Tuesday, October 3, 2017

What I Learned In September

At the prompting of Emily P. Freeman's blog, Chatting at the Sky, I spent some time reflecting over September. I remember it being September 17 and remarking to Bill that it already felt like we had skipped September entirely and gone straight to October. The weather has played havoc with our sensibilities in the last few weeks and the pumpkin spice latte has already made an appearance despite the fact that the real pumpkins weren't even ready in the garden. Finally, I settled down into it really being September and here are a few things I've learned this month.

  1. I've just started reading and learning about Enneagrams. While I've pulled together bits and pieces to understand myself more over the last months, discovering the enneagram has made so many things fall into place. I still don't know very much but I am eager to learn more.
  2. I finally cleaned my make-up brushes. I used this simple method from CleanMama.net and wow, what a difference! You can find little bottles of Dr. Bronner's soap in Target by the sample beauty products.
  3. I've spent enough time sitting, standing and waiting for my racers and runners to come in that I finally learned I am not a good crew person or volunteer if I don't eat. Last year I spent a long day volunteering and hardly ate. I did not enjoy my experience. I mean, I was grumpy. Last week, I waited a long day for Ben and Bill to come in from racing and then another long afternoon for them to receive their awards. I could have done a better job taking care of myself so I could take care of them. I don't think it's being selfish. It is being aware of the situation and being proactive. 
  4. I buy my bananas at Sam's Club. Bananas are generally sold by weight but Sam's sells them by bunch at $X dollars. Here's a trick I've started doing- counting how many bananas are in the bunch. Usually there are 8 but I'll look for 9. On my last visit I scored 10 bananas!
  5. I devoured Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart in 3 days. It would have been less if I didn't have, laundry, cookies to bake, people to feed, etc. I heard about the book through Anne Bogel's podcast What Should I Read Next. Its my first novel in a long, long time! 
I loved putting together this little list and sharing it with you. What did you learn in September?

Saturday, September 30, 2017

PrairieFest 10k, 2017

Why do I keep paying to run a race that I can run for free every single day? Why do I keep coming back to this race and this distance? I have nothing but high hopes, barfy feelings, pee my pants effort and dashed dreams and it costs me money to feel this way. You, too, can have this every August for less than $30.

I keep coming back because it is literally my local race. It goes directly past my house every year and I know lots of runners. While I love cheering all the runners on while I sit in a lawn chair and eat cinnamon rolls, it's also hard for me not to be out pounding the pavement with them. This year I had even declared to Anne and Kristy I would not be running it. But as I went to bed the night before, I decided it would be weird of me to go out for a run on my own and finish at the same time the race was starting. 

I woke up early, whispered to Bill I was running the 10k, had my usual pre-run breakfast and headed out to register at the park, a half block away. After registering, I went out for a long warm-up. I need at least a mile of very easy running before I'm anywhere near ready to go. I did a bunch of dynamic stretches at the back of the crowd and chatted with a friend.  My goal was to not want to quit while giving it about 80% effort. 

I envy the runners who look so cute. No I don't. They probably got up extra early to look that way.
I rolled out of bed. Obviously. 
Every year I want to quit. Every year people comment that this must be a breeze for me. So this year I will attempt to set the record straight. Yes, I've run further than 6.2 miles before. Yes, I run 6.2 miles more often than not in my daily training. But racing 6.2 miles is different. For me, 6.2 miles is gas to the floor kind of running. I've been working more on speed this summer than ever but in general I'm always working on very technical terrain which is slower or longer distances which is also slower. To say a 10k is a breeze for me is not the case. It is work. But if you tell me next year that this must have been easy for me, I'll probably smile and mumble something not bad.

So there I was at the back of the crowd. I didn't move up or position myself to some advantage. I knew there would only be a handful of runners doing the 10k to begin with. The truly fast ones would be where they belonged and I would be where I belonged, towards the back away from the fast cross country kids who would be done and gone before I crossed the finish line. I didn't care where I was. The race is run on roads the entire time and we are able to spread out across the width of the road. I could maneuver around runners as need be and not get caught up in them.

I popped in my earbuds and surveyed the crowd ahead of me. I watched the 5k's take the turn to head back and started calculating who might be ahead of me. This year it seemed the 10k participants was especially small. We stretched the entire length of East 1st street. This is always the longest section for me. I hardly ever run it (for free) and every time I do, I feel it sucks the life from me. Today I didn't allow myself to feel that way. A couple miles ticked off and I took time to look at my pace. I was pleased and decided to try to negative split the race. It would probably hurt but I decided it was the only way to make peace with this race this year.

