Wednesday, April 30, 2008
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Monday, April 28, 2008
Is it ever... I crossed the finish line after a horrific 5 miles of downhill (2000ft elevation loss) swearing I’d never run it again. But by the time I was saying goodbye to r.d. David Horton a few hours later, wishing him well on his Continental Divide adventure this summer, I knew I’d be making my way back here again as soon as the opportunity arose! The Blue Ridge Mountains are an incredible setting for trail running. And the group of friendly local and regional runners, seasoned veterans alongside an increasing number of students from LU and VT, together with Dr. Horton’s unique blend of charm, quirkiness and absolute devotion to this sport, combine to make this race one of my favourite...
Having run my first ultra just over a year ago this is the only one I’ve ran twice. I hadn’t planned on returning to Virginia this year given my slightly hectic schedule of races. But the week before Chippewa I was running by myself in Afton thinking through plans for an upcoming business trip to DC when it hit me that Promise Land was around that time. Sure enough when I got home that afternoon and looked up the website it fit perfectly with the trip. Entry form was in the mail the next morning.
There was a small matter of two 50K’s in the intervening two weekends. Up first was Chippewa which was a lot of fun (in retrospect). Then Trail Mix which turned into more of a social event chatting to Kami for the first 25K and drinking coffee with friends in place of running the second 25K! My legs had felt very tired during the second loop of that race so as I set off on the road south from Regan airport last Friday afternoon, I wasn’t quite sure what I had let myself in for. But I felt better rested - unlike the week after Chippewa where I had worked out everyday including 2 bike rides, this previous week I had taken it much easier and gotten plenty of sleep. Still, I was considering the race as a training run for an upcoming 50 miler at altitude in New Mexico. Or at least that’s what I was telling myself. After some more thought, knowing full well that I am completely incapable of not racing a race, I decided it would be a test race. I’d try a few things just to see how it impacted my race. I didn’t really know what but as it turned out the list went as follows - being way over-dressed for the conditions to see how the heat would affect me (it didn’t, but it was damn uncomfortable); getting my feet soaked at every water crossing to see if they would blister (they did); and falling sideways off a water crossing onto the rocks getting a bruised ankle, knee and hip around the half way mark (not recommended).
Once out of the DC traffic, the drive was pretty non-eventful. Until a few hours later when I missed an exit or two and hit the by-passes around Lynchburg and ended up at EXACTLY the same spot I’d been at 30 minutes earlier. Bad and all as Mapquest directions can be I wished I had remembered to actually bring the printout with me… eventually I made my way to Bedford and north to the campground. I got the tent up in record time between thunderstorms and then grabbed some food I’d picked up at a grocery store along the way and headed over to the pavilion where about 60 or so runners were gathering to sign in and listen to David’s frequent flurries of advice – most of which are designed to scare first timers but are generally pretty accurate. The one story I wasn’t likely to forget was about the local runner who had recently been training on the nearby Mt. Masochist course and happened upon 3 cubs, mama and papa bear!! I’m happy to just enjoy the scenic views thanks all the same.
I was delighted to meet up with Dorothy from NC who I’d gotten to know while running the 50 miler last November. I think Dorothy has run all 8 years of this race, or at least a good number of them, so when I decided to sign up I emailed her to let her know. It was great to catch up and talk about our recent races and plans for the year ahead. Dorothy was just coming off her first 100 miler 3 weeks earlier – which made my 50K series pale into insignificance! Her legs feeling strong and her feet just about recovered she was looking forward to completing the second race of the Lynchburg series, the first being Holiday Lake 50K in February. Around 8:30pm I headed back to the tent and got settled in for the night. I dozed off around 9pm and even though I woke several times I fell back to sleep straight away and felt pretty rested when David’s voice came booming over the loudspeaker at 4:30am. Race start was 5:30am so I rolled out of the tent with about ten minutes to go, grabbed my runners from the car, quick toilet trip and was all set for off. Dorothy and I ran together for about the first hour. Well, the first 45 minutes was mostly walking. It was still dark but it was road as far as the first aid station at 2.6 miles and by the time we hit the trail it was light. Single track for most of the next section so I settled in a fairly easy pace. We hit the fire roads and some decent climbs over the next hour followed by a steady downhill towards the second aid station at approx 8.5 miles which I reached with just under 2 hours on the clock. I was wearing my HRM trying to keep an eye on how the hills were affecting me this early in the race. I thought I’d try to keep it below 160 – that soon fell by the wayside as we started climbing again with about 2800ft over the next 2.5 miles! We crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway at the highest point of this section and took a dirt road mostly downhill towards aid station 3 at 12 miles and 2h50m. This aid station at Sunset Fields is the busiest spot with lots of crew filling the small parking lot. I was looking forward to the next section of technical downhill which I remembered clearly from last year. I felt like I was doing pretty well at this stage but couldn’t really remember my aid station times from last year. I love the challenge of running downhill fast knowing a wrong step could be the end of your race. Not to mention the end of your season if a tree got in the way! I was running by myself for most of this section just passing a few people further down the trail as we neared the next aid station at Cornelius Creek. This was just a little further than half way so I was pleased to see 3:30 on the clock as I knew if I maintained my pace I could pick up a little time on the last downhill section (knowing my quads would be paying dearly for it over the next several days). We would be coming back to this aid station after a loop of approx 8 miles. After a quick double take as I realized the guy beside me was actually at the aid station for his second time – he was in 2nd place – off I went along the mile long section of road. It felt good to be running on the flat and steady surface – a welcome break from the serious concentration required for much of this race. I passed quite a few runners along here before hitting the trail again with a little gentler climbing for the next few miles to aid station 5 – before which I had my encounter with the slippery water crossing and ended up splayed across the rocks. It was not pretty. But thankfully no lasting damage – just a little disappointed that I didn’t even have a bloody knee to show for it considering the nice laptop bag that was going for “Best Blood” award!
