Burning River 100 (8/2/14)

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Race morning started off appropriately. My clock was somehow behind by 10 minutes. I didn’t even realize it until we were about to leave the hotel. I hadn’t eaten yet and wasn’t really hungry. My husband drove me to the start and was insistent on finding me something to eat, but that 10 minutes had me feeling uneasy about stopping. We arrived at the start line about 30 minutes before the start at 5am. We dug through my crew bags and fished out a bag of mixed nuts. Breakfast!IMG_2506

Burning River 100 was more than just a goal race to me. Training and preparing for this actually began back in 2013 with the running of Highlands Sky 40 mi and WV Trilogy 50 mi. These were just stepping stone races towards what I termed my “Year of 100s.”

After multiple logistical complications in the last two months leading up to the race and even almost coming to the point where I was probably going to have to DNS, my husband stepped up to the plate and became my crew. Him crewing for me was a logistical feat all of its own.  We both knew this time a finish was certain barring any injury especially since I had my failed 100 mi attempt at Outrun 24 driving me. The 81 mi I did at O24 in April taught me the tools I needed to run BR in a time I could be happy with. My biggest fear was that I would be running without a pacer, and I would be forced to face my fear of running alone at night.

Once the race started, we headed out across the field from Squire’s Castle and onto road for quite some time. I actually don’t remember a lot about the early miles of the race.
I was cruising along at a comfortable speed but much faster than I anticipated holding throughout the race. I wanted to get the first quarter out of the way and get into my stride. I took advantage of the fast road mileage at the start and came into Polo Fields (13.6 mi) in 2:13. The course changed to easy bridle trail, and I found myself still running way too fast and constantly trying to slow myself down. IMG_2514Somewhere after this point I met David Corfman who has quite an extensive 100-mi resume. David gave me excellent advice and “coaching.” I was so fascinated with his expertise and willingness to share his experience with me that I ended up running almost all but the last 10 miles with him as well as the very seasoned ultrarunner, Keith Straw. The good conversation, jokes, and stories made the entire day fly by.

My husband met me at Shadow Lake (24.38 mi) for the first time since the start. I ate a few aid station snacks, gave him my headlamp, filled up one of my bottles with Red Bull, and drank Ensure. Then I was off again. By the time I got to Oak Grove (39.73 mi) where my crew was set to meet me again, my toes were starting to blister from the Hokas. When I arrived at Oak Grove, my daughter had come with my husband. It’s so awesome to have family crewing, but it was so hard to not stay and visit with them!

 

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Keith Straw, Me, and David Corfman

Anticipating mud after Oak Grove, I put on my Speedcross. My poor swollen and blistered feet were not happy. I really enjoyed the trails from Oak Grove to Boston even though my feet were in bad shape. It started to rain a little and thunder, but under the canopied singletrack, we all stayed relatively dry.

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Oak Grove – 39.73 mi

At mile 54.59, Boston was my next crew meet. I came into Boston, and saw so many familiar faces! Boston was booming with people, crews, and spectators. I wanted to stop and greet all my friends, but I knew I had major foot surgery to do here and it was going to cost time. I grabbed some aid snacks and found my husband who had brought our teenage son along this time. It was lightly sprinkling. Nervously, I ripped my shoes and socks off to reveal massive blistering on both big toes. I lanced the biggest one with scissors and taped it with Leukotape. (Surely, I’d regret that tomorrow when I tried to take it off. Leukotape is some serious stuff!).

I knew there was no way I’d get away with wearing the Hokas at this point and resorted to my back up shoes which were my daughter’s street Reeboks which were a good half-size bigger. After eating a couple slices of pizza my crew brought, drinking a Red Bull and an Ensure, I headed back out again. For the first several miles, every step was blister torture. I was concerned that I had made a huge mistake popping that one. After some time, however, the pain slowly subsided. The shoes were comfortable, and while they lacked any manner of tread, I instantly knew they had saved my race from many long hours of suffering.IMG_2520

Time passed really fast between Boston and my next crew point at Pine Hollow I (72 mi). Other than taking a fall that could have been really nasty, everything was going pretty good. I was starting to have some thigh chafing but felt it was nothing a big slab of Aquaphor couldn’t fix. I ate just a little from the aid station and took time to lube up extensively. This was the last time I would have crew access until mile 91 at Botzum. It was starting to get dark. I grabbed my headlamp and was physically feeling okay but starting to hit my first mental low. It got dark really fast during the Pine Hollow loop, and about a mile out, I realized my headlamp was dimming and I had forgotten my spare batteries. I contacted my husband and asked him to meet me on my return to Pine Hollow with batteries. By the time I got back, it was very dark. I grabbed two sets of spare batteries and changed my old ones out. I set out into the dark and regrouped with Dave and Keith.

