Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Burning River 100

On Sunday morning just before 5:30 am, I finished my second hundred mile race. Unlike Zion, which ended up being a few miles short due to weather and trail conditions, Burning River was, as advertised, actually 102.2 miles, so I have a genuine no even small buts about it hundred mile finish now.

Foam rollin' with Woody before we hit the road.

This race was completely different from my last hundred, in terrain, weather, organization of support, and psychological experience. I had originally signed up for Burning River because I planned to postpone Zion until next year, and this was a doable looking, driveable, Western States-qualifying hundred miler that took place before my 30th birthday. I also knew that Tony and some other Runderful friends would be out there. The course had around 9,000 feet of elevation gain - a little less than Zion and spread fairly evenly throughout the course in the form of small hills rather than portioned into several monster climbs. The terrain, I figured, would be fairly comparable to the trails I train on near Philadelphia. Although August near Cleveland can be hot, the fact that the race took place late in the summer meant that I should have time for adequate heat acclimation training. For what was supposed to be my first hundred, this race made a lot of sense. But it didn’t quite captured my imagination the way Zion had (a big part of why I ended up running that race anyway). I had good enough reasons for running, but looking back I definitely didn’t have the right kind of motivation.

Crew & Tony at packet pickup

I did, again, have a pretty great crew. In “exchange” for my pacing our friend Raelynn at Grindstone in October, my friend Wesley got suckered into pacing, crewing and driving us out there, as neither Lou nor I have a car. Lou joined the team to crew and pace as well, and help Wes drive our tired asses safely after the race. The race started Saturday at 4:00 am, with shuttles leaving for the race start at 2:15 am. After packet pickup, where we saw Tony, we were lucky enough to find really delicious Thai food near our crappy hotel (cigarette burns through the top blankets crappy): green beans, brown rice, and tofu in a mild curry sauce made for a pretty great pre-race meal. After watching a few baffling commercials, I fell asleep during the Olympics opening ceremonies and slept pretty well for about four hours. Breakfast was comical. I had brought Starbucks instant coffee, and the hotel had a microwave, but I forgot to bring a mug, so I made coffee with hot tap water in a flimsy hotel plastic cup, drank it, and ate a pancake from a ziplock bag in the bathroom so the boys could sleep a few more minutes.

Fancy hotel.

Breakfast of Champions

Feeling ready! Little did I know :P

I sat with Tony on the shuttle, which got us to the start in good time for the race, but not quite enough time to stand in line for the too-few bathrooms. The race started promptly at 4:00 am. I started in my fairly old Brooks Pure Grits, as the first 11 miles of the race were on road, and those are my trail shoes that feel least weird on roads. They were a bit dead and not well cushioned, so I had my Nike Wildhorses in my first drop bag at mile 22. The Brooks were probably a mistake though. They weren’t awful on the roads, but they were kind of dead, and for the first time wearing them they felt narrower than I like. There was some traffic on the road I think mainly from other runners’ crews, but a good portion of that section went through a wooded area or park where there were no cars at all. By the time we got to the bridle trail, I was so glad to be off the pavement. However, in the first half of the race there were about a zillion road crossings, which made me irrationally furious, even though all the drivers I encountered were polite and the roads for the most part were not very busy, even once the sun came up. Changing shoes at mile 22 helped, as did seeing Don, a Runderful friend and member of Tony’s crew. But the road crossings (several per mile) continued to irk me. I know this a necessary feature of most urban trail systems, but for whatever reason it was just a big mental struggle for me.

Shortly before mile 26 aid, I caught up with Keith Straw, a local Philly-area very badass ultra runner, and I ran in to next aid with him and a couple other guys. Lou and Wes were there, even though I wasn’t expecting them till mile 50, and on the way in there was a sign advertising popsicles. Better shoes, crew, boyfriend, trail friends, and popsicles made this a high point for me. The only low here was a #notvegan moment where I mistook a turkey and cheese sandwich for PB&J.

I ran a marathon! I see FRANDS!


In the next sections, I caught back up with Keith, and it was great to have company on a long, exposed towpath segment. We were supremely grateful it wasn’t hotter - temperatures stayed in the low to mid 80s I think, and humidity wasn’t disgusting. We made time here, and came into mile 38 aid, where I saw my crew again, ahead of my projected pace for a sub 24 hour finish. The next section was much slower though. We got into about 10 miles of legit hilly single track, which in many ways was preferable to road/towpath/gravel, but was definitely much slower, and the steep downhills didn’t let me make up time I’d lost on the climbs. Around mile 45 I was feeling a bit hot so filled up the ice bandana my friend Beth had loaned me. A few minutes later I realized it was dripping on my hydration pack where my phone was not in a ziplock bag, but I caught it in time to save the phone from waterlog. I arrived at mile 50 right on pace according to my spreadsheet, but by this point my head already had lost the motivation to push for that time goal.