Aid station 5 was serving ice-cream which looked rather appealing in the bright sunshine but I had to decline considering I was already having a hard time juggling my water bottle, a handful of grapes and the obligatory stash of gummi bears. My nutrition worked out pretty well for this race with the exception of downing 2 cups of coke way too quickly at aid station 3 and feeling like I was going to throw up a half mile later. But things had settled down again and I went through the race mostly munching of fruit and pretzels at the aid stations and filling up on water. I was carrying 3 power gels but didn’t use them. I did take the 6 electrolyte tablets though – definitely needed them with the heat. Ah yes, the heat… I don’t know what I was thinking when it came to packing clothes for the race. I decided to wear what I had worn the previous Wednesday morning for a training run around the Lakes at 5:30am and 40 degrees! Even having failed miserably to check the weather forecast you’d think I would have known it would not be anywhere near as cold. And driving south in the sunshine on Friday didn’t make me question my choice of clothing. I even stopped in at the Charlottesville Running Company to buy a cap as I had forgotten to pack one! Granted, I didn’t wear it. But I got a lot of strange looks throughout the day in my long sleeve icebreaker top and lightweight NF vest! I would have shed a layer except I really like both garments and was worried I wouldn’t get them back again… I couldn’t do much about the vest – no arms making it a little hard to tie around my waist. I did think about taking off the long sleeve and just wearing the vest but that seemed like altogether too much hard work. In any case, I don’t seem to do so bad in the heat which is just as well seeing as it got to around 80 and there was very little relief from the wind even at the higher points.
I ran mostly by myself for the journey back to Cornelius Creek which doubled as aid station 6 at around 24 miles. I was getting a little fed up along here as I vaguely remembered reaching the aid station at around 5 hours last year and had though I’d be a lot further ahead as I felt like I had gained more ground early on today. But as the minutes ticked away and the trail seemed to go on forever I was getting more and more despondent - until I met up with a pair of entertaining guys, one of whom had actually been to Sligo! They lifted my spirits as we continued along towards the aid station getting there at 4:50. Now for the fun part... after a half mile of relatively easy climbing the Apple Orchard Falls Trail kicks in and it is one-long-climb… for some reason I had it in my head that it took me 45 minutes last year so I was mentally prepared for that. Well, I guess I had looked at my watch a little further along last year as 50 minutes later I still hadn’t reached the falls – which weren’t even at the top of the climb! But my hiking pace wasn’t so bad despite the tight feeling in my hamstrings, especially my right one, all the way down into the back on my knee. There was a slight reprieve passing the waterfall along the boardwalk and being able to run for all of 60 seconds – just enough for the photographer to snap us with the scenic backdrop. About ten minutes later I finally reached the top, back at the Sunset Fields aid station with 5 miles to go. Phew – so glad to be through that section. Now I just had to figure out if my legs still knew how to run… thankfully we started out on a nice soft grassy trail for about a half mile. A brief climb and then we were back onto the early section of the course. I ran with a few people along here but took off once we hit the steeper downhill section of trail leading out onto the road at the last (and first) aid station. I saw 6:17 on my watch and took off like a bat out of hell on the ridiculously steep downhill. I knew from last year how much this hurt but I also knew that I really wanted to beat my time! This section on the road was just over 2.6 miles long so I figured I would finish under the 6:42 but I knew that as it flattened out towards the end my quads would really be screaming at me. I searched for that 1-mile orange marker painted on the road that we’d joked about as we passed it hours earlier. At one point the light filtering through the trees appeared as a cruel mirage up ahead... but finally there it was in reality. I glanced at my watch and funnily enough the time didn’t even register as I was mesmerized by my heart rate of 184 - how about that – hitting my max heart rate in the finishing stretch!
I crossed the finish line in a little over 6:36 to the congratulations of Dr. Horton and any hint of disappointment at not cutting more time off last year quickly faded as he told me I’d finished 5th female (after first noting how completely overdressed I was…). Sweet! I’d come 9th last year and even though a few of the top women were missing this year I felt really good to have placed well. The next few hours were spent soaking in the creek – which felt at least 10 degrees warmer than last year, relaxing in the sunshine - interspersed with a few torrential downpours, and sharing stories with the other runners – it’s always comforting to know I’m not the only demented person around. As the race director’s follow up email confirms we ultra runners are a breed apart...
"Please consider writing an article about your Promise Land experience especially if this was your first ultra or you had a memorable experience. I and other runners really like reading stories about events that we participate in. I’ll try not to bug you again today... but don’t count on it. I have definitely bugged Rachel, my secretary who’s typing this email, she says I’m weird... I probably am... and so are you! You run ultras!"
Helen's HRM data: Overall avg 153 (1st half 149/2nd half 157)
A little bit of climbing in the Blue Ridge Mountains...
