Run Rabbit Run 100

I had the opportunity to complete the infamous Run Rabbit Run 100 mile race this weekend. The course was both brutal and beautiful. The volunteers were absolutely fantastic. I was challenged, uplifted and beaten down at various points over the course of the race. There were many high and low points over the 31 hours and 19 minutes it took me to finish the race. Ultimately, what I remember most is the purity of the connection to the people on the course. When you are tired and cold and nauseated, you cannot hide who you are. You must be open and be both strong and vulnerable. You must rely on the kindness of friends and strangers to help keep you moving forward. In a world where we can be guarded and jaded, the experience of allowing all of the barriers to slip away and be really present in the moment and open to those around you is unique. When it all comes together, it is refreshing and life-affirming.

I signed up for Run Rabbit Run 100 way back in January, 2016. At the time, I was not really sure why I signed up, but as winter turned into spring, I found myself sinking into a depression. As the weeks and months of training marched on, I realized that spending time running in the mountains was what I needed to save myself. (You can read more about that here: https://mypancreasranaway.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/the-panther-or-the-rabbit/ )

In the past couple of weeks as I stared down a daunting 100-mile mountain race, I felt a familiar mixture of excitement and foreboding. Every time I mentioned what race I was running, people would respond, “Wow, that’s a hard course!” or some version of that sentiment. Looking at the course profile, it isn’t hard to see why Run Rabbit Run has a reputation for difficulty.

runrabbitrun100profile

In addition to the long, steep climbs and the significant elevation change, runners face extremely cold temperatures at night time. I had been warned that many people DNF due to hypothermia. I packed so much cold weather gear that my husband asked me if I thought that I was running in Antarctica. I know that anything can happen over the course of a 100 mile race, but I would not drop out due to not packing the right gear.

The race, which has a 36-hour cut-off, started on September 16, 2016. I had assembled a team of three adults and one teenager. My husband, Stephen, would serve as crew chief and would pace me for approximately thirty miles. Laura, who I had been Facebook friends with for years but had never met in person, surprised me by buying a plane ticket so she could come pace/crew me. She has ultra experience, but lives at sea level, so I was not sure how she she would feel with the altitude and elevation gain. She would run either 10 or 14 miles, depending upon how she felt. My friend Larry, who is a very experienced endurance athlete, would therefore do either 20 or 25. Peyton would be on hand to help crew and keep my spirits lifted.

I chose Run Rabbit Run 100 in part due to the race’s proximity to Colorado Springs. I knew we could drive up in a few hours and I figured it would be relatively easy to get people to come help crew and pace. In fact, there was a large contingent of runners from the Springs area, which made for a warm and welcoming environment.

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With Jenny and Denise.

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Tonia, Peyton & Stephen

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At the race start (Photo courtesy of Ann Labosky)

We started up the ski hill promptly at 8 am. The course sends runners straight up Mount Werner, gaining approximately 3,500 feet of elevation in the first 4.4 miles. Even though I did a lot of steep training runs, I had a moment of wondering what in the hell I had signed up for. By the time we reached the top of the hill, I had sweat dripping off of my face. Nevertheless, I knew that we would essentially be headed out on a net downhill for the next several miles. I chose to try not to think too much about what was to come later in the race, instead just opting to enjoy the scenery. I spent some time shaking out the nerves and chatting with people, knowing that it was very early and I had to keep the pace conservative to save energy for the big climbs that would come later in the race.

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Long Lake

The Long Lake aid station is at mile 10.8. I was still feeling good and the trails, which had been crowded up to this point, began to open up. We headed to Fish Creek Falls, a section which starts off with fabulous single track that becomes quite rocky and technical. I was running alone at this point, listening to music and enjoying the scenery.

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fish-creek

My sunglasses were bugging me a bit so I took them off. While I was messing with them, I tripped and fell, hitting both knees on rocks. I had only gone about 12 miles into the race. The hard hit stunned me and I had blood streaming down both legs. I walked for a minute, assessing the damage. Nothing appeared to be broken, so I shuffled back into a run, hoping for the best. From Fish Creek Falls, we ran along a four-mile section of trail back into Steamboat Springs.

Olympian Hall

I came down into the Olympian Hall aid station with a considerable amount of blood and dirt on my legs, but was thrilled to see Steve, Peyton and Laura. After stopping briefly to restock my gels, I moved on and headed up the next section of trail.

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(photos courtesy of Laura Falsone)

Cow Creek

As we moved on towards Cow Creek, the general consensus was, “Wow, this hill didn’t look this big on the course profile!” I spent several miles with a guy who shared some interesting stories from his years of dirt-bagging. Eventually, we parted ways and I ran into two runners I had been talking with earlier. Neither were feeling well at this point. One was injured and the other was sick to her stomach. I tried to give them both a pep talk, reminding them that they would likely feel good, then bad, then good, then bad, for the rest of the race. I think I was also trying to remind myself of that fact, because at this point my left knee, which had taken the brunt of the earlier impact, began to stiffen up. Every step hurt as I made my way down into the Cow Creek aid station. In addition, I had switched water reservoirs in my hydration pack and something had been digging into my back for the entirety of the section. I kept running with one hand between my pack and my back to eliminate any more damage.

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Arriving in Cow Creek with Peyton and Steve (photo courtesy of Laura Falsone)

Larry had made it into Steamboat, and several other local friends were at the aid station waiting for their runners, so Cow Creek felt warm and inviting. Even though I was in a lot of pain and wondering what the future would hold, everyone assured me that I looked strong and was running between a 27 and 28 hour pace. This was ahead of what I thought I could do, so that lifted my spirits. Aside from my knee and back, I felt OK, so I headed back of the aid station feeling hopeful for the rest of the race.

The next segment back to Olympian Hall was a rolling 12-mile section. My knee loosened up and I was able to run quite a bit. The sun was shining and the scenery along the single track was lovely. I was enjoying this section tremendously until my right hip flexor started to tighten up. I tried to adjust and loosen it up, hoping the pain would fade. We ran down the long steep downhill section back into Olympian Hall. Here the plan was to pick Laura up for the four mile uphill road section to the Fish Creek Falls trail head, where I would meet Larry for the night. However, shuttle issues forced a change in plans. Now Larry, who had been mountain biking but not running all summer, would be forced to cover nearly 25 miles with me.

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With Larry, headed off into the night.

I had been warned by many runners to grab warm clothing at Olympian, because as soon as the sun goes down, the mountains get extremely cold. Last year, the temperature on the course had dropped down to 8 degrees. I had been running in shorts and a tank top for hours, but threw on a long-sleeve shirt and grabbed another warm shirt, gloves and tights to put on as it got colder. We ran through town, and within a few minutes, I was hot. I stopped and took off my shirt in what would become the first in a night of many wardrobe changes. We ended up hiking much of the uphill back to the Fish Creek Falls trail head. From there, we headed on another six-mile climb back up to Long Lake.

Friendship and Inspiration

One of the things I love most about running ultras is having the opportunity to talk with people and hear their stories. People open up in a way they might not ever under other circumstances. While the scenery of a race makes the time alone special, the discussions are a big part of what makes the night memorable.

I first met Larry a few years ago when I happened to see him running close to where I live. He had on a Team Crud (Coloradans Running Ultra Distances) shirt, and I was just starting to get into ultras. I stopped him and asked some questions about races and CRUD. He humored me, answering a few of my questions. He probably thought I was a crazy lady, but that’s OK because I am forever thankful for that chance encounter.

I ran a few ultras after that meeting and then was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As I struggled to come back to my previous form following surgery and chemo, I stumbled across Larry’s blog. I read a post where he talked about some of his own medical issues. Feeling very much alone at the time, I wrote to him. I did not know if he would remember me, but he wrote back and gave me a pep talk. Even though our issues were different, I finally felt like someone might just understand what I was going through. He encouraged me to be patient and gave me hope that things might be different but they would get better.