We arrived at Covered Bridge I (81.96 mi), and I was still feeling physically pretty good but a pinch tired mentally. I started wanting to just be done. The singletrack Covered Bridge loop was somewhat demoralizing for me. There were often muddy sections, and the road shoes I was wearing were not performing well at all. I had to really hold back and watch my step. My blisters were screaming at me on every downhill, and I was afraid I’d slide right down every decline with those shoes on. I was very appreciative to have company on this section, because I know I would have been really freaked out running it alone. That 4.45-mile loop was the lowest point of the whole race for me. It seemed like it took an entire lifetime and required so much more focus than I was prepared for.

I was so relieved when I left Covered Bridge II and hit road. It was immensely uplifting. Soon I would get to see my husband again at Botzum (mile 91). I was running down the road and turned onto towpath as I neared the Botzum aid station at mile 91. My husband texted that he was there waiting for me. I finally heard cheers from the aid station. I wondered if those were cheers for my friends who had gone on ahead of me. I stopped for a moment. I had been alone for a little while running in the dark. The sky was decorated full of stars, and I turned my headlamp off and took a second to take it all in. Soon I would be only 10 miles from the finish. “This is it,” I told myself. I came into Botzum feeling a little tired and woozy, but I was so pepped up again to see my husband waiting for me. I downed a Red Bull at Botzum, grabbed a flashlight, switched GPS watches, and headed out for Memorial Parkway.

During the stretch between Botzum and Memorial I had multiple lows. It was a long mental rollercoaster. At many points I asked myself, “Why push so much? Won’t you be happy with just finishing?” Yeah… that sounds good but is so not true. I just kept running with whatever I had left and reminded myself to clear my mind. I had spent too much time dawdling at Botzum to walk much now. I didn’t have time to spare anymore if I was going to get that sub-24. I already felt like the podium was out of question, but I still had sub-24 within reach. This section was very runnable. I kept looking at my watch and finally forced myself to quit when I realized only seconds separated my glances.
IMG_2515I finally came into Memorial where my husband was waiting for me again.

I arrived at the aid station feeling so renewed. It seemed like I would never get there. From here it was home-free! I ate a few snacks and left my iPod and one of my water bottles and headed onward for the final 5.59-mi stretch to the finish. I honestly don’t remember a whole lot about the run to the Finish except that I gave it my all. I was feeling a lot more highs than lows and started seeing the finish in my mind. I was climbing steps on the trail and found myself suddenly thinking how much fun I was having. I had speed back in my legs and felt like I was flying though the dark almost effortlessly!

I emerged from a trail onto the road which I knew led to the finish. Finally cresting the hill my eyes filled with tears, I could see it. My husband ran towards me from a sidewalk and ran beside me for the last quarter mile to the finish. It was incredible. The moment I had been dreaming, training, and craving for the last 8 months was real. I crossed the finish line in 23:20:01. I placed 25th overall and 4th overall female. It was done, finally. I had missed the podium, but I had my sub-24. The first few words out of my mouth I think were along the lines of, “I don’t know if I’ll ever do that again.” Yeah, that’s a load of crap, and I’m sure my husband knew it!

There was some degree of suffering, but it was not as bad as I had anticipated. I was more than prepared for the mental anguish. I was prepared for the blisters and chafing. I was apprehensive but prepared to face my fears of running alone at night. I was prepared to let nothing come between me and that finish line. I set three goals for myself. First, I wanted a podium, crazy, but I am driven, and so far it’s not been a bad thing. My second was finish sub-24. The third was just to finish at all costs.

There is no way I can properly express my enormous gratitude towards my husband for helping me pull this off. The effort it took on his part alone was incredible. He not only managed to take care of our 3 teen kids, one of which is severely disabled, but was also there for me hand and foot every time I needed him. I am without words enough to describe how grateful I am.

