Monday, October 2, 2017

Hinson Lake RR: Relentless Pursuit

My brain is foggy. I will forget parts of the story - some temporarily, some forever. A runner who saw me finish my 100th mile last year recognized me and I had no recollection of our conversation. I apologize to anyone who I have forgotten to mention in this journey.

I am satisfied, but always in pursuit.

Maybe it seems unjustified to never be done. But I see it as a reason to keep learning. And to keep running. When it starts to ache and my mind goes to dark places, I do question my pursuit. I seek relief from the pain, but the will to push my limits is often stronger.

I ask myself to just run to that tree, finish this lap, get to the next big benchmark. It isn't about the entirety of the race - I cannot fathom the 115+ miles as a whole. It is too big. But it is manageable in parts.

Experience was bittersweet in my second 24-hour race. I knew the highs would be like no other, but the lows would be as well. It is in some regards far easier to fight the beast if you don't know how hard she punches.

I was not feeling great about running 4 weeks ago. I had logged so many miles and hours of running that I was teetering on burnout. So I ended up starting my taper early and hoped that reduced mileage would help me feel good again. It was slow to come, but my mojo (& VO2 max) slowly returned to normal. By race week, I was getting antsy that I hadn't been running as much so I knew something was in my favor.

My training and game plan were under control. Pretty much nothing else was though. I realized on race week that all of my Hoka Challengers (the 1s that are long ago sold out) had at least 400 miles on them. My first pair, though encrusted in a casing of mud, seemed to have the most tread left so they became my race shoe. I had 1 Huma gel left from a box I got about 6 weeks prior so I made a pit stop between work and a run on Wednesday evening.

Megan came over Thursday night after I frantically threw a bunch of gear together - re: overpack to the max. She came up with the best Minion/banana nails yet and even better, we finally caught up a bit. She left me a card that she said came from my former coworkers and I told her I would save it for mile 90.

Adam wanted to watch a TV show with me after she left and so I decided to forgo the alarm in the morning and get whatever extra sleep I could muster. Too excited to sleep, I got up at 7:00 a.m. and was on the road by 7:30ish. I got gas, I got Starbucks, and then I got a dead battery.


In Gaffney, South Carolina, I stopped to used the restroom at QuikTrip and came out to a dead battery. There was a slight panic and I quickly ran through my backup options if I couldn't get my car started right away. Luckily, I was able to get a jump from the people parked next to me. They ended up being super cool and reassured me that I would be okay once I got going again. They had college football magnets posted all over their car and of course I had to buy one! Thanks FlippyMagz for rescuing my day.
Once I was on the road again, I was afraid to stop. So I powered through to Rockingham and pretty much sprinted to the restroom as soon as I got there. Jenster was talking with Irene who makes the beautiful pottery pieces for the race winners and is the most badass lady in her age group. 72 years old and did 50K at Hinson and is running Chicago this upcoming weekend! Talk about an inspiration.

After Angie arrived, we went to Wal-Mart to pick up more supplies and I was able to wolf down some hummus and tortillas in the car as a really late lunch. Matt arrived to the campsite soon thereafter and we sat around in the shady afternoon, drinking beer and trying to relax.
We went to the lodge for dinner where $8 gets you a heaping plate of spaghetti, bread, salad, and a slice of cake. I ate every bit. Mornings can be hard to top off the calories so I tried to get as full as possible. The crew went back to the campsite and we made preparations before heading off to sleep.
Luckily, I slept pretty well and the noise was minimal. I woke up around 6:00 a.m. and decided to just take my time getting ready for the 8:00 a.m. start. I ate a couple of pieces of raisin bread, drank half a bottle of cold brew, and prepped all my stuff so it was easy to access. About 15 minutes until the start, I ate a mini Snickers (tradition!) and a Huma gel. I talked to Jay for a few minutes before the start and then lined up near Matt.

Ready, set, go.

I knew that 10-12 minute miles would be the pace to aim for through at least 100K. Too fast and I risk blowing up. Too slow and I risk not being able to catch up. It felt comfortable enough the first lap and I tried to just settle into a pace that seemed doable for a long, long time. Matt and I ran together for the first couple of laps, chatting and enjoying the morning.

