Friday, April 19, 2019

Boston Marathon Weekend 2019


The short version posted from my Instagram:

Boston, you are unlike any other. 🦄
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Every part of this weekend is so special. Picking up your number feels momentous. The people walking around Boston in their jackets from years past is captivating. Riding on a school bus to Hopkinton, holding your pee and trying not to sandbag your race is nerve-wracking. Sitting in the Athlete's Village amongst 20,000+ runners about to embark on the same journey is electrifying. 💙
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The half mile walk to start feels like the last day of school and the first day of a new job. The minutes waiting in the corral stretch for eternity and yet, go by way too fast. 💛
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The gun goes off. Thousands burst onto the street, hoping it is their day. We race the steep downhills to Ashland. We high-five the swollen crowds in Framingham. We settle into race mode in Natick. The Wellesley girls taunt us with their enthusiasm. The Newton hills challenge our spirit. The Boston College kids revive our hearts. 💙
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As we navigate the final miles of the streets of Boston, the crowds cheer unwaveringly. Shutting them out is impossible. When you think it can't get any louder, you make the right turn on Hereford and the left on Boylston. You. Have. Arrived. 38 marathons later (including 5 Bostons), I am humbled to be a finisher.

The longer version:

Boston, Boston, Boston. What to say? Chances are, if you are reading this, you know me and you know the outcome anyway. But if you want all the juicy details of what was swirling around in my head (or at least that I can recall), it's time to dig in.
I last left off with the story of running 70+ miles over crazy terrain, completing the Georgia Death Race on March 30th. Recovery was B-R-U-T-A-L. Large in part because I developed food poisoning of some variety the Monday after the race and couldn't eat anything for nearly 3 days. I should have been getting plenty of sleep and consuming calories and I couldn't do either. Anyone who knows me well knows I am always warm and I was wearing 3 jackets at work Monday afternoon! By the time the weekend rolled around, I was still feeling the lack of energy, but I had signed up to volunteer at Umstead 100 and made the 6-hour trek to Raleigh.
Midway through last week, I finally was feeling like me again and went out for a few short runs per my coach to get the legs moving again. Just some easy 3 milers, but it felt good to get the legs moving again!
Adam and I flew to Boston on Friday morning, hit up the expo Friday afternoon, and were zombies by the time Brad arrived at our Airbnb that night. I had the B.A.A. 5k in the morning, but had signed up as something to do and well, truth be told, I love the extra Boston swag.
Brad and I jogged a mile or so to and around Boston Common. It started raining a bit heavier so we took refuge under an awning for about 20 minutes before I lined up in my corral. I stood in the 7:00-7:59 pace area, without really thinking too much about my race strategy. The first mile was the usual dodge-the-walkers game and while it was kind of annoying, I was actually okay with being forced to just chill for a bit. I was able to get into a comfy pace in the second mile and once we reached Boylston, I was ready to lay on the gas for the final mile. Splits: 8:19, 7:18, 6:19, last 0.2 (cause of the weaving) was at a 5:52 pace.
Brad and I then went walked back to the Airbnb so he could get ready for the expo and I could relax a bit with Adam. We then met back up to go the Red Sox game and enjoyed seats right above the bullpen. The batting coach even tossed us a couple of baseballs! Though the home team lost, we still had a fun time and I enjoyed a chance to be off my feet.
Photo cred: Brad
For dinner, we met up with Ken and Glenn at the Five Horses Tavern for a little Loopster meet and greet.
Photo cred: Adam
Sunday was my birthday, but I enjoyed such a low-key day last year the day before the race that I really wanted to duplicate the calm again. We went to brunch near Boylston and then headed back to our place for the Masters Tournament and naps. I got a solid 2 hour nap and then went out to grab ingredients to make a pasta dinner at our place. Eating in our little apartment with a great friend and Adam was the perfect birthday evening and the perfect pre-race meal.
Photo cred: Brad
I laid out my flat girl, read a little bit, and slept like a champ!

Brad and I headed out just after 7 a.m. and the sky OPENED UP. We were wearing ponchos, but it was raining so hard it was comical. We just laughed and stomped through the puddles as we made our way to Starbucks (pitstop #1), bag check (pitstop #2), and finally got onto a bus to Hopkinton.
Sharing the bus ride with a friend was great and we talked about anything and everything on our way to the Athlete's Village. I was hoping to find Stephen when we got off so I suggested we beeline to our meeting spot when we got off the bus. However, the first wave was leaving by the time we arrived so we missed him. However, we got to see Ken for a minute before we hopped in the porta-potty line.
It was time for me to leave shortly thereafter so Brad and I said our good lucks and I made the half mile walk to the corral by myself. Luckily, Ken and I were in the same corral and he spotted me so we stood shoulder-to-shoulder, waiting for the gun to go off.
I really had zero idea as to how my body would react. I've run ultras, I've run marathons. But I've never run arguably one of my hardest races ever 2 weeks before running a marathon in which everyone is tracking me. I had nothing to lose by going fast - I already had a BQ for 2020 and if I blew up, I was confident that I would just walk it in, ultra-style, and wear that medal proudly after running for 18 hours just 2 weeks prior. As Ken said, I was playing with house money.
My coach suggested I start with 8:15-8:45 pace and I thought he knew me well enough to know that I'd translate that to 7:45-8:00 pace. When the gun went off, I resolved to just try to run by feel as much as possible and really just not look at my watch except at when it beeped for a mile. From the gun, I felt good. Unreasonably good. My legs had pop. My heart was happy. I was really, truly, authentically happy to be there.
I looked down at the first mile and saw it was too fast for either plan, but I was so relaxed, I just stuck with what felt good and decided to see what would happen. The miles ticked off as we cruised through Ashland and I knew I was racing, but I also felt arguably the best I had since the Jacksonville Marathon in 2017. Everything felt controlled.

