West Virginia Trilogy – 50 Mile Race (10/12/2013)

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Elevation profile for WV Trilogy – 50 Mile

In training, I ran my first 100-mi week and for several months maintained a weekly volume around 75-90 miles.  Then I spent the last 2 months upping the intensity and decreasing volume – a lot of elevation gain and a lot of speedwork.  The last month of training was difficult.  We had just moved to our new house, and I was so completely distracted.  I ended up doing a somewhat of extreme taper without even intending to do so, but it paid off.

My daughter and I drove down and stayed at a cabin about 45 minutes away from the race headquarters.  She was volunteering at the last aid station.  The fall colors were coming in fairly nicely, but the constant drizzle and overcast sky didn’t do any justice.  We showed up for the pre-race briefing at the Mountain Institute near Spruce Knob.  It was incredibly remote!  I found my friend, Jennifer, who was running all three days.  The WV Trilogy is a 3-day stage event with each day being 50k, 50 miles, and finally 13.1 miles.  Jennifer had run the 50k that day and shared her thoughts about the course.  She looked really good and strong for the following day’s 50 miler.

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Pre-race briefing

I slept pretty well that night, I never felt anxious or nervous. I didn’t actually know what to expect from myself other than knowing I’d finish.  What I really wanted to do was to race it all-out.  I toed the starting line at 6 am with Jennifer.  There was a chilly spitty drizzle and plenty of mud.  I was feeling pretty good, and my legs just wanted to go.  Before long I realized I had completely left Jennifer.  She obviously was going to be taking it easy since she still had one more day of running ahead of her.  Realizing that, I figured I’d just keep trudging forward.  However, I greatly missed her company all day long.  We climbed up to Spruce Knob and what I’m sure would have been a spectacular view was completely obscured by the dense cool fog.  Daylight was making its not-so-grand appearance.  I dropped my headlamp and jacket at the first aid station which I would later regret.

Once we hit the woods and onto singletrack, my legs took over.  I was completely absorbed in the moment.  I followed behind a couple of pretty fast guys for some time, but eventually I realized that I was cruising along way too fast and dropped my pace.  I was finally all alone and would stay that way for the remainder of the race.  I just stayed focused on getting from aid station to aid station.  I was feeling really good and fast by the time I came into aid 2, but things started to drastically fall apart for me between aid 2 and 3.  I couldn’t stop fantasizing about being at home.  It was all I could think about.  I got very, very cold in the windy mist coming across the ridge, and I had foolishly surrendered my jacket at aid 1.  I was mentally crushed.

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Really cold and not into this!

I felt tired and aid 3 seemed like it would never come.  I told myself to get to aid 3 and if I really wanted to quit then nobody would hold it against me.  I was getting miserable and had no desire to be out there whatsoever.  I felt somewhat renewed when I started seeing people coming back out of aid 3 which is at the turnaround point of an out-and-back section, so I knew I was finally getting close.  I also knew at this point that I was making good time, because I knew aid 3 wasn’t that far away and these were the front runners heading out.  I only passed one other girl on my way down the switchbacks to aid 3.  It was then that I knew I couldn’t quit.

When I reached aid 3 they told me I was 2nd female, so I knew I wasn’t delusional, though I was starting to feel that way!  I grabbed a few snacks and got out of there.  I was a little regretful that I didn’t take the time while I was at the aid station to work on my right foot and change socks and shoes.  On the way there, I had inevitably gotten my feet really wet, and my right insole had buckled and folded and was severely blistering my foot. I had never had this issue before with my Speedcross.  Only halfway into the race, and my foot was in serious trouble.  I ran on it until every step became torture.  I finally stopped and jerked the insole out after trying to readjust it several times with no luck.

I was really pushing the pace hard all the way to the next aid, and my foot was feeling much better!  I was taking a huge gamble, running up long, steep hills and burning my legs.  Then there came what I called the minefield which was a long stretch of slippery, rocky trail along a stream where missing a beat at the pace I was holding was a surefire twisted ankle!  Still feeling pretty upbeat coming into aid 4, I was in and out quickly after refilling my peanut butter cup supply.  The trek to the next aid station seemed like forever, and I was getting a bit tired and running less.  There was a LOT of steady climbing on this section, and I was starting to crave the finish.  When I finally arrived at aid 5 my mind was really tired.  I wasted a good deal of time hanging around there for a while messing with my shoe, drinking soda, refilling my water, and snacking… delaying the IMG_0002inevitable.  With only one aid station left, I headed back out into a beautiful pine-canopied section of trail.

