Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Candlelight 12 Hour 2017 - 12 Hours of Kicking Grass

Why do I do this” I asked myself on Saturday morning when I got up.  I had a 6 hour drive ahead of me, to Rochester NY to run a 12 hour night race – the Candlelight 12 Hour.  At 7 am the idea of starting a run at 7pm and running through the night held zero appeal and not a little bit of dread.  Every big race holds both for me – the “why do I do this” question is not a new one, but a night race is a special kind of bad because I have all day to contemplate what’s ahead of me.  I had some added pressure with this one, that I’d added myself – which was, I really wanted to do well.  Well, I wanted to win.  And with the training I’ve been doing, I thought that there was a possibility it could happen.

If anyone scrolls back in time in my blog, you’ll see that I did this race last year, in its inaugural year, but I did it as my last long training run before my first 100 miler.  So, I didn’t really race it, per se, but rather ran for 35 miles before stopping to volunteer and then get in some final walk miles.  This year I had every intention of racing it.  I’ve had a couple of really solid races this year already with Winter Beast of Burden 100 and Dawn to Dusk to Dawn 24 hour, but I thought that this might just be my “A” race of the year.

Many many many things have changed in my life since last year's race.  I've run 4 races over 100 miles.  I've gotten divorced, moved from upstate NY to the DC area, and started a new job.  I've begun a new relationship...  That last one actual had a direct impact on today's race, because unlike any race I've done before - I brought company.  My boyfriend Tony had originally planned to just accompany me to the race and crew, but upon hearing that walking was possible, he signed up to just test himself and see how many miles he could do.  

It was really great to have company on the drive up to the race because it allowed me to get my mind off my pre-race angst.  

Which lead to the initial question... "Why do I do this?".  

Despite an incredibly solid coupe of months of training, as the race approaches I just start feeling a greater and greater sense of dread.  I feel like I am stiff and slow and fat and like I don't know how to run.  Who am I kidding, calling myself  a runner?  And just what the HELL am I thinking, with regarding to doing it for TWELVE HOURS?

As we get within an hour of the race venue I get quieter and quieter.  Something needs to be done to find my inner runner.  Tony gives me permission to take over the stereo, so I hook up my phone and pull out my "Running Fast" playlist.  I blast it, lean my head back into the seat and close my eyes.  

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, sometimes I get a good feeling, yeah...
I get a feeling that I never never neer never had before, no no...
Woke up on the side of the bed like I won
Talk like a winner, my chest to that sun...

And just like that...  I'm starting to find my inner runner.  Good.  This is good.

It is even better when we arrive and start to see people I know.  I had told Tony what an amazing community this is.... the intense friendliness of the people, their passion, their stories and journeys.  I was so happy that the first of my ultra friends for him to meet were Bill and Wanda Schubmehl - some of my very favorite New York peeps with their spirituality, pragmatism and dedication - not to mention some beautiful writing styles.  They'd been here last year and figured into that experience as well.

We arrived in plenty of time to set up our tent and our gear...  I said hello to everyone I recognized - Dave Farrands and Dave Weiss, Mike Valone, Gary and Katherine, Lauren Idzik, Gil...  One of the folks I was missing intensely was my friend Patrick, who had been one of my early running mentors and a fellow runner during the inaugural run.  

Soon enough it was 7 pm and time to start.  I've had enough ultra starts that the low key nature of it didn't faze me.  Gil said his opening piece, the clock counted down, and it was time to go.

I started out easy - Bill Schultz' voice in my head with his words of wisdom about pacing.  It is hard to start out easy - especially when all of the faster runners bolt out and immediately start pulling ahead.  I need to do some self talk at this point to assure myself that the key to running strong later is to run slow and steady now.

I am thrilled to find that nothing hurts.  As I've racked up my 100 plus mile weeks over the past couple of months, my glutes and hamstrings have been horribly tight and prone to painful pulls.  It seemed, though, that the gentle rolling uneven grassy terrain was a balm to those muscles that had faced repetitive motion on my asphalt training because everything loosened up nicely.  Sooner than I expected, I found myself in the zone.  Which is... not only was I running, but I found my inner runner.  I knew I could do this thing.  The joy was starting to come, as it almost always does as I start knocking off miles.  My head perfectly in tune with my body - this clump of grass, that hill, slow down just enough to keep the same level of effort...  

And then...  as I turned up the asphalt section, a few miles in, I hear someone call my name and it's Pat McHenry and his wife Karen.  Pat was here!  And he was cheering for me and taking pictures and all of a sudden my whole world got even a little bit brighter - as it does when the ultrarunners you really care about show their support.  I'm pretty sure I sped up just a little bit then, and never stopped.  (Thanks Pat!)

Last year I had run the tough hill towards the end of the loop for probably about half my laps before starting to walk it.  I decided this year to just run it until I couldn't.  So here is this thing about me and hills... I know a lot of people have the strategy of not "burning their matches" out on the hill - but for me I think hills almost give me energy.  As long as I run the hill slow enough that my effort is pretty similar to the flat, I get a burst of energy as I crest it, and all of a sudden I'm faster.  So... that's what I did.  Turns out.. for the whole race.  I never did end up walking that hill - even when it turned into a veritible mud fest.

Ah - the mud.  So - there was the mud on that hill, and then right after the first grassy downhill stretch.  Both sections were so bad that you really had to be careful not to lose your shoes OR go down in the mud.

