Sunday, March 5, 2017

Snickers Albany Marathon RR (aka 28 Marathons Later: From 4:01:09 to 3:13:58)

Sunday A.M., 3/5/2017

Less than 24 hours after the race is complete and I am stewing on the facts.

I've created a monster. 

I am addicted to the hesitancy of mile 8 to go the distance, the self-doubt of mile 17 to maintain the speed, and the sheer physical pain that makes every mile 25 a negotiation to just get to the finish.

It is the penultimate in addiction. The more I train and race, the more I need to go faster and further. I am still in denial about how it truly makes me feel. How can I have had a huge PR yesterday and all I can think of today is what could I have done to go faster?

Who is this person? 

A look at the slippery slope after the race report....

*********************************************************

I made the 3 hour drive to Albany by myself. A rather large contingent of local runners were going as well and offered me a ride, but I was camping (thanks to the kindness of Gary, Travis, and Curtis!) and wanted to have access to all the junk in my car. It was an easy drive filled with plenty of car karaoke and sunshine. I had my usual footlong Italian sub at Subway and drank obscene amounts of water.

I got to the hotel with packet pickup just after 3:00 p.m. The 3:15 pacer happened to be one of two pacers manning the table and I spoke briefly with him. Luckily, I remembered to buy a few gels to pad my supply and then I went to my car to strip down for a brief shakeout run. As luck would have it, there was a nice little Greenway section along the river near where I parked and I took it nice and easy for 10 minutes out, 10 minutes back.

As I was coming back along the sidewalk area towards my car, the finish line was being constructed. I apologized as I came through, but I was secretly elated to have the vision of the finish line in my head. The run itself was pretty terrible. I was struggling through 8:00 minute miles and every little twinge was reminding me of their existence. Hello IT band! Hello Achilles! Oh hello shin, it's been awhile!

But I shoved the negative thoughts aside as I posted to Strava. I have to just trust the process.

It was stupid beautiful outside and so I set up my nail salon next to the Ray Charles statue in front of the hotel. Megan was traveling herself this past week, but she gave me all the polish and instruction. I was quickly reminded why she is so much better at it than I!

Runner friends started pouring in to pick up their bibs and I walked over to the hotel to chat with them and meet new friends. A group of us decided to have the pasta dinner offered by the race in the hotel's conference center. It was exactly the kind of pre-race dinner I like--a little roughage, blandish pasta, and a huge piece of chocolate cake.

After dinner, we met up with the guys I was camping with at Mellow Mushroom for a couple of beers. Being around other runners (and most of these people are also triathletes) is delightfully the same. There is never any shortage of sandbagging and poop-talk.

I followed the guys to the campsite (which also happened to be located in a park with a zoo!) and got my tent set up. We sat around the fire for an hour or two before finally calling it a night. I had plenty of sleep the night before so I wasn't really too worried about how well I was going to sleep on race night. I slept like a brick. I pulled the sleeping bag over my face and seriously woke up to my Garmin alarm clock at 5:25a.m. Not once did I wake up in the night panicked that I had overslept.

When I got up, I decided to eat first (2 pieces of bread with Nutella plus a few swigs of Starbucks Iced Coffee) and then disassemble my tent. By the time I got my camp broken down, I was ready to head to the bathroom and then change. I threw my pajamas back on over my race clothes for the drive because it chilly to be in shorts and a tank.

I followed the guys to the start line and parked in nearly the same spot I had the day before--right near the finish and on the same block as the hotel. It was about 6:20 a.m. Small town races really do have seriously pluses sometimes! We immediately saw some of our other friends and all walked into the lobby of the hotel together to stay warm. I ate my Snickers bar (prerace tradition!) and then decided to make one last bathroom break. Somehow I managed to find the darkened conference room restroom completely open.

Walking to the starting line was no different than any other goal race. I was quiet, withdrawn, and swirling in my own self-doubt. The bigger the stakes, the less likely I am to converse. I said hello to the 3:15 pacer after meeting him the day prior at packet pickup, but kept my conversation to a minimum. We were really close to the starting line as the half marathon and full separated within the first mile. I've only ever been that close in small ultras.

An actual cannon was shot and a couple seconds later, we were on our journey. I pressed start on my Garmin and play on my Shuffle. Lindsey Stirling's Take Flight seemed appropriate for the first half mile. A pack of about a dozen of us jockeyed back and forth behind the 3:15 pacer as the field spread out. There were 2 other females in the pack. A number of the runners were chatty and jovial in the first few miles. I probably came across as rude when one guy started to talk to me about Marathon Maniacs, but I kept my answers short and clipped. Every breath mattered.

The course ran east and south for the first 4 miles before returning to the start/finish area and intersecting with the half marathon course. It was delightfully perfect weather those first few miles and I was comfortable in my tank, shorts, and a pair of gloves. I didn't feel particularly good or bad right away. Honestly, much of the first part of the race is a blur. 7:36, 7:20, 7:31, 7:21

After we intersected with the half marathon course, I remembered to take my first gel at just mile 4--a Cherry Lime Roctane GU. I have had better success with gels and water as sometimes the Gatorade doesn't sit well with my stomach. I accidentally grabbed Gatorade twice on the course and drank one with pretty immediate regret.

