Saturday, November 27, 2010

JFK 50 Miler November 20, 2010

JFK was my third ultra and second 50. As was the case in the last two, saying I covered a certain distance just doesn’t accurately describe the race. Yes, I covered 50 miles, actually probably more like 51 or 2. (My Garmin watch died when it read about 45 miles, so I can’t be sure). The race is more than just the distance; it is also what those miles contain. Yes, 50 miles is a lot, but that’s only part of what makes these ultras hard.

The week leading up to the race was stressful. I was PMS-ing horribly. I was bloated and tender as well as irritable. A joy for my husband I am sure. I also have a weird condition called catamenial pneumothorax. To make a really long explanation short, I run the risk of lung collapse around the start of my monthly menses. Obviously this is something I want to avoid. The greatest risk seems to be about 2 days before and after day I start. I was right in the target zone.

Friday I made the roughly 2 hour drive up to the Hagerstown area in Washington County Maryland. The area is a rural one. I saw many farms, wide open spaces and small mountains in the backdrop. I picked up my race number and enjoyed the small expo with excited runners buzzing about.

I checked into my hotel, which was closer to the finish, and started to fret about the weather. My friend Connie Gardner, on her way from Ohio, would be coming in later than planned. She wouldn’t get in till 9:30 pm. Connie did make it and gave me some of her elite and veteran advice as we laid out our stuff for the morning.

5am came quickly and we were up and at ‘em. We got on the road quickly and made it to the high school in Boonsboro by 6:15am. One of the small joys of ultra running is the smaller percentage of women that do these events. Fewer ladies equal shorter bathroom lines than at shorter distance races. I made my final decision on what to wear and carry and handed the remaining items off to be recollected at the finish.

Still PSMing, I took 800mg of Ibuprophen and hoped it would help. I strapped on my Nathan hydration vest, loaded with lots of stuff I may want. I probably didn’t need to lug all that extra weight around but it provides me a sort of security blanket. We walked the 1000 meters to the start line and at 7am sharp ascended up the 2 ½ mile climb to the Appalachian Trail head.

The initial 2 ½ miles up took me about 30 minutes and was a combo of running and lots of walking up the steeper inclines. It’s frustrating to walk so early, but I heeded the words of many ultra veterans to let people go this early on and just take it easy. I entered the trail in 615th place overall.

The Appalachian Trail (AT) was tougher than I thought it would be. But honestly, I am glad I didn’t know. I was told it was rocky. And it is, but somehow “rocky” doesn’t fully capture the conditions. Connie told me to take it as a fast hike. I am not a good technical trail runner if for only the lack of experience on them. My goal was to stay vertical and not twist my bad ankle. That was accomplished. Others were not as lucky. One runner face planted on the trail, broke his nose, lost a tooth and otherwise was a bloody mess. I came across several runners who had also kissed the rocky terrain. One with a nice gash above his nose, another with bloody knees, many with twisted ankles and one poor guy wiped out right in front of me yards from the AT exit.

I grew weary of the rocks those last couple miles on the AT. I cannot tell you how much concentration it takes to make sure you cover the ground in such a pattern as to avoid your own collapse. My eyes were always looking down, looking at the runner’s feet ahead of me, eyeing for the next solid footing. If my mind strayed for even a second, I would stumble. I was in awe of any runner who pranced lightly past me, more dancing than running. They had a special skill indeed.

There was a segment that was asphalt between sections of the AT. I looked forward to this and thought I would be able to actually run more here. But, the road section was up, up and more up! Steep and long the mountain climb continued.

Towards the end of the AT came the switchbacks. In addition to the rocks you now have steep twists and turns with a substantial drop off the side should you misstep. So close to the end I opted to be careful and get off in one piece.

As I exited the AT, in about 3:45 (almost 16 miles), I was relieved to have made it through, what I thought would be the toughest part, injury free. I grabbed a couple cookies, refilled my hydration bladder and ran off to the C&O towpath.

The loose plan here was to alternate running 8 minutes walking 2 minutes. But I felt really good so I decided to walk when I felt like it and not stick to any structured plan. I did take my time at each aid station, which looking back probably cost me more time than I would have liked. I held on to a nice pace while running the next 27 miles or so, averaging 10-11 min/miles with the walk breaks and aid station stops. My goal going into this was a 12 min/m average, so I knew I needed to run faster than that now to make up for any lost time on the AT.

The Baltimore marathon gave out neon yellow shirts as their official swag for marathon runners. In 2009 I got a similar shirt at the Boston marathon. Neon yellow seems to have made a comeback from the 80s and appears to be the new black in the running community. I do not particularly care for this color and started playing a game of picking off as many yellows as I could. I’d focus in one a yellow and reel them in.

The C&O was my kind of running. What many runners call boring and flat, I call fantastic. I was mowing people down for more than a marathon. I looked for any neon yellow shirt to pass, and then looked for any women. Female and in a yellow shirt? Double points. I think I passed a couple hundred people on this section. I was feeling good, enjoying the themed aid stations, like Miracle on 34th Street at mile 34 with Santa.

As good as the aid stations were, the food was pretty much the same station to station. I was craving a salty boiled potato forever and never found one. (I did here later that they did offer some around mile 45). A couple nice guys were cooking Chicken Noodle soup on their driveway, and that was good. Funny what you will accept in such situations. The dry pretzel sticks were like chalk in my mouth. Thank goodness for the coke they offered. I was trying Hammer’s new Perpetum tablets as my main source of fuel. But those darn things turned to powder halfway through from all the bouncing around in the tube. I think this ended up being part of the reason I hit the wall later. I was not properly fueling.

