Saturday, November 1, 2014

Rest. Recover. Reboot.

After a busy year of racing, I'm enjoying a period of rest and recovery.

The week after the Go Commando Half Marathon, I ran/walked/hiked about 12 miles total, and I this week I ran/walked/hiked about 20 miles. I want to maintain a base and not lose a ton of fitness, but I want to also give my body some easy weeks to feel rejuvenated.  My husband and I ran a Halloween-themed 5-miler last weekend (slower than my half marathon the week before--legs just had no juice and breathing was off).  But at least we looked sort of cool.  We went as "early morning trail runners."  This is how I feel every time I clear the trails at Rotary Park!

Now, on to the reboot.  Around Tuesday of last week, I discovered two websites that are going to be influential in my running in 2015:  Strength Running and Coach Jay Johnson.  My friend  Lisa used a Strength Running training plan in the past by Coach Jason Fitzgerald with much success, so I decided to check out his website.  Wow, great information in that site! I spent a few hours reading his views on hill sprints, shoes, body-weight strength training (and more!) and took lots of notes.   In several of his posts, he recommends strength training exercises by Coach Jay Johnson, so I checked him out, too.  There is so much great coaching information available online for free! 

After a year focused on running far (and slow, for the most part), I have been looking to take my training in a new direction for next year.  Both Fitzgerald and Johnson subscribe to the motto: log the miles, protect the body.  They are believers in moderately high mileage plus core work as well as general strength and mobility training.
Honestly, I've been slacking in that area.  I taught a strength-training class at the YMCA every Tuesday for several years until last November.  I thought I would do it on my own, but I didn't make the time.  My IT Band issue started in January.  Coincidence?  I've fought with it for 11 months now.  It gets better, then it gets worse.

Coach Jay Johnson recommends an 8-week strength training program done 2-3 times per week.  I completed week 1 this week.  Fitzgerald has a standard core strength program and an IT Band rehab program of exercises, which I also completed once this week.  Both recommend a lunge matrix pre-run, which I utilized as well. I enjoyed doing these and was a little sore.  Both coaches also promote hill sprints and strides to improve running economy as well as build strength.

Log the miles, protect the body.  I think this is the REBOOT I need to be a well-rounded, healthier, faster, happier runner in 2015. 

Runs this week:
Monday-- Great trail run at Rotary with Andrea.  3 miles.  We pushed the pace more than usual and enjoyed the peak of leaf color.  Does it get any better than this?
Tuesday-- Just 1.5 miles in my neighborhood and then 5 strides in POURING rain.  I had to laugh when it started absolutely pouring. I was soaked in about 10 seconds.  Running fast felt good.
Wednesday--  Track work!  The APSU track finally reopened after a year of closure.  I ran 8 X 200 meters at an average 7:12 pace.  The last one was 7:06 pace.  I was happy with that after a year of slow running.  My happy place:
Thursday-Hiked 2.5 miles at Rotary with Andrea.  We were trying to design a 5K course for an upcoming trail race but ran out of trail!
Friday-5.3 mile run with Michelle in Savannah.  Savannah is one of my favorite running neighborhoods.  Michelle and I conquered the huge hill on Carriage Way, which needs to be a part of my regular routine.   We ended with 5 fast strides.  Very enjoyable run.  And faster than my 5-mile race last weekend!
Saturday--3.6 mile run with my husband at one of my favorite places--the Cumberland Bicentennial Trail.  Legs were tired.  

It was a good running week.

I think I finally know where I'm going and have some idea how to get there.  I'm going to build a foundation, brick by brick.  

Upcoming races tentatively:

Nov. 22---  Farm Bureau Holiday 10K. 
February--  Dry Creek Trail Half Marathon (I did the full last year.  Mostly fire roads.)
March 7-- Tom King Half Marathon  (flat and fast and similar to goal race's course)
April 4--Oak Barrel Half Marathon (training run only---going to support Hubby's PR attempt)
April 18-- Carmel Marathon in Indiana  *** GOAL RACE ***

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Run for the Hills!! Go Commando Half Marathon Race Report

Yesterday was my 4th time going commando in Clarksville, TN.  Each year, I somehow forget how hilly the course is before the next one.  It's kind of like childbirth.

The Clarksville Visitors' Bureau did a FABULOUS job with this race--from the excellent expo, smooth packet pick up, quick shuttle ride to the start, to the finish line goodies (mini Snickers bars and coffee!).  I highly recommend it.  You might want to train on some hills though.  A lot.

My day started at 4:50 a.m.  I was out the door at 5:55 and made it to the shuttle stop at 6:15.  There were two school buses pulling in at the same time to transport runners to the start.  I quickly grabbed my drop bag and water bottle and jumped in line.  Riding the bus to the start in the darkness made me feel like I was running a big city marathon.

I got to the start and used a pristine port-o-potty.  It's nice to be first.  I wandered around the expo a bit, then posed for pics with some other runners by the statue of Wilma Rudolph.  Here is a group that trained with me from the YMCA and a few of my trail running friends.

After the group pic, disaster struck!  On one last quick trip to the port o john, I dropped my ipod in there!  

Oh well.

It was time to start, and it was so nice not to have a time goal.  I figured I'd run it in 2:15 to 2:20, taking it easy.  I did set another goal, however:  don't walk any of the hills.  I told myself over and over:
And I did!

I started at a conservative pace on the flat section and stayed there.  I had three running buddies at first, but by mile four, we had all separated.  That first hill is a beast, as you can see.  It goes up and up and up.  I just told myself to dig deep and get up it.  Almost all of those around me were walking by half way.  I was 4/5s away from the top when I spotted a man having a massive nose bleed.  He was asking police officers, volunteers, and other runners for a tissue.  He was walking on the side of the course with blood dripping off his chin. Luckily, I always carry emergency TP with me, so I ran over to him. I yelled, "I have tissue! It's kind of sweaty though."  He turned around, reached a bloody hand out for it, and took it.   My son has had massive nose bleeds regularly since he was about 4 years old.  I could relate to his predicament!  So, I paused for a couple of seconds to hand a bleeding man tissue and ran every step of the rest. I think it still counts. 