Runners began to spread out a little bit more over the next few miles and I was pleased that I could just tuck in behind the pacer and a few of the guys running alongside him. It helped kept the wind to a minimum during those early miles and likely saved my race. 7:32, 7:19, 7:23, 7:23

The pacer peeled off to use the porta-potty around the Albany State University West Campus after we crossed the mile 8 sign. I was confident he would catch back up with our little pack, but I was feeling confident to just go ahead. The knowledge that if he caught up to me meant that I was still in the 3:15 range was a good thing. I would hopefully hang on if he did catch up, but there was a certain feeling of safeness if I stayed out ahead. I had a Honey Stinger Mandarin Orange gel at just past the mile 8 mark.

When our pack loosened up from the pacer pit stopping, I heard a spectator (I'm assuming a coach) shout to a girl in our pack to "tuck in behind someone". We were headed out on a long straight stretch along Gillionville Road and while the wind wasn't bad, it certainly was noticeable. Many of the runners were keeping a pretty even pace so it was easy to just focus on the foot strike of the person in front of me. 7:21, 7:16

Mile 11 brought us through a residential area with a few rolling hills. I had a couple of low moments during that stretch where I watched a few runners pass me though I was keeping a pretty even pace. However, I knew that I couldn't trust my mind so early and that there would still (hopefully) be better patches. 7:22, 7:22

I had another Cherry Lime Roctane GU just past the mile 12 marker and popped 2 Excedrin. I am not sure if the Excedrin is more placebo than painkiller, but I've taken some during ultras and it seems to work. As the course crossed over the 13.1 mile marker, I noticed that I was slightly slower than a 3:15 pace if I wanted even splits. Running that fast wasn't new territory for me, but I had run 2 marathons with positive splits when I had tried to stay in the 7:20s. The hard part was to now trust that I could run a bit faster during the second half. 7:30, 7:26

Mile 15 was spent reeling in a pack of 3 runners who had started with the 3:15 pace group. They had been within my sight the entire race, but I started to slowly pull closer to them. By mile 16, I was running right behind them and happy to be within a pack of people again. My music was blaring, but I could hear snippets of their conversation. I knew I was being annoying being right on their heels, but I justified in my mind at the moment that every edge I could get would help me reach my goal. I had a Huma Chia Apple Cinnamon gel at just past the mile 16 marker. 7:20, 7:25

During mile 17, one of the runners dropped off and then it was just me, a guy, and a girl. They ran side by side for quite some time and then they switched back and forth with one person leading the other. I was always in the back of the peloton and eventually felt strong enough to go towards the front. As I went past, they followed suit for a bit. However, by the time we got to the mile 18 marker, they had fallen back a bit. 7:22, 7:22

I had looked at the course map briefly to know that the lake was near mile 18 and that typically it is a low point in a marathon for me. Running 18 miles and facing 8.2 more always seems daunting. But I was having a great race so far and feeling very little signs of faltering in the last hour. I tried to do a bit of quick runner math to calculate how fast I would need to go to hit the A++ goal of smashing 3:15, the A goal of 3:14:59 (because who wants a :00 when you can have a :59), B goal of sub 3:19:15 (the PR to beat), C goal of a BQ (when did my C goal become BQ??), and D goal of just finish the damn thing. 7:13

I had an Espresso GU at the mile 19 marker and suddenly felt really, really good. Like runner's high good. Something in me knew that I was going to make this happen and I felt so strong. When I crossed the mile 20 mat, a runner next to me exclaimed, "only 10K to go!" 7:23

The next few miles, I was careful to stay calculated in my assault on the last 10K. Those last 27 marathons were useful for something: the last 10K will always make or break a race. There is a reason they call it the wall. But I was strategic in my nutrition and pace and was hoping that I would just let it all out in the last 3-5K. 7:20, 7:17, 7:31

At some point, I saw Nikki and later, Sean out on the final miles of the course. It is always great to see people I know racing and both of them had laid down some killer fast miles early on in the race. Both of them are incredible runners and I was humbled to be shoulder to shoulder with them!

I had grabbed two Hammer Apple Cinnamon gels from one of the hydration stations (swag!) and actually was able to suck down another one at mile 23. Forcing the nutrition early and often seemed to work so I decided to just stay on top of the calories if my stomach could handle it. There were a bunch of turns in mile 23 and I was so ready to start looking for signs that we were headed back to the downtown area. 7:20

With 2 miles left, I was ready to empty the tank. I thought about mile marker 2 on the Greenway and knew that all those progressive runs were for a reason. That 3:15 was going to happen! At this point, I was passing a bunch of runners and each person I picked off fueled my competitive fire. 7:07

Somewhere along the last mile I spotted a group of guys in warm-ups along a straightaway. I knew it was the half-marathoners in the local group that had come back to cheer on the full marathoners. I was in high gear coming in towards them and seeing familiar faces gave me that one last boost I needed to charge towards the finish. 7:08

When I spotted the mile 26 sign, I started keeping an eye out for the mile 13 sign so I could just charge down the finish. Luckily, it was an easy downhill and short straightaway. I leaped over the timing mat with 3:14:XX on the clock. Last 0.4 miles: 7:11 pace

Oh. Em. Gee.

