I'm a fighter, and I hate having to stop a race. Any time I DNF (did not finish) or as my coach says MTRC (made the right choice) there is a deep internal part of myself that gets pissed off, and a raging desire to go back and take care of unfinished business. I also have Hyperandregenic Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome otherwise know as POTS http://www.dysautonomiainternational.org/pdf/RoweOIsummary.pdf
Basically my autonomic nervous system doesn't properly regulate, and thus courses with a lot of climbing are more difficult for me than someone with a normally regulated autonomic nervous system. I've experienced 6 DNFs of this course, and this year I decided I wold do whatever was necessary to finish.
My friend, Tiffiny, who originally I met when she contacted me through this blog, also has POTS. She has attempted this course one time in 2015, and during her DNF attempt had an encounter with a cougar when she stepped on it's tail around mile 21 of the course. Tiffiny in is another tough fighter, and I was honored to team up with her to complete the course together this year. Due to her cougar experience last year, naturally she had a lot of apprehension about the course this year, and so we paired up as two tough gunslinging chicks, and she also brought along three tactical flashlights as back up cougar repellent.
Because we both have POTS, and have difficulty with climbing, heat and sun, we got permission from the race director to start early to give us the best chance of beating our symptoms and doing as much of the course as we could at night. After all, we can not compare ourselves to anyone else running the course because we are who we are and we have what we have. So we started out around 8:30pm on Friday night of August 5th.
I've made several changes over the past few years to work with my body to be able to complete ultramarathons while managing POTS. In the 2013 race, I had made several improvements, but around mile 11 on this course I had a panic attack because the two previous years I had some pretty serious symptoms between mile 16-23, which I would consider the toughest stretch of the course. That year my anxiety was what made me quit, not my physical symptoms, and I realized I needed more help to refine my training. That's when I started working with my coach Lisa Smith-Batchen, whom I have been working with ever since http://www.dreamchaserevents.com/About-Us/Lisa-Smith-Batchen/
In 2014 and 2015 my performances were better, but I was still not able to complete this course.
This year I have made several changes to my diet and training that have made a huge difference. Since March of 2016 I have been living a fat-adapted lifestyle, meaning I eat no sugar and no grains, and 70% of my diet consist of healthy fats, while eating about 20% protein and 10% carbohydrates. I became interested in fat-adapting when I saw athletes who were having amazing performances and recoveries by training their bodies to utilize fat as a main energy source for fuel in performance instead of relying on carbohydrates, while also training their bodies to perform at improved speeds while staying in a low aerobic heart rate threshold the majority of the time.
Fat-adapting has been incredible for me, becuse I no longer have energy stabilization problems during events, I don't dehydrate as rapidly before, I've been able to lose 40 out of 50 lbs so far that I put on after my POTS diagnosis in spite of different dietary adjustments, and high miles. Overall the Fat-adapted lifestyle has reduced the impact of POTS and improved my health.
You can see in the picture above that dietary changes, not exercise have decreased the amount of body fat I have while increasing my muscle mass. I am totally converted to this lifestyle because I feel better physically and mentally, and with the weight loss, it's increased my endurance and performance. For more information I suggest downloading Vinnie Tortorich's audiobook, Fitness Confidential, and listening to his podcast. I have both the printed book and the audiobook, however in Vinnie style, he does not stick to the script and there is more information, plus some inspiring stories of his battle with Leukemia and finish of The Furnace 500 after leukemia that you won't get in his printed book.
Back to the story: as Tiffiny and I set out we were feeling pretty good as we watched the sunset and made our way uphill, on the Squaw Peak road up through Rock Canyon. We chatted about anything and everything as we got to know each other more personally, and compared our experiences of being runner's with POTS. We lamented at the invalidation we receive from outsiders who think we must not really have POTS if we can run ultra's. The truth is we are ultra because that is what keeps us healthy, we battle or symptoms constantly and ultra running is what helps our autonomic dysfunction be a bit more functional.
