Tuesday, October 11, 2016

I'm Back

Oops, haven't posted in ages! You know how when you forget someone's name, each time you meet them and don't ask their name it gets more and more awkward? Well, once I don't blog it feels more and more awkward after each day, so I just never posted. 

Basically, I had a horrible race at Boston and found it hard to write about. Waiting at the start, I never felt that adrenaline surge, and after the first 5-6 miles I started having bad pain in my right hip that slowed me down. By mile 10 it was clear even a BQ was out of the question. I was really upset, obviously, but did my best to enjoy the experience- gave lots of high fives and kissed a few Wellesley girls, because why not? 

Pretty soon after that disappointment I signed up for a marathon in Portland Oregon in July- I had wanted to visit Portland for ages, and this was a flat marathon so I hoped to BQ again for 2017. Training the "right" way (shorter, faster runs, and no ultras) for Boston didn't work for me, so getting ready for the Foot Traffic Flat Marathon meant going back to what had worked for me in the past. While I did a short speed workout or tempo run weekly, I also increased my mileage, and ran 3 50k races over 4 weeks going into my taper. I guess I'm weird, but ultra training equals good marathons for me- I ended up running my 2nd fastest marathon (30 seconds off my PR) and placing 3rd overall female...plus had an amazing vacation in Portland!

Over the summer I concentrated more on trail running- I paced my friend over the last 25 miles of his first 100 miler, and that reignited my love of trail running. I ran a handful of 50k trail races, leading up to The Ring in September.

The Ring is a 71 mile full loop on the Massanutten Mountain Trail in Virginia. It's very, very rocky and quite challenging! Technical trails do not come easily to me, as I'm a very slow uphill hiker, which was part of the reason I wanted to do this race. I knew the terrain and elevation gain was out of my comfort zone and I wanted a new challenge. Also, I'm a big fantasy nerd, and finishers of The Ring are said to inducted into the Fellowship of the Ring- I couldn't pass that up! Anyway, the race was tough, but I was lucky to meet up with a really nice dude named Casey, and we ended up running about 40 miles together 🙂 It worked out really well, as we were a similar pace, and both of us felt a bit uncomfortable with the idea of running alone at night. I was tired but felt pretty good all night, and managed to finish under my goal of 24 hours.

Since then, I've gone back to primarily road running- I signed up for my first 72 hour race, Icarus Florida Ultrafest, on November 17. I ran 120 miles in the 24 hour race 2 years ago, and it's a nice relatively flat loop of about 1 kilometer. I've never run longer than my 34 hours at Spartathlon, so once again I am in for a totally new challenge! I'm focusing on back-to-back long runs and increasing my mileage- hopefully peaking with my first ever 100 mile training week at the end of the month 🙂 My goal is to break 250 during the race, but I have no idea how my body will react past that first 1-1/2 days, so I'll have to just try my best and see how it goes. I'm starting a new (non-running related) adventure in January, so Icarus will likely be my last ultra for the near future- nothing like going out with a bang!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

2016 Update

It's been a while...after the high of finishing Spartathlon I went through a bit of a hard time. I was physically and emotionally drained, and couldn't get back to training right away. I got a bad staph infection in my underarm that created a large abscess and prevented me from running, while the antibiotics I was on made my legs feel weak once the wound healed. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in late October on little training and not being fully recovered from Spartathlon. Needless to say it didn't go well. I'm proud of the money I raised in support of TeamRWB, but not my race time (just under 3:45). After that I took about a month nearly completely off. I was just tired of training and very frustrated.

After Thanksgiving I decided to really dedicate myself to training for a PR at the Boston Marathon. So for the past month or so I have been concentrating on speed. Speedwork and a tempo run every week, plus a hill workout and a long run. I'm also doing one weight training workout a week, mainly in the hopes of decreasing body fat. I'm at least 10 pounds over what I would call a good "racing weight" for me, and I know I need to be lighter and fitter to go faster.

On January 1st I ran my first 5K in about a year and a half. I didn't do as well as I would have liked, at least partially due to the extra weight. But I did run fast enough to place in my age group at a competitive race, and the first mile was the fastest I've ever clocked during a race. So although I've still a ways to go in order to run a sub 3:15 at Boston, I think I'm on the right track!

Sunday, October 4, 2015


My whole year of training has been leading up to this...and in the end, it was all worth it! I finished the Spartathlon in 34 hours, 6 minutes, and 14 seconds. There were 374 starters, and only 174 finishers in a race that already required qualification to enter. Although I would have preferred to finish closer to 32 hours, to be the 93rd finisher and 11th woman, among some of the top ultrarunners in the world, is something I am incredibly proud of. This was by far the most challenging race I have ever done, and at one point I came very close to DNFing, which makes my finish even more rewarding.

Alec and I flew into Greece via Istanbul on Tuesday night. It was a long overnight flight, but I was able to get around 5-6 hours sleep so it didn't seem so bad. However our flight out of Istanbul was delayed, so with the time difference it was about 1am Thursday Greek time when we finally got settled into our hotel. After another short night's sleep I had some breakfast and did a short shakeout run around Glyfada, the Athens suburb where we were staying. I was feeling a bit jet-lagged, but nothing too terrible. Later that day we walked around the Parthenon and Acropolis, which was surprisingly taxing in the heat, but definitely worthwhile- coming from the U.S. it's almost unbelievable how old everything in Greece is! After some delicious chicken souvlaki and a lot of water I got to bed early, although of course I didn't sleep too well the night before such a big race.

