Dallas, inspiration, people with true grit, ultra

Ultrarunning: Dallas’s Nicole Studer and Shaheen Sattar are rising stars

Photo of Shaheen Sattar and Nicole Studer by Rasy Ran for Advocate magazines
Photo of Shaheen Sattar and Nicole Studer by Rasy Ran for Advocate magazines

That someone from Dallas’ flatland would dominate a sport that involves running insane distances across rugged terrain tens of thousands of feet above sea level seems unlikely. But two White Rock-area women are doing just that — claiming records, breaching usual gender barriers and winning races that cover mileage most of us find wearisome to drive.

Nicole Studer, a 33-year-old attorney, recently clocked the fastest time ever recorded by a female in a 100-mile trail race.

Shaheen Sattar, a 30-year-old Bryan Adams High School graduate, two years ago was the second female finisher at the Leadville 100, a race through the Colorado mountains made famous by the 2009 bestseller “Born to Run” (Matthew McConaughey recently was cast as the lead in the movie version).

“They are doing amazing things and helping raise the bar of excellence for all runners. They are both badasses on the trail with huge hearts.”

In 2014 Shaheen placed among the top 10 women at Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. Few humans ever even meet the standards to enter Western States (entrants must first place among the top finishers at an approved qualifying 100-mile or 100k race, one “of significant difficulty”; others can secure a place via the Western States lottery). It is the race to which the world’s best ultrarunners flock. Both Nicole and Shaheen will toe the line there this month.

They will start running before dawn June 27 in Squaw Valley, Calif., climb more than 18,000 feet, descend 23,000 feet, cross a cold and rushing waist-deep river and, after 20-something hours on their feet, finish on a high school track in Auburn.

Nicole and Shaheen are friendly rivals who admire one another. They sometimes run together; at a Western States training camp they logged 30 miles side-by-side one day and really got to know each other.

But on June 27, it will be every woman for herself.

Each is close lipped about her specific goals. Shaheen says she hopes to beat her time from last year. Above all, she races against the clock and her own past performances, she says. Her bib number is F9, indicating to all that she placed ninth last year, so she knows they’ll be gunning for her.

Nicole qualified for last year’s Western States, but an injury prevented her from competing. However, as the 100-mile record holder, she too has a target on her back.

Nicole and Shaheen are so good that they frequently rival the sport’s best men.

Take, for example, last April’s Possum Kingdom Trail Run, which included both a 56-kilometer and 52-mile event.

Typically, the winner of an ultramarathon is a sinewy, bearded male. But at this event, Shaheen was the first to emerge from the woods; her dark ponytail bounced as she waved at her sister, Shama Sattar, who cheered at the finish.

“I did not know she was leading. She had been running with a pack of guys. When I saw her, I was so excited,” says Shama, who also is a runner.

Later that day, Nicole won the longer race, beating the first-place male by more than 18 minutes and the second place female by three and a half hours.

David Hanenburg, who directs the Possum Kingdom trail races and other ultrarunning events, says it is unusual for a female to win outright over all males. But these women regularly defy the odds.

“They are doing amazing things and helping raise the bar of excellence for all runners,” he says. “They are both badasses on the trail with huge hearts.”

So how is it that these two women from our sea level neighborhood are killing it on the trail-running scene?

Both are crazy tough and competitive with a freakish immunity to the typical effects of fatigue, averse weather conditions and high altitude.

Both will go mad if they can’t run at least 80 miles a week. Both, like the sport itself, seem on the cusp of being discovered by the more-mainstream athletic world. But how they arrived at this point, for each, is different.

Nicole picked up running in middle school after the basketball coach denied her a spot on the team and introduced her to cross-country.

The young Chicago native was fast enough to earn a scholarship to Northwestern University, but she was no Olympian, and once she graduated, she did not expect to continue her athletic career.

“I figured that I was retiring from running when I finished school,” she says.

Shaheen only tried it while working the early shift at White Rock Athletic Club (now Gold’s).

“You know that inside track? It takes like 11 laps to make a mile. That’s where I started running.” She says a group of senior citizens eventually persuaded her to run with them outside.

Nicole finished law school at Baylor, where she met husband Eric Studer, joined the consulting firm Towers Watson and adopted a dog, Stella. “My running changed a lot when we got Stella. She was so hyper, so we ran all the time.”

To satisfy her competitive streak, Nicole entered races. Without considerable effort (she had tossed the watch, the training log and the pressure that went along with competitive running) she qualified for the Boston Marathon, won the Fort Worth Cowtown Marathon and broke the elusive three-hour barrier at the Houston Marathon.

Shaheen entered races too, her performances a bit more pedestrian.

She was thrilled to finish the Chicago Marathon in just over four hours. When she ran the White Rock Marathon in 3 hours 41 minutes, someone told her she was a minute from qualifying for Boston. “That was the first point where I thought about a qualifying time,” she says. After that she focused on speeding up.

Almost every serious runner suffers setbacks and injuries, but Shaheen’s was more harrowing than most.

On an early morning run, a car struck her, hurling her over a 6-foot fence.

“I was running on the sidewalk. I could see it coming. It just hit me head-on and knocked me into someone’s backyard.”

She was hospitalized with a punctured lung, broken ribs and a fractured fibula.

She ran the White Rock half marathon three weeks later.

“The doctor said it would be painful but that I couldn’t further injure myself. I was already registered and the race was sold out, so I went.” By that time she had proved capable of running a half marathon in 1 hour 26 minutes. It took her 2 hours 6 minutes to run one with a broken calf bone and ribs.

Both Nicole and Shaheen arguably could improve at traditional distances (5ks to marathons), but neither is interested in the type of training that would take (intense speed intervals on a track, weight training, regimented mileage — something similar to the rigorous schedule of collegiate athletes, Nicole explains).

Both embrace and thrive in the looser atmosphere of trail and ultrarunning, where instead of trying to get necessarily faster, you go farther.

Nicole’s 5:30 a.m. runs grew longer.

“It got to be 10, 11 a.m., and she still would be gone,” her husband Eric says.

Shaheen started rising at 3:45 a.m. to fit in her daily run.

Because ultramarathoners run 14, 24, 30 hours at a stretch, they sometimes rely on a crew to assist them during competition with food, drink and clothing changes.

In the past few years, Eric has learned — from trial, error and the advice of trail veterans — how to support his wife.

“My job is to be at the aid station when she comes through. I have a kit (bandages, clean socks, water bottles), but she is low maintenance. Sometimes I am just there to tell her to keep going. Tell her if someone is gaining on her.”

Shaheen and Nicole both raced the Leadville 100 in 2013 — that’s when Shaheen placed second. Nicole, having a “bad day,” placed ninth.

Eric admired Shaheen’s support crew at Leadville — which included Shama, her mom Sian, brother Shahid and boyfriend/runner Steve Henderson. “They were like a well-oiled machine,” he says. “And I have to hand it to Steve — he knows what he’s doing.”

