Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On? Yup, On, On ... Or ... Story Of A True Fat Ass

This was my first Fat Ass run (no entry fee, no awards, just a group of people gathering for a fun time). On Saturday, December 4, Joe and I travelled to the Middlesex Fells in Stoneham, MA, to put the final ending on the 2010 ultrarunning season. The Fells Trail Ultra Winter Solstice Edition Fat Ass Style Informal Run ... sounds formally impressive! But thank goodness, it was not so formal and a whole ton of fun. WAY FUN! The run followed the Skyline Trail, which is an 8-mile loop, which would be run 4 or 5 times, whichever you could get done in the 10-hour cut-off. Now, having just run a 50-miler only a few weeks ago, I had already decided before going to the run that I was going to do the 32 mile run. However, that said, I certainly thought that 40 miles was doable in 10 hours. How wrong could I be? Well, the reality is that the first 40-mile finisher, Ben Nephew, who appears to be some kind of hill-climbing-boulder-running anomaly, finished his 5 loops about 2 1/2 hours before I finished my 4 loops ... and he started about an hour and 15 minutes late!

All I can say is thank goodness we had a dry day. It was about 40 degrees, clear, and way windy. Inside the trees we were very protected, but each time we came out into an opening the reality of December truly hit. And as for the trail ... well, it was so like the trails I ran at Massanutten. And I kept reminding Joe of this so he could truly get the feeling of why I felt so exhausted at MMT. Some people are just gifted when it comes to running on this boulder-type terrain. Let me just say ... I am not. I do love running (and I use this term loosely) on this stuff, it's beautiful and challenging, but I am not the least bit fast. But I still love it and it's great to be able to do this kind of stuff.

So, the rundown of the run. Joe and I started out at the back of the pack. My intention was to go easy on the first loop so that I could become familiar with the trail. And good thing I did ... we started on a flat trail from the parking lot and I was just caught-up in the fun and just running mindlessly. So if I hadn't been at the back of the pack and had others to follow, I would have just continued on, mindlessly, and completely missed the turn onto the Skyline Trail!

We immediately went UP and UP some more. No fear that I would go out too fast here. I was just a bit ahead of Joe, who kept telling me to go on. He must think I am some kind of speed demon because, even though I was just slightly ahead of him, I was really running as fast as I could at that moment. I passed a couple of runners and thank goodness they were then behind me because I completely missed one of the turns to stay on the correct trail. Even after 4 loops I still never saw any marking telling us to make this turn. Fortunately, this couple had done a run-thru of the course and knew that this was the correct direction. I didn't want Joe to make the same mistake I did, so I decided to wait for him. He wasn't too far back and now there were no other runners in sight, so we just ran together and had a really fun time. Let me just say, I totally enjoyed running with my honey way more than racing anything! We had a lot of fun. And I would have run the entire 4 loops with him only he decided to call it a day after 2 loops. Can't say as I blame him. We don't have anything like this terrain to practice on at home ... I think my only saving grace was the time I have been putting in on the Concept II. Also, one other downfall of running this kind of technical terrain, especially when it's a cool day. You forget to drink. Joe found that his urine was quite dark and that he was feeling a bit whippy, likely indicating dehydration. I am sure he could have overcome this, but as I said, it's quite difficult to do when you're constantly watching the trail and trying to keep your hands free to help climb boulders and catch yourself when you fall.

I think Joe was happy with his run and then he got to do what he really likes to do at races ... hang out and encourage everyone and help and just plain shoot the shit. I was so glad to have had this chance to run with him; we really do have so much fun together. It was like a constant hash with us. I would run slightly ahead to make sure to find the next trail blaze, Joe would ask "on?" and I would give the "on, on" signal. Now I would have to remember those spots where I missed the "on" and Joe pulled me back on. So off I went on loop #3 by myself.

Loop #3: pretty uneventful. I passed a few runners who had left me in the dust early on. Got to see lots of runners repeatedly who had taken the trail in the opposite direction. Now there were also lots of casual hikers and other runners to exchange conversation with, most of who had no idea that there was a "race" going on. Since we did not wear bib numbers, it was virtually impossible to know who was in the "race" and who was just one of the many other trail runners out there. Made this confusing mistake several times, which made for interesting conversation.

Trail conversation on Joe's last loop:

Hiker: "Is there a race out here?"
Joe: "No, we're running a Fat Ass."
Hiker: "Did you say Fat Ass?"
Joe: "Yup, Fat Ass."
Hiker: "What's a Fat Ass?"
Joe: "It's a run where there is no entry fee, no awards, no aid, just for fun."

And the conversation went on. This was one of Joe's stopping-to-talk-so-he-could-recover moments. There was a couple of those.

So anyway, back to me. Loop #3 finished uneventfully; I grabbed more food and drink and headed out to finish this puppy off. Loop #4 I felt pretty good and was getting to know the trail intimately, never getting lost or even off-trail. OK, so maybe this made me a little cocky. And what happens when you get a little cocky? You, or at least I, get brought back to reality ... usually pretty painfully. Yup, went down like a giant pile of shit. My foot slid off of a rock and I hit the deck, slamming my right hand and right thigh right onto a giant rock. Numerous F-bombs were dropped. My hand felt like a thousand sharp spikes were driving through it. The leg just went numb. Eventually I pulled myself up, cursed some more, and started walking. Wow, that was going to leave a mark. Eventually I was able to put something that resembled a run together. And then I had a revelation. My glove on my right hand felt tight. Holy smokes, was my hand swollen. Eh, the fingers still moved and there was feeling, so it couldn't have been too bad. The downside to taking a giant fall like this is that it seems that every twig, pebble, and pine needle is now out to get you and bring you down again. And they did ... but more gracefully.

I finished the 32 miles in 9 hours, 17 minutes, and change. And it was WAY WAY FUN! I chatted a bit, stuffed more food in my face, thanked the RD Steve Latour (a really super nice guy ... thank you for standing around in the cold and wind so the rest of us could enjoy the run!), forgot that my right hand was just about falling off until I shook Steve's hand, and then Joe and I headed off. The best part of this whole event is that Joe and I stayed at Joe's sisters' house just a few minutes away and all I had to was jump into the car and soon we would be at a hot shower!

So the moral of the story is ... if you ever find any of those Fat Ass runs, even if you have to travel a bit (and you can afford to, since you're not throwing any money into an entry fee!), it will likely be well worth it! The run, the people, the food ... it's all good stuff. And now I know a really great place to run the next time we're near Boston!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Better Late Than Never

Well, better late than never. Despite having a great road trip with friends and a fantastic run at Stone Cat 50 Miler, it has been somewhat trying in my attempts to get back to writing on this blog. I guess you could classify it as a depression of sorts; the 2010 ultra racing season coming to a close. Although the prospects of what is to come in 2011 seems exciting, it is a little bumming to think that now it's time to take a break. Granted, it is a much needed break, but still ...

So first, the down and dirty of the Stone Cat 50 miler. It was, as I had expected, an absolutely wonderful time. I look forward to this late fall race because it is my last chance of the season to spend countless hours on the trails and to celebrate with friends. What was different this year was that some of my friends who are usually around for the entire 50 opted for the marathon distance this year and therefore were not there when I finished my run. So I missed celebrating and visiting with them. But the good news was that I was able to share this fun time with Lorrie and Becky and Joe, who all had super runs in the marathon and were there to celebrate my finish with me. And then were there to wait on my pitiful ass as I layed exhausted on the hotel bed post-race! They were all wonderful.

My 50 mile time was 10:28:14, my slowest Stone Cat so far. However, I felt great the entire run. I suspect two reasons were the culprits for my slower time ... my lax in training since VC100 (50) and the fact that I dared to run the entire 50 in my New Balance WT100s - my first longest run in these minimal shoes. And I felt great for it. My time may have been slower, but my body felt great after. Not the usual burning feet problem that I have. I am a convert. No more cushy shoes. Likely I will have to go with my Inov-8 X-Talon 212s for the Winter Beast of Burden, but I don't see myself going to any bulkier style shoe in the near future.

So that brings me to my minimalist running changes. I have since been running in the WT100s and most of the time without socks, which really gives me a more "barefoot" feel of running. I am waiting for my Vibram Five Finger KSO Treks to come in the mail and can't wait. Can't wait for the snow to fall to see where I will take myself in trying to stay minimalist while trying to avoid frostbite!

And speaking of the winter ... I just watched my friend Yassine's video of him snowshoeing on Mt Hood. How awesome and I am way way jealous. It looks like tons of fun and I am so hoping to get a lot of snowshoe hiking in this winter.

And now on to the diet thing. It's time to get my butt serious again. I have an extra 12 pounds hanging around that really need to go. I don't want to totally remove things from my diet, as that usually makes me go back to them ten-fold, so it's a matter of moderation. Time to hit the veggies and avoid the processed foods. Time to, oh I hate to even mention it, go to lite beer unless I am celebrating after a strong race. The good beer must be reserved for an equally good performance. Enjoying it on a daily basis is not a treat.

