Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 Bastard 50k AAR

Friday night was the 2013 Bastard 50k and this morning my heart is so full it feels like it will explode. Yesterday all I could do was shower, sleep, eat, ice, sleep, eat and finally just sleep.  This morning I'm already feeling much better and keep looking back on the night and all the experiences that led up to it.

I am completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the whole event.  Seriously.  It was definitely a Bucket List experience.

I think the easiest way to write out my thoughts is to use Eric's AAR (After Action Review) format which is to list three sustains and three improves.  So, let's see how that works in blog format.

First sustain has got to go to everyone who came out to participate in the challenge.  This was the first time I've ever been involved in an event where I knew every single one of the racers.  All through the night we were either passing or being passed by people I knew, providing such a wonderful feeling of community and joy. Those feelings don't occur in a conventional race full of strangers all just focused on themselves. I loved cheering on our amazingly fast rabbits (as Phil called them)  who were passing us a mere 18 miles in, even though they had started a good 2-2.5 hours after us!  I also loved encouraging and commiserating with the teams we caught up with at the aid stations and maybe even passed near the end.  To persevere through that night, no matter your placement, was an enormous accomplishment worthy of great respect and admiration.

I was blessed with a team of truly amazing teammates.

Maggie (who I swear will be late to her own funeral) always came through when she needed to and was even ten minutes early on Friday night.  During the race she was ALWAYS positive, saying repeatedly that we had no idea just how strong we were.  She would also say little creative visualizations when parts of the course got really hard.  One that was pretty cool she pulled out of her hat was near the end when we were starting our very last climb up Jones Peak... a short but exceptionally brutal little beast.  She visualizes being on a roller coaster and the hard climb will lead to the fun downhill and finish.  I could hear those words and they definitely helped pull me up those last few yards.  Maggie was usually sandwiched between Phil and I making sure any hungry and desperate mountain lions didn't try to pick off our smallest member.  LOL  She has this amazing grace that allows her to trip but never actually fall (unless she's on ice!) and all night long we were teasing each other to pick up our feet. (BTW... I promised Rose Beal that I wouldn't fall and I kept my promise!)

Phil was the most experienced on our team.  He had studied the course both live and on maps (he's a total tech geek and even Go Pro'd that night).  With him on our team, I was able to relax my perfectionist anxiety about the route, knowing that he would be our primary navigator and I only needed to back him up.  Phil was a little quieter than us chatterboxes, but he was always engaged with calm, positive and helpful words. I'm sure I made him a little crazy by constantly wanting to discuss our mileage placement and distance to the next marker, but he never voiced anything but patience and good cheer.  I loved that he allowed himself to slow down (because he's a much stronger athlete than I am) so that I could be the pace setter through the majority of the course.  I know it wasn't easy for him because the last 5-6 miles he allowed himself to move ahead at his own pace, waiting for me every few hundred meters.  I was awed by his ability to run down the scar and the face of Jones' on legs that had to be at least a little bit tired.  It was really wild to watch!

Being able to move at my own pace without having the chase a leader made a big difference in my energy conservation, which may have paid dividends given that we ended up placing 10th out of 18 teams... that and the fact that we didn't spend more than about 10 minutes in each aid station.  We were an underdog team of novices, whom I expected to finish close to last and I am humbled by our placement in the outcome... thus validating Maggie's words throughout the night.

Second sustain goes to the volunteers who made the whole thing possible.  Nicole Dimkich-Szabo and her experienced, highly organized, cheerful and super warm (thanks to the heater!) start line crew launched us with perfection... and yes, I can say that because I was the start line crew chief for the last two years so I know what it takes to make that happen.  Except she had it harder because Eric was there instead of racing and we all know what it's like to have our Fearless Leader silently looking over our shoulders!

The Aid Stations were just like I've found at public races... Seriously!  Ted Tyman was the super efficient and gracious crew chief of Station 1.  He and his crew were ready and waiting for us with lots of water and hot soup.  The drop bags were all laid out and they were doing a bang up job getting everyone's needs met until I came rolling in and the Team Triple Trouble drop bag wasn't there.  Ugh. I wish I could say I handled it as well as my teammates, who didn't even bat an eyelash, but I didn't.  The fact that if the bag wasn't where it was supposed to be must have been because I hadn't labeled it clearly enough didn't immediately occur to me. Instead, I growled at Ted who had only brought the bags he had been given and then I grumbled to those near me.  That's where my head goes first when I am disappointed by an unmet expectation. It only took me a few minutes to assess my actual needs and check my attitude but the damage was already done.  My sincere apologies to Ted, his crew and the racers around me who had to deal with the ungrateful side of Kellie.

Aid Station 2 was like nothing I've ever encountered and I've been in quite a few big races. We could see the glow of their station from a mile away and it was a welcome beacon as we finished our second of four big climbs of the night.  What I'm sure none of us expected was the simply amazing light show that awaited us at the top of the mountain.  Huge thanks to the super creative people who made that magic happen on our behalf!

Jon Pedder sets up a truly untouchable station.  Maybe all his years on Sierra Madre Search & Rescue give him an edge on runners needs because his crew had brought out everything from hot soup to sodas and cut bananas. It was exactly what we all needed.  The soup was hot and wonderfully salty and the salt and cut potatoes were sweet. Such thoughtful details helped speed our team faster than planned and yet still fully recovered and ready to go!

Donna Walters and her peeps were in charge of the finish line and they had somehow managed to not only crew at the start line, but still had the energy to greet us at Lucky Baldwin's with bunches of festive balloons. As a racer for the first time, it was so very cool to round the corner on Sierra Madre hand-in-hand with my teammates and run (ok... shuffle) through the crowd, cameras, balloons and cheers.