This nontechnical section started off with a really easy grade through canopied pine trees and was perfect for grabbing some quick miles. Eventually my opportunity to “make a run for it,” faded and I was going up and up again, and I was getting really tired.  I told myself I had to hurry up and get to the aid station so I could see my daughter!  I don’t remember much on the way to the last aid station other than giving myself redundant pick-me-up talks and fishing through my iPod for “that” song (whatever it was!).  After what seemed like centuries, I heard people!  There it was, my fabled aid station… or was it a mirage?  Coming into the aid station, I was greeted by everyone singing “Happy Birthday!”  It was fantastic!  My daughter was having a blast, and it was so rejuvenating to see a familiar face! (Yeah, running 50 miles in the mountains is a fantastic way to spend a birthday, by the way!)

The last 4 miles to the finish was actually a bit of a memory blur other than initially getting a little lost for about a mile. There was one last climb to be had for the final mile, and what a climb it was! I grabbed sticks to use as trekking poles to help me just keep a pace of any sort. Finally, I could hear the finish line! Checking my watch, I was indeed going to come in under 12 hours which was originally my ultimate goal. I crossed the finish line in 11:52:58… exhausted, relieved, accomplished, complete. I finished 2nd female with the 1st female being almost 2 hours ahead of me! It was an incredible adventure and learning process.

Post-race recovery was really fast. I wasn’t very sore at all the next day, and 2 weeks later I was back to running 40 miles a week. I chalked a lot of this up to the volume I ran prerace. It was back to the drawing board for 2014. I already knew exactly what I was going to do. It would be the year of 100s. Now I just had to convince my family that it wasn’t such a crazy thing to do.West Virginia Trilogy 50 mile - 2013

Highlands Sky 40 (6/15/2013)

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I’ve had a heck of a time writing lately.  I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on running Highlands Sky 40 and am not even sure how to describe how amazing it was.  There’s really no way to recreate the experience.  There are quite a few really awesome race reports, and I definitely could do no better.  The good news is that I finished (9:36:05) better than I had anticipated, though I really had no clue what to expect.  The course was just purely breathtaking!

The scenery of HS40 changes so dramatically and the course is highly technical (FUN!).  The aid station workers and volunteers are absolutely wonderful.  They really make the event a top-notch race.  I think it’s a race everyone should run once in their life, if not twice!

My husband and my son went with me and stayed in Canaan Valley the night before and after the race.  The prerace briefing and dinner was a lot of fun and the homemade beer was fantastic!  We were bussed to the start line the morning of the race, and I met my very good friend, Jennifer, there.  We had talked about running together and had basically agreed to stick together for the first half and then feel things out from there.  If one of us had lots of juice in the tank, then go for it!  The first 15 miles was pretty much steady climbing and tromping through thick black mud which was determined to eat your shoes off your feet.   Shortly before mile 20 where drop bags were, nature called!  Yah, well, I was half expecting that since I wasn’t so honored that morning.  As luck would have it, we ran right past a park restroom.  Seriously!  So while I got down to business, Jennifer went on ahead to the aid station.

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By the time I got to aid #4, Jennifer had already changed shoes and was fixing to head out.  I ended up eating more goodies than I should have, and it took me longer than I expected to change shoes and reload my pack.  I wasted too much time.  I felt really, really good coming out of the aid station.  I put on some music and planned to soak up some quick miles on the straight stretch of gravel road ahead and possibly, if I was real lucky, catch up to Jennifer.  Time flew by on the Road Across the Sky.  It felt so good to get some speed again after the first sluggish 15 miles.  I finally caught up to Jennifer and stayed with her.  I figured it was a good idea since it would help me keep my pace in check and not knowing what the second half of the course was like.