And that's all I can really think of right now to ramble on about. Maybe soon I will get myself together to put a more thoughtful post down, but for now it was just a matter of needing to get myself going again.

Rest well and enjoy time off ... soon time to start training for the Winter Beast of Burden 24-hour starts! Cowgirl up!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Nice Ending To A Nice Run

Holy smokes . . . two posts in one day! Just got home from a nice 6.4-miler with Joe. A very cool and windy fall run up through Arnot Forest with only one vehicle sighting on the forest roads and one vehicle sighting on the road outside of the forest on the way home. What an absolutely beautiful run with a nice recovery drink of hot chocolate after. And just when I thought it couldn't get any better . . . I look out in the back yard and there is my little buck enjoying what's left of the apples from our trees! Usually it's him and his momma and sister who are out there, but he was on his own this time. So I just sat and watched him . . .

In Limbo

Well, it's October and it's that hard time on the running scene. It's been a long year of races with ups and downs but it's not over yet and I am not ready for it to be over. It's been 3 1/2 weeks since my last "race" and I am ready for the down-time to be over. It's time to get back into the run with friends. And with hunting season starting up, there's the risk that goes with entering the woods. Right now it's bow-hunting season and I feel fairly comfortable hitting the woods during this time. When hunting with a bow, the hunters really need to narrow down their target before shooting, which definitely gives them the chance to identify you as a runner and not a deer. However, once shot gun season starts, that's a different story. I have heard too many scary stories and it seems that some hunters shoot by sound and not by sight. Once shot gun season starts, I will stick to the roads until it's over.

Today I woke to a beautiful sight . . . a light snowfall! Definitely not enough to cover the ground, but a very picturesque sight. And maybe a little to sad to think that the ground will soon be covered in snow and the running game will take on new strategies . . . like with snowshoes! Woo hoo! I am definitely psyched to get the snowshoes out again for some longer runs and hikes and hopefully discover some new places with them.

Our porch is taking on a great new look . . . actually looks like a porch now with a roof and everything! I can't wait to have it done and be able to sit outside when it's snowing or raining and enjoy a good cup of joe or a nice cold brew! What a way to relax after a run.

So don't be sad that the racing season is coming to a close for the year . . . be happy and think about what new things you will get to do to rejuvenate your passion and your soul during the winter.

"In the morning sunshine, in the evening twilight, a small Bear travels through a Forest. Why did we follow him when we were so much younger? He is, after all, only a Bear of Little Brain. But is Brain all that important? Is it really Brain that takes us where we need to go? Or is it all too often Brain that sends us off in the wrong direction, following the echo of the wind in the treetops, which we think is real, rather than listening to the voice within us that tells us which way to turn?" - The Tao Of Pooh

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Realizations Of An Ultrarunner

My name is Chris. I am an ultrarunner. I can’t stop. I need help.

THE HISTORY: I have had four 100-mile run attempts with the following results: two voluntary drops, both after running more than 80 miles, one finish (WOO HOO!!), and one DNF due to not making the time cut-off. The record: 100 milers – 3, me – 1. Still feeling like I had it in me to level the score, it was time to tackle another. Enter Virgil Crest 100. Would I ever learn?

After my attempt at the Massanutten Mountain 100-miler in May and ultimately being “timed-out” by cut-offs after 28 ½ hours and 76 miles of “running”, I swore I wouldn’t do it again. No more 100 milers right now. I have always said that 50 miles is a good distance; it’s hard, you know you have done something, but you’re not totally wasted after. 50 miles is fun and I like fun. My attempts at running 100 miles, even my one successful finish, left me tired and took time to mentally and physically recover. I love the races; they are celebrations with friends and the trails, but I also want to be able to get right back at it afterward. Thinking about it now, it took too long to “get back at it” after each 100 attempt. But unfortunately, as I said in my MMT report, the body forgives what the mind forgets. Apparently I have a very forgiving body and a very short memory.

Shortly after MMT I decided to register for the Virgil Crest 50-miler. I had done it last year and had an absolute blast at it. It’s my home-course, it’s comfortable, and I feel very content on these trails. I always know where I am. But then something happened. I started to get that antsy feeling, reading race reports, talking with others who ran Vermont 100 and Burning River 100 and the excitement just took me over. I started logging the miles again and felt confident that this time I could do it. And what better place to do it than on my own turf, the trails that love me and I love them. It would be perfect. I know my limits; I had no intention of even thinking that I would win or even be under 24 hours, but I knew that, as it is written in The Alchemist, “When you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it." Yes, this time it would happen. So onto my e-mail I went, asking Ian to switch me over to the 100 and quickly writing the check to seal the deal.

I couldn’t wait for race weekend to get here. I had my loving Joe-crew and my pacer, Karen. They know me well, my strengths and my weaknesses and what needs to be done to get the job done. This year I decided to forego the camping at the race site and get some good zzzz’s in my own bed. Living only 45 minutes from the start, I decided that it would better serve me to get up a few minutes earlier, loosen-up with a hot shower, and enjoy some hot coffee while taking time to wake up on the drive to Virgil.

RACE DAY: I wasn’t nervous and actually felt very at ease, arriving at the start with about 30 minutes to spare. I started off carrying a bottle of just water with a NUUN tab in it, trying to get a little hydrated early on and knowing that after just eating breakfast I couldn’t stomach any Accelerade right away. I would get a bottle of Accelerade at the first aid station, 5.4 miles away, from Joe.

GRAVEL PIT: It was actually a bit more humid than I would have liked at the start, but there was a bit of a breeze and I only hoped that it would cool down a bit more. For me, the colder, the better. I felt very at ease running the first section; my stomach started growling a bit and I was looking forward to filling it with some Accelerade soon. And then I got to the Gravel Pit station and saw Joe . . . empty-handed. He had to park more than ½ mile away from the station and hadn’t brought the bottle. In the heat of the moment of hunger, a moment of crankiness took over and then I finally succumbed to the fact that I would just have to deal with it. So I filled my bottle with Gatorade (which is normally OK, but, ummmm, it was the one flavor that I just really don’t like . . . orange). Oh well, I knew that I soon would have my pretty blue Accelerade and tried to give myself an attitude adjustment, which happened pretty soon, and then I just felt bad for my crankiness and just had to run it out of me.

The trails were in superb condition, the sun was out, but I just wasn’t yet feeling like I was in a 100 mile run. I have had this happen before and it always passes, so I wasn’t too worried. I finally found my running groove somewhere in the woods and started to feel better. I came out onto Carson Road and there was Joe and it was good to see that I hadn’t offended him to the point of abandonment. This was a huge mental boost and I apologized for my crankiness. I met up with Ed Edington and we ran down Carson Road. Ed does a great deal with helping out with this race, the website, and training runs on the course and it was good to get a little insight from him.

LIFT HOUSE 5 LOOP: I knew that this was full of steep climbs, so I tightened my shoelaces, grabbed my bottle of Acclerade, stuffed something into my mouth to chew on and headed out. The sun was out, which I feared when I realized the change in timing of this loop. Last year we ran this loop first and it wasn’t bad getting it done before the sun came out. I definitely felt the heat of the sun, even with the cooler temps, this time. The loop started out familiar and then . . . WHAM! The beginning of several steep climbs. I slalomed my way up and down the steep sections, however, on one of the shorter steeper climbs to the top lifthouse I felt a sharp tearing/burning feeling in my right calf. I immediately stopped, hoping that I had not done any major damage. After a minute of resting I resumed the climb in sort-of duck-walk-like fashion. It wasn’t pretty but I made it to the top without anymore calf pain. I so wanted to just tear-up the downhill back to the aid station but I knew this would spell disaster, tearing up the quads too early, so I just slalomed down as easy as I could. OK, six miles to go until the next aid station, so I filled two bottles to get me there, grabbed some tapioca pudding that Joe supplied, some skittles, and headed off. I know this section well. So far, so good.

LIFT HOUSE 5 TO ROCK PILE: Now it just felt like I was back in the Monster Marathon. I just couldn’t get myself into the 100-mile groove. It was a bit disturbing how I had thought that knowing the trails would be to my benefit when all I could think about as I climbed Virgil Mountain was that I was on “The Monster course” and when I crossed over to Greek Peak it was now “The Frolics course”. I wasn’t at the Virgil Crest 100 yet. The run to the rock pile was nice, as I ran with and chatted with Ed, playing leap frog almost the entire way. Knowing that Ed had completed the 100 here before and that he had been training out on the course, I was confident that the pace was good and felt comfortable and happy to run and chat with him.

ROCK PILE: Still felt good. Joe had hiked up to the rock pile and was there to refill my bottles and feed me with tapioca pudding and rice krispie treats. Yummmmm. I can’t say enough about tapioca pudding. It just goes down so easy and digests nicely. This item is definitely an ultra-fuel keeper. Refilled and refueled, nothing hurting at this point, Ed and I headed off for Daisy Hollow together.