During the last couple of years, Larry has been an tremendous source of inspiration to me. He is an incredible athlete who has completed the Leadman series several times, but, more importantly, he is an amazing human being who gives so much to others. Larry coaches a local high school mountain bike team, spends his free time volunteering to maintain local trails and still finds time to crew/pace friends at races throughout Colorado. I followed him as he ran Burning River 100 mile race as a fundraiser for the Akron Children’s Hospital (coverage of this story can be found here:  https://www.akronchildrens.org/cms/sharing_blog/deac461c4d31a0e9/)  Knowing how much slower I am than Larry is, I was extremely humbled and grateful when he said he would pace me at Run Rabbit Run.

Running Through the Night

Larry spent most of the night sharing stories with me. I was so wrapped up in his tales that I temporarily forgot to eat. This led to a blood sugar issue as we headed uphill on the Fish Creek Trail. As we picked our way over rocks and up the climb, Larry watched me stagger and stumble like I was drunk. Because he coaches a type 1 diabetic, he knew exactly how to remedy things. He made me eat a gel every 15 minutes until I started to feel coherent again. This is why I have a pacer. I knew I was in good hands and I am grateful he was there with me.

It was at this point that the temperature seemed to plummet. I was shaking, my toes went numb and I knew I needed to get changed immediately. I plopped down on the side of a swampy section of single track and pulled off my shorts. Larry, ever the gentleman, looked the other way as he dug through his pack for a jacket. Several runners came through as I was changing and asked if we were OK. This was a reasonable question, as we had recently seen several runners throwing up along the side of the trail. I just laughed and said, “Yes, I am just getting naked…You’re welcome.”

We headed up a long uphill section that took us back to Long Lake and then to the high point on the course at Summit Lake.I was once again freezing. I grabbed warmer tights, stepped about a foot away from a crowd at the aid and changed again. I just did not have the energy to be modest at this point. I started joking that it was goal to flash every runner on the course. We headed down a 2100 foot drop into the Dry Lake Aid Station, where I would be picking up Laura for a ten-mile section. Once again, my knee started to stiffen up. I was running when I could and hiking when I had to. It was frustrating, but I maintained my sense of humor about it. As it turned out, Larry didn’t have to worry about not having run much over the summer. I told him I wouldn’t break any speed records and I as right.

We got into Dry Lake, where we met Steve and Laura. I gave Larry a big hug and told him to get some sleep. Laura and I headed off onto a section that featured several bridges and most likely would have been beautiful during the daytime hours. Fortunately for us, there was a bright spectacular full moon and very few clouds in the sky. It was a beautiful crisp night and we chatted, alternating walking and running through this out-and-back section that was fairly crowded. We got to the Spring Creek aid station, got a bite to eat and then headed back to Dry Lake.

Heading to the Finish

When we arrived back in Dry Lake, Stephen was ready to get me to the finish line. We had roughly 30 miles to go at this point. I had just gone uphill for 4.5 miles and we were facing another 8 mile climb back to Summit Lake. I knew we would be hiking most of this and was fine with that. I was tired but my spirits were still high. We laughed and joked as we made our way up the jeep road. The moon went down and the sky began to lighten. I knew 27 and 28 hour finish times were long gone. I also knew that a sub-30 was pretty much out of the question. Normally, I would be upset to slow down as much as I did, but I honestly did not care one bit. My knee and groin had been hurting and my back hurt where my pack had rubbed it raw. I knew, however, that i had more than enough time to walk it in to the finish line if I had to.

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When we finally got to the Summit aid station at mile 81.5, I was looking forward to jogging downhill for a bit. As I started to run, however, my right ankle hurt so badly that I immediately had to stop.I tried to jog again and just couldn’t do it. I felt the ankle and determined that it was probably just an angry tendon, so I resigned myself to walking. We walked back to the Long Lake aid station for the third time. I changed my clothes once again, putting on shorts in preparation for warmer temperatures.

The rolling but mostly uphill section to Mount Werner seemed infinitely longer than it actually was. I was getting passed by plenty of people but I did not give a second thought to attempting to chase anyone down. All I wanted to do was finish. I did not want to injure myself but I knew if I kept walking I would cross the finish line with minimal damage to my body. We rolled quickly through the aid station and then hit the 6.4 mile road that would take us to the finish line.

My husband is an amazing man who not only supports me in theory as I tackle these adventures, he is always there with me as I take those final steps to the finish line. Throughout the last miles of the race, I asked him to talk to me, but I could only give one word answers. This was the first time in my life that I ever got sleepy during a race. I became frustrated when I found out that he had told me I had 12 miles to go, but it was really 12.8 miles (Hey, it MATTERS!) Despite the fact that I was exhausted, I would never take my exhaustion out on my husband. He is the man who stands metaphorically and physically with me as I struggle through the most difficult times in my life.He is my rock and my hero and I come away from these races feeling more in love and connected to him than ever.

Dropping back down 3500 feet over the stretch felt painful and cruel. Many people remarked that they were unable to run at this point, and I was definitely in this camp. It was hot and I was hurting. Even Stephen was hurting at this point and wondering where the finish line was. Finally, we saw it.

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Peyton ran out to meet us and I gave Larry a hug as we made it down the road. I was completely spent physically but emotionally ecstatic. We got to the grassy section before the finish line and pathetically jogged over it.

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I got my 100 miler buckle and a beer mug for my efforts, finishing in 31:19. This was my slowest 100 mile finish by nearly five hours, yet I was not remotely disappointed with my finish time or placement. I was simply ecstatic that I finished the race and, despite some aches and pains, had a truly spectacular time.

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It was so wonderful to be greeted at the finish line by two of my favorite female runners, Tracey & Meghan.

After the race, we went back to the condo we had rented. I was so exhausted I could barely keep my eyes open. I was also too sore to sleep, so that made for an interesting night. When I awoke at 3 am the next morning, I was in a state of deep emotional happiness and gratitude. Yes, I was proud of my finish, but more importantly, I was filled with intense appreciation for all of the people who had supported me along the way. There is something so uniquely special about running through the night with people. I find that people become the essence of who they truly are over those long nighttime miles. We talk about things that we might never discuss under different circumstances. The stories, the images, and the memories will stick with me forever.

I spent the summer training for this race, often alone in the mountains for hours, trying to work my way through my own issues. Over those 31 hours and 19 minutes, I was grateful to be there in the midst of the outstanding scenery and to feel fully alive. I am thankful for the opportunity to dig deep, to work through the problems and to connect with other human beings. When people have asked me why I do ultras, I have often said it is because I enjoy the challenge. While this is completely true, more than anything, I embrace the chance to learn about not only myself but those who are around me. I am forever grateful for the selflessness of others, for friendship, for the shared stories, for love and for the opportunity to fully be my perfectly flawed self. After struggling for months with my own inner demons, a 103+ mile trek through the mountains of Colorado finally brought me the sense of connection to others I desperately needed

Finally, I had the opportunity to work with Paul Nelson and his amazing crew, John Uibel, Marina Polonsky and Shawn Brown, at Run Rabbit Run.

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They are putting together a documentary about the race and they chose to feature me as a ‘human interest’ story. They followed several elite runners as well as a few of us regular folks. I am honored to be a part of this project and am pleased that they chose to feature a variety of runners. Look for this to be coming out by the end of 2016!

https://www.facebook.com/paulmichaelnelsonphoto/?fref=ts

The Panther or the Rabbit

I last posted at the end of April, 2016, following a disappointing finish at the Cheyenne Mountain 50 K.  Throughout the spring and summer, I had plenty to say but simply could not give voice to my thoughts. These last few months have been filled with change, uncertainty, beginnings and endings. As the numerous stressors mounted, many of which I am choosing to keep private, I felt my suit of armor cracking. And so it was after several months of facing an ongoing series of challenges, I found myself staring over a literal and metaphorical abyss, facing an existential depression, wondering, “Why did I survive my cancer? Why am I here?”