This year's race was significantly cooler than last year's, which started out at about 88 degrees.  It was humid, but not hot, and I found myself perfectly comfortable with regard to temperature the whole time.  The one technical problem I was having was with my Garmin - somehow water had gotten inside it, and it was all fogged up.  This was really pissing me off because I couldn't get a good sense of my lap pace.  I realized later on, though, that it was, perhaps, a blessing in disguise.  By not watching the Garmin, I allowed my body rather than my head to dictate my "run forever" pace.

Dusk turned into evening and it was time to don the headlamp.  As one other runner has already mentioned, it was bug city as soon as that light went on.  Never in my life have I had so many bugs in my eyes, my hair and my mouth!  Protein...  It did seem to get better as the night wore on. This was a new playlist which I had created with Tony on one of our first long drives together, so it had a lot of meaning to me.  There were quite a few Avette Brothers songs, Sophie B Hawkins, Rickie Lee Jones, Suzanne Vega, Kate Bush, Bic Runga - and lots of other mellow.  I moved in and out of the music,running, running, running.

I was thrilled at how smooth and even my running felt.  I focused on form and cadence, and just kept letting my body dictate my pace.  Early on when I passed the timing board I was discouraged to see that I was in 26th place.  As time wore on, the numbers ticked down...  19th place... 14th place... 11....  9.  There came a point about 7 hours in when I was in 7th place trying to move into 6th and I snagged Gil to ask him if he knew how many women were in front of me.  "Yes" he said.  "Well how many?" I asked.  "None." he replied.  None.  NONE!  I was the lead woman with 5 hours left to race. This was a brand new thing for me and I have to say it put some spring into my step.  Now just to maintain steady for another 5 hours.  Which, at this point, I had no doubt that I could do. 

It was special seeing Tony out there, going and going.  I'd run into him maybe once or twice an hour - either passing him or coming in opposite directions on the figure 8 loop.  He was walking strong and steady.  I also was happy whenever I passed folks I knew... Benn Griffin, Wanda and Bill, Vickey - who became familiar but whose name I didn't learn until the end... Amy Lord, Karen Markus, Tom Butler.

My goal for mileage was 60.  I found enough energy to sprint to the finish with 59.92 and was thrilled and grateful to be the female winner of the race and third overall. 
I also want to thank Gil for yet another beautiful and perfectly run race - he's one of the best!
Sprint finish

My first win

Tony celebrating his first ultra with post race food

Monday, May 15, 2017

Dawn to Dusk to Dawn 24 Hr

I wasn’t originally supposed to run this race at all.  Last December I signed up 3 Days at the Fair, scheduled for 5/19 through 5/21, which was going to be my first foray into multi-day races and my “A” race of the year.  In February, however, I found out that my daughter’s college graduation ceremony was scheduled smack in the middle of 3D.  For a while I tossed around the idea of starting 3D, running for 30 hours, hopping in a car and driving 5 hours to and from graduation and finishing the race – but that just didn’t seem the best way to either ensure the safety of the public OR experience my first multi-day race.  So when I found out my friend Mike Melton was heading up through my part of town just a week prior to 3D to time “Bill Shultz’s race”, I perked my ears up and said “what race is that?”  Mike told me about Dawn to Dusk to Dawn 24 ("D3").  He said it was full – but there had been some cancellations so I might be able to get in.  Sure enough – I contacted Bill and there was a spot for me.  I didn’t find out until AFTER I registered that it was a track race, which I had never done before.  Still – I’d done 30 miles on a cruise ship track less than a year ago – so the track didn’t intimidate.

I needed this race in a bad way.  My last race was Winter Beast in January – a great performance for me, but a long time ago.  Since that time, my life was occupied with job hunting, then apartment hunting, divorce proceedings, a move to the DC area, and a new job.  That plus being alone in a new place was making me feel really out of touch with the Ultrarunning community.  I was still running big mileage weeks, but the whole thing was feeling kind of empty.  I was excited to get a big race on my schedule and even happier to see that some folks I’ve run with before like Amy Dedic were going to be there.  Plus, I would have a chance to meet some of the folks from the Ultralist like John Price, Bill Shultz and Ray Krolewicz, whom I’ve only met by e-mail or Facebook previously. 

A couple of weeks prior the race, I was feeling great.  My (relative) speed had finally started to come back in a big way after a sluggish winter, and I was careful about my taper.  A week out, Bill posted the first weather forecast.  Didn’t look too bad – cloudy and cool with a chance of rain in the morning on Saturday.  Over the week, the forecast changed from 50% chance of rain in the morning, to 100% chance of rain including periods of soaking rain, up to an inch, plus 10-20 mile per hour winds per hour.  Looked like it was going to be a soaker.

I’m pretty generally crewless and family-less on my races, and this one was no exception.  However, I always meet new friends and this was ALSO no exception.  The night before the race I met rock star Tara Langdon, who generously offered me a place in her tent for my gear.  I also had an offer of support from Nicole Berglund who was going to be on site to crew legend Connie Gardner.  My friend Mike Melton was timing the race, and a buddy from Cooperstown, Kevin Bartow, was running as well.  Friends all around…

Race morning I optimistically checked the weather again, hoping for the best, but nope… the rain had already set in.  The temperature was about 49 and I was on the fence about shorts or running pants – so I decided to wear my shorts UNDER my running pants so I could shed them if necessary.  It was to prove a bad decision.  (The wet inside waistband of the shorts rubbed against my belly for 24 hours, producing the only real injury I sustained in the race – horrendous, ugly chafing all around my mid-section).

