Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Couple Who Trains Together...

It's been a good week.

After eight days off following my inaugural 40 mile race I finally found the urge to run again. I was beginning to think I was suffering from ultraitis a fictitious illness befalling those in the weeks following ultra races where all desire to run is lost. Turns out I just needed to find my legs, and get a few runs in with my running partner.

Wednesday evenings we run trails. My charitable and uncomplaining mother-in-law comes over almost without fail to watch our growing brood on Wednesdays, has been for almost two years, and we are thankful and complain almost never about juice portions or snack frequencies. This affords Todd and I the luxury of running together in the mountains at least once a week though she’s often generous enough to come over at least once on the weekends. This week she came over three times.

That’s right Todd and I got three runs in this week together, all on trails in the mountains no less. Wednesday he was running late for the groups run so we started without him. After a few miles I left the group I was running with to head back to the parking lot for him. I was hoping to find him headed towards us but I ran the mile or so back to the car without spotting him. It was a good run up Monogram. I felt strong running alone, something I seldom do. When I reached the car and he wasn’t there I called him. He was running even later, wavering between coming to the mountain at all and heading home. I knew he’d worked a long day. I knew he’d been on a roof so that he could earn a living for his family.  I knew these things and yet I still said ‘I need my ten miles and the groups gone on without me, I need you here for six miles’. And minutes later he was pulling in, my knight in his Ford F-150. And we ran. We ran until the sun had set and my Garmin tripped 10 miles. 

I took Thursday and Friday off. Call it laziness. Call it lack of drive. Call it what you will I did little more than dance around the kitchen to fun. and the Avett Brothers the rest of the week. Saturday morning we planned a run on the Masochist course. I had yet to step foot on the course and was starting to get antsy about the unknown. With two other trail running friends we got in a little over 17 miles on the course. I could tell you I’m scared after Saturday morning’s run on the beginning of the race course. That I’m choking on self-doubt and fear, but I won’t, I’ll save that story for another post. 

Saturday evening I felt tired and drained but when Todd’s mom offered to watch the children on Sunday afternoon so that we could squeeze in another run we jumped at the opportunity. This morning we had a sluggish start, I found myself needing an extra cup of coffee and wasn’t even sure I wanted to run at all when my mother-in-law showed up bearing the pre-measured ingredients to make Pumpkin Bread pudding with the kids. Ready or not we pushed ourselves out the door to head towards the mountain for our ten miles.

On the way there I suggested a course to Todd. I never plan our run. Not the course anyways. I’ve never been familiar enough with the mountain to propose a route. After seeing the beginning of the Masochist course yesterday I knew what I wanted to do, I suggested that we start on Monorail and run towards Five Points, from there we would run down to Flames road then head all the way up to Clear Cut road then down and over Great Escape up Valley View road take a left down Monogram until Champion, take Champion to the camp where we’d take Camp Hydaway Road back to Panama all the way back to the car. He liked the sound of it. And thus the course we set upon was born.

We started on the single track section that is Monorail and Lower Dam, so many of these trails have been cut away and changed that I’m never quite sure where I am. We just followed the Deep Hollow signs to Five Points. I led for this section and I felt good. My legs felt strong and the weather was faultless. We hit Five Points and headed down to Flames Road without a word between us, I loved how we didn’t even acknowledge the plan having already worked out the details.

I was feeling invincible as we started the long grueling climb up Flames road, as we passed the turn we usually take and headed up the rest of the way to Clear Cut Road I started to get winded, I thought I needed a break, I started to walk. But did my loving, compassionate husband start walking with me? He continued plowing up the hill with those long legs of his. Not willing to be outrun I picked up my legs and started to run again. Turns out I wasn’t all that tired. Feeling the pressure I passed him on the downhill that is Clear Cut Road but slowed when he caught back up.

