Wednesday, June 7, 2017

McNaughton 50 Mile Trail Race

I believe I’ve mentioned this before but the start of a trail ultra marathon looks more like a gathering, a clumping, a general standing around until the race director yells go. Depending on the difficulty of the race, the length of the race, and the preference of the runner, some will take off and give it a go while most will barely stop their conversations as they pick up their pace. Our small group of 50 mile and 100 mile runners started at 6 am Saturday morning in the camping area of McNaughton Park and quickly took a left down a short, steep trail before rounding a field. As we lengthened out, the chatter was cheerful and plenty. A similar short and steep ascent brought us back near the starting area where I immediately dumped my headlamp with Bill as it was already light enough to see the trail. Thus began my first 50 mile race.

My new headlamp Bill gave me for Christmas that I never even turned on
I can’t share my race experience without mentioning Justin. We’re both from Huxley. We both run trail ultras. We both did Psycho Wyco this year. And we both signed up for this race. But we never run together. Well, almost never. We ended up doing some treadmill miles together about three weeks before the race inadvertently. However, at packet pick-up (where you pick up your race bib and t-shirt and other stuff), we met up and I invited myself, Bill and Gary to have pizza with Justin. At supper we all talked race stuff where Gary gave us a bit of course description, him having done three loops before having to call it quits on his 200 mile attempt. The guys also talked cars and that sort of thing. I still have no idea what a splitter is but my pizza was good. The next morning when Justin and I started together we didn’t talk any strategy or race pace or anything. Just two Huxley ultra runners who never run together running together. 

Talking race strategy (and beer)

First loops are almost always fun. The runners are generally together and the banter is light and there are lots of jokes. It’s easy to get carried away by fresh legs and bright ideas. Optimism is at its highest during the first loop. Caution to keep the pace easy and attention to course markings blown to the wind. Except I knew better and having been warned by Gary to pay attention as he knew of other runners getting lost on the first loop. The sun rose within our first hour and brought with it warm temps which perked up the spring colors. Around the trail we ran and hiked the hills while the birds exercised their vocal chords. We came into the first aid station about 3 miles in and grabbed some fruit and kept moving. 

Pay attention to the flowers, too
I never rely solely on the hotel for my breakfast and always pack my own. This time it was a breakfast burrito and a banana with almond butter. I’ve tried also eating yogurt but it gives me a serious gag reflex later when brushing my teeth and I’ve come close to a full on throw up. No throwing up this time either at breakfast or the rest of the day for me. (Thanks for reading, Dave. Have a nice day!) I didn’t know about the coffee situation and had brought my own k-cup in case our room had a machine. It did not but as I staggered bleary-eyed out of the lobby, I found that the hotel management had started the coffee early, thanks to the insistence of another runner.

Even though I had been on the course last year, I paid particular attention to how it flowed for me during the first loop. Whatever felt easy to me now and was no big deal would be harder and harder in subsequent loops. I hiked all the hills with momentum but not too aggressively and took it easy on the downhills. Even though I didn’t have as much hill training as I would have liked over the winter, I knew the hills on this trail were short and steep and definitely work but were not that bad overall. I made mental notes of where I hoped to be able to run on the later loops and where I would have to practice patience and get through. The course was marked with ribbons on trees, ground flags and paint, some signs and reflective clips for those running in the dark.

In the weeks leading up to the race, the weather had been quite rainy. This gave me a bit of concern as to how muddy the trail would be and how high the creek crossings would rise. There are two creek crossing over the 10 mile loop. 50 miles, 5 loops, 10 creek crossings. Its not really something I practice during my training runs. Neither is running in mud. Most public trails don’t like traffic on them in wet conditions because it tears up the trail. As it turns out, the trails were mostly mud free though it was inevitable that my feet would be completely soaked at each water crossing. I made sure my feet were well covered with Trail Toes (kind of like Vaseline but better) before slipping on my socks and shoes.

Last  year we could get across without getting wet. This year Moses didn't show up.
Making a 10 mile loop around a park means the trail weaves around established trails, crosses over some open spaces a couple of times, takes you over hills, winds you around the bottoms, connecting all the different sections into one. Almost every part had a name: Totem Pole aid station, the beach, Heartbreak Hill. There is a pretty little section called Heaven’s Gate that stays on the edge of the creek with a sweet single track section before crossing a field that stayed wet all weekend. The course passes through a disc golf course before ending back at the race camping area.  