The downhill side of that massive hill was fun.  I tried to open up my stride and not "put the brakes on" with every step.   

The back side of this course starting around mile 8.5 is really challenging.  It feels kind of like this:  

But it's probably more like this. 
The best part of that section, though, is that you get to see all of your friends!  It's an out-and-back, so you can see the leaders as they are finishing as well as pretty much everyone ahead of and behind you.  I tried to shout a quick "Great job" or other encouragement to as many people as I could.  I caught back up to one of my original pace buddies around mile 9 or so, and we ran together for a while.  By mile 11, my legs were getting tired, and I had to dig deep to make it up the relentless hills without walking, especially the last two big ones. I was counting steps on the last one... 20...25...30...40...just 10 more steps....  Whew!   I made it up ALL the hills! 

I jogged it in to the finish, totally spent.  My finish time was 10 minutes slower than last year on this course (when I also made it up all the hills), but it was still a victory! My goal was attained.  After that marathon fiasco of two weeks ago, I needed this.  I needed to know I could run up big hills.  I needed to know I could run 13 miles nonstop (other than walking 3 or 4 steps at two aid stations to drink).  It was a GOOD DAY.   

All of the people I trained for the race finished as well.  I was able to see each one of them and share in their victories!  This is a really tough course for your first half marathon.  Or your 25th!  But hard things are worth doing.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

"Have To's" vs. "Want To's" in a Runner's Life

Burnout seems to be inevitable for me at least once a year.  Last year, I wanted to get faster, so I followed a really challenging training plan from July-November with lots of speedwork and lots of miles. I did set a new half-marathon PR, but a marathon PR eluded me, and I was terribly burned out by mid-October.  I followed that plan religiously.  My "have to's" involved five runs per week and running when I was absolutely exhausted.  I was too scared to tell my coach at the time that I was falling apart.  He was so nice and encouraging that I didn't want to disappoint him. Major fail on my part.

This year, I decided to focus on running FAR, not fast, and really emphasized trails.  I ran a trail marathon in February, a road one in March, a road half in April, another road half in May, a 41-mile ultra in June, and a trail marathon two weeks later.  I ran two trail half marathons in July, 166 training miles in August, a trail 50K in September, and a road marathon in October.  The trail 50K was my overall goal for the year, but I somehow talked myself into signing up for a 50-miler in November. 

In August, I really began to notice I was struggling,  I did a 9-mile trail race and felt like I could barely finish.  I backed off mileage in September, and my 50K went GREAT on rested legs, but I only ran 52 miles in all that month (with 31 of them at the same time!).  My marathon three weeks later on still tired and sore legs was awful.  My hamstrings and glutes were tight and cramping. My IT band hurt.  Apparently, it takes me more than three weeks to recover from a 50K hard effort.  Lesson learned.  Since then, I have decided NOT to run the 50-miler in November.  It feels so good to just let it go.  

I could keep digging this hole.  I could keep putting in running (very slow at this point) and walking miles, so I could eke out a finish at the 50-miler in November.  But I don't WANT to.  My motivation and energy left me sometime in September---maybe at that 50K finish line.  I'm sick of the "have to's."  
  • I "have to" get in at least 40 miles this week!   
  • I "have to"  get in one more long run of 24-25 miles!
  • I "have to" get in one 40-mile weekend before this 50-miler.
  • I "have to" run at least one more back-to-back.  (Good grief, how I hate back-to-backs!)
I debated on whether to let this race go for weeks.  I knew I no longer had any desire to do it, but I didn't want to be a quitter.  I didn't want to disappoint a friend running it with me.  I didn't want to leave my roommate for the night in a tough spot.  A wise friend put all this stressing out into perspective for me though.  "It's only running," she said.  Yep.  I'd forgotten that.  Yes, it is a HUGE passion in  my life and a big part of me, but it really is "only running."

Sometimes, a DNS is the smartest thing for your body.  I'm listening to my body.  It needs a break.  It needs a period of time where the running is because I WANT TO and not because I have to.   I'm excited to allow myself some real recovery time and to do some short races in the upcoming weeks.  I want to have fun for a bit.

I have tentatively planned my spring schedule, and it's much gentler than what I did this year.  (Learn from your mistakes!)

I have an early spring road marathon planned.  I have a late spring trail marathon or ultra planned (debating which.)  Then I have time to recover and a destination race sometime in late summer or fall. I'd like to have some 5K's, 10K's, 15K's, 10-milers, or half marathons in the mix, too, without overdoing it.  I've forgotten how to run fast. 

I thought I could run a marathon or ultramarathon every month (or even two in one month), but I can't.  Right now, my body just can't handle it.  I have friends who run a marathon or ultra every weekend, but they are not ME.  All those long, slow miles have worn me out and made me slower.

I'm excited to finish out the rest of the year just doing what I want to.   Tomorrow is the Go Commando Half Marathon.  It is a "want to."  I'm an ambassador for the race, and I trained several individuals for it.  I have no idea how my body will react, but I'm just planning on taking it gently as a training run.   I read recently that "A grateful heart can run forever."  So, I plan to just RUN GRATEFUL.  

After tomorrow, I doubt I'll go above 10 miles for a while--unless I WANT TO.  Next weekend, my hubby and I are running a costumed 5-mile trail race to celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary because we want to!  I will be thanking God for my husband and this gift of running.  There are enough "have to's" in the world.  Enjoy the "want to's"!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Boulevard of Broken Dreams in Winchester, TN: Southern TN Power Classic Race Report

"I walk a lonely road....  Don't know where it goes
But it's home to me and I walk alone...

My shadow's the only one that walks beside me.  My shallow heart's the only thing that's beating. Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me.  Until then, I walk alone....

Check my vital signs to know I'm still alive
And I walk alone.  
I walk alone."
                                                         ---Green Day

Very appropriate lyrics for my 18th marathon/ultramarathon today in Winchester, TN!   My goal going in was to just have a solid, smart training run for my upcoming 50-miler.  I *hoped* to come in under 4:50, but I was fine with under 5 hours.  Three of my last four road marathons have been 4:56-4:58.