Phil just sent me over this video of our finish... it's very cute!

What a grand way to finish!

The third sustain is for Eric LeClair and his coaching staff, both in the Arrogant Bastards and Team CrossFit Academy.  Eric offers all of us a spectacularly effective training protocol both in the gym and on the field. Speaking for myself only, I can say that I would have never been able to complete the 2103 Bastard 50k without his thorough direction.  He (or his coaches) told me exactly how to eat, sleep, train and recover and I did my best to comply. Being who I am, I tend to only focus on the times when I'm non-compliant and for some reason I seem to think that those times will totally negate all my proper efforts. That is not true and just another example of my black and white thinking...  Which is why I rely on friends like Maggie and Marleigh to keep me positive minded!

The 2013 Bastard 50k course was an absolutely gorgeous nightmare.

 I can't imagine where Eric came up with it but it truly tested the maximum abilities of every single person that entered it.  Everyone I have spoken with has repeatedly said it was the toughest course they've done.  I am honored to be part of a group of people who step up to events like this and see them through.  It was by far the hardest thing I've ever done and I know I'm not the only one who feels that way.

When we started, it was cold but we quickly warmed up while running and stayed warm until we stopped at the rest stations.  The night was surprisingly bright and clear with stars and an almost half moon. Having said that, I was still grateful for my headlamp and hip lamp on broad beam and hand lamp on spot beam. The combination gave our team the ability to see exactly where we were going and highlighted the terrain in a way that not only provided high clarity but revealed a depth and beauty to our surroundings that was completely unexpected.  It is a vastly different world out there at night and I am so glad I was able to see it... even during the times when I couldn't bring myself to look, like on the sheer drops of Mt. Disappointment.

I've heard lots of stories from the ultra community about hallucinations.  Until this race, I'd never really experienced them.  I've already said I was leading most of the night and that I had the area well lit. That light created it's own shadows and all night long I kept seeing animals running away from our light.  Some little, some big, but none scary since they were always running away.  I know they weren't real because I never saw a glow of eyes reflected in the light (and animal eyes are scary visible at night when they look in your light.) and they were unnaturally silent.  As we were climbing out of one of the valleys we must have annoyed a large owl because we could all clearly hear him take off and fly away.  That was the only real animal encounter of the whole night, the rest were sadly all in my head.

One of the best parts of the race were being able to look across the valleys both ahead and behind, to see the lights of the other teams.  That and occasionally hearing snippets of voices off in the distance. (I even remember once while climbing out of Idlehour, trading yodels with Dave O. much to Maggie's and my delight.) It was so cool to know that no matter how alone we felt in the dark, we never truly were and that if there was trouble, we all had whistles to call for help... and that help would have come!  Those few things provided a feeling of safety and reassurance that built my courage and determination no matter the terrain... and some of it was rather daunting, especially at night, with limited visibility... all cliffs look fathomless when you can't see their bottom.

On to the improves... they all come down to me.

First, my mouth failed twice.  Both at Aid Station 1 when I complained and again near the end of the race. The sun was rising as we climbed out of Idlehour, providing a much needed boost to our spirit and energy.  We had survived the night!  That thought got us out of Idlehour and onto the Mt. Wilson Tollroad.  Only a 10k left!  Those last 6 miles of the race were mindbogglingly difficult for me... they took us 3 long hours to traverse and I know I was the only one slowing us down. Fatigue was finally winning .  My knees and feet were well beyond their experience and sounding off accordingly. The 3 miles up the toll road seemed easy enough being on a comparatively low grade, but they went on forever.  Using up most of my flagging reserves and building my trepidation of the next leg of the journey... coming down the scar and Jones Peak.  Where Phil and Maggie were looking forward to that section, I wasn't.  Phil led the way down and as I said, he was awe-inspiring to watch.  Maggie was behind him but I think only because she was keeping an eye on me.  She could have moved a lot faster had it just been the two of them.  The scar is steep and the surface was mostly loose sand which is relatively easy to navigate on "fresh" legs...  Which I couldn't muster despite Maggie's best efforts.  I took it slow and kept pep-talking myself.  I was so absorbed in navigating that the time passed quickly and before you know it the scar was done and I was climbing up to Jones Peak.

The absolute hardest part of the race for me was coming down the face of Jones.  It was crazy steep and my knees were absolutely smoked from the scar.  Where my teammates were sliding and jogging, I was down to shuffling and boot scooting.  At one point, Phil had the audacity to ask if I wanted to take the switchbacks down and I think I snapped at him that I had no idea the best route to take.  I had misunderstood his question and thought he was asking me to make a leadership decision about the course. Ha! Not likely at that point.  In actuality, he was only offering me an easier way down the face.  Duh.  I'm sorry my friend, I was definitely out of sorts at that time.

Second, I would have labeled our drop bags more clearly.  While the Station 1 bag wasn't truly essential, it had included protein that would have helped me get through that last quarter of the race.  Instead I fueled on on carbs that I had carried in my pack for emergency.

Third, I would have liked to have somehow prepared my feet and knees better for the end of the race.  I keep thinking back on how "fresh" Maggie's and Phil's legs were those last 6 miles and I would like to have been able to keep up with them.

Notice how I keep putting the word "fresh" in quotes?  That was another one of Maggie's positive cues.  All night long she kept sounding out how great she felt and how she was running on fresh legs.  It was very helpful... when it wasn't slightly annoying. LOL

That's it.  The 2013 Bastard 50k was by far the most wonderful and most difficult challenge I've ever chosen to walk though and I am forever changed by the experience.  My eternal gratitude to each and every one of you who made it possible. I am forever in your debt and will do my best to return the favor when your time comes to walk through a major life challenge.

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