Liza Howard

Liza Howard

Liza Howard is a national champion runner with multiple records in distances ranging from marathons to 100 mile trail races.

January 2014
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Bandera 100k: The Tale of Two 50ks, a Friend, and a Shirt

LizaLiza

I could hear my mother in-law trying to sooth Ruby in the living room while I packed my bags for Bandera.  This was my fifth time running Bandera, and I had no idea how to pack.  I hadn’t raced since Bandera in 2013 —  just before I found out I was pregnant.  Now Ruby was almost 3 months old, and I had no idea what to pack.  I’d run while I was pregnant, but only for 30 minutes or an hour at a time – and mostly on a treadmill.  And I hadn’t run more than 4 hours at a time since Ruby was born.  Really I’d only signed up for Bandera because Joe Prusaitis had changed the belt buckle.

Screen shot 2014-01-12 at 5.41.17 AM

And I wanted it.

I hadn’t looked at which women were racing this year because I just intended to run 62 miles, get the belt buckle, chalk up some more “Did you see that lady nursing during the race?” stories, and head home.  I wasn’t racing, and I had no idea how long 100 kilometers were going to take me.  I’d bought 24 gels at the supermarket.  And I’d also filled a few small plastic bottles with various leftover drink mixes from the pantry.  I decided I’d load up my hydration pack for 6-hour loops.  It was a calculation based on thriftiness (I didn’t have a gel sponsor anymore and I couldn’t “stomach” spending more than $24 on gels.)  I’d just eat from the aid stations if I ran out of gels.  Joe uses Hammer products in his races, which are good products, but pretty much guarantee I’ll be heaving behind a sotol cactus within 15-minutes of sucking them down.  That’s how I’d spent most of the 2013 race.  I have vivid memories of lying flat on my back hidden behind a sotol while the rest of the women’s field ran by.  Grim.  Regardless $24 was $24, and I wasn’t racing.  I loaded up my UltrAspire racing vest and pinned my USATF number on the back.   As a master’s runner, I’d decided I might as well sign up for the USATF 100k Championship.  There was some prize money for being an older lady.  And I figured I’d run the race enough that that experience might serve me against all the other older ladies running.  I know how to run the last 10 rocky miles of that race.  Except Meghan Arbogast was running, so that wasn’t going to happen.

So I fed Ruby at 2:30 am, and drove out to the race start.  It was foggy and deer hurled themselves at the car as I drove along.  Still, I missed the ugly prerace traffic, and I got 2 ½ hours of lovely, uninterrupted sleep in the front seat of the car before the race.  I overslept, of course.  I spent a couple hurried minutes sucking down coffee and fixing my ponytail.  (If I was going to be out on the course for 12 to 24 hours, I wanted to take at least a couple of good race pictures – especially as I got chestier throughout the race.)  I’d asked all the RWB runners to meet me at 7:10, so we could take a group picture before the start, and I was just going to make the meeting, when I realized I hadn’t pumped yet.  Gargh!  I thought I’d have 3-hour windows between each breast pumping session, and I’d stationed a battery-powered breast pump and a hand pump at two different aid stations accordingly.  But that was assuming I was starting on empty.  Gargh!  I turned around, got back in the car, hunched over hoping the tinting on the windows was still working, and got to empty.  Sorry Team RWB.

And then we got started, and I felt very fine for 20 miles.  My legs felt light, and I felt happy, and I ran with Meghan and peppered her with questions.  Meghan is a hero of mine.  She embodies the kindness and humbleness characteristic of the best runners in the ultrarunning community.

meghan and me

I figured I’d hang with her as long as my body held out.  I’ve never been much for running conservatively the first half of  a race.  I decided if I felt good, I should enjoy it and run along happily until I didn’t feel good.  I hollered “Older ladies rock!” as Meghan and I came through aid stations.  People chuckled and whooped.  This “running along happily” stage lasted exactly 20 miles.  And then 9 months of jogging slowly wearing a belly band on a treadmill, 2 1/2 months of actual running after the baby was born, a general lack of sleep, and running faster at Bandera than I had a right to, smacked me down hard.  I dragged myself through the final 10 miles of the first 50k loop plagued by thoughts of dropping.

