Saturday, August 20, 2016

The absolutely nutty North Umpqua Trail 100k

After an amazing year full of adventures-- our first 100k atMiwok, running around Rainier, Hood AND St Helens, a PR at the Columbia Gorge half-- I was looking for our next big thing, preferably in our beloved home state. I found the North Umpqua Trail, 72 miles end-to-end along the Umpqua River in southern Oregon. And then I discovered that there was a supported race entirely along it, the NUT 100k. It was too good to resist, so when registration opened, Ann & I signed up.

Our race calendar for 2016 filled up and then we got picked for the CCC, one of the Ultra Trail du Mount Blanc (UTMB) races in late August. The NUT fit into our race calendar as the perfect big training run-- a similar distance but about half the elevation gain, and much closer to home.

Our running and training was going smoothly, even with our disappointing time at the Peterson Ridge 40 miler, until suddenly, it wasn't.

First vista-- we all stopped to snap photos

Ann's major back issue hit the day before we were set to take off work to do our final long run. My son got sick, and then I came down with strep throat exactly one week before the race. It was a rough month, with my average weekly mileage plummeting to about 5 miles. I concentrated on what I could control: resting, taking antibiotics, and going to physical therapy, acupuncture and massage to try to help the Achilles issue that has bothered me since the beginning of the year. I also skipped running the awesome Beacon Rock 25k the weekend before the NUT, which I had planned to run with my husband, Erik. He ran it solo—his first trail race, distance longer than a half marathon, and run in 100 degrees (F)!

Come Wednesday, three days til the race, I buckled down to it. Staring down my longest-ever run (at 64 miles, NUT is about two miles longer than 100k) without my best friend and training partner was terrifying. But I knew that Ann would give anything to run the race, and because I was physically able to run it, I owed it to both of us.

I read the course description. I printed small copies of two difference course elevation maps. I schemed out rudimentary time tables to make the single cut-off at aid station #7, mile 46.7. I figured out how I would get to the start and from the finish. I started packing my gear. 

Vista selfie-- this is what 2 hours of sleep and an hour of running looks like 

It was strange to do this without Ann; in fact, I didn't. She was there for me to bounce ideas off of, answer questions, and provide support. Even at my first ultra without her, she made the whole thing possible. And since she couldn't run the NUT, I would prove that we could have done it, that our training and preparation were enough.

Friday afternoon I spent running errands, packing, and getting everything ready. That evening my husband, son and I drove down to Roseburg where our hotel was about a half-hour from the start, and an hour and a half from the finish. With the excitement of our trip, I think my 5 year-old didn’t fall asleep around 11pm. I fared worse, tossing and turning only to have a nightmare that I didn't wake up in time and got to the race start an hour after it had already begun.

I got up just before 4:30am (I was awake anyways), got ready, and woke up my family. I carried my gear and sleepy son out to the car and drove to the start. With 30 minutes to go, I prepped my extra bag for the first of the two aid stations with drop bags allowed (mile 30 and 46.7), piled it on the appropriate tarp, and kissed my family goodbye. My plan was to text them at aid station #7, mile 46.7, which was supposed to have phone signal, to let them know I made the cut-off and when to meet me at the finish.

Mountains, forest and river

The runners clustered at the trailhead to hear the three race directors give final instructions and advice. One of the race directors, Renee, reached down and plucked a leaf from a small shrub. "To those of you who don't know," she said, "this is what poison oak looks like."

Holy shit. Who is so bad-ass that they just reach down and grab poison oak like it's no big deal? These are the kind of people who planned this event. Let that be a warning.

And then they warned us about the mosquitoes.

Picturesque bridge

Now I'm from the east coast, and mosquitoes here on the west coast barely even register. They are fewer, smaller, and less aggressive. But because of the way the race director described them, and because someone had just told me that the only race they ever DNF’d was because of mosquitoes, I made a mental note to avail myself of the bug spray they said would be at each aid station. Oh, and the Technu (poison oak wash) at the end.

About five minutes after 6am, and we were off. I waited til the back of the pack to get started, since there's no fun in jockeying for position along poison oak-fringed single track.

Before long I was running with Rob, a man with 4 kids who just started trail ultras and had lost more than 100 lbs, and Dave, a middle-aged trail veteran. Rob was using poles and after a fun conversation about Gary Robbins (who uses poles), I thought it was a good time to try out the ones Ann loaned me. After all, they’re highly recommended for CCC and I had never used them running before. We chatted and enjoyed a surprisingly runnable section before the first aid station was quickly upon us.