As I clicked off my Garmin and collected myself, I realized that I might actually be 3:13:XX! But I was too elated to care about seconds. I had reached my A++ goal and I felt GREAT throughout most of the race. I believed that I could do it and I did!

I went and sat on the hill next to the finish chute and watched my friends come in. John smashed his PR and earned his ticket to Boston. Casey punched her BQ card by giving it everything she had through the finish line. As we waited for everyone to cross the line, we regaled race stories, drank beer, and enjoyed a gorgeous March day. No matter their time, everyone gave it all they had and being a part of a community like that will leave you pretty darn misty-eyed.

At some point, I went to get my phone out of my car, grab my warm-ups, and check the official time. I was 7th overall and 1st in my age group! 3:13:58

*********************************************************

Many (most?) people reading this will know I've been marathoning since 2009 and running a good chunk of my life. I ran 5 marathons before I got the idea to try to qualify for Boston. I stuck to my training schedule like a perfect type A and had the race of my life on December 7th, 2013. It still gives me chills to think about it. No race has topped it. Not finishing Boston, not winning my first ultra, not finishing my first 100 miler. Nothing.

So maybe I'm in search of that feeling again? I've come close. Yesterday was really, really close. I think when you work for something really hard and still have doubts that it will happen, it feels better when you achieve it. Perhaps that's why I didn't feel that way about Boston or the ultras. I knew I could do it. This felt close because I still had a lot of self-doubt. But it's funny how accomplishing one thing makes you feel like you can tackle the next big thing. Breaking barriers doesn't happen overnight. This has been quite a long journey and yet, I feel like I am just getting started. 




Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mercedes Marathon RR: Follow Your Own Dreams

Frank asked, "what's the hardest part of running a marathon? "

"Not wanting to quit when everything in your body and mind are telling you to stop."

It will happen. Sometimes, if you're lucky, it will be a fleeting moment. It will pass over briefly in the 25th mile when the finish line is so close that you might as well just run. And sometimes, it will linger for miles and miles, taunting you to just give up. Or walk. Or at the very least, slow down.

As we lined up between the 7:00 minute per mile and 8:00 per mile signs in the starting corral, I said to John that I never trust how I feel at mile 5. Good or bad, it is never an indicator of the 21+ miles to follow.

Mile 5 is a liar.

I honestly wasn't sure how this race would play out. My running has been consistently strong lately, but I haven't had "proper" rest, recovery, or taper. I ran a 36 mile race on December 31st, a 50K on January 7th, and a 3:20 marathon on January 29th. I am hoping that this early base building will transition into some decent ultras over the summer and fall.

But everyone likes a PR, correct?

Except Birmingham is hilly and this early February day was oppressively humid. The only saving grace was that it wasn't sunny.

After touching the start mat, John shot out ahead of me while I slowly came to life. I was tempted to follow suit briefly before I remembered to stick to the adage of follow your own dreams. He was chasing his own goal of BQing.

I don't remember too much about the first few miles other than my pace was a bit faster than I preferred. Everything else was typical of a mid-sized race with half-marathoners and full- marathoners flooding the streets of downtown Birmingham. I tried to fight the urge to weave and knew that with every step, the field would thin out.

Wanting to stay atop hydration, I grabbed a cup of Powerade from the first volunteer I saw. By the second stop, I was ready to douse my head and shirt with water. Noticing immediate relief, I continued this trend throughout the rest of the race.

I had actually looked at the course map before the race, but totally didn't realize it was a double loop course until race morning. Oops. Luckily John mentioned the double loops before the start. It is a double-edged sword to run a course you've run before. You know what to expect. You know what to expect.

After a relatively flat 5 miles, the course headed to the hills. Rollers and steady inclines filled the course for the next 5+ miles. This was baby stuff compared to trails and ultras, but for a fast marathon, every foot of elevation gain made a difference. I held my pace fairly steady through the hills and picked off runners as we ascended.

A relay runner cut me off in front of a hydration stop to grab a cup of Powerade. I had to slow my pace to keep from crashing into her. She took a few strides and then tossed the cup right in front of me, covering my shirt and face in Powerade. I was so shocked that I said fuck! She quickly apologized after realizing her tossed cup covered me in sugary electrolytes.

I changed my tune quickly within the next mile. A push-rim wheelchair athlete was gutting it out up a particularly steep section. I felt silly for letting the cup thing get to me. Shortly thereafter, I came upon John around maybe mile 7 or 8? and hung behind him for about a mile before I came up next to him briefly. It was only after the race that I realized he followed me for quite some time.

Finally, the hills starting operating in my favor and a couple of nice descents in miles 10 and 11 had me feeling pretty good again. As we came back into town, I realized the long stretch on 2nd Avenue was going to be long and lonely the second time around. It was oddly windy in that stretch and the only time that the temperature felt decent. Runners had already thinned out pretty far and around 1.5 miles or so from the finish, the halfers were separated from the full-marathoners.

