Monday, November 9, 2015

Those Last Miles - The Transformation

Rio Del Lago 100 - Horseshoe Bar Aid Station
Mile 87
I was recently volunteering at The Rio Del Lago 100 Miler and everything was business. A wave of runners had come through our aid station and every volunteer was on point filling bottles, ladling soup, restocking the table or rummaging through bins for band-aids or other random items. Every runner was diligently being taken care of. After sending a runner off with a breakfast burrito and a full pack, I turned to walk back to the warmest part of the tent. My toes were numb and frozen. I glanced off to the side of the cooking area where a lone runner sat, eyes fixated blankly out into the darkness beyond the tent. 

Something in me connected with him.

The distant stare of an ultrarunner who has just arrived at mile 87 is profound. Fatigue and determination have stripped them raw by that point. They peer into nothingness with an intensity that is indescribable. Maybe they are surveying the miles of wreckage inflicted on their body or game planning on how to cope with a sour stomach. Maybe they are fighting sleep, or trying to calculate distance and pace for that final push. Maybe they are lamenting lost time on the trail. It's possible at that point, their mind could be completely shut off to the outside world and oblivion has taken hold and burrowed itself deep. Whatever it is, they are without a doubt feeling every blister, every chafe, every ache and throb with piercing insight. You learn a lot about your body after 87 miles. You also learn the depth of your mental substance. Mile 87 is close enough to the finish line that it is more than just a glimmer of hope, but far enough away that it can feel hopeless.

Horseshoe Bar - Mile 87
There's a transformation that takes place in those last few miles. Subtle changes that sneak up on us months later or revelations that happen the moment we receive that buckle. Many of us have crossed over the finish line of our first 100 miler to be born on the other side a new human.

Hmmmmmm. Funny how sport has a way of teaching us about life.

The last 10 years have been quite a ride for me. I've been changing and transforming for sure. I have undoubtedly evolved. A conscious effort on my part to see life as a gift and not just something to endure and survive.

I wouldn't say I'm a better person. I'm still learning to connect with people, even those closest to me. I still have judgements. I still carry shit on my shoulders. I'm not perfect. But my goal isn't to be a better person, or a more perfect person. I'm working towards embracing who I am at the core. I'm learning to embrace being human. 

I've been given an undetermined amount of years, which can expire at any time, to feel life on this earth. FEEL life on this earth. That's not feeling what its like to own a nice car, or a big house, or to have a great job, or build a career, or to have saved for my retirement. That's not feeling what its like to impress others or make them happy. That's not about feeling what its like to live within the lines of society, to follow all the rules, to do things because it's good, or right, or just because that's what I've been taught.

I want to know what it is to feel genuine life, connection, and love in all it's forms. From the inside. Good, bad, sad or happy.

That's my goal. Cuz when this life is drawing near it's end I don't want to feel like it was wasted.

So I've spent the last 10 years chiseling large cracks in the protective shell that was built around me from my childhood influences and society in general. I've exposed a fissure looking into a red and raw part of myself that I have accepted and am learning to love, even with all her flaws. 

Although I don't feel as though I'm quite at mile 87 yet, I'm beginning to feel every blister and chafe now. It's becoming more painful the further I go, but I will embrace it because I'm learning what it's like to FEEL ALIVE.
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Sunday, November 1, 2015

What's New, Stupid Foot?

Can I borrow her foot, please?
It looks fast. 
It's been over a month since I finished that 50 miler and it still feels like there's a piece of gravel embedded deep in my forefoot. I've decided I would embrace a prosthetic right now. Please, I'll buck up and do the gory hacking of my foot off if someone would gladly donate a bionic foot for me. Really. I've had it.

So, obviously, I haven't been running lately. What's new, right?

Instead, I've been vending at local races, working full time, hanging out with my boyfriend Megaphone, taking care of family stuff, and trying to be as consistent as possible with the gym. I miss having goals though, but until my foot is back to normal I don't feel comfortable putting anything out there I can't do right now. This neuroma is unpredictable and I can't say when, if ever, it will be back to it's normal, dormant self.

This fucking sucks.

But oh well. At least I have the gym and its not like I ran much before anyway.

