Friday, September 13, 2013

Bumps in the Road

I've had a few good runs now in a row, so now more than PR's and training schedules, getting injured is on my mind. I'm convinced it's about to happen and I want to prevent it.

I spent a third of this year with varying degrees of a calf strain that largely affected my spring training and still occasionally tingles or tightens just to reel me in. I'm preoccupied more than ever on not overtraining, on pushing hard but not too hard. I'm fixated between training well and making it healthy to my goal race.

Then this morning I woke to a text from my sister, my smart and methodically training sister, a picture of her obviously swollen ankle and a plea for a call. Usually a picture doesn't show subtle differences, I could tell from the picture that this did not look good. A quick phone call revealed that a wrong step on pavement and concrete resulted in a sprain or twist that has sent my sister, who has trained all year long for her upcoming marathon debut, to the brink.

An injury does that to runners. After my not so fun time at Iron Mountain a few weeks back the only uplifting thought that remained through the fifty miles was 'at least it's not an injury, you'll be fine as soon as you're done today'.

I understand injury. There are statistics that would scare any runner not just your competitive types that an average runner will experience an injury of some degree once a year, some articles report more. The internet is full of articles for runners to pour over about injury prevention and treating a slew of injuries.

If injury wasn't on my mind before it certainly is now that my sister looks to be forced into a few days off. And if there's anything I can empathize for it is the fear of the unknown that an injury brings along with its physical discomfort.  Do I need to take a few days off? How many days off? Will my fitness suffer? If racing, how will this affect my performance? I understand as well as anyone that a forced day or two or ten of rest, especially compounded when your race is quickly approaching, is difficult to stomach.  Fortunately, my sister is smarter and more patient than I am, I trust she'll do the right thing and rest it. She does have time to recover if it's a sprain to not affect her marathon in November, but that sometimes isn't enough to quell all of the fear.

I find running does so much for my mental state that the time off coupled with the thoughts that accompany injury is enough to unhinge me. I imagine at least some other runners feel the same. As others before me pointed out to me when I was injured but can be often forgotten when we're the ones resting on the couch, sometimes you need a break, you're still a runner, trust your training and allow your body to heal (and I will need reminding of that I'm sure if I get injured, it's the first thing that I forget when I get injured).

Truth is there are bumps in the road, sometimes we meet those bumps and we stumble and fall. You are a runner after all.

You ran in the rain, Runner, and you will again. You ran before the sun awoke and you will again. You ran harder to push yourself and you will again. You ran in the hottest weather all summer and you will again. You ran further than you had ever run and you will run further still. You felt the rush of a second wind and you will again. You ran to meet new people and you have friends still to make. You ran in the dark with a light to lead the way and you will again. You suffered through a hard run or two where you questioned what you were doing and yet you ran again. You hit the trails for a change of scenery and there are paths still ahead. You surprised yourself and you're not through yet. You made a training schedule and you stuck to it, you will change it and get back with it. You slowed down to recover and you will again. You ran and you will again.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

You Are (at least part of) My Sunshine

Every Wednesday we head over to the Snoflex parking lot around 5 pm. It is one of the highlights of my week, especially as far as running is concerned.

On Wednesdays I know the usuals will be there and generally a surprise guest or two. I never ever dread this run, I am always anxiously awaiting Todd's arrival so we can hit the road. Pulling into the parking lot is like opening a gift, I'm always excited to see who shows up to run with us. I've heard mention once or twice that Wednesday's run has a reputation to be fast, and while it is an important run in my weekly training I also want it to be welcoming.

From six miles to twelve or more the group always starts together even if we break into smaller groups later on. The pace varies on who shows up or who raced the weekend prior or following the run, but it's always a good time for me as I hope it is for all those who attend.

It's been suggested to me that I'm obsessed with running. You've caught me, so I am. It's not the only thing I love and designate my time to, I love my family and my children, I'm focused on their education and their upbringing even if they appear to be wild animals in your presence (I apologize, we are all a work in progress!) I'm obsessed with music and this ridiculous stuff I tell my children is dancing when they catch me in the kitchen. I may even be a tad bit obsessed with that Candy Crush saga game (but you will never see me post that on social media).

I'm rambling and I know it. Point is, I'm okay with my commitment and preoccupation with running. I own it now. I have come to terms with it's hold on me and to be honest I've quite possibly never been healthier or happier, though it may not always appear so. Occasionally though, when I'm running, I lose my direction, I forget which trail I'm on or where I'm headed. Lately, this applies to the bigger picture. But not today. Not right now.

I focused on enjoying my run this past Saturday, and I had a good day. And now, once more, I'm in love with everyone.