In the morning I met up with some of the USA team while I had my protein bar and coffee, along with some delicious Greek yogurt and honey. Then it was on the bus to the race start at the Acropolis. I sat with Traci Falbo and I was so happy to finally meet her and tell her how much she inspires me- it was such an honor to represent the US alongside so many amazing runners! After taking some pictures and milling around a bit (and peeing in the bushes of the Parthenon, lol) we were off!

The first 10 miles or so were through Athens, taking us out to the coast. I had heard it wasn't too nice, but I didn't think it was too bad, just more like running an urban marathon than a typical ultra. I settled into a nice groove at a steady 9:00 pace and zoned out a bit. Despite the "big climbs" not coming until the second half, there were plenty of small hills throughout the race, but in the early hours they didn't bother me. By around 13 miles in we were at the coast, and it was absolutely beautiful...the water was so incredibly blue and clear, and the sun was so hot and bright that at times it was torturous not to be able to jump in! Apparently Europeans are weird about ice- they don't really like it I guess, so not every checkpoint had it. They did have buckets of sponges, so I kept squeezing lukewarm water on my head. It wasn't the Aegean, but it helped.

The first crew checkpoint came at marathon distance, which I hit in 4 hours, a bit slower than I wanted, but still 45 minutes ahead of cutoffs. It was great to see Alec again. He got me rolled out and made me eat (I had been just grabbing a few raisins and chips at the checkpoints, along with cola). After filling my rundanna with ice and applying more sunscreen I was off. 

As it was about 11am the heat was getting worse. I was glad I had been wearing Orlando (my floppy hat) all morning, but although I kept drinking water and cola I wasn't able to eat in the next section. I had slowed down some from my 9s, but I was still maintaining a decent pace through the heat and hills. I hit the next crew checkpoint (50 miles) in 8:15, which was just what I wanted. But I almost fell over from heat exhaustion once I got into the shade. Alec made me stay a good 10 minutes, and after eating some yogurt and a bowl of rice (so incredibly delicious at that point!) I felt much better. From this point on, I would see Alec every 10 miles or less, which definitely helped my morale!

It was also around this point that I started running with my friend Bruce- although he was representing Korea (where he was born), he lives in Florida so we had met at several previous races. Anyway, we leapfrogged each other for a bit, but in the end we ran close to 100 miles together- I can't express how grateful I am to have had his encouragement and company for so many hours! I think Alec also enjoyed getting to crew alongside Bruce's wife, Brandi- gave him some company with all the waiting around.

Honestly, things sort of blurred together after the first 50 miles. We ran past a lot of vineyards, along winding, rolling countryside. We ran through ancient Corinth. We ran into small Greek towns full of cobblestones and old stone buildings. Bruce and I had some crazy conversations, the kinds you only have when you're punchdrunk after running for hours together. Alec kept rolling me out and refilling my Tailwind bottle at checkpoints. By nightfall I was about 2 hours ahead of cutoffs, and I was starting to feel more confident about finishing.

We were close to the halfway point when it got dark. I wore my headlamp around my chest (I hate actually wearing it on my forehead), but the moon was so big and bright I didn't actually turn it on half the time. The terrain was getting hillier, and now I was powerwalking the uphills. I do think my hillclimb workouts have made me faster at this, but I am still a pretty slow uphill walker. If I do Spartathlon again in the future I will definitely do more hill training!

The slow climb up to mountain base began around mile 92. Bruce insisted that the uphills weren't actually uphill, so I should be running them. I countered that uphill was uphill, these weren't especially steep uphills, but I was still planning on walking them. I started getting frustrated at myself, and felt bad at holding Bruce back- I told him to go ahead of me, but he said he would stick with me until we were over the mountain. I was getting so exhausted and sleepy (it was about 2am), but I was afraid of taking caffeine as I was also nauseated. Bruce suggested I lay down with my feet up for a while instead, and I resolved to do that at mountain base.

Around mile 98 we started steeper switchbacks up to the mountain, and it began to get cold and rainy. I grabbed a long sleeved shirt from my dropbag and we power hiked up. Bruce wanted to get over the mountain before the rain got worse, but I needed to lie down. We reached mountain base (about 100 miles) in just over 20 hours. This was slower than what I had ideally wanted, but I was still over 1.5 hours ahead of cutoffs. I lay down for about 10 minutes, Alec made me eat some crackers, then I put on a hooded windbreaker and headed onto the trail.

The trail wasn't really a trail...it was a bunch of switchbacks marked off with reflective tape and glowsticks. I had to stop and stretch my screaming calves a few times, and nearly panicked as I slowly dragged myself, half crying, up the mountain. I kept looking up and seeing more headlamps twinkling up the mountainside, reminding me I still had a ways to go. But as it turned out, we didn't actually go all the way up the mountain, so once I calmed down that section passed relatively quickly. Going down was in some ways harder- it was all switchbacks of wet scree, and steep enough that I felt I needed to be super cautious not to fly off the mountain. Usually downhills are my strength, and despite my caution I did pass a few people- plus I caught back up to Bruce! We ran together to the next crew checkpoint (around 106).

