Thursday, May 29, 2014

Clarity

As I headed out for my run yesterday morning, I started writing this blog post in my head.  (Do you do that, too?  I write the best posts while I'm in the shower or driving or running, and the ones that actually make it to the internet really pale in comparison, to be honest.)  The title was going to be, "Loose Ends," or "Drifting," or "Undecided."  Something that reflected my current mental state about running and racing.  I can't say that I'm struggling with running, because I'm still totally getting out there and putting in some miles, but without a plan or a goal, I have definitely been feeling less motivated and excited about running.

I've been cruising around the internet, looking at races and trying to figure out what I really want.  Am I looking for another ultra?  A bunch of 5Ks?  Maybe a summer full of half marathons?  Nothing has really floated my boat, so I haven't plunked down any money or noodled out a training plan.

Less than half a mile into my run, my thoughts had drifted off topic and on to other pressing things, like my kids, summer vacation, what to eat for dinner, etc.  Big Boy's end of Track season banquet had been the night before, so I thought about that for awhile.  He had a good season, but in all honesty, not the stellar season I thought he had in him.  We all had some terrible allergies this spring, and he ran pretty inconsistently.  Don't get me wrong, he PR'd at every distance with some excellent times, so it's not like the season sucked!  I thought about how there was one particular race that he ran with his whole heart, where he beat his previous best time (and a very fast teammate), and I wondered what the secret formula was for that kind of performance.  Big Boy is very much like me, in that he occasionally psychs himself out of his best running by overthinking it.

I love this photo.  I may be the tiniest bit biased, but I think this is one handsome kid!
I've been working on the mental side of running and racing for years, and I definitely do not have the answers!  But like a weird bolt of lightning, right around Mile 4, I had a moment of total clarity and I knew exactly what I wanted for the rest of 2014:  I want the CIM.  I want to run my very best, and hopefully fastest, marathon at my favorite race.  I want to overcome, once and for all, that stupid voice in my head that says I'm not good enough.  I want to train hard enough and smart enough to squeeze in under four hours.  I want to run with my whole heart.

As I finished up the last two miles, I formulated a plan in my head (again, these tend to be better than the ones I capture on paper.  *le sigh*).  There are a couple of areas of weakness that I will need to work on in the next six months before the marathon:

  • Core strength and flexibility.  I'm actually pretty good about core work and cross training, but I think it's time to change things up and try something new.  This is way, way, waaaaaaaaaaaaay outside my comfort zone, but I am looking into doing some yoga.  I've never been to a yoga class before, so wish me luck and tell me your stories about how awesome it is, please!
  • Racing nerves.  This one is easily my weakest link.  I am absolutely guilty of sabotaging myself into terrible race performances, so the best course of action here is pretty obvious:  I need to race more.  To that end, I have found a handful of races in a variety of distances over the next few months.
  • The right training plan.  For last year's CIM, I used the Hanson's marathon training book.  It was awesome, except for that whole DNF thing that happened.  I've used Hal Higdon and the Runner's World free plans, too, with varying success.  I'm working on my own version of  a hybrid plan of the elements that I liked from each of these - high volume, consistent speedwork, short taper, plenty of recovery miles, and confidence-building long runs.  I'll let you know what it looks like when I get it put together.

I'm excited about this!  I feel hopeful about the rest of the year, and I'm happy to give my running some purpose again.

Are you consistent with cross-training?  What's your favorite type to do?
Do you use other people's training plans or make your own?  Which one has worked the best for you?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Avenue of the Vines Half Marathon Race Report

Call me crazy - "Crazy!" - but I'm not really a fan of the half marathon distance, in spite of the fact that I've now run two of them in the last two months.  For me, it's too long to run fast, but also too short to run at a leisurely pace.  I'd much rather suffer for a very short amount of time, or all day.  Preferably all day.  Honestly, the real reason I like ultras so much is that I get to run nice and slow.  And eat a lot.  But, I digress...

