Monday, May 21, 2018

This is Ultrarunning: Pacing Cruel Jewel 100

It's been dark for hours. I'm a few steps ahead of a runner straddling a fallen tree aside the trail. His pack lies in front on him, splayed out. I am stopped, scratching the underside of my butt cheek, asking him if he's okay. He tells me he is just going to take a little nap on the tree for an hour. Lauren reaches us and he clicks off his headlamp as we move down the trail. This is ultrarunning. 

Months ago, Lauren asked me in a text if I could pace her during Cruel Jewel 100. She said it was like asking someone to prom. I responded like an over-eager prom date. Pacing an ultra might be my favorite way to run. You get to be a part of the race without the pressures of racing yourself. Any pain or frustration you might feel is almost forcibly shoved away because it is imperative to be strong for your runner. It doesn't matter if I'm tired, sore, hungry, or sleep-deprived. Getting my runner to the finish is the only thing I allow myself to worry about.

In the months leading up to the race, I was concerned I wasn't going to be able to give her many miles (or any) because of the whole boot/stress reaction thing. However, recovery seemed to be going reasonably well and after Boston and a 20 mile trail run, I was confident I could pace a section of the race.

The race started at noon on Friday while I was still at work. Anxious to get on the road before traffic, I ducked out of the office at 4p.m. As I neared Dawsonville, I started to pull over the Publix to grab something for dinner, some fresh fruit (that I forgot in the work fridge), and ice for my cooler. I heard a whipping noise coming from my car as I eased into the parking lot.

You have got to be kidding me!

In the past month I have replaced my driver's side window motor, an AC hose, and the fuel pump. What the hell else can go wrong?

Praying it wasn't a flat, I walked slowly around the passenger side of the car, listening for the hiss of a tire losing air. Then I saw a pile of long skinny rubber pieces on the ground under the hood. Upon inspection, I see that the serpentine belt has shredded and is unraveled. The good news is that there are still 3 grooves worth of the belt, the bad news is that about 5 grooves are gone. I grab my knife (thankful I carry sharp objects) and cut through cabling so it doesn't unravel further. I Google an auto parts store, buy a replacement belt, rent a ratchet set, and replace it in the parking lot. Thankfully it is a repair that I not only know how to do, but super easy.

Feeling frustrated that I've now wasted an hour dealing with this, I forgo grocery shopping and just grab a bag of ice from a gas station and decide I'm going to eat a giant burrito from Moe's for dinner. In the gas station restroom, I realize my period has started. That's cool universe, what else you got?

Aside from not being able to eat half my burrito while I white-knuckled the mountain roads, I found Dani's cabin with ease. Dani is one of Lauren's cool friends who does things like race on a 2 woman team across the US on a bike and competes in ultra triathlons. She also has a cabin near the start of the Cruel Jewel 100 start/finish and is/was gracious enough to let a couple pacer strangers come stay at her place. And oh yeah, she has a book (which I downloaded to my Kindle as we talked about it)!

Dani's friend Ben was also staying there as he was racing the 50 miler which started the following morning. He's done a bunch of ultra events as well, but had to back off a bit while he was in med school (!!!). Sheesh.

Lauren acquired her other pacer, Chantal, after asking a FB trail group if anyone could pace. Chantal is in school for PT and has quite an impressive UltraSignup resume. She'll be in Arizona for her clinicals this fall and plans to do R2R2R.

I'm surrounded by a bunch of humble type A badasses.  

Rudy, Lauren's crew chief and husband, came to the cabin close to midnight and I heard him tell Ben he was going to get an hour of sleep before we left. I had just fallen asleep and felt like he woke us up 5 minutes later. Sleep, smeep....

The 3 of us piled in Rudy's Tahoe which was already pretty packed with gear. I decided to just leave my cooler and camping chair so I didn't take up too much space. My food, clothes, and a pillow made the cut.

On the way to Morganton, the 50 mile aid station and start of Chantal's pacing duties, the skies opened up with water. Lightening flashed across the sky and thunder rumbled slowly as it reverberated across the mountains. This is ultrarunning.

After a pit stop at Waffle House for coffee to go, the 3 of us sat inside the shelter at Morganton, watching soaked runners come in for food, warmth, and for some, the place where they would call it a night. Several runners opted to drop out in the time that we awaited Lauren - cold, exhausted, and defeated. In the middle of the night, in the unforgiving rain, it was understandable that making the return trip was unimaginable.

Lauren came in on schedule and Rudy went to work. He helped her change out her shoes, doctored her feet, refilled her pack with nutrition, forced her to eat, and was every bit the definition of tough love. I stood back, watching and learning. It would be 19 miles before we would see them again so it was critical she was prepared to battle the next section.

Luckily, she had Chantal with her who left the warm and dry shelter to go pace a stranger at 3a.m. in the rain.

Rudy and I packed everything back up, gave them a final cheer as we passed them on the road out, and headed to Waffle House for a very late dinner or really early breakfast. I hadn't planned on needing my wallet, but Rudy was kind enough to buy me a waffle and hash browns.

We arrived at the next aid station after 5a.m. and got ourselves situated to take a short nap. Rudy set his alarm for 8:30 a.m. though both of us likely knew we'd wake up well before then. I got a solid 2 hours of sleep in the reclined chair of the backseat while he nodded off in the driver's seat. Once I heard him moving about, I woke up feeling relatively refreshed. I brushed my teeth and spit my minty froth into the woods.

