May 15, 2012

Race Recap: Bear Mtn 50K

I've been procrastinating on posting this since I just don't know where to start, and I've been trying to wrap my head around the entire event. When something kicks your ass THAT hard, it's difficult to know how to process it all. I find myself on a rollercoaster ride of opinions towards this particular race.

I decided on Wednesday or Thursday that I would head up to Bear Mountain, NY and sign up on race day morning for a bib to the 50K race which had plenty of slots still open. I considered 'camping'...really sleeping in my car...but I was eventually persuaded to Priceline negotiate my way into a cheap hotel in the surrounding area. Boy am I glad I did that.  I nabbed the Candlewood Suites hotel in Nanuet, NY for $50 a night, and decided to stay Saturday night as well instead of driving the 4.5 hours home after the race (another genius idea). The Candlewood was everything I could have hoped for. It's an extended stay type joint, so the room was very spacious, nice bathroom, full kitchen, and comfortable enough bed. There was an issue with the thermostat that I couldn't quite get right...but I was pretty pleased with my experience there.

I took a half day on Friday and drove up to NY making really decent time. I checked into the hotel, and set out to find a pasta place for an early dinner. Turns out, although Nanuet is only about 30-45 miles away from NYC, it's a pretty small town with not that many options (that I could find). I ended up at the Red Lobster...the first of many mistakes.

What I wanted to eat for dinner...
I don't know why I expected Red Lobster to have more than one option of pasta that didn't also have a giant portion of seafood...but I was stuck with ordering Cajun Chicken Alfredo, or something like that. It was basically a bunch of oily pasta, big chunks of chicken, smothered in this gopped up mess of 'alfredo'...

And why would I show up to a restaurant alone and want to actually be left ALONE? Ohhh no....the people at Red Lobster in Nanuet, NY do not like that. They see you sitting by yourself and immediately want to know what you are donig in their small town. I told the spacey waitress that I was here to run a race. She made this uncomfortable comparison of me to Forrest Gump. Then seemingly tag teamed herself out of the conversation and left things wide open for the busboy to come chat with me. Frequently. The entire meal. 'Oh a race? Where?' 'I've been to Bear Mountain, are you running around the lake? (the lake is like ground zero there)' 'Oh 15 up and 15 back? 15 minutes?' 'Yeah I always wanted to hike the AT...' much nut flexing going on from this guy... and to round it all out, when I was finally finished eating and about to escape this disaster of a meal...'So I don't know what your plans are later, but I'm free if you want me to come over...'

Must have been a slow night for them...





In the morning, after a not so restful night's sleep, I made some coffee and oatmeal, gathered my things and head out for the 20 min drive to the shuttle location. In the fog.  I am terrified of driving in fog. No joke.

Parking was super easy and the lot had ample room. It's a short ten minute ride from the parking lot to the race start/finish, and I was registered in no time...with over an hour to kill before the 7am start. Everyone there was so incredibly nice, it made me feel okay making the trip up there all alone. I chatted with one woman (who quite frankly was a little crazy to tell me the course wasn't that steep and not that bad...LIAR), and then had a very bizarre moment when I went to take this picture (after some dude walked up to me because he thought I was some girl he knew in Saratoga...):

Don't you love the color combo of hot pink, neon orange, LSU purple and gold?! I know I do.

So this woman is standing there when I'm goofing off about my color combo with the photographer and we somehow get to chatting about me coming from DC, etc...when she asks, 'Do you write a blog? Because I think I read it the other night! Yeah, something about a girl from DC coming to run this 50K but is really doing the NFE DC 50miler?' (I definitely paraphrased that...because I have the memory of a goldfish and cannot remember verbatim, but you get the jist...I'M FAMOUS YALL!!!) Okay, I'm probably not famous...I really do think it's probably just some crazy coincidence that this woman read some other woman's blog and it just sounds like me. There are a million running blogs out there...but then again there are only 250 ish Bear Mtn 50k-ers, not many of which were women....just saying. (SHOUT OUT to the girl if she in fact did read MY blog before the race and then somehow came back on here again AFTER the race!)

