Saturday, December 08, 2012

a random post

This blog has been super quiet for the past several months.  I've actually started a handful of posts on a variety of topics, ranging from my eternal love for my Lululemon Dart n' Dash shorts to musings about the injury prone-ness of a certain group of runners and how that might relate to their scores on the (scientifically validated) neuroticism scale.  I also started a post about my run at Shut-in and sent something out to my fellow BCTC friends, but I wasn't feeling terribly inspired to write a long, funny blog post, mostly because I was kind of ridiculously busy at work and having difficulty finding time to sleep, let alone write long, witty blog posts.

If you image search 'no time', this picture comes up - why??

Now, three weeks later, I'm still not inspired to write about Shut-in, as there's just not anything that was terribly inspiring (either positively or negatively) about that run.  It was a lovely day, but I had a cold, so I did a long slow run up a mountain, allowing me to enjoy the rest of my weekend in Asheville.  I wasn't super hyped up about the race going in, so not having a great day wasn't really that disappointing.  so meh.  But I feel compelled to write.  So here goes a post about the likely reason I'm not feeling particularly amped up about races.  It hearkens back to something I did (or, to be more accurate, did not do) in July.  I did not finish.  I'm not depressed about not finishing.  I'm not in some failure-induced malaise (at least, I don't think so...), but I do have this feeling of unfinished business.  When I bailed on Vermont, I thought I wouldn't.  I thought I would be okay with my body telling me I shouldn't do that.  ...but alas, my logical side was not strong enough to suppress my stubborn, I can do anything you can do side.  So one day in September, I rushed into work after my Saturday run (because work has gigabit hardwired ethernet and TWC in my not).  I spent 3 solid minutes hitting ctrl-F5 over and over again until the button appeared, and I clicked and crossed my fingers.  After a brief pause, the registration page for the Umstead 100 appeared, and I knew I had 20 min to fill in my info before my slot was returned to the pool.  After about 3 min of careful typing, I had my confirmation page.  I had been accepted into the Umstead 100.  I had also joined the community of people who had said things like "[there's no reason to run farther than a marathon.] Anything more and you're just being an asshole."  ...and "I would never sign up for the Uwharrie 40.  That's just stupid."  No, I'm not talking about the ultrarunning community (I entered that club of stupidity years ago), and I'm not talking about 100-milers (I tried that back in July, and I have not yet finished 100 miles, so that can't be it). No - instead I have become a certified member of the Eating One's Words club with my own failure to adhere to "I would never run the Umstead 100.  I know the trail too well and 8 laps around the park just sounds awful."

OOH!  My words taste like brownies!  Awesome!!
After the initial exhilaration about winning the race to enter the race wore off (which lasted about 10 seconds), that feeling of regret and remorse set in "what have I done?  Oh boy was that a bad life decision." I remembered how much I hated training for the last round.  How much I missed seeing my friends.  How much I missed everything in my life that was not working or running.  But on the upside, this go round I would not have to worry about travel.  I would not have to try and bribe people to fly somewhere with me so they could spend hours in a minivan waiting for the 2 min they would be able to see me before I dodged back into the forest again.  ...and unlike the last round, where I was the outsider listening to local runners chat with aid station volunteers while I friendlessly picked through the bowl of cantaloupe (emotions get a little ridiculous 45 miles in), this time *I* would the home team.  I reasoned this would be great because a) it might help keep me feeling a little happier in the later stages, and it also would add a little more pressure to keep going in the face of adversity (despite my Catholicism-induced guilt motivation, I also acquired a deep seated fear of shame at some point).  So logically, this was the correct answer.  However, I'm still battling that feeling that this was a bad bad choice. 

Regardless, the deed is done and here I am, back where I swore I wouldn't be - training up for another hundred.  This time, however, apprehension and excitement have been replaced with a sort of resigned determination.  Unless something is actually sticking out of me (and even then, if there's less than 20 miles to go...), I'm going to do my darndest to get my butt across that 100-mile line.  It won't be fun, and there will be crying and probably multiple temper tantrums (I seem to have 1-2 in a 50-miler, and I expect the curve to be exponential), but I *really* don't want to do this again, and I *really* don't want to end this endeavor with a big, fat DNF, as I'm not particularly good with the word "can't".  As a result, pretty much everything between now and April is a training run toward this goal.  Lots of repetitions of boring courses to get used to repetition and boring, and lots of loooong runs with checked egos (I'm supposed to run slow enough that feel like I could still run more at the end?  wha????)  It also means that I am absolutely not supposed to go all out at races between now and then, which is a little bittersweet (I mean - I was only 13 min from 8:30 at last year's Uwharrie, but on the flip side, I was THIRTEEN minutes from 8:30, so that takes a little pressure off...)  So here we are with a long winter of running ahead (how much fun is winter running anyway?  Don't answer that), but it will be worth it to be able to check this beast off the bucket list as the home team.  

I actually love running in the snow - it just adds such a lovely
bit of silliness to the mix

Saturday, July 28, 2012

I did not finish

I'm not sure where this post will take me, but as a week has now passed since the unfortunate premature end to my Vermont 100, I feel like I should write something more than the little snippet I sent to my friends with the Bull City Track Club.

I entered the race knowing the will was there, and I was pretty sure the muscles were trained, but as anyone who has run 100 miles will tell you, 100 miles is a long way, and there's no way of knowing what's going to happen on any particular day.  So I tried to keep my expectations realistic (read: tempered).  That being said, I was, let's say, about 75% sure I would finish going in to the race, even with the waves of apprehension that washed over me as race day drew nearer.  I knew going in that my body has historically not responded well to high mileage training, but reasoned it had always held together for the high mileage races, and had been impressed with how well I endured the increased mileage in training.  Spoiler alert (in case the title didn't grab you): I did not finish.