As I rolled into Framingham, I remembered that if my day was going to fall apart later, I was at least going to make it fun. I high-fived the crap out of so many hands that I must have run with a cheesy grin for at least a few miles. I searched out the smallest little hands. The ones attached to shy little girls. I specifically remember seeing an older man's hand (before high-fiving it) that was caked in grime, seeing his tattered jacket, and thinking how it incredible it was that the Boston spectators spanned all walks of life.
The day warmed up quickly and I took water at every stop, dumping some into my mouth and some over my head. I read a book more recently about the physiological effects of splashing water on your face (lowering your heart rate) and dumped a bit in hand before throwing it on my face. I got a little overzealous at one point and doused myself good enough to blow out one of my earbuds. I stayed on track with my nutrition the entire race, consuming a GU Roctane every 4 miles through mile 20.
Last year, the wheels started to fall off in the second half with my boot to Boston race and I was bracing myself to feel the energy evaporate. But my legs felt strong and my mental game was stronger. I remember glancing at my watch around the hour and a half mark and thought, if I can run for 18+ hours 2 weeks ago, I sure as hell can push it for 2 more hours.

So I pushed it into Wellesley, past the screaming wall of girls shaking their posters wildly and pursing their lips for kisses. I high-fived their extended hands and smiled at their reckless enthusiasm.
The sun crept out behind the clouds as I made my way through the last sweet downhill before reaching Newton. I love and hate mile 15. The grade is just perfect enough to feel fast without ruining your quads, but I knew the climbs were awaiting me on the other side.

I attacked the first of the four Newton hills with fervor, picking runners off and as I made my way to the top. A few of them would catch me on the downs, but I’ll admit I felt a bit smug thinking about all the elevation I had tackled during GDR.

The second hill always feels the hardest and according to the elevation map, it is certainly the steepest. I knew I’d be rewarded with a nice bit of down afterwards so I held on until cresting the top. It was somewhere in this section that I somehow spotted Ken running not too far ahead of me. I knew his goal was 3:15 and I had been running pretty close to that myself so it wasn’t too surprising to see him given that we started in the same corral. He was moving well and I gave him a fist bump after following near him for about half a mile.

As I made my way to the third Newton hill and finally, Heartbreak Hill, I was still kind of in awe that I was still feeling reasonably okay. I was warm and definitely feeling the 19 or so miles on my legs, but I was still pushing. I didn’t look at my watch for a few miles and tried to run by feel. Good, bad, or otherwise, running 38 marathons has given me a good gauge of what I’m capable of in the final 10k.

Once I reached the roaring crowds of drunk Boston College kids, I allowed myself to do a bit of runner math. If I stayed on pace, I could stay under 3:20. The pain cave was trying to close in on me. My music sputtered and died and the crowd noise grew overwhelming. I tried to block out their deafening cheers, but they were relentless and the weight of their screams inched me in mile by mile.

I caught a glimpse of the Citgo sign and inwardly groaned as it looked still so far away. I hit the 40k mat and though so close to the finish, I desperately wanted water. I took the final cup at mile 25 and trudged up the hill. I tried to keep pace with the few runners who were still moving strong, staying far to the right and as much in the shade as possible. I flashed a smile for the Citgo sign photographers, relieved that there was just over a mile to go and it was going to be a sub-3:20 day.

As the course connected to the 5k route, I shouted a loud and lonely woo! inside the tunnel, a nod to myself to remember to keep it fun even when it gets hard as hell. Making the right on Hereford is arguably as good as the finish for me because I knew Adam would be waiting at the top. I started searching madly as the crowd along Boylston came into view.


When I heard him shout my name, I immediately spotted him and threw my hands in the air. I beelined directly to the side and gave him a quick kiss, my heart full and the finish line in sight.

I took off down Boylston, soaking in the cheers.

A runner who had collapsed had found her legs again and the crowd erupted as she started moving forward. I pushed as hard as I could, finding that final gear as I cruised through the final meters.


I. Was. Back. 3:18:28.

A few steps after the finish, I was overcome with emotion. I’d had some really great races (and some eh ones) since becoming injured last year and I was so unsure I’d ever be the runner I had been. And while it wasn’t a PR, it was the 4th fastest marathon I’ve ever run and only 4 minutes and 34 seconds slower than my PR. And only 2 weeks after I completed 74ish miles. I really, truly didn’t think I was capable of holding that kind of pace for 26.2 miles with such a short recovery time and I wasn’t really sure if I could go under 3:20 again.

But now knowing that I could do it on a muggy day with tired legs, it makes me excited to see what a healthy, marathon-specific training cycle could net me if I decided to attack a marathon the “right” way. I’ve got no immediate plans as Everest (!!!) is next on the list and then I promised myself I’d take a few weeks to really figure out what I want to do for fall.

It’s very likely that the next blog will be all about EVEREST!!


Sunday, March 31, 2019

Georgia Death Race 2019: Spoiler Alert, I Survived!


Preamble

I got chosen for the GDR lottery last July while still wearing a boot for my second stress fracture of 2018. I had 9 months to heal, build a base, and train for a race completely out of my wheel house. Sure, I've run longer distances and done a few gnarly trail runs/races, but nothing of this magnitude. It would likely be one of the hardest races I'd run to date and I was excited about doing something really, really tough.

I ran a couple of marathons over the fall (NYC, Rehoboth) and decided to team up with a coach to get me ready for the triplicate of GDR, Boston, & Everest. I did track speed sessions during the week to keep my marathon legs intact (and build fitness) and spent many hours on the trails on the weekend. In January, I ran Mountain Mist 50k and felt I executed a strong, patient race. Things were looking great!

Then, in late February, my left foot (the one in the boot) started aching again and I sprinkled in a bunch of cross-training so as to not aggravate it. Back to the pool, back on the bike, and back to feeling the giant cloud of doom hanging over my head constantly. In reality, I only took off about 10 running days total in the whole cycle, but I was frustrated that I dealing with this potential nagging injury.

I ran the Uwharrie Trail Marathon on March 9th as a last long run and my foot seemed no worse for the wear. My coach eased me back into workouts after I recovered from the race and I was nervously happy that I was going to get to the start in one piece. Then, a freak accident at my first company softball game had me land with my leg hyper-extended and angered my right knee. It was so sore the next day that I was hobbling around the office with an ice pack.

But, it seemed to just be tweaked and I was fortunately feeling better within a couple of days. There was still a little lingering soreness when I twisted it a bit, but the acute pain was gone. I jokingly said to my colleagues at work that I would have rather been smacked in the head with a softball then have anything happen to my legs/feet. Lo and behold, I got smacked in the head while warming up for the following week's game. I can't make this shit up.