Tonight was one of the best runs I've had all year. It wasn't particularly special in any way that I can exactly pinpoint either. We started together after dawdling for far too long in the parking lot. We hung together a ways but split off into separate groups a time or two. It was hot, I was sweaty. But I felt good, healthy, I felt strong, capable. And I just loved every damn minute of it.

There's no way to convey what the group does for me other than to say, quite simply, you light up my life. You make me push harder. You make me slow down. You make me reflect. You make me look forward. You make me laugh. You make me second guess. You make me calm down. You make me feel good. You make me proud to be a runner. You make me happy to be one of the group.

And I just want to thank you for it.

So thanks.

And I'll see you next week.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Odyssey Trail Running Rampage Race Report

Odyssey Trail Running Rampage 40 Miler

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Douthat State Park

Saturday Todd and I went to Douthat to run the ultra marathon that is part of the Trail Running Rampage that is held each year by Odyssey Adventure Racing in Douthat State Park. It was Todd's first ultra in 2010 and he's gone back every year. The trail rampage 40 miler consists of three loops primarily on trail with no more than about four miles of pavement the entire race.

We planned on this race despite how close it was in proximity to Iron Mountain because Todd is training for Grindstone and I had a comped entry from last year. But then Iron Mountain came and with it my most disappointing and difficult ultra to date. The trail rampage switched from just being another run to being a redemption run for me. Despite the best intentions of friends who suggested I was crazy and maybe a bit dumb to run back to back ultra races I was hellbent on a good day, a good run.

I didn't stress the rampage and feeling good after Iron Mountain I ran Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday but not further than about 3 miles each day. That change alone felt good, it's been so long since I'd enjoyed just a good short jaunt with friends. On Friday evening we hung out with Joe and Emily and went to Rivermont Pizza, we talked about music and movies. I allowed no self-imposed pressure on myself for Saturday's race. I had but one goal, have a good day, a good run.

We awoke at 3:30 on Saturday and drove to Douthat. I ate two pieces of cinnamon toast, a few powdered donuts and half a PB&J on the way. We arrived in Douthat at 6 a.m. We checked in and like the year before the next hour flew by between race briefings and gathering gear. 

I decided on a few more small goals. 1.) Have a good day 2.) Run steady, aiming for 2:30 loops and 3.) Start the third loop not absolutely dreading the idea of running a third loop.

We started at 7 and I fell in with Brian Keefer. We ran a short ways before switching to hiking. If running the year before had taught me nothing else it was to respect that first climb. Todd wasn't far ahead and he slowed when he looked back and saw us. The three of us hiked and jogged the first climb, about 3 miles, together. 

On Thursday, Jeremy was giving me somewhat of a hard time when he asked me quite seriously if I even liked running. Of course I liked running I'd answered without hesitation. No one moves for 50 miles through mountains without a little bit of love for what they do. However, the thought still took up residence because it begged the question, am I still in love with running like I used to be. Do I appreciate the measure, soak in the beauty and the privilege that is trail running? To this effect I honed in on the beauty of the trail on Saturday morning, the sunshine bleeding through the trails landing on the rocks. I noticed for the first time the waterfall from which the Blue Suck Falls likely gets its name. Despite the burning in my calves and the warming temperatures I felt a sense of strength that moves me forward, a rippling effect growing stronger as we moved up that first climb. I answered the question once more, to myself, more fervently, of course I love this.

I was going to have a good day.

Todd, Brian and I arrived together at the first aid station where I topped my bottle off. From there the trail descends for a couple of miles. It's slightly steep and a tad technical lined with a few sharp switchbacks. I decided to take it easy and let Todd pass by admitting that the goal was a good day. Relax and enjoy this I reminded myself. I ran about three miles and had to stop for the first bathroom break and Brian ran on by. However, I caught back up with Brian at the next aid station, mile 9 in the loop.

Coming into this aid station I felt a bit of stomach trouble which I felt was coming from the straps of my hydration vest bouncing repeatedly on my mid-section. Coming into the aid station I asked if anyone had scissors. One volunteer had a knife and he cut the straps from my vest. He looked nervous but I was so thankful. It was also at this point, having eaten three GU so far that I kind of swore them off. Each one was making my stomach hurt for about five minutes after. I knew I would need to switch to different fuel.  

I was first female at this point but assumed Sophie to be close behind and in fact kept expecting her to pass me at any moment. The next section from mile 9 to 11 is rolling and there is a good hiker to eat on. I hiked taking note of the climb in planning for steady loops. However, coming into the mile 11 aid station I realized I was ahead of my 2:30 goal for the loop. Just beyond the aid station, I took to walking on a very flat trail knowing there was a hill ahead. Almost immediately Sophie Speidel ran by.

