Wednesday, June 22, 2016

100 Mile Training – the race that wasn’t, the race that was, and general update

So – here I am, 54 days out from my 100 miler.  Just started hitting the heavy mileage back to back weekends a couple weeks ago with a couple of 30/15’s.  There are only 2 weeks with heavier mileage, where the day 2 BTB hits 20 instead of 15 – but by and large, I’m just about at peak training.  And (knock wood), nothing is broke, hurt, bent, or otherwise nonfunctional. 

In order to shake things up and add in interest, support, and cool venues, I threw a couple of races into the training plan.  Last weekend (6/11) was the Cooperstown Marathon, and then a couple of days ago was the Vegan 50K in Pittsfield, MA.

The Race That Wasn’t – The Cooperstown Marathon

A couple of days prior to the Cooperstown Marathon, I got a text from my buddy Ed – a friend from my Lactic Acid Droppers Ragnar team.  The first time I met Ed was last year in March – I had gone to Connecticut to meet the team for the first time, and before the team get together that night, I met Ed in the morning for an 18 mile run.  Ed told me that he and Sen, another teammate, were coming to Cooperstown to join me for the race.  Ed was going to run the full, with me, and Sen was going to run the half.  Both Ed and Sen had been at the Burlington marathon a couple of weeks earlier, and Ed, as a full marathoner, had gotten pulled off the course along with most of the other marathoners because of the extreme heat.  So he was looking forward to actually completing a spring marathon, having trained for one.

I was thrilled to hear Ed and Sen were coming – both because they are great company and I wanted them to meet my family and see Cooperstown, and for the chance to actually run 26 miles something other than alone.    Although I’m pretty used to my own company by now, it is nice to have conversation on long runs every once in a while!

Prior to race day the forecast was for clouds in the morning, and then possible thunderstorms in the afternoon.  Looked to be a fine race day. 

Ed and Sen arrived Friday evening and we headed out for a pre-race carbolicious Italian meal.  Got a good night sleep and woke up bright and early to…  a newly rainy forecast.  As opposed to the race-friendly forecast of the day before, the Weather Channel App was now predicting 100% chance of rain by 10 with possible thunderstorms. 
Amy & Sen - pre-race

Ed and Jasper making friends

The Clark Sports Center race directors were extremely accomodating, announcing the chance of inclement weather and offering refunds.  I don’t believe anyone took them up on it.  We said goodbye to Sen, sending him off on his trolley ride to the half marathon start (scheduled for 9), and Ed and I waited around for the race to start.

This was only the 3rd year of the Cooperstown marathon – I had done the first one when the marathon field was only 39 runners strong.  That race 2 years ago had a special place in my heart, as it was the first marathon where I ran the whole race as opposed to using the Jeff Galloway run walk method I’d cut my teeth on, and by so doing, I cut 21 minutes off of my time and had achieved a 4:20 or so race time along with being the 3rd woman in.  Probably the last time that will ever happen to me in a marathon!   The first Cooperstown marathon had a number of locals and I knew a good chunk of the runners.  It felt strange this time looking around at the field and seeing almost all unfamiliar faces.

And… we were off.

Although it was tough to run a marathon and not try to “race” it, I knew that for my training I would be best served by not pushing too hard on this effort and just making it a long supported training run.  Our goal pace was 10-10:30 minute miles, which we achieved pretty easily.  Alas, at 8:20, almost 2 hours earlier than predicted, the rains started.  We were prepared, and ran on.  Didn’t start to get concerned until a great big crack of thunder hit, probably about 8:45.  As soon as I heard that crack, I started waiting for the race to end. 

We actually managed to get to mile 9.5, through a bunch of rain and an hour of electric storm before the end actually came.  The Cooperstown trolley, normally the transportation for tourists getting to town from the distant parking lots, pulled up in front of our group of runners and the sports center staff rustled us onto the bus, indicating the race was over because of the storm.

Met some cool people on the bus - Maria, who I will see again at Beast of Burden, and Andrew.  Once we stopped running, I started getting cold, and by the time we got to my car I was shivering uncontrollably.  The half marathoners hadn’t gotten any run in at all, so poor Sen had come all the way to Cooperstown and hadn’t gotten to race.    Another thing that was weighing on my mind was the fact that this was supposed to be a heavy training weekend – 28 miles Saturday, 15 on Sunday.  I had only gotten in 9.5.  Solution?  Get in another 5.5 with Sen, so he could get a run in, and then do the long run on Sunday.  A little bit mentally tough, since I’d already given up half a Saturday for the marathon, and now would be giving up half of a Sunday too, but really the only solution. 