Anyway, I didn't have quite the build up I imagined going into the race. But, I did have the will to finish and the experience of running for long periods of time. Both of which would serve me well in the race.

Friday

I opted to take Friday off work to sleep in and allow myself plenty of time to pack. I checked and rechecked all my lists and made a game plan of crewing myself on the point-to-point race. I'd start with approximately 12 bars/gels/nut butters, water, Tailwind, and all the required gear (rain jacket, warm head covering, space blanket, whistle, and headlamp with extra batteries). Then, I'd put extra nutrition in my drop bags to pick up at miles 27 and mile 50. I also included a few key items in my mile 50 bag - my Garmin charger and a charging brick and a long-sleeve shirt in case it got cooler as the sun went down (spoiler alert: never needed the shirt).

After loading up my car, I made my way to Amicalola Fall State Park for packet pickup and the prerace meeting. While walking up to the lodge, I immediately spotted Keith who gave me the 411 on what to do since I was a newbie to the race. I got my gear inspected, received my race wristband, and then went into the lodge to get my big and other race swag.

I went outside on the back patio of the lodge and immediately spotted Chantal. She finished up her dinner and then we took photos with the grim reaper for ultrarunningmemes before the prerace meeting.
Photo cred: Keith Gates

It was an insanely beautiful night overlooking the mountains and I was feeling really, really grateful to be getting started on this race I had been thinking about for the better part of a year.

After the meeting, I dropped my car near the finishing line at the base of the fall and then Chantal graciously drove me to the start line at Vogel State Park where her super amazing parents allowed me to stay with them in their RV. I ate my giant container of pasta on the way and we made it to the park just at sunset. Knowing we were getting up just before 4am, we all turned in early and tried to get some sleep. My super power once again came in handy and I slept for over 6 hours!

Saturday

Chantal and I got dressed, grabbed breakfast and coffee, and her dad drove us the 1/4 mile or so to the start (conserve the legs!). We said our goodbyes and good lucks and headed to the lodge for our final check-in.

Part of the dumbassery of this race is that you have to carry a rusty railroad spike with you the entire race and when you finish, you toss it in a coffin and receive a "clean" spike engraved "Georgia Death Race". At the final check-in, the race director, Sean, gives you a spike, shakes your hand, and wishes you good luck. I wrapped my mandatory rain jacket around my spike and stuffed it in my pack.

We headed out to the start line soon thereafter, listened to the prerace speech, and all sang "happy birthday" to Sean. Then, at 5am, it was go time!


For just over a half mile or so, the race is on pavement which allows runners to spread out just a little bit before getting on the trail. I ran next to Chantal for a minute or two and then we got separated and she went on ahead of me. I settled into the middle of the pack, telling myself to just be patient in the early miles.

The bladder of my hydration pack must have not been sealed and for the first mile a slow trickle of water spread across my pack and then onto my shorts. By the time I was about 2 miles in, my shorts were completely soaking wet. Thankful the weather was nice and I run hot anyway, I was trying to not be completely frustrated by this early-race annoyance.

Having run most of the course, I knew what to expect, fortunately or unfortunately. I knew the first few miles would be nice and runnable and then the climb to Coosa would begin. I am a pretty good climber, but with all the vertical throughout the rest of the course, I decided to hang back and just relax. It was a little frustrating to be stuck in the conga line because I was full of race adrenaline, but I knew it would pay off later if I just chilled out.

By the time we hit the top of Coosa, the sun was beginning to rise and we were able to turn off our headlamps shortly thereafter. I started talking with a guy from Ohio and gave him a bit of info about what to expect in the following miles. People were already stepping over to the side of the trail to catch their breath on climbs and we weren't even 10 miles into the race.

At the first aid station at mile 8.1 (White Oak), I had my water topped off and then quickly got back onto the trail. I was in a good place mentally and running happy with fresh feeling legs and not working too hard. Every 45 minutes, I was diligently eating a gel or a bar and things seemed to be going really well.

I came into Mulky Gap (aid station mile 13.5) still feeling good and noticed that Chantal was refilling her bottles! Yay, a friend! Also, Andy was right there with us and our little pack headed off to climb the nastiness of the DRT together. We got to about the third to last climb of the DRT and Chantal urged me to go on. I was still feeling fresh so I decided to take the opportunity to power up the climbs.

As I headed down into Skeenah (aid station mile 21.4), I was feeling amazing. My spirits were high and I was surprised at how good I felt considering how dead I felt doing the same run 5 weeks prior, over an hour slower. I gave Shannon a high five and enjoyed seeing all the runners coming back out of Skeenah, everyone shouting "good job" and "good work" as we passed each other. Unexpectedly, Jessica was at Skeenah and I was so excited to see another familiar face!
Photo cred: Jessica Brundige

The aid station was bit of a cluster and I had to wait to get my bottles refilled. I grabbed a few pickles, a couple of quesadilla slices, and an orange slice. I headed up and out and spent the next few minutes trying to eat and get myself organized again as I walked up out of the gap.

I got behind 2 girls in the next section and both of them slowly started to pull away as my spirits waned. I wasn't feeling good mentally any more and found myself in a bit of a rough patch as I covered the next 5.6 miles to Point Bravo. The trail section was really pretty in this part, but I was having a hard time appreciating it because of my crappy mental state.

At Point Bravo (aid station mile 27), I had my bottles refilled and then grabbed my drop bag to refill my nutrition supplies. I acted quickly and got out ahead of the girls who were still lingering at the aid station. I ran with a couple of guys in the next section up and out of Point Bravo and then down across the Toccoa Swinging Bridge. I thought the aid station would be at the forest service road just beyond the bridge, but we had to make the climb out of the gap which was a steady up for a few miles.
Photo cred: LDaily Photos

Once I reached Sapling Gap (aid station mile 31.5), I was thrilled to find out they had ice! It had warmed up and I was getting uncomfortably hot. I stuck a handful of ice down my sports bra and then upon a suggestion by the volunteer, stuck my head inside a 5 gallon bucket full of ice water. It was blissful! They also had sponges and buffs soaking in ice water and I grabbed a cold buff to cool off my neck for the next few miles.

