Monday, October 28, 2013

Running On Empty ...

two weeks ago today was the beginning of the end ... the three-day downward spiral that eventually brought to an end of a 16 year relationship filled with love and a lot of laughter.  two weeks ago when I sat down to have my morning coffee with my little fur-face Sammy Loo and she just wasn't acting right I never would have guessed that two days later she would be gone.  my girl gave it the good fight and I have always said that truly loving a pet is doing what is best for them even though it may be killing you ... and sometimes that is knowing when to let them go; knowing that ending their suffering is the kindest act of friendship you can do for them.  and thank you to the wonderful, compassionate veterinarian that made it possible for Joe and I to say our final goodbyes in our home with Sammy on my lap in the chair where we sat together having coffee every morning.

so it was a brutally tough week.  every time I tried to run I would just intermittently just open up in tears and have to walk.  prior to Sammy getting sick I had been on a running high with the great run that I had at Oil Creek 50K.  I couldn't wait to get back out and race again.  so it was a last-minute decision to go to the Tussey Mountain 50 Miler on Sunday, October 20.  when Sammy first got sick and needed to take meds I had already decided that I would not go to the race so that I could stay home and take care of her.  when she died my heart was truly not into running a race.  Joe tried to convince me that it would be good to just get out and run and just have time to think or not think.  ok, so I thought maybe this was true.  but on Saturday morning as we prepared to leave for PA, it just didn't feel right.  I didn't want to be away from home and leave Yip and Salem.  I just needed to be with my kitties ... after all, they were mourning the loss of their sister, too.  but everything was ready to go and as torn as I was I decided to give it a try.

my head and my heart just were not into the whole run right from the start.  despite two IPAs on Saturday, which usually helps me to rest well before a race, I slept pretty restlessly.  I woke up Sunday morning not even having my race stuff together.  I filled my bottle with water and threw some gels and NUUN tabs into my race vest and figured I would just hope for the best.  the weather was supposed to be perfect for running - high 40s and partly sunny.  my kind of running weather.  we got to the race site and saw some friends, which helped to distract my thoughts until the start.  and then we started and pretty soon I was running alone and my mind just kept going back to Sammy and Yip and Salem.  I just never got into the swing of things with my run.  I ran with a laminated photo of Sammy on the back of my race vest and as I was running along another runner asked if that was my number one fan.  I could barely answer and as soon as I was out of his earshot I was crying.  by mile 10 the physical pain of running on the road was catching up to me.  this race is a mix of dirt and paved roads, similar to what I run on at home ... sometimes.  obviously I have not done enough long-distance road running in a long time.  I love the soft dirt of the trails, the skipping and jumping over fallen trees, roots, and rocks and the change-up of using different muscles that comes with trailrunning.  obviously I had a lapse in memory of how brutal roads are to me.  by mile 10 my low back was screaming.  I was holding a decent pace and all I could think is that if I slowed up it would take longer to get this thing over.  and I wanted it over.  so I kept plugging along and around mile 15 my friend Katherine caught up to me and we had a nice talk as we walked up a hill.  and then she pulled away from me and all I could think about was my back pain.  and my heart was heavy and I continued with intermittent outbursts of tears as I thought about Sammy.

by mile 27 I really really wanted it all over.  things were just going awful and I couldn't turn them around.  problem was that Joe was not out on the course crewing for me.  before the race started I had hoped that he would find a spot somewhere along the course to watch the race and I would get to see him, but so far the only time I saw him was when he was driving a volunteer back to the start.  so I left the mile 27 aid station hoping that I would see him at the next station, around mile 32.  and so the death march continued and I walked, ran, cried, cursed, and just hoped that I would see Joe soon.  as I came into the mile 32 aid station I started to scan the crowd for Joe.  I didn't see him and I didn't see his car.  I needed to stop and I didn't know what to do.  it seemed that the race really didn't have a good plan for getting people who dropped back to the finish; basically you had to try to hitch a ride with another crew person or relay team.  but then something magical happened.  as I came into the aid station I saw a familiar face ... with green hair.  Teresa!  The Avocados were out on the course!  I met Teresa some years back and she is a wonderful person and every year at Tussey she and some friends have a team called The Avocados and they are just awesome.  Teresa came over to give me a hug and I just broke down crying.  she asked me what I needed and I told her that I just needed to be done ... now.  she understood.  she helped me over to their team van and offered me warm clothes and food.  I really didn't need any of that right then.  I wasn't really sweaty because of the cool temps, I was warm enough, and my appetite just wasn't there.  but then one of the other Avocados offered me a beer.  oh yes, that was what I needed.  and it tasted so good.