I peeled off my tank early knowing that I didn't need it and would be more comfortable. After the 3rd lap, I decided to grab a gel and a mini water bottle from my cooler. On the 4th lap, I decided to just put my handheld on and deal with it. Luckily, it kept me hydrated all day and didn't annoy me too much.

By mile 10, I noticed that I actually still felt really comfortable. The temperature was really nice outside and it was partially clouded that morning. Runners and walkers were happy and chatty and I listened to the conversation snippets around me. I was happy to just be there - it took me by surprise that I felt so good.

Into the 3rd and 4th hour, I really just zoned out. In a happy way, I lost track of mileage and time. At one point, I was trying to guess if I was on mile 15 or 16 when my watch buzzed and it was actually 18! Sa-wheet!!! As we headed into the heat of the day, I tried to make sure I was eating lots of salty stuff like Goldfish crackers, pretzels, and pickle juice.
I really wasn't too interested in sweet solids the entire event. It might be because after about 3-4 hours of doing half Gatorade/half water, I decided to try half sweet tea/half water. OMG! It was so good. I'm not even much of a tea person, let alone sweet tea, but this was so good. Plus, I was hoping the caffeine would stave off some of the sleepiness.

I hit a bit of a slump in the 4-5 hour mark. Physically, I was okay, but I got super emotional? On the verge of crying and I really didn't have a good reason for it other than perhaps the impending 20 hours of running left. Someone ran with me (Laurie? Jay? Tim? I can't remember...sorry) and kicked me out of my slump.

At the marathon and 50K mark, I tried to just ignore the time and focus on the distance. As I crept closer to the 40 marker, the day grew considerably warmer. I put ice in my sports bra a few times and noticed that my shoulders, neck, and face were caked in salt. I kept reaching for the salty foods and refilling my bottle every lap. Though I was worried I was losing time stopping each lap, I knew that spreading out my food and drink was much better for my tummy. And I wasn't hanging out, I was grabbing my stuff and eating while running or walking.

At some point, a girl shot out from a 10x10 tent and started running alongside me. She was spectating and said that she had been challenged to see if she could keep up for one lap with the women's leader. I laughed and welcomed the company. We talked for 1.5 miles around the course and it was great to just take my brain offline for 20 minutes or so.

The afternoon wore on and the crowds started thin out on the trail. When I hit 50 miles in about 8 hours, 40 minutes, I was surprised that I still felt reasonably okay. My major problem was boredom and like Angie and I talked about, boredom is okay in ultras. Boredom means that nothing is too painful.
Right at that 100K mark, everything got a lot harder. In retrospect, I stopped eating as much by that point - I was just not really interested and it seemed like too much effort to decide. And though my mind and stomach seemed to be cooperating, my legs and feet were aching really badly. Yes, that isn't so surprising with 62 miles on them, but I recognized it as more of a bonk pain. I tried to remedy the situation in the upcoming miles with chicken broth, ramen, etc.

In any regard, I knew I had my "rewards" all set for miles 70, 80, and 90. I originally was going to call Adam at 10:00 p.m. like I did last year, but I was at mile 70 over an hour before then. It kind of put things into perspective at that point that I was actually having a really good race. I am sure I sounded like a mess on the phone because I craved any sort of motivation I could get at that point. We talked for a couple of minutes while I walked and then I hung up so I could shuffle on.

I originally planned to give myself music at mile 80, but then I wasn't in the mood to mess with it again. I think that was when I finally put a shirt on? I honestly don't even remember. I do remember thinking that it was a long time between miles 70.5 and 81. And that I needed a jolt of caffeine. Though I risked a revolt from my tummy, I did sip a little bit of cold brew.

My first Garmin died at 89+ miles. Here's the data:


Luckily, I had planned to read my card at mile 90, so I connected to GPS with Garmin #2 while I read the card. All the feels and exactly what I needed to read. This took less than a minute and I was ready to plug on until 100 miles. 10 daylight miles on fresh legs can go by pretty slowly. 10 nighttime miles on legs with 90 miles feels like infinity. The course was pretty much a ghost town at this point. There were maybe about 30 people out trudging along. The timing guy and the aid station volunteers were the only non-zombie people around.