Arriving at the track it was already pouring.  I tried like crazy to keep my feet dry as I unloaded my gear and put it in Tara’s tent, to no avail.  This was the first time I ever STARTED a race with feet that were soaking wet.  My other big logistical issue with the rain was trying to figure out how to keep my iPod dry – I ended up wrapping a baggie around it under my armband.

I was one of the few runners that appeared to not own a waterproof outer jacket.  Normally in the rain I will just opt for getting wet and letting my clothes wick it away – but it was cool out and I was afraid if I did that for too long I’d get hypothermic – so I donned a fashionable big black Hefty bag – my $1.99 solution to a waterproof jacket.  I was at least the height of fashion – if nothing else.  (I did have someone say it gave me kind of an 80’s “Devo” look with the square shoulders!).

Donning the garbage bag

Given the weather conditions the pre-race briefing was particularly brief.  There were several comments about “switching to the 5K” – and then suddenly the gun went off and it was time to run.

As always – running was WAY better than waiting.  I had started to get pretty cold waiting around in the rain, and was relieved to see that I warmed up quickly as I started to move.  And somehow, ACTUALLY running in the rain is never as bad as the IDEA of running in the rain.
There are always moments of self doubt and “why the hell am I doing this” in long races – at least for me.  I’d say at D3, these thoughts came relatively early.  It was raining when we started, but the rain intensified and then the winds gusted up and the conditions were truly pretty miserable.  My hands are always the first part of my body to get cold and because my gloves were soaked pretty early on, that happened sooner rather than later.  Also, a couple of weeks prior to the race I had developed a Morton’s neuroma in my right foot which often resulted in searing pain under my right small toes when walking barefoot.  Normally it didn’t bother me running – but as I got further in to my first 25 miles, I could feel first tingling and then a burning sensation where the neuroma was.  I had also taken off my garbage back after I’d started to warm up – and once my upper body was soaked, my core started to get cold.  The voices that said “just stop this madness now” came early and came loud.  The idea of another 16 hours of this almost more than I could contemplate and I was feeling more than a little bit of despair.

Running in the Rain

After I hit the 25 mile mark I decided that a clothing and shoe change was necessary if I had any chance of continuing on.  I hated to give up the time – but I was afraid if I didn’t, the foot pain would progress and I’d get so chilled I’d have to drop out.  It felt so good to sit down; my fingers were numb and clumsy as I peeled off my sopping wet shoes, socks, and upper body gear and proceeded to pull on dry clothes.  I didn’t bother with the pants because I didn’t think that was as critical as the top.  I’d changed from my Hokas into my zero drop Altras in the hopes that this would alleviate some of the neuroma issues. I decided that I really needed to try to keep my core as dry as possible, so I got out a fresh garbage bag, re-set my bib and ankle strap and headed back out into the wet.  I cringed to see that the change took me 15 minutes.

The first lap or 2 around the track I was worried I’d made a bad call on the shoes.  They were rubbing the top of my foot in a different place, and everything just felt strange each time I landed.  But pretty quickly I realized that it was a good call after all.  Some of the aches associated with repetitive motion started to ease up, and the neuroma pain was gone – never to return for the rest of the race – even when I changed back into my Hokas again later.  And without question, the change into dry clothes was a game changer.  Although my feet and gloves were soaked again pretty instantly, warmth in my core gave me the strength and energy I’d been lacking, and gradually the negative voices began to fade.

Although there are many things I love about looped courses, the very best thing is the chance to be able to make new friends.  Tara of course I’d met early on in the race and we were tent buddies.  It was kind of hard to talk to Tara DURING the race, though, because she just kept lapping me.  And lapping me.  And lapping me.  Her running form was exquisite and I’d say she didn’t slow down until maybe the last couple hours of the race.  She was at thing of beauty to watch.  Another runner nicknamed her “The Hummingbird” because of the quick, constant lightness of her step.  I DID get to make friends with Dave Weiss - my ray of sunshine on the rainy track.  We got to talking during a number of laps early on where we ran together – and so had quick conversations every time one of us passed the other until well into the night when he packed it in.  There was Dave Johnston – one of the race leaders, but who still had an encouraging word and smile every time one of us passed the other.  Bill Shultz – race director extraordinaire – at the end, as we were putting in our final miles, calling out “steady as a rock!”  And of course – I can’t say enough good things about Josh Irvan’s cadets who hung out in the pouring rain to give us all aid for 24 hours.  Plus the folks in the kitchen.

Not much unique to say about hours 6 to 18 – except for a couple of PRs; I PR’d 50 miles by over 5 minutes and my 100K by 20-30 minutes, hitting 61 miles a bit before the 12 hour mark.  And… somewhere in that timeframe – closer to the 18 hour mark… the rain finally stopped.  Leaderboard results had been posted by that point and I could see I was in the top 6 for the 24 hour.  I was RIGHT on the tail of my buddy Amy Dedic – we were within just a couple of laps of each other.  The other magical thing that happened between 6 and 18 was… I found my groove, which had been missing during the first 6 hours.  It’s a funny thing with ultrarunners – sometimes it can take you a good 25 miles to even warm up.  But there it is.  Once you find that groove – that spot where you can keep running and you find yourself getting stronger and steadier?  It’s magic. 

