Who wound want to grind out five Issy Alps 100 mile runs? Just for fun? No fame? No buckle? Just a few confused looks from hikers at the end of almost 1 1/2 days of running.
But she could. And she would. She's known around these parts. Some have even called her a Pacific Northwest fixture in the ultrarunning scene. So who is this runner? What makes her tick? Why does she like to do 100 mile training runs?
Some call her Pigtails. Her real name is Van. Pronounced like "Von or Vaughn." She'll correct you once but if you call her Van, like the vehicle, she'll ignore your mistake the next time.
She likes to run alone if it's safe enough. Otherwise, she will enlist friends to join her. She actually runs better alone. She knows how to push herself, doesn't need anyone to pull her along. She knows when to eat and drink, although sometimes, even though she's a veteran, she makes rookie mistakes.
She had an almost perfect run on the first day of July for her 5th attempt. Things just seemed to fall into place and she ran comfortably for most of the run. Her time was 2 hrs and 45 minutes faster than the first time she ran it. But wait a minute. She's also 5 years older than that first time. What gives?
Well, if you had been talking to her lately, you would know that she changed some things this year. First, she wanted to get her weight down a little more. Two years ago, she wanted to lose some weight for her first Bigfoot 200. Initially, there was a mandatory gear list and she was worried about her body weight and the weight of the pack really taking their toll on her joints and muscles. So she started to count calories, practically starving herself while she continued training. But it worked. She went from 114 pounds to around 108. She did well at that inaugural 200. And she was able to keep the weight off long enough that her body got used to the new weight and didn't gain it back even though she stopped counting calories. This year, around February, after Orcas Island 100, she was talking to her good friend Yvonne Naughton about weight and fueling for endurance runs and Yvonne was on that high fat, low carb diet. It all sounded good to her, so she started that diet less than 2 weeks before Badger. It hadn't taken yet, so she struggled with her nutrition early in the race, decided she needed to just do what she was used to, and still had a stellar race. But she stuck with the high fat diet for 2 months, even checking her blood ketones to make sure she was in ketosis. She lost the weight and started to get more definition in her muscles again. She loved the way she looked but didn't feel quite right. She was having these occasional chest pains, or maybe it was just indigestion from the high fat. She has a family history of high cholesterol, so she got a fasting lipid panel and the total cholesterol and LDL went up quite a bit. Although her goo cholesterol (HDL) went up and signifies cardiac protective effect, she was still worried. After 2 months, she stopped the high fat but continued the low carb, eating lots of vegetables, some fruit, and of course pork and beef raised on her farm. She still does not eat a lot of breads, pasta, or rice, or if she does, she cheats on small amounts. And she cut way back on sugar. She stopped having the chest pains.
So that's it? She lost weight and that's why she ran better and got the female supported FKT for the Issy 100? By the way, her time 5 years ago was just under 38 hours. Then she ran it 3 years ago with Jess Mullen and Deb McInally in 36 hours, the reigning FKT before she broke it this year with a 33:14:57. But to get back to why she seemed stronger this year. Well, she joined LA Fitness so that she could use the sauna for heat training but found all sorts of other things to do there. She started spinning, doing regular strength workouts, boot camp classes, and body works classes. Her husband was getting up twice a week at 4 am to go to the climbing gym, so she was up anyway and decided to go to the gym in the morning before work. Then she decided to visit the gym again after work. She would sit in the sauna for 30 minutes usually once a day after a workout. She'd even sat for up to an hour on 2 or 3 occasions but found that she couldn't do that very often. She would get dizziness and nausea. Twice a day workouts would mean something like upper body strength in the morning and then a run in the afternoon. Or spin class in the morning and boot camp in the afternoon. She loved getting leaner, fitter, and stronger and it became an obsession for her. But she wasn't starving herself anymore or eating the high fat, which just made her feel gross sometimes. The only great thing about the high fat diet was that she never really felt hungry and had no cravings.