Heading back onto the trail at mile 40-ish.
Even as far as 40 miles into the race, things were feeling pretty good - the 'quad busting' downhills hadn't busted my quads, and I was receiving compliments on my awesome climbing abilities (I apparently walk uphill like a champ).  I was still flirting with the preposterous idea that I could perhaps slide in under 24 hrs even with the somewhat ridiculous number of rather steep hills (though rationally, that was stupid because factoring in Joe/Blake's 1.3x differential between the first half and the second half, I would have to set a PR for the first 50 miles).  Deep down, I figured 25 hrs was a more reasonable goal, but I was out there for a long time - I figured I should be allowed to dream a little, right?  Regardless, I still felt good at 40.  Except my feet hurt.  And I had this nagging shin-splint-y feeling on the front of my ankle/foot area that popped up around the time we trucked through a long pavement stretch that involved descending about 800 feet in roughly 1.5 miles... around mile 12.  I had kind of been ignoring it, though, because there had been other little silly problems that had come and gone with the downhill pounding, so I figured this would go away, too.

Unfortunately, this was not the case, and between 40 and 57.5 miles, the shin splinty feeling intensified until it felt like someone was kicking me with every step my right leg took.  I was still feeling pretty great on the uphills, but I was no longer able to run much by the time I pulled into the aid station at 57.5.  I had been thinking I would just pop some advil or tylenol and motor on out, but when we took off my shoe to look at it, we noticed a nice knot had formed, which was a little scary and changed things dramatically in my head.  Now we were looking at a potential actual injury that might extend my planned month off after the race to something more closely resembling the achilles tendon PT/rehab debacle of my late teens.  I still took some tylenol on the recommendation of someone who thought the kidney-failing potential of advil might be too much of a risk, and decided to walk the next section to see how things felt.  Unfortunately, after the lovely ascent, in which I actually passed a couple people, the long descent confirmed that we (the royal we) would not be running any more that day, so faced with the best case scenario of walking for 37.5 miles and sneaking in just under the cutoff (still disappointed) and worst case scenario of walking 33.5 miles, missing the cut at the last aid station, and making whatever was going on worse, I bailed in favor of a full night's sleep in a bed and salvaging the rest of a nice mini vacation.

A fuzzy picture of the ankle the day after.
I named my cankle Sam.

It was the logical decision.  I don't regret the decision.  I know I made the smart choice.  If we had been at mile 85, it probably would have been a different story, but with that far to go and visible focused swelling in the region of a tendon, there was no reasonable way to go on.

Largely unrelated, but I like this picture.

...but that doesn't mean I'm not disappointed.

...and perplexed.

It's odd, but I actually felt better at the time I dropped than I did after reading all the nice supportive things people said about 62.5 miles still being really impressive.  I don't want to sound ungrateful because I really do appreciate everyone's kind thoughts, but telling me 62.5 is really great and impressive just kind of makes me feel like a heel.  It's not that great or impressive.  I just ran 53.5 a month ago.  62.5 is not that much farther.  It is decidedly anticlimactic.  I didn't even make it 2/3 of the way through the race.  I can accept that my body fell apart and couldn't make it the full distance, but I can't accept that being counted as a successful outing.  I'm glad I made it that far, but it still was not successful.

So now I am left in a pit of confusion.  Do I try again, knowing that my body may decide (again) that 100 miles is just too much to bear structurally?  My heart leans that direction, as I'm not a big fan of failing to complete something, but my head remembers how much I hated training for this attempt.

When I stopped, I was resolute about not trying again.  My appendages sent me a message and I was going to listen.  Perhaps train for something a little more reasonable - something that I could do in ...say... a morning.  But the reverse psychology of my facebook page has me thinking maybe I should learn what I can from this one (long, steep downhills are not my thing) and try again with something a little more suited to my strengths (whatever those are - do they have 100-mile hikes uphill with no descent?) and be a little more low key about my approach.  We do have an awfully nice local 100, you know...

It's like a crazy beacon... calling to me...

Fortunately, I don't have to decide until September, but I'm just not sure how I'm going to decide.

Until then, I'm back to the trails.  I'm very much looking forward to seeing many friends that I haven't seen in a while because I had to do some outlandish, ridiculously slow run that day (all the days).  The swelling is gone and I was able to run/hike 6+ miles this morning with little more than a twinge in the traitorous tendon.  So the answer, I guess, is we'll get back to some sort of routine, and see where the coming weeks take us.

/catharsis.  Thanks for listening <3

Sunday, July 08, 2012

I ran 100 miles in one week*

I should post about the Bolder Boulder. I really should. I should back up my undying love for this race with an effusive post about how great this year was. About how the weather was perfect (it was), how the crowds were fantastic (they were), how the elite race was really interesting (it actually was), but alas, though the race was fantastic as always, I just don't have anything witty, amusing, or even interesting to say about it. I'll give the executive summary for those who are interested (bullet pointed to facilitate reading):

  • I have been training for a 100 (you know this), so I wasn't sure what 'speed' meant to my legs at this point
  • I ran faster than expected, logging my 2nd best time at the BB (hooray), feeling mostly pretty good the whole time
  • I skipped the slip n' slide (the horror!)
  • I got the massage (was awesome)
  • The expo was lovely as usual - we may or may not have made 3 trips to the free popsicle booth and there was an ample supply for everyone else to do the same
  • We got to meet up with our super awesome friend David to watch the elite race
  • It was too windy for the skydivers (massive bummer - the Memorial Day festivities are not nearly as cool without them)
Overall, a really nice day - definitely a nice iteration of my favorite holiday.