Three weeks ago, I had a GREAT trail 50K race.  I ran my heart out on that course.  I was so pleased with the results.  Since then, the legs have understandably been sore and tired.   I ran several shorter runs in the first two weeks after that race as part of my recovery, took some Pilates/yoga classes, and biked a little.  I tapered from running on Thursday and Friday of this week.

My family and I traveled to Winchester on Friday night and made it to packet pickup only five minutes before it closed.  Then we went to my in-laws house in a nearby town for the night.  I managed to get about four hours sleep.  

My stomach had been uneasy on Thursday evening and Friday, but I figured it was all the carbs I was loading with.  I'm normally a low-to-moderate carb eater.   However, this morning after my normal oatmeal and coffee, I realized it was still not quite right.  Ugg.

I got to the race, and it was a chilly 37 degrees!  I hung out in my car as long as I could.  I saw lots of folks I knew at the start, which is always nice.  I kept this jacket on until about mile 14! 

The race started and the first four miles went by great.  Those were really scenic miles.  I was running relaxed, chatting with a friend for a couple of them, and for most of those early miles, my Garmin was on 10:35 pace every time I looked down.  (In hindsight, I wish it had been 10:45 or 11).   I realized quickly that I needed a pit stop at mile four, and had to wait in line for just a minute or two at the port o john.   I got back on course and ran another 10:35 mile.  Around mile 6, we ventured onto this busy five-lane boulevard.  Many of the businesses had "Boulevard" in their name, which made me think of the above song.   At that time, though, the "dream" of a solid race wasn't broken. Yet.  

Mile 6 contained a long, gradual uphill.  So did mile 7.  And mile 8.  They don't look like much on the elevation profile, but they were definitely hills.   I still maintained that 10:35 pace my body was defaulting to.   I was taking a gel every 40 minutes and drinking regularly.   At mile 8, I realized I needed another pit stop.  

Things started to unravel a bit in miles 9 and 10.  I started defaulting to a 10:40-10:49 pace.  There were many hills.   Around mile 11, I started feeling really sick.  I slowed down and walked more.  My legs were suddenly very tired.   I struggled through miles 12 and 13 and got to the half-way mark at about 2:22 or 2:23.   I had been expecting 2:18-2:20, so I wasn't that far off at that point.  

Miles 14-17 went from bad to worse.  I felt like someone was hitting me in the stomach with a baseball bat with every step.  I was nauseated.  My left ankle (my bum one) had started to hurt.   My hamstrings and glutes were cramping and my fingers were swelling.  My body was just not cooperating.  I had zero energy.  Looking back, I don't think my stomach was digesting the gels and electrolytes.  I think they were just sitting there, not doing anyone any good.  It was a fight to run at all, and I walked a bunch.  I walked alone.  I wondered how I would ever finish 26.2 feeling the way I was.

Around mile 18, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" actually came on my iphone.  I laughed.  I was out on some random country road in Estill Springs, TN walking alone, feeling terrible,  probably needing my vital signs checked.  :-)  

I finally told myself, "Let's just end this running charade and walk it in during the last 8 miles."  Just after I made peace with that, an EMT rode up on a bike.  

"How many are behind you?" he asked.

"A few, I guess.  I'm sure I'm not last."   He rides away and I think, "Oh, Dear Lord, could I possibly be last???"   It was a very small race, and quite a few had passed me in my struggle.  I thought I knew of at least two who were behind me, but then I wondered if they had a bad day, too, and maybe DNF'd, and I was truly Dead Last Finisher.  

There was a man up ahead, and I made it my mission to catch and pass him.  That meant running again.  He was walking as much as I was.  I finally passed him, and he said lied, "You're looking good."   I rebounded a bit for mile 19, but by 20, I felt bad again and had to make another pit stop.  I thought, "How am I going to stand this stomach/ankle/muscle pain another hour??"  The stomach pain was by far the worst.  I asked the mile 20 aid workers for Tylenol to take the edge off, but they didn't have any.   I actually used my Bradley Natural Childbirth breathing for a little while.  It was MISERABLE--the most miserable I have ever been in any race.

Losing time at that pit stop allowed the man to catch back up to me.  As he passed me (we'd gone back and forth a few times throughout the second half), I said, "We should just run this together," and it turned out to be the BEST THING I did all day.  

He stopped running when I said that, and we starting walking side-by-side.  His name was Jer. He was an incredibly nice 58-ish year old from Winchester and  a great talker.  Since he lived in the area, he pointed out his running routes, the road to his house that we passed right by, and told me all about Tims Ford Lake and all the local landmarks.  He told me about his four kids and his job at the Air Force Base.  We talked about our favorite races and our PR's.  We ran the downhills and some of the flats and walked all the uphills.  I've said it before in this blog:  Suffering shared is greatly reduced.   We were both struggling, but we kept our minds off of it.  I didn't even notice my stomach pain (much) in those miles.  

At around mile 26, my buddy George appeared on the course to run me in.  He had finished over 30 minutes earlier and always comes back for me in races.  Jer and I had picked up another runner who was struggling around 25.5.  George and I ran a little ahead of them to the finish, but the three of us finished within seconds of one another.   I'm not sure I've ever been that relieved to be DONE with a race.  It was 10 minutes slower than my previous slowest (my first) marathon.  A personal worst.

Jer was absolutely a blessing to me today and saved the latter part of my race.  He told me later that no, it was I who had saved him.  George was a blessing, too.  Seeing so many friends before, during, and after the race was nice, as well.  It wasn't ALL misery, but I can't say it is what I'd call fun!

I couldn't really stomach any food at the finish line and even chocolate milk (my favorite) was iffy.  I limped rather pathetically to my car and headed back to my in laws.  I spent about 20 minutes defiling their bathroom, then took a shower and felt semi-human again.  Semi.   Let's say it was a long two-hour drive home.

The really, really, really bad ones make us stronger, right??