So I will be doing more cerebral things for now, like coming up with a new design for my shirts which I hope to be selling at Way Too Cool again next year. But before that, I will continue to be hostess to my awesome Chill Lounge at some fun local races like perhaps F.U.C1k put on by Singletrack Running - cuz with a race name like that, how could I NOT participate in some way?? Btw, that acronym stands for Foresthill Uphill Challenge 1k and it's happening on Dec 12th at 9am. And if I'm there, you can bet there will be lots of chill and some treats too (think dirty nipples and rice crispy treats - YUM!). So sign up! How hard can a single hill be, right? <insert demonic laughing here>

In the meantime I will try not to eat all the kid's Halloween candy or find more chocolate in my pants.
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Monday, September 21, 2015

How I Did 50 Miles on Strength and No Running - For Science

Headlands 50 Miler Race Start
(Photo courtesy Seth Kotelnicki)
Despite now knowing what it's like to run 50 miles on a trail of hot pokers, I also know what it's like to run 50 miles on pure strength alone forgoing any run training whatsoever. I did that. For science. Cuz that's what I do.

Somehow my life has turned into a grand experiment in many ways. I've been a training guinea pig for The Ranch Athletics' coaches long before the inception of their gym located in Loomis CA where they are known mostly for training various athletes most of which are runners and powerlifters. These young fitness geniuses began testing their theories on training with me long before I ever ran my first ultra. They are the only ones who can really speak on the effectiveness of their training style, but in a nutshell, their training philosophy is cemented in strength training as a fundamental building block to running. They are firm believers in quality training over quantity training and how it translates into a stronger and faster runner.

Smashing my quads at The Ranch Athletics
(Photo courtesy Seth Kotelnicki)
Sadly, I'm not the perfect specimen for a guinea pig. My baseline includes a fucked up right foot due to a bunion and Morton's Neuroma which can flare up at any given time unexpectedly. Not to mention a plethora of previous running injuries. Oh... and I'm no spring chicken, so there's that.

And then there's the fact that I also never take running seriously. Running, for me, usually involves a bottle of high quality whiskey, some "strolling" along beautiful trails, a few post recovery cookies, good music and a party.

Wall slams(Photo courtesy Seth Kotelnicki)
So when I texted my coach that I wanted to try running a 50 miler with no running training I can only imagine him shaking his head. He already knows I'm half crazy. I'm sure this didn't surprise him.

But life for me in general is a fucking time suck. I work full time for my own graphic and web design business, I'm a mom to two active boys, a caregiver for my own mother, and wife to a mountain biking husband. I barely have uninterrupted moments in the bathroom let alone 3 days out of the week to run - even with as low mileage as I'm used to with my running program from The Ranch. 

But regardless of my inability to get out of the house for running, I rarely, if ever, miss my gym time. That's ME time, and because it involves a little bit of the social (I need to connect with people on a regular basis - something that never happens working from home) I end up with a 4 day/week consistent training routine that often puts me teetering on the edge of being just ready enough to jump into whatever race I feel like throwing myself at.

Gym Pullups
(Photo courtesy Seth Kotelnicki)
And I did just that.

When I found out my coach was going to be running The Headlands 50 Miler on September 12, I decided to register as well. I had 6 weeks before I was to tow the line and I had yet to try a 50 miler, which I felt could be my "sweet spot" distance. 100 miles was hard, but I felt I had a good shot to finish a 50 miler comfortably, even if I hadn't been running for the last several months.

I dropped most of my runs around March or April of this year when life got busy. To paint a picture what those "runs" look like as part of my training they were 3 per week in total - 1 being a short, high intensity sprint (like a 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off tabata that I repeated 8 times), a medium interval run (ie: 800 meter repeats or similar), and then a "longer" run which might be around an hour and a half of running the local trails. So I rarely averaged more than 5 miles per week of running.

Testing 50 Miles On Strength
(Photo courtesy Seth Kotelnicki)
So I was left with my gym training alone for this 50 miler. A four day per week training that involves movements like heavy deadlifts and squats, lots of glute/ham raises, pushing prowlers, jumping rope, pullups, pushups, thrusters, kettlebell carries/swings, maybe some rowing and an occasional short sprint. In other words, lots of whole body strength movements but heavily concentrated on the muscles I use for running. I've always felt like my 4 day a week strength training was enough to keep me fit and ready for anything. I had confidence I could finish a 50 miler with this type of training, but I wanted to find out for sure. For science.

I was ready for my test. 