Depression

After being told by so many  for so long that I was ‘strong’, I at first failed to heed the warnings. A bad day. A bad week. A stressful month. Finally, I could no longer avoid or ignore the reality. It felt like I was being stalked by a stealth black panther. At first, there was a sense that ‘something’ was lurking in the background. Then I could see glimpses of it, far off between the trees. It drew closer, watching and waiting, until finally it pounced, knocking me to the ground, with claws drawn and jaws wide open. Would it snap my neck? Would it rip my heart out? Would I, could I, fight back?

To the outside world, all was fine. I kept up appearances and took care of all of my responsibilities. But my contact with most people dwindled. Instead of reaching out, or calling for help, I moved more deeply into dark recesses of my inner world as I tried to make sense of what I thinking and feeling.

Finding a Way Out

In January, 2016, I signed up for the Run Rabbit Run 100 mile race. Located in Steamboat Springs, CO, the race is actually over 100 miles. The website says that it features about 20,000 feet or ascent and descent. In other words, it is quite challenging. After my 50k in April, I not only considered not running the 100, I contemplated never racing again. My foot had hurt for months. Maybe I was too old to keep running ultras. After facing cancer, surgery and chemotherapy, maybe I just needed to give myself a break and take it easy. Or maybe the truth was that I just no longer cared or had the drive to train. I specifically remember being out with my husband on what was supposed to be a flat 20-mile run. I had thrown in the towel and was walking down the trail saying, “I think I am done, not just for today but for good.”

My emotional state was chipping away at my physical well-being. Once an every day runner, I was now even questioning that part of my identity. I could jog a few short, flat miles, but I had lost my interest in going farther or faster.I had been dealing with foot pain and endocrine issues. Running just did not feel fun anymore. I always swore that when I stopped having fun, I would move on to a new activity.

Embarrassed and ashamed of feeling as I did, I kept my thoughts between my husband and myself. I have since learned that it is very, very common for cancer survivors (and survivors of other significant medical conditions) to go through a period of depression following their illnesses. We put everything we have into fighting for so long, that when the clear and present danger passes, the bottom can fall out on everything else. I felt frustrated with myself. I was alive and OK. Why did I feel the way I was feeling?

Running

As I questioned my own life, and struggled to make sense of who I was at this point in my life, I decided that I had to at least make a decision on something simple. Was I still a runner or not? Would I train for Run Rabbit Run 100, or would I close the door on the ultra chapter of my life?

A brief conversation with a friend helped point me in the direction I needed to go. She was discussing someone in her life who was facing a goal that would take sacrifice and work. She did not think this person would be able to reach her goal. The reason? “She isn’t willing to suffer.” The conversation quickly moved on to something else, but I came back to the line many, many times in recent months. I wondered, “Was I willing to suffer to try to reach a goal?” If I could endure the suffering, then maybe I could embrace the physical pain while I worked through my emotional pain.

I knew the only way I could answer this question was to go hit the hills.

north slope

Running Ultras

In April I wanted to quit racing. Within a couple of weeks, I fully committed myself to training for Run Rabbit Run 100. I felt that I needed it desperately. My life, physical and my mental health depended on it.

 

I have finished two other 100 mile races. The first time around, I just wanted to see if I could do it. The second time around, it was a very public experience. I wanted to have a big comeback from pancreatic cancer. I raised money for charity and wrote a lot about the training process. This time around, my journey to running 100+miles has been deeply personal. I have spent hours alone on the trails trying to discover just how much I am willing to suffer and endure. That probably does not sound fun, and it often isn’t. Was I trying to run from something? Was I trying to run to something? Was I trying to make the physical pain feel as intense as the emotional pain felt? The answer to all of these questions is yes.

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Along the way, I found that even when it felt like the world was cracking, shifting and imploding around me, I could eventually find peace in being alone, pushing myself, feeling my heart exploding out of my chest, and feeling my muscles and lungs burning. I kept myself alive and moving forward, with each challenging step.

As I learned during my battle with pancreatic cancer, sometimes it is the most difficult battles that we face that bring the deepest sense of meaning to our lives. Sometimes the battles take place in the public sphere. Sometimes those battles are internal, away from even our closest friends and family.

7 bridges

The hardest part of an ultra endurance event is usually not the race itself, but the training process. When you sign up, you commit to train and make sacrifices towards reaching your goal for months at a time. With each ultramarathon training cycle, I have learned something new about myself. This time around, I am redefining what ‘strength’ means to me personally. I am not afraid of suffering and sacrifice. In fact, there is a deep sense of satisfaction that comes through incredibly physically and emotionally demanding hard work. I needed to spend days, weeks, even months, exploring my own ability to endure, even embrace, suffering. In life, after all, we will suffer. Sometimes it seems like we have to endure way more than our fair share of suffering. But that is life. We all will face hardship and must learn how to endure pain. As I pushed myself, I knew if I could endure, I could survive not only the difficult trails, but what I was facing in my life.

Though it has not always been easy, my countless miles on the trail have been a much-needed time of learning and reflection. In times when I felt alone and lonely, I found peace, contentment and a sense of self-reliance on the Colorado trails. I did not find a quick fix to any of the issues I was trying to sort out. Instead, I found that sometimes what we need is not a solution or a quick-fix but trust and patience in ourselves and the process. Gradually, the laughter and joy began to emerge again. I learned that I can look out into the abyss and question my purpose but that does not mean that I will disappear into the depths and darkness.

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Race Report: PPRR Winter Series 3 & Brewer’s Cup

At the end of last year, my friend Vanessa Shawver came up with the idea for the Inaugural 2016 Pikes Peak Road Runner’s Brewer’s Cup. She got 19 local breweries and distilleries to sign on as team sponsors. Each team has 15 runners. The breweries and distilleries provide a team shirt which the runners wear at all of the local Pikes Peak Road Runner events. There are post-race, weekly and monthly gatherings at the business so it is a win-win for all involved. All of the races on our club calendar, plus the charity 5k for Project Purple, are on the Brewer’s Cup list. Points are awarded for participation, overall wins and age group awards. Because Vanessa’s goal in her running life is to encourage all runners, she wanted to make sure that runners who finish at the back of the pack would be earning points and thus contributing to their teams.

In theory, we want to make every single race, but we know that life gets in the way and not everyone will attend every race. Steve and I made it to the first couple of races and had a blast. Then we have missed a few due to illness, work and our parenting responsibilities.. But that’s just life. We do what we can and we make as many races as we are able.

After what has felt like weeks of very cold weather, we had 20 inches of snow fall in our neighborhood last Sunday through Tuesday. It has taken our area a long time to dig out. The local trails are all pretty much a complete icy, sloppy, muddy mess. There are many places that are simply not runnable right now.

The temperatures warmed up nicely over the past couple of days and Saturday was slated to top out in the 60s. We couldn’t have asked for nicer mid-winter weather. The course was moved back north this year to its old location at Baptist Road on the Santa Fe trail. The course is an out-and-back featuring 5 and 10 mile options. Even though I had missed the first two Winter Series races, I had signed up for the long series and planned to stick with the ten-mile option. Pictures from the trail taken a day earlier had showed a sloppy mess, but local runner John Volhand went out and plowed the entire course. I think I have mentioned before what an amazing running community we have. This is the kind of thing I am talking about: we have an incredible number of people here who are willing to give of their time an talents to make races come together.

