Saturday, June 25, 2011

Desert RATS Race Report

Desert RATS Race Report
Stage 1 - 20.5 mi

A beautiful and very hot, dry, windy day! I was blown away by the views and humbled by the difficulty of the first day. A combination of starting at 1:45 pm in the afternoon and the shock of running at altitude made the first 10k challenging for me. It was 20 miles of up and down and plenty of rocks, but I eventually found my flow. I couldn't believe how thirsty I constantly felt so I was trying my best to juggle my water and electrolyte intake. It felt more dry than the Atacama Desert! I was ecstatic to finish with no blisters and still have plenty of time to socialize and hang out with fellow racers.

I have to say I love ultra runner dinner conversations. No where else could you talk about a** chapstick, blister juice, pooping/consistency of your poop, and peeing, while getting your dinner from the cooks and eating.  This was a really good day.

Overlooking a beautiful valley
My best girl, Jessica Oh, running along the Kokopelli Trail with the Colorado River below.

Stage 2 - 34 miles

This stage was cut short 4 miles due to flooding at the original campsite we were to stay at. I was so glad by the end of the 34 miles that I didn't have to go any farther! It was another hot and dry day. I felt parched and thirsty the entire time, never being able to feel hydrated. The course was all up and down and tons of rocky surfaces. It was hard on the feet. We had made ourselves sandwiches to have for lunch near the half way point, which proved to be a mistake on my part. I could barely stomach the food and consequently spent about 6 miles just trying to digest my food instead of using that energy to run. I never again made a lunch for myself and opted to stick with my Perpetuem powder. Full stomach + heat = no good! By the time I got to mile 25 or so, my feet had begun to blister up. Not wanting to stop and slow myself down by taping, I kept going until I finished. I hobbled the last 10k since my feet were hurting from all the blisters rupturing. Seeing the finish line this day made me so happy. It was my weakest day of the week by far, and I actually cried when I saw my feet. So pitiful. :( 

Marilena running downhill to the next aid station. Yay!

It's all about having fun!

Stage 3 - 12.7 miles aka The "Sprint" Day

This was a great stage and a great day. A couple miles were added to make up for the 38 mile day. It was all hills and climbing, nasty rocks, and some mud to navigate through, but it was so short and sweet! We finished in a couple hours and had the remainder of the day to nap under the trees, do cannon balls into the river (plus wash our stinky clothes), and get plenty of time off the feet. The cooks made me gluten free pasta with tofu marinara sauce. It was divine. After great conversation with a couple new friends late into the night -like the rabbit making mochi on the know deep stuff- I fell asleep under the full moon and stars while listening to the river flow by. Complete bliss and one of the most memorable moments from the race. 

More rocks! Don't twist your ankle!

Taking a moment to absorb the scenery

So close to the river and can't go for a swim :(

Colorado River

Day 3 Campsite 

Time to relax and fix feet

My view from under the tree. Let all my worries melt away. 

Stage 4 - 52 mile Expedition Stage 

After staying up way past my bedtime and getting about 2 hours of rest, I was awake and ready to tackle the long day ahead of me. 

We were driven out to the start line at 6:30 am with the heat of the day already creeping in. The first 9 miles were awesome! Views nothing short of amazing. Besides the blisters on my feet nagging me, I felt stronger than the days prior. From the aid station 1 to the first water drop at mile 14 was challenging. The monster up hill had begun. Thirsty and hot we arrived at the water drop to find a shortage of water. There wasn't enough for Marilena, Gary, and I and surely not enough for the remaining runners if we topped off our bladders. We decided to only fill our bladders to 1 liter and hoped it would allow us to make it the next 12 miles to the next water drop if we walked. On top of this, the bugs would eat you up every time you stopped moving. On we went with the heat becoming worse and the uphill climb becoming even more unbearable. We were barely moving 2 miles per hour due to the steep incline and heat. Every time you came around a bend hoping you had finally made it to the top of the mountain, there was another uphill. Or a downhill, which meant you'd have to climb back up all over again. It was very tough and the downhills we came across were covered in rocks and stones. I was feeling overheated and nauseated. Thankfully, Gary had some extra water and poured some on my head and neck. That immediately made me cool down and my symptoms went away. 

Gary trying to cool off by taking off his pack.

The amazing views.

A very slippy and steep climb we had to navigate down.

Eventually we did run out of water and would take turns taking sips from another runner we met up with along the way. What felt like hours and hours later, we made it to the next water stop and topped off our bladders. After losing several hours to walking in order to conserve our water, our energy was depleted and our morale was slightly crippled. Finally made it to the 2nd aid station at mile 27 around 4pm. We couldn't believe it took us 9 hours to go 27 miles. Those mountain climbs! Ahhh! After eating, we were on our way within ten minutes and heading out to climb another mountain pass. Up hill, up hill, up hill....that was the theme for the day. It just never ended. I was just thankful to have my poles. 

Down in the valley again. Absolutely beautiful here.

On our way to climb up those mountains in the distance.

But with climbing comes spectacular views to take my breath away and remind me of why I love doing this so much. Lots of blister pain, beautiful views, rain that had an indescribable fresh smell, lush plant life at 8,700 feet, storm clouds, lightning, wildflowers, good company, and happy thoughts ahead of me. Life was feeling really good on this mountain and I felt so free and one with nature. 

Taking it all in. 

The fresh clean mountain air smelled incredible. 

Mountain zoomed in. Making our way towards them. 

