Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 in Review: The Best & Worst Runs of the last Year

It is that time of year to look ahead and start goal building for the upcoming new year. However, it is also that time of year to reflect upon the previous twelve months. For me as a runner I like to look back and review my training log. How much did I run, how does the data look? How does it compare with other months, other years. Am I stronger, smarter, better off than the previous year? As the year comes to a close I have been thinking about the best and worst runs or running moments of the year. There have certainly been many highs and lows, good runs, tough runs. A few of these runs stuck out in my mind so prominently I decided to compile a brief best and worst list.

In compiling the lists I realized it was how a particular run left me feeling afterwards that played the biggest part in whether or not it ended up in the best or worst category.


3.) My Odyssey Trip. Was having a pretty good day when cockiness led to a stumble on the trails. The fall left scars on my elbow and thigh but also a deeper scar on my ego. Despite how the race ended up looking on paper it was really not a very good day. I'm hoping to go back next September to redeem myself on those beautiful trails.
2.) Petit's Gap run. We went out on the hottest day of the year for a twenty mile loop. What began as a good maiden voyage on the AT turned into Hell when we ran out of water 12 miles in. The lowest point of the day came when fatigue and frantic had me so tightly wound that I picked up a large branch and attacked a poor defenseless tree. Certainly a very low low. Fortunately, Frank G. showed up with water, salt tabs, and that winning smile of his and we survived.
1.) Hellgate 100k. While overall a good experience there was that nasty breakdown midway that led to a crying fit that had me ready to quit. Even though I overcame the fit it has left an indelible thought, it remains to be seen if I'm really all that strong. There is perhaps room for argument that this was actually one of the best moments of the year but I believe for now it belongs in the worst camp.


3.) Running to the gate at the top of Monogram road. Last winter we ran the same six mile loop for most of our weekly Wednesday trail runs. I was coming back from having a baby the previous November and even though I was seeing a return to the level of fitness I had been in before baby #4, I still hadn't felt "back yet". Then one Wednesday we didn't have a babysitter so I went to Wild Wednesday alone. I didn't want to tell Blake and Jason that I needed to walk and I didn't want to fall behind because it was dark. I ran the entire distance from the gate at Top Ridge Road to the gate at Monogram for the first time ever. When we reached the top I wanted to pump my hands in the air like Rocky. It was the moment I knew I was not only "back" to my per-pregnancy fitness level but quite possibly surpassing it.
2.)The maiden voyage in the Hokas. I was, to be quite honest, begrudgingly giving them a shot. They came highly recommended by someone whose opinion I value and yet I just wasn't sold on their odd look and performance claims. I was sort of in a low point in my training, having a difficult time finding motivation. I went out on a solo run, one of very few up until this point in the year. I went to the Blackwater Creek Trail system to run 10 miles. I wore my watch but decided not to use it, just run by feel, with my heart. What began as a run I would rather not have shown up for turned into one of my favorite runs of the year. It wasn't on trails, the scenery wasn't noteworthy but how I felt was. With each mile, perhaps with every stride, I felt better. I felt strong and capable. It was one of those runs that exemplified the very thing I sometimes lose sight of, illustrating most magnificently why I run.
3.) Masochist! The run I needed to prove that I could indeed run an ultra and feel overall quite well. I stayed hydrated, I fueled well, I felt good and I surpassed all of the goals I had set for the day. It was not only a good day but it has already led to so much more; Hellgate, applying for Western States and further affirmation that maybe, just maybe, I was born to run...


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Race Report: Hellgate 100k

Hellgate 100k++

Fincastle, VA

December 8, 2012 12:01 a.m.

I had my reasons for not planning to run Hellgate, they can all be piled under the category ‘Fear’ and ranged from frozen corneas (AKA Hellgate Eyes) to getting lost in the woods in the dark. I had given it careful consideration after Masochist and knew that there would be a lot to overcome mentally for me, perhaps too much. After Masochist, whenever I saw Frank Gonzales he encouraged me to register and I felt the shame of my laundry list of fears every time he said he thought I would enjoy Hellgate, do well there. Simply put, I am a sissy. I brushed the thought and the race aside, maybe next year I’ll be braver, stronger, faster. So when the race director goaded this year's event as "Sissygate" I felt myself being called to participate. Maybe this is your year.

So last Monday I called my husband Todd and asked what he thought about me asking David Horton if I could run Hellgate that Saturday. Subconsciously I must have known what I was doing. Just as I began to reconsider the notion he urged me to ask Dr. Horton. Todd even went as far as to track down the good doctors number and email address. He called and texted me throughout the day “Have you called?” “Why not”. “Call him.”

I think asking a race director the week of a closed race to run is ballsy. It is not my usual mode of operation. I clearly wanted to run and yet I constructed a short, poorly written email that I assumed would get me laughed at but certainly wouldn’t get me into the race. And yet Horton said yes, I could run as long as I was doing it for me.

From the time I got Horton’s reply email until the time I dropped my check and registration form off I was nauseated. I was a ball of nerves. However, after talking with Horton I felt a little calmer. I don’t know why, he didn’t say anything at all that should have calmed me, but I didn’t feel like throwing up anymore. I tried to push the fear of the unknown as well as all my other fears aside as best I could for the rest of the week.
Sheryl Mawn and I at the start. 
I could go into all the demons that possessed me that week, but I will lose even the most interested in doing so. I wrecked havoc on my nerves so badly I was almost numb by the time I reached Camp Bethel Friday night. Chelsie Viar, whom I rode to the dinner and pre-race festivities with, commented on just how bad a shape my poor fingernails were in during Horton’s race briefing. I was wound tight.

It is to this effect that I let Mr. Hyde out when what occurred next. My crew, Todd and Blake, showed up and we had a nice Subway sandwich. Afterwards I went to the Suburban to start compiling my gear and found that my clothing and pack were wet from a cooler mishap. I lost it. I think I said at least a few choice words I am ashamed to admit. Todd kept very cool with me and Blake wandered off which was probably safest.  One sports bra, my shorts and my purple shirt were wet with cold water. My (borrowed) pack was so wet I could wring out the water. I sent Todd off in search of a dryer and turned the heat in the car up as high as it would go and laid my clothes out to dry along the vents. Sam Dangc, who had caught a ride up with Todd and Blake, did his best to either put my mind at ease or drive me further crazy, I’m still not sure. I know I was mean and surly and yet he stayed to watch the transformation which actually helped to keep the lid on my breakdown if only just a little. I did my usual pre-ultra routine in our 90 degree car, praying that my clothes would dry and my mind would ease and reasoned that with a start to my night like this it could either get much worse or only better.

By the time we had to head to the start my clothes were mostly dry and my pack was dryer than it had been. I thought of leaving the hydration pack, fearing the wet making me cold, but Sam encouraged me to bring it. Sheryl Mawn rode to the start with us and she kept my mind busy as she detailed parts of the course and gave me advice. The time passed quickly and I was grateful. I was just ready to begin.

Josh Gilbert, James Decker and I.
At the start there was good cheer, picture taking and singing. I tried to lose myself in the moment and I think I accomplished as much. Before long we were off, Chelsie by my side. I secretly hoped she would stay with me all night but I think we were only together for the first two miles. Todd had told me to run my own race and not worry about what others were doing but I was afraid of being alone for long sections at night and about getting lost. This was to be a test and I was more willing to run slower than I needed to keep from falling apart. However, after the race started I kind of changed gears and decided that the more people behind me the more people to fall back on if I found myself alone or lost later on in the night. I decided to just run comfortable and try and find someone my pace. This first section to the first aid station was very runnable and the group stayed fairly close together. There was nothing notable; one low creek crossing with slippery rocks was about all I remember.

From the first aid station you run up a gravel road to Petites Gap, aid station number 2. This climb wasn’t bad. I stayed in sight of James Decker and Holly Bugin as best I could. I tried to take the climb comfortably hard and I think I threw in one or two walk breaks for good measure. I was having fun. I love running uphill. And the better I become at it, the more I love it and the more fun I have. I remember making a sharp right turn and seeing all the headlamps below in succession, it was here that I felt the privilege of being a part of this event. Later it would feel more of victimization taking part in Hellgate but here I basked in the opportunity.