It was time to hurry up and wait at Stanley Gap, mile 69.1. We hauled some gear up to the aid station and spent the next couple of hours talking to other crew. I decided to finally change out of my jammies at one point and put in my contacts - I submitted to the fact that I was not going to be getting any more sleep.

Lauren and Chantal came into the aid station within the time expected. Rudy once again went to work and this time, I acted as sous chef. I went back and forth to the car a few times and dug through various bags to find nutrition and Rock Tape. Rudy attempted to drain a blister under the ball of Lauren's foot, but she grabbed the needle and took matters into her own hands. I took Chantal's jacket, headlamp, and buff and suggested that Lauren grab her hat and ditch her rain gear.

Rudy and I packed everything back up and set out to repeat the same thing at Old Dial, mile 75.0. We found a spot in the shade and drank a beer with one of their friends, Travis, while waiting. The day was warming up, but both Lauren and Chantal seemed to be in pretty good spirits when they came into the aid station. They didn't stay too long so we knew that everything was going as well as it could given the mileage.

Travis, Rudy, and I made our way to Wilscot and I began to prepare myself for pacing. I loaded up my pack with water, rubbed Vaseline everywhere on my body (repeatedly, for good measure), and watched as runners came into mile 80.5. The fresher looking ones were running the 50 mile race and only at mile 30. The ones that looked like dumpster zombies were the 100 milers.

Men hid their tears as they sat in the shade, shoving food in their mouths and ice in their packs. One runner asked if he could just have ice in his hydration pack as he knew it would be melted quickly against his back. They received pep talks from their crew and from the aid station volunteers and looked forlornly back as they headed into the next section.

Keith kept the energy high and the smiles going and I tried to channel some of his positive energy as I awaited Lauren. She came in with low spirits and sank into one of the chairs. Within seconds, tears turned to sobs. A low point had arrived and we all set to work to get her food, hydration, and pump her back up for the next section. As soon as she was smiling again, another female runner sat down and had the exact same reaction. I would later see this same runner pass us in the night with a huge grin on her face. This is ultrarunning.

Chantal passed off her phone/food timer which was set to go off every 42 minutes to remind her to eat. Rudy handed me the baggie of elevation maps and an aid station mileage chart plus a bottle of electrolyte tabs that I was instructed to give to her when she started to look fatigued.

It was time to battle.

I clicked on my Garmin at 3:10 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, 28 hours after she had started. The first hour was a bit warm, but under the shade of the trees and moving between 15-25 minute miles, I was actually very comfortable.

The scenery was beautiful. I know Lauren had stopped looking long ago, but forest had greened up and looked particularly lush after the rain. Mountain laurels and wild azaleas popped color in the landscape. Ferns brushed along my ankles as the single track narrowed towards the peaks. I just started reading North by Scott Jurek and thought about how he heard the AT being described as the Green Tunnel. It was a strange chasm of her suffering and the beauty of the earth that would wind its' way through my 15 hours of pacing.

She asked me how much further we had and I described our distance in number of peaks as I heard her looking before we left. Later we would all laugh as she took back the baggie of elevation maps not trusting my explanation of peaks during that section.
We arrived at Skeenah Gap about 2.5 hours later and got our final taste of crew at mile 85.4. It was probably closer to 6p.m. when we left as we had our last major change of everything. Rain was falling closer to Vogel so we made sure to grab rain jackets and packed our headlamps for our now inevitable darkness. I ate a bunch of food while Rudy and Chantal tended to her needs and repacked my bag with snacks.

The climb out of Fish Gap is a 1,000' climb in 1.5 miles that tops out on Rhodes Mountain. We then headed for the aptly named Dragon's Spine which is a series of summits and gaps all over the course of 3.5 miles that ends in Fish Gap, mile 90.3.

We played leap frog with a ton of runners in this section as some runners were dying on the descents and others, the ascents. Lauren seemed to be moving along both at about the same speed. I am a much better climber so I'd have to watch myself when ascending, but she'd stay right on my tail while descending.

I could tell that she was in desperate need of calories as we got to Fish Gap and I was actually hungry myself despite grazing all day. Plus, I knew that the next section was going to be over 7 miles until the next aid station. So I made her eat some solid food (grilled cheese) and drink some soup while at Fish Gap. We got some instant coffee and traded the cup back and forth as we started the next section.

This was one of my favorite parts. Sharing a cup on coffee in the middle of the race as the sun began to drop behind the horizon. I looked up across the horizon as we climbed up and atop Fish Knob and smiled to myself. It was a stunning May night to be on the trail. The sun lingered in the sky for a long time before stars began to pop.

I felt bad that I wasn't conversing very much at this point because I was just kind of enjoying being out in nature, moving my body through the night, wrapped up in my own thoughts. I had been calling out downed trees and Lauren noticed that I missed one - I confessed I was daydreaming.

The trod after Akin Gap was noticeably worse. Whatever pep in calories that had helped after Fish Gap was now gone. Lauren was going into zombie mode and I had to watch carefully as her pace dropped that I didn't get too far ahead. I wanted her to pursue so I was pushing beyond what she wanted to do. I told her that I got nervous when I didn't hear her like a kid playing that suddenly gets quiet. Something was potentially wrong.

