2019 Western States 100

This year’s WSER was the same in many ways to 2018, but also a very different experience at the same time, ultimately leading to a 1 hour 16 minute PR over 2018 WSER.

How did I do this? Let’s take inventory below.

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The weeks leading up to States I felt so much more calm than last year, for a few reasons.  First, last year I sustained a concussion so I couldn’t actually start training until late April.  Second, I’d already run it and silver buckled (run sub 24 hours) so I felt like this year I could take some more chances.

Leading up to the race I ran a training race may 11th in Virginia; UROC.  It was much more technical than I expected, but it helped me perfect my nutrition and race plan and I came away with a third place finish. The following week I headed to CA and spent the week leading up to the WSER Memorial Day training weekend running on the course and getting to know some of the local runners. 6CE08183-CE6C-4BA1-A62A-0275E4C6DDD0.jpeg

The morning of, I did a little shake out run, realized that the pack I borrowed didn’t fit quite right and did a little last minute pinning adjustment with an extra bib pin. No problem, no worries, I was ready.

As in the usual tradition, a shotgun was shot off and we began our track 100 miles towards Auburn.

Living at 500 feet means I don’t get practice at running at high altitudes, so my plan was to keep a steady pace and calories flowing, as altitude usually makes me feel crappy if I don’t stay on top of food and water.  Just like last year I developed a little wheeze up high that eventually turned into a cough down low

This year was a snow year so about a mile up we were running on snow. Fortunately they groomed it so we were able to move without slipping too much on the ski hill. Up to the top of the escarpment I was in 101th place and feeling much easier than last year. 0EC87DF9-43D3-4C22-A51D-79156EA54060.jpegCD6D2499-555D-4EDF-9624-F510C609B3CC.jpeg

I remained in the same place for the first 30 miles to Robinson Flat.  In the high country with my labored breathing and a wheeze i developed I couldn’t push much so I passed people on the downhills, while they repassed me going up. I ran a lot more of this section this year and didn’t feel cranky like last year on the uphill to Robinson.

In and out of Robinson rather quickly.  even though the snow ended here,(mike 30ish) I started to put ice in my bandana as a preemptive cooling measure. This year was so much cooler than last.

Into Millers defeat I dropped to 97th and switched out my pack with my crew. We had planned to switch packs at every crew spot, but I only had two packs, having to borrow a third last minute I hadn’t run with it before, so at Miller’s I let my crew know that the borrowed pack was out so we had to refill the one I was using.

From millers to Michigan (the canyons section) I dropped from 97th to 88th. I’m not a strong hiker, but am a strong descender so I took some chances on the technical downhills and stayed steady on the ups. Using those moments to eat and drink, since eating and drinking on fast technical downhill can spell tripping disaster.

On the way up to Devil’s Thumb I had the pleasure or hiking with Dave Mackey.  Dave is quite the accomplished ultra runner, having placed second in 2004.  Since then he lost his lower leg in a running accident, and it was his first States as an amputee. He kept my mind off the grinding climb with his stories of past races.  I learned later that he had to drop after struggling 22+ hours on the technical single track.

Awaiting at Foresthill was my whole crew, both pacers, and Drew’s aunt Martha who came from Grass Valley to watch.  I promised this year she would get to bed earlier, so my pacer and I took off aiming for a faster finish.  This is where I can finally start running. The altitude is low enough and the final 40 miles plays to my flat-lander strengths. From here to the finish I went from 88th to 54th overall.  And from 24thF to 16thF.

Part of my strategy is to catch people at the end. I can’t keep up with those that have altitude lungs, or those that have mountains to climb, so I have to be able to run when the course allows for it.

Down to the river we passed a handful of women, and I almost got to the river before sunset( that’s a goal of mine, to cross in daylight.)  my pacer was perfect for this section, Jordan pushed the pace, but not too much.  Last year I blew up here with too much excitement at the runnable downhills.

My stomach always goes here, and just as I expected, it went again around mile 60.  Last year I shut down and bonked, this year I continued to force things down; switching from skratch to water, and eating potatoes seemed to stay down. Nothing settles it, but I figured if I was going to feel nauseated I might as well not also be calorically deficient as well.

It seemed to work and I continued to pass runners who had given it their all a little too early on.

At Green gate I was now in 59th place and having a little bit of a low. I switched my pacers, and Heidi led me on through the last 20 miles. This is the hardest place for me mentally, it’s “only” 20 more miles but it’s also 20 more miles!!

