28 October 2013

Resting and Racing: Plan E

"Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you."
-Psalm 116:7
Red Rock Canyon
I keep changing my racing plans. Right when I think that it's settled for the year, dangit! something compels me to tweak it once more. In case you haven't been following closely as to the evolution of this year's racing schedule, allow me to recap:

PLAN A (Feb, 2013):
The original plan was to dip my toes into ultramarathons by running a 55k in February and 50k in April & December. Threw in a couple of marathons in March & October and a tough 25 miler in May. This seemed reasonable in light of my work schedule as I was leaving a demanding job 45 min away and planned to find another less stressful job locally.

PLAN B (March, 2013):
Met a new running pal who asked if I'd pace her at Hardrock. Met another runner who invited me on a R2R2R run in April. Pacing HR meant that my 25 miler got bumped up to a 50 miler as I then prepared for a summer of pacing 50-ish miles at several mountain 100's. Bumped my December 50k up to 50 miles since I'd have experience at the distance by then. Decided to suspend the job search until summer, to focus on training.

PLAN C (Aug, 2013):
Instead of pacing 50 at The Bear 100 in Sept, I planned to use the pacing opportunities at Bighorn, Hardrock, Leadville & Wasatch as training runs for my first 100 mile attempt. I made a plan to run The Bear with my friend, rather than pace her half the distance. No time for job hunting and I had a ball all summer long training and pacing at the races.

PLAN D (Oct, 2013):
With training fatigue setting in, I decided to forgo running TNF 50 in December, thereby ending my season in October. Mentally, I wanted a break from training. I had started increasing my weekly mileage back in November, 2012 so I had been at it for about 9 months. Taking a couple of months off sounded really good earlier this month.

PLAN E (Oct, 2013):
Oct 18th, I got an email from the TNF folks reminding me that the San Fran 50 miler was just 8 weeks away. At that point, I was about a week into my off-season with no running planned for at least a month. I tried getting out on my bike, but found it a real pain in the arse both in finding a safe place to ride (where cars aren't screaming by at 65 mph) and with my butt sore after 30 min on my saddle. The next day I went out for an easy run of <hour and it felt really good. 
Palmer Park
I've continued to run easy for an hour or so every other day for the past week. The legs feel rested and it's been great just running for enjoyment and not on a training schedule. So, I've decided to go ahead and run TNF 50 in December. This has been a year of taking advantage of opportunities so I hate to pass this one up. It will probably be the only time I run in the Marin Headlands. With that settled, I'm going to take it easy for one more week and begin a short bout of training (5 weeks) to prepare for the 50 miler.

I've started the job hunt again, but the market isn't favorable so I'm not expecting anything to materialize right away. In order to adjust to a more long-term unemployment situation, I've scaled back the childcare/preschool and being more of a stay-at-home mom, which is both awesome and exhausting. It also makes training a little trickier, but with at least one kid in school, I can arrange preschool for the other that gives me at least 2-3 days to train outside of weekends.

With limited finances, this means I need to be pickier about my races. Most of the races I'm interested in require travel so there's always gas, lodging and food expense to consider on top of the race fee. I was disappointed to find out that my favorite 50k jumped in price to over $100, which is hard to justify when I can run hard, beautiful 50 milers for $20 less. Both in terms of the cost per mile or cost per hour, it's over my price point. I can run that course unsupported anytime I want, so I'm going to pass on racing it next year.

With TNF 50 on the calendar and Red Hot off, I'm going to head out to Moab in a few weeks to explore some more trails with my friend Meghan. I look forward to sharing some amazing desert scenery with y'all again. Last February's run with her was pretty spectacular (blog post).

Other than that, I'm getting pretty excited about my 2014 season. After plenty of time to rest the legs after TNF 50, I'll begin to slowly rebuild my running fitness in Feb. My season will kick off in March with the Salida Marathon. I'm planning another R2R2R run in April that will help prepare me for Jemez 50, which will be a training run for the Bryce 100. After that, everything is pretty fluid, with plans to be at Hardrock and running another road marathon in the fall.