The run with Sen was great – one of the things about Ragnar is that although you ride around in a van with a lot of cool people, you do your runs solo.  So it was really a treat to do the 9.5 with Ed, and then another 5.5 with Sen.  The other thing about the Sen run is – since we weren’t focused on going long anymore, we got in a couple of tempo miles.  So, ended the Saturday with 15.

Sunday came and I decided to essentially do the “Race the Lake” marathon loop from my house.  The coolest thing about Sunday’s run was how I felt at mile 28 – which was, good enough to push for 30. 

And just like that, another long training weekend was done.

Vegan 50K – the Race that Was

Originally I was supposed to be doing a 70.3 (Half Ironman distance) triathlon in Syracuse on June 19.  A few months ago, I gave myself permission to let go of the idea for training for both that race and the 100 mile ultra, although I had still pondered doing the race as I was supposed to have company coming up to do it with me.  When the company decided they weren’t doing it either, I completely bailed on Syracuse and went and signed up for my second 50K Trail – the Vegan 50K in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on June 18.    I’m not a Vegan, but the race was open to carnivores as well and it got great reviews.  This was going to be my last 30 mile run before I headed off to a European vacation for 10 days.
I headed out to Pittsfield on Friday night and got myself checked into my EconoLodge.  A bit dismayed to find I had accidentally booked myself into a smoking room although it turned out to not be as bad as I feared.  (I’m a former 2 pack a day smoker so I was, kind of disgustingly, a little bit nostalgic at the smell of stale smoke.)  I then drove over and spent a bit of time trying to find the actual entrance to Pittsfield State Forest where the race was scheduled to start.  After a few false starts, I found the entrance – and knew I was in the right place when Ana, one of the race directors, pulled up behind me and confirmed.  She was so welcoming and friendly I found myself again grateful to be a part of this running community.

As I drove around, I was stunned by the beauty of the place.  Having gone to school in Williamstown, also in the Berkshires, and having spent many childhood weekends at my grandmother’s house in North Adams, you’d think the beauty of the area would have already been known to me.  However, this appears to be something I took for granted and never even saw growing up.  It reminded me of the first time I went to Seattle as an adult, and even though I’d be there many times as a kid, it wasn’t until the adult trip that I became aware of just how remarkable the landscape was. 

This was like that.  Just driving through this beauty brought a sense of contentment and happiness that made me incredibly glad I’d come out to do this race.

As anyone who is following my blog knows, this was not an “A” race for me – rather, it was just a chance for a long supported training run in a beautiful place.  Since I’ve done a bunch of 28 and 30’s already, the distance didn’t phase me, and having already done a couple of trail races, I wasn’t super nervous about the terrain.  As a result, I slept fine without any pre-race jitters, and was just looking forward to the day.

Race Check-in on Saturday morning was non-eventful; I did actually get to see Rudy Shepherd, who is an ultra runner I met at the tail end of the NJ Ultrafest.  I’d known from Facebook he would be volunteering.  He is also training for a 100-miler, so even though he may not be aware, I have a sense of kinship with him as I see his training posts on Facebook.  There were no other runners I recognized, although there was a woman with a fantastic crocheting tattoo (cool ball of yarn) on her calf. 

I debated strongly about whether to bring my phone/music.  I didn’t see many other runners with headphones or iPods, and I ddidn’t want dirty looks – I know there are strong feelings out there about using music on trails.  However, 50K is a long time to be alone in your head, so ultimately I strapped my phone on my arm and just didn’t put the earbuds in my ear, holding on to them with my left hand. (I never did end up listening to the music and ultimately put the headphones in my pack.)  With just a few pre-race announcements, we were off.

Ironically, the only real hill in the entire race that was substantial was at the very beginning of the race – mostly on pavement.  I’d say the first 1/8 to 1/4 of a mile was pure climb.  As we started out, everyone ran it.  I took my usual hill approach, which has become short quick steps.  This first round was the ONLY round I saw anyone running that hill, and in future go-rounds it became the place to walk and re-fuel.

What can I say about the course aside from the beauty of the forest?  Without a lot of trail running under my belt, I don’t have a lot to compare it to… only Mendon Ponds (completely non-technical and my first 20K trail race), my local 3 mile trail loop (moderately rooty and with a couple of little nasty climbs) and NJ Ultra Fest (a course that I felt was pretty much out to kill me with pointy rocks, loads of elevation, roots and many many water crossings).   

This course had elements of all of those.  The thing that it DIDN’T have was either significant climb or water crossings.  However, there were many many roots.  So – elevation wise, there were never any sections I had to walk – however, I was always, ALWAYS looking forward for the next root.  In a way, it was a bit harder (though faster) than New Jersey, because I ran pretty much all of it except the aid stations.  NJ had many built in required walking sections – so I had many chances to rest my running muscles and exercise my walking muscles.  Vegan 50K was all runnable – but all technical. 