Sunday, April 27, 2008
So this morning, after standing on the beach for several minutes staring at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, I scanned the map I’d pulled from a visitor's guide in search of an alternate route north. I wouldn’t mind but I’d been feeling so chilled out. I'd just had the best nights sleep in about a month, followed by a lovely stroll along the oceanfront (I miss the ocean!). But now I was telling myself to take deep breaths. Oh I knew I was going to take the bridge - it had been part of my plan for making my way leisurely from Lynchburg, after the race yesterday, to DC, in time for a work related dinner Monday evening. But for some reason despite the obvious scale of the map I’d looked at when vaguely planning the route last week, it just hadn’t hit me quite how long this bridge-tunnel combination was. I had pictured the Golden Gate Bridge, not The-Longest-Bridge-Tunnel-in-The-World.
This is a bad idea...It's quite the engineering feat. Initially constructed as a 2-lane series of bridges, each a couple of miles long, linked by two mile-long tunnels, it opened to traffic in the mid 1960's. Thirty years later a series of parallel bridges were constructed to accommodate the ever-increasing traffic. I think that was the most unsettling part of it, being able to see the bridges alongside. Not only did I feel like I was wobbling along 60 feet above the sea, but every so often I would glance across to the south-bound lane and all I could see was swaying concrete piles supporting the trestles. The fact that I was travelling north on the older bridges just added to the fun.
In case I hadn't enough excitement for one day - I ended it by travelling across the Bay Bridge into Annapolis. Even though it was a fraction of the distance it was every bit as nervewracking given the heavy rain and numerous warning signs reading “uneven pavement” and “steel plates”.
Give me 8000ft of elevation gain and loss on two feet any day!
Part 2 will follow shortly...
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Thursday, April 24, 2008
Anyway, I am off to DC in the morning, then driving approx 200 miles south to a campground north of Lynchburg where I'll set up camp along with over 100 other runners in anticipation of the race director's alarm horn at 4:30am Saturday! Anyone who has run a race directed by David Horton knows that his events are never without some interesting twist. And the Promise Land 50K is no different. I believe the race is actually just 50K - no "Horton miles" like the Masochist 50M in Nov which is closer to 54M - but instead we get to camp the night before and set off up the side of a mountain in the dark. Well, it was a blast last year and knowing the beautiful trail and scenery ahead of me I am excited to be taking part again. And I am looking forward to meeting up with the great group of local runners that run the Lynchburg series of races.
I am hoping to feel a little more energized than last weekend at Trail Mix. I am better rested for sure - due to a crazy week at work I haven't had the chance to work out much. Though I did get in a nice run early yesterday morning around the lakes. And in an effort to start analyzing my 'data' I wore my fancy new HRM...
no warm up (need to work on that)
avg speed 8.5mph
avg HR 159
1m cool down
Now, time to pack - tent, sleeping bag, running gear, hiking gear, and suit for conf. in DC... did I hear they charge for extra bags on northwest these days??
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Sunday, April 20, 2008
Never say Never
So you hear about the crazy guy who runs a marathon every month and you think you’ll never be like that no matter how much you enjoy running. And then one day you find yourself writing a race report only a month after the last one, which came about a month after the last one… and the calendar says the next one is only a few weeks away. I’m claiming temporary insanity...
Back in February I ran my first 50K on the rock and sand trails in Utah, then it was home to Ireland for a road marathon in beautiful (and hilly) Connemara, and then four weeks later, at the end of April, Kami and I headed back to the trails for another 50K, this time in south western Virginia. But to be fair, this one wasn’t in the original plan. After Utah I began to think I was ready for a 50 miler so I dug up an old copy of Trail Runner magazine to find an article I had read last year about a race in Virginia. I knew the race was in November so I was just thinking I’d read up on it and maybe enter in a few months. Turns out there’s a series of races in the same general area and the Promise Land 50K in April sounded like the ideal way to check if I’d be able for a real ultra at the end of the year. Kami didn’t take much convincing and so we started to plan the trip - with just one requirement – that it would be less stressful that the 20 hour journey to Moab (Utah). But of course we couldn’t make it too easy. So while we had the option of booking flights to Lynchburg, approximately 20 miles from race start, we decided to fly to Washington DC instead… 200 miles away and 200 dollars cheaper!
We landed in Dulles International Airport on the Friday afternoon and set off in a very smooth Mazda 3 (upgraded due to a mix of charm - Irish accent - and sympathy – race elevation chart) for the trip south. Once we got rid of the dreaded DC traffic, the scenery was lovely, much greener than I expected, with lots of farmland and forested mountains as we drove through the Shenandoah Valley. We stopped enroute to get food for the weekend – did I mention we’d be camping? Yes, an added sense of adventure on this trip was the recommendation by the race director that everyone camp the night before at the race start since it was sort of in the middle of nowhere and the race started at 5:30am. Didn’t sound so bad until an email on the Thursday told us the bathrooms and showers at the campsite weren’t working… but there was a stream nearby. Great. We arrived at the campsite around 6:30pm and got the tent up surprisingly quick. Then the dilemma of the mattress. We had packed a blow-up mattress complete with electric pump. But we were at a campsite without toilets so would we find a plug? We did, and at the risk of being laughed at by the hard core trail running contingent we got the mattress inflated and squeezed it into the tent. After a bite to eat it was time for bed. I felt very nervous about the next day and was not really looking forward to it. I had the usual feeling of pre-race un-preparedness but was also more anxious than normal. However, I dozed off quickly and luckily a major transformation occurred in my brain over the next few hours as I woke at 1:30am ready to rock! It would be another few hours before our wake-up call but there was no getting back to sleep. I was ready to go and the excitement continued to build so that by the time we set off I was really charged up for the day ahead… a completely irrational feeling which I blame on lack of sleep. As for the irrationality of being there in the first place, more on that later.