In order to train for alpine races like Leadville and Western States, Nicole and Shaheen seek out the hilliest parts of our neighborhood. Lakewood’s Loving hill is a good one, Nicole says. Eric cringes and says he remembers trying to follow her up Loving on his bike. Shaheen says the streets of Lake Highlands, north of Flag Pole Hill, offer surprisingly challenging hills. She adds that northerners don’t benefit from Texans’ heat training.

The real secret might be our area’s running community. “Dallas has some of the best people to run with anywhere,” says Nicole, who is a member of the White Rock Running Co-op (a club open to runners of all levels — see thewrrc.com). “My training partners are so great and such nice people. It makes it fun.” (Stella the dog isn’t so enthusiastic about running during the summer months.)

“The win is a small part of this sport — community and encouragement are the more predominant themes.”

Shaheen does much of her training solo, but she also has formed relationships rooted in running, like the one with aforementioned Steve Henderson, which began a few years ago when she accepted an invitation to join a co-ed relay racing team. Today they are totally in love and live together in a house on White Rock Lake.

And if you ask most any ultrarunning aficionado — race organizer David Hanenburg, for instance — it is that romance, those friendships and camaraderie, that shared experience on the trail, rather than the qualifications, records, times and trophies, that define the sport.

To him and other ultrarunning diehards, it’s about more than just trying to prove you can complete some “deranged distance.”

“The win is a small part of this sport — community and encouragement are the more predominant themes,” says Hanenburg (who blogs about ultrarunning at endurancebuzzadventures.com).

On the trails you will see frontrunners cheering on the back of packers, he says. He has witnessed Nicole and Shaheen doing so — in fact, he says, they have cheered him on, even in races that they finished far ahead of him. It is their hearts that make them good at ultrarunning, he says, and it is ultrarunning that makes them (and him, and other runners, too) better humans.

See results from the Western States Endurance Run at wser.org

This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of Dallas’s Advocate Magazine, written by me, Christina Hughes Babb

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Grasslands: 50 miles of mud

Photo by Nick Polito
Photo of my feet by Nick Polito

At mile 30 of the Grasslands 50 Miler, I had this blog post written in my head:

I made it through more than 30 miles of my first attempt at a 50-mile run. Due to a late start, a few wrong turns and horrendous course conditions, I packed it in after completing 50 kilometers …

But as fate would have it, I found myself — after some exasperating words with friends, a handful of chia seeds and a shot of something that wasn’t Gatorade — heading back into the bush for 20 more miserable miles.

There was mud. More mud than I have ever seen, and I have seen mud. Different varieties of mud, which I will now list in order of how much I hate them, from least to most despised.

Packed sand — soggy, silty dense sand, like the ocean shoreline, a pleasant enough ride

Muddy water — sludge pools that soak socks and shoes, but don’t much hinder your stride

Deep wet sand — this ankle-deep slimy silt covered a large part of the course, at a glance it almost looked like the dense sand, but when your feet hit, they sunk, and so did your hopes and dreams

Wet cement — you know that sexy scene in “Ghost”? Take Demi Moore’s pottery muck, pour it all over your feet, and you’re off!

Red clay mud — orange-y red glutinous goop that aggressively sucks shoes off feet, each slap, slurp, slap, slurp-sounding disgusting step feels like prying free from a vacuum.

Negra mud-zilla (black mud) — all the characteristics of red clay, but this tacky terrain also managed to work its way inside socks, forming large clumps between the toes and balls of your feet

Sometimes one or more of the muds mingled.

One woman became stuck in a mucilaginous mixture of black and red. Fellow runners dislodged her.

Some altogether lost shoes.

Over the hours, the mud formed an adhesive that glued shoe to foot.

In places, large piles of green-ish horse manure topped the mud, a thing that barely registered.

Through trial and error we learned that a thicket of thorns hid amid the trailside grasses and that any attempt to run there would result in mutilated flesh.

Also, when slipping into the mud, clutching a bush for support would result in stigmata-style palm injury.

I spent the night before the race at the Ramada Inn in Decatur, because I did not want to be late to the race.

I pulled up directions to the race the night before the race, noting that it was about a 25-minute drive from the Ramada. I gave myself more than an hour to get there, because I was afraid I might get lost, and I did not want to be late to the race.

635628151275264975I got lost, badly, on the dark, unmarked backroads of Alvord, TX, and was about 40 minutes late to the race.

Driving in the predawn hours, I did not see a soul for some 30 minutes — when I finally saw another car, I flagged it down and the driver happened to be coming from the starting line, and he pointed me in the right direction.

When I arrived, a kindly volunteer told me not to worry. She would jog me to the trail entrance.

It was 6:45 a.m. (the race began at 6) and still pitch dark.

I bid her farewell and headed into the darkness alone.

The first stretch is a 4+ mile out and back before commencing the first big loop, so I almost immediately encountered runners heading back. I saw my friend Novle, who I was supposed to run alongside, and he said he’d wait for me back at the first aid station. I caught up to him just past said aid station, thank the gods, because there was ample opportunity for getting lost, which we did anyway, but not as bad as I would have had I been alone.

Once I found Novle — sure we complained about the mud and how much extra effort we were exerting and how our hammies were already screaming, but — the first 18 or so miles were quite enjoyable. On the second loop, however, from 18-30 miles-ish, frustrations ensued and mounted.

For one thing, we took some wrong turns — the course is well marked, but it is difficult to mark 50 miles of wilderness, so when you stop seeing markings, you know you are lost. So you turn around and go back until you see the proper markings.

The mud on this loop was particularly debilitating — when my watch was still working, I noted that a certain mile took almost 19 minutes to cover. I stopped noting after that one.

During this loop, Novle mentioned that an old calf injury was acting up, so he told me to go on. (He threw in the towel after that loop, but he hung around until I finished — even though I, on multiple occasions, threatened to end his life).

So I was mostly alone. Approaching mile 30, I decided that I was done. I would get to the next aid station, conveniently located at the start/finish area, and I would alert the volunteers that I was bailing. With that, I was excited. I was happy that I was going to be done, 30 miles in the bag, not bad, I told myself. A 50k in those conditions, I assured myself, not bad at all. Good, in fact. You know, I probably should do a 50k before a 50 miler anyway. This is for the best.

Yes, I had it all worked out.

When I arrived, my old friend Nick Polito was there. A badass ulrarunner, Nick is coming off an injury, had run the half and was volunteering the rest of the day.

“I’m done,” I told him. He asked if I was hurt. “No.” Was I puking? “No.”

“Then you are not done,” he says. “Why are you here, Nick?” I whined. “Go away.” Then: “You aren’t even close to done,” another person says to me.