If only they allowed dirt bikes on the trail
Justin and I discussed what we would do once back at the start/finish line. I had started the race in capris and two long sleeve layers but had already warmed up enough so I wanted to change into shorts. We finished our first loop in about 2 hours and 15 minutes and I dashed into Gary’s tent to change. My crew was Bill and Gary. Bill kept my gels and food replenished, my Tailwind bottles and hydration bladder full and did the math, along with cheering me on. Gary picked up my trash, inspected the condition of my wet feet and kept up the race banter which is code for checking on my mental condition. They were great and made each stop there go smoothly and quickly for me. 

Before Justin and I headed out our second loop we stopped at the aid station table loaded with food. They had donut holes! I grabbed two and practically choked on one stuffing it down my throat. I shoved a half banana into one of the pockets of my vest for later.

The runners had spread out now. We would come across pockets of them here and there along the trail. Often we would pass a runner with a pacer or two. They had started either Friday to complete 150 miles or Thursday evening for 200 miles. So many of them were in good spirits despite having only the smallest amounts of sleep they felt they could get away with in between loops although we did see someone asleep to the side of the trail as his pacer kept watch. We would catch up to one, have a brief chat but since we weren't nearly as tired and didn’t have as far to go, passed them and moved ahead quickly. The birds were singing, the day was early and everything still felt easy.

Justin and I chatted about anything and nothing. It didn’t matter and I barely remember. We were just passing the time and miles. The trail was starting to take on its own rhythm. I kept taking it all in and strung all the parts together from last year and this year. Doing five continuous loops never became boring. For one, it was on a trail and even in one day a trail can take on so many nuances. Secondly, I was always assessing my pace, how I felt, what I was eating and drinking and would this be sustainable for me for the next loop or the next two loops, etc. I kept an eye on the half hour, taking in a gel as routinely as possible, Other than that, I didn’t pay attention to the actual time of day or how long I had been out there, more on the half hour marks and my average pace. My primary goal was to finish the distance and my secondary goal was to finish it under 15 hours. This is an average finish time for most 50 mile races even though this race was very generous by having over 30 hours to complete the distance. 

I had posted a picture on Instagram of all the food I planned to pack and eat such as fig newtons, oatmeal cookies, Twizzler Nibs and Pringles since these were the foods I trained with. However, with last minute advice from a trusted friend, Chris, I changed it all up. He said I should keep my base calories (200 calories/hr) incoming by way of gels and add other foods as needed or wanted. Chris’s suggestion made sense to me and since I have not had a problem with how gels affect my stomach, I went with the strategy of downing a GU Energy gel or HUMA chia gel every half hour. This plan worked really well for me and am positive that I will continue this fuel plan when I race again.

Running is so healthy
Finishing the second loop, I shouted out to Bill what I wanted from my stuff so he could pull it out while I went to the bathroom. I made sure to stop every loop since I didn’t want to go in the woods if necessary. Only once did I have to do that and I’ll tell you there is not much cover in early spring. Having to go meant I was drinking enough liquid. Not having to go more than once a loop meant I was managing my water and electrolytes and caffeine pretty well. Side note- Even though the toilets were temporary, the race kept them clean for the entire weekend. 

We kept this stop short. Minutes add up quickly at aid stations and I like to pass through most of them as fast as I can. My feet still felt fine so I took a new bottle of Tailwind, a handful of gels and headed down the trail with Justin. On the previous loop, I went to eat the banana I had stashed in my vest pocket but couldn’t find it. I figured I must have eaten it already but of course couldn’t remember if I had or hadn’t. A trash can was placed a bit further on then the main aid station and I took a moment to empty the trash I was carrying from gel wrappers and other stuff when I looked down to see half a banana on the ground. Being less than two feet from the trash can, it looked like a runner was a lazy slob and couldn’t throw it away properly. But I knew the real story and exclaimed “Here’s the banana I lost!” So, I did what I normally do. I picked it up and threw it into the trash. Sorry, friends, I did not eat any food off the ground this race. (I probably should get a gold star for this.)

One of my favorite things is when the race starts to take on personality. We came across a young boy with his dad. He had a race bib one so I asked him what he was doing, meaning what distance was he attempting. His reply to me was “This.” (He completed 50k, with lots of careful supervision!) Someone had been out and placed plastic plate signs along the course. I came to think of them as what fortune cookies would say if they had more room.
I did have to put on sunscreen

Is it just me or does this sign have a little too much sass for a plastic green plate?
At the end of the third loop my knees were aching more than I wanted them to be. Having dealt with this over and over by now, I didn’t do anything more than just note how they felt and sprayed them with BioFreeze. I continue to wonder why they hurt only during races. My guesses are that I am unable to train on terrain most similar to the trails I race on and maybe even more importantly, in training I never push the pace because I’m going for a new distance or trying a more difficult terrain. I plan to adapt my training to work on this. We always finished our loops strong and when we came in this time I changed both my socks and shoes after wearing the same pairs for the first thirty miles. The fresh footwear felt so good. Gary stuffed my damp shoes with newspaper to help dry them out faster, remarking about my doll sized feet and how he was saving on newspaper. (I wear size 7 and if anyone wears or tries on my shoes they are on my naughty list.) Bill was concerned I wasn’t drinking enough water but I assured him I was.

