April 22, 2012

The Elusive 100 Miler

Okay, so maybe it isn't elusive...but it felt like the right word to use at the time. Probably the word inevitable is better to use.

Let's start from the beginning.

Tuesday I skipped my four mile run and instead walked eight blocks to buy wine and planned to have some intimate calf time with my lacrosse ball. My right calf was just sooo unhappy with me. BUT it will all be okay. Even though I didn't ACTUALLY use the lacrosse ball....I did use the wine, however. Heh heh.

On Wednesday I decided to go to Great Falls Park/Difficult Run area to meet up with the DCCS trail group. The plan was to get to GFP early, get a head start on my 10 planned miles and meet up with everyone in the parking lot when I was finished. Not so much. Rick also got there early, so we chatted for a bit til I eventually peeled off for my 'head start' which ended up only being a 15 min lead. In the rain. While I'm already sick. Needless to say, I did not complete my 10. Hooray me! I did complete five miles, five very...degrading miles. You see, I already mentioned my stupid calf pain...and apparently there is no such thing as a flat trail...and three days of trail running a week (plus two days of road running) sure does take a toll on my already fragile leggies and my mindset. One of the main problems occurred (has been consistently occurring?) when I was heading up a steep climb. I wasn't bounding up it like the rabbits that were the other members of the group. I was like a hippo huffing and puffing my way up to the top, stopping to gasp for air, hand on my hip, finger raised to tell the world to hang on a sec. Because, duh, hippos huff AND puff. You better believe it.  Makes a girl feel a taaaaad out of shape. Me feeling a tad out of shape should sound completely ridiculous to me, but when you are looking down the barrel of a 50 mile 'gun', it seems a little more realistic. I think I can make it 50k, pretty doable in my mind. It's that last dang 19 that seems a little iffy for me, adding in the time limit. The funny thing is, at 15 miles left I think I can coax myself to just finish. Something about that extra four miles...I hear the last 15 are all mental anyway.

If you know me and my past history of races and major phobia of their time cut offs, you would laugh hysterically (okay maybe not hysterically...) and try to convince me that I am just silly to worry about the 13 hour cutoff for this fifty miler.   I have obsessed over other time cutoffs only to not even come close to needing to worry about them. But, as always with a new distance, it's on my mind. This is not a walking race (not that anyone should want to walk 50 miles. that would take forever). I know it's acceptable to run the flats and downhills and walk the uphills, but there are a lot of uphills...and remember the hippo? Doesn't seem to bode well for me. I have just about six weeks left. SIX. WEEKS. How did that even happen? And then you combine that with the fact that I've sucked at running this week.... S.T.R.E.S.S. Plus, while at BRR I witnessed new ultra runners come in three minutes before the cutoff...yikes.

I'm also worried that my garmin won't hang in there for 13 hours. What if it craps out half way and I'm flying 'blind' time wise?

Part of me feels confident that I will finish this race. But then there's that weak part I'm always fighting that says I am not trained enough, I'm out of shape...

I tried to trail run on Friday, but about two ish miles in I decided it wasn't worth it to cause more tension in my calf and ruin my weekend long runs. LACROSSE BALL. Also, I've almost convinced myself that I am not taking in enough calories to support the mileage change. I'm working on that.

I decided that my body obviously is trying to tell me that it needs a recovery week. So I rearranged my schedule to reflect this week as recovery, next week's long runs will be 26-10, then 0-31, 24-10, 13.1-14, 10-6, race. So no more recovery weeks until it's time to taper. The shining element out of all of this is at least I am comfortable and confident on trails now! I need to see if I can find a cheap trail shoe with more cushion than my sportivas. A friend recommended the Montrail Masochists, so we'll see. She runs 100s in them. I love the sportivas so much, but they are not for long distances. It seems like there is virtually no cushioning in them. I tried my pair of Cascadias 6 again and they just will not work. Ever. Not even for a short trail run. They suck.