I was still feeling pretty good and knew that my miles splits were mostly in the 7:2X range. If I could maintain this speed, I would definitely be able to PR! But as I crossed over the 13.1 mark, I knew there was still half the race to run. The first few miles of the second half were miserably lonely. There were long stretches of the course that there were no other runners nearby and no spectators. The only people I saw were police directing traffic at various intersections.

As I neared the hilly section, I started to feel the symptoms of bonk. My mind and heart were in it, but my legs started feeling heavy and the effort to maintain the pace got increasingly difficult. This was the opposite of the race I had in Miami.

I gave myself a mental pep talk, took a GU, threw water over me at the hydration stop, and held on. It had been quite some time that I wanted to stop and walk a hill in a road marathon. But knowing that I just had to maintain an 8:00 minute mile pace to PR gave me enough reason to keep going. I tugged my visor down and turned up my music. It was just me against the clock now.

As I neared the top of the hilly section, the course became slightly more crowded as half-marathon walkers and relay teams crossed my path. I welcomed their camaraderie and started to give and get cheers. Heading into the windy homestretch, I veered off the right once again with the split. I could barely see any other full runners in front of me, despite the healthy number of halfers on the left.

I think I last looked at my watch around mile 24. The last 2 were just kind of a let's get this done kind of attitude. I projected I was going to have another 3:20:XX and was super satisfied with that considering all that led up to the race and the fact that it was hilly and humid.




I held tight to what I felt I could muster and watched for the mile markers. Mile 25. Mile 26.



As I came around the curve to the finish line, I saw 3:19:XX. My PR was 3:19:22. I ran down the chute, saw Megan and Frank on the sides.








I was full of smiles as I crossed the finish line. When I clicked the stop button on my Garmin, I saw my brand new PR time.

3:19:15!!!!!!!!! 35th Overall, 9th Female, 4th AG.

I'm likely not going to stop racing so much, have a real training plan, or do anything else that might make me super duper fast. I like racing a lot. I like my chillaxed approach to training. Even when I have bad runs or races, it's actually pretty good. I just like running. It makes me happy.

Special thanks to Megan and Frank for our short n' sweet B-ham weekend. #rally And thanks to John and his awesome family for support on race day!









Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Miami Marathon Rally & Puke

Monday, January 23rd
It was barely less than a week from race day and I was so sick that even watching TV was too hard. I slept for an obscene amount of time and muddled through an 11 hour day of work on Tuesday. Not ideal.

Wednesday, January 25th

The symptoms were reduced to a hacking cough and I was itchy to run. I took to the Greenway after work for 4-6 miles. The first mile was great. The second mile had me doubled over coughing so hard that I could barely catch my breath. I promptly turned around and decided more rest was in order.

Friday, January 27th

I'm not one to be fearful of cooties, but getting on an airplane with a respiratory thing 2 days before a marathon had me a bit nervous. We had an early flight and decided to head to packet pick up right as it opened on noon. I took a long nap that afternoon and went to bed early.

Saturday, January 28th

With just 1 day of running since the prior Friday, I felt anxious about running 26.2 the following day. Deciding to test the lungs was a good idea and the 3.1 miles jaunt made me feel slightly better about the impending situation.


I spent most of the day just hanging out with Adam's family and took a short walk in the park in the late afternoon because it was ridiculously beautiful outside. We went to Adam's dad's temple for a food festival for dinner. The old adage of "nothing new on race night" didn't phase me--I ate a bunch of challah bread, a small portion of brisket, tabbouleh salad, cheese blintzes, and cruised past the dessert table twice.


Sunday, January 29th

At 4:00 a.m., my alarm went off. Uggggggggggggh.

I ate two pieces of white toast with peanut butter, a couple gulps of cold coffee, and put on my race outfit. Adam and his dad are awesome and agreed to get up at this ungodly hour to stand out in the cold rain to watch me run around Miami with some sort of bronchial funk. I truly had no idea what time to expect because I was so unsure of how my body was going to behave.

As we walked out of the parking garage, I ate two Snickers minis--my newest pre-marathon obsession.

When I signed up, I had put in my Rehoboth time of 3:19 and so I was seeded in corral C. I noticed the signs for 3:20, 3:25, 3:30, etc. At 5:50 a.m., I made the game day decision to tuck in behind the 3:25 pacer and see how far I could hold on.

The wave start meant that our group started at about 6:05 a.m. and despite a few people clearly in the wrong corral, there was not too much jostling. A big group followed right behind the 3:25 sign and I stayed on the outskirts about 20-30 strides behind. We climbed the MacArthur Causeway and I looked out to the cruise ships fully light up in the darkness. There was a police boat that had all of its sirens going and music blaring nearby that broke up the otherwise silent pounding of runners in the early morning hours.

As we approached South Beach, revelers called out from hotel windows and a few straggling party-goers dotted the streets. The sky started to lighten around the same time the rain started. I actually breathed a sigh of relief knowing that the rain would keep temperatures ideal.