The fourth loop waited for us. Neither Justin nor I had gone further than 31 miles until now. My friend, Julia had said the fourth loop would be the worst. It would be new distance territory and also not so close to the finish that you could say you were almost done. I decided to just let this ten miles be its own and didn’t expect anything else. 

We made it to the first aid station and I grabbed a cup of potato soup. Although the temperature was in the 70’s, the soup tasted so good. For ultras, aid stations are placed a few miles apart and are packed with food, unlike road races, which are mainly water or Gatorade. There is fruit- orange slices, bananas, watermelon. All sorts of candy. Salty items such as pretzels, pickles, potato chips. And real food choices like quesadillas, oatmeal peanut butter balls, soup, boiled potatoes, cookies, and more. When you consider runners are out for 6, 12, 24 hours, having real food makes sense. And is delicious. Everything is the best thing you’ve ever tasted. Justin didn’t know he liked fruit so much. Watermelon is amazing. Avocado and cheese quesadillas are magical. Coke and ginger ale have healing powers, I tell ya. 

Not captured- me belching after guzzling this cup of potato soup
Amber had advised us to work through our highs and lows during this loop. At one point, Justin and I separated a bit. When we met up again, I was concerned about how the rest of the race was going to go for us. I had yet to bonk but I told him if I did it would look like me crying, which freaked him out a bit. I told him if that happened to make me eat something and keep moving. 

I really wanted to run so I tried, asking Justin how my running looked. He said I was better walking. I agreed, given my knees were acting like the Tin Man in need of a good oiling along. I was more efficient at hiking than I was at running anyway. I didn't spend much time dwelling on what I couldn’t do but instead focused on what I could do and what I needed to do to keep that up. I wanted to get this loop over with. I wanted to finish the race before I needed my headlamp again. I didn’t want anyone passing me. 

Go ahead, Justin, you pick the best spot to cross. I'll wait.

As we came into the start/finish line for the fourth time, I stopped first at the guys to get the last of my stuff before crossing the timing mat and going out for the fifth loop. All the other loops I had crossed the timing mat and then gone back but this time I wanted to get going as fast as possible. Bill decided to come along with us. He was ready to stretch his legs after a day of waiting around for me to come in every two and a half hours. I filled him in with all the really important details of the day: the banana story, how I lost my balance and dunked my shoe in the mud, how there were 10 horses and riders out for a trail ride on the same course, and pointed out the cemetery from which they get the name of Heaven’s Gate and which I only just found it last loop. Fascinating stuff.  

If you can read this...
The last loop was exciting and I was ready to take it on. Once started though, it occurred to me that I still had ten miles to cover and pacing would still be important. We were about three miles in when I could feel the tears trying to make an appearance. I told Bill I was on the edge crying and needed some space to deal with it. I decided I was fine and didn’t have any reason to break down. I ate something and started focusing on the grape.

On the far bank of the first creek I had seen a green grape in the dirt during an earlier loop. It was there again during the fourth loop and I mentioned it to Justin who had seen it also. We decided if it was there on the fifth loop, we would have to do something. As I got nearer and nearer the creek I wondered about the grape. Would it be there? How did it get there in the first place? What would I do with it? We crossed the creek and with eyes down, scanned the sandy corners where it had been but it was gone. Neither Justin or I could find it. I felt a little let down because I kind of wanted to see it again but consoled myself with the idea that it met it’s fate in the way it was supposed to. Then I spent the next stretch of trail concocting stories about the grape. See, loop courses don’t have to be boring.

I was on the home stretch and I wanted to be finished. I felt I was moving slower and slower even though I pushed myself harder than ever. I finally looked at my overall time and distance to go and started really wondering what time I could finish under. Here I was, about to finish my first 50 mile race and I was going to finish faster than I had hoped. I hadn’t thought all day of how long I had been out there more than about how long each loop took. Wading across the last creek that finally didn’t splash up past my knees, I knew I was about two miles from the finish and went for the final push. Those last two miles were some of the longest of my life. Finally! Finally the campground came into view. I saw the seconds tick by as I hobble ran the last stretch towards the finish line. I finished in 12:44!