It was still dark when we started out from the campsite along with the 300 or so other runners, about 70 of whom were female, a fairly high ratio for a trail race. The first few miles were on a road and were straight uphill so there was a lot of walking and just trying to settle into it. By the time we reached the aid station at mile 3 it was light and then we turned off the road and onto the trail. And up and up we went, starting from an elevation of just over 1000ft we climbed to 3,000ft in the first 5 miles! But as soon as we hit level ground the fun started… with a few miles of flat and downhill on mostly wooded trails and then some lovely stretches of grass covered forest roads. We chatted to a few people along this section and found that a lot of the runners were local and ran the series of races every year so they had some good advice for the day ahead. The views from these grassy stretches along the side of the hills were breathtaking in the early morning sunshine. Aid station 3 was at around mile 9 and unlike every other trail race aid station was rather poorly stocked – but with good reason. The unfortunate volunteers had run into problems with their truck and had to hand-carry all of the drinks and food in from the road so they were probably more tired than us! Luckily it was only another 3 miles to the next aid station so we took what refills we could and continued along. We then climbed to the highest point of the race at just under 4000ft and after a short downhill on a gravel road we arrived at aid station 4 at Sunset Fields which is a popular picnic area with an overlook across much of the valley. Given the easy road access there were quite a few supporters here which makes a nice change for this type of race. We filled up on salty crackers, bananas, M&Ms and coke and set off on the most fun/nerve wracking/ankle twisting section of the course. The terrain was mostly packed earth with plenty of rocks and tree roots to keep us awake and a few stream crossings. We were flying down here loving every minute of it knowing that all too soon we’d be climbing again. Because it was quite a narrow path there was a little congestion every now and then as we came across small groups of runners who were a little more cautious than us. It’s always difficult to find the right balance between going all out on the downhill since it’s so much fun while also needing to save your legs for the next fifteen miles… but we were feeling good and figured we had to enjoy it while we could.
After a section of gentle downhill alongside a stream which we crossed a few times trying desperately not to get soaked, we arrived at aid station 5 – our first visit to Cornelius Creek – with around three and a half hours on the clock. We would be back here again after a loop which took us on a gravel road for about a mile followed by a relatively easy section in terms of climbs. But it was also the section of these longer races that I find most difficult – when you know that if you just stuck with road marathons you’d be done by now! Having said that the stretch of gravel road just didn’t feel as good as the uneven softer surface of the trails. It was only about 30 minutes to the next aid station at Colon Hollow (where do they get these names?) where the volunteers had t-shirts with the elevation map printed on so they reassured we still had about five easy miles before the BIG climb. After filling up on the usual mix of sweet and savoury carbs washed down with flat coke, we continued on and met a few people along the next section. Just when I was beginning to feel quite tired we came across two college students who were running together and the guy was suffering with IT-band pain so that stopped me feeling sorry for myself pretty quickly… thankfully I’ve only had one experience of getting injured during a race and it’s something I ever what to experience again. It must be especially bad when you really don’t have any choice but to keep going – no medical tent at mile 20 of this race!
We reached Cornelius Creek for the second time at just under 5 hours. I was feeling really good again and continued to run most of the next section before the trail started to climb back up towards the highest point. The next hour was spent mostly walking but I guess I was doing a decent pace and passed a lot of guys on this section. I credit this to regular yoga practice which has helped me finally develop core strength that helps a lot in the latter stages of longer races. My first trail marathon a few years ago took me over six hours and even though it was a wonderful experience one of the things I remember most clearly is that despite feeling strong in my legs over the final stages of the race my lower back and stomach muscles just weren’t up to the task, resulting in a general feeling of breakdown. But on this day, I was delighted to still feel good as the six hour mark approached. And because of this I managed a big smile as one of the race photographers captured each of us passing a stunning waterfall just before the top of the climb. Which was just as well since despite my love of trail running being largely due to the scenery I was definitely in competitive rather than contemplative mode at this point so instead of enjoying the view I passed the 2 guys who had stopped for a bit of sightseeing! Finally, after an hour of climbing we emerged from the trees at aid station 8 to be told by a volunteer that the worst was over and we had just flat and downhill left with one little uphill. Not quite believing it someone beside me asked the guy what his idea of a “little” hill was… but we were reassured it was nothing compared to what we’d just covered.
So, with a little left in the tank I set out along a nice flat grassy section and enjoyed being able to run upright again. About 25 minutes later we emerged from the trail and arrived at aid station 2 which also served as number 9 and after a very quick stop for a drink of coke, I set off on what was now a serious downhill. While this might seem ideal after all that climbing my quads were definitely not in the mood for speeding down a hill. But knowing that it was only about 20 minutes to the finish I figured I didn’t have much choice. About halfway down the hill I passed a guy who then caught up again and we ended up running the last 2 miles together. I was glad of the company as several times I wanted to stop and walk but at the same time wanted this to be over with! We hit the flat road about 200 meters from the campsite entrance and both cheered – my legs didn’t know what to do with themselves after flying down the hill but we managed to race each other to the finish line and crossed it together in 6:42 and 84th place (12th female). I was so happy to be done and thrilled to have finished strong. Kami finished a few minutes later with the very same feeling. After a few minutes chatting to people – and most importantly getting our pictures taken – we cooled off in the stream and got cleaned up, even managing to wash our hair! I know, blow-up mattress, washing the hair… not exactly hardcore but it worked. We relaxed in the sunshine for the next few hours, enjoying the BBQ and watching people finish. The look of pure satisfaction on (almost) everyone’s face was a reflection of what we were feeling. It’s not everyone who would chose to spend half a Saturday running/walking through the woods in an unknown corner of the country but all we could think about was coming back in November for the real one!
