Outrun 24 Hour Trail Race (4/26/14)

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First and foremost, I must thank my family for putting up with and supporting me through all the long, long hours I spent training for this event. I could never do any of this without the support and understanding of my husband. I have learned so much from his incredible patience. You are all at the heart of my running. And I thank my daughter for her help along my miles of training. Many water bottles did she fill! I apologize in advance if I’ve shortsighted anyone inside or outside of this writing. It’s hard sometimes to write these damn things and remember everyone and everything 😉IMG_2232

On Saturday, April 26th, I was mentally and physically prepared to toe the line at Outrun 24 in Kirtland, Ohio alongside my mother, sister, and daughter. The course is a 1-mile trail loop consisting mostly of limestone and 65ft of elevation gain per mile. My mother and sister flew into Pittsburgh where my daughter and I picked them up and drove on to Ohio. We went straight to the race HQ to pick up our packets and set up our tent. It was pretty breezy and chilly with a light drizzle.

We left our tent for the night and checked into our hotel in Mentor. We scattered our gear across the room and made last minute shopping lists. After grabbing some grub and some more supplies we repacked everything and were in bed slightly before midnight. We got up around 4:30am and headed out to the race around 6am. We ended up with plenty of time to organize our tent and supplies. It was a chilly morning, and we all dressed in layers we could peel off as soon as the sun broke the tree line.

IMG_2201I wasn’t sure which shoes I wanted to wear because, unfortunately, near the end of my peak in training, I discovered that it was likely that my new Salomon Mantras were causing problems with my right Achilles. There was only 2-3 weeks left before the race, so I figured I would just have to keep switching shoes all day and hope for the best. I brought my Salomon Mantras, Salomon Speedcross 3, Sketchers GoRun 2 (which are usually my treadmill shoes), and my old Salomon Crossmax. The trusty Crossmax would, in the end, get me through another 10 miles with a bum ankle.

I started off with my Speedcross, since they are my most comfortable and quickest shoes. I love the height of these babies, and I’m having a really difficult time finding anything else that feels as good as these. I knew that my feet would be irritated by them around 10-12 hours and planned to switch things up near mile 50-60 since I wanted to slow things down a pinch at that point and ride the clock.IMG_2212

At 8am we were off! During the first couple miles, my compartment syndrome flared up in both legs but was a great deal worse in the right leg. So after mile 3, I stopped by our tent and stripped off some layers and let some of the swelling abate. My legs were feeling a good bit better by the next lap and the pain resolved there on out. I was maintaining a quick pace fairly effortlessly and decided to stick with it and get to mile 50 as soon as possible.

It was a lot of fun each mile wondering if I would run up on one of my family members grinding out their own 50ks. I would come up on one of them and slow down or walk and talk with them at times. It was very motivational! At times we would catch each other in the tent and would take a break and talk. My heart truly melted for my sister. She hit a really dark place later on and was very upset because she wanted to help me at night and knew she wouldn’t be able to. I wanted to stay with her and console her so badly.

IMG_2202The nature of ultrarunning… it can bite!

By mile 26 or so, I began having serious problems with chaffing from my shorts. I had tested them plenty of times in training and never had any issues. I was stopping every 3-5 miles to slather Vaseline on my thighs, but the damage was done and was worse every mile. I was mentally prepared to deal with this for the rest of the evening and ended up cycling through different shorts throughout the day to find something comfortable, but it was really too late.

My pace crept up higher and higher as the day went on, and by the time I crossed 50k, I had set a new 50k record for myself. I considered that this might not be a good thing, but I was feeling incredible and had plenty of juice left. It was then that I decided I would push myself to find my limit, and if I crashed at some point, then I would at least know what I was and wasn’t capable of. I was more afraid of a half-assed attempt and walking away from the race wondering if I could have done more. That’s a position I am done being in. It’s risky, but I want to be utterly destroyed when I finish.IMG_2208

We had grabbed Subway sandwiches to eat at the race. I do love some Subway when running. I had a meatball sub which wasn’t my first choice but worked out pretty well, and I ate the first half while I checked off miles 27-28 and the second half sometime later in the day. It was a big boost, but it was a bit too much food for running 9:20ish paces. I had to slow down a bit and let things digest.