With the Red Sox in the World Series, I've been missing New England a lot. I needed a good laugh and Justin always delivers. Having lived in Boston and Maine, I'm very familiar with I-95, the Hampton tolls and crossing the 
Piscataqua River bridge. Steve Pero, this is for you. (Warning: Language) 

Live free and happy trails,


18 October 2013

Chicago, In Pictures

As promised, a separate post of some of the beautiful things we experienced in Chicago. With good friends Marlynn & Kathy, I enjoyed fine art, street art, architecture, high tea, modern dance and the original Uno's pizzeria to name some of the highlights:
I LOVE public transportation!
Marlynn & I enjoying the Tiffany Dome at the Cultural Center
In a world of concrete, planters were everywhere
Chicago River from the Magnificent Mile
Trump Tower was my favorite architectural design
Day 2: Kathy & I waiting for the train
Art Institute
Got our Seurat on.
Chagall's Windows (1 of 3) were stunning
They had a great collection of O'Keeffe...
...Tiffany too.
Afternoon Tea at The Drake Hotel
After the marathon was over, we watched Hubbard Street Dance perform their fall series. So beautiful. I found this short clip that gives just a taste of what we enjoyed:

The final day I was on my own and walked off my soreness by seeing more of the city:

The Bean
I didn't know it started here
Mosaic near our El station
Flowers near Lakeshore Drive high rises
Navy Pier attractions
Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows

I loved Chicago and can see why it's called the Second City to New York. I look forward to going back again someday and enjoying more of it's delights. I think I just scratched the surface in my three days there.

Happy Trails,


16 October 2013

Chicago Marathon Race Report

“When you do the things that you can do, you will find a way.” 
A.A. Milne
Chicago skyline from Navy Pier
Distance: 26.2 miles
Elevation: 116 ft
Time: 4:31

These are the conclusions that I have after my weekend in Chicago and running the marathon:

1. Chicago is awesome, perhaps as awesome as Boston (my former hometown)
2. The Chicago Marathon is still a well organized machine (Carey has it dialed)
3. Running a marathon as fast as you can is HARD (Respect!)
4. I prefer lollygagging for 30 hours to running hard for 4 ('cause I'm lazy)
5. I need to run a road marathon every year to become a faster ultrarunner (to combat all that lollygagging)

Despite my lack of training and running too many ultras coming into this race, I still managed to have a good day. My one rule was "No Walking". I knew that once my hips and legs got stiff and sore (they did, within the first hour) that the temptation to walk would be strong. So it became a mental game to will myself to keep going as fast as my stems would go. My thoughts were reduced down to just putting one foot in front of the other and grabbing liquids at every aid station.   

Since I didn't want to invest in a new pair of road shoes, I used my Scott eRide Grips, which were relegated to my flat speed training runs due to being about a half-size too small and bruising my toenails on descents. They worked really well along with my Drymax socks. I kept things simple by just packing a couple of gels to supplement the water & Gatorade available throughout the run. It was a nice change from all the prep needed for an ultra. 
Got braids (thanks to Marlynn) and ready to roll!
Basically, my race played out like this: I averaged 9-ish m/m for the first couple of hours as I maintained a quick cadence (180 - 190 steps per min) while running just above conversational pace. The third hour I averaged 10-ish m/m. The fourth hour I was averaging 11-ish m/m and my cadence had fallen to about 170 stp. Overall, I averaged 10 minute miles.

I have never pushed that hard for that long in my life. I've pushed hard when doing tempo runs for 30-45 minutes, but even those were periodic in frequency. I need to change that in 2014, making speed work a weekly part of my training. 