ROCK PILE TO DAISY HOLLOW: I love this section. There are some tough climbs, but once you hit the sweet single track on the other side of Babcock Hollow Road, you’re in heaven. What?! Those dogs out on Babcock Hollow Road are still alive after all these years?! Running comfortably but still not in my 100 groove, I was brought back to the days of running the “Mountain Madness”. Was I ever going to feel like this was the 100 mile race that I wanted so badly to be in?

I had been running with Ed pretty consistently since leaving the rock pile and it was really nice. And comfortable. But I just wasn’t finding my groove. Finally I realized that I was just getting lazy, letting my run be dictated by another – not that Ed was running a bad pace or anything, but if he walked, I walked, and there were sections where I just needed to kick myself into gear. So I finally put my mind to it and found some groove and flow energy. I am much mentally tougher when I am on my own and I just needed to find that toughness. The 100-mile and 50-mile leaders had already passed me way before I even crossed Babcock Hollow road, along with several others, but now I finally hit the mother load heading back. It was really nice to see everyone and exchange good wishes.

DAISY HOLLOW: I had heard there was hot soup and potatoes out here and was really looking forward to lunch. I never miss a meal during an ultra, always taking the time to really enjoy the “real food” aid station fare. Joe was waiting for me and refilled my bottles as I enjoyed two cups of chicken soup. The hot buttery potatoes looked really excellent and I really wanted them, but the soup pretty much filled me up and I didn’t want to overdo it. As I prepared to leave Daisy Hollow Ed showed up, looking strong. I knew that he would catch me again; we played the game this far and I knew how it went. Time to head back and do it again.

ROCK PILE: I had run from Daisy Hollow to here all by myself, feeling like I was starting to find myself, but still not yet feeling like I was in a 100. WTF?! By the time I got back to this station I was soooo hungry again. And there was my tapioca pudding – my not-so-secret love, just waiting for me – with Joe and Karen, of course! I was ready for something hot and solid to eat and heard that pizza was on its way to the aid station. I really just wanted to hang out and wait for it, but after realizing that was not a reasonable idea, I headed out. My feet still felt really good (not having any of the usual “burning” that I get) and my legs felt great. I was staying hydrated and fuelled and mentally felt strong. Why didn’t I feel yet like I was at the VC100? Probably because I was back in Monster Marathon mode, just a short run to its finish, when in reality, I was nowhere near the finish.

Back down to the creek crossing . . . I remember the days when this creek would be anywhere from ankle to mid-calf deep and now it just has spurs of water that I could easily step over. When I got to the other side of the stream I realized that I hadn’t sat down since the ride to the race that morning. It was time for a brief rest, so I sat down on a tree root that circled out from the ground and had a revelation. Nature’s toilet! Truly, by the rules of trail running and hiking, this was not the place that one should relieve themselves, but it really did feel like sitting on a toilet! Now, I didn't use "the toilet" . . . but look at what I discovered! Wow . . . amazing what discoveries you can make after being out in the woods with only your own great thoughts for more than a few hours!

Still running easy and comfortable, remembering the aid station that used to be on Greek Peak that was eliminated this year. I really would have liked to just see a face here; someone to talk to. Joe, Lorrie, and I manned that station during the night last year after I had run the 50. We had the place decorated in Halloween motif with eyeball lights lighting the trail. I envisioned how it must have been to come running through the woods at night to see those lights. Cool. But now it was barren.

As I came off of the highest point on Virgil Mountain I noticed some familiar pink ribbons on the trees. Wait . . . these were the markings that I had put out to mark the Monster Marathon course three weeks earlier! So I did a little trail clean-up and pulled the ribbons and kept on running. It was nice to have something new to think about while I ran.

Finally hit the last downhill before Tone Road. It may be downhill, but it is never easy to run this. It’s tricky and can be totally quad-crushing. I am thoroughly convinced that someday I will find a body in that old boiler on the trail! This section requires so much patience and paying attention to footing that I was so so glad when I finally hit the flat of Tone Road and could run mindlessly, even for a little bit.

LIFT HOUSE 5 LOOP: Joe and Karen were waiting for me when I ran up. Good to see those faces again. I was feeling really good, of course a little tired, but not bad. Still, I just wasn’t visualizing this as only a portion of the 100 miler. Where was my mojo? Hannah, who we had met at The Stone Cat trail race last year, where she was pacing a friend in his first 50 mile race, was at the aid station. She just has so much energy and excitement and just loves being out there. This additional boost of energy was so welcome. I rested a minute, ate a bit, filled my bottles, and prepared for the loop. Man, I hoped it would be easier going the opposite direction. And at first it was. This was not long-lasted as the climb turned steep, then steeper, then never-ending. All I could think was thank goodness the ground was dry – if there had been any rain this mountain would have turned into grease. And what? There was Ed behind me again. I may have been running alone for a while but I always knew he was somewhere back there and I knew that he would come back at me.

I was so grateful when I reached the last summit and could see the final downhill. Not only was I on the ski hill, but to some degree I actually felt like I was skiing. It was much easier on the quads to slalom side-to-side on the trail rather than just bomb straight down. However, hidden muscles were letting me know they weren’t happy! The sun was still out and these steep climbs had gotten me sweating all over again. I so wanted to just lie on my side and roll down that final hill like we all did when we were kids! By the time I reached the bottom I was just mentally drained and feeling a bit chilled from my wet shirt. I wanted hot food! And there it was – piping hot quesadillas! I worried for a minute when I saw that they were filled with beans and corn, wondering how this would set with my stomach. But my hunger overtook my brain and I scarfed down one . . . and another . . . and another. Man, were they excellent! Bottles filled, dry clothes on, it was time to get this loop done. I walked a bit down the road and was finally able to pick-up a slow run until I hit Carson Road and the power-hike took over.

About half-way up Carson I met Angus as he was heading out on his second trip. He looked really strong and at ease and there wasn’t a soul near him. I was certain that, barring something horrendous, he would win the 100.

The wind picked-up and I was glad to have my long sleeve shirt on. I started running again. And then, out of nowhere, BAM! It just hit me, I just wasn’t having fun. I wanted to just finish.

GRAVEL PIT: I came out into the gravel pit station and there were just a lot of people hanging out and having fun. I wanted to have fun and I wasn’t. Joe came over and the tears just started flowing. I hoped that he and Karen would have some magic to make things better. I didn’t know what it was; I still felt fuelled, my mind was clear, my feet ached but not bad, and there really wasn’t anything wrong with me. I thought some hot food might fix things but unfortunately the propane had run out at this station and although they were working on changing it, there was no hot food waiting for me. I just sat there on a log waiting and crying. And then Joel and Scott and their gang showed up at the station. Joel and Scott had both finished the 50; they both ran strong, hard races and could now relax and enjoy. I so wanted to be them. Then I started to get chilled and decided that I would just have to get going and get hot food later. Karen brought me a cold potato, but just touching it and the thought of putting that into my mouth . . . I just couldn’t do it. So I downed my old friend tapioca, put a light jacket on, turned the headlamp on, and headed out.

I always say that I am mentally stronger when I run alone. Well, at this stage of the game that mental “toughness” takes on a whole new meaning. My mind is very convincing to me no matter what I am thinking. And I was thinking that I really wasn’t having fun. It just never clicked today. I should have stuck with my original idea to run the 50. And then it really hit me . . . I really enjoy running 50 miles, I like the long run and the time in the woods and the feeling of accomplishment once it's done. But what I really love about ultras and the ultrarunning community is the whole spirit of hanging out after the run, comparing war stories and relaxing with a good brew. Right now I am not a 100-miler. So why can’t I stop signing up for them? Why can’t I resist the temptation? Still, I remained open-minded that maybe my mind would turn around when I got to Joe and Karen and things would change. Once on the dirt road approaching the return to the Hope Lake loop, I caught-up to a woman who was running her first 50-miler. She was happy. She was hurting a bit but she was succeeding. We talked for a bit and I just kept thinking how I wanted to be at the finish, done for myself but able to cheer others in. My decision was made; would my crew go along with it?

I made it back to the start/finish area and was greeted by Joe with a big hug and Karen and a woman manning the area who asked if I was done or going on. I just looked at Joe and Karen and we walked into the pavilion to sit and talk and see where our minds were. I explained all of my thoughts to them. I was still mentally strong, fuelled, not really hurting, but I really did not want to go on. I just wasn’t feeling the love of the trail anymore and hadn’t really all day. It was a day of intense like, but not love. Karen was super; she put on the true pacer-face and asked me all the right questions, which made me really realize that my decision was the right one. Today I was not a 100-miler and I don’t know if I ever really will be. It’s time to face that. And I am OK with that. 50 miles is a good distance. Hell, 100K is a great challenge for me . . . if I could only find one close to home. All I know is that once I made the decision to stop, cracked open the growler of Hop Warrior IPA and shared it with some friends, I immediately felt at home. It was time to celebrate, not feel bad for not finishing what I had intended to do. Maybe someday I will try a 100 miler again. It’s all in the company you hang out with and when I get around those 100 milers . . . well, you see what happens. But for now, I will try to fight the temptation. I have agreed to not just spontaneously sign-up for a 100; I will discuss it with Joe first. Joe, in turn, will not let me sign-up. Not now. I still want to run long but I want to finish with that feeling of accomplishment while being done in time to party a little and celebrate with friends.

