Western States 100

I write this with a very heavy and broken heart. On a day that was the culmination of months of dedication, training, and dreaming of one thing …anything that could go wrong, in fact did. After racing all year without so much as a slight glitch, bonk, funk, or upset stomach… Western States managed to compile all of that and more. I toe’d the line with a drive I’ve never felt, ready to put the final touch on this amazing journey. Yet at mile 10, something felt off. This would continue for 45 miles. After trying to hit the “reset” button multiple times, I finally started throwing up. I say finally as I hoped it would make me feel better. And for a matter of minutes, it did. Still unable to get down much food, off I went, feeling a little better, but more depleted of energy than ever. I continued on, a walking zombie. I made it to the next aid station. I tried to eat. Threw up some more.  And off I went. This went on and on and on. Despite my misery, there was no question I’d keep moving forward. My legs ached to be used. Even 40 miles in, they felt fresher than ever. But I was depleted of any fuel or strength to feed them. I tried to triage the situation over and over again. I asked each aid station to bring me back to life. Something. ANYTHING. I felt like I was sitting on a Harley, with no keys to drive it. I started moving a little better on my way down towards Devil’s Thumb. Before the climb, I found myself kneeling in a stream with two older gentleman to try and cool off before yet another beat down.  I had less than hour to make the 1.8 mile straight up climb to Devil’s Thumb Aid Station. It was going to be tight. Somehow we managed to get in with 7 mins to spare. It took all I had. There was a bigger problem. The cut offs weren’t for when you got into the aid station. They were for when you had to be out of there by. So sitting down and eating wasn’t even an option. After scraping the bottom of the barrel just to get up there, I had to stumble through, grab food and be ushered out to ensure I made it.  I needed to crawl up in the fetal position. Not be running through the mountains. But I kept on. I was reminded of an article I read about The Barkleys. A first time ultra-marathoner came in from one of his laps to a family who had never been or seen an event such as this. Looking like absolute death, the volunteers asked the runner what he needed in order to get back out on his next loop. The family asked in astonishment, “What do you mean get back out there?! He needs an ambulance!” Our idea of what is acceptable to keep moving forward is far from what most would consider healthy or normal.

I’ll admit I felt a sense of hope here. The day wasn’t done. I had time to get to Michigan Bluff. I actually ran here and made what I thought was good time down to El Dorado Canyon. But I knew the climb out. 1,800 feet in 2.9 miles. It was long, steep and it was getting dark. To keep putting one foot in front of the other took everything I had. I had four guys behind me. Every five minutes I’d ask if they wanted to pass, but it was all they could do to just say no. I hadn’t felt this much pain since Nine Trails last year, and even then, I would stop and take rest breaks. But I couldn’t here. I had no idea how I was even moving forward let alone climbing out of El Dorado Canyon. Everyone around me looked in dire shape. Nearing the top, crews were making their way down to retrieve their runner and get them to the aid station in time. When I came up on them, crews were calling down to see if I was their runner. Sadly, I was not. I secretly prayed my parents and John had seen my times and were worried. I was in desperate need of someone I knew to help me get back on track. I had been WAY off pace all day. Michigan Bluff allowed pacers past 8pm. But I had expected to be in Foresthill around that time, so we planned on my pacer John meeting me at Foresthill. It was now almost 9:30pm and I wasn’t even at Michigan Bluff. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t planned for this scenario, especially when Michigan Bluff was a 15 minute drive to Foresthill. I was seriously resenting my no crew decision, especially seeing other runners with theirs. It was clear I needed help. And after an all day battle, my mind was anything but clear. I’d fought as hard as I could. I’d already had three aid stations where I thought I was going to miss the cut off. Went through the emotional battle of what I would tell my parents when I saw them, how sorry I was to everyone. And then by some miracle, I’d barely make it. Then the emotional roller coaster would start all over. I made it into Michigan Bluff with minutes to spare, completely drained from the climb. I needed to lay down. I felt like I wanted to die. But I had to leave the aid station or else I’d miss the cutoff. They filled my pack, put food in a bag and out I went. Going out into the dark on my own after a day in hell was unimaginable. But I wandered down the road for a bit. By mile 40 in most races, I was turning it up. And yet all day, it was all I could do not to slump over. But I had nothing left. My dream was over. I’d been beaten down.

In my honest opinion, I dont even know how I made it to Michigan Bluff. I should have been out much sooner. Despite pushing myself far past my own sanity and running 55 miles through the toughest section of this course and still having fresh legs I couldn’t even utilize, I feel like a complete failure. My only saving grace is the fact that I will never be able to put into words what this journey has meant to me. It’s awoken something inside of me even I didn’t know was there. I received so many messages after my race ended, and while it makes me sad,  especially given the outcome, to realize how many people were along on this ride with me, I’m beyond grateful for their support.   In talking with my sister and business partner recently, I told her how even though we don’t realize it.. everyday we have a choice. To be overwhelmed by the amount of responsibility and challenges we are dealt day-in and day-out for our business, or to face the day with faith and the will to keep pushing to where we need to go. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we always choose the latter. Much like Dan’s words in my previous post. I told her how proud I was of that. Western States has been the biggest dream of mine. For seven months I have been living for one thing… that finish line. So to not be able to bring that to fruition, is excruciating. My heart hurts. But despite how heartbreaking and beyond disappointing this is, I can allow it to bury me, or use it to build on from here. While I’m sure this will sting for some time.. I’m just going to do what I always do when I hit a low; put one foot in front of the other. Eventually, I’ll get to where I want to go.

