Monday, November 26, 2012

A Season Closer.. Philadelphia Marathon Race Report..

This is so overdue, and I only apologize a little bit; I've been too busy making cake-pops and drinking wine to write. And if that's wrong, then I don't want to be right.

Ahhhhhhhhhh, Philadelphia.

I took an incredible lackadaisical approach to this race; I felt that after the 50, I could pretty much conquer the world. Pffffffffffttt.. 26.2? I can do that in my sleep. About 48 hours before the race, reality bitch-slapped me. As much as this race wouldn't be a PR kinda race, I also needed to respect the distance. I also had a funky knee thing going on, that had limited by miles after Stone Cat. I needed to put down the wine bottle, pick up the water and Ibuprofen, and stop being a princess.

Sara and I ran a short shake-out around her house on Saturday (no knee pain!), and then headed to good ole Philly. We almost had to set-up a lemonade stand outside the car to pay for the tolls between the GW Bridge and the NJ Turnpike, but we decided scrounging around the car for coins was way more fun.

After we debated the race start time (I thought 8am.. I was *only* an hour off) and devoured the-best-oatmeal-sandwich-cookie-EVER from Whole Foods (I told you, lackadaisical..) we were lights out by 830pm.

Race morning was chilly, but we ended up driving there and parking less than .25 miles from the start. Here's a hint: if you grab a couple runners at your hotel who are the ridiculously long taxi line, they'll pay for your parking, AND you score good race karma. It's a win/win all around!

Okay, moving on to the actual race... 

If I had to make one complaint about this race, it's that the streets at the beginning are too narrow to accommodate the amount of runners. The marathoners and half-marathoners run together for the first 13 miles, and there are some sharp turns that can be dangerous if you're not paying attention. Case-in-point, we saw a girl sitting on a curb with a gash in her forehead and blood running out of her nose. When you have wall to wall people, it's really hard to see where that curb starts. Just a "heads-up" for anyone who would be using this as a "PR' race. BE CAREFUL!

The race for us was so much fun, but H-A-R-D. Way harder than it should have been, given the pace we were running, and our respective PR marathon times. This course is great, in that it's constantly keeps you engaged. The aforementioned turns, a great mix of hills, and a big out-and-back at the end to keep you distracted. Thank God, because we both had to dig for this one. I can't speak for her, but I was tired. I definitely managed to smile, laugh, and have a good time, but there were a few times when I went head down and just listened to the feet hitting the pavement around me.

I did have some knee pain, but it was easily contained by Ibuprofen that I scored from some guy and his wife who lived on course (didn't pack 'em..). I was fueled by my trusty Clif Bloks (purchased at expo the night before the race - didn't pack 'em..). There were no salt tablets, because surprise surprise, I forgot to bring those too. I paid a little for that, but luckily the temperatures were low to keep the effect minimal.

This was an emotional finish for us; Sara as her last "hurrah" before the baby, and me as a top-off to the 2012 season. My ultra training and her pregnancy coincided beautifully; we were both running slower than usual this year, and therefore were able to train/race a lot together.  We've had some great adventures this year, and this race capped it off perfectly.

I'm not sure what's next for me, although I do have my eye on a couple different races.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving, and is enjoying the off-season!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Marathon #12...

Tomorrow I toe the line for Marathon #12..

Oddly enough, my two Philadelphia Marathon finish times are only ONE second apart.  The first time I ran this race, I got hypothermia (finish time: 3:56:22). The second time, I ran on a partially torn quad (finish time: 3:56:21). I've never come to this race, and been able to TRULY enjoy the course and the experience. Tomorrow, however, there will be no worrying about keeping up with pacers, no worrying about elbowing through the crowds, and no worrying about finishing at some point during my third hour of running.

This race is truly a victory lap on my 2012 season. It has been a year that has forced me to redefine my running, to step outside everything I've ever known about "racing", and brought me back to truly enjoying the sport. Every race I've run this year has been a PW (personal worst) when viewed by clock time, yet I've enjoyed being a runner this year more than ever before.