Rocky trail alongside the river

Hearing my ultra-crazy friend David's words ring in my ears to "not fart around" at the aid stations (as, admittedly, I have been wont to do), I grabbed a drink, snagged some Pringles, and was quickly on my way. Rob and Dave caught up after another mile or two, and we ran together til the next aid station. Again I was in and out quickly, they caught up, and eventually Rob ran on ahead. Dave and I were surprised at his speed so early in his first 100k, but he felt and looked great as he took off so we wished him a great race.

At this point I was running a nice light pace on some lovely, slight downhill, just holding the folded poles in my hands. Suddenly I tripped on a rock and splatted down on my hands and knees. The woman in front of me picked up one of my poles that had gone flying, and tried to put it back together to help me. "They were folded," I tried to explain, as she looked me up and down, and asked repeatedly if I was okay. I saw that my right shin and hand were scraped up, but I barely felt it. She seemed skeptical, but I wasn't about to let a few little cuts slow me down less than 20 miles into the race.

The segment from aid station #2 to #3 was one of the shortest in the race, so I knew we would get to an aid station soon. I was excited to see a man with a walkie talkie on the trail up ahead. While he did indeed signify that the aid station was nearby, he was there to warn us about a yellowjacket nest on the trail. I sped up to pass on the far side of the single-track, and surprisingly— given my history of getting stung by a yellow jacket every year— I made it up the short climb unscathed.

Fallen trees and waterfalls

Then we were at the aid station, and I asked a volunteer to coat me in bug spray (perhaps it would also deter yellowjackets!). It stung sharply in my fresh cuts before I got out of there as fast as possible, eating Pringles from bug spray-covered fingers and tasting a distinct and awful bitterness on the mouthpiece of my sprayed-down hydration pack.

The next aid station, #4 at mile 30, had my drop bag waiting for me, so I spent much of this longest segment of the race daydreaming about what I would do once I reached that sanctuary. I ran for a while behind a man and a woman who seemed to be a couple running together, and wondered what that was like for a romantic relationship. I ran out of water in my hydration pack, but it didn’t feel too dire as it was early enough in the race that I still felt good and knew I would recover— and not make the mistake of waiting to refill my pack again.

Along a particularly rocky section I decided I would change into my Hoka Stinsons at the aid station (I also had another pair of Brooks Pure Grits waiting for me, since I couldn't decide that morning) to cushion my feet. I hadn't worn them since my only previous 100k more than a year ago, Miwok. I certainly hadn't tried them since my Achilles issue started. Since Rob, Dave and I had talked about shoe drop and Achilles issues earlier in the race, I spent more than a mile wondering if the change from 4mm to zero drop would hurt or help me.

Wild ginger (would make a great tattoo)

By then my mind was set. We zigzagged down an open, golden, grass-covered hill and emptied out onto a road with the bags lined up on a tarp. After handing off my hydration pack to be filled, I knelt next to my drop bag to change as quickly as possible. But after swapping my t-shirt the strong sun was too much and I heaped my things into my arms to make a break for the shade of the tent that housed the food.

There in the shade I sat in a chair, unhooked my gaiters, took off my shoes, put on the new shoes, and reattached my gaiters. I grabbed another handful each of almonds and dried cherries from my drop bag, since I had been successfully eating those at steady intervals. Nothing else in my bag seemed particularly desirable, so I zipped the bag up and tossed it back onto the tarp. I left the aid station quickly, walking, eating Pringles and arranging my gear back into place.

The next segment was the shortest of the race, with the trail closely following the river and the road on its other side. The highway noise kept me out of my groove, but I had been running off and on with a strong, determined woman maybe 20 years older than me who didn’t talk much and made for great running company. She was worried about making the cutoff, so I had tried to reassure her with my pace charts. We exchanged a few stories before she went on ahead, picking up the pace while she felt good.

Overhanging rock

The trail opened out to a road, where we turned left and ran for a while before curving right to sidle along the river, the view opening up to a towering cliff straight ahead on the other side of the water. I followed the course-marking flags on a sharp left turn to take the road bridge over the river, before crossing and climbing back up into the wilderness. That was a relief with the hotter-than-predicted heat of the day radiating back up from the bare, baked road.

The woman I had run with before the aid station was headed back down, and I gave her a concerned, quizzical stare. "Forgot my music maker," she said shortly, as she hit the road and aimed back for the aid station. "You'll catch up," I shouted. I could tell by the unflagging stoutness of her pace.

I ran alone, slow and steady, before catching up to a few people along a gravel road up to the Soda Springs Reservoir on the right, following a huge pipe on the left that we ducked under as we followed the course markings. The woman also caught up with us, and went on ahead. We would leapfrog and run together a number of times, and at one point she introduced herself as Anna Bates-- a name that was incredibly comforting to me as it reminded me both of Ann and my long-time running friend Anna Yates.

