mark crying because the feeling of running again felt so powerful. It took over a month of physical therapy and running on the anti-gravity treadmill before I was able to run outside at full body weight.   
The anit-gravity treadmill
When I first started running outside again I had pain in my groin with every step. The pain would go from a dull ache to random sharp pains. If it became too sharp, I would end my run. Then I would typically have to take a day or two off before I could run again. The dull pain persisted, but I worked through it knowing that as long as it wasn’t sharp it would be ok since it had been over 13-weeks since the injury. And bone heals between 10-12 weeks and actually becomes stronger than it was previously.
I basically had to retrain myself to run again. After using the anti-gravity treadmill and using the Arc-Trainer (like an elliptical) my stride was short and choppy. It took me about 2-weeks before I finally felt like I could stride out normally. During my transitioning to full weight bearing I suddenly became extremely anemic. My hemoglobin in just two weeks went from a healthy 14.0 to an unhealthy 7.2. That drastic drop took all my energy away. My runs suffered and so did I. The sudden drop in my hemoglobin was caused by a couple of factors. One being hemolysis (foot strikes caused a destruction of my red blood cells). The second being my own fault of not taking my iron supplement or eating iron rich foods. It took a good 3-4 weeks of taking iron 2-3 times a day, adding in red meat and fortified foods such as Cream of Wheat into my diet, and cooking in a cast iron skillet to slowly rebuild my red blood cells. I am still on the low end of normal, but I will not let myself neglect my iron ever again.
Finally, in April I started to feel more like myself. I decided to test my fear and sign up for my first race since the injury. It was the Free State Marathon in Kansas. This scared me more than running my first 100-mile race had. I knew if something would cause my injury to return, that I would not be able to run Western States. I had to test my body and trust that whatever happens, happens. It ended up really testing me because the rain came down on my second half of the race causing the mud to stick to my shoes. The weight of my shoes was going to pull on my injury site and if it was going to fail…this would cause it. I had only a minor pain here and there, but nothing constant or to the point of stopping. I finished the race overcome with joy and gladness. I made one big step towards my goal.
Photo Credit: Mile90photography
Soon after I talked to my coach, Jason Koop, and we came up with a solid yet flexible training plan. I did a similar final build up like years in the past, but a little dialed back. I’ve also taken more days off than I typically ever have in all the years of running, but I was listening to my body and being patient. I wasn’t going to risk any setbacks.

Now with only having 5-days until I start my 5th consecutive Western States 100, I know I have done everything I can with the amount of time I’ve been given to be as ready and able to run 100 miles as best as I can. I am starting this race full of gratitude, thankfulness, and a new inner-strength that I have grown since recovering from my injury. I am taking this journey from Squaw Valley to Auburn to celebrate life, health, and the ability to run free. Here’s to a great day full of memories and adventure!! 
Thank you everyone who has been with me on this long road to recovery. You have no idea how much your words, messages, and thoughts have meant to me. Please know that I take each of those messages to heart and they have helped me heal. I am dedicating my 2018 Western States race to all of you!! 
Photo Credit: Gary Dougherty

With Love,
Kaci AKA Pixie Ninja

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Struggle After The Struggle.

Here’s to being fully healed from my pelvic stress fracture and complete fracture! It took a full 4 months and now at 22-weeks I have no pain or discomfort in my injury site. I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to wake up and not be worried about my injury pain. Now I am able to do all daily activity and exercise without pain in my left hip/groin. It’s such a grateful feeling. It felt like I was never going to get to that point. Patience and perseverance paid off.

I started back running on the anti-gravity treadmill at the beginning of February. I was slowly building up my time, days of running, and distance. Everything was going well. Near the middle and end of February I was able to add in outside running at 100% body weight. And then my first full week of running outside happened the week of March 5th. Runs felt great even though I was slow and out of shape. I felt happy to be doing what I had missed for so long.

Then recently I started to notice I wasn’t feeling quite right on some of my runs. I felt like my effort was more labored than it should be. I kept telling myself, “Oh it’s just because you are getting back into shape. This is normal.” Then it happened. I was running one of my standard routes that I have done a bazillion times. As I was running up the slight hill my legs felt like they were completely gassed and in a lactic acid state and my heart started feeling like it was beating out of my chest. I had to stop at the top and regroup. This feeling was a Red Flag to me. I knew from the past and having been anemic off and on that these were anemia signs and symptoms. I decided right then that I had to get my blood checked as soon as possible. And it occurred to me that I had stopped taking my iron supplement since my injury. In retrospect it was a very dumb move on my part.

Luckily, I work in a hospital so they were able to poke my finger the next day and take a quick test of what my Hemoglobin was. It came back reading 8.4 g/dL. Crud…that’s just what I suspected, however a lot lower than I would have expected. I had just had my Hemoglobin checked on Jan 22 and found it was at a healthy range at 14.3 g/dL. So, this sudden drop definitely worried me. I scheduled a doctor’s appointment for the following day.

