Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Georgia Jewel 37 Miler RR

I didn't write a race report for the beer mile(s) or the Brasstown Bald 5k that I ran in between the weekends I ran the Boston Virtual Marathon and the Georgia Jewel 37 miler. But it's been a busy few weeks of racing for me. Especially for 2020!

The beer mile was really just more a stupid and fun time that happened to have some running involved. I ended up running about 7 miles that day, but in no way was this good for my health. Somehow I came back to life enough the next morning to wake up at 4am to go run a 5k up the highest mountain in Georgia. And came in 3rd place pretty much just power hiking the whole thing. 

So things had been going well enough. I honestly was surprised at how well that my virtual Boston went that I thought I was turning the corner on feeling all crappy about (most of) 2020. When I woke up on race morning this past Saturday, I felt anything but good. I was super nauseous and though I choked down a couple of pieces of toast, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was pukey. 

Side note: we ended up eating a super late dinner the prior night and Adam complained that the queso tasted like soap so I was wondering if I was just psyching myself out thinking I had food poisoning or something. 

I got to the race start an hour early and picked up my bib and packet without issue. I then went back to my car and tried to lay down for about 20 minutes because I felt both super sleepy and nauseous. But then it was time to put on my shoes, my pack, my bib, and head down to the start. I saw Jennifer at the start and talked to her for a few minutes before the race started. 

Because of Covid, we started in waves of 10 runners at a time and everyone was wearing at mask. I was in the first wave and while it was nice to not feel choked up in the beginning miles, I suddenly felt like I had a target on my back. I definitely was not running my own race for the first couple of miles because of this feeling. A few of us went back and forth, exchanging places as we navigated the forest service road and pavement. I didn't stop at the first aid station at just 3ish miles in and just kept right on cruising up the hill.

Once we hit the first large single track section, I finally felt like I had shaken the feeling of nausea. The temps were great, I was sipping on my Roctane and water and taking nutrition every 45 minutes or so. I felt really, really good in this first single track section. Even on the uphills, I was hopping over rocks and just enjoying the day. I talked with Sally for a short while and then I was pretty much on my own for a number of miles. 

I felt an immediate and sharp pain on the back of my left leg somewhere in the middle of this section. They told us at the start that a yellow jacket nest had been disturbed in this area and I thought really, is this my luck to be stung?? It had been almost 20+ years since I'd been stung by a bee or wasp so I had gotten lazy about carrying my epiPen (it was in my car). Luckily, it didn't appear to hurt my breathing, but holy shit, it felt like someone was holding a cigarette to the back of leg. (And is super irritated as I write this.)

Nearing the 11.5 mile aid station, I got some Tailwind in my soft flask and grabbed half a banana. I had been doing a lot of running in the previous section and was honestly looking forward to finally getting to do some climbing. The forest service road of this section bottomed out near a creek and then the course climbed to another pretty runnable ridgeline section. Ray and I talked for a good bit in this part and that made the miles go by. This is also the section that I managed to see Shannon somehow looking insanely fresh with 80+ miles on her legs.

Once I got near the top of the ridgeline, I knew I'd start to see some of the faster runners in the field coming back by after the turnaround. I was getting excited to cheer everyone on and shout words of encouragement as we passed. Sure enough, as I made the descent into the Snake Creek aid station, I got a good glimpse of the front of the field. Everyone was looking so strong!

Meanwhile, my nausea started to return on the descent and I was happily relieved to see there was both gin gins and Tums at the aid station. I drank a little bit of ginger ale, got another half of a banana, and then starting hiking back up. I gave myself a solid 5 minutes to just walk and try to settle my stomach. I felt okay enough to do a little running after that and tried to at least run the downs and flats. 

On the descent down to the creek, I saw Stephanie, Jennifer, and Alex and each friend made me feel a little less miserable for a few minutes. Talking to Jennifer for a minute or so was such a bright spot in the middle of my race and for next couple of miles, I actually felt pretty good. However, I was running low on water and was very grateful when I finally got back to the Stover Creek aid station.

I filled up my hydration bladder with about .75L of water and then my soft flask with more Tailwind. I had been trying to shake this annoying feeling of being sleepy all day and decided to drink about 4 ounces of Coke, hoping the caffeine and sugar would help me. Ray caught back up with me at this point and we walked out of the aid station together and then ran a bit on the single track until he stopped to walk for awhile. I went on ahead and was alone again.

At some point in this last big single track section, I took a gel, knowing that my calorie intake had been abysmal and I was running on fumes. It seemed to go okay and then a few minutes later, I was exorcist-style retching. Ugh. I tried to just wipe my mouth and carry on, but it took about 3 times before I apparently emptied out whatever was causing me distress. Honestly, I was happy at that point because while I knew that I was severely lacking in calories, at least I was not as nauseous. 

My watch had been reading pretty accurate all day so I started counting down how many miles I had until I reached the forest service road section. I drank all the water in my bladder, but was so worried about wrecking my stomach again that I was barely able to sip on my Tailwind. Each mile I knew I was a little closer to getting water at the aid station and that was my only goal at that point. I had in my head I could just walk it in from that last aid station to the finish.

The forest service road was a really runnable down once I got there and while I was probably not actually moving very fast, I finally felt like I was getting somewhere. At the aid station, I emptied out the Tailwind in my soft flask and refilled it with water. I was inconsolable at this point and being cranky both inwardly and outwardly. 

Aside from Mt. Baker and a small section of single track though, the final miles were at least relatively easy terrain. I ran for a few minutes with Whitney and then just stayed a comfortable distance behind her as we worked to finish our respective races. Once I got to Mt. Baker, I was just beat. I never have felt my legs spasming in a race before (after, yes, just not during) and as I was climbing, they just started to give out on me. I had to stop a couple of times and try to figure out a way to get up the road, stepping sideways at times because I really was at a loss as to what to do. 

Of course, reaching the top means that the race is nearly over and so I Barbie jogged down the parking lot and then ran the last little section to the finish. I missed real race finish lines and though I had spent the majority of the last half of the race saying to myself eff running and eff racing, I was so happy to finally run through a real finish chute. 