Blake and Todd were there at Petites Gap to hand me a new bottle and a sip of coffee but I tried to keep moving through this aid station. It is here where we crossed a road and headed downhill. I ran a little hard to try and catch back up with the runners ahead but it was a little technical and I slowed to prevent taking the wrong step. Soon we were on a grassy road and several people, including several girls, passed by me. I reminded myself to run my own pace and my own race. It’s a long day, make it to sunrise first, I chided myself.  I was nervous about missing a turn through this section so I did stay with the two girls ahead of me until we got to the turn but then I let them pull away and settled back into my pace. For the most part I don’t recall this section of trail very well. I have read Horton and Aaron’s description of the race to try and jar my memory and I get nothing, proof that my mind had made up its own conclusions about some of Hellgate and decided to record them differently. I do remember the road; I ran but added more walk breaks. I was perhaps a little embarrassed about the more frequent walking which is why I may have snapped at Jeremy Ramsey when he rode by me on the climb to Camping Gap and said “Alexis, what are you doing?” To which I rather rudely and unintentionally barked “WALKING”. In all I believe I climbed to Camping Gap just fine but I was a little flustered by getting caught walking. I think its proof I still have a ways to come or rather go in my training and running of ultras. But alas, I made it to the aid station, ate an Oreo as my bottle was refilled and started back out. Jeremy offered up some kind words and I felt worse for being so nasty, that he should still be so kind to me.

At aid station #4
I left Camping Gap assuming that this next section was to be the worst part of the race from the descriptions I had read. Perhaps I didn’t read enough race reports. Most of this section was great. The section from the gate to Overstreet Falls is the Promise Land course, only backwards, and I ran comfortably here knowing that I would have an idea of where and when turns would be. It was also through here that I met my first event long friend, Marc Griffin, 6 time finisher of the Beast Series, who I had seen off and on in the previous section. We started talking and the miles drifted by and before too long we were at the few turns that take you to the only technical trail of this section. Marc pulled ahead in the trail switchbacks and I did have some difficulty maneuvering these technical spots but I didn’t believe them to be as bad as I had made them up in my mind to be. Near the bottom there were a few slick rocks and I did have to walk even though they were downhill in order to save my ankles but it was a very brief section. And then we were climbing on road again on our way to Headforemost Mountain and the first cut off of the day. Marc had taken a bathroom detour and we found ourselves climbing this section together when we caught up with Matt and Holly Bugin. She said they were going to drop at the next aid station; I tried to encourage her to keep going, I thought she was doing really well, but she seemed finished. Knowing that negativity in an ultra can spread like wildfire I pushed on to the next aid station anxious to see my crew.

I reached Headforemost Mountain at about 5:07 a.m. Blake was standing there holding my camera and said “Alexis, is that you?” in a way that suggested surprise at my presence. I won’t lie; his surprise was to my delight. He started calling for Todd and you could tell they weren’t really expecting me yet. I ate a half of a grilled cheese at this aid station, a few Fritos and a sip of coffee. I got a new bottle and was headed out with Marc when I remembered I needed more GU. I ran back to Todd and grabbed several more GU.
It was at this point, with Marc a little bit ahead of me, that I realized my headlamp was not as bright. Horton had said that the better your light is the faster you would be able to run. He couldn’t have been more right. Through this section to Jennings Creek my headlamp continued to dim and my pace suffered despite my using a flashlight in addition to my dying headlamp. I realized we hadn’t changed the batteries on my new headlamp and even though I had only bought it Tuesday I had used it twice the week leading up to Hellgate. Marc pulled ahead; I stopped to use the bathroom for the first time, and the trail seemed hard to follow and technical at times. I don’t remember much from this section because of my light. I did feel more alone going through this section and there were a few spots that I had to be careful about and I did keep hoping that the sun would come up. But the sun didn’t see us on this part of the course and around 6:30 give or take I arrived at Jennings Creek, the Breakfast aid station. I ate a little bit of eggs and drank a cup of Mountain Dew and handed my pack, gloves and hat as well as my Black Diamond Icon headlamp off to my crew. I put on my backup headlamp (that I probably didn’t really need seeing as we were headed on road) and grabbed a refilled water bottle and more GU. I had the feeling I probably should be eating more “breakfast” but also wanted to keep moving.

Me and Chelsie pre-start.
Not long after leaving the Jennings Creek aid station you begin a climb. I was with Marc and another guy whose name I can’t recall. It was dark when we started the climb walking and it got light as I turned off my headlamp and we continued to walk. I felt like I should be running but I also felt that these Hellgate alum knew better than me and I should follow their lead. We continued to walk and it got cold, I had second thoughts about abandoning my gloves and hat at Jennings Creek. My mind started to berate the amount of walking. And then I got chicked. Yes, women can get chicked, right? Kathleen Cusick passed me looking strong and lively. As she passed I took to running for the first time since the last aid station. I tried to stay with her but I fell behind. For the first time all day I turned on my iPod and just tried to keep her in sight. I was making a mistake but I didn’t realize it until probably Monday after the race. Since leaving Jennings Creek I had not been running my race. I was running the two guys race I was walking with as we left the aid station and did the first climb and I was running Kathleen’s race as I followed her down the next section. Should I ever find myself willing and able to run Hellgate again I might get “RUN YOUR OWN RACE” tattooed on the underside of my eyelids so I can see it every time I blink to avoid getting Hellgate Eyes. Who am I kidding; I’m too much of a sissy to get a tattoo.

But I digress. I eventually came out to a road and followed it until a right turn. Just as I was making the right turn a car carrying Chelsie’s crew, Cheyenne, Wade and Debbie, passed by cheering for me which uplifted the spirits if only half a degree.

I hiked and ran this next section. I don’t remember the running but I remember that I felt fatigued and the sun was draining me instead of filling me with a sense of revival like I had hoped. I was in a rather bad mood. But I think I was still at least a little bit in charge of my emotions. Not for much longer.

Here it is important to reveal my major flaw of Hellgate. I decided before ever reaching the starting line, without ever seeing the course, when and how the race would beat me. It would be before 7 am, it would be before the first cutoff and it would be a mental breakdown where I would hallucinate rabid dogs come to eat me alive or something just as gruesome. I told the few friends I shared the news about getting into the race the same thing, if I make it to 7 am I can make it through to the end. I believed this and when I arrived at 7 am on the climb from Jennings Creek I kept expecting the race to get easier.  I had after all made it to 7 am unscathed but it didn’t get easier because my demons were awaiting me at 10 am. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Todd is such wonderful crew!
I continued to climb up to Little Cove but I was no longer able to bask in the beauty around me and this saddens me looking back days later. There were clouds below me and a vastness all around me that my words would fail to suitably describe. But I was falling into a pit of my own self-doubt, fueled by hunger and fatigue. My stomach was unhappy. My legs tired. I know this only describes every other runner out there Saturday morning but it didn’t really make the effort any easier on me. When I saw Todd, Blake and Kevin Correll just before the aid station I was at my first low since the start. Todd gave me Imodium and a bag of Fritos, he exchanged bottles with me and gave me more GU. I stopped at the table and perused the food, nothing looked appetizing, I moved on. I left the aid station and headed into my own nightmare.

There was no hallucinating or rabid wildlife in my nightmare and it was no longer dark out. Rather the real life nightmare that occurred was stomach trouble, no toilet paper and a boiling over of self-doubt. I started out from Little Cove and I started eating the Fritos Todd had given me, they were salty (good) but tasted greasy (bad). I would eat a few on the uphills and put the bag away for the downhills. I didn’t take any GU but focused on eating the real food, the Fritos. My stomach didn’t agree with this new plan. I ended up having to stop for an emergency restroom break, then another and then another. It all but stopped me because every time I started moving again I had to stop immediately. I couldn’t get off the trail fast enough. And to make matters worse I didn’t have any wipes or toilet paper, they were in the pack I had handed off at Jennings Creek. Due to this my bottom started to hurt. And at the risk of sharing too much detail, it started to feel like it was on fire. I was pretty much stopped in the woods, people passing by me one after another, including another female (I was now 7th) and it hurt to walk. And so I lost it. I quit.