This was a high point in the race for me. It's funny how that works in ultras- after 106 miles and about 22 hours I felt better than I did at 4 hours in. Part of it was finishing the mountain and realizing I had actually gained time on the cutoffs (I was back to around 2 hours ahead). But the human body and mind are also just mysterious.

Alec had bought some delicious meat on a stick, and boy did it hit the spot! It was especially nice to eat something hot in the cold wet night. Bruce was having some issues so he stayed on the massage table a bit. I went ahead at that point in order to keep going while I still had high spirits. Spoiler alert: that didn't last long.

The next section was kind of boring and industrial, and running alone in the rain started getting to me. It began getting light around the 24 hour mark, but it didn't make me feel better. I ran down an access road that had been used as a dump, probably the grossest part of the course in my opinion. On top of that, my left contact was feeling blurry and I kept having to squint to see straight. Perhaps that contributed to my starting to hallucinate. I felt nauseated and cold, I was completely soaked, and I couldn't get myself to run at all for a mile or 2 going to the next crew checkpoint (about mile 115). Everything just felt wrong.

This was the absolute low point. I came in crying to Alec about all my problems, most especially the cold. Unfortunately I had come prepared for heat and rain, but not cold, so I had no pants, no jacket (other than the light windbreaker I was wearing), and no hat or gloves. Alec gave me his drier windbreaker to wear, but I walked off only a few steps before I came back shaking. I just can't, I cried, I can't, I'm freezing! Alec helped me change into dry socks and shoes (thank goodness I brought an extra pair), and I sat down and tried to eat. My body rejected the ginger cookie and I began retching onto the cobblestones. Alec had me lie down on a mat inside a store and wrapped his arms around me. I kept crying how it was just like C&O, and I came all this way but I was going to DNF. Someone brought me some hot water and I sipped at it a bit. Alec told me to wait there, but I was watching time slip away (less than 45 minutes ahead of cutoffs) and knew if I didn't move soon I would have no options left. 

I told Alec I wanted to try to get to the next checkpoint. It wasn't a crew checkpoint, but it was less than 3k away, and Alec could drive there to see how I was doing, and if necessary pick me up to DNF. So I started moving again. I counted my steps and alternated 9 strides walking with 9 strides running. I told myself I would have to drop if I couldn't at least maintain my 45 minutes ahead of cutoffs. I made it to the next checkpoint having gained a minute or 2- thankfully the pace you are forced to maintain becomes slower and slower as the race progresses! So I kept going to the next checkpoint. I continued my run/walk intervals and steadily began gaining time. The rain was coming down heavily, but I was able to increase my running interval (3:1) and I was slowly warming myself up. 

I came to a very hilly section, which was a bit scary because it was on a major road with no shoulder and cars would fly past. But I continued my intervals and passed quite a few people who were no longer running at all. By the time I got to 200k I had over 1.5 hours on the checkpoints again, and I had caught back up with Bruce! We resolved to stick together for the last section, which was mainly uphill until the last 20k. 

This section wasn't too eventful. We kept our lead on the cutoffs, but I was only taking in a few bites of banana and some Tailwind here and there. I was pretty much ready to be done. One nice thing was I had made some "fans" with my comeback...a lot of crew members were sure I was going to DNF back at mile 115, and were really impressed to see me passing other runners a few hours later. One British guy kept yelling out his car that I was a machine and "you're my favorite!" Aside from his own runner, I'm sure!

The last 20k was supposedly "all downhill" but there were a few decent climbs in the mountains before we really headed down into Sparta. They weren't terrible, but being told "it's all downhill" only to face a couple of real climbs is like being told "you're almost there" at mile 20 of a marathon...I guess it's all relative, but it still feels like I'm being lied to!

Anyway, the downhills were really starting to do a number on my quads. I love downhills and I'm good at them, but after 140+ miles nothing feels good! I kept whining (Bruce's term)/stating facts (my term) about my legs hurting. It had gotten nice out though- cloudy, warm, and dry, so I was comfortable in just a tee shirt and shorts again. We had about 4 hours left to do the last 10k, which sounds super easy (and I was confident of finishing), but I was so ready to finally be done! Brandi and Alec drove off to get a good spot to see us finish, and we began the final descent.

I did run the downhills continuously, but I couldn't seem to get as much speed as Bruce, so I waived him on ahead to handle the final 3-4k on my own. I had also been told that the last bit in Sparta had a few slight uphills, so I didn't want to completely trash my legs until then.

I was relieved to finally get into Sparta, but the race markings, which had been so well done throughout the race, vanished! I guess the race officials figured everyone knew the way, but that wasn't so. I followed the other runners I saw ahead (and passed a few), but I got more and more frustrated with no end in sight. There was an official car driving alongside me and videotaping me, so I asked them where the statue was- they said they didn't know! At that point I was really getting pissed at the 2k that wouldn't end, so I began to angrily powerwalk. I yelled out to a crew car, "where's the statue!?" The Brits knew- take the 3rd right and you're almost there. Thank goodness! I had hoped to finish under 34 hours, but the section through Sparta took longer than I expected.

