Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Tale of Two Races (and one DNS)

(Just going to focus on the races here as writing about the whole NZ trip would make this incredibly long although I will write another post on New Zealand.)


(Many of you know I got sick before Tarawera and I’m of course going to write about it, but I wanted to note that I see the whole race (and days before) as a great experience and totally positive minus two hours where I was a little upset about it.)

Two days before the Tarawera 100k (got shortened to 70k) I opened my eyes and knew something was off. My head felt heavy and my chest felt weird. I felt fine the day before so I thought that maybe I just accidentally ate something with gluten or got dehydrated. At breakfast I learned the hotel had a juicer I could use. Perfect! A few glasses of green juice was just the thing I needed. While I’m sure the green juice did me some good, whatever I had wasn’t about to just disappear. My head continued to feel heavy and I was developing a weird cough. I’d be fine for long amounts of time and then I’d have a coughing fit that sounded completely horrendous. Literally- I got asked a few times if I was okay.

In realizing I wasn’t going to be healthy before the race I had to make a choice, to run anyway or have a DNS. Honestly, I shouldn’t have started. In fact, had I been in the US and facing this choice, it wouldn’t have even been much of a decision. I was in New Zealand though; the number one place I have wanted to travel to for 10 years. I at least wanted to start. I made a plan to run only 20 miles and early on during the race I knew running only 20 miles was the right decision. Then I got to the 20 mile aid station and ran through a crowd of cheering and motivational people and before I knew it I was running to the next aid station 10 miles away! At 32ish miles in I really wasn’t feeling great and decided I really wanted to be done. In order to finish faster I just decided I should push it and run everything I could. Terrible idea, as my chest started to really bother me but I was still running so I figured I couldn’t be that bad. Thus, I kept going and finished feeling exhausted but happy I got run the trails. (I was also thinking how stupid my brain was for thinking it was okay to do that - yet somewhat impressed it was tough enough to do that).

Not too long after I finished I heard someone saying that he missed the short out and back (maybe 2k or less total?). My ears perked up. I thought there was only the 10 mile out and back. I remembered all the conversation the night before stating the turnaround was at the big aid station I’d be after the 10 miles of no aid station. I had no idea there was a super short one. It was a little annoying to have missed such a short section of the course, but it honestly didn’t bother me as I emailed the RD and told him to disqualify me. I was completely consumed with gratitude for being there.

This is getting longer than planned so I’ll quickly sum up what happened after the race. Sage and I were coming back from eating at the Fat Dog (great restaurant btw) and my chest began to feel tight. It continued to feel worse until we got to the hotel room and the next thing I knew I was on the floor from passing out. Then I woke up on the bed not knowing how I got there. From there I remember taking some medicine and being out of it while every few minutes I got the most painful hacking cough of my life. Thank goodness Sage was there to make sure I was okay! Eventually I feel asleep and amazingly I woke up feeling quite a bit better and manage to go out to dinner with Sage and some other really great people. Unfortunately the hacking cough followed me on and off for over a week.

Ok so I have no pics from the actual race but here are some pics from the pre-race activities: 
Sage and the RD at the welcoming ceremony

At least Rotorua smells a little funky for a cool reason!
Some speedy and wonderful people I got to hang out with!

Northburn 50k:

A few months before Sage and I left for New Zealand, Sage had talked to the Northburn RD and decided to do the 50k “for fun” as well as take part in the panel discussion the Thursday before the race in which all proceeds went to Malcom Law’s High Five-0 Challenge for Mental Health (completely just mentioning this because it’s  an awesome cause that deserves attention). When Sage told me about doing this one week after Tarawera I told him I’d be enjoying a good book as he ran.

Malcom Law's book!

Of course this didn’t happen. I still didn’t feel completely healthy but then I started hearing how awesome the course was with lots of climbing and miles of uneven terrain off trail. I even enjoyed hearing about some Spanish plant that should be avoided. I was hooked and excited. I would run this and my one and only goal was to have fun (I wasn’t mentally or physically ready to even think about pushing it after the previous weekend’s events). Unfortunately Sage and I were missing tons of the required gear, couldn’t run without it, and couldn’t spend the money to get all the gear.Grant Guise from Backcountry Runner to the rescue! He not only showed Sage and I some awesome trails and welcomed us into his lovely home, but completely hooked us up with all the gear we needed for the race.  Definitely a race saver!
Thanks Backcountry Runner (for your help and the sweet hat)!!!

I should also mention this race is quite “old school” (which I love) in that the aid stations serve only water, meaning you had to carry all your own food. I’ve never experienced this before but quickly came up with a plan. I mixed Hammer Sustained Energy in with my water so I could get in calories while not taking up any extra space in my pack and then just took enough gels to get me through the rest of the miles. It was also a hot day and I conveniently filled up the water bottles in the front of my Ultra Vesta with Hammer Fizz. It was probably one of my best nutrition plans I’ve had. The Hammer Sustained Energy was great for the long uphill in which I didn’t have to think about getting a gel out and trying to eat and breathe at the same time.