Here I picked up Wes, who would pace me for the next 26 miles. There were fewer road crossings by this point, but quite a lot of gravel path (which in reality was, a good portion of it, cement) and road, WAY more than I had remembered from the course description’s breakdown of terrain. There were trail segments as well, but I wasn’t really spry enough to appreciate them, especially as, with my legs and feet beat up from pounding the roads, it was getting hard to spring over roots and fallen trees or up stairs. I felt like I “ran” a good amount of those 26 miles, but it still took us about 7 hours. We saw Lou at mile 72 aid, from which we went out for a final, horrendously hilly 3.8 mile loop before picking him up as pacer at mile 76 - those 4 miles were also where we first turned on headlamps. It was in those 4-ish miles that I really started flagging mentally, at one point stamping my feet and cursing at some stairs I didn’t want to climb up. I also started to calculate how long it would take me to finish. Sub 24-hours was pretty much out of the picture. I could have finished within the allowed 30 hours by walking the whole rest of the way, but I REALLY didn’t want to be out there that long. From what I heard other runners saying, however, I thought the final 26 miles would be sustained technical hilly trail, and I wasn't expecting to go fast at all.

Wesley pacing :)

That turned out not to be true. The next segment was 6.5 miles, and a mix of road and easy trail. Poor Lou probably got the wrong idea of how things would go for the rest of the time, because I had an up moment here and was so so happy to be running and making decent time again. We caught up with Keith again near the end of this section, and he confirmed that there were indeed quite a few runnable miles left in the race, which cheered me immensely, even though some of those miles would be road. The mile 82 aid station was awesome - lots of good food, awesome volunteers, and I was on the ball fueling with vegan ramen, oreos, and grapes. The 4.5 mile loop we did from there didn’t go well though. I lost my caffeine high from the last segment, and it was hilly trails again. There were some good runnable bits, but for the most part I just couldn’t run. I was also worried about Lou, as he had fallen and busted his leg open a bit, and though the aid station medics said he could still pace me, it’s really hard to judge what is safe and to keep your mind from worrying when you’re 80+ miles into a race and it’s the middle of the night.

The rest was just a slog. From mile 92 there was a long road/gravel section, and part of it went by a stinky sewage treatment plant, which really pissed me off. I tried to do intervals here, as it was very flat, running for a half mile at a stretch, or however long I could. We passed a shopping center, some crappy hotels, and a couple of drunk guys who were very confused by all the zombie-like runners out.

In the last 4.6 mile section there was supposed to be an interminable flight of stairs. There were sort of some wooden stair thingies, but this was pretty anticlimactic - the hills were worse here. At one point, with about two miles to go, I just stopped in the middle of the trail and sobbed “I just want it to be OVER!” A few minutes later we came to the road, and then about a mile and a quarter later we jogged up to the finish line.

With Lou, a couple minutes after finishing <3 Look at my HUGE buckle!

My finish time of 25:28:52 was over 30 minutes faster than my Zion time on a course that was at least 7 miles longer, maybe more. I fueled pretty well, stayed relatively hydrated, and came away with zero blisters and only a bit of armpit and lower back chafing. But it was so much harder mentally. The switches back and forth between road and trail had me not enjoying either terrain, especially toward the end. I appreciated being able to move faster on the road, but the pounding felt awful. I wanted to enjoy the trail more, but I was just too exhausted to appreciate it. I learned a lot about what I’ll need to do both in terms of training and execution when I do go for a sub-24 finish.


It’s a weird thing. You have to be mentally tough to finish a hundred at all, I think, but I was quite upset with myself for my not-great attitude during much of this race, my unwillingness to push for my A-goal, my general grumpiness and pissiness and self-pity, that I didn’t feel very tough while I was racing. I felt a huge sense of relief after, but not a great sense of accomplishment. I look happy in a lot of the pictures, and that wasn’t a farce or a lie, but I felt like it should have been a lot more fun to run trails in great weather with some of my favorite people.

PS, don’t fly across the country shortly after finishing a hundred mile race with lots of pavement pounding. Your feet might swell up for a couple days.

Apart from starting in the Brooks, I wore the same exact clothes and gear as for Zion, just with different INKnBURN designs :)

Monday, April 11, 2016

Zion 150k ;)

Before my race I made a list of factors that were within my control. Weather was not on my list.

I signed up for Zion 100 last summer, not too long after completing Laurel Highlands but falling short of the time required for a WSER lottery ticket. After also COMPLETELY failing to BQ at Marine Corps Marathon in October (and wow, these sentences make 2015 sound like a way worse race year than it was!) I found myself more anxious than excited about the race, worried it would distract me from schoolwork and a busy spring conference season, worried about the cost. I decided to defer my entry to 2017, as the race has an extremely generous deferral policy, but by the time 2016 rolled around I realized I was running around 60 miles a week and feeling great, and whenever I told friends I wasn’t going to run the race after all I felt a bit sick to my stomach and more and more sad each time I did so. After a quick check revealed I had enough miles to fly to Utah for less than $200, I bought my ticket and decided I would make it work.