I talked to Abigail  (first place, woot!) for a minute and then watched the awards ceremony for the 37 miler. Not knowing how long everyone would be, I walked back to my car to change and put my feet and legs up for a minute. The temperatures were nice out, but I was feeling really overheated and my heart was pounding so I turned on the AC in my car and charged my phone for a few minutes. As I was lying there with my feet on the car door, I saw a familiar running form charging down the sidewalk and realized that Chantal was finishing. I'd like to say I jumped up and raced to the finish line, but it was more like a sloth shuffling in slow motion. 

She was second female in the 50 and killed it! Somehow I missed Joe coming in not too far behind her, finishing in second for the men. We all hung out after that, watching more friends come in, including Dave sprinting in his 50 miler, Oliver finishing his first 50, and Stephanie completing her longest distance. Even though Meridith and I have followed each other for years on IG, we finally were able to see each other in real life and wave. Our group then hung around to watch John come in for his big 100 finish and had a sweaty group hug at the finish line. 

As I drove home that night, I was feeling an equal mix of disappointment in myself, but the joy for so many others. It was strange. I was frustrated that my body was not doing what I wanted it to, but I was also so happy for others that it was their day. And not just saying that to sugarcoat my own sadness, but genuine happiness that they were doing amazing stuff. 

Much like everything though, now that I'm a few days removed, the good stuff remains and I know I'll be back at it soon enough. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Boston Marathon 2020 RR: The One During The Pandemic


When Boston was postponed until fall, I dreaded a summer of marathon training. Truth be told, I was pretty excited when it was moved to a virtual race for selfish reasons. The self-induced pressure of performing seemed much more relaxed if I was not being tracked. As the summer wore on, I felt like I was grasping at any ounce of fitness I could find, desperate to find a shred of my former self lurking inside.

The unknown of the impending months crept into my mind and though life is seemingly good all things considered in this pandemic, I couldn’t help but think that it is rattling me more than I can articulate. At first, I was jealous of those who seemed to be finding their stride in all of this. But then I realized that it’s just not where I’m at right now. And honestly, it’s the longest string of healthy and good feeling running I’ve had, despite feeling like I cannot go any faster than second gear. 

I originally had planned to run Boston on September 14th, the date that it was postponed to back in the spring. It gave me 5 days to recover until the Georgia Jewel 35-now-37-miler, but I was not really feeling excited about either race so I just kind of put it off planning for it. And then when it popped up on Final Surge on September 7th, the app my coach uses for my workouts, I was like, huh, guess I better decide. 

Even early last week I was still kind of on the fence about when and where I was going to run it. Weather was largely the deciding factor. When I saw that Labor Day Monday morning was looking good last Wednesday, I texted my coach and told him that I wanted to adjust my workouts down so I’d have fresh legs for Monday. After all, I’d run 30 miles over the prior weekend and though they were all easy miles, I knew that I was not optimally tapered. 

I bought a pair of Alpha Flys and they arrived in just enough time to put a few miles on them before the big day. Yes, they were not really necessary on the crushed gravel surface that I was running on, but I was grasping at straws for it to not feel like a complete bust.  

All the things I have come to anticipate with the race each spring were no longer the agenda for the weekend. The whole fanfare of the weekend is just as joyful as the race and it seemed odd to be “racing” without the added hype. As much as I tried to brush it all aside though, my brain definitely shifted into race mode about 36 hours from my chosen start time. It was weird. I was expecting to not feel any nerves or excitement and it was quite the opposite!

I started laying out my gear, my nutrition, and even my water bottles as early as Saturday afternoon. 



My plan was to use my car as the water/nutrition stop and run in 1 mile loops. This was so I didn’t have to worry about carrying anything, crossing streets, or calculating mileage. On race morning, I woke up at 5:25am, choked down half a giant bagel, drank half a cup of coffee, and filled up my bottles with water and Gatorade. Then, in keeping with good juju and tradition, I took a "Marathon Monday" selfie.


I got to the race “start” at around 6:15am and laid out my box of nutrition, hydration, bib number, and Spike (the stuffed unicorn, aka my cheer squad). It was still dark out so I popped on my headlamp and walked for a minute or so as the most modified warmup ever. And then without anyone watching, I began racing a marathon.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t weird. I was fighting off the urge to go too fast in the beginning as my legs felt fresh and the temperature was amazing. But I also knew that I was playing with house money. If I blew up, the worst that would happen was that I’d have to walk it in and feel a little sorry for myself. If it was my day, I could run a really great marathon. The phrase swing for the fences popped up in my brain a few miles in and while I knew I wasn’t in PR kind of shape, I was ready to just see what I had. 

The first hour went by really well. I was feeling good, not looking at my watch at all, just running by feel and counting the laps. I planned to take a gel every 4th lap and then water and/or Gatorade as needed. I took off my headlamp by around the 5th or 6th lap and enjoyed the sweet spot of the early miles, cool morning, and the sun still behind the trees. A layer of fog from the river hung in the field and while it was no match for the crowds of Ashland, it was a pretty decent consolation prize.

Miles 1 - 7: 8:17, 8:00, 7:58, 7:52, 7:42, 7:48, 7:40

Cars began to trickle into the park and I soon was sharing the space with other runners, walkers, a few cyclists, and even a few people dropping their canoes and kayaks into the river. Every once in a while, I’d have to dodge a larger group or hop onto the grass, but it remained pretty easy to navigate throughout the morning. I was tempted to check my watch for splits as the miles wore on, but I decided to save the runner math for later in the day and just keep running by feel.

Miles 8 - 13: 7:37, 7:39, 7:35, 7:40, 7:30, 7:46

At the end of mile 13, I paid homage to the Wellesley girls tradition and kissed Spike the unicorn as I stopped at my aid station to discard the gel wrapper from mile 12. I thought it might be a little weird that someone would see me kissing a stuffed unicorn, but shrugged internally and did it anyway.

As the miles crept further into the double digits, I started to feel the nag of negative thoughts and had to remind myself to just try to keep my headspace as neutral as possible. I give all my shoes names on Strava, partly to tell them apart, partly to give myself a little motivational boost. I happened to name my Alpha Flys “No Human Is Limited” ala Eliud Kipchoge and adopted that as my race mantra. Maybe it’s silly, but it distracted me briefly from the task at hand.