So on a different note (not really...just a bad segway), I was doing some research for my man...since we signed up for the Bear Chase 50 Mile run in Lakewood, CO on Sept 30. It will be his first attempt (and completion) at a 50 miler, and it will be my second attempt (and hopefully second completion, lord willing the NF 50 goes well!). He's as eager as I was when the training plan was fresh and untainted with my sweat, blood (yes, blood), and tears. Oh so many tears...

Anyway, he wants to find some trail races that fit into the training schedule. So I got to lookin. Then I got to thinkin. As I was looking for a trail marathon around Sept 8 and a 50k around Aug 26, that I never actually finished researching because I found the Hardrock 100 which is a well known 100 miler, (seriously, don't you just love run-on sentences? Again, supporting the fact that my mom is right. I should not be a teacher), I started thinking about all those crazy trail ultra runners I know. I look up to all of them because they have far surpassed my mileage goals and keep encouraging me to think about going even farther. So when I came across Hardrock 100, I had also been texting with K. I jokingly said, 'what will you ever do if I say I'm doing a 100 miler?' Bring Bring (that's the phone....). She called me immediately. 'YOU BETTER CALL ME THE SECOND YOU SIGN UP SO I CAN COME PACE YOU. THERE, OR LEADVILLE, WHEREVER.' (which btw I do aspire to attempt the 50 and 100 of Leadville. Probably before Hardrock, because Hardrock has some interesting rules about registration).  Interesting reaction, and not one that I expected at all. I expected her to scoff at the idea of so many miles, call me crazy, etc. Have a normal reaction. But no, I think she's adjusted to my madness, and with that easy acceptance, I allowed myself to fully consider the hope of one day competing in a 100 miler (don't freak out, Mom). I would LOVE a belt buckle, but one that comes cheaper and with less hoopla than WS100 does. Though, I'm not saying I wouldn't do WS100 IF I ever qualified, got accepted by the lottery, and could pay the $350 or whatever the outrageous fee is, plus the cost of travel...

I love this new community I've found myself in. I've researched ultra/trail running groups in CO and I am so excited to join them out there and learn so much from everyone (seems I will be one of the younger folks in the pack). One of the best things I've learned so far is how individual this sport is. What works for one will not work for all. And with that individuality, and the lonely environment of running for over 6 hours, I feel so welcome by everyone and so included.

What's not to love about ultra running?

In finale, I bring you to something I read from NoMeatAthlete.com when he was training for NFE 50 Mile in 2010, with eight weeks remaining.

"Only eight weeks left until I run 50 miles at the North Face Endurance Challenge in Washington, D.C. ! Sometimes that's exciting; other times it makes me want to soil myself. I have this terrible fear that somehow I'm going to wake up on race day morning completely unprepared for the distance..."

Yup, that's what I think too. Good to know I'm not alone with those thoughts. 

Also would like to share this: http://www.hawaiianshirtray.com/training-exercise/50-mile-training-program/

"Here is the secret to a successful 50 mile training program; push tired muscles.  You need to get comfortable pushing muscles that have not recovered from yesterdays long run.  Keep this in mind, during your 50 mile training program you will never be as tired as you will be when you are actually racing.  So, when you are pushing tired muscles during training, you need to tell yourself when you start to cry-babying, that this is not even close to what it will feel like on race day."

Yikes, so much to look forward to!  :D

Happy trails, everyone!