It's been a busy year as usual for her and her running. She decided last year that she would run all the Washington state 100 races again in addition to the shorter ultras and marathons that make up her 25-30 races a year. She was sad that the Bigfoot 120 in October was cancelled and replaced with Moab 200, so she is signed up for Moab. She has already completed Orcas Island, Badger, Lumberjack, and Pigtails 150 without crew or pacer this year. She figured she should throw the Issy in the mix somewhere, and July was the best month for it before Bigfoot 200. She did have pacers for the Issy, but since it wasn't a race, she still will complete the remainder of her WA races without crew or pacers to continue that trend. Safety is always on her mind and she has never run the entire Issy course alone. She'll run parts of it alone where she knows lots of people are on the trail. So after Issy it will be Bigfoot 200, CCC, and then Plain to complete her WA slam of some sort.
This year, it was all about having fun and enjoying that trails in this route that George Orozco put together. He created the route from Mailbox to Tiger. Then Jennifer Hughes got us from Tiger to High Point. Then this girl got us the last 36 miles on Tiger, Squak, and Cougar. She decided a couple weeks before the run to bring her GoPro along and record herself performing dance moves at trail heads and summits. You can watch the video at the end. It clearly is an amateur film, and it probably is too long for most people's attention span. Some will want to fast forward to just the dance moves. Or they can just plan on hunkering down for 24 minutes or so to watch Van make a fool of herself. At least she's having fun. Spoiler alert-she filmed the two Squak dances and the finish at home because in her state of fatigue, she forgot to ask her pacer Dave to films those. Some footage is quite dizzying because she had the camera on her head and was moving it all over the place. Next time, she will have a chest harness.
She had three great guys pacing her. Brad Hefta-Gaub got up super early to meet her at High Point where she left her car as an aid station. Then they drove to Mailbox and started a little before 5 am. She only wore a waist pack for the climb up and run down. It went quickly and the weather was perfect. Glad she didn't run the weekend before when it was in the 90s and Yitka Winn cut her second attempt at unsupported short because of at least 2 cougar sightings, maybe 3, even before she made it to the halfway point. She was blazing along as well.
Van encountered 2 running friends coming down Mailbox-Jennie Eyring and Jennifer MacCormack. Jennie had made her some amazing banana bread/muffin. Whatever it was, Van could have eaten it all day. Back at the Mailbox trailhead, she put her 12 pound pack on for her journey from there to High Point. She remembered Mark Cliggett saying how his legs felt fine going up Mailbox with his pack for his unsupported run but seemed to fail him on the descent. That's exactly how she felt on the descents with this heavy pack. And because she had lost all that weight (she went from 108 to 102/103), even with the pack cinched down all the way and having weight in the pack, it still was too loose and swayed back and forth every time she started running. It was fine with hiking and walking, but not running. She carried a lot of water, but probably could have gotten by with less by getting water from the course. It was a pain in the butt to use her Steri Pen and she carried more water to avoid having to stop.
The trails between Mailbox and Teneriffe were in better shape than she had experienced before. It was dry, so good footing and less overgrown. At every checkpoint, she was ahead of her first year, even with stopping to shake her booty.
Brad left her at the Teneriffe trailhead to get back to his family. He ran back to his car at Mailbox. She thanked him a lot for running with her. He enjoyed the dance moves. Now she was on her own until Rattlesnake Lake. She had been feeling good until the really steep climb up Teneriffe. She wondered if she did too much the weekend before. Usually it's a good idea to rest before a hundred. But the Friday before, she fulfilled her trail work requirement for Cascade. She was hoping it was going to be an easy day. But it was a small group up at Mt. Rainier. She found herself stabilizing on a crumbly slope that had washed out coming out of the riverbed, and she had to dig a new trail into the slope. Her legs were shaky at the end of the day. Then on Saturday, she ran the Taylor Mountain 50K. She didn't remember it having as much elevation gain as it did with 5500 feet. She felt strong going up but her legs failed her going down and running the straightaways. It was in the 90s by the end of the race. And to top it all off, her battery was dead when she got back to her. She spent the rest of the day following her friends at Western States and hitting the refresh button constantly on the iRunfar feed. Then on Sunday, she went for a 25 mile road bike ride. She really struggled to get to the summit of Teneriffe and started to blame it on the previous weekend. But then she remembered that this is where she always bonks. So, she told herself to be patient, and by the time she descended towards the Talus connector, she had recovered. She was now an hour ahead of her 2012 schedule.