Our 20-25 minute pace slowly dropped to 30-35 and climbed upwards of 45 minute miles on the ascents. I could feel my own quads burning, my feet aching, and the lack of sleep taking it's toll. But I pushed my own pain aside and acknowledged that any hurt I had could not be compared to hers with an additional 80 miles on her body.

I didn't see anyone running in this section. There were a lot of people that passed us hiking faster, but no one had two feet off the ground at any one point. Everyone would say "good job" as they passed and there was some sort of misery loves company vibe that we all exuded when around each other. The laughs were hollow and self-deprecating. We couldn't decide if it was inspiring or absolutely stupid that we were out here paying for this pain.Well, the runners were paying. At least I was doing it for free.

The runner about to take a nap on a tree was in this section - other runners would later tell us he had woken up and was moving again.

The section to Firepit was supposed to be 7.3 miles and I looked as my watch went from 7.3 miles to 8 miles to over 9 miles. Each of these miles now upwards of 40 minutes. Lauren was moving at this point, but it was incredibly slow going. The few times that I did burst out into random conversation, I would look back to make sure she was still there because she no longer could even give single word responses.

At Firepit (mile 97.6 - give or take), the interaction with different humans made her slightly perkier and she even seemed to jolt awake for a few seconds when bacon was mentioned. I was almost out of food at this point because I wasn't prepared to be out for so long. I asked the aid station volunteers if they had any plastic bags that I could stick some food in to take with me. They only had gallon sized bags so I ended up taking a bread bag with a few pieces of bread in it and stuffing it with cookies, Fig Newtons, and gummy worms. I then ate a boatload of grilled cheese squares, chugged a cup of Mountain Dew, and hoped that my heart would continue to work after ingesting this concoction.

We shared another cup of coffee as we exited the aid station and I actually felt really good for the next mile or so. Lauren went the opposite direction. It was 4.7 miles to Wolf Creek, but there was only water at the next stop so I knew this was really the push for the finish and we ultimately had 8.4 miles to go. Even if we picked up the pace, we were still 4 hours away. It was probably going to be 5+ hours from Firepit.

Within a mile, Lauren started to have a case of the ultra crazies. There were moths that would pop up on occasion in her headlamp light and she started to freak out. She would wave her trekking poles wildly around and scream as she batted them long after they went away. This was coupled with intermittent stops of resting her head on her poles or leaning against a tree, falling asleep for mere seconds at a time. For every 30 steps I took forward, I backtracked 10 to prod her along.

At one point she leaned against a tree and would not budge. I told her she could sit down and sleep for 5 minutes. I tried to push her body against the tree as much as possible so other people could pass by. They would ask if she was okay and I told them she was just taking a nap for a few minutes.

5 minutes is a long time to stand in the dark doing nothing while waiting for 5 minutes to pass.

I had to kind of shake her awake the first time, but she got up and continued on her way. We got about 3/10ths of a mile when she leaned against her poles and wobbled wildly next to the dropoff. The shear of the mountain to her left, the shear of the dropoff to her right. I sprinted back to catch her wobble and planted her on the trail again. Another 5 minute nap.

She was even worse when I managed to get her up again, but she moved for another few tenths of a mile. We started to descend into a less steep area and fortunately the trail was a little wider on each side. The freaking out with the moths continued and then she starting asking me where she was. She panicked about where she was. The wobble was getting to the point that I seriously was worried she was going to be airlifted out of the trail. She was feeling nauseous and stooped over to dry heave without it being productive.

At one point she told me her water was making her feel thirsty. I asked her if she thought there was something in her water and had her try mine. She said that my water also made her thirsty. If you've ever tried to reason with a drunk person, this is a very similar feeling.

I helped her fall onto a bed of leaves and she immediately fell into a deep sleep. Her arms were splayed in one direction, her legs in the other, and her head and trunk faced upright. It looked like a crime scene, minus the blood. I left her headlamp on and clicked my own off and sat down next to her.

My phone battery was dead and her phone was locked. I tried in vain to wake her up to get her code, shaking her shoulders and telling her I needed to call Rudy. Luckily, she had her emergency medical contact as Rudy and I called him to update him about the situation. I didn't get him the first time and left a message.

Sitting in the woods at God-knows-what-time with a hallucinating runner who had covered 95 miles with a dead phone, a locked phone, and minimal food & water. This is ultrarunning.

I thought about taking a nap myself and even went so far as to set an alarm. But then I worried that I wasn't going to wake up quickly and despite Lauren's current situation, I didn't want her to lose any more time than necessary. So I just sat next to her and waited. It was actually a stunning night to be sitting outside. I had thought earlier in the evening how nice it would have been to camp. I chuckled to myself thinking I kind of got my wish.

Rudy called me back and I gave him the update that she was okay, but sleeping. We were moving really slow, but nothing was inherently wrong. She was just reaching the limits of exhaustion. I explained I was letting her sleep a little and hoped she would feel a little better even after 20-30 minutes of resting. I can only imagine how worried he was at this point, but I was hoping he would feel at least a little better knowing that one of us was coherent in our party of 2.

Since she was so nauseous before she passed out, I was worried she was going to vomit all over me as I yanked her by the arms into a sitting position. Also, I feared I was testing the limits of our friendship by basically forcing her to get up. I knew she wanted to just sleep in that pile of leaves, but I also knew she really want to get to that finish line.

