He who knoweth her a fortune hath found:
A treasure trove of Love and Happiness.
A precious gift 'tis to have her around
In our lives I must truly confess.
Her tinkling laugh, her lovely doe-like eyes,
Her capacious heart, her heavenly voice,
She is larger than life: don't go by size!
Love her we must. We have no other choice.
Cry with you she will, feel your pain she will;
Reach out she will in your darkest hour.
A Guiding Light on the climb up Life's hill,
Of mental strength she is a tall tower.
So heady, vivacious, loving and kind,
Another like her you will never find.
Date : August 22-23, 2009
Race : Lean Horse 100M
Location: Hot Springs, SD
Time : 29:13
And then I choked up again and again and again ... At mile 30. At 60. At 80. Along Argyle Road. I cried after the Finish. For months I had been looking forward to this race and I knew that I would get very emotional during and after the adventure. How prescient I was!
This was Anu's race. What a fabulous race she ran. Truly one for the ages.
It all began late last year (2008) when she asked me if she would be able to run 100 miles. I assured her she could run one with appropriate training and that gave her enough confidence to sign up for Lean Horse at my insistence. I had run the race in 2007 and 2008 and knew the course well. To say that I was excited is an understatement.
Given that the only cell phone provider that works in Hot Springs, SD, is Verizon I bought a couple of Verizon track phones for our race. AT&T phones work in Rapid City. Raj and I also both bought a couple of digital camcorders for the race.
Thursday, Aug 20
As I do every year, we decided to fly out Thursday morning. Our tickets had been booked way back in February and a friend of ours, Bharti, had also signed up for the trip to help crew and pace Anu.
We left Anu's home around 5:00 a.m. in their van to catch 7:18 a.m. flight to Denver from SFO. That flight took off on time and we landed in Denver airport hungry and promptly started looking for vegetarian restaurants, We settled on a Mexican restaurant that had pretty decent food. I hydrated with a beer. :)
(On our way to Rapid City, South Dakota)
We trudged across the terminal to the gate for the flight to Rapid City operated by United Express. It was a small commuter plane and the flight was short and uneventful.
We soon got our rental car, an SUV, and headed into town to Walmart to pick up much needed supplies for the race.
Raj and I picked up a Thermocol cooler, ice, water, cookies, chocolate milk, water and other small supplies for the race. There was no way of knowing if some of these would be available in Hot Springs. We also found the address of an Indian restaurant close to the Walmart. We ate a light lunch, at 5 p.m., and had them pack rice for us to be used in the race as lunch & dinner for Anu. In the cooler went the 7 bottles of Persian yogurt drink that I had brought in my checked bags from San Jose and string cheese.
We drove the 60 odd miles to Hot Springs and decided to head straight for Argyle Road to help Anu get an idea of the rolling hills between miles 5 and 16.5 (miles 83.5 and 95 on the way back). That recon drive really helped her on race day as she had a mental picture of what was coming up and how steep/gentle the climbs were.
We checked in to the Holiday Inn Express and I started the process of making the drop bags. That took a good 30-45 minutes and they were soon ready. We retired to bed early that night. Bharti and I were in a small room with 2 bunk beds. Raj and Anu were on the big Queen bed while Nishad slept on the floor on a couple of blankets.
Friday, Aug 21
We woke up around 7:30 a.m. and I was soon down in the restaurant eating breakfast. The others soon came down too and we had a great time talking to other runners. We met Phil Rosenstein who had run across the US to raise money for his charity. Very inspiring stuff.
Off we went to the Mueller Center to deposit our drop bags and make it in time for the 3 p.m. briefing. That briefing was short and we were soon in the Pizza Hut across the road for an early dinner. Anu cannot eat pizzas so she ate in the hotel room - we had brought some microwavable Indian food from the Bay area.
Raj and I then went to a local grocery store to buy Velcro, duct tape and some cloth that we were planning to use to cover the holes I had made in Anu's shoes in the front to give her toes more wiggle room. We eventually engineered makeshift covers for the shoes that were held onto the sides using Velcro (they were eventually discarded 20-25 miles into the race).