The pain in my legs and the fatigue were one thing but I just couldn’t handle the chaffing. I decided when I got to the next aid station I was dropping out. There was a little more to this, but it’s hard to describe here on my blog. But basically for the first time ever in a race, I gave up, I was done. And then I started to cry. I was mad. I had deceived myself unintentionally. How was I to know or think that making it to sunrise would be enough? I had defeated myself by not keeping enough in the mental fuel tank. I got angry. I cried harder. Like wiping tears with my sleeves hard. I stopped to find a leaf to see if that would help, it didn’t. I was out there, not moving, in the woods, 40+ miles in and I had become unraveled. And it was all because I had convinced myself that after 7 am I was free from this very kind of unraveling. Looking back it doesn’t sound like much to say that I had G.I. issues and quit. But out there on Saturday morning my whole world was coming down fast.

After I quit I thought about the money I was throwing away by quitting. I had stressed about the money to get into the race, Todd told me Hellgate was my Christmas gift. Now I was going to have nothing to show for the money. I had asked late to get in and now I was going to be a DNF, I cried harder. Then I thought about Todd who had crewed me all night long and how he would be denied a run if I quit at Bearwallow Gap. I thought about the shame I might place on myself in the following days for being a ‘quitter’. I started to convince myself that I could just walk it in. I stopped crying and just kept moving. After a few minutes I felt good enough to run a few steps. It doesn’t always get worse, I reminded myself. And then the terrain would get rocky and my ankles would turn and I would slow to a crawl.  I was trying to just convince myself to finish no matter what and then the loose rocks under leaves would frustrate me back into leaning towards quitting. It was nasty, both the trail and the mental collapse. I felt like my ankles and stability muscles were being worked overtime. I told myself I had hours to finish, I could do it. But then I would think about more people passing me and I didn’t know if my ego could handle being passed for the next seven hours. I know that may sound bad, but I knew it would be hard to continue to fall. I kept moving but I didn’t take GU, I had sworn off the Fritos for life and I just wanted so badly to be at Bearwallow.

Finally, I saw a trail head sign up ahead, I heard cars, I sensed pavement. I thought I was at the next aid station. When I got to the road I looked left and right, no streamers. Then I noticed the streamers went across the road back into more single track trail. My heart literally felt like it sank inside me. I was crushed. I tried to stifle a whimper. I was back to feeling like quitting. I felt like I was on a roller coaster and just wanted off. Within a few minutes or so of being on the trail I finally ate a GU, the first time since Little Cove Mountain. I had been on that section of trail for far too long without a GU. A few minutes later I saw Todd and Blake up ahead. I was never so happy to see the faces of my crew. They had seen Marc who had told them I was suffering. I kind of announced to the entire aid station that I wanted to quit. Jamie Swyers said “Not here you don’t.” I ate half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and grabbed a fresh grilled cheese as Jamie laid it down on a plate. Todd had disappeared off to the car. And I was just standing there at the table looking down at the food when Cheyenne Craig came up, grabbed my arm and pulled me away from the table and the aid station. ‘Come on, here ya go,’ in a way that suggested I pull myself together and fast. About 100 yards from the aid station we stopped, I ate the grilled cheese and drank some Mountain Dew. I didn’t realize until later, when the Mountain Dew and the sandwiches had started working how awesome Cheyenne’s gesture was. She had pulled me away from getting trapped at the aid station. A trap I was eager to fall into at the time.

And then the sandwich was gone and Todd was there to pace me and we headed on.
I was mean and disoriented coming into Bearwallow Gap but I think I got there around 10:30 and left about 8 minutes later with Todd in tow. We started out and Todd said “We are going to catch 5 people between now and the finish line.” He was behind me. I rolled my eyes at his statement. A few minutes later he told me to run when I wanted to walk. I snapped. “I don’t think you appreciate what I’ve been through!” He backed off. He didn’t tell me what to do the rest of the run. I appreciate that. I felt like I was running this first little section so that he could in fact get his run in for the day.  I don’t know how long I’ll last, I told him. He encouraged me, told me I was strong, I was going to finish and finish well. 

We were running really runnable ups and downs, especially if you didn’t have 45+ miles on your legs. I made Todd run behind me so I could walk and run when I wanted to walk and run. The fuel started to work its way into my system, I got back on my GU schedule of every half hour. Then we started to come into sight of other runners. We caught one guy and then passed a girl. I went from 7th to 6th . Then a few more runners came into view and we continued to gain and then pass them. I remember the swooping in and out but I don’t remember any climb to Bobblet’s Gap. I just know we got there.

We got to Bobblets Gap right behind Marc and he commented that I was coming back. I got a water bottle from Blake who met us there and we started off into the ‘Forever section’. I enjoyed the downhill and being able to run. Todd pointed out Aaron ahead of us on the road, “That’s Aaron of the race description. You should catch him so you can tell him how much you loved reading and rereading his description all week.” I had enjoyed reading it. I printed it out and carried it with me the later part of the week. I only wish I had been able to better recall some of the descriptions during the actual run. We talked to Aaron for a brief moment but then I kicked a rock with my toe. Ouch! Then again, the same toe on a different rock. I remember Marc pulling away, and then Aaron as my toe screamed at me. Then Todd pulled away with them chatting away. I started to get angry that Todd was pulling away from me. Then the hill got even steeper. I turned my iPod on let gravity do its thing. I flew down the hill the rest of the way until the single track trail to the right. I saw runners up ahead, I worked to slowly catch them and pass them. My race was pulling somewhat back together. By the time we passed Jenny Nichols and I went into 5th place my body hurt but I had turned race mode on. We caught up with two more guys and stayed with them pretty much the rest of the way to the aid station at Day Creek.  

I remember coming into this aid station and the volunteers being really awesome. They were saying good job and you only have six miles left, a real six miles. I drank Orange Crush and ate 2 cookies. We had just left the aid station when we saw Blake barreling down the hill towards us. He had driven to the finish line and had started running towards us. He kept us engaged as we ascended the final climb with word on the finish line. He also confirmed I was in 5th place. We walked every single step of this 2+ mile climb even though I felt like I should be trying to run at least a few steps. I knew I should conserve some energy for the final descent but I also don’t like to walk that much. I believe it took us about 45 minutes to walk that climb and we passed two more people along the way.

At the top we crossed the road and went around a gate. We said hello to a couple taking bib numbers and offering up some final water and headed downhill. I told Todd and Blake I was going to turn my iPod on and just run whatever I could find it in me to run. I ran about as hard as I could. I really wanted to make the finish in 14:45. It was a steep downhill for about 20 minutes which helped to be able to run fast. By the time we reached the one mile to go sign I was wearing thin. My stomach had started to bother me and I had to slow down. When we reached the camp entrance it felt like we still had forever to go and I was nauseated. I joked that I was going to end up vomiting on Horton’s shoes.

And then, finally, 14 hours and 45 minutes since I had begun this journey there was the finish line. And there was the clock and Horton holding out his hand with five fingers. The open arms and the coveted hug. He told the crowd he’d just let me in on Monday. I wish I had been able to appreciate that moment more. He really is a remarkable person. But I really did feel like I was going to lose my GU. I went around the side of the building to throw up. I didn’t. I still don’t know how I didn’t. I felt awful though, I leaned up against the wall and just stayed like that for a few minutes.

Afterwards in my new pullover.
When I finally came around the building a few minutes later I was a little embarrassed and was starting to feel the aftermath of what I had just endured. I went and got my pullover from Horton as well as my Hellgate socks and sat down amongst the others inside. I became a little withdrawn, I fell asleep a few times waiting for other friends to finish.

By the time we left and headed home I was completely beat. I fell asleep in the car and then immediately on the couch when I got home. A few weeks before, after my better than expected Masochist finish, I had put my name in for the drawing of the 2013 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. I knew the drawing was to take place between 9-11 am the morning of Hellgate, it was part of the reason I wanted to run Hellgate. I hadn’t thought about it at all during the day while running like I had thought I might. I had a 7.8% chance of getting in. Pretty slim. While waiting in the grass after Hellgate I had checked my email, nothing. I assumed that meant I was a no go. That night between falling asleep on the couch and going up to bed I checked the website. And there I was; my name and all the other identifying details on the list of runners. If I hadn’t been so tired I might have been excited.