I truly had no idea how far we were from the finish at this point. I thought I knew, but it was twice as long as I thought. She was not moving fast, but she was moving and no longer fighting me to go to sleep. However, for the next 5-6 miles, I was like every single poster in the Successories store. I was telling her she was amazing, she was strong, she inspired me, she was a crushing it, and then I was giving her visions of the finish line - telling her how proud Rudy was of her doing this and how she was going to get to see him and take a nap. I know I was sleep-deprived myself and repeating myself ad nauseum. In some ways though it selfishly helped me. It gave me purpose in that final section.

Ben caught us at one point and then took a breather at the Wolf Creek hydration stop. I appreciated seeing someone else I knew out there at this late in the race. Even though we were deliriously tired and likely having a nonsensical conversation, it lifted me up a bit.

The plod on Coosa went on and on and on and on. I never thought we would see highway 180. I have run on Coosa before, but don't know the scenic markers and I kept thinking I'd see the trail head with every curve. The sun came up just as slowly as it dropped the night before and I was happy to finally ditch the light of my head lamp.

Over the highway, there was enough space to finally run side by side and there was something resolute about the fact that the only way to even get to the car was to get to the finish line. I spoke to Rudy one more time and then got ready to run it in for the finish. At the pavement, we started jogging and stopped/started until the arch came into view. I peeled off to the left and watched as she ran the last 100 meter stretch to the finish, collapsing into Rudy's arms.

I may or may not have had a little something in my eye at that point.

I was exhausted, dirty, had slept just over 2 hours in the past 48 hours, hungry, and covered 15 hours on the trails when I've only ever run longer than that (time-wise) twice in my life. I would do it again in a second. If someone had told me two months ago (when I was in the boot) that I was going to be doing this, I never would have believed them.

Proud to call Lauren my friend. She is inspiring, she is strong, and she does it with smile on her face. Appreciative of Rudy's kindness, patience, and ability to make being crew chief look easy (newsflash: it is ridiculously not). Happy to make new friends of Chantal (I smell many future adventures together!), Dani, and Ben.

I don't know where I'm at with my own running right now, but I'm happy to always find joy in the journey!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Boston Marathon 2018: Boot to Boston to BQ

A year ago, I crashed into a marathon PR of 3:13:54 in Boston on a warm day after a winter/spring of chipping away under 3:20. I started ramping up my ultra training soon thereafter and managed to eke out PRs in the 6 hour, 12 hour, and 24 hour timed events along with 100k and 100 mile PRs in the process. October was all about downtime and base miles with a little fun marathon thrown in and November pushed the pace a little faster as I began to recover.

December brought a freak hamstring pull (right hammy) days before the Rehoboth Marathon and I raced despite barely being able to hobble around the office mere days before. 2 weeks later, I felt the best I had since Albany on race day and went after the JAX Marathon hard. It netted me my 3rd fastest marathon time, but my (left) foot that felt tender was definitely barking.

2 weeks went by and though my foot was still kind of iffy when I wasn't running, I decided to race a 6 hour race very last minute. Though I grabbed a 50K PR and a new 6 hour PR, my foot was not happy the days following. What I thought was a bruise in JAX was clearly not. I gave it some rest, ran slowly, but all signs pointed to something wasn't right. After being diagnosed and treated with tendinitis first, I eventually would be diagnosed with a stress reaction and was sentenced to the boot for 6 weeks.

Since getting back into running in 2006, this was by far the longest I had ever gone without running. And while I'd had little flare ups of pain and soreness here and there, I never had anything that wasn't cured by a week of rest. With Boston looming in mid-April, I was definitely worried.

I cross-trained like a madwoman. Partially to keep my fitness levels high to make it easier to return to running and partially to fill the void I felt without running in my life. I lifted weights, I did chair cardio, Pilates, and swam. I biked a few times when I was cleared to, but decided the strap was too irritating to my bum foot.

When the boot came off, I followed the doctor's orders of giving myself a couple of days of walking around before attempting to run. The first run back was slow and I was feeling very out of shape after 2 miles, but my legs had no trouble going through the motions.

There was no real plan in place after that. Boston was less than 4 weeks away and I was stuck between feeling prepared and hurting myself again. So I took it a day at a time. Adding on miles, keeping up the cross-training, and backing off when my foot felt angry. I would make a tentative plan a week in advance and adjust when necessary.

I knew trying to run Boston wasn't smart for long-term, but I also knew I'd regret not trying. There were days up until about a week before that I still wasn't sure if I was going to race. In my heart, I was 100% in, but my head argued about the possibilities of consequences.

But after the girls' weekend in Raleigh, I'd convinced myself it was okay to go for it so all of a sudden I found myself tracking down a Wonder Woman running costume and Nike Vaporfly shoes. I needed everything in my arsenal.

Adam and I traveled to Boston Friday and got checked into our Airbnb, hit up the expo ($$$), and went to a Sox game. Both of us were exhausted by the 7th inning and we ended up leaving before the game was over to get a head start on the way back AND because I had signed up for the B.A.A. 5k on Saturday morning. Adam never leaves games early so this was kind of a big deal!

