Tuesday, November 15, 2016

24 Hours of Kicking Asphalt - NJ One Day 2016

So this weekend I just completed my last "big" race for 2016 - 24 hours at "One Day at the Fair" - a 24 hour race which is part of the New Jersey Trail Series.  My goal was to hit 100 miles in less than 24 hours.  Given that I had completed 100 miles at Summer Beast of Burden in 25:23 in brutally hot conditions, I thought this was a realistic goal for a cooler time of year, with just a bit more conditioning under my belt.

As with every one of these events that I've run so far, there is the running part... and there are the people.  And the beauty and joy in this sport is how both aspects are incredibly special by themselves, and when they come together, make for a transcendent experience.

Let's start with the people.  So...  I'm pretty used to going to races alone.  The only times I've really had a "crew" were Summer Beast (and what a crew!!!  Allyson, Russell, Sen, my parents and my daughter Patty...  There is a whole other report about that effort of love)... and, my first 50 miler, where, although my daughter Patty didn't "crew" me per se - she was THERE, at every single aid station, cheering me on.

So... I didn't bring anyone.  But... I HAD someone.  I had people.  Running people.  First:  Aubrey.  So I met Aubrey just a few months ago - first via Facebook, and then in person.  I had posted to the CanLakes 50 FB group asking for a woman to share a hotel room for the race and cut down on costs, and Aubrey responded.  I could tell pretty quickly from FB that she was my kind of people... and it was confirmed within minutes of her entering the hotel room in October.  We had lots to talk about and had a good weekend.  So, when I realized she lived in NJ and my One Day race was in NJ, I contacted her to ask if she was doing it and whether she could suggest someplace to stay.  She immediately invited NOT ONLY to let me stay at her house the night before AND after the race, but to drive me to and from the venue an hour away from her house). 

People.  Damn.

About a week out, I started checking out the forecast for the race.  It was supposed to be relatively cold.  I've heard from a number of people that it is key to stay in dry layers, so the day before the race found me pulling together 4 full separate base layers, anticipating a possible need to change at each 25 mile mark or so...  I also had 4 pairs of gloves/mittens, several hats, a variety of layers of outerwear, 3 pairs of shoes (different widths and heel/toe drops), and 2 pairs of shoe inserts.  Salt tabs, and medicines:  Pepto/Bismol, Gelucil, Tylenol, being key...  My bag was as full as it could possibly be.

I left work a little early on Friday to head down to NJ, and got to Aubrey's shortly after 6.  She was making a salad and had a great big pot of this fantastic Bolognese sauce that her husband Phil had made before he left to pick up their son Harry at school for the weekend.  We immediately started chattering away like long lost buddies (we shared strong views on the recent election), and as soon as it was ready I dug into the Rigatoni and Bolognese.  Heaven. 

Phil and Harry arrived home not too long after, so I got to hang with them a bit before it was time to go to bed and rest up for the race.  I felt immediately at home with this amazing family, and was so moved by their generosity and complete "adoption" of me.

Although for years I used to sleep poorly before races - particularly before big races, that seems to have largely gotten better.  I got a full night of good sleep and woke up well rested.

The race start was at 9 on Saturday morning and was about an hour from Aubrey's house, so we planned to leave by 6:45.  I woke up at 5:45 and started pulling on my race clothes.  Really, there wasn't much to do besides get dressed and drink coffee.  We headed out to the bagel shop and picked up about a dozen piping hot fresh NJ bagels.  I chowed down my "SuperEgg" bagel with lox cream cheese, OJ and coffee, we put the gear in the car and headed off.  Within about 5 minutes I already realized I'd forgotten my "meds" bag, so we quickly turned back to get it, since there was no traffic and it appeared we had time to spare.
Amy & Aubrey pre-race

 I went over to check in and then came to set up my gear on the table that Aubrey had lent me.  The sun was shining brilliantly, but it was cold and windy.  Whenever the wind stopped I was comfortable but otherwise I was chilly.  It didn't seem like much time passed before we gathered at the race start, and we were off!

Early into the race I was already feeling much better than I ever felt physically at my 100 miler in August.  I had no aches or pains, and my running was smooth, easy, and on pace.  On slow training runs, I normally hit the 25 mile mark somewhere close to 4:30.  (Contrasting with my 95 degree Beast of Burden where I didn't hit it until 5).  I hit 25 miles at 4:22 or so, and was feeling just fine.  I was hooked into good tunes; the course was smooth and easy - and mostly consisted of my favorite surface - pavement (with the exception of a short section before the timing mat which was sort of crushed gravel).     Even better - I hit the 50 mile mark at 9 hours and 21 minutes - which was an hour and 40 minutes faster than my summer race.  And, in my summer race, I think I took a 5-10 minute break at the aid station at 50, whereas here I just kept going.  So, at this point in the race, I was about an hour and 50 minutes ahead of my previous 100 attempt.  And... was feeling good.

During the day I met a couple of folks out on the course... there was Helen Clark, from England.  There was the other Amy - a trail runner who I had met briefly online prior to the race.  There was also a young lady (Sydney, I was later to find out), who, at age 10 ran her first marathon in 5 hours 58 minutes and 23 seconds, with her dad Bryan at her side.  How amazing!!!  There was Sheryl Wheeler, to whom I had talked briefly before the race - super strong runner.  In addition to the folks on the course, I also got to meet Matt Beyer, who was there to support a runner named Mark.  Matt now falls into my category of "amazing ultra peeps".  He essentially adopted me, and waved to me at every lap, asking if I needed anything - pulling stuff out of my bag, and even picking me up some coconut water when he went out to the store.  There was Francis Kwok - a Facebook friend from Trail and Ultra Running who was volunteering in the kitchen.  I can't tell you the number of times he called out "need anything Amy?  Can we get you some food?"  Later, after the 12 hour race started, I also got to meet Royce Brenner in person - I had also met him and chatted briefly online before the race.  He was running his first ultra and did a great job.  He looked so strong out there every time I saw him.  There was another woman who I definitely noticed - but, I doubt she noticed me.  Because.  She was going FAST.  The WHOLE time.  She lapped me many times - steady as a rock.  I found out later her name was Megan - she was the female winner of the course (coming very close, I think, to the overall course record), racking up an unbelievable total of 140 miles.  Her pace stayed steady and under the 10 minute mile mark up until mile 100 and even then she didn't slow down much.  She was a machine.  I was in awe.

What amazed me about this race, and what was so different from my 100 over the summer, was just how long I felt strong, and just how long I could keep running. At Summer Beast of Burden, I started doing a real heavy mix of walking with my running starting at mile 50.  At mile 75, I'd say I was doing a lot more walking than running. 

Not so, at One Day.  I hit the 60's, and felt incredibly strong.  It FELT like I was running 10 minute miles.  (Looking at the pace sheet, they were 11's and 12's...).  But, everything FELT great.  Sometime a bit later, I'm not exactly sure when, I started walking the section from the timing belt to my gear - which was probably close to a quarter of a mile, and then running the rest of each lap.  I did that into the 90's.