I have no idea how I’ll survive Western States, or if I’ll even make it out there (It’s more expensive than I’d realized) to see. But I know that the task is less daunting after making it through Hell.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Valley View 5 Miler

At the finish line of MMTR last weekend I jokingly told everyone standing around that we should run the Valley View 5 Miler.  We all laughed and acted like we would go out a week after a 50 miler and tackle a fast hard 5 mile course on Candlers Mountain.  But we were just joking.

At the time I didn't even know if I'd be able to run or not.  The extent of most of our muscle soreness hadn't even began to set in yet.  It was just a joke.

But then it wasn't.

Wednesday night a group of about 12 of us went out, in the dark, to run the course.  For many of us it was our first run since Masochist.  We went out easy, and we got lost in the dark.  Not lost in the dark like 'where are we, are we ever going to see civilization again,' (well, maybe one time) but just lost as in not able to follow the marked race course.  But it was still fun.

So we registered to run the race the night before.  Way past the T-shirt deadline, but the Race Director Josh Yeoman is so cool that he made sure he found us shirts.  Thanks Josh!  And we showed up for the race Saturday morning thinking we would be the only MMTR finishers crazy enough to be there.

But NO, it seems that MMTR finishers are plenty crazy.  The first person I saw was Frank Gonzales, 3rd place finisher at Masochist.  He had to be hurting worse than most of us, but there he was.  Probably about a half dozen of us in all, fresh off a 50 miler ready to run up and down Candler's hills.  Crazy.

The race went well.  We all seemed to have found our legs again.

I earned a second in my age group with a time of 40:59.  But the big news is Alexis won first female with a time of 41:39. And Frank the Tank won first male with a course record time of  31:53.


Masochist - Not As Bad As I Thought It Would Be (Todd's Race Report)

I started the year with the goal of finishing every race in the LUS (Lynchburg Ultra Series), which includes three 50Ks and one 50 miler.  The Mountain Masochist Trail Run.  That was all really, just finishing them and getting the jacket that goes along with it.

The 50Ks (Holiday Lake, Terrapin Mountain, and Promise Land) came and went this spring, each with their own goals met and lessons learned.  But then came Masochist. And the six month gap between it and the other races.  Just enough time to get in really good shape right?  Or in my case, to train and train and train and burn out a month before the taper should start and not even want to run.

My problem is this: I like to run.  I enjoy it.  It is fun to me.  Training is not always like running for fun.  Too much structure, too much pressure.  Did I get enough miles this week?  Was that long run long enough?  Was that tempo run fast enough?  Am I fueling right?  By September running was becoming work.  And I have too much going on in my life to take on another job.

 By the time Masochist got here I had adjusted my goal from just wanting to finish, to wanting to finish in 10 hours.  My wife, and ever optimistic training partner, was convinced that she probably couldn't even finish the race in the 12 hour cut off.  Everyone who knows us was secretly (or not so secretly) betting on how well she would do come race day.  I'm pretty sure that there was a pool going, betting on how badly she would beat me.  I just wish they would have let me get in on that action.

One week out from the race, in the middle of my  2 1/2 week taper, I had a great run with some of the guys I'm fortunate enough to get to train with.  Explaining to Jason Captain on a long climb what my race plan was, I found my Zen Spot and totally stopped stressing about the race.  "The hay is in the barn," he says, meaning that the training was done.  There was nothing left to worry about except thing like fueling and clothing choices.  And I've never much worried about fashion.

At the start of the race I was feeling good.  Thanks in part to our terrific crew Kristen and Blake, whose job it was to worry for me about hydration and fuel all day. So I was left with nothing to stress about except whether or not my socks matched.

The first eight miles of the race were a lot of fun.  You climb almost constantly, but it was very runable.

The definition of runable changes almost constantly during a race, the runability of a hill is inversely related to the number of miles you have run to get to that hill.  As a matter of fact there are points in the day where steepness plays almost no role in determining the runablity of a hill.  If you are sufficiently tired, a bump in the road becomes a hike break.

But those first eight miles flew by, I passed and was passed by Alexis several times, I saw other friends and we wished each other luck, and I just felt completely good.   Coming out of the second aid station I felt a little pain in my right ankle, so I took it easy on the down hill that followed.  After that the work started.

And after that I didn't see Alexis again until the end, there were rumors whispered at aid stations  "She's 3 minutes ahead of you," "She was here 12 minutes ago," "She is on fire!," "She's looking really strong," "I think she came through 30 minutes ago, but she was just a blur so I can't be sure."  I was happy for her, and this actually helped me hold it together at a few low points.  'If the queen of self doubt can have a great day,' I thought to myself, 'then so can I.'

The ankle pain hurt of that first down hill, but it vanished on the next climb, and I was able to put it out of my mind.  The first half was going great for me.  I was on my pace goal or a little ahead of it at every aid station. My crew was more help than I could have hoped for, and the weather was awesome.

As I trudged up to Long Mountain Wayside, tired but in good spirits, I was having serious doubt that I would even see any snow that day.  I convinced myself that the course conditions were exaggerated to try to intimidate us runners, and that I was going to have a great finish well under my 10 hour goal.

I was wrong.  It happens once in a while.

When I got to The Loop, Blake started to run with me.  I hadn't expected him to pace me in until after The Loop, but this was good with me.  I enjoy running with people.  Blake told me as we headed in that it was going to be slow.  The front runners who usually run the 6 mile loop in about 45 minutes were in there for 1:13.  Still, I had a hard time believing it was going to be that big of a game changer.

Once again, I was wrong.

Not only did the snow slow us down quite a bit, but the extra strain of my balancing muscles was really working on that ankle.  By the time we trudged out of The Loop, 1:34 after going in, my right ankle was on fire again.

I was fortunate to have Blake with me at this point, because he kept me distracted from the pain, and I was fortunate for several miles of snow-free road.  At the Salt Log Gap aid station (41 miles) I told Blake that I had never run any farther than this before.  He cheerily told me we still had a long way to go.  Blake was great like that, he would tell you how hard it was going to be, but he sounded so happy about it that I had to doubt it was really going to be as hard as he said.

I tried to run the climb out of Salt Log Gap and Blake warned that I was probably wasting my energy unnecessarily, but I couldn't help looking at my watch and seeing my 10 hour goal looking harder and harder to hit.  When I left The Loop I had to maintain a 12 minute/mile pace to the finish, but the ankle and the snow  seemed to have other plans for me.

We reached the Forest Valley Aid Station, and things got worse.  The wooded section from there to the next aid station was as bad or worse than The Loop conditions.  There was more walking than I would have liked, and even walking in the snow was starting to hurt my ankle.  That 4 miles in the woods felt like 20.

By the time we reached the final aid station I knew my 10 hour goal was unattainable.  I had four miles to go and 34 minutes to run it.  The worst problem was my foot, by this point every step hurt.  I tried to convince myself that it hurt to run and to walk so running was the better option since it would end the misery sooner, but downhill running was not in the cards for me.

I finished with a time of 10 hours and 12 minutes.  The last 12 miles I ran/walked at a 13 minute/mile pace.  It seems that sometimes 1 minute per mile is just not as easy as you would think.

I did not reach my time goal this year, but I am still very very pleased with my Masochist finish.  My friend Frank 'the tank' Gonzales told me that in better conditions I could have been 30 minutes faster.  Clark Zealand, the race director said that we had the worst course conditions in the 30 year history of the race.

Most of all, I am happy that 50 miles seemed so easy to run.  I know I'm complaining about the snow and my ankle, but over all I just ran and felt like I could keep going.  Especially when my foot hurt too bad to run, I was frustrated because I still had the strength and will to run.