we never did see Joe and I wasn't able to reach him on his cell phone.  so I rode in the Avocado van for the remainder of their relay run and I drank their beer.  and I had some time where I wasn't crying and I wasn't thinking about missing Sammy and it was the best part of the whole weekend.  and I can't thank that group enough for taking me in.  they were exactly what I needed.

as we rolled into the finish area, three beers later and my back feeling a bit better, there was Joe standing at the finish line, waiting for me.  this was definitely the best way I have every finished this race!

I can at least talk about Sammy now without crying, although writing this right now brings me to tears.  She was such an amazing piece of work.  there are so many things that I miss about her.  Yip and Salem are acting way different not having their sister in the house.  and they have definitely stepped up and having been taking wonderful care of me and Joe.  we are very lucky to have them and very lucky for the time that we got to spend with Sammy.  I am back to running and feeling pretty strong and ready to tackle the next 50 miler ... with Sammy riding shot gun on my back.  we will have a better go at it this time, I know it.  she wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

my year in running leading up to this past weekend

holy crap ... I have really been off the radar with my postings.  time to get it together and keep writing down what has been going on ... mostly so I can remember the good and the bad of my races so when I look back with fond memories I can get a good dose of reality.

so I see that my last post was the febapple 50K.  apparently that was the beginning of a pattern.  the pattern being DNF at a 100 miler, have a strong 50K after.  the febapple came right off of the beast of burden 100 mile DNF.  100 mile DNF #1.  this was followed by some good and some not-so-good spring races, all of which were basically training runs for the Vermont 100 mile in july.  well ... guess what happened there?  a big fat DNF at mile 62, after dealing with some serious foot pain for 52 miles.  I can't say that I felt totally bad about the DNF because it was due to something real that was going wrong ... not me just mentally getting wimpy.  100 mile DNF #2.  but then came Green Lakes 50K in august and I was back and running and feeling good.  good enough to pull out a 6:17 50K, something that I had not done in a very long time.  this too was a training run for the penultimate run ... Virgil Crest 100 miler in September.  I went into this race feeling physically and mentally ready.  and then the rain came and the trails turned to grease.  I slipped and fell too many times to count and by the time I got to around mile 36 I knew that I was done.  the best I could do was struggle to finish the 50 miler, which I did with the help of my trekking poles and a beer.  100 mile DNF #3.

but I felt happy that I had the sense to stop at VCU before really hurting myself.  and hoping that I had saved something for the Oil Creek 50K which came just two weeks after VCU.  My right IT band was giving me some twinges off and on, so I bought an ITB strap just 3 days before the race and hoped that it would do the trick.  so the pattern that had been going was 100 mile DNF = strong 50K run to follow surely meant that I had a strong 50K run coming.  AND I found a 4-leaf clover on one of my runs just days before OC.  surely this all meant that things would work out ...

so let's skip all those boring months leading up to this past weekend and just get on with it ... the run that I had been waiting all year for.  yes, it was a shorter distance than I hoped to have my best run at this year, but it was definitely my best run of the year; all things seemed to just fall into place.

FRIDAY ... joe and I arrived in Titusville, PA, for the Oil Creek 50K that both of us would be running.  I agreed early on that I would run my race and joe would run his.  he had been diligently training and I felt good that he would take good care of himself out on the trails.  and I could concentrate on my race.  we got to chat with some friends, picked up our race numbers, and set off for dinner at The Blue Canoe brewpub.  after a dinner of beer battered fish, fries, coleslaw, vegetable bisque soup, and two IPAs, it was back to the Titusville middle school parking lot where we would camp for the night in the car-V.

