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Race Report: Oriflamme 50K, Take Two

I’m not an angry person, and most people remember me by my smile, or so I’ve been told. But Oriflamme 50K–the second time-around–was a miserable experience for me (and because of me.)

This race report isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but this picture suggests otherwise.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Oriflamme 50K, it’s a terrific event put on annually by Pinnacle Endurance. The course starts at Sunrise Trailhead in the mountains east of San Diego, then winds along the Pacific Crest Trail for a few miles before dropping down through Oriflamme Canyon and into Anza Borrego Desert. The first time I ran the race, in 2015, I had little idea what to expect. It turned out the early descent at the beginning of the race, the blooming barrel cactus and accompanying sphinx moths on the desert floor, and then the long, grueling climb back to the finish was my ideal race. I placed first female that year, my first ever win at any race, and it’s been special for all those reasons since.

This year, when asked what races I wanted to run, the one and only race that popped into my mind was Oriflamme. Of course, Orcas 100 happened, and others will happen, too, but this was a race I really wanted to try for: I wanted to win, and I wanted the course record, too.

Here’s just one reason to run this race: the view!

Last year, this goal would have been out of reach. But with the help of my coach, Alec Blenis at Complete Human Performance, I feel like I’m finally making strides (literally) toward becoming faster. Remember, I was the kid who was congratulated for placing first at a B.C. track meet in the 800-meter when I was eight years old. I thought my teachers and friends and even strangers believed I had ran really hard; turns out the results were misprinted and I hadn’t placed first but dead last. My running career ended there (…until I met Nick: see here.)

Since the start of the year, I’ve gladly jumped into a variety of races. Nick and I both ran the San Diego Trail Marathon in January, then Orcas 100 at the end of February. Going for any kind of record, or even a really solid run, at Oriflamme seemed like asking for too much but I thought I might regret not running the race after mentioning it numerous times over the last six months. I had to at least try. 

The taper, as tapers often are, was tough, but I felt especially unmotivated and apathetic about the upcoming race.

The morning of the race, a knot had settled in my stomach. I briefly told Nick that I wasn’t feeling this race, but when is that ever an excuse? Does anyone ever really feel like waking up at 4 a.m. and running for several hours?

I made oatmeal while Nick heated hot water for tea and within twenty minutes we were in the car and headed east. I forced myself to eat a spoonful of oatmeal, but I wasn’t hungry.

“I don’t think I want to do this,” I told Nick. “it’s going to be cold and freezing and I don’t feel like racing today.” I mumbled my words, embarrassed to be telling Nick this on the way to the start line.

“You’ll be fine,” he assured me. “It’s just nerves.”

“No,” I retorted. “This is different. I really, really don’t want to do this.”

I continued to argue with him the rest of the drive, my mind becoming increasingly anxious the closer we got. The temperature continued to drop toward the low 40s and light rain landed on our windshield. I took one more bite of oatmeal then shoved it into the backseat, refusing to eat more.

Ten minutes before the start of the race, I hopped out of the car to use the bathroom. Wind whipped across my body, leaving my legs in goosebumps, and I shivered as I thought about the miles that lay ahead. I turned around and headed back to the car.

“I can’t do this,” I told Nick. “I don’t want to do this.”

I had no real reason why–I loved the course, I loved this part of San Diego, and I was looking forward to seeing both runners and volunteers I knew on course. But I didn’t want to race–not today, anyway.

“I’ll see you at the turn-around, okay?” Nick told me. “Do you have your bottles?”

I was planning on running with two handhelds, one filled with UCAN, the other with only water.

“I’m not using anything,” I said, forcefully tossing the second, UCAN-filled bottle into the back of my car.

Runners gathered around the start line and with only two minutes to go, I headed over. Nick hurriedly followed behind to give me a kiss before the start, but that didn’t even register. Suddenly the race was starting and I was gone.

The ominous weather at the start of the race. My attitude matched the menacing skies at this point.

The first few miles of the race wind along the PCT and without caring whether or not I bonked later on, I ran hard. While I had started mid-pack, half a mile in I was in the top ten and in the lead for females. I tried to remain upbeat and polite to other runners, and I weakly smiled when I had to, but my internal thoughts were angry. The rocks along the trail sucked, (made worse following this past winter’s heavy rain), the wind was awful, and I had absolutely no fuel on me; my mind dredged negative after negative thought from a never-ending river of doubt and for a while it fueled the miles. I ran hard down the long descent into the desert and didn’t start coming to my senses until the second aid station at roughly mile 13. Nick was there waiting, and I started to smile, genuinely, suddenly happy again to be out here running. I snagged half a banana then left, eager to reach the turn around point another two and a half miles down the trail. From here, the course seemed to slow as I slogged through the wash. Along the sides I glimpsed fuchsia flowers opening on cactus. My friend, Igor, was suddenly heading towards me and I gave him a heartfelt wave as we passed one another. My heart rose: it couldn’t be much further until the turnaround.

Coming in to the second aid station at mile 13.

It wasn’t, and I didn’t waste time. I gave Nick a proper hug then ran out, determined to speed up the second half of my race. My mood, however, didn’t last. Within seconds I saw the second-place women, and, only a few minutes behind her, females three, four, five, and six. Even with my poor attitude and fueling mistakes, I thought I had made up time on the downhill. My mood sank once more.

At the second aid station, now at mile 18, I lingered. Nick tried to get me to eat something, anything, but I only willingly grabbed a banana. Even then I grimaced. Why even try? I thought to myself. They’re probably going to catch me anyway.

Even I thought my own thoughts were foolish, and I agreed to take a salt pill before I left. Still, I would regret not taking more food.

The next several miles were a long, gradual ascent, a very steep ascent, a mile of gently rolling hills and finally another long climb to the last aid station at mile 26. I tried to keep an even pace on the first section, but winds seemed to sweep down the valley. At several points dust storms cropped up, pelting my bare legs with tiny grains of sand. Within half an hour I was completely out of water, not entirely surprising considering the 16 oz. bottle I had on hand, and there were still miles to go. I pushed as much as I could, running the runnable sections while breaking down into a fast-paced hike on sections that warranted longer strides. Time seemed to pass slow, and yet all of a sudden I was at the water drop–thank goodness. I filled my bottle, then drank it almost entirely down before filling it again.

My stomach rumbled; I had quenched my thirst but now I was famished. Up until this point at mile 24, I had eaten roughly a banana and a few bites of oatmeal. 

Angry Jade made a major rookie mistake and now my race was paying for it.

As I rounded a corner, I caught sight of a runner ahead of me. Go for him, I thought to myself, and urged my legs to keep pace. As long as the gap between us didn’t increase, I could run at this pace. The final uphill section was upon me, and I glanced back only once to see who was behind me. A few switchbacks below I saw two figures, one in black and one in blue, but it wasn’t clear if either were female. Still, I couldn’t ease up.

At the final aid station, I felt relief: finally I could eat! The fresh fruit looked amazing and I ate handful after handful of strawberries, then grabbed another large handful and half a PB&J to go. I thanked the volunteers for their kindness in letting me eat all of their strawberries and then took off. This last section of the PCT was long and meandering, and I recall the seemingly endless twists and turns it makes before the finish from the 2015 race. Rather than focus on the miles to go, I made it my mission to catch and then keep up with a runner in front of me. I matched his pace and tried to clear my mind of anything but following his footsteps. My mind felt lighter now, my attitude improved.

With a half mile to go, I promised myself to smile as big as I could for Nick who had endured my crap earlier that morning. The trying wasn’t necessary, though; both my mom and my Nana had driven up to watch me come in. I ran into the finish in 4 hours, 54 minutes, first place female and sixth overall.

Coming in to the finish–finally!

It’s been nine days since the race, which means that by the time this race report has been published on my blog, it’s the longest I’ve ever taken to finish a race report following a race. One reason is because I’ve not known how to begin and, frankly, I’m embarrassed by the fact that I was so bitter and anxious going into this race. The second reason might be because I’m not entirely sure what caused my anger.

In some part, I think it boils down to my personal decisions: with my grad school thesis looming (I turned it in on Friday), a wedding to be planned, a career to be built and relationships to be nurtured, all of which I ultimately put upon myself, it was foolish to also ask myself to be competitive, to go for a big goal so close to Orcas and amidst other large, and truthfully more important, life events.

Is there a limit to the goals that one can set? Is there a finite amount of stress that a person can take on before adding competition to the mix? How does competition, whether defined or perceived, change a person’s attitude?

How do I know when I’m too stressed out to function, let alone run 31 miles?

I don’t have the answer to these questions, but with each of these races I come closer to finding them. I thrive on setting challenges for myself, and no matter how they turn out, there’s something to be gained–whether physical or mental endurance, a peaceful sunrise, a new friend on the trail.

In this case, however, a little more grace with myself might have resulted in a lot less stress (and a ton less anger towards Nick, my fuel, and a random assortment of natural phenomenon on course.) Life is short, and we make our own purpose; I want mine to be positive.

At the finish with my nana and my mama.

Congratulations to all of the runners, and a heartfelt thank you to the volunteers and RD. The strawberries and smiles were very much appreciated.

Thanks for a terrific and challenging race, RD John!

Orcas 100: Why Not?

Photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama

On the ferry ride over between Anacortes, Washington to our destination, Orcas Island, Nick replayed his whys over in his mind. I had a difficult time concealing my giddiness at a trip to Orcas–for one, I had never been but had heard of the island magic; for another, it was the Pacific Northwest and as a proud Pacific Northwesterner, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to smell coastal brine and the cleansing dampness of cedar forests. When Nick asked me my why, my reason for running Orcas 100, I almost laughed. Did I need a reason to run this race? Wasn’t the sheer beauty of the place enough? 

 “Because it was a chance to take this trip,” I said, my mind still full with images of our night in Seattle, stuffing our faces with seafood bisque and piroshkys and wandering so far and so long our feet were swollen before the race. Even on the drive to the ferry terminal earlier that morning, we had watched trumpeter swans, maybe even a tundra swan or two, huddle in fallow fields (which, for us birders, is pretty cool). It just happened that these neat events culminated with a very long race. The reasoning seemed good enough to me.

By the time the race rolled around on Friday morning, I was ready to explore Orcas Island by way of the second annual Orcas 100.

Loop One

At 8 a.m., 57 runners lined up outside of Camp Moran, on the southeastern side of the horseshoe shaped island. It was crisp and cold, and I briefly wondered if I had become a wuss since moving to San Diego and expecting 70 degree days and sunshine year round (answer: yes). The race started casually, and within seconds Nick had broken out of the pack and was leading the 5K climb. Most people had decided to power hike this part, but I figured that I might as well run to keep warm. Already a mile into the climb I could see snow dusting tree branches, and the snow only thickened toward the top. I hadn’t eaten breakfast that morning, my stomach too nervous to take anything more than some water and tea, so forced myself to chew on a frozen Honeystinger Waffle as we reached the top and began the technical descent down to the first aid station at mile 5. My coach, Alec Blenis at Complete Human Performance, suggested that I try to negative split between the first and second loops, so I attempted to keep a sustainable pace. I flew through both the first and second aid stations, relying instead on the Honeystinger Waffles in my pack. I quickly found myself between two male runners and a female, who I assumed to be Katie Mills, the person closest in age to me on course. We introduced ourselves and ended up running together for the majority of the loop. It was her first 100, and while I was on my third, it would be my first time running without a pacer and therefore running through the night alone. We were both anxious for a partner. 