My nephew and a couple of his friends has by-passed the 50k and went for the 10k, something I'm kind of proud of. They hung just in front of me. I knew he could pick it up but secretly hoped I could at least creep in front of him for a bit. I didn't say a word as I inched my way closer. I considered if it would be bad for him if his aunt beat him but before I could come to a conclusion those boys must have decided they were done being out there and just left me in the dust like I was standing still. 

I made all the usual turns along the course. I thanked the volunteers who stood offering water but took none. I rounded the corner right next to our house where a neighbor was out walking her tiny doggy. She remarked about me stopping to go inside and I laughed. I could actually do that. But I didn't and I didn't want to quit either. I was starting to gain on a couple of people and was hoping to make a pass. However, the distance from my house to finish line is just shy of a mile and one of the runners took off. I didn't have that kind of speed to catch her. I kept plying myself to finish strong.

I crossed the finish line to a few cheers. I was pleased with my time considering having just raced the 2/3 marathon the weekend before. I was happy to find I had some leg turnover after having a really rough Spring and an easy Summer to make up for the Spring. Later I looked at my mile splits and found that I ran each mile faster than the previous. I negative split the run. I collected my age group first place medal and headed to the parade where everyone else was already at.

Warning: Do not feed the ultra-runner a 10k

Friday, September 29, 2017

Moorehead 2/3 Mazathon

Sometimes there are so many races and sometimes there are so few races. The distance of the drive, the length of the race, the difficulty of the trail, these are all factors which weigh in on my decision for a race. Over the summer, I wrote out a calendar combining my training plan and potential races to align with the plan. Then I merged it, actually mashed it together with our family calendar and looked at what I had for options. I've never read tarot cards or had them read to me, but I suppose it's probably similar. How about if I use a panning for gold analogy? Yes, I was looking for little golden nuggets of training races amidst the rubble of dirt bike dust.

I taped up the notebook paper schedule beside my desk and occasionally referred to it. I couldn't make the Mines of Spain race because it coincided with two other activities that weekend. It's a great race and a tough course but I haven't been able to get back there for a couple of years. You know about my experiences with the Trail Nerds Pyscho Wyco races to know that I would be out of my mind to choose that again so soon. But floating around the Turkey's Facebook page was a new to me race in Ida Grove, Iowa named the Moorehead Mazathon and the Trail of the Dragon Ultra

Initially, the family calendar said we were busy so the reminders and notifications from Facebook passed. But early in the week of the race the calendar cleared up- like storms clouds floating away. The race director, Susan Knop even reopened the registration and I quickly applied. I found a place to bunk the night before the race via GOATZ friends and headed towards Ida Grove. 

At packet pickup, which isn't a packet, it's usually a bag that is stuffed with a bit of swag from race sponsors but that's what we call it, I met the two women I would be sharing a cabin with and another mother runner. We shared our running backgrounds and life tidbits over spaghetti and salad, provided by the race then headed to our cabin for the night. We spent the rest of the evening watching the sun go down, not getting much cell service and deciding the guy next door should make better life choices than to have a heart shaved into the back of his head as part of his haircut. 

When I arrived the next morning at the race, the 50k and 50 mile runners had already started, including my two cabin mates doing the 50 miles. There are 5 different races being held at the same time. The ultra races, called the Trail of the Dragon, go out and do a few extra sections on each loop. For the non-ultra races, called the Moorehead Mazathon, there are three distances to choose from- the 1/3, 2/3 and full marathon (8-ish miles, 17-ish miles, 26-ish miles). Again, these are trail races and the mileage is not exact and trail runners are okay with that. After a brief pre-race talk, the race director scratched a long line in the gravel as our official start, timer started us and we headed towards the trail. The starts may be my favorite as they are so nonchalant with most trail runners. Nobody is standing alongside commenting, "Wow! Look at them go!". Sure, there are always a few who take off and more power to them and a bunch of us start our watches and that's just about it. 