I said hello and she said "Who's that?" I told her it was me, Alexis, and she asked if I'd raced last weekend. I told her I had but hadn't fared well and that being registered for this I'd come out anyways for a good run. She told me to take it easy and ran off up the hill we'd finally arrived at. I kept walking up the hill but I could still see her. Without a word I picked it up. 

Brain Keefer and I finished the first loop right behind Sophie with me berating myself just a tad for running 2:24 when I was aiming for 2:30. I wasn't running Sophie's race, I had to remember I was running my own race with my own goals. I look up to Sophie, I also look Sophie up on UltraSignup when I'm registered for a race she's run. She's a strong trail runner who inspires me. I conceded defeat to an inspiration and settled back into my own race. 

My right foot was a little sore from where my Hokas split open last weekend at Iron Mountain, I thought about running to the car for my Bajadas but I decided the Hokas haven't really let me down yet so I stuck with them. I grabbed half a PB&J and a slice of watermelon I'd cut the night before. I refilled my water bottle and grabbed an extra 20 oz for the climb back up Blue Suck Falls. 

Brian was still there and I called for him to come with me as I left the transition area. I didn't see Sophie, I didn't know if she was far ahead or not. But I settled back into my goals, a good steady run of 40 miles. I reminded myself that I wanted to feel good going into lap three. I ate and drank on the second climb and it was slower but not by much compared to the first lap. 

As we climbed I apologized to Keefer. I admitted that I'd dropped the pace when Sophie passed me because I am competitive. I told him that I couldn't promise him I wouldn't do it again if someone else passed us. It's a fault I own. 

We met Brian Kelleher on this climb, we'd seen him off and on in the first loop. He's from Richmond and knows my buddy John Casilly. He talked and the time passed quickly. He flew by us on the downhill after the aid station at the shelter. I stopped again for a bathroom break and Keefer ran on. I didn't see him again until the aid station at mile 9 (mile 22+) in the second loop. He told me first place female was only a few minutes ahead. I grabbed a few cookies and more gummy bears and held onto them until I got to the climb a half mile up ahead on trail.

All day I'd been hoping to enjoy myself and not start loop three dreading going back out. We ran the rest of the second loop steady and came back into the transition area at 4:56. I wasn't dreading the last lap, so far, success. I saw Sophie on the way into her third lap, she looked strong, I didn't think I stood a chance of seeing her again.

I ran to the bathroom in the transition area and then over to my drop bag, I took off my vest and crammed what I could in my water bottle. I got another half a PB&J and slice of watermelon. I stuffed a granola bar in my bra and ice from our cooler in my water bottle. I grabbed my extra 20 oz and was headed out when I realized I didn't have salt tabs. I thought I didn't need them and the clock already read 5:02 but I went back for them anyways, nervous runner that I am.

I took to walking right away, even in the flatter spots where I'd just a few minutes before seen Sophie running. Keefer told me he thought we could run 2:45 or 3 hours for this loop, we would definitely hit 8 hours. He seemed happy about this, I won't lie, I was not. I continued to walk but was quiet, I ate but I was in a low of sorts. But I know now I'm getting stronger because of what happened next.

I realized I'd run out of goals. I was having a good day, I was enjoying my run, I had entered the last lap ready to run it but I was now, at least to a certain end, out of goals. I decided I wouldn't win but I did not want to run 8 hours. I might not PR but I could decrease the time between Sophie if I stopped any defeatist talk and actually enjoyed the day I was having. I decided to eat on the climb. So I ate every bit of real food I had grabbed at the aid station. I decided I would hike to the aid station at the top but then I was going to give all of what was left and let the chips fall where they may.

I felt bad at the aid station at the shelter because Keefer stopped for water and I left on a mission without word of farewell. I'm sorry for this Keefer but I had to finish out the good day I was having. And so I turned on my iPod and I ran.

And it was like a gift to myself. I pushed the descent for the first time that day and it felt great like it did at Petits Gap a few weeks back. I vowed not to look at my watch for the rest of the run but just feel the pace running whatever my body would allow.  And it felt absolutely awesome, it felt like the first time in months like I was racing during an actual race. I basked in every step, I loved every mile. I didn't think I'd see Sophie again but I ran as well as I could anyways remembering the quote "Give all of yourself regardless of outcome."

Then at about mile 8 in the third loop I came upon Sophie. It surprised me and probably gave me a little more push. It was getting hotter and it was getting harder to maintain my pace but I kept on giving it my best effort. The food I'd eaten on the climb up the falls was wearing off and I could feel I was beginning to bonk a little. At the AS at mile 9 in the loop I grabbed a few more cookies and gummy bears. I saw Kim who said a quick hello but I was focused on getting to the end. 