I tried to stop thinking and just run.  I convinced myself I should try to run the first 50k as best as I could and then make a decision about the rest of the race.  At least I could clock a respectable 50k time if I had to walk the next 50k.

I was a disaster by the time I found my drop bag and pulled out the battery-powered breast pump. A friend showed me a privacy area they’d rigged up at the back of the aid station shed.  A brown plastic tarp hung from the ceiling with a piece of paper labeled “Changing Station” taped to it.  My friend dragged a folding chair over, and I sat down and started pumping – and crying.  I was just so tired and I felt so exposed — with just a thin tarp between me and my bovine impression.  I cursed myself for entering the 100k instead of the 50k.  What the hell was I thinking?  I wasn’t ready to run 62 miles.  I’d been training hard for 2.5 months, but 62 miles is 62 miles.  I hadn’t respected the distance.  And now here I was, half-naked, covered with sotol scratches, with another 6 or 7 or 8 or 12 hours ahead of me.  The absolute pitifulness of it all actually made me smile — for half a second.  I finished and walked back over to my drop bag.  I wanted to drop.  It made sense to drop.  I’d overreached.  And I didn’t have the luxury of finishing this race at all costs.  I had to get Asa, my 6 year-old home, and then take care of the baby.  I certainly couldn’t be dumb and land myself in the hospital with rhabdo.  And I worried I was risking rhabdo with all these hours of running in the heat.  What the hell had I been thinking?

My friend David Hanenburg saw me floundering and began talking to me.  He told me we should start walking toward the next aid station.  Just walking.  I told him I should probably be done, that I wanted to be done, but that I was wearing the RWB shirt, and I couldn’t see a way of dropping while I was wearing it.  I wasn’t injured.  Yet.  I certainly wanted to be injured.  Or attacked by bees — anything that would give me a respectable reason for dropping while I was wearing that damn shirt.  I just couldn’t see a way of trying to help RWB runners if I wasn’t willing to suck it up and finish what I’d started.  But I really didn’t want to finish.  I’ve had suffer-fest races.  I’ve finished them.  I don’t have anything to prove to myself by continuing to do that.  But now I was wearing this dang shirt representing RWB and trying to embody the art of the possible.

I was just so tired, I told him.  Just so freaking tired.  (Except that I think I was swearing like a sailor.)  I’d only averaged about 5 hours of interrupted sleep in the past week.  And why the hell hadn’t I brought any music to listen too???

My pride also weighed me down.  I didn’t want people to judge me.  “She used to be good runner.”  Maybe New Balance would drop me from their running team.  Maybe RWB would choose someone faster to be their trail running liasion.   I knew none of that mattered, but it plagued me.  David told me people valued me for more than my race results.  He told me to just run from aid station to aid station.  And he told me it’d be okay to go ahead and get going.  He was convincing.  And so I got running.

I made it to the first aid station where Asa and all my friends were.  Asa squirted me with a water gun and I left.  I couldn’t imagine actually finishing yet, (still hoping for a bee attack), but I couldn’t drop right in front of  him.

“Why did you give up, Mommy?”

It was an hour to the next aid station, and my body slowly started to feel better.  I ran at a better clip.  But I was still so tired.  It was hard to keep my eyes focused.  I’d leapfrogged back into 2nd place from 4th place at this point.  And I didn’t care.  I promised myself a nap if I made it to the next aid station.  I would lay down for an hour as soon as I got there.  And then I’d think about dragging myself through the next 20 miles.  The aid station folks didn’t know what of me when I told them I wanted to take a nap.

“We don’t have anything for you to lie on.”

“That’s fine.”

I lay in the dirt and listened as the two girls behind me passed through the station.  One volunteer said, “This one’s done with the race.”

10 minutes passed and no bees attacked, so I got up.  If I was going to finish, I might as well get closer to the finish line.

And I felt better.

And then I felt even better.

I started to run at a good clip.  I ran up hills.  I passed the two girls ahead of me.  Melanie Peters ended up coming in third, and she couldn’t have been nicer to me or more encouraging when we were near one another.  I will never forget her kindness and graciousness – and her good humor about the Bandera rocks.