I once read somewhere that running 100s changes or takes something away from you every time you do it. I don’t think it took anything from me other than I have little desire to run anything less than 100 now. I gained a true sense of patience and calmness. I experienced more human emotion than I knew was possible during the last 10 miles and again during the last 2 miles. I don’t know if I’ve ever cried twice in the same hour for two completely different emotions. Seeing the finish line of a 100 mile race is an experience unlike any other I can describe and know of no other way to duplicate that. It’s incredibly addicting.

EQUIPMENT NOTES

Hoka Stinson

I starting getting bad blisters all over my toes by mile 40. Maybe these would be better if they were a half to whole size larger. The toebox is a bit narrow for my feet and not good for long, long miles – very unfortunate for what they cost. They do drain well, surprisingly, but I’m not too impressed with their performance in muddy conditions.

Salomon Speedcross

This would have been my shoe of choice from mile 40 onwards, but my feet were so blistered and swollen by mile 50 from the Hokas, they only aggravated the situation. I dearly missed being able to wear lugged shoes during the singletrack sections at night.

Reebok Dual Turbo Fire

I brought these shoes as emergency backup. They are my daughter’s running shoes and are a half size bigger than mine. I didn’t foresee using them, but they were the only thing comfortable enough with the swelling and blisters. I wore these from mile 54 to the finish. They certainly changed my outlook on paying a lot for shoes. Having that extra room for swelling makes a huge difference. This was the first time I had experienced this degree of foot swelling especially this early on in a run.

Skins A400 Compression Shorts

These shorts stay put… period. They don’t ride up and are nice and cool considering the length. I do not particularly like shorts this long, but these perform so well. The little back key pocket felt like it was irritating my skin after 60ish miles, and a little Aquaphor solved this for the rest of the race. I did have to constantly reapply Aquaphor to my inner thighs which wasn’t surprising, but the chafing was much less than I had earlier this year at Outrun 24. They wick sweat really well. In the future I think I will consider changing into clean clothes around mile 50-60. I’m a very, very salty sweater, and the accumulation of salt becomes somewhat abrasive after so many hours of running. For now, these shorts remain my choice for long distances.

Socks

I started out in a really cheap brand of thin polyester socks that I have been running in for years. However, I speculate if these enhanced my blister issues in the Hokas. They don’t wick water as well as other socks, and once they got wet they probably fueled the blister fire even more. I will probably not attempt to wear these over 50 miles again. I switched to my thin Injinji toe socks at mile 54 which not only helped keep the tape on my toes but definitely helped keep new blisters from forming. I have yet to say anything negative about Injinji socks. Had I worn these from the start, I likely would have prevented a lot of issues early on.

LED Lenser H7.2

I truly love this headlamp. For the price, you really can’t beat the features. It’s extremely adjustable both focusing and dimming, and very bright on the highest setting at 155 lumens. There is a rechargeable model, but I prefer batteries. I only changed batteries twice, but easily carried 6 extra AAA batteries in my bottle pocket for backup. It’s not that comfortable to wear for a very long time directly on skin, so I always wear it with my visor, and this works really well. I forget I even have it on.

LED Lenser flashlight

I didn’t grab this until I didn’t even really need it which was about the last 10 miles. It would have helped a lot on the singletrack at night. It’s a little heavier than I like, but it’s pretty bright. It was awkward trying to carry it along with 2 bottles, and I think a second headlamp worn at waist or chest level might be a better choice if I am carrying two bottles.

GPS Watches

My poor Garmin 305 battery has just about had it and is only getting about 5 hours now. While I would have liked to have recorded the whole run, I would have had to carry my mini USB charger and worn my pack. I didn’t see the need to wear the pack and felt like I could eliminate a lot of extra weight by carrying bottles.

I switched watches constantly with my husband and went between my 305 and my daughter’s Forerunner 10. This set up was plenty good enough to keep an eye on my pace and distances between aid stations. Since I was calling/texting my husband about 7-10 miles before I needed him, this helped me give him a good idea of when he should arrive and eliminated a lot of long waiting on his part.

NUTRITION

I still have yet to have any stomach issues whatsoever with running. I’ve been really lucky, because it seems this is a huge problem for a lot of runners. I honestly didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to eating and just ate what I wanted, when I wanted. I carried one bottle of water and one bottle of HEED or Red Bull at all times.

My crew gave me several Ensure Plus’s, a sausage biscuit, and 2 slices of pizza. At aid stations I would generally take a couple S-Caps, refill my bottles, and mostly ate lots of M&Ms and cookies, a little pizza, and a few salty potatoes. I carried one gel for backup and never needed it.