This is one great thing about a loop, you are so familiar on your final loop that you know what to expect and can plan accordingly. Though we have only ever seen this loop when we've run the race the loop seems etched in my mind. I pushed onward walking as little as possible.

Coming into the area around the lake I knew I was so close but it was so hot as you're exposed to the sun more through here. I walked a little more and looked for a good song on my iPod to carry me through. When I finally reached the bridge that is basically the end I looked at my watch for the first time since the transition area and it said 7:30. This was pleasing but instantly I thought I might have run more of the lake trail section had I know I was that close to hitting 7:30. As it was I crossed the finish in 7:32 with Charlie, Dennis, Joe and Todd all standing there and Ronny giving hi-fives. 

I was very happy with my day and my effort. I kept steady as I could and ran a 10 minute PR for the course. I had a great time as always with friends and made a few new ones. I was excited to see so many Lynchburg Trail Runners come out and run the race which also holds a marathon, half and 5 miler event. Charlie Peele won the ultra and seven of the top 14 spots were filled by Lynchburg Trail runners in the ultra event which I think is awesome even if it was a small event. It's a great course, challenging but beautiful. I doubt I will do Iron Mountain and the Trail Rampage back to back next year and it will be hard which one to do as they both have a different set of wonderful things to offer. 

In the end, I had a good day. I needed that. 


For my own record I enjoyed seeing the splits for the past two years over the three loops:

2:14, 2:36, 2:51  Overall 7:42

2:24, 2:32, 2:35 Overall 7:32

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Iron Mountain 50 Miles

Last Saturday I ran the Iron Mountain 50 miler in Damascus.  This was my second 50 miler,   having completed MMTR last fall in the snow on a busted up ankle.  At  Masochist I did not hit my goals, but considering the conditions I didn't care too much.  Sometimes close enough is close enough.

Going into Iron Mountain I set no real goals, mainly for two reasons.  Firstly, it was a training race and not a target race.  Remember that Grindstone is the goal right now.  Secondly, I honestly didn't know what kind of shape I'm in right now.  Most of my running has been focused on long, long, slow, and long.

But people kept asking me for a goal time, so I finally defaulted back to my MMTR goal of 10 hours.  I kept hearing that the two races ran very close times.  I was also careful to add that even though 10 hours would be nice, it was just a training run after all, and I had no intentions to push it.

I had decided weeks ago that I was going to implement my Grindstone strategy for this race:  go out slow, run slow, and hike a lot.  Oh yeah, and eat non-stop.  So I packed a drop back with enough food for 200 miles.

I started off perfectly, I intentionally let everyone that I thought might sucker me into a race-pace disappear.  The first 5 miles were run on the dangerously flat (read: fast) Creeper Trail, and I just cruised along letting everyone and anyone pass me.  When we finally hit the first single track climb everyone I knew was out in front of me.  (Well, everyone except Alexis who was determined to win the safe/slow starter race.  Talk about competitive.)

From this point on (until mile 37) I ran about as well as I could ask for.  I hiked well, ran smart, and ate like a teenager.  Slowly working my way through the field of runners who started faster than me.

Somewhere around 14 miles in I came upon Jamie Swyers running with another girl.  I knew that she was running the 30, and didn't expect to see her and Brenton at all before their turn around.  I joked with her about running so slow, and I told her that I would run her to the Skulls gap aid station, and joked that if we found Brenton I would slow him down so that she could get ahead of him.

We caught him right before the aid station, but he didn't need my help slowing down, he was already having stomach issues.  I went to my drop bag and dug out about 50 thousand calories to carry with me up the next climb.  There was a little girl volunteering, and she commented about all the chocolate in my bag.  I gave her a snickers bar, and headed out with arms and bottles full.

(Congratulations to Jamie who went on to win the 30 miler, and Brenton who finished under less than perfect conditions.)

The next section was a long gravel road climb, and I took advantage of the hiking by eating a ton of calories.  By the time I found some runnable terrain I had successfully stored all my extra food in pockets and was ready to move again.  I knew it was roughly a 20 mile loop back to the drop bags at Skulls gap, but I didn't know much else about this section.

The first half of this loop was really runnable and fun, and then we hit the "shoe sucker" section.  Supposedly there was a waterfall somewhere, but I missed it as I was concerned with keeping my feet shod as I climbed up a hill with four inches of mud pretty much everywhere.  There was a tough 3 mile hike, which consisted of what I would call bog-like terrain punctuated by creek-crossings every 200 yards.  At the top of the hill there was an aid station and, luckily, more climbing.

I would guess it was about a mile or two of pretty steep gravel road coming out of that aid station.  By the time I reached the top of that climb, probably five miles total from the bottom of the falls, the skies opened up with a steady rain.  Which was better than the alternative, which would have been sunshine and 85 degrees with 2000% humidity.  So I embraced the downhill and the rain, and started to run again.