Again, my recollection is terrible, but I do know I was running with someone (I think it was Aaron) at that point for awhile. We ran into Matt and by the time we looped back around, he kind of unknowingly took over pacing me the last 2 laps to get to my 100 mark. I was happy for a huge PR and really grateful that I was able to cross that mark with a friend by my side. Too tired to be emotional about it, I collected myself and allowed 10 minutes of chair sitting. I took off my shoes for the first time and changed into a different pair.

My legs were just too sore at that point to push for more running, but I was determined to keep moving. So at 3:30 a.m., after running 100 miles, I began power walking. Matt agreed to come with me and so we spent the next 3.5 hours walking and keeping each other company. The only thing I remember us talking about were the constellations at one point on the bridge when we turned off our headlamps. He was going full-on NPR-mode with the stars and typical me, yeah, those are nice, let's keep walking. (Deano/Matt, if you guys read this, know that your dude soulmate is out there) 

I felt like we were really walking hard and was just about to ease off our pace when both of us started cooking up ideas on the fly. Delirious from lack of sleep and too many miles, I decided I could still hit my PR. Then we had to hit 50 laps for him. Then I remembered the course record was like, 115 or something. My competitive nature came out and I grabbed my phone the next time we went by our campsite. I confirmed it was 114.6 and made Matt do a bunch of runner math to see what kind of pace I needed.

Shortly thereafter, he realized he could hit 80+ if he ran the last hour. I was in no place to keep up with sub-9 miles, but I encouraged him to go for it! He took off and I shuffled along at a 16 minute per mile pace. I got my banana a lap early and grabbed my phone again to get a picture.
Once I crossed over the timing mat with 115+ miles, I walked with my banana to our campsite and placed it in the pile nearby. Done.

Here are my lap splits.
1 15:2610:16/M1.50320
2 15:5610:36/M3.00640
3 15:3310:21/M4.50960
4 15:2710:17/M6.01280
5 16:0610:43/M7.51600
6 15:3110:19/M9.01920
7 15:4710:30/M10.52240
8 15:3010:19/M12.02560
9 15:2910:18/M13.52880
10 15:1810:11/M15.03200
11 15:3910:25/M16.53520
12 15:4510:29/M18.03840
13 15:3910:25/M19.54160
14 15:4410:28/M21.04480
15 16:3010:59/M22.54800
16 16:0610:43/M24.05120
17 16:0210:40/M25.55440
18 15:4210:27/M27.05760
19 15:3110:19/M28.56080
20 15:5510:35/M30.06400
21 15:3310:21/M31.56720
22 15:3810:24/M33.07040
23 16:1110:46/M34.57360
24 16:0210:40/M36.07680
25 15:00 9:59/M37.58000
26 15:1610:09/M39.08320
27 15:5710:37/M40.58640
28 15:4410:28/M42.08960
29 15:4310:27/M43.59280
30 15:0610:03/M45.09600
31 16:0110:39/M46.59920
32 15:4010:25/M48.10240
33 15:3410:21/M49.60560
34 15:4910:31/M51.10880
35 15:5310:34/M52.61200
36 18:1512:08/M54.11520
37 16:3511:02/M55.61840
38 17:3911:44/M57.12160
39 17:5911:58/M58.62480
40 18:0212:00/M60.12800
41 18:1212:06/M61.63120
42 18:5412:34/M63.13440
43 18:2712:16/M64.63760
44 19:4213:06/M66.14080
45 19:3613:02/M67.64400
46 18:5112:32/M69.14720
47 18:0011:58/M70.65040
48 18:4512:28/M72.15360
49 20:0913:24/M73.65680
50 18:4512:28/M75.16000
51 17:5311:54/M76.66320
52 17:4011:45/M78.16640
53 18:3312:20/M79.66960
54 18:1512:08/M81.17280
55 19:3213:00/M82.67600
56 17:4911:51/M84.17920
57 18:5212:33/M85.68240
58 18:0912:04/M87.18560
59 19:0712:43/M88.68880
60 17:1011:25/M90.19200
61 22:0814:43/M91.69520
62 18:5112:32/M93.19840
63 21:1414:08/M94.70160
64 20:1713:30/M96.20480
65 19:5713:16/M97.70800
66 19:5313:14/M99.21120
67 19:2612:56/M100.71440
68 36:4824:29/M102.21760
69 28:2518:54/M103.72080
70 27:4818:30/M105.22400
71 27:4118:25/M106.72720
72 26:0717:22/M108.23040
73 27:0217:59/M109.73360
74 23:5915:57/M111.23680
75 23:3115:39/M112.74000
76 24:0916:04/M114.24320
77 25:0116:39/M115.74640
Jenster and Angie were already huddled in their camping chairs trying to stay warm. My body temperature dropped almost immediately and I could barely move to get pants on. I grabbed my sleeping bag for warmth and sat in the chair shivering.

