Race Recap Zion 100

First off, the Zion course was so amazingly beautiful, the hills were so long and so steep, and the volunteers and other runners were so awesome. I loved the challenge and felt like I executed my plan and strategy fairly well, all things considered. I still didn’t finish. There were things I could have done better, and things out of my control, but isn’t that life?

Wednesday night, the night before we were leaving for Utah, my pacer, my son, was out skateboarding and fell and sprained his ankle very badly. So we were up late at the ER with him. He was so upset because he wanted to pace me and felt like he had let me down. It was an emotional time for us, but we both knew there was nothing that could be done. I’m so glad he decided to come with his dad and me anyway.

We spent the night in Gallup, NM had some good New Mexican food and headed out to Hurricane, Utah the next day. Somewhere near Tuba City, AZ we got a flat tire. We put the spare on, but didn’t want to necessarily drive the rest of the way on the spare. We were in such a remote area of Arizona we didn’t have much of a choice than to keep going. The delay put us in Utah a few hours later than I expected to be in and it definitely stressed me out for a little while. I got somewhat of a good nights sleep considering I got up at 3am! Ate some food, had my coffee and drove to the start.

Before the race

The morning was perfect. Cool, but not cold, I didn’t even wear my jacket. I started just after 5am and the night was so dark and clear. I saw two shooting stars in the first hour of the race.

The course ran for about 6 miles on a dirt road and then we got on slickrock trail to Gooseberry Mesa. I ran with some people that I met right from the start. We kept a good conservative pace and all was well. The views were just glorious.

Sunrise over Zion National Park

After the Gooseberry Mesa loop we then headed down Mondo Z, a 1.5 mile 1500’ descent down rocks. Pictures don’t do this justice. It’s pretty much straight down. Eventually it winds down to another trail in the desert towards the next aid station.

You can kind of see how far down and where the trail goes.

I met D and Aaron at Virgin Dam aid station around 26 miles in. It was so good to see them. They filled up my water and resupplied my gels and foods. Derreck got me ice for my bandana which was so awesome as it was really heating up. The next section was going to be hot!

By now my watch was tracking me almost 2 miles ahead. Pretty much everyone around me was, so it was a little frustrating not getting to aid stations when we expected to, but what can you do? Just keep moving. We got to a water only aid station and almost everyone was out. I think it was about 85 degrees and we were cooking! There wasn’t a food aid station for 5 more miles and we had a giant 4 mile road to climb to get to it, Smith Mesa.

This hill is where I really slowed way down. It was just sooo long and relentless. I never stopped moving but I lost a lot of ground on this hill. The aid station was great, and I had a quesadilla and some coke. I hoped to make up time on the top of Smith Mesa, but it was pretty technical up there and the conditions of the trail were really poor. I did not make up any time.

The next section off of Smith Mesa is called the Flying Monkey Trail. That was the sketchiest trail and it freaked me out in some spots. The trail was so narrow, rocks so loose, and the drop off so steep. I was extremely careful going down this section and by now I was worried it might be dark before I got to the bottom. I had no light with me until the aid station at mile 51, Virgin BMX. Part of this trail has a rope to get down about a 10-12 foot section of rock. Thankfully a nice guy was right by me and told me how to lower myself down. It was basically repelling down. Scary!

This is right above the section where the rope is.
You can see the person down there after the rope section.

The trail finally started to become a smooth single track a little bit after that. I ran in the next aid station happy and hungry! Derreck and Aaron were there at Virgin BMX and took care of me. I decided to change my shoes and socks. My feet had large blisters from going straight down the Mondo Z hill. I stayed a little too long at that aid station but it was so good to see my family. By now it’s completely dark but I had my headlamp. I finally head out to the next section of trail and not even a mile into it I step into swampy stinky mucky water. I knew there was a river crossing here, but this was not a river. This was yucky cow pattie water. I finally got to the actual river and crossed it. That sucked. Those fresh shoes and socks were for nothing. Another rocky climb, but not too long and then up a dirt road to the top of Guacamole. I had a drop bag there with warm clothes and my Kogalla light. Good thing, it was cold up there. I stayed with a guy named Rodger. For some reason he started calling me Tanya. It was funny. Anyway, we stuck together for that section because the flagging was so hard to see. We did not want to get lost. We were already now almost 4 miles over what the course map said. This section took so long because we stopped to make sure we saw the next flag before proceeding. But it was better than going off course. I was getting tired but still felt alert. I made up some time coming down the road and then it was the river and muck again. But then I saw Derreck and Aaron again. It was around 4am by now. Here is where I broke down. My feet hurt so much. The blisters were huge. Derreck put my first pair of socks and shoes back on because the new ones were soaked again. I knew I was slow and was now worried about missing the cutoff time. I also knew I had to climb that stupid Mondo Z hill again. I wondered if I would be able to make it. Derreck and Aaron gave me hugs, fed me, made me laugh and I continued on.