WS3 friends

I carpooled to the start with three members of my Pikes Peak Brewery team, Shannon, Halcy and Debby. None of us felt motivated to run. In the five days leading up to the race I had done a 20 mile run and a one hour hard run. I was not feeling particularly rested and ready to race 10 miles, but the weather was perfect and I wanted to hang with my team.

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Pikes Peak Brewery getting photobombed by Fieldhouse members

There really isn’t much to say about my race. We lined up and started running at 10 am. I chatted with a few friends as we started. It was sloppy and got sloppier, muddier and icier the farther north we went. It was kind of difficult footing, but I cannot imagine how it would have been if John had not plowed the trail. We ran north for five miles, then turned around and ran south. Early in the race, Brianne and I chatted. I watched her pass me, and then caught up at the turn-around. She caught back up to me and we pushed each other to the finish. I appreciate the friendly nudges that runners can give each other and since I had kind of been in cruise-control mode, Brianne helped make this more of a race and speed workout for me. I love our our running community! Thanks again, Brianne.

I finished in 1:27:08, which made me 14th female OA and third in my AG for the day. This gave me an extra point for my team, which made me happy. I have missed points for some races but if I can show up and get an AG, then hopefully that helps make up for some of the absences.

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Muddy Legs after the race!

The larger point that I want to make from this report has nothing to do with MY race. It has to do with the Brewer’s Cup and PPRR. At Winter Series 3 and the other races I have attended, I have been blown away by the sense of camaraderie that the Brewer’s Cup has fostered. It is so fun to see teams taking pre-race photos together. It is hilarious to see teams photobombing other team pictures. During the race, as we pass by one another on the out-and-back, we cheer for our team members as well as for other team members. I may not know everyone’s name, but I tried to always say, “Nice job Triple S!” or whichever team shirt I saw. I also had plenty of runners say, “Nice job Pikes Peak!” It is fun to be a part of a friendly and supportive competition that is much larger than one’s self.

Toads

Smiling Toads at the Post-Race festivities at Pikes Peak Brewery.

It is also really fun to go to the social gatherings. I love runners. I love talking to runners and meeting new runners. Under any circumstances, going to a race is a fun experience. The Brewer’s Cup has added tremendously to that experience by fostering friendship, teamwork and friendly competition.

PPB and friends

Our fearless leader, Vanessa Shawver, on the right, with teammates and friends and family at Pikes Peak Brewery.

Hope to see you all at the upcoming races and please do not forget to sign up for the Run to Beat Pancreatic Cancer. Registration is open and we have lots of wonderful prizes for winners and raffle items, thanks for our wonderful sponsors. Find more information here:

http://www.run4projectpurple.org/event/run-to-beat-pancreatic-cancer/

 

 

Breck Crest Mountain Marathon Race Report

This past Saturday, Steve and I ran the Breck Crest Mountain Marathon (http://www.mavsports.com/events/?event-categories=breck-crest-2015 ), a challenging high altitude mountain trail race. We last ran the Breck Crest Mountain Marathon in 2007. At that time, I had just run Pikes Peak Marathon two weeks prior and had a bit of a groin injury. Somewhere around mile 15 or 16, Steve severely sprained his ankle. We finished the race, but basically limped in to the finish. In fact, we were so late to the finish that year, that our family had given up on us and gone back to the condo we had rented. Nevertheless, the beauty of the course had left quite an impression on Steve and me and we had always wanted to go back and run it again.

This year, our friends Debby and John had invited us to join them on race weekend. Debby was going to run the half-marathon and John the full. We thought it would be a great way to get away for a couple of days, run a race and enjoy some time with our family and friends. Since Steve had been training on Pikes Peak most of the summer, I knew he would do fine at altitude. I, on the other hand, had not had time to get up very high in the mountains. I knew I would suffer pretty much right from the start of the race. I just hoped that Steve would be tired still from his Pikes Peak Double so that we could comfortably run together.

The Breck Crest starts at 9500 feet elevation in downtown Breckenridge. Pretty much immediately, the runners head up into the ski hills and surrounding trails. Runners climb about 3000 feet over the first several miles, topping out at 12,500 feet of elevation. The half-marathoners drop back down into town at this point, while the marathoners drop down to around 11,000 feet before heading back up to 12,500. From there, the course follows the “crest” over the ski hills of Breck. Runners stay up at 12,000 feet or above until mile 12 when the course drops back down, rolling between 10,000 and 10,500 for several miles. The final mile brings runners back to downtown Breckenridge. The trail is often rocky, covered in roots and quite technical. It is also spectacularly beautiful.The race course is actually short of a full marathon. My garmin read 24 miles, Steve’s read 23.5 and John’s read 23.7. The first time I signed up for this race, I was bothered by the fact that it was not a “true” marathon. After having run this race twice now, the hills and the high altitude provide enough of a challenge that I never feel like I got cheated out of miles.

Our family loaded up the car and drove up to Breckenridge Friday evening. We stopped by race headquarters at the Vertical Runner store in Breckenridge. This is a lovely running store, and any runner visiting the area should check it out. We chatted with RD Jeff Westcott and picked up our numbers. Vertical Runner was providing free pasta for racers and their family. This gave the race an extra nice and homey feel. It was great way to start the weekend.

The next morning, Peyton snapped a quick picture of us before we headed out on our adventure.

Steve, me, Debby & John

Steve, me, Debby & John

We headed down and lined up at the race start in downtown Breckenridge. We saw Steve’s co-worker Chris, who had driven up that morning for his first attempt at a mountain trail race. We also were pleasantly surprised to see Steve’s childhood friend, Dave, who lives in Silverthorne. Dave had ridden his bike over to see us off at the race start. We chatted for a few moments and then were on our way.

My goals for this race were to 1) spend time with Steve, 2) enjoy the views and 3) get in a good training run for races coming up later in the season. I knew I was not trained for the altitude, so I figured that for the first time in my life, I would take pictures on the course and just generally have a good time.

The race course gains about 3000 feet over the first six miles. It is a very runnable course in the early miles. My main goal in those early miles was to keep my heart rate and breathing under control. This was not too much of an issue. If I felt the hills and altitude getting to me, I just back off the pace and hiked until I felt recovered.

Early uphill in the Breck Crest

Early uphill in the Breck Crest

Steve and I ran together, chatting throughout the early miles. As we reached an elevation of around 11,000 feet, we had to switch over to power hiking. The trail grows very steep in this area, as you head up to tree line. Despite our slower pace, we managed to pass a few runners during this section.

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More hiking as we near a snow field and the top of the first big climb.

More hiking as we near a snow field and the top of the first big climb.

By around mile 6, we reached 12,500 feet of elevation. We chatted off and on with Josh and John, runners we had just met out on the course. The course rolls for a bit and then eventually turns into a quad-busting steep downhill. We ran back down to about 11,000 feet between miles 9 and 10. Then, we power-hiked back up to an elevation of 12,500+ feet, peaking at mile 12.

Running at 12,500 feet

Running at 12,500 feet

At this point, we ran up above treeline for a ways. The views from the crest are spectacular.

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As we headed back down below treeline, we hit more screaming downhills. I knew we still had a long way to go and tried not to burn myself out. The trail is extremely rocky and root-filled through this downhill, so Steve and I were both concentrating on making it down without getting hurt. Finally, around mile 16 we made it back down below 11,000 feet. At mile 17, I said to Steve, “I think it is time to start racing now!” Steve replied with an incredulous, “What?!” There were not too many other marathoners, as most people seem to choose to run the half, but I set about trying to pick off as many runners as I could from mile 17 to the finish.