Thank you to Ian and all of the volunteers for a truly challenging day. I apologize to anyone who was subjected to my stream of f-bombs at the end of the second Lift House loop. Thank you Joe and Karen for supporting me throughout and supporting my decision . . . I am so glad to have you both there to keep me straight and I know you will do your best to help me keep my promise.

So it’s time to bring-on the Stone Cat and push my limits. It’s time to hit the trails and celebrate; I have to finish before the keg gets emptied!

"I began to learn while very young, and grew up practicing it. Now I am certain of success. I go down with the water and come up with the water. I follow it and forget myself. I survive because I don't struggle against the water's superior power. That's all." - The Tao Of Pooh

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

It's All About The Patch

"When you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it."
- The Alchemist

OK, it's been a bit over a week since the Green Lakes 100K so I guess it's time to put my thoughts together and analyze what this run really was for me. First of all, this was my first ever 100K race. I have numerous times run this distance and further, but this was actually the first time that I covered this distance knowing that 62 miles was to be the end point. It was kinda cool knowing that I have gone this distance before, feeling good throughout, so I should be able to complete the distance without too much of a problem. But there are no guarantees with ultrarunning; I also knew that this particular race would be a huge mental game for me. The course is a 7.7-ish mile loop, repeated eight times. Loop courses are always difficult for me because when the going gets tough, it's way too easy to say I can't go on. So knowing this, I was prepared for the mind games, and had already mentally prepared for loops 5, 6, and 7 to be the challenge.

So here's skinny on how the race went down . . .

- 41 starters toed the line for the 6am start. It was a cool morning but the forecast was ominous with a prediction of sun and temps in the high 80s to 90s. Hydration and electrolyte replacement were going to be crucial to survival.

- Loop 1: 1:19:09. Time to savor the cool dawn sky. My plan was to try to maintain 1:30 loops. Despite my time on this loop I did run conservatively and felt very at ease and didn't feel like I pushed to get under 1:30.

- Loop 2: 1:24:05. The sun started to come out but the temp was still comfortable. Took a little extra time getting some eats and refilling my bottle. Still felt at ease here.

- Loop 3: 1:33:17. Here come the 50K-ers. Nice to see more people out on the course and the speed of the front-runners. It was warming up at this point but I was still feeling good and taking in enough fluids to prep for the coming heat.

- Loop 4: 1:42.26. Hot now! I really tried to get some solid foods into me but the heat was already taking its toll and I just couldn't stomach anything solid. Thank goodness for the protein-carbo mix of Accelerade. It really kept me fuelled. However, I started to get this weird hot-spot feeling in the middle of my left foot which seemed to initially get better with a sock change. Never had that before.

- Loop 5: 1:50:48. OK, something's gotta give with this foot issue! At the lap area where all my med supplies were, I sat down, dried my foot, didn't see any blistering but noticed an area that could easily turn into a blister. Slapped on a piece of moleskin, got the sock and shoe back on, and felt instantly better. Now I only hoped that this would hold. The heat was also becoming more oppressive, so at the suggestion of Jill Perry who was working the aid area, I put a bandana filled with ice around my neck. Who knew how good this could feel? Amazing! I didn't think I would be able to tolerate the bandana on my neck, but the relief it brought to me was so amazing that I didn't even notice having it around my neck. This turned out to be a definite life-saver.

- Loop 6: 1:49:45. Walking a bit more now but still feeling in good spirits. Looking at the time I still felt that I was doing OK to make the cut-off (which was that you had to complete loop 7 by 12 hours). But mentally I was having issue with the I have to do this TWO MORE TIMES!

- Loop 7: 2:18:06. OK, now things were getting really mental. Not only did I wonder if I would be able to make that 12 hour cut-off but I was wondering if I really wanted to make it. By the time I hit the 3rd aid station, which was being manned by my friend Sam Pasceri and his family, I was near breaking down. I went into the station thanking Sam for all he did for all of us today and told him that I was done; I wasn't going to make the cut-off. Sam sat me down, fixed me another ice bandana, dosed me up with some Mountain Dew and a grilled cheese sandwich piece, and basically gave me a kick in the ass. He told me "It's all about the patch". The patch was the award for finishing and it was all about finishing, not about time, not about place. He told me that so many had dropped because of the heat. Finishing was about overcoming. Even his young son, Dominic, told me that all I had to do was 15-minute miles to make the cut-off. Those two were just so infectious and up-beat, how could I give up? I left his station telling him that I would see him again and tried running a little.

OK, so the run and the optimism lasted about 100 meters. What the hell? I couldn't do it. So I walked and thought about how I would break it to Sam that I just didn't make the cut-off . . . it wouldn't be my fault then that I didn't go on; it would be out of my hands.

And then I came into The Beach area, walking and looking at my watch. Damn! I still had more than 5 minutes to make the cut-off. And then I saw my grandkid cheering squad of Kaitlin, Cara, and Clare! Kaitlin told me that I could do it. Cara distracted me with talk about their day. I asked Clare if I should go out for the last loop and she told me no. I asked her why not and she told me that I might get hurt. Sounded reasonable. I came across the mat with less than 3 minutes to the cut-off, ready to call it quits. But my ever-loving honey, Joe, had other thoughts. He got permission from the race officials to go out with me, not to pace me but more to make sure that I got around safely - likely because my loop 7 time was so pitiful and everyone expected that loop 8 would be much longer. So I downed a 5-Hour Energy with caffeine and we left the area walking.

- Loop 8: 1:45:01. And then it happened. Somewhere around 40 minutes into the loop that 5-Hour Energy kicked in. I still couldn't stomach anything solid, but I was drinking and peeing and still moving. And then I was running (ok . . . it's all relative!) again. It was getting dusky out and the deer were coming out. We were alone up on The Serengeti and it was beautiful. And then we hit Sam's station. I was so psyched to see him and Dominic and Ginny again and the energy just kept coming. It was time to finish this puppy off.

Heading back down to the lower loop I started to get a bit queasy so I slowed the pace a bit, but once we hit the lower portion of the course I was back. And running . . . actually running. And I crossed the line in 13:42:40 . . . didn't fall once, still felt good and alert, moleskin on my foot intact, and oh-so-dirty-and-stinky! And I won the Female Masters RRCA Champ category (OK, so I was the only female masters that finished, but whatever!).

I was the last finisher but I have to say that this was a very cool place to be. Did you know that the cheers you receive as last finisher are probably just as loud as those for the first?! Very cool indeed. 18 people dropped from this race, so finishing to me, even last, was huge.

Once the going got really tough, I kept telling myself that I didn't need to suffer, that this race was a training run for the upcoming Virgil Crest 100, that any distance I completed would be a good training run. But finishing . . . I am so glad that I did . . . this gave me a huge confidence boost that I was able to overcome something so hard. Thank you to my cheering squad, to Joe and Sam and Ginny and the kids for the much-need ass-kickings, and to all of the volunteers who took care of us on this brutal day! These runs are never a one-person victory.

OK . . . kill the heat! I want a cool Fall day! And in less than three weeks there better be one . . . but if not, I feel more confident now that I can take it on. Cowgirl Up! Team Honey will take on VC100 next!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Getting Younger With Every Mile

It all started in February 2010 . . . The Beast Of Burden. What a name . . . what a challenge. The winter version was huge fun for me as I ran in the 24-hour race and Joe supported me along the way. Joe has always supported me in my craziness of running long distances. Thank goodness that the BOB race director, Sam Pasceri, decided to bring The Beast to another season . . . the heat of the summer. And thank goodness I had absolutely no desire to run in the open sun and heat and humidity along the Erie Canal towpath. So not my thing. So this opened up a whole new opportunity.

Joe’s longest run ever has been 35.75 miles, which he ran at the BPAC 6-hour Distance Classic a couple of years ago. Since then he has run some 50Ks, but nothing longer. The Summer Beast Of Burden 24-hour event would give him the chance to see just how far he could go; a chance to challenge his limits. And it would give me the chance to give back to him for all of the times that he has been up all night long supporting me. I would now get the chance to be crew and pacer all in one and experience what he and others so generously do for me.

A 24-hour race is a different animal. It’s a combination of things; it’s not just who can run the fastest but who can play the game the smartest to endure. Yes, speed is a factor but if you don’t take care of yourself with proper fuelling and clothing choices, the game can end early. Some plan to run a certain distance and that’s that, finishing whenever they do within the 24-hour period. Some run the entire 24 hours to see how many miles they can log in that period of time. Joe opted for the first, choosing the number 66 miles; a mile for each year of his life. A challenge, in deed, but very doable, I was sure. All he had to do was to keep moving at a consistent 2.5 miles per hour for the 24 hours and he would be fine. Of course, I was sure that he could get ‘er done well before the 24 hours were up. So training started; we worked on the miles but more so we worked on the eating and hydration aspects that would keep him going for the long haul. This has always been one of Joe’s downfalls in the long run – making sure he stays fuelled. But we found a solution and I have just two words to say – TAPIOCA PUDDING. Believe it, there is nothing better than ice cold tapioca pudding that just slides down and digests easily when your body just doesn’t want to even do the work of chewing and swallowing. And we went through quite a bit of it last weekend.