Next year, LUS + Hellgate 100K!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Race Report: Mountain Masochist 50 Mile Trail Run (Alexis)

Mountain Masochist Trail Run 50 Miler
Montebello, VA
Saturday, November 3, 2012

I registered for Masochist in frenzy mode as the race was filling up only days after registration had opened in early May. I was fresh off of my second ultra, Promise Land, and an endorphin high had me convinced I could do anything, including running 50+ miles. It wasn't until the Odyssey Trail Running Rampage 40 Miler in September that I started to have doubts about my capabilities.
Despite a decent overall finish at the Odyssey race, I began to come unraveled in the following weeks. I did not come away from that race confident and believing in my abilities, that race had knocked me down in size. I had not fueled well and a fall mid-way led to an almost complete mental breakdown.  Add to the self-doubt a few recovery weeks and my Masochist training, which had started out so well throughout the summer, began to suffer.
Three training runs on parts of the Masochist course over several fall weekends had me even more nervous. The parts of the course we traversed seemed difficult enough and we left out parts of the course that seasoned Masochist runners claimed were even more grueling. I began to second guess my registration and my sanity.
It all boiled down to fear. I feared a DNF.  I feared cold, wet feet. I feared another mental breakdown. Sure these fears were mostly unfounded, but aren’t many fears? 
To combat my unsubstantiated fears I began to compile a list of things that I had learned from previous ultras, both the good and bad, as well as insight and advice other ultra runners had given me. When my taper began I turned my focus entirely on the mental strength and determination I would need at hand.  The night before Masochist I finished the list, folded it and stuck it in a small pocket of my three quarter zip pullover.  With such seemingly simple advice such as “smile” and ‘give all of yourself regardless of outcome’ this straightforward scheme was to be my secret weapon when the going got tough and the hurt came out at Masochist.  Fortunately, I had a good day and the list never got pulled out. I like to think it was in spite of the list that I never had to pull it out.
In the many hours I spent reading and rereading books by Tom Noakes and Byron Powell, I decided that I had to be on top of my hydration and fueling well before the start, a point echoed in a conversation I had with Jeremy Ramsey days before. It was to this effect that I woke up at 3 am to begin fueling for Masochist; cereal, slice after slice of cinnamon sugar toast, pb&j, and several cups of coffee. I had also hoped to go to the bathroom but when attempts failed I took some precautionary Pepto Bismol. 
Feeling quite full I slathered my feet with Bag Balm and my favorite two pairs of race day socks; Injinji toe socks and Sock Guy socks from the Mountain Junkies Frozen Toe events held each January. I wore my Hoka trail shoes, my Zensah calf sleeves that have become more my signature than a necessary accoutrement and my much loved Nike shorts. Six Strawberry Banana GU sandwiched between my two sports bras (thank you, Chelsie) to get me started and I was ready to go.
Todd and I at the starting line. 
We met our friends, Blake and Kristen Edmondson, in the parking lot of the Amherst Food Lion at 5:30. They had kindly offered to crew us for our first 50 miler, an act I wouldn’t completely come to fully appreciate until later in the day having never had a crew before.
It wasn’t long after checking-in, a few quick hellos, and a final restroom stop, that we were off and running. I settled into the pack, my friend’s Chelsie and Grattan by my side. I reflected on Chelsie’s suggestion from an earlier conversation, it’s just a long run in the mountains with friends and ran with that notion.  It was dark but these miles seemed so effortless and the time and distance passed quickly. The creek crossings that I’d been anxious about were upon us so quickly, and then behind us. And my feet and I survived. My Hoka’s drained amazingly well and the water wasn’t nearly as cold or uncomfortable as I had dreaded. And just like that the entire race instantly became less frightening and more manageable.
It wasn’t long before I had the chance to meet my first stranger of the day, she was very friendly and opened up conversation about the beautiful scenery and we exchanged hellos. When she introduced herself as Leah Daugherty I was taken aback.  I instantly thought where am I? I shouldn’t be up here running with Leah, she is far better than I am.  She seemed surprised that a reputation preceded her and I immediately liked her even more for her modesty. I tried to run with her but got carried away in the leap frog game I was playing with Todd and ran off to catch him after he passed me yelling “Alexis, you run like a girl.” A cheer meant to motivate me but ultimately slightly offending me. It wasn’t long after that Leah effortlessly carried herself up a hill that I convinced myself I needed a break on. I passed Todd a final time, he reminded me to fuel and drink, like he knew he wouldn’t see me again until the finish.  The thought continued to weigh on me, Where am I? Am I running too fast?
Several well meaning friends had tried to convince me I could do well at Masochist but I refused to hear them. Frank Gonzalez told me I could finish top 10. I wanted to refute the concept, but the idea was a pleasant one, and I would be lying to say I didn’t let the thought take up residence in my thoughts in the weeks leading up to Masochist. But I just couldn’t believe I could do that well. I had read about many of the women coming to Masochist, at least a dozen I knew were far better than me. I told Frank I couldn’t accept the pressure of his compliment, he told me I was crazy.
It wasn’t long after leaving Todd’s company that I came upon David Horton on his bike, “run faster” he goaded before telling me he thought I was 6th female.  The next several miles until Dancing Creek were a blur, I turned my iPod on for the first time and just ran. Coming into the aid station at Dancing Creek and seeing all of those people and hearing some of them cheering my name, it was incredible, it made me want to run stronger or at least not stop, I swapped water bottles with Blake and kept on moving.
It was about this time that I really started to bask in what a good day I was having, I kept eating a GU every 40 minutes and I took my first 2 salt tabs. Running up the hill to Robinson’s Gap I felt very good but ran walked the hill because in training Mike Mitchell had encouraged this approach over running the entire hill. I paced with the runner in front of me who ran the entire hill. I would run until I caught him and then walk for a count of 30. Reaching the top of the hill I was headed into unchartered territory as we had ended here on a previous training run. I ran down from Robinson’s Gap at as hard an effort as I felt I could afford at only 17 miles in, trying to save the quads a little but also make up some time.  I had to take pit stop #2 of the day, a sign I was hydrating better than in previous ultras. I saw a runner up ahead and started to reel her in; I also had a female runner right behind me. I was enjoying being sandwiched in between these two runners and just trying to maintain my place between them.
Coming into Irish Creek I stopped long enough to fill my water bottle, I was feeling good so I didn’t grab anything more than a quarter of a PB&J . It wasn’t long until I came into the aid station at the Reservoir. I had somehow beaten Blake and Kristen to this aid station and my water bottle was still almost full so I ran right through.  Climbing out of the reservoir I spotted a runner up ahead who looked familiar, it was Joe Alderson.  I slowed to talk to him for a moment but he seemed done with his race. I was worried for him, that he was going to drop but he urged me to keep going. Losing ground on the woman ahead whom I had been chasing I said my farewell. My levels of self-doubt are so high I knew better to think I would have any power of persuasion over Joe and I feared he would DNF at Long Mountain.  Seeing someone I train with on occasion having a difficult time gave me a second to waiver in my own race. I overheard the woman behind me talking to another runner about marathons and I took the opportunity to jump in on the conversation, figuring that a chat would be a good distraction.
Coming though an aid station.
The woman was Amy Rusieki, a friendly outgoing runner whose husband was in the running to win the race. He had come down the year before and finished just behind Eric Grossman, he had come back this year to win and suggested Amy come along to run. We shared how much we both wanted a jacket, she encouraged me, gave me some pointers and told me that she thought I was doing well and would end up with a jacket.  I wanted to believe her but I was still unsure of the second half and the snow we were running towards.
I was running very low on GU at this point so I was very happy to see Blake a quarter mile or so before the Long Mountain aid station. He had a Gatorade, 5 GU, a fresh water bottle and a PB&J I’d made for my lunch.  Crossing the road and seeing the large gathering of volunteers and crew members was motivating. I had made it to Long Mountain, the halfway point of the race, in 4:25, a half hour faster than my ultimate goal and yet feeling like I was running conservatively.
 I ran through without stopping but started to walk as soon as I hit trail. I had to literally wet my PB&J to swallow it. It was the first time I had really attempted to eat real food all day and my brain felt as though it was eating cardboard. I did manage the whole thing down, but it took effort and I walked the whole time. With lunch over I started back in on my walk/run routine.
 I was surprised to see Dennis Coan just ahead at this point. I don’t think he was as excited to see me as I was to see him.  The climb to Buck Mountain was about as fun as I’d remembered in the training run. I missed hearing the Rocky music I’ve heard about for ages, but the volunteers at this aid station were very friendly and I stopped long enough to pick up an assortment of foods.  Overall, I still felt very good, and the next section was mostly downhill. However, it was at this point that we started to see snow on the ground.
At Long Mountain Amy had pulled ahead of me but I caught back up with her on this next section and we ran together once again. The miles flew by as we talked. At Wiggins Spring I saw Blake and Kristen again, they gave me more GU and swapped bottles.
There was more and more snow as we climbed but you were still able to dodge most of it as we were still on roads. When I got to the Loop I was in a very good mood. I was in 6th place, I felt strong and I knew that once I got through the Loop I could unleash my ‘race to the finish’ race plan. I didn’t’ see Blake and Kristen so I just headed into the Loop, David Horton asked if I wanted to grab any aid but I declined. The Loop was the only section of the course I had seen more than once in training. I thought I knew what to expect even with the snow warnings I had heard.
I was wrong. This happens a lot to me.
The snow was apparent immediately but I was able to run through it for the first mile or so, it was flat to downhill and the front runners had cleared a fair path. After a while though the trail started to climb, the rocks and snow got the better of me and I took to walking. Someone later likened this section to walking in holes made by post-hole diggers. It was bad but I imagined how bad it must have been for the guys up front. I was torn here, I wanted to hike but it was really only a walk and a slow walk. I knew the awkward footing would tire my legs in a way that the running would not have. It felt like an eternity to the fork that lead you to the summit of Mount Pleasant, however the trail only got more difficult from this point on. It was a little motivating to see Holly, Leah, and then Amy coming back from the summit until I was coming back from the summit and saw what felt like dozens of people in that out and back section. It changed my race, I will admit, to see a dozen women that close to me. I started to fear slipping form top 10, I just knew I would fall to 20th, that I couldn’t navigate the snowy terrain as well as they could.
The rest of the loop wasn’t as bad as the first half but I knew Kate Caldwell, the other female I was sandwiched between, was right behind me. She was clearly crossing through the snow more efficiently than I, I knew she would pass me at any moment, but she never did in the loop. At one point there is a climb, one that I walk/ran on training runs. I walked every step of it and it was degrading. I had hoped all along to race these final miles but I began to see that the snow had taken more out of me than any other hill or section of the course; I had come into the loop as confident as I could muster and it was working to get the better of me. I had read race reports, I knew the loop had a reputation for tearing a runner down, now I was the runner who was being torn down. I fought it with a smile.
When I finally came out of the Loop Kristen told me I had just missed them when I’d entered the loop and that I had been in the loop for about an hour and a half. She swapped bottles with me one last time and gave me a final five farewell GU and told me she would see me at the finish.
I ran towards Salt Log Gap and at some point Kate pulled away. I started the unavoidable over-the-shoulder-glance, ready for a group of three women to coming flying by me at any time, making this section of the course look like child’s play. At the Salt Log Gap aid station I hung around a little longer than at previous aid stations, I grabbed a few Pringles and headed on. I ate the first Pringle, but barely. I put the second one in my mouth, chewed it and blew it out like bubbles. My stomach was starting to turn against me. I tossed the rest of the Pringles off into the snow. This section of the course is a little over 1.2 miles, on road. Road that was mostly free of snow, a break from what I knew was up ahead, I urged myself to run but I just didn’t have it in me at the moment.  My stomach was growling, unsatisfied and upset from a day of little real food I imagine. I checked my water bottle pocket; I had ended up in the swap with Kristen with the bottle that had the Tums I’d packed the night before. I got excited over this, I took them out and started eating one after another, hoping it would calm my stomach and pass the time to the next aid station.
When I finally reached the Forest Valley Aid station the volunteers kindly offered me the option of hanging out a while. I thanked them but replied I must keep moving forward, I took a few Oreos and headed back into snow covered trails. One of the volunteers made a ‘Powered by Oreos’ statement, it made me smile. I thought about how supportive and encouraging the volunteers had been all day. I was able to eat both Oreos and my stomachache improved.
I decided at that point that the hike up to Forest Valley was my low point of the day; I had survived it even if I walked 98% of it. I thought of Gordy Ansleigh and his unsupported run that first year he ran Western States with the horses. I reminded myself to smile and keep moving forward no matter what.  At this point I stole a glance behind myself and there were two guys approaching, I let the one nearest me pass as I stepped aside, but then I decided to hold on. It wasn’t quite a chase as we walked more than I would like to admit and I wasn’t much of a companion as I didn’t talk much, but it helped the miles pass, though pass very slowly they still did.
These 4.11 miles seemed like 12 as I dragged through the snow. I did mourn the run that could have been if not for the snow, I could sense the trail that lies beneath the snow and I felt that it was just the kind of trail I love to run. But I hunkered down and did the best I could despite the snowy conditions. The trail did start to descend eventually but even then the snow slowed us.
In time we came to the aid station at Porter’s Ridge. I saw Matt Day who gave an encouraging word and I grabbed what I swear were unsalted Saltines. I asked the distance left, 4 miles said the man with the clipboard and offered up a frown, but it’s all downhill, he assured. I glanced at my watch; I had 9:02 on my Garmin. You can do this in 9:45 still, I told myself.  Of course, volunteers and helping hands always say it’s all downhill from here. A runner appeared beside me, I asked if he’d run the race before and if it was really downhill. The runner, Chris, said it was downhill and that I was doing well, that he didn’t see a group of 3 women chasing me down and that he could tell I wouldn’t let them pass me. We ran the next two miles together and he would tell me as each mile was counted down. He was very friendly and I tried to keep with him but the descent finally got steep and he pulled away but not before he told me I could stop fearing those 3 girls waiting to come from nowhere.
I held up running as hard as I could until I hit the pavement and the hill leveled out. I could see Brenton and Chris up ahead but I slowed rather than sped up.  I knew I had less than a mile to go and was just wondering where the finish was when the crowd began to appear up ahead. I looked behind me, not a soul. I slowed enough to let the emotions overcome me; I thought you’ve run 50 miles…you could run 100.
That great and final moment, crossing the finish line in Montebello, Virginia.

