Healing from my POTS crash in 2010 has been a journey in regards to my ultrarunning journey.
In 2007 when I ran my first 50 mile race I was still in recovery from an eating disorder but had started to find my true voice and was doing pretty well. Life and running got better and better both physically and mentally, and I had started to find self-love and appreciation for my body through distance running.
By 2010 I was in a healthy spot physically and mentally, and in the middle of my grad school program at the University of Utah. It was than that my body crashed, and so did my running performance due to this new disease I didn't know I had called POTS. The next year I struggled and finished a couple of races. By 2013 I was healthier physically and mentally the soul searching to come to peace with POTS I was in a good place, but finding my anxiety around DNFs overtaking every race.
Still very slow in 2013, and having gained about 50 lbs due to POTS and hormone changes with my hysterectomy in 2012 I connected with my coach, Lisa Smith-Batchen, and have been working with this wonderful runner and human being ever since then. After a 3 year streak of chronic DNFs, I finally started finishing 50ks and 50milers again, albeit chasing cut offs and sometimes timing out of some races, but no luck at 100s, that was 2014.
However, at the end of 2014 I entered Lisa's race in the Yellowstone-Teton mountain range and although I had many issues with POTS and new symptoms I didn't know about that I had to learn to manage, I finished that race 20 hours after the cutoff when I drug myself into the finish line 52 hours after I started. The problems I encountered included breathing problems and fluid in my lungs from mile 72 onward, and respiratory acidosis that caused me to have to stop for 7 hours at mile 96 of the course to take in bicarbonate until my body was stable again.
By 2015 I had learned how to avoid those issues, but still couldn't drop the weight and was slow. However I finished Desert Rates 150 mile stage race in the heat of the Desert, chasing cuttoffs but finishing officially, a big breakthrough for someone with POTS. But still did not finish a 100 miler officially that year.
Early in 2016 I learned about fat-adapting and after reading Primal Endurance by Mark Sissons and Fitness Confidential by Vinnie Tortorich I wasn't sold, and in early March completely changed the way I ate. I started training in a low intensity HR zone 80% of my runs, and eating 70% fat diet, low carbs, cutting out all grains and processed sugars completely.
The first 4 weeks sucked, but after that things changed in big ways! My weight started dropping, after 5 years of not being able to drop any weight, my energy improved, my inflammation went down, and my POTS symptoms started to decrease in severity. I stuck with it, and slowly found my time starting to improve.
I finished Squaw Peak 50 for the 5th time, I finished Kat'Cina Mosa 100k, after 7 previous DNFs. However for both of those races, I was able to start early. So the moment of truth came with this race, Pony Express 100. No early start option, 30 hour cutoff no matter what. If I wanted a buckle and an official 100 mile finish, I had to do it.
March of this year 12 days into fat adapting I DNF'd Buffalo 100 due to my body being in Keto flu and not ready to handle the run and the changes I was making. So Pony was my last shot at a 100 for 2016. A course I had DNF'd at mile 56 or so in 2014.
When I started fat adapting I had reached a weight of 201 lbs and generally have stayed in a stable range of 193-201 lbs for the past 4-5 years. But my Pony express I had reached a weight of 158 lbs, in a healthy way I had dropped the extra weight and I don't diet, I have lifestyle changes that support my chronic health challenges and needs. So at 43 lbs lighter, fat-adapted, and my body working bettter i was in better odds to start this time.
5 am: the first wave of runners are off, I walk for half a mile, because I had promised Lisa I would not run the first half too fast, but after .5 I started jogging, and took advantage of them down hill. A moderate 4.8 miles for the first hour. Then I picked it up a bit. 5.5 miles per hour the next hour. By the three hour mark I was 15.5 miles into the race, and by 4 hours at mile 20. After that it started getting hot, and soon the uphill climb started. Still maintaining around 4 miles per hour, I hit the climb to Black Rock Pass, and after a big stop to deal with some GI issues, felt better and continued speeding up to 4.5 mph. At 11:45 hours I hit Blackrock aid station, about mile 48.9. In 2014 when I attempted I had started at 4am and hit Blackrock at dark. This time I started at 5am and hit Blakrock before 5pm. 2014 was nearly 15 hours to hit mile 50, this year I hit mile 50 in almost an even 12 hours. At mile 50 I was having a few stomach issues, - problem with my POTS, and took a prescribed Zofran that helps ensure my POTS symptoms do not prevent me from being able to keep myself feed.
I found that I was able to take in hammer gels, and within 20 minute felt better, and after. 20 minute rest a slow walk, took off running at 5.5 miles per hour, making up time. Taking in a gel every 30 minutes I got to Fish springs at mile 58, by 7:30 PM. I had a longer stop there because I had to find all my warn clothing, reflective gear,and use the toilet.