Tickets without using miles weren’t cheap, so I told my Philly friends not to come out to pace or crew. None of us have any money! I was staying at a house with some New York trail running friends, so it wasn’t going to be an entirely solitary trip. Then a few weeks before the race I met another runner from Philly, Tim, who was racing, and a week before my best friend from college, Jamie, confirmed that she and her brother Mike were going to drive out from CA to crew me. Trail/ultra running is often a very strange mix of the solitary and the social and is filled with serendipitous connections. It just felt like a lot of these were happening for me before I even got to Utah. I felt good going into the race. I had a good handful of training weeks in the 90-110 mile range in February and March, I’d run a decent amount of bleachers, stairs, and hills in training, I did a full 3-week taper (with a lot of conference travel!), and I was uninjured.

We’d heard some dire weather scenarios – it was supposed to occasionally shower starting Friday afternoon and continuing through Saturday, but the trails don’t handle saturation well, and the organizers had course modification contingencies in place in case conditions became dangerous. I didn’t expect that to happen, as the days leading up to the race were dry and predictions were holding for occasional showers: I was just glad temperatures weren’t supposed to climb above the high 60s.

The race began with the first of three big climbs, up Flying Monkey. You feel pretty badass because there’s a short section where there’s a (much appreciated) rope to assist you in hauling yourself up. The climb also occurs at sunrise: the stunning views start early on this course! For such a steep climb so early I, like everyone around me, settled in and power hiked. I felt fine but not great yet. The loop at the top of the mesa was fun and runnable, but I still couldn’t quite tell where my body was at. I think the distances for the first few segments were short, and my body finally woke up when I was headed back down Flying Monkey, not pushing the pace at all but well ahead of expected pace (which means absolutely nothing 10 miles into 100!). I definitely was not prepared for the slickrock sections, the first of which occurred at mile 19, on Guacamole mesa. The sun was out and it got uncomfortably warm during these 7.5 miles, though the views made up for it! The rocky, twisty, undulating mountain bike trails were like nothing I know where to train on near Philly, and it was hard to find a rhythm or feel confident here, but it seemed to challenge most runners I spoke with, so I tried to just go with the flow.

At mile 30.5 I stopped to text Jamie, who I was going to see at mile 53, and let her know that even though I was ahead of the fastest projected schedule on my spreadsheet, I was about to face the biggest climb of the race and things could look drastically different in a couple hours. The Gooseberry climb was everything advertised, but again I just settled in and hiked, stopped to take in the views (and settle my heart rate) every now and then, and soon enough I was at the top. The wind picked up on top of the mesa and it was cold, so I grabbed a pair of gloves from my drop bag (which I stuffed in my hydration pack a mile or two later). But while I survived the epic climb in good spirits, the following 12 mile slickrock loop (miles 35-47) was my lowest section of the entire race. I just didn’t feel great. The terrain made for very slow going, and I had to be very alert in watching for course markings (the course was well marked, but again, it’s just different terrain than I’m used to and harder to pick out what is “trail”). I felt sleepy, my back was a bit sore, I felt my form beginning to suffer, and my stomach felt a bit queasy. I didn’t feel terrible, but I started to worry about what this foretold for, say, mile 70. I’d seen too many races turn to suffer fests in the last 30 miles to expect I would be immune! The Goosebump aid station was a bright spot, as we got some (more) spectacular views, and I saw both Tim and Ryan, who was staying at the same house. Ryan and I, and two 100k runners, ended up completing this seemingly endless loop together. I had this ridiculous plan? Expectation? That when I saw Jamie I was going to make her show me a cute picture of Woody, that seeing him would make me cry, and that this would be extremely cathartic and get me through whatever came next.

The next 6 mile section was hard packed, wide, smooth, gently gently rolling dirt roads, and I ran almost the whole thing and felt absolutely fantastic. It started raining again, and the roads got muddy, so when I got to the aid station at mile 53 Mike and Jamie were not there because Mike’s car couldn’t safely make it up there. Ryan’s crew was there, however, and they cheered me and made me eat vegan broth and noodles, made sure I grabbed my headlamp, and sent me off in good spirits. As I headed off down the trail, I giggled to myself, “I love running! It’s so funny!” The next section started off with rocky, twisty, single track. It had some elements of the slickrock sections, but I was able to run for significant stretches. It ended with a mile-ish steep descent, in the dark, that seemed to go on forever. I was getting low again anticipating the climb back up, and I was starting to feel sad that now I wouldn’t see my crew till mile 76 – almost 20 miles, and in the dark, with a huge climb and a huger descent – but when I got to the bottom, the volunteer checking runners in notified me that I had “people here for me”, and there were Jamie and Mike! Not only did I get surprise hugs from my best friend, but the aid station (like many of them) had delicious watermelon. The climb back up wasn’t so bad after all ;)

As I made my way back to the gooseberry aid station, I was starting to feel tired but not awful, though I was not looking forward to the steep, endless climb down the mesa. About a mile from the aid station, around mile 67, I took a “vitamin I” (Ibuprofen). I was limiting myself to 2 over the course of the race and this seemed like a good time for the first. As I approached the aid station just after midnight, the wind picked up like crazy and it started raining pretty hardcore for the first time since the race start. Now I REALLY was dreading the descent, but I started off after only a short break to grab extra batteries and warm layers, hoping to get down before the ground got too saturated. The muddy clay stuff did stick to my shoes, but it basically just added weight and cushion, and the weight wasn’t a problem for descending, as the ground was sticky, not slippery. I moved as quickly as I could, but carefully. This was an 8 mile section between aid stations, and my GPS had long since died so it felt LONG. The "vitamin I" had kicked in though (it tends to be effective, as I use it very sparingly), so I ran a lot of this, more and more as I thought I must be getting close to aid and my crew. My headlamp blinked for low battery at one point, but when I tried to change batteries in the rain I messed it all up and then it didn't work at all. Luckily I was a smart enough cookie to carry a handheld flashlight in my pack the whole time. It worked very well for lighting the trail, it but didn’t reflect as well on the markers.