“I am going to kill you,” I say to Nick and to this other person I do not know. “I hate you. And I hate you,” I say to them, respectively looking each in his eyes. Like smug assholes, they just smile at me, and I tell them to remind Novle that because he convinced me to run this race, I am going to kill him as well.

They promise to pass the message along, and I head back out.

The next 10 or so miles actually were the least muddy and most runnable. I kept a steady jog going through most of this.

At mile 30-something, a herd of deer crossed the running path. I thought I might be hallucinating, but a couple of other dudes saw them too.

I approached a guy walking who was from Iowa. He had run Leadville and done a full Ironman, but this was just too much, he said, noting that he was going to stop at the 41-mile pass.

My cell phone kept buzzing, which bugged me. Thing is, I did not have my cell phone with me. Yes, mild sensory hallucinations occurred.

In fact, I carried nothing. It was cool enough that I was OK without a water bottle. I carried one on the first loop, attached to my hand with a tube sock, courtesy this DIY video, because I forgot the handheld.

At mile 41 I came back through the start/finish area. Still, Nick was there. I said to Nick, “WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE?” I really still wanted to quit. The Ironman/Leadville guy was quitting. I wanted to quit too. I was pretty mean to Nick.

Nick and the other volunteers ushered me off on to the final loop, the loop marked in red, the 9-mile, muddiest of all loops loop.

Four or so miles into this loop, I passed two guys. They were chatting. They told me they were taking it easy, that they wanted to “take it all in” and I say, that is exactly not what I want to do.

I passed them.

It started raining.

It felt good.

I heard voices, in a good way.

Nicole (100-mile record holder): The faster you go the sooner it’s over.

Tarahumara Indians: When you run on the earth and run with the earth, you can run forever. (I had the earth all over me, literally, so theoretically I could run forever).

Nick (who I have now forgiven): It’s OK to cry on the trail. I’ve cried on the trail.

At this point I was no longer trying to find ways around the mud; I was just landing inside it, sinking into its depths, splashing, sticking, withdrawing. My shoes were no longer coming off. They were glued to my feet now. I was one with my shoes.

Eventually, I saw two posts with the word FINISH on them. This is the finish line, I thought deliriously. Where is everyone? They must be gone. I must be the last one here. Then I realized, no — that is just a post pointing toward the finish line ahead.

Then, about a quarter mile from the real finish line, I missed a turn.

Fortunately the guys I had passed earlier saw me and began screaming at me.

I turned back and followed them to the actual finish. Conspiracy theory me thinks they waited a hair longer than necessary to holler.

I was pissed that they passed me. But happy that I did not continue along the path back into the wilderness and away from the finishing area.

When I finished, Nick and Novle and a spattering of other people were still there. I like them again, and no longer wish to inflict their deaths.

“You are the third place female,” a race volunteer told me, and gave me a belt buckle (for finishing) and a glass (for placing). Realistically, I think there were hardly more than three females who completed the race, so I might have been as close to last as first.

Now it was raining and cold.

My shoes would not come off, so I found some scissors in my car and surgically removed them. When I finally was separated from them, I chunked them in the trash.

In my bare, muddy feet, I returned to the Ramada.

This night, there would be no insomnia.

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Cross Timbers marathon 2015 — race report

Me and race director Teresa Estrada: Photo by Nicole Studer
Me and race director Teresa Estrada: Photo by Nicole Studer

In 2012 I did my first ever trail race, a half marathon at Lake Texoma’s Cross Timbers. It was a challenging, three-hour mudfest. It was the most enjoyable race of my life.

But being inexplicably driven by a desire to knock a few minutes off my road racing times, I forwent trail running for a few more years and focused on my goals in the marathon, half, 10 and 5k.

I still have more speed dreams to fulfill, but I hit a plateau recently and was feeling quite burned out. So in an effort to “ask nothing of my running” and enjoy the sport more, I once again signed up for Cross Timbers.

The half marathon was sold out, so I registered for the full marathon.

I told precious few people I was doing this — just my running buddy, Jen, my husband (who thinks I am insane) and the other runners I knew were attending.

The race turned out to be a positive experience, but the day began somewhat nightmarishly.

First of all, though the weather had been in the 30-40 degree range all week, we awoke to 66-degree race morning temps. Seriously? I thought. This. Just. Figures. (66 is too hot for a long hard run, but 40 is perfect).

I did enjoy the extreme good fortune of hitching a ride with my friends Nicole and her husband Eric and our buddy James. Nicole is one of the best trail/ultra runners in America. James also is an experienced marathoner, ultrarunner and trial runner who was a top finisher in previous year’s Cross Timbers marathon. Nicole was getting in some volunteer hours. James was running. Eric is a top-tier supporter and driver.

Nonetheless, near the end of the 90-minute drive to the start of the race, I became violently carsick. To make matters worse, when we stopped at the one restroom near the race site, an overflowing toilet welcomed us. Granted, this was more of a nightmare for the shop owner/operator, but the sight and smell exacerbated my illness.

When we pulled up to the race site, I immediately walked to the trees and puked my guts out. This continued as my friends picked up my racing number and bag.

Nicole, who basically is an A-list celebrity on the trail running scene, secured permission to run the first 10 miles of the course to the aid station where she would volunteer. We all gathered at the start and agreed that I was just carsick and that I’d get over it. Nicole would stick with me to the 10-mile station. Eric would drive the car there, and if I was too sick to go on at that point, I could just crawl into the backseat until everyone was done. That was not going to happen, I told myself.

I splashed some water in my face, stripped off my sweats and handed them to Eric. They helped me pin on my number. We stood, and I tried to converse with my fellow athletes, but I was barely holding my shit together as we waited for the race director to send us on our way. James and Nicole both said things to the effect of: “Once you get on the trail you will feel better.”

Most normal people would say: “You are throwing up and this might not be the time to run a 5-6 hour race.” But not them. I love my runner friends so much. And they were right, too.

Miraculously and thankfully, sometime between 5 a.m. when we left Dallas and the 7 a.m. race start, the temperature dropped by about 20 degrees. Hallelujah.

Nicole and the rest: Photo by Gray Kinney
Nicole and the rest: Photo by Gray Kinney

The lead pack, including James, took off. Several of the eventual leaders — including the female winner of the marathon — were content to run behind Nicole for the first three or four miles, though she was trotting along at my extremely cautious pace. Everyone wanted to congratulate her on her recent American record.

After the first hydration/nutrition/aid station, I let some of that group go ahead. I was careful because — other than that half marathon three years ago — I had not raced on a trail before, and, in the past year, I had not done any long runs of more than two and a half hours.

Based on my half marathon time out here in ’12, I figured I was looking at a six-hour race this day.

Also around this time, I went ahead of Nicole so that I could dictate the pace. I, of course, took a wrong turn and got myself, Nicole and two other guys lost. We were off track only for a very short while. Thankfully someone noticed the absence of the little white flags that lined the course and we were back on course soon, losing probably less than five minutes.