April 16, 2012

Sacrifice, Dedication, Fulfillment

Where to begin with such a long and exhausting weekend. It sure doesn't feel like I had Friday off, I guess since I volunteered all day instead of relaxing like I really need. This week seemed to really wear me down with work and running. In fact, I felt so exhausted that when Thursday rolled around, I gave myself the day off from running. Friday and Saturday I had committed to volunteering for the 20th running of Bull Run Run (50 miler) starting at Hemlock Overlook in Clifton, VA. If you're looking for a 50 miler, I highly suggest this one. I haven't run it myself, but after spending two days with the volunteers, club members, and race director, I am 100% sure that it is a race I will do within the next few years. Everyone is so genuinely friendly and they want to help you and get you what you need to cross that finish line. The entry fee is small and you get such great treatment and an intimate environment that you won't get with other races...like say the North Face Endurance that I signed up for. I'm not saying NF won't put on a great show, I just mean to say that the members at VHTRC are really incredible. To think I have been intimidated by them since I joined the club...I've missed out on opportunities to grow as a runner, train with some great people, and have ears to bounce my training plan off of. They gave me running advice freely, and we just as generous with their encouragement...exactly what I needed.

Anyway, enough of my love affair with the group. So Friday, I didn't run. One of the women I was volunteering with chatted with me about the trails I run and I told her about my debacle the other weekend at Algonkian Regional Park and how I couldn't find the trailhead (I love run-on sentences). She drew me a map and told me instead of starting from ARP, I could go down Seneca Road, park there and immediately from the parking lot is a trailhead. So I got home around 930pm, rested a little to wake up at 5am and head to Seneca Road to run 16 ish miles before going to Hemlock Overlook to volunteer at noon.

When you go down Seneca Rd and park, there are two options. A gravel road will lead you straight down (curvy and downhill) to the river where you can pick up PHT by turning to the right to head downriver towards Great Falls. The other option is across from where you park, there are some connector trails that will eventually lead you to PHT and Great Falls. I chose the connector trails in the freezing 40 degrees that was Saturday morning. It's a pretty hilly route to get to PHT, but it sure did turn beautiful once the sun came out.

Just so pretty with the haze over the water and whitetail deer everywhere. I was trying out my new hydration vest instead of my handheld Nathan or my camelbak. I love my camelbak, but it just isn't cutting it for my long runs anymore, now that my miles have gone way up. The way this training has been going, I am eating a lot more gels while I'm out on a course than I would for a marathon. I also want to carry other food alternatives with me so I can experiment with nutrition options for race day. You can't do a 50 miler on Gu alone! Enter the Nathan Women's Intensity Hydration Vest:

So this thing ended up being incredible. I can load so much stuff in here! There is a 70oz slide top bladder, a small zipper pocket on the right strap that holds plenty of gels and chapstick for easy accessibility. The left strap has a drawstring pocket that easily fit my phone with extra room. On the back is the compartment for the bladder, which still has a liiiittle bit of room if you need it, but there is also a pocket on top of that which held some granola bars, my key, more gels, my nuun tablets, my long sleeve shirt when I got hot...the visor even fits in there. The straps are comfortable and very adjustable. My only minor complaint is that the mouth valve can be a little difficult when your hands are frozen or you are a million miles into a run because you twist it to lock or unlock to take a sip. Very minor. I think I got it for only $65 at runningwarehouse.com.

So back to the runs: I ran from Seneca Rd to the beginning of Great Falls Park, then turned around and came back. Hills, hills, hills. Originally I thought Great Falls would be the toughest part of the 50 miles, but now I'm not so sure. There are flat parts on PHT, but there are also steep ups that drained my legs. I would get to the top of a climb and just want to find a rock to sit down, haha. I'm so lazy. I ran into Kate on my way into the Riverbend Park section and we chatted for a bit before heading off in different directions. That helped breathe new life in to me, at least for a little while. After the turn around my hip started to hurt, but seemed okay when I pulled over every once in a while to stretch it out. I learned this weekend that it is not uncommon for ultra runners to do what I've been doing, push through the pain then do something about it down the road after a race. It isn't recommended, but it's understood haha. I got good advice about stretching it out and what not. So eventually I made it back to the area I was supposed to turn onto the connector trail to go back to the car...the only problem was that I couldn't find it. Eventually a big group of hikers told me how to get to the gravel road and up up UP I went to finally get back to the car. I am SO over going uphill now. Exhausted, sweaty, and 18 ish miles later (my garmin died on me) I crawled into my car and drove the hour to Hemlock. It's funny how you can spend four hours completely alone with no music, part of the time hating being out there but somehow convincing yourself to keep going. At times when I didn't feel like running I would repeat DK's quote: 'Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.' I could run the flats, so when I got to those I just told myself 'run when you can, you can run this flat part.' Just keep moving, keep your momentum. One of the greatest lessons I've learned about ultra running so far is how to get myself through the parts I don't want to do...how to keep myself going when I only have myself to rely on.