Sleep that night was wonderful.
Saturday, Aug 22
Race day dawned bright and warm. Anu and I quickly showered. I went down to eat breakfast while Anu was getting ready and reconnected with Phil. I also met Scott Giddings for the first time in person. Scott and I had run Lean Horse in 2008. He was back this year to try and go under 24 hours (he eventually came very close!).
We soon got into the SUV. Phil rode with us to the Start. Into the Mueller Center we went and checked in as instructed to do so the day before. Anu sat down on a chair and put on her socks, shoes etc. while I met and talked with Bonnelle Murphy and Joe Judd. I took a few videos of all of this.
With 7-8 minutes to go we were instructed to go outside. Jerry Dunn, the RD, gave us last minute instructions and we were soon off. I recorded the first 10-15 seconds after the start on the video and then put it away for later use.
(A few minutes before the 6:00 a.m. Start)
Anu was wearing a yellow fluorescent top with a blue skirt. She had a Cool Off bandana around her neck along with a visor and sunglasses. I had a waistpack that had the portable digital video camera, a digital camera and gels. My backpack had an extra 2 bottles of water to go with the 2 bottles I was carrying in my hands. One bottle had Cytomax while the other had water. A Cool Off bandana around my neck matched the orange visor.
I had Anu walk the first 5 minutes. We spent those minutes talking to a few runners, Jim Phelan one of them, who were doing the 50M race.
(The ever friendly and loving Anu with 50-mile runner Jim Phelan)
5 minutes into the race we started running. We were soon joined by Francine Weigeldt, another first time 100 miler. She stayed with us until mile 26-27 after which she took off on her own. We saw her once more, around mile 50. She was on her way back from the turnaround and she looked strong.
We soon left the asphalt roads behind us and began the trek to the first AS, Coldwater Creek, at mile 4. Anu was settling down into a good rhythm and I made her rush through the AS while I refilled the bottles. I caught up with her a quarter mile out. The left turn onto Argyle Road was soon upon us as was the large yellow 5 mile marker on the left side of the road.
This was a sustained climb of 1.5-2.0 miles and Anu maintained an impressive pace up. The road turns into rollers after the top of the long climb and before we knew it, we were at the second AS, Morph Road, at mile 10.5. Deb, Laurie Woodrow's friend, was volunteering here and she took a picture of me. I took one of the AS.
In and out like a flash from the AS. We had done the first 10 miles in 2 hours and 30 minutes i.e. 15 minutes a mile pace. Excellent pace given the terrain.
(Anu motoring at a very good clip, around mile 13 or so, just
after leaving the Black Hills National Forest)
Anu kept up this relentless pace all the way to the first AS where we could hook up with our crew - Argyle Road at mile 16.5.
(Coming into the Argyle Road Aid Station (mile 16.5) at
10:00 a.m. on Sat, Aug 22. Nishad on the right)
We reached there exactly at 10:00 a.m. i.e. 240 minutes for 16.5 miles or 14.5 min/mile. She had picked up pace between 10 and 16.5. To say that I was impressed is an understatement.
The cloth covering her right shoe had kept coming off so Raj used duct tape to glue it to the sides. Anu changed out of the yellow top into another yellow one that was thinner and better for running in the heat. Anu drank half a bottle of the yogurt drink. We both put ice in our bandanas and headed out quickly. Onwards to the next AS, Like Kiln, at mile 20. From now on we would meet our crew, Raj, Bharti and Anu, at every AS.
It was in the Argyle Road AS, as I was rummaging through our drop bag, that I met Lynnor Matheny. I had read her posts on the Ultra mailing list and had been looking forward to meeting her. She is a very sweet person as is the friend she was running with, Sherry Meador. Anu, Francine and I played tag with them for the next 6-7 miles or so. Lynnor was walking off food she had eaten in the AS with a very purposeful stride.
It must have been around mile 18 or so that Anu experienced a panic attack. She was quick to recognize signs of low blood sugar and asked me for a gel. I gave her an Accel gel and within 5 minutes she was feeling good again. The day was getting very hot by now. 10:45 a.m. with nary a cloud in the sky and the trail glinting brightly ahead of us for as long as the eye could see.
