Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Rachel Carson Trail Challenge 2017 - very long!

I've been attracted to this event for a couple of years now.  It just seemed like a cool challenge and definitely something different than the normal running events.  If you're not aware, the Rachel Carson Trail is a primitive (and that word is totally accurate in spots) hiking trail that spans from North Park to Harrison Hills Park.  The trail has a bit of everything - dirt singletrack, secret parks, gravel access roads, ridiculous steep rocky climbs, even more ridiculous steep descents, farmland and horse pastures, water crossings, and even some road.  It's definitely enough to keep your mind going.

This year I decided to take the plunge and enter the first lottery round for the full challenge (35.9 miles with around 6400 ft. elevation gain).  Lucky me, I got right in.  There's also a half called the Homestead Challenge (17.7 miles) and a shorter Friends and Family challenge of around 8 miles.  The event is promoted as a "trail challenge" and not a "race" - the objective is to cover the distance from point to point from sunrise to sunset.  This (at the time of my signup) was cool for me because I had intended on doing a 50K in May and then just lollygagging through this as something to do and laugh about.  That was until I dropped to the 30K in May and I decided I would train up to actually give Rachel a run for her money.

Every year the direction of the challenge flips.  2017 had the challenge going from North Park to Harrison Hills.  In 2018, it will go the opposite direction, and so on.  Most people say that NP to HH is the hardest direction because all the bad hills are toward the end of the challenge.  Having never gone the other way, I couldn't tell you.  Honestly, one of the things that drew me to want to do this event was the fact that I suck at directions.  Seriously.  I have to use my GPS to get me pretty much everywhere, including places right downtown.  So, my big hurdle was going to be learning this trail since I've heard tons of stories of people getting lost and the trail just being naturally hard to follow.

The good thing is that the Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy hosts a series of training hikes in the weeks before the challenge.  I decided it would be in my best interest to attend as many of these as I could and I am very glad I did.  I did not attend the hikes the week of GRT or the week that they went in the opposite direction of this years challenge because I thought that would just confuse me.  In the early weeks of the hikes, I stayed with the big main group and just followed along hiking, but as the weeks went on and sections were connected together and I'd learned the trail, I pretty much signed in and then went off on my own to run as much as I could.  Other people did this as well, so it wasn't out of the ordinary.  At times I'd find a small group to run with, but other times not.  And that was ok for me.  I was feeling good and my confidence was booming.  I got to the point I was spending 2-3 days per week on Rachel in some way training.  One day (either the day before or day after my longest run) was a hike with my daughter.  She was a real trooper taking on those nasty hills, stream crossings, and the bad heat we had there for a while.  She kept me going too - and helped me burn those directions into my head.  I felt really positive about this event.  I learned the trail, I tested my gear, and really was shocked to find that I am quite good at climbing.  This was going to be a fun run.

That being said I can tell you that I now know the Rachel Carson Trail (at least in this direction) like the back of my hand.  If you ever need a trail guide, I'm your girl.  That's probably my biggest, proudest accomplishment of this whole thing.

Well, let's get to the nitty gritty about the actual day of.  June 24, 2017.  Saturday.

The Challenge has no official start time.  All they say is that you can start any time after there is "sufficient light" until 6:30 am.  (Sunrise was at 5:50 am, btw).  Supposedly, this is to help with trail congestion.  Also, this year was the first year they started having two lines at the start - a runner line and a hiker line.  Again, this was to help trail congestion and ensure safety... one thing I learned while on the first couple of training hikes was that being all clustered up with people swinging hiking poles around was dangerous!  The trail marshals said that they wanted to start the runners by 5:30, sufficient light depending.  Oh, would this come back to bite me...

I gave myself a hellish wakeup of 3:30 am to give myself enough time to eat, digest, get all my stuff together, get gas, and head up to North Park around 5 ish.  This worked well, however, we couldn't get close to Harmar pavilion at all and my husband had to drop me off in the pitch black dark so I could walk over.  I guess I assumed that traffic would be allowed in to the parking lot by the ball field, but yeah, that's what happens when you assume.  So, already I'm frazzled because I had to grab my things really quick out of the car, and scoot over to the pavilion alone.  My husband is in a walking boot right now (he tore a tendon while on one of the training hikes - I'm not kidding, people, Rachel is no joke) and just can't be walking all over creation that much, especially in the dark.

The "runner line" was much longer that I'd anticipated.  Heck, both lines were long.  There were a LOT of people here - much more than other trail events I've attended/raced before.  I was standing somewhere in the middle/front middle and was getting antsy waiting.  It was still really dark, though.  I could see people roaming around in the woods with flashlights and I started wishing I'd brought my headlamp, although no one else was wearing one so I shrugged it off telling myself that they really wouldn't start us until there was truly "sufficient light".

5:30 am comes around and a man announced "Runners, follow me, we're going to get you scanned in and started".  Almost immediately the crowd crushing happens like a Black Friday door buster event.  There were two people at the end of a table scanning tags (you had a tag pinned on you that needed scanned at the start, every aid station, and at the finish)- once you heard your number, you could go.  Of course I'd be behind someone that had a tag that wouldn't scan, so I had to wait until they entered it in manually.  Lucky, mine scanned right off, and I was able to start at 5:33 am.

I couldn't see a fucking thing.  Sufficient light, my ass.  I don't know whether I'm just getting old and my eyes aren't what they used to be or that I've never run in the woods this early before but my heart rate went from nice and chill to sky high and effed because all I can think is OMG I'm going to fall right out of the start line.  The ground was wet and more slick than the last time I'd ran here due to the storms of the past days.  I was running with choppy form because really just couldn't see anything more than the reflective gear of the runners around me.  Speaking of, holy crap with the people taking off like it's a 5K road race.  And forget about no trail congestion, those first couple of miles were almost identical to any crowded road race I've ever done.  Only this time it was exponentially scarier because of soggy singletrack trail and darkness!  I seriously couldn't see very well until I hit the railroad tracks.  Thankfully then it started lightening up to a point I didn't feel I was in total disarray.  If I ever decide to attempt this crazy event again I will either say no thank you to the early start time or bring a headlamp for my personal sanity.

Another thing that was wild was the many stream crossings.  They are typically no big deal and you can either trot through on well placed stones or just get your feet a little wet.  Today, every stream crossing on the trail was high and fast moving.  Instead of being no more than ankle deep in places, some were shin to knee deep on me!  It would have been ok if the day was hot and helped dry feet.  But today we were "blessed" by cool weather, which was a mixed bag.  My feet were wet ALL DAY.  They never dried until I took my shoes and socks off hours later.  Having constant wet feet also didn't help with traction on the really muddy parts of the trail.  I was even sliding on wooden bridges.

Thankfully, the coming miles thinned out the crowd a bit and I was calming down and settling into a nice pace and feeling.  Something else I noticed about this event was a lack of comraderie.  People just seemed disinterested in communicating with anyone other than the one or two people they were with, and the "runners" just seemed super serious.  It just kind of took me aback, I guess.  It's strange to be near people who seem like they're almost annoyed that you're sharing space with them.  The training hikes weren't that way at all, quite the opposite, in fact. Maybe it was me.  <<insert my favorite shrugging emoji>>

Anyway, I had some good miles happen (surprisingly even faster than I'd expected too!), but admittedly those early ones where it was dark, then crowded, and when my form was bad it did break me down a bit, even just in the head.  I got to the first Aid station at mile 7 at Shaffer Run Road feeling blah.  I told my husband I was feeling crappy.  But, I know that sometimes I don't warm up anymore until I have 7 or 8 miles on me so the good times were likely yet to come.  I got some water and a couple fig bars, gave Nick a hug, and continued on.

After this Aid station, you're on the road for a bit, and have to run on an overpass with the turnpike below before heading back into the woods (not the most picturesque section of the trail). Then, you climb up into a cornfield and then wind around until you hit a pretty sharp descent that's always overgrown around mile 8.5-9.  Usually, I have a system of grabbing onto the small trees on the side to help me down safely.  Well, it was crazy muddy now and of course I'm bunched up with a group of people and everyone is slipping and sliding all over.  Next thing I know, I'm down.  I can't even tell you what happened.  Just one moment I'm upright and the next I'm on my back and still sliding and I push my hands into the thick mud to stop myself.  I'm still cleaning mud out of the cracks of my Garmin.  It would have been one thing if I just plopped down on my big cushioned rear end and could get back up.  But, I landed hard on my lower back on a root, branch, rock, whatever it was it was hard, and kept sliding.  I got back up and continued on, but this didn't help lift my spirits any, and it legitimately hurt.