I finally made the turn and saw a street lined with flags, and people cheering "bravo, bravo" as they had all race- but this was it at last! I began running as fast as I could, squinting my blurry left eye shut and laughing and crying all at once. I could see the statue ahead of me. "200 meters more" said the man videotaping me as he rode backwards on a skateboard. It seemed longer, but I ran. I ran up the steps and threw my hands down on the feet of King Leonidas, ending my race. I lowered my head to kiss his feet, and sobbed. Over 34 hours and 245k, the hardest, most challenging thing I have ever done...and in that one moment all the pain was worthwhile. There is no way to express how amazing that moment felt, but I will remember it for the rest of my life.

Alec ran up and wrapped me in a hug as I cried on his shoulder. A local woman gave me water from the river to drink and a plaque, and the race directer put a crown of olive branch on my head and shook my hand. A local child gave me a bag with a handmade ornament of my race number. There were a lot of pictures taken, and I just smiled.

I was led down the stairs to have medics wash my feet and drain my blisters. It hurt but felt wonderful. Bruce came over to congratulate me and we took a picture as Spartathlon finishers. I hobbled over to the med tent (where I saw at least 3 finishers pass out!) to have my legs massaged a bit. But then I began shaking with cold again and feeling dizzy. So I stayed there for a bit with an IV and a pile of blankets. Finally I got into a taxi with Alec to drive the 3 blocks to our hotel. I had the worst chaffing of my life but it felt so amazing to take a hot shower and curl up in bed. I could only doze on and off all night but it was a happy, hazy, comfortable evening.

The next day we enjoyed a big breakfast (I was starving!) and walked around Sparta a bit before leaving. We decided to skip the luncheon and go to a mineral lake outside of Athens instead. We drove back over some of the roads I had run only a day before, and I could barely recognize them- they seemed a lot nicer in the sun, and from the window of a car! We had a nice couple hours at the lake. There were little fishes that nibbled on your dead skin, and although the Greeks there were non-nonplussed, Alec and I (and a Japanese tourist) couldn't stop giggling. 

The following day we walked around Athens for a while, and visited the National Archeological Museum, which was amazing. I was pretty exhausted by early afternoon though, so we rested up a few hours before going to the final gala awards ceremony. It was a bit too late and too long for my taste, but I got my medal and finisher's certificate and DVD, ate some delicious food (and wine), and saw my USA teammates one last time in Greece, before heading home in the morning.

This has probably been the longest race recap ever, but then it was also my longest race ever. I think I may go back one day, although I doubt it will be next year- it's too major of an undertaking and too expensive a trip to do regularly, although some do. I don't plan on doing any more ultras for a little while, but I couldn't ask for a better one to lead into my "hiatus". But I'm only 31, and I think my best ultra years are ahead of me, so probably I will come back, and maybe even take a few hours off my time, now that I know what to expect!

My strength and stubbornness comes from within, but I also couldn't have finished this race without Alec- as always I am blessed to have his help, love, and support! I am just so incredibly grateful for this experience...to run in an international competition, in one of the toughest races on earth, with some of the best athletes from around the world...I am both humbled and proud!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Summer Training

Oops, it's been a really long while since my last post! It's been a busy summer- working full time and trying to get good training in definitely took up a good chunk of time. Generally things went well...unfortunately I wasn't able to get my weekly mileage above the 50-70 range, but I ran an ultra distance every other weekend. In between I had lower weekly mileage, but also did strength training, mile repeats, and midday heat acclimation runs.

Toward the end of June I spent nearly 24 hours running on the treadmill in short bursts (3-6 miles at a time). I rested 30-60 minutes between runs, which in some ways was harder than a straight run, since my legs would just tighten up. It was good mental training too, and I ended up with 65 total miles.

Two weeks later I did a similar training, but for about 10 hours overnight, ending with 32 miles total. Both times I started at the end of a full work week to maximize the mental and physical fatigue.

Then in late July I ran the Endless Summer 6 Hour. I tried to keep pretty consistent, although I slowed down a bit in the heat toward the end. I pushed myself somewhat, but was careful not to go all out so I didn't need to "recover" before getting back into my training. I ended up as 2nd place female, and I think 9th overall. I was pretty happy with the result, although I would have liked a bit more pace consistency. Alec was back and crewed for me for the first time since November, which was really nice :) Basically he just handed off my bottle full of Tailwind every lap, but we had that handoff down- I was able to just grab it midstride...felt all professional!

Two weeks after that I switched gears and ran the Martha Moats Baker Fatass 50K. That was a great event put on in the George Washington National Forest by VHTRC (Virginia Happy Trails Running Club). It runs on part of the course for Grindstone 100, and it was very technical and overgrown, with lots of elevation change! I ran with Alec's old army hydration pack since there was minimal aid, which added an extra challenge since it was huge on me and bounced around on my shoulders. It took me well over 8 hours to finish the 33+ miles, and I was around middle of the pack. I tried to just take it easy and enjoy myself, but I am not great on trails and it was exhausting! I felt proud of finishing such a rough course though, and took home some great souvenir battle wounds thanks to all the overgrown blackberry bushes :)

In late August I flew back to Savannah to visit all my running friends, and run a local 50K at the same time. That was a flat course on a mix of pavement and gravel. Being Savannah, it was hot and humid, but I managed to keep a very consistent pace- only about 30 seconds difference between my fastest and slowest miles :) Again I fueled solely on Tailwind, and had a great time thanks to seeing all my lowcountry ultra friends again! I ended up 2nd female and 2nd overall, with my second-fastest ever 50k. I felt very comfortable with the pace, and wasn't too tired afterwards. Definitely happy with that, especially after running ultras all summer with no tapering or recovery time.