Are you going to run Hellgate this year, he asked. My first thought was Todd is foolish and I’m not that crazy. Hellgate is a 100k held one short month after Masochist.  I think you will if you run MMTR in sub 9:30, he baited. Did you just observe me walking up Flames Road, I jabbed, I’m not running a sub 9:30 at Masochist. I’ll be pushing it to finish in the cut off (12 hours) and no, I’m afraid no Hellgate this year. I’ll crew you, he offered. My second thought when he continued this line of banter was that he was just trying to make conversation. I think you’ll beat me at Masochist, I don’t know how you didn’t beat me at Douthat. Finally, my third thought, Todd thinks I’m better than I think I am. That realization was very heartwarming. Really to have a partner who I can run with, who I love to run with more than anyone, who thinks so much of me, who makes sure I get my runs in even when I don’t even want to run. Who pushes me and yet doesn’t push me off the sides of mountains when I break down from hunger and fatigue and start bemoaning and bitching. And I am competitive and I hate to admit it but I’m the jealous type as well. I get envious when he gets an extra run in, I want to run every race he runs, I want so badly to be as fast as him, as happy and easy going as he appears. I am nowhere near the runner he is let alone the person he is. I’m lucky to have him. I’m lucky that he puts up with me.

So finding this new found love for my spouse out on the trails today I immediately and at once set about to race him to the parking lot. It was unspoken, and yet he clearly and eagerly accepted the pursuit. I would bound up a short steep hill only to have to recover as he passed by me on the downhill. The long and final climb up Camp Hydaway Road was the best, I was falling apart, growing more and more fatigued with every step and yet I wouldn’t concede defeat. Wouldn’t walk, wouldn’t break. I kept on his heels to the very end.

And the course we’d laid was just over ten miles, and it was possibly the fastest ten miles my legs have ever seen on that mountain, and it was probably the most enjoyable ten miles in a very long time.

We went for an impromptu lunch after our run. Having run faster than we’d planned we had time to share a calzone at Vinny’s. During lunch we acknowledged the race like atmosphere we’d both felt out on the trail but agreed it had made for an invigorating run. I felt, for the first time in a really long time, that ‘runner’s high’ you often read about in magazines. And incidentally, I realized I’m just as in love with my husband as ever.

Like I said, it’s been a good week.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Odyssey Trail Running Rampage 40 Miler

Odyssey Trail Running Rampage
Saturday, September 8, 2012
Douthat, Virginia

This race has been on my race calendar all year, at least the marathon distance. Todd believed I could do well at the marathon, he thought I could perhaps place Top 3 for females. I thought the 40 Miler sounded more up my alley as I feel that distance is really becoming what I want to pursue. After Promise Land in April I decided to register for the 40 over the marathon. All summer we’ve run long runs in the heat, slowly pushed our mileage up, and focused on hills and trails. I am positive that our training could be improved upon in the future, but it wasn’t a bad start for my first 40 miler.

The week leading up to this race I ran the Virginia 10 Miler course on Monday and then a Wild Wednesday trail run of about 6 miles on Candler’s Mountain. Even though I was supposed to be ‘tapering’ I couldn’t restrain myself from giving about 85% Wednesday evening when the group went up Lone Jack Mountain, at the top my calves were tight, by the end of the run the right calf was even stiffer.  I rolled them out using the stick over the next few days, especially down between the calf and ankle and they just seemed to get increasingly tighter and even more painful. So much for a successful taper, in the future I should attempt Jack Mountain at no more than 50% three days before an important Ultra.

Friday morning Todd ran out for vital race day groceries and Panera pastries. Throughout the day we ate bagels and muffins and filled gear bags. We counted out our GU and Electrolyte tablets, we readied our Bag Balm and made sure our favorite shorts were clean. We focused on the little tasks at hand instead of what we were actually gearing up to do.

Saturday morning we awoke at 3:30 a.m. so as to make it to Douthat in time for the race briefing, I ate one last bagel at just before 4 am, it wasn’t enough as I found out at the starting line three hours later when my stomach was already asking for more food and I hadn’t even started running. In the future I need to eat more food before heading out on a long run. I should have known better after my 30 mile birthday run, starting out with 2 sandwiches in my belly a half hour to an hour before the run is much better for the run as a whole. Starting at a deficit will only lead to further trouble.