Not too long after the mud slip and slide there was a downed tree.  And it wasn't a simple "hop over the tree trunk" kind of deal, it was all the bushy branches that you had to go over/under and weave your way through, trying not to get too scratched up.  This didn't feel great after my fall, either. Two guys coming up behind me commented that this was seeming more like a Tough Mudder event than a trail run.  I wholeheartedly agreed.  Soon, we were on the road again, and needed to jump the guardrails to cross and get back on the trail.  The guys who were following me thanked me for knowing where I was going.  This is one of the parts where it's so easy to get lost.  The blaze is on the guardrail and then again on a tree down the hill.  If you're not aware, it's simple just to stay on the road wondering where the hell you are.

After this short section, I let the guys go on ahead because I needed to stop and wipe down my hands.  I had wipes in my pack and I had to try to get some of this mud off me.  My hands were gnarly and mud was caked in my fingernails.  This was not cool when it came to wiping my face/eyes or when trying to fuel and hydrate.  Now, I'm not a prissy girly girl, but I also don't like to eat mud and whatever else I slid in.  With that taken care of, I continued on.  At least I tried to.  There was a short, steep (aren't they all) climb that I kept falling down!  Three times... three times it took to get up and stable on my feet and not slide back down.  I just couldn't seem to catch a freaking break for very long here!  Soon, the trail would come out on the road again and I admit to saying "thank fuck" when I got there and knew I had a nice section of mostly downhill road to run.

The road runs you right into Emmerling Park which I never knew existed until I started training for this event.  It's awesome!  The trail through it is beautiful - albeit challenging with some nice climbs - and my spirits were lifted again, at least for a short time.  Unfortunately the good feels didn't last too long because my back really started to hurt on the next section.  I was hurting from my lower back down through my left hip from where I fell.  The big climbs were hurting more, my stride was a bit off, and I was slowing down.  I stopped to text my husband that I was thinking I had drop out at the next aid station.  Two of the "named hills" (the rule is if the hill has a name, you know it's bad.. and there are 6 on Rachel) were before this next aid station and I was dreading them - Rich Hill and Lefever Hill.

One of the few bright spots of the day - heading into Emmerling Park.
Photo courtesy of Rhett Landry of the RCTC.
I normally don't have too much of a problem with this climbing section, but my butt felt it today.  It was not right and it made me sad and mad and everything in between.  Between my fall and the very slippery steep rocks, I felt awful and my mood just took a nosedive.  I'd had it.  My hip was really achy and I was starting to get scared because this wasn't even the worst section of the trail in terms of slippery terrain and sharp descents.

After Lefever, it's back on the road a short bit and across an intersection to the Log Cabin Road aid station (14.3 miles in).  I took some water and a slice of watermelon and told my husband I wanted to be done.  I hung around that aid station for several minutes moping and wanting to have this day over with, but my husband kept pushing me on.  Really, this just pissed me off, I had a huge hissy fit and left the aid station literally crying as I turned to trudge up Log Cabin Hill.  It was slow, I slipped several times and had to catch myself with my hands before face planting, I was hurting, I cried almost the whole way up.  When I hit a stable spot, I sent my husband a whirlwind of nasty texts.  I was in a terrible spot mentally.  The top of Log Cabin Hill came and something in me found the will to at least shuffle run down the other side.  I did notice that when I'd run, I was starting to feel a jarring sensation that went from my back down my hip and then down my leg.  It was causing me to use that leg weird and that caused my knee to feel tweaked.  The downward spiral continued.

Coming down the back of Log Cabin Road.  Face says it all.
Photo Courtesy of Mike McNeil, running photo extraordinaire.

At the end of Log Cabin hill there is another road section.  Usually this is the time to pick up the pace and bank some time after the climbs before and the ones yet to come.  Not today.  I started walking.  I even stopped and just stood for a while.  Eventually I willed myself to run again and followed the trail back into the woods.  I enjoy this part of the trail any other day, but today it just felt like a chore.  Add mud and more slippery terrain and stream crossings on top of my aching back/hip/leg and I was falling apart inside.  It was then that I realized a few things: This was not fun.  Didn't I start trail running for fun?  To take a break from the monotony and serious gogogo factor of the road?  Was I even enjoying the sights and smells and sounds today?  No!  Why in the hell am I doing this today?

Eventually the trail leads out into Springdale, along Marion Ave in front of the Rachel Carson Homestead, onward to the high school.  The half challenge starts there.  And, unfortunately, they start it late.  A guy running about half a block ahead of me turned around and yelled "do you think we're gonna make it there before they start to get ahead of them".  Up until he said something, I'd totally forgotten about it.  I looked at my watch and said "it's going to be close".  But I knew we were too late.

As I approached the high school, I saw the line of halfers scanning out.  It was a short line... which meant all the others were already out.  My heart sank.  The last thing I needed after kind of running steadily again was to get stuck behind another large mass of people.  But, that's exactly what happened.  I slowed to a walk barely above a crawl to join the rest of the herd single filing down the trail that turns into a teeny tiny barely singletrack behind the school fence.  Thankfully, that section is not long, and opens up into a wide, mostly grassy downhill to the road.  I (and a couple others) were able to get past some of the halfers here, who were happily chatting about their day and then gasping and commenting on how muddy I was as I went by.  The crowd was still very thick, and after a short section of road it was back on the trail for a good climb and more very slow single filing.  Now, there were quite a few people with good trail etiquette who moved over and let me pass when they heard me or when I called out, but I understand too that sometimes there just isn't a safe place to get over for a while.  Happens to me with the mountain bikers at North Park all the time.  But, admittedly, each time I had to walk/trudge made my back and hip hurt more than the time before.  I knew my time on the trail was running out.  I was hurting, I'd been lacking in spirit and motivation for hours, but feeling like I was at the start of the event again having to fight for space and sanity broke me.

After the singletrack part of this section, the trail widens.  The crowd was still massive, and to boot - yep, it's another uphill.  I just gave in and walked with everyone else.  I shuffled myself down the hill and took the spur off to the marked checkpoint/Agan Park aid station (20.3 miles into the full challenge, 2 miles into the half).  My husband and daughter were there this time, and my husband said he was concerned.  I was hobbling and I pointed out the "path of the hurt" so to speak.  I got some watermelon and my husband made me take m&ms and water.  Medical staff got me an ice pack and some ibuprofen and asked if I wanted to just sit for a bit and see how I felt.  I sat, ate, laid down across a picnic table with the ice pack cross my back and hip, and cried.  I was done.  I couldn't even lean from side to side without being in pain in my back.  I couldn't chance the treacherous downhills that I knew lie ahead in the next section of the trail.  I did not want to aggravate something that could turn into yet another major months long recovery thing for me.  And, if I'm being 100% honest, my heart was just not in this.  Not for this. Not for another 16 miles.  And it did make me mad because cardio-wise, I had this.  I wasn't physically tired, I wasn't anywhere near "bonking", I had the stamina to go all day.  But I can't control the weather and how it affects the trail, can't control accidents that happen, etc... pretty much "shit happens".  After an hour of rest and going back and forth at the aid station, I turned in my tag with the trail marshal and said I was heading home.  I took a DNF at 20.3 miles.  It was the best decision for the day I had.

Post-race thoughts:
First off, I just want to say that aside from a few points, this is a fantastic event with great support.  I can't imagine all it takes to put something of this magnitude on year after year.  Everyone that donated time, work, money, whatever into this is just amazing.  My only real complaints are 1) The start - I kind of felt since they made a point to introduce a runner specific line this year and they gave a time that I had to go with it.  Now, this is one of those "my problem" things, I know, but if I were to do this again, I would start probably 15 minutes later and/or in a lull spot of people or if I wanted to go early I'd bring my headlamp.  I didn't realize how bright I like things (like roots and rocks) to be.  2) The half start - why not start them early as well?  I don't understand the point of creating a bottleneck at the halfway point.

I want to give a shoutout to some real MVPs on this day too - all those people who set up their own unofficial aid stations along the course.  I can specifically think of the lady with the ice pops on the top of Rich Hill and the guy who had all the bananas and water in the back of his truck at the intersection of the trail before Springdale, but there were others.  Really pepped me up when I absolutely needed it to keep moving forward.  Much love!!