The moon was incredibly bright, and it got cold, cold, cold.  I mentioned earlier I had brought a whole bunch of dry clothes with the thought of changing during the race.  I realized, as I ran, that there was really not a logistically easy way to do this, for a couple of reasons.  First, I hadn't brought a tent - so if I wanted to change in private, I'd have to cart my clothes to the bathroom - which wasn't all that close to my gear table.  So, I'd either have to take breaks and walk off and back on to the course, or carry my gear with me for 3/4 of a mile until I REACHED the bathroom.  Then, I'd have to take off several layers of clothes in order to get the dry stuff on.  I figured I'd easily lose 10-15 minutes changing, and I just wasn't sure that it was worth it.  So, instead of getting dry, my strategy became "just put on more clothing".  As night fell, I donned a hat and fleece gloves.  It got colder and I put on my purple lined running jacket over my running shirt.  It got even colder and I put on the wonderful down vest we got as race swag.  Colder still, and I changed into the fleece running hat that my friend Jessie made for me a couple of years ago - it has a fleece strap that buttons around your chin which is sort of like adding on a scarf.  Swapped out my damp fleece gloves for some dry warm gloves.  Picked up hand warmers from the aid station.  Finally, somewhere around 10-15 miles before the end, when my running was getting weak enough that I couldn't reliably run to keep warm, I donned my lined camoflouge parka, just completing the ridiculous look. 
It was COLD!!!

 This was my 3rd overnight race, and my second that went for over 24 hours.  As with the 2 previous races, there was never, ever, any feeling of sleepiness.  There were a couple of odd moments when morning approached when I closed my eyes to blink, and it sort of felt like a flash went off.   But... it was momentary, and went away. 

At 4:30 I started actively looking forward to morning... not because I minded running in the dark (I don't), but because I really wanted the sun to come up and start warming up the course.  I was SO cold.  And then, around 6, the sky DID start to brighten... it did it slowly, and brilliantly, with incredible pale blues and stunning pinks.  It took an hour more for the sun to actually be over the horizon, and another 30-60 minutes after THAT for the sun to start to warm things up to any meaningful level.  So, all things considered, it was still pretty damn cold for most of the morning.

As I approached 100 miles, I saw Amy Dedic each lap.  I was amazed that she was still managing a run... (my ankle was bothering me at this point, so pretty much all running had ceased).  She was a couple of laps behind me, but looked like she'd hit her 100 before 24 hours as well.    I was even more impressed when we chatted afterwards on Facebook and I learned she really doesn't like pavement and had been in pain for many hours.

Around mile 98, I met Robert... a marine who was running the 12 hour.  It was wonderful to have his company for those last couple of laps before 100.  As I approached the timing mat on my 100 mile lap, I started singing that Rocky theme (Flying High now)...  I crossed the timing mat and Rick McNulty called out "22:31!", meaning I'd hit 100 miles at 22 hours and 31 minutes.  which was... 89 minutes faster than my goal, and almost 3 hours faster than my last 100.  And, to show just how freaking cold and uncomfortable I was, I yelled "Shit!  That means I have 90 minutes left!!".  (Again - my goal for this was the 100 - not "to run as far as I could for 24 hours").  But, of course, I wasn't going to waste that time.  I did, however, stop at the aid station (which I had pretty much bypassed for the last 20 miles in my quest to get to 100 as quickly as possible), and enjoyed the BEST bacon, eggs and coffee of my life.  I'm pretty sure that bacon and eggs cost me mile 105, since there were only 10 minutes left on the clock when I hit 104... without the food there might have been time for me to get that extra mile.  But... I didn't care.  I had done what I set out to do - I had reached my goal.  Hell, I SMASHED my goal.  And I felt awesome.

Walked it out for the last 4 miles - tried once or twice for a run, but the way my ankle felt, I didn't want to risk injury - so I didn't.  I hit 104 at about 23:49:31, which made me the 4th woman, and the 8th runner in the 24 hour race.  It was a good day.
After the race, with my finisher's license plate

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Can Lakes 50 miler Redux - 2016

So – Saturday, October 8th was officially my ultra running 1 year anniversary.  My first ultramarathon was completed at the Can Lakes 50 miler in 2015, and last Saturday I went back for a repeat performance.

As anyone following my blog is aware, I’ve been pretty consistently busy since last October.  After completing Can Lakes last year, I went on to race in 8 other ultras including my first (second, and third) venture(s) into trail racing, a 6 hour timed race in Buffalo, a 12 hour overnight race at Candlelight 12, a road 50K, Winter Beast of Burden 25 miler, and my “A” race of the year, Summer Beast of Burden 100 miler (all detailed on the blog).

I’ve learned a lot of lessons in the past year – particularly the value of high weekly mileage – most of it at an easy pace.  In addition to the high mileage, I’ve been throwing in regular hill work as well as almost weekly speed and/or tempo workouts, plus some regular bike, swim and strength to keep things balanced.  I went into this years’ Can lakes 50 with the sole goal of beating last years’ time by any amount.

I was not sure that this goal was attainable.  I was VERY surprised and pleased with last year’s race, coming in almost 30 minutes faster than my “stretch” goal of under 10:04 (which would qualify me for a silver age-group medal).  Nonetheless – with all of the training I’ve put in, I was hoping it would be possible.

So many things were different about this year’s race from last.  The biggest and most obvious was that instead of being a great big first for me, this race was now something I was very mentally comfortable with.  Last year, I had my daughter Patty with me – which was absolutely amazing – she was at every aid station.  This year Patty is in England, studying, so I went solo to the race (although had the great pleasure of meeting Aubrey Birzon-Blanda – my hotel roommate and new ultra friend).    

I arrived in Canandaigua right around 6 pm on Friday – an hour before the pre-race dinner was to start.  I checked into the hotel, unpacked, took care of some e-mails, and headed over to the dinner.  As he did last year, Gil put on quite a wonderful spread.  I was sorry to see that there weren’t nearly as many people there as last year – apparently there were a number of expected attendees who didn’t end up coming.  I had been looking forward to Gil’s pre-race speech, and, probably because of how few folks were there, that didn’t happen.   I was happy to see the entire Schubmehl family – I’d met Wanda and Bill at last year’s event, and their daughter Stephanie at Green Lakes over the summer.  I sat with them and with Tom Butler and enjoyed the fabulous food.

Heading back to the hotel, I met my roomie for the first time.  (I had advertised on the Can Lakes Facebook group that I was looking for a female roommate to share hotel expenses.)  Aubrey was great and we chatted until bed… she was running the 50K. 

So – perhaps TMI (although anyone who has read my BPAC report has already experienced this sort of TMI from me), but my biggest concern about this race was really whether or not my gut would behave.  I’d been to a conference in New Orleans a few weeks prior, and picked up this AWFUL lower GI thing that actually grounded me from outdoor running for a few days simply because I was terrified to be that far away from a restroom.  It had appeared to be all better, but had reared its (very) ugly head again just 2 days prior to the race.  My untried solution was to take a dose of Imodium about an hour before the race, and just pray. 

I didn’t want to wake up Aubrey, so pretty much as soon as I was dressed and ready, I headed out in search of better coffee options than the coffee-maker-in-room.  In the lobby I saw a guy who looked decked out for a race, along with his family.  I started talking to him – his name was Thomas – and learned that he was running his first 50 miler. 

I stopped at Starbucks and got myself a great big cup of strong caffeine, and headed over to race start.  Much of the pre-race hanging around was spent with various trips to the women’s room (my regular pre-race habit) and chatting with other runners.  I talked a bit more to Thomas, and also to Joe Ciecierega who was also running his first 50.  It’s always exciting at these races to see folks achieving new goals.
Hanging Out Before the Race

Soon enough, it was time to gather in front of the community college, and start the race. 

My early pace felt easy and right.  No aches or pains – felt tapered and strong.  Probably about a mile in, I heard a voice next to me and saw my new friend Thomas.  It looked like Thomas’ pace was almost spot on to mine, so we ran together and talked.  I’m generally a solo runner, and it is always pretty special when I get a chance to run with someone else.  We zipped through the first aid station – 4.5 miles down, and time was flying.  At aid station number 2, 9.5 miles in, we quickly sprinted to the rest rooms, grabbed a little food and soda and started on our way again.  Thomas and I separated a bit on the Coye Road climb – I think hill pacing is a pretty individual thing  - but I found him next to me again on the next big downhill past Coye.