Richard, one of the race directors, was the closest person to me and I threw my arms around him in a happy hug. He handed me my belt buckle medal. Bill and Gary closed in and they each got hugs. The grinning was not going to stop for a while. And you know what never happened? I never bonked. I never cried. I didn’t cry in the week leading up to the race, or packet pickup or the morning of, or during or at the finish line or afterwards!! 

Justin was not too far behind and soon he finished as well. I’m really grateful for his company during the race. I know I did not experience the loneliness and the lows because he was there. Which means he’ll be signing up for at least three more 50 milers since that’s how many more I have in mind.

50 mile finishers! 
Wow! I was so happy with the entire day! 

I don't have a belt or a fancy place to wear this buckle
Back in the hotel room, I started removing layers. Off came the shoes and socks for the second inspection of my feet that day. I had a sore spot on the back of my heel but there were no blisters and no significant damage from the continual pounding and dunking they took. As I sat on the edge of the bed later, waiting for Bill to return with our supper of Mexican food, I started to get so tired. I had to get in the shower but I mostly just wanted to sleep. Eventually I chose the shower. I gingerly stepped in because that’s where any chaffing is truly discovered and none was to be found. Again, wow! All my gear had worked well. 
One would think after 50 miles with 8,000 of elevation gain, I would be starving. I was hungry but not overly so. I knew I had to eat so I worked my way through a taco and rice and beans. My feet were starting to swell and were getting hot and painful so I partially filled a garbage can with ice and water and forced my feet and legs in for 10 seconds at a time. Wow! It hurt like none other! I did so a handful of times and the swelling and pain was definitely reduced. I fell asleep that night with my puffy jacket on top of me like a blanket with my lower legs completely uncovered all on top of the blankets. Later on, I woke up only a little thirsty but knew I still needed to drink water. I had to keep balancing the water and electrolytes so at 1:30 in the morning, I sat in my bed eating Pringles and sucking water from my hydration pack. I fell asleep again with all that still on the bed and now a little puddle where the end of the hose had been pinched open under me and leaked. 

Even though Gary said the race was offering free loops the next morning, I took a pass and we headed home. 

I’ve thought a lot about this race since then and writing about it has taken a while not because I procrastinated but because the whole thing needed space. There was so much that went exceptionally well that day. The weather was unbelievably nice. The trail was in great shape and the creeks were tolerable to cross. I spent all day with good company, had a great crew in Bill and Gary and the race itself is well organized with amazing directors and volunteers.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Failure to Rest

Since I decided to go ahead and run the 50k race sick with lungs half functioning and some sort of infection brewing in my ears, I’ve spent the last two weeks trying to recover. A real goal I wrote for last week was to Get Better. 
  • Go to church but do not shake hands, do not sing, have your son serve you bread during communion and mostly try not to let on you are sick. 
  • Finally admit to yourself you really are sick. You came to this realization during the 31 miles you covered on Saturday but by Monday you just want to quit life. 
  • Confess to your mom you are sick and that you ran sick and that no, you never do listen. Assure her she does not need to come down and stay with the boys because there are still pizza rolls in the freezer.
  • Listen to your nieces’ piano lessons and decide they sound good enough this week. You mostly want to take a nap while they work out tricky rhythms laced with quarter notes, half notes and quarter rests. 
  • Go to the chiropractor on Wednesday and tell him you are dumb. He says he’s impressed with your determination and while you listen and appreciate his encouragement, you still mostly think you are dumb.
  • Spend a lot of time in bed and in pajamas. Wonder when the best time is to wash the pajamas because you do not want to be without them. 
  • Decide that this is the week you’ll finally start Gilmore Girls. 
  • Notice that The Great British Baking Show is also on Netflix and while Lorelei is always going to be a mess, pastries and sponges are the real deal. This becomes a nightly favorite for you and the boys because there is competition. 
  • Text your sister regularly with your death prognosis. She says to chill out and rest because you ran 31 miles sick and these things take time. 
  • Continue to text your sister regularly with your death prognosis. 
  • Text your friends and tell them that while you’ve been resting you also painted Luke’s room. Have them point out your failure to rest. 
  • Lose your patience with the boys. 
  • Buy them pizza and then force them to watch another new to you show- Fixer Upper. You’re watching a lot of tv- the most you’ve watched in a long, long time.
  • Discover that skipping through commercials and being able to go from one episode to the next immediately is how everything should be watched.
  • Fall asleep immediately when Supercross starts. This makes the third week in a row that you’ve missed it. 
  • Have some tiny meltdowns all week long. 
  • Lose your sense of humor. 
  • Eat weird things because your taste buds and sense of normal eating are all messed up. 
  • Drink tea. 
  • Despise tea because tea is not coffee.
  • Have your friends worry about you and implore you to go to the doctor. 
  • Have your sister tell you- Go to the doctor already! 
  • Wonder if you should shower before you go and is it acceptable for an adult to go to the doctor in pajamas. 
  • Go to the doctor.
  • Tell her you ran a 50k sick. 
  • Get diagnosed with bronchitis.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Winter Psycho Wyco