I got to mile 76, Virgin Desert aid station sometime between 2:30 and 3am, and Jamie and Mike had just rolled up. Mike fixed my headlamp, Jamie brought me THIN MINTS!!!!!, and she and I set off on the first of 3 loops I had to do from that aid station before heading back to the finish. We mostly hiked and chatted, and she apologized for being slow, though the bits when she broke into a run it was way more work to keep up than I thought it should be: even though I thought I felt great, my body had, you know, run almost 80 miles. I left on the second loop in fantastic spirits (and after a good poop!), but the rain was beginning to take its toll on the trail, and that loop was pretty slippery and harder than I had expected it to be. I returned still in good spirits ready to tackle the last and longest loop, possibly with Mike. However, when I got in they announced that due to dangerous conditions they were sending all runners straight to the finish line regardless of what loop they were on. This was a contingency plan put in place in the days leading up to the race, and I knew I would still get an official finish, a buckle, and a WSER lottery entry. I think Jamie expected me to be more upset than I was. But I was completely in a mindset of judging my performance by what was in my control, and I was incredibly thrilled with how I was holding shit together in this race. Given the choice, of course I would have run that 7 mile loop regardless of how sloppy it was. But it entirely was not my choice, and I’d seen enough of what even a little rain could do to these trails to trust the race director was making an informed decision and not being paranoid or babying us. I thought I might feel more strongly about things later, but I was experiencing a weird pre-dawn self-satisfied numbness and just hugged my friends, ate a couple more Thin Mints, changed into my Back on My Feet t-shirt I wanted to finish in, and took off down the road.

The first half-ish of the last section was a hard packed smooth, mostly not muddy, mostly gently downhill dirt road. The final few miles were ridiculously muddy undulating short but steep and seemingly endless bumps I had to scramble up with “fast” feet and then slide back down. When I finally came within sight of the finish area my hands were covered in mud, though I hadn’t quite fallen on my ass. Hilariously, when I came to make the final turn through the finishing arch, the 50k race was just starting, and I had to step aside and wait for those runners to go through. The volunteers assured me they got my actual time, which I wasn’t too worried about, but it was kind of surreal and funny. 

I finished 93-ish miles in just over 26 hours. My goal had been sub-30, and the cutoff was 34. Trail conditions were the only thing preventing me from moving quickly at the end of the race, and I’m pretty sure that in other circumstances I could have finished in around 28 hours. Of course, it’s a race: you get the circumstances you’re dealt, and what ifs are basically a futile exercise. It was somewhat helpful to think about though because I did need to walk away feeling there was no question I could have finished 100 full miles, and finished strong. So I finished elated, and already hungry for the next adventure. I picked out my gorgeous buckle, and Jamie met me with a Lagunitas IPA and a rainbow stuffed lobster. Seriously, what could be better? She also literally gave me the shirt (well, sweater) off her back, as probably my worst packing/planning decision was only putting shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals in my finish line drop bag, and it was still cold and raining. I didn’t think I felt as cold as I was, but then I realized I was shivering like crazy! When we got back to the house, Mike ran out and got me a frozen pizza and guacamole, as per my request :P

My only chafing was from my bra, where the flap of fabric that covers the fastener got folded over and the metal clasps had rubbed against my back a bit. Two of my toenails felt bruised but they feel pretty normal now and haven’t darkened at all (yet). I thought I had blisters, or their beginnings, on the bottom of my feet, but it turned out my feet were just a bit water logged and wrinkly, and the wrinkles had folded over and rubbed a bit. They dried out too dry so I lubed them up and they were quickly back to normal. My nutrition was good, my hydration was good, and my recovery is progressing way way better than I expected. I walked a couple dogs today, got a massage, and ate EVERYTHING.

Special shoutouts to Lou, Megan, and David who were there for everything leading up to this, were the best virtual/remote cheer squad, and made post-flight pizza, beer, chips and guac, cheesecake and ice cream (all vegan) happen. Lou very graciously cared for my Dear Disreputable Dog all weekend too. There are a TON of other people who supported me, and I owe you all huge huge hugs.

I don’t think I’ve managed to communicate it here, but this is the best race I’ve ever had. It’s hard to describe how it feels to feel so strong, to be exhausted and soaked but know you can handle whatever is thrown at you next with feet that you think are mostly "running" and at least occasional smiles.