So I ran a half marathon today!  I totally signed up for this thing on a whim, pushed by my ego's need to race something after last week's not-entirely-satisfying 50K.  I haven't tried to run anything fast for quite some time, and even though I was pretty sure I didn't have any "fast" in me, I wanted to see what I could do.  My goal for the day was to try and run sub-2:30, and I thought I might get it a little closer to 2:15 if I was feeling good.

I deliberately kept the day low-key, leaving my cheering fans at home and heading to the race venue by myself.  On a scale of 1-triathlon, my nerves were a very manageable "4."  The butterflies were flying, but I didn't feel like crying or throwing up, so that was good.  I got there in plenty of time to use the port-o-potties and take a selfie at the starting line.


The race venue was sort of out in the middle of nowhere, on a two-lane country road at a winery.  A lovely setting, for sure, but something of a clusterfuck for parking.  The starting time came and went and the line of cars waiting to park was still incredibly long.  It seems to me that the online race description should have included a warning about the necessity of arriving early, but oddly, nobody asked me.

Anyhoo, we were off just fifteen minutes later than we were supposed to run, which wasn't dreadful.  The weather was absolutely gorgeous - mid-fifties with a few clouds and a brisk wind.  I had lined up somewhere near the mid- to back of the pack, hoping to start at a conservative pace.  I really didn't know what my legs had in store for me, and I didn't want to blow them up in the first mile!  I had my headphones on and I just wanted to find a nice groove and stick with it for as long as I could.

The first mile was the longest mile of my entire life.  Seriously.  It was weird.  The street wasn't too crowded - there were under 500 people racing - but I was having a tough time navigating through everyone.  I resisted doing a lot of weaving, because I didn't want to waste energy and add mileage, but I also didn't want to get stuck behind somebody too slow or go out with somebody too fast.  Mostly I tried to stay right in the center of the road, both metaphorically and physically.  Nobody likes to run there because of the reflector bumps, but if you watch where you're going it's not too bad.  Probably what made the mile seem so long is that I refused to look at my Garmin.  There's nothing more soul-crushing than thinking you're flying on that first mile, only to look at your watch and see that you're barely beating the snails.

Somewhere in the second mile, the crowd started to thin out and I snuck a peek at my average pace.  Not too shabby!!  I was actively holding myself back, going out conservatively, feeling really good and strong, and yet somehow my pace was pretty much the fastest thing I've seen in 2014.  Nice!  I told myself to just hang back until Mile 5, where I would do a gut check and then hopefully pick up the pace.

So, I picked up the pace anyway.  I had a few people in front of me that I really wanted to get past.  One guy was weaving through the crowd like crazy and yet not really getting farther ahead of me and it was driving me nuts.  I threw out my fishing line and reeled him in.  Done.  Next up was Lululemon Girl.  Then Pigtails.

I got passed by a few people in the first miles:  a woman in her... 50s, maybe?  Older than me, but hard to tell by how much.  Another woman younger than me wearing a camo hat.  And a woman maybe my age or so who was wearing an Olympic distance triathlon shirt, who was clearly out of my league in the badassery department.  They were all super strong runners, so I was fine with them being ahead of me.

I felt good.  I reeled in Knee Braces and Red Shirt Guy, then K-T Tape Girl.  I walked through the aid station and drank some water/spilled some water on myself and K-T got back ahead of me.  I reeled her back in.  I was starting to gain a little bit on Triathlon Shirt and that was pretty exciting.  It took me until somewhere late in Mile 4 before I passed her.

I don't usually run with the desire to pass other people.  I mean, I'm competitive, but mostly it's against myself, my limits, or my PRs.  It just so happens that other people are running the race with me, ya know?  Well, and there's also that thing where I usually go out way too fast and fade by the halfway point, so it's mostly other people passing me.  But today, with my relatively conservative start, it was the best distraction to pick a person out of the crowd and set the mini-goal of catching up to them.  It totally kept my mind occupied and my legs turning over!

