Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Stand and Walk (It's A Long Way To Fall): The 38th Annual Imogene Pass Run Race Report

It's taken me a few days to formulate thoughts for a race report. And, because I'm a fan of theme music, it took me a few days to figure out the correct soundtrack to the race this year. Blues Traveler was a big part of last year's report, so an encore appearance seemed entirely appropriate beyond the way the fact that the song feels like it was written and paced just for Imogene.

Don't scare me at all
Well just a little

Swing number four at the Imogene Pass Run finally came last weekend. It was inevitable. Three years wasn't enough to convince me to just quit while I was behind or face-first and pointing downhill on a scree field. Looking at it by the time clock, it was another average performance by an average trail runner. (Wo)man does not run by time clock alone, though, and in almost every area that mattered to me, this was a breakthrough year.

Late last week, the pre-race chatter kicked off with some somewhat OCD weather-watching. As the week went on, the predictions were moving increasingly toward a chance of rain, snow and thunderstorms the night before the race, and on race morning. I packed for just about everything. Wear shorts in rain and snow? Well, maybe some especially badass trail runners do this. In fact, I know they do. I'm now to the point of being half-fast, so I was leaning toward tights in what seemed like could be a race of epic weather.

When I got a phone call from my friend Butch on Friday afternoon saying that it was not just raining, but hailing and thundering in Ouray, I just sort of laughed it off, but surpringly did not have even the slightest sense of panic or worry. I picked up my friend and first-time IPR runner Sandra from her job at a downtown bank, and as we drove toward Ouray, we could see weather ahead(pic by Sandra..I was not driving and taking pictures). We just kind of laughed it off, figured we'd have some good stories to tell if this thing turned into "Abominable Snowman Run '11," and made some plans for dinner.

Arriving in Ouray shortly after 5, we were pleasantly surprised that we were arriving to find the calm after the storm. The clouds were quite literally parting, the air damp and pleasantly cool. The weather had beaten the earth into submission earlier, but now it was almost spookily quiet. We did dinner, visited with friends at the Ouray Brewery, laid out our gear, soaked in the hot tub at our motel, as is now pre-race tradition, and attempted to crash out for a good night of sleep.

It ain't worth a dime
And your wounds
They'll all heal in time

When I woke up in the morning, the first thing I did was step outside to see if it was raining, snowing, or if the remnants of any stormy weather lingered. After predictions of up to a 70% chance of rain and snow, I was pleasantly surprised again to see that the ground was damp and dewy, but we were NOT in the midst of a blizzard or anything else. It was cool, overcast, and pleasant. My trail rash from the previous weekend's race at Mary's Loop was healing up, but I like the way my compression tights and shirt feel. I figured they'd also give me an extra degree of confidence in covering up those scabs, keeping worry out of my head over potentially taking a spill and re-opening them. I opted for tights, compression shirt, compression socks, and my Honey Badger iron-on tech shirt made two weeks prior with some members of the local running club. I was wearing my INOV8 trail shoes for the first time in this race as well. They'd been great in training and now I would finally get to test them out in the race.

I went to get my Garmin from the charger, and discovered my glitch for this mission. Part of the band had broken off and I wasn't going to be able to wear it. I'm not sure how this happened, or why I didn't notice it the night before, but surprisingly didn't care a bit. I wasn't planning to let the Garmin dictate my race, so I decided to just stick the whole watch in one of the front pockets of my Nathan hydration pack, and pull it out periodically to check my time and pace.

After handing off race packets to two friends who arrived race morning, Sandra and I wandered with our friend Jen to a nearby house where some local runners stayed the night before. We slapped some almond butter on bread, chowed down, made another pit stop and headed toward the starting line.

I don't know if it's experience with this race, my recent addition of power yoga (and its ability to clear my head) to my fitness routine, or something else, but my brain was totally empty now. We've joked locally that many of the "name" running cities and other major cities (Flagstaff, Boulder, Denver, etc.) are routinely mentioned on the mic during pre-race announcements, while our fair city of Grand Junction is routinely the redheaded stepchild and goes without a mention. It's not a big deal, but c'mon, we typically have somewhere in the area of 75-100 runners entered from our city and surrounding areas. Well, we DID wind up getting a mention this time, along with the surrounding cities of Delta and Montrose. Oh yeah, a little love. Sandra, the lone representative of Clifton, on the east side of GJ, started saying "Oh yeah, Clifton IN DA HOUSE!" I cracked up. Finally, it was time to go. About ten seconds before 7:30 a.m., the final countdown took place and the 38th Annual Imogene Pass Run was under way.