Race hydration/nutrition today:  Tailwind Raspberry Buzz, water, a bit of Gatorade at aid stations, Huma Chia gels, one Gu Vanilla with caffeine, 1/2 banana.  (almost exactly the same as in Stanky Creek 50K)
 Post-race:  Chocolate milk at the finish. Then I choked down a Hammer Recoverite Vanilla shake (from Stride Box!)  mixed with tepid water from my car on the drive back to my in-laws.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Stanky Race Report: Tailwind, Tylenol, and a Terrific Trail 50K

Yesterday, I ran my first trail 50K at the Stanky Creek 50K in Bartlett, TN, to celebrate my 44th birthday, which was on Saturday.

My friends Christie, Harriet, and I drove to Memphis on Saturday afternoon, easily located Nesbit Park for packet pick up, had dinner at a nice restaurant, and settled in for the night at the Fairfield Inn.  It would be their first trail 25K.

I had been looking for a beginner-friendly 50K trail course.  I've run 3 true trail marathons and one that was partly trail, partly gravel road, and I felt ready for the next step distance-wise.  I initially planned to run the Stump Jump 50K in October, but after finding out how many people I know who are faster than me who didn't make the time cut off due to the difficulty of the course, I decided that wouldn't be a wise first 50K.

Stanky Creek, formerly the Bartlett Park Ultra 50K course, is very runnable with little elevation change.  It is a 7.4 mile loop run 4 times, plus a short 1.5ish  loop done only at the start.   Here is the elevation profile of the main loop that we repeated:
It's easy to see why I picked this as my first 50K!   I figured it would take me 7:30-8 hours.

Pre-race pic of us in our Middle Tennessee Trail Runner shirts  On the back is a quote by John Muir: "Of all the paths you choose in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.":

The 50K started at 7:00 a.m.  The weather was just about PERFECT for Tennessee in September-- 56 degrees at the start and about 78 at the finish.  I put myself in the back of the pack.  The 1.5 mile loop went quickly, including a beast of a hill I hiked up.  I purposely went out GENTLY.   A quick trip back through the parking lot, and we started the first 7.4 mile loop.  I immediately noticed the course looked very much like my hometown Rotary Park, where I have done many, many training runs. I felt right at home!  The first 7.4 mile loop seemed very long.  I ran with a girl named Amanda for about one mile, then no one.   I was careful to take in carbs every 45 minutes early on.  I started with my favorite Strawberry Huma Chia gel and consumed Skratch lemon lime hydration.  Both are very gentle on the stomach.   In the last half of the loop, some really fast 25K runners began passing me.  I was happy to see Adam from MTTR in 5th or 6th place.  We crossed this creek near the end of the loop:

It was definitely an odd color, but it didn't seem "stanky" to me.   Both shoes and socks got very wet. The hardest part was getting up that hill on the other side.  It was steep and muddy and now my shoes were wet and muddy, so finding a foothold was tough.  I had to plant my hands in the mud to get up it that first time.   The loop ended, and I was back in the parking lot at my little personal aid station.  I grabbed a couple more gels and refilled my bottle with Skratch.  

Loop 2 was probably my toughest of the day.  At this point all the fast 25K people started passing me.  My left ankle and Achilles and knee all started to hurt.  My knee felt like it had a catch in it.  I tried not to think about it.  My ankle and Achilles had hurt on all trail runs lately, so I wasn't surprised.  I just wondered how bad the pain would get.   I ran this entire loop alone.  I was starting to get a little lonely and lose focus. I knew I had a LONG way to go.  I knew that I needed to just run one loop at a time, but my legs were feeling a bit tired.  I decided that I would turn on my music after finishing this loop. I was also getting blisters on the side of my big toes from the wet Ininji toe socks from the creek crossing.  I decided that sacrificing a few minutes to re-Body Glide my feet and put on dry socks would be worth it.   Preventative care is important!   I hit the 13.1 mark at 3:04:30 by my Garmin.  I was happy with that time.  

At the end of loop 2, around the 15-mile mark, I stopped by my chair and began struggling to get my shoes off with my gaiters still attached (not very effective).  I finally unhooked the back of my gaiters at least.   I got my socks off, applied glide, and began the painstaking process of putting a new pair of toe socks on.  This is not something that can be done quickly. You have to make sure every toe is perfectly aligned in its rightful place.   I also switched the Skratch for some Tailwind with caffeine and took two extra-strength Tylenol (perfectly safe if you only do it once in a race.... except for the part of masking pain and potentially making an injury worse.).   While I was sitting there, I got to see my friend Harriet finish her first trail 25K!  I took off for my 3rd loop very slowly.  Everything had stiffened up in that 4-5 minutes in the chair.  In about 40 steps, I noticed something wasn't right with my sock.  I stopped by someone else's chair and took my shoe off AGAIN to discover my pinky toe wasn't in its toe hole and that portion of the toe sock was all bunched up.  That would have driven me crazy over the next 16 miles! I fixed it and was off, having lost 5-6 minutes off the clock.  Oh well.....

Let me just say Tailwind Raspberry Buzz is the  It has enough calories that you don't really have to take in anything else.  At this point, I'd had about 4 gels, so I was ready for a little break from them.  I started sipping on it and also had a small 1/2 cup of Coke at an aid station. I also turned on my music for the first time of the day.   

Early in loop 3, I was surprised to see my buddy and race director of many of my recent Kentucky races Steve Durbin at an aid station as well as the infamous Lazarus Lake, writer/ultramarathoner/legend.  He's the RD for the Barkley Marathons and author of several books.  It's crazy how small and close-knit the trail and ultrarunning community is!  Steve and I chatted for a minute about my upcoming races. He's the RD for my Tunnel Hill 50-miler in November.  Also at the race were several awesome runners I've met at various trail races over the years--Jen, Anthony, Robin, Shannon, Rob.  It's great to be a part of the trail running community and see familiar faces at races.