When I finally got back to Skulls Gap and my drop bag, I was surprised both by how good I was feeling and how fast I had covered the distance.  Especially considering that I had hiked almost all of the uphills so far.  I asked how much farther and they told me it was only 13 miles.  My watch said that I had been running for 6:55 at this point.  And this is where I made my first and only real mistake of the day.

I wondered if I could run this thing in under 9 hours.  Supposedly it was all down hill, and I had a little over two hours to do it.  So I rushed through my drop bag, only drinking half a gatorade, and hurried away from the aid station.  The race was on.

And the race lasted for about four miles.

First off, don't ever believe people when they tell you that "it's all down hill from here."  Especially if you have more than ten miles of trail to cover.  No trail is all down hill for 13 miles.  Granted, there were no big or terribly steep climbs left, but it was a lot more rolling than I had counted on, and I discovered quickly that I could not hold my 10K pace for the last half marathon of a 50 mile trail race.

Sure, that seems like a no-brainer, now, in hind-sight.  But 9 hours sounded so good, so possible, that I had to try.  And try I did.

Right before my rocket boosters gave out I passed my buddy Decker on a particularly muddy stretch of trail during a particularly heavy down pour.  He looked like I was about to start feeling, and I feel guilty that I didn't slow down and see if he needed anything.  Sorry Decker.  I had about one more good mile after that, and then the burn out hit.

It was a lot of work after the fun left.  Every little roller seemed like an insurmountable peak.  I found myself walking the flats before the hills a few times and had to yell at myself that I was still running PR pace.  So I trudged my way through nine of the hardest, longest, soggiest miles of a race ever.  Finishing with a very good time of 9:30.  That's a 42 minute PR for the 50 mile distance.  18th overall (2nd female).

I would recommend Iron Mountain to anyone interested in trail running.  It was a great course, with great volunteers, and great runners.  Damascus is pretty cool too.


Next up - Odyssey's Trail Running Rampage 40 miler

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

On the Other Side of the Mountain

This past Saturday's run at Iron Mountain was butt kickingly tough but after a few days rest and reflection I have a much brighter outlook on the experience. Because I find numbered lists to illustrate order and a sense of real productivity, here's a bit of what's come to pass in my mad mind.

1.) I'm now an ultrarunner. Vomiting was that last thing standing in my way of becoming a tride and true ultrarunner, having had the trail literally eat my lunch I feel completely entitled to really call myself an ultrarunner now. Yes, it's official. I'm getting a sticker!

Seriously, I was worried about vomiting at Western States and though convinced that it was going to happen it never did, never even got nauseous there despite the heat. However, now that it has happened I realize it really wasn't that bad. And to be honest, I should have thrown up sooner at Iron Mountain because I really did feel much, much better every time I did. Not sure that it would have made much difference in the overall outcome but hopefully in the future I won't be so skittish about seeing my insides on the trail side.

2.) I can finish what I start. This isn't to say there will never be a DNF in my future but I know if and when it happens it will be no small thing that brings me to it. Saturday was HARD. But I finished. It may have taken almost all of the allotted time, it may have only been thanks to the advice and encouragement I received on the trail but I still had to cover those 50 miles with these legs that are strong and this mind that is a little less so but WILL get there. There is a little ounce or so of confidence that has grown out of Saturday's near defeat because however near to defeat it was I still completed the distance, I'm still running and I'm looking forward to my next race.

3.) I love the ultrarunning community. The other runners, the volunteers, the race directors, so many people leaving their indelible mark on me as a runner but also as a person. I would likely NOT have gone on had it not been for two people in particular: Leah Linarelli and Tammy Gray. Leah gave me the push I needed to just let the stomach trouble run it's course instead of continuing to fight it and Tammy gave me the push I needed to keep moving forward when I was no longer sure that I could. But there were another dozen people who had a positive impact on my day: Beth Minnick, Brain Keefer, Dru Sexton, Cheyenne Craig, the Fig Newton guy, and many more. I couldn't run 50 miles, heck let's be honest I probably wouldn't run 5, if it weren't for this community that just keeps etching its spot in my heart. No gesture is too small, I may not have appeared thankful on Saturday (in my defense I was pretty drained) but I really do take account. Whether they want me or not I've completely associated myself with this community.

4.)  I have to remember I want to be a lifer and I need to get my head and stomach on track, but I'm certainly not done. It's been suggested to me since Saturday's run (and a little before) that my head was the reason for my stomach troubles. I want to fight off that notion but the fact is there is at least a little bit of truth to the idea. Had I not completely fretted about my stomach I would have just gone with my usual pepto before the race start and possibly had a very different day. The fact that so many people keep suggesting to me that my biggest hurdle is my own head is starting to sink in. And though I've been laughing about it for months now, the truth is I don't really know how to change. But I know that I need to. Hoping that's at least a step in the right direction.