Another thing that was different for me about this race was my ability to take in food.  On several previous races, I’ve really had a hard time with eating any of the heaver stuff, relying largely on Coke until my stomach eases up.  I didn’t seem to have that problem this time, so could take advantage of pizza, chicken burrito, hard boiled egg, coffee and a scrambled egg and bacon tortilla sandwiches along with a couple of cookies.  Also, at one point, volunteers were walking around with trays of fresh hot potato soup.  That soup….  It was to die for. 
Last 6 hours of the race.  It was dry now and the moon was out.  At some point I saw I had edged into 5th place, and then, somewhere in the last couple of hours, into 4th.  There was, at this point, absolutely no question about why I was doing this.  I was doing this because this is what I love.  These are the people that I love… the people that dig deep within themselves… who search for the next new adventure and who celebrate each other’s strengths and triumphs.  These fun loving, often OCD, addictive and intensely driven and friendly people. 

At 21 hours and 8 minutes, I didn’t just PR my 100 mile time – I crushed it by an hour and 27 minutes.  It felt amazing.  I was taking walk breaks strategically by this point and I think that was a smarter way to go than the all-run approach I took at Winter Beast.  I was astounded that every time I went from a walk back to a run, I was still running pretty steady with no pain to speak of. 

My goal for this race was to exceed 100 in 24 hours, and my REAL goal was to beat my previous 24 hour record of 104 miles in 24 hours.  I was the 3rd female in, and the 4th overall runner.  My super stretch goal was 110 miles.  I finished with 109.6. 

Race finish - with 1st place woman Tara Langdon

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Up and Down and Up again... A Winter's tale

It is approaching Spring (sort of), and I realized I've had many run experiences and haven't written about any of them.  That is largely because they have been mixed in with a huge flurry of other life events.  Since my last post about One Day at the Fair, I've had 2 races - but... I've also separated from my husband of 20 years (amicably, thank goodness - but still a big life change), searched for and found a new job... in a different location (Washington DC), and run 2 more races.  Wow.  No wonder I haven't written.  Let's start with....

Conference House 6 Hour Endurance Challenge - Dec 10, Staten Island NY

This race appeared on my radar screen thanks to my running buddy Amy Lenza - who I had met at a NJ Trailfest race (See NJ Ultrafest race report) back in April.  It was an inaugural race on Staten Island at the Conference House Park right on the water.  I pinged one of my newest running friends Aubrey (see Can Lakes Redux report)  who lives in New Jersey to see if she'd be interested in joining.  Aubrey was signed up for the Winter Beast of Burden 100 miler in January, so she was happy to join me at the 6 hour as a training run for BOB.

I headed down to Staten Island the night before the race and stayed with Aubrey, who drove us both to the venue with about 45 minutes to spare.  It was early December.  The ambient temperature wasn't too bad, but the wind at the shore was wicked.  Every time we got out of the car I braced myself against the wind.  I saw Amy and she introduced us around to her running friends, and shortly it was time to start. 

Amy & Aubrey with Ben Before Conference House Challenge

The course was a 2 mile loop largely through the park - starting out on grass and going up and then down a little hill before landing on pavement.  There was another "trail" like section a bit later that ran along the waterfront for a bit before coming back out again on road.  Even though Staten Island is, well, an island, I wasn't expecting the beach.  What an emotional bonus each loop, coming out onto that section and running past the sparkling water!

I'm a big fan of looped courses.  I know some people find the idea of them boring - but I love seeing the same people over and over again.  It's easy to get aid, cheer on your friends, compare yourself to your rivals, and not have to carry too much for any one loop.  In 2 miles there is enough variety in scenery not to be bored, and you get very familiar with the course in just 1 or 2 loops. 

Aubrey and I ran together for a ways and were at pretty similar paces overall.  I was really happy to hit the 10 mile mark averaging 10 minute miles, and (briefly) thought maybe I could pull that off for the entire 6 hours.  However, shortly after that I did find myself slowing down just a bit.  The wind remained brutal for most of the race and I was never sorry that I wore my warmer clothing. 

I got a sense that I was one of the top runners just by seeing who else appeared to be in front of me.  I was pretty sure I was one of the top 3 women and when the really fast woman sort of disappeared for a while, I started hoping for number 2. 

This race I have to say I was able to push an aggressive (read:  moderately uncomfortable) pace during the last couple of hours.  My goal was to get in 34 hours, and I THOUGHT I had to do that within the 6 hour mark to get credit - so I pushed relatively hard to stay on pace for that.  I achieved that goal with about 1 minute to spare.

I found out AFTER the fact that for this particular timed event, you just had to START your last lap before the 6 hour mark to get credit for it - so in fact I still would have gotten credit for the 34 miles even if I had come in after 6 hours.  Nonetheless...  the push was good mental training and I was very happy with my race.  I was the third woman in, and got a trophy for 3rd, plus a medallion for 50K and a plaque for hitting 26.2.  So, I have to say, for an inaugural race - this one had pretty good bling!  Plus... the race venue was beautiful.

Post Race with Bling

Amy & Aubrey post race

Aubrey Post Race (borrowing my very attractive camo coat - which also made an appearance in my "One Day" report)

The Amys

My first Trophy

I spent the night again at Aubrey's house, and we both went out and enjoyed a post race burger and fries before I headed off to Cooperstown the next day, where.....

Amy's life changes drastically....

The day after the 6 hour race, my husband of 20 years, Matthew, and I, separated.  No details to be posted here besides just noting that we had been growing apart for some time and...  for various reasons, this was the time to part ways.  But...  HUGE life change.

I had always said if I were ever not with Matthew anymore, I'd move south.  Cooperstown is beautiful - but it is cold - often frigid.  The winters are long and dark.  It is a very rural location in that it is a good 60-90 minutes away from any decent size cities (apologies to Oneonta which calls itself a city, and is 30 minutes away but really... is not). 

