Liza Howard. Ultrarunning Mom.

Ultrarunning Mom

Repairable: Rocky Raccoon 2012

Rocky Raccoon went downhill for me after this auspicious trash-bag-wearing start.  (PS.  If you’re going to wear a trashbag during a race, buy those kitchen ones with the tie flaps.  Makes for a fashionable skirt.)

In summary:

Well, let’s be honest, surrounded by good friends and family, it was a lot more like this:

The rain challenged the windshield wipers when Howard and I left the Motel 6 at 4:30am and headed to the park.  Howard had come down for the race and was kind enough to ferry me (almost literally) to the race start, so no one would call CPS on Eliot and me for having a four year-old out before dawn in a torrential downpour and lightning storm.  Howard and I passed the drive time speculating about the park’s lightning safety rules.  There was a huge crack of thunder as we went through the front gate and we figured Joe would have to postpone the start a bit — until we saw a long line of headlamps jogging by on a trail to our right.  The 5am starters were off.  Lightning smightning.

And so we come to Number 10 of my Race Highlights: Sitting in the passenger seat of a small car wearing a tall white kitchen trash bag, applying Vaseline to my hat brim and myself, next to Howard Nippert, an extraordinary runner and coach, whom I’d just met in person the night before.  It was his Vaseline.

HN: “Use as much as you want.”
Me: “I’ve never used Vaseline.”
HN: “You could put some on your shoes.”

I slid out of the car around 5:30 and headed over to the start line.  Runners were crowded under a tent wearing a wide array of rain gear and plastic bags.  Everyone seemed to be in pretty high spirits.  That kind of rain doesn’t leave any other option really.  Either you embrace it, or you stay in bed at the Motel 6.
The first 20 mile loop was pretty fun, really.  I almost had heatstroke before I got to the first aid station and ripped my garbage bag off Incredible Hulk style (Race Highlight Number 9), but otherwise the running felt great, the course wasn’t too sloppy, and I got to chat with some great folks.
And then my PF reared its ugly head.  It’d been giving me some trouble since Bandera, but nothing a little time with a Lacrosse ball hasn’t been able to fix.  Suddenly it felt like my foot had been beaten with a hammer.  The pain wasn’t excruciating, just really really unpleasant.  I changed into more cushioned shoes at mile 20 and headed back out.  Loop 2 turned out to be my worst and best time out on the course.  It hurt to run, I wasn’t hitting my splits, and I felt my goal slipping out of reach.  I pushed as hard as I could and I still came up short.  I wanted to take my ball and go home.  But running ultras is not about how fast you can run.  They’re about how hard you can work.  I hung onto the hope that if I could keep plugging along, things might turn around.  I thought of some nice sentences for a “back from the dead” race report.  At mile 44ish, a Team Red, White & Blue member came up beside me carrying the flag and said he’d run with me a while.  I told him I wasn’t allowed to have pacers and left it at that.  He yelled encouragement at everyone we passed, something I couldn’t muster anymore.  You could see people’s spirits lift as we ran along.  Mine lifted, the pain abated a bit, and I started to run better.  The thought crossed my mind about how I’d have to tell Joe to disqualify me if I did manage to rally and hit my goal because of this early pacer.  But when it comes down to it, running with a man carrying the American flag to support returning veterans trumps DQing.  (Race Highlights Numbers 6, 7 and 8.)  He ran with me for six miles and then headed back to volunteer at the Nature Aid Station.  Wearing the Team RWB shirt helped keep me honest and giving 100% throughout the race.  Get yourself one and see.  Perspective and personal bests guaranteed.  But the Shirt, even with the cool 80’s half-shirt tailoring I did to it, couldn’t prevent my left shin from flaring up as I compensated for my foot pain.  (Cue screaching train brakes.) I couldn’t run by mile 64ish.  So my good friend and (legal) pacer, Kelli, and I hiked.  Highlight Number 5: Being passed by a man at least 20 years my senior using trekking poles.
Highlight Number 4: Telling Kelli Hal Koerner’s UTMB story and having Hal come flying past us just as I got to the Ziploc bag crescendo.
I fully intended to hike the last 40 miles to the finish.  I was not excited about spending another ten hours on the course, but contrary to popular belief,  running 100 mile races isn’t all glamor and paparazzi.  And I believe I’ve mentioned my belt buckle addiction. I was looking forward to spending time talking with Brian and Chris the last loop.  They’ve been with me every Rocky I’ve run.  Race Highlight Number 3: My San Antonio running family at the start/finish.
And then at mile 76ish the train left the tracks completely.  My right knee was tired of doing whatever strange move I’d been asking it to do for the last five hours and it hit me with a sharp “you’re about to do some nice long-term damage” pain.  There are lots of great reasons to push through pain in an ultra, but long-term injury isn’t one of them. Sometimes it’s a struggle to know what kind of pain you’re dealing with, but that wasn’t the case for me.  If I’d dropped any earlier, I would have always regretted it.  It wasn’t necessary until mile 76.  I told Kelli to run ahead and ask Eliot to come out and help me in. I limped along the line between pride and pridefulness, threw myself a small pity party (the RWB Shirt prevents too much of that nonsense too), and waited to see Eliot’s headlamp.  Race Highlight Number 2: Walking the final miles with Eliot holding Eliot’s hand.  I handed my timing chip over and walked over to hug my dad.  Highlight Number 1.
Thank you to all the volunteers! Rosie and Mario… Wow!! I look forward to being able to take such good care of you all in a race someday.