SATURDAY ... race day!  we got up around 5:30am so that we could watch the 100Kers take off.  after a breakfast of coffee, mashed potatoes, and coffee cake, I was ready to run.  it was a cool morning (probably low 60s) but I could already feel the humidity.  and at 7am we were off and running.  I hung back a bit trying to find my pace.  the first ~1.5-2 miles is on road/paved bike path, so I didn't want to take off too fast, knowing that once we entered the woods the course would narrow to singletrack.  and actually I fell into a good group ... as we trotted up the trail (uphill) I chatted with two women ahead of me and a girl behind me (who I quickly learned was someone I knew from VCU and Cayuga Trails 50).  I never felt like I was being pushed but I did feel like that if I was by myself on these sections I would probably be walking more.  so it was good that I was with a group that helped me to push myself a bit.

AS #1 (mile 7.1) ... 1 hour, 19 minutes.  still felt strong, hydrating with NUUN, downed 2 cups of Dr. Pepper.  Didn't feel the need to eat anything yet as I was feeling well-fuelled.

AS #2 (mile 13.9) ... 2 hours, 41 minutes, 25 seconds.  temps were still OK but the humidity was getting brutal.  I was totally soaked.  I think I ate one salty caramel GU and had taken one Salt Stick cap prior to arriving at the station.  still I felt strong and did not feel the need to eat solid food.  I just wanted liquids - NUUN and Dr. Pepper really hit the spot.

AS #3 (mile 22.7) ... 4 hours, 32 minutes.  the sun had really come out and the heat was kicking up.  I was drinking only water/NUUN from my hydration pack and had eaten a couple more salty caramel GUs and a couple more Salt Stick caps.  my hydration pack felt a bit light so I figured I had better fill it up with water for the last section.  two more cups of Dr. Pepper and a half of a grilled cheese sandwich, and I was off.  I felt strong and was still secretly hoping that if I could keep up the pace I could finish in under 6:30.

the climbs between this aid station and the finish are probably the most brutal of any of the hills on this course.  and it was getting hotter and sunnier.  and my feet were just feeling hot and beat up.  and I just wanted to sit down.

FINISH (31.1 miles) ... 6 hours, 19 minutes, 32 seconds.  the last 2 miles of this course have to be the hardest ... they are FLAT.  and after all that climbing and descending on the trails with the tree cover around you, this flat, open section is just tough.  but I worked off of the energy that I was finishing!  as I watched the 100 milers and 100Kers heading back out, for once I felt really glad to not be them.

after 5,459 feet of elevation gain, a lot of NUUN tabs, 7 cups of  Dr. Pepper, 5 salty caramel GUs, 2+ liters of water, 4 Salt Stick caps, and my first long run in my Salomon Sense Mantras, I was done.  I had been red-lining it from about mile 7, running outside of my comfort zone.  and it felt good.  I truly had not pushed like that in a race in a long time.  and I truly felt like I was racing.  it was actually kinda cool.  so where did this get me?

overall finish:  21st out of 133.
overall female finish:  5th place.
masters female finish:  1st place.
and a really cool bronze finishers buckle.

I thought about joe frequently while I was running.  I hoped that he was having as much fun as I was.  he had paced me for the last 17 miles on this course in 2011 when I ran the 100K, so I knew that he at least had some familiarity with the course.  and he had been training.  I just hoped that he was staying hydrated and respecting the heat.  after I finished I did not shower right away because I did not want to miss joe finish.  so I hung out with my friend Katherine and we waited for joe.  after a while I just felt too disgusting for words (and I really smelled) and I just wanted to grab a quick shower.  Katherine said she would wait for joe while I showered.  I really tried to hurry but just after I showered and was dropping my junk in the car and getting ready to head over to the finish line, there comes joe and Katherine walking to the car!  and joe looked good!  he finished in 8:12!

so it was a great day for both of us.  and we both had trail tales to share on the drive home.  it felt so good to have a great run, get some eats, get home, and sleep in my own bed.  it was so nice to share a good day of racing with joe having a good day of racing an ultra.  we haven't both had good ultra races together in quite some time.  and it was nice to get up today still feeling good and ready to run (ok ... maybe not ... I still sat around and ate like it was the day after a 100 miler!).  but I am really hoping to keep up the strong training and speed for Stone Cat 50 Miler.  I would really like to break 10 hours there ... it seems doable but I have never been able to do it.  maybe this will be the year.

so for now ... my streak of crappy races has been broken and I am feeling pretty positive about my speed and endurance.  hopefully it was not a fluke ...