After Sapling Gap, there was a fair amount of runnable trail at this point. I was really inclined to just do a bunch of walking, but forced myself to shuffle along and I played leapfrog with a girl for a few miles. I passed her tying her shoe and then she passed me back when I stepped off the side of the trail to pee. Later, I'd pass her back when she stepped off the trail herself. After than, it got particularly lonely until I caught up with a guy coming into the Long Creek aid station (mile 37.1).

At Long Creek, I drank a bunch of water and chugged a bit of Coke. I dumped water over my head and then trotted down the next section of forest service road. I actually started to perk up again at this point and found myself on some runnable terrain. The field was pretty spread out at this point, but I used people in my sight to try to either keep up with or catch. It was about 50/50.

The forest service road went into Winding Stair Gap and then another big climb awaited. Luckily, I was feeling good again and though I wasn't able to run the climb, I was hard hiking up and managed to pass a few guys on the way to the aid station.

At the Winding Stair aid station (43.1), I drank a cup of veggie broth, ate a few bacon pieces, and grabbed a handful of potato chips. Heading down the forest service road, I felt great! My legs were definitely feeling the beating of the long, steep descent, but I was happy to open up and do a bit of running again. Even as I cruised onto the trail section of Jake/Bull, I was still in good spirits. I hadn't seen anyone in miles, but the pink flags along the course let me know that I was still good to go.

However, the last mile or so going into Jake/Bull, I was feeling down again and finding my legs in the runnable parts was getting harder and harder. I was looking forward to getting to the aid station and knowing that I was that much closer to the finish. I could hear the PA system from miles away and it was messing with my mind knowing that it was so close, yet so far away. Again, because I run the trails in that area, I knew exactly how far it really was!

Sean had set up all kinds of signs in this section and the one that stuck out the most to me was "the word of the day is DNF". I laughed and threw my middle finger at it. I contemplated taking a picture, but then I didn't want to jinx myself! Luckily, someone else did and posted it to FB!
Photo cred: Nicole Fleming

The volunteers at Jake/Bull (aid station mile 50.1) were amazing. They refilled my bottles, gave me a baggie of bacon and grilled cheese to go, and helped me get my watch on my charger. Plus, since I hadn't seen any humans for miles, I was really happy to see smiling, happy faces. They made sure I topped off my bottles as the next section was over 10 miles without aid. As I headed out of Jake/Bull, I tried to get some of the food down and did a bit of running through the trail section.

A trio of guys caught up with me towards the end of the trail and I kept pace with them for a while on the pavement and then they took off running. I popped in an earbud and knew I planned my music crutch perfectly for the next section. I caught back up to the trio of guys and stayed with them through the pavement and then onto the forest service road. However, they had a bit more energy in their legs and left me in their literal dust.

I was still rocking the hard hiking though and though I was tired and heavy-legged, I still felt reasonably good pushing myself up towards Nimblewill. There was a sign along the climb that said "1 mile to go to the aid station" and then a half mile later "1/2 mile to go". I was thinking, wow, that always seemed to be much, much longer when I've run this section, but maybe I was actually covering it faster than I thought? However a half mile later, there was another sign that said "haha, it's actually 3 more miles". I couldn't help but laugh because I really should have known better.

At some point in the climb, I was thinking it was weird that I hadn't heard my watch beep for a mile marker in awhile. And then I fished around in my pack to discover my watch must have slipped off the charger and was dead. Oops. I got everything working again and missed only about a mile or so.

Once I reached the Nimblewill intersection, a couple of volunteers were directing us down the forest service road. They also asked if I had enough water and I was able to get a few more ounces from them. One of my bottles had been a leaky mess all day. On top of my bladder having issues, I had been repeatedly soaked over and over. My legs were sticky with Gatorade and Tailwind and I was chafed a bit on my inner thighs.

On the stretch to Nimblewill, I pulled my hat and headlamp back out of my pack and tried to get a bit of running on the flat section into the aid station. It seemed to stretch way more than a mile, but finally, it came into sight.

At Nimblewill (aid station mile 61.2), I got some broth and a few more bacon pieces. I really wanted some Mountain Dew, but they didn't have any so I settled for Coke. I topped everything off again and then headed down the next section that connected to the Hike Inn. Luckily (or unluckily), I knew everything else that awaited me after that including 5 or so miles of reasonable single track, the stupid rock-garden-Eastern-Ridge-Trail down, the stupid stairs up, and the stupid Western Rim Trail.

I was really wanting to run the single track, but any time it was flat or down, I kept catching my shoes on rocks. And so I would run a few steps and walk. Run a few steps and walk. It was better than just walking, but I was growing more and more frustrated that I couldn't pick my feet up over the rocks. Even in the nice, wide section towards the bottom of the Approach Trail, I couldn't open up. In fact, I stumbled over a rock next to a wooden stair step, rolled my ankle, and toppled to the ground. After a bunch of F-bombs, I scooped myself back up and hobbled towards the Eastern Ridge Trail.

The top part of the Eastern Ridge Trail is not really runnable even under the best conditions. It's steep, full of medium-sized rocks (bigger than gravel, smaller than boulders) and in the dark, pretty darn dangerous. I slowly ambled down and decided whatever time I was losing at this point would be okay, because I was going to be finished within the hour. I could hear the cheers of the finish line from this part of the trail and despite feeling exhausted and in pain, I knew I was to do this damn thing!

I was feeling woozy and hungry once I got back on the single track and decided to take one last gel. Bad move. It was okay for a few minutes, but then I felt the oh-so-familiar-ultra-vomit rising in my throat. I bent over the side of the trail and dry heaved four times with no results, but felt surprisingly better afterwards?

I expected to be scanned at the Visitor's Center, but there was just a table with a couple of coolers. I topped off my water again and then hiked up the path to the falls. There was a volunteer that walked the runners across the parking lot, ensuring we went the right direction. I was dreading the stairs, but also happy that I was so close to being done.

Actually, the stairs were not bad. Sure, it was not easy with nearly 70 miles on my legs to climb the 600 steps up to the top of the falls, but I grabbed onto the side rail and used my arms to pull myself up. I didn't even stop to take a breather! It wasn't fast, but I was moving the whole time.

At the top of the steps, I caught up with two more runners and we cringed as we hit the steep pavement going down. It was so painful to experience those eccentric contractions in my quadriceps. I walked as quickly as I could and then tried a bit of running once I reached the trail portion. One of the two runners went on ahead of me, seemingly bombing the descents. I watched as his headlamp bobbed down lower and lower and then started to listen for the cheers of him finishing.