The towpath was fairly uneventful. Picturesque and perfect temperatures. I kept buzzing by people. One lady used me as her human Garmin for a little while, continually asking me our pace and how far we had gone. Made me a little crazy so I sped up to get away from her. I saw some chickens running around, campers, and people with loaded bikes going on a weekend adventure.

Of course things were getting sore. I thought I felt something in my shoe. A pebble maybe had found a way through my gaiters? But, it didn’t move when I wiggled my toes. Maybe it was the band aids I used to tape up common trouble spots irritating me. Later I find that I was developing some huge blisters.

The outside of my knees started to really scream, right where the ITB inserts. My left calf had an ‘almost cramp’ which I somehow willed away before it turned into a Charlie horse. My back started to ache, most likely from my pack hitting it. I took another 800mg of Advil and chugged along.

I passed many inspiring people who had started with the 5am group. One gentleman really stood out and put my effort into prospective. I am not sure what his physical challenges were, but he leaned heavily to one side, his legs were rail thin, eaten up looking, veins bulging. Not a young man, his body looked like a trap to me. Yet, there he was. There he was. What I was doing was easy comparatively.

As the towpath was coming to an end I thought to myself that I would much rather be finishing the last 8 miles on this than hopping back onto the unforgiving asphalt of the roads. Off the C&O and guess what? A big ‘ole hill. Up I climbed. This is where I got that nice cup of chicken noodle soup from two guys on their driveway.

The roads were rolling and I walked just about anything that vaguely qualified as an uphill. Of course, NOW I had to pee. In the wide open farm lands, I had to pee. My radar was up for a semi-private area but none was found. Luckily the next aid station had a porta potty that I almost fell into b/c of my weary legs. More coke and a couple very dry pretzels. Bleh.

These seemed like the longest 8 miles of my life. I hugged the side of the road. Each mile marker seemed to take forever to get too. I had two side goals going into the JFK. One was to finish before the sun set and one was to finish before my Garmin died. The fact that I was given a mandatory reflective vest leaving the C&O didn’t make the beating the sunset goal seem as doable. Then at 45 miles (about 44 on the course) my watch called it quits.

The miles seemed to drag at this point. Up and down, rolling along, more walking than running. I recall passing a sign stating “4 miles to Williamsport”, our destination. It seemed so far still to go.

I was running with a group about this time. We were all quietly battling our own personal demons. I swear I smelled pot. A strong odor that didn’t seem to pass as I continued. Finally I asked if I was the only one who smelled the weed. Everyone started laughing. I wasn’t alone. Apparently someone was having themselves a good time.

With about 2 miles to go, it was getting dark and cold. I struggled for a moment out of my reflective and hydration vest to put my long sleeve shirt back on. Every attempt I made at running ended quickly with a wave of nausea. I can run through pain. Everything hurt to some degree. But it’s really hard to run when you feel like throwing up. In my mind I also knew that I was on my own that night. I had to be well enough to care for my post race needs. With about 1 ½ or so to go I walked it in. It was frustrating but I am sure the smarter thing to do. Somewhere along the way I didn’t get my race nutrition right. I am pretty sure that’s what the problem was.

Of course, I mustered up enough energy with about 200 meters from the finish, to run in through the finish shoot. Thank God I was D-O-N-E! Medal around my neck, tag removed from my bib and I was heading to the warmth of the school. I wanted to cry. I wanted to hug someone and collapse into a friend or family. But, teary eyed, I snapped a quick picture of myself holding my medal.

I was already worried about how I would get some decent dinner. Major props to Moe’s for showing up with the nicest people and serving the finishers a wonderful dinner. It was heaven sent. I inhaled it and headed to the locker rooms for a quick change. The locker room was equipped with showers, and actually sort of reminded me of a Porky’s movie. I guess many ultra ladies are not self conscious. I opted for the privacy of my hotel room.

Thankfully the buses that were transporting us back to the start line didn’t take too long to arrive. Half an hour later or so, I was wobbling around the school at the start looking for my car. It was a funny sight watching everyone shuffle to their cars. Once in my car it was another ½ hour to the hotel. I did not plan this very well, as you can see.

The tub stopper was broken in my shower but I took it as a sort of blessing. My plans to sit in a cold tub were thwarted. A hot shower it was with bags of ice rotating around various achy body parts as I ate some choc chip cookies, drank some recovery drink and watched reruns of House.

On Monday I feel alright. I was a bit swollen all over and especially my knees. I tend to gain a few pounds during these events as well. My biggest concern is a numb toe and corresponding pain on the ball of my foot. May be neuroma. The soreness already seems to be getting better.

And so ended the adventure! I am learning more with each of these. I learned that I am not a technical trail runner and will never be unless I get out on the trails a whole lot more. I like the flat, even, boring stuff.


486/1014 finishers

34/75 age group

10:22:58 12:28 pace

2/4 Crofton runners

top 20 local finisher

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Baltimore Marathon 2010 (and a quick blog on the B&A trail marathon 2010)

heading to the starting line
 The 2010 Baltimore Marathon was held in the windy city this year.  Wait...  not that windy city, Baltimore just borrowed the term for the day.  The series of events held on Saturday October 16th welcomed about 23,000 runners.

 I woke up early with the goal if getting into town and finding a parking spot situated between the start and finish.  I scored a nice spot right on Russell not far from the start and near the runner's finishing area. 

Close to the 8am start I made my way up Russell looking for the 3:50 pace group.  My plan was to run a consistent race as a fairly comfortable pace, yet pushing some, but easy enough to recover quickly.  My ultimate goal is to run well at the JFK 50 miler, still a few weeks out.  I have never run a marathon strictly as a training run, but I recommend it!  All pressure is lost and enjoying the race was my main goal.  Now, I would be lying that anything over 4 hours would not sit well with me, so that time was lingering in the back of my mind.