Katie descended quickly on the downhills, but I caught up to her on the uphill climb and the flatter sections that skirted the lake. At the Cascade Lake aid station, I saw my dad who had laid out a full spread of fruit and sandwiches and delicious hot soups from the local Eastbound Co-op, but declined as I stuffed more waffles in my pack. My preference for real, hot food would come later that night, I knew, and anything heavy wouldn’t sit well with the upcoming Powerline Climb. Katie and I took off from the aid station just seconds apart, and I somehow knew that I’d be sharing the next 85 miles with her.

I had read about the infamous Powerline Climb in previous race reports (see here and here), but hadn’t thought too much about it. I’ve always loved climbing, and it’s typically my strength in a race, but I had greatly underestimated both the length and grade of this section. The single track opened onto double track that continued up and up and up, until I looked back and could see other islands far below me. Even then we weren’t done with the climb. Katie and I hiked up most of the way together, until the trail finally ended and began an annoying descent through snowy single track once more. Finally the descent concluded with a bridge and we were switchbacking our way up the backside of Mt. Constitution, the highest point of the race (and the highest point on the San Juan Islands). The aid station crew were exceptionally kind, but Katie and I once again concluded that we didn’t need to stop and hurried on to reach The Tower.

The Tower was introduced the night before, at the pre-race briefing, where RD James Varner suggested that the best views were seen from here. Not only that, but runners who climbed The Tower all four times and delivered the card to the Camp Moran aid station (the end of the first loop, and the start of the second) would be part of the lauded Tower Club. Well, sign me up. 

Katie and I went up the climb together, then descended the remaining five miles back into the cheering camp.

25.2 miles, 5 hours, 8 minutes

Loop Two

The weather hadn’t turned for the worse, and I was just cool enough to warrant the extra sweater and gloves. Once again I grabbed waffles, swallowed a salt tab for good measure, and headed out. While I ran the first climb last loop, I figured that there was little point in getting my heart rate up without really gaining much time, so I hiked this section, then hurried a bit more on the descent down to Mountain Lake and back up to Mt. Pickett. Katie would run ahead, but I would catch her once more so we quickly concluded that we might as well run together.

Camp Moran Aid Station (and the start/finish of the race)

It was nice to run with Katie, and I was getting more excited with the course as the miles went by. I had started the race almost apathetic, but quickly reminded myself of how much was on the line: my 77-year-old dad, who had driven down from Vancouver, B.C. and would be crewing me the entire night, the work Nick and I had done to both afford and make space for this trip, the effort that Alec had put into training me for this race (just five weeks earlier!), the volunteers and RD that were putting their time into this event, and the fact that I was on Orcas Island without anything but the task to finish 100 miles. I could do that.

Katie and I flew into the Cascade Lake station, and I quickly grabbed some more food and a headlamp. We had decided that we would make it to the summit by sunset, so we powered up the climb. By the time we reached The Tower, the sun had just set and the sky was pink and yellow. Even Mt. Baker was visible in the distance!

The absolutely beautiful sunset atop Mt. Constitution. Photo by Katie Mills

On the way down, I tried put off turning on my headlamp, trying to lessen the length of night, but the trail soon became too technical and the forest too dark. Camp Moran shone bright and I finished fifty miles feeling great and excited to change. I swapped my pants for warmer tights and changed out of my rabbit sleevie wonder and into a smart wool top for the night.

50.4 miles, 10 hours, 59 minutes

Loop Three

The night air felt suddenly colder than it had been just ten minutes earlier when Katie and I had come into the aid station. My eyes felt heavy, and while it was still early in the night, I felt as though I could nap. Still, back up the road we went. At the Mountain Lake aid station, I downed a large cup of coffee. I don’t drink coffee or caffeinated tea, so I felt the effects of the caffeine quickly. Suddenly I was moving faster, so at the next aid station, I had another cup, and another at the Cascade Lake station, too. Katie and I zoomed up the third Powerline climb, and I briefly wondered whether it was better to know how far I had climbed, or be oblivious to how far I still had to go. I followed Katie down through the section towards the switchback, and we decided that either weird conversation or singing songs would help keep our spirits up and pass the time. Fortunately, she decided on Disney songs, of which I am horribly ignorant of, so I hummed along and tried to keep my end of the partnership up. 

The third time up The Tower was cold, and we stopped in for food at the Mt. Constitution aid station for, of course, more coffee. By this point I was feeling a bit nauseous, and realized that having coffee wasn’t smart past a certain point for me. I hit that point, took in the refreshing nighttime air, and descended back down to Camp Moran.

Mile 75.6, 17 hours, 36 minutes

Loop Four

I was all smiles leaving Camp Moran. One of the volunteers had kindly let me borrow her poles for my final loop and I was thankful I had them–especially since my calves and achilles were tightening and Powerline was going to hurt the fourth time around.  I had not experienced a genuine low during the race, save for the fleeting apathy on the first loop. Once I started loop four, I knew I would finish no matter what. We hurried up the first climb together, thankfully bidding farewell to all of the endless climbs and technical descents we wouldn’t have to do ever again. At Cascade Lake, I ran into camp and hugged my dad, thankful to have him out here with me. I had inquired about Nick each lap and was happy to hear that he was in first and likely finished by now. Katie’s crew informed us that first place woman, Janessa Taylor, had just taken off, and I could tell Katie was anxious to catch her. I grabbed a slice of pizza to go and we headed off.

As Katie and I followed the short Cascade Lake trail section out onto the road that would take us to the start of Powerline, a car approached. I couldn’t make out of the face in the dark, but knew immediately it was Nick.

“You finished!” I exclaimed, and he ran to hug me and cheer us on. Somewhere in my delirium I didn’t process that he had finished, so I spent the rest of the loop wondering how the race had gone for him.

We said goodbye to Nick, then moved up the hill, intent on just getting the race done now. I had assumed I would power up this last climb, but I suddenly felt out of breath. I coughed, then coughed some more. With dread, I realized that I still wasn’t over the cold that I had carried for the last three weeks. This was going to be a long, long loop. Katie had fat blisters and a nagging IT band that wouldn’t let her slow down, so she said she had to hurry on. I watched as her light moved farther away, and attempted to put on music to lift my spirits, but had little patience to deal with the knotted cords. Feeling myself getting crankier still, I ate another waffle and some fruit I had taken at Cascade Lake. Still my cough worsened and I felt myself on the brink of wheezing.

The end of Powerline never seemed to come, but sunrise was breaking and I wanted to be finished with the race. I pushed up the switchbacks and crested the last bit of ascent, then hurried to the top of The Tower to grab my final card. I attempted to control my breath as I descended this final section, but I could hear the phlegm in my chest. Hold it together, Jade, I told myself. It wasn’t long now.

In the final mile, I heard Nick’s encouraging words and saw him as I popped out of the forest and hurried into the final winding trail to the finish. I watched as he got back into his car and drove to the finish to be able to watch him come in. Even with 100 miles now under me, I was nervous in this last mile. It felt as if I couldn’t breath, and I tried both speeding up and slowing down to either get past it or through the wheezing.

Finally, there was RD James and my lovely Nick and my dad who was still awake after all this time, cheering me in. Orcas 100 was complete! I hacked my way through hugs, then proceeded to cough for several more hours. I wish that the finale of 100-milers amounted to more exciting post-race parties, but I felt more like sleeping than anything else (as seen below). 

Lesson learned? Don’t run with a cough or a cold. 

More importantly, realize that people run 100-mile races for different reasons, and each race is completely different. For me, I was enamored by Orcas Island and the people that made this event possible. Part of the beauty of these races is that I don’t often know why I’m out there until I’m running. And while that can, at times, be dangerous in terms of committing to a race, it also opens up the possibility to reasons I couldn’t have imagined: to make a new friend, to make my dad proud, to be able to talk endlessly about the race and the course and what animals we saw out on the trail (an owl, a million deer) with Nick, and to simply experience something I couldn’t have imagined myself doing just one year ago. After all, why not?

100.8 miles, 24 hours, 45 minutes

3rd female, 7th overall

Some final notes

What a beautiful, gorgeous race. Thank you to all of the cheerful, smiling volunteers and thank you especially to the volunteer who gave me his grilled cheese that looked especially delicious at 2 a.m. Thank you to the Race Directors and everyone else who helped put together such a fun, supportive event.

I was so lucky to have my dad out on course–his first ever ultra event!–and was so excited to see him at each aid station, from mile 15 to mile 100. I was also thankful for Katie’s presence throughout the race and for her crew who handed me pizza, let me use the foam roller, and constantly checked to see how I was doing.

A big congratulations to my fiancé, Nickademus Hollon, for taking first place overall at this year’s event and, more importantly, running the race for himself.

Thank you, Orcas!

Twin Peaks 50: A Twin Race Report

This past weekend, Nick and I ran the Twin Peaks 50/50, an awesome race run by Dirty Feet Productions RD Jessica DeLine. Nick ran Twin Peaks in 2012, but this time I was willing to join in on the fun. Without big expectations for our performances, we set the male and female course records (Nick: 8:56:27 and Jade: 10:32:34), finishing first and fourth overall, respectively.

On the drive home, we asked each other some questions about how our races went behind-the-scenes. Here’s what we had to say.


Photo by Paksit Photos

Why the Twin Peaks 50? 

Nick: A client of mine was asking about the race, and with UTMF not having quite worked out how I’d envisioned, I thought it would be a nice event to end 2016’s ultra-running season with. 

Jade: I haven’t run a 50-mile race since Santa Barbara’s Red Rocks 50 two years ago, and was curious about the distance; when Nick mentioned that he was considering running the race, I was interested and decided to jump in as well. Running races together (though I should clarify that we don’t actually run together, as Nick is lightyears faster) makes me realize how incredibly lucky we are to share the sport. I guess what I mean to say is…why not?

What was the best part of your race?

Nick: I really enjoyed the first 7 miles of the course, the early morning inversion layer combined with the light classical music I was playing on my i-pod at the time.

Jade: Surprisingly the descents. While I felt strong on the first 10 mile climb (assuming first place from roughly mile 5 to the finish),  it was the ease and confidence with which I ran the somewhat technical and steep descents that became the best part of the race.


Photo by Paksit Photos

What was the worst part of the race?

Nick: The immense “lead legs” that I experienced after finishing an 8 mile descent and going right into another big climb. My legs were toast and Mario (my competition throughout the race) was pulling well ahead of me on that part of the course.

Jade: Climbing up Trabuco Canyon in the heat of the day was tough. I swore second-place woman was right behind me, so I urged myself to run (read: shuffle) despite feeling light-headed and nauseous. I also ran out of water on that climb.

Would you come back?

Nick: It’s a really great local event and packs a hell of a punch. Dirty Feet does a great job putting on these races in SoCal.  I’ll definitely be back at one of their races next year.

Jade: I loved the race and would be thrilled to have the opportunity to come back in the future! The volunteers were kind and helpful, the participants were wonderful competition and the course itself showcased a surprisingly beautiful and tough part of SoCal.

How did you train for this race?

Nick: I’ve really been focused on my running form and body awareness over the last year. Strength training, stability work, treadmill, beach running, rock climbing and valued rest days.

Jade: I’m 6 weeks post-Cascade Crest right now, so after a 2 week break, I worked on bringing my mileage back up and getting back to a few speed/interval sessions each week. Other than that, I’ve been really focused on strength training and working on my pull-ups–by the end of the year I want to be at 15. This has nothing to do with running.