As I hobbled down the last steep descent, I could hear Sean yell "into the water". I hopped into the creek (next to a perfectly good bridge) and threw my hands in the air as I finally stopped moving. Sean gave me a high five, handed me a pint glass, and explained how I was to exchange my dirty railroad spike for the engraved one. I turned to see Deano hanging out at the finish and he started helping me with my gear.

Then, Adam and Jeff popped out from the crowd and I was so excited to see him. Dirty, exhausted, and probably reeking of every gross thing, Adam hugged me hard. I had mentioned in passing that it would awesome to have him at the finish, but I wasn't sure if he would make it. I was so elated he did!

After exchanging my spike, getting a finish line photo, we wandered over to where I could get my drop bags and food. It. was. done.

As we were sitting outside, Chantal's parents walked up and like everything else that just came together, I was able to have Jeff go with her dad to get my gear that they graciously held onto while I ran. We chatted for a bit and then thankfully, Jeff drove my car home while I rode with Adam.

Like Mountain Mist, I'm proud of running a patient race. When I checked in at Mulkey Gap, I was the 83rd runner. From then on, I went to 68, 60, 54, 43, 40, 35, and finished 37th overall, 13th female. My final finish time for 71.2 - 74ish miles and 16,000 - 18,000' feet of elevation gain (no one really knows and GPS isn't super accurate) was 18:19:11. Of the 289 people that started the race, only 158 finished!

Link to (most of) my splits on Strava here and link to my race checkpoints/final standings here.  (Search bib #188).

Like a stupid Oscar acceptance speech, I have many, many people to thank to make this race happen. First, my buddy Chantal who also finished the race (!!!), for the many, many training miles, laughs, and methinks the start of lots of future shenanigans. Freaking rockstar way to go over 50 miles and earn your first WS qualifier! Also, her parents deserve major kudos for letting me stay in their RV at Vogel, allowing me extra sleeping time and shuffling my gear from park to park. Chantal didn't lie when she said she had awesome parents! Huge thanks to John for all the weekend miles and adventures on the trails. Sorry for all the mud in your car and bringing the rain every time we ran together. All my friends I've shared miles with over this training cycle (Steve, Roger, Deano, Christy, Stephen, Sarah, Sean, Claire, Chris, Sam, Jeff, the Greenville crew and anyone else!). Extra special thanks to Steve who came from Michigan and Roger who came from Colorado to run some miles with me Georgia! Megan, thank you for your amazing nail art as always. I'm lucky to have you as my talented BFF! Thanks Matt for our daily random texts about nothing and everything - sorry you missed out on dying this year, but I hope you have your own chance to experience the misery in the future. Thanks to my work peeps who don't understand my craziness, but ask about it anyway. Thank you to my coach for believing in me and giving me pep talks throughout this training block. It truly helped me get to the right place mentally when I started the race. Thank you Jeff for coming out to support me at the end of the race and drive my car back home - you're always my favorite asshole. And to my #1 supporter and better half, Adam, thank you for putting up with all of my ridiculous running adventures. You didn't know what you were getting into 15 years ago, but I'm lucky that you are always encouraging of me to continue to push my boundaries. You never let me feel guilty for the many hours away training or racing and I'm forever grateful for you letting me be me.



Sunday, March 10, 2019

URE Marathon RR: Dancing With The Devil


Two weeks ago, it rained Monday through Friday and I was over running in the rain. If you live within a 6 hour radius of Atlanta, you probably feel my pain. So. Over. The. Rain. I took my speed workouts to the treadmill and cranked it up to speeds that were close to what I had been running on the track. I noticed after my Tuesday workout I had a bit of soreness in my foot (the same one that wore a boot last year) and then again after my Thursday workout.

I had one of my biggest training runs scheduled that Saturday and went in filled with trepidation. Running had been going so well since last August and I had just a few weeks left before toeing the line at Georgia Death Race, my goal race for the spring. I told Chantal and John I was a bit nervous about my foot as we climbed up and down Coosa and the DRT, but the off and on soreness was manageable and I was relieved when we made it to John's car parked at Skeenah Gap, 6.5 hours and over 7,000' of climbing later.

However, the pain intensified through the evening and after texting with my coach, we decided it would be best to give it a few extra days rest. I ran again on Wednesday and it seemed to be okay enough. I finished up the rest of my workouts as planned for the week and ran 2 hours at Sawnee Mountain with Steve, who was visiting from Michigan.

That evening, the soreness was back again and I was feeling really frustrated. My coach gave me a pep talk, filled my workout calendar with swimming and cycling, and I tried to keep from panicking.

Somehow, the week off of running wasn't too bad and aside from the boredom factor, I was actually feeling good about giving my heart and lungs a good workout, but keeping my foot happy. As it got near to the end of the week, my foot was feeling better, but I was full of nerves wondering if I was going to mess something up by even running a few miles over the weekend. And I was signed up for a trail marathon with over 4,000' of elevation gain. After conferring with my coach, we ultimately decided that I could just do the 5.7 miles out and back in the beginning and pull the plug if it felt terrible or go up to 2 hours and just have a planned DNF.

I was actually okay with the planned DNF. I thought I'd have more fear about it (and spoiler alert: maybe I did?), but it actually seemed like it was the right thing to do so I wouldn't ruin the rest of my spring. I stopped early at Hinson this past year and the sun still came up the next day so maybe somewhere in my head, I knew the only person that would even remotely care would be me.

Thursday night, my plans came together thanks to Dan and I was going to be riding with him, Gary, and Jeremy on Friday. We all met at my house and Jeremy graciously made the drive to Charlotte in heavy traffic and rain. Everyone agreed on burgers at a place in downtown Charlotte and I wolfed mine down in minutes. Though I wasn't particularly tired, I managed to fall asleep somewhere between 9:30-10 and slept really well.

We got to the starting area just after 7:00 a.m., picked up our bibs, and dropped off our food donations. I saw a few familiar faces like David, Jenster, and Laurie and got a few photos with friends before we got started.