And I just have to say a bit more about Jamie. She’s no stranger to hiking and backpacking but is not at all interested in running herself – we also haven’t seen each other in what? Two years? – but she crewed like a complete pro. She read race reports and articles with advice on pacing and crewing, made my spreadsheet legible, dealt with weather-related contingencies, brought me surprise snacks and presents, checked in to make sure my feet didn’t need attention, and about a zillion other things. Most importantly, she made me smile a hell of a lot. 

I wore lots of INKnBURN (and sometimes a super light patagonia shell), a Nathan hydration pack, and "Maggie hat". Feet had trail toes + injinji trail socks + thin smartwool socks + Nike Wildhorse 3s + Dirty Girl gaiters.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

If having babies is like having ultrababies, sign me up!

(Labor Pain Ultra 12-hour race report)

“People say” that the most entertaining and educational race reports are the ones where all kinds of shit goes wrong. With that in mind, prepare to be bored out of your minds as you read this, suckers! At least one of the times I saw my friend Hillsmash I kept yelling “conditions are perfect!” I was trying to quote The Flight of the Conchords’ “Business Time” and probably failing to convey that, but it also pretty much applied literally. I’d tapered almost perfectly, carb loaded like a glutton/champ, done some nice long runs on trail and worked on yoga/cross training a lot more than usual. The course was suited to my strengths, and though the temperature was a little higher than I prefer, humidity was pretty much nil and there was a lot of tree cover, making things pleasant most of the day. I was also in a good place mentally, as though I was feeling long overdue for a good race, I’d had a couple of very good training weeks leading up to the event and felt prepared. I had recently resolved some personal and professional anxieties, and I was generally in a Good Place. I had packed ALL THE SNACKS (including cut up watermelon I managed to keep cold the whole race). I was wearing my ultimate INKnBURN supersuit. Conditions were perfect.

It's business time!

My concerns going into the race were that I wouldn’t do well in the heat (not a problem thanks to the lack of humidity), that I wouldn’t handle the format of a 5-mile loop for 12 hours well (I’d never done a timed event of this nature), and that I had not gotten nearly enough sleep the previous week (I’m feeling that this week, but for the duration of the event, Mountain Dew maintained its sugary, caffeinated efficacy!). I also just NEVER race well at Pretzel City Sports races (though I always have a great time!).

Obviously, friends play a HUGE role in my running obsession. One of the reasons I don’t just stop running for months at a time anymore is because I have so many running friends I would miss if I went MIA. As I like to quote myself (ad nauseam), “running friends are real friends!” And friends have played a role in my races before: most notably, in the Philly Marathon last year, seeing at least one person I knew every mile on the second half of the course absolutely helped motivate me to keep pushing and bag my PR. But I’ve never used any kind of crew or pacers when running an ultra, and I’ve tended to view the presence and support of friends, whether spectators or fellow runners, as a surprising bonus. Point is, I always love seeing friends at races, but this is the strongest I’ve felt their presence in my own racing, and the most grateful I’ve been to have that support and fellowship, even where it might not have looked like I needed it. At the race, we met up with awesome existing and new friends from Trail Whippass and Runderful, but we also rolled up with a more than solid posse of our own. (Special shoutout to Emir, who I saw almost every lap and who always shared encouragement and asked how I was doing!)

Runderful friends John and Alyssa framing ye olde Trailsmash and Hillsmash

Megan (the aforementioned “Hillsmash”), our friend Johanna, and I were all running with very different goals. Johanna wanted to de-stress from racing and training goals and rekindle some love of running on the trails. Megan, who is new to her exploration of longer distance and trail running, wanted to pace herself smart to a 40-mile finish. I wanted at least 50 miles and to feel like I’d actually raced something. We all of us met our goals. I have to talk a little about Hillsmash, because she’s been so, so smart and enthusiastic in how she’s gone about introducing herself to trail running. It’s kind of like an over-enthused 5-year-old who also wrangles for herself a hell of a lot of zen. Those 40 miles she ran were not only her first time “making ultrababies” (in a race environment, anyway), but also, as I kept forgetting, got her to the marathon distance for the first time in a race. Her fiancĂ© David paced her for the lap that comprised miles 25-30, keeping the ultraspawn metaphor going strong! Our friend Lou got bullied into being my first pacer ever, and ran with me from miles 35-45, and then from 50-55. We sang a lot of bits of songs, drank some beers, and determined whether various snacks were vegan. The giddy normalcy of it all definitely helped me suspend the knowledge that I’d been running in a circle for hours and hours with more to go!

“I’m not going back out again unless someone sics a panther on me!”

Once I realized I was keeping my pace fairly well, I kept wavering as to whether or not I wanted to stop at 55 miles or to push on to 60. I really didn’t want to compromise my marathon training by doing more than I could fairly quickly recover from, but 60 seemed like such the nicest number, and it was looking like I had time. During the race, I basically tied my 2nd fastest 50k time (around 5:40), and thanks to a completely maniacal 10th lap beat my 50-mile PR by about 5 minutes (I came in at 9:27-8). After that I started to sag a bit, but my goals never slipped out of sight, which definitely helped keep my spirits up. Since I finished the 60 miles in 11:42, there was obviously some thought that I could have/should have gone for the 100k milestone. I’ll just say that 60 miles felt ambitious enough, and I’m glad I took time to refuel and chat with friends after most laps because it meant I had the energy left to enjoy the experience of finishing well and engage in suspicious celebratory rituals postrace.