The Answers Are Getting Harder

Wow, this was quite the bottleneck of runners early on. I did not recall being clumped together so tightly with other runners in previous years, and avoided wasting energy with a lot of weaving in the first mile. I saw Jen from Delta blow past right away, and just kind of kept in mind that I was planning to focus on good POSE technique, stay upright, keep my rate of turnover high, and run MY race. I felt pretty relaxed. There was nothing weird with my breathing, or any other early strangeness indicative of trouble. This was good news.

The crowds started to thin out a bit, and somewhere in the second mile, Sandra moseyed up alongside and paced with me, looking pretty comfortable. Well, "comfortable" for Imogene. The starting line altitude is 7810 feet, with a ten mile climb to the summit at 13, 120 feet. Lots of heavy breathing all around. We were able to chat some, though, which is a good way to pass the time early on. My shoes felt great-very grippy on the damp jeep road, and I was experiencing zero sliding around between the good grip and keeping with the relaxed compression of POSE running. My training was so patchy over the summer with some great altitude runs, but weird periods of illness and life stuff that resulted in more missed runs than ever before. This wasn't a blistering pace but it felt like things were going my way more than ever before at IPR.

The answers are getting harder
(If an answer comes to those who pray)

Whoa, nelly. Hello, altitude. I was really starting to feel it now, but continuing to refocus on my breathing, much as I'm learning to do in yoga practice with the Ujjayi breath (can't do exactly the same thing on a mountain run, but the general principle of opening the lungs and calming one's self work) was working. Focusing on running in the moment, and just keeping my eyes a little bit ahead was another excellent piece of advice I'd received regarding the continuous climb. This may sound like "DUH" advice, but it's so easy to look way up and get intimidated by the climb. This was also keeping me from getting distracted and faceplanting. I've never fallen on the uphill, and didn't want to start today.

I don't like to get really negative or worry much about other people's races, but I do have to mention the scene that kind of bugged the crap out of me in the early miles. If you were someone in the +/- 4 hour finish range at the race, you saw these people. I saw them early on but I think about halfway up the mountain was when I decided if there were two people I needed to beat, it was this duo. A woman in a pink tutu (that's not the bad part-I'm all about color and flavor on the course), attached to some guy by a long rope and two carabiners, kept coming up alongside of me me. This guy was literally PULLING her up the hill. Not cute or funny, actually rather dangerous with other runners around, and while I can't find a rule that says they cannot do just doesn't seem like it should be legal to pull someone up the hill like that. I'm still not quite sure if I did get over to Telluride before them, and I guess it's good. It would make a little of me die inside to know I was beaten by a the human mule and driver.

The answers are getting harder
(If an answer comes to those who pray)

Approaching Upper Camp Bird, 7.6 miles up the hill, with a mandatory cutoff time of 2:30, I was happy to see that despite not having a high mileage summer, and without looking at my watch, I'd reached this checkpoint in 2:07. This was slower than any of my prior three runnings, but truly not by much, and I felt 100% more in confident than each of those races combined. I kind of split the difference between my "no time for berrypicking!" run-through in 2010, and taking many pictures in 2008 and 2009, stopping to fully consume a cup of Gatorade and take in the view but then moving on my way. It was colder now. There was a bit of a breeze. I was warmed up, though, and continually refocused on my breathing and relaxing my quads every time I started to feel that I might be jamming the quads and working too hard to get down without a fall. Conversation among runners was almost non-existent now, but there were some short pleasantries exchanged here and there. I just tried to feed off that good mojo and stay relaxed.