The highway just across the river

I don’t remember aid station #6, mile 39.3, but I probably didn’t even stop. My eyes were on the cutoff at aid station #7, mile 46.7, and my comfortable pace of the first 30 miles had slowed with the increasing elevation gain. I began to use my poles to steady my pace into the fastest walk I could manage on the two steep climbs of this dauntingly uphill segment. On the few, short downs I jogged.

The trail here was wide and rutted, like a fire road. It became steep and dusty enough to make us slide back as we climbed; I was able to really dig in with my poles and speed past a number of people who didn't have poles. Even after the steeps I passed lots of people, many of whom fell into rhythm behind me, including Dave; it was refreshing to see a familiar face and chat with him again.

Finally we ambled downhill and glimpsed a paved road— a sure sign of Toketee Lake Campground and its aid station. Hitting the road was both triumphant and very painful, but it all faded in a burst of joy as I made it to the aid station at 5:50pm— with 10 minutes to spare til the cutoff.

Beautiful river views

I got my phone out to check for signal, but had none. I had my pack refilled, ate some olives, and began to feel frantic as I couldn’t reach either Erik or Ann, and knew I had mere minutes to leave the aid station. Luckily I found a kind volunteer with a different phone carrier who texted Erik that I made the cutoff and would be at the finish in about 4 hours.

As I left the aid station, feeling proud in the conviction that I would finish, I took the time to just walk, as slowly as I wanted. I passed a group of day hikers who said something to me like “You don’t look like you’re -running- a race” and spent the next mile thinking of witty rejoinders.

Now is when I decided that, for a treat, I would finally listen to some music or a podcast using the headphones and battery charger I had lugged all this way and not yet used. Normally I wouldn’t even bring headphones because I’d have Ann’s company the whole time. My phone was at 11% charge, so I dug into my bag for the external battery and cord.

The color of the water!

Only I didn't have the right cord. I had two mini-USB cords for charging my headlamp and hand torch, but none for my phone. I was pretty sure my phone wouldn't last another four hours on such a low charge, but the perceived safety of having a charged phone meant more to me than a short listen to some music, so I put everything away and resigned myself to running without.

Pretty soon I caught up to a guy who offered to let me pass, but I didn’t want to; I had pushed so hard to make the cutoff that I didn’t have enough left to run even the downhills. We came out to a gravel road and stayed at the same pace, complaining every once in a while about how long and painful the road segment was. And once we were back on dirt trail, how that didn’t actually feel better.

This segment from Toketee to aid station #8 was third-longest, distance-wise, but the very longest mentally. At some point we introduced ourselves, and as the daylight began to fade, Ryan and I decided to stick together. We told stories, talked about the run, and embraced silences. But as the time to aid station #8, mile 54.5, dragged on, I began to wonder if it would have been better for me not to have made the cutoff.

Beautiful rocky outcropping up ahead and aid station #5

Once that line of thought started, I thought about how the upcoming aid station was called “Road 710”— meaning it might be at a road and an easy place to drop out. I tried not to give that thought too much mental airtime, but by the time we finally saw the aid station at the crest of a steep section, I knew I wanted out.

Road 710, however, was a trail and the aid station was just three people (and a racer sitting in a chair) with containers of water lugged in. I took one look at 710, even steeper than the North Umpqua Trail in front of us, and recommitted. Ryan and I both ate some watermelon, had bug spray reapplied, and got out of there.

We continued the uphill in the darkening night, talking now and again but mostly quiet. It got dark, very dark. Sometimes we saw lights far ahead of us in the distance, but mostly not. We couldn’t see stars or the moon because of the tree cover, and my headlamp was stronger than Ryan’s, so I mostly ran in front.

Rocks in the river

I started to obsess about the course description for this segment: “The climb is steep. Be prepared. It will surprise you.” But then we saw lights that weren’t moving, and although it was uphill it felt like just about the same grade as the whole segment, and there we were at the last aid station. A tiny table, three volunteers, and the offer of hot broth. Ryan took some, so I got some too, and it was like the cake at an awesome party— unbelievably delicious and celebratory.

We spent a little more time at this aid station than the others, knowing we had less than 4 miles to go and trying to ward off the dark for a few precious, extra minutes. We asked about the broken bridge that was mentioned at the pre-race briefing, and were shocked when one of the volunteers shone a flashlight over to show us that we were right next to it.

