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

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