Now that my celebrity story is out of the way, I'll get back to the race.

The temperature was mild but very humid. The first mile or so is slightly uphill, if my memory serves me right, and it's pretty rocky. Lucky for all of us, it rained pretty much all week to provide wonderful muddy, slippery rocks. I was cracking jokes with anyone around me who cared to listen until my shin splints magically appeared out of nowhere. I couldn't help but think, seriously? I thought I was done with that whole phase of things. I walked it out...a bad omen for the next 30 miles. I guess that's what I get for wearing my sportivas out of the blue when I had been recently running in the speedcross. I quickly found myself in the very, very back of the pack, with just one person periodically behind me. We played rabbit a bit in the beginning before we became fast friends.

Another hill. Story of this race. In front of me, 'Santiago' (we think that's what his name was...I'm pretty sure). He was in front of me, I was in the middle, and Jo was behind me.

I stopped briefly to take a picture of some trickling water, but the photo really isn't that great and it was just a waste of ten seconds. I was probably only doing that to catch my breath. I was a whimp at this race.

This picture happened shortly after, only a few miles into the race. I was already starting to drip sweat, and I was quickly realizing how tough this day would really be. I will never, EVER (probably a lie) complain about the 'hills' here in DC (ask me on June 2). These were nonstop, brutal, hamstring burning, soul sucking hills all freaking day. Miles and miles. And rocky descents I couldn't really enjoy running down.



It was about four miles to get from the start of the race to Anthony Wayne Aid Station. Pretty much all of that 4 miles is uphill. After I came into Anthony Wayne with Jo and Santiago, I grabbed two very small pb sanwiches (definitely not enough) and some water to wash it down, and chatted a bit with the volunteers. There has been a woman following us for pretty much 3 of the 4 miles into the aid station who I thought was the cutoff person. So I'm making us rush and run so we don't get cut off (this actually might have happened with pulling into the second aid station, my memory is crumbly about this part). Either way, we hustled for nothing. At the aid station, I learned that not only is she not the cutoff person (she was the sweep (a sweep is the person who runs behind the very last runner in a race's distance to make sure no one is left out on the course (her name is Lea and she's quite lovely))), and that there wasn't really that hard of a cutoff time. They wouldn't be kicking us off if we came in right after 10 hours. That was great news. Jo and I marched out of the aid station and up the road before turning back into the woods for more single tracking. Santiago said he would catch up with us. I had already been having tummy problems by this point, making it undesirable to eat my gels even though I knew my body needed the intake. It's a very tough spot to be in.

Jo was so sweet to talk to me the entire ten hours we were together to keep my mind off of the pain and disappointment I felt in my body. I really felt betrayed that I could do almost everything the same as my training runs, but just have an off day where my stomach doesn't cooperate and I can't seem to get it back on track. She gave me some tablet to chew to see if that would help (it didn't), I drank more coke at the aid stations...ate a banana (or threw it away...don't remember), I tried everything. I put more nuun into my pack, etc etc. So frustrating. Somewhere after the second aid station I really had a strong desire to call it quits. I actually wanted to quit AT the aid station, but I was hopeful that my nutrition would get back on track and make the rest of the day more bearable. And there was the fact that I didn't let Jo quit when she mentioned it, so the payback was that she would not let me quit. Then I told her my Rosaryville attempt story and that cemented my fate to her that I needed to cross this finish line and get a 50K completed. We chatted about her husband and kids, my boyfriend and friends, the big move coming up, the races she's completed...

Eventually we hit around the halfway mark and the first of the marathoners came whizzing by. It was bad timing because the course leads you to a spot where you have to rock climb a bit to the 'top'.  Around this area we had seen Santiago a few times behind us, but he eventually dropped out from a knee injury (I think).

This is the 'beautiful' view from the top. More like bogus. Lies again. All you can see is trees and more trees.