Megan, myself, Lou, and David, doing what we do.

I ended up 3rd overall female, 7th overall finisher, and 1st in my age group. Pretty solidly the best I've done in a race since I raced the 1600m in middle school! Congrats also to Johanna and new Runderful friend Alyssa who also scored age group swag, or, as I was calling it during the race, “prizes” :)


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Transition to Marathon Training

After Laurel Highlands Ultra, I gave myself three weeks of really easy recovery, only running as much as I felt like. Three weeks not only because that sounded reasonable, but also because I'd pulled up a marathon training plan I'm roughly following for Marine Corps Marathon that had me starting training three weeks after LH.

The mileage, of course, has not been a problem. The first week of the plan called for 27 miles total, and I'd hit 70+ multiple times in my training this spring, rarely going under 50 miles. But the speed work and pacing recommendations. Whew! That's another story. Apart from training to break 4 hours (which I did for the first time at the Gettysburg North-South marathon last spring), I've never trained to run a marathon at a specific pace. And honestly, this early in training, I'm having a difficult time settling on what my goals for this race really are. My A goal is to Boston Qualify (I'm fine with anything under 3:35 - this may sound weird, but I'm kind of more interested in besting that number than I am in actually running Boston), but my paces running outside this summer aren't quite promising that. My training plan is actually for a runner hoping to break 3:30, which is definitely a stretch. I keep saying I'd be happy just to PR, but after missing my goals at Laurel Highlands, I kind of really want to put in an awesome performance here, if at all possible. I'm not sure how much of my trouble hitting times is due to the fact that my speed just isn't there (because I basically didn't do ANY speed work this spring, just logging lots and lots of slow miles), and how much is due to summer heat and humidity which, suffice to say, I do NOT thrive in. I have been doing at least one run per week at a faster pace on the treadmill at the gym though, and on those runs I can stick to my paces successfully.

Because I knew I needed to get myself into the habit of doing speed work regularly, I signed up for a month of GoalsFit "Track Attack" for July. For some reason it feels like just about every Tuesday in Philadelphia is hot, humid, and, at some point, stormy. After the first two of these speed work sessions (which were butt-kicking in a very awesome way), I ended feeling weak and dizzy, a sensation that lasted 30-60 minutes after the run. My times were absolute crud too. The third time I made sure to liberally salt my pre-run snack of almond butter toast AND to eat some salty margarita shot blocks right before the workout. My times were still depressingly slow, but at least I had no cause to be paranoid that I had some mysterious wasting disease.

The humidity is definitely a huge factor. One Thursday my friend Megan and I went out to Temple Track and ran 6x800, I think at around 3:40-3:45 for most of our splits, one closer to 4 minutes, the last one at just over 3:30. Maybe a little slower than ideal, but damn was that a psychological boost - I can do this speedwork thing and actually complete a workout more or less as planned! We ran around 4pm, and it was ~85 degrees with a magical, magical lack of humidity. Go figure.

Afterward we jumped!

Then we slurped!

I've been trying to do yoga pretty regularly, 2-3 times per week. Usually I take classes at my gym (some of the instructors are very good!), and I've occasionally been doing free and donation-based outdoor yoga (including with Yoga Peach, who teaches awesome yoga for runners classes and also just had great success racing Ironman Lake Placid and fundraising for the MMRF). I've been enjoying this more regular practice, and after the first extremely sluggish and dispiriting few weeks of marathon training, the middle of week 3 I finally started to feel a lot more like myself as a runner. Speed work is hard, but I feel like I'm actually recovering from it rather than living with constantly aching quads. This weekend I ran a 13-mile "long run" on the road at 8:50 pace followed by an 11-mile trail run the next day. The road run was much faster than I would have run while ultra training, but I recovered well enough that the hilly trail run the next morning was far more fun than torture.

IN OTHER NEWS, I did sign up for my first 100-miler, and it's NOT Rocky Raccoon, but rather Zion! I'm both incredibly excited and a bit relieved it's not till April. Though because it's so far off I have no excuse not to concentrate fully on Marine Corps in the meantime....

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Laurel Highlands 70.5 mile ultra

June 3rd, on the very last leg of my return trip from Flagstaff to Philadelphia, I listened to a Trail Runner Nation podcast that was basically an awesome lovefest between Ann Trason and Sally McRae. Ann said something to the effect that while she was never the fastest runner on the trail, her success came from her ability to troubleshoot, to problem solve. I took those words to heart during my race at Laurel Highlands last weekend, and though they didn’t propel me to the sub-20 that would qualify me to enter the Western States lottery, they did help me finish safely within the race’s own 22-hour limit, exhausted but uninjured besides my trademark bloody knee. I’m interpreting Ann’s words widely as well, using them to guide my post-race assessment and plans for future training.