Exhausted.

There were a few people around me but I was slower than they were. I lost sight of their lights after awhile. I surprisingly felt okay at this point. I ran a little when it was flat and was doing ok. Until I stopped seeing the flagging. I went a little farther thinking maybe I had just missed the last one. Still no flags in sight, it’s dark and I am all alone. I pulled out the map on my phone and saw I was about a mile off course. That sucked. I backtracked as quickly as I could and found the spot I missed my turn. Now that was on the right course I guess my emotions released and I cried. I pulled myself together quickly and approached the big hill. By now the sun was starting to come up, which was good because it would have been so hard to get good footing in the dark. That hill was so steep I needed to rest so often. I started counting 30 steps and then I would rest on my poles. 30 steps, rest. On and on, up and up.

I made it to the top, finally, Goosebump Aid. I sat in a chair and had coffee and an egg. I was calculating the time and with 25 miles to go, I had to stay under a 19 min mile to finish. That would normally be easy. But I didn’t think I could do it, mostly walking. Of course, now I wish I had tried. My feet hurt so much. I was tired. I felt bad for Derreck and Aaron being up waiting for me without getting much sleep too. If I stopped it would all be over. I had nothing to prove to anyone.

I got out of the chair and headed out of the aid station. I had a 5 mile section to get to the next aid station and see the guys. As I walked I cried, seeing my dreams disappear before me. I was sad.

I called Derreck. Told him I didn’t think I would be able to finish in the time allotted. He told me the math and we both knew unless I really picked it up I wouldn’t make it. So he came and got me. I turned my bib in and took my DNF. I made it nearly 80 miles! That is a huge accomplishment. All in all, it was a wonderful experience and I learned so much. I met amazing people and did the hardest trails I have ever seen. The race was tougher than I thought it would be, and even though I didn’t finish, I am tougher than I thought as well. Had I known how hard this course was, I probably wouldn’t have even attempted it. But I would have missed out on the beauty of it all, and so much more!! Sometimes our goals should be so big we aren’t sure we can complete them. How else will we see where our limits are, where we can improve and grow? Life is full of unexpected and unwanted outcomes. Ultra running can be a way to practice dealing with hard times and disappointments in a way that really has no significance in everyday life. But the lessons learned, the willingness to suffer and continue transfers to every day life. We have to get up and keep going even when we are unhappy with our situation and try to make the best of it. And we need to celebrate all we have done and accomplished even if we didn’t meet our goal. They are all stepping stones to improving ourselves. Isn’t that really one of our purposes in life, to improve ourselves? If we do, we are in a better position to come along side others to encourage and uplift. That’s what makes the world go around.

So even with a DNF, I still call it a win. I ran longer than I have before, met amazing people and spent so much time in God’s Country.

Because I completed at least 100K, I was still able to take an award. I chose the Coffee cup!

Training for Zion 100

The plan: run 100 miles at Zion Ultras on April 10-11. The goal: don’t DNF! The ultimate goal: under 30 hours.

I’m just starting week 12 in my training plan. I am using the plan from the book Relentless Forward Progress. So far, it’s going well. I am keeping my miles on the very conservative side, knowing my body well enough now that I have had 5 years of ultra running and 3.5 with lupus. I’m pleasantly pleased!

One of the perks of training for an ultra with your friends is the sheer amount of time you can spend together during long runs. We have some of the most amazing conversations that probably would not happen in other settings. Topics just flow, and with the 3 of us, they flow deeply. I truly believe that running can and does help people have stronger mental health!

Classy, sassy, and bad-assy.