If nothing else this was a huge learning experience for me. Hey, this directionally challenged person doesn't get lost on the RCT!  I can be taught!

Also:  I really don't like crowded trail races.  That's one thing I'd like to leave behind on the roads.  I think I'll be more aware in the future of how many people will be starting an event and I'll prefer to choose smaller races.  My best miles on this trying day came when I found myself alone or nearly alone and could focus.  At the very least I enjoy just a handful of friendly people.  Or, maybe I just don't like races at all and like to do things myself?  <<insert favorite shrugging emoji here again>>

My hydration pack sucks.  I've been using the Nathan Intensity for over a year now.  The sad thing is, I like this vest.  It's light, it fits well, and it holds all my stuff how I like it.  BUT - I am bad about staying hydrated with it.  I am obviously terrible with gauging how much I actually drink from it.  I think I'm drinking enough only to find out I barely drank at all.  And I usually find out too late.  Thankfully here at Rachel, the aid stations were close together and I drank at each of those, but if I were reliant on my pack, I'd have been screwed.  I need to find a vest with bottles I can see, I guess.

My husband is right about something he said to me Saturday.  He said "you need to stop running anorexic".  My disordered eating is back.  I'm counting calories and burn based on pace and on this bounce between binging on unhealthy shit followed by not eating at all.  It's not helping my running or my mental state.  I need to get this under control.  Trying to decide what the lowest calorie option is at an aid station is ridiculous.  I need help.

I am so happy about my fitness.  I want to keep going, to find something else to do in short time, but I know I've been constantly training for months and my body needs and deserves a break. I still have some residual soreness and nagging happening from my fall, but even so I'm taking a few more days at least from running and then I'm going to just go light for a few weeks until it's time to train for fall fun.

Monday, May 15, 2017

2017 Glacier Ridge Trail 30K

It's been a minute since I've posted anything, but I can't not post an actual race recap. 

Real quick backstory: last summer/fall I went through another awesome ultramarathon training cycle only to NOT go to my goal race because my husband was in a horrific cycling accident (Google Grade 5 AC separation and try not to vomit).  I ended my "season" with one last angry long run and threw myself back into what I called maintenance mode until it was time to train again.  Then, just my luck, 2017 started off rocky for me health-wise... I had an strange long lingering virus, then bronchitis, and one of the worst IBS/colitis flare ups I have had in YEARS.   I wasn't able to ramp up my training as planned and just when I thought I was getting somewhere, I mentally said "meh".  So, I opted not to travel across the state to run a poorly trained for 50K and instead decided to register for the GRT 30K.  This was a great decision!!  Go me!

The course:  If you read my recap last year on the 50K, then the 30K is the same course only it turns back around at the 2nd aid station at Route 528 around the 10 mile point.  It's not exactly an out and back because the 30K takes a shortcut trail on the way back to the Start/Finish to cut the additional mileage it would have otherwise.  I still found the course to have been long (about a quarter of a mile), but I am certainly not complaining!  Trail runs are never exact and I love that.  Extra time on the trail for the same price!  3258 feet of elevation gain.

Training:  I've been doing more "listen to your body" and less "my training plan says X so I must X or die".  I think this mentality has served me well because I am over 2 years injury free now and have no nagging aches or pains or anything.  Every now and again my hip will bother me, but I can usually peg that on a slip on the trail or extensive running/sliding in super muddy conditions.  Some foam rolling and maybe a day of recovery and I'm back at it.  As far as a specific plan goes, I'm doing a bastardization of a plan from Relentless Forward Progress the build stamina and mileage for a goal that's still a few weeks out.  I am also big on the MYRTL routine.  I think it is a key to my injury free status.

Race morning: Up before the dawn.  The 30K had to be checked in by 7:45 for an 8:00 start, so we left around 6.  I wanted to get there in time to pick up my packet, hit up the bathroom a time or two, chill out, you know, standard stuff.  Breakfast was my typical Ezekiel toast with peanut butter and a cup of coffee and I ate a banana about half an hour before the race.  I was happy that this year they ditched the ankle strap timing method.  Those things bother me because I'm always afraid it will fall off and I won't know when/where.  They can also be hard to adjust for comfort.

Weather: PERFECT!  Upper 40s to start and mostly cloudy.  It warmed up a bit by the end of the race and the sun made some appearances.  I was fine in just shorts and a T-shirt from start to finish.  I did get really warm when the sun was out and I was pushing during some hard times.  But really, you can't ask for better.  Everyone that was there for last years pouring rain and mudfest commented on how this was a treat.  The trail was in awesome condition.  There were a couple of mushy spots, but they were few and far between.  Like I said - perfect.

Race - First 10 miles: When the race started (which caught me by surprise as I was messing with my pack), I was a bit concerned because it seemed the majority of the field of 96 people just bolted out.  The very front of the pack literally looked like they were sprinting like it was a 5K road race.  It was a bit unsettling for me to find a comfortable spot and pace and my heart rate was jacked up already.  (My "goal" was to run this via effort/heart rate as much as possible since this wasn't a final end of season goal event but more of like a hard trail long run test.  If that makes sense.)  Thankfully, once we got away from the parking area and off the bike path and actually into the woods it was easy to calm down, breathe, enjoy my surroundings and find my place, so to speak.  I ended up in a small pack of people going at a pace that I thought was great and I was in my happy place enjoying the absolutely gorgeous trail.  The hills came - oh did they ever, but this year I was not surprised by them and I was delighted to learn that my fitness has grown leaps and bounds.  This definitely did not feel as rough as the year before.  Where I am most proud of myself is my improvement in the downhills.  Yes, most people walk/power hike up the steepest of hills or even every single hill but where you can lose out on a lot of time (and waste a lot of energy) is on the descents if you are timid about it.  This year, very unlike last, I practiced bravery and bounded down those hills as boldly as I could.  I passed quite a few people on the downhills, and because I have grown stronger in my hiking as well, I did not usually get passed back up the next big hill. At the first "Fluids only" aid station at a road crossing just under 5 miles in, I stopped to slam back a cup of plain water.  Sometimes chugging my Gatorade makes my mouth feel weird and I like to wash it down with plain water at the aid stations.  Around 6 or 7 miles in, I had lost my original group and was now with a new group but still hanging on to a good pace.  I wasn't slogging along, but I wasn't going all out, either.  It was just a nice pace for the day.  Going up the last big hill and rocky part before the oh-so-glorious descent into the aid station/turn around point we lost a couple of people from the group.  Around this point the fastest of the racers were coming back through on their way to the finish.

My family was waiting for me at this aid station just like they were last year when I did the 50K.  I told them I didn't want to linger long, I was feeling good and I liked the group I was with, so I just stole some quick hugs and kisses, grabbed a cup of M&Ms off the table and went on my way.  I managed to start my way back up the hill right behind the same gentleman I came down the hill with, so that was cool.

The last 8.9 miles (according to my Garmin): Well, there's no avoiding the fact that that oh-so-glorious downhill before the aid station is an oh-so-OMG uphill immediately after.  As I said to my trail friend ahead of me "I'm not going to think about it, I'm just going to keep munching my M&Ms and climb".  And that's what I did.  When we finally hit the top and hit that rocky "flat"ish part, we started running again and I still felt pretty good.  Things felt wonderful - for a while.  I realized that I was now well over the halfway point and that gave me a boost.  The sun was coming out more often now and it was warming up a bit. Right now our little group was being lead by the guy I followed up the hill and he made the comment "well, this used to be fun".  And someone behind me asked "When?".  Then I said, "about an hour ago" and we all had a good laugh.  We were slowing down, though, and admittedly we were walking a bit more than before.  I noticed my heart rate had fallen well down into my "easy" range and while I was tempted to ask for the lead to charge ahead, I didn't because I was enjoying the company and honestly I didn't see a point.  I didn't have anything to prove, I was already doing much better than I thought I would on parts of the trail I thought were crazy hard last year, so I just hung in.  Somewhere around 14 miles our kindly leader said "I'm going to let you go ahead, I need to take it easy from here".  And so it was down to just us 3 women.  I lead the way for a bit, increasing our pace until my heart rate got back up and we got to the fluid station.  Again, I stopped and chugged some plain water.  The awesome person at the aid station helped us cross the road and get back onto the trail. This time one of the other girls lead.  We kept up a nice pace, going faster than we had in previous miles.  We passed a few people along the way, which is always a nice morale booster toward the end of a race.  The lead girl fell off pace and let me and the other by.  I let the girl behind me pass because I could tell she was in a much stronger condition than I was.  At this point we only had about 2 miles to go and we passed a couple more people.  I started letting myself push a little bit harder, but I still reigned it in on the last couple of hills.  I kept reminding myself I'm doing this for a greater purpose and I didn't want to be reckless and hurt myself.  I was able to keep the girl in front of me in sight (her bright purple shirt helped) for a while, but eventually she must have kicked into high gear for the finale because I didn't see her again.  I felt really good coming through the last bit of the trail.  Then I hit the bike path and bleh... after miles on my legs gravel does not feel good to me.  I passed another guy during this part, he cheered me on saying "wow, way to hang in!".  My legs felt better once they hit actual pavement.  Now it was my turn to be passed - by the winner of the 50K race.  Amazing!  He made a beeline for the finish and I did the best I could to do the same behind him.  Hey, I got my pace down to 6:33 for that final push, so I'm not feeling bad about it at all! lol

Cruising to the finish! All smiles!  Yay, trail running!