I finally allowed myself to look at what the time was around mile 14 and saw that I was actually running much better than I expected. I was definitely in the sub 3:30 range! 

Miles 14-15: 7:49, 7:33 

I picked up a gel at mile 16 and was getting excited that I was now entering into the portion of the run that I had less than double digits to go. I took huge swigs of water and Gatorade after tossing the wrapper in my trash bag and made the short little out and back turn. As I came past my car again, an immediate wave of nausea had me coughing and then stopping. I puked up a little bit of liquid, walked a couple of steps and then got right back in it. 

Miles 16- 17: 7:32, 7:59

As I came around the loop on the sunny side, I spotted a runner wearing a tank top that looked familiar. And then when I noticed her stride, I realized it was Chantal! She hopped right in with me and, spoiler alert, stayed with me to the finish. I was definitely working for every breath so I told her I wasn’t really able to talk much, but I was so relieved to have her there. It was definitely getting into the nitty gritty part of the run and after my puke, I was unsure of what the last hour or so was going to look like. 



Mile 18: 8:05

The two of us ran the loop and we were nearly to where I spotted her when we saw Jared leaning against his car in the parking lot. Wow, two surprise pacers! Luckily, both of them were able to talk and it was nice to just listen to snippets of conversation and interject every once in a while. I grumbled here and there about how hard marathons were and shouted out how much further I had left to go. 



I was stopping more often for hydration as the day warmed up. The sunny side was getting increasingly hotter and I felt myself pushing harder to reach the shade. My tank was sopping with sweat, but I didn’t want to waste any time removing it and hoped that the wetness would at least cool me off. 


 Miles 19 - 23: 7:37, 7:45, 7:56, 7:46, 8:00

With 5K to go, I knew that I had a sub-3:30 in the bag as long as nothing crazy happened over the final miles. It was definitely getting harder and I knew I was slowing down a bit, but having Chantal and Jared there helped me keep the pace honest. 


Miles 24 - 25: 8:03, 8:02

When I knew I had one more loop to go, I began doing a body check to see if I was going to have anything left for a finish line sprint. I wasn’t completely gassed and decided to wait until I hit the mile 26 mark. We neared the car and the Sullivans were there! I was so excited to see more friends AND know that I would be celebrating with them very, very quickly.

Mile 26: 7:40

When my watch chirped for mile 26, I gathered everything I had in me and just laid it out. Time seemed to stretch on forever as I pushed to the imaginary finish line. I checked my watch and gauged that a post in my sightline was far enough away to call it the finish line. I definitely did not want to be at 26.19 miles! So I called it out and as I crossed the “finish” saw it was enough to finally tap the stop button.

Last 0.2: 1:28

Ooof! 3:24:19


As I hunched over and caught my breath, I was so freaking excited to be done, have amazing friend support, and surprise myself with a great marathon time. It actually tied my 12th fastest time and though I died a little in the end, my second half was only 43 seconds slower than the first half (1:42:31 versus 1:41:38). And if I stick in all the asterisks I can about how it could have been better, I’m feeling really good about it. 

Once I collected myself, Chantal, Jared, and I started walking back to my car and met up with the Sullivans on the path. We all eventually wandered over to my car and stood around on a pretty perfect September morning, chatting and watching the kids play. 


It might not have had the crowds and the wild atmosphere of a Boylston finish, but I’ll hold onto tight to this one for different reasons. 







Tuesday, August 4, 2020

SKT RR: Stupidest Known Time on the Bartram Trail Appalachian Trail Loop

A single street light illuminates our zombie faces in a gravel parking lot. My head rests on a pillow, but the rest of my body is splayed on the gravel. I am the most comfortable I’ve been in 12 hours with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in hand and my legs finally at rest. It might not be ultra racing, but it is definitely ultra running.




John put together this idea a couple of months ago and kept the event list small given the Covid situation. I think we were all hungry to do something adventurous, but not at the cost of being completely reckless. In retrospect, I don’t know that I gave my body enough of a proper taper, but I think I was also disillusioned because it wasn’t a race.


As we got closer to the date, we started to nail down some of the key details. Katherine got us set up with bunkhouses at the NOC so we didn’t have to try to stealth camp and/or add extra hiking into our day. Chantal and I mapped out water to make sure we didn’t dehydrate. We coordinated carpools, car drops, dinners, and post-run plans. Katherine’s husband became the weekend MVP with an aid station setup at mile 28ish (more on that later). 


I picked up Chantal and Katherine on Friday afternoon and we made the drive up to the NOC together, talking about anything and everything. Chantal had a job interview at 5pm over the phone so we left her in the bunkhouse and headed down to the river with Jared, Cassy, and eventually, Aaron and his daughter Madison. 




We got takeout from the nearby restaurants and sipped beers bellied up to picnic tables. Rain came rolling through halfway through dinner, but we were protected under a large tarp and the air temperature was plenty warm. Once there was a break in the rain, we fled to the bunkhouse and settled in for the evening. The thunderstorm raged on as we climbed into our bunks and though we were dry and safe, I couldn’t help but feel mild concern if the rain continued to pour well into the morning.


John came in late and I don’t think anyone was actually asleep yet. I tossed and turned for what felt like a long time before eventually drifting off to sleep. An alarm went off and I only mildly stirred knowing that I still had plenty of time to get ready. Cassy started making coffee and Chantal started giggling and we all came to life shortly thereafter. I boiled water for oatmeal, drank a cup of cold brew, and suddenly, it was time to head out.


The group walked down the hill from the parking lot and across 100 meters of train tracks to reach the start. We took a bunch of pictures of the sign and ourselves and then headed out on our adventure. The climb to Cheoah was reminiscent of every race. We were all in good spirits, laughing about our impending misery, and everyone chatting wildly. My non-morning person was evident in that I was not incredibly talkative myself, but rather, soaking in the conversations around me.