5.) There's still a lot to learn. Just as in overcoming my mental blocks I recognize that there is still room for me to grow. Also, I realize that experience can make you wealthy. I am no longer a newbie perhaps but I also can appreciate how running long distance helps you to, well, run long distance. Reading books on the subject is fine, training is imperative, and making race and fueling plans is great, but you may still be surprised when you find yourself in the middle of a run with a unique set of circumstances you may have yet to face. Though I've experienced blisters, and stomach troubles from both ends, bonking and injury, severe heat and terrible falls, I will not be surprised to find that there are still a score of incidents left to encounter on the trails ahead.

6.) I've been running but not training. I run for a reason. And sometimes I lose focus on why that is. But not much else in my life has ever asked so much of me yet given me back so much. Since June I've been drifting from run to run, no clear goals or target. If I want to get a hold of my head and ever get better I have to stop drifting, I have to get serious.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Momma said there'd be days like this....Iron Mountain 50 Race Report

There I was, 48 miles and 11 1/2 hours into the day's run, sitting in the middle of the trail right beside what had just a few minutes ago been the contents of my stomach, wondering where I go from here. The dark haired woman's words ringing in my head "You'll regret it later if you don't finish." It was as though I was having an out of body experience, this couldn't really be me, struggling with every ounce of fight left within just to scrape out a finish. And yet, even that was uncertain at the moment.

The day had started out with plenty of uncertainties. Worried about my stomach due to G.I. issues the past few long runs,  I was fairly worked up about my stomach in the days preceding the race. I was so worried about my stomach that I didn't really even contemplate finishing times or make a race plan other than to pack Imodium, Pepto and Tums first  among my things when gathering the weekend's gear.

Instead of my pre-race ritual Pepto, I took Imodium, distressed about my stomach as I was. It really did seem like a good idea at the time, and it worked, I didn't go to the bathroom all day.  However, I think had I taken Pepto instead as is my usual M.O. I may have had a vastly different day. In addition to the liquid Imodium I ate two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drank some grape Gatorade. I also took two S caps.

We got to the race start and I noticed lots of people walking around eating and eating. I decided to take a GU, thinking it was better to be full of food then hungry. The race started at 7 am and ran along the flat, gravel Creeper Trail in the town of Damascus for nearly five miles. I started out slow, once again, probably not the best idea. I'm honestly beginning to think I don't know what I'm doing. Anyways, I could still see Todd, Kevin and Chelsie up ahead so I didn't fret my pace. But then at about mile three my stomach started to bother me. It wasn't serious, just a slight wave of nausea. I was able to keep running, holding a steady 9:20 pace until we got off of the Creeper Trail.

We exited the Creeper Trail just about five miles in at the first aid station. Due to the nausea I stopped at the first aid station and got a drink. Afterwards we hit single track and a small climb and I took to walking. It wasn't steep but I just felt like walking. Gina, Dru and Rebecca caught back up with me and I told them my stomach was bothering me. Dru offered me an S Cap but I wasn't sure that would help. I just followed Dru's footsteps, trying to shake the nausea and find my race. I listened as Dru told another runner about the Mountain Junkies series and just climbed as well as I could. Dru is a good climber and I started to feel better as we hiked steadily along. At the second aid station my stomach was feeling better but I wasn't having much desire to push myself.

In the next section I started to pick the pace up a little, I passed Dru and caught Cheyenne and we ran a short ways together. I saw Horton who asked how I was. I told him I thought I was burnt out, that I was having a hard time finding any desire to run. He replied "That isn't good." To be honest, I was hoping for a little more wisdom from him, but I figure he thinks I'm a head case and it wouldn't do any good wasting advice on me anyhow. However, after I passed him I did find a little desire to pick it up. Maybe in spite of the fact that I believe Horton feels that way.

I passed Chelsie headed into Skull's Gap and she said she felt good but was taking it easy on her ankle. The runner behind me introduced herself, Leah and we talked for a few minutes. At the Skull's Gap aid station I drank some Mountain Dew and refilled my vest with more GU. I saw Brian Keefer who was volunteering and he said he thought Kevin Corell was only ten minutes ahead of me. I grabbed some watermelon and pringles and headed out.

Leah and I talked some more as we started the next climb and then leap-frogged a bit. I hiked yet covered the distance well. As it leveled out a bit I took to running and turned on my iPod. I was starting to really feel good. I ate on schedule and took another S Cap or two. I was working on dwindling the time between Kevin and I. I was probably being cocky. I looked at my clock and started to work on bridging the gap between us, I figured if I could hold pretty steady I could run 10 hours, if I slipped a little I could run 10:30. Not great but with the start I'd had I was content.