I just received my results this past Friday and sure enough I am in a state of anemia. My blood values are terrible and this is why I am feeling so terrible. I’ve never experienced all the side effects of anemia before because I had gradually developed it. This time it was happened so drastically that I was not able to physically adjust. I now have episodes of faintness, weakness, constant heart palpations, deep fatigue, and my mind is not sharp. I am managing it as best as I can. Here are changes I have made.

1.     Eating red meat at least 2-3 times a week.
a.     A Challenge for me as I haven’t eaten red meat for years.
2.     Using a cast-iron skillet.
3.     Changing my diet to include more iron rich foods (Cream Of Wheat (45% daily value), spinach, black beans, fortified foods, etc).
4.     Taking an iron supplement twice a day (per doctor’s recommendation)
a.     Ferrous Sulfate (325 mg) + Vitamin C

I am willing to do what it takes to get myself 100% healthy once again. So if you are one to have problems with anemia and having low iron, I urge you to stay on track with your diet and supplements. Don’t be foolish like me. I am paying the price now and it is not fun by any means. When every run feels like the end of a 100-mile race that you blew up on and you are death marching it in…it is not something you want to have to experience on a normal basis. So take it from me and stay healthy and happy!! J

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Long Road to Recovery

Enjoying the time outside w/ my girls
I am currently on my seventeenth week since my initial injury. It has been one of the most challenging endeavors I have dealt with. Running has been part of my life for the past 15 years, and when it was suddenly taken away I had a huge void to fill. I was lost at first just dealing with what to do with the time I had spent running. So I problem solved by finding new activities to fill that time. This included going to the gym to lift and cross-train (when I was able), hanging out with friends and family, and doing more projects around the house. The new activities became the new norm for me, and I was okay with that.

Me and inspiration to keep fighting and staying positive.
During my recovery I focused on staying positive and not letting myself become overwhelmed. It was indefinite how long it was going to take for my body to heal. That loss of control scared me and I don't do well with that. However, I would say for the most part I was really good at finding what I could control and stayed focused on that. I won't be the first to admit it but, I am human and there were days that I would break down and become sad and depressed. It is to be expected when you have lost something you love. I would let myself be sad and cry at times. Once I would let myself feel the emotions, I was able to build myself back up and go on. I believe feeling emotions is important in recovery. It allows the mind and body to heal.

Just recently I started Physical Therapy with one of my best friends, Christy Nielsen, who is also a renown runner and expert in running rehab. She has been giving me exercises to improve my imbalances, stability, and strength that I have lost or never had. It's shown me how much work I have to do to be healthy again. I also have been able to start running again. First starting on the Alter-G (anti-gravity) treadmill. I had to start at 65% of my body weight and have just started running some outside which is 100% body weight. I haven't been this sore from running in years. It's shocking how much you loose in the time off. 

Christy & Me
Alter-G Treadmill
I am devoted to my recovery and will go through the long journey of regaining fitness. It's not easy, but neither is our sport. It's the journey we must start by taking it one step at a time leading to where we want to be. I have goals for this year in returning to Western States and UTMB. I may not be at my peak fitness, but I will give it everything I've got. Thank you everyone for being so supportive and uplifting to me during this time. It honestly helps more than you know. I'll be back...

Running outside!!
I also want to give a shout out to my new sponsors and returning sponsors for supporting me during a time when many would have let their athletes go. Even when they knew I was injured Altra and Drymax socks wanted me to be a part of their team. That's to me is very admirable and shows their character. Also, I want to thank my returning sponsors who are sticking with me through this injury too. Squirrel's Nut Butter, Honey Stinger, Kahtoola, and CTS. Thank you for being awesome!! Here's to a healthy 2018!!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Test of Willpower

Today marks 38 days since my pelvic stress fracture occurred. This has been one of the most painful and debilitating injuries I have ever sustained in my 15 years of running. I have just started to walk without limping, been able to stand on one leg, and sleep without having to wake up to turn. It's made me appreciate the little things we take for granted in life. My patience has been and will continue to be tested in this recovery process. So far I am winning this competition.

Sunday crutching w/ Laurie.

I had my follow-up appointment with my doctor yesterday. He said that I will have 4 more weeks of non-impact or non weight-bearing activities, since I am still having pain even with walking. He has cleared me to be able to ride the recumbent bike and swim with a buoy between my legs for a method of cardio. I can continue lifting upper-body weights too. Until I can walk without pain I will have limitations because it indicates that my stress fracture is still healing and remodeling. He expects 10-12 weeks until I get to return to weight-bearing activities. Maybe that will be my Christmas present to myself this year?!