 It was, however, decidedly uninteresting compared to my feat 2 weeks later, which was to run 100 miles in one 7-day period.  Now THAT was epic.  Now, I mocked Ronnie when he did his 100 mile week last year, saying "Wow.  You ran 100 miles in a week.  You know you're going to have to do that in a day in Utah, right?"  But truth be told, jamming 100 miles of running into a week is kind of tricky.   
I can't really say if there was no gas that week,
but it would be awesome if it was true!

Now, I have to admit I kind of cheated because, due to my travel setup and my father’s work schedule, I did my weekend long run from the week before on Monday.  Thus, with a 42-miler on tap for the following Sunday, I really only needed 30 miles in the other 5 days to make it happen.  When I tell people this, they unfailingly point out that this doesn't matter - I ran 100 miles in 7 days.  That's a hundred mile week.  I still feel like it should get an asterisk, though.  Anyway, asterisk or not, it was still a big deal for me, so I feel compelled to share how it played out:

Monday – 27 miles in Denver.  Started at 6AM - ~60 degrees.  Finished at ~10:30AM - ~80 degrees.  Also, I forgot that the last 10 or so miles were going to be paved.  And have no shade.  Oops.  Regardless, I made it.

Tuesday – 0 miles.  Yes, I had an off day in my 100 mile week.

Wednesday – 6.5 miles at Fullsteam.  Got there late, had to sprint to catch up, short cutted (made up for it by parking way far away).  Got my 6.5 in, though, so all was well.  Also, my semi altitude-adjusted legs probably helped.

Thursday – 5 miles – usual run with Nancy – all was well.

Friday – Walked to work and back.  Had to take an outlandishly indirect route to get 8 miles in total.  Yes, I know that walking is different from running, but I sure will be doing both in Vermont, so I’m counting it in my weekly 'running' mileage.  Also, it's not like I ran all 42 miles of Sunday's run, so yeah.

See where those circles are?  Imagine someone
stabbing you right there over and over again.  That's what it felt like on Saturday.
Saturday – OHMYGOSH - apparently you use totally different muscles for walking and running.  My rear end was SO sore.  SO.  SORE.  Still did my 12 singletrack miles in Umstead as planned.  Felt pretty good when I cut out at 2 hrs, but definitely had a heavy sense of impending doom regarding Sunday (and was praying to any god that would listen that the shooting DOMS pain in my a$$ would go away (literally) overnight.

Sunday – 42 miles on the ‘triathlon of pain’ course.  Sadly, my prayers from the day before weren't entirely answered and lap 1 was decidedly uncomfortable.  Ronnie was a trooper in putting up with my whining, but I was feeling a bit apprehensive about laps 2 and 3, where the role of Ronnie would be played by Mandi, who I didn't know as well, and who was apparently showing up on a mission to get me through these two laps 'on pace'.  Oh dear lord.  The theme for lap 2 was heat.  Also, apparently horseflies like Mandi better than me.  Sometime toward the end of lap 2, my feet and quads told my butt muscles to quit their bitching, which was nice - things still hurt, but it was a nice change of pace.  Managed to manipulate myself a break halfway through the third lap by becoming enthralled by the insect ecosystem that had set itself up on a pile of horse doody.  It was super interesting to be sure, but really I just wanted to sit down.  Picked up Brandy about halfway through Turkey Creek and together, we all shuffled our way back around toward the cars, where I passed the 100-mile mark for the week.  Mentally self-fived myself because a physical self-five would take too much energy, braved a swarm of yellow jackets to refill my water bottle, and shuffled back to the car to celebrate with some nice watermelon.  Whew.

So ended the epic 102-mile week.  

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Nuggets of wisdom from today's longass run

Today I did my longest ever training run. To simulate the mental beatdown that 100 miles might be, I made it a 3 loop course. To simulate as much as possible the terrain that I might find at Vermont, I made that course include Turkey Creek at Umstead. Here are today's lessons learned/weirdo epiphanies:

  • If you're going to be running 42 miles, and some sizeable chunk of it solo, it would be best to expose yourself to a variety of musical options in the week preceding the run.  While I do like Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know," 28 or so miles of the chorus was a bit much.

  • Now you, too, can sing this for 42 miles!

    ...or this may have a more lasting effect

  • Fresh socks make you feel like a new person.  For a while, anyway.

  • I thought I was really clever when I came up with the idea that I was doing a triathlon, complete with transition zones, except all the events were 'run'.  I'm still mildly amused by it (enough to include it here), but it is not 'really clever'.

  • The promise of cantaloupe is very motivational.

  • doesn't this make you want to take on the world??

  • I forgot to put body glide somewhere.  Much sadness.

  • Vespa is still awesome.

  • Shannon is also awesome.

I'm sure there were other things, but I have probably blocked them out with the memory of the pain (okay - it wasn't really that bad, but I think repeated loops caused me to save over some memories from previous loops).

Thanks for indulging this silliness!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Saturday's plan (because I didn't want to post a novel on facebook)

We (possibly the royal 'we') will be starting around 7:30 at the I-40 overpass between the Black Creek Greenway and Umstead Park on Old Reedy Creek Rd.  We will be running THREE (count them) laps around the park, essentially mimicking the Umstead 100 course (Reedy Creek -> Turkey Creek ->Graylyn->Reedy Creek).