Around 8pm I was moving again, back toward Blackrock. It was about 2 miles, around mile 60 that the 7-8 gels I had taken in after taking a Zofran, which slows the bowels down, hit and the pain in my gut was horrible. I managed to keep up a fast run: with some little walks. However with the temperature down, I started discharging all of the water I had retained in the heat and seemed like I was having to stop every 5 minutes when my bladder would refill again. So that slowed me down a bit on my way back, but I finally got to Blackrock x 2 around 10:15pm. I was their I saw Terri Sawyer who had just finished the 50 miler, and heard that Blu and Melcom had finished just a little bit before I got back and had headed home, and that Josh was close as would finish his first 50. I'm not going to lie, I was a bit jealous at that point that they were done, and I still had over 50k to go.
I sat long enough to force a brat and some real food into me, but not long enough to get comfortable. When I started moving again the arches of my feet were cramping and having weird nerve pains shooting through them. I stopped about 2 miles up the road to change my socks, and aplied litcocain patches to the arches, wrapped my feet in rocktape around the arches, applied Trail Toes and put on a new pair of toe socks. I had been faithfully changing socks and applying trail Toes every 20 miles up to this point, but this was my last pair of socks, so this last change would have to last. This method proved to work, as I ended up with only one tiniest blister on one pointer toe.
During the morning and afternoon Janella Willis, my friend and co-worker had been crewing me in my Mini Cooper, and Jeff and Helen, my husband and daughter had been crewing me in his aged Subaru Outback. Janella had to leave around 4pm for a while but returned around 11:00pm, after I had my feet fixed up. At that point I had just under 30 miles left, so they decided to tag team. janella would crew me for 10 miles while Jeff slept, and Jeff would take over in 10 miles.
Those next 10 miles became a struggle due to my stomach becoming a wreak, cold setting in, and the feeling of respiratory acidosis starting. I feel like because I need to control my asthma especially on a dusty course, having to use albuteral every 4-6 hours puts me at risks for respiratory acidosis on 100 milers. But this time I knew the symptoms and new that bicarbonate would correct it, and so I started using Endurylit3 fizz tabs regularly, and soon started to feel more normal again. Unfortunately I didn't realize eating them straight instead of letting them dissolve in water would cause sores in my mouth. So I soon found that out, and started diluting it as it was intended, but not before making it difficult for myself to eat anything without pain for the rest of the course.
The last 30 miles is a lot of uphill with one 5-6 mile downhill section in there. I found that my power-walking muscles felt fresh and started power-walking at 17-15 minute miles on the uphills and flats, and jogging the downhills. As it got colder, the sweat made it difficult for me to stay warm at all, and I started losing more and more time by having to sit in the car to avoid hypothermia every couple of miles. I soon discovered an emergency poncho over my layers trapped in the body heat enough that I could go longer. I started asking Janella to go further and further ahead each time to force me to avoid the temptation of the same car for longer periods of time and I started moving Faster again. By mile 80 when Jeff took over again, the fatigue started killing me again, and the effects of Zofran not being able to void myself of spent gels from Horus earlier causes a lot of distress for hours. While my legs were find, the last 25 kills my stomach was in misery, and as the morning moved closer to dawn the temperature decreased more.
Jeff had been stopping every 1.5 miles at that point, but around mile 89, he was asleep, and he 1.5 miles was slowing me down by virtue of wanting to climb in a warm car too often, so I walked on by, and kept moving until he woke Up and found me at mile 93 after the sun had risen. I finally could take off the poncho and heavy outer layer, and then around mile 93 the 6.5 mile uphill started. The deception is you can see the whole 7 miles ahead of you and it appears to be only 1.5 miles to the end, so you move and you move and it becomes a discouraging climb pretty fast.
I persevered and around mile 94 my Garmin died, and I just had to be and move and hope that the hill wouldn't eventually end. Finally around mile 80, Jeff Jumped out of the car, the rolling uphills increased and I was 60 minutes minutes ahead of he cutoff. A few minutes later Davee Crockett, race director drove up to inform me I was 1.7 miles to finish. I finally made it to the top of the hill and sort of joggedish for the last downhill to finish in 29:26, at 10:26 am. Under 30 hours my first official 100 mile finish within the set cutoff time wit no early start!
While the first 50 miles were relatively a breeze finishing in a respectful 12hour, the next 25 were not bad either , the last 25 were a challenge because of the cold and my stomach issues. The last 50 miles took me 17:26, with the slow down mostly occurring in the last 25. However despite the stops, 'y legs move at 3.5-4 mph the whole last section. Of course I want to go faster,and of course I want a 24 hour finish. But for this time I was elated to have finished in under 30 hours and well under the 30 hour cuttoff with more than 30 minutes of leeway.
As I ran into be greeted by Jeff, Helen, Janella, race director, and two volunteers, I was both in awe and relieved. My first attempt at a 100 mile race was in 2009. Back then, I had POTS but didn't know it, and dehydration and electrolyte depletion had cost me what had started as a strong effort at the Bear 100. It may have taken me 8 more years to overcome the challenges of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome to a point where now I am competitive again, and getting faster, but it was worth the battle. I have hopes and dreams to make my next goal a sub 24 finish, and to finish a Mountain 100.
Thank you to my crew, coach, and those who always support my dreams. I've been through a lot of discouraging times, but it's been worth the pain and battle to get to where I am now, and see the improvement in my overall health and wellness.