I was really enjoying myself at this point until we had a couple of unfortunate incidents with mountain bikers. The vast majority of mountain bikers were so polite and accommodating of those of us who were running. However, we had a couple who literally ran me off the trail. I will spare most of the details, but because mountain bikers were on our tails riding their brakes, I was very distracted. I had already twisted my ankle getting out of own cyclist’s way and now as I listened to continuous squealing brakes, I feared this person was going to run me over. I tried to move out of his way and I ended up hitting a rock and flying off the side of the trail. I would have rolled down a large embankment had I not fallen directly into a tree. I am a little banged and bruised from hitting the tree so hard, but the tree saved me from far worse injuries. Once I found my sunglasses, I dusted myself off and Steve and I continued on our way.

In an instant, I went from having a great time to wishing I had not started the race. I had to mentally talk myself through this rough patch. I could not allow some inconsiderate people to take away from the fun that I was experiencing. I had to pull myself out of the bad space I was going into mentally. I had come out to have fun with my husband, and I could not let anyone take that away from me.

We ran along as the course rolled between 10,000 and 10,500 feet for several miles. Finally, we descended back into town. We wound our way through the streets of Breckenridge, not exactly knowing how the race would finish up. We became extremely excited when we eventually saw our daughters waiting for us. We knew we must be right around the corner from the finish line. We crossed the finish in 5 hours and 55 minutes. We did not break any speed records, but we improved upon our 2007 time by an hour and neither of us was seriously injured. Steve and I started together and finished together. We had fun. We got in some beautiful miles. We achieved everything we had set out to do.

Our family at the finish line. The girls got to see us finish!

Our family at the finish line. The girls got to see us finish!

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With Debby, who had finished the half hours previously. She was showered & fresh as a daisy when we saw her at the finish.

With Debby, who had finished the half-marathon hours earlier.

John had finished about 15-16 minutes before us. Steve’s co-worker had finished in 4:46, a time that I cannot even fathom on that course. Colorado Springs elite runner Joseph Gray finished in 3 hours and 5 minutes. He is a super nice and humble guy who is a complete freak of nature. Can’t wait to see what he does next! The race finish line had an amazing spread of food from local vendors, which was a very nice treat after a long and difficult run.

I love this race. It is everything a Colorado mountain race should be. It has that nice small, low-key feel. The course is beautiful, breath-taking and challenging. Despite the high-altitude profile, much of the course is runnable, which I love. The post-race festivities are fun and the food is great. I really like this event and am sure we will be back.

After the race, Debby, John, Dave and our family went out for a bite to eat. We enjoyed spending the evening chatting with our friends away from the distractions of our normal lives.

Enjoying a post-race meal with my beautiful daughters

Enjoying a post-race meal with my beautiful daughters

Hanging out in front of the blue trees in downtown Breckenridge

Hanging out in front of the blue trees in downtown Breckenridge

Since the purpose of this weekend was to spend a little time bonding amid the chaos of the school year, our family opted to go for a hike on Sunday. We hiked up to Mohawk Lakes. We had done this hike last year in July, just about a month after I had finished chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. It is amazing how much easier it was to hike this now that the chemo is fully out of my system! We really enjoyed the beauty of the hike. It was the perfect way to finish off the weekend.

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As busy as we are and as tired as I get from spending a weekend out-of-town, it was much-needed time to reconnect with my kids and my husband. It felt great to get away from the distractions of every day life, if even only for 48 hours. All in all, this was a wonderful weekend. Mountain therapy is something I think we all needed.

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Finally, please check out the September issue of Ultrarunning Magazine. John Medinger wrote a lovely article about my pancreatic cancer experience and my Bryce 100 journey. I am greatly indebted to John and Ultrarunning Magazine for sharing my story.

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http://www.ultrarunning.com/

My Husband is a Pikes Peak Doubler!

Want to improve your overall happiness and satisfaction in life? Truly celebrate someone else’s success.

I cannot remember exactly when he started talking about it, but it was somewhere shortly after we met. My husband wanted to run the Pikes Peak Double. This consists of two races that take place over the same weekend. On Saturday, you run 13.1 miles to the top of Pikes Peak, which has an elevation of 14,115 feet. On Sunday, you run a full marathon up and then back down the mountain.

The amount of available oxygen at 14,000+ feet is about one-third of what it is at sea level. To give you an idea of how difficult these races are, the rule of thumb for the Ascent is to take your road marathon time and add 30 minutes. These are not races for the faint of heart.

In the Pikes Peak region, the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon are a big deal. On race day every year, nearly all of my running friends are lined up at their computers waiting for registration to open. For many people in this area, their entire year of training revolves around preparation for these two races. Many of the running posts I saw over the summer consisted of friends of mine at various places on the mountain. The races are an annual pilgrimage for most of my local friends who run.

A few brave souls take on the double, doing both events in the same weekend. Steve and I have both run these races before. I have done one or the other five times, but never both in the same weekend. Steve is now up to a total of ten finishes. He has talked about doubling for years. As a couple where both of us runs, works and raises a family, we have found getting in adequate training to be difficult. It takes time for us to drive down to the mountain and then spend the entire day running up and down. When our kids were little, we had to either hire a baby sitter or switch off days. If we swapped, we never saw each other. If we got a babysitter, it got expensive to train very quickly. Now that the kids are older, they are both very busy with their own activities. Our solution has been to simply pick different races. These last several years, I told Steve that the Peak was his to train for and complete. This year, the Bryce 100 was my big goal. I told him that his training would come first for the summer and I did my best to make sure that happened. This was his year to follow his big dream of doing the double.

I won’t go into all of the details of his training, except to say that I am very proud of my husband’s dedication. He works long hours and we traveled to sea level at a time when he should have been getting in his peak mileage. But, he did the best he could with what time he had to get his training in.

On Saturday, Steve finished his ascent in a time of 3:44. I could not be there because I was at volleyball with our daughter, but a friend sent me this photo of him up above treeline:

Photo credit: Meghan Cogswell

Photo credit: Meghan Cogswell

On Sunday, I dropped him off at the start before heading out for my own run.

Drop off

Drop off

The girls and I headed down to the race finish about an hour before we expected to see him. I checked the weather and everything looked fine, but when we got down to Manitou Springs, it started to pour. Nevertheless, there is something incredibly special about being at the finish line of Pikes Peak Marathons. All marathon finish lines are a fun place to be, but this race is special. Seeing people really dig deep at the end of a very long and grueling day is pretty amazing. Whether it is a flat-lander who is finishing for the first time, or one of the multitudes of local friends who are running for their 10th time, each finish is exciting and special to witness. My throat still hurts today from screaming for everyone.

Having a blast despite the pouring rain.

Having a blast despite the pouring rain.

My friend, Tracey, was up on top of the Peak and she sent photos of Steve from up high.

Headed up to the turn-around at 14,115 feet

Headed up to the turn-around at 14,115 feet photo credit: Tracey Anderson

We waited at the finish line until we saw him come running in. Unfortunately, I had water in my phone at that point and could not get a picture until a little later.

At the finish. So proud of my doubler!

At the finish. So proud of my doubler!

Though he has run the marathon nearly an hour faster than he did this past Sunday, I could not be more proud of happy for my husband. I have loved watching him fulfill a long-term goal and tough it out through the training and the two days of difficult racing. In the days leading up to this past weekend, I think I was more excited for him than I had been for my own races this year. The best part of loving someone is sharing in their joys and successes. I am ecstatic that I got to be a part of his weekend and witness him crossing the finish line of a goal a long time in coming.

Finally, congratulations to every single person who toed the starting line and/or crossed the finish line this weekend. It is such an amazing experience to share in everyone’s success. There are few places more rewarding than the finish line of race, whether I am running or spectating. Thank you Pikes Peak. Until next year!

Bryce Canyon 100 Race Report

The Bryce Canyon 100 was incredibly beautiful. It was also very challenging.The race features close to 19,000 feet of elevation gain and loss and most of it sits between 8,000-9500 feet of altitude. The Bryce 100 course tested every runner out on the course, including me. Though it was very hard, I would not change a single thing about the entire weekend.

