Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Miami Marathon Racetastic Weekend

I'm lucky my in-laws live in Miami. It's a fabulous place to visit in January. And even better when an impending snow/ice storm is threatening to shut down an entire weekend.

Adam and I flew down Friday morning and were picked up by my brother-in-law at the airport. The 3 of us headed straight for the Miami Marathon expo to pick up our packets for the race weekend. My brother-in-law, sister-in-law, father-in-law, Adam, and I were all doing the 5K on Saturday and I planned to meet up with JJ to run 26.2 on Sunday.

The expo was pretty standard for a large city race. Plenty of vendors offering their shiny wares and lots of free samples of snacks. I managed to escape without buying anything extra. I did find my name on the giant Miami sign--a cool touch for all the runners participating in the half and full marathons.
We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening running a few errands and then finally settled down at my in-laws house. Adam and I laid out our flat people and then attempted to get a few hours of sleep.
Morning came and we all begrudgingly headed down to the race start. We got there really early and after a brief walk to the start line for pictures, we went back to the car to stay warm. It was in the 50s, but it was dark and windy so it felt pretty chilly.

When it got closer to the start, we climbed back out of the car and headed toward the back of the pack.

My sister-in-law is training for the Princess Half Marathon in February and she wanted to try to run 13 minute miles so she went out ahead of us. Adam, FIL, BIL, and I all walked together. My BIL walks with my SIL sometimes and has done a few 5Ks and a 10K to support her. My FIL walks (and has recently started adding running intervals) a 1 mile loop every morning at the park before work. I was just happy to spend a gorgeous chilly and sunny morning hanging out with my family sharing a sport I love.

The course was a 1 way and was mostly flat except for a bridge section in the 3rd mile. Adam was feeling pretty good until the last mile and though he was having trouble walking, we still ended up having very consistent splits. I think about all the people that couldn't even walk a 5K and here he is doing it despite dealing with adversity. I couldn't be more proud.

I was pretty happy that the medals were really, really nice for this 5K. My FIL went out with some friends to a concert on Saturday night and I saw him carrying his medal with him. Something about that made me giddy for him.
We went out for breakfast at IHOP and then went home for naps. There were more family members to visit with and then more naps. Finally, I felt like I had rested enough that I could manage going to the hockey game without struggling to wake up on Sunday morning. 8 of us ended up going to the Panthers game and watched an awesome win AND managed to leave by 10pm.
I laid out my flat girl when we got home and then got some sleep.
The gross alarm went off at 4 and I cried a little. I. HATE. MORNINGS. And I didn't want to bother anyone to make coffee for me so I drank a Coke and hoped it would give me a caffeine boost. I ate a bagel. And then my FIL, Adam, and I piled in the car and headed downtown. Traffic was much more yucky than the morning before and so we parked in the first lot we found off the highway. It was a cold, cold, cold, windy, windy, windy walk to the start/finish and I had a Code Abby on deck.


All the lines for the porta-potties were insane and there was only about 20 minutes left before the race start. I went in search of a less busy area, but after walking 7 blocks, I ended up just deciding to grab JJ at gear check and hope the Code Abby would just magically disappear. Yeah. Right....

I gave Adam my jacket and phone, kissed him for good luck, and then JJ and I got in corral E and tucked in behind the 3:55 pace group.

It was miserably cold waiting to run, but I knew it would be perfect once we started running. Finally, our corral started moving forward and we crossed the start line!

JJ and I talked and talked and talked and talked. All the way across the bridges of Biscayne Bay and through the beautiful sunrise on South Beach.
I wasn't looking at the splits and I really didn't care how fast/slow we were going. It felt comfortable and easy. When we started going back across the bridge towards downtown, I really couldn't believe we had already gone nearly 10 miles.

My Code Abby became more urgent and I ducked into the porta-potty right around mile 10. JJ then spent the next couple of minutes running and Facebooking. Ha! Marathon running at its finest.

I started looking for my FIL and Adam as we got back into the downtown area. I was scanning the crowds and I was beginning to become discouraged because I knew we were about to leave the start/finish area and I hadn't seen them.

Fortunately, right before the half and full split, we spotted them! Yay!!

As we cruised into the second half, I still was feeling good and started to look at our pace every once in awhile. We were likely somewhere between 3:45 and 3:55 which was pretty perfect. I was remembering to eat a GU every 5 miles and it was cool enough that a cup of liquid at every aid station was adequate.