Upon finding myself a single woman, I immediately started pursing my goal of living south of the Mason Dixon line and started a full fledged job search mostly based in the DC area where I've spent time and where my brother lives.

The job search was gratifying in terms of the number of "hits" I got on my resume and the number of positions for which I was asked to interview.  Job hunting was almost a full time job in and of itself.  Nonetheless I maintained my 80 mile per week schedule through most of December and January, as well as a full time job.

I realized I also needed some new running goals, with all of my 2016 races done.  So, shortly after the 6 hour race, I signed up for 2 big 2017 races - the Winter Beast of Burden 100 and my first foray into multi-days - the 72 hour 3 Day at the Fair event in NJ in May.

A new training route - learning to love hills

Upon my separation, I moved from my house just south of Cooperstown to my parent's place 7 miles away.  I have to say I was REALLY reluctant to move there because of.... hills.  The house is about 3 1/2 miles outside of town, and as you head toward town (which was going to be my running route), at around mile 1.5, you start hitting a series of rolling hills, each steeper than the last.  It's a bitch even driving it...  I was really nervous about running it as an out and back (so SIX total hills for a 10 mile run).  The first day I set out with dread.  Their road was even DARKER in the morning than mine due to less houses - so it was eerily quiet and with my headlamp, sort of like running through a tunnel.  The hills, though tough, were manageable.  And at the end of the run, I'd lost my sense of dread - I had conquered the hills.  And the dark.  And the unknown.  And within a VERY short period of time... I came to ADORE this run route.  The hills have been teaching me wonderful things about effort and pacing and cadence, and shortly after running this route daily, I found myself faster on flats.  Prior to my 100 miler, I clocked a couple of 10 milers with an average "comfortable" (non-tempo) pace of 9:40 to 9:50 or so - which, for me, was pretty great. 

A Busy Week - a 100 miler, a job interview and a visit to another city

Perhaps the craziest week of this winter started for me on January 27, when I headed out to Lockport to run my BOB redux.  (Summer Beast of Burden was my first 100 miler last August - it topped out at 95 degrees that day.).  I was looking forward to seeing my buddy Aubrey as well as running into some other running rock stars.

As per usual, I headed out alone, checked into my hotel alone.  I had queried other runners about dinner plans and learned of a local Italian place that was kind of a regular informal pre-race dinner venue.  So, after checking in, I headed over there.  I was the first to arrive, and as I was starving, ordered myself some squash bisque (YUM!) and chicken parm.  As I was eating the soup, Gary, one of the runners I knew, arrived with his buddy Ben and his son Payton.  I've been amazed by Payton who is, I think, about 12, at previous races, running long distances along side his dad.  He was planning on running the 25 while Gary was doing 50.  Ben, who also joined us, was running his first 100. 

As I so often do the night before a big race, I ate.  And ate.  And ate.  (See BPAC 6 hour write-up and my pre-race German food.  This, alas, is a pattern).  Restraint was not part of the equation - to the extent that when I was done, I'd consumed the bisque, a salad, 2 or 3 pieces of bread, the entire plate of veal parmesan (easily a meal for 2), and... most of a piece of peanut butter pie.  Jim Pease, one of the Race Directors, was staring at me with what was either an appalled, amazed, or a little bit of both, look.  "Wow - you're fueled", he said.  Yes.  Yes I was.  Perhaps a little TOO fueled.  It's not that I was worried I wouldn't burn it off... I was more worried about the potential digestive effect both with regard to sleep that night, and pre-race gut issues.  Sigh.  I really need to get a hold of that.

I slept fine, though, without any indigestion...  and as the race start wasn't until 10, had plenty of time to just chill out.  I breakfasted, went to Walmart and bought a new hat and gloves, and then headed over to the race.

I just have to say before I describe this race that I was REALLY intimidated by this one.  More so than any I've run so far, including, I think, my first 100.  Running a hot race didn't worry me NEARLY as much as the idea of all of the possible weather situations that could occur in winter.  Snow, sleet, ice, sub zero temps, wind....  All of these were possible.  Fortunately they were all conditions through which I had trained as well - so I was as prepared as I could be.  Still - I had zero desire to be running in a foot of fresh snow (the towpath doesn't get plowed).   I was tremendously relieved to see that the temps promised to hover in the low 20's.  Currently there was no real snow on the ground.  There was heavy lake effect snow predicted for just 20 miles south - but it wasn't predicted to get as far north as Lockport.  What WAS predicted was... wind.  To the tune of 15-25 mph with higher gusts.  OK.  Well... if wind was all I had to deal with, I was OK with that.

Pre-Race with Gary, Katherine and young Payton

Pre-Race - Ben, Aubrey, Justin & Nina

I met up with everyone I knew prior to the race start - Aubrey, Gary, Katherine, Payton, Ben...  my buddy Maria.  Took some pics, and soon enough the sound of ACDC's Hells Bells began to ring out and it was starting time.

(Copy and paste link below to FB to see video of race venue by Dan Salmons...)

I started out with Aubrey, and we both started slow and conservatively.  I was concerned about the footing because the first mile of paved path was all literally black ice.  We had to take really short steps not to slip, and I didn't have any special grips on my shoes.  Once we got to the gravel towpath, the footing improved, and I'm happy to say that first section (which we would cover 8 times during 100 miles) lost the black ice by the time I got back from my first loop.