The Geico pacers, who have won praises by many, were pretty darn good.  Having had experience pacing myself, it ain't easy and even if the pace is easy for you, maintaining it is not.  They did a good job, a bit faster, but okay.  I did lose them every once in a while after water stations, but stuck with them most of the run.
As we sung the National Anthem, a sky diver landed perfectly among the tall buildings in front of the finish line.  Then a cannon sounded sending confetti on all as we crossed the starting line.  The first 4 miles, or so, are up.  We climbed about 350 feet in elevation those first 4 miles, but it bothered me little if at all thanks to all the adrenaline and excitement.  I hit the 4 mile mark clocking an 8:41 min/mile average.  A bit faster than planned, but I was feeling good. 

Around Montibello Lake
We lost all that elevation from miles 4 to 10, but in a rolling manner.  The streets are not in the best shape in Baltimore, so eyes were often down watching for pot holes and uneven pavement.  Much of the course was actually on concrete, or similar material, rather than the more forgiving tar of the roads.  This ultimately beat my knees up pretty bad. Miles 10 to about 16 were rolling but manageable.  Aid stations were placed quite consistently throughout the course and I was never thirsty for long.  I did learn that I do have a problem with over hydrating which is kind of ironic for me.  I always thought it was nearly impossible to over hydrate and quite honestly never paid that much attention to it until ultras peeked my interest earlier this year.  Then properly fueling was essential.  As a result I believe I started taking in more fluids than needed.  Once again this was the case and caused my hands to swell in the later stages.  This was confirmed with a couple pound wait gain once I was home.

The course was crowded the entire way.  Narrow, it never really allowed for much opening up.  And just when you thought perhaps you would have some breathing room the 1/2 marathoners joined us at about mile 16.  I did run into my friend who was running the half and we briefly ran together.  But mostly I felt like I was weaving through slower 1/2ers and relay runners.  I know this expended energy, but I tried to make up for it hugging corners and turns and running tangents as much as possible.  Around 16 our pace leader said to get ready for the onslaught of hills to come.  From 16 to about 23 you look to gain about 250 feet.  Not as much as those first few miles, but more painful because you already have 16 on the legs.  Plus, a few of these hills were steep.  Up and up we went.   About this time, the wind, which had be fairly calm to breezy, decided to pick up.  Some sections were down right gusty.  Wind is an enemy to the runner above all other running conditions (at least in my book). 

Spilled a little something
 We hit Montebello Lake around mile 20 for the one mile loop.  Though it was a relief not to have hills to contend with, the wide open area allowed winds to have their way with us.  I tried to focus on the positive and looked forward to seeing my neighbor who was  manning the Annapolis Striders Station at 21.  About this time I was drenched with a cup of Gatorade from a passing runner.  Don't people look before tossing their cups?

Entering mile 22 I thought the hills were pretty much done.  And if I believed the well-meaning spectators, I would have cruised downhill to the finish.  Not so!  We did have a net loss in elevation, but the hills still erupted along the way.  I no longer trusted those on the side lines yelling that this was indeed the last hill.  Yeah right!  I knew better now.

I  was feeling a little rough but no rougher than any other longer run.  I started passing people left and right.  That always feels good.  The problem was the amount of people.  Weaving in and out of the ever present crowds became a mission.  I was scoping out a bit ahead for the shortest path to the next hole in the crowds. 
I took mile 25 a bit easier with the intent of pushing it in that last mile a bit faster than what I had been running.  Finish strong so to speak.  At the top of what eventually was the last hill, was a guy standing on his car, dressed as a tiger, with "Eye of the Tiger" blaring from his car stereo.  Good stuff.

Approaching mile 21

I ran that last mile, cruising past quite a few runners, in about an 8 min/mile pace.  Good for me for the 26th mile.  I intently checked my watch as we neared 26 miles.  My watched read "26" but I saw no mile marker.  Maybe they didn't put out a 26?  Then I saw it, way ahead.  My watch read almost 26.2 when I got to that sign.  Bummer!  Still .2 to go.  My watch officially clocked 26.31 miles, which is to be expected.  It's almost impossible to run a course exactly as measured.  And given all the weaving I was doing, I wasn't that far off.  Nonetheless, the garmin watch has added a new element to these longer races.  I often think back to my dad's marathoning days and wonder how far he actually ran and how fast in those pre-chip days.  I am sure he could take a couple minutes off his 2:59 Marine Corps Marathon PR.

I came across the line and needed a drink!  My lips were painfully chapped from the wind.  But Mylar blankets and the enormous medal were handed out first.  The crowd moved slowly and eventually I had a bottle of water in my hand.  I headed into the finishers area and briefly looked around.  The winds had seriously picked up (almost knocked me sideways that last stretch into Camden Yards) and I was getting cold in my wet clothes. 

The lines for food (general fare:  chips, fruit) was long. I snuck in line and grabbed a banana.  The beer line was long too as was the soup line (which was what I most wanted at that point).  I am just not one to wait in line.  Call it lack of patience, but getting home was suddenly more appealing then shivering in the wind, beer and soup in hand. 

I ended up walking about a mile, looking for my car I had so carefully parked before the race.  I wandered off in the opposite direction quite a ways before realizing that nothing looked familiar.  Good grief!  I turned around and ambled back eventually spotting my car.  A quick clean up and change and I was headed home.  Running the marathon without my family was a bummer, but each of my kids had activities planned for the day that I was not going to ask them to give up.  The JFK 50 will be for that!
Almost done!