Other than the fact that at some level we are all designed to run (or at least I think that’s what Darwin said), I don’t believe I have any natural running talent. But I remember reading, after a year or so of shuffling along on a treadmill, that the only difference between jogging and running is determination. Well, that’s something I never been short of so I thought what the hell. Four years and many miles later, sometimes I still need determination to get me out the door but mostly I run because for me, it has become one of the most natural and rewarding things I can do. This feeling is captured much more eloquently in a book I’m reading by John Bingham (he writes the "Penguin Chronicles" in the US edition of Runners' World):
"I recall running once in rural northern Carolina. I was waddling along with a sense of urgency when an elderly man pulled alongside me in his car. He stopped to ask me what I was doing. Astonished at his ignorance, I announced with measured indignity that I was running. Obviously unconvinced, he looked at me with suspicion and asked: 'Running? From what?'
I didn't have time to tell him from what. I didn't have time to tell him that I was simply running to run. That I was running because on that day, on that road, the thought of not running never occurred to me. I didn't have time to tell him that I was running for no more important reason than because I could. I didn't have time to describe the emotional rush that overwhelmed me when I realized that I could."
And three weeks ago, running on the beautiful trails in south western Virginia, that’s exactly how I felt.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Chatted for an hour over coffee with Kevin and Eric before heading home to get cleaned up and over to my hair apt. Still trying to figure out what to do with short curly hair!! The rest of the day so far has been spent catching up on work and consoling myself that I am going to go for a nice long bike ride tomorrow. I know, what I really need to do is NOTHING but I am just no good at recovery. Or taper. Or whatever it is I should be doing after last weekend and before next weekend. I need the opposite of that 5hr energy drink I hear being advertised all the time. I need a 5hr relax drink. Yeah I know, it's called red wine...
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Friday, April 18, 2008
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Oh my gosh - I am sat here watching the Colbert Report (one of my fav shows!) - and Hillary Clinton is after walking on set - he's doing the show from Philly ahead of next week's primary. Ha - she only stayed a few minutes but she was funny. Nice one. Not that it matters since I can't vote. Which is good since it means I'm allowed to be on the fence! But I do enjoy watching the debates. Though I almost feel bad for them with some of the questions. Like seriously - is it really that important that Obama doesn't wear a flag pin? Is that really worthy of debate on national TV when the country is (1) at war, (2) in recession, and (3) incredibly divided. Ok, that enough. It's a dangerous road to start talking politics when I have such little history in the country. Anyway, another 20 minutes sucessfully wasted and I still have work to do. Better plan on an early night tomorrow night or the 4 loops won't feel so good Saturday... Oh - now John Edwards is on the show doing "Tonight's Word" - he's good - ok so it's totally scripted but he's pulling it off. Still, I don't think his endorsement (if he ever gets around to deciding - how's that for holding out 'til someone ask you to be VP) is really going to make a huge difference. Ok. gotto go. Oh wait - to finish off Barak Obama has just come on via videolink. Good segment. Funny. I like him but I always get the feeling he's speaking like he's on the podium no matter what the setting is. Not in the sense that everything is scripted but I think that he's such a good orator that it's easy for him to always be in speech mode so that I feel like he's talking at you not to you. Anyway. Am signing off this time!
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
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Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Tomorrow morning I'll be up early for a run with Bronywn. I am thinking I'll be able for the 7-8 miles but better not get too cocky... I have a massage tomorrow evening and knowing Sue she will unearth more that a few troublesome areas. My shoulders did take a lot of the stress on Saturday and are a reminder of the long day out there. I have a bad habit of tensing them while running and I know all that awkward shuffling on the trail made it worse than usual. I'm not sure if it worked but I will recommend it anyway - IB-relief - it's a topical ibuprofen cream that I believe recently got approved in the US. It's kinda spendy and I generally don't advocate dosing up on meds but the fact that you don't actually ingest the stuff makes it seem almost harmless!
Still on the fence about Saturday. I know I will end up starting the 50k and mostly likely finishing it but I want to reserve the right to drop out if I start to feel any pain! I just recently added a return trip to the Promise Land 50k in Virginia the following weekend and I want have a good run down there. I need to go to DC for work the following week and as I was looking at flights out there it hit me that it was the weekend Kami and I had flown out there for the race last year. I checked the website and sure enough the race was Saturday and registration was still open. David Horton puts on an excellent series of races around Lynchburg and after an awesome experience at both this race the Mountain Masochist in November I am excited to be heading back down there. A lot of the same names have signed up again and I am looking forward to seeing a few people I ran with on one or other or both of the races last year. And I figure it will be good training for the Jemez Mountains 50M in mid-May. Yeah, that's the other one that just got added to the race list! I have been planning it for a while but have kept it to myself as it's a bit of a mad idea given the course profile - which I could pull up and post here but I am not quite ready to study it again. Hopefully the altitude in the Blue Ridge Mountains will produce a few red blood cells just in time for the trip to Los Alamos...
Monday, April 14, 2008
It’s always fun to take part in something new so when I saw the posting for the inaugural Chippewa Moraine 50k I didn’t hesitate to sign up. I hadn’t much on the calendar for spring (a misnomer for April in the Midwest if ever there was one…) but knew I wanted a few early 50k’s so that I could get up to 50 milers in the summer in preparation for the big one – Sawtooth 100 in September. It’s been on my ‘to do’ list since my first adventure up on the Superior Hiking Trail back in 2005 and needless to say Kami was easily roped in. Fingers crossed we will be ready for it...