And with that, I finished the 2017 Glacier Ridge Trail 30K.  Great course, great event, great people.  I'd do it again.  So, now I've done the 50K and the 30K.  I guess I'll have to do the 50 miler sometime to have the trifecta of medals.

This medal is huge!  Then again, glaciers are usually huge, huh?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Glacier Ridge Trail Ultramarathon 50K

After a successful 6 months of buildup and training, I made it to the starting line of the Glacier Ridge Trail Ultra 50K on May 14, 2016.

Did I really wake up early for this?
The GRT Ultra takes place mainly on the North Country Trail and Glacier Ridge Trails within Moraine State Park and the adjoining Jennings Environmental Center.  There are three available distances: 30K, 50K, and 50 miles.  The day begins with the 50 miler, and the 50K starts an hour later, and then the 30K an hour after that.  They had hard caps on the amount of participants in each race distance to prevent overcrowding the trail.  It was an interesting experience for me, as my last race had around 30,000 people and this one around 50 (for the 50K, slightly more did the 50 miler and the 30K was the largest race, I think).  I was able to stroll in to check in and get my timing chip and line up just a few minutes before the race started.  There were no corrals, no big blow up start line decor, and other than a quick course briefing by one of the Race Directors, no fanfare before the start.  It was oddly calming.  There was so much room to move around, and seemed like hardly anyone was there.  I even had to nudge my kids off the starting area as they were counting down "3....2....1..." to get us going!  I started my Garmin a little late because I was unsure where the start line actually was!  hahaha

It was a little chilly that morning, but I was fine in shorts, a t-shirt and thin arm sleeves.  The forecast predicted rain and the dark clouds were looming over, but nothing was coming out of the sky (yet).

I tried to start off in the middle to back of the pack because I could tell there were some of those hot stuff trail dudes that were itching to move up front and being this was my first attempt at both an ultra and a trail race period, my goal was to just go slow, keep feeling as good as I could as long as I could, and finish within the cutoff time.  That's another difference in trail running versus roads that I love... There's not a lot of hangup on your time or your pace or your splits or all that obsessive crap.  Sure, the people that are going for the actual win take more note of that, but for us mortals?  Just cover the distance in the time allowed and don't get (too) injured or die. Enjoy the scenery. Rock on.  You win.

I wore my hydration pack and carried my preferred drink mix.  I also had a nutrition plan that included Roctane, Clif Energy Food in Banana Beet Ginger (this stuff is frickin awesome!  highly recommend!), and real foods like fig bars and craisins.

There were a few training runs held on this course in the weeks prior to the race that I was unable to attend (hello work schedule conflict), but I can see how that really would have helped.  I was really unfamiliar with the course, but thankfully it was very well marked! I will not lie, though, when I say that this course was a lot tougher than I anticipated in places.  The weather had a LOT to do with that.

About a mile or two into the trail, the sky started opening up.  The rain went from drizzle to downpour and back and forth pretty much the rest of the day.  This made the wooden bridges and especially the rocks and large tree roots very slippery.  In places that were already softened from the spring thaw, water/mud was pooling.  I was running behind two friends who graciously took me under their wing for a few miles and guided me through the course, showing me where to plant my feet to keep from going full on in the muck and warning me of obstacles and huge climbs ahead.  I wish I remembered their names (I believe one was Mary), but they were a Godsend to me during the first 10 miles.  They not only assured that I didn't bite the dust (or muddy, wet trail, if you will), but that I didn't pull my famous "go out too fast" thing.  Their strategy was to walk most of the hills and run the downhills and flats.  This was perfectly fine with me, and I think these early slow miles are what helped me finish, even when I was alone and things got very tough.

At mile 4.7 is the first aid station, but the smallest one, only offering water and Gatorade.  I took some plain water and moved along with the small group I was travelling with.  The miles between this aid station and the next at 10 miles were harder than the last few.  There was a significant climb, slippery spots verrry close to the lake (you could seriously fall in if not careful), and a really rocky patch where a girl ahead of me slipped and cracked her face open.  The conditions were getting more slick as the miles went on and the rain continued.  People fell, dropped water bottles, etc.  Here's another thing about trail runs:  People give a shit about people.  If someone slips or drops something, people around them stop, pick them up, make sure everyone is ok and has their stuff together, and then the miles move on.  No one is worried about the 30 seconds that might mess up their precious BQ or podium win.  I absolutely loved feeling part of something wonderful during this experience!

At mile 10 was the second aid station, and the first station I was able to see my little crew consisting of my husband and kids!  I felt fantastic at this point, and after checking in at the tent as directed I met everyone with smiles and hugs.  I took a Salt stick (as I did at every aid station from here out), finished the Clif food I had been working on, and drank some Gatorade.  I also gave my husband my trash and he replenished my stash.  We also put my iPhone in a Ziploc bag because I forgot before the race and had just spent the last couple hours outside in the rain.  Oops.  I realized I kinda had to pee and noting the open porta potty at the aid station, I made a pit stop before continuing on.

Just out of the woods and to the check-in tent at the mile 10 aid station. It was a requirement to check in at each aid station even if you had your own crew or were just going to pass through.  This is how they kept track of everyone.

I was sort of hoping to stick with the group I ran with, but when I got out of the porta potty, I had lost most of the people, and the two friends I had been right behind looked like they were staying at the aid station a bit longer.  I wanted to keep moving, so off I went to unexplored territory on my own!

After this aid station, there is a fork in the race course.  The 50 miler and 50K both turn one way, and the other way is reserved for just the 50 milers to make their second loop into a different area.  The race director made it very clear that people get lost here every year and to please stop and read the signs if you have to.  So, I did.  Last thing I needed to have happen now that I was going at this alone was getting lost.. lol.  I made the correct turn and went on my way.

From here on, things got progressively wetter and muddier.  After a pretty decent hill climb, the trail was mudpit after mudpit and I started to encounter 50 milers (and eventually some fast 50Kers!) on their way back on this section.  Everyone was so great - lots of "looking good!" "keep it up!" "great time!" "stay strong" "great job!" etc was exchanged here.  <3  Then, I found myself on my own.  It was both exhilarating and scary to be on my own.  The control of the pace and whether to walk/run was my own responsibility and being a newbie, I could only hope I was doing it right.  I was really diligent about making sure that I wasn't getting lost because there are several trails that intersect in this area.  The scary part was because this area is known for being a habitat for an endangered species of rattlesnake and we were warned several times about them!!  I have encountered some snakes during my training runs, but only harmless little garter snakes.  I would surely shit my pants if I saw a rattlesnake, and I hoped that the chilly and wet weather conditions kept them off the trail.  I was looking, though!  Didn't see any!

The next aid station was within the Jennings Environmental Center at around 15.2 miles.  Since this was a kind of confusing interchange (you go through a gate and kind of off the trail to the aid station and then back on in a different direction), they had people there to guide you.  My guide ran with me, clapping the whole way as he briefed me on where the potty was, what they had at the aid station, where the race course led from here, as well as asking me how I was feeling and if I needed anything.  Another gentleman at the aid station quipped "dear, you do not look nearly dirty enough!" to which I replied, "yeah, I'm sure that will catch up with me on the way back"... little did I know then how correct that was...  The volunteers here were just fantastic!!  I had my little family crew waiting for me.  I was feeling wonderful (like, I couldn't believe I'd just covered over 15 miles wonderful), so I didn't stay as long at this station as the last.  Just a salt stick, some Gatorade and some hugs and high fives with the kids and I was back to it.  People kept telling me how strong I looked and how I just had the biggest smile on my face.
Approaching the Jennings aid station and high-fiving Tori and Vince.