At the next aid station I had some more Mountain Dew and watermelon and headed out with two guys and a girl. It was downhill  on a gravel road and I stayed steady keeping the three runners ahead in sight. We turned left onto a single track trail and I talked with the guy who was directly ahead for a few minutes. Then we came to another gravel road that was almost all downhill. At first it was great, I caught and passed a few runners still keeping the girl and guy from the previous aid station in sight and working on that 10 minute gap. I would even run the short uphills. And then, after a few miles of downhilling the nausea came back. I opened a GU and tried for a few minutes to eat it. Finally I stopped moving, tried once more and dumped the rest of the packet so I could put the empty wrapper back in my vest. I took to running downhill again but the nausea just kept getting worse. I thought it may be the heat and humidity bothering me so when thunder clapped I was hopeful for a storm despite the sun still shining overhead.

Finally an aid station appeared. I told the volunteers I was nauseous and they offered me a popsicle which I took and I drank some Mountain Dew as one of the volunteers put some pringles and a quarter PB&J in a sandwich bag for me. I headed off back into single track trail, feeling worse with every step. I stopped in the first creek crossing and knelt down and poured water on my head and washed my face hoping the cool water would refresh me, lessen the nausea. I was finding it very hard to eat and the stomach trouble had gotten me down mentally. When Leah and one of the runners I'd run the downhill section with approached on an uphill section of single track I stepped aside and just followed their lead.

This was I believe the shoe sucking section I'd been warned about. It was single track with sloppy sections with unsure footing. I didn't loose my shoe but I picked up a lot of mud and muck. I stayed with the group as we picked up another male who looked as though he'd fallen and we climbed along the waterfall together. When we reached that aid station I got ice in my bottle, perhaps I am not drinking enough water I thought. I drank some more soda and ate grapes and watermelon. I left the aid station thinking Leah had left and I was hoping to stay with her. I followed the single track for a brief stint until it came out on a gravel road. I didn't see Leah so I ran thinking she had pulled ahead while I was getting fruit at the aid station. I was running along well and then the nausea hit hard. I had to start walking on a downhill section. I passed a group camping and forced myself to run by them. But shortly after I was doing almost less than walking, just crawling along at a snails pace, overwhelmed with nausea.

Earlier in the day when I had been plagued with nausea and wondering why I was even out here to run 50 miles I had contemplated a DNF. I'd gone back and forth on it until I'd remembered the Grindstone training run a few weeks ago when Brenton Swyers asked if I'd ever DNF'd. I had been able to say no. I decided that in two more weeks should someone ask me that question I would like to be able to say the same thing. But now, 33 miles into this thing, I was hitting bottom. Leah came upon me once more, she'd apparently not left the aid station before me and asked if I was okay. I told her I was nauseous. She asked if I thought it was an electrolyte imbalance and said I should try to throw up. Then she told me that she'd gotten sick at Old Dominion in June and that even though she'd ended up dropping she had felt better. I stopped then and bent over, with Leah basically by my side, this poor sweet angel, and threw up everything. Once, twice, three times. A male runner stopped and asked if I was okay and I was pretty embarrassed that he and Leah had to witness any of this. Leah told me she would let them know at the next aid station that I was sick and left but not before giving me the sweetest look and most tender of hugs.

After they left I walked a short ways but realized that I did feel better. I took to running again and as I turned off to the left onto more single track the threat of a storm became an awesome rain shower. I ran well to the next aid station and told myself that I wasn't going to quit. The worst was over. I got to the aid station as Leah was leaving and she asked if I was going to go on. I told her I felt better and I was going to try. The volunteers were awesome, they offered me a chair, which I declined, worrying I'd never get back up. One gave me a cup of ice water and another suggested I try banana. I emptied the trash from my vest into my drop bag and got a few more GU. I left feeling pretty good. I looked at my watch. Eight hours in but only about 13 miles left.  I figured if I ran well I could still finish in a time of 10:30 or 10:40. I ran a little ways, figuring what kind of pace I would need to maintain and a little worried about fueling back up when only a little while later the wheels came off and the nausea came back.