Crutching away w/ Laurie. 
I won't lie and say I am happy 100% of the time, because that's not true. I have many days when I feel depressed and sad...but, then I think about the positive things going on in my life. And I focus on what I can do, not what I can't do. So what can I do? I can lift upper-body weights. I can use crutches and get outside and crutch for distance. I can now ride the recumbent bike. And I can swim with a buoy between my legs. Also, I can spend time with friends, family, and find other interests to occupy my time.
Enjoying time w/ my grandparents.

This forced time off has healed up all other niggles that had been plaguing for months. It's also allowed me to rekindle that passion and fire I have for running. I cannot wait for that first run and to begin training again. I dream of it daily. And now that I have a spot in Western States, I can be as patient as I need to in returning to running. I will continue to listen to my doctor, coach, and physical therapist in order to heal properly and come back when my body is fully ready. Until then I will keep the fire building inside me to train hard and enjoy the process of regaining my fitness once I get a green light. Stay tuned for further updates on the recovery process.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Learning to Overcome

Overcoming – is best achieved when you become a partner with the reality of the situation and work in cooperation with it rather than fighting or trying to overpower it.

Where has time gone…it’s been over a year that I’ve blogged anything.  I apologize for being such a slacker. So I decided to start it back up now. As many of you know my year has been full of several trials and tribulations. I won’t go into all the details, but it seems like I just can’t get a break. Despite all that I’ve been through, I wanted to make sure that I learned from these experiences and found ways to grow as a person. Just as in ultras, if life, we are tested with situations that we never thought we’d make it through…however, with determination, strength, and perseverance we can find ways to do so. This has been what my year has taught me.

You ask, where is the Pixie Ninja now? What is she training for? She has been awfully quiet lately. Well to tell you the truth I have just finished my last race of the year two-weeks ago. The G.O.A.T.z. 50K here in Omaha. It was a great end to the season. I got to run and be with so many friends that day and see my mom run a PR. What didn’t go so well was that I wasn’t really planning to end my year at this race. Whoa…what?! Yes, that’s right…I had big audacious plans to kick-start my training in order to race Bandera 100K for a chance at a Golden Ticket to go back to Western States.
G.O.A.T.z. 50K race
What happened, you ask? Well it all happened in less than half a mile to the finish of the G.O.A.T.z. race that I felt a pop in the front of my left hip. It had been getting sore on downhills throughout the final loop, but I just blew it off as fatigue. After it popped it made me stumble a bit and then this horrible pain shot through my hip/groin. I considered walking it in, but with less than a half-mile left I pushed myself to finish. I crossed the line and stopped instantly. I stood there and was scared to take a step. When I did I felt the most excruciating pain in my hip that I have ever experienced. I thankfully had a couple friends to help me hobble over to a picnic table to sit. I’d never finished a race like this before and not been able to walk. I was scared, but figured I just pulled a muscle and would be back fine after a little rest or in a few days.

I got home and literally couldn’t walk. Every step with my left leg felt like knives being driven into my hip/groin. I didn’t know what to do. I put ice on my hip and rested the rest of the day. I figured by morning I’d be fine. Oh was I wrong! I couldn’t get out of bed or even stand on that leg. Tears welled up in my eyes as I was trying to figure out what I had injured. I thought to myself how am I going to work? Well I did what I don’t recommend to anyone and popped 4 ibuprofen. It numbed the pain enough for me to limp around. I literally hobbled all week thinking my leg should be healing by now. The days past and I was feeling no relief whatsoever. I felt desperate. I called one of my closest friends, Christy Nielsen, who is a Physical Therapist and long-time renowned distance runner. She told me to come see her that day.
When you don't have crutches improvise with trekking poles!
I went and saw Christy and she did several tests on me to see what she could find. Her initial thought was a pelvic stress fracture. She referred me to Dr. Arnold who had me see him the following day. He ordered x-rays and an MRI. The x-rays confirmed nothing. So, I had an MRI this past Wednesday. I was sitting on pins and needles waiting for the results. Sometimes 24 hours can feel like forever. The next day I got the call I had been waiting for…the call from Dr. Arnold with my MRI results.