Thanks so much to GU for their support too.  My stomach and intestines didn’t make a peep all race.  And to New Balance!!  Their shoes have sped me along for a while now, but this time it was their mud sloughing capabilities that I appreciated most.  And thank you to Drymax for making socks that perform in deluges and muck for hours and hours and hours.

And thanks especially to everyone who wrote such kind words after the race.  You all are gold.  I’m going to get healed up, reevaluate the year, and get working.  Time to pull out the poster board, markers and gold stars.
But right now, I have to get off my bottom and get some groceries.
I’m talking tonight at Austin Java with Ian Sharman (fielding some different questions than we’d planned I’m sure.) Let me know if you’re in town and want to ride with me.  I’m leaving at 4ish.

Extra Highlight Footage:
-Eliot’s cleaned-up impression of Joe’s reaction to my drop:  “Well, shooooot! Well, you tell her… Well, shoooot.  Gall-darn-it!! Shoooot!”
-Seeing my good friend and coach-ee Amanda finish her first 100 mile race.  “Shine that buckle for me!!! I’m coming in!!!”

-And Tom and Michelle coming in arm in arm.



  • Betsy

    I’m so sorry you had to drop.  I too left without a buckle, but I made the right decision to drop.  I was fighting the cutoffs on loop 5 and 2 miles out of DamNation (outbound) my calf seized up and I was barely able to walk.  Hobbled back the 2 miles rather than finish the 4 miles of that loop.  Oh well, there’s always next year :)

    • Liza

      Same Betsy!  I’m pretty bummed, but I’d have to do the same thing again in the same situation.  Here’s to better training and preparation and some good fortune for both of us next year.  PS. That Damnation 6 mile loop is actually 26 miles long.  The only thing that makes it halfway tolerable is the Aid Station at either end. Those guys are rockstars.  

      • Matt Hagen

        There was another thing that made that loop tolerable for me for one of the loops.  Eliot was there, and he jogged back to Damnation chatting with me, giving me a real boost.  He’s a keeper!  Tell him thanks for lifting my spirits.

        • Liza

          Will do!  At least his illegal venture out there came to some good.  :)

  • Neal Lucas

    Just as inspiring a story as a CR.

    It was totally out of your hands – you put up one hell of a fight!
    I know I’ll be signing up for next year.. hopefully we can both get under 15h together :)

    • Liza

      Deal!  Of course, right now thinking about doing those five loops ever again makes me feel a bit sick to my stomach.