What was the competition like?

Nick: Surprisingly intense! I purposely vowed not to look at the Ultrasignup entrant list before the race as I didn’t need the unnecessary worry, but Mario Martinez, the winner from the previous year, was there. The two of us virtually raced the entire 52 miles together. After leap-frogging back and forth, I pulled ahead of him on the final descent and, pushing hard, managing to open a 4 minute gap between us by the finish.

Jade: Intense! After pulling ahead on the first climb, I didn’t see her again until I was coming back down from the first summit of Santiago Peak. I thought I had lost her, but she was only 10 minutes behind! I hurried down the trail there to gain some distance. The last time I saw her was in the same location, coming down from Santiago Peak, this time less than a quarter mile behind me. I pushed the entire descent to the finish, terrified she would overtake me at the very end.

What was the most difficult part of the race?

Nick: Mario. Having great competition at an event with a course like this is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in the fact that the race is over sooner because we were both pushing one another so fast. Then a curse, because ultimately the race wasn’t about “what I was willing to give” for the win, it was “what it was going to take to win” and for a while I wasn’t prepared to give that.

Jade: The competition. I’m a competitive person, but I’m also uncomfortable feeling anxious for such a long period of time, and this race was certainly long. Knowing that the second-place woman could overtake me at any minute was difficult for me to deal with, and I focused as much as I could on going for time, going for the course record, as opposed to feeling frightened about what may or may not happen. Nick once told me that the winner looks ahead, always chasing down the competition; the loser looks behind, afraid of who is catching him. I took it to heart and didn’t look back once during the race.


Where are you the most sore now post-race?

Nick: Quads. I can feel a massive growing soreness in them.

Jade: My quads!

What would you work on future races?

Nick: My uphill game didn’t feel as strong as it used to. I’ve learned nowadays to run with my posterior muscles instead of solely my quads (as I did in the past). Consequently, there is a lot of room for improvement in sharpening up my “springs” and improving my elastic recoil while ascending.

Jade: For the first time I feel like I’m beginning to do something right. Not coming from a high school/college running background, I’ve often lacked confidence in terms of my ability. My downhill was the strongest it’s ever been at Twin Peaks, but I want to continue to strengthen my speed and agility on the descents, in addition to finally solving lingering rib pain/diaphragm spasms.

What were you most proud of that you did (or didn’t do) during this event?

Nick: Keeping calm when Mario passed me multiple times throughout the race and having the internal confidence that I had what it was going to take to win, and truly believing that my race strategy was better than his. Very close competition like that usually shakes me up (see HURT 100/ UTMF/ Baja 50km etc..etc..) I was really proud that I kept my cool and raced my own race for the duration of the event.

Jade: I’m well aware that downhill running is the weakest component for me, but I felt strong and capable during this race. Maybe this is my turning point?


Strangest thought?

Nick: Ooo look a golden eagle! I wonder if Jade will see that.

Jade: I bet Nick already saw that golden eagle and is hoping I’m seeing it now.

Two seconds before the gun goes off you think…

Nick: Damn. It’s really dark. Hmmm

Jade: I better leech onto a runner with a headlamp, because it’s really dark right now.

Two seconds before finishing you think…

Nick: Hey, Jade’s family! Oww… Yay, first person to go sub-9!

Jade: I can stop racing! My family is here! I can’t believe I did that!


One-word summary for the race?

Nick: Mountainous.

Jade: Long.

One piece of advice for other runners?

Nick: Train your downhills before this event. There is no flat out there, folks!

Jade: Work on your uphill climbing legs, but don’t forget to build the necessary strength for the downhills.

For full race results, click here

Thank you to RD Jessica and all of the volunteers for putting on a spectacular and challenging race!


Cascade Crest 100

As we rounded the corner following the dirt road up to No Name Ridge, the smell of breakfast awakened me from my stupor. “We have to be close to the aid,” I said, imagining thick, sweet pancakes filled with blueberries and chocolate. Breakfast almost sounded too good to be true and I hoped that the aid station was close. Behind us the sunrise had grown from a yellow hue that lightened the night sky and stole the stars to the fiery orange that preceded dawn and turned the clouds lilac. We had spent the last few hours hiking up the ridgeline and after running more than 80 miles of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State, we were now eager to reach the No Name Ridge Aid Station. 

“I can see the aid!” I said, noticing the large green tent, the white van, the camping chairs and patient volunteers through the trees. “Ah, yup. Me, too,” Nick replied, equally glad to have arrived. He had gone through lows with me during the early morning hours and had patiently watched as I wolfed down the entire sweet basil and honey pie we had bought before the start of the race. I was sure he was hungry, too. 

We hiked faster, Nick suggesting that we run into the aid station. I blearily got my feet moving into something of a shuffle and we turned towards the aid station. The tent, the cars, the volunteers–all were gone. Tall conifers stood in their place and behind, the sharp descent down to Little Kachess Lake.

“You saw that, didn’t you?” I asked and Nick nodded. We had both hallucinated the entire aid station.

There was little left to do but continue.



Before I had even finished my first 100-miler race, Cascade Crest was on the table. After reading a Facebook post suggesting that runners wishing to experience a beautiful course in the Northwest put their names into the lottery, I added my name–because why not? Two days before Zion 100, I learned that I was one of the lucky ones! Cascade Crest loomed far ahead and I bided my time, taking a few weeks off running completely post-Zion, then incorporating a slow build-up of easy runs to increase my aerobic endurance. When June arrived, I jumped into the Holcomb Valley 33-Mile race, and then continued to train through my MFA residency in Vermont, taking advantage of Montpelier’s hills. 10 days later we were off to Amsterdam where Nick and I ran through the city of canals, weed & poffertjes, incorporating fartlek and tempo runs to make use of the flat terrain. Once back home, I took advantage of the hills east of San Diego to peak, then jumped in the car for our road trip up to Washington.

Exploring Redding, our first stop of the trip.

Exploring Redding, our first stop of the trip.

"Mutt Shasta"

“Mutt Shasta”


Crater Lake, featuring Wizard Island

We gave ourselves six days to reach Easton, Washington, the start of the race, but even then it wasn’t enough. Our first night in Redding, CA proved a disappointment, so we hurried to Crater Lake where we saw the bluest of blues and then to Bend, Oregon where we rented tubes and floated down the Deschutes River. On the Oregon Coast we ran by Haystack Rock and camped amongst a plethora of domesticated rabbits let loose. In Portland we saw my high school friend Shoko and bought Voodoo Donuts and in Tacoma we worked at coffee shops and picked up supplies. In all of these places we snuck our dog, Cashew, into motels via a giant shopping bag that we zipped up only long enough to hurry him from car to room. We were never caught! When Nick dropped Cashew off at the Pooch Place in North Bend, I was already ten miles into my race and thinking about everything but the race in its whole. Mostly, I thought about the next aid station, the next stop, as though we were traveling from one destination to another, all just one long road trip.

Start to Tacoma Pass (o-25.4):


And we’re off!

At 9 a.m. 160 runners took off from the fire station at Easton and shuffled down the fire road that would eventually wind up towards Goat Peak. I had been warned by veterans to take it easy on this climb and that if I wouldn’t be running the last third I surely shouldn’t be running this, so I listened. I found myself between two women ahead of me–one of whom turned out to be the founder & designer of the running clothes I was wearing–and a 6-time CC100 veteran behind. We talked and I felt impatient at times to move faster, but stayed where I was. In hindsight I should have moved quicker here and taken advantage of my strength, but I didn’t know what was ahead. The trail here moved between clear-cut sections and then single track that drew up through second growth forest, sword ferns brushing my shins. Breathing in the damp, fresh smell of the forest–all death and decay–I felt alive, as though I was six again, running in my backyard in White Rock, B.C., or fifteen, taking my animals for walks through the forest, or 19, and getting my first taste of trail running with Fairhaven Runners in Bellingham, WA.

The deeper I breathed, the more I felt that I belonged here and I started to move away from the runners I had conversed with and caught up to others, all of us passing and being passed. On the next climb I found myself chatting with Bellinghamster Daniel Probst, but once we reached the aid station at Blowout Mountain Aid Station at mile 15, I found myself alone again. I continued on, feeling great and eating well, conscious to keep myself fueled for the miles ahead. Eventually we plopped out at mile 25, the first crew access aid station which meant the first time I had seen Nick. We changed a sock that had developed a hole in the big toe and I carried on.


“See you at 36, love!” He called out and I was off.

Tacoma Pass to Hyak (25.4-54.3):

Shortly after leaving the aid station, Yitka stopped and turned in her tracks. “Want to run with me?” She asked. I immediately said yes, eager to catch up with Yitka who I hadn’t seen since finishing my internship at Trail Runner Magazine two years before. We chatted and the miles clicked by, especially since we were now running on the Pacific Crest Trail. The RD had described it as “buttery smooth” but the trail still wound up and down. On a climb I found myself pulling away from some of the runners around us, which would only serve to freak me out a few miles later. As the trail transitioned from ridgeline to thick forest, I continued moving at a decent clip, excited to be nearing the next aid station and the second time I would see Nick, specifically because this time he promised to bring me the bag of food(!). Now, however, I heard a loud crack of branches and turned to my left. Fifty feet away and ten feet high in a tree was a large black mass. A black bear! It looked as spooked as I was, so while I prayed it wouldn’t charge at me, the bear jumped down and scampered (though, in its size, lumbered is more accurate) off into the woods. I continued on, moving just a little faster thanks to adrenaline.

At the aid station, Nick pulled me to the side where he had laid out every option from our glorious bag of food: figs, bone broth, Jun kombucha, avocado, a Bobo’s bar and more Muir Energy gels. I gulped down the kombucha and grabbed a few of the items before saying goodbye to Nick again.

The food!

The food!

My feet were feeling great and my muscles fresh, so I continued on, conscientiously hiking the steeper sections and rolling down the descents and flats. While we had been warned that there was minimal marking along the PCT (since there’s really only one way to go and that’s forward), at times I wondered if had done something wrong since I could see no markers nor any runners. When I ran into Tony, it was a welcome relief to have someone to talk with and we spoke about races we’ve done and my engagement and that this section of Mirror Lake was a tease. As we ran by the campers enjoying sunset on the still lake, I felt vaguely jealous that I wasn’t anywhere close to sleeping let alone enjoying a relaxing evening by a lake. I pulled out my music for the first time here, and prayed that the light would last long enough to get me through to Hyak.

When the trail didn’t end a half hour later, nor did the aid station at Olallie Meadows appear, I knew that I would be facing at least a few miles in the dark alone. The trail continued to get technical but I finally popped out of the forest to see the Olallie ahead. The volunteers kindly asked if I wanted any of the hot food they had prepared, but I declined, hoping to move along and get to Hyak where Nick would be pacing me to the finish. The two miles to the Ropes section were steep, and I stumbled along, suddenly feeling my feet, sore and uncomfortable. It was dark now, and with the bear fresh in my mind, I hurried, hoping not to run in to another, especially alone. When I reached the Ropes, I moved faster despite the incredibly steep terrain. Volunteers had looped ropes between trees so that there was some sort of support going down, and I may have related this a little too much to an obstacle race as I raced down, enjoying the feeling of finally most fast! The trail suddenly ended and I popped out on the John Wayne Trail where I made a sharp right and kept moving. Ahead was the Snoqualmie Tunnel, 2.3 miles of total darkness, except for the light of the two runners ahead of me. I checked the time on my watch as I entered, figuring that I would be able to estimate how far I had left based on the minutes I spent hustling through. My headlamp shone on a rat, then a mouse that jumped along beside me before running directly up a wall and into a hole. Water dripped from the ceiling, creating damp potholes that I avoided, and the reminder that the Hyak aid station volunteers often put out skeletons to spook runners kept my eyes focused on the tall grey walls of the tunnel. Nearing the 20 minute mark, I heard the voices of the Hyak station and saw the festive lights of the Christmas decorated station. And there, ready to pace, was Nick.