Even though we were up early and on the road we still made it with little time before the race start. I had to express milk and get dressed after we got there as I knew it would be a good 8-9 hours before I would be able to pump again. I had just gotten to the drop bag area where we had decided to set up our own aid station and the race start countdown was less than five minutes. I took my first grab bag out (5 GU and 3 Electrolyte tablets), I ate my first GU and took the salt tabs. I also grabbed half a PB&J sandwich hoping that it would be enough to calm my hungry stomach. It wasn’t enough, but it was something. Looking back this was such a poor error in judgment, fueling is crucial in a distance event and I started far too close to empty for comfort. 

7 a.m. and we were off and running. I fell right in with Courtney, my favorite rival from the Mountain Junkies series this past spring, we chatted about dogs and children and I was able, for the moment, to ignore the fact that we were climbing. The next several miles are mostly uphill, single track and lots of switchbacks.  Almost immediately my lower right calf, still tight and achy, let me know just how unhappy it was to be climbing before sufficiently being warmed up. I chased both Courtney and Todd up the climb but the calf began to worry me. I started taking walk breaks sooner than I had planned. I knew that my calf could loosen up with the run but I was ready for some relief. Todd pulled ahead and then Courtney pulled ahead. At the first aid station the terrain leveled out some and I started to feel some of that much needed relief in my leg. When the trail started to descend I was finally able to pick it up a little, I passed Courtney and caught up with Todd. I stayed with him for the remainder of the first loop, with Courtney right behind us. By the end of the first loop I felt really very good, I had drank about 30 oz. of water (a 20oz. disposable up the first climb and about 10 oz. from my Ultimate Direction handheld) and taken four more GU. I was foolishly beginning to think that the loop seemed easier than the hype I had heard from Todd.

Starting out on our second loop I felt almost better than I did on the first loop. During our time in the transition area there had been cheering from the sideline that was encouraging. I grabbed my second fuel bag, consumed my salt tabs and stuffed my GU in my bra; I grabbed my extra water bottle for the climb and half a PB&J. As we started back up the climb for our second loop we passed Courtney headed into the aid station we were just leaving and I felt the need to push more and take the climb on strong. Todd encouraged me to pass him and I did but I didn’t feel good about doing so, I was hoping to keep him with me for at least the second climb. I ran and walked to the aid station at the top of the climb and grabbed some pretzels but otherwise didn’t stop. I was running down the downhill that follows passing bikers who were calling words of encouragement when I tripped on a rock and went down hard. I slid like a baseball player stealing home. Three thoughts immediately came to mind: 1.) I wish Todd were here. 2.) Don’t cry. 3.) Run. I really wanted to stop, sit on a rock, have a good cry and wait for Todd. However, I knew if I didn’t start running right away that I would quite possibly stiffen up and be done for the day.  I was hurting but I started running again as soon as I stood up. My right knee, thigh and elbow were bleeding and stinging and moving took enough out of me that I slowed considerably compared to the pace I’d been keeping before the fall.  Unfortunately, the most debilitating aspect of my fall was that my confidence was shattered. My mental race was broken, at least for the time being, I kept looking behind me for Todd. I took walk breaks more frequently. My stomach started to growl and I began to question everything about my running. I started debating a DNF, wondering how I was going to finish the race. I was falling apart fast, thinking seriously about withdrawing my MMTR entry, and my running in general.  It was a downward spiral. I was walking more and more frequently and finding no desire to run. I would turn around and look behind me every minute it felt like, hoping to find Todd closing in on me. At one point I thought I saw Frank Gonzalez behind me, it may have actually helped move me for a half mile until the man, not Frank the Tank, passed me and I fell from 6th place to 7th overall.  I walked from the aid station at mile 24 (aid station 3 in loop) across flat ground. Flat “why are you not running” ground. It was crushing, my spirit was almost gone. My stomach was growling, it seemed unsatisfied with the primarily GU diet of the day, and I was starting to feel fatigued.  Finally, going up the steady hill after aid station 3 I caught sight of Todd on one of my numerous backward glances. He was gaining on me and I pulled over and waited for him to climb the hill. He yelled halfway up for me to continue. “I’m done”, I responded, acknowledging my hunger for food and my lack of will to continue. Feeling pumped he spread his wealth of adrenaline as best he could, it’s only your wall, he said. Todd’s presence definitely pulled me from the top of that hill to the end of the second loop. The group cheered as we came in again together. I only spoke enough to tell Ronny, the race director, that I really did not want to start the third loop.