So, all on all, I think Baltimore did a good job.  It was well organized.  They have a ton of races going on and it seemed to all run pretty smoothly.  The course itself is quite challenging.  Probably the toughest road marathon I have ever run.  Really beat up my joints (knees, hips) because of the bad street conditions and concrete surfaces.  It was super crowded.  I know some runners enjoy the energy from a larger group.  Not me so much. I don't mind running with others, but I enjoy finding my own space, not having to have a strategic plan to pass someone and just room to get in a groove.  That said, I did get to run and meet some neat people.

And if I am being picky, the shirts are a bit loud.  They are made of a wonderful recycled material that is butter soft but the color!  Good Lord.  Remember the neon yellow of the 80s?  Yeah, that loud.

Today, the first day post race, I feel good expect for my knees and a few other sore spots.  I am very happy with the effort as it puts me in a good place for the upcoming ultra.

Here are the stats according to my Garmin watch:
26.31 miles in 3:49:25 (8:43 min/mile average).
Official time was 3:51.  I believe my watch.  :)
I placed 26 out of 185 in the 35-39 age group (top 14%) and 174 out of 1,234 women (top 14%).  Out of the 3,353 marathoners, I came in 782 (top 23%).

B&A Trail
2010 B&A Trail Marathon March 7, 2010
I never blogged about my marathon earlier this year, mostly because it was fairly uneventful.  I was running it as a way to ensure my readiness to pace a runner during the last 40 miles of the famed Western States 100 during the summer.

I enjoyed the marathon a lot and this will be one of the few I would consider running more than once.  It's a smaller event, and cold conditions prevail, but the weather was nice that day (despite a snow storm the week before).  I started way to slow with the halfers, my fault.  But ended up with the following stats:
26.33 miles in 3:50:32 (8:45 avg pace)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Gunpowder Keg 50k at Gunpowder State Park Maryland 9-18-2010

on the trail

As of September 2010, I have one 50 miler to my name (as well as several pacing experiences at some high profile ultras).  As part of my training for the JFK 50 miler, to be held in November, I planned on running at least two 30 mile training runs.  I heard the Baltimore Road Runners were hosting a Fat Ass event on the trails at Gunpowder State Park, and thought this was the perfect way to not only get in a 30+ mile run, but also get myself out in the trails in prep for the 50 miler.  Little did I know what I was getting myself into.

The Fast Ass event basically requested a $5 donation to the state park and a gallon of water to share with fellow runners.  Nothing fancy, just come and run.  I packed up my car's trunk with some food, various Gus and other "ultra" stuff thinking I was going way overboard for a measly 30 miler that was solely functioning as a training run.

There were maybe 75 people there, if that ( I am horrible at eyeballing numbers), lined up in the parking lot.  The course would consist of 3 loops of about 10 miles each, with options of stopping after each.  I was debating whether to wear my hydration vest and carrying Gus since a simple aid station had been set up around mile 5.  Luckily decided to strap it on.  That 5 miles would take me much longer than planned.

In my Leopard print Moeben dress I headed off with the group into the forest.  We were reduced to a walk as we fell in line on the single track trail.  I felt some pressure to keep up my pace to not slow those behind me!  Gradually we all spread out and had plenty of room to navigate.  After one mile I knew my goal of a sub 6 hour finish was no longer reasonable.  This trail was more technical then I had predicted and, as I would soon find out, this early portion was the most runnable.

One of a couple sets of stairs
 I took that first loop to get to know the course.  I struggled to find a rhythm.  I was continually surprised at what was thrown at us and how much it varied mile after mile.  Rocks, boulders, roots, streams, large tree trunks to hop, mud, tall grass where the trail wasn't even visible and the steepest hills I have ever climbed in a race situation.  The steepest hill, as recorded by my garmin, was 65% grade!  Is that even possible?  The amount of climbing per loop was unexpected (for me anyway).

I am not a good technical trail runner, if only for the fact that I don't run on them often enough.  The last 50 miler I ran (North Face DC), I fell hard.  I was nervous there would be a repeat performance today and I was determined to stay sure footed.  However, I had a bad feeling, after a dozen stumbles and quick saves from face plants, that I would inevitably kiss the trail below my feet.  I told a runner, Charlie, behind me to watch out so I don't take him down too.  My toes started to hurt from all the toe jamming I was doing.  I start to envision creating a trail shoe with a steel tip.

After the first loop I stopped at my car for 5 minutes to apply bandaids where I could already feel blisters developing.  I guess the movement of my feet in my shoes going up and down such extreme inclines was rubbing some areas raw.  I also threw some Heed into my pack and took a few extra Gus along. 

stream crossing
Loop two actually felt a ton better than loop one.  Although I stumbled along, my ability to catch myself and spare eating dirt, amazed me.  I had fun on this loop.  I was mostly alone, which I enjoyed.  Me intertwined with nature.  Just the two of us.  I did worry a bit about the foliage that was constantly in contact with my bare skin.  "Leaves of three, stay away from me" kept running through my head.  I have never been good at identifying poison ivy or oak.  I saw many leaves of three.  I started singing "leaves of three are all over me"!

Some of the hills were a bitty.  There was no way I could run up these suckers.  And a few of the declines were so steep I wish I had skis to just slide down them.  Knowing you had to do it once again (for loop 3) was hard mentally.  The stream crossings were not bad.  I dipped my hands in the cool water to freshen up.  I finished the 2nd loop 10 minutes slower than the first, which surprised me.  I felt so much stronger and better that loop.  I was now 4:35 into this thing!  A sub six was out, so I set my sights on a sub 7 hour. 

see the man way up ahead?
up, up and away
I spent 5 min at my car again and assessed my body.  I added a few more bandaids and ate a rice crispie treat.  At this point I wished I had packed my ankle brace.  A while back my ankle was severely damaged in an accident.  As a result I have what's called a floppy ankle.  I have worked hard to rebuild strength and have only recently stopped wearing my brace religiously.  But my ankle was hurting now.  The technical trail was making mush out of it.