The whole approach to ultra running and planning for races is so individual. You can't cookie cutter a plan. You have to realize that you need to tailor things to the way you are feeling and what your body says it can handle. If you need a break, you need to take the day off. Need not feel guilty about missing a run because your body tells you to.

Once I got to Hemlock it was so great to be right by the finish line watching people complete something I have been on a journey to complete in 7 weeks. The first male finisher completed BRR in 6 hours and 24 minutes. THAT'S ABOUT AN HOUR SLOWER THAN MY MARATHON TIME. Sigh. Truly incredible to witness. The first woman finisher shattered the woman course record by 17 minutes. 17 MINUTES! That's HUGE. She looked so at ease about it all too. From the first finishers, to the people who came in two minutes before the cutoff, it was just so great to be there cheering , congratulating, and witnessing people's different reactions to finishing. It was also interesting to see how some people (the seasoned ultra runners) seemed like they just finished a 5k with the way they were walking after the race, and how some people (like how I assume I will be) were hobbling all over the place...looking like they actually just did 50 miles. One of the VHTRC members told me that when he first started doing ultras, he had a similar experience to mine. Tired all the time, legs wiped out, muscles sometimes feeling like they are okay but the rest of your body not seeming to adjust on the same schedule. He told me to expect 18 months before everything catches up and makes the adjustment, but that the exhaustion will go away. After all, pain is temporary, right? It was so good to hear that eventually everything will fall into place and the runs will seem to get easier. He also told me that my most important runs will be the Saturday runs in the 20s with the Sunday runs in the 10-15 range. It will best simulate race day conditions when you hit mile 38 and your legs are tapped but you have to keep going (He said the straight 31 miler with no Sunday run is also important, but not as much as the 26/12 will be).

I witnessed this on a smaller scale this Sunday. After doing the 18 miles on Saturday and standing most of the rest of the day...I went to Rosaryville on Sunday for a 10 mile loop. Ouch. My legs after the 18 miler alone felt way better than if I had done the miles on a road. But it's still effort on your legs regardless, especially with all those hills. When I began running on Sunday, my legs felt like complete jello and did not want to participate. Rosaryville also has plenty of hills for a ten mile loop and it was miserably hot to make things worse. Just over all it was an incredibly taxing run, mentally, physically...everything. In those ten miles, I managed to completely drain my 70oz bladder and was dripping sweat, head all the way soaked. Gross. Good indication (unfortunately) of what the race will feel like in the 80s. I felt a little wobbly after that but still not nearly as bad as when I did my marathon training. My muscles are pretty sore, but workable.

I feel like I've come such a long way.

"The last five miles . . . was perfect misery, none of us having scarcely strength to put one foot before the other, but I tell you the cheers we rec'd going through the streets of Washington seemed to put new life into [us] . . . ."