I had no goals for the 5K other than to just use it as a "shakeout run". Luckily, Amy spotted me as she arrived and we ended up running and talking the whole time. I was grateful that her company kept me from thinking about my foot and we really just hammed it up the whole race.

Saturday also was my 36th birthday so we spent the rest of the day bakery and brewery hopping, capping off our evening with dinner with a few Loopsters at the now-traditional Cambridge Brewing Company.

Rest was on the order for Sunday, but as weather forecasts looked worse and worse, I began to panic a bit about my outfit. Roger and I made it our mission after carb-loading for brunch to find long-sleeved compression tops. After a few busts, we ended up with the same version of a shirt from Lululemon. I cringed at the $78 price tag, but would later have zero regrets about the purchase.

After parting ways with Roger, Adam and I went back to our Airbnb to rest. I picked up some nitrile gardening gloves from a nearby Ace hardware to go over my running gloves and a fleece blanket to stay warm at the Athlete's Village. I made spaghetti with marinara sauce, a green salad, and paired it with a baguette for dinner. Carbed and armed with layers, I was as ready as I could be.

I slept really well the night of the race and woke up to my alarm going off. I took 45 minutes to eat half a bagel and a banana, dress, and lock myself on the patio outside when I was checking the weather. After Adam rescued me, it was time to grab a coffee, hop on the T, and try to find Casey and John at the bus pickup.

Luckily, they spotted me huddling in the crevice of Hermes' front door and we were off to the buses. The 3 of us rode together to Hopkinton and then spent the next hour or so trying to fight off the wind, rain, and mud. The field of the Athlete's Village was a huge mud pit and the areas under the tents were so bad that you couldn't even get out of the rain. It was a shitshow. We just laughed because what else could we do.

Casey saved the day with extra HotHands and a huge trash bag. I was still wet and cold, but at least I was better off!

John and I headed out to the corrals when Wave 2 was called. Under my blanket and trash bag, I had yet to arrange my gels, iPod, or eaten my other bagel half. Realizing I had nothing more than coffee to drink that morning, I grabbed a cup of water from volunteers on the way in.

Practically new shoes, a new top, a new skirt, half of my breakfast, under-hydrated, freezing cold windy rain, and 26 days of training after 7 weeks of zero miles.

The craziest thing is despite all the things stacked up against me, I knew how to run a marathon. It might ugly, but I was determined that once I started, I wasn't going to give up.

With 7 minutes to go, I got in my corral and started to try to stuff my sports bra with my gels and get my iPod clipped. It was too rainy to try to even listen to music so I just shoved the ear buds in my shirt. I was fumbling and remembered to turn my watch on around the same time I ditched my blanket and trash bag poncho. I was trying to get my outer glove back on when the gun went off. It was go time!

I went out with the people in my wave and tried to just stay at a comfortable pace. The Boston course makes pacing difficult because of the steep descents in the beginning that feel way too easy on fresh legs. My game plan was to just stay to the left and let people go by.

As the first miles slipped by, I started looking at my paces and was surprised that I felt pretty good despite me lingering near 8 minute miles. The fear of blowing up after 10 miles (my longest post-injury distance) loomed over me, but I decided to just stay in the moment and deal with it one mile at a time.

As I crossed over the 5K timing mat, I knew that followers at home would see exactly what I was up to. I like to think it doesn't matter, but knowing that people were tracking me only fueled me to see what I could do. 8:05, 7:49, 7:42

From the get go, my right shoe was tied way too loose. I really wanted to stop and tighten it, but the momentum of people was always so intense that I just couldn't make myself stop. So I hoped it wouldn't be an issue and tried to forget about it (spoiler alert: it didn't matter).

I remember coming up on the 4 mile mark quickly and though the people were not out like they were in '16 and '17, there were still thousands of people lining the streets. Staying to the left gave me plenty of opportunity to high five all the kids and I tried to absorb their energy. 7:36

All the sights that have slowly become familiar came into my murky view. With the rain blowing sideways at times, I kept my head down and just followed the footsteps of the runners in front of me. Somehow, I managed to remember to scoop out a gel at mile 5. 7:50

People would shout "Wonder Woman" and "Go Carissa" as I ran past. I was glad I decided to run without music as their shouts would often give me the boost I needed. Every once in awhile I'd point at the person, lock eyes, and give them a big goofy grin. John caught up with me around this stretch and we ran stride for stride until I urged him to go after it. 7:39, 7:48, 7:56, 7:53

At the 15K mark, I noticed that I still felt pretty good all things considering. I knew I still had the ugly miles to go, but nothing was inherently bad other than the freezing rain. I was REALLY glad I had bought the extra shirt and gloves. And I hadn't planned on needing a buff for warmth, but I was REALLY glad I had my ears covered.