I was eager to start the third loop.  It looked like most of the runners had already called it quits.  I am not sure how many did the full 50k, but will post results when I get them.  I had a great mental attitude going in for my final dance with this forest.  I felt like I had gotten to know the trail enough to successfully navigate this last loop and get in under 7 hours.  I would run all the runnable parts at a good clip, and did just that for the first 3 1/2 miles.  As I was feeling like maybe I had this trail whipped, my foot caught a root or rock, and I hit the ground hard.  Left side again (as at NorthFace), but no rolling this time.  Just a solid thud to the earth.  Should a 39 year old woman be falling like this?  I was alone and there I lay for a moment figuring out the damage.  My knee hurt and quickly developed a swollen knot.  A couple scratches and a bruised hand was all I saw. I dipped my hands and knee into a stream to clean it up.  I was coming up on a portion of the trail that was within a quarter mile of the finish line and my car.  I seriously contemplated heading in.  Twenty-five miles is good enough, right?

As I crested the hill at which the decision to go home was to be made, a volunteer was standing there.  I told him I had fallen.  He said it looked fine to him and to keep going.  As simple as that, I did.  As I ran I realized that my left side was hurting.  I later find bruises on my clavicle, shoulder, arm and butt.  Not bad though.

in true ultra fashion:  a sharing of
the battle wounds
I'll spare you pics of
my bruised bum
Another 6 1/2 to go and into the woods I head for the last time to battle that damn 65% grade hill.  I saw runners coming back home and knew I still had the hardest part ahead of me.  Determined not to fall, I did slow some and was more cautious.  I started to notice things I had not before.  Was that a snake I heard slithering through the grass?  Did those happy boy scouts tubing down the river know I was 25 miles into this thing?  Why are there so many worms on the trail and why are they so big?  I mean baby-snake big.

I prayed, as I always do, for a safe finish as well as family and friends.  I started to get lonely.  I texted my husband and eventually talked to him.  I was ready to be done but knew I had at least an hour to go.  One step forward at a time.  Just keep moving.
Something snapped in me with about 4 miles to go.  I would run as much as I could, falling be damned, and get my ass done with this Fat Ass 50k.  I caught up with a couple runners, with whom I hiked up our last major hill.  Then it was down that super steep hill.  I don't know what I was thinking, but I let lose and barrelled down that thing like I was being chased by a cougar. As I came to more level ground, I kept up the pace.  This seemed like a good plan, and was going well, until that final climb the finish line.  The distance was maybe 1/2 a mile, maybe shorter, but the zigzag to the top reduced me to a walk right at the end!  I swore out loud and got going again.  Then walked again.  Damn.  One more run attempt and I ran into the finish area where one person clapped. 

felt worse than it looked
prettier as the days
went on

I had just run the toughest 50k, really any race, of my life and no one was there.  There were a couple race volunteers and a couple runners.  I felt like the last to finish, but a couple more dragged in after me.

That night my body had fits, reacting as if in mid fall. I dreamed I was still running the race.  Seeing the trail under me.  I would feel myself stumble and jolt awake just as my body hit the ground.  Do other runners have these dreams post race?

This race was a lot more than I bargained for.  But it also gave me a lot.  Who knew I could throw down 30 miles under these conditions?  I have no doubt that I can handle the JFK 50 miler after this.  And the Baltimore marathon, which I am also using as a training run, will feel like a freaking gift.

The day after I am sore but also thankful for the experience.  My quads are beat up after my downhill blitz.  My entire body aches from the effort.  But I welcome the pain and enjoy it.  Few people understand this.  Ultra running and trail running has taking me to places I would normally never venture.  The mental strength I gained, the drive to persist, makes me feel strong and able.  My only wish is that I cannot share it with my love ones more directly. 

Friday, July 02, 2010

Western States 100: pacer's view

Like a kid in a candy store I approached the Western States 100.3 mile trail run with wide eyes.  I was completely honored to be present at the race considered as the "it" event in ultra running.  Much thanks to Shannon Farar-Grieffer for asking me to pace and making it all possible.
As I planned this blog I didn't want to bore readers with too many pre-race details.  But, honestly, some of my most memorable experiences came before the shot gun fired that had runners head out on their journey from Squaw Valley to Auburn, CA. 

Elite runner Connie Gardner and her friend Wayne picked me up at the airport.  Once at Squaw Valley (which is not the easiest place to get to from the east coast) I was in complete and total awe of my new surroundings.  How beautiful the mountains were that were topped off with snow.  Natural rock structures lined the streets and mountains.  Trees, though sparse at this elevation, looked strong and defiant in their intent to live and grow up here.  Even the darn pine cones were enormous.  Almost packed one home to show the kids. 

I stayed at a condo in the Village with Maria Clementi (who paced elite racer Connie Gardner) and Jenny (cannot recall her last name) who was crewing for another runner.  Our view was that of the start of the race which is all up.  I decided then that I would run to the top of the mountain before I left Squaw Valley.

I had dinner with our gang as well as Jenn Shelton and her boyfriend Erik Skaggs.  Jenn would be pacing eventual second place finisher Anton Krupicka.  He is such a beautiful runner to watch.

Saturday morning I helped at the packet pickup sizing and handing out Moeben arm sleeves to participants.  I got to meet so many amazing runners, and the elite moving right along the line with the others.  Nikki Kimball was all smiles.  Meghan Arborgast, Devon Crosby-Helms came through.  The men were equally impressive.  I recall Kilian Jornet Burgada unassumingly gather his swag.  The one and only Gordy Ainsleigh(originator of the event) and I shook hands.  Representatives of Zoombie Runner and Running Warehouse were running. Neat stuff. 