The key to success in life is to work hard and surround yourself with the best human beings you can find. This was the strategy I employed to hopefully bring success in Bryce. Months ago, when I signed up for the race, Steve and I tried to figure out logistically how we could pull off a 100 mile race and a family vacation in the same trip. I knew that I could most likely finish the 100 on my own, but since having half of my pancreas removed, my body is still a bit of a mystery to me. Since I seem to have some blood sugar issues, I knew I would feel more comfortable having a pacer with me on the course through the night. The only person I really wanted with me on the course, besides my husband, was Lisa Bliss. I “met” Lisa through online running groups. Over the years, we started having conversations via email and Facebook, and then eventually over the phone.

I asked Lisa if she would come help and I really honestly could not believe she said yes. Somehow I, a slightly faster than average 46-year-old genuine nobody in the running community, had scored an endurance superstar to help me out. I jumped around the house yelling and screaming with happiness when Lisa said she would come. Silly, I know, but I really, really wanted her to be there and could not believe she said she would do it.

After a month or so, Lisa said she did not think she could pace me, but she wanted to crew. She offered her husband Tim as a pacer. Tim and I really did not know each other at all, but I figured that if he was Lisa’s husband, he had to be just as awesome. Thus, we planned he would run about 33 miles with me and my husband would run the final 17. The goal was to keep my blood sugar stable so I wouldn’t wander off and die in the woods.

We piled the family into the car and drove out to Utah on Wednesday. The drive was uneventful and the scenery was beautiful. The first obstacle came as we arrived into Bryce Wednesday night. Apparently there was a controlled burn going on. Smoke filled the air. After living through two summers of forest fires in Colorado Springs, I know that my lungs do not handle fire very well. Forest fire was not something I had considered in my race preparation and I was very concerned about potential lung issues if the fire continued to fill the air.

We met up with Tim and Lisa at the race host hotel, Ruby’s Inn, Wednesday night. After taking some time to chat and catch up, we all headed off to bed knowing the next couple of days would be very busy. Somewhere around midnight, I woke up. Our room smelled like the fire and it made me cough and choke. I tried to go back to sleep, but never did. This was not a good thing two night before a 100 mile race.

Our amazing race team!

Our amazing race team!

On Thursday, when we got up it was still smokey. Stephen, Riley, Peyton and I headed into Bryce Canyon in the morning to take in some of the sights. Photos truly cannot do the canyon justice. It is breathtaking and spectacular. I wanted to loosen up a bit, but not spend too much time on my feet, so we just did a couple of short hikes on the canyon rim that morning. Despite the beauty, I was still nervous about the smoke. We all had headaches and scratchy throats from breathing in the irritants. I just hoped the winds would be favorable come race day.

After lunch, we met up with Lisa and Tim and went to the race check-in and meeting. I loved the feel of the Ultra Adventure event right from the start.We had a very informal and casual meeting where everyone hung out, eating make-your-own pizzas. We enjoyed chatting with the other runners prior to listening to Race Director Matt Gunn speak.After the race meeting, we headed back to try to catch some sleep.

At the pre race dinner with Adrian Stanciu

At the pre race dinner with Adrian Stanciu

With RD Matt and Cherri, who is part of the awesome UA team

With RD Matt and Cherri, who is part of the awesome UA team

I set my alarm for 3:30 am, but was up at 2:30.

My special Project Purple shirt.

My special Project Purple shirt.

The whole crew wanted to see me off to the start, which was very sweet.

The family at the race start.

The family at the race start.

One last hug

One last hug

With Lisa, who means the world to me.

With Lisa, who means the world to me.

Going into the race, I had three goals: 1) to finish, 2) to finish in under 30 hours and 3) to finish in under 28 hours. As we arrived at the start, I was pleasantly surprised to see and smell only a little of the smoke from the controlled burn. I hung out in the car with Lisa, Tim and my family until 5:50 and then walked over to the start. We started promptly at 6 am and headed up a dirt road. After the first couple of miles, we turned off onto some single track trails. We climbed several switchbacks, and were rewarded with spectacular views of pink hoodoos. I passed the first early miles talking with Helen Pelster, of California. She took off ahead of me and I settled into running my own race.

As the miles ticked along, I chatted with a few other runners, but mostly just kept to myself, enjoying the sights. At mile 18 or so, we came to the first crew station. I was very excited to see my family and friends. I refilled, or should I say, over filled my pack. Lisa and Riley asked me if I wanted a hat and I said no. I also tried to refuse to take a rain shell with me, but Steve and Lisa both insisted. As soon as I left the aid station, it started to thunder and rain. I would not see my crew again until mile 41 and I wondered if I had made a very big mistake by not bringing the hat. As we climbed a hill shortly after leaving the aid station, it started hailing on us. One runner commented that he did not think it would last long because the sky was not very dark. I hoped he was right.

Fortunately, a few miles later, the sun came out. We continued on a long section of uphill. As it warmed up, I shed my long sleeve shirt and hoped that the nice weather would hold. The weather forecast had called for scattered rain and thunderstorms, which was good in terms of helping keep the smoke at bay. I just hoped that it would not rain for the entire race.

The sun shined brightly for the next several miles.I happily took in the scenery but was pretty much out by myself at this point. I enjoyed the solitude and the beauty of the area. I went for miles without seeing another soul. Off in the distance, however, I could see the sky was black. I wondered if the  storm was moving towards us or away from us, but could not tell at that point.

Miles 30-50 can be a mentally difficult stretch for me. I have already gone a long way, but know I still have a ridiculously long way to go. I listened to some music for about 8 miles in this stretch. I arrived at the Kanab Creek aid station and saw Adrian there. Adrian is a speedy guy who runs a lot of hundreds. I had figured that he would be one of the top five males, but he was not feeling well. I asked him if he needed anything. He was going to wait at the aid station and try to get some food in his stomach before moving on. I wished him well and hoped he would turn things around for a finish. I headed out on my way, knowing I only had about five miles until I could see familiar faces again.(Adrian did finish, but I will let him tell that story in his own blog post).

Finally, I came into the Straight Canyon aid station. I had been counting down the miles til when I knew I would see my crew again. It really provided an emotional boost, though I tried to keep each stop to the bare minimum. I knew there was a big climb coming out of Straight Canyon to the Pink Cliffs, which would be the high point on the course. We could hear thunder rumbling off in the distance. I vaguely remember saying that I needed to hurry to try to beat the storm. Once again, shortly after leaving, the thunder and rain picked up in earnest. Being out in thunderstorms scares me. I am not ashamed to admit it. I am afraid of being struck by lightning. I did not survive cancer to be killed by a lightning strike.

Steve calls this my going to battle look.

Steve calls this my going to battle look.

The trip up to the Pink Cliffs is almost all steep uphill. I was alone as I headed out, but a man came flying down the hill towards me. I was not thinking clearly at this point and I asked him, “Are you OK?” He said, “Yes, I am good.” That’s when I realized he was the lead male. I laughed at myself for being an idiot. The lead eventually set a blistering course record for the 100.

I trudged up the long road leading to the Pink Cliffs. The thunderstorm moved in with a vengeance. I was still alone, but I could see people ahead of me. I was afraid. The lightning was striking very close. The ground shook with the thunder. The flashes and bangs seemed simultaneous.The hail hurt as it pelted me. I heard later that one runner who was using trekking poles had gotten knocked to the ground when lightning hit very close to him.

I finally caught up to Linda, Todd and another lady whose name I cannot remember. We kept plugging along towards the next aid station, wet and weary, but the company alleviated some of my fears. Eventually, I caught up with a gentleman named Bruce. He and I made it to the Pink Cliffs Aid Station at mile 46. I have never been so happy to see an aid station in my life. There were several runners crowded inside the tent around a space heater. People were talking about dropping at the turnaround. I ate some chicken soup to warm up, changed my wet shirt and told Bruce that I wanted to move on. He did too, so we took off on the final five-mile section to the turn around. Bruce was a super nice guy from Michigan, and we would run off and on all night until nearly reaching the finish.