As the sun started to rise, we all realized our early start would not be rewarded with incredible views. A dense cloud layer surrounded us and while I think we were all initially bummed, it would prove to help keep the temperatures cooler later in the day. At the top of Cheoah, our wrecking ball of sound alerted a couple of hikers who came out from their campsite to share their sunset views they captured the previous night. After the usual you guys are crazy, we took off in search of the Bartram Trail. 



Though the trailhead was in bad shape and completely overgrown, we were all relieved to find that the rest of the trail was fairly well-maintained. This section from Cheoah to the road near Nantahala was a highlight of the adventure. There were water crossings galore and though it was often rocky and muddy, it was absolutely beautiful. We were mostly descending in the section and able to make up a little bit of time in the more runnable parts. Our group would accordion out a bit and then shore up at potential turns or picture-worthy spots. 






I was eating early and often and stayed on top of hydrating. My pack was full of gear so it was an incentive to continue to lighten the load as well. We stopped to filter water and I was relieved that we had plenty of good sources throughout the route. Given that it was August though, I always got more than what I thought I needed just in case. 


Along the Nantahala River, we ran along the bikeway which felt odd after so many miles of single track. I wasn’t feeling particularly perky at this point so I just hung on bringing up the rear. The bikeway spit us out onto a bridge and then a parking lot and after a few circles, we found ourselves climbing a forest service road to the top. Because we started so early and it was a partially cloudy day, I kept thinking it was later than it was every time I looked at my watch. 


We took photos at the top and clowned around before beginning another descent on single track.



This one was definitely more runnable and I enjoyed the parts that we could open up and move our legs. As we neared the river, the marathon mark, and the middle of the day, it definitely became warmer. The trail was overgrown quite a bit near the river and we had to do a considerable amount of bushwhacking through brambles in the heat of the day. 



Eventually, we reached another forest service road and started wondering how close we were to David and the aid station. Once we hit the pavement, we knew he had to be close. Katherine had sped ahead, likely tired of waiting and anxious to get to her family. No one had cell service so we hugged the hairpin turns of the road and hoped that they would be easy to spot. At last, we spotted the open hatchback of a Subaru and the wallops of children. It was like finding an oasis.


David made grilled cheese, quesadillas, bacon, ramen, and PBJs. Plus, he had millions of other salty and sweet snacks, a cooler full of Coke, and all of our drop bags. I ate some solid food, chugged a Coke, and drank veggie broth straight from the carton. 



I opted to change my shirt, sports bra, and hat. Though my feet felt tired, I didn’t feel as though I had any blisters or major malfunctions so I left my shoes/socks alone. My shorts were iffy (re: wet and potential chafe disaster) so I stuffed a dry pair in a plastic bag and tucked them in my pack. I refilled all my nutrition, topped off my bottles, and then it seemed like everyone was ready to head out around the same time. We said our thanks and goodbyes and got on with it.


The next climb was utterly stupid. I actually love climbing because I feel like I’m a better climber and it hurts less than the impact of descending. But this just seemed to go on and on and on with nary a switchback. The only good news about this was that it gave us time to digest our aid station stop and that we were getting a wonderful breeze the higher we climbed. 



From Jarrett Bald, the route had beautiful sections of open fields of wildflowers and ridgelines. I’d stop pulling my phone out so much for pictures at this point, but luckily, some people still were snapping away.





Things were definitely getting silly and one of my favorite pit stops of the day involved Jared and Oliver lying on the pavement while the rest of us got our dance party on.



Cassy and I got into a great conversation in the section where the Bartram Trail and Appalachian Trail follow each other. I recall thinking how surprised I was once we reached the parking lot of Wayah. 




What a gorgeous evening to be on top of Wayah. The weather was absolutely perfect. It was breezy and warm, but not at all hot. Oliver planned on “only” going to this point so we stopped for a short time and raided his snacks, water, and Coke supply at his dropped car. Cassy and Jared decided to call it a day as well and I think everyone was jealous of the other person’s choice. If you were stopping, you wanted to be going on and if you were going on, you really wish you were stopping. 







We took photos from the top of the tower and then moseyed on down the trail towards the final push to the NOC. I felt invigorated from the sugary caffeine and the short rest. We were in a really runnable section and knew that darkness was coming so we tried to keep moving as best we could. Katherine, John, and Joe took off ahead of Chantal and myself. We made a pact to stick together to the end, at first silently, but later, aloud. Both of us are strong runners and were overly prepared for the day/night to go sideways, but staying together was the smart and let’s be honest, more fun choice.



The hour or so before we had to turn on our headlamps was quite magical despite the fact that we had been moving for 15 hours. The air was almost cool and we caught glimpses of the sunset through clearings in the trees. We refilled our water one last time at the Cold Spring Shelter and I remember that this was about the time we started to lose daylight. Chantal turned on the world’s best playlist and we laughed-cried that there was no other choice but to keep moving.


Despite having it on a charger, my watch still died so I had no real semblance of time or distance. In some ways, this made it better because it really didn’t matter anyway. I pulled out my phone a few times to look at the map on Trail Run Project, but it was hard to discern distance on the map without mile markers. 


I was feeling much better on the ascent to Wesser and though my feet were feeling extremely beat up, my legs and everything else were holding steady. Chantal was in a rough patch and wobbling all over the trail. However, on the descent and the last 4ish miles to the NOC, we traded places. The descents were extra painful on my feet and my dimming headlamp and lack of poles because more and more of a pain as we traversed narrow sections and huge rocky outcrops. I definitely had become team grumpypants. 


Bits of nausea came over me and I was just tired of eating trail food. At one point with just a few miles to go, I asked Chantal if I could have some of her Oreos. I remember thinking that I was hoping she wouldn’t be mad if I asked her and/or if she was saving a few for the end herself. She pulled out a package to share and I think I would have cried if I still had any emotions left. 


We were in search of the Rufus Shelter in the last section, knowing that we had just over a mile to go once we spotted it. But as we rounded the turns and kept descending, we never saw the shelter. I knew my water was now getting low and was hoping that we had just missed it in the darkness. The first lights of the NOC came into view and I said something about don’t get too excited, it could be just a house light. But then more lights came into view and the river got even louder and we could actually see where we picked up the bunkhouse passes. 