At the end of the day, I only took 2 spills where I actually hit the ground.  The first was relatively graceful, with a gentle roll that broke my fall.  The second one was more of a splat – landing kind of face first with my hands in front of me.  I guess there was kind of a third where I went splat onto a downed tree – but the tree broke my fall to the actual ground, so I’m not counting that.  In addition to the actual falls, there were many (10-15??) almost falls – which in a way, were almost worse.  They invariably happened as I had been running along for a while, thinking “OK – now I’ve got the hang of this – this is going smoothly” and then I’d catch my foot on a root (almost always my left foot), and something (hamstring?  Knee?  Glute?  Ankle?)  would pull and feel very bad for a bit and I’d catch myself thinking “that was close”.  There were a couple where I was really amazed I didn’t actually hurt something – and probably at least 4 or 5 where I yelped or otherwise called out in pain.  Comic to watch, I’m sure.

I did catch myself in a bit of a bad mental game – I think sometime at the end of loop 1 or in the middle of loop 2.  It was a feeling a little bit like despair – like “why do I choose to do this to myself”, knowing I had hours of root hopping to go.  I let myself feel a little bit miserable, and feel like I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing.  (At the moment I wasn’t).    I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I was on a trail – and at the moment, I’m still not very good at it.  Fortunately, that feeling went away, and the feeling of “flow” (recently described very well on an Ultra list thread) came to me where I found my pace, I found my groove, and I just ran.  And ran.  And ran.

The whole competition thing – this was a training run for me – but I also have this feeling of wanting to do well.  I was spoiled at NJ by being the 3rd woman in.  A complete surprise, but there it was.  I was second woman in at BPAC, so there is a part of me that feels like if I’m not doing really well, I’m failing.

I knew I wasn’t going to be among any of the top finishers when I started seeing some folks lapping me.  There were folks doing their 6th loop as I was completing my 5.  And – well, this makes sense.  Because at the end of the day, I’m a pretty brand new trail runner.  The pace I can do on a technical trail without much elevation appears to be a good 3-4 minutes slower per mile than I can do on the road.  Which was good enough to get me 7th woman in.  And run the whole way.  And perhaps learn some more technique.  And this, too – after my first trail ultra, I hurt for DAYS.  It  was almost as bad as my first marathon – I’d bruised both my big toenails, and my quads were just shot.  After this race, I was…  fine.  I went home, slept, and went out the next day for my next training run.  I had some residual wonkiness in my left hip yesterday, but that only lasted for a day.  So my recovery was better.

The last mile of the race seemed pretty long – just because a lot of the trail looked the same to me and I was expecting the end to come sooner that it did.  But it wasn’t bad – just long.  I think I was pretty much doing the same pace at the end of the race as I was at the beginning.  Got to the finish line, got some applause, got myself some tasty Vegan pizza.  And got on the road, after giving myself a thorough baby-wipe shower. 

I feel in some ways like morally, I should like trail running more than I currently do.  The trail runners I know are passionate about trails – they LOVE trails, and hate roads.  Me…  well, I’m working on it.  I love hiking trails.  I love being out in nature.  I am starting to feel better about letting go of road pace and letting the forest guide me.  However, as with all new things, there is a learning curve, and let’s face it – I don’t like not being good at stuff.  And I’m just not as good at this yet as many other trail runners.  Plus, it feels like the chance of injury is just much, much greater.  I can’t just zone out and focus on the run – I have to constantly be vigilant about my next steps – and still, I wrench and bruise and scrape parts of my body that, if I were road running, would be just fine.  I have to say, though, the beauty and the people are both compelling reasons to continue this trail journey.

Training week epilogue – the next day

This weekend was originally supposed to be a Back to Back 30/15.  Because I was concerned about how I’d feel after the long trail, I actually did 9 miles on Friday which was supposed to be a rest day, so I’d only have to do 6 on Sunday to get to my planned training mileage.  It was also giving myself a chance to sleep in.  However, at the end of the day, my OCD training brain (and my body which is a bit hooked on endrophins at this point) wouldn’t let me NOT do a long-ish run on Sunday.  I ended up doing 14 instead of 6, closing out the week at 76 miles.  And, as is often the case, the Sunday run worked out a few of the kinks from the Saturday.

So – that’s the update.  I’m headed off to Europe for a Mediterranean Cruise the day after tomorrow.  Of course my OCD brain is trying to figure out how to mostly keep up with my training on a cruise ship.  I have already dumped the idea of trying to get in a 30, but I think on the 2 “At sea” days I will try to get in 2 20-milers.  I’m sure I will get some funny looks.  When I get back, I’ll have 3 long weekends, and then start to taper. 

This thing is getting real.