The answers are getting harder and harder
And there ain't no way to bargain or to barter

The air was getting thinner, and the pitch of the mountain was getting steeper. I was beginning to see folks dotting the sides of trail, stopping for breathers, usually facing downhill so as not to get intimidated by how much more we still had to climb. I started feeling that strong urge through here, but refocused on race founder Rick Trujillos mantra, "Incessant Forward Motion." I really wanted to stop several times here but kept going. There were a few short, flat-ish pitches close to the summit that I've run in the past, only to find my heart rate out of control when the climb started again. This year, I tried kind of a POSE-inspired hike with very quick turnover, and short strides. When I got out of the flats and started climbing again, I didn't have that redlining heart rate, and even passed a few people. There was no time to get all overconfident, though, as we were still climbing, and man, was this HARD. Soon, though, I could hear the sweet sound of the Cowbell People at the summit. Last year, we'd been greeted by a vuvuzela, and I was just happy that the tried-and-true cowbell was back. It was pretty breezy and cold but not miserable, and I'd never need to stop to put on my jacket with the long sleeved compression shirt/short sleeved tech shirt combo.

But if you've got the angst or the ardor
You might faint from the fight but you're gonna find it

Finally, I was in the single-file line to the summit. I found myself a wee bit lightheaded approaching the 13, 120 foot summit, but it wasn't like I was about to pass out either. Last year, I was very impatient to get there in under three hours. This year, I was moving ahead as fast as I could but focused on the moment and not the clock. Moving along, stepping up past the Cowbell People over the summit timing mat at 3:09:46. This was my slowest ascent ever at the race, but it marked a first with no a single slip or slide. I've never fallen on the first half, but have sure skidded around plenty every year. This marked a departure and step up from HOW I've done the race before. Running with confidence more slowly means that I can start to practice running with more confidence more quickly.

I took my time at the summit this year. No pictures were taken, but I slowly consumed some hot, salty chicken broth, then another full container of Gatorade, retied my shoelaces, and got ready for what was my downfall last year, literally, and my slowest descent into Telluride ever.
For every challenge could have paradise behind it
And if you accept what you have lost and you stand tall
You might just get it back and you can get it all

I began the trip down the hill purposely cautious, but it wasn't out of the fear I've had in previous Imogene Pass Runs. It was out of what I considered reasonable caution in protecting the ankle that I sprained badly last spring, and re-sprained to a lesser degree over the summer. It's hard to not brake when moving more slowly but I tried my best to kind of "spring in place" down the steepest part below the summit. People were flying past me but that was cool. It really sucked to be unable to run last spring, and I just knew I needed to control myself here and not take the kind of fall or roll on that ankle that would be the one that tore tendons all the way through, or broke anything. I relaxed, though, and smiled my way past the guy from Elevation Imaging on the side of the mountain.

As the downhill became less steep, I opened up slightly and picked up a bit of "speed," but this is really a relative term. I couldn't remember where exactly I went down last year; all the switchbacks looked like "the one," and I just kept doing that thing of focusing on the now, and watching where I was going next. Soon, I was at the first aid station after the summit, and realized that the point where I'd fallen had not made a permanent impression on my brain. I was past it now. I stopped to drink again, and then opened things up some more.

Somewhere through here, I heard a "Hey Karah!" It was my friend Julie, who had originally planned to run with the Dirty Girls relay team last spring before an injury. Her son is also in the same kindergarten class with my youngest daughter, and we do run in the ballpark of one another pace-wise. We chatted about kindergarten, school, and other various stuff, picking up speed as we chatted. I was feeling better physically than I did two years ago, the only time prior that I'd felt like the downhill didn't own me. Looking at the time, it was obvious that I wouldn't PR today with the slower ascent. I was looking at a strong finish, though, if I kept up this pace and stayed upright. I joked with Julie that "I haven't gotten through Imogene without falling on my face until I get through Imogene without falling on my face." We leap frogged back and forth, continuing to pick up speed and move well. At some point, I started to ease ahead, just really feeling good and like I wanted to fly.

So now you know why it's a long way to fall
Yeah cause it's a long way to fall
Cause it's a long... way to fall

Dare I say that my legs and body mechanics in general felt GREAT? I was passing people right and left now. There was a method to the madness, though, and control that I've never had before. It felt very odd to be on nearly an identical finishing time pace from the year before, but feel so good to be running an entirely different race.