Somewhere around mile 5, I realized that the early mile funk had dissipated and I no longer felt sluggish. I actually felt quite comfortable stomping through the mud puddles and watching the runners around me try to stay with the 3:25 pacer. I was tempted to surge on ahead, but decided to play it safe and let the pacer do the work.


 There were 3 other girls in our pack of about 20. It didn't occur to me until later that they could be running the half-marathon as the race doesn't split off until about mile 12. I tucked in behind one of them for quite awhile and just followed her footsteps, zoning out.

The course winds through Miami Beach and travels back over the Venetian Causeway offering views of oceanfront mansions along the way. I tried to remember to look up every one in awhile to take in the sights. As we hit the bridges over the water, we were smacked with incredible wind and spitting rain. It was briefly uncomfortable, but easy going compared to the winds of Rehoboth.
 
Our group slowly started to get smaller as we neared the split. 2 of the girls took off--one definitively towards the half marathon split. The other I later saw on the full course. The crowds swelled near the finish line area and the spectators amped me up. I was actually surprised to find the race was nearly half over (thanks ultra running!) and felt ready to run even faster.

Right after the split, I was running side by side with the pacer and noticed that our pace had dropped to a 6:55. Oops. I reeled myself in a bit. Too early to go that fast. But as he slowed down a bit, I stayed ahead. The crowds had diminished with the half marathoners gone and I set myself to the task of slowly picking runners off.

I still had a half marathon to run, but I was feeling pretty good and comfortable running in the 7:20s. As I ticked off each mile marker, I was surprised that my energy wasn't really waning. I started holding my hand out to high-five spectators and policemen as I went by. The smile on my face was 100% genuine. I was so happy to feel so good and so strong.

A couple of times I would pull past a guy and he would try to hang on once he realized he was being passed. One dude practically tried to elbow me as I went by even though we had an entire lane of road and runners were pretty spread out at this point. I just smiled to myself, gave him some space, and went to the far side of the road to go by.

Once we got to Coconut Grove, I was getting excited to hit the turn around to head back towards the finish line. I came up behind the girl that had been running with the 3:25 pack and ran behind her for about a half mile. She was running strong and her form looked great, but I was ready to start pushing the pace towards the end. I inched up close behind her and made my move to pass.

Feeling pretty good through mile 22, I continued to pick off runners down the long stretch of Bayshore Drive. Though I had intended to take one more gel on the finish stretch, my stomach was feeling sloshy from the Gatorade. I bypassed a couple of water stations at the end, knowing that I only had about 30 minutes left to run.

The course swung out on the Rickenbacker Causeway and though the wind had died down a bit, it was still noticeably harder heading west. But I was in good spirits and thrilled that my fears of muddling through 26.2 with cranky lungs were just fears.


I wasn't really looking at my splits in the last mile--I just tried to leave enough in the tank for the finish chute and cranked down my pace. My last true mile was 6:32. The last 0.2ish cannot be trusted with my Garmin data because the buildings screwed up my GPS.

As I turned onto Biscayne Boulevard, I glanced down to see it wasn't a PR, but it was a 3:20:XX. What once was incredibly hard, was achievable and repeatable.
And best of all, I had FUN.


Well, until I stopped. I walked slowly down the chute, collected a bottle of water, and had a volunteer place a medal around my neck. Took a photo.

I started coughing. Coughing harder. Then I went promptly to a trash can and puked. Gatorade and gels came rumbling back out in all their electrolyte glory.  A photographer passed by and realizing I was going to be okay and said, "just let it out!" Guess I wasn't 100% yet.

The good news is that I can run a 3:20:34 on diminished lung capacity. A super amazing taper and lackadaisical attitude are strong contributors to this success. Plus, the power of the negative split and picking off runners for the second half cannot be forgotten.


What next? Who knows! I am enjoying running to run and racing with freedom to fail. I consider every day I get to lace up and sweat a little another day to be grateful to do what I love.



Monday, January 9, 2017

Fatass 50K RR: Learning To Suffer Better

The bread and cheese stuck to the roof of my mouth. It was warm and gooey and a stark contrast to everything else about the day. I savored the few seconds of human interaction and heat. The moment was over too quickly. I choked down the last bites, finding it hard to swallow with my dry mouth. My cadence increased and everything that was comfortable slowly disappeared like June sunset.

The feeling in my mouth that morning was the same as it is every race morning. 35 mornings of anticipating at least 26.2 miles or more hasn't cured me of the feeling. I looked at the pile of running gear heaped on the carpet in front of the bed. Long socks, tights, shorts, sports bra, tech tee, long sleeved tech tee, half zip shirt, jacket, buff, hat, tech gloves, fleece gloves. The weather app said 11°F as I donned all my apparel. 

I climbed into my Jeep and it moaned slowly to life. Shivering, I navigated away from my sister's house and onto the highway towards the park. A parking attendant directed me into the last spot in the main lot and I sat in my car for a few minutes collecting my gear. The pavilion was warm and the volunteers chipper. I pinned on my race bib and searched the crowd for a familiar face. Announcements were made and despite the then balmy 16°F, it was decided we would all run start by just running through the double doors towards the start line.