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Through the Valley

The stage is set. Everything is in place. And it’s almost time to dance underneath those lights ;) Tapering has been in full swing and with no shortage of taper tantrums. To say the last few weeks have been challenging trying to back off would be a huge understatement. The mental whirlwind that ensued has been even worse. Even I didn’t think I would respond like this. All you have to do is look at UltraSignUp to see this year couldn’t have gone any better for me, and that doesn’t even include the Grand Canyon and other personal feats along the way. The work has been done. I should be riding high. Ready to enjoy this. But somehow I went to a low place. I’ve been overanalyzing every detail, anxious, irritated, self-deprecating, and then overanalyzing, overanalyzing! And after a culmination of many things, I thankfully realize now how ridiculous I’ve been.

Four years ago I posted about something that is very precious to me. A letter I was given when I was fifteen from my club volleyball coach, Dan. At a time when I was very much in need of it. Approaching this week, and what will mark the end of one of the most amazing journey’s thus far in my life, it seems only fitting to sign off with his words and just how much they still ring true to this very day.


I wanted to write you a little note to encourage you to be all that I think you can be and to maybe even go farther than I could have imagined. It is my hope thru this letter I can give you a little insight into what I think of the improvements that you have made thus far.

I have no doubt that you have made huge steps in just the few weeks that we have had together…most of this is you, as I take very little credit for these accomplishments. I cannot give you enough credit for the amount of work that you have put into earning your position on the team. As with any accomplishment it is always nice to rest and enjoy the view.

When I first started coaching I took over a team that had not won a game in three years…one of the first things I did was cut almost everyone but twelve 9th graders. It was very difficult the first year… I extended the schools losing streak to 4 years. It was a very arduous first year. I made the players one promise “that it would never be easy, but you will never go through it alone.” After that horrible first season the team went on to win 3 state championships, and the club that they played for placed 11th in 1992, and 6th in 1993 at USAV Championships. At the end of their last match…the last state championship…we were serving for the match. But before the ball was served some of the players started to cry. Knowing that this was the end, it was all over…we ended up blocking the ball and winning the match…there was no big celebration afterward, no hands in the air…it was probably one of the most touching moments that I have ever experienced in my life. I can remember that moment like it was yesterday…all 12 of them kneeling in the center of the court with their arms around each other crying…not a single dry eye. I joined them after a few moments, and asked my captain what was going on and he said to me “This was worth it Dan, it was all worth it.” The team went on to do different things in life, most of them went on to have successful college careers playing at Rutgers, Pepperdine, USC and Princeton, one even went on to play professional baseball for the KC Royals. But through it all they had one constant and that was each other…there were times I made them walk “through the valley” as one of my players put so eloquently. But in the end.. all of the hardships, all of the disappointments, and victories could never replace the journey.

Jen, the signs may be unclear…the path may be rough… and you may not understand the reasons why I brought you here…but know that I care, I want you to hold to the promise that I am not through with you yet, and you will not go through it alone. This may not be the way you would have chosen…so when I lead you through “the valley” just remember that I do truly care about you. Someday I hope that you will be able to look back on your athletic career and say, “it was worth it.” You may never remember me after this year, but I hope that I cannot only make you a better player, but also a better person.

I would like to leave you with something my father told me as a teen…”People will always throw stone at you…some people are buried under them, and some people build castles with them…it’s your choice.” It is my hope that you will take what I say to you as equipping you to build your castle… and not to burry you. Keep up the good work.


See you in Squaw….

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One last final push….

IMG_1390 Fresh off the trails of Western States for training camp, I can’t help but be in a place of self reflection this week. Five weeks out from what will be one of the biggest moments thus far in my athletic pursuits, I’m filled with a lot of different emotions. After the initial shock and excitement wore off of hearing my name called back in December, realizing what that meant, knowing the amount of work, sacrifice and pain it would take to see it through…came the fear. Can I do this? I didn’t know.  Starting this journey, I didn’t believe.  I didn’t think I could even finish a race like Western States, let alone have what it takes to even train for it. But over the past three months especially, I’ve come to know. I’ve come to believe. I had to make myself believe. I know I not only can finish, but I deserve to.  And I couldn’t be more proud to say since then, no one could question my dedication over the past seven months. Even I can’t question it. It’s undeniable. But with that being said, being out on those trails this past weekend, I realize no matter how hard I’ve trained, it will come down to much more. I know it will take so much more than I’ve ever had to give. I think every person who ran those trails this weekend for the first time had the opportunity to feel the quad thrashing that so infamously claims runner after runner. There’s going to be pain. A lot of pain. But it’s going to take so much more than dealing with pain.