At the race start, a bunch of people took off down the fire road and I tried to settle into a comfy pace. I didn't have any dog in the fight and wanted to just run some miles without pain. After a week off of running, I felt really, really fresh. My legs were poppy and I felt like while I putting in some effort, I was also super comfortable.


I cheered everyone on as we saw each other through the 2.8 mile turnaround and then started chatting with Kent who had been keeping nearly the same pace as me from the beginning. We had a few miles for me to briefly explain I had been contemplating bailing at the first aid station, but I was feeling so good (and pain free!) that I wanted to try to make it the 2 hours instead.

We hopped onto the single track at mile 5.7 and I was surprised to find the next section very, very runnable. The miles ticked off and I barely looked at my watch. Kent and I talked about any and everything runners talk about it - races, running, family, jobs, etc. He was keeping the pace conversational and it was exactly what I needed.

As we neared the 90 minute mark, I took a moment to try to text my coach to ask what I should do because I was feeling so well that I wanted to run more than 2 hours. Unfortunately, I didn't have any service and I kept checking every 10 minutes or so hoping I could get something to him quick. We came up to the 11.7 mile aid station at almost exactly 2 hours and I let the devil and angel on my shoulder hash it out as we grabbed aid.

The smart, good, angelic runner would have dropped at the point and begged off a ride to the start. The dumb, bad, devilish runner prevailed and I guiltily felt like I stepped off the high-rise diving board as I knew this meant I was 99% committed to finish by opting to go on. There would still be a chance to drop at the other aid stations, but I knew it would tough to make that call.

The next section to furthest aid station is considered one of the gnarliest. Sasquatch Summit is full of boulders and hand-over-hand climbs and is followed by the Soul Crusher, another gnarly climb with steep grades. I was loving this part of the race and all my vertical training made it seem really, really doable.




When we got near the aid station around 17 miles, I was still in great spirits. Jeremy looked surprised to see me still running and gave me a double high-five and Dan, not surprised at all at my dumbassery, also gave me a high-five. I grabbed a pickle and a handful of chips and topped off my soft flask with a mix of Gatorade and water.

Kent told me the next section was kind of boring and while I wasn't looking forward to boring, I was happy to be cruising comfortably and not in any pain. We got passed and passed people a fair amount in this section and added another runner to our caravan who is also running GDR (& Western States!), Brett. The three of us navigated to the last aid station together and then took off down the trail, fists full of pickles, Oreos, and chips.

The mud was extra sloppy in the final miles, but I have been running in mud all winter. I just plodded right through it and laughed as splattered across my legs. The rain had held off, I was just a few miles from finishing a race I thought I'd DNF, and I was having so much fun just running happy. Even Hallucination Hill didn't phase me. I was just plodding along between Kent and Brett, yapping away and swapping stories (and maybe taking a few selfies). 

Brett decided to hammer out the last 2ish miles solo and took off towards the finish. Kent and I continued along and though our conversation quieted a bit, we still were in good spirits as we came into the final stretch. Once we saw day hikers and heard whizzing cars on the highway, we knew the finish line was close. I came in with the biggest smile, happy my devilish move paid off and that I could go home with my heart full.


I gave Kent a fist bump and then swapped war stories briefly with Gary and Jeremy while we waited for just a short time for Dan to come in. Everyone was happy, exhausted, and caked in mud. The rest of the day sealed the deal on a really fun 32 hours. Some things will have to remain like they do in Vegas, but let's just say I'm never sorry to have another adventure to say remember that one time....

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Suwanee Half Marathon RR

2-11-19

If Jen and Angie were not coming into my hometown to pace a half marathon, I would have never found myself at the start of the Suwanee Half Marathon on Sunday morning. They both signed up to pace in 2018 when I was freshly out of the boot and unsure of my running future.

Sidenote: Jen ran a 100 miler the prior weekend. Angie ran a 100 miler 3 weeks ago. Both had run races already since! My friends are badasses.

The weekend snuck up on me and I realized as it got close, I needed to touch base with my coach about running it. A road half marathon is not particularly ideal in the midst of training for a vertically insane trail ultra, but it could serve as a good workout nonetheless. I was going to be spending the morning with Jen & Angie anyway so I might as well race and get some miles in. He was on board and told me to run the first 10 miles easy and the last 5K at 10K pace.

Recovery from the 50K seemed to be going well at first. I took most of the week off of running following the race, just doing some easy walking as part of active recovery. But the whole week after that just felt kind of off. I blame hormones, not-quite-recovered-from-a-50k, and pollen in that order. All of it left me with a really negative mindset all week.

At the starting line on Sunday, I should have felt pumped to come full circle after spending last’s race standing on the sidelines in a boot. But, I was just swarming with negative thoughts. I had psyched myself out of wanting it to be enjoyable in any capacity. I should have been excited to test my fitness and possibly snag a PR as I’d run faster half marathons in full marathons! Instead, I was feeling dehydrated, battling cramps, and just generally blah.

My original plan was to stay with the 1:40 pacer through 10 miles and then press on the gas. However, in talking with the 1:40 pacer while Jen & Angie were getting their pacing sign, I became skeptical of his tactics and decided to just do my own thing.

I did a short warm-up in the parking lot - just 5 minutes or so and then waited a few more minutes for the gun to go off. I was pretty close to the start line which felt really strange in a road race. Keith was running too (bunch of ultra weirdos on the road, watch out!) and it was good to see another familiar face.

We took off with the lead pack and were diverted the wrong way about 300 meters into the race. The lead bike made a left turn when we were supposed to go straight and the swarm of runners gummed up the edge of the sidewalk. It was only about 10 seconds in the wrong direction, but it added to my already funky mental game.

After getting back on course, we ran down a hilly residential street before popping out onto Peachtree Industrial. It was cool and windy, but I tucked in behind a few people and was just happy it wasn’t hot. I forgot my Mighty charger at work and hadn’t charged it prior to the race so it was not surprising that it crapped out by the 3rd mile. Goodbye motivational mix….

We turned onto Tench and then Brogdon and the field really started to separate by mile 4. Then, I was back and forth with a few other runners as we tackled the hills leading into George Pierce Park. I’d chuckle to myself as I came to a hill thinking about how if this was a trail race, I’d just walk. But alas, it was not and I had to shorten my stride and work to not lose too much time climbing.