Two days before the winter Psycho Wyco 50k, I thought I was dying. I stayed in bed most of the day with aches and a cough and other miseries. I had gone from tired but still healthy on Tuesday to sore and chilled on Wednesday to all out dying on Thursday. My friends know that I invest myself fully in whatever I do and a cold is no exception. 

I contemplated what was in store for in two days- three trips around a trail near Kansas City with over 3,000 feet elevation gain. I knew this trail from last summer as I chose to celebrate my birthday by doing two loops on it in near 100 degree heat. I finished that race stinky from sweat, dripping from all the ice I tucked in all over my body and spent the trip back to Iowa dry-heaving from a bit of heat exhaustion. If those aren't reasons to come back, I don't know what is.

I chose this race as part of my training for my upcoming 50 mile race at McNaughton as a supported long run. A supported run means you have volunteers wearing flannel shirts and fake beards cheering you on. A supported run mean there is more to eat than your humble fig newtons and pretzels. There are quesadillas and broth and potatoes and Coke and pumpkin chip cookies. Some have made posters that make you smile and someone else has decided to wear Viking horns and beat on a drum at the top of a long climb although I suppose these things could happen during an unsupported run. I'll keep you posted. 

you have no idea, sign
The morning of the race, I rolled out of bed and bleakly looked at myself in the mirror. The temporary surge of wellness felt the day before had waned away and I found myself with a good size cough and that whole watery eye, runny nose bit. The hotel coffee was not the best part of waking up but to be honest, nothing was going to be that morning. Dressed in clothes appropriate for low 40 degree temps, I made my way to the start area. I found Susanne, Justin and Shannon and we all exchanged well wishes for the day. 

guy in back didn't want to smile so we kicked him out of our group
I knew I was in for a day of work when by a mile in I was far back in the pack and I didn’t care. I stopped at the first aid station only a few miles in and asked for broth- they would have it for me when I came back around. I tried to talk started coughing; every breath went down with jagged edges. I was sick and now had to finish this somehow without completely destroying myself.

The reasons one chooses to keep going despite being miserable are interesting. For one, I had nothing but time provided I start my last loop by the sixth hour. I called Bill at the beginning of my second loop to get encouragement and some help with pacing math. He assured me I had the endurance to do this race and that as long as I kept moving, I would be fine. Today was testing my mental stores. I chose to run when I could and walk all the rest. Anybody who could, passed me on the second loop. Secondly, this course has many areas that mimic the McNaughton race and to have to go over those again and again was good training. Thirdly, I couldn’t get this day back. I could have stopped at two loops and no one would have faulted me but I knew I wouldn’t get another shot at having this kind of support and time during this training block. I also felt like I was finally getting a real glimpse of what kind of work and suffering I will be getting myself into in a month or so. 

The winter course is similar to but not the same as the summer course. The winter course goes from the backside of the dam up the dam hill and continues up the dam road whereas the summer course goes across the dam bridge only, i.e. not as much dam. There are plenty of loose rocks and technical areas but much of it is runnable trail. Not easy and you must pay attention but still quite a nice. I found many sections of the bridle trail to be tough on the ankles because of the hoof prints left and then hardened into the trail. Days after the race was done, my lower legs were still sore. 

dam hill, in case you don't know what one looks like 
homophone with bridal
Friends cheered me on via text and I took the time to read them all even though I usually don't. I opened myself up to the entire experience and everything I was feeling. Amazed that I wasn't quitting. Quiet because I couldn't do anything more. Tired because I haven't figure out how to run with my eyes closed yet. Humbled because it would be this plus two more loops for 50 miles. Sad because I missed my boys. Encouraged because my friends and family believe in me. I may not have been sprite and cheery but I would not complain. Twice, spectators yelled from the roadside "Go get it!" and "Good job, young lady!" and who am I to correct them? 
totally works
My stubbornness prevailed and I started the third loop but it wasn’t without another call to Bill and another round of tears, which lead to a disaster of a runny nose. I learned fairly early on in the race that I could not wipe my nose on my sleeves every 5 minutes and my fingers were frozen so I was in no mood to manipulate tissues. Thus, I learned the art of snot rockets. Listen, in this training cycle I have had at least one thing in each long run bring me to a new, humbling low. Some of my friends (who are now in the best friends club) have been witness to these and others have heard my confessions. I have never been able to execute a successful snot rocket and all my previous attempts have left me almost wrenching at the grossness. I was so proud of myself and my new skill I considered titling this post "The Race I Perfected the Snot Rocket".