FINAL THOUGHTS

  • Running a 24-hour timed event prior to Burning River was an excellent way to prepare me for the challenge. It will test your mental fortitude at 3am when you have to leave the comfort of the aid station every lap. It’s also a great way to test drive all kinds of nutrition and gear in a scenario that you would not otherwise be able to easily recreate in training.
  • Aid stations are huge time drainers. They suck you in especially at night and become harder and harder to get away from. While they can be great mental/physical rechargers, they have to be used efficiently and strategically. Have a plan before you arrive.
  • Any minor issue or irritation realized in training is significantly magnified over such a long distance.
  • Focusing on running from station to station works. At mile 85, it seems like the end will never come, but by mile 90, the light at the end of the tunnel appears, and I found a new energy I didn’t know I had.
  • Finding new friends and good conversation can make the miles fly by.
  • Be prepared for the night…seriously prepared. The comfort of having others to run with at night cannot be underestimated especially if you’re not used to being alone in the dark. It can get weird at night! I did not have a pacer but was very lucky to have the company of 2 other runners throughout most of the night for which I am so grateful. My husband told me about a terrified runner who came into an aid station at night who said she’d never run at night again.
  • 100 miles is not really that far; just keep moving!

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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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Training for My First 24-Hour Race

This year I am finally stepping up to the 100-mile distance. My first go at it will be at Outrun 24 this Saturday, April 26th. Then I will run Burning River 100 in early August. It has been my “dream” to run 100s since I started running distance back before surgery in 2012.IMG_2112

Now that I am less than one week out from Outrun and in an extremely boring taper, I have time to sit here and ramble on about what I did to get ready for this insanity.

Originally, I had planned to follow the training plans from “Relentless Forward Progress” with a modification to the prescribed mileage. I wanted to peak at 100-110 miles. As I got closer to peaking though, I became increasingly worried that I would not get an opportunity to run a 50 or 50+ training run, and I decided to attempt 4 weeks at or above 100 mpw with the idea (or comfort, shall I say?) that it would give me that extra little edge. Now, that sounded good, but pulling it off… yeah…

Granted I don’t have a “job, job” per se, but I really do. I take care of my fully dependent child around-the-clock. That’s very literal, mind you. I am up at night every 3 hours to care for him. Just finding time to run 40 mpw can be tricky. A little less sleep, a couple loads of laundry waiting, and an extra hour gets snagged here and there until I banked enough up to chunk into running longer each day.  Determination and prioritizing can turn impossible into absolute reality.  It helps a lot to have a very patient and understanding spouse!

Here’s what the 4-week peak looked like.

Time Period
Count
Distance
Time
Elevation Gain
Summary        37      428.28 74:22:14                   15,307
03/10/2014 8 104.14 18:38:28 4,642
03/17/2014 9 105.57 18:24:24 3,615
03/24/2014 8 100.99 17:38:09 3,799
03/31/2014 12 117.59 19:41:13 3,251

While a lot of the miles in the first 1.5 weeks were slow and easy, the rest of the weeks’ runs included a lot of high-quality workouts when things felt good.  I incorporated a lot of hillwork and occasional speedwork like fast finish long runs, tempos, etc.  Throughout the 3.5 months of training, I did back-to-back long runs almost every weekend generally consisting of 20-30 miles Saturday, 15-25 miles Sunday and occasionally covering 65+ miles over a 3-day period as well as one 4-day period covering 90 miles.

During my peak, I encountered a lot of new little aches and pains and had to be very diligent about staying on top of them and watching for any signs of injury. Near the end of my peak, I really started seeing and feeling the benefits of running that kind of mileage. Running became incredibly organic and natural. My leg turnover was quicker, and there was no mental decision to run… it was all my body knew how to do for the time being! It did take me considerable time to run this much since it was on hilly, grassy, and sometimes very muddy trail, but in my mind, the more time on my feet, the more benefit I was reaping. I think it is prudent to add that almost all of this mileage was completed on either a .12 mi or .25 mi out-and-back. Yes, you read that right!  How’s that for training for a 24-hour race on a 1-mile loop?  I can’t even imagine how completely out of my mind my family must think I am now.  As crazy as it does sound, for me to run this volume, I had to accept my fate on this out-and-back since it meant simply stepping out my front door and starting my watch.  And it worked.IMG_2106