There are days I question my sanity for deciding to run 100 miles. And certainly I have friends and family (that’s you, Dad) that don’t understand or worry about me. It’s hard to put into words, but I need it. I need to run. I know I don’t have to run so far, but I enjoy the process of running, I enjoy challenging myself and the idea is just so exciting, even if a little scary. I love the atmosphere of ultras. These are the nicest people you will ever meet.

I saw a lady’s shirt that said, “The more I run, the less I want to run away” and that just has stuck with me because I get it! Running can be an escape from the noise of the world and all its trouble, it can be the place where you get your best ideas, it can be community, it can be church! It can be where God speaks loudest, it can be just the quiet you need.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

I will continue to train so that I can be well prepared for this endeavor. Stay tuned for more updates! Read through my previous posts on other race recaps I have written about and more on why I run. Thanks for reading!

The Wolf and the Butterfly

May is Lupus Awareness Month. I was diagnosised on August 1, 2017 with Lupus. It was a very long road and so many tests to finally get an answer to what was wrong with me that it was a welcome answer; someone confirmed that indeed, something was very wrong with me and it wasn’t all in my head and I wasn’t just lazy.

Lupus is Latin for Wolf. The first mention of lupus in history dates back to the 13th century physician Rogerius describing a rash on a face as similar to a wolf bite. Lupus can be contained to the skin in rashes and lesions, called Discoid Lupus. Lupus also is often manafested with a “Butterfly” or Malar Rash across the cheeks and bridge of the nose, thus associated with a butterfly. By 1904 Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) was firmly established. SLE is a chronic autoimmune disease that attacks different parts of the body. It is unpredictable and misunderstood, often called “the great immitator.” No two cases of lupus are alike. Common symptoms include joint pain, skin rashes, debilitating fatigue, brain fog, low fevers and inflamation. Most people with lupus don’t look sick. Lupus can affect any organ or tissue, from skin, to joints, to heart or kidneys. Because the cause is unknown and there is no single blood test to diagnose more than half of the people with lupus have suffered at least four years and saw three or more doctors. There is no cure.

I have had Hashimoto’s Thyroidistis since 2009 (though I suspect I have had it much longer). This autoimmune disease attacks the thyroid. The symptoms include major fatigue, hair loss, and weight gain. Keeping my thyroid monitored and adjusting thyroid medicine as needed became part of my life. For a few years it was well controlled and I lived a very normal active life. Suddenly, in 2013, the fatigue came back with a vengance. I had extra thyroid tests done, including ultrasound on my thyroid. There were a few small nodules, but nothing significant. My labs showed my medication was the correct dose, yet I was not well. After insisting on being tested for Mono, that test came back positve for reactivated Epstein-Barr Virus. My doctor was surprised but she gave me a prescription for an anti-viral medication and sublingual B12 to see if it made any difference. It did not. She said I would have to wait it out. At this point I had started running as a stress reducer and to try to lose some weight. It was very slow going, but it was helping. I guess the EBV went away or became dormant and I was feeling much better again. I started training for a 10K, then a half marathon, and finally a marathon. I even got a BQ on my second marathon! I was doing great.

We moved to Amarillo, TX in December, 2015 and I ran my first trail half marathon in Palo Duro Canyon in May, 2016. I was smitten by trail running. I ran the Palo Duro Trail Run 50K in October, placing 3rd female overall. I quickly looked for my next 50K and chose Monument Valley 50K in March 2017. It was everything I could have wanted in a trail run (except maybe for all that sand…) I felt overly tired after this race, but attributed it to needing more recovery after my race. I also had a strange rash on my face. After a month of overwelming fatigue I knew it was time to head back to the doctor. I can’t explain this fatigue – I was sleeping well, and long hours, yet I required a nap every day. I had a very hard time focusing on anything! let alone work or the kids or my poor husband. My PCP had labs done and sent me for a sleep study. All of that was normal. I saw my endocrinologist to check on my thyroid. He did all the tests plus another ultrasound and everything looked normal. When everything comes back “normal” but you don’t feel normal, you wonder if it really is all in your head. When I initially saw him, I had a positive ANA in my lab work which indicated another autoimmune disease so he referred me to a rheumatologist. August 1, 2017 I met my current doctor, and though he gave me some bad news, I wanted to give him a hug! I started on the standard treatment, Plaquinel, which is an anti-malarial drug. When I went back in for a check up 4 months later, I was a changed person. My hands didn’t hurt anymore, I could squeeze out a sponge and wash dishes without any trouble, I could think clearer, I didn’t need a nap every single day, and I could run. Running has been such a huge part of my treatment for depression. I walk a fine line between running enough to stave off depression, but not too much as to stress my body and throw myself into a lupus flare.