Despite running on unroad-trained, unspeed-trained and 85-mile-fatigued legs, I still managed to PR by 14 minutes with a 4:31 finish. As I mentioned in my last post, my best official time was 5:09 ('98). My best unofficial time was 4:45 ('09). Competitor Mag gave us the stats on the 39k that finished the race and I was happy to see that I was a mid-packer. Woot Woot! The average finishing time was 4:32 and among women, the average ranged from 4:42 - 5:20. It's nice not to be in the back-of-the-pack for once!
The toughest tempo run ever!
So, I'm happy with my finish and glad to see myself push through the discomfort and get the best time I could under the circumstances. But as I think about my 2014 race schedule, I think that keeping a road marathon in the mix would be a good thing. I don't normally push myself hard for long periods of time and training for a marathon PR would help me to develop more speed that will only benefit my longer distance running. Next time however, I will devote some time to preparing specifically for it.

I expected to get shin splints from this race, but what I ended up with was tendinitis in my right Achilles. My quads were extra sore too and I couldn't walk down stairs properly until today. Now that I'm in my off-season, there will be no running for a few weeks. Me and the bike will get reacquainted in the meantime. 

Once again, I'm impressed with what a well organized race this is. With over 40k people starting, everything from packet pickup to the post-race festivities was well done. The communication, the volunteers and the runner support was top notch. Little things like putting a sticker on our foil blanket so we can proceed hands free, the volunteer offering Tylenol bottle next to the podiatry tent, the bag of ice for our sore legs, the wet towel for wiping salt/sweat off as well as the recovery drink and snack box in a bag were just what I needed. There were so many massage therapists that I didn't have to wait and they took extra time with me (45 min!) which was awesome. My only complaint was the lame tech shirt design, which they do in order to get you to buy a better one at the Expo. Good thing I don't care about the shirt. For anyone with a hankering to do a big city marathon, this is one I recommend after doing it two times in 15 years. Well played, Carey Pinkowski. I'll be back again for a 3rd running someday.

I'm going to do a follow up report on my downtime in Chicago because it's such a great city and it deserves a separate post. In the meantime, I'm enjoying time with the family, much needed rest, race planning and job hunting, which will add another challenge as I continue to train and run ultras.

Big thanks to my husband Jonathan, who has supported me this year as I've pursued these running adventures. He's been Mr. Mom to our kids while I've been away and missed out on his mountain bike rides. He understands the desire to play in the mountains and need to push one's physical limits, even if he doesn't get why anyone would want to do it for an entire day or more. I couldn't do what I'm doing without him. Thank you honey, I love you!
Me & J, hiking up Flattop, outside Anchorage

Happy Trails,


09 October 2013

My Kind of Town, Chicago is...

"Loving Chicago is like loving a woman with a broken nose."
-Nelson Algren
Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park
Before I was a mountain girl, I was a big city girl -- a culture-making type of big city like New York, Boston or London. I am more at home in the city than anywhere else. I love the energy, the diversity of cultures, the ease of public transportation, the variety of eateries, the museums and seeing really great performance art (music, theater, dance). I know it's hard for many of my ultrarunning friends to understand, but I love big cities, even more than mountains.

Back when I was 27 and a road runner living in Nashville, I made two goals for myself prior to turning 30: to pay off all my debt and to run a marathon. It took three years to complete the first goal; using Hal Higdon's novice plan, training for a marathon took just 4 months from a 3 mile base.