At just before mile 10, I remember seeing the familiar open space with the lake in Natick and I'm in awe that I'm actually doing it. Heading into double digits, I know that at the very least, I've given it a good go thus far. I think this is around the time I saw Ken and gave him a big side hug while we were running. He looked super comfortable and I watched him slowly open a gap in front of me. 7:55

I fish for another gel and then grab one from the Clif station at mile 11. I'm drinking water or Gatorade at nearly every stop. The cold is keeping me from feeling thirsty, but I know it would be (ironically?) dumb to be dehydrated given the conditions. 8:02

When we head into mile 12, the scream tunnel seems to be even louder than I remember. I smile to myself as I hear their deafening roar get closer with each step. If there was ever a year for me to get a kiss, I had decided this was it. So I ran down the line and high-fived a bunch of girls until I came upon one who was pointing at her cheek. I stopped, we exchanged a cheek kiss, and I went running down the line again for high-fived. 7:56

My shoe came untied shortly thereafter on my left foot and I stepped over to the shoulder to retie it. With doubled gloves and frozen fingers, I fought mercilessly for a few seconds before ripping off my outer gloves to get a better grip. 8:34

As I hit the halfway mark, I realized I could still actually BQ even if I slowed. This was always an outlying possibility, but I was so much more focused on just finishing and really had no business thinking about time goals.

The back half did start to get tougher and I tried to relax my pace as much as I could, gambling that saved energy would help me on the hills. I did start noticing the "Medical Assistance Ahead" signs with more frequency. Happy to know they were there, but equally happy to not need them. I took a gel earlier than my planned 15 mile mark, hoping to stave off the inevitable fade I was bracing myself to feel. 7:48, 8:10, 7:58

The last downhill before Newton is always bittersweet. It is a beautifully graded hill and at just before 16, you think you will be heading into single digits with grace. But I knew what awaited around the right curve.

Wind whipped wildly on the overpasses and made the trek through Newton even more difficult. After conquering the second hill (my least favorite), I saw some rowdy 20-somethings holding out beer cans and shouting at runners. Much like the Wellesley kiss, this was the year to do it. I grabbed the can from the kid, chugged a big gulp of Natural Light, and jumped back into it with the group yelling "Wahoo Wonder Woman". 8:26, 8:35, 8:16

With just Heartbreak Hill left to conquer, I knew I was going to finish once I got to the top. Every step uphill felt agonizingly slow, but I was afraid if I stopped to walk, l was going to get too cold. So I plodded on, waiting for my watch to beep to indicate another mile marker. Somehow I had in my head that my watch was under each mile marker until about Heartbreak Hill when it dawned on me that it was long, just as it always is in Boston. My 34th marathon and runner math always eluding me. 8:41, 9:01

Normally I get excited for mile 21 and Boston College, but I was bonking hard. Their screams were electrifying and their enthusiasm was incredible despite the horrible conditions. It seemed like when the rain would pick up and become blinding, the crowds would go even more wild. 8:36, 8:49

With 5K to go, I followed the people in front of me as best I could. I was starting to feel delirious and my vision was narrowed to a small tunnel in front of me. The relief of catching the next mile or kilometer marker was all I could concentrate on. Ed caught me in this section and he was grinning ear to ear. I was so happy to see a familiar face! 9:08

When I saw the Citgo sign, I was 50% relieved to know I was going to finish the race and 50% relieved that I was finally going to be able to get warm soon. 9:13

The last mile was a trudgefest. I had nothing left. I followed the blue triple line remembering how comfortable I felt Saturday. Under the overpass and up the final hill to turn on Hereford. 9:45

As I got to the turn, I felt immediate relief as Matt and I spotted each other and then I saw Adam.

The finish line in sight, I glanced at my watch and saw that I would have just enough time to get under 3:40. I had no sprint for Boylston, but felt emotion well up in me as I got closer to the finish mat. I was grinning ear to ear knowing that I was steps away from finishing and in a pretty respectable time.

I did it. I really actually did it. It really is impossible until it is done. 3:39:22

I clicked off my Garmin and hobbled into the finish chute. I felt dizzy, exhausted, and my left contact was smooshed in my eye so I could barely see. I shuffled forward to collect a bottle of water, my medal, and after what felt like an eternity, a heat sheet.

The walk back to the Airbnb quite possibly tested me as much as the marathon. Now that I was no longer running and in soaking wet clothes, I was so, so cold. I walked into the Prudential building from one side, but couldn't figure out how to get to the other in my state of delirium so I had to backtrack. I went back in another section after a few blocks outside and walked past fancy stores dripping wet and looking like a zombie.

I knew I had about 5 blocks to go from the backside of the Prudential building so much like the marathon, I took it one step at a time. I walked past a hotel laundry vent that was blasting warm air and stood with the heat in my. face for a few seconds before making the final push. When I reached the door, I rang the bell and was relieved when Adam came to the door quickly.

I finished the marathon and finally could start to get warm. Soon, I was surrounded by friends, drinking a beer, and recapping the race. The best feeling on Marathon Monday!

Follow this link to see my cross-training/return to running log if you are curious about what I did while I was injured and the weeks post-boot.

My comeback playlist here.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Don't be afraid to fail. Be afraid not to try.

I wrote this yesterday and I'm not sure that I will post it ever on my public blog. But you Loopsters have not only changed my life, you've changed Adam's. So here I am, raw and uncut:

My heart aches. And I feel selfishly wrecked with grief. It isn't my story to tell. It isn't me to feel saddened by, inspired by, disappointed by. It doesn't have a Hollywood ending. It is real life. It is messy, complicated, full of love, and full of tears.

This morning, after covering nearly the same distance I did yesterday during the race, I took a few pretty pictures of brownstones lining the streets. The run was awful. I felt sluggish and uncomfortable. I smiled in my photos and walked the corner to sit on the stoop. As my heart rate slowed down, I felt tears welling in my eyes. I wiped them away and climbed upstairs.