Did I say that the Garmin was the glitch for the mission? Oh, yeah. There was one more to come. Right around mile sixteen, I started feeling the unmistakable ache of a side stitch. I tried blocking it out but it got sharper and sharper. I didn't want to walk because everything else felt great, but then I could feel what was almost a stabbing sensation. Well, crap. That wasn't part of the game plan. I started walking it out briskly to try to make it go away. Some of the people I'd just passed wound up passing me back. Julie came along, and asked if all was ok as she ran past. I said "just a side stitch...gonna try to walk it out." Soon, I didn't feel that fabulous stabbing sensation anymore. I started running again, determined to make up as much time as I could from that minute or two spent walking.

Coming down the final mile and last couple of switchbacks, I was very focused on controlling my breathing in a way to keep that side stitch at bay. I could still feel dull pain but I could run through this with no problem. Soon, I was passing back some of the folks who made up ground on me. I started to see fans and earlier finishers along the side of the trail. And then I could see Julie...I was determined to pick it up and catch back up to her. Turning onto the pavement, I turned it up as much as I could. I'm not sure if she knew someone was behind her but she was picking it up too. I got almost all the way back up, but it was Julie oustriding into the finish, and I came barreling through a second behind, kind of slapping her on the back and saying "Hey Julie!" as I finished in 4:29:07. She said "Ah, I'd hoped you'd catch up!" and we hugged after the finish. I don't know what my exact time was when I started running again at the summit, but this either matched or was slightly faster than my prior best performance on the downhill. I was thrilled and ecstatic. It was actually about 25 seconds slower than my overall 2010 time, but didn't look remotely like the same race.

Stand and walk

I strolled around, found some of the hometown folks, scored a fresh peach, and kept talking to folks. As it turned out, the local guys and gals had all run very well, with no less than three of them winding up with podium finishes in their age groups. I went to look for Sandra coming in, and someone said "she just finished!" Damn, I missed it...but she was so happy, crying tears of joy at her 4:44 finish that I don't think she'd have cared if nobody was there at the end. (Okay, that would sort of suck. But she was happy).

Some of us gathered wound up at the Brown Dog in Telluride post-race for a celebratory drink,

(Eric, Sandra's husband, Sandra, me, Julie, Shannon, with Ray and Greg hiding behind the camera)
and then we moved over to the park to watch the awards ceremony, and cheer on our local peeps. I was so happy with finally seeing a real improvement in my trail skills, even though I didn't PR. It was true icing on the cake to loudly cheer each time we heard "From Grand Junction...." during the awards, and really appreciate all the outstanding races from athletes across the spectrum of age and gender.

So, will I be back next year? Yeah, I think I'll be doing this race as long as I have air in my lungs, legs on my body, and I can still get into the thing before it closes out. The goal next year IS to run it with a focus on time, along with focus on form. Because, if I don't-it's a loooooooong way to fall.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Racing, Trying To Stay Upright, and Competitive Weather Forecasting

I'll cut to the chase on Saturday's 8- and 16-mile races at Mary's Loop. My last run here was in 2007; it was my third race ever, and longest race to date as a final tune-up before my first half-marathon, The Other Half in Moab. That year, I managed a so-so 1:23 and change on the 8-mile course, did a lot of hiking, and got passed by a everyone and their geriatric brother on the home stretch, the frontage road that rolls on forever after coming out of the beautiful first six miles of canyon. This year, I ran the whole thing, did pass one person with no one passing me on the frontage road, and trimmed about 7 minutes off that time for 1:16 and change, not age-grouping but probably finishing fourth or fifth in the womens 30-39. I still haven't seen official results but that's about what it looked like on the preliminary results posted right after the race. It was all pretty decent for a tune-up race that I didn't want to do quite full-out, except for the part halfway through when I tripped and fell for no discernible reason.