The sun got lower in the sky and my leg turnover increased, and I ran as fast as I think I’ve ever run to the finish line.

I don’t know why I bounced back.  Beet juice? 😉 Years of ultra running?  Course knowledge?  High fat, low carb diet?  Good fortune?

I do know I wouldn’t have persevered without David’s friendship and encouragement — or if I hadn’t been wearing the Team RWB shirt – and known veterans in the organization who have worked harder and persevered through more than I ever will.

Screen shot 2014-01-12 at 6.47.15 AM

So in summary:

Two nursing stops.  One nap.  10:39ish finish.

About an  hour faster than last hear and only about an hour slower than my PR.

2nd place.  $500.  Western States spot.  (Should I take it?)

I am not going to run Rocky 100 in two weeks.  It’s not the extra 38 miles.  I’m just too tired to stay up that long right now.  And the baby is not going to start sleeping through the night in the next two weeks.  I’ll run the Umstead 100 in April and figure out something else to do in February and March.

Thanks for reading.  It’s going to be a good racing year.  🙂  Also, for you more mature readers, Meghan told me she didn’t start ultra running until she was 41.

 

 

 

Comments 43
  • Gene Taylor
    Posted on

    Gene Taylor Gene Taylor

    Reply Author

    Well done Liza. All things considered, Very well done.
    Why did you bounce back? Beet juice; did’nt hurt. Years of ultra running and course knowledge; well Yea. Diet; always helps. Good fortune; Yes, but you make your own good fortune. Coveted Belt buckle; coveting can be a powerful thing. Team RWB shirt; there is magical energy in the desire to “represent”!
    Winning $500; could cover most of the cost to come to the Kettle, just sayin’ 🙂

    GT


    • Liza Howard
      Posted on

      Liza Howard Liza Howard

      Reply Author

      Thanks Gene! I also wanted to be the type of runner and person who doesn’t stop unless they have to. You know, stubborn. 😉


  • Niki
    Posted on

    Niki Niki

    Reply Author

    I am so so proud of you Liza. You are an amazing runner, but you are an even better person. In fact, I’m pretty sure you hold the world record for awesomeness. You inspire me as a runner, but definitely more as a wonderfully honest, funny, intelligent, insightful do-gooder and mom extraordinaire.
    You kicked ass on that race, though!! Whoohoo! Yay Liza!! I got my killer snakey buckle too….definitely worth some pain 🙂


    • Liza Howard
      Posted on

      Liza Howard Liza Howard

      Reply Author

      Thank you Niki! And excellent about your buckle!!! We’ll have to wear them for Snake Fessst. 🙂


  • trimble
    Posted on

    trimble trimble

    Reply Author

    nice job. You are so amazing. I am in awe. We love you!


    • Liza Howard
      Posted on

      Liza Howard Liza Howard

      Reply Author

      Thanks so much Trimble. I’m glad you didn’t see my pity party.


  • Becky
    Posted on

    Becky Becky

    Reply Author

    I love this so much! You really are amazing. And btw, nice rack! 🙂


  • Emily
    Posted on

    Emily Emily

    Reply Author

    Truly inspiring, Liza!!!


  • Jen
    Posted on

    Jen Jen

    Reply Author

    You are an absolute hero! You watch- this will be your best year ever. Nevermind the lack of sleep, pumping or wrangling 2 kiddos. You are stronger than ever, and hungry for this sport. I am excited to see you kick some butt. Don’t ever underestimate the mamas in ultrarunning!! Great job and yes, take the WS spot:)
    Jen


    • Liza Howard
      Posted on

      Liza Howard Liza Howard

      Reply Author

      Thanks for the kind words Jen. I’m just not excited about the treadmill training WS would entail here in San Antonio.


  • Sarah
    Posted on

    Sarah Sarah

    Reply Author

    Super proud of you and maybe I need one of those shirts. You looked pretty much ready to be done at Last Chance on the second loop. Hope you get an uninterrupted sit-down meal at least.


  • Chuck
    Posted on

    Chuck Chuck

    Reply Author

    Awesome day!


  • Dave Hale
    Posted on

    Dave Hale Dave Hale

    Reply Author

    Way to go Liza.