True to usual form, on race morning I barely made it to the start line on time since I waited to use the bathroom until the last minute. The race began, Sage and another guy immediately shot off, and I became increasingly confused as to why I ran the first 8k with the lead pack of guys. Then I realized they were probably all running the 100k or a 100 mile race and life made sense again. In the first half of the race there is a long 10 mile climb. I enjoyed the climb in the beauty of the rising sun, a truly enchanting time of day. I also thoroughly enjoyed that I was starting the climb from a low elevation as it felt much easier than it would have in Colorado. Eventually I got to the miles that were off trail and I suddenly understood why people said it wasn’t very runnable. I had seen pictures of this section and ignorantly thought it didn’t look too bad. It was during this time of the race I decided that those Spanish bayonets looked a bit hungry and that I should donate some blood to them so they could stay strong and sharp! At this point of the race I also realized that while I’m a strong power hiker at the end of a hundred mile race, I’m a completely inefficient power hiker in the middle of a hard 50k and watched a couple guys power hike pass me. Oh well, more time to enjoy the scenery!.
After donating some more blood to the Spanish bayonets and stopping to take in the view a few times I finally reached the hard and rocky downhill. It was great to reach but I was also wishing the other pair of trail shoes I brought with me to New Zealand wouldn’t have torn and fell apart. I was running in a super minimalist pair of shoes that I loved, but just weren’t meant for this race. I was running for fun though! Instead of forcing myself to give my quads a thorough beating I happily cruised down and took it in the beauty of the day. After the bottom of the long downhill I had about 6 miles to go to the finish and a few more hills to tackle. I nearly ran out of water but with 3 miles to go two wonderful women with the most delicious grapes I have ever tasted filled me up and got me going again, though I really tried to stay and talk to them longer (you can see this in the video). Three miles later I finished all smiles, tired but thankful I had accomplished my goal of having fun. Getting first in the 50k with a CR was a nice added bonus.

What will be the Lake Sonoma DNS…

I’ve wanted to run Lake Sonoma for two years. I love courses with a lot of runnable climbs and beautiful trails and Lake Sonoma just seemed like a great course for me. Unfortunately, I had been denying to myself for months that my iron levels weren’t getting better and pushed through many miles and hard runs anyway. Somewhere in those months I realized that when I should have been making huge progress I was actually running slower. Still, I ignored it.  While running Tarawera I knew I was running slower than usual because I was so sick, but in the back of my head wondered how much faster I’d be running without being sick. During Northburn I had a blast, but I still knew I once used to feel stronger. I got back to Boulder and as I ran the trails that altitude hit me like a brick and I’m still having a hard time adjusting back. I knew my iron was low but got a blood test anyway to make sure it wasn’t in my head. I got the results of the blood test and found out my iron is at an all-time low. To give you an idea of how it affects performance, I’d be running pretty well if my ferritin number was 60 higher than mine, or to be really ideal for an athlete, the number would be 90 more. It’s disappointing- I’ve tried everything I could think of and have done tons of research for two years now with no improvement. While I have to admit to myself that since I try to be so healthy otherwise I still feel decent and can run decently well, it’s no longer fun for me to do such competitive races while I’m not at my best. Thus, I made the decision to not run Lake Sonoma. All hope is not lost though. While I feel like I’ve tried everything I know I haven’t. Something will work and one day I’ll see some speed and mountain strength come back and I’ll y appreciate ever moment of it.


  1. Love that you set a CR while having fun!

  2. What an event!!! Thanx to Sage for a running narration of the course. Those views are beautiful & what was w/that dog??? Where did it come from because you seem to be in the middle of nowhere??? Way Cool. And fresh grapes, awesome. Thanx for sharing the video & photos!! Congrats on the CR & Stay Strong

  3. Sorry you won't be at Sonoma, but ferritin levels aren't the end of the world! My ferritin ranges between 3-11, not ideal but if you eat healthy and have normal hemoglobin levels you can feel ok! Cook everything in a cast iron skillet!

  4. I think you're one of those special people who can perform well with low ferritin. :) Unfortunately it's different for others. Here's a good article on it: http://running.competitor.com/2013/10/nutrition/iron-level-upkeep-for-runners_63445#mMwrjgbQAF3zC3zF.01

    1. Sandi, great write up. I hope you get the iron situation cleared up sooner versus later. great job on your spectacular NZ experience racewise and lifewise. glad you are skipping sonoma for you will do it one day. its not going away :). best to you, kelly (harrington-hobson)

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