Yep...oops, I did it again. I didn't go nuts like Britney Spears....just wound up catching a toe on a flat-ish section, and wound up with a really good bruise, scrape and cut line running from right knee to left elbow and hand. On the upside (and there is an upside), I really didn't feel myself going down so there was no braking or tensing up. And I got back up immediately, hurting a lot right after, but not letting the fall get in my head like wipeouts have done in the past. I felt sort of stupid running and bleeding with the woman right behind me asking "are you okay?" but other than that, I wound up wasting no more than about thirty seconds between time on the ground, and getting a slow running start again. At the finish, one of my friends mentioned having hydrogen peroxide in his car to hose off, and I gladly accepted getting to use some of that stuff on my lovely oozing trail rash. Between that, and a pool swim and run in the afternoon with my friend Loralie, I think I'm really no worse for the wear. I'll just need to make sure the grossest trail rash is covered on Saturday in case I happen to fall and potentially re-open the stuff. This is how a little part of elbow and arm....looked a few days after the fall.

On another was one of those gloriously beautiful Western Colorado mornings. The race started earlier this year-7:00am-which meant that we weren't boiling right away. Although there are a lot of runners in our area, they don't all race every time. This race, though, was truly a gathering of most of the people whom I like to call "The Usual Suspects," and it was fun to cheer people in after finishing, as well as finding out how far ahead the speediest among us had come in. Oh, and the schwag at this race was great. Somehow, I scored a 3-month membership to Gold's Gym in the prize drawings. I haven't had a gym membership in years, and can't really justify the expense now. There were a lot of cool things given away, but I was stoked to get something I'm going to use.

Now, turning to the big thing on the calendar...the Imogene Pass Run. For the past three years, we've been graced with some of the best race weather in the history of the run. If you read here, there are some gnarly accounts of bad weather years, but 2008-2010 were really walks in the park. Well, HA-it looks like this streak comes to an end this year. At the moment, those of us who are racing Saturday are keeping a close eye on awesomeness that is the forecast for some combination of wind, rain, and snow on Friday night, and more of the same on Saturday. I kind of dislike the expression "It is what it is," but that's sort of right-on this time. It's an uncontrollable factor-no use wishing for 50 degrees and no precipitation. If we get a weather worst case scenario, I'm just going to laugh it off, relax, and throw the watch out the window. Okay...I'm really not going to pitch my Garmin. I'm not going to be bent on making particular splits, though. It's going to be about running the conditions of the day the best I can.

When it comes to this blog and other runners, this is actually my "favorite blogging season." Some of you guys know that I have a nifty little tool called a "statcounter," something that many bloggers use. For me, it's just neat to see how people wound up on the blog, and if they are searching for a particular race, training plan, injury information, wandered over from a friend's linked blog, or somewhere else altogether. My friend Jen will occasionally search my blog and throw in funny search terms just to see if I notice, which is always good for a laugh.

Well, the Imogene Pass Run seems to draw some of the best searches ever. There are usually a ton of run-of-the-mill searches by race name from the time of registration until race day, but all the cream-of-the-crop searches are taking place now. Some of my favorites include, but are not limited to: "incessant forward motion," "Imogene Pass Run accidents," "what to bring to Imogene Pass Run," "tapering schedule for Imogene Pass Run (three days before the're a little late in planning that out)," and perhaps my favorite of all time, "Imogene Pass Run death."

So, I might as well try to cover some of those searches, and give my .02 all in one spot. Keep in mind, this comes from a woman who has never finished in under four hours, and who has gone slip-sliding away all over the mountain. I have FINISHED the race three times, I might have some semi-valid opinions.

Death? No. As far as I know, nobody has ever died running this race, which is a pretty good course record if you consider how often one hears of a runner keeling over and dying in the heat at some road marathon. Don't worry about dying while running this race unless you deliberately jump over the edge of Drinking Cup Curve (photo by my friend Ilana). You might get banged up but you're not going to die. Well, okay. I guess I can't say that for sure. It's highly unlikely, though, which should be reassuring to those friends and relatives who really do think you're crazy and that you'll surely die out there.