I swear we got to the 'top' of the mountain about three times over the course of the race. I wasn't thrilled about it. You get to the top, start to head down thinking you are done going up for a while until BAM all of a sudden you are heading back up steep ground and find yourself with another lacking view.


I considered taking a nap at this shelter one of the times we reached the top. But alas, we kept moving.  After this, we found ourselves FINALLY on runnable land. Kind of. The course goes to an area where it's a tiiiiny single track in the middle of a ton of thistley bushes. Luckily I had my calf sleeves on that offered protection, otherwise it just would have added to my unpleasant demeanor that was building.

It started to seem so much nicer of a route for a little while, and we came to another aid station. This one was rockin! There was a chick with a hot pink wig on and people cheering! It was a sight for sore eyes. Jo and I chatted with the volunteers a bit while we shoved our faces and gulped down coke and water, and joked a bit about missing the 10 hour cutoff and if we would receive a medal. The consensus was that we should just keep moving as fast as we could and yes, we would get a medal for finishing, even if it was after the 10 hr cutoff. We were actually riiiight on target to make it at exactly 10 hours.

Until Timp Pass happened. From that previous aid station to the next aid station was the longest 2.5 miles ever. We went down the most ridiculously steep downhill ever, then found our way to what runners had been telling me about all morning. This awful steep, long uphill before the finish. I do not exaggerate when I say I cussed many a time on the way up, as well as having to stop to catch my breath and calm the hamstrings. It. Was. Awful. I have no other way to describe it other than the entire time up I just kept thinking who the hell would put a course through here. If I recall correctly, there is the illusion of the top at a certain vantage point, only to get there and realize the climb is still not yet over. I wish I had pictures of this section just to show how hard it was. Jo peeled off from me during the uphill in pursuit of making the actual cutoff time. I really hoped she could make it there in time without me holding her back anymore.

You would think that with all that effort uphill, you would be granted the privilege of a downhill....but you would be sorely mistaken. While I am much more comfortable on trails than I used to be, I am not quite there with my technical skill to fly down a huge, long downhill where the only place for your foot to land is on this rock or that rock. Not all rocks were created equal, and not all of them were stable. And they definitely weren't dry. I walked the entire way down and made it to the aid station feeling completely depleted, but happy to know that the biggest hill was behind me and I was only a few miles from the finish.

I grabbed just a few pretzels and continued on my way hopeful to stay in front of a few 50k stragglers I managed to pass in between these aid stations. I even ran a little bit.  Then I came upon a photographer who informed me there was just one more little hill and then I would be home free.

I made my way back through the beginning parts of the course, coming to a fork in the road and came face to face with a very angry racer. She and a few others (I think the crazy lady from before the race - the one who told me this was not that hard - was among them) had taken a left when they were supposed to take a right. She seemed happy to see me for the fact of knowing the right way to go, but then went off on this temper tantrum about how she ran three miles in the wrong direction. I understand the frustration, but honey, I am not the one who told you to go left. She took off in front of me, and I was happy to be alone again to finish up. I went through that same rocky section we ran in the first mile, then you come off the trail and onto paved road where I broke out into a gallop to get to the red arch.

So much mud.
There were just a few people out waiting for their friends and loved ones to finish their distance (presumably the 50 Miler) but a few clapped when I came by and one man said a simple 'Bravo' that almost sent me into a fit of sobs. I was exhausted, felt defeated, I was happy to almost be done, and I was overcome with emotion to finally finish a 50K. When I got to the finish line I was so close to an ugly cry but I didn't want my pictures to be any worse so I toughed it out, had my name announced as I crossed, a medal draped over my head and I found Jo sitting and waiting.

Photo Courtesy of Jo
I waited with her for a while for her husband to finish the 50 Miler and I found myself overcome with emotion a few times while watching a couple gentlemen cross the finish line in tears of happiness from their accomplishment. I know that will be me in a few weeks, tearfully completing something I have trained so hard for.