Hyak to Mineral Creek (54.3-75):

I had hustled through the tunnel, running 7:30 minute-miles, so by the the time I reached Nick, I suddenly felt tired, my ankles terribly sore. He sat me down and took out the pizza he had bought from a wood fired pizza place in Roslyn, and told me to eat up.

Lucky me, Nick brought pizza!

Lucky me, Nick brought pizza!

I took a few bites, the salty taste of the artichoke pesto comforting and warm, and we swapped out my Altra Superiors for Lone Peak 3.0s for the duration for the run. I slathered arnica on my ankles which were beginning to swell and I prayed that this race wouldn’t be slowed down by ankle pain, much like Zion 100. When I stood back up to leave the aid station, my feet severely hurt. We ran out of the aid station but as soon as the lights behind us dimmed, I felt an overwhelming sense of disappointment. This wasn’t what it was supposed to be like–for the past 50 miles I had imagined coming in to the aid station in daylight, seeing Nick, being thrilled to finally spend the last 46 miles of the course with him, but here I was, angry and unmotivated, for the first time that day experiencing a real low.

Time for headlamps

Time for headlamps

Poor Nick. Though I tried my best to hold it together, the next 20 miles were rough for the both of us. Me, because every step had me cringing as pain radiated through and around my ankles and Nick, mostly because of me. We hiked our way up to the aid station and Keechelus Ridge and hobbled ourselves down to Lake Kachess at mile 69. At times Nick would cajole me into running a minute, then walking a minute and while this sometimes helped get me going, the descent only worsened the pain and brought it into my knees. I was miserable, and praying for day to come. Sunrise was still more than seven hours away.

A portion of the Trail from Hell. Here you see me descending into either mud, a giant hole, a decaying log or the root-strewn "trail"

A portion of the Trail from Hell. Here you see me descending into either mud, a giant hole, a decaying log or the root-strewn “trail”

As we turned off of the dirt road past Lake Kachess, I realized that the best was yet to come (and I say that with sarcasm.) The Trail from Hell, appropriately named, is the slowest section of the race, with rad ultraunner Gary Robbins finishing the six mile section in a section record of 1 hour 19 minutes. Nick, myself and a friendly San Fransisco area runner we bumped into would take more than two hours through here. I worked my way down steep descents, over unruly roots and across logs that had fallen directly across the trail. At times I felt myself waver, teetering  close to the cliff that dropped off several dozen feet to the river below (or so it looked in the dim light.) Towards the end, Jack ran ahead and we heard him yell “bees!” Nick yelled at me to run (coincidentally, we’re both allergic to bee and wasp stings), and I knew that getting stung here would be a potential race ruiner. We jumped across a creek and the bees seemed to lose interest. Eventually we noticed the sudden cluster of orange markings, which could mean only one thing: we were close!

At the Mineral Creek aid station, we grabbed my drop bag where I had placed a pie and some sort of special dark chocolate I had picked up–my reward food, if you will. I sat down by a heater lamp and reveled in the deliciousness of the sweet pie. Minutes later, I was thoroughly warmed and had eaten the entire personal pie. Nick gave me ten more seconds to warm myself before he kicked me out of the aid station and into the cool hours of the early morning. It would still be several more miles until morning and the fatigue had begun.

Mineral Creek to the Finish (75-100):

Having reached mile 75, I figured that barring any extreme injury, I would be finishing the race. That said, it was early morning and I suddenly felt incredibly tired. “Quick–what’s something we can fight about to stay awake?” I laughed, but Nick answered his own question by deciding to talk about who we could and couldn’t invite to our wedding sometime next year. It worked for a while, arguing again about Nick’s idea of having a bridal party run up the side of a mountain in order to get to the wedding, and we continued to hike the the gradual climb, taking two minute-long dirt naps–the only naps Nick would allow.

Taking a dirt nap

Taking a dirt nap

Each time I awoke, however, I felt vaguely refreshed and hiked on, eager to reach No Name Ridge. As the sky lightened and the clouds turned all purple and pink and the horizon glowed the deepest orange I’ve seen, we reached the top.

Sunrise creeping in

Sunrise creeping up

The aid station had been decked out in an obvious German theme, but my eyes glazed over all of that and went straight to the huckleberry pancakes cooking on the griddle. I ate three, and took three to go, thanked the wonderful volunteers and then we were off to chase the sun to Mt. Thorpe and the Cardiac Needles, all of which were as promised: steep. The first miles moved up and down and I swore we had already summited Thorpe somewhere in those first climbs, but when we actually reached Thorpe, I realized just how wrong I had been. I wasn’t feeling great at this point, so I put my head down and focused on what I could do well–climb–and eventually reached the top. Not surprisingly, it was very, very worth it.

Descending Thorpe Mountain

Descending Thorpe Mountain

The views were extraordinary, and Mt. Rainier was shining to the southwest, but I knew there were still miles to cover so down we went again.


Going up one of the Cardiac Needles

The Cardiac Needles weren’t so bad–they were steep, and the downhill hurt, but it wasn’t until we were coming off of the backside of the third climb that some despair set in as I saw French Cabin, the 89.2 mile aid station, hundreds of feet below. More downhill…there was little to do but take it one painful step at a time.

At French Cabin, I was handed a plateful of scrambled eggs which I took a few bites of and then passed to Nick. We needed to get going and while we would no longer make my original time goal of sub-24 hours (more on that later), I wanted to finish strong. The remaining 11 miles were more than I had bargained for, and as we wound down through gorgeous forest, tiny creeks trickling through and dark-eyed juncos flashing from tree to tree, I continued to feel worse. Each step made me cringe as pain radiated from my feet and ankles and up to my knees. At times I tried to run, but the downhill and technical trail made that almost impossible. Add to that, my good friend Rib Pain was coming out to say hello for the first time of the race, which meant that I slowed even further. All of these added together made me feel embarrassed in a sense, though that’s pretty silly to think now. Whether I was running off of fuel or anger, I’m not sure, but eventually the trail became very steep and I knew we were only a mile or two from the bottom. The final aid station was a blur as I whipped through, thankful to be on flat ground. Where any speed comes at mile 96 of a race, I don’t know, but we ran the last 4 miles–on trail and road and airstrip landings and finally back through the town of Easton–going sub-8 minute miles, the fastest I had run since the Snoqualmie Tunnel.

The finish line was in the distance, and though I had moved slowly down that last section, I had nearly caught up with Jack Hsueh, our San Fransisco runner, towards the end. He crossed under the Cascade Crest 100 Endurance Run ark ahead of me and suddenly it was my turn and I held hands with Nick and we crossed under and I finished!

At the finish

At the finish

Fun Facts

Bee Stings: 0

Bears: 1

Rodents: 4

Food: 4 Muir Energy gels, half a watermelon, two avocados, an orange, 4 slices of artisan artichoke-pesto pizza, 1 slice of margherita pizza, a mini homemade sweet basil and honey pie, scrambled eggs, black figs, butternut squash soup, Jun kombucha, blueberries, six huckleberry pancakes, three packages of caffeinated reishi mushroom tea and too many boiled potatoes with salt.

Finish Time: 27 hours, 30 minutes

Sub 24-hour goal: Not Achieved

Acceptance of not achieving goal: A-Okay


Going into this race, I had the ever elusive sub-24 hour goal in mind, but I did little research as to whether or not this was attainable for me.

Was it? Maybe. 

Would it have been better to set a more realistic goal, given my inexperience running 100-milers? Yes! 

Having the (self-imposed) time pressure of a clock ultimately broke me down towards the end of the race, and only Nick can tell you how humiliated I felt for failing myself. It’s only with hindsight that I can now enjoy the final sections of the course, as though reviewing the imagery in my mind. At the time, I was too wrapped up in my missed goal to see how lucky I was to be back in the Northwest, having Nick pace me and feed me and care for me for a whole 46 miles in one of the prettiest areas of the world.

Failing is a hard lesson, but a necessary one. Next time: more fun, less pressure!

Ultimately, I’ll keep chasing my goal, but I’ll be stopping along the way to enjoy the floats-down-the-rivers and camping-under-the-stars of the ultra running journey.

Thank you to RD Rich White and interim-RD Adam Hewey, along with the countless volunteers who spent their days filling smelly camelbaks and their nights freezing atop the Cascades and feeding cold runners pancakes and coffee. Thank you to Glenn Tachiyama for capturing my experience at CC100 with his beautiful photography skills and thank you also to the friends new and old who helped pass the miles. Most especially, thank you to Nick for caring for me more than I cared for myself at times.

Cascade Crest 100, you’re a stunner!

Belt buckle #2

Belt buckle #2












Amsterdam: Where to Run in the City of Canals, Weed & Poffertjes

Amsterdam probably doesn’t come to mind when you think about running; if you’re confined to a city, then surely one where bikes outnumber people nearly 2 to 1, coffeeshops (not what you think they are) are found on every corner, and tourists flock to some of the best museums doesn’t come to mind.

Nick and I recently spent two weeks in Amsterdam, enjoying everything from Indonesian food  to wandering the Red Light District, but we still made time to run. Luckily, if you’re willing to rent a bike or jog your way around a few bikes, then Amsterdam can be a great place to run. Here’s our list of the best places to get off of your bike and onto your own two feet:

1. Westerpark


Located directly west of the city center and adjacent to the bustling, boutique-filled Haarlemerstraat, Westerpark is home to a variety of festivals throughout the summer and one of the more convenient parks to access from the city center. More than 4 miles of trail, both paved and unpaved, skirt the grassy fields. Additionally, there are several exercise stations, ponds, and two (very small) hills. Westerpark is typically quiet in the mornings, but you will see the resident rabbits, a variety of birds including gray herons, jackdaws, and even bright green rose-ringed parakeets flocking from tree to tree. If you go on weekend afternoons, don’t expect there to be much grass left. On average, Dutch people work the least in the world and when they’re not working, they’re probably hanging out in the masses at the local parks–for good reason, too. They’re that nice!

Tempo workouts, fartleks and even hill repeats are a great choice for this park. Afterwards, head on over to Haarlemerstraat for coffee and a croissant at Two for Joy Coffee, or walk a few blocks further to Jay’s Juices for any one of his healthy and delicious concoctions.

2. Rembrandt Park


Photo by Flickr user Matthew Pennell

West of the city, Rembrandt Park is bigger (and quieter) than both Westerpark and the popular Vondelpark. If you’re looking for peace, a plethora of trails and picturesque trails, Rembrandt Park is the perfect fit. The easiest way to get there from city center is to travel through Vondelpark and continue west.

If you’re running from city center, a loop around Rembrandt Park might be all you need to chalk up 6-8 miles. There are several fun playgrounds here, so save time for exploring. The ponds throughout the park host a variety of waterbirds. Locals come here to relax with a  good book, practice yoga, or play with their dogs. Nick proposed to me here in this park, so I can guarantee it’s a stunning location, especially when the sun is shining.