Perfecting recovery and listening to my body during this time was absolutely vital in executing this without ending in injury.  I learned this very early on.  Never had postrun recovery been so imperative in my training.  I followed a stringent nutrient-dense diet, but I didn’t focus much on carbohydrates at all. Considering the volume I was running, I was eating fairly low carb and rarely ever ate on a run unless it was over 4 hours. Immediately after a run, I would rehydrate, eat a bit of complex carbs or Greek yogurt, and wear compression socks to bed and sometimes the only time they came off were for my next run.  I feel like the compression socks and sleeves played a very integral part in postrun recovery.  Other than those few things, it was pretty simple but always concise.  Most runs were done as single daily long runs, but I did chop up a run occasionally when time was tight.

So here I am, just tapering away, having the not-so-fun time of my life, and I have to wait and see if all of this was worth it.  Well, worth what exactly?  If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you probably know by now I’m not in this to finish. 😀  Outrun 24 was originally planned to be a kicker race for Burning River 100 in August.  It didn’t take too long for that to change.  Obviously the primary goal is to get 100 miles and a freaking buckle!  That alone is going to be a massive undertaking, but I’d practically be lying if I didn’t say that I’m really itching to go after the podium.  This sounds insane for my first 100-mile attempt, but I have this belief that if you reach far and beyond, if you believe you are capable of things, you will eventually live it.  It’s been said that the people who win and succeed already knew they would without question but were patient and used failures as fuel.  In other words, if we are ever afraid to shoot beyond the impossible our fear of failure will manifest that reality and we will be living a self-fulfilling prophecy.

IMG_2572No one will argue that the 100-mile distance is a more mentally demanding challenge than a physical one.  Mental… I’m good with that, because I REALLY want this badly and am willing to put a lot at risk to get it.  The only question is does anyone else want what I want as bad as I want it? 😀

I want to do and feel something incredibly significant.

On another note, my teenage daughter is running and is hoping to complete her first ultra of 50k.  My mother and sister are also flying up to run as well and test their limits.  It’s going to be way too much fun!  We haven’t all been at a race together since Pensacola in 2012, and my daughter has never run a race over 5k but has done 15 miles in training for O24.  My mom’s longest distance to date is 13.1, and I believe my sister’s longest distance is 50k.  There’s no telling what kinds of awesomeness will transpire!

Good times!  I can’t wait for this weekend to get here!

Pensacola Marathon (11/11/2012)

IMG_1340Last Sunday I ran the Pensacola Marathon in Florida.  My mom and sister ran the half which bears another interesting tale to tell!  I had spent the last 12 weeks doing a condensed marathon training plan of sorts hoping that I could at least get back to my previous fitness level with regards to running.  I already knew anything even close to a BQ was out of the question after being out for 5 weeks.  I was simply happy if I got a 4-hour finish.  I peaked at 65 miles a week and did 5 long runs up to 26 miles.  I felt more and more like a sub 4:00 was at least possible.

I flew into my sister’s the Friday night before the race on Sunday.  Us three girls headed to Pensacola on Saturday for the expo and to get settled in our hotel.  We ate at Olive Garden for lunch, and I had an indulgent plate of spaghetti and sausage.  Wow, when’s the last time I ate like that?! I skipped dinner that night other than a few beers, of course. Hey, don’t do anything different, right?

IMG_1400That evening, my sister worked hard trying to come up with progressive negative splits to meet each mile to make a 3:55 marathon finish for me.  You would think by now there’d be some sort of fancy calculator online that would do this for you!
Race morning, I ate my usual chocolate peanut butter oatmeal and 2 Red Bulls.  We arrived at the race about 30 minutes before the start, and unfortunately I felt there wasn’t time to pee as the porta-potty lines went on and on.  Needless to say, every couple of miles, I was trying to tell myself that I didn’t really have to pee, that it was all in my head!

One would assume a marathon in Florida to be relatively flat.  Think again!  There were parts of the course that could be extremely brutal to someone who hadn’t put in enough time doing hill work.  I felt extremely pleased with how I had trained.  I had completed some extremely taxing long runs with menacing climbs late in the runs (simply due to poor planning, LOL).  The aid stations and volunteers were absolutely fantastic!  The entertainment was also really great.  There was good crowd support as well.  The whole event was organized so well that it almost seemed organic.IMG_1394

The first 3 miles I got really worried.  My muscles along the front of my lower legs (damned compartment syndrome) started aching pretty badly, and I felt my left foot losing sensation.  I was terrified.  All I could think was that I should’ve done that 2-mile warmup this morning… should’ve gotten up even earlier.