I was really pleased, early on in the race, with how I was handling the downhills.  Last year the downs started hurting my knees really early in the race.  This year I appeared to be running them strong.  Thomas and I continued our comfortable pace until we hit Bopple Hill – the first true monster climb of the race.  We stopped briefly as we climbed Bopple for Thomas to grab some gear from his crew, and then started to climb again.  Somewhere along that climb, our paces stopped matching as well, and I moved on ahead of Thomas.  Although I didn’t have a crew with me, I now had Thomas’ family rooting for me too, and as they drove by to wait for Thomas, they’d honk and wave at me – which was great.
Amy and Thomas climbing up Bopple

Bopple and the subsequent downhill went smoothly and then I hit a more rolling section of the course where I ran into Wanda Schubmehl.  I still felt strong, but it felt like I was slowing down a bit.  Further along that stretch of road I ran into Bill Schubmehl and said hi.   Bill and Wanda were both easy to recognize as they (and I) were wearing our day-glow Candlelight 12 hats.  Bill looked great…  I told him I was feeling OK but just a little bit bonky.  Somewhere around mile 22-23, I found myself on a road that just seemed to go on, and on, and on.  I didn’t see any runners ahead of me or behind me and realized I hadn’t seen any runners in a while.  I started wondering whether I had somehow gotten off course.  (Gil – maybe throw a few more chalk arrows on that section…  J   ) I plowed on ahead, and right around mile 24 I hit the turnoff for Sunnyside – which I recognized, to my great relief.

I remember really liking the Sunnyside section last year for a couple of reasons.  First, you hit the halfway point of the course there; secondly, there is a 3 mile “out and back” where you get to run into a lot of runners both ahead of you and behind you.  This is pretty cool.  Once you finish the Sunnyside out and back, you are at mile 28 or so.  This part was pretty exciting for me last year, because every mile past 28 last year represented further distance than I’d ever gone in training, and thus new territory.  This year that was not the case.

I hit the 50K mark at 5 hours and 37 minutes – actually 2 minutes slower than last year, but pretty much on target.  Although my 50K was marginally slower, I could definitely feel a difference in my strength between last year and this, in all of the post 50K miles.  Whereas last year I had felt the need at that point to take regular walk breaks, this year I was still running solid.  Also somewhere around 50K, the rain that had been threatening to occur all morning finally started, and we got a bit of a downpour for something close to 30 minutes.    During my 100 miler training, I had lots of chances to run in heavy rain including one memorable 30 miler where it rained for pretty much the whole run (including 7 miles at the end of heavy thunder/lightening), so I was pretty OK running in the rain.  At least the temperature was good.

I’d say another difference between last year and this year was how quickly the miles seemed to fly by between 50K and 50 miles.  There’s something about already knowing how that distance feels that makes it seem shorter. 

I didn’t remember exactly where Bare Hill, the second monster climb, started, but my recollection was somewhere in the late 30’s.  Sure enough right around the 38 mile mark, after some gradual climbing, the real fun began.  The base of the hill was a gradual enough slope to aim for an easy run.  It started to get steeper and I was just getting ready to start walking when I saw a familiar pink cowboy hat up walking ahead.   Sure enough, there was a woman to the left of the pink-hatted gentleman and I knew that Gary Thompson and Katherine Fleming were just ahead, running the 50K.    I yelled out to them and waved and jogged to catch up.  Really enjoyed their humor and company during the brief haul up Bare Hill.

The only remarkable thing for me between the top of Bare and the home stretch was just how much the downhills started to hurt – particularly on my right side on my knee and hip.  I had plenty of energy left at that point in the race (far more than last year), and really would have loved to have been able to just bomb down the hills.  Instead, at every downhill, I was gritting my teeth and wincing at the pain which a couple of times was so severe that it felt like either my legs would buckle or I’d have to walk.  Fortunately the pain subsided at the flats and the uphills, but I definitely think it impacted the pace I was able achieve in that section.

It was great seeing Kristen Hyer (a runner I’d met at Gil’s Candlelight 12 hour race and female Beast Of Burder winner, both winter and summer 2016) at the 42 mile aid station.  How powerful it is to have someone know your name, and take care of you!  “Amy – what do you need? Do you need soda?  Pickles?  How are you doing Amy?”.  Just having someone know me and ask after me made me feel strong and ready to head out for the last 8.

Which went…  just fine.  I think my pace was relatively steady at that point and I still didn’t feel like I needed to walk.  Very different, again, from last year.  Particularly in the last 3 miles, where last year I was mentally DONE,  this race I just kept on running – passing 2 runners in the last mile and a half of the course.  Soon the finish line was in sight – and instead of feeling like it was unbearably far away, I had the energy to pick up the pace and run through it strong, with a smile on my face.  In the end, I managed to cut a little more than 5 1/2 minutes off of my 2015 race, with a finish time of 9:30 and 20 seconds or so - an average pace of 11:13, and good enough (by over 30 minutes) to qualify me for an age group silver medal.
Earned my age group silver medal again

I hung out a bit after I finished to chat with Wanda, and to wait for Thomas to come in and finish his first 50-miler. 
Thomas finishing his first 50-miler

Gary and Katherine running in happy!

3 days after the race – the differences between last year and this year are still showing themselves.  Last year the stress on my body was such that I didn’t sleep for 2 days after the race and my gut just stopped processing stuff.  This year that didn’t happen.  Also, I ran my regular Tuesday 9 miler and didn’t really feel much the worse for wear – rather, it felt like I had completed a long training run on Saturday.

Which I did…  next stop:  One Day at the Fair 24 Hour race in New Jersey, November 12 2016.


Monday, September 19, 2016

Free To Run Trail Marathon Race Report

I signed up for this race the week after I finished my 100 miler in August.   The goal of running this 26.2 was as my last “long” training run in between my 100 miler on August 13 and my CanLakes 50 miler on October 8.  Although generally I’m pretty comfortable doing long runs solo, I have found it adds interest and comraderie to throw in some races as training runs.  I picked this race because I saw it was going to be held in the Pittsfield state forest, where I had a really good experience running the Vegan Power 50K back in June, training for my 100.  (I’m not a vegan but they let me in anyway).  The venue for that race was stunningly beautiful and the terrain was all runnable – not much elevation and not horribly technical – though relatively rooty.  It wasn’t until after I signed up for “Free to Run” that I saw that, even though the race was in the same park (Pittsfield State Forest), it was NOT the same trail.  THIS race had 3000 feet of elevation per 12.5 mile loop and the race was billed as “very challenging”.  Furthermore, in order to race well, you need to train on the terrain you will be racing on.  And, unfortunately, I’ve not spent much time on trails since I ran the 50K in June.    I did manage to get in 2 5-mile training runs in the 3 weeks before Free To Run – but I had a spill on my first trail training run and suffered a nasty hamstring pull that had made sitting excruciating for the past several weeks and which was only just now recovering. 

My Ragnar buddy Ed Rudman had seen me thinking out this race online, so we signed up together.  After we signed up, he shared info about the race with some other Ragnar teammates including my cousin and best friend Rebecca Makas, and Rebecca and our friend Deb Ross decided to come up and do the half.  So – rather than a solo training run, I had an opportunity for a long training run with a friend, as well as a chance to run a chunk of it with other buddies too.  This for me is special as I spend lots and lots of time running alone.