I was reminded this weekend of a conversation I had last year that has sat in the back of my mind ever since. After finishing my second 100 miler, Zion… someone made a comment about my first 100 miler, Lean Horse. It kind of went along the lines of.. “Oh well now you’ve done a REAL 100 miler” in regards to Zion. To the outsider and in this case a non-100 miler finisher, Lean Horse “appears” easy. Just look at the elevation profile. 3,000 feet in climb. A joke right? (Not that I would call 100 degree heat and no shade a joke exactly). Not to mention my theory, along with many others on flat verses rolling courses. (Very prominent running coaches prefer their athletes to run rolling courses to qualify for Boston as opposed to flat so they can engage different muscles and overall have a better performance). And I won’t even go into the whole… it’s 100 miles. ONE HUNDRED MILES. I don’t care if it’s on the flattest of flat, or big puffy Care Bear clouds! One hundred miles. Enough said. BUT, despite all this, this person forgot one MASSIVE, HUGE, undeniable component that it takes in regards to running ANY 100 miler. The one thing that sets this underground culture apart from the rest of the world. Will. Pure, relentless, unwavering, will. What separates those who have finished 100 miles, and those who have not. Those who trained so hard and finish, vs those who train just as much, and fail. And probably THE very reason the 100 miler has such appeal. That on any given day you could be handed the worst of worst case scenarios.. and as a very wise man told me,” you’ll have to do what you set out to do under the worst of circumstances, which will make you the best of people. The kind who get it done even when it hurts so much you want to quit and forget the whole effing thing and pretend it never happened. Which means, of course, that after you get it done you’ll be an even better person than you would’ve been had you got it done under ideal, dream circumstances.” Regardless of which course you choose, you can’t finish without it. And as I reflect on this past weekend, the past several months.. hell, the past few years… I’m reminded of something that’s gotten me through all along. Probably the only reason I even stayed the course with ultras, despite years of pain, mediocre performances, and what felt like constant dissapointment. Will. Pure effing will. A drive to see it through.  Only this year has my training even remotely gotten close to my will power. And as I ran parts of the course this weekend, saw the sections so infamously spoken of, I realized it was far beyond the physical that will make or break me that last weekend in June. I know I’ll show up physically able to finish that race. But it’s gonna hurt. It’s gonna hurt a lot. Potentially excruciatingly. And the one thing that will see me through won’t be my shoes,  my pack, or even just my training… It will be my relentless, unwavering will and drive to keep moving. NO. MATTER. WHAT. And it scares the hell out of me. That the tiniest of cracks in that armor could bring the entire thing down. I have to believe.

I wound up changing my flight and coming home a day early from training camp to get back to work. With the holiday, and knowing it would be an early day, I knew I could make my own final training camp day right here in SoCal. Originally it was going to be another go of Los Pinos. But with the thrashing my quads took at the training camp, the steeper the better and so we needed to redirect and give them one last final beating. A late afternoon ascent of Mount Baldy only seemed appropriate. And who better with than the man who was going to bring me home to the finish line at Western States. So the Professor and I set off, he leading the way and setting a strong pace. Instantaneously, I felt it. I was tired, my legs hurt, I was mentally exhausted from a long weekend and being at 6,000 feet and climbing, was not helping. But I had a choice. Let the past 48 hours of pain that had settled itself each night into my legs be an excuse, a suckfest of all suckfests? Or get to work? And I truly felt it was leaning more towards suckfest. But then I thought of how I’d feel climbing out of El Dorado Canyon at mile 50. How my quads will feel coming out of Foresthill heading down to the river. How I probably won’t, can’t, even think of running during the last 20 miles.. but I’m dying to get there just to prove this year.. this year IS different. And I CAN run that late in the race. This is where the race starts. Where true will power shows itself.  And so, as I followed the Professor up Mt. Baldy, pretending as if the past two days never happened.. We climbed. And we climbed well, one foot in front of the other. We even wound up setting a new PR to the summit in just two hours and two minutes. And with tender quads, we did an about face, and flew down. Only my quads stopped hurting. We opened up.. And down we went. There were moments we were just flying. Totally in sync. I couldn’t hide the smile on my face. It was just one of those moments. Where everything comes together, almost like a perfectly choreographed dance. The sun was setting, and that mountain range couldn’t have been a more beautiful backdrop for the show we were putting on.

As we made the last quarter mile on the pavement before reaching the car, the Professor couldn’t hide the look on his face. We both looked at each other, almost a look of bewilderment. I laughed. “Well… I don’t know. Guess this means I’m ready?” John looked at me with pride and something that resembled almost a bit of awe. Then again, just three short months ago this man had to sit on a rock in the pouring rain and wait for me. He said, “Badass. You’re ready.”

Coming for you Squaw…  IMG_1464

“Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens to the which our wills are gardeners.” – William Shakespeare

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When The Sun Comes Up….

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

It seemed only appropriate I stumbled upon this quote heading into my biggest training week leading up to Western States. It would be something I came to live by.

JustRun has been hooking me up with awesome running gear. Couldn't be more excited to have them apart of my journey to Western States!

JustRun has been hooking me up with awesome running gear. Couldn’t be more excited to have them apart of my journey to Western States!