did you expect a picture of my snot rocket?
I wish I could have exchanged banter with the volunteers. They go out of their way to help everyone and bring smiles and positive energy to us. But since talking was a no go for the race, I just moved through every aid station and kept going. At the end of the loop are three hills or climbs. If you don’t know about them when you start, you will know about them by the end. At first I dreaded these hills. The whole section is a bunch of work. Both the ascents and descents are technical. Momentum is your friend on the way up and awareness is key on the way down. After the first loop, I adjusted my outlook when I got to them because the finish line was literally just around the corner. I finished the last loop and the last of the climbs and crossed the finish line. Someone stuck a finisher’s medal around my neck; Susanne placed a 50k finishers hat on my head and after a few brief conversations, Aaron drove us home.

rocks more unstable than they appear
Two days later I found myself piled up in bed again, despondent of life itself. I would get up from time to time to take care of a little thing or two but mostly the tissues wore raw my nose, coughing chaffed my esophagus, and various bowls and mugs overflowed my bedside stand. My contemplation complete, I don't really want to go back to this race in either its winter or summer editions at this point. It has kicked my butt both times although not because of the race itself but because of my physical condition. That being said, both times it has been the perfect training course for me for other races which what I signed up for.     

the tornado spins

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Hungry and Restless

What is becoming more and more apparent during this 50 mile race training is the amount of stress my body is enduring. When I was training for my first 50k several years ago, I knew only a little about the changes but everything was new to me and I couldn’t pinpoint things other than to say I had never done this amount of mileage before. Now, a few years later after a couple marathons and 50k’s worth of training and racing in me I see noticeable differences as I amp up my mileage.

hunger—- I am hungry. There’s no denying that as the number of miles stack up, so does my appetite. Since I’ve already written about this I won’t go much more into it. Please send food.
bacon, kale, runny eggs, amen
rest—- My long runs currently fall on weekends instead of weekdays as in the past. It mostly means that I adjust my run time to extra early to be gone a little less during normal family operating hours. I’d love to report that to make up the early morning difference I go to bed at say 8:00 pm and then sneak in a nap here and there but that has not been the case. I don’t think I caught how little rest I was getting until I finally slept lights out for ten hours straight two nights in a row. The go, go, go was causing me less rest, rest, rest instead of more. This was a pretty subtle change until I was undeniably restless despite a huge weekend of running.  

At least someone's getting a nap
Real sunrise captured after 10 miles
calm—- This one has been perhaps the craziest of them. The directions are pretty straight forward: get up, run, eat, sleep (super simplified- please fill in every other life responsibility). 
While it seems I do this every day, I do not. I get days off.  As of late, however, days off aren't any fun. I start the day solid, thinking of the myriad of things to get done and working my way through them. Somewhere around 1-2:00, my brain starts eating itself. At least that’s what it feel like. Then I get twitchy. I start a task only to end up wandering around not completing much. I  feel a gnawing hungry pain and head to the kitchen to find something. “Good,” I think. “I will calm down.” Nope. My brain feels fuzzy. It's like this every rest day. 

I've done a bit of yoga, lead by my friend Kristy. Anne and I are fiercely trying not to compete- which is the opposite of yoga. We need a lot of help being calm. 
cute yoga mat and tasty smoothie- what's not to be calm about?
I finally figured out what is going on with me. My body is addicted to the high mileage. *low whistle* My body is doing all that it can to stay caught up even on rest days.

All to say, its nice to know I’m not going crazy.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Confessions and Victories

Confession- Stacked away in my basement are ten years worth of Martha Stewart magazines, the latest dating almost ten years ago. I loved getting the magazines and reading them and baking from them and gardening and crafting and homemaking from them. Martha Stewart was Pinterest and everything else before anyone else. And I saved them- moving them 4 times. 

Victory- I parted with 3 years worth of running magazines. 

Confession- I fear cleaning up my Pinterest boards and deleting things I’ll never do. 

Confession- I’ve had a lengthy conversation with others about what to do with leftover party supplies. I’ve invented parties for others or myself to have to use up said supplies. 

Victory- I got rid of some stuff. It was sitting in my garage- a large box and a bag of clothes waiting for me to take it somewhere. It didn’t even matter where, it only needed to go. I opened a few cupboards, raided a bookshelf and threw 10 more things in the box. I took it somewhere.