This race report is not going to be a mile-by-mile / hour-by-hour / aid station-by-aid station breakdown. That’s not really my style, and there are other reports out there that give a pretty thorough overview of the race in that respect.

In my previous post I mentioned that my “A-goal” was an 18-hour finish, with the States-qualifying 20 hours my “B-goal”. I realized pretty quickly during the race that the “A-goal” was almost certainly not going to happen. I also spent a lot of time reassessing the labels I had given these goals and about how the phrase “A-goal” was really more appropriate to the achievement of a sub 20 finish. I mean, I just cared about it so much more. I had thought, well, I’ll aim high with a time that sounds achievable on an optimal day and then if things go wrong what I have to fall back on will still leave me ecstatic. But I think it would have been a better idea to place the goal that truly compelled me forefront in my mind, and forefront in my planning. Of course, it’s hard to set goals and make plans for a race on terrain you’ve never run and that’s 20 miles farther than you’ve ever run. And while I don’t go into races stupid, I don’t study race reports and elevation charts for hours and hours either (though I do sometimes leave them pulled up in neglected browser tabs for weeks at a time, sparing them barely a glance!). 

My race bib answers the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Flat Clare (taken before I picked up my race bib)

I think my morning nutrition plan was pretty spot-on, if a tad ridiculous: banana and Clif bar at ass-o’-clock in the morning at the EconoLodge of Johnstown (possibly the worst hotel I’ve ever stayed at, mainly because to say the toilet barely worked would be generous indeed), some blackberry MamaChia on the bus to the start, and TastyCake Butterscotch Krimpets and hot coffee shortly before the race. I walked the three early nasty hills, and got passed by what felt like absolutely everyone on the big one. I wasn’t worried about time at that point, but I did feel kind of ashamed. Climbing isn’t a strong point for me. That had been reinforced at The North Face 50M at Bear Mountain, but I didn’t make significant changes in my training plan to reflect that, even knowing what I was in for the first 10 miles or so of this race. The most convenient place for me to practice climbing is the stairs and bleachers at Franklin Field. Unfortunately, right about the time I felt recovered from Bear Mountain, Penn held graduation ceremonies there, then closed the facilities for summer for repairs and the installation of a new track. There are other options for hill and even stair training, of course, but that was by far the most convenient and effective, and I didn’t really do much to compensate for that change in plans.

I came into the first official checkpoint just over 30 minutes before cutoff. I gained time at all subsequent checkpoints, but because the first two (of four) checkpoints were the most stringent, making time up against the race’s cutoff clock still meant barely clinging to 20 hour pace (I didn’t make a pace chart for that, but it was pretty easy to keep track because I needed just a little faster than 3.5 MPH). I drank a shitton of water, Gatorade, and soda, filling my pack at every aid station. It wasn’t as hot as I’d expected, thanks to clouds and tree cover, but it was exceedingly humid, so I wasn’t peeing, even with good fluid intake. Most food just didn’t sound good though. I usually want things like PBJ sandwiches and fig newtons, but that day I really only wanted fruit and salty potatoes (and potato chips). I definitely wasn’t eating enough. At the very last aid station I had one whole strawberry! 

 Fairly early on, a rare flat section!

Troubles came starting probably around mile 30. My quads were pretty dead (which doesn’t usually happen to me – it didn’t happen at Bear Mountain, for instance), so downhill’s were hard, and when I did hit easy grades, I kept getting nasty side cramps. Finally, a little before mile 35 I remembered I had both “vitamin I” (Ibuprofen) and the extra salty margarita shot bloks in my pack. That turned my race around entirely for about the next 20 miles. My quads felt GREAT. My teeth felt disgusting, but my cramp disappeared, and when it tried to reemerge later, more salty shot blocks quelled it again. As evening approached, I knew it wasn’t going to get any hotter. I had also heard tell from multiple sources that around mile 50 the terrain got much easier, and if you had anything left in your legs at that point, you could make up some time. I was still barely clinging to 20 hour pace. I felt great. I was ridiculously optimistic. I was an idiot. 

I dubbed this "buttlog", though "crotch log" is probably more accurate :P

Running at night is hard. I have very little experience with it (apart from in the city, which is obviously not the same thing – you know, pavement, street lights, tipsy confidence). One fairly short full moon towpath run with RVRR back before I’d ever done a real trail run, I think. A little over one 20 mile loop pacing at Rocky Raccoon, mostly hiking. Nothing where I myself was racing. To add to the difficulties, for something like two full hours starting probably around 7pm (honestly I have no idea for sure), it thunderstormed like woah. This was a little unsettling, as I was mostly alone on the trail at that point, but also kind of refreshing and I was willing to embrace the drama of it. Plus, it kept the evening bugs away! I was a little less willing to embrace what it left behind when full night fell: mud. Mud and fog. Fog that made it hard to see where the mud was especially slippery and would slide you straight into a rock if you tried to do anything resembling running. Fog that made it hard to look for blazes (I’ll admit, I was probably a bit paranoid in constantly checking for them but damn did I not want to get lost at that point in the race!) while stepping carefully, even using both a headlamp and a small handheld flashlight. And with the dark came some darker thoughts as well, definitely worse than anything I’ve experienced before during a race. The time over which 20 hours definitively slipped away was the worst, as it was so hard to tell whether or not I was giving up prematurely. I remember very clearly thinking, even if I could speed up and turn things around, I don’t deserve it. I could have made up some time trusting the trail and not continuously verifying the presence of blazes, but it wouldn’t have been enough time. My legs might have been able to take speeding up as much as was required, but I absolutely would have fallen and hurt myself. I just didn’t have nearly good enough vision or coordination at that point – I was jumping at fireflies and weird shadows, too – and the trail conditions were genuinely treacherous. And I DID fall and bloody up my knee a bit with three miles to go.