I feel extremely greatful that when Dr. Joy diagnosed me with POTS, she never told me to expect to be disabled or to stop running, in her wisdom she told me running was the best medicine I could take to stay healthy. Tiffiny's experience was different. Her doctor told her to be prepared to get on disability and to stop running. Tiffiny reused to accept that bad advice and kept running and fought, and she holds a job as a busy surgical nurse. She proved her doctors wrong, and not science is starting to catch up and support our method of overcoming POTs, by literally training ourselves to outrun it!
As we approached mile 16 of the course Tiffany started to become apprehensive. Mile 16-23 is a tough climb off over 3000ft, from Rock Canyon to Lightening Ridge, on a single track. In the past this climb has caused me problems, and this year I was surprised at how steady I was able to kept moving without my heart rate racing out of control. Tiffany met the cougar on the decent of this trail. The climb is about 3.5 miles, followed by 3.5 miles of equally difficult decent.
It was about mile 21 last year that Tiffiny was running down the trail and stepped on the Cougars tail that was hidden in the vegetation. She was understandable anxious to complete this part of the course in the dark. She carried two technical flashlights, which were amazing, as they lit the path to daylight standards. About .75 of a mile to the highpoint Tiffiny froze as she spotted what she thought was a big cat, and so I fired my glock into the air, to see that it was only a deer, phew! We made our way down and got to Big Springs aid station just before 6am in the morning. From big springs we left to climb the second toughest part of the course to Windy pass, about 6 miles gaining close to 4000 ft. We were relieved to get most of this climb done before the heat hit, as this climb can be a completely different hell when the sun is straight upon us, especially for Potsies.
I started struggling a bit, but as we reached Windy Pass aid station, and I saw my homies from AIIA (Addict II Athlete) my morale was boosted, and after a minute of resting we started the decent into Little Valley.
It was hot and dry down into Little Valley, and while my energy came back, Tiffiny started to struggle on the way down, we stuck together as we boosted each other through each other's lows of the race. We got into Little Valley, and completed the out-and-back, and started on the long jeep road that winds and winds for 11-12 miles, and see relentless and unending. We were lucky enough to have cloud cover coming into Little Valley, but were not so lucky climbing out. The heat and sun started to wear down on us. I was nauseated, Tiffinies knee was hurting, and we slowly made our way through. About 2 miles before the end of this road Tiffany spotted cougar tracks on the road, and started noticing gentle but consistent rustling in the bushes that seemed to follow us. Me, thinking she was just anxious becuse of her experience last year, kept minimizing it as likely rabbits or wild turkey. As we made our way to aid station 8, Tiffany kept facing the bushes clinking her poles, and blasting music, convinced something. Was following us.
We arrived, finally, at the end of the unforgiving Jeep road to find more AIIA people cheering us on, as we prepared to decend until a four mile canyon, with narrow single track trail, to get to the paved road in the Right Fork of Hobble Creek Canyon.
Upon leaving the aid station we broke off to the single track, and as the sun was decreasing in the sky, Tiffiny became more and more apprehensive, and finally 2 miles down the single track firmly demanded that I stop, turn around, and look in the bushes. There I saw the head of a big animal crouched, and realized, it was indeed a big cat, and Tiffiny has not been imagining. The cat had been hunting us for the last 4 miles. It is very unusual for cougar to hunt humans, in fact there have been no reported deaths in Utah due to a cougar attack. It is especially rare for a cat to stalk two humans together. However, when cougar hunt, they sometimes will track their prey closely for over an hour to corner their prey into a position that it can jump at it, and swipe to cut its jugular vein.
This is likely what this car was doing, following us, and hunting us into this narrow canyon waiting for the perfect position to jump. I once again, pulled out my glock, and shot into a bank Ned too it's head, in which the cat froze out of fear, and we slowly backed away from it. It did not continue to follow us after that point. We came into Right Fork rattled by the experience and ready to be done with the course.
Having survived to mile 56, we started the decent to the finish line, on the lady 6 miles on the paved road, and were jumpy about any noise we heard. Just before 10:30pm we arrived at the finish, greatful to be done, and showing the world that two determined women with POTS could finish this difficult course.
I'm honored to have run this course with Tiffiny and thank the race director, John Bozung for working with us and allowing us to complete this course. I also thank my coach Lisa Smith-Batchen, and am greatful for Vinnie Tortorich's book, as well as Mark Sissions who's information has helped me make huge progress this year!