3. Amsterdamse Bos


When Nick and I arrived in Amsterdam, we immediately pulled out a map to look for green space. While the parks provided small sections, Amsterdamse Bos, southwest of city center, had A LOT. So, we headed there. It’s best to ride your bikes to the bos–literally translated as forest–as it covers more than 1,000 hectares; in other words, it’s three times the size of Central Park in New York City! While there are several marked trails and loops to follow, exploring the park without a guide may yield the best rewards. A goat farm lies in the middle of the forest, but expect to find several bridges, a dog park, creative art sculptures, a Fun Forest that includes zip lining, balance challenges and a ropes course, as well as several restaurants and sports centers along the perimeter. During the summer months, several big festivals are held here, too.

This park is best suited for long runs in order to capitalize on the gorgeous terrain, but fartleks and tempos work great here, too. The one thing that doesn’t work so well? Hill repeats…this area is flat!

4. Ultra Path Netherlands


This 154 km (96 mile) trail was created by Han Savelkoel; his idea was to walk the route on the longest day of the year, when sunlight hours were at their peak. Ultra runner Michiel Panhuysen ran the route unsupported in a time of 26 hours, 23 minutes. Most recently, three runners bested Michiel’s time by just over 3 hours to finish in 23 hours, 19 minutes. While I don’t recommend that you run the whole thing during your vacation, (or, really, any time you don’t have more than a day to devote entirely to running), parts of the route are extremely beautiful. I ran the first third, which runs through a mix of forest, expansive fields and country roads. The route is entirely UNMARKED, so be sure to download the GPS route in order to navigate.

GPS Route:

This route is best suited for a long endurance run. Ensure you bring plenty of water and food, as there’s little available along the way.

5. Amsterdam Center


Perhaps this is the most obvious choice: why not run in Amsterdam when you’re visiting the city of fantastic museums, saucy red light districts, fresh herring, fluffy poffertjes, and stunning canals? Some streets are better suited to running than others, and a careful eye for oncoming bikes and motorcycles that will ring, honk or yell is necessary. Start by choosing a destination, then follow any street that leads you there. A willingness to take it easy and enjoy the sights, not to mention stay in potentially sweating clothes, is handy, too. After checking out the Van Gogh or Heineken Museums, grab a bite to eat before jogging back.

Amsterdam is best suited for walking or biking, of course, but a casual jog can be a smart way to cover as much ground as possible–after all, we’re here for to see the city. Oh–and eat poffertjes.

Photo by Flickr user Cheryl Foong

Photo by Flickr user Cheryl Foong

Have you been to Amsterdam? Which parks or locations would you recommend?



Holcomb Valley Trail Run: My 33-Mile Race Report

In preparation for Cascade Crest 100 at the end of August, I’ve started incorporating higher volumes in my weekly training. While I was looking forward to a long solo run this weekend in San Diego, the appeal of running with others in Big Bear was too strong. So, like any sane person, I signed up for the race five days before and with a whole lot of mileage on my legs.

After several weekends of travel, Nick and I opted to sleep at home the night before the race and set our alarms early to knock out the drive. By 3:45 a.m. we were stumbling around our apartment, pouring hot tea and scooping our still-sleeping dog, Cashew, out of the bed and into the Subaru. Nick drove, as usual. I’m lucky in that we’re both good drivers, and luckier still that Nick offered to drive so I could doze off as we wound our way up to Big Bear.

By 7 a.m. we had arrived; I went to pick up my bib as Nick chatted to some friends. As I pinned my bib to the front of my shirt, I thought about my personal goals for the race, then of Nick’s recent experience at Cruel Jewel (read here) on the idea of expectation.


Relaxing in my INKnBURN droid hoodie.

By 7:30 a.m., the day had already begun to warm and the RD was yelling at us to go! and we were running alone the paved road leading out from Meadows Edge Picnic Ground and towards Cougar Crest trail. From the start I found myself near the front. I chatted briefly with Kodiak Race Director Matt Smith, then heard my name as our friend, Tom Worthington, caught up to me. As the trail began to asscend, however, he bounded ahead. I felt comfortable going up the first climb, especially because this was one of the few trails that Nick and I had actually hiked in Big Bear. Immediately the views were beautiful, too, though I had little time look up because of the awkward steps and jagged stones along the trail. By the time I reached the first aid station just before mile 4, I felt surprisingly strong and fresh; whatever pains and nags I had complained about on the drive out had disappeared and I was looking forward to a day of running.


Leaving the aid station at mile 4.

As I left the aid station, I saw Nick run up with Cashew. “I didn’t think you’d be this fast!” Nick yelled as he snapped some pictures. “I’ll see you in a while! Love you!” I didn’t have time to stop, nor did I need to. The next five or six miles turned us down an undulating fire road, the gravel so white that I had to squint to see properly. Over the next few miles I ran alongside a few runners who I’d pass and get passed by, depending on if we were running flat, downhill or uphill.  There were a few moments where I briefly started calculating just how far I’d have to go–the distance never gets any easier to wrap my mind around–but I’d attempt to replace those thoughts with something else: time to eat, Jade or I want to see a snake or I hope Nick’s seeing cool birds right now. As the route brought us in and out of single track and firewood, I started to feel really good, and a pace that once wasn’t entirely comfortable began to feel sustainable, easy even. At the mile-11 aid station, I finally grabbed a slice of pineapple and some watermelon as the route brought us back onto single track, this time going mostly uphill. Through this up-down section I struggled with my old friend, rib pain (see my Old West 50K race report where it also happened, here), and stopped a few times to focus on stretching and massaging my stomach to calm the spasming muscle.

A glimpse of some of the stunning single track

A glimpse of some of the stunning single track.

By the time mile 15 came around, I was excited to see Nick! I stopped long enough to down some more watermelon slices and a few berries that Nick had brought for me, then continued onwards. The day was heating up by this point, and while the single track was pretty–dotted with Jeffrey pines and low-lying lupine and the occasional Indian paintbrush that I continually mistook for the bright orange ribbons that marked the course–I suddenly felt myself falling into a low. There were some runners several minutes ahead of me, and I knew there were a few people behind me, but I had come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t know where the other female runners were during the race. As such, I had to keep moving if I didn’t want a surprise attack. I slipped on my headphones, hoping to revive myself with music, but it only made me feel hotter. I felt dizzy, too, and stopped a few times to refocus my energy, taking care to breath deeply and trying to infuse myself with positive thoughts. I continued to run/walk myself to the top of the crest, then, excited to hit a long downhill, hurried down to the aid station at mile 21. In the last section I had seen only one other runner, a man who was running the race entirely in sandals. Whereas he was faster than me on the climbs, he struggled on the descents covered with loose scree. I filed this in the back of my mind if it came close at the end of the race, passed him, then hurried down to see Nick again.

More beautiful scenery–there's never an "ugly" part of this race, especially for someone who has always lived at sea level! Big Bear is lovely.

More beautiful scenery–there’s never an “ugly” part of this race, especially for someone who has always lived at sea level!

Coming towards the Gold Mountain area at mile 21 and stoked to see Nick.

Coming towards the Gold Mountain area at mile 21 and stoked to see Nick.

I took some time here to refuel myself with even more watermelon, potatoes with salt and the rest of a kombucha Nick had brought. As I was getting ready to leave the aid station, another runner inquired about the next section of the course.

“It’s 4 miles, all uphill!” He laughed. I didn’t think the joke was so funny, so rather than dwell on the fact that my legs weren’t in the mood, thanked the volunteers, and just started.

Surprisingly, as the miles clicked by and I climbed back up and over the mountain, I began to feel strong again. I zeroed in on the runners ahead of me, and I made it my mission to not stop running until I reached them. Generally, by the time I reached them I felt stronger for having accomplished my goal and continued to settle into a pace that felt sustainable. As the route flattened out and took us back onto a monotonous fire road, I saw Matt Smith up ahead, so I ran with him a bit to talk, before taking off and hurrying to the aid station.  I saw Nick one last time before the finish at the mile 27 aid station; he slathered sunscreen onto my pink shoulders and sent me out quickly.

Running in to the last crew-accessible aid station, at mile 27. Cashew wanted to join along for a bit.

Running in to the last crew-accessible aid station, at mile 27. Cashew wanted to join along for a bit!

The next mile was all uphill, though rolling, so I hustled up the hill at whatever speed my legs would take me. With so few miles left in the race, I suddenly started to feel confident to think that I could win the race, that I could be first female.

At mile 28 of the race, I was tired and overheated, a sunburn penetrating my shoulders and a rash developing under my arms (you’ll know what I mean if you shave, then use natural deodorants made of clay and baking soda) and yet I felt as though I had proved a point to myself. That, in some way, I was no longer the girl who came dead last at her track & field events in middle school, nor begged for excuse notes to avoid field hockey, nor was the clumsiest ballet dancer in her class despite having the genetically “ideal” ballet body type. If I wanted to be, I could be athletic.

I thought back to high school, where my private school, Relevant High (so small that I graduated with a class of 10 other students) had no extracurricular activities, let alone sports teams, which was all right with me. Though I did very well in school, had skipped grade 10, and geeked out on books and animals, every report card I had ever received had pinned me as a very average student in P.E. “Needs to participate more,” was a frequent comment. I thought about college, where even though I joined Fairhaven Runners bi-weekly running club, scaling the foothills behind Lake Padden in Bellingham, Washington, or running the stretch to Teddy Bear Cove at dusk and returning in the dark, headlights blazing like coyote eyes along the Interurban Trail, I didn’t call myself a runner. And then I thought about how I nixed the possibility of joining the cross country team at Western Washington University, as though anyone else actually cared how fast or how slow I was running. As though if I wasn’t fast I couldn’t be an athlete, let alone athletic.

By the time I met Nick, I didn’t call myself a runner. I lifted weights, and took ballroom dance lessons, and biked everywhere, but I didn’t really run. Yet less than four years later, I was running a 33-mile race, the lead female and feeling strong within myself, outside of anyone or anything.

As I continued to climb, no one surrounding me but the odd PCT hiker waving hello, nothing to hear but the chatter of woodpeckers and flycatchers in the hollowed, hole-punched snags, nothing to entertain myself but the single track littered with jagged rocks and nothing to smell but the vanilla scent of sun-warmed Jeffrey pines, I realized that the only limiting factor in how I defined myself was, of course, myself.

So, I did what I most wanted to do in that moment and I ran hard. While I knew I wouldn’t be grabbing the female course record (in the 5:20s), a goal that had been on my radar from the start, I figured it was a good motivator to get as close to it as I could. I’ve never been a strong downhill runner, but as I crested the top of Cougar Crest and began my descent, I pushed.  At 31 miles in, I had no room left for prudence. I was already tired, nearly out of water and certainly ready to finish the race. So, in the words of Nick, I bombed the downhill, ran through the parking lot and finished in 5 hours, 38 minutes–first female and 11th overall!


“Stop running, Jade! You’re done!”


My first time on an actual podium!

I congratulated our friend, Tom, who finished in 6th (go, Tom!), ate some more watermelon ( know…),then washed myself off in Big Bear Lake.


Washing off salt and sweat.

Thank you to all the volunteers who helped to make this a fun, safe race and to the community of Big Bear for sharing the trails! As always, thank you to the most supportive person of all, Nick–for the long drives where I get to pass out in the passenger seat, for the thoughtful drinks and snacks supplied at the aid stations and for being my biggest cheerleader no matter the outcome.

For more information, check out the Holcomb Valley Trail Run website here.