The climb up to Mt Si was not too crowded. By that time of the day, most people had already finished their hike. She found the hikers enjoyed filming her dance moves. She forced herself not to bomb down the Old Si trail, using her poles as much as possible. Even so, her quads were becoming trashed and she worried that it was too early to have trashed quads. Once again, she told herself to just relax and have fun. Still, she got to the Little Si trailhead in 11 hrs 45 minutes, compared to over 13 hours in 2012. So much for taking it easy. But really, she felt pretty good still. She had stashed some food at Little Si Trailhead and grabbed that.
She met Richard Kresser at Rattlesnake Lake at about 13 hours. He was about to take a nap when she came upon him at the last part of the Snoqualmie Valley trail. He had PIZZA! She devoured 2 pieces, filled her water bottles, and didn't even need to retrieve the food she stashed at the Lake. She did pick it up later on July 4th. They were merrily running towards the trail head when they were stopped by a man wearing official looking clothes and were told that the trail was closed for a search and rescue operation that was ongoing. No one was allowed to start up the trail. They didn't argue. They turned around and started walking the other direction, but you could see how disappointed she was. REALLY? After running 13 hours including the hardest part of the route and it ends here? She could wait 1 or maybe 2 hours before the trail was opened again, but the whole point of her starting so early and trying to make good time was to get as much of the run done in daylight as possible. Her heart sank, she started to have a minor panic attack (within herself). But Richard came to the rescue. He started texting friends who knew the trails there and was able to get a hold of Dave Latourette. Dave told him that there was an old Rattlesnake trail (just like there is an old Mailbox trail and Old Si trail). After running for a bit, they found the trail. Richard was following a map on his phone as well. Dave had warned them that it was very steep. The first part of the trail was tame and they were tricked into thinking it wasn't so bad. But the next thing you know, they were clawing up the trail and dripping sweat, trying to keep their feet from slipping out and grabbing at small plants and branches. It went straight up and harder than anything she had experienced so far on the run. Way harder than Mailbox and Teneriffe. Finally, they got to the ledge and back onto the main trail. All in all, the elevation gain was the same and the trails leading up to the old route made the distance equal to the 1.9 mile hike up to the ledge. Usually it is dark at this time during her previous Issy 100s.
That small detour took it out of her legs and she was having a little bit of stomach upset after eating the pizza and giving all her energy to her legs and not to digesting food. The next 2 miles to East Peak seemed to go on forever, but once they got there, she was able to start running again and they had a nice cruise to where the course leaves Rattlesnake and heads over to Tiger. She was thankful to go through this section during the day. It made finding the trail easier. They even went through the bike trails with light, although light is blocked out well in that area. Still, they did make a couple of short but wrong turns in this section, the norm for both despite running this route several times. They were able to make it to Raging River before it got dark enough to require headlamps. They stopped to put headlamps on for the river crossing. She left her shoes and socks on. She had a spare pair of socks in her pack to change into after Deep Creek. Richard offered to carry her across on his shoulder. She didn't expect such an offer and immediately said, "Thanks, but no thanks, we'll both surely end up in the river." He told her that he carried his climbing buddy across a river that was higher than this and he weighed much more than she did. She believed him. Richard is incredibly strong. But she needed to do this run on her own 2 feet.
The next challenge was Deep Creek, and you need to get down to the riverbed, which means basically going over an edge with a 10 foot drop. Fortunately, there is a small rope, more like thick twine, that one can hold onto to balance over the edge. But her feet were too short to reach that nice step for her foot and she swayed back and forth before Richard was able to stabilize her enough that she didn't land on her back. She treated more water here and they made the steep climb out of the creek crossing to a forest service road. Then there is some nice running on the Northwest Timber Trail, a popular mountain bike trail. She felt good enough to jog the rolling terrain but could tell that her wet socks were creating hot spots. She found a perfect rock to sit on next to the last bridge before hitting the FS road again and changed her socks. The running in the last 2 miles helped squish out the excess water in her shoes and now was the perfect time to change her socks. She immediately noticed a difference.