So here’s the run-down of how the day (and night) went:

- Saturday: cool, overcast morning. We set up our canopy with chair and cot for resting when the work was done and a cooler with our special fuels.

- At 10AM the runners were off. My first feeling was that of relaxation because I wasn’t running, then big-time nerves set-in, hoping that Joe was doing what he was supposed to do. It was out of my hands; all I could do was wait.

- Seeing Joe, approximately 2 miles into the run, on the other side of the Erie Canal, running with others and talking. I hoped that he was not going outside of his comfort zone.

- Got our “transition zone” in Lockport set-up with Joe’s clothes, food, and drink, and then headed off to Middleport (the turn-around point) at 12.5 miles. I knew I was well ahead of the time he would get out there, but I didn’t know what else to do with myself other than go and wait for him and run through my mind if I had everything in the proper places for him.

- I had hoped that Joe would take about 3 hours to relaxingly get out to Middleport on that first trip and was a bit concerned when he arrived under 2 hours, 30 minutes. He assured me that he felt fine and that the overcast weather helped him to get there faster. I refilled his bottles and got him to eat a bit and he was off again. Did he eat enough? Should I have done something else for him? Did I do everything that I was supposed to do? Man, I think that actually running in the race is easier!

- Watched some others runners come through and then couldn’t stand it any longer, so I headed off to the grocery store to grab a few things for my lunch, more ice, and a bit more Gatorade for Joe. Back to Lockport to eat lunch and talk with friends while I hoped that Joe had slowed the pace a bit.

- Watching my watch and anticipating about when Joe might arrive at 25 miles, I got my clothes changed to my running gear to prepare to jump into my alter ego as pacer.

- Joe arrived in Lockport looking good and running with a couple of other guys, which he really seemed to enjoy their company and didn’t seem to be getting “pulled into their pace”. So we all grabbed some food and posed for photos and prepared to head out for the second loop. Spirits seemed very good in all three guys.

- We ran Joe’s pace, running at times, walking at times. It was all good as long as we were moving forward - and we were. What started off on this loop as me, Joe, Joe, and Jim was soon down to me, Joe, and Jim, and then as nature called as well as the need to loosen shoelaces on swollen feet, Jim moved on and it was just Joe and me. Moving along steady. Still good.

- Turn-around in Middleport went well. Joe went on to cross the timing mats while I refilled the bottles. Some pizza and Little Debbie’s later and we went on to the tent where the drop-bags were and I cleaned Joe’s feet and changed his socks. The feet looked great; no problem areas noted. I told him that the plan was to powder the feet and change socks again when we arrived back in Lockport. Some tapioca pudding, Ithaca Ginger Beer, and we were off again.

- A couple of miles before reaching the Lockport station again my cell phone rang. Lorrie was calling to find out how Joe was doing and I filled her in on everything. Things were looking great and Joe was about to complete his first 50-miler! It had finally started to lightly rain and the humidity was lessening. Things were looking good.

- Into the tent I went to refill the bottles and change my clothes while Joe crossed the timing mat (completing his first 50-miler in 12 hours, 3 minutes) and then changed his clothes. The plan was for me to check Joe’s feet here, powder them and change his socks. He wouldn’t let me do this; he just said he was fine. Knowing that I wouldn’t change his mind and hoping that he was right, I let it go. Pick your battles. Still lightly raining I discussed wearing jackets with Joe. Again, he assured me that he was warm enough and was fine. He seemed to know very well how he was doing and that made me feel better and off we went again – without jackets.

- Frogs – everywhere. Huge frogs whose eyes kept glowing in the light of my headlamp. I was glad to be able to see them because I was sure that stepping on one would make a huge squishy mess that would send either of us flailing into the canal. The rain picked up a bit but we were walking at a good clip right now with plenty of time in the bank to cover the desired distance.

- And then it happened . . . it started pouring rain. And the wind picked up. I had change of clothes and rain ponchos for us at the turn-around in Middleport, but it was getting to them that would be the challenge. And Joe’s feet were really hurting at this point. I feared that we were not moving fast enough to avoid hypothermia. We pulled into the Gasport aid station and after 14 hours, 27 minutes, and change, and it was good enough – a huge, huge accomplishment. The pride that I felt for my husband at this time was just so overwhelming that I was nearly in tears. How does he do it for me over and over again?

- So Honey, you wanted to run a mile for every year of your age? You covered 57 miles. So guess what? You’re 57 years old again! How’s that for a milestone!!

Thank you so much to Sam, Dani, Jen, Ginny, Nancy, Sam’s Mom & Dad, and all the other volunteers whose names I didn’t know! You guys rock! And thank you for the opportunity for me to help Joe do something that he has never done before – and now I know what agony he must go through worrying about me! Joe is now walking normally and able to get up off the couch without too much of a grunt. The blisters (one, I swear, looked like a sixth toe!) I had the pleasure of popping and dressing. And who knew that toenails could look like that? Eeewwwwwwwwwww. (Did I ever mention that the only things that really make me wretch other than earwax is toe-jam and really gnarly toenails?). Love will make you do all sorts of crazy things. And now I really realize how hard it is to help someone you love keep going when the going gets tough. I have to say that this is my most rewarding ultra ever. Thank you and congratulations, Honey. I love you.

“A lot of people run a race to see who’s the fastest. I run to see who has the most guts.” - Steve Prefontaine

Sunday, August 8, 2010

And A New Brew Is Discovered . . .

One other great find on the rugby adventure last weekend . . . a new brew! Lake Placid craft brew 46'er Pale Ale. A rich copper pale ale with tons of flavor. Check it out, all you brew fans!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Rugby Once, Rugby Twice . . .

FINALLY . . . a weekend away from everything! Between training for upcoming races and volunteering all of our spare time as well as the never-ending daunting task of being the club's equipment managers, burnout was rapidly approaching. It was time for a much-needed weekend away from home, from running, and from life in general. And how fortunate for me that Joe keeps up with what's going on in the rugby scene and just happened to know that the CanAm Rugby Tournament was happening in Saranac Lake/Lake Placid this past weekend. So when I said to Joe "we need to go away for a weekend and do something non-running related" it was a huge treat to have the tournament happening that very same weekend that we wanted to get away.

So I worked on Thursday evening, got home after midnight, slept a few hours, and then we hit the road for the Adirondacks! The weather could not have been more perfect! It was sunny with clear blue skies and when we hit Saranac Lake on Friday afternoon it was actually a bit cool and I had to put a long sleeve shirt on! Awesome! We immediately caught a few matches of rugby - a contrast of the under 19 kids on one pitch and the over 50 guys on another. And it was really cool that the passion for the game was pretty much the same no matter what the ages of the players! These guys love their hard-hitting rugby and the people on the sidelines are equally as passionate about what is happening in the game. More sarcasm being tossed around than you can imagine!

We hotelled in Lake Placid and had a great time walking around the village on Friday night before enjoying a super italian feast outside. Again we had to pull on the long sleeves, but a nice fire out on the deck in combination with the cool temps made it so relaxing. And it seemed that no matter where we went we found someone to talk rugby with! These guys - current and past players - were all over the place.

Saturday's games were on some really beautiful fields in Lake Placid and we spent the entire day just going from match to match - there were about six pitches going with games, so if one game got a little boring we just turned to another one.

Joe gets to play touch judge

OK, back home and to reality and running. My secret life of rugby goes back into hiding and it's time to get it in gear and ready for the upcoming ultras. But I have to say . . . it was soooooooo good to get away and not have to think about anything except relaxing. We may have to do this more often . . .

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Getting Ready

WOO HOO!! Training is going well . . . and we finally had a great day to run yesterday. Joe did a 14 mile training run on the Catherine Valley Trail (rails-to-trails path) on Friday when it was so disgustingly hot and humid, so the weather today was a definite welcome. Joe and I went out for a run on his "Mountain Madness" course (18.6 miles) yesterday as a nice training run for Joe's upcoming Beast of Burden 24-Hr race (where Joe wants to run 66 miles - the longest he has ever run at one time!) and my upcoming Green Lakes 100K. We had a beautiful day - temp was 73 at the start, sunny, nice cool breeze. Fortunately, Joe had the great idea of putting out an "aid station" for us about 10 miles into the run. So we parked a car with extra water and food, and when we both started to feel a little whippy from the hill climbs out in the open sun, just knowing that the food was waiting for us really kept us going. I have just two words: tapioca pudding. Let me just say how awesome this tasted! We were hot and hungry and cold tapioca pudding just slid right down our throats and immediately absorbed! No GI distress after and it was really nice to not have to think about chewing. My only regret is that we didn't have a little more at the stop and that we didn't put out another station in the later miles. However, this little experiment revealed another food choice for Joe, who doesn't like to have to chew any dry food during his runs.