So now I am tapering for Spartathlon (12 days!) and of course driving myself crazy with anxiety :/ I think I am in pretty good shape, but Spartathlon is so beyond what I've done before that it's hard to tell. I know I'll be tired and jet-lagged before I even hit the starting line, but hopefully my stubbornness and mental strength will help me finish. My overall goal will just be to finish, although I am roughly shooting for 32 hours. If I can just manage to finish and touch the feet of the statue of King Leonidas in Sparta, it will put me in a very small and elite group. Even if I it takes me 35 hours and 59 minutes I will be happy!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Old Dominion 100

Now this is more like it! Finished Old Dominion 100 in 22:17:19, good for 3rd female and 11th overall. The race had it's ups and downs, but I never suffered too terribly, and had some really great moments as well. While the course was a bit easier than Pinhoti (my only other 100 mile race finish), it was still tough, and I took over 4 1/2 hours off that race's finish time and finished a lot stronger as well :)

The race started from the small town of Woodstock at 4am- my earliest ever race start. But it was actually quite nice- it was already very humid at that hour, I don't get much sleep the night before a race anyway, and it was light within 2 hours. I started out at a sub-8 pace the first 2 miles, since it was pretty much downhill through town, and I wanted to stick with Megan so I wouldn't get lost! By mile 4 we began a very steep set of switchbacks up the mountain for about 2 miles. It was still a paved road at this point, so I was able to walk relatively fast (about 15:00 pace), but it was a little demoralizing to have so many people pass by me so early! I reminded myself that I would just worry about finishing under 24 hours, and to ignore everyone else.

After getting to the top of the mountain, we had our first trail section around mile 10. I took it very slow going up, where I enjoyed talking to a couple of girls who were around my pace uphill. But when we hit the downhill I flew ahead, knowing I needed to take advantage of my downhill speed to make up for my slow uphills! I noticed when I took the steep downhill I was landing almost on my toes, and suspected there'd be some black toenails in my future (spoiler alert: I was right). Coming off the trail came a section of country gravel roads winding through farms. The hills here weren't very steep, but they were constant and more difficult than I expected. I also found it pretty monotonous and smelly, so when I first saw my crew around mile 20 I was at a low point. I was a bit behind schedule (around 3:20 instead of the 3:10 I wanted), and came up to the aid station crying about how it was harder than I expected. But Bob and Katie ignored my whining and sent me on my way quickly enough, and as they say, "it never always gets worse"...

The next section was a lot more of the same, but I chatted and played leapfrog with another runner for a bit, which was a nice distraction, and managed to make up some time, getting to mile 33 in around 5:45, and in a much better mood than before! I had planned to start listening to my music at this point- it gave me something to look forward to, was a nice reward after finishing 1/3 of the distance, and I knew I had a tough section coming up. I think this was one of my best decisions in race planning.

This was one of the worst sections of the race, but thanks to my music I managed to keep a pretty positive mood. It also helped that I had been prepared for the worst, so it almost seemed a little better in comparison. This section had miles of hot, muddy, buggy, rocky trail...not too bad in terms of elevation change but it seemed never ending at times! I logged a few 18 minute miles so it was a bit of a time suck, but I expected that. Also had a few steep climbs and downhills that beat up my feet a bit, but I came out to the first weigh-in around mile 42 (no real change), and then had some nice downhill road miles back to the mile 48 aid station. I believe I was ahead of my planned splits then, and was feeling relatively good.

The next section was uphill on some more dirt roads. I mainly walked but threw in a jog here and there to keep a decent overall pace. It had gotten pretty warm by this point, and the course was very exposed, but I felt really good when I passed the 50 mile mark at just over 9:30- not bad on a pretty tough course! It was even more of a boost when I reached mile 51 and got an ice pop...totally hit the spot after that exposed section :) Then it was mainly downhill miles until the mile 57 aid station, so I made some good time and came in feeling awesome! I was actually dancing and singing along to my music while stretching out my calves. 

The following section was probably my least favorite of the race though...a stretch of about 10 miles on an ATV course. It was hot, exposed, uneven, and where it wasn't rocky it was muddy. On top of that, I had just heard that Megan came close to several rattlesnakes so I was super paranoid of running into one sunning itself in that area. And I had to dodge a lot of ATV riders, plus go around a very sketchy blue van that kept going back and forth on the narrow trail and really skeeved me out. I think the dudes were getting high or something, and it made me nervous. I had been eating something at least every hour up to this point (plus drinking Tailwind), which worked well. But I was so concerned with what was going on around me here that I forgot to eat anything, and came into mile 64 feeling a bit light-headed. But Katie and Bob got me to take a minute and eat a little, and sent me off on the roads with half a chicken sausage off the grill, which was amazing and tasted great after having too many carbs earlier. 