The MRI had confirmed a stress fracture in my left inferior pubic ramus of my pelvis and also a slight moderate stress related bone marrow edema in the lateral superior pubic ramus. Additionally, I have a hemotoma and synovitis in the muscles around the fracture, and a lot of tendonosis/tendonitis going on in my hip muscles. In other words…my left hip is a hot mess. The prognosis for recovery is to have 4-weeks of being non-weight bearing (crutches) with no cross training besides upper body lifting. Then I will have a follow-up in 4 weeks to see how the healing has progressed. That will determine the next step. He expects me to be out from running for 2-3 months.
My MRI reading
Am I bummed? Oh yeah! However, I have come to terms with it and decided that I will not let myself get down. There are far too many things in life much worse than a broken bone. I just went through my grandma’s life and death situation…so this is nothing!! I witnessed my grandma rise up and prove that she wouldn’t let cancer or her almost fatal ulcer stop her from getting back to living her life. She is my inspiration. Plus, we’ve already made a goal to walk our first mile together!
My beautiful and strong grandma 
Remember our bodies are resilient and strong. The key is to be patient and let them heal. We put them through a lot of constant stress, and sometimes our minds are too strong for our own good. We’ve been preached to by so many about ‘listening to our bodies’. I didn’t and now I will pay the price. I’ve been very fortunate to have never gone through a lengthy time-off injury. It can happen to anyone at anytime. Until I return to running I will find ways to stay happy by spending more time with family and friends, going to the gym to lift for fun, volunteering at races, and living life in a positive manner. There will not be any pity-parties here! I pity-partied myself out at Western States aid station, Rucky-Chucky, this year. That’s a one and done for me!
The only pity-party I will allow myself this year. Besides they are LAME!
Since I have time I will keep my injury progress updated in my blog. Thank you for following and being my friends and fans. All of you mean a lot to me. I promise I will be back strong for 2018!! I am SO ready for the new year. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Bear 100 - Run Happy, Run Smart

The Bear 100. Photo Credit: Bethany Talbot Draper
The decision to run The Bear happened early in January, after not getting into the Leadville 100. After some thought and talking with my coach, Jason Koop, we decided this was the year to go out of my comfort zone and choose a race that would get me in the mountains and higher elevation. My next thought was that I wanted to pick a race that would qualify me for Hardrock. I reviewed the list of races that would be Hardrock qualifiers, and The Bear stuck out to me. And with the click of a mouse I was signed up for my next adventure!

Preparing for The Bear was mostly the same as what I did for Western States, except I tried to get out to Hitchcock Nature Center in Iowa every weekend. That is the only place around Omaha that I can get some ‘serious’ hills in. That means 230 ft climbs versus 120 ft climbs. It is a beautiful place packed full of relentless steep climbs that pack a punch.

The next thing I know it is race week and I am packing like I am going to go into hibernation. The weather kept changing and deteriorating every time I looked at it. It now was saying it could be anything from torrential rain all day to a full blown blizzard. Let’s just say I packed an arsenal of clothing/gear to be as prepared as I could be.

I woke up Thursday morning in the hotel and checked my phone to see that there was an update on The Bear. The course had been changed again, since after the fire they had to reroute the course. This time it was because of the expected snow up at the higher elevations. They rerouted the course to be an out and back from the park at Logan to Tony’s Grove with an extension of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail at the start. I had to quick rethink and repack my drop bags and tell my crew/pacers about the sudden change. I told myself to stay calm, relax, and that it all would work out. Besides I LOVE out and backs. Seeing people on the return is a delight.

The Bear 2016 Course
Thursday evening I met with Roch Horton who would serve as my trusted crew. I felt like I was in the best of care and it gave me peace of mind knowing I had him and Cat taking care of me. They are experienced and very knowledgeable on how to crew and run in the mountains. If you have not looked at Roch's running resume, you are in a bit of a surprise!! Mr. Hardrock himself and also the most genuine and humble person you would ever meet. After our meeting Roch sent me off with something to ponder. He gave me a symbolic image of a triangle where one corner had happiness, one had smart, and one had strength. He told me to pick two of those to focus on for the race. That was going to be one tough decision. I decided to sleep on it.

Going into the race I knew it was going to be tough and something I have never experienced. With the course being 18-19,000 ft of ascending, elevations between 5-8,000 ft, and long mountainous climbs I was to say the least…intimidated. Then you throw in the weather which ended up being all day of either rain or snow and mud, mud, and more mud!! I had no idea what to expect and threw out all pace/time goals. I made three goals: embrace the experience, a smile for every mile, and to just have fun playing in the mud! If I could nail those three things I would set myself up to have a great day.
The Beautiful Bear Photo Credit: Bethany Talbot Draper
Race morning approached and I woke up at 4:30 a.m. ready to take on the Bear. I had prepared myself for anything it was planning to throw at me. I felt confident in myself and even more so in my team that I had with me. I had the legendary Roch Horton and accomplice Catherine as my crew. I had the renowned Zach Miller pacing me from Right Hand Fork AS to Spawn Creek. And ultra-pacer extraordinaire, Miguel Ordorica, taking me from Spawn Creek to the Finish. We were going to attack the Bear and give it everything we had! I was going to make it to that finish one way or another.
My Team! Photo Credit: Tim McGargill
Lining up on the dark wet street looking forward at the streetlights, myself and about 300 other runners were gearing up and ready for battle. 3-2-1 and we’re off into the darkness. Some people chatting while others are silent thinking to themselves what’s to come of the day. We made our way onto the Bonneville Shoreline Trail which would be the first 12 miles. It was a rolling terrain with several large puddles scattered throughout the single-to-double track trail. I enjoyed running the first few miles with my friend, Justin Mollak, from Omaha who was taking on his first 100 mile race. The first 100 is always a life-changing experience & I was excited for him to be going on his journey.