With only a minute or so at the aid station I grabbed my final gear bag, as much food as I could carry and I headed out for the third loop. Todd and I started the climb together as I attempted to satisfy my seemingly insatiable appetite. I ate another Strawberry Banana GU, half a PB&J, a handful of Pringles and drank 20oz of water. I felt my hunger subsiding as we walked the majority of the long climb but muscle aches and foot pains had taken their place. I hiked along behind Todd, he offered to let me pass but I was relying on his companionship to pull me up the hill. I don’t know that we spoke to one another over the course of the next three miles. Near the top I started to get antsy that we were walking too much. Not that I felt strong enough to run, but I felt that I needed to increase the distance between me and the rest of the pack (I am, after all, a most competitive runner). I was convinced that every other runner out there was stronger than me and was certainly running up that third climb and about to pass me at any moment. When we finally reached the aid station at the top of the mountain Todd sat down to take a salt pill and I looked at him aghast, are you really going to sit? Fearing the competition enclosing upon me I left him sitting on the mountain beside the Gatorade coolers and headed on alone. I didn’t see anyone as I headed on back from the aid station so I convinced myself that a forward moving motion would suffice.  I ran but ran slowly, fearing running on empty.
Thankfully this next section is largely downhill but I wasn’t pushing hard, just pushing onward when less than two miles after the aid station Todd literally flew upon me and passed me as though I were standing still. His break at the aid station that I mocked had clearly benefited him with a second, or was it a third, wind? I was exhausted just witnessing his effort but I do believe I did pick up the pace even if only a little. I started to break the race down, only eight miles left, imagine an eight mile run just beginning on tired legs. Only two miles left until the next aid station. Only a little further until the long gradual climb and so forth. When I finally made it to the aid station at the horse camp I was walking flat, paved surfaces yet constantly looking behind me for approaching runners.  The long climb after this aid station was slow, I walked it almost in its entirety but it was also the point at which I had seen Todd on the second loop and I knew that it wasn’t all that far to the finish so just reaching the climb was at least a half-pleasantry. Climb this hill and you know you can finish this race I told myself.

These next few miles were tough but they were also rewarding. I knew that the lure of the finish line was enough to pull me onward. There is a section of trail that runs along a lake at the very end of the loop, this is where I had my ‘I am really doing this’ moment. I knew that the finish was close at hand and that soon the 40 Miler would be nothing more than memories and recollections, race results and finishing times. And then, with a little more than half a mile left to go, Todd appeared running towards me. He stopped and let out a most terrifying shout, bellowing “YES” presumably at my presence.  He shouted some more words of encouragement but all I can remember now is that first deep throated scream. He seemed as stoked to see me that close to the finish as I felt to be there. That and he was clearly coming back for me so he was probably thankful that he didn’t have to go all that far to find me.

And then I finished. Not quite sure yet how I feel about my race even now, a whole week afterwards. I don’t feel that it went well. My tripping on a rock, falling and the resulting mental collapse in the second loop was a real unconstructive way to run an ultra and yet I’ve not run enough to know how else to feel. I mean should I expect pessimism to rear its ugly head with distance running? Does conquering long distance truly get better with experience? Was what I feel to be a ‘bad’ race day really a pretty good one?

I finished the race in 7:42, which was good for 8th overall and 1st female.  I feel like I still have a lot to learn about training, fueling, and mental fortitude and I am perhaps more nervous about Masochist. I was hoping for a little more confidence coming out of this race but now I have even more reservations.