Unfortunately, this fork in the trail impacted our friend James, and the group he was with, far more significantly.

The first six miles of Cross Timbers is brutal. The course has something like 5,500 feet of elevation gain and loss and most of that is over the first and last six and a half miles (that’s why the half marathon course is so very slow and tough).

At the half-marathon turnaround, there is a beautiful aid/nutrition/cookie station manned by the friendliest volunteers you’ll ever meet. Here I drank some ginger ale and ate an orange slice. If I could keep that down, I figured, I would be OK. As we departed that stop, the course flattened out and grew more enjoyable. Nicole and I were able to relax, pick up the pace slightly, and chat. And by the time I hit mile 10, I felt much better.

Me, Eric and James: Photo by Steve Griffin
Me, Eric and James: Photo by Steve Griffin

At that point I dropped Nicole at the aid station and saw a friend from the Dallas Running Club, Steve, who said he got a late start. I considered running with him, but he, a talented and experienced trail/ultra runner, was moving pretty fast and, though I felt better, I thought I needed to keep it super comfortable until at least the mile-13 turnaround.

Also around this time, I saw James. As I mentioned before, he got lost and in his case it added about two extra miles, he says. I could tell he was pretty bummed about this. He also is about the most relaxed, low-key dude I know; he applies a surfer-like attitude toward running, so I wasn’t too worried about him.

The trail was just gorgeous, with several glimpses of Lake Texoma, even a short romp across a sandy shoreline beach. I was truly enjoying myself.

Again at the turnaround was a well-stocked goodie/drink/aid station where I procured some more ginger ale. I figured ginger ale would give me both hydration and some calories to keep me moving. I was afraid to consume anything else. At each of the remaining aid stations I would ask for ginger ale and the volunteers would scramble to get me a cup quickly. I was so impressed with the volunteers at this race. They were angels from trail-running heaven. Seriously.

(Side note: the space between aid stations on a trail marathon made me think about the excessive amount of hydration stations in a road marathon. A water table every 1-2 miles is too much and just creates congestion.)

By the time I saw Nicole again at the mile 10/16 aid station, I was feeling even better. Nicole at that point ran alongside me again for about another mile. As we passed a tiny lakeside gas station/convenience store, I said to her, “Do you think they have a restroom?” And she’s all: “I was wondering the same thing.” Then this kid hopping into his folks’ Suburban says to us, “It’s on the side of the building.” And I am like: “Oh there is a god!”

I am not exaggerating when I say that discovering that bathroom changed my whole life and universe. You see, one of the reasons I’ve avoided trail running is the bathroom situation. No matter how minor or major the, um, need, I cannot go outside, in the bushes; I just cannot. Maybe someday I will figure this out, but I just don’t think so.

So after the pit stop, I was a new woman, completely. I was keeping up a steady pace, power walking the hills and passing many people. Granted, most of the people I passed were tackling the 50 miler, which started half an hour before the regular marathon. I made sure to tell each of them how very impressed I was with what they were doing. I could not imagine nearly doubling what I did that day. That is a tough course for a 5 miler, much less a 50.

Anyway, I was alone most of the last 10 miles, but I talked to everyone I passed. I enjoyed the scenery immensely. Because of how bad I was at the beginning, I think, I was even more grateful for the way I felt at mile 20.

I hate people who say stuff like I am about to say, so know and please understand and believe this is an anomaly for me, but, I kept waiting to feel tired. I was like: I am sure to feel tired at some point, but instead I just felt more energized as the race went on.

In fact, when I finally saw Nicole again, when she told me I was at the finish line, I was like: What? It’s over? (I was so discombobulated at the start that I did not start my watch, so at mile 26, I thought I was at mile 24).

As I crossed the finish line, the race director, Teresa, greeted me and handed me a finishers award and says, “second overall female,” and then a guy sitting at a laptop at the finish line says, “she’s your masters winner,” and she takes the award and hands me a bigger, framed award that reads “first place masters.”

I dreaded hitting 40 as much as anyone possibly can, but it has resulted in some nice trophies and awards.

I am blown away by the superb organization of the race.

I am also happy as hell with my racing experience. Of course, once I finished I begin to think: Maybe if I hadn’t been so cautious I could have won first place. So I look at the results and see that first place female beat me by almost 30 minutes, so I am OK. I did not stand a chance, thank goodness. My time was 4:51.

Did I mention I love this race? I think I will do an ultra on the trail next. But I am keeping my plans to myself for a while.

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Nicole Studer breaks 100-mile trail record

Nicole Studer with husband Eric and the rest of her support team, mostly runners from our neighborhood: Courtesy Nicole Studer
Nicole Studer (pink jacket) with husband Eric (to her right) and the rest of her support team: Courtesy Nicole Studer

Nicole Studer, who lives near and trains often at White Rock Lake, set an American record over the weekend, clocking the fastest time ever recorded by a female in a 100-mile trail race.

(Published Feb. 1 on lakehighlands.advocatemag.com)

Before you even think of dismissing this as a moderate deal, imagining ultra-running as a less-than-competitive fringe sport, stop.

Ultra-running’s popularity — especially when it comes to races on tough, mountainous terrain — has steadily and enormously increased over the years, especially after the 2009 publication of Christopher McDougall’s nationally best selling ultra-running manifesto Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, And The Greatest Race The World Has Never Seen, which also was responsible for a barefoot-running boom and those crazy-looking five-finger shoes.

Matthew McConaughey just signed on to star in a movie adaptation of the book.

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Nicole Studer finishing 100 miles: Courtesy Ultra Sports Live TV

It’s not soccer or football. It boasts no pop-star-and-her-dancing-sharks halftime shows.

Studer’s payday was a relatively paltry $2,000 ($1k for the win and $1k for breaking the record).

But the sport offers gritty, grueling and utterly compelling competition nonetheless.

Studer, about whom we have written before — like when she won the 100-mile Trail Championship last year — ran 14 hours 22 minutes  at last weekend’s 2015 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile. This is her third year to dominate the women’s race.

Only three men finished ahead of her, and all by less than 20 minutes. The closest woman was more than an hour behind.

The previous 100-mile trail record was 14 hours 45 minutes, set by Traci Falbo in 2014. The previous record on the Rocky Raccoon course was set by Jenn Shelton in 2007. If you haven’t heard of Jenn Shelton, chances are you will soon enough. She is the female runner prominently featured in the aforementioned book Born to Run; her larger-than-life personality added drama to the story, so she potentially could become a household name once this movie comes out.

Studer, who is pretty exhausted at the moment, credits her husband and supportive friends with helping her through the race, and she says the full weight of her accomplishment hasn’t fully sunk in yet, adding, “I am just so relieved to be finished.”