This is when a just sort of bad day, became a truly bad day. I was nauseous once more, but could only dry heave. I couldn't stomach the thought of more GU and yet I didn't have the energy without trying to force myself to eat. I was walking along through mud and muck, slipping occasionally and I decided I wanted out. I thought long and hard about the prospect of a DNF, I decided I didn't really care. I didn't care about running 45 miles and quitting. And then a minute later I would tell myself "Thomas' don't quit", whatever this takes even if it's more than 12 hours, you have to finish. Back and forth. But this just drained more energy. I sat down once when the nausea and mental crap became too much to carry. I started hiking again and soon I began to be passed by what seemed like dozens of runners, all looking strong and telling me I did to. One man offered me a Fig Newton when I told him I was nauseous but then he realized he didn't have it on him. He felt bad but told me I was moving smoothly enough he thought I'd finish. I didn't bother to tell him I didn't really care.

I trudged on and several more people passed me, a girl named Emily I believe was one, she was so happy to see me, she said she'd thought it'd been the apocalypse it had been so long since she'd seen a runner. It wasn't long after this that I got dizzy and a little worried for my health. I sat down on a log and started playing out scenarios where I was the last runner out in the woods and that some search and rescue team was going to find me out here passed out along the side of this log. I didn't feel like myself at all. It was scary.

I managed to get up and keep moving forward to the next aid station but it just got uglier and uglier. I was a complete mess and moving on empty. I decided I had had enough, I was dropping at the next aid station. This was difficult to swallow and I think I got a little pouty about the decision.  Then I heard the call of a woman's voice yelling "runners you're near the cut off, hurry up you have ten minutes to make the cut". And for some reason I ran towards that voice.

I made it to the aid station as they were packing up the canopies. I stood there for a moment and one volunteer asked what I needed. I quietly told her I had been nauseous all day and had been throwing up. I poured a little Coke in a cup and drank it. I was waiting for someone to save me. I was waiting for my time to run out. And then a woman with dark hair shouted at me (and she may not have really shouted but it seemed like shouting at the time) to get whatever I needed and get out of the aid station. I told her, through quivering lips that I thought I was going to drop. She said, "NO, get whatever you need and go" and the other volunteer said "She's been throwing up and is nauseous" and the dark haired woman says "You will regret it, just go, you have time. You know what the cut off it right? Just grab what you need and keep moving. It's only 7.5 more miles." I moved over to the table and with tears collecting in my eyes I grabbed a ziploc bag and in it put some grapes, some pringles and some M&Ms. And I walked away.

I am not sure I've ever felt the way I did just then. I know now that I absolutely needed that push, but I was not thankful for it. In the next few miles I was a roller coaster of emotions. I started out trying to run after the coke and grapes, but the nausea was only getting worse. I stepped aside and let three guys go past me and I was certain that I was out there alone after they walked by. As they disappeared I had thoughts of calling to them and telling them to send Todd for me because I really wasn't sure I'd make it. I was certain I wouldn't hit the 12 hours but I figured at this point it was just about doing the distance regardless of the cutoff.

I tried to hike the best I could because running made me so nauseous that I had to stop and bend over the side of the trail after each short jaunt. I made it to the bottles and ran right by wondering where the rocky decent I'd heard rumor of was. Instead there was more climbing, I was down to the last hour though I'd left the aid station with just over two hours to go and only 7.5 miles. Finally I arrived at the rocky decent and I couldn't even walk without the nausea making me stop on the side of the trail, but nothing was coming up, and I think that was as much as anything because I was afraid to throw up again, I hate getting sick.

Finally it became too much, it was 11:30 hours in and I knew I still had over two miles to go thanks to the sign that said 2 miles to Damascus and just wasn't going to make it at the rate I was going. I stopped still as soon as another wave hit me and vomited again and again, projectile style with grapes and coke coming out of my nose until nothing else would come out, it scared me, my heart was racing faster than it had pumped all day (or so it felt). I sat down on the trail beside the contents of my stomach and was just absolutely defeated in a way I am not sure I've ever felt before. But my stomach did feel better. So I got back up, it was 11:30 on the watch, I had a half an hour still to make it back to the pavilion in Damascus. And so I ran.

I ran every step and prayed that the road to Damascus was close. I saw something up ahead but I couldn't tell if it was water or pavement, was I hallucinating? As I got closer I saw that it was pavement. I had been told earlier in the race that it wasn't a mile to the pavilion once you hit the road. I still had time. With an empty stomach I was able to run every step to the pavilion.

So in a nutshell I had nearly as bad a day as I could have had (nausea/vomiting are better than an injury) but I finished. I just wish that the finishing felt better. I am sure in a few days or weeks to come that I'll be more positive about finishing, but for now I'm kind of still empty towards the whole experience. I am thankful for the volunteer, whose name I didn't get but was told it was Rick Gray's wife. She did give me the final push that I needed. I'm thankful for all of the volunteers at the aid stations and the other people out on the trail, so many of whom I didn't even get a name. I'm thankful for all of the friends I've made and especially those who let me shower in their RV (thanks Frank and Christy).

There may be more later, but for now...