When the horn sounded, everyone dropped their banana and the race was over. With the happiest and worst pain, I hobbled to the timing mat for the awards. I found a very pointy rock to sit on and waited for the men's winner to come over.

I talked to Ron, last year's winner, for a few minutes. He had been tearing up sub-8s all day and came in 2nd place overall. Mark ran 136+ miles for the win overall and still looked amazingly upright. On the other hand, I was trying to figure out what camera to look at.
Crawling into my tent passing out for over an hour was amazing. By the time I woke up, pretty much everyone had left except our little group. I broke down all my stuff and with millions of miles on their own legs, they helped me carry everything to the car.

I followed Matt to Charlotte where we had noodles and then took naps in our respective cars for a half hour. I was so glad he suggested it because I was exhausted after eating half a bowl of macaroni. After the 2nd nap and a cup of crappy gas station coffee, he peeled off to go home to Greenville and I carried on to Georgia. Home sweet home!

Food early, often, & don't stop. Ginger chews and sweet tea are amazing. Dilute the soup and ramen with water to eat quickly. Walk for a couple of minutes to allow for digestion. Drink until you have to pee. If you haven't peed in awhile, hydrate. Ice in the sports bra when it gets hot. A clean shirt works miracles when temps drop. Use more Vaseline than you thought you should. Don't forget your butt crack. Mojo fixers: run with a friend, run with a stranger (who is now your friend), pet a dog for 20 seconds, get a high five, run through a mister, fake a smile until you have a real smile. When you want to stop, find the thing that made you start going in the first place. Remember that nothing ever lasts and that you are capable and brave.

It's been a rocky few months full of extreme highs and lows. Rudyard Kipling's poem If has this great line, "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same".

So thankful for all of my support, every day. It's a cheesy repeat from last year, but must be done. To all my former work peeps who check in with me, signed my card, etc., thank you - it really means the world to me and I miss you guys every day. To my new work peeps - the fun is just getting started! My Loopster network - this kind of crazy stuff never would have happened if you guys hadn't planted the seed. Jenster & Angie - I can talk to you about squirrel nut butter and puking up ramen like most girls talk about fashion and diet fads. Your badassery is my favorite kind of cray. Top 10 bitches!! Matt - thank you for so many hours of running this weekend and countless hours of runchatting. You are such a good human. Congrats on 81 frickin' miles! To all my Hinson people (sorry if I forgot anyone!! #ultrabrain) - Jay, Tim, Laurie, Ron, Paul, Aaron, Nathan, David, Bill, Irene, you make me want to run in circles every year because you are my people. To my local running peeps - Dan, Hal, Casey, John, Sam, Sean, Sarah, Deano, Kevin, John, Nikki, Brandon, thank you for making mornings suck less and being there when I needed you this summer. Thank you to Megan for not only the nail art, but being the best BFF ever. I love you fierce. Thank you to my family for being proud of me even though you think I'm nuts.

And of course, thank you Adam. For putting up with the long days away, the grumpy nights after training, the stinky clothes, runger/hangry moments, etc. You support my crazy dreams and give me inspiration to keep moving when things get tough. You are the first person I call in both Triumph and Disaster. I think they call that love.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

An ode to my runner widower

Being married to a runner is often thankless. I leave for work at 7:20 a.m. and often don't return home until 8:30 p.m. during peak training weekdays. Dinner is often whatever the quickest thing I can put together - half the time while still wearing my sweaty running clothes. I spend a good chunk of the weekend racking up miles in the woods and then fail miserably at adulting when the nap monster takes over.

I use up all the ice for ice baths and filling my beer Gatorade cooler. My sports bras hang from the laundry rooms for days. I ate both bags of your chips and I'm not even the least bit sorry. I spent approximately $700 on shoes last year. Running shoes. If you know me, you can vouch for the reason why we never take my car anywhere.