Late last year, USA Track and Field named Studer Women’s Ultra Trail Runner of the Year.

This summer, Studer will compete against the world’s best trail ultra-runners at the prestigious Western States 100.

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2015 Boston Marathon training plan, 12 weeks

I was worrying over how to train for the upcoming Boston Marathon, as I recently hit a plateau, and then got slower (which I shall discuss in another post) and decided I needed to switch things up. I recalled that the B.A.A. website had training plans. I went there, and they have removed the old programs they once featured, but they do provide reference to training plans created by “High Performance Coach Terrence Mahon” via the miCoach platform. 

I went through the steps, which involve registering, watching videos, picking your way through several screens and answering some basic questions about your goal and then, there is a calendar with a program in it. It looks like a good program, but the long runs are on Mondays and rest days are Tuesdays, and if you want to change that, it requires some tedious maneuvering, as far as I can tell.

Also it is very glitchy — for example, the whole training program ends on April 13, despite placing the race date on April 20, and random 3:20 minutes of intervals show up on some days; they are not intentional, designers acknowledge in the “help” forum.

Anyway, I spent the last two or so hours tweaking this program for myself, moving long runs to Saturday and the rest days to Monday (I am not used to taking weekly rest days, but this will be part of the change up for me), and also incorporating a couple of races I want to do.

I figured since I spent so much time on this, I’d share. If you are a coach or otherwise running geek, I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments:

Blue Zone = easy, ranging from about 8:00-9:00 min/mile pace

Green Zone = harder, ranging from 6:50-7:45 min/mile pace

Yellow Zone = more harder (smile), under 6:50 min/mile pace

Red Zone = hardest

I have not yet determined goal pace. Current half marathon pace is about a 7 minute mile, just to give you an idea of what I’m working with. (Strength and flexibility workouts added Sunday, Tuesday and Fridays). I have not added up the mileage in this program, as it goes by time, but it is at a glance lower mileage than I did last season. High mileage worked greatly for me, for a while. But over the last year, I think my body began to wear down. I am hoping a lower mileage, yet still pretty intense, program will help restore the spring to my steps.

Wednesday (Jan 28)

15 min in Blue Zone (easy, ranging from about 8:00-9:00)

20 min in top of Green Zone (hard, ranging from 6:45-7:45)

3 min in Blue Zone

90 sec x 3 in Red Zone (very hard, at close to 100 percent) up hill

After each hill, jog easily back to base (10-15 min total)

10 min in Blue Zone

Totaling a little less than an hour for entire workout

 

29 Thursday

8 miles in the Blue Zone “… this a recovery day. You had a harder run yesterday and today is about recharging your body. No need to go too fast.”

 

30 Friday

20 min in lower Blue Zone

30-40 min in upper Blue Zone

 

31 Saturday

2 hours 30 min in the Blue Zone

 

Sunday (Feb 1)

45-60 minutes in the Blue Zone

 

2 Monday

Cross train/ easy jog/ walk dog/ whatevers

 

3 Tuesday

70 min 

4 Wednesday

15 min in Blue Zone

5 min in upper Green Zone (6:45-6:50) x 6 with 2 min recoveries

15 min in Blue Zone

 

5 Thursday

60-75 min recovery run in Blue Zone

 

6 Friday

20 min in lower Blue Zone

30-40 min in upper Blue Zone

 

7 Saturday (incorporate DRC race) 

2 hrs 30 min run

70-min warm up (lake loop)

5-mile race (35-40 min 8 a.m. at Winfrey Point, 7:15 average pace) then 6 miles/ incorporate hills 

 

8 Sunday

40 min recovery

 

9 Monday

Rest

 

10 Tuesday

35 min in Blue Zone

Hill repeats x 6 on steeper hill than previous sessions – 60 seconds each with a 1 min recovery

10 minutes in Blue Zone

 

11 Wednesday

8 miles blue zone 

 

12 Thursday

15 min in Blue Zone

6 x 1500 repeats on track in Red Zone

15 min in Blue Zone

 

13 Friday

50 min easy

 

14 Saturday

60 min in the Blue Zone

5 x 5 min at about 6:45-6:50 pace with 3-min recovery in between “Increase your stride rate and maintain good form as you run at this higher intensity.”

15 Sunday

45-60 min easy

 

16 Monday

Rest/whatevs

 

17 Tuesday

70 min in Blue Zone

 

18 Wednesday

15 min in Blue Zone (8:30-8:40)

20 min in Green Zone (7:15-7:30)

3 min in Blue Zone (8:45)

90 sec hill surges times 3 (as hard as possible – AHAP!) (6:38 average)

10 min in Blue Zone (8:30-8:45)

19 Thursday

7-8 miles in Blue Zone

20 Friday

30-40 min in upper Blue Zone (do in the morning, long day Saturday) 

21 Saturday

Cross Timbers trail marathon (technical trail – goal is 5.5-6 hours)

22 Sunday

rest or 6 mile easy

23 Monday

75 minutes easy

45 minutes easy

24 Tuesday

10 min in Blue Zone (8:30)

25 min in Green Zone (7:30)

5 min in Blue Zone (8:30)

25 min in Green Zone (slightly faster than first segment) (7:15)

10 min in Blue Zone (8:30)

25 Wednesday

10 miles

26 Thursday

AM: 15 min in Blue Zone

6 x 1500 repeats on track in Red Zone

15 min in Blue Zone

PM: 60 min easy

27 Friday

50 min

28 Saturday

2 hrs 45 min (18+ miles)

Sunday (March 1)

60 min easy

2 Monday

35 min in Blue Zone

Hill repeats x 6 on steeper hill than previous sessions – 60 seconds each with a 1 min recovery

10 minutes in Blue Zone

3 Tuesday

90  min

4 Wednesday

10 min in Blue Zone

25 min in Green Zone

5 min in Blue Zone

25 min in Green Zone

10 min in Blue Zone

5 Thursday

15 min in Blue Zone

12 x 400 meter repeats

 

6 Friday

40-60 min easy

7 Saturday

levee 30 min +10k +60 min

 

8 Sunday

40-60 min easy

9 Monday

40 recovery

 

10 Tuesday

70 min Blue Zone

11 Wednesday

15 min in Blue Zone (easy, ranging from about 8:00-9:00)

20 min in top of Green Zone (hard, ranging from 6:45-7:45)

3 min in Blue Zone

90 sec x 3 in Red Zone (very hard, at close to 100 percent) up hill

After each hill, jog easily back to base (10-15 min total)

10 min in Blue Zone

Totaling a little less than an hour for entire workout

 

12 Thursday

50 min

13 Friday

20 min in lower Blue Zone

30-40 min in upper Blue Zone

 

14 Saturday

3 hrs (20+ miles)