Next up was Camo Hat, but she was running so strong I wasn't sure if I could reel her in.  I gave myself the goal of catching her by Mile 6, but it was closer to Mile 7 before I got her.  In fact, by the time I caught her, I was already up to Bra Straps Girl (who was going to be my next fish).  Nice, a two-fer!!

It was starting to get pretty windy by this point, and so far on this big rectangle race course we'd enjoyed a not-too-terrible crosswind and a really awesome tail wind, but it was time to turn it around and head back.  Into the wind.  Boo!  Thankfully, we did a couple of zig-zags so we battled the headwind, then got the relief of the crosswind again.

I picked off Ironman, Ninja Guy and Very Yellow Guy, but I wasn't going to get any faster than this.  I was at max speed and starting to really look forward to the aid stations so I could take my little walking breaks.  It was getting pretty warm, even with the wind, and at one of the aid stations they were handing out wet sponges to cool off.  My average pace was still coming down - in fact, I'd chosen a new time goal by this point - but I had caught up to the people who were really running this pace.  There were no more fish to reel in and I started to struggle a little.  I wanted to catch Very Yellow Guy Number Two, but he stayed firmly in front of me.  I passed a few people who were walking, but that's sort of like shooting fish in a barrel.  Not very sporting.

I turned my music up even louder and kept moving forward.  I thought about how much happier I'd be with myself at the end of the race if I didn't walk.  I hate crapping out and I knew my legs could take this abuse for a little longer.  I told myself I could slow down a little, but I couldn't quite do the running math to figure out if I'd make my new time goal if I slowed down too much.  I had come this far, I didn't want to miss it now.

The miles were still clicking by, even though they were getting tough.  I don't think I've ever been so happy to see an aid station at Mile 12.  I walked a bit and drank a bit, but it was a short-lived joy, because at the mile marker, we turned west again, straight into that headwind for the final mile!  At the aid station, I saw Older Than Me Lady and I briefly entertained the idea of trying to pass her, but man, she took off!

We could see the finish line for that entire last mile, which was awesome and terrible at the same time.  Fighting the wind was really hard, and I swear that arch didn't seem like it was getting closer!  I kept checking my Garmin.  I was about 99% certain that I was going to make my time goal, but only if I could actually get to the finish!

I took out my headphones and enjoyed the crowd at the finish line.  I fought back some happy tears.  I was here!  I did it!  I just ran my second fastest half marathon ever!!


Official finish time 1:58:46, 116/474 overall, 5/15 AG


The medal was good-sized, the post-race food was yummy and the on course photographers were printing out free photos to take home (I didn't stay long enough to get mine, but they'll be online in a day or two.  I love free race photos!!)  Apparently there was a commemorative wine glass for finishers, too, but I didn't see them.  Sad face!  Overall, I thought it was a really well put-together small race.  I'm super happy with my spur of the moment decision to run it!

While I was eating my post-race veggie wrap, Camo Hat came up to me and we started chatting.  I told her she was an awesome rabbit and that I'd spent several miles chasing her.  She laughed and told me she'd been doing the same to me and to others.  It helped her get through the race, her first half marathon!  As I was heading out to my car, I saw Older Than Me Lady driving away (she beat me to the car, too!) and she rolled down her window and told me great race.  She knew I was chasing her and I complimented her on her amazing finish.  Other runners are so awesome!  I never saw Triathlon Shirt again, I hope she had a good day.

How do you feel about the half marathon distance, love it or hate it??

Do you like to pass the miles by chasing rabbits/reeling in fish, or just finding your groove and zoning out??


Monday, May 12, 2014

Finding My Limits - the Gold Rush 50K Race Report

Astute readers will have looked at that title and thought, "Hey, I thought you were running a 100K!"  Yeah.  Not so much.