There have been days I’m out there, only I’m not running. As I went into this week, over 60 miles in, out for a night run (my second of the day), I should have felt tired. I should have felt beat up. Heavy legs, aching feet. But that wasn’t the case. And within minutes of starting my run I realized I wasn’t running at all. I was floating. The most intense sensation I’ve experienced running. I was reminded of something Ann Trason has talked about. Breaking through to that soft, almost levitating like flow. She talks about how sensual it is, being so in tune with ones body. That high I’ve been talking about lately, that sensation I’ve been getting. That’s what it is. The flow. The break through. It’s happening. Or happened shall I say.

I admit I came into my big week not as well prepared as I should have been. Running wise,  I was there 100%. However, I’d gotten a few days off for some much needed R&R and probably overindulged a little in too much food, liquid potions, and not much sleep. So it was with very little expectations I entered into the week, deciding I would just see how things went. If anything, this would aid in the mental toughness training.

First up was Leona Divide 50k. With a huge turnout, and lots of single track ahead, getting out front before getting stuck in the back was going to be huge. Not even for time purposes but more so for convenience. It was uphill the first 2 miles, but I felt strong from the start and ran well. The pace I set would have been way too fast for me maybe even three months ago. But a lots changed in three months and I felt like I was still being reserved. I did have 80+ miles to knock out the rest of the week so this was by no means going to be fast, I could not be  left hurting the next day. My goal had been anywhere between 7 hours and 7:30. I ran well the entire day, climbed well. When I got to three miles left, I took off. Sub nine’s all the way to the finish feeling strong and ready for more. I finished in 6:17 which was good enough for 15th female overall out of 129. And the following day, as if the previous day was just a solid training run, I met the gang for a loop at Mission Trails with the legs feeling nice and strong.

The rest of the week very much stayed true to the proverb… I got up each morning and ran. Most days I’d have to double dip and do an evening session. Months ago planning this week I thought it would be filled with awful, slow, grueling miles, just gutting it out. I couldn’t even get my usual post race massage. Not only was my massage therapist out of town, but I wasn’t really in need of her. I felt great. And these miles were solid. I wasn’t running. I was floating. I was able to knock out over 30 miles in between Leona and Lost Boys.

A gorgeous start Lost Boys 50

A gorgeous start Lost Boys 50

I’m not gonna lie… I expected the worst for Lost Boys. A suckfest of all suckfests to end this cycle. Oddly enough, my legs didn’t hurt, they actually felt great. However, it was noticeable I’d been draining everything, system wise, over the past week. The scale was showing it no matter what I ate. I felt it. And despite how bad I wanted it, there’s no denying I wasn’t 100%. I had noooo idea how this was going to go. It didn’t help waking up to an email race morning that with winds of up to 50mph, close to freezing temps, and storms, the race might even be called off. Woo hoo! Bring on the fun!

Unlike Leona, I decided to start off slow at Lost Boys. With an amazing, yet cold, backdrop of the desert and mountains, we set out on the first ten miles of wash canyon running. Wash canyons. AKA, quicksand. This was no easy go. But feeling strong, this eventually passed, we scaled some rock walls, and by mile 20 I started to open up. I literally felt my body wake up. From then on I got stronger and stronger. But so did the winds, and so did the weather. I made awesome work of the first climb and passed everyone I saw in front and then reaaaallly took off.


The weather's a changing

The weather’s a changing

At one point I saw an elk jump across the road ahead, and turned around to see if the people behind me saw it. There was no one. And from the looks of it, for some way off.  Aubrey was waiting to pace me at Mile 29. After a long week, I figured some company would be a nice distraction, not knowing how I’d feel. But I was moving. The last two miles coming into that aid station, I literally had to lean into the win and hope it wouldn’t push me back. It was INSANE! It was AWESOME! Aubz and I took off and made great time as we froze. I couldn’t feel my hands for miles. We even said a few times that we should probably be scared of this arctic hurricane like weather, but it was too intense not to appreciate how bad ass it was. The climb up to Cuyamaca Peak while long, wasn’t as draining as I thought and I still felt good as we hit the peak. It was getting colder and worse, the rain was coming down harder and harder. We were now soaked beyond repair. We had to get down and fast! I couldn’t even think of how many miles we were at for the day, or me for the week. We needed to get out of this weather. Aubz and I booked it down, got a warm friendly welcome from Scotty Mills at the second to last aid station, and took off for the final four miles. We passed a lot of miserable looking, frozen runners on this stretch. Those last three miles were some of the most wet, miserable miles I’ve ever run. We even had to find a way over a massive tree that had fallen just hours before, blocking even our view of the trail ahead. It was insane. But moving well and trying to stay warm, we finished in 12 hours and 15 minutes. Teeth chattering, we booked it to the car, stripped down to get our wet clothes off, put on dry clothes and literally sat in front of the heater thawing out. Mission accomplished :)

Wrapping up this seven week stretch, I’m in shock as to how this plan fell together. Even more so how it went off with so little as a even a slight hitch. Old Goat, Rim2Rim2Rim, Leona Divide, and Lost Boys 50, with solid training miles in between. The flow is real. The magic is real. Now for the fine-tuning to begin. ;)

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Rim2Rim2Rim ’15


I knew it was only a matter of time before I made my way back and stood on the edge of that South Rim of the Grand Canyon. As I looked out over the vast canvas in front of me, I knew I’d returned a much different person.