My Garmin had naturally timed out from the start menu and I fumbled quickly to get it functioning again with two pairs of gloves. Approximately 20 runners were in front of me and I fell in line through the first section of single track. 6 loops of 5ish miles. A short section of single track up, a mile or so on flat and fast fire roads, a sharp descent down a fire road, single track along the river, the boulders, the stairs, the best part (flattish single track), the log stairs, and the steeper-with-each-loop climb to the start/finish.

The first lap was fantastic. I felt incredibly fresh despite the 35-36 miles I had raced the prior weekend. Everything was comfortable. Easy. No twinges from my legs, knees, or hips. No stomach conundrums. I ripped the buff from my face within the first half mile. Too hot. 

At the fire road, I listened to snippets of conversations around me and settled into a comfortable pace as my body warmed up. At the steep descent, I barrelled down the road, arms out like wings. I'd pay for my recklessness later, but there are few things better in life than pushing the pace hard on technical downhill. It is the ultimate feeling of being strong and free.

366 days had passed since I had last run this course. Everything seemed so much easier. The hills seemed flatter, the stairs seemed fewer, and I felt better. I clamored over the boulders and charged the steep ascent after the stairs. Everything in the last mile and a half of the first loop was full of trail magic. The frost on the ground, the icicles hanging from the benches, and the sun shining through the barren trees was stunning.

I came through the aid station, grabbed a slice of peanut butter & jelly, threw off my jacket, and continued onto the next loop. The second loop proved just as a easygoing and despite a small belly rumble, I felt ready to run loops all day. I had one bottle half filled with water and the other half filled with Tailwind. Both were starting to turn to slush and I could only laugh at this rare problem in my running life.

At the end of the second loop, I took a small piece of potato and popped it into my mouth. My hydration seemed to be okay so I headed back out for loop #3. There was a guy with a blue shirt and Superman tattoo on his calf that had passed me in the 2nd loop, but he was right in front of me at the aid station. The RD ran after him to get his bib number as he had crumpled it up and messed up his timing chip. He continued on behind me and we ran side by side on the fire road. 

"50K or 25K?" he asked.

"50K, you?" 

"25K"

"Awesome. You're almost done!"

He pushed on ahead and I held back, knowing it was fruitless to push when I still had more than half the race to finish. A short time later, I passed him back as he picked up the pants he left behind on the first lap. I tried to hold steady to my pace, but as I neared the end of the 3rd lap, I felt my spirit starting to sink. A few 25K runners blew past me in the last half mile. One female decidedly looking to secure a 3rd place finish without likely realizing I was still 16 miles from being done.

At the aid station, the volunteer offered me a hot grilled cheese.

The next lap was the best and worst thing about endurance racing. It was full of mental misery and physical pain. Some races skew towards one or the other. This was a healthy mix of leg bonk and the negative thought monster telling every cell in my body to STOP RUNNING. When I took a short tumble (on nothing), I yelled at myself. Eff Liebowitz. Get it together. I thought about dropping to the 25K, dropping to just a marathon distance, or hell, just dropping onto the side of the trail. I began making deals with the devil. If I finish this, I will never sign up....Oh shit, I am already signed up...Well, I will never do THIS RACE again.

I suffered through the lap. I scraped the back corner of the pain cave and overstayed my welcome. It was dark and defeating. And yet, I kept moving forward.

I wasn't out of the pain cave just yet, but I was determined to just get the last 2 laps over with by the time I arrived at the aid station. I sucked down a cup of Mountain Dew. I refilled my water bottle. I stopped at my car for aspirin. I slurped down a Huma gel packet.

When mile 22 clicked off, I gave myself 1 mile to snap out of my funk. Slowly, whatever cocktail of caffeine, sugar, and painkillers I mixed together took the edge off. I began to feel better. I opened a Roctane GU and squeezed the now-hardened packet of cherry lime into my mouth. My pace quickened and I knew that I only had to pass through each section just once more.

One more cup of Mountain Dew at the aid station. The volunteers asked if they could top off my water bottles and I joyfully exclaimed that I was headed out for my final loop. I was deliriously excited about being done in hopefully less than an hour.

A guy who had been leap-frogging with me all day stayed about 20 paces ahead of me for the first mile of the last loop. When we reached the fire road, he stopped briefly and bent over to stretch his legs. The monster was getting him. I shuffled passed him and said, "c'mon man, you've got this". 

Sidenote: I never know what to say when passing someone. Some people want to be left alone. Some want words of encouragement. 

He heeded the message and came shuffling up behind me. I played pacemaker for the next mile and he stayed within my shadow, our breathing and gravel crunching the only noises. It was the kind of moment that is shared only in events such as these. We didn't speak, we didn't look at each other, we just suffered together. I don't know his name and I wouldn't even know what his face looks like save for the fact I saw it after crossing the finish line. 

