Conference House 6 Hour Endurance Challenge - Dec 10, Staten Island NYThis 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)|
|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.
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.