Bear Mountain was seriously a bear of a mountain and I have no desire to rematch for a better race time. My take aways from this race are that I did well to not fall. My technical ability has vastly improved from six months ago and I feel much more comfortable out there. This is great news for the much less technical NFE DC. I also want to remember how difficult it was to push through a few really tough mental parts of the race. I want to remember that undoubtedly at some point during an ultra race, you will face a time where things just aren't going right, or everything is hurting, or your mental toughness is cowering in the corner. If you keep putting one foot in front of the other and just keep moving, relentless forward progress, it will eventually pass. The issues rarely last all race. On June 2, I need to remember that I am prepared for this distance, I have the capacity in me to push through whatever springs up, and that in the end it is so worth it.

I didn't sleep well the night of the race due to muscle stiffness. Then on the drive home my knee flared up in a painful fit. I even went to the doctor, and he told me I just had inflammation and to give it a week to cool off. I didn't run all week. In fact, I didn't run until yesterday. The knee is better, my hip is a little wonky, but it will all heal up soon. I'm finally in taper...and I never thought it would get here.






May 04, 2012

Who knew I was spontaneous?!

"Pushing your body past what you thought it was capable of is easy; the hard part is pushing yourself even further...past what your mind wants to let you. That's what ultrarunning is all about; introducing you to a self you've never known." - Rex Pace

Making yourself go for a run when you aren't feeling well is dedication. Or stupidity. I can't decide. I don't know why we are splitting hairs...it can be both. I blame Nike because they're all like, 'just do it', and I'm like, Nike, I'm sick.

My training as of lately has seemed to come unhinged from sickness and laziness. Training for the 50 miler has made me lazy. I can get my butt up to do my long run, but I have a huge struggle getting in my weekday runs (other than Wednesday when I force myself to go to Great Falls).

I took last week pretty easy...which probably wasn't the BEST idea I've had, since I think I deemed the week before that 'recovery week' and that I would buckle down after that. I did a weekday walk, but I did manage to get myself going for a long run. Just one though, not the back to back :/ It's incredible how guilty that makes me feel just typing it on here. Anyway, this is the way the weekend unfolded. I had Friday off of work, so I decided that since Helen's bachelorette party was that weekend as well, I would get up SUPER early, go run my 20 something miles, shower, pick up the girls, and drive to Norfolk for the festivities. The way it really unfolded is as follows:

Got to Sterling late Thursday night where a friend graciously let me crash so I would be 10 min away from the trail instead of over an hour away. Work up at 4am to take him to the airport, went to the trail to discover I still do not have a headlamp, and I don't know where I'm going on that part of the trail...so I had to wait it out til it got light outside. I did not eat enough Thursday night, OR Friday morning....this has SUCH A HUGE IMPACT on the run. At least this time out on the trail I was dressed appropriately for the weather. I had on my compression sleeves, tight shorts, a short sleeve shirt, arm warmers, a long sleeve shirt, ear warmers, and gloves. Sounds excessive but it was really cold in the morning, and windy after the cold wore off. Windy + Sweaty = Still cool outside. I also wore the new shoes to see how they would fair for a long run. Jury is still out. I really want to get behind these spiffy shoes, but the fact of the matter is, my feet hurt after 18 miles regardless of the 'extra' cushion they provide in comparison to my sportivas. I could also feel more of the rocks under my feet than the sportivas. They do have an awesome grip though...  I'm resigned to the fact that no matter what shoes I wear on race day, my feet will hurt no matter what by the 30 mile mark. Just have to tough it out. I did notice that when I got really tired and my feet were hurting, if I walked a little and waited it out, the pain would subside for a bit...then come back, and kept doing that tango. That's semi good news.  So I think the final mileage hovered around 23 miles. I cut it short because I thought I was running late.

Then on Saturday, my tummy was in a fit from the bachelorette night one, and it was going to rain, and I'm lazy...and I said no thanks to my ten miles.

I'm a jerk to myself.

To top it all off, I was pretty sick going into this past weekend, and I still haven't quite shaken it off. My throat is a little unhappy, but being sick does not keep me from my long runs. Just my short ones, haha.