  • The theme of the first lap (starting at 7:30) will be "no miles under 10 min - you still have two more laps to go"

  • The second lap will start around 10.  The theme of the second lap will be "hooray!  Shannon is here!"

  • The third lap will ideally start around 12:30 (no promises, though). The theme of the third lap will be "ohmyfrickinggod this sucks - just try to keep moving forward"  I also may not be great company at this point.

Each lap will be 14 miles, and I will be going back out to my car each time, so if you want to join me or just point and laugh, be at the appointed location at one of those times.

If you want to break into my car, come other than one of those times, but be aware that your options for thievery will be as follows:

  • 5-10 year old camp chairs 
  • a yoga mat
  • a first aid kit
  • a roadside assistance kit
  • maybe some pb&j sammiches
  • perhaps some nasty running shoes
  • things that are original parts of my 13-year-old car (with the exception of the battery, which I think is only about 7 years old)
For the folks who are more running-oriented, though, I'd love to see you, but I'm also totally fine to slog through it alone, as I'm sure there will be many solo miles in Vermont :)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Training for a 100

As some/many (okay, let's be honest - only 3 people actually read this) already know, in a fit of Turkey-induced delirium, I signed up for the Vermont 100 last Thanksgiving.  SO I thought it might be fun to share a little of what I've learned over the past few months (and going forward into the actual race).  Today's topic will be funny things I've thought/said/noticed in the past few months.  I'm trying not to make this sound narcissistic, but I think I may have failed in a couple of spots.  Apologies if I come off as narcissistic.  Anyway, back to the topic at hand:
  • I now run at "Party Rock" pace (every day I'm shufflin')
  • Some days it's just mentally easier to tack 14 miles onto an already completed run than to face 30 the next day.
  • I've started taking the most boring route possible on training runs as a mental beatdown training
  • I can rationalize sleeping in and running later as "heat training"
  • Sometimes you have to cut a run short.  I had to do this yesterday because apparently my body did not want to run 35 miles whilst battling a cold.  So I disappointedly cut my run to 24 miles.  
I just really hope that I am able to regain a sense of what is normal and what is not after this whole adventure is over.

    Thursday, April 26, 2012

    Extremely late and uninteresting Mountains-to-Sea 50k report

    This was my weekend of all things running-related.  It started with a mad dash out of work at 4PM Friday to head to BCRC to help with packet pickup, continued with a 6-hr shift at the Umstead 100 on Saturday, and concluded with a 31-ish mile jaunt through the MST 50k and some cleanin’ up/truck loadin’ afterward.  All in all, it was fantastic and exhausting.  I wanted to wait till I added some kickin’ picturs, but I also need to get this race report out the door as I’m still looking at a half-finished report from the Green Legs and Hamstrings half 3 weeks prior to this week (executive summary: Ronnie and I both got 2nd, and we learned that the triangle seems to have the edge over the Danville area in trailrunners if this race is any indication, as our crew of 6 came away with three of six overall awards and two more age group awards).  But I digress.
    I still feel like a bit of a goober writing up a 50k after watching several friends and an even bigger number of total strangers embark on an amazing journey through Umstead Saturday and Sunday, battling early morning rain, mid-day heat, a surprise midnight thunder-downpour, and, well, 100 miles of running, but as this was the inaugural running of the 50k distance at Mountains-to-Sea, and Kim and Jason worked so hard to put it on, I figured someone might be interested in how it went.  Executive summary here: it went well.  Extended version below.

    This is the start - a lovely crew, don't you think?
    I was telling Kim on Friday that I have never gone into a race so mentally unprepared.  Which is not to say that I didn’t think I could do it or anything like that – just that I hadn’t been mentally gearing up for the past couple weeks (partly because we didn’t know if we’d be able to run until about 2.5 weeks ago due to Umstead volunteering obligations).  There is also something about a race where you sleep in your own bed and only have to drive 30 min to the start that makes the whole thing seem rather un-race-like.  This is perhaps why, when regular running buddy Nancy took off from the start, my immediate thought was “why are we going so fast???”  Fortunately, Nancy’s head was more in the game than mine, so I just latched on to her and we started off down the trail, settling into a position that seemed reasonable.
    Having run the 12-mile the past two years, I had a pretty good feel for that section of trail, but the first 3.5-ish of the new 50k course was completely new to me, and thus kind of interesting.  Unfortunately, I was busy chatting through this section and failed to take note of landmarks or anything about where we were going or what we were doing.  Observe foreshadowing here.

    About 35 min into the race, we popped out at the 12-mile start and got to run right in front of the 12-mile starting line, where I saw some friends, including eventual 12-mile winner Ben Godfrey (congrats!).  Then we dodged back into the woods, this time in more familiar territory.  Somewhere around 7 miles in, Nancy and I realized that we literally could not see another soul in the forest.  …and hadn’t for a while.  It was very odd.  I asked her if the race had been cancelled partway through and everyone but us had gotten the memo.  She wondered if something horrible had happened to all the other runners. We continued to develop increasing elaborate explanations for why there were no people around, but Nancy astutely noted that we had seen Kim at 6 miles and she hadn’t seemed upset, so we really were just in some sort of race limbo, running along at nobody else’s pace (thank goodness we had each other).  Around this time, I also began to appreciate the little game where I still referred to the aid stations according to their position in the 12-mile race, but then felt all special being able to add 3.5 miles because we started before the 12-mile start line.  It gave me a nice feeling of accomplishment (This is the 6-mile aid station…but we’ve run 9.5 miles!)  Also, somewhere along here, I hit my elbow on a tree.  Kind of like when you are walking through a door and clip your shoulder.  I have no idea how this happened; it wasn’t a particularly narrow or twisty part of trail, but it is a testament to why I don’t play sports that require actual coordination.