What to Bring? The course is well-supported, but personally, I like having a hydration vest to drink from between aid stations, and as a place to shove my camera and jacket (which I'll probably be wearing this year). Some people just carry handhelds or use waist belts/fanny packs. It's truly whatever worked for you in training, keeping in mind that the weather can change very quickly in the mountains, and will probably be doing so a great deal this year. They don't have gels on the course, but there's water, electrolyte drink, cookies, crackers, and the delicious, salty chicken broth at the summit. I've run in shorts one year, and pants twice. This year, I'm going for compression pants and a kind of compression-y shirt with another shirt over the top, plus hat and gloves. The hat and gloves have been my mainstay every year. If the appendages stay warm, the rest of me stays pretty well-regulated, temperature wise. I've used compression socks for the past two years as well, and for me, it's felt very good on the uphill on those calves. Still, so much of this is personal taste, and what has worked for the runner in training. The lightweight, waterproof jacket will be a must this year, and I think it's a pretty good idea to put some extra socks in a ziplock bag in case the feet get soaked during the race. I'll also be sending over a full change of clothes in a plastic bag within my gear bag, fully expecting to be soaked upon arrival in Telluride.

Tapering? Yes, you should be doing that now. Even my friends who are much stronger and faster are getting their rest in, paying attention to nutrition, resting, running easy, RESTING, RESTING, RESTING. Get it?

Imogene Pass Run Accidents? Again, people fall and get banged up. I'm not aware, though, of anything major in the race history. Keep an eye out for your fellow runners during the first few miles. It'll be tightly packed through those first few curves. No one has ever been pushed off a cliff, though, and the road is closed to vehicle traffic during the race (no jeeps going over during the run).

And finally Incessant Forward Motion. This is the key to making the cutoffs. Even if you're at a crawl and moving as slowly as you can possibly go without being totally stopped, you'll still be moving forward. Don't look up and get overwhelmed by how far you have to go. Just stay focused on the now, and the space you're running, hiking, walking, or tiptoeing. You'll make it over if you stay relaxed and just keep moving.

Well, that's about it. Today I'll be gathering up gear and getting ready to ride down with my friend Sandra, who is running her very first IPR courtesy of a transfer entry from another mutual friend. A bunch of the Grand Junction area runners will be there, and we're going to do our best to hang out when we can over the weekend, whether that's pre-race, chatting on the course or celebrating after. In the end, I'm just excited to be healthy enough again to do this thing, and looking forward to getting my "ass over the pass."

(**NOT the official race shirt. We had an iron-on shirtmaking party and pre-race gathering locally, and used what seems to have become our unofficial local trail runner mascot, the Honey Badger. If you see our shirts on the course, yes, it's those kooky kids from Grand Junction**)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Accidental Spectator: Leadville Trail 100 Edition

Before I let it get away from me in the endless hamster wheel of back-to-school/back to activities, I've got to talk about the wonderful experience my daughter and I had as fans and onetime aid station helpers at the Leadville Trail 100. I'd wanted to go, but thought it wasn't in the works. Oh, how fortunate Alexis and I were to be able to share in the experience.

A week ago Saturday, I roused my pre-teen at o-dark-thirty and started poking her with a stick to get moving and dressed. She's been dancing since age three, and now at twelve has just been approved to begin dancing en pointe. Fitting pointe shoes is kind of like finding the right running shoe, but with a far greater risk for injury to a young dancer in the wrong one, and far fewer places to buy them or get them fitted the right way. Living "four hours from nowhere," as my Dad likes to call our city that is four hours from both Salt Lake City and Denver, we had recommendations from her studio for two places in the Denver metro area, and opted for the Boulder store when they got back to me right away and seemed to have better customer service. While I wasn't thrilled about 8+ hours in the car, messing with my child's growing feet isn't something I'm going to do. It's her thing, too, as running is for me, and with four kids I don't get tons of one-on-one time with her. So, we were actually looking forward to the hang.

After a ride in the car during which Alexis and I alternated playing tunes on the iPod, hanging out and talking some, we made just one local wrong turn (don't ever trust Mapquest directions 100%), and found Boulder Bodywear, where my daughter wound up being fitted by the owner of the place, who has been doing this thing for 20 years. It was cool to watch her go through the process, methodically and just talking directly to my kid to find the best fit, not trying to sell me product.

After trimming down the list, and the fitter determining that she needs thicker toe pads but no toe spacers like most dancers (see...all the stuff I don't know that made me glad we came to this place), she found herself narrowed down to a really good pair and the perfect pair for her to start pointe training. We were out of there far earlier than I imagined, and after a quick lunch at Med (try it if you're ever in Boulder-really good Mediterranean place that's inexpensive and healthy), we were on the road again.