The incredible relief of stopping was within reach.


We walked over the bridge together, deliriously mad and laughing. A random guy in a pickup truck asked if we were okay which just further solidified the fact that town people are generally weirder than trail people. We took a photo at the start sign, 57ish miles miles complete.



Then we wandered like two drunks to the parking lot. It was there that Katherine and John met us for our finish line party. Lying in a gravel parking lot has never felt any better. 


Eventually, we knew it was time to try to make our way home. Chantal volunteered to drive and I gladly let her take over the reins. We got about 30 minutes down the road and she knew she was getting too tired to keep going. A rest area sign popped up right after we started looking for a place to pull over. I thought I’d have a hard time nodding off sitting straight up in my seat, but I didn’t even unbuckle my seat belt and I passed right out. An hour and a half later, I woke up feeling much, much more alert and offered to switch places so I could drive us home. 


As we drove into the Sunday sunrise, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly grateful per usual for these kinds of things. Yes, they are tough and gritty and we swear we’ll never do them again. But as time wears on, we forget the pain and remember the best parts. The belly laughs, the crazy encounters, the songs, the deep conversations, the incredible scenery, and the joy of exploring places on foot. There’s just something really special about the friendships forged at the highest of highs and lowest of lows. We were cut up, bruised, covered in dirt, sleep-deprived, sore, beyond smelly, and I wouldn’t trade these kinds of weekends for any other. 



Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Run Your Ageathon Virtual RR


My running since the Atlanta Marathon has been weird. Really, really weird. I took a couple of days off and then did some easy runs over the next week and a half. I did a short trail run the weekend following the marathon and my foot started to feel achy towards the end of the run and immediately thereafter. I panicked and went doom and gloom immediately. Boston was only 6 weeks away! 

As we all know, that ultimately didn’t matter. 

I went through the next week with it off and on being weird. And then did a long trail run 2 weeks following the marathon which was good for my soul, but probably not the best for my foot. I didn’t want to spend the next 6-8 weeks in a boot so I finally admitted to myself and my coach that I could use some days off. 

I took 5 days off any cardio and then did some easy cycling before attempting to run again. The foot started to feel better just walking around and I had a dry needling session with Chantal that hopefully helped. My coach had me alternating easy runs with cycling for the first two weeks back. No running workouts, just building back. Once I was able to do 6 days of running a week, I then added back workouts and tacked onto my long run. 

In this time period was, of course, when Boston was postponed and everyone was ordered to shelter in place. Save for my dry needle session with Chantal, I hadn’t been in close proximity to another human besides Adam since the long trail run March 14th. Coupled with not being able to run higher mileage, I was definitely not in a good place mentally.

My running has mostly been meh in the return back. I am not necessarily concerned or worried about my races being postponed or canceled. As a lifelong runner, these are just things that make it seem a little more “worth it” every few months. But I was definitely stressing about work, about Adam’s work, and just the uncertainty of everything. I wasn’t having any breakdowns or anything, but I knew that all of this certainly was manifesting itself in crappy running.

And if I’m being honest, it was hard to watch so many of my friends thriving in their running. Tackling big challenges like streaks and virtual races and epic long runs. I was mad that I was sitting on the sidelines for half of it and struggling to find my mojo when I was finally healthy enough to run again. Which I understand that there is a certain level of absurdity in all that because I should have just been grateful to run again.

But I hate running on the hilly, concrete sidewalks at my house. I want to knock out my run right after work, but I feel like it takes me at least a mile or two to get in the groove if ever. And I missed being able to just run freely on the Greenway or other traffic-free paths. Everything just felt like it was an extra effort. I knew the biggest part of all of it was the change itself. I didn’t have the time to decompress after work on my commute. I didn’t have the bonus of the shade and quietness of the Greenway. I was stressed with every person I had to pass out for a walk or run themselves. And while it seems like this might have been the optimal time to use my treadmill, I really just needed that time away from my house.

Shortly after Boston was postponed, I realized that this was now the optimal year to run my age on my birthday. Except that pesky bit about the fact that I had been nursing this foot thing. (Sidenote: I think it must be tendinitis.) Since 2015, I’d had Boston on the calendar and running my age on my birthday seemed a bit ludacris, even for me. I’d do variations like. 3.5 miles or whatever, but I always thought it would be cool to do the actual miles. In 2012, I ran 30K on my 30th because I hadn’t yet entered the world of ultras. 

Anyway, my coach and I talked about it and I knew that it wasn’t really in the cards for my birthday so I just pushed it off and said we could earmark for May. Then I signed up for his virtual race the weekend of the 25th-26th and of the 5k, 10k, half marathon, and full marathon offered, I think anyone reading this knows which one I signed up for. I got my bib April 9th for the marathon and then had in my head I’d be running a marathon the weekend of the 25th-26th.

I spent the next couple of weeks plotting and planning my course. Should I do it on the treadmill? Should I run from the house and do a huge loop around my city? Should I do it on the track? I really hated the idea of any of these for various reasons, but I also knew that was part of the challenge. I went so far as to plot out a 26.2 mile loop that started and ended at my house.

But then 2 things happened. 1) My coach loaded onto my weekly workouts that he wanted me to run 13.1 miles on both Saturday and Sunday. I’m not quite sure why this terrified me as though anyone cared about how fast I ran either of these, but I just could not wrap my head around the potential of having to run one at “race pace”. In heavy training, I run more than that on any given weekend so it wasn’t necessarily the mileage, but rather, how fast I thought I’d have to run.

2) I really couldn’t shake this birthday run idea. The closer it got to the weekend, the more I really wanted to not only run the marathon distance, but beyond that. With my running being so meh lately, it seemed a little dicey, but I also just wanted to go out and prove myself to myself. I didn’t really talk about it to anyone except Adam because I wasn’t certain if I could hang out for that many miles. 
I decided to go scope out Chattahoochee Pointe Park on Saturday’s run. It is a mostly flat path with wide berths and is a very nice, flat-packed gravel surface. Not the stupid pointy rocks of a typical forest service road and not the beach sand-esque limestone gravel. Honestly, the best kind of terrain for a long distance effort - what you give up in speed, you make up for in leg comfort.