It was far easier to feel nothing than everything as I shoved my emotions back inside.

But as I warmed up a cup of day-old coffee, I met Adam's eyes. The tears flooded. I was sad and mad that I was sad. How was I supposed to be the support person when I needed support myself? He shouldn't be consoling me. It felt so wrong that I needed his embrace.

Or was it?

I didn't want a life lesson yesterday. I wanted a happy finish photo. The spectators cheered for adversity and our family and friends awaited that Cinderella moment. Police officers cheered us down the entirety of Commonwealth Avenue. Shakeout runners fist-bumped Adam when we turned onto Hereford. Strangers clapped wildly as we made our way down Boylston with an entourage of volunteers. "Go Adam!" they cheered, "you've got this!"

It never occurred to me that giving everything he had might fall short of 3.1 miles.

This was Boston! This was us!

Just past the marathon finish line, he collapsed onto the curb for the final time. I wanted desperately for him to get up, keep going, and push another 10 minutes. But his body had weathered too much. 2.6 miles was what he could do. His legs had gone numb. And the fatigue exacerbated his lack of balance. He had collapsed 3 times already to the pavement.

At the time, I fought back tears as I grabbed the attention of the medical bus. I watched as 3 grown men helped load him up the stairs. I sat quietly next to him, not knowing the words to make it better.

Love is awful sometimes.

But one day, I know we will be retelling this story with a bit of time, distance, and perspective. And we might even laugh. We conquered the Heartbreak Hill of the 5K. He flung his wedding ring down Boylston during one fall and was more concerned about recouping the ring than hurting himself.

He did what he could with what he had yesterday. And I couldn't be more proud that he had the courage to try.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Boot Saga: How A Runner (Poorly) Copes Without Running

I'm fairly certain if you are reading this you are aware that I'm in a boot currently. The foot pain that started after the Jacksonville Marathon and got worse after the 40 mile Resolution Run was initially diagnosed by a doctor as tendonitis. I ignored it for quite some time because it wasn't acute pain and the only cause for concern initially was because I'd never experience soreness on the top of my foot. Seriously, I thought it was just a bruise from the repetitive pounding of my foot to the top of my shoe. (D E N I A L)

But when it didn't get any better and walking was actually causing pain, I knew I needed to get to the doctor. I went to see the amazing Lauren at 1st Choice Sports Rehab who started treating me for tendonitis. I took a full week off of running and then she recommended I try a short run between PT sessions. By the 3rd of 4th session, she suspected something wasn't going in the correct direction and asked to look at my x-rays.

She saw a spot and recommended I visit a podiatrist.

Grrrrrr! Fortunately, the podiatrist practice has two doctors who are also runners AND they were able to get me in pretty quickly. The doctor took another set of x-rays and saw a similar spot. He pointed it out to me on an iPad and I kind of gave him the same glazed-over-and-nodding look that I give when someone shows me a baby on a sonogram (oh yeah, I can totally see the hands and head....). There was something about it not being a stress fracture, but possible a stress reaction. He wanted to treat it like a stress fracture though just to be safe.

All I really heard was boot and no running and no biking. (A N G E R)
Image result for panic button

At this point, I had already gone another 9 days without any running and had run 38 miles over the 3 weeks prior. (B A R G A I N I N G) Bear in mind that 38 miles is less than what I did total for my last race. So I was already going nuts.

Outwardly, I've been trying to maintain a cool composure about the whole thing.

Inwardly, I've been a hot frickin' mess. The boot itself is so awkward and clunky that I have no choice but to be thinking about it 50% (okay 90%....) of the time. I've never worn a boot before and still struggle with is it too loose? is it too tight? is it okay that my foot is able to wiggle a little? oh wait, I should be able to feel my toes, right? I'm pretty sure I've Googled everything related to a metatarsal stress fracture and not-so-surprisingly discovered absolutely zero definitive answers.

I thought I was on the path to a fast recovery when I didn't have any noticeable foot pain after 5 days, but then I started having random flare ups. And as late as Thursday night, I had a bad afternoon/evening that I could feel it when I crawled into bed. I want to blame it on a very intense PT session Wednesday (hellllllllo Graston tool!!), but it's so hard to know. When I take the boot off to hobble to the shower, I can't tell if anything is better or worse because now my gait is all funky.

Pain is weird when you are an endurance runner anyway. Obviously it is part of the reason I waited so long. Marathons and ultramarathons hurt so what's a little soreness on the foot? It wasn't acute-stop-you-in-your-tracks pain like I experienced the night I pulled my hamstring in early December. This is like a mild headache that won't go away. I can walk on without any issue and though I haven't now tried since January 28th, I am 99% certain I could run on it.

However, the goal is to make it better, not worse.

The unknown is the crappy part. There is no timeline at this point. (D E P R E S S I O N) Boston is 50 days away and while it is slated to be marathon #34, I realize the smart thing would be to just not start. I have 49.5 days to make that decision. Some of you are reading this, shaking your head, thinking what I fool I would be to consider running a marathon given my current status.

And the other people are like, yeah, you're a frickin' idiot. But you're my kind of idiot and I'm pretty sure my dumbass would be sitting in Hopkinton on April 16th given the option.