According to Wikipedia - "Most mammoths died out at the end of the last Ice Age" - I guess this one survived and hung around the Northwoods for a few more years until Wynn was out hunting one day..."
Whatever it is about Kami and I driving to a race (recall snowstorm on I-70 enroute to Moab last year) we can’t do it without a little drama and Saturday morning was no different. Given that it was about a 2hr drive we decided to just drive out that morning rather than stay overnight. Even when the weather took a turn for the worst it still seemed like a good idea. It wasn’t so bad for me but Kami living an hour west of the Twin Cities had to leave her place at 3am. I had the luxury of setting my alarm for 4am, hopping out of bed seconds before the doorbell rang. We were on the road by 4:30am, hot tea in hand. I-94 was fine but once we headed north towards Chippewa Falls it was a different story. It didn’t help that I couldn’t follow the Mapquest directions but luckily I had a road map in the car and we found our way after a few moments of indecision. As we made our way onto the smaller roads close to the race start it was a little hairy not knowing how slippery the roads were but it got easier with the sun coming up. Got to test the road conditions at a junction close to the park entrance - hopefully I didn’t frighten the other driver when my brakes struggled to stop me just in time to avoid going through the stop sign – I know my heart rate got higher than it would be for the rest of the day!
It was about 6:35am when we parked the car with race start at 7am. So we quickly got our things together, filled water bottles, stuffed a few gu’s in the pockets, all the while I’m chowing down my bowl of cereal. We warmed-up by jogging up the hill to check-in, picked up a very nice technical t-shirt and dropped it back to the car. Close to 180 people had registered for the race but only 120 had checked in ahead of us. I guess some thought better of it upon reading the race directors blog the previous day describing the trail conditions and weather forecast. A few minutes later we were back at race start to listen to Wynn’s race briefing before lining up at the race start – essentially a few flags lining the course in a field of snow! A hint of what was to come…
We started off by heading back down the hill on the road and then crossed over onto the trail. It became immediately apparent that the guys at the front had their work cut out for them. It must have been like doing the high-knee drill… for 15 miles rather than across a football field. And while it was definitely a little easier for us followers it was impossible to find a steady running pattern. I would try to follow the person in front of me but inevitably they would have a shorter or longer stride than me. I tried keeping my legs close together so that my feet would stop sliding off to the side – but then I’d end up kicking my ankles. All trail races require more focus that road running where you can sometimes lose yourself and still maintain a steady pace. But this was something else. But damn it was beautiful. The snow that had fallen steadily all day Friday and through the night was that wet and fluffy kind that sticks to everything. The trees looked picture perfect as we meandered our way by the first of many lakes. Almost all the trail was single track so we arrived at the first aid station in a long line of runners. We were wearing gaiters for the first time and of course we’d put them on the wrong way but thankfully they did the job. Kami adjusted hers while I grabbed a handful of gummi bears. Ok, two handfuls of gummi bears. The mile marker sheet read ‘2’ but it was half covered so I figured it was 3.2 as it seemed like that first section had taken forever. But upon closer inspection it was simply 2! A little rounding perhaps – but I was glad to know for the way back how long it would take to the finish line from that last aid station. It was a straight out and back course.
The next few miles passed quickly enough and we got to the mile 5 aid station in the middle of much the same bunch of runners. Another handful of gummis and a few M&Ms and I was good to go. I’d started the run well-hydrated but knew that I should be drinking more. I was carrying a 24oz water bottle so I told myself it would be empty by the next aid station. Along the next section of trail I passed maybe ten or twelve runners – stepping off the beaten track into the knee-deep snow – a little taste of what the leaders were going through! The trail itself was not particularly difficult in that the hills were mostly runnable and the footing would likely be pretty good under decent weather conditions. But there was nothing decent about the slushy snow that provided no resistance so that each time my foot went slightly to the left or right it just kept going… it would have been easy to get frustrated but it was a little too early for that and anyway we knew what we were getting ourselves into here and we still came. I recalled “No whining” being top of the list of race rules on the website!