Amy - looking just a bit uncomfortable

First 25 mile loop was pretty smooth and easy.  My pace was consistently between 10 and 10:30, and I believe I hit 25 miles right around 4 hours 20 minutes give or take.  Maybe 4:30.  In any case, easily 1/2 hour faster than where I hit 25 over the summer.  My stop at the aid station was extremely brief, and back out I went. 

I had brought 4 changes of clothes with the idea that if I sweat a lot, I'd need to change to stay dry, or else face hypothermia.  So, each loop closing, I performed a self eval to decide whether I should change.  I ended up never actually changing for the entire race. 

The wind was, in fact, pretty strong.  It was a tailwind all the way down to the 12.5 mile turnaround - but then coming back it was always a headwind.  So the back half was always colder and slower than the first.  But... manageable.  I never felt like I was overly cold until maybe somewhere in the last loop, and at that point, it was almost over.

I was really pleased with my 50 mile split as well - it was somewhere around the 9:30 mark.  During the summer race, I had hit 50 at around the 11 hour mark, and didn't head out for the 3rd loop until about 11 hours 10 or 15 minutes.  So, I was about an hour and 45 minutes ahead of my summer time.  My goal was sub 24.  So far I was on pace.

Lap 3 was where my issues started.  Somewhere around mile 54, every time I stopped at an aid station for any time at all, I got this sort of debilitating pain out the outside of my left knee.  It was hard to even walk with it.  I was afraid at that point that I was staring at a DNF.  The first time it happened, I just walked (hobbled) a bit until it gradually got better, and then I gently moved into something approximating a run motion - very gently.  The pain eased up and I was able to get into a run rhythm again.  For the rest of the race this happened every time I stopped.  So, during that 50-75 mile split, I was disheartened to see that my times were quite a bit slower than they had been for the same mile mark at my November 24 hour race.  The good news is... it got better during the last lap.  So, although my 50-75 was slower, my 75-100 was quite a bit faster.  One difference was... I was able to maintain a run up to about the last mile.   This was likely thanks to the weather.  By that point my clothes were damp and the wind was fierce.  I was pretty concerned that if I DIDN'T run, I'd end up with hypothermia.  At that point my run pace had slowed down to about 14-15 minute miles - but I still figured it was PROBABLY better than what I'd be walking at that point (at my last race, my average times during those laps were probably 16-17 minute miles, with some 18's thrown in because of the degree of walking).   Given how long it took me to get back up to speed after each aid station, I made the strategic decision to not stop at all at the last station at mile 93.4, but just run straight on past.

One way in which this race was different for me was that it was my first overnight venue when I spent significant time alone.  At my summer 100, I had pacers the whole time.  At NJ One Day at the Fair, it was a looped course, so you were constantly surrounded by people.  At this race...  particularly by night-time, runners were few and far between.  As it was the middle of winter, darkness came early - around 4:30-5pm, and it didn't start to get light until probably 7:30 in the morning.  Night... was long.  There were no lights on the towpath outside of the occasional runner's headlamp.  I found that those dark early morning runs from my parent's house, down a dark and lonely country road, in the cold, with me an my headlamp, had been perfect mental training for this piece.  There came a point at about 4 in the morning when I realized that light was only a few hours away.  At 4:30, I realized that this was my normal "getting up" time - so officially, morning had come.  There was one slightly unnerving point where I found myself drifting off the trail - the snow was flying sideways at that point, so it was a little hard to see, and I found myself in danger of falling into the canal.  I quickly course corrected, realizing with alarm that had I fallen - it would have been a while before anyone found the body. 

Once again, I knew I was one of the top 10 runners just judging by the people who were clearly ahead of me.  I was amazed to find myself still running steadily into the 80's, low 90's and then high 90's.  This was entirely new territory for me.

I finished the race in 22 hours and 42 minutes.  I was the second woman in, and the eighth racer overall.  And... it was 2 hours and 40 minutes faster than my corresponding summer race.  All in all, I was thrilled.

Beast Finish

I have to give a huge shout out to the volunteers and organizers of this race.  It is now the 3rd time I've run at this venue, and the 2nd time I've run 100 there.  The food at the stations is AWESOME.  My favorite food moment was at mile 87.5 - the last turnaround of the last loop.  They gave me fresh pancakes, sausage and OJ, which I gulped down in about 2 minutes.  It was AMAZING.  The people are SO helpful and wonderful.  The race is beautifully organized.  It really is a great event.

Recovery, a job interview and a trip

So.  This was my 3rd 100 mile distance since August.  Recovery from the first 2 had been beyond my wildest dreams - 2 days post race, I was running gently without aches or pains - albeit very slowly for a week or 2.  (A friend has subsequently told me that this means I didn't go hard enough.  I suspect he's right).  So, as I had done with really ALL of the ultras I've completed in the past year, I took a full day completely off after the race (Monday) and headed out Tuesday morning.  This... did not feel particularly good.  My left IT band was still wonky... my right pinky toe had a blister on it the likes of which I had never seen (essentially the toe WAS a blister).  My left foot was just feeling kind of bad.  Hard to explain why.  I made it through the run, went to work for the day, and then headed out of town via airplane for my first in person job interview in DC.  I had planned to try to run before the interview on Wednesday but I gave myself permission to take the morning off and just focus on the interview.  A good thing.  I really desperately needed the sleep as recovery. 

Fitting my feet into the high heels I needed for the interview... Now that was a treat.  

Good news is - I did well at the interview and really enjoyed all of the people I met.  I came out of it with a pretty positive feeling.  Headed back to Albany by plan that night, and got in the next day's run via treadmill.  Also not a great run - left foot STILL not right.  But...  got it done.  My head was starting to tell me maybe... this time... I should have taken more time off.