15 Sunday

40-60 easy

16 Monday

70 min

17 Tuesday

recovery/cross train

18 Wednesday

10 min in Blue Zone

25 min in Green Zone

5 min in Blue Zone

25 min in Green Zone (slightly faster than first segment)

10 min in Blue Zone

 

19 Thursday

50 min

20 Friday

40 min

21 Saturday

50 mile Grasslands

 

22 Sunday

20 warm up, 40 min top of Blue Zone

23 Monday

Rest

24 Tuesday

20 warm up, 40 min top of Blue Zone

25 Wednesday

15 min in Blue Zone (easy, ranging from about 8:00-9:00)

20 min in top of Green Zone (hard, ranging from 6:45-7:45)

3 min in Blue Zone

90 sec x 3 in Red Zone (very hard, at close to 100 percent) up hill

After each hill, jog easily back to base (10-15 min total)

10 min in Blue Zone

Totaling a little less than an hour for entire workout

26 Thursday

20 warm up, 40 min top of Blue Zone

27 Friday

45-60 min recovery

*28 Saturday*

3 hrs

75 min in Blue Zone

90 min in Green Zone – at goal marathon pace (7:15??)

15 min in Blue Zone

“This is your Boston Marathon simulation run. Find a course with rolling hills on a 2-3% grade both up and down.”

29 Sunday

rest

30 Monday

40 min

31 Tuesday

15 min in Blue Zone

12 min in Yellow Zone

3 min in Blue Zone

90 seconds in red zone x3 with 2:30 recoveries

1 Wednesday

65 minutes Blue Zone

2 Thursday

60 min in the Blue Zone

Yellow Zone (around 6:55 min mile) 2 min + Green Zone (about 7:10) 3 min times 8 “Increase your stride rate and maintain good form as you run at this higher intensity.”

3 Friday

35 minutes

4 Saturday (DRC race??)

Get in 2 hrs 40 total, including race

5 Sunday

45-60 min

6 Monday

Cross train/ easy whatevers

7 Tuesday

20 min in lower Blue Zone

30-40 min in upper Blue Zone

8 Wednesday

15 min in Blue Zone

5 min in upper Green Zone (6:45-6:50) x 6 with 2 min recoveries

15 min in Blue Zone

9 Thursday

60-75 min recovery run in Blue Zone

10 Friday

20 min in lower Blue Zone

30-40 min in upper Blue Zone

11 Saturday

80 min in Blue Zone This is your last longer run before the marathon. Keep it relaxed. All the hard work is in the bank and now it is time to get your mind and body ready for next week.

12 Sunday

20 min in lower Blue Zone

30-40 min in upper Blue Zone

13 Monday

Rest

14 Tuesday

20 min in lower Blue Zone

30-40 min in upper Blue Zone

15 Wednesday

15 min in Blue Zone

5 min in Yellow x3 with 2 min recoveries

5 min Blue Zone

2 min Red Zone

15 min Blue Zone

Run this last interval session starting at marathon pace and finishing just slightly faster. No need to go too hard as you’re less than a week from the race. Finish it off with one hard interval that goes from the Yellow Zone to the Red Zone. This will help your body store carbohydrates for the race.

16 Thursday

35 min

17 Friday

Walk

Saturday

30 min Blue Zone

 

Sunday

20 min – This last run is all about shaking out the pre-race nerves. Try to run around the same time as the race start so have an idea of how the temperature might be on race day.

BOSTON MARATHON MONDAY

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Re-read: 2013 story about an electrocuted marathoner’s comeback won an award

prizeThe Independent Free Papers of America gave me first place “Original Writing Feature Story” for my “Miles to Go” piece in the Advocate — it’s about runner Brandon Cumby. The story basically wrote itself.

In summer 2012 Cumby began training for the Dallas Marathon, but his plans screeched to a halt in August. Cumby cannot cohesively recall anything between July 28 and Aug. 24, he says. But family members and friends help him piece together the events that nearly snuffed out his future … here’s the full story.

This is the second running-related piece that’s won an award. The Society of Features Journalism last year gave me third place overall for my personal essay, published in the Dallas Morning News, about my checkered past and the role running played in my recovery.

Bragging done.

Hood to Coast, learning, racing, running

Hood to Coast, from the perspective of Runner 1

Despicable We, Van 1, ready to roll
Despicable We, Van 1, ready to roll

Note: As with my Boston Marathon write-up and most everything I write for this blog, it took me about a month to get this done. See, when I go out of town for something like a race, I return to a shit-ton of work and do not have time to write recreationally. Also, it is long. I want to not only document my experience for personal use, but also to provide useful information to readers anticipating this race in the future. Anyway, enough bla bla bla. Here’s the Hood to Coast report:

It’s mid-morning on a Friday in August. I am at the top of Mount Hood in Oregon, 6,000 feet above sea level. With me at the starting line are some 40 or so other runners. Our teams cheer us from the sidelines. My adrenaline is pumping. I have never been more ready to run. Minutes later I am flying down the mountain, running the fastest miles I’ve ever run past a million evergreen trees and rivers and waterfalls — yeah, friggin waterfalls.

It all started many months ago …
… when my running buddy Danny Hardeman asked me to be on his Hood To Coast relay team. Friends from our White Rock Running Co-op ran the 2013 HTC. They made it sound insanely fun, but not at all like something I wanted to do. Twelve-man teams, some 25 hours in a crowded van, scrupulous planning and related meetings, a litany of expenses … not exactly ideal for a frugal, disorganized loner who despises hassle and deeply values personal space, not to mention sleep.

But Danny was so excited. He thought my husband could drive one of the vans, he said. Yeah, like that would happen.

My husband, Josh, is not a runner and he thinks we are weird. If my husband wants to drive, I say, I’m in. I figured that would be the end of it.

But something happened that night — local radio personality Craig Miller, a competitive runner and triathlete whom Josh and I both love, came for dinner at Josh’s restaurant.

“Hood to Coast?” Craig apparently said, “You have to do it!” So Hubs called me and said he was in.

Danny put together a team of 12 solid runners. Most were people I know and a few were people I did not know well yet. At our first meeting, we argued over team names. Suggestions that required the least bit of mental calisthenics were met with blank stares; most enthusiastically praised were suggestions alluding to sex, gross bodily functions or food (I later would learn that these things drive most HTC team names). Eventually every name proposed at said meeting was rejected and somehow we became Despicable We. It turned out to be a beloved team name and theme — later, throughout the event, we would hear, “It’s the minions!” “I love your shirts!” “Love your van!” Not to overstate it, but we were kind-a famous.

The unveiling of the Despicable We campaign, featuring Susan, Gigi and Jenny: Photo (and poster) by Paris Sunio
The unveiling of the Despicable We campaign, featuring Susan, Gigi and Jenny: Photo (and poster) by Paris Sunio

The other WRRC team is called Cereal Killers. I wrote all about them here last year.