- Corporal Samuel J. English in a letter to his mother after the First Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861

April 08, 2012

Oh Deer

I don't know if I've ever seen more deer in one weekend ever in my life. EVER. This week was the (re)beginning of my back to back long run weekends. One of nine. It was supposed to be 13 on Saturday, and 8 on Sunday. It ended up being 8 (or 9?...not sure) on Saturday and 13 on Sunday. Whoopie I actually completed the weekend! Friday night was lame for me, as usual. I went to bed at a respectable time, and dragged myself out of bed around 10am. I got dressed, ate, grabbed coffee, and drove over to Algonkian Regional Park to get situated with the 50M course route. The park is in the Sterling, VA area...associated with a very nice looking golf course and area for boats to go into the Potomac. It also has the Potomac Heritage Trail...which I pretty much failed to find (in the right direction). There aren't really any great maps showing where the trail heads are for the area, so I winged it and head out on what I hoped to be the correct direction. It was the Potomac Heritage Trail, but I was heading away from Great Falls like I had wanted. I clued myself in eventually and turned around to go back to the start and head out down river. I was already about 4 miles into the run when I got back to the car and refilled my bottle.

A lot of down trees to hop over on Saturday. After I refilled my bottle I went out in the opposite direction, thinking that logically this would be the way to Great Falls. Wrong again. I went out that way for a little bit then came to a bit of a dead end. I looped around a few times like a caged animal trying to find my way over a creek (big enough to not just hop over), seeing a few other runners on the other side and perplexed at how they got there. I never figured it out, and frustrated I turned around and ran back to the car. It wouldn't have mattered if I found my way over to the other side. It was the wrong route. I looked up where the course actually goes and I don't think I would have ever figured it out on my own. Oh well, Algonkian Regional Park, I will conquer you some other weekend.

Saturday night I went to bed pretty early again. I had two beers and around 8pm went in my room to watch some tv...ended up passing out. I woke up again around 930pm only to make myself more comfortable and sleep for the rest of the night. The exhilarating life I lead. All of this activity after so much time off has left me exhausted, and I slept until 1030am.

I had an interested breakfast. Garden Veg. tortilla filled with peanut butter, a little nutella, and strawberry jam, and sliced banana. And coffee. Luckily I couldn't really taste the garden veggie tortilla. Or I blocked it out...

Since I did my research on Saturday night about where the actual course will go, I was prepared with a revised location for my Sunday run: Riverbend Park. It's about 2.5 miles upriver from Great Falls Park, but has extra trails and free parking (unlike Great Falls where they charge $5 I believe). From the parking lot at Riverbend Park, you have easy access to the Potomac Heritage Trail. I set out for my thirteen hoping to cover a good bit of the actual course route.

The trail before you get to Great Falls is fairly nice and easy. It runs right along the river and affords the opportunity to just relax and get into a nice grove. The trail dumps you at the Visitor Center for Great Falls Park, and you wind a bit til you find the River Trail. The River Trail was nice in the beginning, a moderate trail.

Not long into the River Trail things start to get rocky. Very, very rocky. I knew parts of this were on the course route, and so I sucked it up and was very mindful of where my feet were landing. I thought the trail would ease up eventually but it seemed to only get harder and I wasn't even halfway through my 13 miles yet. I only had my handheld Nathan water bottle and three gels with me, hoping there would be water fountains or that I would double back for the Visitor Center before I emptied the bottle. No such luck. Eventually I hit an extremely technical part of the trail, and contemplated stopping and sitting for a rest more than once. I trudged on, convincing myself that there was no way the course route came through here (The Great Falls chunk of the course is to be run three times in a loop of sorts). I just kept going up up up, and somehow found myself at an intersection for the Difficult Run Trail. I STILL was not halfway, so I decided to turn down Difficult Run. It has some long, steep up and downs if you come from my direction. The other direction seemed to have more flat land. If you go a little ways down DRT, you will find a bit of a troublesome area where you have a very 'difficult' (har har) time getting to the other half of the trail. I decided it wasn't worth hurting myself and just turned around to go back the way I came. I was almost out of water and already getting dehydrated from trying to ration my sips.

The great thing about Great Falls is that there is an Old Carriage Road Trail, meaning very wide dirt packed road to get you back to the Visitors Center instead of having to go back through all that CRAP I already did. Say what you will..I suppose I did take the easy way back, but I think it was necessary for me to get back to water as quickly as possible. Anyone who knows me knows without activity I drink water like a fish...so just imagine how much I like to drink while I'm actually exerting myself! I was able to run more on the carriage road and found myself back at the VC to refill my bottle and eat some gels.