Thankfully though, I didn’t have to. I crossed the finish in 9:36. The moment I let my body know we were done, it kind of fell apart. David Horton asked me what I’d been doing, I think he meant to train for Masochist, but all my brain could pull together was ‘running’.
The next half hour is kind of a blur, I enjoyed seeing runners finish though I somehow missed my own husband when I went to the store for a coke. I felt awful as I came out of the store to see him just passed the finish line. What a terrible wife I am!
The finish line at Masochist was amazing, I am perhaps an emotional mess to begin with but add in an exhausting day of running in the mountains, and I was thoroughly overwhelmed witnessing so many people come across that line, especially having insight into what they had just endured. It was a great weekend, I met a lot of great, encouraging people and I was reminded once again why I love this sport.
I was in a very good place for the next 18 hours before I began to feel like I got hit by a Mack Truck. I am sore, especially in the quads, but nothing feels injured or anything more than sore. I feel like I had a good day, I stayed fueled and hydrated pretty well. I tried to run as steady as possible, but feel like I could improve on the second half. Despite snowy conditions I still ran faster than my ideal goal of 9:40, I am wondering how much better I could run. I feel like I could have gone further but not so much sure about how much faster.
Overall the thing I feel greatest about today is that I can’t wait to run. I really feared that Masochist was going to drain me of my desire to run. And I think I left a little of that self-doubt out in the snow. I am proud of my top 10 Patagonia Down Sweater. I did something that I really didn’t think I could do. I realize I had a good day, that I was lucky, but I also know that I’ve always been determined and stubborn.  I think I’ve finally found something where those traits are vital to success. And I’m already wondering, what next?