But I lost him on the descent. The last rumble down the hill was enough to give me a spark of energy and I bounced from side-to-side as I navigated the safest place I could quickly put my foot down. As I hit the boulders, the stairs, and climb the gnarly hill one last time, I allowed myself to briefly look at my watch. Gauging distance was a bit tough, but I was on track for a personal course PR

I struggled to run on the last ascents, but I didn't want to leave anything on the table. My legs were burning when I hit the gravel. I cringed as I touched the pavement and gave it one last push. 16 miles prior, I didn't want to take another step. But like some bullshit Cinderella story, I found a way to turn my race around. 

5:16:XX. 

I leaned again the pavilion wall, breathing heavily. I was cold, but undecided where to go. So I stood for a few minutes and just absorbed the activity around me. The guy I had run with briefly came through shortly after I finished and the RD called out to him "hey, you are 3rd!"

Then he sees me standing against the wall. "Wait, is that 329?"

I look at my number, look at him. "Yeah, I'm 329"

"Oh okay. I think you are 3rd overall. Definitely 1st female."

It's a small race. It was 16°F at the start. It was a free race without any swag. Lots of people didn't even start and plenty dropped out or dropped down mid-race. But that day, I was the fastest girl to finish. I'd be lying if I said first place didn't feel good. But I'd also be lying if it felt easy. The feeling of personal accomplishment is there regardless of the time on the clock or the placement in the race. 

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” -Theodore Roosevelt 


Edit 1.11.17: Results were posted and I was 4th OA, 1st Female! Oops.

Monday, January 2, 2017

2016: The Year I Said Yes To Big Things


The true competitive runner, simmering in his own existential juices, endured his melancholia the only way he knew how: gently, together with those few others who also endured it; yet very much alone. He ran because it grounded him in the basics. There was both life and death in it; it was unadulterated by media hype, trivial cares, political meddling. He suspected it kept him from that most real variety of schizophrenia that the republic was then sprouting like mushrooms on a stump. Running to him was real, the way he did it the realest thing he knew. It was all joy and woe, hard as a diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free. -John L. Parker, Jr.

2016 began with a few races on the calendar, all with the intention of preparing for the BIG RACE in September. I knew I needed to get used to living in the pain cave and make friends with every demon that wanted to stop me in my tracks. That meant a lot of miles, a lot of time on my feet, and a lot of bibs to keep me accountable. 

Though I follow no formal training plan and prefer to live and run as free from a schedule as possible, I do love looking at data. 

Running cumulative data:
 Fitbit data (because I average 10,000 steps/5 miles at work on top of running!):

But, as much as I adore data, I like photos even better! I will always have the memories swirling around somewhere in my head, but the pictures help conjure up the stories associated with each race.

My 2016 running recap:

In January, I started the year with the GUTS Fatass 50K. 6 loops of 5ish miles in Sweetwater Creek Park. There usually aren't any photographers for fatass races (re: free) so here's a pic of me drinking a beer right after the race:

5:22:34, 2nd female, 7th OA

A couple of weeks later, Adam and I flew to Miami to visit his family. We walked the 5K with his brother and dad while my sister-in-law ran ahead in preparation for an upcoming half-marathon.

The next day, I met up with JJ, my sister-from-another-mister-internet-BFF for a little runpartying along the streets of downtown Miami. I was a couple of weeks out from my 50K and she had been sidelined by injury. So we took shots of beer, danced with bands, and basically caused a ruckus for 26.2 miles:
3:55:12, 137th female, 798th OA

In February, Adam and I headed west to watch the Olympic Marathon Trials (!!!!!) in Los Angeles. Sitting on the curb within range of touching my sheroes and heroes was the ultimate in runner geekdom.
Galen Rupp
Meb
Shalane and Amy
Desi

Hanging out with some of my favorites at Bangle's house was on par with watching the trials. We ran hard and partied harder.

Caitlin was aiming for a sub-4 marathon and/or PR. JJ and I agreed to be the pace team. Despite the heat, hills, and shots of Fireball, we somehow managed to get her across the finish line with her second fastest marathon time ever. I consider it a win:
4:07:01, 823rd female, 3339th OA

In March, Adam and I headed to Myrtle Beach for a short overnight trip. I had won an entry to the Myrtle Beach Marathon and squeezed it into my calendar. It was the first time I was running a road marathon by myself in 2016 and I decided to see what the body could handle.
3:22:14, 10th female, 120th OA

April is BOSTON MONTH and I was raring to go with 6 more weeks of training under my belt. I actually did a bit of speed work and marathon paced workouts. It was a warm day and I held close to my goal until the Newton Hills chewed me up. But people, it is Boston. A course PR and crossing the finish line of the most prestigious road marathon is about as good as it gets.


3:20:59, 780th female, 5182nd OA

In May, Steve mentioned to me a gnarly little race in Indiana that he was running. I managed to coordinate the weekend off and found myself toeing the line of my second 50 miler. It was rainy, muddy, and almost 10,000 feet of elevation gain. But I had so much fun running, camping, and road-tripping that it was easily one of my favorites of the year!