    We also played the game through here wondering a) when the 12-mile fasties would catch us, and b) when the 50k fasties would start coming back at us.  We decided the 50k people would be maybe around 13 miles, and the 12-mile pass would take place maybe somewhere around mile 12 (our mile 12, not theirs).  Sure enough, somewhere in that range (can’t remember exactly where), I heard my name from behind, and turned to see Ben blazing towards us.  Finally.  Confirmation that the world had not opened up and swallowed the other racers.  At this point, we were pretty excited to see other people after over an hour of feeling like we were the only people left in some bizarro apocalypse that left all of nature completely intact.  A couple miles up the trail, we finally saw Ronnie and Ken, the 50k leaders coming back at us (and were gratified to note that we had made it farther than expected before seeing them).  From there, it was ~1.5 miles of dodging 2-way traffic and cheering on friends as we made our way to the turnaround.  After the solitude of the abandoned forest, this was quite the change, but thankfully we eased into it with the progressive increase in traffic before we pulled into the turnaround, which was bustling with activity like a hive of excited bees.  As we pulled in, Jason grabbed my water bottle and Mandi cheered for us as I dug into my drop bag looking for another precious Vespa (I may be bordering on junkie status here), and while Nancy grabbed a handful of sammich quarters, I downed some more Fluid (with a capital “F” – this was apparently the source of much frustration and slap-happy amusement at aid stations: “we have water and Fluid!” “Water IS fluid!” “No!  Fluid is a sports drink!” “What???” “Here.  Drink this.”)  Then we were off!  Well…almost.  It took a couple seconds of confused wandering around before we figured out that we were supposed to head DOWN the hill instead of back the way we came, but THEN we were off to do a little loop around some foresty area at the dam before returning to the main trail.

    The way back started the way the way out ended (wrap your head around THAT little brain teaser): cheering for friends coming at us from the opposite direction.  Unfortunately, as we approached the first aid station, I started feeling that familiar bonky feeling, which I now refer to as “Vespa head”.  Fortunately, I knew what to do, so I let Nancy know I would be walking this aid station and I tossed a Roctane in my mouth, chasing it with a nice glass of Coke.  UNfortunately, I still needed to wait the requisite 15 or so minutes for it to take effect, and I knew that keeping up with Nancy during this time was not going to turn out well, so I convinced her to go on ahead and I slowed down to a not wholly embarrassing, but still a bit slower trot.  I also noted at this point that my fun game from before with the aid station mileage had turned around to bite me.  Now, passing the 9-mile aid station, I still had 12.5 miles to go.  Bummer.  Fortunately, my Vespa head cleared relatively quickly, and I resumed trotting along, twice stopping to pick up somebody else’s discarded Gu packet (SHAME on you, discarders of Gu packets in the woods!)  The rest of the way back to the 12-mile start/3.5 mile aid station was pretty uneventful – passed some people walking and/or running more slowly than I was.  Used eating an Accel Gel as an excuse to walk up the only really long hill.  Gave the stink eye to a couple whose off-leash full-sized poodles came charging at me on the trail.  You know – the usual.
    Now it’s time to remember my foreshadowing from the beginning.  We were back in uncharted territory.  I remembered there being a road and that someone said it was at ~2 miles according to their Garmin (for what that’s worth in the forest on zig-zaggy trails).  I picked it up a bit because I had passed a girl in the last section and I didn’t really want her to catch me, but as I wracked my brain for memories of the way out this morning, I turned up nothing.  SO I plugged along hoping this section would pass quickly as I was getting kinda tired and it was getting kinda warm.  Finally, after about 15 minutes, I popped out on the road, but was very confused as I could have sworn we were supposed to cross over.  But I didn’t see the rest of the trail. muh moh.  Fortunately, as I scanned the area, I found some flagging peeking out of the forest down the road a couple hundred yards.  Nice job, faulty brain.  You remember one thing about this section and you remember it totally incorrectly.

    As I turned back into the forest, I saw the sign indicating we were entering Blue Jay Point Park.  I reminded myself that we still had 2 miles left and not to get excited about the fact that I was entering the park that also contained the finish line.  This was by far the most diabolical part of the race, because about ½ mile into the park, I saw a bench.  “ooh!  A bench!  I must be close to the finish – they wouldn’t put a bench in the middle of nowhere!” (yes they would)  This was followed shortly by, “OOH!  A guy with two small children!  I must be close to the finish!  They wouldn’t have walked very far to get here!” (true, but you don’t get to go the way they came)  ..and then a bit further down the trail, “OOH!  Wood chips!  I must be close to the finish!  They would only make the trail this nice close in” (Oh.  The wood chips stopped.)  “OOH!  LOOK!  A trail that leads to the left!  I know the finish is to the left” (there is a line spray painted on the ground indicating I can’t go there).  “OOH! Another trail!”  (also no.) This mini roller coaster of emotion (magnified her for dramatic effect) continued on for literally tens of minutes until I was left with, “Oh good gravy!  Can I please just turn left???” (yes, but you’re going to zig-zag back and forth a couple of times before actually getting to that break in the woods, so don’t get too excited yet, my pretty).  I also internally chastised myself in here with “people ran much farther in hail and lightning last night – you’re going to have to seriously man up if you’re going to make it through 100 miles in July”  I think I also channeled my friend, Steve at some point in there and called myself a “wuss-bunny”.  