I had reached 54 miles a bit over 10 hours into the race. I was slightly ahead of my projected targets.   I was in 8th place overall and sitting well with a 4-mile lead as first female. I was in a comfort zone and felt it was time to put on cruise control. I changed into the Mantras which was possibly my major mistake and headed back out to hit my next target. I felt 100% other than my feet being somewhat sore from the Speedcross, but I knew this was going to happen and was ready to handle it.

Around 7:50pm, almost 12 hours into the race, I was 10th overall, with 60 miles and still holding 1st female. I was very comfortable with my pacing at this point but the Mantras and my chaffing were becoming just short of torture. The Mantras started feeling like running with concrete blocks strapped to my feet, and I started feeling some stiffness in my right ankle which, at the time, I didn’t take to mean anything. The downhill section was becoming slightly painful. The uphills still felt really amazing. I looked forward to hitting the grade up every lap. The one “major” hill, which is really short and not really steep, I had decided to run every lap early on in the race and then only run as much of it as I felt good about later in the race. This worked out good, and I never regretted running it even later at night. Downhill was the only problem.IMG_2199

Around mile 65, I ditched the Mantras and went back into my Speedcross. I put pants and long sleeves on, donned my headlamp, and headed back out into the impending nightfall. By this point, I had chaffed so badly that I was bleeding pretty good. It was still something I could tolerate the rest of the race, but as you ladies out there know, downhill running and “leaking” are pretty common problems! The INTENSE burning I had with this combination every mile brought me to a whole new level of mental toughness! Not a lovely thought but bluntly true. Regardless, I was green for go. The chaffing was beginning to cost me time in an effort to stay lubed up, but luckily at this point I had time to give.

Almost 15 hours in, my right ankle rapidly deteriorated. I was about 71 miles in and still 10th overall. I had a comfortable lead on 2nd female at this point, but I was growing increasingly worried about the ankle making it through the night. I was staying very alert and never tired or exhausted whatsoever. I had a lot left in the tank to give. I stopped and changed into my old Crossmax. Throughout the next 9 miles the ankle got stiffer and more painful. I found myself walking a lot of the downhill section at times and then becoming cold with sweat. I added a thicker jacket and gloves and found myself sweating too much when I would run. The jacket was on and off throughout these miles. By mile 80, the ankle had become so bad, I could barely walk and found myself dragging it here and there. It was extremely stiff and wouldn’t flex any at the joint. When I attempted to run, it would slap the ground. I knew I had to make a very difficult decision at this point. Feeling this might be my last mile, I scanned the sky and the stars and tried to absorb every last second of the moment. I listened to my breathing and my scampering pace through the loose limestone, the bugs, and the distant voices at the aid station ahead. And then it came, the warm tears chilling my cheeks… this I would not forget.

I grabbed my mother who was acting crew for me through the night and asked her to walk with me. She had noticed something amiss earlier in the night. I could barely even keep up with her at walking pace. We talked throughout what would be my last mile, and we decided it would be ridiculous to try to continue only to go home on crutches. With 19 miles left to 100, I was out. We went to the tent where I tried to find ways to make another attempt and change shoes, but I could barely get any shoe back on my foot. My ankle was red and swollen. I broke into tears and my husband called me to console me and urged me not to try to continue. He had been texting me paces, splits, potential projected goals at different times and watching me on the camera at the lodge throughout the whole race.

At 81 miles and 19 hours and 8 minutes, my run was over. I turned my chip in with tears of anger. It was honestly one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. My mom wrapped me in blankets in our tent and I sipped on a beer while we waited for my sister to pick us up and take us back to the hotel. She had gone back earlier in the day to take a nap.

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Mom and Mallie getting their medals

After a short nap, Lacey and Mallory headed back at 8am Sunday for awards and breakfast. I was so frustrated when I tried to get out of bed, and any weight I put on my foot sent sharp, shooting pains from my ankle to my hip. I wasn’t going anywhere. Mom brought me breakfast in bed, and Lacey and Mallory returned from awards with plenty of junk food and flip-flops for me!