The span was twisted and torqued, a massive tree leaning against it about three-quarters of the way to the other side. We couldn’t see the bottom of the canyon it bridged, and I was grateful for the dark to not see the details, but also too tired to worry much. Ryan and I crossed the bridge and started up some wicked switchbacks— much more what I expected from the course description for leading up to aid station #9.

Towering cliffs and a power station

We continued steeply uphill what felt like ages, and when the downhill finally came we could barely muster a trot. It was pitch black by now, and the trail was a narrow ribbon carved into the side of a steep canyon that was a wall on our left and dropped away to nothing but the sounds (and sometimes cool, damp breezes) of frequent waterfalls and rapids on our right.

We trudged like this for hours, or at least it felt that way. My mind played movies with variations on the themes “It Will Always Be Like This,” “Night Will Never End,” and the least popular, because I simply wouldn’t let myself dwell on it, “Whatever You Do, Do Not Trip And Fall Towards The Sound Of Rushing Water.” I think these movies were particularly vivid because there was nothing to see but a headlamp-illuminated circle of rocky trail, hour after hour. A few times I risked my footing to look to the right, but my light was swallowed by the thick darkness every time.

I made the cutoff at aid station #7!

At some point we came to a huge, smooth tree trunk slanted across the trail; there were many along the course but this one seemed particularly impassible with no way under, no branches or divots to help with grip, and a quick slide off the end into nothingness. Ryan, with his long legs, scrambled over and I stood still, trying to evaluate my options.

“Want a hand?” Ryan asked. I was grateful for his help as I clambered over.

Dave caught up to us just before we climbed up a small rise and crossed a road. He told us that there was one more road to cross and then we'd be at the lake where the campground and finish were located. We crossed another road, but-- as often happens during a long race like this, as implausible as it may sound-- couldn't decide if it really counted, because although it had a street sign it was just gravel.

A wall of waterfalls right on the trail at dusk-- felt great to cool our hands and faces here

It was here that I felt a sharp pain burst on the back of my left ankle and realized that a blister had popped. Despite the pain my feet were in, I hadn't realized I had any blisters, but now it dawned on me that my feet were going to be a mess.

Sure enough, we crossed another road-- this one paved-- and saw lights through the trees ahead of us off the trail to the right. We came to some flags and made our own turn through the woods, jumping down an embankment and onto another, much bigger road.

Here, we stopped for a moment in a daze and marveled at the civilization: a road, a street light, the dam before us. "Wait! Turn off your headlamps," I yelled. We could finally see stars above us in the clearing, but it was only a few seconds before we turned our lights back on and eagerly continued.

Totally stunned by the flash

We trotted over the bridge across the dam, looking out over the lake for the lights that would mark the campground and finish line. They seemed very dim and far away. It was starting to get cold, and we could now see our breath. Past the bridge, the trail was flat and skirted the edge of lake, and we became giddy with the finality of it all. We chatted and made jokes, looking back across the water at headlamps that had just arrived to the dam bridge.

And the suddenly the finish line was up a steep hill directly to the right. Dave scrambled up, and Ryan and I followed. The fire and electric lights were a dazzle and seeing Erik standing right at the finish line arch-- emblazoned with 17:39 as I stumbled through-- surprised me so much that as I made a beeline toward him, a sudden camera flash blinded me and I fell right into Erik's arms where he caught me and I held on tight.

We got our finisher's glasses and Dave had his filled with beer. He gleefully told Erik that I had helped him and he wouldn't have made it without me-- as I marveled at his energy. For my part, it took everything I have to go over to the house and giant bottle of Technu and scrub myself down the best I could, trying to ameliorate the poison oak just a bit.

Ryan celebrates, I beeline for Erik

Then we got in the car and started the long drive back to the hotel. I tried to stay conscious to help Erik stay awake to drive; it was a harrowing trip. I realized I hadn't retrieved my drop bag, but I also couldn't muster the energy to want to turn around and get it.

When we got back to the hotel around 2am and dragged all of my gear plus our sleeping child up to our room, it was time to take off my shoes. A ring of blisters along the bottom of my right heel created a hook that made the shoe very difficult and painful to remove. I peeled off my filthy gear and took a shower, feeling almost out-of-body that I was somewhere warm and electrified and indoors.

And then I lay awake in bed for hours. I couldn't sleep. Every time I closed my eyes I would see that circle of rocks illuminated by my headlamp. I finally fell asleep around 4am and dreamed of running a trail in darkness, waking up often until 7am when it was time to start the next day and our trip home to Portland.