  • Caweber2001

    You know that’s how life rolls! Sometimes, it is out of your hands and we don’t have control! You inspire me no matter what happens!

    • Liza

      Thank you for that!  Looking forward to getting back on the horse — or bike — or whatever it was I fell off of.  Jelly Bellies first though.

  • Olgav100

    Larry bet on you finishing because you ran for RW&B. Once he said it, it made sense (I forgot till I saw the shirt picture). In the morning we saw the twitter. I am sorry the PF and all the compensatory crap was what it was. As you know i do understand exactly that. I am glad your 40 yo brain made some bright discoveries, like stopping when things are stupid. I am even more glad your dad was there for a hug – and even more so Eliot held your hand last few miles. I would just cry my eyes out for that and drop just to have this special bonding. Because it is special, when it is so vulnerable. Happy birthday, Liza.

    • Liza

      Thanks so much Olga.  Wish you were around to hug right now.  It feels like a let down, but not a failure.  One of the nice things about doing this long enough to get side-lined by a long-term injury is knowing when you’re about to do again.  And it was really nice to be reminded that I might have made some friendships because I’ve run fast, but that’s not what sustains them.  Blah blah blah. 

  • Gene Taylor

    When things go wrong you can best deal with it if your friends and family are there to support you.  Sounds like you were very lucky to have Eliot, your father, and the many friends close by to console you when you needed it most.
    I am confident that you will evaluate and adjust where necessary and come back stronger for it.  Ultrarunning is a journey of experiences that may not make complete sense even after years of doing.  The best bet is to enjoy your successes and learn from your not so great experiences.  No matter what, we all just keep at it and, more times than not, consider it all good.
    Enjoy your healing and recovery and please say Thank You to Eliot for the tweets.

    • Lizajanep

      Thanks Gene. I’m going to ignore the weeds in the front yard for a while longer and sit down and evaluate and reflect today. I will tell Eliot. :)

  • lisa

    I’m at work, just reading your report.  I am so sorry Liza!  I can only imagine the pain you were in but amazed at how long you lasted.  You are super tough Liza and I know you will focus and do what you need to do to get back in the saddle.

    Take good care!

    • Liza

      Thanks Lisa!  

  • MaryT!

    Drat. Well, you still have fans. And, at least you didn’t go blind, or get eaten by wild dogs or lose an appendage.

    You keep such an upbeat attitude. Reading your account really was encouraging; I am sure there is so much frustration attached that you aren’t sharing.

    Thanks for leading/coaching/mentoring by example.

    • Liza

      It’s true; Blind and eaten would have been much worse.  :)
      Going to have fun today planning as soon as the Boy goes down for a nap.

  • kellyagnew

    It was great seeing you out there. I love that you always have a quick smile, even when there isn’t much to smile about. You’re an amazing runner and a hero to many. Heal up, recover, and we’ll see you on the trail again soon.

    • Liza

      Thanks Kelly!  Will do.  :) :)

  • Lynnor Matheney

    I saw u several times, knew something was going wrong..u’ll always b our Tx rose Liza!!!! – another admirer!!!

    • Liza

      Felt more like a Texas skunk cabbage than a rose, but much better today.  Thanks so much Lynnor.

  • mtnrunner2

    Rain and lightning? Race days like that are what snooze buttons are made for.

    I was beginning to think ultra runners didn’t care about permanent damage, glad to hear you do. Disappointing I’m sure, but 80 miles ain’t nothin’. Way to go.

    If you find the cure to PF, don’t post it. Patent it, and get rich.

    • Liza

      I can already see the infomercials…
      Thanks for the good thoughts.  Death before Aqua Jogging!!

  • Pingback: » Rocky Raccoon Trail Run – 2012 Results()

  • Herb

    Hey Liza!!!! Sorry to hear you didn’t finish the race. I was there and had to DNF at mile 40 due to blisters and couldn’t finish my first 100 miler. I will be back next year to conquer it. It was amazing to watch you zoom by me. You are quite awesome and will be back winning races very soon! Heal up and recover!