Heidi lives along this section of the course and having her knowledge of it kept me moving steadily.  I passed Kim Magnus, only to have her pass me back somewhere around ALT or quarry road.  Usually I love quarry road but this night I loathed it.  I felt like I needed to use the bathroom but couldn’t. Ugh.

Up Jim’s turn is rocky and annoyingly uphill.  Across highway 49 is a grind, I always wish for longer legs here as the rocks are uneven and sometimes too far apart for me to run across.

We headed into Pointed Rocks knowing there were TWO WOMEN right there a few minutes ahead and only 6 miles to the finish.  I grabbed some coke (I don’t drink caffeine so coke was giving me quite the lift) and headed out to find them.  From here to the finish I ran, past Kim again, past some other men, up to Robie Point, where I thought I was passing another guy, but it turned out to be another woman with less than a mile to go!

Onto the track there was no one left to pass, just the line to cross.  I leaped across in 21:42, an hour and 20 minutes faster than last year. I felt like a completely different runner crossed the finish this year. Last year I was blistered, broken, and sick this year I was giddy and satisfied. 7C353B6D-F007-4B7C-8EB7-AF84BB0B0FFFD4B88E05-B3E9-4055-A5E7-4FC3117720828778E17F-5C07-4517-A5EA-EC7EAB2A5E72

What a day!  My goals were to have fun✅

Run everything I could✅

Troubleshoot all my problems ✅

take chances✅

Eat when I felt low✅

Could i have been faster? I hope so, but for now I’m quite satisfied with reaching my goals, getting a big PR and figuring out many of my problems without wasting time.

Speaking of eating, let’s see what I ate…

fig Newman’s, cashew butter and banana wrap, skratch chews, shot blocks, watermelon, sprite, ginger ale, way too much coke, 16 honeystinger gels, 15 Maurten gels, and when my stomach finally got queasy and didn’t want any more food I forced down potatoes, more coke, ginger ale and TUMS!  Strava estimates that I burned 7,000 calories and I definitely ate between 6,000-6,500.  Not bad for me, who has struggled in the past to choke half that down in races.  Training to eat during long runs is key!!

As important as the training is to any 100 mile success, the pacers, crew and support system is just as integral.  I’m leaving WSER with on overwhelming feeling of gratitude for everyone who has helped me on this journey.

My husband, Elizabeth and Brian, Pacers Jordan and Heidi were so important to this finish.  My support system of family, friends, training partners and others, my coach Meghan Laws , Lily Trotters and Rabbit; thank you so much!

Also a huge thanks to all the volunteers, RD Craig Thornley and others who help make this race so special.  If you haven’t run Western States, keep putting into the lottery: don’t get discouraged.  It’s so worth the wait!

Closing out the 2018 season with an MMTR 50 mile win!

79036EF2-7731-49C0-B6A8-17E54C4B3B532018 has been quite the ride!  With my name drawn in the Western States 100 lottery January started off with my main focus on States and other races to support that goal.

In February I sustained  a concussion and had to log a month of no running, so In April my 50 miler at Bull Run Run was pretty miserable.  By mile 30 my concussion headache had returned and slowed me to a crawl. Fortunately I was able to get through it and Salvage enough training and recovery so I finished 21st and sub 23 hours at States!

It may not have been what I was hoping for, but the experience and time spent with friends on the course was awesome!

After a big event it’s not unusual for me to feel a little hollow and aimless, so I signed up (very last minute) for the Jarman’s International Marathon.  A 30 miler of hill repeats up and down a 3 mile hill in Virginia.  I won it in 2014, and won it again this summer as well.  It left me hobbling for a week, I was not recovered from States and all that downhill, but it was a fun day anyway.  After that I tried my hand at a road half marathon, something I haven’t done in more than a decade and was pleasantly surprised with a second place finish.15E86E59-7391-4249-B898-5D579CE4A9EE.jpeg

After several months post concussion I was finally feeling good!

without having time to train in the mountains, which are 3+ hours away, I had to make due with some flat tempo road running as my training bread and butter.  It made me a tad nervous leading up to Mountain Masochist 50, so I opted not to read irunfar or check out who else was running.  I wasn’t going to get all anxious about things out of my control.

MMTR is put on by Eco-x  the company of Clark Zealand, with a little help from the original race director, David Horton.   This year there were a few course changes, so no one knew exactly what to expect.

In the pouring rain my husband and I drove up to Lynchburg just in time to lay out some things for the race morning and get to bed.

The next morning the clouds had lifted, but the rain was so heavy it left tons of water on the whole course.