Garrett's turn.  Look at that huge smile on my face.  I swear I smiled all day, aside from those couple of hard, lonely miles.
The GRT race course is in a caddywompus lollipop shape - you go out, make a strange looking loop (that's the Jennings/rattlesnake territory), and then find your way back.  After the Jennings aid station, you make the last bit of the lollipop and then pretty much go back the way you came out.  Sounds easy peasy enough, but here's what I didn't account for until it hit me:  How awful trail conditions would be after a few hundred runners stomped on the already soggy ground on the way out.  The return trip became more and more difficult as time went on.  The first time I ran through this area it wasn't too bad, and it was relatively easy to find ways around huge pits of mud... either by running on the edge of the trail, hopping on rocks or branches, etc.  Not so much on the way back.  Everything was so slippery.  Between the fancy footwork and/or being literally stuck in mud and general fatigue, I was starting to feel the miles as I came into the next aid station at approximately 21.3 miles.  My hip flexor and knee were also feeling tweaked due to all the slipping and sliding and climbing.

Coming into the aid station at 21.3 miles.  You can see the miles wearing on me at this point.  See the guy in red behind me?  That was the winner of the 50 MILE race.  Holy crap.

This was the same aid station as the one at 10 miles (remember, the course is going back exactly the way it came out now).  My family was there again and could tell I was not as fresh and chipper as earlier.  I took another Salt Stick, and also some ibuprofen and again traded off my trash for some new fuel, this time choosing fig bars and craisins.  I also had my husband crack me open a coke (real stuff, not diet) and I drank about half of it before feeling like I wanted to vomit.  One of the race director/aid station guys came over and asked if I'd been eating enough.  Being a total noob at this stuff I said "I don't know".  He walked me over to the table and I got some peanut M&Ms.  Then he asked how many times I'd refilled my hydration pack to which I gave him a dumb look, I'm sure, and said "uh, none, but I had it filled up when I started".  He gave a wide eyed look, felt how much my pack weighed, turned to my husband and said "she's not drinking enough, she's dehydrated".  Then he said he wouldn't feel right letting me leave the aid station until I drank more and they refilled my hydration bladder.  So, I did.  Then, finally, I was on my way again.  This would be the last time I'd see my family until the finish since crews weren't allowed at that first (and then last) aid station.

Of course immediately after this aid station started a big climb and then that really rocky spot I remembered from before.  I kind of felt a little better after refueling a bit at the aid station, but this spot of the course really zapped me.  What would follow in the next few miles was just a really bad time.  The course was so slippery and muddy and after trudging up hills you really long for the sweet fly down the other side, but because it was so slippery I couldn't fly down the hills like I wanted to.  Every time I'd really pick up the speed, I'd feel like I was going to faceplant.  There was no traction, even in my Cascadias, and a lot of times I'd "ice skate" for a bit.  It was scary territory for me - I certainly didn't want to get injured - so I started to walk a lot more than I'd like.  This really spiraled negative thinking and anger in me and admittedly, I walked a lot of miles 23-25+.  I guess it didn't help that I was all alone (seriously, I hadn't seen a single runner since the last aid station) and in the pouring rain.  At one point, when I about fell face first into a pit of mud I started crying and yelling "I just want to run!!".  I started talking to myself and the trees saying crap like "yeah, Nichole, real fucking great idea!  just run in the woods in the rain!  Yeah, the mud will be sooooo fun! fuck!"... etc.  Yeah, maybe I was a little delirious..haha.  I'd hit walls in other races before, but this was different.  I don't even know how to explain it.  This was definitely the worst section of the race for me, though, both in performance, mentality, and spirits.  In the distance, I saw a guy ahead of me and he was sliding around as well.  I saw him get a couple of branches and fashion himself some trekking poles to help with the conditions.  Smart!  If I thought I could do that I would have!

Then something happened.  I have no idea how to even approach this, but around the marathon distance point it was like the "wall" went away.  Any little ache or niggle I had was gone and I started feel good again.  WTH?  I picked up the pace a little when I could and was running again.  I stopped caring about dodging the mud pits and slop and instead, just ran right through the middle of those bitches.  And laughed!  I passed the guy that was ahead of me eventually, and I sympathized with him over all that sliding around in the miles before.  I was happy to be feeling better.  I was leaping over rocks, my posture was back to normal, not slumped, and it was like a supercharged second wind.  I've never experienced this in any race I've ever done - EVER.  I wish I knew what caused this!  Right before the trail let out to the road crossing and the final aid station, a volunteer along the trail said "just keep smiling, you're doing good" and that gave me a boost too.

The last aid station, the little fluids only one, brought on my last stop of the race.  There were only two people at the aid station.  The lady said a lot of people had been complaining to them about the mud.  I guess I don't understand complaining to a volunteer about weather conditions, but ok.  I just laughed and said "well, there's nothing you can do about it!".  The guy there wanted to take my picture, so I posed real quick for one.  I hope that one gets published somewhere because so far of the photographers that took pics along the course I have not found one that got a pic of me!  It was like I was never there!  So weird!  Maybe I looked really bad!  haha I finished my cup of water and said "well, I guess I gotta finish now".  The photographer said "you only have around 4.7 miles to go - you can do it".  I crossed the road and got back onto the trail for the last leg of this run.

Edit 06-07-16: I found it!  See, I was there!!
Me, hanging out by a trashbag at a road intersection of a trail with a cup of water.  Still smiling just past the marathon distance!
Photo courtesy of Bill G. @ https://moredollysods.shutterfly.com/

I was still feeling great and thankfully the feeling stuck the rest of the way.  I kept plowing through the mud pits.  I did pass a few other guys on this leg - I believe they were 50 milers - and as was the norm earlier in the race when you encountered someone else, encouragement was exchanged, which at this point of a long ass day was great.  In the last couple of miles the trail widens a bit and was less muddy, which was such a treat.  Then, before I knew it, I came to the end of the trail and turned onto the gravelly bike trail (think kind of North Shore trail-ish) that lead to the finish.  Just off the trail was a 30Ker walking with her family.  We cheered each other on, and I started picking up the pace as much as I could now that I was out of the mud and the rocks and the roots and all that.  As I rounded the turn off the bike path and onto the parking lot area that was the finishing chute of sorts, I could see my kids waiting for me. Well, two of them.  Vincent had enough of being outdoors and was in the car playing games.. lol.  Victoria and Garrett were there and they said they wanted to run with me to the finish line!  This made me smile even bigger than before, and my oldest and youngest ran their mom into her first ultramarathon finish.

Running with Victoria and Garrett leading me into the finish.

Aside from feeling very wet and chilled from stopping, I felt really good after finishing! Certainly no worse than either marathon I ran, probably better.  I was given my medal (huge heavy awesome thing), and the Race Director shook my hand and talked to me about the race and wanted to take pics of me and me with my family.  Here's something else different about small trail races as opposed to road shows.  When do you ever get that kind of personal treatment from a race director?  She even thanked ME for participating in the race.  What?  No, thank YOU for allowing me to do something freaking incredible!

My favorite race medal yet!

Inside the pavilion they had a cracking fire to warm up by, and lots of delicious food.  They also had hot tea and coffee - much appreciated on this type of day!

Just a little mud.
My recovery from this race has been unbelievable.  I'd compare it to my last marathon or even better.  I felt like I could definitely run just a couple of days later and for the last couple of days I've felt back to "normal" just like any other day in the life.  Amazing!  Honestly, the worst thing has been post race blues from going from training for something really epic to having to take a break and also not have another race registered for.  No worries, I'm starting a big lifting plan for the next few weeks while I gradually build back my running and then... we'll see what happens in the fall.  I'm already eyeballing 2017 races too (since trail runs are so small, they tend to fill quickly so you have to register way early).

Something I haven't done (well too much) with this race is go over all the things I "did wrong".  I finished an ultra, few people do that crazy stuff, who cares about the details, really.  Yeah, I really need to get stronger on more technical trails so it isn't such a shock to the system.  Yeah, if I was really concerned about finishing faster I would have kept better track of the time I spent at aid stations - after looking at my Garmin stats I spent around 25 minutes of time at aid stations!  But sheesh, I was spending time with my kids and just having fun.  I'm not going to beat myself up over that at all!  I finished an ultra!!

