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 ...