Monday, February 25, 2013

Something New, Something Fun

OK, I admit it.  I got sucked in by the schwag.  I mean, really, a nice fleecey vest that represents winter as opposed to the usual race shirt that I normally get at a race any other time of the year.  That's how I initially got sucked into The Febapple Frozen Fifty trail race in NJ, put on by NJ Trail Series.  I saw a post from them on Facebook, promoting the race and advertising the fleece vest.  And that was all it took.

For the last couple of years I have done basically the same winter races and this year I was feeling in a bit of running funk.  So when the opportunity to try something new came up, it was exactly what I needed.  I have been longing for the trails and the opportunity to get out on them for a 50K was just too tempting.  And it was just a few hours drive from home.  The race offers four different distances - 10, 20, 30, or 50 miles.  Thank goodness the race directors emphasize the cut-off times for the 50 miler, which really kept me from signing up for 50 miles.  50K was just right given the conditions ... some snow, lots of ice, lots of mud, puddles, and a couple of good-sized downed trees to climb over on each 10 mile loop.

I didn't go into this thinking of it as a race, not that I usually have a "race mentality", but I knew that a 30 mile "race" would require something that I don't really have ... speed.  So here's how the day panned out ...

Prior to the start of the race it was a constant heavy mist of rain in 40-ish degree temps.  I just kept hoping I brought the right clothing.  I don't care about getting wet just as long as I stay warm.  With a base layer of merino wool shirt, covered by a regular tech shirt and vest, tights on my legs, and gaiters, gloves, and hat, I hoped that I had enough clothing ... and I was absolutely soaked before the end of loop one, but I was warm.

Loop 1 ... went out easy since I didn't know what to expect on the course.  Felt surprisingly good on many of the climbs, which made me happy but left me wondering if I should be running them this early on and then have to pay for it later.  Oh well, I would find out.

Loop 2 ... stopped to change my wool shirt to a dry one and cover with a different light shirt to keep the wind out.  This proved to be time well spent, as I stayed warm and did not have to change my clothes the rest of the run.  Started this loop feeling a bit foggy, wasn't really sure what was going on since I felt fuelled and didn't think it was a fuelling issue.  So I started taking more Endurolytes and getting more liquids in me, wondering if I might be a bit dehydrated.  At about the 14 mile point I had a bit of a headache and since I was passing the car I stopped and grabbed a couple of Bayer Migraine pills and carried on.  After a couple of miles the headache started to dissipate and I started feeling my mojo kick in and was able to run.  And I felt great.  Until Friday night's dinner started to kick in.  I had a nice dinner of a veggie pannini, which tasted great, but I knew as soon as I bit into the sandwich that this probably was not a great idea for a pre-race meal.  And then there was that artichoke dip.  Well ... long story short, the work I had put in to pass some other runners bit me in the ass as I watched them pass me by while I was taking my pitstop(s).  Crap.  Literally.  Oh well ... I wasn't in this to race anyway ... and now that all four distance racers were out on the courese I didn't even really know who was in "my race" either.  So I just kept plugging along.  Thank goodness the second stop was the last one.

Loop 3 ... Now I really had no clue who was in my race.  I started this loop out alone and on the first 4 mile-ish section I saw maybe three other runners.  I passed through the start/finish area, grabbed a quick drink and saw Joe briefly.  I felt great!  I kicked it up a little (as much as I could without falling on the ice or slipping in the mud or slush).  Eventually I saw a couple of the runners who had passed me during my "breaks".  And I kicked it right by them.  I stopped briefly for a drink at the final aid station and was passed by a young girl who decided not to stop.  It took a while but I was finally able to catch her and then pass her.  And then the fates were on my side.  Long downhill section ... my long legs were able to stride it out here and build some distance.  She was wearing minimalist shoes and I had my Hokas on, so I was able to bomb down on the rocky sections with no problem.  We got to the giant downed tree (top of it was at my waist level and no way could you crawl under it).  Once again, being tall was so helpful here ... I was able to quickly get over the tree.  I still had no idea who was ahead of me or who was in my race, but eventually I came upon a girl wearing a jacket with "Drexel Squash" written on the back.  I hadn't seen her since the start of our race.  I just focused on catching her and eventually I did and was able to pass her on an uphill.  My sole purpose from this point on was to not get passed again.  And I so wanted to be under 7 hours at the finish.  And I was afraid to look at my watch.  So I just kept running as hard as I could.