Intermittently throughout the morning and early afternoon, I had been doing something else as well-checking in with two members of local runner Bryan's support team/crew at the Leadville Trail 100. Bryan was a first time 100-miler, originally from Kentucky, living the Colorado dream along with his wife Elizabeth. He'd had this race on the brain for many years, and his dream and goal was finishing...period. Under 30 hours, and getting the belt buckle that all official finishers get was his goal. I've gotten to know these guys, and there's just something about wanting to root someone on in realizing their goal, and tracking his progress. It doesn't matter how well a runner prepares for the LT100-a lot can happen over the course of 100 miles, and typically only half of the field finishes the distance under the allowable time. All the little things makes a difference, including but not limited to proper pacing, good nutrition, weather, course conditions, self-motivation, crew, pacers, and general support along the route. I just identified with his goal, too, of getting it done and literally living his dream.

Every time I was updated on his progress, he was right where he'd wanted and hoped to be-ahead of the cutoff times at each aid station, but without a huge cushion. Both crew members I was talking with (one being his wife, another being one of his pacers/2-time LT100 finisher) said via text message, "you guys should come up to Twin Lakes!" Twin Lakes is the 40-mile outbound stop on the out-and-back course, and 60-mile checkpoint inbound. The timing appeared to work out very well, and I made the decision to detour to Leadville with Alexis. They said that Bryan was having some IT band pain, but that he was feeling pretty "good" otherwise.

Now, my kiddo is twelve, as I mentioned earlier. She's a good kid but not a robot, and got a little cranky, saying "I wanna go home! I don't want to go up to Leadville." I said tough, we're going. Nine hours to do your thing...we're going to stop off, cheer for, and encourage someone doing something most people would never bother to try or train for. Play whatever you want on the iPod until we get there, your choice, but we're going. She grumpily set it up to play the music mix of her choice and promptly fell asleep. When she woke up two hours later, approaching Leadville, her attitude seemed suddenly adjusted. The weather can be nasty in the mountains but it was pretty nice as we made it into Leadville and easily found the Twin Lakes aid station. I didn't see any of Bryan's "Badass Honey Badger Crew" there yet, but there was plenty of people-watching and runner cheering to do.

These were some spectators watching runners come back into view from Hope Pass on their return trip inbound:

Several film crews documenting the event in general, as well as members from specific sponsored teams:

There were, of course, a wide variety of runners in various physical and mental states.

And then there were the faithful fans and support crews of runners. I didn't catch the special post-race services in one of these photos until I was home looking them over. That is some serious dedication to your athlete.

After walking around for awhile, I saw one of my original Dirty Girls teammates, Julie C, arrive with some other local support crew. Her husband John was running, and we would see him check in later, looking very strong. We chatted for a minute, and then Alexis and I continued to wander, keeping an eye out for the Honey Badger. There were tons of people milling around, cheering for runners as they came through. Some looked strong and even smiled, some seemed to be not doing so great but were still moving, and others appeared to be in obvious pain or discomfort. We finally saw the first member of the Honey Badger crew:

Soon, the rest of the crew was there too. That's Elizabeth, Bryan's wife, and Terri the Penguin, who goes along for all of Bryan and Elizabeth's adventures in Colorado.

When we first saw the crew, I said something like "Baaadgggeeerrs," not particularly loud or disruptively, but I sort of startled them because, well, they'd been without sleep, had been up since 2 a.m., and had endured a downpour while camping the night before. I guess I needed to bring it down a notch. Alexis and I helped them grab all the stuff that we'd need to set up for Bryan at the 60-mile checkpoint, including a variety of gear and nutrition options, camping chairs, pacing chart, and other items. The Leadville Trail 100 is a well-oiled machine, and they don't want anyone dying or getting unnecessarily injured out there. When he came in, Bryan would have to go through, get weighed, and otherwise pass the medical check before continuing on. We set ourselves up immediately outside the checkpoint, and then just hung out.