In the true spirit of ultra running, I was invited a few weeks ago to join some friends on a R2R2R adventure. I was told the van would have a full tank of gas, filled with fellow ultra runners and there was a seat with my name on it. I thought it over for a couple days. I’d already had an aggressive training schedule, but anyone who’s run R2R2R knows how great a test it truly is. It would be two weeks after Old Goat and two weeks before my heaviest week in this entire training schedule for Western States. I thought, well that might work?  Free ride, sleeping under the stars and the Grand Canyon.. Umm earth to Jen? Where do I sign!

We arrived to a surprisingly very cold Grand Canyon and looked out over its beauty before the sun said good night. It would be a starry filled night with a full moon.  Aubrey and I, however were not prepared to sleep outside with frozen feet bundled in 7 layers. My 15 degree bag didn’t seem to cut it. Wearing a running skirt the following day seemed like a major oversight.

I’d had some issues with food the week prior. While my recovery had been amazingly fast from Old Goat and I’d gotten in some great mileage since, my appetite was nowhere to be found. Stress tends to do that to me and I’ve definitely been burning the candles at both ends lately.  Some days it was all I could do to get liquid calories in. Doing a 10 miler with The Professor (Aka the myth, legend etc), he knew immediately something was up. Having seen me the week before, I was clearly a noticeable 5 pounds lighter. But after a mini bonk on Cowles Mountain, a little pep talk from the Legend, I recovered, and we finished a good run. I managed to get some food down before we left for Arizona.

We left the South Rim at almost 5am exactly at a VERY conservative pace. Thankfully, it was warming up and everyone seemed to be ok temperature wise. We talked and ran as we made it down to the river for sunrise.

IMG_8740IMG_8737A quick regroup at Phantom and off we were to the Pumphouse before climbing the north rim. This was still very conservative. By the time we made it to the Pumphouse (18 miles) I had yet to feel like we were really opening up.

IMG_8762IMG_8768With no water at the pumphouse, we used filters from the river to load up before the climb. Then up we went. Jacob, one of The Professor’s ultra light backpacking friends, (the three completed the Zion Traverse together last year) had come along for the run. Jacob and I seemed to be in the same grove and within minutes we were cruising. I felt so fresh! We made our way, climbing with purpose and running the sections we could. Art had said to expect 2.5 hours until reaching the top. But feeling strong, he and I made it in under 2. I could feel the altitude slightly as we neared the top, but overall still felt awesome. IMG_8790

We had made the decision we would wait for the rest of the gang regardless of time. Almost an hour later, Aubs and The Professor made their way. JV (Professor) for the first time looked like he was struggling slightly. He took one look at me and said in his serious tone, “You’re killing it.” We talked it over and he and Aubrey were gonna push through together, and wanted Jacob and I to get after it. Off we went.

Jacob and I opened up on the way down. We were flying. Even though were were 23.5 miles in, I felt like the run had just started. We realized, even with our hour at the summit, we could still get back in decent time. We were determined. We flew and made it down to the pumphouse to reload once more before Phantom Ranch. IMG_8781IMG_8778We made the next section in the heat of the day, exposed until reaching Wall Canyon. My heat training since Old Goat must have paid off because I wasn’t bothered and some of our mileage in here was sub 10 min miles. The heat caught up with Jacob and he slowed as we neared Phantom. We decided to chill and regroup. I couldn’t believe we only had the South Rim climb left. Knowing the damage this does to everyone, I was excited to feel refreshed going into it and see how this was going to go.

We set out of Phantom and headed to the Colorado River crossing as the sun was painting the most gorgeous colors. I was in awe of where we were. Rim2Rim2Rim is one of the few places you can kind of conceptualize just how far you can go on your own two feet. It’s amazing.



IMG_8809We crossed the bridge and ran along the river until cutting into the canyon. We climbed and I really took off in this section. As we made the top of the first big climb, I crested this beautiful flat section and turned to look out towards my right. I stopped. It was jaw dropping. And I had a moment, all alone, no one else in sight, just staring at the most amazing backdrop. It was a good moment.


Jacob caught up to me and we made the last mile to Indian Gardens. 4.5 miles to go. I was still feeling great. And eager. I wanted to defy all things I thought from my last trip up this rim. But maybe the wheels could fall off still?


Ready for more, we were off. Jacob and I played cat and mouse here for a while. We passed far too many people coming up from the river for day hikes, that had inadequate clothing, no lights, and were clearly suffering. We offered food or help when we could, but I don’t even think they realized what they were in for. Thankfully, I was still feeling strong and Jacob and I decided to go our own pace and meet at the top. His stomach had been bothering him, but he was still charging. I opened up and hiked with purpose like I never have. I knew the Professor would have been proud and hoped they were well on there way and not too far behind us.

Climbing the last mile, taking no breaks and charging as best I could, it occurred to me how the day had kind of come with ease. I felt so strong, despite my lack of nutrition the week before. I think my body was using fuel much more efficiently because of this. But thinking of the turmoil and suffering I went through climbing both rims the previous trip, I couldn’t believe the difference. Feeling strong and accomplished, I reached the top. What a day :)

I waited for Jacob, and headed with his family to grab some food while we waited for the others. We’d made it in 15:30 even with our hour pit stop on the North Rim. It was a great day. Everyone made it back in good fashion and just in time to score some dinner. Aubrey and I decided we’d have to sleep closer to stay warm, and that night I snuggled up in my sleeping bag, ignored the cold, and drifted off to sleep.