The wide berth made it possible to run even with other people using it and not worrying too much about space. I knew that it would get a little more complicated as the day wore on and more people came out, but I was hopeful that the early morning walkers/runners would be sparse and cautious.

I laid out my nutrition and hydration on Saturday and gave myself enough options without it being overwhelming. Nutrition options were gels, fruit snacks, chips, Goldfish crackers, Oreos, and mandarin oranges. Hydration was water, caffeinated and decaffeinated GU Roctane, and a Coke. 

I set my alarm for 6:15am knowing that I wanted to get going around sunrise. I got up and ate 3 pieces of cinnamon raisin bread with peanut butter and drank a cup of coffee. I let the dogs out and fed them and then got dressed and headed out.

The air was cool for late April in Georgia and I was really happy that I had picked nearly a perfect weather day to execute this plan. At the park, I pulled into the roundabout and placed my car hood near to the trail head, but without impending any pedestrian or car traffic. I set my box of nutrition and hydration on the hood of my car and laid out my extra music players, hat, sunglasses, and water on the seat of the car. 


The first few miles would be the warm-up so as soon as my Garmin was ready and my first music player synced up to a podcast, I was ready to start. I listened to Lindsey Hein’s I’ll Have Another podcast in which she had a fun conversation with 3 of my favorite ultrarunners, Courtney Dewaulter, Maggie Guterl, and Sally McRae. It was lighthearted and kept me entertained for the first hour and a half of my run. I knew I wouldn’t want to try to follow a conversation in later miles so I opted to start with the podcast and then switch to music.

I definitely wasn’t feeling wonderful the first few miles. My legs felt kind of tired and by mile 4, I was yanking on the restroom doors (ack, locked!). I circled by my car, did the mini out-and-back, and then stopped at my car to grab some baby wipes. As I headed back out on my loop, I beelined for a place off the trail and into the woods where I lost a minute of my race, but felt immediately better. Unfortunately, in the spirit of “leave no trace”, I now had to carry my baby wipes with me for nearly a mile until I could dispose of them in my trash bag. Sooooo glamorous. 

As with any ultra, my nutrition and hydration plan started off very well and then fizzled as the hours wore on. I took a gel around the 45 minute mark and then had a package of fruit snacks at the 90 minute mark. I started with the caffeinated Roctane first and then switched between water and electrolytes as the day wore on. 

By the time I rolled into double digits, I was feeling much better than the first few miles and I had switched to listening to music from the most random playlist ever created by suggestions people left for me on my Facebook page. I’d smile when I heard a song that I could recall associated with whoever left it for me. It was definitely the most fun roulette of music for a long run.

At the halfway point, I spotted Martin and a couple of friends out for a run and we crossed paths a few times. They saw my box of hydration and snacks and knew this wasn’t just a typical training run. I fessed up to what I was trying to accomplish and of course, that made me even more hungry to set out what I had started. I saw Ron out there too and even though I wasn’t running with anyone, it was nice to see a few familiar faces.

Speaking of other people, I was pleased that about 95% of people were practicing social distancing and giving each other enough space while passing/being passed. I ran out into the grass numerous times to go around people, but didn’t find it cumbersome. As the day eased on, there were definitely more people, but I felt like I had plenty of space still. 

Around the marathon mark, I started to feel a little bit of nausea and bonkiness. It was a little risky to open the Coke with an unsettled stomach, but I was hoping that jolt of caffeine and sugar would help. I walked about a minute or so to let the carbonation settle in my stomach and then told myself to just keep it super easy for at least a few minutes to make sure it stayed down. Luckily, this seemed to move things in a more positive direction.

I was now on a run 2 miles, stop and drink/eat 2 miles game plan. The little breaks helped make it easier as I still had nearly a half-marathon to go at the marathon mark. I was excited to be getting near the time that I could be in single digits of “laps left” to go though. 

There was a cop that pulled up in the roundabout and pulled up alongside each car slowly as I neared my own car. I stopped briefly, headed to the mini out-and-back and he was pulled up behind my car when I came back. I mouthed “am I okay to be parked here?” and flashed the thumbs up sign. I’m assuming he was just running tags because he just nodded without rolling down the window. *insert shrug*

The weather continued to be pleasant, albeit windy. It didn’t really bother me too much as it definitely was keeping me cool on the sunny part of the loop. The shady part was almost chilly enough that I wanted long sleeves! I ultimately never used my hat (too windy) or sunglasses (too much shade). 

Somewhere in the final 2 hours, the battery on my new Mighty music player died. And so I went to the iPod Nano for backup. It worked okay for a few miles and then it started acting all wonky so I switched to the old Mighty music player. I’m sure I would have been okay without the crutch of music, but it was really keeping my spirits up.

Around 5 miles left to go, I knew I could just walk it in and still have a respectable day. Luckily, I was feeling good all things considered and was still moving relatively well. Nothing was hurting other than just been “normal” tired from running for 30+ miles. My mapped out loop was a little longer than 1 mile and so I anticipated hitting the 38 mile mark about halfway through. I kind of thought about doing an out-and-back to end at my car, but then what’s a half mile walk to cool down? I grabbed my long sleeve shirt when I was headed back out for the last half mile so I’d have something to protect me from the sun and/or keep me warm. 

Once I heard my watch beep for the 38th mile, I continued going another 1/10th of a mile to make sure I was solidly over the distance. And then I clicked off my watch and immediately started walking. There was no finish line, no medal, no one there to congratulate me, but honestly, I didn’t really need those things. It was a beautiful day and I was really proud of myself for tackling something in the middle of some pretty ho-hum running. 

As I arrived back at my car, I grabbed my camp chair and a mandarin orange and called Adam to let him know I was alive and well. Then I sat in the shade for a short while, just relaxing and enjoying that sweet, sweet feeling of accomplishment. 

Monday, January 20, 2020

Long Haul 100: Squeezing Out Sub 20



PRERACE

Long Haul 100 wasn't even on my radar under until 12 weeks ago. After DNFing at Javelina in late October, I was anxious to use my training towards another 100 mile race. Because I had put 50+ miles on my legs at Javelina and wanted to BQ at Rehoboth in early December, it made the most sense to look at the January/February for another 100.