Too bad my right foot decided to tell me to fuck off starting a couple weeks before the race.
Getting crew help from friends -
50 Miles On Strength

(Photo courtesy Seth Kotelnicki)

My neuroma, a ball of nerves embedded between the bones between my second and third toes on my right foot, had started flaring up. This has been a problem I've had since college and it happens only on occasion. I've only experienced it during one other race (a 50k at The Born To Run Ultras a few years back) and I was really lucky it didn't give me any trouble during my 100 miler, although I had other issues to deal with during that event.

So the first step of my 50 miler sent a stinging, slicing pain vibrating through my right foot.

"Awwwww shit." I knew that despite the fucked up timing of this stupid nerve flare-up I was still gonna have to test my fitness. It was gonna be a long ass 50 miles. Whatever. I can always hack my right foot off in order to finish, right? 

Did I bring the hack-saw?

Still smiling(Photo courtesy Seth Kotelnicki)
Despite the pain in my right foot, which would come and go for the most part, I felt good physically at miles 8, 12, and 18 and was on track and even ahead of my time to finish within a conservative 12.5 hours.

The course which was designed in a reverse looped style provided a little mental struggle for me. I hate leftovers, repeats, seeing the same movie twice, running the same trails over and over. I couldn't help but think how much I loved the point-to-point course at Pine To Palm 100. I was craving that course even with its sadistic uphills by the time I reached mile 30. I was also starting to deal with overcompensation in my left knee due to not being able to put full weight on my stupid right foot.

By mile 35 I had cut my running pace back and was stopping every quarter mile to do hip hinges and squats to release the tightness in my left IT band and hamstring which was taking a lot of the load off my right foot. At this point I felt like I had a permanent live jellyfish suctioned to the bottom of my right forefoot, and every uphill step was pure torture.

But as we say in ultrarunning - its all relentless forward movement. And so it was.

I was frustrated as hell by mile 40, not so much for the pain, but for the fact that I still hadn't tapped into even a fraction of my fitness due to my needing to back off of my stupid foot/knee failure. It felt like my experiment "for science" was being thwarted due to "technical difficulties beyond my control". Like the lab caught on fucking fire, and I had to spend time finding the extinguisher to put the fire out instead of being able to concentrate on the lab experiment itself.

Finish line of the Headlands 50 miler with
my coach Seth Kotelnicki
My experiment got burned a bit, so I decided to enjoy the last 4 miles walking and chatting with another woman I had met on the trail. 

I crossed the finish line in 14:39:27 and despite all the stupid pain I was in, I finished. I finished that shit with strictly gym only training. And for those who thought I was stupid to try, or didn't think I could do it, I proved to them, once again, that it can be done.

What kind of knowledge did I glean from this experiment?

I believe there's a LOT to be said for quality strength training over running in general. By eliminating running from the equation I realize that the gym gives me a solid base to jump from should I choose to. I know my coaches and I know they would never recommend NOT running while training for an ultra, but at least I now understand why they train heavily with strength as a foundation for running. I feel like as long as I can maintain or improve muscle strength while training it can get me more than three-quarters of the way there. The extra conditioning the running gives me helps to develop and maintain my form and make me faster, but it's the strength that really counts and can make a huge impact on my endurance. This has been a huge revelation for me.

The shitty part is that no amount of fitness, strength or conditioning can eliminate random, stupid technical difficulties, like a neuroma, that can flare up on it's own will during a race.

Next time I'll carry a hack-saw.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

And For My Next Trick...

Attempting to roll out during Pine To Palm 100 miler
So despite the fact that I have unfiltered tendencies to overshare, I have not included the Radical Honesty Movement in my life's grand experiment. I'm not totally comfortable with violent contact of fists to my face and prefer to keep my friendships in tact. I would venture to say that I'm more likely to adopt the Radical Nudity Movement instead, especially when the temps start hitting the triple digits here in NorCal.

But since everything I do in life right now is for science, I've decided to take on another experiment.


Ladies and gentlemen, for my next trick, I will attempt to run a 50 miler with about 10,000ft. of elevation gain with NO RUN TRAINING.

Mt. Rose Summit
(Photo Courtesy Kelly Maggie Akyüz)
That's 0 trail mileage per week and I quit that shit about 3 months ago. Well, I've had a few lapses where I ran the Blood, Sweat, and Beers 11 miler back in July, and may have ran a teensy bit on my "hike" to the top of Mt. Rose with the girls, but other than that the only training I'm doing for this race is done in the gym.