In the middle of the double digits, JJ's boyfriend Ricardo spotted us on his bike and we ran next to him for a few miles. He kept trying to get our picture, but he would not bike far enough up ahead and we'd pass him too quickly. It took him about 5 tries before he ultimately was able to snap a few shots of us.
As we headed closer to the upper teens, JJ started to have a few minor issues with cramping in her calf and toes. We stopped and walked a bit and then picked it back up again. I was trying to ride the line between being the annoying happy positive running partner and just letting her work out the frustration. Fortunately, nothing was ever long lasting and we were back running quickly.

The last 10K I started to feel the miles in my legs like a long run, but I was still feeling surprisingly fresh and happy. It was odd. Maybe the product of running 50K and 5 1/2 hours 2 weeks ago made this seem short by comparison?

We grabbed beer from a few spectators offering it around mile 22 and then went out on the last out-and-back along the bridge. It was cool enough that this part was still pretty pleasant. I imagine any other Miami race that this would be the hellish part as it was completely unshaded and the sun was now much higher.

Going back into town was the best part. The streets were lined with spectators and runners that had already finished their race. It was loud and boisterous and I had the biggest, goofiest smile on my face for the last mile. To finish another marathon feeling so dang good? I just cannot believe my own luck.

Coming down the finish chute was amazing. I love big races for the reason that they make you feel special with people lining each side screaming and cheering. Adam and my FIL called out to me and Adam managed to capture a great video of us running towards the finish line.
I had so much fun and running with JJ was a blast. I seriously lost track of miles because we were dancing, chatting with other runners, yakking at each other, and having a stupid fun time running 26.2 miles together. Conversation flowed so easily like we've been best friends forever. I feel so lucky to have found an awesome internet bestie.
The best part is that I get to do it all over again in 3 weeks in LA!!!!!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Fatass 50K: What Not To Do

This wasn't my first rodeo. Nor was it really a "race". Bibs with timing chips made it somewhat official. But it was free with a membership to GUTS (Georgia Ultra-running and Trail Society) and there weren't any medals or t-shirts.

I wasn't even sure if I was going to run it until about 10 days before the race because I was wait-listed. So I just kept on training like it wasn't even happening.

I did a 20+ mile hilly trail run 10 days prior (mistake #1):
And when I felt good on Thursday night, I just kind of let loose (mistake #2):
With it being all last minute and whatnot, I didn't have the opportunity to take the day before off of work. And proceeded to accumulate 13,936 steps on a busy retail Saturday. Oops. (mistake #3)

I did have a lovely pasta dinner cooked by my sister who was kind enough to let me crash at her house for the night because it saved me almost an hour of driving time in the morning. I don't really do mornings.

I laid out my gear the night before and actually got to bed at a reasonable hour.

Without sharing the bed with 3 dogs and a husband, I slept pretty hard. I woke up feeling pretty good and chased a bagel and a banana down with a cup of coffee.

I navigated to Sweetwater State Park with my friend Google and found a parking spot as directed by the volunteers. I was maybe a 1/4 mile from the start line and decided to bring my foodstuffs and hoodie and leave my extra clothes in the car. (mistake #4)

As I started to walk, I sped up to keep warm and ended up side-by-side with a guy from Alabama. We walked up to the bib pickup together and kind of hung around for a bit fiddling with our gear until I bolted for the port-a-potty.

Near 8:00 a.m., I got a little nervous because I realized it didn't look sunny out and I hadn't checked the weather since Friday. (mistake #5) I didn't want to go back to get my gloves or zip top because I was afraid to miss the start. (mistake #6)

A woman yelled for us to go outside and then she proceeded to give us a brief description of the route. 6 times around the 5ish mile white trail which would be marked with blue ribbons. Runners doing the 25K would do 3 loops.

With no anthem and zero fanfare, someone yelled 'go" and we all scrambled towards the trail. I guess the start changed a bit from previous years because the swarm of runners went past the trail head briefly. Giggling and shrugging, we filed along the trail and headed off into the woods.

I tried to position myself near the front 25% not knowing if there would be much single track and jostling. I didn't want to get stuck too far back. (mistake #7) Except a lot of the front of the pack was running the 25K. And after being stuck going at 11:XX pace for nearly a mile, I took off like a bat out of hell on the fire road. (mistake #8)

In my attempts to keep pace with 2 women who flew ahead, I tried to keep them in my sights as we ran. The fire road was about a mile or so and then the next 2 miles got to be a bit more technical. There were stairs made out of logs. There were paths covered with rocks and then roots and then sand.

And then giant boulders approximately 12 feet tall that you had to find footholds to climb over.

I muttered what the f---.

At one point, when I went around a boulder the wrong way, I realized there was a guy right behind me, following my every move. I kept trying to give him room to pass, but he would catch me on the downs and lose me on the ups.

Nearing the end of mile 3 there was about 50 (?) stairs to climb. And then a giant hill filled with roots to climb after the stairs.

What the f---?