I was just in awe and amazed by the whole experience.  First of all - I finished an Ultramarathon! I know I keep saying that - I think I'm still trying to process that myself!  WTH has gotten into me?  And trails??  Who am I?  Well, I can say this:  Finishing this race really trumps anything I've done before.  In fact, I've said this several times recently, but I truly doubt I'll ever run a road race again.  Maybe as a training run or as something just to do, but to set a marathon or a half or anything else as a goal and train for that?  No thanks.  The gratification just isn't there.  I will more than likely head to MCM at some point (not this year - I'm looking forward to more long trail runs), but I think I've found my "thing".  What can I say - I love really going the distance and I like a challenge and I love being in the woods!

Post race with the family.

So, I ran a trail ultramarathon.

Ok, so I guess before I get into the nuts and bolts of this I should add some backstory.

After MCM, as you know, I felt simply amazing.  My recovery was next to nothing and I was ready to tackle something else.  My thoughts turned to what I wanted to do in 2016.  Honestly the thought of trying to train for the Pittsburgh marathon was not motivating at all.  I just didn't want to deal with it, plus I have psychological issues with that race weekend.  I also really wanted to do something totally different this year.  Truth be told, running had gotten boring for me.. doing the same old thing it seemed, season after season.  I was also getting stressed with the whole aspect of "needing" to get faster and faster all the time or else it was a "fail".  So, I figured since my last marathon went so well and I felt so damn good then ffs I should just do something daring and run an ultramarathon.  I set my sights on the J.C. Stone 50K in March.  In my mind (then), it was perfect because I could start training early, get a big race out of the way early and then have a nice block of "off time" before starting to train for MCM again in the summer.  The week of Thanksgiving 2015 (a mere month after MCM) I started training.

Another new thing for me this year is paying my hard earned money for a training plan/coaching.  This was pretty awesome (pats self on back) and I loved every bit of my plan because it was so varied.  I did long runs and easy runs, of course, but I also did 1 or 2 workouts a week consisting of hill repeats, tempo runs, tempo interval runs, 800s, fartleks, timed heart rate runs, etc.  Later I would come to be very thankful for the hill workouts, especially.  I also (and go ahead and crucify me, I don't care) run/walked every long run.  I did 20:1 intervals.  Anyway, my training went great!  Most importantly I stayed injury-free!  I blame this on being made aware (well aware) that "canned plans" out of books and on the internet are pretty much crap in the sense that they aren't meant to be followed to the letter by every single person that reads it.  They can be fine guidelines, yes, but when you have a plan that's yours and someone to guide you through it things can (and will) change - and that's fine!  I moved workouts around, changed some pacing, even skipped (gasp) a long run!  And I'm alive to tell the tale!  OMG!  Back to the story - a couple of weeks before JC Stone, I had some turmoil happen in the personal life.  In the midst of all this, I had a heart to heart and a realization that I really didn't want my first ultra to be North Park lake loops.  Now, I'm not bashing that race at all - I still plan on doing it one of these years - but I'm saying for me, myself, and I, that I would do a great disservice to myself if I ran a route that I've run a million times over and am honestly very sick of and said "yep, that's my ultra!"... particularly if it turned into a one-and-done thing.  And so, after much debate and research, I registered for what would be the most amazing race ever, hoping that I could train hard enough to make the cut off time.

My training changed from progression of speedwork to preserving my base (I was back to hovering around the 50 mpw mark) and staying injury free, while working on elevation gain (here's where those hill workouts came in handy).  Fun fact:  I've achieved more elevation gain in the last 2 months than I have in all the years I've been running combined.  No joke.  The North Shore "trail" is a pancake.  Start at Millvale and go to the jail and back (12 miles) and you'll have gained.... 14 feet.  The south side isn't much better but I think you can get 30 there.  North Park lake loop? A whopping 138 feet per loop.  Hardly hilly at all.  I thought Pittsburgh was hilly?  Anyway - Marine Corps Marathon: 562 feet.  JASR 30K? 467 feet.  Still not hilly compared to a race that has about 4000 feet of elevation gain.  So, I had some work to do.  First, I had to get comfortable on trails.  The North shore and other rail trails don't count as real honest to shit trails and I'd only been on real piddly other ones before.  But now I can tell you I've hit up Boyce, North park, Rachel, etc and am always thirsty for anything new and different.  The harder the better, really.  Gimme dem rocks and roots and water! Second, I had to work on that climb.  Trails are where the big hills are and I got to them every chance I could.   My long runs also got, well... longer.  During marathon training I'd get my 20 milers done in 3 hours-ish or less.  This training cycle had me doing long runs of 3 1/2, 4, all the way up to 5 hours!  I also had to integrate hiking workouts (not just slow moseys) into my training to get more time on my feet on more rugged terrain and yes, climbing more hills.

Something else I had to do, and I have to say this really helped me more than you can imagine is cutting off running social media (except Strava).  I didn't use my Garmin for every single workout and only kept a log on my computer.  I also didn't feel the need to mention every strength workout or core training.  No more yammering about my runs everywhere to everyone and especially no DailyMile.  I find DailyMile to be very irritating - kind of akin to being the Facebook of running.  It just really got on my damn nerves so that had to go.  Being free from having to report to people and feel pressured into keep up with everyone really took the stress off my training.  If I had to take a day or two off, I didn't have to qualify it or worry about what everyone thought.  If I was running slower, I didn't feel, again, like I had to qualify it or be ashamed of it, etc.  I also broke my FOMO streak.  There are people out there that really love to run all the races and do all the things.  I think that's great and I totally get it and at times I'd like to as well.  But I really can't afford to pay for race registrations out the wazoo.  I'd rather spend money on other things.  And my work schedule is really limiting to not just my training, but racing.  I work Tuesday through Saturday - night shift.  When most people are getting up and out to do their early running, I've only been home for a couple of hours.  It's tough, but I make it work.  I'm hoping to have a better schedule soon, but time will tell.  Bottom line:  I need to worry about me, not what every other person in the local running cliques are doing.

My "extended" training cycle went great.  Funny thing about trails - they really are better for you than roads.  After road 20+ milers I'd feel it, no matter how "easy" I took them.  5 hours on trail?  I felt tired, yeah, but I was totally fine.  My recovery from all my trail runs was miraculous.  And when I'd get back on the road for an easy run or speedwork in the days after?  That came so easily.  I absolutely loved the trails for how they made me feel.  I can honestly tell you that I am a trail convert.  Roads just don't hold the same thrill or sense of accomplishment.  In fact, I do not have the desire to train for a road race any time in the near future.

So, the long runs came and went and taper seemed to fly by.  And there I was - 24 weeks of training, nearly 1000 miles logged.  I did 17 long runs over the half marathon distance, 12 of those over 16 miles.  I ran the longest runs of my life in time, if not yet distance (my longest run was 24.5 miles).  Most importantly I came into this race INJURY FREE.  It's now over one year since my last injury.  There has to be something to a "real" training plan, "real" trails, and hell, just me finally being "real" with myself.

Speaking of being real, I think I'm going to be real about the fact that my race recap is going to be a separate post.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Overview of Where I've Been and What's Next

Hi!  How are ya?  Not gonna lie, I've been drinkin' tonight so pardon the slurred speech and the beer muscles.  At least I'm not to the point of listening to Hick Hop (yet) so we're good.  j/k... I was reading a hilarious thread on Reddit and Hick Hop is on the forefront of my hilarious thoughts.

This shit is awesome.  Sometimes I buy beers just for the graphics on the label.  Sometimes it works out... others not so much.  This one is a winner, though.

Anyway, I'm really not going to go back to structured blogging, but I wanted to write down some things... talk about what happened especially over the last few weeks and what I'm looking forward to.

First of all, I'm really enjoying some downtime.  That said, I really get annoyed with the downtime.  I'm not really on any sort of "plan" - be it running or lifting or whatever - and while some days that's very liberating other days it pisses me off because I want that goal/that purpose/that drive for a true end result.  but it is what it is... pretty soon I'll be bitching about fitting all my runs into my life schedule again so I'm trying to chill and enjoy.

For all intents and purposes 2015 is done for me, as far as training/running goes.  I may... just may.. do a five mile race here in the coming weeks but if I do I will not all out race it.  I'm just itching to do something.