Hitting Millville Aid Station (AS) 12.2 mi, I grabbed some Coke and Fig Newtons and headed up the long steep climb gaining approx 3,000 ft. I just settled into a hiking rhythm and enjoyed chatting with new friends along the way. It started snowing and I remember it bringing a huge smile to my face and made me feel like a little girl playing in the snow. Good memories flooded my mind from childhood. We reached the top and then got to fly down the sweet single-track trail. I really enjoyed this section as it reminded much of Western States Cal-1 & Cal-2 trail as Roch had described to me earlier. I reached Leatham Hollow AS (21 miles) and took care of all my needs. I remember Roch looking me in the eye and with a strong yet gentle voice saying, “Eat to win.” That spoke to me and I listened. I knew I was going to be working less efficiently than normal and I needed all the energy I could get. Karl Meltzer was standing beside Roch and they both assured me that the next 2.5 miles would be easy road running to the next AS. I was glad to hear that and left with a couple cookies and a smile.

Next up was the long climb past Richard's Hallow AS (24.5 mi) to Cowley Canyon AS (31.9 mi). That one was a grinder, just put your head down and climb through the mud. I trailed Guy Love for a while which was nice to have some company. The rain started coming down fairly hard now and thankfully I had kept my raincoat on and flipped the hood over to keep the water out. Cresting the top we got to a road where I could run down to the Cowley AS. I made quick in and out of that one to get on the road and trail that would lead me down to Right Hand Fork (38.9 mi) where I would see my crew and pick Zach up.

Picking up Zach. Photo Credit Tim McGargill
The trail leading down to Right Hand Fork was stunning. The bright Maples and Aspens lined the trail making it look like a rainbow. It was one of my favorite parts of the race. I reached Right Hand Fork and picked Zach up and we took off towards Temple Fork AS (47 mi). Here we got on some single track and then a gavel road. We came to a point where we had to go into a lot of brush and bushes. As we were trying to navigate our way through what seemed like a never-ending maze! Finding the ribbons was hard, but soon we got on the not-so-well beaten path and found our way across the creek. It was really quite fun and funny! Running along the creek the mud got thick and sticky. It was like 10 lbs had accumulated on each foot. We just laughed and carried on. Coming down the road we saw an AS on the opposite side of the creek. I panicked thinking we had to go to that one. Before I knew it Zach flew across the waist deep water and checked. It was the AS for the return so I didn't have to cross. He was a trooper for that one!

Zach & I. Photo Credit: Tim McGargill
We got into the Temple Fork AS (47) and checked in with Roch, Cat, and Miguel. Roch let us know that the next section is just a long steep uphill to Tony's Grove (53.8 mi). We grabbed food and went on our way. We had to scramble up a pretty steep hill then got onto the trail. It was that crazy sticky mud again. As we were making our way up I could feel my hamstring start to hurt. I knew it was from the extra weight of the mud causing it to be overused. I told Zach I had to hike more to make sure I didn't completely blow it up. We got up to the top and once again it started to snow. Large flakes along the beautiful conifers made it look like a snow globe. As we descended down to Tony's Grove along the single track trail it made me feel like I was at Robinson's Flat of WS. We had made the turnaround!

To Tony's Grove. Photo Credit: Bethany Talbot Draper
Off to return on the trails we had come on. Meeting so many people on the return was a joy to me. It gave me a burst of energy. I felt terrible though seeing everyone suffering up to Tony's Grove in the mud. It had gotten worse throughout the day making it a literal slip-n-slide. Highlights were seeing Justin and Tim McGargill (Justin's pacer and close friend of mine) moving well and strong. Then I saw Gavin McKenzie with a big smile and moving so well too!

Mud and Beauty. Photo Credit: Bethany Talbot Draper
Down to Spawn Creek AS (61.5 mi) we made it and I then had Miguel as my pacer to the Finish. It was time to get my headlights on. Roch hooked me up with some sweet retina burners from Black Diamond. He put one my head and one on my waist then made sure I was okay and gave me encouragement as I left. I ate well and took off down the trail with Miguel. Here we got to the mud again and boy had it ever gotten bad. It was harder to run in it than to walk. So we walked most of this section to save energy. We got up to the road and then were able to run again. We had to make the long climb back to Cowley Canyon AS. Holy crap that one was so LONG. I didn't think it was ever going to end. However, something cute happened during this section. A little Robin got in front of me on the trail as I was hiking. It proceeded to pace me up the mountain for at least half a mile. It's the little things that make me happy!
The course is stunning! Photo Credit: Chihping Fu
Now it was dark and the fog settled in. It was tough to navigate for a while, as you couldn't see very far in front of your feet. I ended up turning the headlight off and just using the waist-light. It seemed to work well. We dipped down into Cowley AS (75 mi) and headed out as fast as we could to keep warm and to keep moving. This is where we saw Sam Reed catching us. During this next section he caught us moving so fluidly and sans pacer. It was incredible seeing him whisk past us while his headlight became fainter as he ran into the night. Finally, we made it to Richard's Hollow AS (83 mi). We checked in and out and made our way down the gravel road towards Leatham Hollow AS (86 mi). This was the first time you could actually zone out instead of watching every step you took. Miguel and I made no conversation during this...we just moved forward. At last we made it to Leatham Hollow and to our crew.