He caught me!
***

The NUT 100k was tough. In the two weeks afterwards, I told everyone I shouldn't have done it. I hobbled for almost three days and my feet were in ruins for weeks. But then race director Renee kindly and quickly returned my drop bag to me, and I got an email that as a top-three finisher in my age group, I won an engraved glass. That beautiful glass made me so damn proud.


I looked at my photos, and told people bits and pieces of my race story, and the pain began to recede from my memory. So now, two months later, I would recommend NUT (but maybe not as a first 100k). The course is beautiful and well-marked. The aid stations are good. The swag is top-notch. But really, it's the people. The race organizers, volunteers, and the runners I met were amazing people filled with kindness and the joy of running. They make all of that "brutiful" pain worthwhile.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Preparing for CCC

Hiking TMB in 2013

Every week our friend David has been asking us how our training has been going and if we are still planning on running CCC. We half jokingly respond, "what training?" There were probably only a few times after I went to the ER, that I thought I would have to cancel the whole trip to Europe, but I had more than a few doubts about making it to the starting line of CCC

But that was several months ago, every week for the past 2+ months I have been adding 3 miles to my weekly long runs and I am up to ~27 miles for this week. Initially my main goal was recovery more than training, but the last few weeks I have been focused on the race and using the time we have before the race in the most efficient manner, without over doing it.


Picture from hiking TMB in 2013

I am really hoping that the solid base I had before going to the ER, plus all the hiking and running I have been able to do post-ER will be enough to get me through the physical parts. I know all the pain I was in the weekend I went to the ER, plus all the dark moments I had post-ER will help me with my mental toughness. Maybe I should be more worried about what is going to be the hardest race of my life to date and my lack of training, but I'm not. Maybe it is because of everything I have gone through the last few months, maybe it's because I hiked around Mont Blanc a few years ago, or maybe because I am doing this with Susan and John will be crewing us, who knows, but I feel pretty calm about the race. The thing that has had me worried this week is the massive list of required gear!


This might be what I look like after CCC

I knew I needed to look at the list of required gear, but I kept putting it off for one reason or another, as soon as August 1st was glaring me in the face I knew I couldn't procrastinate any longer.

I created a spreadsheet, pulled out all my gear and went to town. I own most of everything on the list, but I wasn't convinced my 4 rain jackets were going to do it, so I ordered a few more, because you can always send things back. The one thing I didn't own was light weight waterproof gloves, all I had were waterproof snowboarding gloves, which I am not going to run in. A few google searches later, I came across Amy Sproston's UTMB gear list from 2012. The one thing she changed out in Chamonix were her gloves, she bought RaidLight overmitts in Chamonix. After looking them up, I ordered us both a pair. 

Our gear list so far:


GearAnnSusan
mobile phone with option enabling its use in the three countries
(put in one’s repertoire the security numbers of the organisation, keep it switched on, do not hide one’s number and do not forget to set off with recharged batteries)
yes, Nike plan with 2 battery chargersyes, one battery, *** need additional battery
personal beaker 15cl. minimum (water-bottles or flasks with lids are not acceptable)yes,ultrasprire cupyes,ultrasprire cup
stock of water minimum 1 litreyes, 2L bladderyes, 2L bladder
two torches in good working condition with replacement batteries for each torchyes, petzel and black diamondyes, petzel and black diamond
survival blanket 1.40m x 2m minimumyesneed to check size but odds are good if Ann's is
whistleYES, and I know I got you one. I have additional if you need.
adhesive elastic band enable making a bandage or a strapping (mini 100cm x 6 cm)Yes*** need
food reserveyesOh hell yes
Jacket, with a hood, capable of withstanding the bad mountain weather and made with a waterproof (minimum recommended: 10 000 Schmerber) and breathable (RET recommended less than 13) membrane *yes, marmot jacket*** Eeep
long running trousers or leggings or a combination of leggings and long socks which cover the legs completelyyes, nikemain: capris; additional tights or socks
Additional warm midlayer top: One single midlayer long sleeve top for warmth (cotton excluded) with a minimum weight of 180g (Men, size M)
OR a two piece clothing combination of a long sleeve baselayer/midlayer for warmth (cotton excluded) with a minimum weight of 110g (Men, size M) and a windproof jacket** with DWR (Durable Water Repellent) protection
yes, nike + houdiniHalf-zip & foldup jacket
cap or bandanayesyes and yes
warm hatyes, smartwoolColumbia Gorge hat
warm and waterproof glovesyes, waterproof: raidlight ORDERED, warm: nike gloves ORDEREDyes, waterproof: raidlight
waterproof over-trousersyes, northfaceyes, gorewear
polesyes - black diamond z poleyes - black diamond z pole
packyes - ultraspire omegayes - ultraspire omega

I will post a final list after the race, but I have made our Google spreadsheet viewable, if you are curious how things are coming along. We are going to do a test run of all our gear in our packs early next week. 