UltraIronHubs has this thing he says to me after a race doesn't go exactly like I had hoped:  Win or learn, there is no lose.  And the good news is that I learned a lot, so I definitely don't feel like a loser!  I finished a really tough 50K and I got to spend the day with my favorite husband - that's a winning combination right there!

But about that 100K...

For the first time maybe ever, I did a great job managing my nerves.  I knew I could run 63 miles.  I was physically and mentally prepared for a tough day.  My training had been fantastic and I had learned so much over the last few months about fueling and pacing.  I was as ready as I was ever going to be.

Parked car pre-race selfie!
The day started off very nicely, with perfect weather and relatively easy terrain for the first ten miles.  UIH and I kept an easy pace at the back of the pack and were eating and drinking so well that we both had to go to the bathroom by the second aid station at Mile 8, which was already closer to Mile 9 by my Garmin.  Hmmm, little bit of foreshadowing right there.

Cruising into the first aid station at dawn.
It wasn't much longer before things started coming unglued, unfortunately.  During our pre-race scouting runs, UIH and I had had a really tough run through this section and try as I might, I couldn't get that image out of my head.  My hands were starting to swell, in spite of what seemed like the right amount of water and salts.  We met up with some hikers who asked us if there was a race going on and UIH said, "Yep, but there's almost nobody behind us!"  He was sort of joking, but it was true and for some reason the idea of being in last place totally fucked with my head.  By the time we got to aid stations #3 and #4, my Garmin was significantly over the official mileage, even though we had been on the marked course the entire time.  I was giving it everything I had - in fact, I even worried that I might be expending too much energy too early in the day - and not only were we at the very, very back of the pack, but we were dangerously close to the course cutoff times.  This wasn't fun anymore.

I fretted, and my stomach started to churn.  I walked a lot, trying to clear my head and give my body time to figure out what was the what.  When we saw my sister at aid station #5, I burst into tears.  I was so disappointed!  The day had gone from awesome to crap in less than 18 miles, how in the world was I going to run another 45?  The answer:  I wasn't.  During the starting line announcements, the RD had told us that the 100K runners could opt down to the 50K distance at the turnaround, but I made the call right here.  I was going to finish the 50K, of course, but that was all.

Portrait of a day gone sour:  Me smiling through tears and UIH on the phone, cancelling some previously made arrangements for our kids.
We headed out of the aid station and even though I was throwing myself a little pity party about not completing my "A" goal for the race, my overwhelming feeling was one of relief.  I wasn't going to make the 100K in time, and now I could focus on just getting to the 50K before the time cutoff.  It was still going to be a stretch, believe me, but it felt a lot more manageable than trying to sustain my pace for 12 more hours.

On we ran.  The terrain was getting a lot tougher, but we were familiar with it, so I just focused on moving forward.  UIH assured me repeatedly that he wasn't disappointed to be stopping at the 50K, that he was just as relieved as I was.  He has been having some strange hip tightness recently that was flaring up pretty badly while we were running.  We both agreed that the full distance would be a lot more likely to result in injury.

You can't really have a bad day when this is your view.
When we reached the aid station that was allegedly at Mile 21.4, I was feeling a lot better.  We were way over halfway done, my stomach was starting to cooperate a little better, and even though the toughest hills were still ahead of us, so were some lovely long downhills and lots of runnable parts.  I refilled my hydration pack and grabbed some food at the table.  We were getting ready to head out and talking about how much time we had until the cutoff, when my sister, trying to put a positive spin on things, remarked, "You're doing great!  You're only six minutes off.  You've totally got this!"  Wait, what?!?  We were now BEHIND the cutoff time somehow??  WTF?  The average pace on my Garmin was almost a minute less than the advertised cutoff pace!  But my mileage was also well over a mile past the advertised distance of this aid station.  UGH!