Here is where I made my rookie mistake. I was ready to get the last climb over and took too little time in the AS. I rushed to get new gloves and food, but forgot that I should have put on more layers. I had only been wearing a light long-sleeve and a raincoat. I headed out onto the path and the rain started to pick up. I mentioned that I should have brought hand warmers, but didn't want to go back to get them. Roch offered, but I declined wanting to just keep moving. Miguel and I started making our way up from Leatham and it was a long and I mean LONG climb. Slip and sliding on the trail didn't help and then the rain seemed to start coming into my jacket. I was getting wet. As we started getting higher it was getting much colder. I was now shivering. I got scared that I could get hypothermia. I talked to myself to calm me down and knowing Miguel was there I felt at ease. I started moving my arms fast making friction on my sides to see if it would help warm me up. I am not sure if it really helped or not, but it was at least making me think it was. Then the snow started to come down and it was accumulating quickly. My feet became ice blocks. I was making my way up so slowly, but staying positive. I knew that once we got to the top we got to go down.

Alas, we crested the top. Now to go bombing down...NOT! It was incredibly rocky and steep. There was no path except what the water was running down. So it was harder than I expected it to be. Down, down, down we went until finally coming into the final AS, Millville (95 mi). Now I knew we were going to make it and I was ready to get out of the rain, mud, and snow. We made our way along the rolling Bonneville Shoreline Trail and popped back onto the road. We ran on the road to the Finish line elated and exhausted to be done. Leland gave me a congratulations and Roch was there for a great big bear hug! We had done it...we had conquered the Bear!

Finished!! Photo Credit: Zach Miller
This one will be one race that I will never forget. Besides the weather, the most memorable part will be the experience in itself. I have made new lifelong friends with Roch, Cat, and Zach. I left the race with my heart full. I am forever grateful for them and their generosity. They epitomize the true spirit of ultrarunning and community. I've learned so much from them and hope to spread that value throughout my ultrarunning career.

I want to give a huge thank you to the Race Directors for working so diligently in getting the Bear off and running. Having to change their course multiple times, re-organize aid stations, and working to keep the race a qualifier for Hardrock, UTMB, and WS had to have been beyond challenging. So thank you Leland, Ron, Errol, and the rest of the Bear crew. My hat tips to you.

And thank you countless volunteers for giving your time to take care of us runners in the terrible conditions. You are a heaven-send. We would not be able to do this without you and your help. You all deserve medals!

Thank you Roch Horton and Catherine for spending your weekend as my loyal and faithful crew. I have gained two new friends that will always be cherished in my heart. You put a lasting impression on me that will last a lifetime. Thank you for everything.

Thank you Zach and Miguel for being the best pacers a girl could ask for. I thoroughly enjoyed our time on the trail together. Those were definitely fun times I'll never forget!

Thank you God, my family, my friends and loyal supporters. Thank you Nike Trail for nailing your gear. One pair of Nike Kigers the whole way! Thank you Squirrel's Nut Butter for the lube and having no chafing. Thank you Honey Stinger for the chew, gels, and waffles that gave me energy throughout the race. And most of all thank you coach, Jason Koop. For taking me out of my comfort zone and making me believe in my ability and myself. I got my Hardrock Qualifier!!! YAY!!
The whole Team! Roch, Cat, myself, Miguel, and Zach!

Monday, July 4, 2016

*~*Third Time's A Charm*~*

A lifelong dream of mine was to win the Western States 100 Mile. I knew it would be a long shot, but no matter what I was going to keep chasing that dream. In knowing how talented the women’s field was this year, and that each year it keeps drawing more, I was unsure if that dream would ever become a reality. I knew that I had to prepare myself as best as I could if I even wanted to place in the Top 10. So that is what I did. Everything since February was focused on Western States.