I don't know if it was the dry socks, the music, the Coke, the Tailwind, or the Tylenol, but the 3rd loop went well and my spirits were good.  Sipping that Tailwind was a nice break from the gels and really did give me an energy buzz.  Thanks to the Tylenol, everything stopped hurting, and I just felt HAPPY out on the trail.  I ran mostly, hiked the hills, and just enjoyed myself.  At the 20-mile mark, I texted my husband for the first time that day to let him know I was alive.  Getting to 20 miles was another boost.  There's something magical about the 20-mile mark.  I crossed the creek a 3rd time.  I knew I was going to finish this thing, and I was excited! 

I didn't stop by the chair (the chair is not your friend!) after the 3rd loop.  I powered on through with my now wet new socks.  I texted my friends to let them know I was starting my final loop.  They had gone back to the hotel and showered and to lunch after their 25K and were coming back to get me.  I did some shaky calculations and figured out that if I pushed a bit, I could get a trail marathon PR on my way to finishing this 50K.  So, I pushed.   My half marathon was 3:04:30 and my full marathon was 6:09:38.  I'm not sure how that happened, but those are pretty even splits.  I thought I might slow down after the marathon point and just hike it in, but I was feeling too good.  I kept pushing.

It was neat when I passed the 27-mile mark.  I was in new distance territory on a trail.  I began to wonder if I could finish this in under 7:10?   In those last miles, I passed 9 people, most of them men.  People were just done, and I was coming to life.  Mile 28 was my 3rd fastest of the day.   This same thing happened at my June ultra.  Those later miles were my best miles.  I had a couple of small cups of Coke at an aid station, but I was just drinking water in my bottles.  I choked down an Accel Gel around mile 27 (strawberry kiwi) that tasted wonderful, but the consistency was tough to swallow.  It contains protein and tasted just like sweetened condensed milk (if you like that sort of thing).   It did seem to give me a burst of energy though.  I was singing out loud and just clicking the miles off.  Happy trail selfie:  

In Mile 28, I realized that I was not only going to finish this thing, but I was going to surpass my original "best day ever" goal time of 7:30 by A LOT and was on track to beat 7:10.  I felt strong and empowered and proud of myself.   I had been in the woods running primarily alone for almost 7 hours.  I had gone through a low spot and came out of the valley.  Though I would finish HOURS after the winner, it was a victory for me.

I crossed that darn creek one last time, scrambled up the mud hill, and was on the finishing stretch. I knew if I pushed, I could make it under 7:05.  I came out of the trail to the cheers of my friends.  7:04:32.  I ran as hard as I could down the length of the parking lot on legs that already had 31.3 miles on them.   I crossed the finish line of flour at 7:04:48.  Whew,  

It was a GOOD DAY.  The looped course worked well for me mentally as it broke the race up into chunks.  I'm so glad I chose Stanky Creek 50K as my first!  My friend Jen and I at the finish:  

I'm glad I spent some time in the dirt this weekend.  I think 44 is going to be a good year.  

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Journey into Unknown Territory: Ultramarathon Training

Unknown Territory is a frightening thing.  

In two weeks, I'm running my first trail 50K the day after my 44th birthday.  That is Unknown Territory for me.

I've run 4 trail marathons over the last two years, and in each one, I was seriously DONE at mile 26.  The feet- hurting, hip-flexors-failing, quads-burning, hamstrings-tightening kind of DONE. Trails are HARD!! Running thirty-one miles on a trail will definitely be a challenge.

But just as 5K runners find themselves signing up for that first 10K and half marathoners sign up for their first full after they have a few races under their belt, I felt ready for the next trail distance challenge when I registered a few months ago. Unfortunately, my trail training hasn't been going great.  About 6 miles into trail runs lately, my left ankle starts aching, but it's fine on road runs. My longest trail run this month was only 10 miles (yikes!).  However, I've had a 49-mile week and a 42-mile week that included a mix of roads and trails and running and hiking.  Have I put in enough trail miles to survive the unknown territory of a trail 50K? There is only one way to find out!  Between now and the race, I plan to just run on roads and hike on trails for short distances to let that ankle heal. With just two weeks until the race, the training is in the bank or it isn't.  Starting on fresh legs with a healed ankle seems to be the smartest thing I can do right now.   I'm really starting to get excited about this challenge.  Pain is probably inevitable in a trail 50K, but as they say, "suffering is optional."

Then in 10 weeks or so, I'm running my first 50-miler.  I must admit that I feel like I'm "training scared."   It's hard to comprehend almost doubling the marathon distance!

This month, out of respect (fear?) of the 50-mile distance, I've trained pretty hard.  I've alternated high mileage (for me) weeks with moderate mileage weeks.  I've experimented with back-to-backs runs of 21/8 and 8/20 on weekends at the end of the heavy mileage weeks.  I've run when I was tired and didn't feel like it.  I've run when I was sick.  I've run on no sleep.  I've persevered in the misery of Tennessee August heat and humidity. (Somebody slap me if I try to register for another late summer/fall ultramarathon knowing what our summers are like!)  I can definitely say I know what it's like to run on tired legs.  But I've also run some WONDERFUL miles.  I've relished spending hours running and talking with friends.  I've had time to think.  I've seen some beautiful trails and even some pretty nice roads.  I've explored new places. I've come back renewed more than wrung out many times.  I ended August with 166 determined miles after 124 in July.

Despite the rather large increase in mileage, I will say I'm training GENTLY overall. With my autoimmune condition (Hashimoto's), I'm being careful not to overtrain.  I'm not running fast very often.  I'm not trying to increase endurance and speed at the same time.  I do add in some interval training or a tempo run when the mood strikes (rarely).  I had the pleasure and surprise of running a random 8:40 mile the other night (my 5K pace on a good day).

I think three weeks after the 50K, when my legs have come back to life, I will run the Southern TN Power Classic in Winchester, TN and just see what happens.  I need a 25-26 mile long run anyway.   I've had three marathons in the 4:30's and 4:40's, but the last couple of marathons have been in the 4:50's.  Will all this endurance training allow me a faster finish?  I don't know, but I'm sort of excited to find out.  I may even run it on feel, without my watch.