We trudged on to the Lime Kiln AS. Here we refilled the bandanas with ice, ate a bit and headed out.
(Adjusting Anu's ice bandana in the Lime
Kiln Aid Station (mile 20))
Anu asked Bharti and Raj to prepare her lunch, rice and yogurt, for her to eat in the next AS which was Pringle at 24.5.
The trail between Lime Kiln and Pringle, after an initial flat section of about 1.5 miles, was a gentle and then a slightly more pronounced downhill. It was fun to be running again. About 5 minutes from the AS I asked Raj to turn on the air conditioning in the SUV so that Anu could cool down while she ate her lunch. We probably spent 10 minutes here. Just before we left I helped Anu stretch her left hamstring. I drank chocolate milk. This is pretty much what I had throughout the first 50 miles in addition to the gels and Cytomax/Gatorade. It must have been after 12:50 p.m. that we left Pringle. It was very hot now and Anu had the hardest time in this long, unshaded stretch that paralleled Hwy 385. Raj, who had gone to Custer the day before to rent a mountain bike, now accompanied us with ample water and additional gels if needed.
I could tell that Anu was trying to conserve her energies. She is a very talkative person but this section saw her quiet as a doormouse. She was fighting and my respect for her, already very, very high, inched up with every passing mile.
It was in the Carrol Creek AS, at mile 30, that she informed me about her blister. Early treatment can be the difference between successfully finishing or dropping out from pain and an altered gait. I quickly took out my foot care kit (thank you, Zombierunner!) and had it popped, coated with Neosporin and taped up in no time at all. She had run the 30 miles in 8:20 i.e. we reached the AS around 2:20 p.m. She and I left the AS soon after the blister work and began the long stretch, 5.5 miles i.e. 35.5 miles into the race, to the Harbach AS. Someone had moved the 35 mile marker way ahead, almost to the 33.5 or 34 mile mark. Anu was glad to see the sign though and I could see it reflected in her stride.
It was here that I fought with her! She had been agonizing about the improper information her new Garmin was showing about the distance (she was trying to reconcile the mile markers with the Garmin numbers) and was constantly anxious about her pace and whether she would eventually be able to finish given the amount of walking we were doing.
My experience with previous very hot 100M races had taught me that power walking between 12 noon to about 4 p.m. would pay off big dividends later in the day, especially at night. I could understand her anxiety but my Ego refused to give up on "I am right. Just follow my advice. No need to consult your Garmin. Trust me". We had a small spat as we were walking into the Harbach Road AS and my anger erupted in front of Raj, Bharti and Nishu. To say that I was mortified and disgusted with myself is truly being generous to myself. I was sick to the core of my being. How could I fight with this little bundle of love and joy who was struggling hard enough to complete a very, very tough challenge? She certainly did not need my ego-driven anger. All she needed were calming words.
Unbeknownst to me (I was fixing my shoes in another part of the AS) she gulped down a bottle and a half of the yogurt drink. That amounted to 1000mg of Sodium. As soon as we left the AS, I took my hourly Succeed salt tablet and gave her one too. That was almost 1400 mg of Sodium in 5 minutes! No wonder she threw it all up in the next 2-3 miles.
About 0.5 miles out of the AS we passed Akos Konya going the other way (we were at mile 36, he was at 64!). All he carried was one hand bottle! Given that he was probably covering the miles between aid stations in 45-60 minutes, why would he need more????
Anu hit an emotional low a mile or so after passing Akos. My anger, combined with the heat and her anxiety, made her burst into tears. Raj consoled her and took care of her while I walked by her side in intense pain and feeling 2 feet small. I decided to talk about my flare up at a later time and to continue to help her as a coach by making sure that she was still taking in enough fluids and calories.
We soon passed another runner, Ray Greunewald, who was having a tough time. He had done many 100s before but was having the toughest race of his life. Anu, the ever compassionate soul that she is, offered him words of encouragement.
It was here that a couple of runners went by the other way. One of them pointed to me and said "I love your blog!". Whoever you are leave me a comment with your name so that I can come back into this post and give you credit! Thank you. That added a nice touch to my race.