Confession- I found three food containers with mold growing on the contents in my fridge today.

Victory- I tossed those items out.

Confession- A large bunch of kale is haunting me from the crisper drawer. 

Friends Help Friends Eat

One Friday evening Julia and I were texting back and forth about trail conditions, run start times and so on for a shared run on Saturday morning. I confessed to her that I discovered I don’t like cooking on Friday nights. Fridays are my off day from running right now and I usually fill the day with errands and so on but by the time Friday evening comes around, I’m tired and just done with the week. The problem isn’t that I can’t scrape something together and call it good. The problem is that the weekends are my big long run days and I need to eat well before I go out. As my 50 mile training increases, my weekend runs get longer and longer. This weekend for instance was a three hour run on Saturday and then twenty miles on Sunday. My total mileage for the weekend was 35 miles! That is collectively longer than I’ve ever strung together for a weekend. I'm hungry all the time.

I ate some grilled chicken and applesauce for my Friday night supper, aka not enough, then got up super early, 4:30 am, ate a banana and headed out the door. Julia met me an hour later and as we clicked off miles together she told me she always ate the same thing the night before her 50 mile long run training. This isn't rocket science but as I nibbled on fig newtons and sipped on Tailwind, this blew my mind. Eat the same thing before every long run! Do you know Kaci Lickteig eats the same thing the night before every race? She eats a Subway sandwich. Both Julia and Kaci are brilliant!

What 4:30 am looks like

What a best running friend who helps you eat looks like
I sometimes get in this funky cycle of knowing I’m hungry and knowing I should eat but then I put it off and the more I put it off the more picky I get and the less food sounds appealing and before I know it I’m crying and having a meltdown because I’m hungry. I putz around in the kitchen, not deciding on what to eat then suddenly realizing I need food RIGHT NOW! This qualifies as an emergency and I holler to the family that we are going to pick up Hickory Park so I can get a burger STAT!! Sometimes I don't do things very calmly but in this case the family has learned to rattle off their order as quick as possible lest they have to pick me up off the floor and spoon feed me. 
I think there was a steak to go with but I couldn't wait
A similar situation was developing Saturday night but I happened to be at home alone for the evening. I texted my friend Jenn and told her my predicament. She suggested I just go ahead and order something. Yes, yes, I thought, I can do this! Forty-five minutes later, I stood at my kitchen counter inhaling slices of thai chicken pizza. It wasn’t pretty but nobody was there to see. That is, until Jenn came over later and she witnessed me downing a slice of cheesecake in about four bites.

Sunday was the second leg of my back to back long run weekend. I had my pack full of water, Tailwind, GU energy gels and fig newtons and I had Kristy along with me for a handful of miles. I told her Julia's great idea of eating the same thing before her long runs and how I needed to adopt her habit. Kristy mentioned she meal plans on Sundays and that seems to help her. I already meal plan but realized I could start my planning with the weekend in mind and then work back to the beginning of the week. Then I mentioned how I was stubbornly wandering around Target, hungry and yet refusing to buy anything because of budgets and already having almonds at home and other irrational thought processes (this is the same night I had the chicken and applesauce), when I should have just bought something and got it over with. Kristy- smart Kristy, resourceful Kristy, said she usually keeps some almonds or other snacks in her purse. Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather at this revelation (also, I was over 20 miles for the weekend already and we were heading into the wind). I have snacks! I have a stash of Picky Bars and Bearded Brother bars that I bought with this training cycle in mind! I could keep them in my purse!!
Send more, please
Moral to this story: I need my friends to help me eat.  

Thursday, March 9, 2017

McNaughton This Year, Potawatomi Last Year

I didn't fall off the earth after last year's marathon. I've been running and volunteering and training and setting new goals. I knew pretty quickly after the marathon that I was ready to bump up my distance. There are plenty of challenging marathon and 50k races out there to try but now was the time to go for 50 miles. 

We'll leave the "You're crazy" talk out of this for now. 

I spent some time debating about which race to debut at. It was between Zumbro and McNaughton. McNaughton is a bit easier- the elevation change is slightly less and the course is less technical. McNaughton starts in the morning whereas Zumbro starts at midnight- something I'm not comfortable with yet. I know some people at Zumbro (along with that RD crush) but I know more people at McNaughton. Both are on the same day so I had to choose. I chose McNaughton.

McNaughton is this year's race name. Last year it was named Potawatomi. (There's a story behind all that, of course.) Last year, Julia and I crewed for our friend, Katie and I partially wrote a blog post about the experience but never finished it. I went back to it, polished it up a bit and here it is for you.