I made peace with that and put some Vaseline on my toes to try to keep them from getting too wet and lined up at the start.   The race begins before sunrise so for about an hour+ runners race with headlamps.

5-4-3-2-1 and we were off, through single track and onto a road for a very short time until back onto single track for a rolling 11 mile climb.  Unfortunately for me, an oncoming car blinded me temporarily and as I stepped off to the side not only did I step in a hole, when I tried to catch myself I kicked a hidden stump so hard that when I finally landed I almost threw up.  I checked my head, terrified that I’d aggravated my old concussion, it seemed fine but my knee and ankle swelled very quickly.  In that moment I had to decide, quit the next time I saw my husband, or load up on anti inflammatory pills so I could hold off the swelling.   I would decide in the next few miles.

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To take my mind off of the pain I chatted with a few other runners and took it easy up the very wet single track.   I noticed that the other two ladies and myself were quite a bit ahead of the rest of the women’s field and made a mental note.  If the Advil could keep me in the race then I’d run to win.

Upon seeing Drew I ditched my headlamp and grabbed several a Advil.  I knew the other women were stronger climbers but I was much smoother on the downhill, all the tempo running made the downhills feel easy.  By mile 20 I was solidly in the lead and stayed there until the end.

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This year, with the guidance of my coach, I have learned several things.

I have finally leaned to eat!  I just needed some solid training day practice.  During MMTR I ate a honey stinger gel almost exactly every 30 minutes.  I kept a salt tab with me and would lick it to see if I needed more sodium when I began to pee often.  If the salt tasted good I’d take it, if not I’d leave it and I was well hydrated the whole day….which led to my first ever finish with out bonking or getting sick!!  I was so happy to finish and be able to eat my recovery eggs immediately after!

the second important thing I’ve learned is that overall fitness goes a really long way!  I worry constantly that living at sea level with no access to any real hills leaves me at a great disadvantage, I’ve gone on stair climbers, run workouts in stadiums, hiked on 15% grade treadmills for hours on end, but did none of this all year. Instead we focused on back to back long runs and fixing my gait and short hill sprints and increasing tempo efforts, and it paid off.  All the worrying I did was for naught.D3B7FD9F-88CD-4D06-9F29-00FF570B2219

As my bruised knee and ankle heal  I am looking forward to 2019 and more adventures, faster tempos, and nailing more races!

Happy trails all!

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2018 WSER

DEA459B0-E4AE-406B-B905-CF25B7861690If you’ve been following along on my journey you’d know that here I am, at the end of a fantastic 6 month ride.  From getting into the lottery in December, to having a head injury in March and not knowing when/if I’d be able to run, to finally realizing my dream of running from Squaw to Auburn!

As I lay here post race I’m finally able to process it all.  I love the training, so I can’t say that it was hard to get here. I mean, I trained hard, and spent many hours alone on trails and in the gym, but I also had many wonderful people supporting me along the way, even if they weren’t running with me, they were helping me in other ways.

On Saturday morning we lined up at 5 am. I wasn’t as nervous as I’ve been at some other races.  Not sure if I’m getting used to pre race jitters or if I just knew that I’d prepared as well as I could with the things I could control. I don’t have altitude or mountains or desert, but I did all the things I could do to prepare myself for them.

We started up the mountain from Squaw at exactly 5 am. The climb is long enough and wide enough that the field can spread out.  I hiked with Jasmine from PA for a while as the sun rose.

Up the escarpment I felt like a rock star with all the cameras and cheering. Down the backside I managed to twist my ankle, ugh already?!  I shook it off mentally and continued.

Soon I came upon Fiona, from Australia, and chatted with her for sometime.  Coach Meghan caught up to us just before mile 24. We all got into Duncan Canyon together but Meghan and I left together while the other women would catch up soon after.

I let them go up the next climb, wanting to run my own pace and not get caught up in chatting or someone else’s pace too soon.  I was moving nice and easy and controlled around a 13 min pace. I wasn’t worried because I knew I’d be saving myself for the heat of the canyons and the more runnable trail at lower elevation.

I mostly ran alone through Robinson, then into the canyons.  As long as I kept the ice going and my clothes wet I wasn’t bothered by the heat.  One bottle was dedicated to keeping myself wet while the others were for hydration.

I stopped, for what I thought would only be a few minutes to take care of a blister, but the great John Vonhof of Fixing your Feet, decided 5 needed to be taped.  This was the first time I got a little anxious during the race.  I very much appreciated his professional blister job, but had a race to get back to   Fortunately it gave my crew Brian a chance to work on my ankle and hip from falling at mile 4.4B912B49-6DB8-4501-B13D-08B96BCBA2FB

once taped up and worked out I was back and headed to Bath road where I knew my pacer would be.  With my left side fixed by Brian I would make up lots of time on this next section, finally feeling like my ankle was solid again.