I chose the Chicago Marathon as my debut marathon, probably because it was easy to fly there and it was FLAT. I had never visited Chicago and with Lori, Marianne, Kerrie, Mike & Tony for company & moral support, I ran it in 1998 in a time of 5:09. As with any first-time race distance, I just wanted to finish and I was happy with my time, slow as it was.
Kerrie, me & Marianne after my finish
I loved the crowds and energy of the people cheering as we ran through more than 20 different neighborhoods, each with their own flavor. It felt like the whole town had gathered to cheer on 30,000 of us runners. In some places, people would stand several deep, kids with outstretched palms for a high five and the Rocky theme blazing from the second story windows of brownstones. It was a beautiful day in every sense of the word.
Getting 45,000 people across the start line is like herding cattle 
Start of the race!
Chicago Theater
The spectators are the best!
Mariachi Band
Old Town
The Finish
I ran only one other official marathon after that -- The Disney Marathon -- and converted to trails in 2002. I did PR on a homemade course back in 2009 (4:45) when I had a sudden urge to run a marathon just before getting pregnant with child #2. My long runs were only 6 miles, so I just doubled that distance two weekends in a row and mapped out a looped course near my mother-in-law's house. Taught me how little training is needed to actually finish the distance. 
Terria & I at Disney 2000 where I finished in 5:25, thanks to nausea 
The final lap of my Mother's Day Marathon 2009
The best aid station table ever & cheering squad
My finishers wreath made by neighbor Laurel
I'd been considering a return to Chicago for a few years now, thinking that a 15th anniversary run was in order. I own the Spirit of the Marathon documentary and it always jazzes me for running a road marathon with tens of thousands of people. I've been curious to see how I'd do with trail running (now ultrarunning) legs, assuming that with my high-altitude lungs, I'd smash my current PR by at least 30 min. So I joined the 45,000 people that flooded the Active.com servers last February and managed to register, despite the server crash that led to a lottery for those that couldn't on Day 1. 

My year of ultrarunning then exploded with opportunity and by this summer it was apparent that I would be attempting my first 100 miler just two weeks before the marathon. So, with the effects of running/hiking/walking 85 miles still felt on my legs, I'm headed to the Windy City this Friday. Since I'm still fatigued and haven't training specifically for it, I'm not expecting my best time, but still hoping to finish in the 4:15 - 4:30 time frame. 

Regardless of my time, I expect it to be fun. Two of my dearest friends of the last 20 years are joining me for a girl's weekend and we'll enjoy the sights, some good food & likely some hilarity together. 

When I think of Chicago, I think of architecture, hot dogs, deep dish pizza, comedy & the blues. Here's a little Clapton & friends for your enjoyment. You're welcome.

Happy Trails,


*All marathon pics shamelessly pinched from the race website archives

03 October 2013

Bear 100 Race Report (My first DNF!)

"Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement."
-C.S. Lewis
Distance: 85 miles 
Elevation: 19,500 ft
Time: 31:25

Well, I guess every run can't go to plan, can it? In a year of one incredible race experience after another, there's a point where you may overshoot your abilities, have to accept defeat and take note of the lessons learned. Such was my race last weekend. It took a bunch of miles to come to terms with the undesired outcome, but once I did I was ok with it.

Participating in The Bear 100 was the pinnacle and highlight of my inaugural year of ultrarunning. It still feels so unreal that attempting to complete 100 miles became the focus of my pacing over the summer. If you go back to my Feb 9th post, my longest run planned for 2013 was 55k (34 miles). By the end of Feb, I had a R2R2R invite and opportunity to pace at five mountain 100's. With Hardrock pacing on the agenda, my training went into high gear to prepare myself for a 50 miler in the spring. What a monumental change of plans occurred in a matter of a few weeks...

Getting back to The Bear, the run can be broken down descriptively into four distinct parts:

1. 45 miles of awesome and some blister management 
2. 7 miles of slog and nausea
3. 17 surprisingly sweet overnight miles 
4. 16 muddy miles of increasing anxiety that my official finish was slipping away
Overall, I had a pretty good run/hike/walk in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. I had a few blisters that I had to take care of starting about 15 miles in and that sucked about 30 min out of my race time. I felt great otherwise and was eating and drinking without issue. Steve Pero was crewing for Deb, Drew (Deb's brother) and I and always had Deb's famous "Hardrock" potato soup for us as well as something for the road, like quesadillas. I usually had a gel or a package of chews each hour along with this.
Drew, me & Deb at the start
Top of the first big climb, looking back at Logan
I shared some great miles in the first half with Deb, Hans-Dieter, Allie from Montana, Misty from Salt Lake, Chris from Toronto & Iva from Boulder. 
Hans en route to his 140th 100-mile finish
It was foggy and sleeting off & on the first morning
Deb getting it done
I hoped not to end up like this fella