THE FINISH ... finally!  There it was!  I crossed the finish line in 6 hours, 40 minutes!  And I had a blast!  It rained a heavy mist the entire race, the course got muddier each loop, the ice seemed to get slicker, and it only got funner!  And best of all, my little mental push of not wanting to get passed by those that I was finally able to pass and the fact that I just wanted to push for time got me third place female OVERALL!  Those two women that I passed in the last couple of miles ... yes, they were in my race and if I hadn't pushed past them I would have ended up fifth.  Again, not that I really cared about my placing, I was just so happy with my time (and the fact that I didn't fall once!), but it felt great to feel like I actually "raced" my last loop.  I haven't done that in a long time.

So the race distance may have been short a mile of 50K, but who cares?  I still had a fun time, I pushed harder than I have in a long time, and I was just so greatful to be out on the trails again!  Joe, as always, was a fantastic race volunteer and awesome crewman.  This turned out to be a wonderful way to break-up the dreary winter.  I plan to put this one on the calendar again for next year and I would highly recommend it.  A nice little road trip, awesome volunteers, great running comraderie, and a beautiful course.  All in all, a great weekend!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Beast: 3, Me: 0

That's it.  The Winter Beast of Burden Ultra is just brutal.  It seems like it should be a very doable 100 miler, yet there are some very weird factors which make it deceptively hard ... harder than any 100 miler I have finished or started/DNF'd in (and there are quite a few of those!).  I have always said that the BoB is 99.5% mental.  And now I believe that more than ever.

I have attended every Winter Beast since its inception in 2010, but the first year they had a 24-hour event, which I wisely entered, so there was really no DNF there.  And I had never run a 24-hour event before, so all I expected was to run what I could.  And I did.  And I had fun.  Since then I have, for some silly reason, decided that I should tackle the 100 miler.  2011:  ran Hartshorne Mile 1 week before the race and during the race while trying to do some speed-hiking, I pulled a groin muscle and dropped at 50 miles (I am certain the problem started with running the mile).  2012:  went into the race already injured with wicked plantar fasciitis, but started to feel some healing in progress, so I decided to just see what I could do.  What I did was a very painful 37.5 miles.  2013:  completely healed, trained, finished a 100 miler in September, learned some knew mental tactics, and I felt totally confident that I could do it.  And yet, leading up to race day, I felt excitement to run and have fun, but my heart just didn't feel the "want" or the energy that I had going into Virgil Crest.  But I was certain that things would fall into place once we got to Lockport.

So here is the dirt.  I have found that writing race reports that I can go back to and remember things about races that I somehow forget when I get caught up in the excitement of all of my friends signing up for a race is a necessity.  I will need to look back at this next year and remember why I am not signing up for the BoB 100 again.  It's not that I don't love the race ... well, I don't, actually ... what I love is the people there.  The volunteers.  The friends.  That is why I keep going back.  That is why I plan to volunteer at the next one and offer to pace, if needed.  The items that I will run-down here are what I need to remember as to why I love the event but why I just cannot run it anymore.