I got some water at the aid station at mile 8 though I hadn’t drank much more than half of my bottle. Didn’t eat anything here. That’s probably the worst thing about running in colder conditions, you don’t feel much like eating or drinking. Most unusual for me. Especially given the selection of goodies available at trail race aid stations. We soon came to a section of road which felt like heaven (I know, a blasphemous thing to say about a trail race) but the solid footing provided a much needed reprieve. If only for a few minutes. The next aid station came quickly at mile 10 so I didn’t stop here. Which as it turned out wasn’t a great idea as the next one wasn’t until the turnaround. The course description and aid station details that I had printed out were somewhere in my car but of course I hadn’t actually gotten around to reading them. I guess I’ll know for next year…
The next five miles were tough. No question about it. Although, I was one of the lucky ones that didn’t take a wrong turn at around mile 12. The lead pack had done so and traveled up a ‘trail’ about a quarter mile or more until standing in waste deep snow they came to agreement that bad and all as the course was this couldn’t be it. Another group in front of me had done the same thing and were just back at the junction when I got there. I felt bad for them. We were about 2.5 hours out there at this stage and no one was in the mood for bonus miles but in fairness they were all pretty jolly about it! I was hoping to see the race leaders on their return any moment now. It would be bit hairy stepping off course to let them by but I figured the sooner I saw them the closer I was to the turnaround. Sure enough along came Adam, with a big hello for me. He looked in flying form. I knew from reading his blog that he’d logged plenty of miles and it certainly seemed to be paying off. A few more runners passed me and then John who I’d had the pleasure of running with the previous week at Zumbro Bottoms. I was having fun again now, and I got the sense that I was doing pretty well out here which of course helped me push harder. It’s all in the mind! The pack had spread out a lot by this stage but I could always see a few in front of me and knew there were runners not far behind. I’d passed a few ladies earlier on and a few more in the last few miles but I figured there were still a few ahead of me. Not so, I arrived at the turnaround aid station to be told by Wynn that I was the first female – nice one. Downed a few cups of coke, some pretzels and yet another stash of gummi bears (I tell myself I could be addicted to worse things). Heading down the hill from the aid station I met a bunch of people including two of the ladies that I had passed. Under pressure now! I was guessing the return course would be a little easier given that the snow would be more packed. But of course some sections would be worse where the snow had melted and the mud had taken over. Still, my legs felt good and I felt like I had plenty of energy to get through it. Strangely enough my back and shoulders had been giving me the most problems. I think the hot yoga class on Friday might not have been a great idea. It has been a while since I’d taken that class and there are a lot of back bends. But I knew it wasn’t something that would really slow me down. Unbeknown to me Kami was having a pretty rough time out there. She was suffering from a severe lack of sleep (work and school) and was probably coming down with something. But fair play to her she gave me one of her huge smiles when I met her. Meeting people on the way back was really motivating – almost everyone had a smile on their face and it was just amazing to see so many people pushing through these kinds of conditions knowing how worthwhile it would be at the finish line.
The first few miles on the way back passed really quickly. I had definitely picked up the pace – helped by a guy from Michigan who was doing his first 50k. What a way to start your ultra career! We ran together for a few miles. Then I ran for a bit with Steve who I’d run with the weekend before also. His feet weren’t doing so well. I’d managed to keep mine reasonably dry until about mile 10. The first time my foot landed squarely in the puddle of mud and water was a nasty shock but after a few more it didn’t seem so bad and eventually I forgot what it was like to have dry feet. I only felt pain in one of my toes for short while around mile 20 and thankfully they went a little numb after that. I’d stopped counting the number of falls long ago. Most of the time it was just down on one knee as my foot went too far in one direction. Though there was a particularly graceful one just after the turnaround when I met Todd and I’d half turned to exchange a few words. Down I went, face first.
By the time I reached the aid station at mile 21 the effort was catching up with me. I filled up on water and had another cup of coke but didn’t feel much like eating. But after this aid station was the section of road so it was nice to get a break again. I’d been exchanging positions with a guy in a neon yellow vest which served as a great visual aid to focus on when I started to fall behind. I eventually finished a few paces behind him and had to thank him as he really kept me going in those last few miles. And another huge thanks must go to the volunteers – I can imagine it got pretty cold for them at times standing around waiting for us all but they all had a smile and words of encouragement for us. Every time I say I’ll pass on entering the next race and volunteer instead. Someday I’ll actually follow through on that. Before long I was at the mile 23 aid station and took another gu knowing I still had well over an hour to go. Most of the next section was considerably better on the return journey but there were a lot of muddy sections and sure enough as I was navigating through one my leg got caught in a branch and down I went right into it. I put my hands down first so I made a nice mess of my gloves – and my water bottle. Of course I was more worried about anyone seeing me fall yet again so I hopped up and tried to clean myself up grabbing handfuls of snow as I went along. I was able clean the bottle well enough to keep drinking and when I got to the next aid station with about 5 miles to go I dumped the gloves. I thought I was so smart to have put a spare pair in my jacket pocket – until I pulled them out and they were soaked. So much for my super technical water proof windbreaker – clearly not road tested by multiple rolls in the snow! I kept the neon yellow vest in my sights well enough for the next few miles and was running just behind when we came to the last aid station. I felt like I was keeping a good pace but I will admit to having looked behind me several times by this stage – not that I could see more than 20 meters back on the winding trail – and not that I was at all sure I’d be able do anything about it if the next lady came along behind me! But no sign of anyone. We’d passed one or two guys along this section but mostly it had been a quiet old time for the last several miles. Decided I may as well take my third gu after we left the aid station. It might say 2 miles to go but I knew it would be a good 25 minutes to the finish. My legs were still feeling pretty good - no ill effects from running with the two Eric’s on Wednesday night after all. I was giving them a hard time for making me run fast but maybe it loosened out my hamstrings which have been giving me trouble.
There was nothing typical about how I felt on this race. The conditions meant that every core stabilizing muscle was being called upon and I was building up lots of tension in my shoulders but my legs felt good most of the run and while I wasn’t wearing a heart rate monitor – or a watch for that matter – I knew that apart from a few of the hills on the way back when the footing was really bad I hadn’t felt really winded too often. But the last mile and a half I was trying to pick it up a little. It was a race I will remember with pride but at that stage I just wanted to be done! And there was always that risk one of the ladies would come whizzing by… Seeing the cars parked along the road high above the path I knew it was less than a mile to go, around the edge of the lake, winding up and up until eventually seeing the clearing. Though I had remembered it differently from the start as I thought we immediately came out onto the road but there was still about a quarter mile of trail along the edge of the woods and then onto the road and back up that hill, crossing back to the trail and onto the last stretch of snow I plan to run on for several months… And across that finish line… first female… sweeeet!