I was super curious about the trail. It started out with a double wide path which helped sort out who was moving at a faster pace and who was dropping back. Being such a small race, there really was no jostling and positioning to get into the right crowd. The trail then turned into a grass path that went over the top of a hill, rounded around the bottom, ran along off-camber of the same hill before spiking up to the top and back down. During the first lap, the sun was hidden by a layer of fog so thick it draped us like a heavy robe. I knew as soon as the sun bore its way through the clouds, we would die a thousand deaths in a smoldering cauldron of heat and humidity. (#TWH) Y'all, an August race does not play nice with weather. As the trail made its way into more wooded sections, it stayed double wide and was not technical although there was plenty of water erosion areas within that required good foot choices. Finally, the trail tucked into single track and I gave a little shout of glee. The trail would be a little more established and the tree cover would be better. 

course description: some gently rolling hills with heavy humidity
I kept my eye on my general pace and decided I was doing just fine. I had no particular goals for this race other than see what is was all about and to test myself in a race setting. I came upon a group of women discussing audio book choices and was passed by a speedy 50k or 50 miler but other than that just enjoyed my time. The single track ended when we hit the ski area and let me tell you, that was a sad realization. For the most part, the elevation change had not been too much so far but the race boasted 1,000 feet for each 8.8 mile loop and it had to happen somewhere. My leg turnover slowed to a hike as I made my way up the first of three steep hills. At the top of the first was a cemetery. How fitting, I thought. I also wondered if a trail races doesn't pass by a cemetery, is it even a trail race? Just a little funny moment to myself. Down to the bottom, around the corner and back up another steep climb, only to turn around and bust your quads to the bottom where other than an aid station check in, you turn around and head back up the same hill via a different route. Imagine the three climbs making a W. It was a brutal section because they came one after another after another. 

"Death, oh death. Won't you spare me over 'til another year?" Ralph Stanley

The race director did a fantastic job of squeezing every bit of mile out the park. She routed us through the historic homestead of Ida Grove where a small handful of buildings still stood. After they finished, the audio book women told me on another loop the buildings were open and they toured one! 

The local cross country team was enlisted as volunteers. They did everything from timing, to managing the aid stations to directing runners. There were two particular enthusiastic and vocal boys at the mazathon/ultra split who whooped and hollered and cheered more than anyone I've ever seen at a race. While I missed my turn initially because I was so entertained by them (but they quickly re-directed them), they were the best! All the volunteers were great. It really was a local effort and I loved that aspect. 

I finished my first loop, stopping briefly for a bite and bathroom break then headed toward the trail again. I was really pleased with my effort on the first loop and decided how I wanted to approach the second one, which would be my last since I was running the 2/3 marathon. I decided to see if I could finish strongly with my time being as close as possible to the first loop. I plugged in my ear buds to the Hamilton score and worked on not throwing away my shot. 

I would say my general approach to my second and final loop was to keep the pace steady and push when I could. I now knew the entire course and there weren't any surprises. I had kept an eye on the bib numbers of runners passing me on the out and backs and had a general idea of where I was in terms of placing. It wasn't my plan to place; my plan was to run smart, but I wasn't going to let someone pass me if I could help it. On the climb to the cemetery, I saw the next person ahead of me and started planning. I crushed that downhill, beat it up the next climb, crushed that downhill again and after a shot or two of pickle juice at the aid station, charged my way to the next climb. However, between the quick aid station and the fast, steep hikes, my body screamed at me. I listened because I knew I would not pass anybody if I flat out bonked before I had a chance at the chase. I made sure I had enough calories in me, filled my water bottle and worked my way around the course. Very soon I saw her and realized I was moving better than she. I passed her quickly, giving her a word of encouragement. 

I was happy for my surge but it had taken a toll on me and I worked to not back off completely, which is a different kind of battle. It's a mental one that presses the body to overcome when it wants to stop. All of this was what I had come for although I didn't think of that at the time and only now as I write. (Thanks for making me write race re-caps, Kristy.) The trail came to and end and I ran along the edge of the park road. In the grassy edge were a photographer and a guy and girl in formal clothes. I thought it was a an odd time of year for prom pictures or senior pictures or so on but maybe not. Around the next corner the picture became clear. There stood a bride and groom and another photographer. I wished them congratulations as I sprinted to the finish line. At least what I thought looked like sprinting.

As I cross the timing mat to people clapping, the timer told me I was third place female. Oh, wow! I did pass that one woman ahead of me and no one else passed me but I am never quite sure of my position. It was really fun to race well and third place is a nice perk. Later in the evening, I looked at my time for each of my loops and I had run them exactly even! 

I hung around at the finish, cheering in other runners, talking to friends, sipping some Blue Moon, chowing down on post race food and thanking the race director, Susan Knop,  again for a great, quality race. No matter how many attend the race, it is still a lot of work and she is doing it well.

sweet single track

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