From the visitor center I ran back towards Riverbend Park, turning off onto other trails along the way for added mileage. I ran on Mine Run Trail, Riverbend Road Trail, Hollows Trail, and maybe a few others that I can't remember right now because I'm ready to go to bed :)

When I finally made it back to the car with a grueling 13 miles under my belt, I treated myself to these:

Deeeelicious and well earned.

When I got home and looked up the route that I will actually be running on June 2, I sank down in my chair. Lo and behold, what I ran that seemed sooo exhausting and grueling is in fact part of the actual course. I have major work to do over the next eight weeks to be able to successfully do three loops of that monster plus the other miles. I'm just grateful that the other miles are fairly easy to cruise through (at least they are in comparison). New plan, at least one of my long runs each weekend will be at Great Falls doing that loop to get myself used to the rocks and get quicker and stronger.

Good thing I actually take pleasure from grueling trail runs. As tough as today was, I feel very gratified :) Very happy to have Monday off from running though. My little leggies need a break after all of that. Nice short four day work week up ahead and then volunteering for Bull Run Run this weekend!

April 06, 2012

Should've been a teacher

I should've been a teacher, because I am a little too good at teaching myself lessons.

When switching to a minimalist shoe, everyone knows you are supposed to take it easy and start slow. Slow does not equal three miles, as I subconsciously knew but chose to ignore. Trail minimal shoes are also not equal to road minimal shoes. DUH.

I love my New Balance Minimus Trail shoes, don't get me wrong. They completely help me with my footstrike problem, and I feel liberated when I'm running in them. The problem is, I got carried away the other day and ran three road miles on them, changed into my Brooks Ravs, and then kept on going for another three miles. So now my calves are not thrilled. At least I don't have shin splints?!

So these are the exact shoes I have (photos from NB website). Notice how there is virtually no cushion. No cushion + different footstrike = mad calves.

Above are the road minimus, which have more cushioning than the trail ones, but should still be transitioned into your routine.

Anyway, I brought my lacrosse ball into work today so I can hammer out those calves and get them all nice and limber for my back to back long runs this weekend.

After my run last night, I went to Giant so I could finally buy some healthy groceries (ignore the wine and ice cream I bought...hehe): veggies, fruit, yogurt, oven roasted rotisserie chicken, lettuce, shredded cabbage/broccoli/carrot mixture, beans, banana nut cheerios, milk. So today's meal consists of

Breakfast: 3/4 cup cheerios (what they say is 100 cals - prob with milk and I ate them dry but whatevs), a handful of blackberries, 100 cal yogurt

Snack: apple

Lunch: salad comprised of shredded chicken, kidney and garbanzo beans, the shredded cabbage mixture, almond slivers, feta cheese crumbles, and a tad of balsamic vinagrette

Snack: carrots and 60 cal dip and/or clementines

Dinner: shredded chicken in a tortilla with beans and cheese maybe...or ramen :)

I'll probably repeat this for a few days til I run out of chicken or get bored. I want to get back into eating right and consistently working out. Come June 2, I would like the option of running with just my sports bra and looking like I have decent abs :) I'm sure at some point in that race it will get hot enough to go sans shirt and guys shouldn't be the only ones having all the fun running shirtless! (What will more likely happen: I won't get abs between now and June but I will get hot enough/delusional enough/not care because I'm 35 miles into the race and just take my shirt off anyway...haha, that's my prediction).

Tonight I will do some research about the Potomac Heritage Trail starting in Sterling. It's time to log all of my long runs on a trail of some sort, and time to take advantage that the course is 'in my backyard'.

From my run yesterday on the Mount Vernon Trail, just beautiful this time of year :)

Very pretty if you can put up with the pollen.

Looking forward to tomorrow's run on a new trail!

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