  • Last minute house cleaning before leaving for the weekend.  Smashed my left little toe on the TV stand - same toe that I broke after Virgil Crest in September and the toe has been deformed since.  Immediate tooth-grinding pain, swelling, and discoloration.
  • Fun drive to Lockport with Joe and Karen F.  Good music, good eats.
  • Excellent dinner at the usual spot - DeFlippo's.  It's tradition.
  • Race morning ... disappointed to find the sun shining and the temps way too hot for me at 15 degrees.  I dressed warmly but minimally ... or so I thought.
  • About 3 miles into the run the sun was at our faces and what little wind there was was at our backs.  Jacket off.  Wished I could have taken my pants off too.
  • Excellent aid stations with my Orgain that I brought, HEED, pringles, Coke, and the most amazing grilled cheese sandwiches.  This was my main diet throughout the race.  I digested amazingly well.
  • Darn Tough merino wool socks that I had been running in all winter did not work so well when mixed with 5 1/2 hours of snow and sweat.  My feet looked like prunes at mile 25 and a blister was starting to form on the arch of my right foot.  This never happens.  Foot powder and compression socks and a dry pair of Hoka Stinson Evos to the rescue.  Another layer of Desitin to potential chafing areas, more grilled cheese, Coke, Orgain, and HEED and I was ready to head back out.  Thank goodness the sun was going down and the temps were dropping.
  • Music on and running side-by-side with my ultra training partner Karen, we ran in seemingly perfect synergy.  We didn't need to talk.  We just ran a pace that we both have become accustomed to in our training.
  • Got to see the full moon rising out of the horizon ... from nothing more than a sliver on the horizon to rising fully into the sky, the perfectly circular moon shown so brightly that I didn't need my headlight for quite a while.  It was quite awesome.
  • When I had to turn my light I caught sight of glow eyes on the frozen canal.  A cat sat quietly in the middle of the canal as we passed by.
  • Desitin is not the perfect chafing savior that I thought it was.  Or maybe it is and it was my clothing choices early on that were not so perfect.  I think problems started with the fact that I had too many layers on early when it was warmer and the sweating was just too much.  Couldn't wait to get back to Lockport and tend to this.  I was amazingly uncomfortable.
  • The loneliness of The Beast ... and the towpath.  A guy who was running his first 50 miler started to run into some mental and physical issues around 43 miles.  It was funny because you could tell how much trouble he was having because he didn't want to leave us.  He needed company.  We'd slow down, stop for pee breaks, and he would too.  It's so hard to be out on the towpath in the middle of nowhere, alone, and struggling.  When it gets like this you just need to be with someone, anyone.  Even if you don't know them.  I'm glad we were there for him.
  • We got our new friend to his first 50 mile finish (and he said he thought it would be his last!).  I still struggled with the pain of the chafing and just couldn't imagine going back out there.  Reality ... I could try to fix things but if I got even only a few miles back out on the towpath and things went to shit again, I was screwed.  It would be a long way to Middleport and Joe.  Nope.  I was done.  And I was OK with it.
  • Karen was prepping to go back out, but mentally struggling, too, I think.  Our hearts just were not into the run this year.  So after taking three ... yes THREE ... caffeine pills in prep of heading back out for the run, Karen decided to call it a night, too.
  • All was good ... I enjoyed 50 miles of running with a good friend, got to experience the joy of helping another runner to his first finish, ate and digested amazingly well, got to run by the light of the full moon shining off of the snow ... it really couldn't get much better.  And there is no "DNF" at the Beast of Burden.  You don't finish your race?  Then you are just plain "FD" ... fucking done.  I love it.  Once we were FD we drove back out to the Middleport aid station to have some beers with our friends who were manning that station (seriously, the very best part of this race is the volunteers ... it is the only reason we keep going back ... no joke).  We got to Middleport and Jen tried to take down our numbers.  We corrected her and told her we were done.  Jen: "FD?".  Me and Karen:  "yup".  Jen:  "Thank God ... now we can have some fun!"  I love it!  This was the seriously best part of the race ... relaxing and enjoying time with good friends ... with good beer (appropriately, we drank Flying Dog Raging Bitch IPA).  Thanks to Jen, Ginny, Nancey, Beth, and Dani who have been there with us at all 4 Winter Beasts (and all of the Summer Beasts, too).  You guys are the best!  And then there were the countless number of other volunteers who worked so hard to keep us runners going ... thank you!
So, the upshot of this was that my heart just wasn't into the run.  I could have pressed on, it would have been ugly and painful and I would not have enjoyed it.  I enjoyed the time that I was out there.  I had fun with friends.  I drank good beer.  I ran under the full moon.  That is all.