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Redemption Run

Training for Masochist is draining my desire to run. What seemed relatively feasible six months ago is becoming increasingly frightening, the self-doubt is mounting.
To be honest, I don’t really know what I’m doing. I jumped with little consideration into the distance for which I’m unfamiliar on either how to train for or complete. A few months ago I sincerely thought a determined effort and mental fortitude would be enough. I thought I was determined, I thought I had the mental fortitude. Turns out I am unsteady when it comes to effort and completely unsure of myself.
In September, at the 40 mile Trail Running Rampage, I encountered a bit of a hard time. At the time I would have said it was just a bad fall but now I see that it was the beginning of an unraveling that has continued in the past few weeks. During this hard time I wanted to quit. Not quit for the afternoon, quit for forever. I wanted to throw out my shoes, drop out of Masochist, and return to a life of frozen pizza and blogging. A first place finish at the 40 miler was a nice Band-Aid and I thought I was fixed.
And then a little more than a week ago I had a bit of a hard time at Deep Hollow. Again, it wasn’t a complete failure by any means but it wasn’t the success I’d been striving for either. A slip here, an episode of cramping there, I knew there were some things I had to work on but I thought an extended rest and recovery would suffice.
Then there was Saturday’s run, twenty miles on parts of the Masochist course and Appalachian Trail and once again a bit of a hard time. Except this time I didn’t even try to put up a fight when the unconstructiveness arrived. I let all the dark, uncooperative thoughts move in and take up residence for the last half of the run. I got quiet if not a bit ill-tempered. I let the group pull away from me so I could sufficiently wallow in my self-doubt and loathing. You won’t even finish Masochist at this pace I berated every ounce of my being.  Add wet cold feet and 30 more miles and you’re a goner I told myself.
I managed to complete Saturday’s run, but that was about all. I put on a happy face for my comrades but I didn’t tell them how miserable the run had been. Despite the beauty all around me in the mountains, the magnificence of the scenery at the summit, I had wilted in the cool temperature. I ached to just be content with the run but the feeling eluded me. My love for running and the trails had been replaced by an obligatory necessity to reach high mileage weeks, essential long runs.  I felt broken.
In an attempt to hit 30 mile weekends I needed to go back out on Sunday to run another ten. I did not want to go. I did not want to run. I wanted to stay at home with my family who I miss more often on these weekend runs as of late. And to make matters worse, I had to run alone. I tried to wiggle my way out of the run. I made the argument that I didn’t have time but my husband caught me in the lie immediately, go put on your new Hoka’s and go run, he urged.
A week ago, Todd had visited the Aid Station in Forest and purchased a set of shoes I’ve had on hold there for weeks. I had put them on but not run in them. I was hesitant about trying them; honestly a part of me was ready to not like them so I didn’t even want to give them a chance.  At Todd’s influence I reluctantly went upstairs, got dressed and pulled the Hoka’s from their box. With only a quick stop back through the kitchen to grab my Garmin and iPod, I was on my way.
I, as mentioned before, loathe the solo run. I can easily identify the reason. Fear. I am afraid. I am afraid of dogs, of strangers, of getting lost, of falling and needing help. The list goes on. I know I need to overcome this fear, at times I think I want to overcome this fear, and then I do little to actually overcome this fear.  Due to this fear I headed to the Blackwater Trail System on Sunday for my ten miles. The whole way over I wanted to turn around, head home, go anywhere else really other than for a run. I wondered if I would be strong enough to go the ten miles alone. I figured probably not.
The first few steps were uncomfortable so I sat down and readjusted my new shoes. I turned on my iPod and settled into the run. The paved trail at Blackwater is undemanding. The first mile flew by and I actually found myself enjoying the run.  The new shoes and I became acquainted, and more mile markers appeared and then disappeared. I made the decision to not look at my watch but just run, listening to my body, enjoying the run. By three miles I was in a rhythm, I could feel the steadiness of my pace and I began to grin. At five miles I was at 39 minutes, I had found my legs and my desire to run. I turned around and decided to try for a negative split. I took pleasure in feeling the small changes in elevation; I let my body feel the pace instead of having the watch inform me. Focusing on the actual act of running allowed me to revel in how amazing a process it truly is, I’ve lost sight of that lately. I seemed to have forgotten that girl who just wanted to make it to the next mailbox, who got anxious but also equally excited about racing.
I finished the run in 77 minutes. I felt strong, like I could keep going, I needed that. I needed to feel like I could go on, that I wasn’t’ done running’ when I was finished. I felt revived and relieved. Turns out I haven’t lost my legs or my will, just my direction.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Deep Hollow Half Marathon: Race Report (Alexis)

Deep Hollow Half
Saturday, October 6, 2012
Lynchburg,  Virginia

Two years.

That’s how long I've been waiting to run Deep Hollow. In 2010 I was battling a bout of ITBS when I passed over the half marathon for the 5k distance. I remember being beat by nine year old Abby Gonzales and watching the half marathoners finish. Several of them were covered in dirt and blood, I envied their sweat soaked shirts and proud, exhausted expressions crossing the finish line. I am going to run that race I told myself, next year, I’ll be back. I came back in 2011, but not as a participant, but once again as a spectator at the finish line as I was counting down the hours until the arrival of our youngest child. Waiting on the hillside along the finish line I cheered in fellow runners, anxious for my husband to finish. I knew he wanted to finish in less than two hours and was worrying about his whereabouts when he finally came into the camp at 2:20. He was not happy; he’d gotten off course and had run some extra mileage. His pace was right on target, his time was not. Coming into 2012 we both had Deep Hollow high atop our race lists; I was eager to finally get to run the race that had eluded me and Todd was hell bent on finally chasing down that sub-two hour finish.

For the better part of our training year Todd and I have trained on the trails of Candler’s Mountain. Long runs, short runs, slow runs, tempo runs, we've done them all. We know that mountain well. It is this point that made this particular race stressful for me in the last few weeks. When I don’t do well at a road race or an out of town race I can tell myself that I don’t run roads, that I didn’t know the course. However, if I didn’t do well on our mountain, on our turf, how would I recover from the letdown?

In the past six weeks we’ve run sections of the Deep Hollow course countless times and the whole course in what we thought was its entirety on three separate occasions. I ran it the day after the Lynchburg Half Marathon in 2:32 as proof to myself that I didn’t leave enough on the Lynchburg Half Marathon course the day before. Two weeks later we ran it again in 2:35 as a long run. Not pushing the pace, just seeing what we could do running it through. The Saturday before the race we ran the course but not in order, chasing Jason Captain for nine miles, finishing in 2:12. It was with these numbers as well as an in-depth study of past years race results that I chose the arbitrary finishing goal of 2:10.

As the days before the race grew short I started to have anxiety about the race. I don’t throw that word around without a full understanding of what I intend to get across. When I thought about Deep Hollow my legs would become weak beneath me, my heart rate increased and my palms would become sweaty.  Failure wasn't an option and yet the thought ceaselessly weighed on me because I wasn't sure what the boundaries of failure meant for me and Deep Hollow.

I run because I am competitive. My umpteenth attempt at ‘starting to run’ was successful in 2009 because I signed up for the Virginia 4 Miler and got swept up in the spirit of the struggle. I want to race because challenge builds character. I want to push my limits, evaluate my strengths and shortcomings. But I know I’m not Ellie Greenwood and so I have to establish what success and failure mean for me and my abilities and goals. I take the idea of running and racing very seriously, perhaps too seriously. Maybe some days I lose perspective. Sometimes I wonder if I should race at all. And yet I’m also undeniably lazy. I would rather only run four or five days a week; a six day running week is virtually unheard of in my training log. I skip runs with little hesitation.  I hate getting up early to run, I dread running alone. Or in the dark.  I am only half-committed to speed work. My greatest, and sometimes only, motivator is proving myself. I want to believe in myself and I want to win over other’s respect and approval. It all boils down to low self-esteem, a high level of self-doubt, my astrological sign and probably something my parents did or did not do when I was growing up. I should probably see a therapist. Instead, I run.

So back to the week before the race, I was aiming for 2:10. Todd thought I could possibly run sub-2:00. I was not at all convinced in my ability to run a 2:10 and cringed every time I heard him tell someone he thought I would do really well. The half marathon is a wonderful distance, perhaps my favorite to race. The perfect distance really, short enough to run fast, long enough to recover from mistakes and yet you’re done before you ever reach a wall.  I ran portions of the course Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and came to the conclusion that in sections the course is very fast, it’s the last few hills over the last few miles that appear the most defeating. I knew that I had to be careful about fueling and energy conservation because of these last few miles.