I did not really know before I partook in Hood to Coast, but I know now: name and theme — this also involves T-shirts and van decorations — is a big deal. A seriously big deal.

As race weekend neared I realized the complex planning and expenses that go into HTC — registration, travel, two vans with (preferably) two drivers each, starting-line accommodations, finish-line lodging, getting to and fro the airport, and so on. Fortunately a few of my teammates were real leaders when it came to planning and I did not need to do much other than pay my way and do my best to follow instructions.

Then there is the training — how does one train to race three times in less than 24 hours?

I pretty much just followed my training schedule for my upcoming November half marathon. Through the early summer months I maintained a base by running about 40-50 miles a week; in May I began adding speed work twice a week. I’d run, for example, 12 times 200 meters or 400 meters on Tuesday and six mile-repeats on Thursdays and a long run on Saturday and Sunday (usually 10-15 on Saturday and 10 on Sundays). In July I ramped up the mileage to about 70 miles per week, adding a second run about three days a week. I sought out hills and used the downhill treadmill at the gym for several runs. Normally I would schedule a 5k or 10k race this time of year; instead, HTC would be my end of summer fitness test.

But there is nothing to prepare one who resides in Dallas for the infamous Leg 1 of Hood to Coast. It is six miles of extreme downhill running. Overall, it is one of the shortest and easiest legs of the race, but the mountain makes for some really intense racing. I decided that no matter how fast or controlled I ran, I would hurt afterward. I knew from research and personal experience that the worst muscle soreness would set in about 48 hours after a given run, so I would be able to finish all three of my legs before the really intense pain set in (which it did; in the days following the race I could barely walk). So I chose to let the momentum and adrenaline carry me through my downhill leg — no holding back.

me at start
I’m so excited. I’m so excited. I’m. So. Scared. Photo by Brent Woodle

Book 1

I believe the faster teams usually start later, but somehow Danny had negotiated us a 9:45 start time. Teams start in waves — about 30-40 every 15 minutes all day Friday.

So I started with other Leg 1-ers who were planning to race a bit slower than we were. Therefore, from the starting horn to the end of my almost-six miles I was out front and all alone. The few times I looked back, I saw not a soul. About a mile in, my van passed me en route to the first exchange and they yelled that I was running on the wrong side of the road. I was kind of scared to cross the street but then another van pulled over; the driver said we’d be disqualified if I didn’t cross and she watched traffic so I could cross. Thanks, friend.

I clocked a 5:36 first mile. My second mile was closer to 5:40, and I maintained a sub six-minute mile right up until the final quarter mile (where things flattened out). To give you an idea of the speed-assistance this mountain offered: my fastest-ever 5k prior to this was run at a 6:12 per-mile pace.

My buddy Matt was waiting to take the relay wristband. The van and the rest of the team parked across the street and was cheering us on. Teammate and friend Susan was waiting for me at the exchange, too, thank goodness, because when I came to a halt, my rubbery legs gave out and she caught me.

Me and Susan: Photo by Brent Woodle
Me and Susan: Photo by Brent Woodle

No time to waste — getting the van from one exchange to the other in a timely manner is part of the competition. We hopped in and drove down a scenic thoroughfare thickly lined with fir trees. At 10:30, the air was crisp but the sun was emerging and it was warming up. As we waited for Matt, I walked around and rolled my hamstrings and calves with The Stick. I drank a bottle of Gatorade and ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

By the time Matt finished and Jenny started, it was nearing 70 degrees. Susan was dreading Leg 4, a sunny 7-mile race, but she wound up being right on pace. Brent, our fastest, had the toughest overall assignment, but his first leg, though hot, was handily slaughtered. By the time Danny finished Leg 6, and we went to rest a few hours while members of the second team van did their thing, it was blazing hot. The sun was shining full force as Van 2 minion Julie embarked on Leg 7. This relay and van exchange took place at a high school. The parking lot was an ideal place to check out the competition and all the creative team themes, costumes and decorations.

While Van 2 minions ran legs 7-12, us Van 1-ers went to a pizza place. Pizza was delicious. As I tore into my second slice, I asked Brent — who had created a spreadsheet to estimate our start and finish times based on each team member’s predicted pace (and as we went along, actual pace) — how much time I had until my next run.

Four hours? I guessed. “No,” he says. “Two.” I returned that second slice to its plate and said, “Crap.”

Pizza before racing on a hot afternoon: not the best idea.

Ready for round two: Photo by Paris Sunio
Ready for round two: Photo by Paris Sunio

Book 2
My second run, a.k.a. Leg 13 was just over four miles, but it was through the middle of Portland at 5:30 p.m. The sun was still baring-down and it was about 85 degrees.

In Portland, a half HTC relay race called Portland to Coast begins, so it is crowded. As I waited for Leg 12-er, Kevin, to hand off to me, the race officials started announcing that if we were not going to be finished with our leg by 6 p.m., we needed to be wearing our reflective vests. I asked some of my team members to get me the vest, but the van was too far; there was no time. When Kevin arrived, glistening with sweat and smiling broadly, the linesman said to me, “Where’s your vest?” And I confidently proclaimed, “I’ll be done before 6.”

Of course there was no way I was doing 4.5 miles in fewer than 30 minutes, but they let me go. In fact, I ran these miles at a little over 7 minutes each. I had hoped to keep my miles all under 7, but I was beginning to understand that running 13 or 14 miles in HTC was very different than running, say, a straight half-marathon. By the second round of running you are sore from your first race, cramped-up from being in a van all day, and there’s a good chance that your lunch has not fully digested.

I grew very nervous during this leg that I was on the wrong track. The course runs through a Portland park, where vagabond loafers smoking pot stare at you. You can’t really blame them for being baffled — while they are just blazing,  this pink-faced, heaving chick is blazing through their park. WTF? But finally I saw two HTC fans sitting in lawn chairs — they cheered me as I approached, told me I looked hot (and I think they meant the sweat soaking my body and my fire-engine-red face, as opposed to the complimentary sort of hot) and they verified that I was heading the right way.

On the other side of the park is this industrial area that smells of burning rubber. It is hot and miserable and the few other Hood to Coast-ers I saw were walking. I miraculously managed to hand off to Matt without regurgitating the pizza, which was my constant unwelcome companion through the aforementioned miles.

I am so grateful to be done with that leg! Here on the edge of Portland we also encountered the Cereal Killer team. We were neck-in-neck with them and competing in a friendly way. Meredith, a CK member, wound up carrying a second reflective vest because she had heard I did not have mine. She was trying to get one to me. When I heard that, it warmed my heart. It was one of many sweet fuzzy feelings to come as the night wore on.

After my second race, I stretched, drank a protein shake, continued to hydrate, popped an allergy pill and some aspirin and attempted to relax as my husband and his co-pilot, Paris, navigated the runner exchanges.