Next came a lot of roads going up and down, then a grassy trail around mile 70, and some rockier trail with some water crossings heading into Elizabeth's Furnace at mile 75. I got there in about 15:00, which made me quite happy since there would still be another 1-2 hours before I needed to turn on my headlamp. I had both been looking forward to and dreading mile 75. On the one hand, I was 3/4 of the way done, and I would have Katie as my safety runner for the next 11 miles. But on the other hand, I had the rockiest, steepest sections of the course coming up and it would be slow going at best! After the second weigh-in (up about 2 pounds), I took a bit more time at this aid station to make sure I was prepared. I dropped off my music (my playlist had ended around mile 70 anyway), changed shirts, made sure I had plenty of food with me, and grabbed my headlamp. I also took another Immodium, because as I explained to my crew, I was feeling gassy and wanted to avoid a "sharting situation"...ain't ultrarunning glamourous?!

It was definitely nice having Katie to talk to, and I was very glad to have her encouragement when we started up the first climb! It was horribly difficult to me- more a series of jagged rocks than a trail, and very steep. I was literally crying at this point and complaining that I couldn't do it, but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and finally made it to the top. Katie was awesome in ignoring my crying and cursing and just keeping me going- somehow she loves those effing rocks and makes the climb look easy- pretty incredible! I was trying to eat a bit more but starting to have difficulties. I was sick of sweet food and didn't have much else to choose from on the trail. But after going down for a bit, and then up a shorter climb (in the dark by now), we made it to the mile 81 aid station, where I was happy to down two hot dogs in short order!

We headed downhill on what woukd be the last trail section of the race. Thank goodness because I wasn't keeping a very good pace on the dark trails (even downhill), and it was in this section that I narrowly avoided stepping on a copperhead- twice! That really freaked me out, since I was not expecting to have to worry about snakes after dark. I guess since it was still quite warm and humid all night they were out late. At mile 86 I left Katie and continued on the road alone. I knew I would almost certainly make the 24 hour cut-off, but I still wanted to try to finish better than that. Plus I had been 3rd female since mile 10 and didn't want any ladies passing me at this point!

This section was going back the way I had come early in the race- lots of up and down hills on the country farm roads. I ran the downhills but walked even the smallest uphills. When I got into the mile 91 aid station I wasn't feeling great. I hadn't been able to eat since my hot dogs at mile 81, and I was beginning to feel very nauseated. I managed to down some coke before leaving, and take a few sips of Tailwind here and there but that was it. As it turned out, I wouldn't be able to eat again until several hours after the race was over. I'm afraid I was pretty whiny when Bob and Katie were trying to help- I'd pretty much reached my point of "eff this, I just want to be done!". But I knew I only had about 2-3 miles of mainly uphill before the switchbacks down the mountain, and then less than 4 miles to the finish. Before I left, I mentioned to Bob that I wasn't going to push too hard, since I knew I would finish in under 24 hours and be 3rd female. He responded that there could be a girl coming right up behind me, so I had better at least "walk with purpose"! I was paranoid about that for the remainder of the race, but it was exactly what I needed to hear to give me a last push :)

Around mile 93 I met up with a guy named Ryan, whom I had briefly talked to at the beginning of the race but didn't really know. He had run Old Dominion a couple times before, and we ended of sticking together for the rest of the race. I can't thank him enough for that! It was so nice to have someone to talk to and run with after spending so much of the race on my own. We made decent time down the steep switchbacks, although by that time my big toes were pretty jacked up, so there was a lot of "ow, ow, ow" from me whenever I was running. But Ryan's a fun guy and great to talk to, so I was distracted from a lot of the pain. We walked the uphill sections heading back into town, and started counting down the last few miles. I told him about being paranoid there was another girl about to pass me, so every few minutes he'd turn around and confirm "no headlamps!" :)

We passed crew for the last time with less than 3 miles to go, and then there was just one more hill and a lap around the fairgrounds track to finish! After we headed into the fairgrounds I managed to pick up the pace to run in the last half mile. As we approached the finish line, someone yelled to us that one of us needed to sprint ahead- we couldn't just skip in holding hands...so that's what we did! Or, at least we held hands and Ryan skipped (I didn't have the energy). So we crossed the finish line together, and I immediately leaned over and started crying. I had finished in under 22 1/2 hours, and finished strong, and I was just so grateful for all the support I had from Bob and Katie and Ryan...people who I hardly know and yet they helped me so much. This is why I love the ultrarunning community! 

Crewing for a long ultra is never easy, and I know I'm not the easiest person to crew for- I'm not mean or anything but I certainly get difficult and whiny at times. I've seen people run 100s with a smile on their face the whole way, and I have so much respect for that- but that's not me. I was so very lucky to have Bob and Katie for my crew- despite not knowing me for long they really stepped up for me. They were always kind but gave me a kick in the butt when needed, and just generally did a great job taking care of me and keeping me motivated! 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

C&O Canal 100- DNF

Unfortunately despite a great start I ended up with a DNF at the C&O Canal 100 last weekend. On the plus side, other than slightly sore quads I seemed to have no issues stemming from my marathon only 5 days prior, which I think bodes well for my endurance capabilities at Spartathlon, my priority race in 2015.