75% of our travel expenses over the past 5 years have been to travel to a race. I talk to you about tempos, rabbits, PRs, fartleks, sub-3s, and BQs and you know exactly what I'm saying. I pop blisters on the kitchen floor and haven't had 10 toenails since 2014.

But I'm one of the lucky ones.

You always say you're crazy, I love you, be safe when I'm leaving for the woods at 5:00 a.m.

You brag to your customers about me and always let me know when you helped a runner.

You celebrate when I do well, you know to back off when I've had a tough race or training run.

You have woken up at 3:00 a.m. to see me run for 60 seconds.

You always ask me how far I'm running today and when I get home, you ask me how it went.

You never give me (real) grief about the time and money I spend on running.

You have made friends with my running friends all over the country.

You have volunteered at races and walked 5Ks even though you aren't a runner.

You give me bittersweet inspiration every day to appreciate every moment I get to do what I love.

I don't say it enough - thank you for not only letting me be me, but giving me a reason to be a better version of me.

Monday, September 4, 2017

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

I blinked and it was September. The malaise of August securely behind me now, I was greeted to the first month of fall with crisp mornings and that thing in the air. At the end of the month, I am attempting to tackle my biggest challenge yet. The base has been built, the miles have been run, and (most) of the hard work is done. 
Last summer, I just raced and raced and raced and tried to learn as much as I could about night running and ultras. This year, I've just been running. Luckily, the new job has been pretty conducive to having a schedule of sorts and I am finally able to say yes to every weekend trail run. Funny thing is, I don't actually need any trail runs in my training. Hinson is basically flat and scores 0 on the technicality difficulty.

But the trails have been good for my heart and my head. Running in the summer in Hotlanta is defeating. I typically do all of my running after work and paces in 90°+ are ugly. I try hard not to compare too much to winter paces, but I am human. Sometimes, I get on the treadmill just so that I can run in 75° and nail some faster times.

I have felt especially tired in the last 2 weeks, but I think that is probably the point of ultra-training? A few times I have started a run and it has been so hard to not just throw in the towel in the first half mile. Taking it to the next level by adding a 6th day and hitting 60+ miles each week has taught me a lot about myself. Mostly that I am hungry all the time. But a little bit about gritting it out when the mind and the body are totally against me.

Truth be told, I feel my running has been subpar lately. I am going into these last few weeks feeling like it's been more of an exception for me to have a good day. Part of me wants to believe it is because I have been putting my legs through the ringer - 600+ miles in the last 2 months and nearly 30,000 feet of ascent. 
But there is always the self-doubt that it feels harder because I'm not as strong. I think that any runner or athlete that has any sort of competitive nature in their blood understands this notion. There is that feeling that you don't want to leave anything on the table to give it your best shot.

This is the last big(ger) week. I am ready to start winding down and see if a little freshness makes me feel better. Last year, I had the goal of hitting 100 miles in 24 hours. I really didn't have any idea what to expect. I had never run beyond 12 hours and my peak distance was 68 miles. Honestly, I don't have that much more perspective this year other than the knowledge that I am capable of running 100 miles in 24 hours - 109.866 miles if you want to get technical about it and yes, I do, thankyouverymuch.

When I learned about the 24 hours US National Team qualifying distance (125 miles) earlier in the year, this seemed like an outlying goal to aim for. Another 15ish miles is only .62 more miles each hour. Seems reasonable in theory, pretty tough in reality. I found out a couple of weeks ago that they raised the bar to 130 miles for women. Those 5 miles are big. This is a whole new kind of runner math. 

So I'm sticking with my original goals in ascending order because it is far easier to tick up, than tick down (mental trick #45082348): 1) finish upright 2) 100K 3) 100 miles 4) PR 109.866 5) Course Record 114.6 6) 125 7) Seriously?

The thing about having a plan for one of these races is that there needs to be not much structure to said plan. You cannot just plug numbers into a spreadsheet or calculator and expect it to happen despite all the history and training. The human element is far too great, especially in longer distances and there is no telling what sort of shit will hit the fan. I cannot control the heat or the rain, the nausea in my stomach, the soreness in my legs, the chafing everywhere, or anything else causing me physical anguish. But I can control how I react to it. 

And much as in life, there is very little I can even begin to feel sorry for myself about. To get to do what I get to do, I'm one of the lucky ones.