It was a surprise to win this race. Ok maybe not a big surprise by the time I crossed the finish line. But standing at the start line that morning I didn’t have much aspirations. I had run a decent 50k out in Orcas Island in February but have really been taking my time getting in shape this year. And I’m not very comfortable with winning races. It’s not false modesty. I know I’m a good runner. It’s just that I never expected to be a good runner. I’m strong, I have endurance, I’m determined and I have my head in the right place (most of the time). But I’m not naturally athletic and it wasn’t that long ago that the idea of winning a race was absurd. I’ve always been into outdoor activities but I was pretty unfit as a teenager and that continued through college. When I moved to Japan I started making it to the gym pretty regularly and eventually worked my way up to running 5km in 30min on the treadmill (so you can imagine how good the recent 20:12 PR felt!). But after tearing my meniscus while skiing and then moving back home a few months later I easily fell into my old habits and it took me a few years to find the gym again. I drew a lot of inspiration from a friend training for her first marathon and after a few short road races during the summer of 2003 I just sort of stuck with it. Starting to run outdoors helped a lot. I’d always run on the treadmill at the gym. But soon heading out for an hour long run was just something I did. And the amazing this was that I was no longer running to get fit, or to lose weight. I was simply running to run. And to compete of course – against myself mostly. Though beating the skinny bean with the matching Nike gear felt good too.
Anyway, that’s enough sharing for one day. All this blogging has made me a bit soft in the head…
Special word of thanks to Wynn for the awesome award. I look forward to finding an appropriate place to hang it and having to explain it many many times! And for the lovely ‘finishers print’ from a scene along the trail that each runner received after crossing the finish line – what a neat tradition to start. The post-race grub was excellent too. I was driving so had to pass on the beer but it doesn’t get much better than vegetarian chilli followed by hot chocolate and blueberry pie!
Looking forward to next year already. Delighted to hear it is a little later in April. I am glad to have experienced Saturday’s conditions but I’m excited to go back and have a completely different trail race. Though the same outcome would be nice...
Béibhin Lucy Scott (7lb 9oz, 50 cm) arrived Monday morning (Perth time).
It’s an Irish name pronounced ‘bay-ven’.
Mother & baby doing well – I haven’t spoken to my sister Fiona yet but we exchanged a few text messages. My niece Ella who is 4 was speechless when she saw the baby which is most unusual for her. But later managed to say “It’s a girl – I was right”!! Indeed – she would have been terribly upset if a boy had come along as he might not like her plans to dress the baby in pink. And only pink.
Tuesday update: chatted to my sister last night for a few minutes - they are all doing well. And got a photo today - how cute is she??!!
end of post.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
More to come tomorrow. Now I sleep for 12 hours...
Thanks Wynn for a really great event!
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Sunday, April 6, 2008
My leg still looks a mess but thankfully it's just skin deep. I thought my shin would be sore this morning but I actually felt great all over. I think the last few days of ramping up the training is doing me more good than harm! 60 min bike ride Friday and 90 min yesterday afternoon (in the sunshine!) - along with the two runs - and somehow my hamstrings feel better than they have in the past 3 weeks... long may it last. I have a massage with Sue tomorrow so I'm going to have her work on that mostly as my usual neck and shoulder issues are not too bad this month. Whatever I did in yoga 2 weeks ago when I pinched a nerve in my shoulder - while extremely painful at the time - actually seemed to help in the long run. In the end I guess our bodies just work some things out...
Now - I gotta check out the results of the Connemara Marathon - the one I should have been doing back home today! I signed up for it the day after I ran it last year as I had such a blast. If you are ever thinking of a marathon in Ireland please check it out - you won't be sorry. Given various work and travel schedules I ended up deferring to next year. Looking forward to it already!
Saturday, April 5, 2008
Yes, there is a good story behind this...
Of course once we got to Tielman we were a little lost not having a clue where the trail started. But sure enough we spotted a few people in a car wearing what we decided was technical fabric - we'd make great detectives - and followed them... indeed Nancy, her husband and friend were headed in the right direction.
After a few minutes chatting with Larry (confirming he did receive my Sawtooth entry - no backing out now!) and others we set off towards the river. We ran with John (2008 Arrowhead winner - WOW - 'nuff said!) and Steve - nice flat run along the river, across the bridge, up and down a few big ones and after an hour or so we left the guys at the river as they were going quite a bit longer than us. In any case I think it was only fair to let them off as we are just a tad slower! So we headed back along the south/east side of the river, back across the bridge and back to the picnic area.
Oh - you want to know about the leg - well, ok... so I'm hammering down that last hill on icy snow knowing it was just a matter of time until I wiped out. The packed snow wasn't so bad but every few yards there were patches of ice - I thought maybe my feet were going fast enough that they weren't actually touching the ice for long enough to slip... not so! Around a corner, no chance to navigate around the icy patch and down I went, slid along the ice and snow into a tree. THUMP!
Oh how I wish that was what actually happened! The truth - Pam and I are running back to the picnic area after a very enjoyable 2hr run - and I decide, in my infinite wisdom - sure, I can hurdle the HEAVY GAGE ROPE (which as Pam told me later is there to stop cars!) - OW OW OW - most emabarassing of all - there were witnesses.
Oh well. I'll know better next time... and at least I can tell my running into the fence story to people - when I'm ready to be laughed at that is. Pam on the other hand had a similar experience with a fence that you might not hear until after a few cocktails...