There were two major considerations for choosing one - I wanted a Western States qualifier and I needed it to be relatively inexpensive travel-wise. Rocky Raccoon 100 in Texas has been on my short list for awhile, but once I found out that Long Haul was a Western States qualifier, it seemed like a no-brainer to just drive down to the Tampa area. I knew people who had raced it, who lived close by, and I had a couple of friends doing it in 2020!

I opted work a half day on Thursday so I could drive to Florida that afternoon/evening and have all of Friday to relax. Angie graciously let me stay with her in Sarasota and we went out for pizza and beer when I rolled in after 8pm.

Knowing I could sleep in and rest as much as I needed to on Friday was perfect. I hung out a bit with her pup and then following her advice, drove out to Siesta Key for a morning on the beach. She recommended a local coffee shop a block from the beach and I took my cold brew and cinnamon roll straight to the ocean. It was a beautiful January morning on the gulf and I waded in the water, people-watched, and dug my toes in the soft white sand. 

As it approached noon, I met Angie on her lunch break from work at a tuna bowl place in downtown Sarasota and then made my way north to meet Jen and Dan at packet pickup. Dan and Dan's parents had offered to let me stay with them on Friday night and it couldn't have been any better! They were super close to the race and chatting with them all afternoon was the perfect distraction from the task at hand the following day. That evening, we piled in the car (after removing the Mahjong game from the backseat) to pick up John for dinner who was staying in a nearby hotel and met Jen at an Italian restaurant. 

Back at the house, I laid out my clothes for race morning and got everything squared away so all I had to do when I woke up was get dressed, fill my hydration bottle, and eat breakfast.

I don't think I have EVER slept so soundly before a race. I didn't wake up once and in fact, was sleeping so hard when my alarm went off that I was confused as to where I was! We left exactly when we needed to and because Dan was driving, I didn't have any worries about navigating or getting there in enough time. 

As with most ultras, the scene at the start was pretty relaxed. People were piling their drop bags onto the shuttle trailer, waiting in line for the porta-potties, and catching up with friends.



I jumped in the porta-potty line right when we got there and then sat in the car until there was about 5 minutes to start, staying off my feet as long as I could. 

THE RACE

I don't recall a countdown or any fanfare about the start except that when it was time to go, I remember thinking how underwhelming it was to begin. With a long day and night ahead, I didn't worry too much about the first mile. I just let the pack spread out a bit as we ran down the paved road to the start of the first spur. I stayed behind John and Patrick for a bit while they chatted and just listened as the day awoke. 

The course was a mile on pavement to a main intersection where 3 spurs came together. Each spur was an out-and-back so you could see runners coming and going all day long, no matter where you were in the field. It was like running the petals of a flower and coming back to the center. For all but about a half mile there was plenty of space and I actually really, really liked the short out-and-backs because you were never alone for even more than a few minutes. It was mostly double-track or wider and that meant that passing or getting passed was never some awkward moment. 

Spur 1 was about 3 miles total, spur 2 was about 5 miles, and spur 3 was about 2 miles. We ran all of the spurs 10 times except the very last lap, you got to skip spur 3 and just run into the finish. 

The first 2 laps or 20ish miles were pretty uneventful save for a couple of trips to the porta-potty. The weather was perfect and the sun was still hiding way beyond the treeline. The Florida forest offered a good amount of shade and I don't recall it feeling particularly warm until about 11am. I shed my tank after the first lap, but it felt cool enough that I really didn't want ice until I got past the marathon mark. 

I was trying to stay between 10:00 - 11:00 minute miles as much as possible. I knew if I was feeling good I would slip under 10s in the beginning, but I was also being very mindful that I needed to take a little more time at aid stations and that I would inevitably get slower after 100k. The main goal was just to finish the race and feel confident again about 100s after Javelina. But of course I wanted to do the best I could and I was hoping to finish in a time that was reasonably close to my PR. I didn't really feel like I was necessarily in PR shape, but I knew that I was motivated by my DNF and I was running more comfortably than I had in over a year. My body just finally felt like me again. 

After the first marathon, I hit a bit of a rough patch and knew the heat of the day was starting to get to me. At Javelina, I was so worried about getting in and out of aid fast that I failed to take care of myself properly. I was determined to make sure that I took a few extra minutes this time. 

So at mile 30, I took a few chances and it paid off. My feet felt tired and with groomed trails, I decided to change from my Hoka Torrent trail shoe) to the Hoka Carbon X (road shoe). I got a frosty mini Coke from Dan and chugged on it while I changed my shoes, restocked my gels, and decided to hit the music early. I train with music for road and treadmill runs, but never had listened to it during a 100 before. Instead of saving it for later, I opted to let it help me with this rough patch. There was a minor snafu when I realized my Mighty music player was completely dead, but my old iPod Nano came through. I didn't even have something to carry it in so I just shoved it in my sports bra and hoped it wouldn't annoy the shit out of me. 

At the aid station, I had the volunteer scoop ice into my buff and with calories, caffeine, a cooled neck, fresh shoes, and tunes, I bopped down the road like I was just starting. I felt GOOD. And it was weird because it lasted about 15 miles that I felt super happy and super strong. I smiled widely at fellow runners, chatted with the volunteers at the aid stations, and things were great.

Around mile 45, which happened to be nearly the exact same mileage as when the shitshow began at Javelina, I was running along the asphalt section and puked. Just one puke though. And I walked for a minute or so, trying to not worry too much about how this seemed way too familiar. As the nausea subsided a bit, I jogged slowly, testing the waters. Thankfully, that was the only puke all race!

When I came into mile 50, I remember that I was definitely not as chipper as I was before, but I was still moving well enough and hitting 50 miles just under 9 hours or so which is exactly where I wanted to be. The darkness and tired legs would catch up with me, but I was hoping I could run the second half in about 10-11 hours. The iPod battery died, but I put it back on the charger so I could run with it later in case I didn't have pacers the whole time. 