I did my best to ignore it and refused to walk.  One of my goals for this marathon was to run the entire way.  I had done it in training, and there was no reason I couldn’t repeat that again!  Amazingly, by 4.5 miles, it had eased up.

Most of the tension was gone, and I felt like I was ready to start upping the pace according to my cheat sheet my sister made.  I ended up taking my Camelbak just so I could breeze through aid stations.  I was glad I did.  I liked being able to eat my gels according to how I had trained. IMG_1393 I only grabbed water from aid stations to dump over my head.  Oh, yes, I did slow down for the cup of beer!  Ha!  (What genius came up with the idea of a beer station?!)

I felt really strong all the way till mile 22.  Then I made the mistake of thinking, “it’s not much further,” and glancing repeatedly at my Garmin.  I always try to practice tricking my mind into not thinking about the distance and just keep spinning.  As soon as I realize there’s only a few miles to go, I start hurting and mentally losing focus.

The last 2 miles I struggled to keep pace and fell back some.  It was a good thing I had already been ahead of my scheduled paces for the last 24 miles.  For the first time, I felt like my left foot was going to cramp up.  Luckily, it never progressed.

As the finish line came into sight, I gave it everything I had left (which wasn’t much!), and I hear, “Go Tara!” Over to my left I spot my sister’s red poofy hair, and she’s sprinting through the crowd towards the finish line with me. It just gave me tears!

So, sub 4:00?  Yes!  Chip time was 3:53:14!  I can’t wait to do it again! It was a good day for a great race with people I love. I miss you guys!

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Unleash the Beast!

Last Tuesday, 5 weeks out from surgery (exploratory laparotomy), my surgeon cleared me to run again.  My husband and I never expected those words to come out of his mouth.  I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped to the floor and I drooled all over myself.  I think my husband was really worried.  He told me, “I don’t think he quite understands what running means to you!  We’re not talking about a jog through the park!”  I just responded with the only thing that came to mind, “He unleashed the beast!”

Originally, my doctor had told me that it wouldn’t be until November when I could run.  Needless to say, the day he cleared me I came home and bounced into my running clothes and jumped on my treadmill for a test drive.  I didn’t get any stomach pain, but my ankles and knees were really tight and verging on becoming sore.  I felt heavy and slow.  I stopped at a half mile.  (Granted I had put on some extra pounds since surgery which I can definitely feel now when running.)  The next day, I got on my treadmill and ran 3 miles with minor soreness in my joints.  It felt like pure joy to run again.  Over the 5 weeks I was out of commission, I had developed a new relationship with running.  I felt so out of touch with life in general while I couldn’t run.  I obsessed over running constantly (I kinda do that even when I am running, LOL).  Suddenly, now, running is like this incredible gift I’d been taking for granted.

My endurance is fairly zapped, but there are lingering remnants of it.  My leg strength is definitely subpar.  After managing to run almost 12 miles last week, I have slightly sore muscles and tendons.  It’s going to obviously take a little time to get acclimated again.  Dropping my weight back down will help a lot.  I told my 15-year-old daughter to take advantage of me being back to base training and run with me.  So far, it’s been working, somewhat.  She’s even considering training for the Pensacola Half Marathon in November.  We shall see how that goes.

I do plan to still try to run the marathon.  Obviously, I’m not expecting any PRs.   If I don’t feel ready for it by then, I’ll just run the half.  My sister, who lives in hot and humid Mississippi, stepped back to the half marathon.  She was originally going to run the marathon, but she’s had her share of difficulties training for it.  There’s even some indication that my mother also might be attempting to run the Pensacola half!  It would be like a family racing reunion!

This week I think there’s a good chance I can get up to 15-20 miles.  I’m planning to run 5-6 miles today since my longest run last week was 4 miles.  If that goes well and I have minimal soreness the next day, I’m hoping to increase my long run dramatically over the next 3 weeks and begin running 2 long runs a week until I can run a 20 miler.  My muscles and tendons will dictate everything at this point.  Hopefully they will be quite agreeable.  I’ve got my heart set on hitting the trail this coming weekend.  I can’t even begin to express how excited I am to get back out there.  It’s going to feel amazing.  I don’t know if there’s been a night where I haven’t dreamed about running the trails since I got sick.  Anyway, I am planning to do a 10-mile jog/run and just take my time and enjoy myself.  Maybe I can get lucky and coax my daughter to tag along if I promise to buy us lunch!