After getting to the old mill ruins, there was about 1.5 miles to get back to the start/finish. This was probably the easiest part of the run with mostly smooth trails save for a few sections of log stairs.

The guy that had been trailing me the whole first lap was right on my tail as we came to the start/finish line. A dude sitting on a camping chair read my number out loud. I passed through the start/finish and since I didn't need anything from the aid station yet, I turned back around. And then the dude in the chair yelled at me because I was going the wrong way. And then yelled at me because I was going to mess up my timing chip because I crossed by the start/finish twice.

Perhaps a little instruction on where to go would have been useful DUDE!

I apologized to the guy on my tail who made the same mistake as me and urged him to go ahead of me. Sheesh. Now I am angry, cold, and it's only 5ish miles into a 31 mile race.

My hands are bright red and swollen. I am cursing myself for not wearing gloves. Too late now.

The next lap is bad. I am not in a good place mentally and I am wondering why I am out here freezing my body parts for a race that I don't even get a t-shirt for. My legs already feel like they are on fire and I haven't even hit double digits.

I stop caring about what place I'm in at this point. If I can make it to the end, it will be enough to just finish.

Lap 3 I end up picking up a friend after we get through the nasty little stairs section. We end up running the last miles together as he decided to drop to the 25K because his hip is bothering him. I was so happy to get lost in conversation that miles 13-15 were pretty pleasant.

But then I start lap 4 by myself and it starts to suck again. Why did I wear shorts? Why am I not wearing gloves? Why am I running around a park for 31 miles? Why didn't I put any Pringles in my pack? Remember that first time you ran a marathon and you bonked so this?

The fire road is in pretty decent shape along the flat, but it is a rocky, rutty mess along the downhill.
I am taking my steps much more carefully with each lap. When I get to the section of the rock path, I just stop and walk over them.
As I come around to finish lap 4 and start lap 5, I stop at the aid station. I drink a cup of Coke and on the advice of the precocious tweenager running the aid station, I eat a boiled potato dipped in a heart-stopping amount of salt. The placebo effect or the salt helped me feel a bit normal for the next mile or two.

And then I bonked again. I was shuffling along with a pace that felt like 20 minute miles. My legs felt achy and tired and I wanted to stop and cry. Except there really wasn't anything wrong with me other than I was being a big wuss (and perhaps a slight electrolyte balance?).

I saw the girl who had been passing me back and forth all race get further and further ahead looking like she just started.

When I arrived back at the start/finish, I saw my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew waiting for me! I stopped and gave my nephew a kiss (he's 7 months so he doesn't know any better) and told my sister they didn't need to wait for me--I was just happy to see them. It was too cold and miserable to stand around for another hour waiting to see me finish this ridiculousness.

I downed 2 Cokes and got another potato before I went out for my last lap. I was so happy for spectators and went bounding out for about 1/4 mile. Then the bonk returned. I trudged on, not really allowing myself to walk except on a few gnarly uphills. And those stairs. Stupid frickin' stairs.

When I got to the mill again, I was so glad to wave good-bye. It was really cool to see the first time and last time. Not so much in the middle.
You know those videos of people that are struggling in the last 100 meters of marathons/triathlons? I totally get it now. I was about 1/4 mile from the finish and I just stopped and walked up the last hill before exiting the trail head. I did jog to the finish, but it was pretty much the complete opposite of the finish in Rehoboth. If someone had tried to pass me, I totally would have let them.

I dropped my upper body across one of the tables at the aid stations when I stopped. One of the timers asked if I was okay. Yeah, I mean, I guess. More or less. I'll be ok.

Once I scooped myself off the table, I went to grab my sweatshirt and sit down. I wanted my pants, a drink, a drink, and to lay down. But instead, I cracked open my untouched Mountain Dew and called Adam, responded to a few texts, and wondered when my need of pants would win over my need to not move.

I tried to get up once to go use the port-a-potty, but I got a nasty leg cramp and fell back down. So I rested for a few more minutes, ate some Pringles, and then decided I would check my results and go to my car.

5:22:34. 2nd female (by 4 minutes, derp) and 7th overall!

Okay, better than I thought. But I really just wanted pants.

I get to my car, turn the heat on full blast, put on pants, and change my shoes. This takes an obscene amount of time. As I climb into the front seat and look ahead, I realize I am about 20 feet from the trail where runners are still making loops.

I could have grabbed my gloves and zip top any time....Are you f---ing kidding me?!

I drink a beer. I eat half a can of Pringles. I Facebook and text for about 45 minutes. I eventually get warm enough that I actually have to turn the heat down.