This is where I decided to take off my ice buff, put on a dry sports bra, and put on a shirt. Though I had liberally lubed with Squirrel's Nut Butter all my usual chafe spots, the ice melting down my back from my buff had created a chafe situation in my butt crack so I applied copious amounts more to try to keep it from getting worse. Behind the 10x10 tent, but still pretty much in plain view, I changed my tops and shoved goopy lube in my shorts. 

I told Dan to get my headlamp and black hat ready so I could just grab those at the last possible minute. I definitely knew I'd need it by the time I got to 60 miles. It was getting tougher to eat and gels just sounded gross. In the middle of the day, I had switched to more water and less Tailwind in my hydration bottle. But I knew I was fading fast without many calories so I forced myself to try to eat a little something at each aid station and drink a cup of soda. Thankfully, I did have pee again which meant that at least I was hydrating okay (not great, but enough to pee!). John had been sick for hours and not peeing and ultimately decided to drop which I heard about right around this time. Having been there recently myself, I knew exactly all the emotions he was going through right then. 

At mile 60, I was able to have a pacer. I was so excited to run with someone and keep me motivated to move even when my head got funky. Dan paced me a full 10ish mile loop and I felt pretty good actually in miles 65-68. I really don't remember what order I got cold broth, warm broth, warm soup in over the last 30 miles, but I do know that I was STARVING and got a cup at each of the main aid stations. 

I ran the spur 3 and 1 by myself and then Dan ran spur 2 with me again. 

When we got back to the main aid station, I was at mile 80ish and still had to do the shortest spur to complete the loop. My Garmin was dying so I got my charging cable and charger and my iPod which appeared to be half-charged. I was kind of delirious at this point and just putting one foot in front of the other so I wasn't really sure if and when I'd have my pacers. It took a bit of time to figure out how I was going to wear my charger, charging cable, and Garmin with my belt. I was walking on the shortest spur, stuffing everything into the belt at first, but then it was too heavy and bounced so I just left the charger in the pocket, put my watch on my wrist with the cable, and let the cord dangle about. I'm honestly not sure how this didn't annoy me, but I suppose there were too many other annoyances clouding this one.

Angie was ready to pace me for spur 1 at mile 82ish. She noticed a sign near the start/finish that said runners did not need to do spur 3 on their final loop! This made me so happy. We walked a bit while I digested soup and then ran to the timing mat, walked a bit, and ran back to the road. She went back to the tent and because I was still running (and not walking), Dan had to catch up to me on the road. I wanted to run to the sign that said something about the hall of pines and then I took a walk break. I had my little sections broken up to try to run and try to walk, the walk sections getting longer with each loop. 

I think this was the section that he nearly karate chopped an armadillo rustling in the woods. I'm not sure there would have been much to jolt me out of my ultra-fog at that point. I just kind of turned my head when sprang into action, but kept moving along as though nothing had happened. I needed to pee again (yay!) and decided I'd use the porta-potty on the way back from the spur 2 aid station. When I came back, there was someone in it and after waiting 30 seconds, I decided I didn't need to go that bad. 

Back at the main aid station, I went out on spur 3 for the final time. About 100 feet past the timing mat, Angie caught up to me and we trounced out of the woods together. I was definitely doing a lot more walking at this point, but trying to run when I could. I don't really remember what we talked about or the music that was still playing in one my ears, but I was moving forward, making progress.

Dan met me at the trail intersection on the final spur. I didn't want to waste too much time at the aid station knowing that I was going to be done in less than an hour so I just filled my bottle halfway and tried to keep moving. There was considerably more walking at this point because I was thinking that a few minutes here or there really wasn't going to make a difference. I was going to be finishing around 20 hours or so. We walked a bit on the road and I had told Dan earlier in the loop that I was just going to run again once I saw the tents. 

But then I looked down and saw 19:52:XX on my watch and knowing in the back of my head he'd force me to run, I said I had less than 8 minutes to make it to the finish line to get under 20 hours. He rallied me to get my legs moving and while cursing him, I found that last gear to push for the final minutes. I knew the pain would be over soon and as I saw the first lights of the tents and then the timing clock, the sub-20 hours was happening. 19:58:05, 3rd female, 10th overall. 

The race director handed me my buckle and I posed for a few photos at the finish line.



POST-RACE

Back at the tent, I sat in a chair for the first time in 20 hours and felt the cloud of exhaustion grip me. I knew it wouldn't change much, but I did sip slowly on a Tailwind recovery drink, trying to rehydrate and get in some calories. Dan's brother-in-law graciously fired up a few bratwurst for us and I mindlessly chewed slowly, eating 3/4 over what seemed like an eternity. My wet clothes soon felt cold, but I really didn't want to move so I sat until the 3 of them packed up. As soon as they were gone (Dan helping, but coming back), I changed into dry clothes and crawled halfway into my sleeping bag. By the time Dan came back, I was asleep.

At first light, I started to stir, legs throbbing, a layer of dew coating me and the sleeping bag. I sat in the chair for awhile, just watching the morning unfold.

Eventually, after Dan awoke, we decided to start to break down camp, find some breakfast, take showers, and come back to watch Jen finish. Rain was starting to try to come down when we came back, but fortunately never too hard. As the clock crept near 30 hours, we peered down the asphalt, watching for Jen and Angie to come around the bend. Soon, even in the distance, I could spot them and knew she was going to make it easily under the 30 mark. I desperately wanted to run in with her, but my legs were so tight that I just had to hobble down to the finish line, hoping I had enough time to stay ahead of her for a finish photo. Mission complete.


It wasn't my fastest 100, it wasn't my first time running 100 miles, but it was the first outright 100 mile race I've done. There were plenty of things that went wrong, but there was a lot that went right and I'm happy that I ran a pretty consistently paced race (for that distance) and stayed pretty positive. 

My short list of what worked: broth, music, all the portable chargers, handheld hydration instead of a pack, Hoka Carbon X, ice buff (but I really need to figure out how to keep my shorts dry if that's even possible), mini Cokes, smaller doses of caffeine, properly taking time at aid stations, dry clothes, and alternating pacers.

Link to splits on Strava here.