Thus I drew up a fueling plan based on my goal time and scribbled it out on a little yellow legal pad. I grabbed four Strawberry-Banana GU from our bulk supply and laid them out with my fading Zensah sleeves and favorite Nike shorts. The morning of the race I tried to eat as much as I could but I had to force myself to eat three thin slices of toast, my stomach was wrapped tight due to nerves. I felt sick, almost as though I had the flu, my muscles seemed weak and I was nauseous. It was partly due to this distraction that I left my water bottle at home, a mishap I didn’t even recognize until we were on the mountain about to warm-up. I knew there were six aid stations along the course, a generous number for the distance, but I also yearned for the comfort a water bottle in hand provides. Todd asked around and secured a bottle for my use from Joe. The search for a spare water bottle did cut our warm-up run short but I didn't fret it, I was far more contented to have a portable hydration source.

With minutes to go to the start I took my first GU, took a final restroom break and made my way to the start line. Familiar faces were a comfort but my stomach was a ball of nerves. We started and I was immediately passed by a group of about ten. I was running faster than my target pace but I knew single track was right up ahead and I knew I would rather not have to pass others on trails. The single track we took however was not what we had run on training runs and it threw me off slightly, had me second-guessing how well I really knew the course. Todd passed me on Lasso, seconds later Jamie Swyers did. I tried not to let this bother me, I had convinced myself (or so I thought) that I was comfortable with a few of the seasoned ultra runners beating me, especially Jamie and Sarah Quigg. I’ve seen their times, I’ve seen them out running, I know they’re both strong runners.  It was still a setback to see Jamie pass by me running so effortlessly. I decided to hang on to her and Todd as best I could from that point.

Then at 1.48 miles a most ridiculous occurrence, I fell between the slats of a bike ramp. I never take the bike ramps in training unless they are the path of least resilience. However, I was chasing the group ahead of me which included Daryl, Jamie, Todd and a few other guys and when some of them took the bike ramp I thought (or rather didn’t think) to follow them. And I run on my toes and my right foot went between two 2x4’s, down to my shin. I was running fast and when my leg went down the action-reaction between shin bone and ramp was quite painful. I was trying to use a small tree by the ramp to pull my leg free and yet I look up to see no one has stopped and they are pulling further ahead of me. I managed to pull free and make it off the ramp and I looked down at the watch, 1.48 miles, that’s where my race probably ends, I told myself (always the optimist). And just like that the negative feelings started pouring in. For a moment I thought my race was lost.

Fortunately, I had a very negative race a few weeks back and I've been working on remaining strong. The struggle and yet resulting success at Douthat was at least a half-boost. Buy my shin hurt. Run until the aid station at Falwell Road, I urged the negative side. I knew that the pain might sub-side; I was more concerned with getting the anger and unconstructive thoughts to go with it. I ran easy up the hill on Lake Hydaway Road, watching as Todd and Jamie pulled further and further away. By the time I crested the hill they were out of sight. I ran hard down Lake Hydaway all the way to Lake Trail. On Lake Trail I could see Jamie at times but I was struggling, I took my second GU and walked a few steps up one of the small hills I have vowed in the past I would never walk again. It was becoming a rough day. I saw a girl behind me on the switchback at the top of Lake Trail, I was running scared. I knew if I didn’t pull it together I was going to spiral out of control.

I made it to the second aid station ahead of my goal for the day, perhaps too far ahead of my goal. I told myself to slow down, find a rhythm and a better pace. I ran the next few miles on Monogram Road and Monorail trying to refocus on my race. I didn’t run the switchbacks on Lower Dam Trail as well as I had during any training runs so I made up with it by running breakneck speed down Downhill Run. I teetered between running fast and feeling good to feeling spent and slow. On Bobsled I started to really contemplate my finishing time, I knew my pace was dropping and I wouldn’t break 2 hours, but I knew I could still easily hit my own goal of 2:10.

And before long I was on Walk in the Park, such a misleading name, it’s a hard section for me, hilly. I had a guy in front of me which was nice; I like to chase, or nevertheless to follow. I got passed going up a hill and decided to take another walk break to a count of 30 on the long hill that skirts Clear Cut Road and take a third GU. I was feeling tired yet was still having bouts of energy where I felt good, I took the downhill sections very fast.

At ten miles I decided I could hit 2:03 if I could run a sub 30 minute 5k. It sounds like a reachable goal but the last three miles of that race are on terrain that can break you down. The hills become more numerous, and even though I ran them in training they cry out walk break when you’re over ten miles in on race day. I had felt a few twitches in my calves up until this point. And even though there was only about two miles left in the race I decided to consume the fourth and final GU of my race plan, only about 20 minutes or so after the third. I drank the last of my water to wash it down. I knew I was getting close to the end; I started to feel some sort of second wind. And yet I took a final walk break when I saw Cheyenne and Debbie at the top of the final hill on the course. They were telling me about Todd, he had been en route to reaching sub 2 when they’d seen him. They looked so happy and full of energy. I wanted to steal their liveliness but I just took a longer walk break instead. When I took to running again I knew I was in the homestretch, so close to the finish I dug deep and picked up the pace. 

I was barreling downhill with a half mile to go when the cramps in my calves came back. Like fireworks rippling through my calf muscles, spasms catching and releasing, over and over. I tried to run faster but I was scared they would get worse, that I would fall on the trail. I prayed that they would cease. My pace slowed, the calf cramps continued, especially painful in my left leg, but I ran it in. I was so angry I wanted to cry; I bit my lip to hold it in. I felt betrayed by my body; I didn't even steal a glance at the clock as I crossed the finish line. I stopped, ready for the cramps to release. But they continued to spasm for several minutes.

Todd told me my time, 2:03:20. He gave me a little bit of a hard time for not being faster. I felt conquered by the course, by my weaknesses, the contractions in my calves. I have now had a string of poor finishes (in my opinion) due to cramping, three half marathons and a trail marathon this summer have all ended with cramping in the final miles. I have been trying to narrow down the culprit because it is humiliating to have it keep happening. At the 40 Miler I purposefully did not run the last mile in hard because I didn't care about the few seconds lost not doing so and was terrified that I would cramp up.

Having suffered from leg cramps during pregnancy in the past these cramps are different. They start with slight twinges in the calves and propel to tighter, rhythmic spasms the harder I push.  I never cramped until earlier this year with my first race fueling with GU or similar products. Am I taking too many GU? Or not enough? Do I need to consume more electrolytes? Am I not drinking enough water? Or am I just running beyond my ability? I have been looking for answers and to have it happen in the final steps of Deep Hollow was quite disheartening.

Immediately, despite the knowledge that I had finished third overall female, I felt like I had let people down. It took me half the day to realize I had let myself down with my perceived ideas of what others expect of me. I ran hard on a tough course. I grumbled about the calf cramps and the twenty or thirty seconds they may or may not have really cost me, I whined about my shin (which is still bruised and tender) but I can’t call Saturday’s run a failure. I reached my goals, what more did I want or need exactly? Will I never be content? Will I always be chasing a slightly faster time?

Sunday I awoke to sore legs, it was the first sign that I’d run plenty fast at Saturday’s race. My calves were tight, tender and sore. They carried that soreness that accompanies calf cramps the morning after they hit in the middle of the night, when you've all but forgotten about them. I begrudgingly took the day for rest following the advice that rest and recovery are part of training. I had hoped to hit 30 mile weekends between now and Masochist but I questioned the benefit on running long on tired legs and a downtrodden ego.

Today, after a few days further reflection on the race, I feel slightly better. I still have a lingering soreness in the legs but I've mostly returned to my ways. I skipped Sunday’s long run and cut yesterday’s run short, we can call that laziness. I spent hours worrying about Deep Hollow before and after, and now it’s on to hours spent worrying about Masochist but we aren't going to call that obsessive. No, I’d rather we call that passionate.


Looking much happier than I felt following Deep Hollow.