We soon saw a familiar figure running towards us. It was Nishad running from the AS to assure his mother that (a) she was doing very well, and (b) the temps had fallen a bit. We had been told the day before in the race briefing that Custer and beyond would definitely be cooler. Cooler it certainly was. We were close to 5800 feet in altitude and that little coolness was so very welcome after the battering ram of the Sun that we had been subjected to all day.
Anu was feeling a lot better by now. Her queasiness had dissipated and she was feeling charged up with the knowledge that there was a very long downhill section coming up in a mile or so. We spent very little time in the Mountain Trailhead AS (manned every year by school kids) at mile 40.5.
Raj was still on the bike. We set out to begin the long downhill to the Oreville AS. A mile or so after the Mountain Trailhead AS, the downhill really began.
(Anu flying down towards the 50-mile turnaround. Crazy Horse on the right.)
Anu was by now flying at 11-12 minutes a mile pace (even faster in some sections!). I let her go, not wanting to interrupt her amazing rhythm. She stopped, for a few minutes, in the Oreville AS (mile 46.2) before pressing down on the accelerator once again all the way to the turnaround. Holy smokes is all I could say all the way there!!!! She reached 50 miles in 13:38 i.e. at 7:38 p.m. This turnaround was on Deadbroke Street in Hill City, SD.
We looked at each other and heaved a big sigh of relief. She now had an additional 82 minutes to add to the allotted 15 hours (900 minutes) to make it back to the Finish. Those precious minutes not only gave her an extra 1 minute and 36 seconds a mile (overall pace for the last 50 went from 18 min/mile to 19:36 mins/mile!) but untold confidence and faith that she COULD actually finish this behemoth of a race. I was so proud of how she had run the last 7-8 miles to the turnaround.
She ate her rice and yogurt again. I helped myself to some of it. The evening did not presage a chilly night. As soon as we had gotten all we needed from the SUV, Raj left to go and return the bike. He wanted to meet us in the Oreville AS at 54.6 miles. Nishad, Bharti, Anu and I set off to begin the long trek back to all the aid stations in reverse. We were power walking and must have reached Oreville around 10:00 p.m. It was here that Anu and I changed into warmer clothing. I put on a Brooks running jacket and Anu put on a skull cap and long sleeves. Nishad had a headlight. I had my headlamp and Bharti had her light. Anu was safely ensconced between us.
The climb back up to the tunnel just before Crazy Horse was a long one. I had kept telling Anu that the tunnel marked the end of the climb and it eventually came into view. We could even see someone's flashlight coming towards us. Nishad correctly guessed that it must be his Dad. It sure was Raj. We now walked in companionable silence to the Mountain Trailhead AS (mile 59.5). Bharti's foot was hurting by now so she decided to stop and drive the SUV along with Raj. The plan was for Raj to pace us from the Harbach Road AS (mile 64.5) which was the next AS.
After eating a bit, Anu, Nishad and I left. It was a downhill for a little bit and then flat all the way into Custer. Anu was finding it painful (pain on the inside of both knees probably brought on by tight Vastus Medialis or Sartorious muscles) to walk but did not feel the pain when she shuffled. We covered those 5 miles at about 15 minutes a mile pace. It was incredible what Anu was able to do in these late stages of the race.
We spent a good 10-15 minutes in this Aid Station eating and putting calories into our bodies. I had decided to switch to my Tevas here so it took us those extra minutes. Anu too switched to Tevas. Raj and I stuffed each of her gloves with chemical hand warmers.
Sunday, Aug 23
The procession now had Raj and Nishad accompanying us. Onwards to the Carroll Creek AS, at mile 70. Those 5.5 miles were the longest in the race. I remember leaving Harbach at 12:50 a.m. The AS refused to show up! It eventually did at 2:30 a.m. It had taken us 100 minutes to cover 5.5 miles i.e. 18 minutes/mile. Not possible. Anyway, we sat down so that I could eat some tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. Anu had some buttermilk and half a sandwich.