Problem was, as the race was approaching, I was not looking forward to it.  Rather, I was facing it with dread and trepidation.  As in “what have I done?”  Primarily I think the issue was fear of injuring myself further, after my spill from 2 weeks ago.  I have been getting so much joy out of running big miles – almost all of them on roads, and I had this sick feeling in the back of my mind that I was putting that ability in jeopardy by throwing myself into a race I really wasn’t all that prepared for.  Distance?  Yes.  Terrain… not so much.

One of the nice things about the race was the start time – with a 9:00 start for the half and full marathoners, I was able to get out and back in the same day rather than drop money on lodging.  I woke up only about 5 minutes earlier than my usual 4:30 and was in the car by 5 to head out to the forest.   Unlike many previous drives to races where I start to enjoy a sense of anticipation, I continued to feel nervousness and a bit of dread.  The only bright spot in the drive was looking forward to seeing people I love and spending the day in a beautiful place with them.

Breakfast consisted of a bacon, egg and cheese bagel from the Dunkin’ Donuts next to a Love’s travel stop near Pittsfield.  I was wearing my Vegan Power 50K race shirt (which I love!  It’s bright red and totally badass), and the clerk at Dunkin’ looked startled as I gave her the order.  “Did you say… bacon?”. 

“Damn skippy.”

“But…  your shirt….”

“Oh.  It was a race – it was a Vegan support event but they let me in anyway.”

I got to the forest with plenty of time to spare, and before Ed, Rebecca and Deb arrived.  I picked up my bib and just drank coffee until they showed up a few minutes later. 
Rebecca and Ed - pre Race

Deb, Amy, Rebecca and Ed Pre race

The trail loops were each 12.5 miles, so in order for each respective race to hit the required distance, an extra stretch was added on to the beginning of the race.  The half marathoners added on .6 miles, while the marathoners added on 1.2.  This meant that Ed and I started out the race more than ½ mile before Rebecca and Deb – which sort of threw our plan to run together into disarray.  Becca and Deb said they’d “meet us at the top of the hill”, and I think we all assumed we’d see them shortly.
Rocky Terrain - new to me!

Ed posting on the trail

The add-on stretch was pavement, but shortly thereafter we hit the trails and started climbing.  As the elevation map had indicated it would be, the first stretch of the first loop was pretty much all climb.  Although the “hiking” portion of ultra running had surprised me on my first trail “run”, after seeing the elevation map I had pretty much been mentally prepared that I’d be doing a bit of hiking early on.  Still – running is my thing.  So whenever we hit portions of the trail that appeared more runnable, we started trotting.  I have to say I felt pretty good about the first 3-4 miles of the race.  I was pleased with our pace, and pleased with the sections of trail that I found “runnable” – especially given the rocky terrain, which I was not at all familiar with.  Ed and I kept thinking we’d run into Deb and Rebecca any minute – but in fact we didn’t see them until we hit the first aid station which I believe was somewhere between 3 and 4 miles into the course.  Rebecca was easily identifiable by her bright orange compression socks.

We took advantage of the aid station goodies and soda, and then started on our way as a group of 4.  One of the other racers informed us that the hill right out of the aid station was known as the “Thrasher”.  There are some writings on the race website about where that name came from, but all we knew is that it was STEEP. 

I was actually OK with this – I’m a pretty strong climber when it comes to hiking, and I can power my way up most hills without too much huffing and puffing.  That is to say, the non-technical uphills are the piece of trail running I do well.  I was a bit ahead of my buddies on this part of the trail. 

One of the best and most delightful parts of this race were the stream of obscenities pouring from Deb’s mouth.  Deb is, simply, amazing.  She is witty, crass, astoundingly funny and shockingly obscene when she chooses to be – and she was choosing to be.  She kept us in stitches for the rest of the half marathon.  Going up the hill:  “Whose F@#ING idea was this anyway.  F@*ING AMY.  DAMN her! “  Funnier still was when we got to the aid station where I got stung by a wasp and without even thinking, I swore loudly.  Deb said gently “Amy – don’t swear.  Swearing offends me.”  She then apologized on my behalf to the aid station worker for my mouth.   It was Deb’s birthday and she was waiting for the exact moment when she turned 48 (1:00) so we could take a birthday selfie.

After we conquered the Thrasher we hid a much more level and rolling section of trail – and even though Deb swore every time we hit another “up” (there were plenty), in fact this section was pretty enjoyable.  It kept looking like we would break through and be on the top of the mountain soon, and every few minutes, Rebecca would state “Where’s my lookout?  They promised us a lookout damnit!”    I was thoroughly enjoying this and feeling pretty happy that I hadn’t fallen. 

And then.  Running along in a nice stretch of woods – and my left foot gets caught on a sneaky root and stays hooked there while my butt separates just a little bit from my leg and I can feel my hamstring pull EXACTLY where it had on my fall a few weeks ago.  And then I swore just like Deb, “F@#K!!”,  terrified that I had ruined myself for my upcoming 50 miler.

That pretty much blew my confidence for the rest of the race.  I gingerly started running again, the hammie yelling at me for my clumsiness.  Forutnately after a mile or 2, the hamstring pain started to subside significantly. 

We finally hit the overlook and it was as incredible as promised.  We spent WAY more time there than I would normally spend at an aid station at a race – which was fine, because this was all about running in a beautiful place with friends.  There were other runners up there, including Ana Wolf – who I had met briefly as the Race Director extraordinaire of the (much more runnable!) Vegan Power 50K, and with whom I have been Facebook Friends ever since.  It is always great to spend time with my runner friends in person.
Deb, Rebecca, Amy and Ed

Meeting my friend Ana on top of the world

It was also up on the ridge where I got stung by the wasp.  Didn’t even see it coming but all of a sudden my arm was on fire.  Made sense that it was a yellow jacket – the aid station workers said they were hanging all around the food table all day.  I swore loudly (chastised gently by Deb), and hoped that today wouldn’t be the day I’d develop any sort of sting allergy.

Fortunately there was no need for epi-pens as we progressed down along our way.  After our highly enjoyable vista stop, we headed back into the woods for the last 5 miles for Deb and Rebecca, and that last 18 for Ed and I.  The next 3 miles was unremarkable.  There was one more aid station after the vista, where the aid station volunteers said “the rest is easy!  There is just one more little up hill, and then no more single track – just downhill the rest of the way.”

Easy my ass.  (My sore, pulled, ACHING ass!)  The one thing they were right about was the downhill part.  Oh boy was it downhill.  Leaf slippery, rock slidingly, impossible footingly downhill.  Not too far from where we started our descent, I went down.  My goal going into this race was to stay upright and not get injured.  This fall was pretty disheartening – again because I had gone into this as a training run for a 50-mile road race – and what good is a training run if you come out of it unable to run?  After I got up from my tumble, I was much more cautious on the remaining downhill.  Deb and Rebecca hopped down it like billy goats, while Ed was a bit more cautious.  I brought up the rear.   Some minutes later, we saw a clearing up ahead, and there we were – Deb and Rebecca done with their race, and Ed and I at the halfway mark.  It was also pretty cool that our friend Sharon – another Ragnar teammate, had come to watch Deb and Becca finish and to cheer Ed and I on!

Again we spent a bit more time at the aid station than I would normally do – and we headed out on lap 2 – with Ana and Marie right behind us.

It was pretty clear on lap 2 that most of our productive “running” was done.  The uphill seemed “uppier”, and EVERYTHING seemed rockier and rootier again.  At this point I had 2 remaining goals – not to fall again, and not to DNF – and a not very strong but still present goal of trying to finish in less than 8 hours. 