The storm had rattled all of the runners, including me. I knew people would be dropping due to the weather, but I had no intention of dropping. I had come to run 100 miles, so finishing 50 was just not an option. It was really nice during this section to have Bruce’s company to take my mind after the scary patch we had just been through.

I was so excited to get to the turn around. Bruce and I pulled into the 50.5 mile Crawford Pass aid station in just about 12 hours. I was way ahead of schedule. Lisa made me change all of my clothing at this point, which was smart because I was soaking wet down to my bra. The big highlight for me at this point was that I would be picking up Tim as my pacer. Because I continue to have blood sugar issues, I really did not want to be out on the course all by myself in the dark. I thought it might be dangerous for me with the unknowns of my body still creating issues for me.

Tim and I did not know each other at the start of the weekend. While Lisa and I have spent plenty of time texting, messaging and talking on the phone, Tim and I had never spoken. If you really want to get to know someone, though, go for a run with them. Over the course of the next 33 miles, Tim and I would get to know a lot about one another. He was perfect. Tim was a great conversationalist, without being pushy when I needed to be quiet and focus. He helped me keep my head straight when I needed it. We shared serious stories and lots of laughs. I appreciated his company more than I can ever really express.

Still smiling as we head out of the Crawford Pass aid station (Photo courtesy of Tim Englund)

Still smiling as we head out of the Crawford Pass aid station (Photo courtesy of Tim Englund)

As soon as I came out of the turnaround, I started experiencing stomach problems that would plague me for the next 40 miles. I had a ton of food but I could barely get any of it down. I knew I had to eat, but every time I put anything in my mouth, I spent the next several miles trying not to throw up. This was not good and I knew it could potentially end my race. Why did I have stomach problems? I have no idea. I have never had this happen in a race before. Was it because my digestive system reacts differently now since my surgery? Or was it something simple like I ate too much salt? I don’t really know and I will likely never know the answer.

Tim and I had a couple of hours of light when we took off together, which was nice. He got to see the beauty of the pink cliffs. I had expected that he would be running entirely in the dark, so I was happy to be able to share in the beauty of the course with him. Eventually we turned on our headlamps when it was close to pitch black. Shortly after that, the rain came back, along with some thunder, lightning and hail. I put my rain jacket back on and prayed that the storm would not be as bad as the one between miles 40 and 50. Fortunately it was not. It lasted for a while, but then moved on. I was not soaked and shaken like I had been earlier in the day.

Soaking in the scenery (Photo courtesy of Tim Englund)

Soaking in the scenery (Photo courtesy of Tim Englund)

Bruce had caught up with us, and ran with us off and on for sections throughout the night. We rolled in and out of the various aid stations as quickly as we could. I still could not get much food into my stomach. I had to walk way more than I should have due to nausea. For quite some time, we heard two female voices in the distance ahead of us. I wondered if I could catch up to them or not. Eventually around mile 80, we did pass them. I was determined to put some distance between us and ran as much as I could in the following miles. As the night wore on, we started to count down the miles until we would return to the Proctor Aid Station where I would pick up Steve as my pacer for the final 16-17 miles. My Garmin had died a long time ago, so I kept asking Tim what his watch read to figure out where we were. After what seemed like forever, we got to Proctor. It was a little after 3 am when I arrived and I was still ahead of schedule. This was a big mental milestone. I looked at this section as the final push.

Lisa was great about getting us in and out of each station as quickly as possible. We spent maybe five minutes in the aid station. As we were leaving, the two girls I had passed a few miles back walked in. I knew I had to step up my game. We ran as much as we could going out of the aid station. It was about ten miles until the next aid station. I had borrowed Tim’s watch to help me track the miles, but it died, too. I was tired, I knew I had a big blister and pretty much everything in my body hurt at this point. I was not the conversationalist I had been earlier in the day.

After what seemed like an eternity, we got to the final aid station. They told us we only had 7.5 miles to go and I was ecstatic. I also knew this section would take some time, as there was a climb of about 1000 feet at mile 94-95. Once again, we saw Bruce, who was now running with his wife. He looked incredibly strong, and pulled away from us going up a hill out of the aid station. I was very happy for him.

The sun was now coming up, which was great, because even though I knew this last section would be really hard, I also knew it would be really beautiful. I wanted Steve to see the hoodoos. He snapped some pictures as we went.

The final long, steep climb

The final long, steep climb

I suffered greatly on the big climb. That is when we heard the voices. The women I had passed were behind us. Because we were in the canyon, it was hard to tell how far back they were, but we could see and hear them. I had to really push it now. I was in second place, but if they both passed me, I would miss the podium spot. Mentally, I had thought I was done. I did not think I had a whole lot of running left in me at this point, but now I had no choice. I ran every step that I could, as fast as I could.

Steve kept me informed as best as he could as to where they were. While I need no external motivation to keep pushing, he made helpful little comments like, “You didn’t run 96 miles to get passed at 97!” Where the hell was Tim? I didn’t want this slave driver. I wanted my nice and encouraging pacer back! I kept pushing, up over the final climb and then down to the final miles of switchbacks to the finish. I was not sure at that point how far I actually had to go. I just know the switchbacks nearly broke me mentally. I kept thinking the finish was around the corner, only to turn and see more switchbacks. Still, I wanted that second place finish so bad I could taste it. I pressed on and on and on.

Then, finally, we saw Peyton in her pink jacket. We yelled to her and she said the finish was just around the corner. I really hoped she was right. We went up one final hill, made the turn and saw the finish link in all of its glory. My whole family crossed the finish line with me and we ran to see Lisa and Tim. My official time was 26:31, which far surpassed all of my goals. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. We all hugged and were a little teary. Matt Gunn, the race director, came out to congratulate me. He seemed pretty blown away and said that he had hoped to see me finish but he did not expect to see me finish so well. Neither did I, but I was thrilled that I did.

The family crossing the finish line with me!

The family crossing the finish line with me!

The third and fourth place women came in within minutes after I did. It was nice to be able to cheer them on. They made me work much harder than I had planned over the final miles and I appreciated having someone push me.

With my amazing and spectacular team at the finish.

With my amazing and spectacular team at the finish.

With my belt buckle and 2nd place award

With my belt buckle and 2nd place award

This was the most special race of my life for so many reasons. Obviously, it is amazing to come back from cancer and run so well. I remember in November of 2013, wondering if I would ever run again after my surgery for pancreatic cancer. To come back and be possibly the first PC survivor to run a 100 mile race is just so wonderful. Having my husband, Riley and Peyton out there to celebrate my comeback with me was just incredible. Seeing my kids out on the course made me so happy and proud. I love having them see their mom go out and bust her butt doing things that most other moms (and dads, for that matter) do not do. Finally, spending the weekend with Lisa and Tim was absolutely one of the most special parts of this race for me. They are such selfless, giving, kind and fun people. Their presence made this a weekend that I will forever cherish, no matter what happens to me in the future. I can never express the full depth of my gratitude to this wonderful couple. This is about so much more than crewing and pacing, which Lisa and Tim did perfectly. This is about love and friendship. Spending the weekend together and enjoying every single moment of it created a special bond that will last forever.