We bid farewell to the canyon on our way out the next morning. The Professor drove as Aubrey and I chilled in the back, and Art played Co-Captain. The experience between the Professor and Art still astounds me. Art, a former rock climber having climbed El Capitan multiple times, among others, and now an accomplished ultra runner, was full of stories. The banter between him and the professor was that of an old married couple. There was no shortage of laughter on this ride, along with heavy discussions and debates about the world of ultras. I feel so lucky to take part in a community where people of all ages, backgrounds, and life experiences, can connect on a level that not many outside of that group understand.

I’m still having trouble finding words to express how I feel about how this year is going. I knew I was taking on a lot with a new business and training for a race such as Western States in the same year. But even I couldn’t have imagined my running would transform into what it has. I still have so much work to do. But it’s getting there. Continuous forward momentum ;)

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Old Goat

IMG_8651When that alarm went off at 5am, I was so comfortable, I almost didn’t want to get up. The more I sleep in the back of that Wrangler, the more I love it. And being up in the mountains blanketed with a sky full of stars, what’s not to love?  But today, unlike most race days, there was a specific purpose. I had a plan. My mind was going through everything I’d been preparing for. It was time to see it through.

Old Goat didn’t find its way onto my calendar until just recently. But with 13,000 feet of climb in 50 miles, and canyons with the chance of pretty warm temperatures… it seemed like a great training run for Western States. However, with it marking the start of a seven week push of heavy training, there had to be a strategy involved. Sean O’Brien, while an excellent performance, left me wanting a day or two more of recovery than I normally need. I couldn’t afford for that to happen this time. Recovery was crucial. So, with that being said, the goal was 13 hours. To feel strong, not overexerted, and crossing that finish line ready for more. For the first time, I’d have to try and be reserved the entire race. Finish with half a tank of gas left so to speak.

I bumped into some familiar faces at the start. The SoCal ultra community is starting to seem much smaller the more I do this. :) Off we went.

The first twenty miles, I have to say I felt great. I was definitely being conservative and even though it was warming up, I felt like I was moving along as planned. Almost everyone I met was training for AC this year. I take it as a compliment to run any race or course they are using to prepare themselves for such a brutal test. I even had John, the Legend himself, running with or around me. We’d separate for a little while, then find ourselves front and back of one another. It’s always fun picking his brain.

Leaving the starting line for a second time to start the second, but “meaty” part of the figure eight course, I felt great. With the Legend leading the way, we made the climb up the Main Divide. As we climbed, we wrapped ourselves in deep philosophical discussions. It was starting to get toasty. Over the next 10 miles we went down Trabuco, and to the lowest point of the course before making the 7 mile, and 4,000 foot climb up to Santiago Peak. I don’t know if it was the heat, but I had a low moment here. And with that came disappointment for some reason. Looking back, it’s kind of silly really. My pace didn’t change, my body felt fine. I was just a little nauseous. I felt like I had motion sickness for about 20 mins. But having not had really any low’s fortunately the past month while running, I guess I was feeling invincible. And seeing that I am in fact not invincible, maybe that’s where it came from? See, I told you… silly. Hindsight can be a funny thing. I guess I picture Western States being an inferno this year and if I feel slightly off in high 80’s, I’m in for a beating.

We refueled at the next aid station and started the climb. The Legend told me an amazing story for a good forty-five minutes here. So good in fact, my low moment passed, and we were well on our way up the climb. The heat was definitely getting worse. I was soaking myself with every river we passed or drop of water I could find. While I didn’t feel amazing, and maybe that’s where I felt a little disappointment, we passed quite a few runners here. They didn’t look too happy. My stride felt strong, but I couldn’t match John’s. This section went on for a long time. I had done this climb years ago in Twin Peaks, so I remembered it vaguely. But it seemed especially long in the heat. As I made the last steep incline to the dirt road that we’d take the rest of the way to the peak, in mythical fashion, John appeared, just chilling waiting for me by a tree. One of the front runners, top ten for sure, was barreling down on his way to the finish. He said a polite hello and slowed his pace down until almost stopping completely, shuffling backwards slowly. “Hey I know you”, he said pointing at John. The Legend of course is humble in his legendary status, and he graciously said… “Oh really?”. The runner said, “No, man, I know you. You’re everywhere.” I was laughing over on the other side of the fire road watching this go down. The other runner didn’t know it, but this had already happened once today. John laughed. “What’s your name?” the guy asked. “I’m John.” “John. You’re a legend man. I’ll see you around.” See… others know about the homeless looking myth. We laughed as we made it to the next aid station.

IMG_8636We still had 2.5 miles to the peak. I was definitely slowER.. but again, we were making good time. I wasn’t bonking or tired, maybe a little hot, but we were still passing people, and not being passed. And judging by some of the faces of those we passed, fairing a little more favorably. As we made the turn at the top of Upper Holy Jim I saw a familiar face running down. Steve! We’d finished Twin Peaks together years ago, and he’d coincidentally reached out to me a couple weeks ago before we even knew we were running this very same race. I gave him a big hug and it was so awesome to see him looking strong and going on to a great finish!!