I will be attempting to finish the Headlands 50 miler on September 12. I'll admit this was a last minute decision, but I've been wanting to run a 50 miler for some time now. I've also been wanting to test my training in its purest form which consists mostly of strength training with some conditioning. Basically I lift heavy weights, push a prowler, do lots of squats, glute ham raises, pull-ups, push-ups, farmer's carries, mountain climbers, hollow rocks, and okay... I might run 400 meters. But that's all the run training I will be doing for this race.

That being said, I am fully prepared to DNF this race, but I doubt that will be the result of little conditioning. I feel that my endurance base has already been established and maintained enough in the gym and my strength is there to get me through 50 miles of hills. The question for me at this point is whether my mobility and joints will survive 50 miles. That's my catch 22. The more I run the less mobility I feel I have, and if I'm running as part of my training my mobility is never at 100%.

But what if I started a race with no aches, no tenderness, and my mobility at 100%? Will I be able to last for 50 miles before my hips and knees lock up or start to hurt? Yeah. I'll be sore afterwards, but I'm sore after almost every gym workout so what's the difference?

I'm a firm believer in the anti-one-size-fits-all training approach. I think there are folks out there like myself who need a radically different type of training just to be capable of completing the long distances. I recognize I won't be winning any medals, but that's never been my goal anyway. My only goal will be to finish within the time cut-off of 16 hours.

So I declare this to be my 2015 Anti-Running Experiment 50 Miler, rather than my Minimal-Running Experiment 100 Miler which I tested back in 2013 at Pine To Palm.

The only thing I have to say about this race right now is... We'll see.

Regardless of how it will all go... I know for a fact that this race will end like this...
Tailgate Whiskey Break (Photo courtesy Charito Bartlett)

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

My Life as a Grand Experiment

I like to think I survived one of life's unexpected emotional tsunamis. But, instead of holding my breath and waiting for it, I picked up a surfboard and rode that mother fucker into shore. In fact, I'm still paddling and ready for another wave should it hit.

I documented this transition here on my blog as a way of owning my experiences and holding myself accountable for the changes that I embraced at the time. My midlife enlightenment, as I like to call it, caused many people close to me to question my motives and my identity. I had some awakenings, some revelations, and some deep rooted epiphanies about my life in general and where I was headed.

I can honestly say that at 30, 35 and even at 40 years old I was not completely who I wanted to be.

I had serious hang-ups. I worried what other people thought. I hated my body. I didn't feel beautiful or even sexy. I was horribly insecure beneath a thin veneer of forced confidence. I tried to like who I was but could never completely be happy with the woman who stared back at me in the mirror. I saw each and every flaw amplified. I felt like one of those Russian dolls that had another doll trapped deep inside the layers of dolls within her. I had no idea how to love the woman I knew I was in my heart or become the woman that I wanted to be. I was the person society and my parents had raised, created and envisioned. I was a responsible, intelligent human being who brushed her teeth twice a day. I colored my life within the lines of society. I was a loving mother and a good wife. Wasn't that good enough?

Fuck no! It wasn't.

I didn't want to be perfect. I just wanted to be me.

It was unacceptable to be so close to forty years old and have wasted half my life being a person that I didn't really like. She was boring, naive, and probably a little righteous. If the me of today met the me of yesterday I wouldn't want to hang out with her. I would have nothing to say.

I remember the turning point - when life seemed to be crushing me from the outside - when a miscarriage, the loss of my job, a double biopsy, and my father being diagnosed with a rare blood cancer which would ultimately take his life determined my future. I could not stand to live another disingenuous day of my life. 


I consciously made a decision to challenge that cushy, womb-like normality called my comfort zone. I embraced a new openness to experience life in a way that was more like a scientific experiment rather than daily rote routine. I made very conscious decisions to try new things. 

I threw out my running shoes and started running completely barefoot. I dyed my hair purple. I gave up National Public Radio for Dubstep, Heavy Metal, and Electronica. I embraced expression and cursed more. I debated less. I adopted the word "YES" when every fiber of my being wanted to scream "NO!!!!" This attitude permeated my daily choices from food, clothing, and yes... even sex. I traded wine for whiskey. I got high. A LOT.  I began training for ultras like I was 25 again. I began exploring my physical limits and my mental boundaries. I became a more passionate individual with a deep-rooted desire to learn more about the human experience, to connect with others, and to live deliberately.