Mallory ran 34 miles to secure 1st in her age group and picked up her 50k medal! Lacey literally grinded out her 50k earlier in the day like a real trooper. She’s the one that got us all into running, and she’s almost like my yoda. My mother, a tank, cranked out 32 miles throughout the day and was still good on her feet all night long while crewing for me! I’m so incredibly proud, impressed, and honored to have shared this experience with them all. Thank you all for everything you did to help me at O24!

All said and done, I ended up with 3rd place overall female with 81 miles and 19th place overall. What should feel like an achievement, feels like a deep, wailing emptiness that needs resolve. It sits bitterly with me, and I can only channel all my negative feelings into greater determination and deeper drive to strive for more. Every night I go to bed, every morning I wake up, all I feel and think about is what needs to be done next.  Over the past couple days of reflection, I feel like I’ve broken beyond some mental barrier and am aware that I am capable of so much more than I thought. If this race has done anything at all for me, it’s made me more obsessive and more competitive than before and taught me not to stick limits or boundaries out there for myself. I didn’t follow rules; I followed instinct. I learned to run with my heart and soul, and that may be the most incredible realization I have ever come to in terms of running and racing.

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Recovery methods include ice and beer

Maybe I didn’t find the answers I was looking for (or was I looking for any?), as if going far and beyond what most think is humanly possible would bring me to some sense of meaning. It really only made me ask more questions but more relevant questions. And while I still cannot truly answer the most trivial question of all as to why we run, I can say this, because I have to. It is like I can feel life slipping away when I’m not running; it becomes void and vague. It makes the everyday grind of chores and trivial problems turn to appreciation, calmness, and acceptance just because I know I will run again.

As a side note: I feel the necessity to mention how wonderful and energizing it was to see, talk, and spend time with other runners out there at all levels. I learned so much from everyone I talked to, watched, and followed. Okay, so I might have stalked at times! It was heartwarming to watch everyone out there giving it their best shot and moving one step closer to their goals while meandering between doubt, hope, desperation, and glory. It was very humbling.

I hope to be back next year to experience it all again. There’s nothing quite like it. All were amazing runners at a very well-organized, fun race. Thanks to volunteers and the race director for putting up with and taking care of us all through the day and night! Oh and for Burning River… I’ll see you really soon with a vengeance!

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Injury Update

I’ve been incredibly busy since I started really putting in the training time for my ultra.  Between training for 13-16 hours a week, sneaking afternoon naps, caring for my dependant son, and fulfilling my housewifely duties… it’s been nothing short of insane.  All of this on 3-4 hours of broken sleep at night.

My iliotibial band injury has been getting much better.  It still flares up on runs over 2 hours, but I’ve continued to run through pain and have learned to manage it on the trail.  As long as I ice it and take some ibuprofen, the knee bounces back very quickly from long runs.  Granted, I’m certain it would be healing a lot faster if I were not constantly aggravating it, but I’ve ruled that option out at least until after my race in June.  For now, I can live with and manage the pain, and I’m not very concerned about getting through my race with it.

On a more somber note, my compartment syndrome has returned again in full force.  Following a 35 miler during a 70-mile week, my shins started swelling and throbbing only a quarter mile into a recovery run.  I continued to try to work with it last week and finished the week off with a 40-mile run and a 62-mile week where I was just barely sliding through the runs with tight calves and shins.  It was somewhat pathetic, and I really ended up with some poor quality workouts.  This week I’ve shifted into damage control mode in hopes of sparing this weekend’s 32-mile long run.  Next week I’ll be 3 weeks out from the ultra, and it’ll be time for pure recovery.

Obviously I choke all the injury up to quick mileage and distance increases.  I’ve also been doing a lot of intense hillwork during the week which is likely not helping much.  I’ve managed to get through the bulk of training though without much issue until just now.  Being less than 4 weeks out, the majority of hay is in the barn, so taking time to recover at this point won’t be an issue.

Back to Business

The past couple weeks I’ve been able to dramatically increase my mileage.  I almost feel like I’m back to normal with regards to running.  The best part is that I’ve had absolutely no sign of compartment syndrome since getting back on my feet.  At times, I still feel like I’m a pinch slower and struggling with endurance a little, but I keep reminding myself that’s expected at this point.  Five weeks of no running is nothing to be shrugged off.  Mentally, however, I feel rejuvenated and ready to really challenge myself again.  That time off may have been the perfect tool to renew my motivation.  I do still find myself sore from the surgery and am still unable to do plenty of other things.  But everything is coming full circle pretty quickly.