    Finally, I started hearing music, which was a little confusing because I thought we still had to run all the way across a big field to finish.  Thankfully, Kim and Jason took pity on us and put the finish line right at the edge of the clearing.  Whew.  And so concluded my trek through the inaugural MST 50k.  The old MST guy at the end said I was 5th female.  Of course, he also told the girl behind me she was the 5th female.  And at least 3 girls were the 8th female.  So I won’t put too much stock in his assessment. I was pleased with my time, though, and am not feeling too terribly worse for wear today, so this bodes well for Vermont in July.  All said, it was a lovely, well-organized race, and I would totally recommend it to anyone looking for a local 50k.
    happy finisher :)

    And congrats, again, to the 100-mile superstars. 

    Monday, April 02, 2012

    The Umstead 100 - a random personal declaration

    The Umstead 100.

    I’ve volunteered at this race for (I think) the past 5 years, and it’s always been a moving experience.  The first year, we worked at the pacing desk, and though our job there wasn’t that exciting, we ended up being an improvised support crew for a runner and her pacer, who were both struggling after finishing.  The second year we spent 4 hrs from 2AM-6AM in the timing tent.  This sounds like a terrible job, I know, and it is hard – it gets deceptively cold at that time of night when your job is to sit still and type numbers, but it’s also an amazing job because you get to see the runners finishing.  It gets exceptionally exciting during those hours because, the winners long gone and in bed, these are the runners who set out to break that somewhat arbitrary, but universally understood and embraced 24-hour mark.  Running 100 miles in one. Single. Day.  At 2 AM, you see the people who surprised themselves and ran much faster than expected.  At 4 AM, you see the people who thought it was possible if everything went right, and everything did.  They are elated.  At 5:30 AM, you see the people who executed a plan and finished right where they hoped.  At 5:45, you see the people who spent that last lap battling demons, knowing they could do it, but trying to prepare mentally for missing the mark.  And at 6:03AM, you see disappointment and frustration.  These people will probably look back and realize they have accomplished something amazing, but they will also be back next year, with a bone to pick.  You see other people during these times as well, of course.  There are people finishing in 22 hrs, who thought they would finish faster, there are people who have finished several times previously and are just in it for another go – not terribly worried about where exactly their time fit.  But the people with the 24 hour goal have always seemed special to me.  Probably because I’ve always fancied that this is where I would fit.  Even before I had any aspiration of running that far (because that would be stupid), I saw people I had run with in other races finishing in that range, and thought “yes.  That’s where I should be in the lineup.” 

    Since that first night shift, we have spent three more night shifts at the park, and with each year, I became more and more intrigued by this spectacle, and felt increasingly close to the runners out there, circumnavigating the park no less than 8 times.  You start to recognize people from previous years, and even though you’re not REALLY a part of their community, you feel like some small part of the greater Umstead community.  For 2 years now, I’ve been aware of the day when registration opens and this past year, my hand hovered over the mouse on that fateful Wednesday at precisely noon. But again, I did not jump in.  So this year was another volunteer year.  Due to a conflict with another, much shorter ultra (isn’t that a fun statement?), we needed a day shift, so we spent all of Saturday afternoon holed up in a cabin entering data from Aid Station 1.  We could see the runners out the window, and I managed to catch a few friends coming into the timing area, darting out the door of the cabin to encourage them, but I have to admit, I missed our night job in the trenches. 

    This year brought another set of emotions to the table as well, though.  This year brought trepidation and inspiration…and I’ll admit…a little bit of jealousy.  Because after wavering on Umstead signup day, and inspired by my husband’s 100-mile finish at The Bear last September, I took the plunge and clicked ‘submit’ on the Vermont 100 page.  So as I watched my friends struggle through their journey, in the back of my head, I thought two things: “That’s going to be me in 3 months.  I hope I’m as strong as they are.” And “Boy do I have a lot of long, hot North Carolina summer runs to do between now and then.”  So I’m posting this as the official commencement to my Vermont training season.  I finished a 50k yesterday and don’t feel terrible.  I’m considering that a good jumping off point.  Now I just need to channel Mark, Shannon, Jay, Ronnie, Joe, and all my other 100-mile friends and commit to spending some quality time in the NC summer heat, cultivating both the mental and physical toughness necessary to take on this next challenge.  If you’ve made it this far in my weird cathartic ramble, I’ll ask you for just one more favor: if you see a Karen-shaped heap on the side of the trail this summer at Umstead, please just pick me up, water me, and send me on my way.

    Thanks friends, and happy trails…

    Sunday, February 05, 2012

    Uwharrie 40-mile

    Well, it's February again, which can only mean one thing!!  UWHARRIE TIME!!!  I entered this year's race in kind of an odd place mentally.  For whatever reason, work seemed to be taking more out of me than normal (whatever 'normal' is), and, of course, the holidays managed to disrupt my training schedule.  It would be much more convenient if we could put the holidays in October or something so December and January could be devoted to long runs.  I tried pitching this idea to my family, but they were somewhat less than supportive.  As such, I wasn't feeling super positive about my ability to dislodge the 9 hour monkey from my Uwharrie back.  ...and as a follow-up, I was feeling less enthusiastic than usual about the race, which made me sad.