This hectic week concluded with a visit out of town to visit an ultra running friend.  We ran a lovely scenic route on both Saturday and Sunday morning.  Pace was not aggressive - which, for me, was a good thing.  I hit it a bit harder Sunday then Saturday, and was a bit dismayed to feel yet a NEW area of aggravation.  My calves.   They just started to ache.  I'd stop and stretch and start running slowly again and it would be OK for a couple of hundred yards - and then back the pain would come.

Good grief.  The bad news was... every time I ran, something hurt.  The good news was... every time I ran, something DIFFERENT hurt.  Which meant - that there was no individual body part that was injured.  Rather - nothing was quite right yet.

In which Amy is terrified about a possible stress fracture and is simultaneously hit with the Plague

Sunday night I flew home from Chicago.  This next week promised to be just as hectic in that I had yet ANOTHER job interview in DC - this time on Thursday.    Runs this week started to get a little bit better from a body mechanics point of view.  Still - I was having regular alternating issues between the top of my left foot hurting, and my left knee continuing to act wonky.  I doubled up on my IT Band rehab routine. 

The Sunday of that week, when I was dropping my visiting friend off at the aiport during a blizzard, I noticed to my terror and extreme dismay that the top of my left foot, which heretofore had just acted up during my runs was now hurting (quick a bit, actually) just walking.  Oh dear.  Oh no.  What... did this mean?

Of course as soon as I got home, I started looking up "top of foot pain".  It didn't look good.  The most hits I got were for a condition called a "navicular stress fracture".  If this, in fact, were the diagnosis, it would mean 6-8 weeks without running.  Abject Terror and Loss of Sleep ensued.

Making matters more challenging, it appeared I had picked up a bit of a cold on my travels.  I did as I always do and started taking Zinc and Airborne around the clock which mostly seemed to keep the symptoms away.  For about a week.  Until...

... after a week of trying desperately to avoid getting a full blown cold, it hit.  Specifically, it hit my lungs.  Hard.  Just as the rest of my body was starting to recover from my race, my lungs were hit with the force of a hurricane by asthma and bronchitis symptoms the likes of which I had never previously experienced.  I'm not actually asthmatic but am acutely familiar with the symptoms as both my brother and my father are.  For years I've had a prescription for a rescue inhaler because even though I don't have asthma per se, I would sometimes experience some weather - related asthma symptoms running in the cold, and a puff on the inhaler would relieve them.  I found myself, during this illness, puffing on the inhaler as often as the max daily dose allowed it.  I also started round the clock Mucinex to try to relieve the chest congestion.   During the day my chest was "tight" and I'd cough with some regularity without really having it be productive.  Night was much, much worse.  For many nights in a row, as soon as I went to bed, the coughing fits started.  I'd get an uncontrollable urge to cough and I'd have to sit up and hack my brains out for what seemed like forever.   These coughing fits brought tears to my eyes and regularly brought me close to throwing up.  This would happen pretty much every hour throughout the night.  I wasn't using the inhaler at bedtime because it is a stimulant and can keep you awake.  There came a point, however, where I decided that the stimulants in the inhaler couldn't be any worse than the coughing, as I was ALREADY awake all night, so I started using THAT every 4 hours around the clock.  That at least reduced my coughing fits to every 4 hours, right before my inhaler dose was due. 

In the middle of that week, as my foot continued to not improve, I made an appointment with a podiatrist.  That, at least, reassured me.  My podiatrist, who is also a local knitting friend (Hi Amy, if you are reading this!) seemed pretty confident that what I had was anterior tibial tendonitis and NOT a stress fracture.  Overuse - yes, but not... debilitating.  Stretching, gait adjustment, proper shoes, Epsom Salts and regular foot stretch/strengthening should do the trick for this one. 

HUGE sigh of relief.

Of course... anyone who knows me (and who has read this blog... read... addiction...) knows that I ran through this whole damn thing.  Daily I'd wake up at 4:30, exhausted from cough interrupted sleep, and pull on my cold weather run gear and head out into the cold dark.  I've found that I can run through pretty much anything as long as I adjust my pace for how I am feeling.  Never, however, have I found myself as slow as I found myself during this time period.  My normal "comfortable" pace generally ranges between about 9:45 to 10:30 minute miles depending upon my energy level.  Post 100 I was doing 11's.  With this bronchitis plague, I found my pace slowing down even more until I hit about an average of 11:30.  I knew... I KNEW I needed to take a break.  That no matter how much I wanted to get in a 30 mile weekend, giving me back my first 80 mile since my race, it wasn't going to happen.

(This is hard for me to do.)

So.  Finally.  2 weeks into this bronchitis thing...  and 3 weeks post race... I decided I was NOT going to attempt to do my long run on Saturday.  I was not, in fact, going to do ANY run on Saturday.  Perhaps not even on Sunday or Monday either.  It was time... to take a break.

I went to bed on Friday night without setting my alarm, all ready to sleep as long as I needed to in order to kick this horrible illness.

I slept.  I slept.  And I slept some more.  Somewhere around 6am I woke up, opened one eye and looked at the clock.  I closed my eyes again and went back to sleep.  I slept until 9am.  9 am!  I think the last time I slept until 9am I was in college.  And hungover.  7am is usually sleeping late for me.  9:00 is simply unheard of.