The empath she is, she is the only one who noticed that there was a runner sitting to her right who was crying (he had dropped). What a woman!
It was 2:37 a.m. when we decided to hit the road. I had been doing math while eating and realized that we HAD to reach the Argyle Road AS, at mile 83.5, by 7:00 a.m. at the latest to have a decent shot at finishing. I asked Anu to dig deep and do the next 13 miles in 4 hours tops.
Nishad had by now done 19.2 miles His plan was to go another 0.8 miles to make it a round 20. Bharti was given the task of finding the next spot where she could pick him up. It was dark, there was lightning in the air for the next hour and Bharti could not find an opening immediately. The trail had diverged away from Hwy 385. We asked Nish if he could continue to Pringle. He was OK with it so we asked Bharti to go straight to Pringle and wait for us.
We passed another runner, Louise, along this stretch. She eventually was one of the last people to finish. This section too felt interminably long.
The Pringle AS had been abandoned. There were a few people there, runners who had dropped and their crew members. One of them made us a PBJ sandwich. Raj and I had asked Anu to continue on while we picked up supplies. Anu passed Pringle at 4:30 a.m. It had taken us 113 minutes to cover the 6 miles from Carrol Creek to Pringle i.e. almost 19 minutes/mile pace. I know I was moving way faster so there was something way off about the race distances!
This next section, with a 2 mile gentle climb and a 2 mile flat after that, to the Lime Kiln AS was amazing. Anu covered those 4 miles in 59 minutes! She shuffled at 14-15 mins/mile, even up the slight slope. The Lime Kiln AS was totally deserted. Since we had Bharti and Nishad in the SUV we decided to push through to Argyle Road, 3.5 miles away. Given how hard Anu had been pushing for the last 10 miles and knowing that we would reach Argyle by 6:30-6:35 a.m., I asked her to ease off a bit.
We both felt the intense need to answer Mother Nature's insistent call. That took us 5-7 minutes. We eventually made it into Argyle Road at around 6:35 a.m. Anu quickly changed into day time clothes, the same orange top and white skirt she had worn for her 24-hour run around the West Valley tracks, while I shucked my jacket and my back pack. The SUV would now be alongside us all the way to the 95 mile turnoff! What a boon that proved to be!
Anu had delivered on the 4 hour from mile 70 to 83.5 promise to me. I was a bit worried about the next challenge, the biggest one yet, in the race - the rolling hills between 83.5 and 93. We left the Argyle Road AS at 6:47 a.m. Anu and I soon got into a great rhythm and we quickly passed the 85 mile mark. The Sun was up and it was a beautiful morning to be running towards victory.
To my utter and complete shock we were soon upon the site of the second to last (second one on the way out) AS - Morph Road. There was a lady who came out of a camper when she saw us and we gave her our bib numbers and just sailed past. I was excited! I knew that the 90 mile marker was not far off. It eventually came at 8:08 a.m. Anu The Magnificent had covered the last 6.5 miles in a stunning 81 minutes i.e. 12.5 mins/mile!! Holy mackerel. I had thought the hills would chew her up and spit her out. SHE was the one who chewed up those rollers and flattened them out!! I was in total awe of this little bundle of courage and determination. I knew I was watching the greatest exhibition of motivation, guts and chutzpah that I would ever have the privilege to witness.
Mile 93 came soon enough and we stopped briefly at the top for me to put on my Team Anu T-shirt. I had had them specially designed for us. Bharti, Nishad and Raj were planning to wear their shirts in the last 200 yards to the Finish.
We now flew down the hill to the 95 mile marker and the right turn just after it that would lead, in 0.8 miles, to the Coldbrook Creek AS at mile 96. Raj and Nishad took off from that turn to head into town and wait for us just before the Finish.
I gave Anu a gel here so that she could go straight through the AS. She and Bharti waltzed right past while I decided to go in and grab a cup of soup. The last question Anu asked me (it was exactly 10:00 a.m. i.e. 28 hrs. into the race when we reached the 96 mile AS) was if we would finish inside of 30 hours! Bharti and I chuckled at that comment but it was a telling one. She had been intensely keyed up for 28 hours and was just then beginning to realize that it would soon to be over.