IMG_8635As the sun was starting to set, leaving the peak I made my way down. I felt good and my legs felt even better. Not only had I survived the heat, but my energy, nutrition, everything seemed to be on point. I knew we had one or two decent climbs still to go, but the worst was over. And I still had good legs for climbing.

IMG_8646With ten miles left, the Legend and I ran some together, ran some alone, made the last few climbs, and had some strong running to the last aid station. Before I knew it we were at the top of Main Divide making our way down. My legs felt… well, fresh. I thought back to SOB, and there was a noticeable difference in how my body felt then and now. Do you know what it’s like to be running and not recognize yourself in your own body?! I had to ask John if this race had 13,000 feet of downhill? (If it starts and ends in the same place… up equals the down, duh.) But seriously, my mind was thinking one thing, and my body was telling a different story. Running the last 4 miles, I imagined this was just the first half. I was thirsty for more. I felt ready for more. It was an incredible feeling. I crossed the finish line at 13:12. Almost right on schedule.

IMG_8648Coming off the Main Divide, I seriously felt amazing. An out of body experience. There’s a physiological change occurring. I almost don’t believe it. And yet at the same time I’m left in amazement. I’ve had a lot of discussions recently about self doubt. Not necessarily my own, but in general. It’s true though, I do have doubts about my capabilities. Or maybe more so my limits? I’m waiting for someone to pull the rug out from underneath me at any moment on this training plan. The blow up, an injury…something to derail me. When things go to plan my first instinct is to brace myself for impact, because something’s coming. Last weekend I had the pleasure of meeting with a life coach for a business function. While I was preparing myself for two hours of boredom, I was pleasantly surprised to walk away very inspired. In all his years, working with a thousand or so executives (Fortune 100, Fortune 500 etc) there has only been one person in which deep down, didn’t have a lack in self worth. While we could focus on this one unicorn, the fact that the thousand or so other people he’s helped have an insecurity problem, is very telling. But as I’ve said before, something has changed since I got into Western States. I can’t explain it. It makes me think of something an older, much wiser friend shared with me recently. And so I’ll leave you with that…

“I only watch one movie a year, so I hardly qualify as an authority here, I do have a favorite scene in all of cinema, and that’s from The Usual Suspects, of course…the scene where Spacy playing Souze playing Kint is explaining to Agent Coujon how Souze came to be Souze, it’s like a flashback scene, when he comes home after the rape of his wife and his kids are terrorized, they have to show him they mean business and they slit his son’s throat, right there in front of him, it’s all incredibly disturbing, obviously!  Anyway, it’s the part where he looks over the faces of his family, and then he shows those men of will what effing will really is!

I often think of it when I’m weak, this idea of how you can just step out of your life and do things you never would’ve imagined you’re capable of, and how afterwards you can never go back to your old life..

Of course it’s just a movie, more make-believe, but I must be sharing this for a reason, right?”

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Los Pinos

IMG_8371 The look on Steve Harvey’s face said it all. The man, I might add, who RD’s some brutal races including Chimera 100, and Old Goat 50. We’d bumped into him a mile or so down the trail from Blue Jay Campground and shared a quick friendly hug and hello. “We’re going to do Los Pinos!” That’s when the look came, followed very hesitantly by, “Today? With what you have?”, he asked. That strong look of concern and “Are you nuts?!” lingered on his face. We laughed. After a quick chat, we took off running. Giggling I said, “Did you see the look on his face?!” It occurred to me this probably meant I’d get my ass handed to me later that day. I was gonna be punished for laughing. Oh what fun we were in for.

To no surprise I’m sure, I’ve been running a lot lately. And in doing so, have met some really awesome people. One person I mentioned we shall refer to as “The Professor”. I mentioned a local myth I had the pleasure of running with at SOB. I’m happy to say he’s become a friend, advisor, and on a lucky occasion, a training buddy. I’d had the pleasure of being asked to take part in a relay group for Sycamore Canyon 100k. Our team wound up switching off loops, each person doing two, seven mile sections, but never back-to-back. It was awesome to push on some tough trails and try and finish each loop totally exhausted, regroup, and after the next person returned, do it again. During this downtime, The Professor began mentioning a land so brutal, a trail so feared, it would have to be something I face in my pursuit of Western States. Where is such a place, I asked??! Two words. Los Pinos.

Cleveland National Forest Multiple winners of Angeles Crest, have credited this trail alone with their success. Steve Harvey, who’s races have been said to defy the laws of physics, or deal out 13k feet of climbing in 50 miles, says even he isn’t stupid enough to put Los Pinos in a race. And when the one race that does ask runners to face this grave test, deems the dreadful Horse Thief to be its easiest climb of the day…. You understand. This has got to be bad.