So now... everything I do is part of this grand experiment. That's the "live deliberately" part. Because what's the point of making conscious choices that challenge you if you don't fucking learn from them?!

I figure, if I'm lucky, I might have a good forty more years left on this earth to learn about myself. What makes me tick? What do I like? How does this body I've been gifted work? I want the rest of my life to be quilted together with rich pieces of adventure, experience, love, and human connection. I am the seamstress and the artist. I am the only one who can create this masterpiece. 

And when I'm eighty years old and sitting in the old fart's home, I want some really awesome memories to entertain myself with. I'm not one to watch TV.

Finally. Today I know who I am.
I am organic and ever changing
I am beautiful
I am brilliant
I am sexy
I am fun
I am feisty
I am wise
I am crazy
I am happy
I am a thinker
I am a doer
I am a lover
I am wild
I am NOT perfect
And since everything I do now is "for science" I will continue to learn, and push my boundaries, and to challenge the things in my life that I have no clue about. So let the grand experiment continue...
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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Party Culture of Born to Run Ultras

The golden hills of East Creek Ranch
Exactly two weeks after the Swagon was unloaded from Badwater Salton Sea 2015, it was cram packed again with an inflatable sofa, a camp kitchen/tiki bar, disco chandelier lights and red cups for the keg.

It was time for my annual pilgrimage to the place where my ultra running tribe takes up residence for about four days. A little spot in the golden hills of Los Olivos where we arrive, detach from the grid, and connect to something bigger and more meaningful. 

Oh. And we run.

The Born To Run Ultra Marathons are way more than a race. It's been more accurately described as a running festival, but even that falls short of the true experience. Maybe that's just me, but I would venture to say that anyone who has made BTR their annual tradition has pulled back the layers to reveal something much more significant.

Born To Run 100k 2012
(Photography by Larry Gassan)
I first experienced the lure of the East Creek Ranch back in 2012 (you can read about my experience here) when I challenged myself with my first 100k. I entered the gate of the ranch a solo runner on a quest to find something transcending within the long distance. I was in search of some raw form of enlightenment, expecting to find it buried deep within miles of fatigue and pain, but I never hit that "big picture" moment while running. In fact, I never really pushed into pain or fatigue like I expected. Don't get me wrong, I learned a significant amount about myself and my own capabilities, but  I never arrived to that wide, open space where things just seemed in perspective.

My first year at the Born To Run Ultras
But something else unexpected happened.

Perspective happened but not within the confines of my own singular experience. I discovered human connection on a grander scale. It came from all sides of me - a connection that grows wider with every year.

But I guess spending four days on a ranch with more than 600 other ultra runners, some kind of revelation is bound to happen.

That first year, it began with Alex, the random dude I picked up at the Bart Station in Walnut Creek for carpool. We shared stories and life experiences on our trip down to Los Olivos. I got to see life from a younger and, oddly enough, wiser angle. 

My running buddy Anthony rocking the sport kilt
Then there was Anthony, an active duty marine with a wife and little girl at home who ran with me for fourty miles. We swapped training and diet ideals, and shared mind blowing experiences of the birth of our babies.

I will never forget Flint, Maria, and Caleb who I heard cheering for me as I came through the last of the pink and yellow loops. Their genuine energy and encouragement felt like I had family there just for me.

Then Crista, who I didn't really speak much to that first year, but told me after I crossed the finish line somewhere in the ballpark of 15 hours later that she was cheering for me because we shared the same name.

Flint, Alex, Caleb, and Patrick
And last but not least Patrick Sweeney. A dude I'd just met in New York City several months before my 100k while running the New York City Barefoot Run. He was the only familiar face I had any recognition of as I drove onto the ranch that weekend. He offered to share a camping spot with me and Alex. Then sitting in the dark, back at the campsite, in my post 100k disbelief he also generously offered to make me ramen noodles with avacado. A simple, but very kind act of sharing. My belly was hungry and I had little energy to feed myself more than just a beer at that point. His thoughtful and caring nature was very much appreciated.

Over the years I've piled on more human connections, memories, and experiences to even list here...The Clemens brothers and their State of Beer flag, Graham from Scotland whom I will share an annual traditional wee dram of whiskey, Brahm who arrived solo and offered to bring a keg for the chill zone last year...
This shirt cracked me up

Funny how there's a common thread of alcohol here. 