Whereas on our first loop we had plenty of miles that were anywhere from 13-17 minute miles, on the second loop we were happy with anything under 20.  And believe it or not, in those sections where we were hitting 18 – we were actually doing a bit of running.

So here is the thing that gets me about trails.  Deb said it just right as we were hiking up the Thrasher.  She said “I like to RUN trails.  I don’t like to hike to get to my run.  If running is your drug, then this part doesn’t do it”.  Yes – that.  I’m into this thing for the run.  So on the parts where, for whatever reason, I can’t comfortably run – it feels like I’m either cheating, or failing.  Despite the fact that I KNOW that except for the top runners in these races, pretty much everyone is doing a bit of hiking.  Some more than others.

But running is my drug – and, well, I was not doing that much of it on loop 2.  But neither was I falling.  What WAS happening was my quads were getting more and more angry. 

Although it had seemed like a second loop would be take forever, in fact the time flew by – as it often does on these things.  Ed and I talked about anything and everything – and he jazzed things up a bit by singing a bit of Bruce (he’d just been to a concert).  At one point we were merrily belting out the song they sing in the Stripes marching scene – “There she was just a walkin’ down the street, singing Doowa Diddie Diddie Dum Diddie Do…”

I channeled my inner Deb when we got to the last aid station – my recollection had been that it was just a bit over a mile to the finish from there (which was what my GPS was telling me), but when the aid station volunteers indicted it was 2 hours – F#@K came flying out.  I just wanted to be done and go home and lick my wounds.

Down the rocky, leafy descent we went.  On this last section, there was pretty much no running this time around.  Well, until we were maybe a half a mile before the end, when a couple that had been a ways behind us appeared to be catching up.  I knew I wasn’t doing well in this race, but I wanted to at least keep any lead I had.  So – rocks be damned – I was running the rest, with Ed right along beside me.  We managed to run in approximately 30 seconds to a minute in front of the 2 folks behind us – which put me 22 out of 30 finishers with a finish time of 8:03.  Almost twice as long as my best marathon, and only 7 minutes faster than my first 50K trail – which was ALSO a tough course, with about as much elevation as this one, where I was the 2nd woman in.

Well damn.  What just happened?

And here is where the Monday morning quarterbacking comes in.  My buddy Rich tells me “ya gotta learn to not be so hard on yourself”.  But still – I’ve worked pretty hard at this ultra-running thing in the past year – and so a finish time of 8:03 at the very least makes me think “how could I have done better”?

So number 1:  Train for the terrain, dumbass. 

OK – yeah.  So why in hell would I expect to do at all well when this wasn’t what I trained for?  Isn’t what I AM CURRENTLY training for?  Is, in fact, an almost entirely new thing for me?  This was my 4th trail “race”, and even for my other ones I didn’t have THAT much more trail running under my belt – but at the very least, before my 50K, I’d gotten in 3 or 4 solid 8-10 mile trail runs.  This one – next to nothing.  And, although I’d gotten some root practice on both training runs and previous races, really NOTHING in my past running career prepared me for the kind of rocky terrain that was everpresent on this course. 

Number 2.  I was overly cautious. 

On previous races – despite trips and falls (I’ve had at least 1 on every trail race – hell, almost every trail RUN I’ve done..), I managed to get back up and get in the groove again.  But because of my fall weeks earlier that had ended up giving me pain for weeks, I was so worried about injuring myself that I didn’t allow myself to get back going again.

Number 3 – This wasn’t “THE” race.

So yeah – it definitely makes a difference in motivation level if you are deliberately going into a race as a training run rather than to “race” it. 

Number 4- Probably 10-15 minutes lost at aid stations.

I guess those are mostly the things that could have been opportunities for improvement. 

Still – it was humbling.  When I finished that second loop, my legs were literally shaking.  They were jelly.  And that was after HIKING most of the second loop – not much running in that go-round at all.  I was used to being able to finish 26 miles before breakfast and then spending the rest of the day cleaning my house.  This 8 hour jelly-leg crap was a whole new humbling gig for me.  I couldn’t fathom how anyone had done 4 loops on that course.  (And the lead person only took an hour more for the 50 that I took for my marathon!!   HE wasn’t hiking up those hills, for sure.  He was running them!).

Clearly, IF I want to improve at this particular type of race, there needs to be some lots of trail specific training thrown in.

Although I spent my drive home and most of the rest of the afternoon and evening growling at the whole concept of trails, by the next day I was feeling a bit more like I might consider getting back out there and trying to conquer them.  There were plenty of moments in the race that were in fact pure perfection.  Particularly in the first loop, before pulling my hamstring,  running smoothly and comfortably over the gentle hill portion of the course, my buddies behind me on an incredibly beautiful day in a stunning venue – well, it just can’t get any better than that.  And the view from the top?  Priceless.

But I think I’ll wait for after my 50….

Friday, September 16, 2016

After the Race… my post 100-mile journey

Immediate Post Race

I finished my race at 11:23 am on Sunday morning.  My biggest (and only real) race injury was chafing – the worst was something that really isn’t fit for print – which I became acutely aware of at a pee-break around mile 83.  (Sen may have heard my agonized cry from the porto-potty)  Dear lord it was so bad I almost passed out.  Second worst chafing was belly button (I get this a lot – the drawstrings from my shorts rub across my tummy and apparently are really irritating), and some spots on my back rubbed pretty raw from my hydration pack.  And, I had this super weird nasty and painful raised bright red welt on my right wrist that I had felt forming for the first 16 hours of the race when I wore Maria’s loaned GPS as a spare on my RIGHT wrist (not used to wearing a GPS watch), while waiting for my primary GPS on my left wrist to run out of battery.  The watch kept kind of banging around and rubbing against the bone, and at the end of the race it was this huge angry big red welt. 

Most of these injuries were alleviated pretty quickly by post-race shower and application of Aquaphor.  The drive home was manageable –  it was so amazing that my parents and Patty had come to support me – and an added benefit was that I got to just melt into the front seat, nibble tiredly at my Pop Tart (thanks Patty!), and just keep stretching.  Sitting after a race is, ironically, hugely uncomfortable as I get this awful sciatica sort of like a toothache in my ass.  We stopped for food at an Arby’s about an hour into the ride.  As is often the case, and also ironically, I still wasn’t even very hungry at that point and not much sounded good.  I ended up with a vanilla milkshake and 4 mozzarella sticks.  Which was pretty much perfect. 

It was pretty funny – there were 2 different people – one on line at Arby’s and another walking into the rest area, that I IMMEDIATELY could tell they had just finished the 100 miler – because the way they were walking looked just like the way I was walking.  We exchanged tired and happy hello’s as we hobbled around Arby’s.  The lunch stop was a great stretching opportunity which kept me from getting too locked up on the drive home – and even when I got home I was moving around moderately comfortably.    The second major recovery aid was the Epsom Salts bath I had before dinner.  Only just recently have I discovered the miraculous healing powers of Epsom Salts.  With regard to post-race recovery, it 1) immediately reduced inflammation and irritation from chafing, 2) allowed my tired muscles to re-absorb magnesium, easing the sort of neuropathic pain that had previously come after long races, and 3) also likely due to magnesium absorption, drastically improved my ability to sleep after a long race (you’d think that would be easy, but after my first 50 miler I couldn’t sleep for 2 days).

Post Race Phase 2 – Recovery

OK – well, I have to admit, I just kind of skipped this phase all together.    On Monday I felt…  fine.  Really almost absolutely fine.  No huge residual stiffness – went on a long walk with Matthew at lunchtime.  No issues going up and down stairs.  I just threw in gentle stretching any time the opportunity presented itself.  Monday is normally a rest day anyway on my training schedule.