To put the miles from the mile 70 AS to the Argyle Road AS (mile 83.5) and from Argyle Road to Coldbrook in perspective I want to offer up this statistic:
Mile 70 ==> Mile 83.5 ==> 13.5 miles in 4 hours
Mile 83.5 ==> Mile 96 ==> 12.5 miles in 3 hours 13 minutes
It is the most amazing statistic. She had covered 12.5 miles of steep, rolling hills much faster than the flat terrain of the previous 13 miles. Wow! Wow!!
My soup was hot so it took me a while to gulp down. In the interim I flirted with Elaine Doll-Dunn, Jerry Dunn's wife, and the other female volunteers.
I soon caught up with Anu and Bharti a half mile out of the AS. They were slowly walking up a hill. I assured them that we had only a couple of small climbs left before the downhill that ended on the asphalt roads of town. The day had gotten very hot by now and Anu's asthma had started to bother her a lot. She realized though that the Finish was round the corner, so to speak, so she put the discomfort at the back of her mind and started running as soon as we hit the downhill into town.
She started power walking as soon as we got onto the flat section. We could see Uli The Walker (5 times in a row Lean Horse finisher) ahead and Anu soon caught up with him and surged ahead with about 0.75 miles to go. Past the waterfall we went and soon saw Raj and Nishad waiting ahead of us, 400 yards from the Finish. Raj had handed his video camera to my friend, Joe Judd, so I ran ahead to within sight of the Finish and let Joe know that we would all be coming in in a minute. In the meantime Raj, Bharti and Nishad had donned their Team Anu T-shirts.
I waited for Anu and the others to join me. Anu broke down right there and I asked her to hold it in for a few more paces. We all rounded the corner and ran towards the Finish amidst loud applause from other runners. It was the most amazing Finish ever! Anu, who had been holding her emotions in a tight rein for 29 hours and 13 minutes (her finish time), now let go and started weeping. Raj hugged her as did Nishad and Bharti. I gave up when she put her arms around me and sobbed into her shoulder. I was the proudest I have ever been of any person in my life.
Raj had biked more than 30 miles the day before and run an additional 19 with us. Bharti had paced us for 25 miles while Nishad had matched us step for step for 25 miles too. Thank you, you wonderful crew people!
We slowly made our way into the Mueller Center to drink, collect our drop bags, get a massage and chat with other runners. The award ceremony was planned for 12:15 p.m. so Anu, Raj and Nishad went to the hotel to let Anu shower. She did get a massage before leaving though. Nishad and Raj later told Bharti and me that Anu had fallen in the bathroom owing to hypoglycemia. This was soon remedied by giving her food.
The ceremony started at 12:15 p.m. sharp but there was no sign of the three of them. She eventually came in around 12:25 p.m. and I knew something was wrong. She sat down next to me and asked for a doctor 5 minutes later. The attending medical officer was summoned by Raj and they helped her walk off to a stretcher in the back of the room. Jerry Dunn, the Race Director, pointed to her and said that she was one of the successful first-time 100 mile runners to which the crowd responded with applause.
It took Anu 2 hours and a lot of salty water and soda to recover from the dehydration. We eventually made it back to the hotel room around 3:00 p.m.
Monday, Aug 24
The next day we visited Mt. Rushmore on the way to Rapid City and the flight back to San Francisco. On our flight from Rapid City to Denver were Lynnor Matheny, Sherry Meador and Phil Rosenstein.
Lynnor, in her race report e-mail a few days later, stated that Anu's finish was "one of the most inspirational things she had ever seen". High praise indeed!
(Rapid City airport. L to R: Sherry Meador, Lynnor Matheny, Anu Singh, Phil Rosenstein and Raj Singh)
We spent an hour with them before the flight, which was delayed by about 30 minutes, and it was great fun to share stories.
Many thanks to Jerry Dunn and his band of volunteers. Very helpful and cheerful, even in the wee hours of the morning.
I am intensely proud of Anu. I am humbled and awed by the manner in which she fought her demons and eventually triumphed. Way to go, babe!!