  • Runnerhol
    Posted on

    Runnerhol Runnerhol

    Reply Author

    Wow! What a race, Liza! That is awesome and inspiring. Stefan and I ran a few miles yesterday and I was lamenting the fact that I needed a swift kick in the pants and motivation to be strong in Houston next weekend for a mere 26.2 race. He suggested that I read your blog. I did. And I am going to read it several more times before Sunday for the booster effect! Thanks for being a great inspiration to this old lady. Keep the pace! Holly


    • Liza Howard
      Posted on

      Liza Howard Liza Howard

      Reply Author

      Thanks Holly! I’ll be cheering for you. Marathoning pain is no joke — much more intense and no room for napping. That’s what I’ve heard anyway. 😉


  • Erin Earle
    Posted on

    Erin Earle Erin Earle

    Reply Author

    woohooooooo!!! goosebumps! you amaze. congrats Liza! i am a “mature reader” and i love this race report, esp the final sentence 🙂


  • map26
    Posted on

    map26 map26

    Reply Author

    Wow!! Liza you are an inspiration as a matter of fact I said hi to you while I was layering more clothes on at Cross Roads. I think you were grabbing your bags. I whispered to my friend look there’s Liza Howard with a smile on my face. I decided to say hi.. I don’t know her but always read her blogs so felt like I knew you. You came right over and gave us a hug and told us something but since I was freezing and tired I don’t remember everything you said. I do remember you said “What can I tell you keep going Bandera is well Bandera!” That is so true!! Just those simple words and most importantly the hug was an inspiration and kept me pushing. I finished maybe not in the amazing time you did but I finished. At that point my friend and I figured lets get to that finish line even if we walk. We are getting the same buckle the guy/gal before us is! And we did just that FINISHED.. Thanks Liza from one mom to another you are amazing and an inspiration!


    • Liza Howard
      Posted on

      Liza Howard Liza Howard

      Reply Author

      Your note made my night. Thank you so much. And congratulations!!!! That is just excellent. It was so fun seeing you on the trail. What’s next?


  • Jen R
    Posted on

    Jen R Jen R

    Reply Author

    As a “mature” mom of six who started ultrarunning after 40, I’ve gotta say that you and Meghan both are an inspiration. Speedy ladies, you two! I thoroughly enjoyed your report (there were more than a few LOLs there) and wish you another speedy 2014.


    • Liza Howard
      Posted on

      Liza Howard Liza Howard

      Reply Author

      Thanks Jen! Honestly writing these reports and getting to know folks through this blog has been one of the most rewarding parts of all this running. 🙂


  • Brenda Bland
    Posted on

    Brenda Bland Brenda Bland

    Reply Author

    Hi Liza,
    Congrats on your wonderful finish!
    Thanks for posting your honest emotions. Folks don’t realize that behind those fabulous runners lurks a real person just like them! I’ve also been in races where I just wanted to get injured so I’d have a good reason to drop. (also kept going and felt better) Glad you went through to the other side with the help of your friends. That is the best! Hope to see you at Leadville again this year.
    From an even more mature ultlrarunner,
    Brenda


    • Liza Howard
      Posted on

      Liza Howard Liza Howard

      Reply Author

      Thanks so much Brenda! I will definitely see you at Leadville! Are you staying at the hostel?


      • Brenda Bland
        Posted on

        Brenda Bland Brenda Bland

        Reply Author

        Not at the hostel, but at Sugarloafin. We’ll be in town most every day. So, ill be seeing you there!


        • Liza Howard
          Posted on

          Liza Howard Liza Howard

          Reply Author

          Great! We might be at Sugarloafin too. Have to figure that out. 🙂


  • Mizzsingbabe
    Posted on

    Mizzsingbabe Mizzsingbabe

    Reply Author

    That was amazing comeback. Its an inspiration


  • Angela
    Posted on

    Angela Angela

    Reply Author

    Ultrarunning at 41? Wow, maybe there is hope for me. I will run my first marathon in January, Houston. This was a great blog post. I found it through iRunfar.com. Thanks for giving hope to moms like myself.


    • Liza Howard
      Posted on

      Liza Howard Liza Howard

      Reply Author

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Angela! I am also running the Houston marathon this year. We have to be sure to wish each other luck before the race!