10:53:35, 3rd female, 12th OA

In June, I found a race that I could get a little night running practice in before my overnight attempt in July. The Midsummer's Night Dream Ultra was a 6 hour race that started at 9pm. Unfortunately, it was terribly humid, in the mid-80's all night, and I couldn't get my nutrition/hydration correct. I felt miserable the entire race. Which sucks because I won. I'm only smiling in the picture because I was done: 

37.2 miles, 1st female, 1st OA

In July, I was nervous and excited to tackle 12 hours at Merrill's Mile. The longest time I had ever run before was at Gnaw Bone and I didn't want to assume anything about how it would feel; especially during an overnight race. Steve drove to Atlanta to hang out for a few days and run this crazy race with me. My goal was to hit 100K (62 miles). I ended up with a 50 mile PR (8:07:23), an instant 100K PR (10:29:45), and finished with 68.67 miles in 12 hours.
68.67 miles, 1st female, 1st OA

A couple of weeks later in July, someone had this crazy idea to run a midnight marathon in Tennessee. On race day, Hal, Dan, and I all discovered the race was actually at 1 a.m. EST. And starting temps were in the 80's. It was basically a repeat of June's race. I did a cartwheel over the finish line. My stomach was a wreck for 24 hours. 

I'm in the middle, standing to the right of the tallest guy in the photo, with a black sports bra and yellow visor.


3:49:32, 5th female, 17th OA

The road trip to the middle of Livingston (??!), Tennessee in the middle of the night was worth the insanity.

In August, I hadn't really been looking or planning anything. It was the last big month of buildup before BIG ONE. I decided on the last weekend of the month to bring my gear to work and beg off a bib number for the Yeti Snakebite 50K. I honestly didn't think I was going to get to run because the thing was sold out. But the RD is super cool and handed me a bib. Uh...guess I'm running a 50K. I had zero taper, was coming off a 65 mile week, and had worked all day.

Whatever. I made an awesome new friend, forded a river 3 times, and played in the woods all night.

6:36:57, 4th female, 23rd OA

September, September, September. All the miles and races had been leading up to the BIG ONE. The good news was the I felt extremely prepared and extraordinarily excited. Jenster, Steve, and Angie were going to be there experiencing the same ups and downs. The bad news was the summer was not quite over come race day and temperatures soared near 90. But I stuck with a generalized game plan of super easy pacing all day. My patience paid off and I hit the tracker with 100.7 miles at 4:33 a.m., an instant 100 mile PR of 20:33:00.
109.866 miles, 1st female, 2nd OA

In October, once I recovered from the immense brain fog, I decided it would be cool to have a marathon or longer distance each month of the year. I ran a couple of easy weeks and felt actually pretty normal considering the physical toll it took running 100+ miles. Then my Achilles started to feel swollen and painful. I backed off a few days at a time, but the window to run 26.2 in October started to close. It wasn't a very smart decision at the time, but my friend Matt (who I met at the Yeti Snakebite) helped procure a bib for me at the Greenville Marathon about a week before the race. I decided to do it in a donut costume. 50% because I knew I would have an excuse to run slower, 50% because I had to run a race in costume before (just a tutu, not the same). Somehow, the marathon cured me? It's so not recommended, but seriously, I haven't had any Achilles pain since...
3:55:30, 14th female, 94th OA

24 hours passed after the October race and I decided to sign up for Savannah the following weekend. I signed up so late that there weren't really many viable hotel options so I decided to just camp on Tybee Island. Hal decided to do the half and we made a road trip of it. I truly was just going to see where the morning took me. The 100 miler, the Achilles thing, the donut marathon the weekend before.... my expectation was just to finish in one piece. But as the miles clicked off, I started to feel ah-mazing. The momentum kept up all the way to the finish line and I found myself with a 2018 BQ!
3:28:04, 13th female, 79th OA

In December, there is Rehoboth. It has been so good to me. I was hungry for a marathon PR--after all, it had been since the last Rehoboth that I had earned a 26.2 PR. I took it out hard and fast and bonked so hard in the end that I lost my 3rd female position in the last half mile. But, I earned a new PR and am proudly under 3:20!
3:19:22, 4th female, 52nd OA

I normally work over Thanksgiving and Christmas and like to take the few days surrounding New Year's off. So I started checking out options and decided to race this past weekend. It was the first year of the Resolution Run, a timed fatass race in Greenville. Matt met up with me at the exact moment the race began and we trudged through about 22ish miles together. It was hillier than any timed race I've ever done (totaled 2500' in elevation) I wasn't feeling it for the first 22 miles. I sat around in funkytown for about 3.5 hours. Finally, something snapped (I give kudos to the magical Sprite) and I pounded out the last 14 miles feeling remarkably well. 
 36 miles, 1st female, 2nd OA

As I sit here and type up the summary of my version of a monster year, I am most aware of the people that have made these snippets of my life possible. Without these friendships and positive peer pressure, I would never have attempted 90% of this craziness. The more I adventure and break out of my comfort zone, the more I want to keep going. To those who have encouraged me along the way, thank you, thank you, thank you.

As for 2017, I am leaving this as a little reminder for myself (and maybe you too?). I wrote it the week of Hinson Lake and surprisingly, it makes sense.
Let's go do bigger things!