Anyway, I go back to the podiatrist Tuesday for a progress check. I'm hoping the mild swelling and random aches indicate that the bone is regrowing??

Enough bitching though. My life is certainly not gone up in flames with the boot. (A C C E P T A N C E) I've been slinging weights enough that some of the workouts are becoming easier and my upper body is actually showing definition! I'm up to a 2.5 minute single legged plank (with the boot on because the extra weight will make me stronger, right??) and an 8 minute headstand.

If anyone reading this ever is without the use of one of their feet, I will steer you to doing almost any ab or arm video on Fitness Blender's YouTube channel. I just prop the knee of my bum leg on a chair or use a chair to support both knees instead of standing. Most of the ab videos are foot-injury-friendly and the only equipment you ever need, if any, is a pair of dumbbells.

I was missing the sweat of cardio though so I thrilled when I stumbled upon Caroline Jordan's injured foot series. I did this video 3 times in a row yesterday. Chair jumping jacks and chair running are as ridiculous looking as they sound. But I actually have raised my heart rate to a true cardio workout doing them and sweating like I'm running made me so happy that I wanted more.
Jenster came to town 2 weeks ago and while she paced the Suwanee Half Marathon, I cheered and took a bunch of pictures of runners. They only had a finish photographer so I posted over 200 pictures onto their FB page in case anyone didn't get a great shot otherwise.

Today, I helped at bib pickup and handed out medals at a local 5K. It was pouring rain all morning and I was soaked to the bone, but I still had fun watching everyone and "participating" as best I could.

I'm headed to help out with Blind Pig 100 miler in Spartanburg, SC next weekend. I'll be helping with the timing table since my ambulatory skills are limited at this point. I plan to take my camping gear and just make a fun weekend of it.

I hadn't intended to have so many "opportunities" to volunteer this early in the year - my goal was to volunteer/crew/pace 5 or more races in 2018. I'll have at least 4 by early April! And while it doesn't take the place of being able to race, it gets me out of the house and allows me to be a part of the running community.

And to end on an extra happy note, I was accepted into the NYC Marathon with a time qualifier. This time last year, I was gearing up to go for a sub-3:15 marathon after losing out in the NYC lottery. My PR at the time was a 3:19, but I knew I had been making big fitness gains and decided to go for it at Albany. It was probably the most textbook race I've ever run. A 1:37:45 first half/1:36:13 second half. My last two miles were at a 7:07 and 7:08 with an average of 7:22 for the entire 26.2 miles. I am so thrilled to see my hard work pay off! And, NYC is in November so I will most certainly be out of this boot by then!!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Good riddance January!

I miss the lung-burning climbs, my heart beating so strongly I can feel it pushing on my chest. I miss the lazy saunter of the Greenway boardwalks, the sun slipping beneath the horizon slowly. I miss the thrill of leaning into the curve of the track, ready to take flight at the straightaway. I miss that sweet spot of falling into a rhythm and losing time with my thoughts.

I miss the little things. The tightening of my shoelaces before I begin. The vibration of my watch indicating another mile. When the run is so good I don't want to stop at the traffic light. That unequivocal feeling of satisfied exhaustion.

Man, I'm addicted. Addicted to the pain. Addicted to the process. Addicted to finding those days, those days, of when it all comes together and I feel like I have found the elixir to life.

To say I miss it is an understatement. But there is no reason to pity, I'll be back again. Mentally, it will make me appreciate the unrelenting half marathon workouts at the height of summer and the unforgiving alarms that goes off earlier on weekends. Physically, I hope to be stronger and more balanced.

The sweat has been far from satisfying this month. Strava says I've logged an hour more working out that last January.

All those hours are squatting, lifting, and planking are incomparable to running though. I can only hope it leads to a faster recovery time and eventually, better running. Coupled with better nutrition and no booze, I might have found an ab muscle too!

In an attempt to do an experiment on my resting heart rate (RHR), I cute out booze from my life in January. I love a glass of wine (Oregon pinot please) or a hoppy IPA with dinner nearly nightly and my RHR has been high as long as I've been tracking it. I sleep really well, exercise (duh), limit my caffeine to no more than 2 cups of coffee per day (usually 1), and don't have any major stressors in my life. Of course, I've reduced my cardio this month, but other than that, my RHR stayed exactly the same. All that to say, SOMEONE BRING ME A BEER TOMORROW!

I also cleaned up my diet. No harsh restrictions, but I have really upped the good stuff and reduced the processed stuff. It purposefully coincided with the no booze experiment. I'll definitely stick with many of the habits - especially while I'm not running. But much like the booze experiement, I haven't noticed much in the way of physical changes.

Despite an hour more of activity hours in the month of January, I somehow gained a lot of free time this month. Some attributed to run commuting (running from my house limits my options and is not safe) and some attributed to just embracing other activities.

I did a lot of serious nerding - a giant crossword, a jigsaw puzzle, and finished 4 books. I cooked and baked a lot. I saw my nephew 3 times this month, went to dinner with friends, and actually spent 6 hours one Saturday cleaning and organizing my house. I went to a birthday party at a brewery (didn't have a beer, whaaaaaa???) and a birthday party at a Vietnamese restaurant.

It's been a good month for the soul. But now that stupid January is coming to an end, I'm ready to heal up, get back to big mile weeks, nachos, pints, and a messy house.