*** Potawatomi Trail Race, 2016
I seem to be getting a bit deeper in this trail and ultra scene. Last December I hung out at the Hitchcock Experience and saw the stuff podcasts and stories are made of. (One word- Whoa!) A few months later, a friend, Katie, asked me if I would crew and pace for her first hundred mile attempt. The April date was clear and I recruited Julia to come along. I knew I wasn't going to race during the Spring because of all the graduation stuff but I put in solid training hours because pacing someone is no slouch a job. You've got to have your act together because it isn't about you, its about your runner and getting them across the finish line.

The week before the race, Julia and I assessed our camping situation. We each had some stuff and thanks to my friend, Dave, I had some more stuff. What I didn't have was any experience setting up the tent. So late one evening, we shoved our furniture to the edges of the room and Bill walked me through setting up and tearing down our tent as I took notes via Evernote. 

The arm chair didn't make the trip.

On Friday afternoon Julia and I and all our stuff plus Jason, Katie's boyfriend and Forrest, Jason's dalmatian, and all their stuff loaded into my suburban and we headed to McNaughton Park just south of Pekin, Illinois. We would meet Katie and our other friends already there. 
Forrest isn't the best at selfies.

McNaughton Park is a really nice area and the camping area around the start/finish line is nice and reasonably flat. We unloaded our stuff trip by trip back and forth to the suburban as we couldn't back up to our camping spot. Then we began the process of setting up the tent. I was really grateful for the instructions earlier in the week and soon Julia and I were pounding in the tent pegs. Jason and Katie were working on their tent right next to us and I realized we could beat them. So, of course, I pounded those tent pegs in as fast as Julia could get them placed. 

Yes, we beat them!! 
And let's note our attire- winter coats and gear. It was mighty cold the weekend we were there. No snow but the night before when the 200 and 150 milers were out there, there was wind and rain and hail and it was miserable.

Katie and her crew plus Charlie, from Gary's crew, headed into town for some delicious supper. We headed back to the race after supper and Julia and I made the decision to sleep in the back of the suburban where were could have heat and stay out of the bitter wind. It was a very good decision on our part.

Early Saturday morning, Julia, Jason, Forrest and I stood at the start line with Katie. Our hopes as bright as her headlamp. 

Go, Katie, Go!
After the first 10 mile loop, we discovered Katie was struggling just a bit. She came to race with a good size cold, a lot of work hours and not much rest. It's not the ideal conditions to attempt your first 100 miler under but we've heard stories of far worse and yet runners finish the distance. 

Here's the deal with many Midwest ultra trail races (and the same could be said for the boys' dirt bike races), race directors and clubs seem to find an area that is full of hills, short, steep climbs and technical lines. They may not be mountains and pretty vistas but they are work. 
If the hill doesn't have a rope, is it really a hill?

They throw in water crossings and put out signs that inform you that you can cross them without getting your feet wet. Them someone comes by with a Sharpie and comments on the sign that you will get your feet wet. You spend 5 minutes navigating across. Whatever. Do this for ten miles. And repeat.

Back at camp or the start/finish line, the crew waits and eats and takes a nap and hangs out and does math figuring out how long until their runner returns.  

Have start/finish line, will host a race

Here's a runner now! Gary has been out here since Thursday going for 200 miles. Yes, 200 miles consecutively. Yes, he sleeps. Yes, we eat his sweet potato tots when he's not around. Charlie and Annie are doctoring his feet to keep them dry and as blister free as possible. They are some of the best crew people I know. 

They also exchange banter and jaw to keep Gary's spirits up. Just what he likes. I think he's eating one of my monster cookies. It's my small contribution. 

Katie goes round and round, loop after loop. Having a cold sucks. Julia and Jason assess her feet and spirit. Forrest rests as he's going to do the 30 mile fun run later with Jason. 

At the end of 5 loops, Katie calls it. She was tough for enduring so much. The weather was sunshine and blue skies but the temps were winter and it compounds all your aches and pains and mental hurdles. Julia and I tucked her into my suburban, found some hot pizza and cranked up the heat. She lives to fight another day, another race.
Katie had to share the seat with Forrest when he wasn't running.

The next morning we stumble out of the car, wander around bleary eyed and then scramble to take down our tent before rain hits. Jason and Forrest finished their fun run in the middle of the night. Others crossed the finish line, some packed it in, others kept going. We heard stories as we huddled around the camping cookstove, heating up breakfast. 
Finally, Gary emerged from the trail, 200 miles later. 
RD Eric and Gary

This is what I'm signed up for this April 8. Not 200 miles nor Katie's 100 miles but 50 miles. 
Commence the crazy talk.