Tuesday is not.  Tuesday is a running day.  So I ran.  I wasn’t sure if I SHOULD run – but I knew I was going to give it a try.  I pulled on my beautiful and shockingly pink shoes and I set out.  And oh my god it felt like I was FLYING.  In fact – I was not flying – I was running 12 minute miles – which is 1.5 to 2 minutes slower than my normal training pace.  But it FELT like flying.  (My last miles on my hundred had been 16-17 minutes).  More importantly – everything felt good.  No aches, no pains, no stiffness.  I was just running and feeling great.  I stopped at 6 miles.  On Wednesday I went for 9.  Thursday I got in 8.  Friday was a rest day, and then I did a 15/12 back to back between Saturday and Sunday, topping out my first post-100 mile race week with 50 miles of training.  Post race week 2 I got in 60 miles, and post race week 3 I hit 80. 

Huh.  How about that.  I had googled “post-100 mile recovery”, and found some suggestions like taking the first week entirely off, and then not running any more than an hour for something like 6 weeks.  Of course, I didn’t look this up until my 2nd or 3rd recovery week, so clearly that ship had sailed.  And was not going to be happening in any case.

Which is not to say I was not respecting my body’s needs…  The big thing about my post race early weeks – up to and including now – is that for almost every run except my weekly tempo run, I ran at whatever pace my body wanted to go.  That, essentially was my recovery.  Letting myself run 11’s or 11:30’s that first couple of weeks, because that was what was comfortable.  Letting myself run how my body wanted to run, rather than how my head wanted to run.

How very freeing, and intoxicating!  Running, in a way that just felt joyful and amazing – with no competitive pressure from my brain. 

I had held off on signing up for any more races until after I finished my 100 – mostly because I wasn’t sure how I’d like that distance and I figured completing it would affect what I wanted to do next.  It was probably only 1 or 2 days after the race that I knew I needed an immediate new goal, and I pressed the button to do CanLakes 50 miler again in October. 

With a 50 miler on the horizon (about 7 weeks out from my 100), I essentially wanted to be able to ramp back up to get in a couple of heavier mileage weeks in before having to taper again 2-3 weeks out.    I also ended up signing up for a trail marathon (tomorrow! – 9/17) as a training run.  Which meant I needed to get in some trail miles.  (The cool thing about tomorrow is that I will have running friends there - my Ragnar teammate Ed will be running the full with me, and teammate Deb and cousin Rebecca are running the half.  I almost NEVER have anyone to run (hike) with!

A short note on trails

So me and trails.  Still an evolving relationship.  On my first evening trail run, I was jogging along having a fabulous time when at mile 4 (out of 5), I caught my foot on a root and went sprawling.  Prior to hitting the ground, I felt something  bad happen where my left hamstring connected to my left glute.  Bad enough that I cried out as I went down.  Well – unless something is broken, when you go down, the only thing to do is to get back up and run.  On all previous falls (I’ve had a few on trails by now), I’ve been able to run out any residual soreness pretty quickly.  Although the intensity of the pain went away and I could finish my run, it was clear by the end of the run that something had been pulled.   This was verified when I went to bed that night and just could not, for the life of me, find a position that was comfortable for my hip.

The good news is, the pull didn’t impact me at all on my run the next day – or really any subsequent runs.  The bad news is that it pretty much bothered me almost all of the time when I WASN’T running – most specifically when I was sitting.  Which really just felt like I had a constant awful toothache in my ass.    Driving was excruciating.  I was nervous the following week to get back out on the trail and do it again – but that second run went fine (if VERY slow because I was being so cautious), and in fact everything felt better after hopping over roots for 5 miles.

Gradually over the last couple of weeks the injury has improved, just in time for my trail marathon tomorrow.  I had chosen to do that as a training run, but now am really just keeping my fingers crossed that I don’t fall and hurt myself before my true running love – my road ultra in October.

So…  what’s next?

So this journey is all about pushing limits.  I finished my 100 miler which was a huge goal for me, and I finished it strong.  After the initial glow, there is always that post race depression/quandary – OK – so I did this.  What’s next?

I’ve seen someone on Trail and Ultra Running post about continuing to push limits, waiting to be transformed or pushed to the edge - and each time they hit a new goal they found 1) they could do it, and 2) it didn’t transform them in the way they had envisioned.  In some ways the post race depression/adjustment is like that.  You work so long and so hard toward a specific goal – it becomes this great big life changing event in your head.  At least, the new goals and the Epic goals do… (first marathon, first triathlon, first half ironman, first full IM, first 50 miler, first 100).  Each of these was huge for me in terms of working toward something that felt really big.  The problem with completing something big is, if you want a new stretch goal, it has to be…  bigger.

New Goals – BIG mileage, multi-days?

Early on in the calendar year, I had hoped to get in 2000 miles of running this year.  I hit that mark just before the end of August.  It became apparent that 3000 was within the realm of possibility.  I started re-thinking my training.

For pretty much the entire year, I’ve been running 5 days a week.  This was all based on the original training plan I had used for my first 50 miler and then the one I used for my 100 – both plans called for runs Tues, Wed and Thurs, with back to back long runs on Saturday and Sunday, taking Monday and Friday off.  My normal schedule had been to throw in an evening bike ride on my trainer on Tuesday nights (making that the only “double”  workout day), and to swim on Friday mornings, so that only Monday was a true “rest” day where I wasn’t doing anything.  When 3000 became a possibility, I started thinking about ways to get in a little bit more mileage – like swapping out my Tuesday evening bike and my Saturday swims for a run.  This very easily added 10-15 miles per week.  And for the first couple of Tuesdays, I used that to get in a short trail run.

So – here I am, 3 ½ months left in the year, hopefully about to pull off an 85 mile week.  It has come as an astounding discovery to me that I can add on 2 more runs per week and that by doing so, I actually feel stronger.  In the last couple of days, my pace for my morning 10 miler has inched back closer from my 11 minute miles just post 100 to 10 minute miles for many of my training runs.  And these are easy runs – running at the pace my body wants to run – not pushing it all.  This is speaking to me of the benefit of the low heart rate training (i.e., almost all of my training is in zone 2).  Also, I’m throwing in almost a weekly tempo run where I run 3 miles (out of a 5 mile workout) at a pretty aggressive speed for me.  I’ve been really happy with what I’ve been able to achieve with those.  This week’s speed run was actually new territory in that I used my mid-week evening run (where I had already run 10 miles in the morning) as a speed workout.  Both that evening run as well as the 10 miles I threw in the next morning were great.  I’m generally also aiming to get in at least 1 aggressive hill workout per week. 

In terms of other races on the horizon, I’m aiming for a 24 hour in November, possibly a return to Beast of Burden 100 for the winter version in January, and then hopefully take a stab at my first multi-day at 3 Days at the Fair in the spring.

I’m going to have to taper soon because I really do want to go into CanLakes rested.  I know I have the base…  so now I just have to get into the race without hurting myself. 

Tapering, though, that’s going to be routh.

Monday, August 15, 2016

100 miles of love - Summer Beast of Burden 2016

Ever since about the day after I successfully completed my first 50-miler last October, the idea of attempt 100 miles has been in the back of my mind.  I pretty much knew that would be my “A” goal for 2016, and when I ran the Winter Beast of Burden 25 miler option in January, I decided that would be the venue for my first 100 during the summer. 