I planned on starting the race with sub-10 minute miles and gradually slowing down. But I felt a lot better than I expected, so I just held a comfortable pace, which turned out to be around 8:30. I was having a really good time, listening to music and cruising through my first 50k in about 4 1/2 hours. After that I slowed down a little but still kept around a 9:30 pace.

The weather was cloudy and chilly, so I wore my gloves and fleece and never really warmed up. This would eventually cause problems but during the day it was nice, and I had no stomach issues as I sometimes do in the heat. I fueled consistently with Tailwind, with some salted potatoes or candy to supplement every other hour or so.

I passed through 50 miles in 7:36- a new pr for me and about an hour ahead of what I had expected. I was still feeling good, and after 8 hours I settled into a slower pace that I thought I could comfortably maintain until the end of the race- about 11:00. I made it up the one real climb and back to the start/finish for mile 59, then turned around to head back down, thinking happily that I would next see that hill on my last half mile to the finish. That didn't happen.

Around mile 65 I started feeling off. I was still maintaining my slow jog and moving well, but I began coughing a bit and it threw off my breathing. By time I made it to the mile 69 aid station and my drop bag, I was at a real low point and in tears. It had started to rain as well, which didn't help my mood. I was only 11 1/2 hours in and first lady by a significant margin, but I felt my race was going downhill. I changed my shirt and replaced my fleece with a lined windbreaker and grabbed my headlamp- it would be dark in the next hour or so.

I continued on toward the turnaround, telling myself to just keep moving for the last 50k. I put my headlamp around my chest instead of my forehead, and I found the light a lot less disorienting this way (I hate headlamps), so that was good. But the rain started coming down harder, and with the dark came a big drop in temperature- I could see my breath and my cough/breathing got worse. Around 75 miles in I had to switch to run/walk intervals- .3 mile run/.2 mile walk. I was able to keep around a 13:30 pace this way, but I found myself gasping for breath at the end of every run interval- not good!

I was really upset when I got to the turnaround at mile 80. At this point I was having no fun at all shuffling along in the cold rain, and I had felt too nauseated to eat for a couple of hours and was drinking less Tailwind, so I was getting lightheaded from lack of calories. I picked up some Swedish fish, which was about all that sounded appetizing at the time, knowing I would have over 6 miles until the next aid station. I started feeling a little confused- not able to speak quite coherently, and freaking out over losing my glove, having no memory of putting it in my pocket a minute earlier.

About 2 miles after leaving the turnaround things got really bad. I was gasping and coughing after my run intervals, and began shaking from cold. I still had a bit over 4 miles to the aid station, which seemed like forever. The heavy rain had created some nasty puddles by this time, and now I had wet feet on top of soaked everything else- it was freezing! I kept telling myself to just get to that aid station...I had no intention of dropping, but I figured once I was there something could be done to help- although I wasn't really sure what.

Finally (15:15 into the race) I arrived at the aid station in tears, yelling that I was freezing and needed help. The volunteers were great- they got me out of the rain, and gathered up some dry clothes amongst them and helped me change. I sat down and was wrapped up in 2 sleeping bags...but I was still shaking and unbearably cold. I was crying as I tried to decide what to do. I don't believe in DNFs as a rule, and I had enough time to walk the last 14 miles and still finish in under 20 hours. But I just couldn't warm up. I hadn't really been warm while running 8:30 pace miles while dry- what were the odds I could warm up run/walking 13:30 miles in the rain? One of the volunteers asked me a few questions and determined that I wasn't too confused to be pulled from the course, so it was my decision whether to continue. I just cried and begged someone to tell me what to do! I felt like I should keep going- I had been doing so well and I didn't want to quit now...but the thought of going back into the cold was unbearable, and I was scared of being alone on the trail if I got worse. If I became disoriented it could be an hour before I came across anyone. Finally I gave in- I told everyone I was done.

I finally felt warm when I got into a heated car to head back to the start/finish, but I felt numb from exhaustion and disappointment. It felt like a failure, although I thought (and still think) I made the smart decision. Maybe I would have been fine had I continued- but I could have become severely hypothermic as well, and there was no way to know which it would be. After I got back I found out my friend Stephanie had dropped at mile 66 for similar reasons, and there were multiple people being driven back all night after DNFing. As it turned out, only 69 people finished, while well over 100 started. And had I not dropped, I would have been the top female finisher by hours even at a walking pace- that was a bit of a bitter pill. 

In the end, although I feel a bit like a failure for getting a DNF, I'm glad no damage was done. I picked up a little chest congestion overnight, but it is possible I could have become really sick had I continued. I now know I can easily run a sub-8 hour 50 mile even on tired legs, so I shouldn't have too much trouble with the Spartathlon cutoffs. With better weather I know I could win a 100 mile race, and I know I can race well without a crew or pacer. Three days later, my legs are heavy but I'm able to get back to training. Next up is Old Dominion 100- I'll need to put in a lot of hill/trail training for that one, but at least the chance of hypothermia in June is pretty low!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Boston Marathon

Well it wasn't quite the race I wanted, but I'm pretty happy given the circumstances! I wanted to break 3:15, but I ended up with 3:17:58- still a PR by 1 minute 15 seconds, and given the lousy weather, I'm pretty sure I could go under 3:15 on a nice day :)

When I saw the weather forecast I was really upset- rain, 25mph wind, and highs in the low 40s- I thought my race was over before it began. I tried to remind myself that I couldn't change the weather, so I should just give it my best and not be too concerned with the result. Easier said than done, of course! I was still feeling depressed about it.