Stupid long course!  Stupid cutoff time!  Now I had a real fire in my belly.  I may not be able to complete the 100K, but there was absolutely no fucking way I was going to run 50K of hard terrain and not have my name listed in the official results!  The next two miles were all very steep climbing, so there was no time to be made up here, but I picked it up to a good hustle every time I could.  The downhills were steep, but I ran them to the best of my ability.  Eventually, our average pace started creeping downward.  We were making up time, I just had to keep moving!

Sorry, Andrea!  This guy was super slow-moving, thank goodness.  He really couldn't have cared less about all the runners on his path.

More pretty views.  This is definitely one of the most scenic courses I've ever run!
I was getting tired, but on we ran.  At this point, the distance on my Garmin was so far over the course description that I was having trouble doing the math.  I knew we had gotten faster.  I knew we still had until 1 pm to finish, but what I didn't know was exactly how far we still had to run.  We cheered for the 100K runners coming back at us (it's an out-and-back course), and they kept telling us we were getting close, it was just another big hill away.  And finally, there it was!  We could see the finish line for quite some time before we reached it, but eventually we made it!  And we even had 12 minutes to spare!

Finished under the time cutoff!!  Official finish time - 7:47:59.  Yeah, the clock was a little off.  At the starting line, there was a countdown clock and when it reached zero, nobody said, "Go!" so we all stood around for a bit, not sure if we were supposed to start running or what.  It was sort of funny.

With our amazing crew, aka my sister!  Funny story:  she was taking our picture when this random guy came up and started offering all this advice about how to get the best shot.  Face this way, the background is prettier.  Put your phone sideways for a better view.  Finally, she just handed him her phone and let him take the shot.  It's a phone, dude, we're not professionals!  But this is a really nice picture.  :)
Well, I sure as heck didn't win, but I also didn't lose, so what did I learn?

  • My sister is, hands down, the best ultra crew in the world.
  • I'm pretty awesome, but I'm not quite awesome enough.  Maybe the 100K distance just isn't going to happen for me.  This isn't a woe-is-me, this is realism.  I'm not fast.  It took every single fiber of my being to make this 8-hour cutoff at the 50K, and that was only because I knew I would be done at 50K.  There was absolutely no way I could have sustained that pace to finish the full hundy.  I think my only chance of going the distance is to find a race with a much comfier cutoff.  Say, 18 hours or so.
  • I worry too much (you're not surprised by this revelation and neither am I).  I thought having UIH with me would make me worry less about the race and it totally did, but instead I fretted about everything else!  The kids, the timing, other people who were shuttling my kids to their activities, whether or not UIH was doing okay, if he was upset at me for cutting the day short... and on and on.  When I'm running alone, I know he has everything else in the world handled.
  • Sometimes your "A" race isn't really your "A" race.  It happens.
  • Fueling is a fine art.  The eating and drinking schedule that worked perfectly for me at the AR50 a month ago netted me a crazy overactive bladder and hands so swollen I almost couldn't bend my fingers at the end of the race.  I'm still not 100% certain what the dealio was with my fueling, but it was definitely off.
  • Three ultras in a row was a little more than these old bones could handle.  I feel completely fine today, soreness-wise, but I am burnt, exhausted, not excited about putting any more races on my calendar, and yet strangely restless and "unfinished" from not completing the race I had planned.  Post-race blues set in within an hour of crossing the finish line.  I think I am officially overtrained.  I'll give myself a week off to get my head back in the right place and cook up a plan for the rest of the year.


Just about 4,000' of upness is no joke.
I don't want you to think that everything about this race was sour grapes, so let's end this on a positive note, shall we??  Here are some things that I am grateful for:

  • Being allowed to officially drop down to the 50K distance.  Twenty-three of us who had registered for the 100K got to the turnaround and said, "Hey, thanks, I'm good here."  The RD deserves huge kudos for letting us still have the finisher's schwag rather than a big, fat DNF next to our names!
  • Ah, yes, the schwag.  A very nice gender-specific shirt and a pint glass:

When we were handed the shirts in the morning, I was sad that it said "Ultra," rather than 100K.  Later in the day, of course, I was very, very glad that the distance was non-specific.  I will wear my shirt proudly!