I won't deny we love to party at Born To Run.

But maybe it's the alcohol that allows each of us to break through those social barriers, let go a little, and connect in a human way. Ultra running is the catalyst, but as ultra runners, and as humans in general, I think we are all looking for the path that plugs us in to something larger than ourselves. Whether we are looking for those moments in the solitude of the trail or surrounded by the smiles of hundreds of others like ourselves.

Post Beer/Whiskey mile party
Clint, Adam, Matt, and me
Yeah. We party hard. We run hard too. Even for the beer miles. There seems to be a symbiotic relationship between the two states - depleting our bodies while at the same time recharging our souls amongst our brothers and sisters. There is an endless supply of enthusiasm at an event like Born To Run and serious competition is almost non-existent. We run with each other recognizing what we have in common, not against each other for what we don't. The running culture of BTR is rooted in letting go and having fun, not in winning or placing. In fact, there is no other place where that culture is more amplified than at Born To Run. I know of no other event that also hosts a race distance of 0.0k where people sit down amongst each other, share their stories, and drink beer.

If that doesn't exemplify the chill, fun loving, relaxed atmosphere of our running culture I don't know what does.

The party at Born To Run Ultras
The culture of trail and ultra runners
After crewing for Badwater Salton Sea the contrast in running cultures has become even more obvious to me. There are no two races that could be more different.

I can't tell if it's completely a NorCal versus SoCal thing, or a road versus trail thing. After all, Born To Run could arguably be considered a SoCal event and really, it's a unique event in and of itself.

But, I firmly believe you can detect running culture at the start line of a race. There's a big difference between a race that has a line-up of expensive running gear versus little to nothing and whiskey socks.

Beer Mile Start
(Photo courtesy Kelly Maggie Akyuz via Matt's Camera)
And although the culture at Born To Run is all party, I can honestly say that as a runner I take that party to every race and so do most of my friends. It's the only time a bunch of us can get outside together and celebrate living, breathing, and connecting. Sadly, it was the one thing I really missed while training for my longer distance races since my runs were never very long and mostly hard work.

Happy girl
Competitive culture completely misses the link to that human connection. That's not to say that as trail runners we are not competitive. For example, the SingleTrack Running Racing Team's stellar performance at Badwater Salton Sea may have even placed them in the top three finish if it hadn't been for our crew's alleged "party" behavior which got us into trouble and set our runners back for time.

But that "party" behavior is how we roll. For some it's winning, but for us, it's the adventure and stoke along the way that keeps running alive. We don't just celebrate running at the finish line. We celebrate at the start, the middle, and especially the finish. Every step is a celebration. And when shit gets hard, the party is still there, waiting for the comeback, because sometimes the joy of overcoming is stoke enough.
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Monday, May 18, 2015

SingleTrack Running's Badwater Salton Sea Ultra

Salton Sea - Below sea level
So I guess once you embrace the sulk and the mope over adventures thwarted something magical happens. Adventures appear out of nowhere. Shit just starts to happen. And I get a message like this from my friend Bill, a SingleTrack Racing Team member, regarding the 2015 Badwater Salton Sea three man team race:

"Hey Krista!!  So I've been waiting to extend a formal invitation to you because I didn't know how things were going to shake with our crew situation. But I want to officially ask you to be part of our Badwater crew with Clint and Maggie we would be so excited to have you! In Paulo's words it would be 'crazyfantastic'"

Crazyfantastic? That's quite a compliment. But, I'll admit I'm partial to unauthorized vocabulary that punches grammar and punctuation rules in the face. 

SingleTrack Running Racing Team
Paulo, Ben, and Bill

I felt honored that the guys wanted to recruit me to be part of their crew team. I had never crewed down at Badwater before so I was a total newb. Pretty sure all three of us were newbs at crewing in this sort of a race - mostly road and little trail with our vehicle being the sole support for our team. But the guys had no idea (or maybe they did) at the level of enthusiasm they had just signed on for, especially with Maggie and I both being on the team. 


We've been known to spend the equivalent of an ultra finish time just to "set up" an aid station. Our aid stations are "destination experiences" usually with a nighttime clubbing atmosphere that includes a chill lounge, lots of lights, loud music, disco balls, and plenty of party. We had big plans for this crewing adventure. Not only were we going to make sure our runners got to the finish line, but we were gonna motivate the shit outa them (and everybody else) along the way.