My phenomenal crew and pacers! Indebted to this amazing group of people

My phenomenal crew and pacers! Indebted to this amazing group of people

Goofing around in Bryce Canyon after the race

Goofing around in Bryce Canyon after the race

As Lisa said several times, everything went perfectly. Truthfully, the crew and my pacers did everything perfectly. I made mistakes. I suffered with stomach problems. The weather was a real challenge. I carried too much stuff in my pack and that slowed me down. I saw that only 76 people out of 120 registrants finished the race. The conditions were very tough. But all of those factors (the weather, my stomach, almost getting passed at the end), made the finish and the placing all that more sweet. I would not change a thing. The difficulty made it all that much more gratifying.

I am so thankful to everyone who has followed my progress over the last few months and supported my endeavors. I am so grateful that I have had so much support from family and friends. I appreciate all of the support I have gotten from Project Purple. Thank you to Brooks Running for the shoes. I wore the same pair of trail ASRs through the entire race. I am grateful to Dirty Girl Gaiters for sending gaiters for my whole crew. I am thankful to Matt Gunn and everyone from Ultra Adventures for putting on a fabulous and challenging event. I appreciate everyone who has donated to my Project Purple fundraising campaign. I plan to take a little time to just enjoy the sweetness of this whole journey. I feel good and plan to savor the moment before gearing back into training for some fall events.

Thank you all for following my journey back. This is what pancreatic cancer survivorship looks like for me.

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https://www.crowdrise.com/survivortoniaruns/fundraiser/toniasmith

Tonia’s Run & the Lincoln Marathon

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind. Anyone who follows me knows that I was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in November of 2013. I have tried to express many times what an impact my diagnosis has had on my and my family’s life.I have written about how lucky I have been. I am grateful to be doing well, despite the surgery and chemotherapy treatments. I have made no secret of the fact that I have struggled with survivor’s guilt at times. My way of dealing with that is to try to do what I can to help others who have been affected by this illness. It is my passion and mission in life.

I have become involved with Project Purple, whose motto is “Running to Beat Pancreatic Cancer”.

http://www.run4projectpurple.org/

I am so fortunate to have found a charity that I believe in so completely. As a runner who cares about improving the survival odds for Pancreatic Cancer, Project Purple completely aligns with my own passions in life.

On April 26, 2015, we held the first annual Tonia’s Run to Beat Pancreatic Cancer in Colorado Springs, CO. We had over 120 registered entrants for the race. Despite the weather being overcast and rainy on race morning, the event went on as planned and the runners and walkers had a great time.

Runners waiting to start the 5k

Runners waiting to start the 5k

Top three male winners, Brooks Williams, Jesse Mascaranes & Jon Teisher

Top three male winners, Brooks Williams, Jesse Mascarenas & Jon Teisher

Top Female, Kristina Mascarenas

Top Female, Kristina Mascarenas

Having fun after the race!

Having fun after the race!

With JoAnne Kienle

With JoAnne Kienle

With Vanessa Shawver

With Vanessa Shawver

We had a great first year event and are looking ahead towards next year’s race. I will be announcing a date very soon.

This past weekend, I traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska, to run with the Project Purple Marathon team. I was originally asked by my dear friend, Elli Zadina, to come and speak at the dinner. I thought about running the half-marathon but then decided I wanted to run the full as a training run for the Bryce 100.

My wonderful friend, Jenny, said she would also come to Lincoln and run the marathon with our team. We left Colorado Springs on Friday and stopped along the way so she could visit her son who attends college in Kearney, NE.

Jenny & I on our way to our Thelma & Louise weekend, but sadly, we did not find Brad Pitt anywhere.

Jenny & I on our way to our Thelma & Louise weekend, but sadly, we did not find Brad Pitt anywhere.

We arrived in Lincoln mid-morning on Saturday. I volunteered with the Project Purple team booth for a couple of hours that morning. I love nothing more than spending time with other runners. I especially love being around other runners who care about Pancreatic Cancer. So, that was pretty awesome!

With two incredible people, Elli Zadina & Project Purple founder, Dino Verrelli

With two incredible people, Elli Zadina & Project Purple founder, Dino Verrelli

With Coach Jane, who also happens to be a pancreatic cancer researcher!

With Coach Jane, who also happens to be a pancreatic cancer researcher!

With runner and all-around great guy, Travis Russell

With runner and all-around great guy, Travis Russell

With Brian Reeves, who is on his way to running a half in all 50 states!

With Brian Reeves, who is on his way to running a half in all 50 states!

We had a wonderful team dinner Saturday night!

I had the pleasure of speaking to the team.

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Dino gave me purple Shwings for my shoes!

Dino gave me purple Shwings for my shoes!

Most importantly, this amazing team of 88 runners raised over $100,000!! What an incredible group of people.

Race day was going to be warm, with predicted highs in the 80s. I finally fell asleep at 3 am Saturday night and my alarm woke me up at 4 am, so I was not well rested going into the race. Since my big goal is to run the Bryce 100, I did not taper, except for the final four days before the race. I honestly did not know how the race would go.

I decided I would just go out and see what I could do. My secret goal was to run a Boston Qualifier, but my big goal was to finish and not get injured. I must have put down a predicted finish time in the 4-4:30 range when I signed up. I was not too happy with myself for low-balling my finish time, because that meant I had to line up farther back. Since it was supposed to be hot, I wanted to get moving as quickly as possible. I think we started about 15 minutes after the gun went off.

The first hour or so went well. It was sunny, but we were running through neighborhoods that were lined with trees. Soon, the sun moved higher into the sky and I could feel the heat and humidity. I knew this would play a factor for everyone. I knew it would be a factor for me, since it has been cold in Colorado Springs recently. Over the first half, I ticked off miles in the 8 minute range. I had a few that were faster and a few that were slower, because I stopped for water. The first half of the race, we ran with the half-marathoners. That was nice, because there were lots of people and big crowds lining the streets. As the marathoners split off, the crowds became more sparse. It also became blazing hot. My mile splits dropped into the 8:40s and higher. I tried to hold it together. I saw a woman lying on the side of the road getting an IV. I saw a lot of people walking. Somehow, I managed to keep running.

At about mile 20, the runners turn back and head toward the Nebraska football stadium. It is a net downhill on the way to the finish, so despite the heat, I was able to bring my mile splits back into the 8:20s. The course had plenty of aid stations. I ran through each one, drinking water and dumping a second cup over my head. I also stuffed ice in my bra in several stops.

I eventually finished in 3:39:45, which is about a 15 minute Boston Qualifier. I also got 3rd in my age group, so that was exciting and unexpected.

Holding my award plaque and award winner's shirt

Holding my award plaque and award winner’s shirt. My race & awards are dedicated to Virginia & Gina, two  PC warriors

With Elli & Dino

With Elli & Dino

With Jenny

With Jenny

Finishing in the football stadium was very cool. My hat is off to the Lincoln Track Club for putting on a fantastic event. I would definitely recommend the marathon. The course is pretty and quite flat, and there were plenty of aid stations.

I am thrilled with my results and finish time, especially considering the fact that I have done maybe three speed workouts since before I had cancer. I think the long runs are building strength that I have been unaware I had. What it comes down to, though, is I am stubborn and determined. In cancer circles, people use the phrase “Never, Ever Give Up” and it is a phrase that I often think of in running, also.

These last two weeks have been so incredible. I have met so many fabulous and inspiring people. I have feel incredibly blessed and lucky to be surrounded by so much love and support. I just ran a solid marathon and I plan to go back to Boston in 2016! Now I have to focus on my last few weeks as I prepare for the Bryce 100. I am happy and grateful for so many reasons.

Surround yourself with good people who inspire you to become a better person. Work your butt off. Enjoy your successes. Have fun and make time to play. Practice gratitude daily.

I have 32 days until Bryce 100. I have to rest and recover for a couple of days and then hit it hard for the next couple of weeks. I am trying to raise a minimum of $5000 for Project Purple. If you can, please help me to reach my goal.

https://www.crowdrise.com/survivortoniaruns/fundraiser/toniasmith