  • Family and friends who are willing to crew for us and are super awesome cheerleaders when the day gets out of control.  My sister really stepped up her game with cheer cards that involved stickers, beads and special cutouts.  My good friend S (who was supposed to crew, but instead got recruited into kid pickup), made this amazing display to greet us on our return home:

I get to see this every time I drive into my garage.  I'm a lucky girl!



Monday, May 5, 2014

Embracing the Suck

It's been a month since the AR50 and I think I am finally, just now, almost fully recovered.  It's been a terrific month, full of very easy-paced (though I would argue, not easy) running and some lovely trail time with UltraIronHubs.  Just this week, on one of my runs, my legs felt wonderful and fresh - the first time I've felt like that in what seems like a very long time.  It's official:  I'm old and recovery just ain't what it used to be!

My next race includes some hurdling.
While I don't feel particularly spry and energetic, I do feel as ready as I'm capable of being for my next race, the Gold Rush 100K, which is coming up this Saturday, May 10th.  *gulp!*

So that means it's time to talk about what happened last year.  I signed up for the inaugural Gold Rush pretty much as soon as I heard about it.  It was perfect timing on my schedule and I was totally amped about running another ultra.  Training went really well.  I won't say that I was completely prepared, though, because I really didn't pre-scout the course much, but I was doing plenty of mileage and I felt great.  The only things I worried about were the time cutoff and the weather.  The time cutoff was aggressive, which meant that I was going to have to run my absolute best or miss it, and the weather was predicted to be an unusually blistering 95+ degrees.  You know I don't do well in the heat.  It's my own fault, of course, since I rarely make myself train in the heat, but still.  As is my usual MO, I fretted endlessly and I gotta admit, my confidence was not at an all-time high race morning.

It ended up being the perfect storm of sucking:  the weather was brutal, my nerves were stretched too thin, and I went out too fast to try and catch that cutoff.  I was crying, dehydrated, puking, and more than just a little delirious from heat exhaustion when I missed the time cutoff at Mile 44.  DNF.

So why the hell did I sign up again this year?  In a word, redemption.  I want this finish.  I deserve this finish.  And here's how I'm going to get it:

  • I recruited UIH to run with me.  Company is good when the trail gets lonely, and UIH is the best company ever!
  • I trained waaaaaaaay more miles.  (Was that even a complete sentence?  The grammar is atrocious.)  My recovery/cutback/I'm-feeling-lazy base mileage recently is what my super peak training used to be last year.  My legs have a whole lot of miles on them and they can totally handle this.
  • I... wait for it...  actually trained in the heat.  I know you're shocked.  Believe me, so am I.  In fact, I didn't even set out to do heat training, it just sort of happened.  Which is why it's been so successful, because you know I wouldn't make myself do that shit if I didn't have to.  My schedule is so freakin' crazy lately with lots of clients - this is NOT a complaint!  I love being busy! - and I've found myself squeezing in my own training later and later in the day.  Plus I have a running client who can only meet in the afternoons and evenings, so I've even been running some doubles.  Suddenly, I find myself running comfortably in temperatures above 75 degrees.  Who knew that was even possible?
  • I trained on the actual course.  Nothing beats knowing what's coming on race day.  I've seen every single mile of this course, and none of it made me cry.  So I got that going for me!
  • The Gold Rush RD gave me an extra hour to finish this year.  Okay, they actually gave everybody an extra hour.  I suspect they were a little disappointed with the 81 finishers out of 250+ starters last year.  Ya think?

So far, the weatherman is predicting a high of 85 on Saturday, which means that I am predicting my fifth ultramarathon finish.  Woo hoo!