I think the toughest of my 50 miler training may be over, honestly.  The weather is cooling. My legs are recovering faster.  My upcoming 50K and marathon will be exciting-- full of people and in new places-- plus give me the long runs I need.  One more weekend with back-to-backs should get me there, don't you think? The weekend of Oct 25, I'd like to get in 40 miles over Fri/Sat/Sun. I'm planning 25 miles that Saturday (also my anniversary). My husband will join me for 10 or so, and my friend Michelle will finish up the last 15 with me. (What a way to celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary!)

Then I'll taper the next three weeks and start that 50-mile run into unknown territory with fresh legs, excitement, and hopefully, courage.    

After that, I will take it easy through the end of the year.  Then I hope to focus on non-ultra distances for a while.  I haven't run a 5K in a year and a half, and it's been two years since my last 10K.  I want to just have fun for a bit and maybe build some speed in the process.  A fast marathon or half marathon would be nice.   Yes, I'm already planning 2015!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

What a View from the Top of a Mountain! Chuckanut Mountain Half Marathon Race Report

Last week, I flew across the country with my 13-year old son to visit some wonderful friends and former next-door neighbors, who now live Tacoma, Washington.  My friend was one of the inspirations for me starting to run seven years ago, and she happened to be signed up for the Chuckanut Mountain Half Marathon during the time we could visit.   I jumped at the opportunity to run in the Pacific Northwest with her!

It was my first visit to the PNW, and I made the most of the five days I had there.  After a few days of seeing the sights in Tacoma and Seattle, we headed to the beautiful town of Bellingham, Washington, home of Chuckanut Mountain.  We drove the two-and-a-half hours north on Saturday afternoon, checked into our hotel, picked up our race packets, and then spent the evening visiting shops, walking around, and enjoying dinner at a fabulous restaurant on the water.

The Chuckanut Mountain Marathon is billed as the "toughest marathon in the Pacific Northwest," so I was glad we signed up for the half!   After I signed up, my  high school friend Stacy, who lives in Bellingham, also signed up.  We met up with Stacy and his wife for dinner on Saturday evening.  We had 26 years of catching up to do!

Race morning arrived, and Rebecca and I found the mountain.  I spent a few minutes wandering around while she was charging her phone.  I found a sign that said Beach, and hiked down for this view:

A few minutes later, we ran into Stacy and his wife and kids.  His kids did the 1K race just before ours.  Here we all are just before the start:

To prepare to run up a MOUNTAIN, I tried to train on as many hills as I could, but Clarksville, TN just doesn't have any mountains.  I had a pretty good amount of elevation change in two 13-mile trail training runs at Beaman Park and Rotary Park though.  I also ran the Jackal trail marathon (no big hills really though) in June.  I practiced power hiking.  Oh, and I did lots of squats!  

The first four miles of the race were not what I expected.  They were down a gravel road, which kind of reminded me of my training spot, the Cumberland Bicentennial Trail.  I suppose I expected views of lakes and mountains right away.   This is around mile 4, when we had to cross a road to enter the real trail.

Soon after mile four, our climbing began and the scenery changed dramatically.  Now, this is what I was imagining!   Ferns were everywhere.  Huge old growth trees dwarfed us.  

Some areas of the trail were smooth, others were rocky and rooty.  Once, I had to climb up a huge, flat boulder.  My training paid off.  There were only a couple of really steep sections that stole my breath.  At the top---this view was amazing.  We stopped for many pictures.  This might have been a 24-minute mile on my Garmin......  Worth it.  

How crazy is it to be ABOVE the trees???  And these weren't any little trees, either!   I was a little apprehensive of being so close to the edge of the rock I was standing on.  I did peer over the edge for just a sec!  That's Mount Baker in the background, I think.  

Two crazy climbs and then we started to descend.  My two trail-running, Washington-living friends were BOMBING down the trails at full speed.  I was mincing down them.  I just haven't trained for technical downhills enough to let go.  For me, letting go on a downhill equals about a 98% chance of falling! 

Not that my run was completely free of falls!!  At some point around mile 10.5, a huge tree had fallen over the trail.  We couldn't go under it, so we had to climb across it.   My 6ft tall friend did this with ease.  I wound up sort of straddling the tree awkwardly (both feet dangling off the ground) and sort of slid over to the other side.  My right foot landed on solid ground.  Unfortunately, my left foot landed on a big, wet, mossy, slanted rock.  The second I put my weight on it to take a step, I went DOWN on my left side.  Hard.  Water bottle flew out of my left hand.  I was stunned for a second, but hopped back up.  The damage wasn't too bad.  The side of my knee was bleeding from slamming into the rock, and I had trail rash on the back of my thigh and palm of my left hand.  

About a half mile later, though, my left ankle was really hurting.  It definitely twisted at an awkward angle as I was slipping off that slanted rock.  I just tried to ignore the pain. We didn't have any more climbing after mile 11, just net downhill.  Mile 13 was a steep downhill (again, not my forte), and I just tried to be careful.  I tripped once on a steep section and went flying briefly, but landed on my feet.   13.1 came and went.  Stacy and I crossed the finish line at 13.9 miles, around 3:40.  My friend was just a few minutes behind us.  WE represented the LCHS Class of '88 well!  

The next morning, my sore legs and I flew home to Tennessee.  I loved my trip to the PNW!  If it didn't rain 9 months of the year, I think I could live there.  

I cannot wait to climb my next mountain!!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Thoughts from the Trail: Backass Jackal Trail Marathon Race Report

Today, I ran the Backass Jackal Trail Marathon in Jackson, TN.  I ran this race last year in 6 hours and 43 minutes.  My goals this year were to run smarter, finish stronger, and beat that time WHILE enjoying the trail and the beauty of God's creation.  I love being in the woods.  It feels like home.

This was a 3.75 mile course that 18 of us had to run 7 loops of.

Here are a few thoughts from each loop.

Loop 1:  Even though it is in the 70's at the 7:00 a.m. and about 90% humidity, it doesn't feel hot yet. My legs feel good.  I need to relax and remember to run within myself these first two loops.  Yay, for once I didn't go out too fast!  