Alexis, despite her initial resistance, was thinking this was all pretty cool by now. Other than the fact that we were uncharacteristically unprepared for driving in Colorado without the Leadville stop (no heavier clothes or jackets, better footwear, water, shovel, etc) and slightly chilly, we were having a good time, and really excited for Bryan's arrival. We were told that approximately 8-8:30 would be a likely arrival time, and moved down to the one general store/lit area at Twin Lakes around that time. We donned pirate masks and eye patches (Elizabeth planned cool little surprises for Bryan at each pit stop to lift his spirits and keep him motivated), and practiced a cheer. We were ready to go, and kept watching for Bryan and his pacer as it grew dark.

We continued to practice our cheer, and cheer on other runners as 8:30, 8:45, and finally 9:00 came and went. We were not doubting that he'd be in soon, but everyone was REALLY wanting to see Bryan and his pacer come along, and closely watching for him with 9:45 being the cutoff for this aid station. Then...there he was! With great excitement, we did our cheer "B is for Bryan and Badger! Mutual badasses!" and then ran alongside/cheered "badger, badger badger....." all the way up to the spot we'd set up. He went in to get weighed, and once he was out, it was a flurry of activity akin to a NASCAR pit stop. His pacer Marty was calmly but quickly directing the action, asking for batteries, specific food that Bryan wanted, socks, shoes, you name it. Two of the guys were shaking out his leg muscles because that seemed to loosen up the tightness he was experiencing, and Elizabeth rubbed his back and neck to loosen up those muscles and just generally provide good moral support to her husband. He was still ahead of the cutoffs, but with very little time to spare, so it was crucial to get him refueled, loosened up and ready to go again quickly. It's hard to see, but this was our man Bryan getting fixed up in the dark:

He looked good-obviously, you're not looking like someone with a full eight hours of sleep and lots of couch-surfing time at sixty miles into one hundred miles, but he was pretty with it. We'd seen a few runners who, quite frankly, were at the "goose is cooked" point. Though he had precious few minutes of cushion time to make the cutoffs for the remainder of the races, he looked like a runner who was ready to keep on keepin' on at this steady pace, and run his race. When Bryan got ready to run again, his new pacer was ready and off they went with fresh batteries in their head lamps. Alexis and I helped the crew move everything back to the vehicle, said our good-byes, and got ready to hit the road. I asked them to keep texting me with checkpoint updates throughout the night, and they told me to drive carefully back home. It was now after ten. This meant we'd have a VERY late arrival to Grand Junction, but it was such an amazing experience to be part of Leadville for even a short time that it was definitely worth it. Even Alexis, who wasn't thrilled to get there, kept saying "that was awesome!" Seeing how hard the crew works, and then thinking about how far the runenrs are going-it's just awe inspiring and good for anyone to see, but especially kids her age.

I didn't fall asleep or run off the road on the way home, but was SO happy to see my bed upon our return. I got a few hours of sleep, and sure enough, early in the morning, I got word of Bryan's arrival at the second-to-last checkpoint, and finally the last checkpoint. He had 2.5 hours to make it the final 7 miles, which may sound like lots of time on its own. By now, though, he was truly exhausted and it was pretty fitting that Elizabeth paced him in to the finish. By now I was up again, and refreshing the results page, waiting for his final time to come up, and FINALLY...there it was....29:44:xx, an official finish at Leadville, the beltbuckle, and a dream accomplished with his whole crew there for the moment. It was hard to wrap my brain around that, or that I'd slept twice during the time he'd been out there. He finished 328 out of 347 finishers, an amazing accomplishment that barely half of the starters were able to do.

I know this wasn't MY race or my kids' race or anything like that, but it reminded me why I run, and why it's important to work for the things you want to do, and tune out any negative influences or factors telling you that you can't, wouldn't or shouldn't. It's great inspiration to me as I run my first race in two months, the Mary's Loop 8-mile, this weekend as a tune-up/hard run, and then move on to the Imogene Pass Run the following weekend. I want to do like Bryan did, and run smart, stay relaxed, trust that my training will get me through the physical part, and that my mind will get me through any portions of the races when I might feel like I can't do it.

**SMALL P.S./FOOTNOTE...turns out that voting was not "live" yet in the photo contest I linked up in the last blog entry. You can either go back down and click there again to vote, or click through here if you feel the urge to vote for my pic of the bliss of exercise.**