I ran up Bath road and into Foresthill ready to race!  In my mind I was going to catch everyone, in reality after about an hour of running my stomach started to act up.  It had been fine the whole race so I hadn’t taken anything for it.  I looked for my immodium but it wasn’t in my pack.  Uh oh.  This section I had some great moments followed by some upset stomach moments, but I knew I was catching people so I kept it up.

We reached the river just after dark and crossed with the help of many great volunteers.  Have I mentioned how amazing the volunteers are?

let me pause my story here and explain.  If you’ve never run states before it’s like having your own personal concierge at each station. As you neared the aid station someone would radio ahead that you were coming so the volunteers would be expecting you.  They would know your name, where you were from and one would personally help you out.  It was amazing!

Anyway, back to the race.  By now I was heading up to green gate where I’d finally get my headlamp, yea, I forgot to grab it at Foresthill.

From green gate on my stomach got weirder and weirder.  I had to walk more, if I pushed too hard I’d gag.  I didn’t want to get on the puke train, because often there’s no getting off and it just eats up time and energy, leaving you dehydrated and miserable.  So I straddled the line of running just hard enough but not too hard as to puke.

Somewhere near the ALT aid station my pacer, Jordan, said something to the effect of, “ so there are mountain lions out here, ya? I just saw one, let’s pick up the pace.”   I thought perhaps it was a tactic to get me moving, but I could tell he was tense and not joking.  Adrenaline moved me into that aid station!

The final miles were bonky.  At some point I wasn’t sure if I’d go under 24, but I mustered what energy I had left and got myself in just under 23 hours!

I was so happy to see my husband at Robie, and my crew and relatives at the finish!

Wow, the end of a multi year journey, I’d finally run Western States! (And have the toe blisters still to prove it!)

 

Thank you to all my family for putting up with my nonstop WSER talk, especially Drew, my friends who ran with me, adventured with me, talked me down when I got scared.  Meghan for her royal coaching.  Balance Movement Studio for getting me strong and also for crewing!  Jordan for pacing, Sam for coming out and crewing and making sure the crew was fed and taken care of.  Lily Trotters compression socks for so much recovery!  Orange mud for making great hydration packs and all of you for your support and kind words!!

 

 

WSER: A Decade+ of Not Giving up

Last night we had some major thunderstorms that shook me awake from deep inside a dream. I must have been dreaming about the past decade and my running that’s gotten me to running my dream race.

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In 2006 I was working as a muralist around DC and after one last frightful fall off of some scaffolding onto my back, I threw out my back during my morning run so badly that I couldn’t straighten up and had to walk home bent over in half.   I couldn’t work, couldn’t run, couldn’t breathe without pain. It was early spring and I was getting married in August and I was worried I’d be using some help to walk down the isle.  There I was, in my early 20s, full of energy, creativity, and life and couldn’t move.  I had no health insurance so I put off going to a specialist for a few weeks.  Eventually I found a back specialist that would take cash and I set up and appointment.  After some X-rays I was told, “give up running, take up swimming, your hips and pelvis are pretty deformed, probably always have been.”  I was crushed.  I thought back to all those years of hip pain in my teens that I just suffered through thinking it was growing pains.  No. The hip sockets were deformed, I had been born with my leg twisted backwards but the foot was braced as an infant and corrected, though apparently not my pelvis.  For months I was crushed.  Unable to work and in a deep depression I drove the 8 hours home to my parents in Boston and re-evaluated my life.  Being active and running and painting and seeking out adventures has always been my passion. What now?

Long story short, I found some postnatal pelvic specialists who encouraged me to press on with Physical Therapy and strengthening exercises.  That November, with my newly wed husband cheering me on,  I ran a 3 hour marathon.  In 2006, I learned that giving up on dreams isn’t how I would live my life. If there’s a will, I’m going to find a way!(PC: Joe Mccladdie)2D221C41-A2FF-49CC-843E-4B9D9FF83564

My subconscious brought it all back to me last night while I was sleeping because I have been having major imposter syndrome this taper.  Why do I deserve to run this, who do I think I am even suggesting I can be competitive with those amazing women?  I’m feeling like a fraud.