Finish area (taken the evening before the race)

The final 5 miles were just LONG. Over 20 minutes each, even with mostly downhill. At that point I knew I would miss 20 hours but also knew that only a nasty fall would keep me from coming in under 22, so I just tried to keep going steady, hurrying only because I wanted to be DONE.

At the end there was a trophy, a patch, friends, wet wipes, and vegetarian chili. Official finish time was 20:37:12.

Finisher swag.

 Yesterday I ran a little over a mile total with Back on my Feet. My calves are very easily fatigued – quads too, but less so. My feet, however, are magically pristine. Only new black toenails were temporary, from mud. I wore Altra Superior 2.0s, injinji toe socks, and a liberal gooping of Trail Toes (a sample Maggie gave me after the Phunt 50k way back in January). My big toes busted through my socks, but my biggest problems were merely prune feet and just a bit of rubbing – not even a real blister. Shoes didn’t grip the slick rocks quite as well as I wanted, but they kept my feet happy and got me through the race.

On the drive home, I shed a fat, solitary tear for my failed Western States goals… and then promptly busted out in maniacal laughter, and that was that. The thing is, I know it’s something like a 5-year timeline once you start entering the lottery. I don’t WANT to get in next year, and I’m not even sure about the year after. Mentally, adding a year to a 5-year timeline doesn’t really change a whole lot about my outlook. I still want it just as much. It’s still very far away.

I did think about trying for another qualifying race – I’d had my eye on Rio Del Lago at one point anyway – but I’m 99% sure now that I’m going to wait and run my first hundred at Rocky Raccoon in February. From my experience earlier this year pacing the hundred and racing the fifty, I know that it’s a race I can get excited about and I feel like it’s one that plays to my strengths, such as they are, and that I can train for effectively and potentially do well at. Who wants to come with me to Texas?

Monday, June 8, 2015

Running blog! Taper plan! Laurel Highlands Goals!

Starting a blog seems like a good thing to do during a taper week, right? Laurel Highlands is on Saturday, and it's not only twenty miles longer than anything I've run before, but it's also a race that allows you to enter the Western States lottery.

I think I have a good taper plan. Saturday I ran down to the Linc and participated in a pop-up November Project workout (a bit over 6 miles total including some stairs, partner push-ups, and leg throws).

Then was on my feet all day volunteering at the ODDyssey half marathon expo.

Except for some floor snuggles with adoptable Shelby!

Yesterday I didn't run but walked probably around 8 miles and carb loaded with generous quantities of IPA. This morning I worked out with Back on my Feet: due to my recent trip to Arizona, I hadn't run with the group in over a week, and it was great to be back. This evening I'm heading up to Bryn Mawr for an Altra run and Q&A - I'm looking forward to testing out The One 2.5 and, since I just got paid on Friday, chances are high that I'll buy some new shoes! Tomorrow I'm hoping to do a Monster Milers dogjog - always a great choice for a taper week, because runs with adoptable dogs tend to be not only immensely satisfying but also fairly slow and short. Wednesday will be a morning double-header of Back on my Feet followed by November Project. And I probably won't run at all Thursday and Friday! My thought is it might be fun to take Woody for an easy hike in the Wissahickon on Thursday morning. I want to take him to "the spot" and down to the stream that leads to Devil's Pool to see if I can coax him to splash in the water, muahahaha. Lots of fun, easy stuff! Volunteering at the ODDyssey expo Saturday was definitely a good call because it allowed me to hang out with runners all day and not miss my usual long run too much. Plus, it's a super fun race put on by great people: I'm sad I can't run it this year, but I'm not sure I'd make it back from Laurel Highlands in time for the start, even if I am by some miracle still able to run at that point!

I'll wrap up with a quick account of my goals for Laurel Highlands. My A goal is to finish under 18 hours. I chose this goal mainly because after finishing the ECSNY 50-Miler at the beginning of May in just over 15 hours, I spent a couple weeks terrified because I had misremembered Laurel Highlands as having an 18-hour cutoff. My B goal is to finish in under 20, as that's what Western States says you need to use the race as a qualifier. I'll be honest, I'll be pretty upset if I finish the race but can't use it to enter the lottery. I'm definitely interested in the race itself, not only in its status as a qualifier, but qualifying is my primary running goal for this year, and I really don't  want to mess with my fall race calendar and try to get in a November hundred.