Chris working on his first 100 miler
The sound of rushing water was heard throughout the course
Running through the cow pasture
40-ish miles in and feeling good
After the sun set, as Chris and I were hiking up the second big climb up Blind Hollow (Mile 48-ish), I started getting nauseous. This is also where we encountered the first shoe-sucking mud. Grabbing on to tree branches to pull ourselves up out of the mire didn't allow for any lessening of the intensity. Once past the mud, I started slowing in an effort to let my stomach settle, but to no avail. After another 30 minutes, I started to induce vomiting to reset things. That took another 15 min or so. With the snails pace that I was keeping in that section, I was at least an hour overdue when I arrived at Tony Fork (Mile 52). 

I was shivering from the cold and sat in Steve's truck to get warm, add layers, and get more calories in me. I sat there for almost an hour repairing myself before I finally headed out into the night. Thankfully, my stomach accepted the food & drink and I felt great about 20 min later.

One of the delightful discoveries I had during this race was checking in with myself emotionally during the night and finding myself happy, despite not seeing a soul except at aid stations. Deb was ahead of me at that point so I just ran my own race and enjoyed the stars and being alone with my thoughts. I remember doing a lot of praying during that time. I was very alert and aware of course markings and never had trouble with sleepiness. The only downside was the packed down snow that had turned steep descents into ice, slowing me again to a walk as I sought out the parts of trail that had traction or when I couldn't, crabwalking down the steepest parts. Thankfully I didn't injure myself; Deb unfortunately ended up twisting her knee and had to drop shortly after.  

By the time I got to Logan River (Mile 69) I was a good 2 hours behind the avg pace for 35 hour finishers. I saw Chris as he was waking from a 15 min nap and heading out, looking strong. With the rising sun to give me energy, I started applying more effort to speed up a little. I was still hours ahead of the cutoff, but the cutoffs get more difficult to meet as the race progresses and I didn't want to skirt them any more than necessary. 

Somewhere Saturday morning
Steve met me on the trail about a mile out of Beaver Lodge (Mile 76) and I was very concerned about my ability to meet later cutoffs. I was still running about two hours behind the 35 hour time goal due to the mud that I continued to encounter on the trail. Steve assured me that if I could keep an avg 3 mph pace, I could make it. So, with the hope that I'd seen the worst of the mud, I headed out keeping up that pace.

Unfortunately, what I found about a mile out of the AS was more of that soul-sucking mud. It reduced my pace to a 2 mph crawl as I sought to find ground that didn't have me slipping and sliding back & forth and nearly losing my balance. I found it nearly entirely from mile 77 - 84. I knew my chance of an official finish was diminishing with each mile and I went through a range of emotions to process that reality. 
Slid my way across the border
My nemesis this race 
The only dry section was a gnarly descent... gah!
My low point hit somewhere between mile 81 - 85. That whole segment was almost entirely mud, with one steep rocky descent that was dry. Looking back, I think I went through all 5 stages of grief as I saw the end of my race coming sooner than expected. I had the denial ("Come on, push harder!"), anger (cursing & questioning God), bargaining (with God), depression and finally acceptance. It helps that I am a pretty logical person and though I am emotional, I can distance myself from my emotions in order to deal with reality and move on.

As I was coming in to Beaver Creek CG, I had a choice to make: either try and complete the course with a 99% chance of missing the cutoff at either mile 92 or the finish or stop at mile 85 and start the recovery process. I chose the latter. My reason for doing The Bear was to see if I could do 100 miles in under 36 hours; this time I was not able to. To do 100 miles no matter how long it took wasn't something I wanted. I felt no need to prove that to myself or anyone else. I know I could have finished the course -- I had the legs to do so. But I chose to wait and do it when I felt pretty confident I could do it within the cutoffs.

My trail buddy Chris was the last person to finish in 35:53 and he was keeping a better pace than I. Huge congrats to him on finishing his first hundo!