The Pensacola Marathon looms overhead, about 7 weeks away, and I decided I am going through with it and running it.  I brought my weekly miles back up almost to my pre-surgery level and am feeling pretty confident.  I’ll run three 20-26 mile runs before the marathon with plenty of 10-15 mile runs throughout.  My endurance post-surgery is my main concern at this point.

My surgeon cleared me for certain calisthenics like pushups, leg raises, etc., but something just doesn’t feel right in my abdomen when I do them.  Very unfortunate.  Oh, well, I’d rather be safe than sorry and hold off on that for a while longer.  I’m not going to push it.  At this point I can’t even imagine how long it will be until I can resume weight training.  I am anxious to get back to where I was.  Things just aren’t the same.

I got some new sweet kicks!  They’re hybrids but really more of a trail running shoe (Salomon XR Crossmax), so I’m not sure if I’ll marathon in them or not, but I probably will!  They do quite well on pavement or any kind of surface it seems.  I’ve had them on gravel, asphalt, dirt, etc.  Best of all, the bottoms of my feet aren’t aching 10 miles into a run with these!  After the marathon, I want to do much more distance trail running.  I might run a 10-mile trail race in early October just to get out on some unfamiliar trails.  I am hoping to find an ultramarathon of 50k to 50 miles to train for at some point next year.

Last week I successfully pulled off a 40-mile week.  This week I’m planning to do 45 with an 18-mile run this weekend.  I am so ready and excited to get out and put in a real distance run.  Everything is feeling pretty good, and though I’ve been fighting off some minor shin splints, I think I’ll pull the marathon off just fine.

It might be time to move on to a new favorite brekkie… my beloved chocolate-peanut butter oatmeal just wasn’t as good this morning as it usually is.  What’s with that?!  I’m thinking pancakes are in proper order.

Recipe for Disaster – Bring it On!

After last Saturday’s 20-mile run, I crashed really hard.  I was exhausted for days following that run.  I felt pretty apathetic towards diet and exercise in general and just wanted to sleep all week.  I was even fairly depressed.  I got on my treadmill Tuesday for a 5-mile jog, but my shins got extremely tight and began throbbing less than half a mile into it.  I jogged and walked for a while, determined to get some type of mileage accomplished, but I finally gave up and hit the couch.  The same thing happened again Wednesday.  I was completely bummed out.  It felt like my mind and my body were just powering down.

After doing some research and talking to my sister, I stumbled upon this article titled “Endocrine System Depletion,” by Succeed! Sports Nutrition.  That article really put things into perspective for me as far as what I was going through.  I realized I recently had been experiencing other symptoms that could be attributed to endocrine depletion as well.  This is a nasty bag of worms right here.  I can be pretty tough when it comes to physical grit, but when we’re talking about hormones and chemical imbalances, that’s a hard battle to fight.

So now I have a new strategy in need of development.  So, where do I even start?  I was already forced to drop my weekly mileage way back this week.  Maybe I should try to decrease my weekly mileage down to 30-40 miles for 2-3 weeks while maintaining a weekly 20 miler and slowly work back up from there.  It might even be helpful to incorporate a recovery day before and after my longest run.  Another thing I realized is that I’m often running my long runs really hard.  I can really tell the difference in fatigue and mental status whether I’ve run it hard and fast or not.  It takes me a couple days to really recover if I’ve given it 110%.  If I take it easy, regardless of how far I ran, I can feel ready to get on my feet the next day.  I probably just need to slow down, enjoy the run, and focus on the real purpose of the long run – adaptation.  We will see how I feel after my long run today.

I still have this plaguing compartment syndrome, possibly more aggravating than ever, to work with.  Obviously, cutting miles and resting a whole lot is going to be the protocol for treatment, but that’s just an avenue I’m not willing to take just yet.  It’s going to have to get me completely down and out before I’m willing to cut back as much as would be necessary to resolve it, I think.  I do realize this injury could be a major issue for the November Pensacola Marathon, and I’m going to have to do something about my legs before it gets close to that time, but I just prefer to keep putting it off as long as possible.