Hike to Panamint City

Location: Surprise Canyon in Panamint Valley

Length: Roughly 10 miles out-and-back; factor in another 2-4 if exploring the town

Duration: 7-12 hours depending on pace and how long you wish to explore the town

Intensity: Strenuous with 4,000 feet of elevation gain and loss

Death Valley is an inhospitable place, and its neighboring valley, Panamint, is no more appealing. With temperatures that can hover upwards of 100° F from May to October and a dry wind that can parch your skin into something reptilian, images of Panamint Valley don’t typically conjure lush oases. And, for the most part, they’re not. Surprise Canyon, sitting below the 9,600 foot Sentinel Peak in the Panamint Range, is, however. There’s water and, beyond that, there’s life–hermit thrush flit from branch to branch, Pacific tree frogs cling to moss, and thick, black carpenter bees whizz through the sky–all of which comes as a surprise. Hence, the name Surprise Canyon. Follow the trail to the end of the canyon and you’ll find the remains of a once-thriving silver mining town, replete with 2,000 residents at the height of its times in 1874. This, of course, is exactly what we did and here’s how you can do it, too.

On Saturday morning, after a six hour drive through Memorial Day Weekend traffic the previous night, Nick and I arrived at Chris Wicht Camp, the trailhead to Panamint City. From the ghost town of Ballarat, it’s little more than a fifteen minute drive along the salt flats and up into the canyon. We started our trip at 6:30 a.m and traveled lightly, but sufficiently (for us): we each carried two L of water along with macadamia nuts, corn tortillas, guacamole, apples, almond butter and quinoa. A word of caution: carry more than you think you’ll need. Additionally, we brought our dog, Cashew, with us for 14-mile round-trip hike. Cashew weighs no more than 15 lbs, so carrying him when he started to tire wasn’t an issue.

The first few miles are swampy; at this point I was still avoiding the water, but there's no need! Just around the corner it's unavoidable.

The swampy trail; at this point I was still avoiding the water, but there’s no need! Just around the corner it’s unavoidable.

The first few miles of the hike are lush. The trail follows the spring, so you’re constantly in and out of the water. The first time I did this hike, I avoided the water as long as possible–don’t! There are sections further along the trail where you’re wading up the stream and no matter your agility, you WILL get wet. Besides, when the day heats up, the cool water will be a welcome reprieve.

There are dozens of Pacific Treefrogs clinging to the reeds along the trail

There are dozens of Pacific Treefrogs clinging to reeds along the trail

Less than a mile in, you’ll come to a series of waterfalls. You might be tempted to climb the adjacent cliffs along the sides, but I found that the fastest and relatively safest method was climbing up the waterfall itself.


At some points you will be forced to clamber up slick rock–take care here as there are blood marks from where others have slipped and cut themselves up.

Climb up, not around!

This particular stretch is very slippery–be careful!

The best waterfall comes last (and is also the densest source of tree frogs we found.)

Following the largest waterfall, the trail will lead you up and over a series of small hills; there are several routes to be taken here, but try to stick on the southern side of the trail. Ahead, you’ll come to another stretch of green, known as The Grapevine.

You’ll crisscross through The Grapevine, then eventually make your way out of and into another thicket of green brush. Although there’s a path that goes up and over a steep hill, I recommend staying within the thick of the foliage. Here’s why–a shaded tunnel awaits!


The tunnel lasts less than a quarter mile, but it’s well worth the walk to enjoy the water of Brewery Spring. From this point forward, things got hot. And, unfortunately, you’re only at mile three by this point, which means that there’s still another two miles of uphill climbing to do.

Spring-blooming lupine attract huge carpenter bees.

Spring-blooming lupine attract huge carpenter bees.

The remaining miles are exposed, with a slow grade that eventually adds up to a total of approximately 3,700 feet in elevation gain.

Looking back towards Panamint Valley.

Looking back towards Panamint Valley.

Nick and I continued up the canyon. The lupines surrounding us made the hike prettier than we had remembered, and gave us something to enjoy as we searched for the smelter smokestack. Once you can see it looming in the distance, you know you’re just shy of mile five, and almost at Panamint City. We were stoked to finally see it in the distance!

Finally, the smelter smokestack is in view!

Finally, the smelter smokestack is in view!

It took us just shy of three hours to reach the city and, having not had breakfast, we hurried over to the remaining foundation underneath the precarious smokestack to eat our meal.

If you look closely, you can see me on the far ledge with Cashew.

If you look closely, you can see Cashew and I on the far ledge.

We spent another few hours exploring the remains of Panamint City. The largest and most obvious structure is the Panamint Hilton, a miner’s cabin that now hosts backpackers who wish to stay the night. There are a few beds, a sink, a non-flushing toilet and some emergency supplies, but don’t expect to be blown away. There are rat and mice droppings on most surfaces and don’t expect the appliances, such as the stove or refrigerator, to work. Still, the logbooks dating back to the early 2000s are incredibly fascinating to check out.

Panamint Hilton, to the right of Nick

Panamint Hilton, to the right of Nick

The front porch of the Hilton

The front porch of the Hilton

The delightfully decorated inside...

The delightfully decorated inside…

Although we explored other buildings, we failed to check out the Overflow Cabin that sits on the northern side of the town; there’s not much to see, however–it’s simply another building that backpackers may wish to take shelter in overnight.

Nick and I were anxious to see the Native American petroglyphs that nearly escaped us on our visit three years ago. Misreading the directions on how to find them, we searched fruitlessly in the pines at the foot of the mountains, east of town. The petroglyphs are actually located on the northern edge of town. If you stare at the hillside, you’ll notice two large boulders. The boulder farthest to the west is the one with the petroglyphs. And yes, they’re worth a gander!

We spotted bighorn sheep, coyotes and horses; what do you see?

We spotted bighorn sheep, coyotes and horses. What do you see?

Our last stop in Panamint City was the Castle Cabin; technically this gem isn’t in Surprise Canyon but in the adjacent Sourdough Canyon. As you leave Panamint, aim north at the first canyon you hit. A half-mile walk up another hill takes you to Castle Cabin.

The quaint Castle Cabin

The quaint Castle Cabin

In contrast to Hilton and Overflow, Castle was extraordinarily clean, especially given that these cabins are maintained only by backpackers who pass through the area. There’s a bathtub that’s hooked to a water heater, too. Though we didn’t take the time to turn on the water hose, it is possible to take a bath outside! Additionally, the inside has two beds, a full and a twin, and the sink is completely operable. Cashew immediately found himself at home on the bed and slept while we signed our names in the guestbook.

How to "book" Castle Cabin: flip the sign from Unoccupied to Occupied!

How to “book” Castle Cabin: flip the sign from Unoccupied to Occupied.


We relaxed in the cabin, enjoyed the last of our food and then headed back down the trail. It should come as no surprise that the way back is far easier than the hike in, given that you’re now descending nearly 4,000 feet in elevation.


Cashew began to slow as the strength of the sun intensified and the ground heated, so Nick carried Cashew in my backpack until we reached Brewery Spring. We slapped horseflies away and sucked in the last few sips of our water and dreamed about a glass of cold water to pass the time. Soon we were back at Limekiln Spring, then the waterfall, and, just as we had imagined, were reveling in an icy cold shower courtesy of Death Valley’s hidden surprises.

Directions: From San Diego, head north on the I-15 N to 1-215 N for 55 miles. Merge onto I-15 N for 15 miles, then take exit 141 for US-395 toward Adelanto. Continue on US-395 for 68 miles, then take right for Trona Road. Turn right for CA-178 E/Trona Road, then right onto Trona Wildrose Rd. After 19 miles, turn right on Ballarat Rd. Once arrived in Ballarat, look for the Ballarat Trading Post (one of the few remaining buildings.) There will be a sign that directs you to Surprise Canyon. Follow this unpaved road for 1.7 miles, then turn right. Follow this road to Chris Wicht Camp, where you will park your vehicle and begin the hike. *Note: It is somewhat customary to stop by the Trading Post to inform the Caregiver of your plans. Some guests choose to leave a thank you gift of $5 in the form of a parking “fee”, a case of beer or a sincere thank you.*



Zion 100: My First Hundred or Close Enough

I never thought I’d be here. In fact, I promised my mom when I started dating Nick that I would never do these types of races. By “these types” of races, that meant anything over a half-marathon.

I’m a trustworthy person, but I broke that promise. I ran a bunch of 50Ks, R2R2R, a gnarly 50-mile race in Santa Barbara and then this: Zion 100.

I think the idea situated itself in my head after crewing Nick at San Diego 100, the first 100-mile race I had ever experienced. It was 2 a.m., I was tired of crewing since 6 a.m. the morning before, and I fell asleep on the floor of the Old Al Bahr shrine, sharing a pillow with an older man who I hoped wouldn’t wake up and tell me to move. Nick came in shortly after. I congratulated him, then fell back asleep on the floor, completely exhausted. Never mind the fact that the Nick was the one who had just run 100 miles. Still, as tired as he was, he drove us home. (I’ve gotten slightly better at crewing since then…)

Since that first race, it was always in the back of my mind that I would one day run 100 miles. At least, I would try it out and see if I liked it. I didn’t know when that would be, nor did I want to start plotting my future with all of the boxes I had to check in order to reach the 100-mile race. It just happened that Zion 100 was there, I had never been to Zion National Park, and I figured it was about time I started going for it.


So here I was, at 4 a.m, the day before the race. Nick and I  had packed up the night before to make the wake up as easy as possible. We dumped our bags–full of running shoes, running clothes, hydration packs, food, pillows, Arnica gels and Magnesium lotions and vitamins–into the car and headed into the dark night. After roughly 7 hours of driving, we made it to Utah! The packet pick-up and check-in was located in Hurricane, also the start of the race site. We quickly took the shuttle to the registration, grabbed my bib and snapped some photos. Of course, Nick stopped for a Navajo taco served at one of the race booths while I picked out a dried juniper berry necklace for my mom.

By this time it was already 3 p.m. and wanting a good rest before the race to come, we checked in to Canyon Ranch Motel. I had chosen a cheaper motel to save some money after the cost of a race entry, the drive, meals, etc. but I had no idea how close the motel was to the entrance of Zion National Park! Nick and I took a dip in both the freezing cold pool and the hot tub, alternating between the two until it was time to eat, pack, and head to bed.

Pre-race necessities: freezing cold pools and bubbling hot tubs!

Pre-race necessities: freezing cold pools and bubbling hot tubs!

Race Day 

We barely made it to the start on time. Wanting all the sleep we could get, we set our alarms for 4:45 a.m. and struggled out the door at 5:30. I had thought that I would get poor sleep the night before my first big race, but I felt fairly refreshed, almost confident.

“Nervous?” Nick asked.

I shook my head. “Not really. I figure I’ll have 99 miles to get nervous about things.”

Even the fact that we were still standing in the shuttle line, five minutes before start time at 6 a.m. didn’t bother me. Volunteers must have soon realized that there was no way all of the people standing at the parking site would make it to the start line on the one shuttle bus because soon we were ushered into private vehicles and rushed to the start. I had time to remove my sweater and say goodbye to Nick before people started running–the race had begun!

Nick and I at the start of Zion 100.

Nick and I at the start of Zion 100.