Then I was off on my own adventure up the first 3.5 or 4 miles of the course (didn't wear my garmin so had to guess on the distance).  I started at the official starting line and, no joke, with 4 minutes decided to hike.  Good grief I was sucking wind.  Between starting at 6200 feet elevation and running up what usually is used as a downhill ski slope, I determined the smartest thing to do was not run.  So, as I struggled for air, I enjoyed the slowly passing landscape and captured some scenes with my blackberry phone.  I felt so lucky and alive on that mountain.  Difficult to put words to it.  The pictures don't do it justice either. 

The snow caps were melting and water was flowing everywhere creating beautiful creeks and waterfalls.  Little furry creatures (woodchucks maybe) scurried in their holes but seemed comfortable with my presence. I stopped to make conversation with a woman who turned out to be housed along with Hal Koerner.  Cool!  Most people were walking up and jogging down.  There were a couple crazy cats who ran to the top (and took my picture for me).  Mostly pacers were taking advantage of this day before the race to get in a run.

It took me about an hour to get to the top.  I considered continuing along the course but after about a quarter mile trying not to bust my butt in the sloppy snow, I turned to head back down.  Didn't want to risk getting hurt.  Took me only half the time to run back down but the loose gravel did pose it's own set of challenges.
Once down I quickly headed to the mandatory race meeting with Shannon and Tamara (also pacing).  Again, the depth of runners there this year was inspiring.  They called up the top 10 men and women.  We gave a special hoot and holler for Connie.

Race morning:  Up at 4am.  At Shannon's room by 4:30am.  Head to start and give last words of encouragement.  Count down and she's off with the other runners up Squaw Peak under the glow and guidance of a full moon.  The start was exciting and full of energy.    But, I knew I would have to settle myself back down and get some sleep to avoid being overly tired when my pacing duties took effect later that night.

Lots of details go into a race this long.  I won't bore you with too many of the details, but Tamara and I spent the day checking out and in hotels, traveling, getting our pacing bib, lining up Shannon's requests for various aid stations, keeping track online of our runner, etc...All while trying to keep my own activity level in check to make sure I can pace later.  38 miles was only a small chunk of the 100, but still a lot to cover. I wanted to be ready and rested for Shannon.

We first saw Shannon at Michigan Bluff (about 56 miles in) and she was looking great!  Complained a little of some pains, but when you've run this far something is going to hurt.  I didn't make much of it.  After weighing in and some refueling she and Tamara were off for the 6-7 mile stretch to Forest Hill where I would assume the pacing duties for the remainder of the race.

I do want to mention here how neat it was to see people coming through the aid stations.  I did get to see Alan Geraldi and his wife a few times throughout the day.  Alan and Cori were both troopers to endure a crazy weekend.  It's nice to finally meet people that I have corresponded with.

I drive to Forest Hill (which required navigating a crazy twisting road in Shannon's huge car), set up my camp and waited.  I ran into and hung out with friends Jimmy and Kate Freeman.  Jimmy had paced Gordy Ainsleigh up to FH.
I guess it was about 8:30pm or so when Shannon and Tamara come into view.  I rush over anxious to see how she is doing and to start pacing.  Shannon is smiling and Tamara said she was doing well.  After a few minutes filling up bottles we head into the darkness with headlamps and flashlights. 

Shannon's back and feet are bothering her.  She continually is adjusting her waist pack with no relieve.  But, despite that, she pretty much hauls butt on the downhill start of my leg.  We run on a narrow dirt path and have to watch our footing. 

The most memorable part I ran was also the most terrifying.  Long stretches of the course paralleled the American River.  It was dark and although the moon was full it was so far away and small it's contribution was dim.  The river traveled loudly way below us to the left.  The trail seemed to be wedged into the side of the mountain.  No room to rest on the right unless you wanted to lean into the uphill gradient.  I quietly prayed that if either of us fell we would do so to the right.  Falling left in a dark pit with raging waters somewhere below worried me.  I tried to look to see how far down such a fall would be, but felt dizzy trying to find something for my eyes to focus on.  There was only darkness.

The course continued to twist and turn sharply and throw us uncontrollably downhill and humble us to a slow walk on the it's steep ascents.     Everything seemed to be going fairly well until right before the river crossing.  Shannon was in some serious pain.  Her stomach and back were screaming.  She was also having problems peeing.  We get to the Rucky Chucky aid station and she is weighed.  Gained a few pounds and told she needs to up her sodium and pee. 

The crossing this year was by raft, which I had mixed feelings about.  I both wanted to have the experience of crossing this great river but at the same time was relieved that I wouldn't have soggy shoes the rest of the way.  The river was too high to cross on foot, so we were chauffeured across.  We get off the boat and are at the 78 mile mark! 

The next aid station, Green Gate, is only 1.7 miles away.  BUT it's all up.  I start to worry about Shannon.  She requests a 5 minute nap and curls up with the dusty trail and nocturnal bugs.  I flick a spider trying to mingle in her strands of hair.  Shannon couldn't care less. 

This 1.7 miles is slow going.  Shannon starts to double over in pain.  I encourage her that we have to make it to the next aid station.  I can't do much for her out here.  I am don't know how long that 1.7 miles took us (not sure when I stopped my watch), but I think it was about an hour.  We got to Green Gate around 5am.  Forty minutes to make a decision to continue or call it a day.  Heart wrenching to say the least.

She'd made it 80 miles and now the last 20 seemed insurmountable.  We had her looked at and tried a variety of things to get her pain level down.  Nothing worked.  With about 5 minutes left before the aid station closed, we talked.  Shannon has Badwater 135 in 2 weeks.  Her feet were eaten up.  The pain was not going away and could be an indication of something serious.  We opted to be smart and drop.  EMT showed up to look Shannon over, and although vitals checked okay, they recommended a trip to the hospital or doctor.