Squaw Valley
Leading up to the race I had my fair share of misfortunes. Those could have set me back if I would have had a negative outlook on them. Instead I focused on what positives I could draw out of them. This in fact was a great help in getting my mind ready for tackling the 100-mile distance. I have found that if you keep positive and focus your energy on what is going right versus what isn’t, you don’t become overwhelmed. You then realize that you can get through the tough times and that they really aren’t as significant as they seem.
A broken A/C = heat training
Now to get into the race…what you’ve really been waiting for.
Walking up to the start line I felt a sense of calmness, which I haven’t felt before in the past. I had decided that I would focus on my goals and make sure that I ran my race. As we lined up to start I felt the chill in the air and talked with others around. I tipped my head down and said a prayer. Then the countdown began 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…*shot gun blast* and we’re off.

My plan was to ease into the race and start off conservative. I had my head down and just focused on my body and breathing keeping the effort relaxed. I found myself running with Andy Reed, whom I met at the Sliver State 50 Mile. He had waited 6 years to get into Western States. It was amazing talking with him and seeing how excited he was to experience this iconic day. Then we came to the top of Escarpment, and to my surprise I was leading the women. Magdalena Boulet was right behind me so as tradition has it, we turned and watched the sun rise! We gave each other a big hug and continued down the trail. Those are priceless moments.

Top of Escarpment. Photo Credit: Paul Nelson
The high-country is just breathtaking. I continued on the course with Andy Reed and Ricky Roane. It was great chatting with them. Soon, Devon Yanko caught up and we shared several miles together. It was fun chatting about Lion King, singing songs, and talking about life. Those miles flew by. We got into the Lyon Ridge Aid Station having AJW cheering us in. I grabbed some food and an extra gel and continued with Devon back on the trail.

It was between the Red Star Ridge Aid Station and Duncan Canyon Aid Station that Devon and I got separated. As I ran down into the Duncan Canyon AS, I was amped up by the amazing volunteers and the excitement of seeing my crew Chris and Kristina for the first time. They made me feel like a rock star coming on stage to perform. I grabbed my fresh handheld and carried on. This next section I will always remember as the area where I had my black bear encounter in 2014. I am always looking around to see if my little teddy bear friend is around. Luckily, he/she wasn’t. I settled into a groove and feeling good. My body and mind were both happy. The happiness of running on the trail kept a smile on my face. Soon I noticed the sun becoming warmer in this section so I was grateful that Chris had put ice in my water bottle. It can be a game changer.

I ran into Robinson Flat still feeling great. The volunteers and crowds once again amped me up and I saw Coach Koop and gave him the thumbs up that everything was going great so far. I then started to ascend the climb out of Robinson and decided the run/hike approach would be appropriate to keep my effort controlled. I remembered back to the training camp and how much snow had been in this section, which was now dry. I started to descend down from the top and this was the first time I got a little worried. I was thinking how I was only 30ish miles into the race and that I had a very long ways to go. I started asking myself, “Will I have enough energy to finish…”. I quickly answered that question with a gel and drink from my handheld. I told myself I was not going to “run” out of energy if I stayed on top of my nutrition. And that was that.
Thumbs up!! 
The next section I knew I could overdo, since it was very runnable and downhill. I dialed it back a bit, just to be cautious that I wouldn’t ‘blow’ out my quads or hip flexors. I had learned this lesson from the past. I caught up with Ben Bucklin and then Mark Austin. It was great to run with both of them, because I had at training camp. It brought back so many great memories. I got to Dusty Corners AS and grabbed my second handheld, because I didn’t want to run out of fluid during the canyons. I had the goal to not let the canyons destroy me.