Loop 2:  I love trails.  Trails are my best friend.  Is that a snake???  It is so beautiful out here.  This is great.  Is that a snake???   I feel so at home out on the trail.  Is that a snake?  I'm feeling good.  Is that a snake???   (A copperhead was spotted on the trail the day before!)

Loop 3:  I am still feeling great!  These loops are flying by.  I love running!!!

Loop 4:   Where did my energy go?   My legs are moving in slow motion.  I'm going to power hike for a while.  What the heck is that buzzing around my head??  (Sprinting and flailing commence.)   Oh, good grief!  It won't give up!   (I round a corner quickly and almost hit my head on a tree.)   It's gonna sting meeeeee!!!   I bet I look like I'm having a seizure.  Oh, thank God, it's finally gone.  I think I'll walk some more.  I have to remember to put this in my blog.  :-)

Loop 5:   Running is hard.  My ankles and Achilles officially do not like me anymore. Why do I keep signing up for races???  It's hot.  The real feel of 94 is  here.  My feet hurt.  

Loop 6:  (Had a few swigs of Mountain Dew before this loop).   Whoo-hoo!!  I'm feeling better.  I'm running FAST.  Look at me!!!!  This is so fun!!  

Loop 7:   (More Mountain Dew.)  Almost done!  I'm so hungry!!  I'm so ready to be done.  My everything hurts.  EEEEK! Oh, it's just an earthworm.  I can't breathe.  It's HOTTTTT.  This air is too thick to breathe.  I feel nauseous and a little dizzy.  Should I hike a little while?  Nah,  I'm finishing strong.   Last little bit---I'm going to sprint it in!  

Immediately after that sprint:  Thank God it's over.  I can't breathe.  

One minute later:  That was GREAT.  A 27-minute PR over last year!!!  My A-goal was 6:15, but I'll take 6:16:42!  I'm hurting but happy.  Time to hit the chair.

A few minutes later:  I'm scared to take off my socks.  I hope my second toenail is still attached.

A couple of seconds later:  Nope.  Well, partially.  EEEW.  That's nasty.  I think I'll cut it the rest of the way off with these nail scissors in my bag.  (Which I did.)  Wow, that looks hideous.  I'll have hide it with a bandaid for the next 3 months.   "Hey, ya'll, I just CUT OFF my toenail with scissors!!  Anthony, come look at my toe!"

An hour later changing clothes in the backseat of the car: (I scraped the 2nd toenail from the other foot on the back of the seat.)  Are you kidding me? ??  That one, too??  Ok, half of it is still attached.   I think I will leave it alone.  

On the drive home:    My toenails all hurt.  Well, I guess not ALL of them.  (Wild laughter at myself.)  That was hilarious.  I think I will look into having those two permanently removed.  

Here are a few pictures from the final loop.  I was running hard, but I took time to take a few pics, mostly while in motion  (possibly contributing to missing that 6:15 goal... Whatever.)

One of my favorite spots.  Pine needles covered the ground making for soft running, but not much shade!

It was so green and lush.

Look, the trail has it's own mosquito breeding facility:
Tall and skinny trees do not make much shade, but they are cool looking at least.
Kind of rain-foresty (in my mind).
Just such a pretty spot.
Tired, happy, and toenail-less.  (Well, I still have 8 that are fairly solid.  For now.....)   

Friday, June 13, 2014

Painful, Wonderful Miles--Run Under the Stars Race Report

Last Saturday evening, I gathered with 190 other runners at my 3rd Run Under the Stars 10-hour timed event.  That is where I ran my first 50K and 60K during the last two years.   There is a 1/2 mile horse track made of crushed limestone, and we run in ovals around it from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.   It's strangely fun.

I knew LOTS of people on the course this year, and in some ways it felt like a reunion.  Here are several from Run It Fast.  I might have nabbed this from Instagram:

There was a group of four of us who traveled from Clarksville, plus at least four other Clarksville runners there I knew.  A few of them--

At 8:00 p.m. there was allegedly a tornado warning in the area, but we started anyway.  Storms and rain had rolled through earlier, and the humidity was THICK.   I had a plan to stay at a 12:30 pace those early miles, to Run Gently.   I had to walk some each mile to keep pace at that rate, which was good for me.  I walked in those early miles to finish stronger!  I tried to stay on nutrition and hydration, but forgot to take in any calories until 59 minutes had passed.  I intended to take in calories every 45 minutes!  I also had some stomach, um, issues twice during the first 10 miles.  I was worried that was going to continue, but it didn't, thank goodness!

The first 13 miles went by, and I finished 13 in 2:47. I needed to be at 13 miles by 3:00 hours to stay on my goal pace.  I was quite ahead!   My normal half marathon time is around 2:10 or so.  I was being smart.  At 13, I decided my Hokas were putting too much pressure on my toes, and I needed to change.  When I bent over to change shoes, I got horrible CRAMPS in both glutes and my right pectoral muscle!! Ouch.  I noticed my legs were coated with salt.  I knew what the  problem was.  I popped two salt caps and made more of an effort to drink the Heed or Gatorade they offered at the aid station.

Miles 14-26 were from 11:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m., roughly.  This is sometime before midnight:

 I wasn't feeling fabulous during these miles in terms of energy, but my spirits were GREAT.  I got really sleepy around midnight.  I brought out the Coke and Mountain Dew about this time.  Then I perked up.  :-)   They turn off the lights on much of the track around midnight, and I LOVE that for some odd reason.    At mile 26, I decided to change shoes again.  I knew I had a big blister on my second toe on my right foot and a hot spot on the bottom of the left.  This time, I wanted to change socks, too, and repowder/Body Glide my feet.

I took my sock off and was shocked at what I found.  My 2nd toe had on a blister helmet all around and under and below the nail. It was crazy.  It was probably the worst blister I'd ever had.  (Then it got much worse later!)  I debated back and forth with my friend Lucas about popping it or leaving it alone, but now that I knew it was there, it was all I could think about!  At mile 27, it felt like it was going to explode with every step.