So, my final thoughts on my training cycle and MCM are this:
I loved the training plan I chose.  Funny thought:  this was just a free plan offered by the Clif Bar company.  I was attracted to it by the low mileage (since I was coming off an injury and still run/walking for those first few weeks), as well as the 2x weekly speedwork.  I also liked the fact that it was 4 days per week running with the flexibility to add easy miles and/or cross training on the other days - which I did take advantage of and was running the standard 5 days per week by the middle of the plan.  I only modified it slightly - it scheduled 2 runs of 19 then 21 miles and I thought that sounded stupid, so I just did 2 20 milers.  And the tempo runs I made true tempo runs, not race pace miles sandwiched inside a warmup and cooldown (that is NOT a tempo run!).  In general, I think it was a nice, well rounded plan that was super flexible so that it could "grow with me", so to speak, as I fully recovered from my stress reaction and felt ready to take on the longer/harder stuff.  I did hit 50 miles a week at peak, which as you know is short of the 55 I was at before, but really.. that's not too shabby in the world of casual marathoning.

I did not follow the nutrition plan that came with the running plan because I was trying to follow the Racing Weight book.  Which was a fail for me, like I've posted before.

I felt totally prepared for the race, but in the end it was the mind over matter issue on top of the awful weather that did me in.  I pulled the classic "go out too fast" scenario and then faded and couldn't mentally get over myself in time to really bring it in.  BUT - I still pounded out a 9 minute PR, and achieved my B goal of a sub 3:50 (A goal was 3:45).  I also didn't walk a single step of the Iwo hill or any of the rest of the race, which was a big positive over last year.  So, even though the race didn't go as planned, I consider this whole cycle from day 1 of run/walking to feeling awesome in the days AFTER the race (seriously - easiest recovery ever) a huge success.
Thinking of buying this pic... it's one of a whopping 2 that I like.  The rest look like I'm about to die, give birth, am smelling a raunchy fart or just simply hate my life. Plus this is one of those cool "both feet off the ground" pics and I actually look like I'm totally focused and owning that shit.

What's next?  Well, like I said right now I'm in that limbo point.  I'm not training for anything, I'm just taking care of myself and staying fit.

I am planning on tackling some different things in 2016.  I absolutely plan on MCM again.  I want to get into the lifetime club so bad.  My "goal" early 2016 race is actually pretty early in the year so I'll be starting a training plan by the beginning of December.  I've enlisted the wisdom of a coach/someone who is a more seasoned and talented runner than I'll probably ever be.  One of the things that has been brought to my attention is that supposedly I am doing my running journey a huge disservice my consistently running my "easy" and ESPECIALLY my long runs (unless there is a prescribed workout within the run) too fast.  Now, I've been running by a heart rate range that I'd calculated and thought that was good enough but I'm told I need to run "slower than that slow".  So, it's going to be tough but I'm gonna try it.  I've been kinda trying out the paces on the runs I've done this week and I still ran every one (of the three I did) faster than the plan! I guess I need to take some time and focus and hone in on what it's supposed to feel like.  Of course, once winter rolls in it's easier to go into turtle mode anyway to prevent death by ice patch.  But, anyway, I'm looking forward to a different type of training, different type of plan, and different race and a different goal.  I know this is gonna sound bad, but running has gotten a little boring as well as frustrating for me and I need a change in perspective to keep me motivated.

I also - and this may be a shock - will not be doing an intense weight training plan in between or during running cycles.  For the last two years I've done that and I've gained some serious muscle (I'm no Ronda Rousey but I could beat a bitch down, just sayin'), but the honest fact is I'm bulkier than a runner is meant to be.  I really noticed this in recent pics.  So, I need to pare down and I will be following a plan tailored for endurance athletes and running functionality.  This will be a lot of core work, hip/glute strength and some upper body.  I won't be doing hours upon hours of curls and benching and shoulder presses and all that because I need to focus on other areas.  And the core work takes #1 priority.

I was kind of inspired by one of my favorite YouTubers  to do a 30 day vegan challenge but my family is totally against it.  I guess I'll think of something else to do like the Yoga challenge I did last year (that's kept me doing at least some form of yoga on the regular all year!).

Well, that's all that's on my mind right now regarding the current status of life.  In the coming weeks I'll be cleaning up my nutrition a bit again (I've been on an OMG eat all the crap I couldn't have during marathon training binge for two weeks and that's not real smart with the holidays coming at us), but other than that it's just keep on moving and loving life. :)

He wanted to take his own damn selfie.  What a brat.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Marine Corps Marathon 2015

Short version: I had a stressful trip, was tired for the race, the weather was too warm and humid, and I ultimately went out too fast, hit the wall like a boss, but still managed both a PR and a sub 3:50.

Word vomit version:

We ended up leaving Pittsburgh much later Friday morning than I'd hoped.  That, on top of extended stopping along the way, led us to check into our hotel late.  More stress got heaped onto my plate by my card company claiming that I never put in a travel notification so my card got flagged at the hotel desk.. How embarrassing!  We had to stand there and call the bank and jump through freaking hoops to get them to clear my card so we could get to our room.  Jagoff bank!  So, by this time it was too late to go to the expo.  This ticked me off because I like to go to the expo on Friday so that I don't spend too much time on my feet the day before the race.  Well, I had no choice now.  We went out to eat, stopped at a store to get some things we needed and then drove around to see some sights in the dark before heading back to our room to get some rest.

The kids... oh my.  Of course this would be one of those phases they all decided to check into where they can't get along, don't listen to direction, and pretty much don't care about anything but being as loud and obnoxious and rotten as possible.  They were like this quite a bit during this trip and it didn't help my focus.  NOTE:  I'm not blaming the kids for anything regarding my race performance or whatever, I'm just making a standard parental observation.  There were moments of "who's child are you?" that happened.  Every parent experiences this.  Unfortunately, this took place on race weekend.  Thanks for keeping me on my toes, kids! ;)

Anyway, Saturday morning I woke up early to meet up with my friends from the Facebook MCM & 10K group.  We met at the Smithsonian and ran a short loop around the area (which formed a penis shape on the gps map, which is always worth a giggle).  It was a good time, even though it was quite chilly as we waited for everyone to arrive!  Oh how I wish this weather stuck around for Sunday!  I was so happy to finally meet people and put some real faces to names and pictures on the internet.  Our group really does have a great bond and I think it's awesome how we share a love of the most awesome race in the whole damn world.

MCM & 10K Club 2015

After my shakeout run, I headed back to the hotel and got ready to go to the expo.  The expo was... the expo.   It was super crowded, hard to get around, and I definitely didn't get to see or do all that I had initially planned.  It was just too much and we decided to just call it a day and leave after we got some ice cream.  This is the first expo I've ever attended where I walked out spending NOTHING.  At least packet pickup was a breeze.  And I saw Jeff Galloway!  He actually ran the race the next day with his wife as well.  Such an inspiration!

Hell yes I wrote "For the Horde" on the official MCM pace car!  Because I am a nerd.

For pre-race dinner we went to a place that was recommended in my FB group called the Lost Dog Cafe.  I was really touched by the story behind this place and really wanted to try it.  The owners also run an animal rescue and everything is based on that.  Even most of the menu items have animal names so that was cool.  I got plain spaghetti and garlic bread, but I wished I could have indulged in what the rest of the family had because it all looked so good!  I hope to get back there some day because what little nibbles I had were pretty tasty.

Later that night at the hotel I discovered I had forgotten raisins for my traditional night before snack of oatmeal, chia, raisins and honey.  Boo.  Then I got to bed hours later than I wanted to.  And of course tossed and turned all night long, looking at the clock at least once an hour...

I was damn tired when the alarm went off at 4 a.m. but I got my ass up and moving.  I went over my list and made sure I had everything and put on some extra bodyglide.  I drank some gatorade, grabbed my PB sandwich and a banana as well as a big bottle of water and headed down to the Metro.  I was shockingly calm.  Tired, but my nerves were calm.

I just want to say here that a lot of people in the past days have bitched about the security lines and the race start and whatever but I have to say I had NO issue at all.  I was on the Metro at 5, and comfortably situated with some people I met up with at Runners Village shortly thereafter.  I got right through security and hung out in the rain for the next two hours chatting, taking pictures, and using the portajohn.  Guess I'm lucky I'm an early riser and know that extra sleep isn't worth extra stress.