The last 7 miles were tough again. My feet were throbbing and my hips had had enough. To make it more interesting, the last 7 miles were on pavement. It was jarring every time I took another step. I was getting close to hitting an emotional wall, but one step at a time I kept trudging along. Near the bottom of the hill, Marilena and I spot Gary coming up to walk the rest of the way with us. Thank you Gary! I was so happy when he told us how much farther we had to go and could finally see the finish. What an amazing finish line welcome! Everyone was out cheering, lights flashing, car horns honking, and hugs coming from every direction! I was so surprised by the amount of energy that was happening at midnight! I felt so thankful for everyone who stayed awake to welcome us back "home." And the doctors were great too. They immediately had me sitting down, icing my knees, and bringing me food to eat. It was the most warm and comforting reception of any stage finish I had ever experienced.

Stage 5 - Marathon day 26.2 miles

After having a full day of rest the day before, my feet and I felt ready to tackle the last day. If was, after all, "just" a marathon :) Amazing how your perception changes. The first 7 miles had us climbing up another mountain. The views had changed from desert landscapes earlier in the week to national forest. We saw snakes and a deer along the way. Totally awesome! But it was still a total grind and a tough way to begin a marathon. 

A grind with spectacular views.

Yes, we have to climb that mountain.

The temperature was perfect at this altitude. 

We were in and out of the first aid station within minutes and continued running towards the trail. It felt great to get off the road, but with trails come rocks. My blisters were not happy with me, but I had to ignore the pain and keep running. At aid station two we had to go up another climb to get a rock with a number on it. This was to prove that you went all the way to the end of the trail for the out and back section. It was really, really hot and my mouth was feeling dry. Marilena and I took it  easy navigating this section to conserve our water and save our legs. On the downhill coming back we almost took a wrong turn. We never noticed the fork in the trail when we were going to get our stones. Now we had no idea which way to go. We started the down path after seeing shoe prints, but after 20 yards or so we felt unsure about the direction we chose. I climbed up the side of the hill to check out the other path and discovered WAY more shoe prints! I couldn't believe how close we were to getting lost, and on such a critical day. 

By the time we made it back to aid station two/three, my mind was going a little crazy. I kept asking for strawberries and the staff would tell me they didn't have any strawberries. I wanted strawberries! Actually, I didn't want strawberries. I was trying to ask for oranges. I was looking at the orange, but strawberry kept coming out of my mouth. I couldn't remember what that round fruit thing was called (oranges had fast become my absolute favorite aid station treat). After a couple moments I blurted at Paul, from the medical team helping out, that he knew what I was talking about! He immediately began cutting the orange. It was a nice mental lapse :)

With only 7 miles left to go we were flying down the downhills. The slamming on the balls of my feet were becoming unbearable and I was having to concentrate very hard on the task at hand and not the pain in my feet. Just 7 more miles. Again, my hips started to give up on me. I kept running with Marilena, using bushes as points to leap frog to. It was even hotter the farther down into the valley we went. My hips were hurting and I was starting to feel nauseated from the heat again. I was running out of steam. Then once again in all his glory, Gary shows up around the bend! "You only have 4/10ths of a mile left!" I squealed and Marilena and I took off running once again. I was ecstatic to see the final finish line and cross it with my good friend, Marilena! 


The first thing I did was take my shoes off and kick back in one of the chairs. I was DONE. Not just done with the race, but my blisters were done. They had finally maxed out their tolerance for the day and I apologized to my poor feet for everything I put them through, and thanked them for carrying me so far.

I started reflecting on the week and entered into such a runner's high that I barely noticed the pain in my feet anymore. What an amazing week and experience. What comes to mind when I think back on the race week is not the mileage I ran or how difficult the course was. My fellow racers, the staff, the medical team, the food, all the laughter, stories shared, and beautiful scenery are all what come to my mind. That's what made this race so special. All the friendships that were formed. But I loved every moment of it. I felt more alive and full of joy than I had ever felt in years. 

Thank you Marilena for keeping me company and making me laugh from all your burping. We made a really great duo and I had a blast running with you all week. I miss you!

Marilena and I

Thank you Jessica for being an awesome tentmate (again) and becoming an irreplaceable friend to me. I look forward to doing more races together. HUGS!

Jessica and I
Thank you Gary for always showing up at a time when I needed my morale boosted and for being such great company. Too bad we were too tired to follow the F-bomb rules. I think there was a lot of potential  there. Maybe next time when we aren't so burned out :) Oh and I won't thank you for all your fart offenses you sent downwind to me. I swear I can still smell them, but at least they weren't as bad as dog farts. 

Thank you Paul for taking such good care of me when my body was wrecked and my feet were blistered. I'm so glad you love what you do otherwise I think my blister juice shooting you would've been a little awkward :) And thank you for encouraging me to enjoy life's present moments more by taking it all in and laying out under the stars instead of in the tent. Even if it meant being eaten up by mosquitoes. Memories. 

Thanks to my crew from Atacama, Candy, Alex, and Martin. You guys are now a part of my extended family. I'll never forget this week with you guys. You all did amazing and I'm so proud of you!

Marilena, Clancy, Alex, Candy, Me, Richard, and Martin.

My girls and I
Thank you Karen for making delicious meals for me and making my tummy very happy :) 

Thank you to the staff and Reid. This was an epic race and one filled with such happy memories that it'll be hard for other races to compare. 

And thank you to all my friends and family who contributed to the charities that are very dear to me. The animals thank you :)

Now what race should I do next? :)

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