We might be a little under trained and getting things together close to last minute, but I am confident we are going to make it to the start line.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Siouxon Creek

Me and Courtney at Chinook Falls

My sister, Courtney was visiting from Seattle and we had planned to hike around Mt. St. Helen's, because in the 10 years she has lived in the Pacific Northwest, she hadn't been. Saturday morning I checked the weather and the forecast called for no rain but overcast at the Johnston Ridge Observatory, so we headed out for the 2 hour drive from Portland. We were within 10 miles of Johnston Ridge and it started to rain and as we got a little closer the fog was so dense that we could barley see 10 feet in front of us. We pulled over at a look at point and pulled out our hiking book to figure out what plan b was going to be. We picked Siouxon Creek.


The awesome trail

I wasn't thrilled to have to drive another 1.5 hours but we were determined to hike! As soon as we started to hike we almost forgot that we spent ~3 hours in the car. The very well maintained trail gradually follows Siouxon Creek, through a Doug Fir and Hemlock forest. There were at least 2 of the most impressive trail bridges I have ever seen, outside of New Zealand. The water in the creek was some of the clearest I had seen in awhile, in some sections it was almost aqua blue. 2 miles in we passes Siouxon Falls, a small waterfall that pours into a greenish-blue pool of water. 



One of the amazing bridges

Siouxon Falls
At ~3.5 miles we got to a bridge crossing Siouxon Creek, where a lot of people were hanging out, taking picture and turning around. I knew I had read there was another waterfall, I checked the map and noticed that it was only .20 miles away, we continued on. We were so glad we did, we were rewarded with an impressive Chinook Falls, with no one around. We found a perfect rock in front of the falls, enjoyed lunch and happy we ended up with plan b!


Courtney at Chinook Falls

Chinook Falls
After getting home and examining the map more, Susan and I can easily make a 20+ loop around Siouxon Creek. Next year!!!!


More trails to explore


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Elk Mountain - Kings Mountain loop

Friday Susan and I did our "long run", since she was leaving on Saturday for a 2 week vacation to Ireland. A long run meaning an incremental increase to what I did the week before, since I am slowly easing back into running because of my herniated disc. We ran 2.5 hours / ~13 miles in Forest Park. With the long run done and the long 4th of July weekend ahead of us, I planned a few harder hikes for John and me to do. The first being the Elk Mountain - Kings Mountain loop.

From the top of King Mountain

Saturday John and I headed over to the Tillamook State Forest to hike the Elk Mountain - Kings Mountain loop. In all the years I have spent hiking in Oregon, I had never done this trail, the closest I got was when ran the Wilson River trail last year. Depending on what source you look at the loop is somewhere between 10.5-12 miles with ~3200 feet of elevation gain. But the trail is rated as very difficult because of the terrain 

We decided to hike the loop clockwise, starting at the Elk Mountain trailhead, hiking on the Wilson River trail for 3.5 miles before heading up the Kings Mountain trail. Besides being incredibly steep in places the the Kings Mountain trail was really well maintained and not too overly technical. At this point I figured everything I had read about the trails being difficult was out dated. That was until we started on the trail that connects King and Elk Mountains. 


The top!

The connector trail was over grown, rugged, steep and rocky in places. There were quite a few places that I was using my hands to crawl up and down the rocks, we even had to use a rope at one point to get up the trail. I am thankful that John brought his poles, because I don't know if I would of been able to complete the loop without them. Figuring that once we reached Elk Mountain the trail would get better, I was enjoying the rough unmaintained connector trail.


Climbing up the rope


The top
Again, I was mistaken, the Elk Mountain trail was nothing like the Kings Mountain trail. It is rugged, rough, steep with a lot of loose ground. Again I was on my butt a lot grabbing onto rocks and branches to help navigate myself down the various inclines. I was so happy when we finally reached the Wilson River trail. I said to John, "this trail is bullshit!", but really I enjoyed the unexpected challenge and we had spectacular views from the top of Kings and Elk Mountain. 

After completing the hike, I have a lot of respect for the people who run the Elk - Kings 25k/50k.


From the top of Elk Mountain

Sunday, June 26, 2016

5 week update with a little bit of running and a lot of hiking

Forest Park
It has been 5 weeks since I went to the ER for what turned out to be a herniated disc. I have also changed jobs, so I had a few weeks in between jobs to focus on physical therapy and recovery. 