I woke up feeling a bit like a new person.  I had breakfast and mentally took a look at my day.  This was, in fact, the first weekend I had been home alone since 2 weeks before my race.  I'd travelled out of town 4 weekends in a row, and then the previous weekend entertained a friend from out of town (while dealing with a late winter blizzard to boot).  Wow - a whole weekend to myself, and not even a run on my docket.  It felt extremely strange.

Of course in the back of my head, I was having a hard time with the idea of not doing anything toward my 80 mile per week goal.  In an e-mail conversation with a good friend the day before, when I lamented that I wouldn't be running on Saturday, he said... "Take a walk.".  Hmmmm.  Take a walk.  OK - well, I could do that.  Maybe I could just sneak in a few walking miles and at least feel like I was doing SOMETHING.  Especially since I had the entire day ahead of me and no plans at all.   I headed downstairs to the basement and hopped on the treadmill setting it to 4mph, and banged out a couple of miles.  Wow - that felt kinda good.   In fact... things got a little nice and limber.  I figured I could get in another couple of miles bringing it up to a total of 5 before I had to head to Oneonta for a car appointment that afternoon.  And the best part is... walking didn't bring on that overwhelming disease induced fatigue nor did it bring on any coughing fits.  This was swell!

The weather on this particular day was staggeringly beautiful for mid-February.  The high was supposed to be in the 60's and it was sunny - the snow from last weekend's blizzard was melting all over the place.  When I dropped off my car, I asked how long it would be and they said about an hour.  I'd brought my knitting, but.... hmmm.  An hour.  Perhaps I'd... take another walk.  So I headed out of the door of the Toyota Service station and found myself on the shoulder of State Highway 28, heading south, walking briskly.  Cobwebs seemed to clear in my head.  Any wonkiness with my foot had already been worked out that morning.  Unlike my runs where I am at least aware of pace (lately abysmal), I had no time goals for this walk.  I just figured I'd walk for about an hour - 30 minutes down and then turn around.  It was amazing the number of things around me that I took notice of walking, that I had never seen before.  Like the creek down to my left.  I'd never even known it was there.  The warmth from the sun, offset by a cool breeze.  The trickle of snow melting.  The architecture of the farms and houses I was passing. 

Take a walk.

The dealer had said they'd call me when my car was done, and after an hour, I still hadn't gotten a call - so I figured I'd just walk until I hit 5 miles and then head back.  Which I did.

So.  Saturday afternoon and I was feeling pretty great.  On a weekend when I had aimed for 30 and was prepared to give it up entirely, I'd gotten in 10 miles with lots of enjoyment and zero pain.  I expected I could easily do the same on Sunday.  If so - I'd only end up 10 miles short of my weekly goal... WITHOUT hurting myself or making myself sicker.

On Sunday I woke up feeling great.  It was another nice weather day and another day where I really had nothing on my docket.  I decided to give a run a try.  I was perfectly willing to make it a run-walk, or even entirely walk if the run part didn't go well.  I just wanted to try.  My planned distance was 10, and if I was still feeling good at the 5 mile turnaround, I'd go another 2.5 and make it 15.

I headed out at an easy run.  I was astounded to see that after weeks of my pace being in the 11's (and then the high 11's), all of a sudden, I was bounding along in the mid-10's.  Foot felt...fine.  Lungs felt... (mostly) fine.  This.  Was.  Wonderful.  I did indeed go for the 15, and at that point I was only 5 miles shy of my 80 mile week goal.  Which I knew I could achieve with easy walking.  So... at 15, I turned back around and walked a brisk comfortable mile.  And decided to throw in a bit more run.  4 miles more of it, it turns out.  Bringing me to my 30 mile weekend, and my 80 mile week.  And best of all... I was feeling good again.

That was the turnaround point.  I've certainly had some less than stellar runs since that 20-miler a few weeks ago, but that was when I started to get better instead of worse.  That was the first day, since my Winter BOB, when I felt my Run Joy come back.  And... I can't even begin to describe the relief.

It has been almost 3 weeks since that weekend.  It took another 2 weeks to shake the illness entirely - a day or 2 after that weekend, I finally saw my doctor who put me on a 3 day course of Prednisone, a 10 day course of Amoxicillin, and a steroid inhaler twice a day.  After that great run on Sunday, another week of less than stellar runs followed, before I truly started to feel "recovered" and was able to run with what felt like clear lungs and a relatively normal energy level.  I have to say I've not been hit by an illness of that magnitude in years.  (It apparently is a known "baddie" - lots of people I know, including my parents in Florida, had the same thing, including a lingering cough that took weeks to go away).

Where I am now...

So here it is...  March 8.  Sometime about a week and a half ago, my runs finally got pretty normal again.  I'm ALMOST back to my pre-race comfortable pace.  There has been no trace of tendonitis pain or IT band issues in over a week.  After a month of broken, I've finally started to find my strong again. 

I have made multiple trips to DC in the past month - I have a new place to live that I'll be moving into in about 10 days.  It is in Falls Church, Virginia - about a mile from one of my favorite running paths down there (the Washington and Old Dominion - "W & OD" - running trail) and only about 5 miles from my house.  There are 2 fitness centers in the complex as well as a lap pool that will be open in the summer.  After 20 years of living in a house, I will be going back to apartment living (and, for a little while, living with not much furniture).  I'll be working on Pennsylvania Avenue, and in a cultural hub where I can have access to food of every ethnicity and museums galore. 

My divorce will likely be final in about a week.  Somewhere around the last day of work at the location where I've worked for 18 years.  Lots of changes.  Sometimes it is overwhelming - all of these at once.  How do I stay grounded?

Oh yeah.  I run.