Not quite a year of treatment, I have come back to running. I was able to run my 3rd 50K last month and though it was much slower than my first, I thoroughly enjoyed it and was so grateful to be running again! I still have pain but most of the time it is managable. The fatigue is still my worst symptom, and try to rest or sleep when I can.

The hardest part of lupus to me is the guilt. There are so many things I need to do or would like to do but I chose rest more often than not. Most of my decisions are based on staying home and low key whenever possible. Except for running. If I can go for a 10 mile run, why can’t I do the laundry? go to the grocery store? work full time? meet a friend? I feel selfish. My excuse – I need to run for my sanity. And honestly, the more I run (to a point), the better I feel. The slow repetative movement of running releases those wonderful endorphins, which actually do reduce the perception of pain, as well as making me feel better mentally. After a run, I do have more energy for a few hours at work or a couple of errands. But that’s it. I am depleted rapidly. I hate that my mind wants to go and do but my body says no.

psalm27-132614-low

I don’t know why I have these diseases. I am human and I do despair sometimes. I feel sorry for myself. I cry in frustration and pain and fatigue. But I do know I can trust God and all of his promises are true. He never promised a pain free, illness free, trouble free life. God gave us Jesus. And with Jesus I can have it all! He came that I might have life, the abundant life as John 10:10 says. I keep going back to my faith, because with it, I have hope.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.  Romans 5:3-5

My struggles can bring me joy if I allow them to point me to God and to become more like Jesus, “who for the joy set before him, endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2) I relate my spiritual walk with my running life. I want to develop endurance – for it helps me to push beyond what I thought possible, in miles and in this illness. I want to develop character – maturity and strength of character, so that I am not bitter or lead a life of complaining. I need hope! Hope gives me confidence that I can finish the race and hope in the future because it will not disappoint.

For Lupus Awareness Month, Tonia Smith has made a video she gave me permission to share here:

 

I’m also linking the lyrics by Lecrae, because they really address my thoughts! Read them here.

Endurance

Running takes endurance. Whether you are running a mile, a 5K, a marathon, or an ultra, you need endurance to finish. A definition I came across really speaks to me:

Endurance – the struggle to continue against a mounting effort to stop.” Alex Hutchinson

My friends and family wonder at the races I run and tell me I am just Ah-Mazing! What they don’t realize is that at times during the race I want to quit. I have self doubt, I think to myself why in the world did I sign up for this? I think there is no way I can go on. And then somehow I find a way to continue, to endure.

Combatting the negative thoughts and feelings is major part of racing. The adage running is 90% mental has much truth to it. Our body is capable of more than we think. Getting ourselves to believe that is the trick.

Feelings lie. Emotions cloud judgment. Like heavy fog, you can’t see clearly and you are incapable of logical and rational thought and action. It’s important to move past this as quickly as possible or you get stuck in the mud and with every step your feet get heavier and more weighed down. You believe what is not true and defeat yourself. This is true in a race and true in life.

One of my favorite verses tells us how to live in the truth and not our feelings.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us lay off every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us. Hebrews 12:1

When we let fear and doubt dictate our thinking we cannot endure. It weighs us down and tangles us up. In a race, this means not running to your potential or even quitting. In life, the consequences are more severe. Stress happens. The unexpected phone call, the devastating diagnosis, the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, things beyond our control happen. How can we endure, how can we press on?

Fight the doubts, throw off the weight of insecurity. Trust. In a race you trust your training – you put the time in, you put the effort in, you don’t let moments of doubt and fatigue dictate your outcome. In life, you trust your training as well; your discipline in prayer and reading the Bible. This is where it counts, when life is not all butterflies and pizza. Sometimes life just sucks. Keep running. It won’t always be this bad. Keep running. You don’t know what other good lies ahead. Keep running. There is a rainbow after the storm.