    In the week leading up to the race, alert friend Brandy posted an article about taper-induced depression to facebook and as I mentally checked the box next to all the symptoms, I began to feel a little better about the world, just hoping against hope that that last box (the one that says most people feel fine and ready to go on race morning) would also be checked off before 7AM on Saturday. 

    I started my race day with a race anxiety dream (apparently Uwharrie was now in the jungle and it took my friend Shawn and I ~3 hrs to make it to the 5-mile aid station), which left me wide awake at 2AM.  Our upstairs neighbors must have also had an anxiety dream about that time and decided to combat it by doing step aerobics for the next 90 min, as that's the only explanation I could come up with for the noises coming from above.  From there, it was really just counting the minutes to the 5AM alarm that signaled it was go-time.

    The hotel rooms were spacious, sure, but these ladies were LOUD!

    We arrived at our appointed parking area a little after 6AM to find that there had been some confusion among the 20-mile racers about where to park, leaving some 40-milers with no space in the lot. Thankfully, we got in just under the 'lot full' sign, so we weren't directly affected, but this did lead to a ~20 min delay in the race start, which might seem like an irrelevant detail, but becomes very important later on.

    I started the race with Mandi (fellow BCTC-er and Run at the Rock buddy), having touched base with Uwharrie friend Jay about starting "somewhere in the middle of the pack".  I suspected Mandi was going to lay the smack down on me at some point during the race based on her comment that she was hoping to automatically qualify for Western States, but I figured I might be able to hang with her as long as we were stuck in traffic walking up the big hill.  I was right, but traffic broke up faster than expected, and Mandi was off down the trail ahead of me before we got to the first mud pit.  Luckily, I also had managed to find Heiko around this time, and we chatted a bit before he, too took off down the trail.  At this point I began to wonder about my pacing, as Jay  also was not in my general vicinity.  I was feeling like I was just on the edge of exertion, though, which is a dangerous feeling when you're at mile 1.5 of 40 and those 40 are in the Uwharrie National Forest.  So I trucked on, thinking I would assess the situation when I hit the "2-mile" mark.  I hit that mark in ~26 min and realized I had no idea how long it was supposed to take me to get there, which left me slightly frustrated.  I did, know, however, that I had reached the 5-mile aid station in 45 min the year I went out WAY too fast in the 20, and had a vague recollection of taking ~1 hr to get there in the previous year's 40, so at least I had some guidelines there.

    Around this time, the thought also hit me that we had started 20 min late, which I combined with my (as it turns out totally faulty) recollection that there was a head lamp cutoff of 4 PM at the 38 mile mark.  I did some quick math and realized that I was going to have really step it up or I was going to be pulled off the course for lack of headlamp.  I was irritated at my stupidity for not planning for contingencies by at least dropping a headlamp in my drop bag, but reasoned how was I supposed to know we were starting 20 min late?  In my head, my only choice at that point was to go hard to the turnaround and hope I had enough to get myself back in time.  I cruised through the 5 mile station in 56 min and the 8-mile station in 1:37 (note to readers - the "8-mile" station is well known to be closer to 4 miles from the "5-mile" station).  This, though, is where I had my first hard benchmark, as I knew I was close to 2 hrs coming into this station last year.  Yes, I was ~20 min ahead of last year's schedule, but as you'll recall (because I know you've internalized my writeup of last year's race), I went out WAAAAAY too slow last year.

    I wanted my cheering for David to invoke this
    In reality, it probably looked more like this.
    I continued cruising along, wondering if the 20 milers had started late like we did or if I would have to readjust my estimate of where they would begin to pass us to account for only 40 min of head start as opposed to the full hour (one has to occupy one's mind somehow when one is in the forest for 40 miles).  Coincidentally (really, not just for literary effect), I heard my name being yelled from behind.  I wondered which of my 40 buddies was gaining on me and turned to find that the amazing David Roche was flying toward me.  I had heard he was planning to take it out hard, but my head could not process the idea that it took him a mere 9 miles to make up my 40+ minute head start.  I mean I know he's fast and I'm slow, but DANG.  Luckily, I composed myself enough to cheer wildly for him and quickly step out of his way before he disappeared over the next ridge.  This also got me thinking about how our late start would affect the logistics of the rest of the race.  I usually start seeing 20-milers around mile 15 or so, and start getting passed by mortals (meaning lots of dancing around so 2 bodies can pass on a single-track trail) after the big hill.  Getting passed by David at mile 9 meant there would be a lot more dancing for a lot longer, but meant that maybe there would be less two-way traffic on the way back (when we turn around and make our way back through the second half-ish of the 20-mile racers).  I was still pondering this as I pulled into the 11-mile station where I found Jay and his friend James.  Feeling fairly confident that Jay was good at pacing, I hitched my wagon to their train and we made our way onward.

    As we passed through the 14-mile station, I noted that we were well ahead of last year's pace (mission accomplished thus far), but also a bit ahead of Jay's professed goal of 4:15 at the turnaround and a ways ahead of my goal of 4:20-4:25.  After a brief panic, I made a comment about being ahead of schedule and when they seemed unafraid, I took a breath and decided to go all in.  Even when James, spurred on by terrain that was "mostly flat or downhill" (lies) put in a fairly lengthy surge, I hung on and was surprised to find "the hill" at 16 miles to be less daunting than usual (what kind of crack was I on and where could I get more?  More importantly, when was the crash coming?)  At this point, we were seeing 20-mile friends pretty regularly, and our fast 40-mile friends were coming back at us, including Ronnie, who was leading the race!  Also around this time, I got my favorite cheer of all time from unofficial race photographer and previous year's winner, Shannon: "Holy Shit, Karen!!  You're doing awesome!"