I followed the Ultraladies 100 miler training plan which basically brought me up to several back to back weekends of 30 miles on Saturday and 20 on Sunday.  I bolstered the plan with a number of races thrown in, just for the comraderie and training value, including the Cowtown Ultramarathon 50K (road) in Dallas in February, my first trail 50K at NJ Ultrafest on April 2, my first 6 hour race at the end of April at the Buffalo Distance Classic (BPAC) where I got in a total of 36 training miles (although only 34 of them counted towards my race time), Ragnar Cape Cod in May, and the Cooperstown marathon and Vegan Power 50K in June (I’m not a Vegan but they let me in anyway!).  My final training race was Gil Egils’ wonderful inauguration of the Candlelight 12 hour 3 weeks prior to the race, where I got in 42 miles.  And, of course, there was my fabulous week of Boat Running on our European cruise – where I was afraid I’d not be able to hit my training plan but in fact ended up exceeding it, getting in a total of 80 miles that week on the boat track.  I had managed to avoid injury and burnout, and felt as ready for the race as I could possibly be.

The week prior to the race, the weather forecast started coming in.  The closer the race got, the more alarming the forecast became.  It started out with a low in the 60’s and a high in the low to mid-80’s with a chance of showers.  By Thursday when the 48 hour forecast was available, it was up to a high of 87, lots of humidity, and likelihood of thunderstorms (some “severe”) pretty much for the entire timeline of the race.  I wasn’t worried about running in the rain – I had some significant practice running up to 30 miles in solid rain during training – but it did add some logistical challenges for packing.  Being worried about potential blisters running in wet shoes and socks, I packed 4 pairs of shoes and 3 pairs of inserts.  Also, as chafing has been pretty much my most troublesome race injury, particularly in hot humid and rainy weather, I needed to pack race tops that were cool enough for a hot race in the high 80’s (read sleeveless), that were tight enough to avoid chafing, and that covered the portion of my back that would have my race pack (the one time I ran in a “racer-back” top in rain, my pack rubbed my back raw).  There were only a few options that fit the bill, with my final decision for “primary” outfit being one of my triathlon suits – which had the advantage of being skin tight, sleeveless and well suited to wet conditions since they are made to swim in.  However, again, with the likelihood of rain for almost all of the race, I packed enough outfits that I could change multiple times, if necessary. 
Main aid station supplies

12.5 Mile drop bag stash

I was thrilled that my parents and daughter were willing to go out to the race with me.  I pretty much never have support at shorter events, but as this was my first 100 miler, it was a big deal emotionally.  I left work at noon on Friday and we headed out to Buffalo, found a fabulous restaurant via Trip Advisor reviews, and settled in for the night.
Dinner the night before

I had foolishly booked a hotel via Expedia and had not looked closely enough at the map.  I was a bit dismayed to find out that the hotel I picked when I searched for hotels “in or near” Lockport ended up being 35-40 minutes away.  This wasn’t so much of a problem for me, since once I got to the race I wouldn’t be going back to the hotel – but I felt badly for my family and for my pacer Sen and his wife, who were booked at the same hotel, who would not actually be able to easily pop back and forth from the race venue to the hotel if they needed anything.

As usual, I did not sleep particularly well.  I wasn’t nervous per se… but I’d say I was on edge.  For the week before the race, I’d pretty much just wanted to get this thing started – and taper didn’t help that feeling at all! 

When I woke up Saturday morning, I turned on the news and weather report and saw that the nighttime “low” had been “historically” high – so it was already 78 degrees at 5:30 a.m.  Game on.

Breakfast was the complimentary hot breakfast provided by the hotel.  Since race start wasn’t until 10am, we had plenty of time for coffee, food and set-up.  I didn’t want to be too full – but also wanted to eat enough to carry me through for a while.  I ended up eating an egg and 2 Belgian waffles.  It turned out it was really good I went for that second waffle…

Getting to the race start was a little less than smooth, as I had used the wrong address from the race web page and we found ourselves in the middle of a neighborhood that was clearly not the race start.  Thank goodness for smartphones – we looked up the correct address and got there minutes later with plenty of time to spare.  I registered, picked up my stuff, and helped my dad set up “The Race Palace” – a new tent/screenhouse I had bought so my family would avoid both sweltering and getting drenched. 
The race palace and my family

There were a number of folks I was on the lookout for.  My new amazing friend Mary Skelton DeSilva who was running the 25, and Katherine Fleming…  I had met both Sarah Smith Hardy and Sofia Kim online – both running their first 50.  I managed to find all of them before the race start. 
Me before the race

A few minutes before the start, the music started playing loudly – AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells – doing great things to get me all pumped up to run.  And then, JUST before the race started, of course, they put on the Stone’s Beast of Burden – and off we went.

I started the race running with Sofia – my new pal up from NY, running her first 50.  We started at a super easy pace – checking my watch, we were doing about 11 minute miles, consistently, for the first 4 or 5 miles.  Somewhere around the 45 minute mark, we separated so we could each better run our comfortable pace.  It was hot out – but to me it didn’t feel uncomfortably hot.  Yet.  There was a bit of a breeze and a bit of cloud cover.  What I wasn’t so happy about, though, was how my feet and right hip felt early on.  Which is to say, both started to hurt early.  And, even though it didn’t feel hot per se, it didn’t feel exactly good either.   My first 10 miles felt pretty strong and good.  And then things started to deteriorate.
Sucking down liquid at 12.5 miles

What I was noticing in a big way was just how different this run felt than a lot of my 30 mile training runs.  I had pretty regularly been hitting the 25 mile mark at about 4:25-4:30 and that was running at a pace I felt was pretty easy.   This run so far was feeling like I was running through deep water.  What's more, my gut was acting up and I wasn't able to really eat much of anything except Coke and Ginger Ale.  The last 3 miles of this 25 I’d say I really had to fight for.  I had started to build in 1 minute walk breaks early on in the race, at the advice of another ultra running who suggested that for a flat 100, I should do so sort of mechanically – just because there wouldn’t be hills to tell me when to walk.  I was doing the walk breaks perhaps every 20 minutes or so at first, which felt fine.  But the last 3 miles of the 25, less and less time elapsed between each walk break and I truly didn’t know whether I’d be able to continue the race.  I felt pretty much like I had been hit by a Mack truck.  I hit 25 miles at the 5 hour mark, which was pretty much 30 minutes slower than I would have predicted, and I hit it feeling pretty bad.  I found out later that the temperature had hit 93 degrees as I was passing through the Gasport Aid station. 

My normal aid station strategy is to move through it as quickly as possible – but I knew at this point I needed to get myself back in shape.  My parents and my daughter Patty were hovering closely, trying to figure out what I needed.  I was feeling pretty fuzzy but managed to tell them to get me gingerale and then more gingerale.  I changed my shoes because my feet were definitely bothering me a bit, and lay down on my back with my feet up while my mom poured water over my face.  After a minute or so I was able to get back up and figured I really needed to get back on the course.

Back out for my second 25, I started a slow run, and decided that my best strategy was to avoid walk breaks for as long as I could – because mentally, when I took the breaks, it was hard each time to get started again.  It was a good strategy.  It was 3:10 in the afternoon, so even though it was still hot, I knew it was going to cool down pretty soon.  And once I was running again, I managed to keep a run for miles before I took another walk break.  I’d say that was sort of mentally the turnaround point in the race where I felt like I was feeling better and would be able to keep going.  Nonetheless, there was still a lot of heat to beat - even though evening was approaching.  I continued to take more time at the aid stations than I normally would have just trying to cool off.  The volunteers were incredible - they would fill my hat up with ice, which I then proceeded to dunk my face and head into, and ultimately put down my suit just to get my temp down.  Still, I couldn't eat much of anything.  A couple of grapes, an orange slice, and 2 or 3 Pringles was about all I could choke down.  It seemed like anything I ate just caused my gut to clench up in a knot.