The aid station leader asked me where our crew was.  I said 'you're looking at it.' We caught a ride back to the hotel from a super nice couple who had been volunteering at the aid station.  Thank goodness for them. 

Shannon is now recovering and preparing for Badwater.  We put a sticker on the back of her car that reads "Badass Bitch" and that's the truth.  She's so tough.

I made it back home on the redeye and slept for the next day recovering from the journey.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

50 mile North Face Challenge DC: Saying we ran 50 miles, just doesn’t accurately describe what we did.

June 5, 2010

Cat and I met in the hotel lobby at 4am along with other foggy eyed runners ready for the North Face 50 mile Challenge in Sterling, VA. We questioned our sanity as Porter, my husband, drove us to the start only a few miles from the host hotel to Algonkian Park.

The scene was dark and the energy was calm as 203 runners readied for the challenge ahead. With headlamps lighting our way, we descending on the course with a couple whoops and hollers. The Potomac was rushing next to us, but was unseen in the moonless early morning hours. We were directed to the Potomac Heritage Trail. The surface seemed to change often. From crushed rock, to single track to dense weeds that stood 7 feet high and licked us as we passed.

Cat and I planned to run the first 25 miles easy and stay as comfortable as possible. The first two hours flew by as the conversation kept us afloat without much effort. We did start to run into some obstacles along the course that I guess is why it’s called a 50 mile “challenge” and not just a run. We scaled up rocks, leapt over logs and tried in vain to cross streams with minimal shoe immersion.

Cat and I found ourselves in last place being trailed by the sweeper on a mountain bike. We started to get a little stressed about making the first of the two hard cutoffs on the course. We had to be at the 22 mile aid station within 5 hours and 42 minutes. What seemed a ridiculously slow pace on paper the day before and now suddenly began to look more daunting.

The course was muddy, due to recent rains, which made the steep climbs and descents that much trickier to navigate. Lots of stumbles later, we made it to the 15 mile aid station, Great Falls, which also was the start of a 7 mile loop that to be completed 3 times with another aid station in-between. Cat and I decided to pick it up over the first loop for fear that we would miss this first cut off. Initially the course seemed quite friendly. Wide and soft. A family of deer appeared next to us. Before hitting the mid loop aid station, called Difficult Run, was a single track so narrow that traffic had to be directed to avoid colliding runners going in opposite directions. It was a decent drop into the rocky river waters below.

With a name like Difficult Run, you can’t help but wonder about the significance of the name. I quickly put it out of my mind. Soon I would know. We were getting hot and they had a tub of ice which we scooped into our hats and clothing. Quickly consumed some fluids and food and we were off. This is probably where the course became the most challenging. We turned onto the River Trail, which is described at the most technical portion of the 50 miles. We had to follow little orange ribbons to stay on the right path (which we diverged from twice, but luckily for not too long). As we made our way to Mather Gorge and the river, the trail starts to become quite rocky. And I am not talking little tips of rock sticking up through the trail. I am talking about trying to make a trail over boulders. One orange ribbon would be tied to a branch at the bottom of a mound of twisty large stones and then you’d see the second ribbon at the top.

The prize for our efforts was an amazing view of the river and of Mather Gorge. Breathtaking really. Cat and I both agreed that this was one of the perks of doing this. Seeing things we would normally never see. Many more climbs and tip toeing later, loop one was complete and about 22 miles done. We’d made the cut off with quite a bit of time to spare. We relaxed just a bit longer at the aid station, meeting with our husbands (Mike and Porter) and our kids (Primo, Addie and Thomas). I was not expecting them as I turned the corner to the station and it was a special kind of happiness and joy to see them at this point. Cat and I were both feeling great.

Quick change of socks, extra lube, delicately applied band aids on developing blisters, a rice crispy treat, electro tabs, and a 6 hour energy drink and we were set for the next round. I felt like a boxer getting ready for my next fight.
During the 2nd loop, miles 22 to about 28 ½, our conversation fell into a lull and focus increased on the task at hand. We knew what lay ahead this time. We were passed by eventual 2nd place finisher Michael Waridan and amazed at the swiftness of the top runners. We saw members of the CAF (Challenged Athletes Federation). One woman, beautiful, strong and so inspiring, told us she was going to have to drop due to mechanical problems with her prosthetic leg after mud got into it.

Cat, listening to music, would sing out loud so I could hear too. We sang U2’s mysterious ways running through the jungle like forest. But, mostly we ran, stumbled and hiked our way to the completion of the 2nd loop.

Once there, with 28 ½ miles under our belt, our aid station pace decreased. Cat was starting to feel a little rough and I was still feeling surprisingly pretty good. Mike, Cat’s husband, had planned on pacing this last loop, and Cat and I had agreed that we would separate if one felt better than the other. That said, those first 28 ½ miles were the best. My friendship with Cat deepened as did my admiration for her strength and determination.
Off I went on the last loop keeping in the back of my mind the 2nd hard cut off at 35 ½ miles. I picked up the pace and passed many runners. As we had all gotten to know each other, runners kept asking what happened to my partner. The ultra community is wonderful. My husband said it reminded him of a Grateful Dead show. I made it to Difficult Run station for the last time, clocking some paces in the 8:30 to 9:30 min/m range, anticipating the slowdown that would soon come in the rocky section. At about mile 32 or so, along a big and wide descent, my foot clipped a root or rock and I went flying.