New Beginnings

Monday, July 9th, 2012 was the last time I ran and would be the the last time for months to come. Oh, how July was the month of setbacks, major obstacles, and disappointment.

First, we lost power for over a week after a rogue storm came through here and dropped a tree in our front yard on the power lines. We spent that week trying to keep our disabled son in air-conditioned hotels while scrounging around for a generator. I still managed to find time to run twice during the whole ordeal. However, not long after getting power back, I found myself in a much greater predicament that would change my little world for months to come.

One evening, as I was getting ready for a treadmill run I experienced the onset of extreme abdominal pain. My husband ended up leaving work and taking me to the emergency room. They ran a few tests and sent me home with a diagnosis of constipation. I remained in fairly severe pain for another week before I went to a clinic. They sent me back to the emergency room where a CT with dye showed I had free air and fluid in my abdomen. I was rushed into surgery for an emergency exploratory laparotomy.

I woke up in the ICU with an incision that ran the length of my belly with 21 staples. All I could think about was running and weight lifting and how I felt so robbed of all my hard work. I tried hard to not let on to anyone how sad I was about the whole ordeal with regards to my fitness. It seemed so shallow and ungrateful. I spent over a week in the hospital. No definitive diagnosis was made as to why I had free air in my belly, so I will have to have further tests done once I’ve completely recovered from surgery. It’s all very frustrating right now.

When I finally got home, the real challenge began.

It’s been 2 weeks since the surgery. I had my staples removed yesterday which did provide some relief. I’ve been told I can’t run for about 3 months, but I was cleared for brisk walking. I’m still so very sore and have a lot of edema in my torso which is very slowly dissipating. I can’t lift anything right now and am told I can’t lift over 40 lb for 4 months. This means I can’t lift my disabled son which creates an immensely complicated situation. It just feels like everything is turned upside down. I’ve been bored, depressed, and confused as to what to do with myself. I’m incredibly impatient for the soreness to go away. I just want my life back so badly. Though I know everything will come with time and a few months pass in the blink of an eye, I just feel disheartened and long to hear the sound of rocks crunching under my feet.

I have to get my head right.

So, here I sit, somewhat demoralized, but more and more determined to formulate a comeback plan. I’ve decided to start a walking streak of a minimum half-mile a day until I feel comfortable upping the ante to 1 mile a day. I’ll do a “test drive” this weekend and see how it goes. I know it’s going to be a long, slow recovery, but damnit I’m not letting this get the better of me! I’m going to push through this, and I’ll be back on the trails by the time the weather is cooling off again this fall! I’m coming back, and maybe I’ll be tougher than ever!

Get outside and put some miles in for me!

Carb Depletion and a Marathon – Yet Another Experiment

After a couple broken hours of sleep from getting up with my son throughout the night, the clock painfully insists that it’s 4 am and time to get up if I’m going to make that early morning run happen before the humidity kicks in.  We’ve had quite the mini heat wave for us north easterners.  As I indulge on a steamy bowl of chocolate oatmeal and a stout coffee, one thought occurs to me: six months.  Will I be able to do what it takes to train for a BQ at the Pensacola Marathon in November?  (Of course, actually going to Pensacola is contingent on my husband’s shift work schedule not changing by then.)  But do I really have what it takes?  What does it take?  Are dedication and passion for running enough in themselves?  It’s quite possible that it’s a long shot for me to expect to BQ in 6 months, but I still feel like I have to try.  I think it’s possible enough to try to make it happen.  If I don’t get it done in Pensacola, I’ll work towards the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2013.IMG_1184

It’s going to be hard, no doubt.  Especially with my schedule (or lack thereof) – a combination of extreme sleep deprivation, a husband who is a shift worker, and having the very demanding task of caring for a fully dependent child; I’ve got my hands pretty full when you throw marathon training into the mix!  I just have to make it happen.