We left later in the day so I could work in the AM. If we ended in the dark, it would be welcomed night training. By the time we got up to Blue Jay, it was 1:30pm and for March, pretty hot. We guessed low to mid 80’s. The Professor had warned me all week, warned me the entire way up in the car, and even as we began, this was going to be awful. I was expecting the worst. He ballparked it would be about 20 miles. To start, 12 of the easiest miles in trail running. They weren’t just easy, they were gorgeous. We descended into the lush canyons of Cleveland National Forest. All the rain we’ve had has done them well. Over rolling ridges, we made our way down and down. At one point we looked a ways out in the distance and you could see the trail ahead for miles and miles as it descended the mountainside. It was magnificent. That beautiful Pacific Ocean sparkled in the distance. I probably said three or four times, “How lucky are we?!” And lucky we were.

We made good time down to the lowest point of our run where we replenished, ate, and regrouped before the real work was to begin. It’s always funny to me being near those creek beds when your trail running or in a race. You’ve most likely just come off some peak. Just a few short miles ago you were able to see as far as the horizon, and now you can’t help but look up and feel so tiny and engulfed by the mountains surrounding you. It also means… the only way out is probably up. There’s always that feeling. Fear maybe? Curiousity? How much is this going to hurt? And it IS probably going to hurt.

After a quick break, we headed out. We had about a mile on a paved road before linking up with the Los Pinos trail. I assured myself, no matter how steep or bad it felt in the beginning, I needed to keep thinking the worst was yet to come. Always. Eight miles of straight up climbing with over 5k in elevation gain, was bound to wear you down. But up we went. No matter the climb, between The Professor and I’s deep philosophical talks about running and life, coupled with the setting sun and gorgeous backdrop, I was quite distracted. And frankly, happy. My parents had just gotten into town, elated to be in Southern California, complaining of never ending snow, freezing temperatures, and feeling depressed back East. This morning I had said good morning to the ocean on a walk near my studio, and this evening I was climbing up in the mountains. Is this living or what ;) And it was breathtaking. And so we climbed. There were some steep sections, but nothing bad. We talked. We laughed. Shared stories. Hypothesized about our quests for the year, Western States for me, his second finish of Angeles Crest, pursuing The Bear, and many, many others. But as we talked the ground seemed to move beneath us. Before we knew it, the sun was setting. I probably paused three or four times to look out over Orange County, San Clemente Island, and that gorgeous ocean, saying good night to the sun.

By the time we needed headlamps, it felt like we’d already made some good progress. And while I was afraid to even think it, I was still wondering… when would the climb REALLY start? This was tough. Very tough. But I felt strong. The Professor seemed strong. Hell we were laughing and talking. When it gets quiet, you know. But it wasn’t quiet. Yet, I assured myself it would come. We climbed higher and higher. It seemed as though this portion was more rolling. We’d summit what looked like a small peak, and then run down the backside, only for a bigger and steeper one to be lined up right after. This went on and on and on. I could understand how when not mentally prepared, this could be torture. There were many false peaks. But we kept on, talking and climbing. The darkness was somewhat masking the peaks ahead, which I’m sure made a difference. One thing I do love about Cleveland National Forest is even at night, the lights of the surrounding areas are so bright and so beautiful. Orange County twinkled in the distance. And to our amazement, the moon was out, but a burnt orange color and bigger than usual. It was amazing.

We had to come down the Main Divide to get back to the car, so I knew we’d pop out at the top of Trabuco. But where we were in relation to that, I had no idea. The Professor mentioned on one or two of those peaks that we were close. After the second, I figured it all looked the same and we may be a ways away still. My watch hit 20 miles. Guess this was going to be longer than expected. And then before we knew it, we were coming down another peak, and you could see the top of the Main Divide. We’d made it? No?! And sure enough we popped out on top of the Main Divide. 2 miles till the car. Wow.

I love running down the Main Divide. You can really open up, and whether or not you’ve climbed Horse Thief or Santiago Peak, or in our case, Los Pinos, it reminds you no matter how awful you felt a couple hours ago, if you push through, you’ll feel better again. As we descended, The Professor was dumbfounded. He couldn’t believe how he felt, his legs usually taking a beating going up Los Pinos. But he felt fresh. Hell, I felt fresh. And we’d made great time. He said he’d never done it with that amount of ease. I told him the weather was in our favor. He’s probably gotten stronger. He said he felt bad talking it up so much. Had it not been for the look on Steve Harvey’s face, I might have thought he over embellished. But I know he had not.

Next week will be the beginning of what has the potential to be 7 really tough weeks for me. If my body can hold up to the challenge, it WILL be the hardest 7 weeks of my ultra running thus far. Shall we say the meat of this training sandwich I’ve made for Western States.  I used to worry about burn out, but facing this test, right now it’s my body that will be the biggest concern. It’s gotta hold up for what I have in store. It’s aggressive. However, I’d be lying if I wasn’t excited. I feel strong. Coming down the Main Divide this weekend, after a shockingly strong ascent up Los Pinos, The Professor said, ” You’re exactly where you need to be.” That really meant a lot, but even more so coming from someone who does 25+ ultras a year. Deep down, I still feel like that newbie just trying to make the cut offs. Things are changing I guess. And going into these next two months, just like Los Pinos, I keep telling myself, the worst is yet to come. I just have to focus on the foot I’m putting forward at the moment. The next part of the climb will always be harder. Just be present. More to come ;)

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