I was due to meet my first pacer, Allison Ossipovitch, at the aid station in Middleport – the 37.5 mile mark.  Just a couple hundred feet before the aid station, on the side of the path I could see Allison waving.  With her were my parents, my daughter Patty, and pacer #3 – Sen, and his wife (whom I had never met).  I had a crew waiting for me!

Allison took such wonderful care of me at the aid station.  Even though I was feeling much better than I had a 25, I think my family was still worried – but Allison knew what to do.  She took my pack off and filled it with ice and water.  I handed my iPod to Patty, figuring I didn’t need music anymore now that I had company.  And off we went. 

Starting off with Allison

I was getting pretty thirsty, and with my gut issues was having a really hard time drinking much water – so getting enough liquid outside of the aid stations was tricky.  My folks had gotten me Coconut water, which was perfect – but was, by now, also gone.  Allison got in touch with my parents who met us 3 miles before the 50 mile mark to get me more coconut water.  Somewhere in there it had gotten dark, so we were now wearing our headlamps.  Throughout that 12.5 miles, Allison just kept checking in, asking how my stomach was, mothering me and keeping me on task.
Finishing the 50 with Allison

Coming in to 50, I saw pacer #2 – Russell Muff, along with his wife and kids who had come to see him off.  So – this is how amazing runners are.  I have met Russ exactly once before in my life, at the CanLakes 50 race.  We were Facebook friends because of CanLakes, and had one extra bond which was that we had both raised money for the same team (NF Endurance) in racing an Ironman – AND, we had both done the same Mont Tremblant ironman (his was one year after mine).  At CanLakes, we had run together for maybe a mile before he took off at his own pace, and then I saw him at the end of that race for about 10 minutes as we were both recovering from our first 50 miler.  So, before he offered to pace me, Russ and I had spent approximately 20 minutes together - ever.  And he rearranged his work schedule and came to run with me for 25 miles at night.  Oh.  My.  God.  How amazing.  And his beautiful family came too.
Russ and his kids

My daughter had wondered whether I would find it uncomfortable running with someone I really didn’t know.  And it wasn’t remotely.  Russ took great care of me too.  If he were running this 25 miles on his own, I’m betting his normal pace would have been somewhere in the 8-9 minute mile range.  And the amazing thing to me was, Russ pushed me to keep the pace that I could realistically keep at that point in time – which was about 14-15 minute miles. 

The thing about that 3rd lap was, that every step was new.  The longest I’d ever run before was 50 miles, so everything beyond that was an unknown.  Knowing how completely spent I had been after my first 50 miler, feeling like I couldn’t go another step, I thought it was entirely possible I’d have to walk the last 50 miles of my race.  In fact, I felt completely spent after THIS 50 miles - pretty much exactly the same as I felt after my first 50 in October.  Maybe worse.  So on this 3rd lap, I was thrilled to find that the majority of time I was actually able to run, even though starting the loop, it didn't feel like anything I could possibly do.  I ran slowly, but I ran.  And, because it was now dark and getting cooler, I started feeling significantly better.  Russ noted that as we moved along from 50-75 I was actually starting to run stronger again.

I was excited each time I hit a new milestone.  62 miles was a big deal because it was 100K.  70 miles put me into a new decade.  And then we were at 75, where Russ handed me off to Sen.

Sen is a Ragnar Relay teammate from my Cape Cod Ragnar team – the Lactic Acid Droppers.  (LADS).  Most of the LADS live in the West Hartford, CT area – I met them for the first time when I had joined that team with my West Hartford cousin, who knew a couple of those runners.  As happens at Ragnar, the team got really close.  One, Ed, even got the team name tattooed on his forearm.  Most of the LADs go for lots of regular runs together, and I’m jealous of that because I live 3 hours away.  But Sen and his wife drove 7 hours from Connecticut so that he could run my last 25 miles with me.

I was figuring on 8 hours for my last 25 miles.  This was from a mental calculation that if we walked just a little under 20 minute miles for the whole 25, we could finish it in 8.  I really wasn’t thinking I had too much run left in me at that point.

Surprise!  So, even though I was done running, about a mile after Sen and I took off at a walk, I said I’d try some running.  It turned out I had a bit of run left in me after all. 

We experimented a bit with ratios.  First I’d try running for a couple of minutes and then walking for a couple of minutes.  That was hard.   My next idea was to run for 1 minute, walk for 3.  That was not a good idea.  I had thought it would be better mentally to know I was only running for 1 minute, but in fact the 2 bad things about it were:  1) With 1 minute run stretches, I wasn’t running long enough to get in a groove and get to a more optimal run speed (which by then was somewhere between 12 and 13!), so our overall mile pace got slower, and 2) mentally during a 1 mile stretch, I had to make the transition from running to walking 3 times rather than 1 so it was actually mentally harder.  What we ended up settling on was a strategy whereby I’d commit to running 3 tenths of a mile and then walking – but in fact a number of times I pushed it to 4 tenths or longer, and that worked pretty consistently well.  I was still running when we hit the 87.5 aid station – one of the last milestones of the race.  And, each mile, we were consistently going several minutes per mile than my estimated 3 mph. 
Dark running with Sen

Several major things had happened at 87.5.  Somewhere around mile 82 (the previous aid station), my gut started to ease up and I could start taking in a bit more solid food.  I think that did wonders for my overall well being.  Running through the cooler portion of the night was invigorating – and having the sun come up and having it be morning was a big deal mentally too.  And, well, we were at the last turnaround point.  12.5 miles to go!  The picture below is one of my favorites from the whole race.  I had this great big happy grin on my face – and I really WAS that happy.  I was going strong – slow, but strong – and I was almost there.
Mile 87.5

There was no question in my mind that I was going to finish this thing – the only question was how strong.  Would we be able to maintain at least 20 minute miles for the last 12.5?

Yes.  Yes we were.  In fact, EVERY mile was less than 20 minutes – generally around 17, and one of those INCLUDED an aid station stop. 
Mile 90 or so

When we had 5 miles to go, I turned around and saw to my horror that there was a racer not too far behind me.  Where did HE come from?  I did NOT want him to pass me.  I knew from a volunteer that I was within the top 10 race finishers and I wanted to keep whatever place I had.  Sen pointed out that this runner had actually been in front of us for a while, but we had apparently passed him at the last aid station.  We tried a run, but at that point in time running had become counterproductive:  recovery from the brief forays into runs resulted in much slower post-run walking, decreasing the overall pace per mile.  So Sen took me on a powerwalk.  He was my pacer, and he paced me.  We pushed it up from 17.5 to 16 minute walking miles, and did that for the last 4 miles of the race – each mile putting us just a little bit further in front of the competition. 

I had told anyone who asked that I expected to finish the race in between 24-27 hours, and that my most realistic guess was 25 hours.  Of course, my wish was sub-24.   After my first challenging 25 miles, I knew that the sub 24 was way out of the question and I was thinking 26-27 was much more likely.  My finish time ended up being 25 hours and 23 minutes – which was almost 40 minutes faster than I was figuring when I started that last lap.  So – even with the debilitating heat, in a race in which 65 people signed up, 10 didn’t start, and 35 dropped out along the way, I managed to come in only 23 minutes behind my “realistic” goal time, and 6th overall in the race, 3rd woman in. 

It was a good day.

Coming into the finish

My first buckle!

Celebrating with my lovely daughter