So we packed up the ice chest, umbrella, pop-up canopy (yes... the pop-up), table, chairs, solar lights, glowsticks, wigs, pirate flags, water guns, cowbells, megaphone, and piñata.

All the important shit.
Just a little "reorganization"

Then we crammed a few personal items in the Swagon and drove south to Santa Monica, where after a couple of chill days we met up with the rest of the team, Bill, Ben, and Paulo (the runners - and my buddies from my Speedgoat adventure) plus our final crew member, Clint.

Everyone had congregated at Bill's place for our caravan to Borrego Springs Resort where we were to attend the pre-race orientation. But not before our pre-pre-race orientation beer. It's about the carb loading, right?

And jeezuz!! I had never in my life personally witnessed the magnitude of matching as I did that day. It was only to be rivaled by the amount of lycra, spandex, performance, and reflective gear that exploded at the start line the following morning. I slapped my forehead when I realized that was why Paulo had asked me to bring my SingleTrack Running Racing Team shirt to this race. I'm hardly the matchy-matchy type but I bucked up and borrowed one of the guys shirts for the team photo.

Ben, Paulo, and Bill posing for group shots
After orientation it occurred to us that we needed to get our runners to the start line in the morning. In the Swagon. The Swagon - our mobile aid station warehouse (a crammed Mazda MPV minivan) was in desperate need of some strategic organization. I think it would have been easier to solve world hunger at that point. But as if that wasn't puzzle enough, we also had to deliver Paulo's car to the finish line 50 miles away where it would be close to our end point accomodations. So while the runners drank beers and went hot tubbing, our crew began crewing. Strapping, tying, shoving, wedging every little piece of enthusiasm into whatever space it fit. Then we caravanned again to deliver a vehicle to the finish line.

About four hours and 100 miles of driving later everything was sorted and organized and the Swagon was ready for race start. The runners had already gone to bed by the time we made it back from the finish line at Palomar Mountain around 9pm.

It was a VERY tight fit for race morning.
Ben - The tallest of the team crammed into the Swagon
amongst backpacks, ice chests, a piñata, and a road cone.

But we all made it to the start line in one piece. 
More importantly, we were all able to dislodge ourselves from the overpacked van.
Paulo exiting our rubix cube on wheels
Ben and Bill walk to find race start
Funny how we got there only a half hour early and the start line wasn't even set up. I was wondering if we were even in the right place. But if we weren't, neither was anyone else and there were quite a few people there. We walked down to the edge of the Salton Sea where the humidity carried a foul stench in the air which smelled like what I imagine to be a fisherman's toilet. Looking down we could see the "sand" was created of tiny bits of crushed fish carnage. We assumed that the race would start somewhere in the general vicinity. Did the race director forget that he was hosting a race?


Fish corpse
Then two random people show up, shove a couple flags in the ground and from out of nowhere the race director appears, climbs up on a ladder and shoots a gazillion photos for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr and a plethora of other social reasons.

Wow. This shit has serious coverage. The word is officially out.

I think dude spent way more time advertising his race than making the runners feel like they were participating in one.

Our boys with big smiles on the far left
But that didn't stop our runners from smiling. They were prepared and ready to go.

The Swagon - The official Party Van
(Photo courtesy Kelly Maggie Akyuz)
I don't even remember how the race started. Everybody just took off. And then our crewing adventure began. The piñata made it's way to the top of our vehicle, the hawaiian leis were strung, the cowbell was ready, and the megaphone police siren was turned on. Awwwwyeah. The party van was in full crew mode and we were gonna crew us some runners!

As we passed runners on our way to our first crew stop, we cheered every single one on. LOUDLY with megaphone.

Crewing duties
(Photo courtesy Kelly Maggie Akyuz)
"Oh Yeah... the piñata popo are gonna pull you over for going too fast!"
(Cuz we were the official piñata police.)
"Looking good, runners!! You're looking so hot!"
(Cuz it was damn hot out there and they looked it.)
"SingleTrack Running Sexiness!! Yeah Baby! Show us your tittays!"
(Cuz our team didn't mind being sexually harassed)
I'm pretty sure the competitors in this race had never seen the likes of us at a race like this before... EVER. We got lots of smiles and motivated lots of runners besides our own. We wanted to make sure this race was FUN because running 81 miles through the desert is no joke and as it turned out not always a party. But I'm pretty sure FUN was in our job description when our team asked us to crew for them. HOW COULD WE NOT DELIVER? 