The entire run took us about 4 hours, 15 minutes. If you check out the Mountain Madness pictures, you will see why. LOTS of hills. Joe won't have those hills at BOB but the training on them will make him mentally and physically stronger.

And we finished-off the day with a nice dinner of cucumber slices and a spicey chicken/rice dinner. So training is looking up.

"God has given me the ability. The rest is up to me. Believe. Believe. Believe . . . "
- Billy Mills

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Way Too Long

OK, it's been way too long since my last post. My bad . . . I have just been totally overwhelmed with preparing for and then cleaning up after the big ultra . . . The Finger Lakes Fifties. This year I did not sign up for the Vermont 100, which I have done the past three years. Last year I realized that after putting so much of myself into getting The Fifties together, I just couldn't make that switch from race director back to runner in time to get myself ready for Vermont. So this year I didn't even try to. And I have to say that despite the fact that I felt like I was in withdrawal this past weekend with not being at Vermont, it was the right decision to not do it. No way I would have been ready. I have not been able to put in some really solid training runs for at least a month leading up to The Fifties and now that it's over - two weeks plus after - I am finally getting my mojo back on. The trails await me! So much to do, so little time. So as to keep myself on track and make myself feel at least a bit more accountable, I am going to put it down in writing right now what the plan of attack is . . .

* Stop eating so much crap! I have been living on instant sugar energy to keep going with race preparations and then feeling too tired to put much thought into eating the right stuff. It's time to get my training mind in order. Balance the diet: protein, carbs, veggies, and lots of water. Lay off on the beer for a bit and reserve it for the reward after hard training and racing.

* Get Joe in gear. Joe is doing quite well in his preparations for his big summer ultra - The Summer Beast of Burden 24-hr run. The plan is to run 66 miles in the given 24-hr period. I am confident that he can do it as long as he paces himself during the heat of the day, stays hydrated and electrolyted, and listens to his pacer - me - finally, I get to be the whip-ass! Rock on - what goes around, comes around, my lovely crew-man! I can't wait to help him reach his goal. Still more training runs to go, but his is on the right path.

* Gear up for the Green Lakes 100K. This will be my first attempt at the 100K at this event - actually my first real 100K race! I have completed 100K before during my 100 mile attempts, but have never actually run a 100K race flat-out, so I am really excited for this. The biggest issue with this race is the lap-thing - EIGHT laps! This is going to be a real mental challenge to keep going each time I come through the start/finish area, but Joe will be there cow-belling me on.

So that's where things are at right now. Other than that, I am glued to the Tour de France and am totalling rooting for Andy Schleck who, after yesterday's chain disaster on the climb, must have a gut full of anger that will bring him back to the yellow jersey. The kid's got style and he's an amazing climber. I am confident he will make his move on Contador.

And then there is Tri-Nations rugby starting up again. I have to admit that I haven't been able to get away from The Tour to even watch one game. This is a great tournament - New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia pitted against each other - and I don't have any emotional attachment to any of the teams, so it doesn't matter who wins! They are all super teams but I have to admit that if I had to pick one, South Africa - winners of last year's Tri-Nations - is my team for this year.

Time to get out for a run - maybe I will check out Joe's Mountain Madness 30K course today for a run. If you're up for a good run on August 15, check us out! It's huge fun. CLICK HERE for a tour of the course.

Until next time - cowgirl up!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Body Forgives What The Mind Forgets

If you looked at my bruised and battered body right now, likely the first question would be “why?”. Why indeed. Kids play hard and look like this, but shouldn't adults know better? I haven't looked this beat-up since my days of mountain biking. Oh, that's right . . . I was of adult age then, too. And now I'm . . . 40 . . . and it's great to be a kid! And I just keep coming back for more. Right now I hurt and am tired. Thank goodness the body forgives what the mind all too quickly forgets.

Why do some people run long distances? It certainly can't be because it feels good - because those of us who have done it know that it hurts like hell - physically and mentally. Could it be for that ecstatic feeling that you get when you cross the finish line? Hard to say - you don't want to even think about the finish line because making it there is never a guarantee. But then, what is the “finish line”? The finish actually comes when you have gone as far as you can; when you have laid it all out there and have nothing left. It’s when you have gone beyond the point of where it is pointless to keep going, gone beyond what is reasonable and sometimes beyond what is safe. It’s the point where you find out what you are truly made of; where your passion keeps you going for that last little bit. That’s what attempting to run 100 miles is about for me. It’s the challenge. It's about constantly looking for the finish - and never knowing where that may be.

I have now attempted four 100 milers. The first one I went as far as I could and didn't reach the official finish. I reached my finish for that day, but completing the event was still unfinished business and so I had to go back for more. In my next attempt I crossed the official race finish line. Business finished, right? Nope. I craved more. 100 #3 - too sick to keep going after 83 miles of nausea. This sucked - I wouldn't do it again, right? Wrong. Time to go for broke; time to go to a new location and try again. Go for the hills. Go for the rocks. Go where there are lots of nasty, gnarly, disgusting creatures and sheer drops that would scare the hell out of me. Yes, that's what I wanted. And that's what I got. Enter Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Miler . . . one of the hardest, nastiest, unforgiving 100 milers on the east coast.

A lot of money, training, time, and devotion from your friends is required to prepare for and get through the actual event and it’s a lot of pressure to perform. But that's the great thing about running ultras and the friends who support your addiction - they are there for you, no matter what. When you are disappointed in what you haven't done, they point out what you have done. They support you, feed you, clean your dirty feet and wounds, change your nasty stinky socks, and they lie to you. That's what friends are for. And, once again, I had a great lying, loving crew of Joe, Karen Fennie, and Jill Fickbohm (the "virgin" in a group of ultrarunners, who now knows what 100-milers are really about) who ignored my tears, bitching, and pleas to stop and kept me going. Even when the possibility of reaching the official finish line within the time limit was no longer even viable, they wouldn't even think about letting me leave any unfinished business out there in the mountains.

So rather than bore you with the step-by-step run (and the term "run" is totally relative when you refer to the MMT course), let me just give a run-down of the highlights and remembrances.

Maybe these images will intrigue you into trying one of these events yourself!

  • Packing the car and the rear-hitch carrier the morning of our departure for Virginia. And then Joe coming into the house and saying "I hate to even ask . . . do you think we will need The Clam?" (The Clam is the roof-top carrier. Those of you who have traveled with me to ultras know what a "light packer" I am - NOT!).
  • Filling The Clam, the car, and the rear carrier and the four of us packed into the vehicle and not being able to see out of the back window! Somehow I think we resembled Sanford & Son as we rolled down the highway!
  • Joe trying to sever my right arm as I tried to pack just one more bag into the already overstuffed back of the car and him closing the door on me. My first of many bruises.
  • Foregoing the hotel room and opting for a tent to sleep in - OK, so I think this is really what put my packing limit over the top! Sleeping out in nature with only the sounds of a light intermittent rain, bugs hitting the sides of the tent, and the coyotes howling in the distance was actually quite relaxing.
  • Waking up race morning feeling eerily rested and ready to hit the trails.
  • Hitting the first trail and actually being able to run . . . but not for long . . . the climb up Short Mountain brought the entire group to a sweat-drenching hike, where us runners were pretty much bent over with chests touching knees as we climbed higher and higher.
  • Catching glimpses between rocks and branches (and repeated ear-popping) just how high above the rest of the world we were.
  • Never actually being able to take in the views and run at the same time. If I was running, my head was down with eyes on the trail. If I wanted to take in the views it required coming to a complete hault. Running and sightseeing at the same time almost assuredly meant kissing the ground - which I did - HARD - several times.
  • Running along a sunny trail, feeling good to actually be running, and having to hit the breaks fast to avoid stepping onto the four-foot black snake that was stretched across the trail. The runner behind me assured me that the snake wouldn't hurt me, but just to be sure I made him go over it first.
  • Having to go for 9-10 miles between aid stations and many hours without seeing my crew.
  • Reaching an aid station in the dark and not being able to have my pacer with me for another 9.5 miles. I have always had someone with me when I run in the dark. This was my very first experience running alone in the dark . . . and doing it on a high ridge and over rocky trails. I am scared of the dark. Dead leaves curled up and hanging from tree limbs really resembled bats hanging and many times I had to stop and really assess the situation before going by.
  • The incessant chirping of the whipporwills, howling coyotes, and moving glow eyes in the dark kept me very much alert to my surroundings.
  • Reaching the 68 mile aid station, still in the dark, resigned to stopping since I knew there was no way I would reach the finish line in 36 hours now. I had already been going for almost 24 hours.
  • Choking down french toast while my crew and a very persistant woman working the aid station tried to tell me how bad I would feel for "DNF-ing". The finish would be when I was not allowed to go on anymore, not stopping just because I hurt. They tried to convince me that I would feel better when the sun came up. Having not the mental fortitude to argue, I got my fanny out of the chair and started the death march.
  • Leaving that aid station crying but moving. Adding on some extra feet here and there as wrong turns were made, but still being able to keep going.
  • Seeing that second sunrise and still feeling very much awake and alert and able to make the ridiculous climbs up the ridges and over rocks but crying and yelling obscenities with the pain that came from each foot coming down on yet another rock.
  • Being at the top of the world and taking in the views through tears.
  • Having a wonderful pacer in Karen who, despite my swearing and crying, kept telling me how good I was doing and how proud she was of me. How can you let someone down when they can keep giving you these good vibes during what you think are your worst moments?
  • Finally making it through what I thought was only supposed to be a 4-mile section which actually was a 9-mile section and seeing Joe and Jill waiting for us. And then having to hit the pavement to get back to the aid station. And I thought rocks were hard on the feet!
  • With about 1 mile to go to get to the aid station and after 28 1/2 hours of being on my feet, knowing that I was not going to be allowed to go any more, I reached my finish. And sat on a guardrail and waited for Joe to get the car and pick me up.
  • 28 1/2 hours on my feet and completing 76 miles and feeling just as awake and alert as the moment the race started. Sorer, stinkier, and much hungrier, I was content with what we had accomplished.
  • Receiving my "MMT Visitor's Award" (picture at the beginning of the story). Way cool.
  • Getting to a hotel with a real bed, putting my feet up and downing two beers with my wonderful crew. And after a nap, heading out for dinner where I actually was able to sit up and stay awake, and enjoy two "mucho margaritas" with my wonderful crew. Cheers to us! Another Pork Slap Ale when we got back to hotel room, and my recovery was well under way.
  • Waking throughout the night to eat . . . salt & vinegar chips, peanut M&Ms, Combos, cold french fries, and a piece of cold fried fish left over from dinner. And still being hungry when I woke up in the morning.