I went to the food table to ask if they had a first aid kit.  It took us a while to locate a needle and then to figure out how to sterilize it.  (Someone had a lighter in his car, then he couldn't find his keys.  Then we realized there were alcohol pads in the first aid kit and that a bib pin would have to do.)   I spent 12-15 minutes at the aid station, but I popped and drained the blister.  It hurt actually more in the miles just after popping, then felt better.  ***The only two times I sat down that whole 10 hours were to change socks and to pop my blister.  "Beware the Chair."

I was a bit panicked after losing 12-15 minutes at that point.  My 26 mile goal was supposed to be 6 hours, and I had missed that by about 5 minutes.  Now, I was about 20 minutes behind.  I was afraid my goal of running 40 miles was slipping away.   In the years before, I had run 31.5 (and stopped) and 38.5.  I found myself in the "negotiation stage" and telling myself I'd be happy with 39 or 39.5.   But I knew I had to get to 40!!

Attempting to do math at mile 28 of an all-night ultramarathon is difficult.  I was trying to figure out how much time I had left and what pace I had to do to get there.  I finally figured out at some point, I had to average 16:30 miles.  That should be no problem, but that included eating, drinking, restroom stops (several steps off the track), shoe changes, etc.  But I had HOPE.  And that made ALL THE DIFFERENCE.  At mile 30, I got a second wind.  In fact, I felt stronger at mile 30 than I did at mile 15!  Miles 30-40 were AMAZING miles for me.  I was so focused and single minded and determined.  I was walking 2 segments per lap (so four walk breaks per mile) and still averaging about 13:57 per mile.  I was well under the 16:30 in every single mile, even with two restroom stops during those miles.   I'm not a super- fast walker, so I must have been running pretty decently in those miles.   I remember being pleasantly surprised at how well my body was doing in miles 30-40.

I reached mile 40 with about 24 minutes left on the clock.  I knew I could get in another mile, and if I kept it around a 15 minute pace, I could get a final 1/2 mile loop for 41.5.


Apparently, my brain sent a memo to my legs at mile 40 that we were finished, because all the energy and strength they'd had was no more.   I mostly walked that 41st  mile at about a 16:30 pace.  When I got to the clock, there was about 7 minutes left on it.  I knew I didn't have a 14 minute mile pace in me (even for a single lap), so I called it a night.  (Or morning, technically.)

I felt so happy, so SATISFIED with this experience.  Things didn't go perfectly---stomach trouble in the early miles, blistered feet, lost time performing blister surgery, but I rallied and came back strong.  I was proud of me, and that is a good feeling.  Isn't that why we do this???

 Well, hello, chair!!

I was so thankful for all of my friends this night--both old and new.  We told stories, talked running, teaching, kids, and blisters.  They made 10 hours and 41 miles such a fun journey.  I passed many miles with some great runners.  I got to see three friends run their first distance over 26.2.  I got to see the fastest runners over and over when they passed me, and it meant so much when they took time to offer encouragement.  

You may want to avert your eyes for this last part.  That big blister I popped at mile 27 and never looked at again?  It grew.  

That is one gnarly blister!  On the other foot, I suffered a blister on the bottom the size of a half dollar, a smaller 2nd toe blister, and my big toenail is bruised and lifted.  Here I am 6 days later, and the big toenail still hurts and this toe still hurts.  It was a small price to pay though.  TOTALLY WORTH IT.   :-)

I finished 45th out of 191 in overall distance.  I am pretty happy with that!  
Marathon/ultramarathon #15
Ultra #3
Personal Long
9 hours, 52 minutes 59 seconds

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Fairly Impromptu Rotary Park Trail Half Marathon

On Tuesday, my friend Andrea and I were hiking at one of my favorite trails, and I said, "Hey, I'd like to do a trail half marathon here sometime."   She said, "That would be great."  We usually run anywhere between 3 and 6 miles together on trails once or twice a week.  We run far together on roads--anywhere from 9 to 15 miles during any given training cycle, but for some reason, we always stop around six miles on our trail runs.   I said, "How's Saturday?"   The next thing we knew, we were planning Andrea and Donna's Rotary Park Trail Half Marathon or ADRPTHM.  Andrea's one of those GREAT kinds of friends who is up for anything.  Don't we all need one of those??

I invited several other friends to join us to help pass the miles.  And by several, I mean six.  The trail running community here is fairly small, especially on the female side.  I invited just about every trail chick I could think of, all five of them.  One came!  My neighbor and long-time running buddy Christie joined us.  The male side of the trail runners I know are all generally too fast for us to keep up with.  However, my neighbor and total trail beast Jeff generously came out and blazed a great and challenging 4.5 mile route for us.  He'd run ahead.  Stop.  Wait.  We'd catch up.  It involved this long serpentine hill of switchbacks over a very long time, followed by another fairly large hill.  It was great training for my upcoming trail races (Chuckanut Mountain Half Marathon, Rock and Root 18 miler, and Stump Jump 50K---I seemed to have missed scheduling a 26.2 in there....)

We really had fun out there.  Andrea and I ran fairly well on the first 4.5 mile loop trailing behind Jeff (nice pun....).  We did well on the first part of the second loop on our own until we confused a turn and wound up backtracking here and there and wandering in circles, then going back our original way after we decided it was, indeed, the correct route all along.  (It happens.  More than I'd like to admit....)   We made it back to our cars at 10.1 instead of 9.  I wouldn't say we were LOST per se, just couldn't recall where the route we were supposed to be on went.  We knew kind of where we were for the most part.  (Convinced?  NOT lost.)

I'm not going to lie, the last three were not pretty, especially the last one.  We had both had few carbs and with stopping by our car "aid station" a couple of times and taking pics and hitting the CLEANEST. PORTOJOHN*. EVER., we'd been out there a LONG time.  (*Runners really appreciate a fresh port of john.  Really.)   But we had good conversation and kept running (albeit slower and slower near the end), and it was a success.

Zero snakes.
One blister.
Five challenging hills.
One sore toenail.
13.1 miles on a gorgeous trail.

It was a GOOD day.