Miles 0-15

I spent the first few miles dodging and being dodged by runners eager to avoid the congo line up our first climb, Flying Monkey Mesa. It was still very dark and my headlamp illuminated the dust that was being kicked up by 200 runners. Within a mile or two the field started to spread out, and I took a conservative approach as I tackled the hills. Along the way I ran into Balmore Flores who warned me to take it easy for the first fifty miles. “Everyone else will blow up now, and you can pass them so easy in the second half of the race.” I took his advice to heart and relaxed as we peaked at the top of Flying Monkey (for the weird story on how this mesa got it’s name, check out this blog post).

Sunrise finally came just after 7 a.m. and began to light up the mesas on the far horizon. I concentrated on fueling myself, remembering the mantra “fuel early and often.” Down went a slow-burning Muir Energy gel. At the aid station at the top of hill, promising Nick I would eat at every station I came across, I grabbed a few pickles despite it being 7 in the morning. (Side note: my nickname as a child was Pickle. Guess why?)

Heading into Dalton Wash Aid Station at mile 15.

Heading into Dalton Wash Aid Station at mile 15.

Miles 15-30

After a few miles of winding fire road and a traverse back down the steep trail we had come up, I reached the first crew-accessible aid station at Dalton Wash. Nick grabbed my pack, refilled it with water, and threw in a few extra gels.

He wasted no time in getting me back out on course, to where we were directed up and over a glute-burning hill and along 4-miles of dirt road. Here, I fell into line with several 100-mile and 100K female runners, one of whom was Andi Ramer. She knew me through Nick, and we chatted for a while about her past times at Zion and how lovely the weather was right now. And it was–I wore shorts and a light, long-sleeve shirt but had begun to feel hot as the weather warmed to a perfect 70 degrees. In the distance dark clouds gathered, but they looked far away. I focused instead on powering up the grade and to the top of  the mesa. Here, the trail zig-zagged past juniper bushes and over white slick rock. I struggled at times to stay on the right trail, following the path of white dots.

By the time I made it back to the aid station at mile 25, I was hard-pressed to believe I had only gone 25 miles. Rather than start calculating numbers, I focused on getting to see Nick in just five miles.

Approaching the aid station–just a few more miles!

Approaching the aid station–just a few more miles!

I came into the aid station suddenly scared of the distance, but with others there, I couldn’t yet let my guard down. I still had 70 miles to go–completely unimaginable at this point in the game. So, instead I thanked Nick for the picnic he had set out–kombucha and berries and more pickles and chocolate covered goji berries. I grabbed some salted potatoes, he stuffed more food into my pack, and I kissed him goodbye.


“Eat, Jade, eat!”


Nick’s picnic spread!

Miles 30-52.5

After leaving Dalton Wash, the route crossed the highway and led up towards Gooseberry Mesa. I felt fine for the first few miles, but as the dark clouds that had appeared distant seemed to gather above, my spirits dwindled. The few runners head of me had slowed to a walk and I couldn’t figure out why until I got to that point: the rain had come and, being exposed on the plain, we were being hit with wind and rain–Hard, pelting rain and I didn’t have a jacket!

The reprieve came not in the form of something less wet, but in the form of a steep, steep climb that slowed even the legendary Pam Reed to a power hike ahead of me. At least I was keeping warm as I worked my way up the hill.

At the top of climb was Goosebump Aid Station. I hadn’t planned on switching to comfort foods so early on, but the quesadillas looked delicious and hot and I was cold and uncomfortable so I grabbed a couple. The rain started to pour just then–and I still had nothing but the shirt I was wearing.

“Hey! I think I know you,” said a 100K runner with a bright smile. “You’re Jade, right?”

We knew of each other through a mutual friend and somehow she happened to have an extra jacket in her drop bag! I thanked her before wishing her good luck in her race. She took off ahead of me, smiling despite the pouring rain.

Gooseberry Mesa followed a similar path to that of Guacamole–that is, the trail followed closely to one side of the mesa–so much so that the a bad fall could send you toppling hundreds of feet off of the cliff–and lead to Gooseberry Point where we punched holes in our bibs to verify we had done the out-and-back loop. On the 8-mile trail back, I ended up running in sync with a Dallas runner named Ryan. We talked about everything from how we “met” ultra running to how we met our significant others to what he plans on naming his new baby boy or girl (although I’m completely sworn to secrecy!). Despite our conversation, it still felt like it took forever for the Goosebumps Aid Station to come into sight.

We hung around only long enough to grab some more quesadillas before we headed off the other side of the mesa and down the six-mile fire road to Grafton Mesa Aid Station.

“Congratulations!” Ryan said excitedly. I was struggling at this point, in a complete low spot and anxious to see Nick. Luckily the rain had died off a little, but I wasn’t holding my breath.

“Why?” I asked.

“You’ve now run the farthest you’ve ever run!”

And it was true. It was mile 51 and every step past this was, in a way, something to celebrate!

Within seconds, however, the rain started dumping. The clay soil suddenly turned to mud, making it so that with every step I carried 5 pounds of mud on each foot. Ryan and I slid our way into the aid station and to where Nick was waiting, dry clothes in hand.

Miles 52.5-68.5

We had planned for Nick to either join me here or at the following 63.5 aid station, but it was getting dark and I was hoping to have someone run with me in the dark. I gave him a hug and kiss when I saw him, but I won’t lie–I was grumpy and cold. I grumbled about needing to change my clothes, so Nick led me out of the aid station to a tree where I changed my shorts for capris and my soaked shirt to another shirt, a sweater and a rain jacket. We also ditched my Brooks PureGrits for Altras I had begun wearing about two weeks earlier. Bad choice.

Heading down to Grafton Wash (note: bad mood here)

Heading down to Grafton Wash.

After refueling, Nick followed me down the trail to Grafton Wash (mile 57.5). I had been in a terrible mood this entire section and Nick had finally convinced me to listen to my iPod in the hopes of getting me out of the low I was experiencing. Luckily, we finally topped back off at the Grafton Mesa Aid Station. The sun had set and this was the last chance to grab any of my belongings, so I downed a Yerba Mate we had picked up and hoped the caffeine would kick in. I suppose it did since I felt awake and excited for the next section of the course.

Although the night was cold, the stars were brilliant as Nick and I left the aid station. Here, we followed the six miles back up to the Goosebump Aid Station. I sang out loud, urging Nick to join me, and though I felt a bit sore and knew I still had miles and miles to go, this was by far my favorite part of the race: the freckled croaks of frogs and the beaming stars and Nick beside me, sharing in something–a 100 mile race!–that means so much to him.

Miles 68.5-76.5

We agreed to whiz through the next aid station and take advantage of my high, so we stopped at Goosebump only long enough to check my bib. The descent down the steep climb was slow, however, and several runners passed me as my left ankle suddenly started to hurt. The rain started to pick up once more as we reached the bottom and turned left towards the Virgin Desert.

Descending down the steep trail. (So steep that ropes were set out for runners!)

Descending down the steep trail. (So steep that ropes were set out for runners!)

“Ow!” I yelped as pain shot up from my ankle and towards my knee.

Besides scoliosis, the one and only actual injury/issue I’ve had to content with was a broke collar bone at the age of eight. I don’t remember what that felt like (who falls off of a chair while carving a pumpkin and breaks their collar bone anyway, right?) but this pain was an 8 or 9 on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being excruciating.

The miles went on and on as I shuffled to the aid station. These were the darkest hours of the night, both literarlly and figuratively. Nick found a yucca stick on the side of the trail and used it to take some of the weight off of my ankle. Still, I sank down to the ground several times as runners passed us, asking if everything was okay.

“Great!” I replied. It couldn’t have been farther from the truth. I felt absolutely miserable.

We reached the Virgin Desert Aid Station in the early morning hours and I crashed. My ankle felt swollen and bruised and broken and I begged a volunteer for some kind of tape. As Nick grabbed more quesadillas from the other tent, I found a warm chair and a heater and fell asleep for a few minutes.

Don't ask me who the guy is next to me!

Five minute unplanned sleep break…

Nick woke me up and the volunteer came in to wrap my ankle. It hurt, but I hoped that it would keep things together. Unfortunately, as soon as I stood up to test it out, pain shot up my leg once more. This wasn’t looking good.

“Well, I’ll try it out,” I said as Nick and I started to head out on the first of three loops that are to be completed on this section of the course. Red loop was first.

“This hurts so bad,” I cried as we started walking out of the aid station and back onto the course. “I can’t do this.” My feet slipped in the mud and with each step I winced in pain.

My heart sunk as I told Nick that this was it. I didn’t want to hurt my body for the sake of one race–I took care of myself too much everyday to damage my body for years to come.

“It’s not worth it,” I repeated. “I have to quit.” And by have to, I meant I had to quit for the sake of my body.  I turned to the volunteer.

“I can’t do this,” I said.

“You sure?” He said cautiously. He didn’t look upset or doubtful or angry. Just sad.

I nodded. “If it’s a stress fracture, I can’t hurt my body this bad.”

“I’ll need to take your bib then,” he said. I handed my bib to him. So long, #816.

He paused, as though asking me once more if this is what I wanted to do. “So, then…” He took his time with his words. “This is a DNF.”

I couldn’t take it. The words DNF were like a giant slap to the face, but one that stung more the pain that I felt. I started to cry and turned towards Nick.

I can’t do this, I thought once again. Except this time it was stronger even, more resolute. I can’t do this. I CAN’T DNF. I have to finish.

“I can’t DNF,” I said to Nick. I wiped my tears away. “I change my mind.”

Luckily, all of this had taken place within seconds and so nothing had been recorded or reported. The volunteer still held my bib in his hand; he had been watching me.

“Here you go then,” he said, handing back my bib. It was dark out, so it’s hard to tell, but I’m pretty sure he smiled. The race continued.

Miles 76.5-Finish

After grabbing my bib, Nick and I headed immediately back out onto the course, focused on completing the red loop, a 4.7-mile section of single track that wound up and down the desert floor. It was still raining, though faintly, and the night seemed to have gotten cooler still. The first section was incredibly muddy–I had my yucca poles, but I still slipped and with every step the pain from my ankle radiated throughout my entire leg so that I was constantly muttering under my breath. “F***, this hurts…”

“I feel so terrible right now,” I told Nick. I sat down on the trail, breathed a few times to collect myself, and stood back up.

The downhill sections were the worst. Because I couldn’t flex my ankle, I had to hang on to Nick’s arm in order to stumble down the hill without pain shooting up my leg. I waddled up the hills slow, but all right, and still there were several times along the three-mile singletrack where I had to sit down on the side of the trail, breathe deeply once more, and clench my teeth in order to get through the pain radiating from my ankle.

Finally, the aid station came into view. As we hobbled up to the volunteer, I wondered how in the world I would make it through two more loops–and several more hours–of  pain.

“How was that?” The volunteer asked.

“Terrible,” I said, unable to lie. It hurt just standing there in front of him.

“Well, good news then,” he said. “The RD has cut the course due to the bad conditions. I mean, we’ve had reports of people falling and hurting themselves badly because of the muddy trails”

“No more loops?” Nick asked.

“Nope, that’s it,” said the volunteer. “We’ve been telling people to stop wherever they are and head back to the finish. Environmental damage and all…”

I didn’t hear the rest of what the man said. I don’t think I would have stopped regardless of whether the course was shortened or not, but it was a huge relief. I immediately wrapped my arms around Nick and cried. I would finish.

The last eight  or so miles of the race were slow and I stopped once to remove the tape; the bottom of my shin looked swollen and bruised and it still hurt to put any weight on the foot. Still, we maintained good spirits as the rain started up once more and we made our way down the gravel road and across the highway, following muddy and muddier trails to the finish line.