So this was my adventure through the Massanutten Mountains. Not a 100 miles this time, but likely one of the greatest adventures I have and will undertake. It was the scariest, hardest, most awesome thing I have ever done. I did more things that I would never have done on my own because they are high on my "fear factor" list - and did them without even thinking about it. You do what you have to do. But it is so much easier to get through them with a lot of help from your friends.

Will I try another 100-miler? At this time I am ready for a break, ready to get some strong 50-milers in and get ready for a 100K in August. But 100 miles? Never say never. I may be bruised and battered, tired and whipped, but remember . . . the body will forgive what the mind will inevitably forget.

CLICK HERE for a link to some of the pics of the weekend. More to come when the Funsaver gets developed!

Cowgirl up! Pick 'em up, put 'em down, RAWHIDE!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Trying, Testing, Playing, Having Fun

OK, so I will admit that again I have been extremely pitiful with posting . . . maybe some ADD setting in along with my OCD that keeps me from being able to sit at the computer long enough to do so. Not that I have been up to much since my lasting posting, but I have been doing some product testing to see what works and what doesn't, a little bit of racing but not really - more like just having fun getting in runs with lots of friends. So here's a few things that I have been trying and some good realizations . . .

The Concept II Rower: this machine is an animal! A sprint on this thing will outdo any sort of running speed workout that I have ever tried! I LOVE IT! Gets the heart rate up and gives a total-body workout, especially strengthening the quads and back, compacting a greater workout into a shorter period of time when I don't have time to get out for a quality run. And it just makes you feel strong. And you sweat . . . a lot.

INOV-8 X-Talon 212's: I first bought these sneakers to use for the Beast of Burden race back in February and immediately fell in love with them. The fit is excellent and the grippiness of the soles like nothing else I have ever worn. On March 10 I did a good hilly 22 mile training run with a good portion of it on some rocky terrain. First realization: probably not the best shoe for running on rocky terrain for me. My stature requires more support. Overwhelmed with the choices of shoes that INOV-8 puts out and really not knowing what may be the best shoe for running on rocky terrain, I consulted my friend Yassine who runs for Team INOV-8. His advice was to try the Roclite 295's. Funny . . . they were just the shoe that I had been looking at and thought might be a good try. First run in the Roclites was a mere 5.5 miles but I really like them; flexible yet supportive and grippy and lots of room in the toe box. Looks like I have found a new love.

Vibram Five Fingers: I have been so wanting a pair of these so I finally broke down and bought a pair. I really really like them. I wore them for a full day of walking around and they felt great. One thing though . . . I have to say that it was very weird walking into a public restroom with the VFFs . . . couldn't get over the feeling that I was in a public restroom in my bare feet. But that's another story of OCD. Anyway, I have been running quite a few miles in the New Balance WT100s, which are basically pancake flat, and I have come to enjoy the feeling that I am very in-touch with the ground while running. I figured that since I have been running in such a flat shoe that transitioning to the VFFs would be no problem . . . so I went out for a run in them. So, of course, I followed my usual way of doing things. If a little is good, more must be better. I felt very comfortable in the VFFs so I figured a little 4.5 mile jaunt would be OK. When I got home I felt a bit of tightness in the calves but I massaged them and rubbed arnica gel in them. Well . . . the next day I was absolutely crippled! OK, so maybe 4.5 miles for the first run in the VFFs was too much. Live and learn. I went through lots of arnica gel, arnica tablets, Ibuprofen, muscle rubs, and some agony for 4 days before my calves felt back to normal. Guess the transition needs to be a bit more controlled. Patience . . . I need patience. Not my virtue.

If you have time . . . a really interesting blog is John Fegyveresi . . . a guy I met a couple of years ago when he came up and ran the Finger Lakes Fifties. Really nice guy. He is out hiking the Pacific Crest Trail right now and he is posting whenever he can . . . it's great; makes you feel like you're out there. He is also trying to raise money for the American Heart Association with this hike and is doing it in memory of his father. For more information and to donate . . . the Donald J. Fegyveresi Memorial Fund (AHA).

Heineken Cup rugby is in full swing. Setanta Sports, the sports channel that supports my rugby addiction, is no longer available on satellite. I just about had a stroke when I heard this. Where would I see my rugby? I follow rugbyrugby.com on the computer which provides stories and stats, but it's not the same! You have to see the action. FoxSoccerPlus took over the satellite channel and FORTUNATELY they are continuing the provide excellent rugby coverage. Withdrawal averted. UNFORTUNATELY . . . my Munster team has not been doing well and suffered a loss to Biarritz yesterday. I couldn't believe it. No H-Cup title for my men this year. Guess I will cheer for Tolouse; the French have been playing well this year (they won the Six Nations title with a grand slam this year).

So not much else going on. Cowgirl up . . . the trails are dry and inviting . . . time to get off the computer and get outside!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Catching Up After The Races

OK, I have been slacking a bit in the reporting department - having more fun running and not wanting to take the time to sit down and put the reports in writing. The weather has really been great to get out and run, so I have been taking full advantage of it.

On March 13 Joe and I went to the Annual St. Patrick's 4-Miler in Binghamton. I have always said (and still stand by this) that this is by far the best race we do! It's a mere 4 miles, but it is tough! The great thing is that it is early enough in the season that I haven't gotten into my "ultra shuffle" and still have a little pent-up speed in my legs.

Actually, the really great thing about this race, aside from the people who put it on and the volunteers, is that Joe and I go all-out with our outfits. This year we made a few alterations - I am certain that we spent more on the outfits than we did on the race entries!

Race day weather was cool but there was a bit of humidity in the air with some decent winds. I somehow managed a 27:52, only 7 seconds slower than last year's time! I'm certain that the hair created a little extra wind resistance!

This is truly the best race with a great feast and excellent beer after. This was my first race this year as an "old lady" Master - and I actually won the female Masters division! And, still maintaining my weight to keep me in the Athena division, I pulled-off a first here. It was a really really fun time with friends and a great day for running.

Now . . . onto the HAT Run 50K, which was held on Saturday, March 20. This is also one of my favorite races, mostly because after a long winter and being tired of the snow and cold we go to Maryland, it's warm, the sun is out, the flowers are in bloom, and we get to reunite with our ultra family.

This year the weather proved to be the biggest challenge for me. It was waaayyyyy warm - high 70s, maybe it even cracked 80. I just was not acclimated to it yet. But still, I had fun even though I ran my worst 50K time ever. I wore my Inov-8 X-Talon 212s which I absolutely loved. And I didn't fall once!

Not sure what was up with the water that was being served at the aid stations. I had planned to run with just plain water in my bottle and use Hammer Endurolytes and Hammer Gel (rock-on Huckleberry flavor!!!!) as my fuel. After the first short loop through the woods (about 4 miles) I decided to top-off my water bottle before heading out on the big loop. Shortly after leaving the aid station I took a big gulp and nearly tossed my breakfast. There was a very chlorinated taste to the water which made it totally non-palatable. At the next aid station I dumped the bottle and filled it again with new water, only to find the same problem. Not good; it was way too hot out to not be drinking well and I was not able to tolerate the taste of the water, which meant that I wasn't drinking as much as I should. I started running with my friend Doug who told me that he was drinking the HEED, which helped to disguise the taste. So at the next station I filled my bottle with HEED and discovered that even though there was still a hint of the awful taste, I could tolerate this. So the HEED and hot salty french fries got me through.