Once we got along the Greenway sections, I started to feel a little better with the more even terrain. Plus, I realized I was perking up with each water station - apparently I was pretty dehydrated. I brought along a Clif gel to take somewhere mid-race and decided to slurp it down near the halfway point.

When Adam and I first moved into our house, I used to run at the Suwanee Greenway all the time. It was my bread & butter 7 mile route. So I knew all the of things to expect - the up and down near the covered bridge, the zigzag to McGinnis Ferry, and the switchbacks near the park. In some ways this was good because I knew to conserve, but in other ways, I was dreading what was to come.

I passed a couple of guys in this middle section as I clipped off some lower 7s and hoped that it wouldn’t come back to haunt me in the end. As we neared the turnaround near mile 10, I could start to see the leaders. The male leader was waaaaay out front by at least a mile, but then the next few runners seemed to come at regular intervals. I saw there were 2 women ahead of me and 6 men.

With 5K left to go, I didn’t feel like I had much left extra to give other than the pace I was holding so I just tried to maintain as much as possible and not give any back. As I doubled-back myself, other runners (especially other women!), started shouting that I was the 3rd female. I berated myself for not smiling back more when they were clearly cheering me on. The funk just would not shake!

I saw Jen & Angie and gave them high fives and that lifted my spirits a bit. From then on, I had just 2 miles left and so I just tried to just tell myself I could hold on for 15 more minutes. At that point, I really wasn’t thinking about a race PR or my own placement.

Once I came off the Greenway and headed up the last hill to the finish, I felt spent. Somehow my final kick shows a 6:35 pace, but I swear I felt like I just dragged myself in. There was no celebratory finish chute feel. Just happy that it was over with.

At first, I was pissed at myself for not being happier about my “PR” or my 3rd OA female standing. And for racing with such a negative mindspace. It just wasn’t like me!

But in retrospect, I am glad that it all happened. Sometimes it needs to be hard to make me appreciate the easy. Sometimes I need to know I can get through a race that doesn’t go my way or I don’t feel great or that my head is in the right place. In this case, I just trusted my legs to do the work while I battled with my head. And I should be so happy that nothing felt painful or bad, I just wasn’t happy with myself.

If you’ve been running or racing long enough, maybe you relate. I’ve had this happen before - Boston 2016 comes immediately to mind. It part of the process and I’ll be stronger for it the next time. And no doubt, there will be a next time. It’s about recognizing it, finishing what I’ve started, and not letting it be a defining moment.

A few hours later, brunching with Jen, Angie, & Adam, it didn’t matter at all.  

Monday, January 28, 2019

QC Returns to the Trails: Mountain Mist 50K Race Report


Pre-race After conferring with my coach weeks ago, we decided that the Mountain Mist 50k would be the best option for me to meet the required qualification for the Georgia Death Race - a 50k trail race in the last calendar year. The elevation and technicality would be a great tune-up and a chance for me to test gear and nutrition.

Though I could have driven the 3.5 hour drive, gaining an hour crossing into Central Time, I opted to camp overnight at Monte Sano State Park. I left work at 2pm Friday to make it in time before sunset and was treated to a very beautiful drive through the tiny mountain towns of northwest Georgia/northeast Alabama. At the park, I went straight to the camp host to check in and got both a dinner recommendation and directions to the race start (more on that later).

I blindly picked the camp site online and chose a spot that was nearest to the restrooms. My good fortune meant I was treated to a beautiful view of Huntsville and I arrived just at sunset. I made a quick call to Adam and then changed into running gear for a 2 mile shakeout run around the campground. I watched the big orange thing dip below the horizon and then headed out to packet pickup (at the lodge) and to grab dinner.


I was a little worried about the camp host's recommendation at first. I had asked for a place that served pizza and beer and he asked if Italian would be okay. He explained they didn't really have many items with red sauce and yeah, they have some beer. I was picturing loads of fettuccine alfredo with goopy white cream sauce and reminded of when Michael Scott carbo-loads before the "Michael Scott's Dunder Mifflin Scranton Meredith Palmer Memorial Celebrity Rabies Awareness Pro-Am Fun Run Race for the Cure"5K and promptly vomits.

But, the pizza was seriously some of the best I have ever had and the beer selection, while not vast, was a nicely culled collection of local favorites (re: Huntsville IPAs) and national specialties (Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout). I always like to err on the side of being really full before a race, especially an ultra, so I loaded up on a donut hole-esque dessert. Also, I just like donuts.

I stopped at a gas station on the way back to fill up my tank, get some cold brew coffee, and a back-up muffin in case there was some tragedy with my overnight oats. Back at camp, I settled into my 0° rated sleeping bag (Everest testing), read a little of David Goggins "Can't Hurt Me", and fell asleep before 10pm. The sleeping bag was beyond warm enough in the 20°-ish degree weather. I actually woke up at one point and had to crawl out of it because I was too warm.

The alarm went off at 6:20am and while I was cozy, I was also ready to get the show going. I changed in the warm bathroom and ate my oats. Just after 7am, I headed to the race start. I double-checked the map and walked about 5 minutes before I realized the trail was not terribly discernible in the winter and panicked that I might be late to the race. I turned around and decided to take my chances to drive up to the lodge. Again, I totally lucked out and parked just outside the entrance on the side of the road with just enough time to stand around and get cold before the start.

Race morning I lined up in the first third of the pack behind the start line. In reading race reports and talking to runners who had raced it, I knew the first 20 miles were pretty runnable and the last 11 or so were tough. This was supposed to be a training run of sorts (though we all know I'm competitive so it's not like I wasn't going to give it my best effort) and I really wanted to just stay relaxed as much as possible.


The first mile was pavement and I was far from warmed up. Everything felt stiff and stagnant and I was annoyed that despite taking it relatively easy, it felt awkward. We hit the fire road and things started to get a little better with softer footing and I tried to just stay with the little packs around me, only passing if necessary in this point. I didn't want to get stuck too far behind once we got to the single track.


People were not really talking much around me at this point, which in retrospect, I guess I was closer to the front of the pack than I thought initially. By the time we reached the single track section and through the first aid station at mile 6.7, I just tried to stay as comfortable as possible. Any time I thought I wanted to pass someone, I gave it an extra minute or two. It's so easy to push in the beginning, but I didn't want to feel like garbage at the end. The course in this section was moderately muddy - bad in some sections, but there was definitely very runnable spots and I did feel like we did a lot of downhill running.