Though I'll never know just how long it would have taken me to finish, I still think I made the right decision. Having done 85 miles, I was beyond the point of running for good health. I was doing all sorts of damage to my body and to do any more and not get an official finish seemed ridiculous to me. Though I am disappointed that I didn't accomplish my primary goal, it was nonetheless a beneficial experience that I'm grateful to have had.

So...what did I learn from doing The Bear?

First, I learned that I have the endurance to traverse 100 mountain miles in a single push. That is an empowering thought that gets me stoked for my next race. I was unsure of my ability to complete the distance when I lined up at The Bear and the confidence that I can do it will help me next time around. I've been looking at the Bryce 100 as my next one...looks beautiful and DRY! 

Second, I learned that I can do a 100 miles sans pacer. While I wouldn't turn down the opportunity to have an experienced ultrarunner with me for company, I don't need someone to get me to the finish. They would sweeten the journey, but I know how to take care of myself physically & emotionally, and that is also empowering. Related to this topic, I never once in 31 hours used my iPod. I had no desire to distract myself in that way. I was way too focused on staying the course and keeping the right pace. Another surprise.

Third, I did a lot of things right this time. Using my SJ Ultra Vest, I packed the right kind of fuel for me (VFuel Peach Cobbler gels, Honey Stinger Chews & Skratch Labs energy drink) and refilled my bottles at aid stations quickly. I kept ziplock baggies of more fuel in my drop bags for easy reloads. The two Redline pills along with a can of Starbucks Doubleshot that I took at 7p & 2a kept me awake all night. I kept some blister bandaids and Tylenol on hand for dealing with pained feet. I also kept different socks in my drop bags and changed shoes at least once to experiment with blister solutions. I wore the right kind of clothes to keep me warm through the chilly days & frigid nights. The cold was never an issue except when I had to slow down due to my stomach. When I realized that my only pair of gloves were in my 45 mile drop bag, Deb's surgical gloves worked just fine until I got to it. My Black Diamond Icon burned bright all night long and I never needed my Fenix E11 for add'l light. 

Fourth, I need to improve my foot care next time. I discovered that taping my feet is an art that I will need to practice. I did plenty of preventative taping of the toes, balls of feet & heels before the race; however, my toes still managed to blister in several places, despite wearing Injinji socks. I also discovered that I have a biomechanical issue on my right foot where my second toe rubs against the big toe and I learned a simple way to take care of it, since taping isn't enough. I'm grateful for the tips I received from Misty and Drew regarding Leukotape & Elastikon which I will be employing next time around. 

I wouldn't change my shoes used, but I needed to wear thinner socks to keep a little more wiggle room in the toebox as my feel swell. With the exception of the three toe blisters, my feet felt fine using my Saucony Xodus and Hoka Stinson Evos with arch supports and heel-lock lacing and I didn't feel the need to change into my Sportiva Wildcats later on.

For the first time, I had ankle chaffing due to the mud that got inside my socks so I'll use my Dirty Girl gaiters for those conditions as I usually only use them when the trails are dusty or have a lot of scree. I'd also bring my Kahtoola microspikes if there's any snow expected on the course (even a little), which may turn to ice before I run on it.

Lastly, I need to continue building speed. The blisters, the sour stomach, the ice & the mud all contributed to my overall slower pace, so I need to be able to bank more time by comfortably running at a faster pace when things are going well. This will come as I build my aerobic endurance though low HR training and am intentional about putting speed work into my weekly training.

Huge thanks to Steve for his first-class crewing services, which I'm very grateful to have had this time around. Deb's potato soup was perfect for keeping me fueled and warm!

For now, I'm enjoying a long-needed break from training. I've been feeling the training fatigue of building up my mileage and preparing for races since last November. I do have a road marathon on the calendar for next week, but not training specifically for it. More on that later...

“Try a thing you haven’t done three times. Once, to get over the fear of doing it. Twice, to learn how to do it. And a third time to figure out whether you like it or not.” -Virgil Thomson

Happy Trails,