I don't think I did much of anything this week. Tuesday I ran up and down the stairs in the apartment a crapton and then went for a little stroll outside. Wednesday, I went to the trail at Great Falls and (early) head out on my own for a bit (not sure how far) then did the chunk of CCT and Difficult Run for 6 miles. I'll attach photos later...when I put them on my computer. I gave myself the night off last night (are we surprised?) and picked up my bridesmaid dress from alterations, pretended to pack up more of my room for the big move at the end of the month, and packed my bag for this weekend.

WHICH FINALLY BRINGS ME TO WHAT'S HAPPENING TOMORROW: Today I am heading up to Bear Mountain, NY. It's by West Point, so I'm kinda excited to drive by there and see what I can of the area.

I'm going to have a moment of honesty on here. I've been feeling a little claustrophobic with the way things have been going lately. I've been doing my training, but I've also been so involved with things going on for other people, plus stressing over job things and moving things and finding jobs in Colorado etc etc etc, that I just felt like things were closing in on me. Needed an escape. I'm also due for a 31 miler this weekend per my training schedule, and lo and behold, Bear Mountain, part of the NFE series, is this weekend. The 50k still has about 200 spots open, and I was assured that if I show up on race day, I will have no problem securing a bib. I'm making the 5.5 hour drive up to a little hotel about 20 min from the race site, going to enjoy the small town charm of Nanuet and carb load tonight...get a good night's rest, get up bright and early, and get my ass kicked by a race that has the words MOUNTAIN and BEAR in the title. Allow me to use those words in a sentence, 'Man, that is one BEAR of a MOUNTAIN'.

Anyway, the elevation chart is super ridiculous and I have told myself not to look at it anymore because I'm getting kinda freaked out about the whole thing. Some people (read, most) don't understand why I would want to drive all the way to NY to run a race that has 5 out of 5 stars for difficulty, 5 out of 5 stars for being technical (rocky, unstable footing, hard to navigate, etc), a course that is probably 10 times more challenging than what I will face for my 50 miler here in DC...but in my opinion, it's the best kind of training run.

If I run my longest training distance on an insanely challenging course, won’t that make me better prepared? Yes, my quads and hams, and calves for that matter, will all be angry for a little while because of the steep up AND down on the route, but when I get to NFE DC I can say, 'THIS is nothing. You should see what I did last month!' Plus, while the back to back runs do a great job of simulating what running on tired legs will feel like for the last 15 miles of my 50 miler, so will this challenging 31 miler. As a fellow VHTRC member told me in an email (he is running the 50 miler), "Good luck to you as well--this'll be one hell of a training run for you.  NF DC's going to be a walk in the park after this.  (Maybe more of a run in the park?  But I digress...)...'

I'm nervous, excited, a little scared...I will need to watch my footing very carefully. I will not PR this race (haha jk I WILL PR, but just because it will be my first completion of a 50k), the goal is to finish and not get hurt. It will be an extremely valuable lesson in mental toughness, and I hope I rise to the challenge. I also think I am making the climbs out to be way more steep than I hope they will be...I love overestimating things and then getting there and thinking, 'oh hey, this isn't as bad as I thought!' (but seriously, I hear the course is one of THE toughest on the east coast.....yikes.)

It's supposed to be extremely beautiful views when you get to the top, so I'll be sure to take some photos when I can (if the 50k goes to the top...not really sure). It's going to be an adventure to race a trail I've never been on before! SO EXCITING!

When I get back, I hope I can buckle down on my weekday runs and finish out this final month of training. I've learned a lot of what not to do and will be able to apply everything to the next 50 miler in September.

Sidebar about my packing, I got into my running drawer the other day...now I know what people mean when they say they have too many race shirts. They are just smarter to notice their accumulation as they go instead of my method of waiting until you need to pack your belongings then get shocked at how one could own so many running shirts...that they feel they need all of...

Anyway, Happy trails (or roads) to everyone I know racing this weekend! Enjoy yourselves, push yourselves, and celebrate your achievement when it's done!