As it grew darker, we ran farther, through scenic, wooded, mountainous Oregon — through towns called Scappoose and Mist and Jewel — toward the finish line at Seaside.

With the night came cooler temps. Once Danny finished Leg 17, we pulled into the campgrounds at the start of my final leg and attempted to get some shuteye. This was practically pointless. Several of us stretched out on the seats of the van while a couple tried the tents provided by Dick’s Sporting Goods. For about an hour I was able to relax myself into a near-meditative state, but never slept. Then I had to pee. As I walked from the van through the dark to the potties, I realized my legs were toast. I mean, they felt like someone had beaten them, and ruthlessly, with a baseball bat.

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 4.45.19 PM
In the middle of the night — Brent, Jenny, Susan, Me, Danny, Matt: Photo by Paris Sunio

Book 3
For about 45 minutes I walked around the campgrounds trying to loosen up. Just a little over 4 miles left, I told myself, but I knew I had to move fast to keep our team on pace. We wanted to break 24 hours. It now was super-chilly. I grabbed some coffee from a vendor. Van 2 arrived at the exchange to pick up their last runner of part 2, Kevin, and members of Van 1 began to emerge from that pseudo-sleep and gather to cheer Kevin in and me out.

Despite my soreness, I was much more excited about this leg than I had been about the last. It was cool. It was dark. The stars were abundant. It was 3 o’clock in the morning, and I was totally pumped.

Again, Kevin arrived with a smile and I screamed his name. “Keeeevvvviiiinnnn! Come on, buddy! Yes! Alllrriiigght! Wooo hooo!” And then I was off.

As the noisy, crowded exchange area faded into the background, I breathed in and concentrated deeply on the moment. Even with my flashlight, visibility was low. All I could see was the gravel-y road at my feet. The fog made even the few runners I passed invisible until I was just steps behind them. I turned off my light for a moment and looked up. The stars were thick and endless. The night was sparkling.

My legs refused to match my overall enthusiasm and didn’t move much faster than about 7:15 per mile. I worked as hard as I could, tried to mentally photograph that sky, and when I handed the relay bracelet to Matt for the last time, I felt a pang of sadness. My run was over.

When I reached the van, I offered my one bit of advice to my teammates: “Be sure, at least once, to turn off your light and look at the stars,” I said. “They are amazeballs.” (So shoot me — I get sentimental when I am sleepy.)

The night flew by. We grew more excited as morning approached. Brent tackled the toughest leg of HTC — 3.5 miles of  extreme elevation followed by 2.5 miles of treacherous downhill running. By the time he reached the exchange, traffic was bad. We were fortunate enough to avoid any delays due to the backup at the exchanges, but Brent did have to walk an extra mile after his run to reach the only spot we were able to park the van. Luckily we also were able to drop Danny off at his proper starting point, and Susan got out with him and helped Brent find us. More evidence that this race is in large part about navigation, logistics and luck.

Danny embraced the final leg of Van 1, flying downhill at breakneck speed. He hopped into the ride and we all took a moment to be proud of this little team he had put together. We were done, and every member of Van 1 performed brilliantly in his/her first Hood to Coast experience.

Turns out, though I did not get to observe it so closely, our Van 2 members did the same.

Finished!: Photo by Paris Sunio
Finished!: Photo by Paris Sunio

A memorable finish 

We drove to another Oregon high school that was welcoming Hood to Coast runners (for a small donation) to use its showers. At that point, I think we would have paid anything. (Um, thanks, Brent, for paying for both me and my cash-broke husband.)

After old-school group showers, we headed toward Seaside — famous for providing a backdrop to the classic “Goonies” movie and — more importantly if only on this day — the Hood To Coast finish line.

First we made a couple of pit stops for well-earned potables of an alcoholic variety. Now, I no longer drink alcohol, but I sure do love watching others get plowed. And mixing alcohol with exhaustion is always funny and unpredictable. So as to not incriminate myself or any of my teammates, I will not go into any more detail there. I will just say, when you are a runner, there ARE actually times when it is acceptable to purchase Crown Royal at 7 a.m., though it is not easy to find someone selling it.

Josh, me and Matt, done.: Photo by Paris Sunio
Josh, me and Matt, done.: Photo by Paris Sunio

After a couple of hours we know we need to get to the finish line. We estimated that Kevin would be finishing just about 9:45. (As it turned out, our finish time was 24:08:00 which placed us 8th in the open division — about a 7:12 overall pace for almost 200 miles. Not bad.)

The way the finish works: as the anchor runner rounds the last corner, about 400 meters from the finish, race organizers announce the team number, then the team gathers in a corral and joins its runner as he passes, so that your whole team finishes together.

Problem: Van 2 got caught-up in traffic. As Kevin embarked on his last mile, they were just finding a parking space. A good eight blocks from the finish. The members of Van 1, already gathered at the finish, were beginning to worry that the second half of our team would miss the big finish. Biting my nails, I watched the road for signs of Andre, Julie, Kelly, Ryan, Gigi and their drivers Tamra (Kevin’s wife) and Sohale.

Then, we heard it — the announcer called out “Here comes team 825. Despicable We!” Just as we filed into the corral, I spotted Andre. I started screaming at them, “He’s here! Kevin is here! Huuurrryyy!” This effort would mean the last of my voice, which was hoarse for the next two weeks. Andre and the gang surveyed the fence between them and us, and they assessed that there was no way over; they would need to go around — a bit of a hike. At that point, Kevin, who was hauling, came into sight.

Not to Kevin, but to his teammates we screamed, “RUUUUUN!”

They had no choice but to revive their dead legs and start running toward us. Just as Kevin came down the final stretch, the members of Van 2 stumbled through the corral. All together, we ran to the finishing chute — under the banner, some of the guys lifted Kevin to their shoulders. I felt a little catch in my throat, and it wasn’t from my pained vocal chords. It was emotion.

I hugged my good sport of a husband and the rest of my teammates. A lady handed me an armful of medals and I put them, one by one, around the necks of my relay brothers and sisters. Danny. Kevin. Matt. Susan. Jenny. Gigi. Kelly. Ryan. Julie. Andre. Brent. Me.

Shortly after, the members of Cereal Killers arrived. We ate and drank and recapped the hilarity. I bonded with CK friends Meredith and Greg, who like me were veterans of “Leg 1” (this and last year, respectively).

We dreamed about “next year.”

Seaside beach was magnificent.

Cold waters: Photo by Matt's camera, but that's Matt, so I am not sure ...
Chilly water, sand and fog: Photo by Matt’s camera, but that’s Matt prancing along the coast, so I am not sure …

Josh and I, while too wimpy to fully submerge ourselves in the icy water like some of the others, dove into the balmy sand and slept for 45 minutes, and we woke as the sun burned off the last of the morning’s dense fog.

Thanks, Craig Miller. You were right. We absolutely had to do this.