Joe completed 17 miles before giving in to the heat (he was smarter than me, I think!), Lorrie pulled-off a sub-6 hr run, and Karen bested her last year's time by something like 25 minutes! And even though my time was my worst, I take heart in that I got some really good trail time in and it counts as "time on my feet" in my training book for MMT 100!

So as for races, it's sort of fun time now. Yesterday was the Annual Forks XV (15K) road race, which was good fun. I did an 11-miler before the race and finished the race in 1:13. Next up is the Skunk Cabbage 1/2 marathon on April 11, which I plan to do as some add-on miles in my training log.

The weather is up and down, hot then cold, sunny then raining. Even had a bit of snow the other night, which fortunately did not last!

In the world of rugby . . . France pulled-off an amazing grand-slam win in the Six Nations tournament. I'm am totally a fan of Ireland, but I have to say that they played pretty pitifully this year. Now it's onto Magners League and Heinneken Cup and rooting for my Munster team (and keeping a close eye on my other fave, Leinster).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

You Can't Bitch About The Weather

(Ryan, Jim, and me just before heading out to the snowy start . . . note: smiling and dry . . . smiling would be the easiest part of the run; staying dry would be another story!)

My brain probably thawed-out several days ago, but with the sun and temps in the high 30s-40s range around here I have to admit that I have been more tempted to be out running than writing on my blog. But I have been doing a lot of thinking about the race and thinking about what an experience it was and now it's time to put the thoughts down in writing.

First of all, let me just say that the inaugural Beast of Burden race was all that I expected and more. I originally registered for this event because I have never done a winter ultra (or a timed 24-hr event) and I really wanted to see what I could do in some extreme weather. Well, then Mother Nature pulled a fast one and gave us a lot of not-so-snowy days - and aside from a couple of wickedly freezing days - pretty balmy temperatures. Now, running in the cold is not too challenging for me; I like it a whole lot and I actually breathe better in the cold. So if the snow was not going to be a factor and all I had to deal with was the cold, maybe this Beast thing wouldn't be too tough after all. And then, two days before the race, we got WHOMPED with snow - like 3+ feet of it at our house! Holy crap; now I had to wonder if I was really ready for this! Well, the weather is what it is, so hence the title to this story - you can't bitch about the weather. I mean, really, what did I expect when I signed up for a WINTER ultra?! Let the games begin!

Once we were able to get out our front door - and then out of the driveway - it was off to Lockport. We drove up in rapidly falling snow for 100% of the drive. WOW - Cowgirl Up! It continued to snow during dinner, after dinner, and when we got to the hotel and went to bed. And then we woke up on race day to what? Rapidly falling snow! Temps seemed to me to be in the very high 20s-30s, which made clothing choices difficult. How to stay dry without getting too warm? Well, I would have the first 15+ miles to consider this and then make changes when I got to Joe in Middleport.

With a starting field of 42 I spent a lot of time running alone, which gave me a lot of time to think - and rethink - my goals for the day. Eventually I managed to run for 16 hours, 50 minutes, completing 63.79 miles. A respectable run in my book, earning me my very first ultra buckle! This race posed many new and different challenges that no other ultra has provided me - a unique experience that I will definitely try again. Here are some of my highlights of the day (and night):

* Starting the race in absolute snowglobe effect. This was probably the best of times, getting to run as a group and talk with each other. This lastest for maybe the first 3.7 mile add-on loop. Then it was into my own head.

* Race Director Sam Pasceri ran in the 100 mile event. This was really fun to have the RD out there experiencing the same torture as the rest of us! I got to see much more of him this way than I would have with him just standing around at the start/finish area and he was so encouraging and fun.

* SNOW - lots of it! I was certain that the flatness of the course would be my major obstacle, since I love hills and the opportunities they provide me to walk, use different muscle groups, and a time to eat while still moving. However, the snow made the footing challenging (see my next point). Also, the blanket of snow on the surrounding area really did a number on my eyes. I started out without wearing eye coverage and the brightness of the whiteness noticeably bothered my vision during the first 15 miles. Thank goodness I brought shades! I tried the sunglasses but they caked-up too easily with the falling snow. I think they needed coating with Rainex. Glad I threw the ski goggles in the car - they were the ticket. I knew I would look like a dork out there running in ski goggles - but I had lots of good dork company with many others - including Sam - looking like giant bugs running with ski goggles on. This really shaded the white, kept the snow out of my eyes, and saved my vision. Do you know how much a snowflake in the eyeball hurts?! Blisters got nothing on this pain!

* The temperature - well, it was too warm for me. The temps were, I think, reportedly in the 30s, although it felt much warmer than that! At one point I ran with my jacket open and just a sports bra underneath. The warmer temps also wreaked havoc on the snow, making it mushier and the footing more difficult. My ankles definitely got a workout!

* Three aid stations - it was a mental game during what seemed like long looming miles before getting to each oasis of warm food and drink. The volunteers were always cheerful and provided some really great eats of HOT pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches, and soup. The hard part was having to leave the aid stations . . . after running alone for so long it was so nice to talk with someone, which made it was really tough to leave.

* I managed to keep my energy at a pretty constant level with Hammer Gel. Who knew I could love a gel? I am so in love with Hammer's new Montana Huckleberry flavor - it rocks! And it tastes even better cold.

* I got lonely at times. 42 runners spread out over a 12-mile trail = lots of time running alone. I ran with my friend Jim off and on, but at one point I had to call Joe on my cell phone just because I was lonely and wanted to talk to someone.

* The cell phone - thank goodness RD Sam encouraged us to carry them. Joe was great driving from end to end of the course bringing my next change of clothing with him. However, at one time I was so interested in getting into my new dry clothes and eating that I forgot to tell him what to bring to the other end for me. So with my phone with me I was able to call him and tell him what I needed, which meant not having to run another 12 miles in cold wet clothes.

* Schwag bags - really excellent! We were just piled with great stuff - a fleece-lined running shirt, socks, all sorts of good running stuff, and a really neat flashing blue light. I wore my little blue light on my waist pack and Joe said he could see me coming from quite a ways out. And then a cool t-shirt when we finished. Let's see . . . $99 to enter the race, all the food and drink I could handle, a bag full of cool stuff to use and wear . . . basically the RD paid me to run!

* My downfall - the slush storm that occurred during the night. I really was having a good go at keeping myself mentally up and I felt quite warm when I headed out after completing 50+ miles, so I made the mistake of wearing just a light shirt with a light jacket. Unfortunately I was not moving fast enough to stay warm when the slush started falling from the sky. I got soaked and rather cold. I re-warmed at the Gasport aid station under a nice heater but just before hitting the Middleport station I was greeted with another wet, cold slush downfall. I hit the Middleport aid station a little worn and cold and that's when I decided to call it a finish. After three cups of coffee with Bailey's Irish Cream I felt way better and I think if I had this to drink about 1/4 mile earlier I would have had the mental boost that I needed to get dry clothes on again and head back out.

* Oh, the best part. I can't forget the clothes dryers! At each end of the course there were clothes dryers. Joe was so great - he took my wet clothes, got to the end of the course that I was headed to and dried my clothes so that I had warm, dry clothes to change into at each end! This was, by far, the best perk of the race and really helped my mental state. Because, in case you didn't know, I am all about being comfortable during the race. And if that means continually changing clothes, then that's what I will do. I know that I lost a lot of time doing this but I also know that if I didn't do this I wouldn't have gotten as far as I did.

So, did I have a good race? Well, it wasn't really a race for me as much as it was a challenge. And not even a challenge to see how many miles I could do, but really to see how I could handle the the changing elements as they came up. I think I had a good run, was able to stay fuelled and not mentally bonk, which has been my downfall in the past. My body can handle way more than my brain can, so if I can just keep my brain in it I feel that I can do well. So now that I have had my winter fun I am ready for the snow to be gone! It's time to hit the trails - as soon as I can find them!

Cowgirl up . . . the HAT Run 50K trail awaits!

Preliminary Beast Of Burden Thoughts

OK, it's been a couple of days since tackling The Beast Of Burden 24-hour run and what a major blast it was! Thank you so much to Sam Pasceri for creating this winter fun! My feet have recovered from the trenchfoot but I think my brain is still snowbound.

CLICK HERE for full results of the 24-hour and 100 mile races by Score This!! timing.

For a really excellent video by Jeff Tracy, go to http://score-this.com/results.html and click on "Beast of Burden video". It will make you feel like you were there! Dress warm!

CLICK HERE for some pics by my wonderful crew honey, Joe.

Eventually I will come up with a report of my race that I hope will do justice to the wicked conditions that all of us runners, crews, and volunteers had to endure. This was really a great event and I am already planning on giving it another go next year.