Mid air it seemed there was enough time for me to wonder if this was really happening. I was feeling so great and not having any major problems. Why?! Then I hit the ground, hard, on my left side, hand, knee, lower forearm, elbow, shoulder and upper back. Then I rolled, a few times, banging up my right arm, low back and other hand. I lay there stunned for a moment. Alone. I assessed my injuries. Bloody knee, scrapes and developing bruises. My only real concern was that I had large lumps on each side of the inside of my elbow, as well as a smaller one on my elbow and a bonus one on the top of my shoulder. Knowing that adrenaline and endorphins were pulsating through my veins and deadening any pain I may have otherwise felt, I worried that I had done some serious damage.

With few alternatives, and feeling lucky it wasn’t my ankle, I got up and started again. Within a half mile I ran into a course patroller. She agreed it looked a little weird and said the next medical was at Great Falls, 3 or so miles away. Now, three miles may not sound very far, but considering the upcoming technical terrain and my current condition, it could take an hour. So, I put my head down and pushed on. I didn’t feel sorry for myself as I thought of all the other bloody runners I had passed so far. Falls happen in trail running. Part of the gig. The next three miles I had other runners here and there, which was nice. Most commented on my Moeben Cheetah print dress. The dress actually became my identity in a way. I was the lady in the cheetah dress.

Upon the completion of the last loop, which was also a hard cut off at 35 ½ miles, I walked up to the medical tent and showed the paramedics my damages. The young lady, wearing latex gloves, pressed lightly around my arm and shoulder and said it seemed mostly soft tissue but having it checked by a doctor may be a good idea. An older paramedic pointed out that the back of my shoulder was all scratched up. I hadn’t noticed. He assured me that I would feel it all tomorrow.

Fifteen miles still to go and I had somehow assumed the hard part was over. The trail back tracked along where we had run earlier with one added little loop at the end. Aid station #10 (Fraser) was almost 7 miles away. A huge chunk of distance at this point. Lots of twists, turns, sharp inclines and slippery descents. Shoe sucking mud, stream crossings and a couple suck the wind from your pipes uphill climbs. Each hill that I encountered started to seem like a cruel joke. I didn’t recall this one on the way in. And the downhills hurt just as bad as my quads felt like they may buckle after each foot strike.

It did start to sprinkle lightly and the mist felt wonderful on my skin. Although I appreciated the shade the trees had offered before, I wished now to escape their cover to feel the rain. The dampness that made it through the canopy made the forest feel more like a jungle. I can’t tell you how many spider webs I wiped off my face, how many unidentified bugs crawled underfoot or flew into my face. But, you get to a point where you just don’t care.

Now most of my forward movement was reduced to a fast walk. My Garmin watch had died around 10 hours, so I have little idea of the pace I maintained, but it compared to a slow jog and felt a bit more comfortable.

I was thrilled when I finally saw the Fraser Aid Station at 42 miles. I called Porter to let him know where I was. My hands were very swollen, due to an imbalance of how much water and salt I was taking in. I took some additional salt tabs and made some soup from the cold broth, cold boiled potatoes and a few tablespoons of salt. I declined a medic offering to clean me up.

Two more aid stations to go and I would be home! I only focused on getting to the next one, #11 at Sugarland. I’d be there in a little over three miles and what a long three miles it was. I started passing a ton of people. I was so determined to make it and can honestly say I only had one moment of wondering if I could do this before I shrugged that notion and told myself, what I had already said a hundred times that day, that “I can do so much more than I think I can”.

Once at Sugarland, there was a mini loop of about 2 ½ miles off the main trail until heading to the finish line. The volunteers at Sugarland were so nice. One fellow actually jogged with me a bit chanting encouraging words. I attempted to keep my hands above my heart, hoping that may help with the swelling. I am sure I was an interesting site, hunched over in a fast walk, slight jog, with hands held up.

Back at Sugarland for the last time, we turned and headed down the last 2+ miles on a flat open path. There were more people around me that I had caught up with. Two guys were running 30 sec, walking 30 sec. That’s what 50 miles can be reduced down to. Running just 30 seconds. I picked a tree or flag to jog to. It was an incredible feeling to know that I was going to make it. A little bit of competitiveness had crept up over the last 20 miles and I was driven to pass as many people as possible and let no one pass me.

I rounded the last turn on the grass to the finish line. There were people still there cheering and I felt quite humbled. Suddenly I was flanked my Addie and Thomas who ran in with me. I smiled a big satisfying grin and was so grateful for everything.

I was also grateful to my sister Jenny, with whom I spoke with a couple times while out there. I felt so blessed that she cared. And I have to thank all my facebook friends who encouraged me through that means. Believe it or not, I checked in with FB a few times and felt very encouraged by the responses people left as the race stats were posted.

After the Race:

Once done, Porter had the Diet Coke I had requested ready for me. He told me he had to seriously protect it from other thirsty runners. I really wanted to meet Dean Karnazes. But he was on the stage busy handing out awards. I did yell “I love you, Dean!” and he yelled back that he loved me too and cheered "Go Mom" as I ran through the finish.

Once at the hotel, I went straight up to our room for a cold shower. Porter went to get a couple burgers and some pizza (I was starving as you can imagine). He got to meet Dean and have a nice conversation with him. Damn. Then again, the next morning, as he was loading the car, he saw him again, leaving the hotel. Double damn.

Cat ran the rest of the way with her husband, who had only planned to run 7 miles and would now be running 20! At the last aid station they missed the cut off time and were told to skip the final 2 mile loop and head in. So, although Cat didn’t get an “official” time, she is officially an ultra runner in my book!!

My Stats:

141 out of 203 runners

12:29:00 chip time (a 15:01 min/m average)

9 out of 15 age group, women 30-39

29 out of 39 women total (so few women)

Chip times at various points:

Mile Time

14.8 3:37:38

21.7 5:11:46

28.6 6:54:37

35.4 8:33:41

164 runners finished within the 13 hour time frame.