    I am like water skiing off the back of a jet.  It's true.

    Riding high on laughter and profanity, we pulled into the turnaround around 4:08.  Jay and James had decided to forego their drop bags, so they were in and out in what seemed like 10 seconds, and I was left chasing after them, trying to stuff a vespa into my handheld without tripping over anything or running into anyone.  I finally got myself organized after a half mile or so, but by the 17-mile aid station (for reasons I can't explain, I don't continue counting up after we turn around, so I use the mileages from the start), I was starting to feel a little overtaxed and woozy, and was having a little trouble focusing.  I was hoping this was an electrolyte/glucose issue and not the beginning of a precipitous bonk, so I downed a Roctane, an s-cap, and some Mtn Dew, and wandered out of the aid station at a slightly more relaxed pace, reasoning that I just had to make it back in ~5 hrs to PR for the race.

    I identify with these guys: we're not terribly coordinated,
    but we sure can walk fast
    James must have seen the look in my eye when we pulled in to the station as he and Jay discretely let me slip back without comment and moved on down the trail.  Fortunately, my electrolyte/glucose theory held up and I began to sharpen up as I made my way toward the backside of the 16 mile hill (see?  I really can't do the mileages back!!)  At this point, as I generally do during a long race, I started pondering my finish time projection.  Barring some sort of total meltown (which was still totally possible), I figured a PR was well within reach (I recalled - incorrectly - that I had finished in 9:12 last year), and a sub 9 finish was well within reach.  8:30 seemed numerically possible, but not terribly likely.  As I pondered such things and power-walked my way back up the hill, James and Jay came into view and I felt like I might not have lost as much as I thought with my little crisis (though I was reasonably sure their daring and my pansiness would lead to a widening of that gap on the ensuing downhill).  This diverging of paths put my pacing and strategy back in my hands and allowed me to run to my strengths (lots of long granny gear bouts punctuated with long, gangly-legged power-walking up the steeper hills), which was somewhat disparate with James/Jay's (fearlessly bomb down hills, surge on the flats, recovery shuffle up the hills).  Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on your appreciation for heckling - I think we were all pretty okay with it), this led to a fair amount of see-sawing, and though we really never ran together again, we were within about 200 yards of each other for the rest of the race.  At every aid station, I grabbed a Mtn Dew or Coke, and two fistfuls of potatoes, but still felt that familiar bonk feeling approaching shortly before the 5-mile aid station.  Remembering I still had a Roctane in my handheld and figuring it had been long enough since my last Vespa, I downed my final Roctane and another s-cap and waited (hoped??)  Fortunately, the magic still worked and I was able to power my way through the next three miles to the 2-mile road crossing.

    Over the last 15 or so miles, I had been projecting aid station arrivals and adjusting my finish time accordingly.  With my bonk around 5 miles, I had figured I would hit the 2-mile station around 8:20, and slide in to the finish somewhere around 8:50, as I am notoriously bad at picking my way through the final rock field-y ledge heading back into the finish.  After my re-up with Roctane, though, I started feeling pretty fricking awesome, and invoked the inner football coach, who kept asking me what I was saving it for.  I picked up the pace and rolled into the 2-mile aid station at 8:13.  Then I got angry...or something.  Something in me decided it would be a grave injustice to cap off this performance with a 30+ minute pick through the last 2 miles (I think that's about how long it took me to get in last year), and I bombed down the hill with (for me) reckless abandon, constantly reminding myself to stay focused on the trail to avoid an epic collision between some part of my body and some relatively immovable piece of nature.  As Jay/James drew into sight again, I knew they would kill me going down the final hill, so I made it my mission to get as close as possible to them before that final descent.

    THIS is why the last 2 miles takes 25 min
    (photo credit to Scott Lynch)
    I closed the gap to about 40 yards by actually running(!) up a good part of that last hill and then shifted my focus to keeping moving through the rocks.  I took a quick look around me and barreled off down the hill, alternately exhorting myself (possibly out loud - you weren't there, so you'll never know) to pay attention and to have quick feet.  As I made the turn on to the mercifully less rocky trail into the finish, I was tempted to check my watch, but refrained in favor of staying focused on the trail (and not breaking my face).  As the finish area came into view, I heard someone yell "Finisher!" and the customary cheer as the crowd encourages runners across the line.  This was followed by my friend Carolyn yelling "Ronnie!  Your wife!" as my husband apparently was otherwise engaged at the moment.  As such, I came across the line laughing, and upon checking my watch to find I had covered that last bit in ~25 min (still sounds long for 2 miles, doesn't it?), meaning I had finished in 8:38-ish, let out a "YESSSS" combined with a fist pump that I hope nobody caught on film.   

    I am married to the wearer of the buffalo head in the foreground
    (photo credit to Anthony Corriveau)

     All in all, with two minor blips, I'm absolutely ecstatic about this performance, as I have launched the 9-hour monkey into the next zipcode (but because I'm me, making sure he has a parachute lands comfortably on pillows among friends because I don't even want to hurt a metaphorical monkey - yes, I'm aware there's something wrong with me). The realization that I never have to run the 40 is a little bittersweet, though, wasn't so bad....
    Awww... I love you 40-miler

    Author's note: I actually ran a 9:21 last year, not 9:12, so this was a 43-minute PR

    (/shameless self promotion)