Something tells me I am going to have a completely different problem in Miami in 2 weeks!
(Thanks to 323 Archery for the photos!)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

I've fallen in love again

"Aren't the trails going to be a mess?" asked Adam, referring to the recent flooding rains we had received.

I had merely shrugged. At this point, I felt little to lose. It was the last day of the year and I was determined to round up to 2100 miles.

But the loom of the last long run held on tightly as I drove away from the house. Heat, humidity, concrete sidewalks, and residual fallout from too much, too soon encroached so fiercely that I pulled the plug 4 miles short of my goal. I couldn't remember the last time I had run less than I set out for.

And here I was heading out to run on hilly, muddy trails with no other reason than my own OCD.

As I approached the entrance to the park, I saw a few cars parked alongside of the road. The gate was closed. A moral battle ensued. I didn't want to be out there if I wasn't supposed to, but how are the trails closed?

Determination got the better of me and I put on my trail shoes and pack. I forgot how heavy this thing was. How was I running in 90 degrees with this stupid pack?

Gunshots from hunters rang out in the distance at the actual moment I pressed start on my Garmin. I couldn't help but wonder if this was supposed to be some sort of omen. I mindlessly felt for my whistle and knife. And then I smiled to myself when I realized the stupidity of feeling protected from piece of noisy plastic.

Trotting down the first section of the trail, I miraculously feel fresh. I hit the fire road and hug the shoulder as a massive truck meanders down the road. The man waves to me out the window and I nod back. At the turnoff, I feel a sense of relief as I head down the familiar path.

The ground is littered in leaves and pine needles. I am surprised the earth has absorbed most of the water from the heavy rains. Only a few monstrous puddles to splash through. Since I've resolved to going slow and getting muddy, I take great joy in going right through the middle of the pools.

Going up the first climb on the blue trail is not unlike any other day. I walk a bit and run a bit. When it levels out closer to the top, I nearly stop dead in my tracks. All summer long, the vegetation hid the view. I feel like it's my little secret and yet, I yearn to share it with someone. I was expecting it to be far less beautiful without all the greenery, but the quiet stillness of winter is stunning.

Gleefully, I hold tight to the moment. I don't expect the ease and enjoyment to last all 20+ miles.

I descend down following next to the waterfalls and creek beside me. The trail gets a little dicey towards the bottom as it has become a small creek itself. I step carefully and make my way to the red clay section. Trees have fallen and with the foliage gone, the path becomes indiscernible at times. I retrace my steps to stay on the trail.

There is a section that reminds me of the Sound of Music. Big rolling hills of waist high grasses. Crisp, blue skies. There's more power lines than Von Trapp children, but for the Georgia boonies, it'll do.

Somewhere along mile 4-5, I hit a groove so hard that I am almost startled when I snap back to reality. Lost in my thoughts, trucking along at an easy pace. It is pure zen.

Down the big fire road to the river, I feel my quads burn from neglecting hills for 4 months. I want to run hard down the hill, but the price to pay is steep.

I strip off my shoes and socks and wade into the river. I yank my shorts up even higher as the water line threatens to touch the bottoms. It is cold and fast-moving. If the temperatures outside were about 15 degrees cooler, this decision might be terrible.

I climb, climb, climb to the top of the next section. Back into the woods, I run along the crest of the hill. Cell service is pretty non-existent, but I hear a message ping. With a view of the river a few hundred feet below, I see Steve and Jenster reminding each other about Hinson Lake in a group message. I didn't need a single ounce more of mojo at this point, but I scrambled on happily with my heart full.

I skip, hop, climb, walk, run, and giggle all the way to the turn around. My lungs and legs are constantly working. The trail turns into a small stream again.

I stop to eat a snack on a log. I decide I like black cherry GU Chomps much better than the raspberry ones.

As I retrace my steps after the turn around, I rejoice in the satisfaction that I will get those 2100 miles. The only way to get back to my car at this point is to finish the run.

The light in the afternoon sky is new and different. In the summer, I begin at sunrise and finish when the sun is nearly overhead. I have no desire to see the afternoon sun in the summer. But winter is different. The light hangs low in the trees and echos shadows as I twist and turn on the trails.

I check the time to make sure I have enough daylight. It didn't occur to me that I might be nearing sunset. Plenty of time.

I wait for the last few miles to feel hard. I didn't eat enough before I left and now all I can think of is how badly I want a hot dog. A hot dog? A hot dog. But despite my growling stomach, everything else feels perfectly happy. I'm happy. I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing right now.

I'm almost a little sad when I get to my car, but that satisfied exhaustion hits me hard.

For the next few days, it's like I've fallen in love again. I think about the trail all the time. I replay the sunlight dancing through the trees. I long to hear the soft forest floor rustle beneath my footsteps.

I think I've finally become a trail runner.