    • Liza

      Thanks Herb!  I’m sorry your day didn’t turn out as you’d planned either. Blisters can cripple you in such a surprising way. Let me know if you want some blister prevention thoughts.

  • Pommers

    Liza, sorry to hear and see that thinks did not turn out the way you would’ve hoped. Sounds like you made the best of it though, and yes, you’re absolutely right, there is no point in risking long term injury. I can relate to waiting for the head torches coming towards you, and walking back with your partner at your side; at the end of all things it helps cushion the disappointment. Keep well and I hope the recovery is easy that you expect.

    • Pommers

      That’s should of course be ‘things’ and ‘easier’ – dangers of writing on a train while commuting :-)

    • Liza

      Thanks!  Your Leadville injury is still my touchstone for “Well, it could be a lot lot worse.”  I think I need to concentrate on core and leg strength as much as anything — and not race until I’m 100%.  Also, I’m going to take this as a sign that one should not give up coffee before a race.

  • David Jacobson

    I’m sorry about your hat. ;-) Liza, thank you for stopping by Austin after this tough race and sharing your experience with us. I really enjoyed listening to you and Ian. Very inspiring.

    • Liza

      It was great to see you there.  Can’t wait to show you around Government Canyon.

  • Tim Smith

    We live to play another day! For me…I’m thinking Cactus 100 :) I need to find some hills to run and become friends with the coyotes.

    • Liza


  • Mac

    Liza…you make me cry. I hope you heal up fast!

    • Liza

      Only cheerful blog posts for the next few months, I promise.  

  • Paige

    For some reason I got all teary-eyed when I read this:

    “Race Highlight Number 2: Walking the final miles with Eliot holding Eliot’s hand. I handed my timing chip over and walked over to hug my dad. Highlight Number 1.”

    So sweet :)

    A good honest effort by a good honest gal.  You’ll get ‘em at the next one :)

    • Liza

      It was a really good bad race.  :)

  • Sharmanian

    Nice report. And great to meet you finally. We have to go back next year and rectify things :)

    • Lizajanep

      Thanks Ian! Same. And deal. :)

  • Kathleen O’Day

    Liza,  Bummer about the injuries….you did manage to write a spectacularly funny piece on your misery though.  You are a really inspiration to all us old, injured, whining, procrastinating mom runners… and injected the glamor back into it all – even without the highly fashionable running kit! You were a tremendous instructor in Baltimore and a real pleasure to meet!

    • Liza

      It’s so good to hear from you Kathleen!  Thank you for the kind words.  I was so happy to get to know you in the WFR class.  Thanks for the note.  I will continue to do my best to inspire the old, injured and whining.  My inspiration niche!  :) 

  • Shannon

    I just read the article you were featured in in Runner’s World and found your site. This race report was exactly what i needed to read. Thank you for your honesty and your drive. I am dealing with a string of injuries and was feeling a bit hopeless, like i was the only one who got injuries or had to dnf. It helps to know i am not alone. I hope that you are healed up and back out there doing what you love.

    • Liza Howard

      Thanks so much for the kind comment Shannon.  I hope your injuries are healing up and you are running strong.  The longer I run and get to know people in the community, the more I see how injuries are just part of the deal from time to time — even when you try to do everything right.  (Not that I was doing everything right by any means for most of my injuries.)   Gotta go roll now.  :)    

  • Stephanie Morgan

    I just came across your website and blog, and your race report was awesome! This was my first ultra marathon (I did the 50 miler) and I’m quite certain we crossed paths a few times and I thought “Man, that’s one awesome chick!” anyway, your race report was spot on! Hope to see you out and about at another one of Joe’s runs in the future! Love your blog!

    • Liza Howard

      Thanks so much Stephanie! Hope to see you too. Will you be out at Cactus?