This week I’m focusing on long runs and hoping to hit at least 60 miles by the end of the week.  I have been experimenting with doing long runs in a carb-depleted state in hopes that you can actually acclimate the body better for burning fat reserves as fuel.  When I first started doing this, I did notice a little sluggishness on my runs, and my muscles tended towards fatigue quicker, but I don’t seem to be experiencing any symptoms as of recently.  I’ve been doing these carb-depleted runs now for about a month.  Mind you, there’s absolutely no intention of restricting carbs on race day or even on some critical speedwork days, it’s just the idea that having the body adjusted to fueling up with fat will move the wall out that much further.  I have no idea how long or how much volume you have to achieve before any obvious benefits manifest themselves.  I just make sure I do one-two 5+ mile runs a week in a carb-depleted state.  I do not consume any carbs on these runs, only water.  For 3 days, I eat well under 100g of carbs while I pump out these runs.  I try to make sure I get a good long run in especially on the 3rd day when I know my glycogen stores are zapped from the previous 2 days of low-carb runs.  These runs are typically slower and focused more on running for a certain amount of time instead of mileage.

Time for a power nap before I hit the pavement!

Reflecting – 50 miles?

I’m pretty sure I’ve broken almost every rule in the running rule books at least twice this week.  Fifty miles this week, well a little over 50, and today is the last day of the week…  I’m certain to try to run again today.  I’m quite sure pushing things to the limit in terms of running has been the theme of the week.  No rest days, lots of quite long runs.

I’m somewhat mentally and physically drained this morning; however, that could have a little to do with a severe lack of sleep all week.  Yesterday I was up at 1am, ran 2 mi at 9am, cooked all my meals for next week, made dinner for the family,  made a pathetic attempt at a 30-min nap around 2pm, and had finished up a 10-mi run at 8:30pm.  I still managed to get all my housework done and take care of the kiddos.  Hubby is on night shift, so that always adds spice to the mix.  Yikes.  Makes me shudder to think about what a crazy schedule I’m trying to hold on to.  I’ve been up today since 4am to feed my special little boy. That equates to about 4 hours of sleep for last night at least.  Not bad.

Sun will come up soon, and it’s supposed to rain today.  Hopefully it won’t storm at least.  I wouldn’t mind getting in some outdoor miles this afternoon even if it’s only 1-3 miles.

I’ll post my streaking report later today for the week!

Caring for a Dependent Child and Being Fit

Parenting 2 teenage kids, in itself, is quite a feat and even more so when you’re trying to balance family life and training 1.5-2 hours every day.  I also care full-time for my handicap and mentally retarded son.  Just about everyone knows someone or has had a family member who has required extra care and attention, and we all know the amount of work it takes to care for our special people.  I think many people would assume that it would be too daunting to train hard and care for a special needs family member.  I never considered it.  Everything just falls into place with a little extra effort and mental strength.

My disabled son eats every 3 hours around-the-clock which is the most difficult part, by far.  For me, getting 3-4 hours of sleep in a night is fantastic!  It isn’t always easy to peel myself out of my blanket in the morning to get up and work out when I’ve only had a couple short naps all night.  The human body is absolutely amazing though.  I really believe my body has adapted to run efficiently on less sleep over time.  Even with lack of sleep, it never once crossed my mind that I couldn’t get my exercise in for the day.  I force myself to get up and get moving every day.

Running outside always presents a challenge.  Most days, my husband and older kids aren’t around to keep an eye on their little brother while I head out for a run.  I really have to catch and grab those days when I can.  On weekends I usually try to make it outside for 1-2 long runs while my daughter babysits.  It’s very rejuvenating mentally and physically.  The rest of the week, you’ll find me putting in very long hours on my treadmill and hitting the weights.  I’m very determined to get in the miles I planned to do for the week, and I do whatever it takes to make sure it happens.

I don’t find it difficult whatsoever to manage my fitness and the care of my disabled son.  I’m convinced anyone can do it.  It’s all about finding time to do what is important to you.  Get off the couch, put the remote down, step away from the computer.  We can accomplish great things even in the presence of incredible obstacles.  I don’t think about the difficulties that lie in my path – I think about the rewards of accomplishment.  Every moment in life has its own myriad of challenges, and we can always overcome.  It’s about wanting something so much, you give it your best shot.  The day I start considering how complicated it is to succeed in my personal fitness goals, is the day I start looking for excuses why it can’t be done.  I’m living, breathing proof that a wife and mother of 2 teenage kids and a completely dependent disabled son, can still be fit and athletic while bringing balance and harmony to family and fitness.