There was some switching around of people at the aid stations as some people stopped for a bit longer. I grabbed a cup of Gatorade, a single pretzel, and kept right on moving. At this point, I was behind 3 females who were bombing the downhills pretty efficiently and I decided to stay in tow.  Once we got into the section I would dub the "Power Line Field", I was relaxed and just enjoying listening to their chatter back and forth about various things.

Once we reached the first climb, dubbed "K2", one of the girls jetted up ahead and while I was tempted to pursue her, I knew it was too early to get caught up in competition. I knew my skills lied in power hiking ups and I'd wait until the final 2 climbs to put on the afterburners. We still had 20+ miles to go.

At the 11.9 mile aid station, I grabbed a cup of Mello Yello and filled up my water flask. I went trotting off down the trail and a few minutes past the aid station, full on Supermanned going up a tiny hill. Apparently I hit the ground with enough impact that runners in both directions asked if I was okay. Yes, yes, just a little blood mixed with hurt pride. My bib completely ripped off and I had to take a few extra seconds to pin it back on. But, once I was back on the trail, I started to feel great! It was like the fall had woken me up.

The next section had a short little climb that led up to a section called "Stone Cuts". Giant slabs of stone with a trail that meanders through them. Runners had to squeeze through narrow cuts and limbo underneath low cave-like areas. It was really, really cool and despite the slowdown, it was pretty awesome to be "running" through natural wonders.

From prior race reports, I learned that if you doubled your time at he mile 17 aid station, that would be the approximate time you could expect for the race. I came in just shy of 3 hours and was then just hoping to hold onto 6 hours. I was feeling a bit peppier in the next section and happy that there was finally a break to run without being so bunched up for a bit. There was a swift little descent full of rocks and then a bunch of muddy trail at the bottom before reaching the aid station just past mile 20. I was tempted to take a shot of Fireball at this aid station, but nothing was going inherently good or bad so I decided to stay with the status quo of Mello Yellow.


The next section was the infamous Railroad Trail, a rocky nightmare of a trail. The only saving grace is that it was relatively flat for a couple of miles, but it seems as though I couldn't get much more speed because the footing was terrible. I got behind a group of guys who were talking like it was the first few miles of the race and let them lead the pack up the Bluffline Trail and the ridiculousness of the Waterline Trail. It is in this section that you use all 4 points of contact to hoist yourself over slippery rocks along a waterfall. Fortunately, I was still feeling spry at this point and my flexibility is fairly decent so I had no trouble with this section. I was laughing at how crazy it was, but I was actually having fun bouldering over rocks. Check out the runners in the top right of the photo below!
Photo credit: Andy Highsmith






At the top of the climb (sweet relief!), I took off down the Bluffline Trail and started to try to make up some time. I wasn't moving super fast, but I was passing a bunch of runners who had gassed out near the 24-25 mile mark. Once we reached the next descent, I started running with John and he nicely explained the final sections and what to expect. The mud was incredibly thick in the flattish section near the water and my tired legs were exhausted by the repeated pull of the muck. I was actually grateful for the climb as it was drier and I could actually gain footing.

We didn't even stop at the last aid station and I noted there was 1.6 miles to go. Glancing at my watch, I saw it was about 5:40:XX. If the aid station sign was correct, I could still slip under 6 hours. Luckily, the trail was pretty flat and runnable at this point and while I didn't have a sense of how far we were, I started to see more hikers out walking their dogs - a sure sign we were closer to the trailhead. John was dealing with a side stitch and urged me to go on when stopped to walk. I stayed with him the first time and we started running again, but then I heeded his advice when stopped again and pushed for the finish solo.

I heard the music of the finish line first and then I spotted the arch as I came around the final bend. I crossed in 5:55:42 according to Garmin. I stepped off to the side and waited to see John finish, giving him a huge high five as he also made it under 6 hours. Eventually, I headed indoors for the warmth and to grab my finisher's slate and age group award, a backpack.



 



Takeaways:

Food/Hydration: B Throughout the race, I ate 2 RX bars, 2 Spring energy gels, and a GU that I picked up from an aid station. I had 1 pretzel rod, 1 Oreo, and an orange slice. My hydration was mostly water, but I also took 1 cup of Gatorade and 2 cups of Mello Yello. The cooler weather made hydration a bit trickier and I think I should carry something with a bit of electrolytes like Nuun or Tailwind for GDR. I was definitely cramping post-race and it took a couple of cups of Sprite and food for it to stop. Also, I could have done a better job hydrating the day before. I avoided it because of the road trip and I think I started the day a bit dehydrated.

Gear: C My bladder in my Camelpack was not secured in some sort of way so I was slowly leaking water for the first couple of miles in the beginning of the race. I think I didn't have the cap seal on flush and it sloshed out from the top. I still was able to drink from it through about 10-12 miles, but then it was just extra weight. I think I'd prefer to just rely on flasks as they are easier to fill. Plus, for some reason, the hose across my chest was SO ANNOYING. To be fair, I kept thinking it was good that my hose was annoying me and not physical pain. But I am going to have to mitigate those minor annoyances.

Half capris were a good choice, probably should have just done a t-shirt and arm warmers. I really only needed gloves for the first couple of miles.

Hoka Torrents proved successful on the mud, rocks, and gnarly trail. I have zero blisters and my Swiftwick socks were a great choice - despite me blowing a hole through the toe of one of them.

Physical Training: A I'm officially in week 5 of my coached training and because this was a training race, I didn't have a true taper. In fact, I just came off my biggest true mileage week in over a year and ran 5 days leading up to the race, including a speed session on Tuesday. So while I am bit disappointed in my time for the race (I was hoping for 5:30 or so), I have to keep in perspective that I was not running on fresh legs and this was not the goal race. I ran a really patient race and fortunately felt the best at the end.

Mental Training: A+ I never hit really high highs or really low lows in this race. The points that I wasn't feeling great really were just when I wasn't pushing on the gas pedal. And while I do love the endorphin rush of the high highs, I think it's actually better that things were just really steady-eddy. The course and the conditions of the trail could have beat me up, but I kept telling myself when it got tough that I like doing hard things.