I'm also pretty sure there will be a rule outlawing the use of megaphones with police sirens next year.

Our super awesome mobile aid station
From the time the race started our crew had few spare moments to ourselves. We prepped every other stop like a full aid station so the runners could get in and get out as soon as possible. And as soon as our runner's came into eyesight we went into hyperdrive filling handhelds, prepping ice bandanas and buffs, making mental notes of our runner's health status' and next aid needs. We were able to surprise them with ice cream sandwiches, Mountain Dew (sadly it was diet) and special lunch snacks, which made them happy, even though the miles and especially the heat were starting to take their toll.

Captain Clint - ARRRRRRGH!
We also commandeered an old train container for our full stop Pirate themed aid station. We knew the runners would be coming off the hardest climb of the race and we thought we would surprise them with a treat. But, what was taking them so long?

So we started walking, side by side, down the road with Clint in the middle holding our biggest pirate flag. We were looking totally rogue and badass.

Clint had a gut feeling something was wrong. He had just seen the race director drive by with a more than disappointed look on his face.

Our commandeered container
pirate aid station
Suddenly, we saw our runners. They looked like they were in good shape. We screamed through the megaphone and were super excited to see them. We did our usual loud shenanigans, but Paulo had to politely interrupt us.

The race director had apparently given them a warning and was about to slap a pretty hefty penalty on them.


Apparently, rumor was spread that our crew was drunk and out of control at one of our stops. We were clearly a hazard on the course and were breaking a very significant no drinking rule.

I will own the out of control bit. We were having fun. Being loud and obnoxious is just how we roll. But we certainly weren't drunk. There was just way too much responsibility required on course and with our runners to make sure they were properly taken care of.

Arrrrrgh mateys!!
Apparently there was even alleged proof.

We were caught red-handed with liquor in our hands posing for pirate shots and our runners paid for it. Their option at this point was to drop a cone where the runners were, drive us to the finish line, drop our alleged drunken asses off, then return to the marked spot and finish the race either on their own or with a new crew.

Valuable time ticked away as we made it back to our container to brainstorm solutions. Our crew was distracted by our own stupidity and the fact that no one had bothered to find out if, in fact, we were drunk and incapable of driving. 

Then the race director, Chris, shows up. Taking the opportunity to explain our situation gave us renewed hope that our runners would be able to continue. Paulo respectfully discussed our tragic situation, Clint passed a breath test, and I handed over all our alcohol to Chris... even the good gin.

Getting back their mojo
Photo courtesy Kelly Maggie Akyuz)
The game was back on!!

But the guys had lost a lot of time and we, the crew, just had our wind taken out of our sails. We all felt heavy and quite frankly a little confused at how all this went down. 

Despite being deflated, we were determined not to let it affect us or our ability to crew our runners. Bill was on the fence about quitting and had been struggling with dehydration issues for a while. I was a little concerned he was getting ready to give up his position on the team, but after a ten minute recovery at one of our stops, some hot soup, and some extra attention by our crew, he pushed on and found his second wind. 

Paulo got cranky but remained strong and steady with a bad case of finish line fever while Ben was on his way to effortlessly completing his longest ultra ever. I think ice cream sandwiches were Ben's secret weapon.

The moon beamed down brightly on a fairly clear night as we slowly climbed to the top of Palomar Mountain. I could tell our runners were pushing to finish. They spent less time at our aid stops as we sneakily put a little more miles between them to push them to the finish sooner. 

We finally met our runners at the finish line garage after 19:10 hours of stinky sea desert running.

SingleTrack Running Racing Team
crossing the finish line in 4th place overall
SingleTrack Running Racing Team and crew

A garage?

Yes. A garage... where they ran through tape held up by the team in front of them because I guess all the Badwater Salton Sea volunteers had gone to bed.

Oh well. 

We were super proud of our guys! We tried not to be too annoying at the finish line (I know we weren't the race director's favorites - or maybe we were??) so we whooped and hollared in lieu of using the megaphone. Our guys were pretty happy too. They should be. They finished with an overall 4th place. They totally put the badass in Badwater Salton Sea. Our crew? Well we just put the "bad" in Badwater.

And we got all our alcohol back for our much needed celebration at our finish line accommodations.

SingleTrack Running Rebels morning beer celebration.
It's how we roll.
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