On race morning I ate my protein bar and some coffee, then my brother and I took the T to Boston Common. We split up when he went to bag check- he would be in wave 1 while I was in wave 2, so we wouldn't see each other again until after the race. I was wearing a few throwaway layers over my race clothes but I was still freezing! After the bus took me to Hopkinton I still had hours to wait, so I huddled under the tent with hundreds of others as it began to rain :(

Finally it was time to get to the corrals! I was nervous but looking forward to running- at least then I could warm up. I tossed my layers- I'd be running in a racing skirt, singlet, visor, arm sleeves, and fingerless gloves I jury-rigged from a pair of socks. I knew I'd be freezing after I finished (and perhaps during), but I figured I could suck it up for a few hours.

I started out a bit under pace, but made sure not to push my legs too much on the early downhills. This was my strategy last year and it paid off with even splits and a negative split overall- however this year would be much different! I was trying for 23 minute 5k splits, and came through the first one in 22:44 feeling good! The rain was still light at that point, and not too windy. The crowds were much thinner than last year, and although I kept my pace even through the 10k mark I was feeling a little let down. But I certainly don't blame the locals for staying inside as the rain and wind started to pick up! 

Around 10 miles in I started feeling tired. My legs felt a little heavy, and it was just a bit of a low point for me. I knew I had begun to slow down, although 3:15 was still within reach. I tried to remind myself to enjoy the race, so even if my time wasn't good I'd still have a good experience. Again, easier said than done!

I came through the half in 1:36:15- about 1 minute ahead of schedule but still slowing down slightly. However, my mood improved as that was a big half marathon split PR for me- I told myself that even if nothing else went well at least I'd have that new PR! 

Then I got to Newton and the hills. Last year I powered up them, a little slower but not terribly so. This year, the weather battered me back. By this point I was drenched, and the headwind was made worse by the way the course opened up in the second half. Later on I checked my splits to find mile 21 was the slowest of the race, and I was not surprised. However, once I got past Heartbreak Hill I knew the worst was behind me, so I was able to pick my pace back up a little. I reminded myself I still had about 5 miles to go, so I needed to hold a good pace but not go all out just yet. My legs felt right on the edge and I doubted I could break 3:15, but a PR was still possible if I could keep 7:30s for the last few miles.

Once I passed mile marker 23 I pushed a little harder going into the final 5K. Just past mile 25 I heard my mom yell and was able to quickly turn and wave toward her, and my dad got a picture of me. It's a bit blurred you can see my grin- the one and only time I think I smiled all race- I knew I would be done in just over a mile!

Right after passing the sign "1 mile to go" I glanced at my watch and figured I'd only need a 9:00 final mile to PR. Then I started feeling weird. My throat felt tight, breathing got tougher, and I felt dizzy. I told myself, "oh, hell no!"- I was not about to stop so close to finishing my second Boston Marathon with a new PR! I would push through, but unlike last year I didn't have much left to kick with at the end. The wind was awful downtown, and when I turned onto Boylston Street it felt like I was running forever but not getting any closer to the finish!

Finally I made it! I was so happy to be done, and although I ran a +5:30 second half split I believe it was the weather rather than my pacing that caused that result, so I was quite pleased to have PR'd at all in the end. But I was still feeling weird- kind of dizzy and my legs didn't want to move properly. I was stumbling a bit as I got my water, medal, and blanket, and although I kept telling the volunteers I was okay, eventually a medical volunteer insisted I get in a wheelchair and go to the medical tent.

That was probably a good call, cause as soon as I sat down I began having really painful muscle spasms in my feet and calves. Every time they locked up I started crying. In the medical tent, a nurse took my vitals while a physical therapist massaged my cramping calves. Everyone there was so great- I can't thank them enough! They helped me get my wet singlet and arm sleeves off and wrapped me in more heat blankets. Unfortunately I just kept getting colder, even with a heat pad and warm broth I couldn't stop shaking. However once my legs were recovered enough to walk I decided to go to the family meeting area. i knew my parents would start to worry if I wasn't there soon, and I didn't think I'd warm up until I could change into the dry clothes my dad had ready for me.

Walking back outside was the worst- I braved the wind in my burrito blanket outfit, half crying. Finally I reached my dad, waiting outside a bar and grill, I was so happy to see him! I went in where it was warm and changed into dry clothes, which made me feel a million times better. My mom was there too, as was my brother- he had managed to PR as well, breaking 3 hours for the first time! 

Overall it was kind of a crazy race, but I'm proud I was able to push through some really trying conditions! My quads were super sore after the race, but I took a Bikram yoga class yesterday which loosened them up significantly. I've only got 2 more days until my 100 miler, so although I definitely won't be 100%, I hope I will be recovered enough to get a decent time- preferably without too much suffering along the way!

Race stats: 761/6011 females 18-39, 888/12022 females, 6461/26610 total finishers- not too shabby :)