The only pain I have had is a little in my lower back when I sit and slouch for a log period of time, but even then the pain is probably a 2 on a scale of 1-10. What I have been experiencing is paresthesia. Paresthesia is often described as "pins and needles". The best description I found is from here. "The sensation, sometimes, occurs without warning and is a mostly painless sensation. It’s best described by its tingling, numbness and distinct skin crawling feeling." 
Lake 22 in Washington

The first few weeks my lower left leg didn't have as much sensation when touched as my right leg, which felt really strange when I tried to shave. It also felt like my leg had come into contact with stinging nettlesIn the 3 weeks since my original blog post about why I am not running, the paresthesia in my lower left leg has lessened and isn't constant. Now it is just a small sensation, which doesn't seem to worsen after a long hike or the little bit of running I am doing. My PT is amazed how well I am doing in such a short period of time. 


Forest Park - my sanity
I have done a ton of hiking in the last 5 weeks, which at first was mainly in Forest Park but in the last 3 weeks I have done several hikes in the Gorge and the Mt. Hood Wilderness, I even went to Seattle to see my sister and got hike in there. 


my running schedule
The Gorge
We have slowly started to add running back in. The first week of running was 3 days of 15 minutes of run walk intervals, the 2nd week was similar but for 20 minutes at a time. Going into the 3rd week, I asked Ariel, my PT, if she thought it was ok to increase the amount of time I was running, but keep with the run / walk intervals. She said it was ok as long as there was no increased pain. Last weekend I ran for 80 minutes, this weekend Susan and I ran for 2 hours and I will probably increase it by 30 minutes next weekend. My weekday runs are ~40 minutes. It is no where near the 60+ miles a week I was running 5 weeks ago, but it is a lot more than I thought I would be doing after I was diagnosed and thought I wouldn't be able to run for 6 months. With all the hiking and walking my weekly milage is still pretty good, ~45 miles / week. 



Coyote Wall

The Gorge from Coyote Wall
Mt Hood from Bald Mountain
My goal is not to over do it, keep recovering, enjoy the summer and to make it to Chamonix for CCC at the end of August. We might be hiking all of CCC, but I am feeling positive that we will make it to Chamonix. 

Some of the recent hikes I have done:
Salmon River
Bald Mountain from Ramona Falls
Lake Twenty-two
Coyote Wall
Larch Mountain
Lookout Mountain

Dad on the way to Larch Mountain

Before hiking with Dad


Back at Nike and running with Susan -- just like I never left

Mt Hood on the way up to Lookout Mountain

Mt Hood selfie
Forest Park with Dad

Monday, June 6, 2016

Why I'm not running

Friday, May 20th 
noon : yoga, I tweaked my back while twisting, enough that it hurt to go into a headstand.

Saturday, May 21st 
7am - noon : We ran ~23 miles, my lower back did hurt when I started running but it didn't feel any worse when I was done. 

Sunday, May 22nd 
7am : It was hard to bend forward and my back didn't feel great so I decided to skip going to yoga, since I didn't want to make it worse because we were going to run 30 miles in the Gorge on Tuesday. I instead drove an hour to my mom's house. 

11am - 4pm : At my mom's my left leg felt sore, but after lunch I had a noticeable pain going down my leg, I wasn't sure what was going on. 

4pm - 5:30pm : Driving home the pain in my left leg just kept getting worse, I kept rubbing on it hoping that would help, but it didn't. 

5:30pm - midnight : When I got home I could barely walk from one room to another without stopping to lay down. I WAS IN SO MUCH PAIN. It felt like my leg muscles were spasming, I had never felt anything like it before. I eventually made it to the couch, where laying flat on my back seem to relieve most of the pain. I had no idea what was going on, but was hopeful that a good night's sleep would help. The whole evening I was texting my husband, John, who was in Copenhagen for work, about all the pain I was in. I am pretty sure at that point he thought I was being melodramatic. I took an extra sleeping pill to make sure I slept through the night. 

Monday, May 23rd
2am : I woke up a few times in pain but I was able to get back to sleep, but finally at 2am I woke up with my left leg in so much pain that I was crying and screaming. Trying to walk to the bathroom was so difficult that I didn't want to get out of bed again to try and find painkillers. I was home alone and didn't know what to do, the pain wasn't going away and nothing I did made it any better. My husband told me to call an ambulance and go to the ER, but I was afraid of how much it would cost, even though I had insurance. I thought if I could just wait it out until 5am, then I could call a friend to come and take me to the ER. 

3am : I couldn't take the pain any longer, I tried calling my friend Chris but he didn't pick-up, I then called Susan who picked up on the 2nd ring and she said she would be over in 15 minutes. 