I’m wearing Nick’s jacket, Nick’s running shorts over top of my capris, using yucca poles to hold myself up and have a stress fracture that has been taped…I’ve looked better.

Happy that I'm finishing!

Happy that I’m finishing! (And yes, Nick IS wearing a very stylish turquoise female jacket).

More mud...

More mud…

The finish wasn’t anything special; there were a few people hanging around, but other runners had headed home almost immediately. It had started to rain again and the grounds were even worse here with large puddles of water and slippery soil. Even the finisher’s banner had fallen down, so a few volunteers quickly scrambled to hold it back up as we crossed the finish line.


27:21:52 (although my official time is 27:19:57). You can see the deflated banner behind me!

Did I complete my goal?

Well, I didn’t hit my very personal goal of a  sub-24 hour finish. But I finished–despite the (possible) stress fracture and terrible conditions..

To be honest, it was wonderful to finish, to have the promise of a shower and good food and sleep ahead of me, but the highlight of my race was changing my mind–of not DNFing even though I was afraid of damaging my body for months to come..

Was this is a good idea?

I’m not sure. I focus so much on health and longevity and quality of life day-to-day– from religiously strength training to eating organically to not drinking, etc, that it felt good for once to take my chances. I don’t know if it was the smart choice, but I DO know that taking a DNF was not the right decision for me that day.

My first belt buckle!

My first belt buckle!

Congratulations to everyone who finished and everyone who didn’t; as my parents reminded me before I began, just signing up and showing up is a courageous act in itself!

Thank you to all of the volunteers for your help and support and delicious grilled cheese sandwiches and quesadillas at the aid stations! Thank you especially to RD, Matt Gunn, for creating a low-impact/zero waste event with spectacular views. I’m so proud to call Zion 100 my first hundred!

Thank you to Nick who helped me train, prepare and get through the most painful miles of my life. Most importantly, thank you for supporting me no matter what I chose to do.


A lucky post-race rainbow!

For more information, check out Ultra Adventures’ Zion 100 here!







Muir Energy Gels: Review


Nick and I have made a tradition of visiting our local San Diego Farmer’s Markets when we’re around on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Besides picking up fresh fruit and vegetables (and meat and eggs and herbs) for the week, we have our favorite booths for lunch (African cuisine for Nick and a veggie bowl with toasted pecans for me). A few weeks ago, we were strolling through the Hillcrest Farmer’s Market, our lunches in hand, when we noticed a booth selling energy gels.

The Situation:

As someone who prefers real, whole foods in all aspects of my life, I’ve struggled with powdered supplements and overly-sweet and hyper-caffeinated gels during runs and races. In the past I’ve done my training runs on toasted Ezekial cinnamon-raisin bread with coconut oil or banana-egg pancakes I’ve made the night before. These work fine for me, but are certainly not convenient nor preferable during races.

So, we headed over to the Muir Energy booth to see if there was another option.

Ian, the owner and founder of Muir Energy Gels, began explaining his five ingredient energy gels that he developed while hiking the John Muir Trail. As he explains on his website:

“Like many endurance athletes, I struggled to find the right nutrition to keep me going while pushing my body to its limits. Most food bars are dry, heavy and not very healthy. Most energy gels are sweet and synthetic tasting, and contain ominous sounding ingredients.

I wanted something simple. And quick. Something that tasted really good and was made with real organic ingredients–derived from nature, not in a lab. Something clean, reliable and good.”

Ian let us taste-test both of his fast-burning, higher-carb gels and his slow-burning, low-intensity fat-based gels. Surprisingly, neither are overly sweet and they taste more like homemade jam or a nut butter you might spread on toast.

The Lowdown:


The slow-burning gels contain roughly 150 calories per pouch and feature ingredients like Organic raw cacao powder, organic creamy unsalted almond butter, organic coconut palm nectar, organic blacktstrap molasses and organic pink himalayan salt.

Flavors include: Cacao Almond, Cacao Almond Mate, Cashew Vanilla, Cashew Lemon and Cacao Almond Peppermint


The fast-burning gels are less dense at 115 calories per pouch and contain slightly more sugar. These gels feature ingredients like Organic red raspberry powder, organic coconut palm nectar, organic blackstrap molasses, organic yerba mate powder and organic pink himalayan salt.

Flavors include: Red Raspberry, Red Raspberry Mate and Blackberry Thyme.

I bought a box on the spot to try out, knowing that I needed something for my upcoming Old West 50K (read my race report here!)

The Trial:

The night before my race, I stuffed a variety of Ian’s gels into my pack–I decided upon two slow-burning (Cacao Almond and Cacao Vanilla) and two fast-burning (Red Raspberry Mate and Blackberry Thyme).

I ate the Cacao Almond at roughly the one-hour mark, then the second slow-burning Cacao Vanilla at the two hour mark. The last two gels were eaten at hours three and four, although I started getting hungry by mile 28. I likely should have brought an extra one or two for more energy, though I felt strong and satiated until the finish.

The Verdict:

Delicious. I had zero issues digesting these gels and all four tasted great. If I had to choose, I would say that I prefer the slow-burning gels as they’re slightly less sweet. Since all of the gels rely on coconut palm nectar or blackstrap molasses–rather than fructose or sucralose–I had no problems with the sugar content. Additionally, many all-natural energy gels contain dates which I cannot digest during runs due to the high fiber content. I’m happy to have found locally made, organic and wholesome energy gels that fit all of these needs.

Most importantly, the gels kept me satisfied and focused on the race without having to worry about what I was eating nor how it would affect me minutes later.

Two big thumb’s up for Muir Energy!

To order Muir Energy gels for yourself, check out Ian’s website here. Better yet, visit the Hillcrest Farmer’s Market in San Diego on Sunday mornings. 

Old West 50K: On Cactus, Friends and Rib Pain

As I sit here post-race, my legs propped up on a stool and a cold kombucha doing little to aid in reducing lactic acid build-up in my body, I can’t help but be slightly terrified at the prospect of running Zion 100-mile in three weeks. It will my first hundred. Part of the reason for my terror is because of the way my body currently feels (i.e., fatigued, stiff) and part of it is because 31 miles is not even a third of the way to 100 miles. But, I have three weeks to think (or not think) on that.

Today’s race was a blast! I originally signed up after realizing that I needed one last long run in preparation for Zion. Running with others, whether in a race or not, sounded more fun by this point in my training cycle than running solo, so I opted to try Old West 50K.

Nick and I awoke at 3:55 a.m. to drive the two hours out to Anza Borrego from Coronado. The drive passed quickly. I dozed as Nick drove. After we checked in at Stagecoach Trails, we grabbed some hot tea from the breakfast provided and I sorted out my gear. I didn’t have much of a plan for the race, except to try to PR. My first 50K at Born to Run in Santa Barbara, CA is still my fastest at 4:39:xx. Knowing that Old West is a relatively flat course, I hoped that I might be able to break my personal record. We would see…


Sunrise over Anza Borrego.


Getting ready for the race.


And we’re off! I’m in red.

We started the race just as the sun rose. The first few miles wove up through the desert, narrowing from a sandy wash to single track fringed with cholla, agave and barrel cactus. I watched the first pack of all-male runners take the front and figured I would settle in at a quick but comfortable pace. I didn’t realize that there were roughly ten runners immediately behind me at first, but I lead the way up through the first (and only, really) substantial climb before we started descending. Once we began, however, the rib pain started…for the past two to three years, I’ve been dealing with sharp pain in my ribs/underneath my oblique muscles that occur only when I run at tempo speeds and/or downhill. I’ve been to chiropractors, massage therapists, Western family-doctors and Eastern health practitioners but have been unable to figure out what  causes the stabbing pain nor how to alleviate it (besides not running). I have a feeling the pain is related to my idiopathic scoliosis, but if anyone has any ideas or can relate, please let me know!

From mile 5-8, I shuffled to the first aid station and tried to breathe out the rib pain to no avail. Luckily, I knew that it generally sorts itself out while going uphill. For the next eight miles, I was able to pick up my speed and catch the group of runners who had passed me during my rib pain. I ran into the lead woman, Sydney, who I had met at the Whoo’s in El Moro 50K last spring. We chatted about past races and our colleges and enjoyed each other’s company before the woman in third suddenly passed us. Knowing that I likely wouldn’t catch her again unless I tried to keep up now, I parted from Sydney and followed the now leading woman, Kathy. Again, I was able to strike up conversation with Kathy and learned that she ran the race last year and had the course record! She seemed excited about the race and had said she’d had a great time last year, as well. We ran together until the next aid station, at mile 16, where I saw Nick. He had been taking lots of photos of the flowering cactus and runners on course and I was excited to see him. After a quick refill for my water bladder, I was off. I knew that there was a slight uphill part ahead and, since Kathy had divulged that she disliked uphills and downhills, I knew that this was my chance to gain a bit of a lead. Miles 16-23 went by slowly and more than once I stopped to see if I had missed something as I could see no one ahead or behind me. Finally we rounded the mountainside and I could spot the aid station of sparkling cars a few miles ahead.

Cholla, cholla and more cholla.

Cholla, cholla and more cholla.


Coming into the race, I broke rule #1 of racing: never wear something for the first time on race day. However, I had bought my first pair of Altra shoes the day before with my REI dividends and was excited to try them out. I loved the shoes but by the halfway mark my feet were sore and tired. Nick kindly grabbed my extra, old pair of New Balances from the car and I swapped them at the third aid station. In my rush, I failed to refill my water bladder again and so by mile 24, a mile out from the aid station, I ran out of water. For much of the race, I had been listening to music but it suddenly felt too hot for even ear plugs. I briefly considered power-hiking up the grade, but thought that I might be caught if I slowed down. Once I reached the water station at mile 26, a volunteer doused me in ice-cold water and I chugged five cups of water before heading out. I didn’t feel much better, but the faster I hurried, the sooner I would be finished.


Kathy and I running along the sandy wash leaving mile 16

Kathy and I running along the sandy wash leaving mile 16

At mile 28, I saw Nick waiting for me at the final aid station. “I’m going straight through!” I shouted, still convinced that Kathy or Sydney were right behind me. A runner in a red shirt had been ahead of me for much of the race, but I had gained on him in the last mile as I hurried downhill. With a mile-and-a-half to go, I picked up the speed and passed three more runners. As the finish line came into sight, I was still convinced that I would be passed so I sprinted hard, the sign reading 4:40:29 as I crossed the Jubilation Line!

Sprinting to the finish!

Sprinting to the finish!

Jubilation Line

Jubilation Line

Ultimately, I was roughly forty-seconds off of my PR but I took first place woman and course record! Better yet, it was so nice to see Sydney again and spend some time chatting with Kathy post-race, too. Friends on course beat anonymous competition any day.

Old West 50K (and 30K) is a spectacular race. RD Larry and Matt and all of the volunteers were friendly and supportive and I’m thankful for everyone that spent the hot day helping runners.

Post-race photo with RD Larry

Post-race photo with RD Larry

Thank you to everyone out on the course who gave me a smile, thumb’s up, or high five! I hope I was able to return your wonderful boost of morale with a big smile.

Most importantly, thank you to Nick for all of his support–I can’t imagine a better best friend, coach, birding-partner, cook and support crew.

I look forward to returning next year (thanks to my first-female entry to 2017’s race!) but for now, it’s time to rest, recover and focus on Zion…

*All photos by Nick Hollon 🙂