Dark and empty parking lot at Runners Village sometime around 5:30 a.m.

One thing I noticed as I was waiting for the right time to head to the start line was that it was humid.  Very humid.  88%.  Yuck.  It was around 60 degrees too.  I knew a suckfest was ahead and there was nothing to do but hold on for the ride and just run.  Another thing I noticed was that my stomach was wonky and I had to crap like every 15-20 minutes.  Oh, and as luck would have it, I got my fucking period too.  This was a perfect morning!

So, anyway, as the sun rose and me and my new best friends parted ways to head to the start, my stomach finally felt stable, thank goodness.  My mood was not the greatest, but it could have been a lot worse and I do credit the guys I hung out with for keeping my mind off my own bullshit for a while.  I easily found my way to my corral (Expected Finish: 3:40-3:59) and enjoyed the opening ceremonies.  The prayer.  The motivational talks.  The flyover.  The National Anthem.  Amazing.  I ditched my throwaways just before the howitzer fired.  It was around 2 minutes before I crossed the start.

I said it last year and many times since:  MCM is crowded as fuck.  And yes, there are corrals, but it's a guarantee that there will be people walking right out of the gate that started near the elite corral.  I was prepared for it this year and I wasn't going to let myself get as crazy over it.  Notice I said "as crazy" because come on... it's frustrating not being able to run as you trained to run for whatever reason.  But this year I kept my cool and didn't weave around nearly as much as before.  I had some form of patience.  Well, that was until I caught up with the 3:45 pacer and his surrounding group and started joining in the conversation and antics...

My first miles ticked off within the range I'd given myself for the race.  Easy peasy.  Then, before I knew it I was in this big mob of a group and this pacer is flying.  I mean like fucking flying.  To be honest, I was enjoying the sights and sounds and company and not paying a whole lot of attention, but my Garmin started ticking off sub 8 minute miles - 7:48, 7:52, etc.  And this was the uphill part of the course!  On one hand I was thinking "too fast, Nichole, you will never make it at this rate" but on the other I kept telling myself that I felt great, it felt easy and I was having so much damn fun why stop now?!  So I just kept with the herd.  Other people also commented:  "That guy is nuts!", "WTF is he trying to bank so much time we'll be able to walk from the bridge to the Iwo?", and other such remarks.  I laughed with them and agreed, but even as more people (the smart ones) dropped back, I had this do or die mentality that kept me glued to this dude.  Many times I second guessed myself and what I was doing, but I kept telling myself that I'd be a loser and a quitter if I pulled back, so I didn't (well at least at this point of the race).

I will say though, nothing against this pacer as a human being, though.. he was really fun and at least talked a lot, which is a quality I enjoy in a pacer.  He cracked me up sometime around mile 8 or 9 when he announced that he had to pee and handed off his sign and balloons to some random guy in the group and said "Hold this, I'll be back", and we were essentially pacerless for a while until he caught back up.

The Blue Mile.  What can I say about this?  It's one of those things you have to be there for.  But it is one of those things at MCM that remind you that this race is not really about YOU, but about something so much bigger.  Weaving and distance be damned, I will position myself during the Blue Mile so I can look at every picture and high five/say thank you to every family member, child, volunteer holding out those big beautiful American flags.  During this mile time/pace/PRs don't fucking matter.

I first started realizing I was truly screwed at the half marathon point.  A well meaning spectator was cheering and yelling "You're halfway there now!", which as a marathoner you know is bullshit.. the halfway point of a marathon is 20 miles.  You need 50% of your energy for that last 10K.  Upon assessing my personal status I kinda realized that I probably was down 50% of my energy at the half marathon point... not a good sign.  But, I kept forging on.

The Mall.  I love running this!  From the sights to the crowd, it's just great.  My family was here as well.  I needed the psychological boost and I was thrilled to see them.  I also saw Bart Yasso who is seriously one of the coolest guys ever.

Unfortunately I really started fading during the last part of the mall headed toward the bridge.  At the mile 16 marker I realized that I was really starting to feel like I was "working"... again in a marathon that's not a good sign.  It was getting ridiculously hot, someone said the humidity was nearly 100% and most certainly by 18-19 miles I was starting to feel like crap.  I knew at this point the Bridge was going to be a bitch and if I wanted a chance of hitting my goal of not walking up the Iwo for the second year in a row, I had to say farewell to the (now very small) group I was running with and pull back.  For some silly reason during this race I decided to fuel differently (took my GU at different mileage points and carried a water bottle I never had before).  I know, dipshit move and one I will not make again.  And BTW taking GU early didn't help any, in fact I think it made matters worse.

Mile 20.  To the Bridge and over.  I was really starting to struggle.  My pace dropped a lot (I saw some 9:xx miles) and I just mentally checked out.  I told myself even if I ran the rest of the race at long run pace I'd still glide in at a great time.  The thing that irritated me was that I had no doubt that I could cover the distance, the stamina was there, it's just that my legs (quads and calves mainly) were just cramped up.  Seriously they were SO damn tight.  And then I got smacked with a big dose of reality....

There on the bridge I was about to pass another runner.  This runner was a double amputee running on prosthetic legs.  I got my head out of my ass (at least for the moment) and thought to myself "whatever whining and bitching I've got going on has nothing on this dude.  talk about a beast!".  As I went by him I said "You are my motherfucking hero!", and I forged ahead and off that damn bridge.

As I entered Crystal City I must have really looked like shit because a guy yelled out "about 4 more miles, ma'am!".  I know he meant well but I wanted to kick him in the dick.  4 miles is forever at the end of a marathon.  But I did somehow manage to find a second wind and I was back to running at my intended race pace again.  I ate some orange slices that were handed out.  I was sad to see that there was no water sprayer this year in CC... I really could have used it.  Getting to the turnaround point seemed to take a long time and I was starting to get pissy again.  My quads were really bothering me and I felt like I was just going to ride the pain train the rest of the race.

My pace slowed a bit again, but I kept pushing as hard as I could while keeping some kind of control going so I had the energy to take the Iwo.  For the second time, I had to say no to the donuts at mile 24.  I was hot, miserable, and nauseous and I really thought they would just bounce back out.  Even those last orange slices I ate weren't sitting well.  I had one last GU in my belt and couldn't even bring myself to take that either.

And why oh why is mile 25 the longest mile of the race?  seriously!

Somewhere near the Pentagon stood a guy dressed as a nun yelling "The End is Near" among other things.  It was hilarious and a much needed mental boost.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the mile 26 sign.  I knew all I had to do was take the Iwo and put myself on cruise control for a minute and it was all over.  I started up the hill strong but then it became a battle to get my legs to move forward.  My pace really slowed (I was down to around 10:30 by the time I got to the top) but I DID NOT WALK ONE STEP.  I didn't walk a single step of this whole race, actually.  Right before the top of the hill a Marine yelled "only a bit farther ma'am, you got this! Oorah!".

I really tried to sprint once I got to the top of the hill.  I really did.  But, it just was not there.  I still gave everything I had left in the tank and cruised to the finish line.  I was elated to find out later that my time was 3:48:19.  I executed this race very foolishly and not at all like I'd planned and I still got my PR, and a big one at that.  I happily got my medal from a young Marine who I then asked for a hug.  Which he obliged.  :)  Then I got my picture in front of the memorial, hooked up with my family (who actually saw me finish this year!), ate some watermelon and went right for the beer tent.

Beer is good and stuff!

The kids and I taking a post-race selfie.

In the hours and a day or so after the race I did a lot of negative talk and kicking my own ass for the silly things I did (not sticking with my own pace at the beginning, fueling differently, etc) and doing a lot of "I wonder what my time would have been if..." shit, but I quickly got over that.  I PRed MCM!  On a humid day when I was tired and not feeling well at the start!  On a day where my brain just decided not to work!  I got to experience something freaking awesome!  AGAIN! And uh... did I mention that PR?!?!

I ran almost a quarter mile less this year - woohoo!

This is now almost a week from race day and I've been feeling back to normal for several days now.  I only had some general soreness for a day and a half afterward and that's it!  No nagging aches or pains and NO INJURY! This has been the easiest recovery EVER!  I can't wait to run again (Tuesday is the plan) and I can't wait to run MCM again in 2016!  I'm committed to running this race for as long as they will let me in!  I love it that much!  One day I'll get those donuts... one day!

Mission Accomplished!
Best Medal Ever.