3:30am - 6:30am : The ER - It really was a blur, I was in so much pain. They gave me a cocktail of pain meds along with a shot of morphine, and finally the pain started to subside. They suspected I had sciatica, even though the pain was on the side of my left leg and not down the back of it. The x-ray showed a narrowed space between L4-5, which was probably causing the pain. The ER doctor suggested I contact my primary care doctor to get an MRI. I do remember Susan telling the nurse or doctor that we were running a 100k in 2 weeks, I don't remember them responding to her. I also felt very lucky that I had Susan there taking care of everything.  

7am : Back home. Susan got me situated on the couch with everything I needed to be comfortable. We called my moms, who could come over and take care of me so Susan could get back to her family. I texted with my primary care doctor and he was able to fit me in at 2:30pm. 

2:30pm : more pain pills... I was at Dr. Shay's office trying to coherently tell him the events of the last 72 hours. He didn't think it was sciatica, since the pain wasn't going down the back of my legs, he thought I might just be experiencing severe muscle spams but wanted to check with a specialist to make sure it wasn't a bulging disc. 

Tuesday, May 24th - Friday, May 27th : The next few days were a real haze of pain, pills and doctor's appointments. I ended up going to an Orthopedist who recommended me getting an MRI. I went to PT twice and had a few strength exercises to do. By Thursday, I was standing without any pain and was able to go on an hour walk, which was a huge improvement over the previous days where I couldn't stand for more than a few minutes without being in pain. I still had some numbness on the inside of my lower left leg, which caused it to be heavy and weak. My PT, Ariel, said it was fine to do hour long walks as long as I wasn't in pain, but no yoga, spin, or RUNNING. UGH. And the Orthopedist never called back with the MRI results, so I went into the long holiday weekend wondering....

THE LONGGGGGGGGGGG WEEKEND (May 27th - 30th) : I made the mistake of Googling "running with a bulging disc L4-5", after that it was a downward spiral. I got really depressed thinking I was never going to run again, I only got out of bed to go on my hour walks and then it was even a struggle. I hit rock bottom Sunday night, but that is a story left for another time. 

Tuesday, May 31st : The Ortho's PA finally called me back with the MRI results and said I did have a bulging disc between L4-5, I tried to write down everything he said, but he seemed rushed and I didn't get it all down. He did suggest I get an injection, which seemed strange to me since I hadn't had any pain for almost a week. 

Luckily I had a PT appointment that afternoon and I could ask Ariel all the questions I didn't get to ask the PA. I have been seeing Ariel since February, when I started having knee and back issues, and she has always been able to set my mind at ease when I mentally start to freakout about something at doctor tells me, and this time was no different. She called and got a copy of the MRI report and we went over it with me. She suggested I talk to my Dr again about the injection, since I wasn't in pain. 

I got ahold of the PA and he said if I wasn't experiencing pain that I probably didn't need the injection. (Only if he listened to me the first time!!!!) He also said it would probably be 2 months before I could run, but yoga and spin class were ok. Ariel advised me against yoga and spin class because of the forward folding. I was quickly losing trust in the PA, but I scheduled a follow-up appointment for 2 weeks out.

Wednesday, June 1st - Monday June 6th : I have been walking/hiking in Forest Park every day and even hiked 10 miles on the Salmon River trail over the weekend. I ended up with 43 miles for the week, not bad for being injured. I am diligent about doing all of my PT exercises and going to see Ariel twice a week.

I got a referral from Ariel for another doctor to get a second opinion. The new doctor, Dr. Tatsumi got me in right away and spent 30 minutes going over my MRI and answering my questions. He said I had a large bulge that I could have removed with surgery, which only took and hour but would have me at home for a few weeks and recovering for at least a month. Or I could see if the bulge reduces or gets resorbed, he said larger bulges are more likely to do so. He said since I wasn't experiencing any pain I could try running again and see what happens. Which at first I was excited to hear, but as I thought about it more I got scared, I don't want to go through the pain again.

I am conflicted about what to do, luckily I have a PT appointment tomorrow can talk to Ariel about the options. I debated canceling my follow-up appointment next week with the first doctor, but for now I am going to keep it to see what he thinks. 

This is not the way I wanted to spend the summer, but I have very thankful I am not in pain and I am able to hike and hopefully (slowly) add some more activities back, so I can stay in shape. I am trying to stay optimistic, which isn't always the easiest thing to do, especially when I start Googling about running and bulging discs. I am very luckily to have found a great PT and have a VERY supportive family, husband and bff/running partner. I know I will get back to running, but I just have to be patient, which I am not good at.