This March I had a freak accident and fell down some steps backwards onto my head.  I had sustained a concussion and was unable to do much of anything for a month.   Once I got the go ahead, however,  I was right back to it in April.  I did have a few weeks of self pity, wondering if I’d be able to train well for States, but I persisted, wanting to toe the line very badly.

Fortunately, every time I hit a low or want to give up, I can remember how I got here, my head reminds me; “remember you couldn’t walk in March 2006 and ran your first marathon that November in 3 hours, only after deciding to train with 7 weeks?!  You can do anything you put your heart into.”

Lo and behold this morning Irunfar put out their #wser predictions and way at the bottom, in small print was my name.  Someone else may think that I’m at least partly deserving of lining up with the elites in two weeks!

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Since 2006 I have run dozens of races, more than 20 ultras, 5 100s and many, many thousands of miles;  the lesson here of course is 1) get a second opinion 2) surround yourself with “yes you can” people— people that want to help you achieve your dreams. 3) marry/partner with someone who believes in you and your dreams.

 

A little about me from A Rabbit interview

https://www.runinrabbit.com/blogs/rabbit-chatter/rachel-kelley-western-states-2018

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Western States Memorial Day Part Three

With 50 Miles (and I would soon discover poison oak) on our legs from the two days pervious I wasn’t sure how the final day would feel.

The day was already heating up, and I was optimistic for some heat training finally.  The first day had been rainy and cool, the second was comfortable, and now Monday was finally warm.

The section we would run on Monday was basically the final 20+ miles of the course; from the river, over no hands bridge, and finally to the track in Auburn.

Our Airbnb was only .25 miles from the track so we walked to the meeting place and boarded the busses.  This ride was long and winding, so we didn’t begin the run until after 9am.  This section I found several similarly paced runners to run with, it was like camp.  Finally as you’re finding your place it’s almost time to go home. 🙂 running with Camelia Mayfield and Kate Elliott we goofed off and took lots of pictures on the section, all hoping that we would be running this section in the dark on race day.D0AE477C-1DAD-4F3D-9908-FC2E31FD8AD28C52824C-6812-4CB7-8A06-68DA183FC41EA0DFE9E9-EEBC-4271-ACA7-5DD7DC6896BFC27A1A2F-3F0B-4DF6-B041-3AA23165DCB112670019-580E-4DF2-84E6-8EAA0070E6E106FE0C5A-04EE-4384-9A50-E34AE80CC7B56B6BA7AC-AD02-42CD-82B9-4AAAA50E75B2This final section was fairly runnable and mostly downhill, except for the few miles uphill to the finish after No Hands Bridge.

We ran up the street and around the corner to the track.  The day was done, the miles were run, friendships had been made, and we’ll #seeyouinsquaw!

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Thanks to my husband for taking care of thing at home while I was away, and for Lily Trotters socks for keeping my legs feeling compressed and good every night after the run!

Western States Memorial Day Weekend Part Two

I didn’t explain in the first post, this training run covers the final 70 miles of the Western States Endurance Run.  The first 30 miles is usually still covered in snow, and is part of the Squaw Valley ski mountain so its still open to skiers in early May if the late snow pack is still good.

Memorial  Day training weekend breaks up the 70 miles into roughly 30, 20, 20 on each day.

The second day we met back at Foresthill once again and would run from there to the river, where we will cross on race day.  This section leaves the road and turns onto some technical single track that eventually gives way to some beautiful, fast, non technical downhill.  It eventually flattened out and became sandy as it followed along the river.

The run began downhill with some technical sections and a few small creek crossings.  Because I had started at a leisurely pace we were stuck behind several long trains of casual runners. This didn’t feel great on my stiff from yesterday’s effort quads, but once I maneuvered around and could run my own pace everything felt better.  Passing through the aid station I could see that ahead was some beautifully runnable downhill and I let out a cry of glee and I ran down.  (Note to beast coast runners, while there is still plenty of technical running, the trails are straight and fast feeling.)559F5EC2-6969-4EDE-A11A-6A57E4B3D897

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At the river we were shown where the crossing on race day would be and were encouraged to cool off in the river.  From that spot we climbed 2 miles up (not on the actual race course)to where the buses would take us back to our cars.  Also where a fun bbq and massages were.  I realized it was already day two: time was flying by- so I opted to hike the section and take in the expansive views of the river.  Once up top I grabbed a burger, but decided one more mile repeat up the hill would be a good idea.  Afterwards Jackie and I got home and after a shower we both immediately put on our Lily Trotters compressions socks to recover for the next day!8C380F73-CCF3-4AA7-82B6-9F1AE92BBD3B