All of these issues almost seem like a red flag, honestly, in which I’m setting myself up for an inevitably huge crash and burn any day now.  I feel like I’m tiptoeing around the edge of physical limits!  Bring it on!  What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger… I hope!

Marathon Training Plans – Yah Whatever!

So, my 60 miles for last week didn’t work out so well.  Yeah, I am more than a little disappointed and ill about my compartment syndrome showing up in full force again.  In all honesty, I absolutely know that I should cut back my miles to whatever amount produces no symptoms and slowly work my mileage up, but I just about can’t hold myself back from running as far as I can once I am  running and in the zone.  I don’t really have a strategy yet this week for pulling my miles up injury free and probably will do one of two things:  A) run as much as I can again until my shins stop me, B) replace some runs this week with Insanity workouts.  Both are appealing options to me at least, though not necessarily the smartest choices.

As for training for the Pensacola Marathon in November…  I really wish I could be completely sure that I’m going to be able to make it down there to run.  Regardless, I am going to train for it.  I’m going to be running anyway, so why not?  Now, how do I want to train for it?  I’m almost leaning towards an unorthodox approach.  Not surprising, huh?  I really like going against the rules 😉

So hypothetically, what if I don’t follow some training plan with its tyrannical schedules and structured runs?  What if I just run and train however my body tells me.  I know what I need to work on, be it hills, speed, endurance…  Wouldn’t it really make more sense to work on the unique aspects of MY running and MY progress and gauge what needs to be done on a daily basis by my own performance?  This just sounds like a little common sense to me.  But what do I know?  I mean, training plans are proven methods of marathon prep.  What about self-awareness though?  Training plans can’t know what your weak areas are, and maybe you end up running less distance or hills or whatever than you personally needed to meet your maximum potential.  Why does so much of everything we do in life follow a dictated method in a one-size-fits-all fashion?  Are we so afraid to think for ourselves?  And what if I don’t make a BQ at Pensacola after doing my own style of “marathon training?”  At least if I trained my way, I would know that I really did everything I felt I could to prepare and did my best.  I like my way more every second that I consider that route!  (Besides, that is kinda my style of doing things!)  Just run, damnit!

Battling Compartment Syndrome

This lower leg pain is really getting in my way.  It seems this month is the month of injury!  My sister is down and out with a good bout of runner’s knee.  I’m fighting against all common sense and still running with a fairly nasty case of compartment syndrome especially in my left leg.  It’s becoming incredibly frustrating and has been the theme of the day for the last week.

Last Saturday, I ran my new distance record of 18 miles.  While the run overall went incredibly well, I could have finished much, much faster had it not been for incredible tightness, pain, and numbness predominantly in my left lower leg.  I actually ended up walking a large part of the first 3 miles, stopping and trying to stretch, attempting to get movement and feeling back into my left foot and lower leg.  It was so bad that I was just about to go home when it eased up a little (and that’s bad).  I decided to risk it and run through it, hoping it would continue to resolve as it has so many times before.  Luckily, it did resolve on its own, and I was able to continuously pick up pace throughout the run.  I still made great time, I felt.  For the most part, it was a very good run and I didn’t even feel like I ran 18 miles.  That evening I was only a tiny bit stiff in the first few hours after the run, and the next day I felt like I hadn’t even completed a long run the day before.  Everything was almost perfect… except the start of the run.

I’m hoping that if I do some warm up walking prior to a run, it will make a difference.  I’m also going to start doing some extra calf stretches on a daily basis.  Something’s gotta give here.  I almost wish it were as simple as just going down to a physician and getting a quick fascia release and getting it over with!  I have negative patience for this.  It worries me to try to enter any races as I never know if or how bad it’s going to flare up.  It usually doesn’t make me completely stop running until I’m 1-2 miles into a run.  Other times, my legs will get tight and heavy but it will dissipate before I have to stop.

Maybe I just need a break and take a couple days off running and just do some speed walking.  That doesn’t sound like very much fun. L I’m hoping to do a 20-mile run in a week or two.  I’d sure like to be able to give it everything I’ve got.

Injuries suck.