I climbed the canyons with Kyle Pietari who was constantly being called Devon. He and I laughed about it. He was such a good sport about it too. He soon dusted me on the second canyon and I kept trucking along in great spirits. I got a rock in the side of my shoe and pulled over to get it out before it ended up causing a big problem. I’ve learned you have to deal with the little issues right away before they become big issues. I got to the top of the last canyon and saw Byron Powell, with iRunFar, that always lifts me up. I was so happy to have survived the canyons and to be running strongly into Michigan Bluff AS. This is where one of Billy Yang’s videographers started filming footage of me. We were chatting along when suddenly I glanced to my right side and saw a SNAKE coming out towards me!! I shrieked loudly and jumped about 5 feet in the air, okay more like 5 inches but it really seemed far up! I laughed at myself as I got into he AS.
Finishing the final climb out of the canyons.
Photo Credit: Byron Powell iRunFar
I checked in with my crew and Jason. I told them I was feeling strong and happy. I was ready to get to Foresthill and pick up my ultra-pixie pacer, Miguel! They smiled and sent me on my way down the dusty trail.
Slamming a Dew and getting sound advice from Coach Koop.
I got into Foresthill and was overjoyed again to see all the volunteers and crowds. I found Miguel and we soon headed down to Cal Street. I had to ask right away how my mom was doing at the Black Hills 50 Mile. He said she was moving good and having a great time. This warmed my heart to hear. We got about a mile into the run when I finally said that I had to stop and pee for the first time. I stopped and squatted off the trail. Let me tell you, holding it for that long makes you pee like a racehorse. I never thought I was going to be done! Finally…I did and we continued on. I noticed that as we were cruising down Cal-1 I was starting to feel nauseated. I decided to ignore it and push on. It soon got to the point that I was forced to walk a bit. Miguel was so good about keeping positive and keeping me from getting anxious. Then I just got to feeling so bad that I stopped and bent over. I stood back up and had a couple burps and felt back to normal. Wow, that was a quick and easy fix. We continued the rest of the run to the river in good spirits, just as we do on our daily training runs.
Foresthill w/ Miguel. Photo Credit: Dominic Grossman
The river is always a bitter-sweet moment for me. The shock of the cold water always makes me a little uneasy, but I know how good it makes my body feel after and it is worth it. Hence the pictures of my “oh my gosh, it’s cold” face! We ran/hiked to Green Gate and grabbed our headlights. Miguel did some math and said we had a good chance to make it to Brown’s Bar (89.9 miles) before needing our headlights. That would be the first time we have ever made it that far in the light. We made a plan to push the pace a bit through the next couple sections to get every ounce of light we could.
Photo Credit: Byron Powell iRunFar
We let Brown’s Bar and then turned our headlights on. We were cruising down the trial and I noticed I hadn’t seen a yellow flag in awhile. Then we came down to a small water crossing and I looked ahead and saw, at that time a wall of weeds and what looked like a dead end. I turned to Miguel and yelled, “GO back, we must have missed a turn!”. So, we started running back on the trail and it took only about two-tenths and there was a ribbon. What a relief. We turned back and ran back down to the little water crossing. This time we crossed and sure enough there was another yellow ribbon. Sheesh…

We saw the lights of No Hands AS (96.8 miles) and that gave me a final charge. We came into the AS and I saw Chris and Jason. This was when I gave Jason a hug and realized that I was going to win. A huge wave of emotion hit me. I started crying and smiling in complete elation. I looked down at my watch and noticed that we had a possibility to break 18 hours. I asked Miguel to do the math and he gave me some mile splits that I would need to average. I was on a mission now. As we got across No Hands Bridge a photographer took some pictures. In retrospect that was when I had passed Jim Walmsley, who had just put down one of the most inspiring races in Western States history. I tried my best to run as hard as I could going up Robie’s Point. This was when Miguel and I separated. He had not gotten to stop long enough at the past AS to get food and was now feeling it. That’s the tough part for pacers…they are at their runners mercy.

Once I crested to the top, the Robie Point AS volunteers were shouting and giving me the final fire to take it home. I had two young women run up to me and ask if they could pace me to the track. I was overjoyed to have them come with me. I found out as we were running down the streets of Auburn that they were 17-year old triplets! Their other sister, Alexis was at home resting after being in a tournament that day. But, I had Hailey and Annabelle take me home to the track. It was a moment that I won’t forget. We parted ways as I entered the track. I couldn’t believe the day and moment I had dreamed about was coming true!! I rounded the track letting the moment sink in as I high-fived the crowd. I crossed the finish thanking God for being blessed by the amazing gift to run. I gave Craig Thornley (RD) a hug and the first thing he said is, “You won!”.

Elation of crossing the finish line. Photo Credit: Melissa Ruse of SweetM Images
Dreams do come true. If you have the passion for something and you give your whole heart to it, you can achieve what you never thought could be possible. I want to thank God for allowing me these opportunities to glorify him. Thank you to my family who go above and beyond. Miguel Ordorica who is my training partner, ultra-pixie pacer, and best friend. My Coach Jason Koop who has allowed me to achieve my dreams by fine tuning my training and working through countless data for me. My crew Chris and Kristina, who give their whole day dedicated to me and meeting my needs. I cannot thank you enough. Also, during their trip out to Western States became engaged!! Congrats you two!!  The support of my Nike Trail Running Team. Along with Carbo Pro and Honey Stinger to meet my nutritional needs. Thank you everyone who follows me and are my friends and fans! You ROCK! 

Ultra Crew Chris & Kristina

Team Pixie Ninja: Kristina, Chris, me, and Miguel

2016 Western States winners Andrew Miller & myself.
Photo Credit: Gary Wang 

Top 10 Women. Photo Credit: Gary Wang
Shoes: Nike Trail Kigers 3 (one pair)
Clothing: Nike green jersey, Nike split-shorts, Nike pink visor, Swift-Wick socks, arm sleeves, ice bandana, gloves.
Headlight: Petzl headlight
Nutrition: Nathan Handhelds, gels, honey stinger waffles, honey stinger chews, Carbo Pro
AS Nutrition: cookies, chips, potatoes, watermelon, PayDay candy bars, gels, Coke, Mountain Dew