We talked and laughed for hours and hours.  We both felt really good… almost too good!  Most of the time, it seemed more like a leisurely long run than a 40-mile fell race!  The only time I felt slightly rough was in and around the last 2-3 miles, but it was more of a mental fatigue that would come and go in waves.  Only having 2 hours of sleep the night before might not help.

Approaching the finish line and hearing the cheering and clapping – everything melted away.  Flashbacks of the challenges I took on as I dove into running, fitness, and a better life less than two years ago, and then only a year ago when I dreamed of running my first ultra and becoming fitter than I had ever imagined possible, and remembering lying in the ICU this time last year, crying and scared, deeply aching to run again.  Then when Jennifer and I crossed the finish line together, hand-in-hand, a moment happened for me: I had come full circle… again.

I’m so grateful to my very supportive and patient husband… following me around and making it possible for me to do the crazy outlandish things I thrive on.  I can’t fathom what my world would be like without him.  He’s my backbone and a deep part of who I am.  My very sweet and innocent special little boy, who so intently listens to his momma’s long-winded stories and enjoys being toted around on road trips.  And, of course, my daughter, who gladly joins me for long running escapades on weekends filled with mixed emotional bags and uncertainty and never doubting.  Now that’s a support crew.

Next year, I have every intention of running HS40 again, and I have little doubt that I can run it faster.  I felt so good at the end and still had fuel left in the tank when all was said and done.  What’s next?  I’ve signed up to run the 50-mile day of the West Virginia Trilogy in October.  I’m taking 4 weeks to do some much-needed leaning out as it seems my training for HS40 added a tiny bit of weight to me.  I’ll be hitting the weights hard and building up my base mileage again before I start serious training in August.1014368_4897708532183_409331775_n

Racing, Hills, and Lifting!

IMG_1145Last Saturday I went ahead and completed one of my goals for the month: to run a 5K race or longer.  I entered a 15K somewhat last minute and went into it with no expectations.  I ran it much faster than I even really thought I was capable of and finished 2nd overall female with a time of 1:07:15.  Every time I glanced down at my watch, I was weaving between a 6:30-7:20 pace.  Instead of doing as usual and trying to hold back, I just went with it.  I figured I’d keep it up as long as my legs would tolerate.  Needless to say, it was nothing short of painful.  The hills were just a little brutal!

Running anywhere in West Virginia except along rivers is quite a feat.  The mountainous terrain is completely unforgiving.  I used to think anyone who attempted running in this state was out of their mind.  Of course, it’s all relative to what you’re used to.  I grew up in the South on very flat land, so West Virginia was kinda like terrain shock!  There are definitely great advantages to living and running somewhere challenging.  You don’t really have the option of avoiding hills all too often.  You’re pretty much forced to do it if you want to get out and run.  We all know how important hillwork is for developing those running legs.  So I guess it could be safe to assume that a person who lives where they run grades on just about every run would most likely have the upper hand versus an average “flatlander.”   This is also one of the speculations or observances made about the elite African runners in relation to their training terrain.

I’m continuing to work on increasing my distance runs.  I’m planning 22-24 miles for this weekend.  The plan is to keep increasing up to 30 miles since by that time I’ll need to focus on marathon training and work on my speed.  I saw this quote in a forum recently that just made me smile.  It said, “Never f@ck with someone who runs 26.2 miles for fun!”  There’s definitely something to be said about that kind of runner!  During the rest of the week I’ve been mixing in a decent amount of hill and speed interval training which I had neglected for some time.  I’m really enjoying those workouts.

IMG_1139I added some spice to my weight training days also in hopes of maximizing gains.  I’m doing upper body/abs 3-4 times a week and legs 1-2 times a week.  I’m really worried about working my legs too much and exhausting them prior to a run, so I’m keeping weight training at a minimum on them.  I upped my sets from 3 to 5 and kept my reps at 8-12 except abs which are 5 sets at 12-15 reps.  I really like the longer workout and increased sets.  I’ll keep this up for a month and see how it goes.

My upper body routine looks like this:

Cable crunches
Pullups
Chinups
Pushups wide
Bicep cable curl
French press
Bent-over side lateral
Rear delt rows