The road up to East Tiger has some decent spots where you could run and she did just that. It made that 3.5 miles go by faster than expected. They made good time down to High Point, jogged quietly through the homeless camp and found Dave Molenaar in his truck. She thanked Richard for getting her through the night. She really didn't think she could have done it without him. She surely would have sat on the ground and cried at Rattlesnake instead of finding an alternate route. She would have gotten lost in the bike trails between Rattlesnake and Tiger. And she would have run scared the whole time thinking she was being stalked by a cougar.
She arrived at High Point at 3 am or 22 hours. In the past, it had always taken more than 24 hours. Dave gave Richard some home brewed beer while she took the time to change all her clothing and switch packs. Her socks were damp again and it was nice to get dry socks and dry shoes on. She changed to a lighter pack that fit better. She stuffed food into her mouth, and after about 30 minutes, she was ready to start moving again. By that time, Richard's girlfriend Maudie arrived to drive him back to his car at Rattlesnake (thanks Maudie for your help too!).
Again, she was happy to have someone with her since she expected to arrive here during daylight and run the last 36 miles alone. Up until a week before her run, she didn't have someone to pace her the last part. But Dave stepped up. He was all business. He felt it was his duty to push her, but not too hard, and get her to the finish. She asked him to run ahead of her and she worked hard to keep him in sight. It was just right. Sometimes, she felt she just couldn't keep up and get discouraged or upset, but then he'd appear again and she just refocused. She had to stop at the pit toilets at the upper parking lot and fortunately, they didn't smell as bad as they usually do. Finally, she was able to "go." She had tried 3 times while running with Richard and failed each time. Her legs were too tired to squat and bear down at the same time, even hanging onto a tree. What she needed to do was to sit and do her business, and finally it happened.
On the climb up to Tiger 3 (T3), she started to get a little sleepy. This is the usual time it happens. It is dark, still an hour from getting light and hiking up a trail, the slower pace lulling her into sleepiness. She had to stop again for more business. That woke her up and she never got sleepy again. T3, T2, then T1 and she had to do 4 dance moves to catch up the ones missed in the dark.
Then it was some nice running for a while, although she caught her toe on a root and landed directly on her right knee onto some rocks. No broken skin or bleeding but it caused her to limp for about a mile. It would get stiff on and off for the next few miles but then she was okay again. The bruise is still there, 2 weeks after the run. She still can't kneel on it. She worried about getting pre-patellar bursitis, but that didn't happen.
Everything from High Point to the finish was quite enjoyable in that the miles were moving much faster than expected. She ran trails that she had to walk before. Her quads were not shot. Remarkably, she did that last 36 miles under 11 hours. It did get quite warm during the last 9 miles. She was thirsty but had water. She started to pour water on her head. Coming off Wilderness Cliffs trails to Long View on Cougar, she ran into Jamie Clark, who was leading a group run for Cascade Endurance. She had just told the group about this run and lo and behold, here she is! Jamie holds the female FKT supported Issy 50K. It was quite a boost to see them. Back on the pavement after Squak, she found her feet felt better running than walking, so she jogged as much as she could those last 4 miles.
It was quite a relief to get to the gate at High Point. Finally, she was able to stop running. She sat down on a rock, posted on FB and Dave took their selfie. But they had to get up and start walking to their vehicles down on the other end. What's another quarter mile? She changed while he had a beer and he followed behind her until she took her Maple Valley exit off Highway 18. She stopped first to get a mocha shake at McDonalds then picked up some Thai food before arriving home. Her pitbull Yoda went berserk when he saw her. Her husband was impressed how well she moved along. Dinner, shower, a fitful night of sleep, and then 9 hours of work the next day including a 3 hour surgical case where she stood for the entirety with a couple of sleepy bobble head nods. This was followed by a couple days off then one of the busiest call weekends she's had in a long time. Such is life.