Maybe it's because running was taken away from me; maybe it's because running hasn't been "fun" for the last couple of years, or maybe I'm just getting old and losing my competitive edge. Ha, riiiiiiighhhht. I am so thankful for this year that has brought me back to the basics, forced me to NOT care about who might see I ran a 4:39 marathon when they look at race results, and to learn how to train without getting injured.

For the first time since I can remember, I have no races on the 2013 calendar. By this time of the year, I usually have at least a couple races on the schedule, and am already building training plans. This year, though, my entire goal was to get through the 50-miler. I had no clue how my leg would hold up, how I would recover, whether or not I would enjoy it enough to run another, and so it didn't make sense to waste money on registration fees.

My hope for tomorrow is to finish uninjured, and with a huge smile on my face. From there, I'll run a turkey trot on Thanksgiving, and then hit a giant reset button.

Of course I have races that I'm bouncing around in my head, but I'm not going to pull the trigger on anything for a few weeks. After tomorrow, it's time to heal, reflect, and be thankful for all my body has done for me this year. And THEN I'll start thinking about ways to beat the crap out of it again - ha!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Stone Cat 50-Miler Race Report, Part II

Third Loop

When I picked up Sara for the third loop, I started to melt. I think I held everything together for the first 25 miles because I knew I had no choice - I was out there alone, and there wasn't anyone to whine/cry/complain to. About 2 miles into that third loop, I had my only real "low" moment of the day. I was tired, we had already covered 28 miles, yet I still had 22 miles to go. I started to cry, and Sara just let me be. She talked to distract me, I read the note Caitlyn wrote for me, and I slowly came out of it. I reminded myself of why I was doing this, and that I had come way too far to mess this up now.

We shuffled our way past the 32.5 aid station, and I knew I only had 5 miles until what became known as the "victory lap". I got a little too confident, and took my eyes off the leaf covered "rooty" trails for a hot second. And then it happened  THUD.  I felt HARD on my left hip, and knocked the wind out of myself. I did the 10 point check to make sure I wasn't injured, and although I was fine, I was rattled. Sara encouraged me to get up and start walking, so I didn't seize up. She gave me the motivation I needed to immediately take a deep breath, and just move past it. I was now running to see my "crew" again, and head out for that final victory lap!!

Jess and Jo re-filled my Camelbak, I grabbed more Healthy Bites, and Jess also threw some gummy bears at me. In all the commotion, I forgot to grab my last pack of Clif-Bloks.

Still Smiling... 
Fourth Loop

I was giddy heading back into the woods - incredibly tired, but so damn happy. Once I was back on that trail, I KNEW I would finish. Realizing I was out of Clif-Bloks at mile 40, I was going to have to switch to gummy bears and coke to carry me through. It worked like a charm; thanks Haribou! It was SO MUCH FUN to say "this is the last time I'll run up this hill", "this is the last time I'll trip over this damn root!", etc. We had so much fun these last miles. I got a silly smile on my face about 28 different times when I thought "oh my God, I'm ACTUALLY doing this!". All of that hard work, so many miles, so much sacrifice, and I was DOING it!! My hips were tight, left shin angry from all of my tripping, and hand throbbing from the fall, but I was so ecstatic. Watching the miles count up through the 40's was simply surreal; something that's just so hard to put into words. With 5 miles to go, we ran into Scott and Lisa, and all worked together for those last miles. It honestly couldn't have been more perfect.

10 hours, and 38 minutes after the dark start of a GO GO GO, I crossed the finish line of my first 50 mile race. I smiled, I cried, and I wanted to just collapse. I was exhausted and sore, but it is a moment that I will not soon forget.

Final Steps.. 
Nothing beats finishing with good friends...
my new finisher shirt! 
And a special thanks to these girls (and their men!), who were instrumental in keeping me positive all day long. They also kept everyone updated on twitter and Facebook. These girls stood out in the cold, all afternoon, and said all of the right words at the most perfect times. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you guys!

Somehow I never got a picture with Sara, but I don't think the role she played on Saturday needs any explanation. Without her, I know I wouldn't have had as strong of a race. It takes a damn special person to go out and run 25 miles, at almost 7 months pregnant, just to help a first time ultra-runner cross that finish line. Thank you Sara, for everything. I'm so lucky.

The night before the LA Marathon - those are Census headbands that came in our race packets. 
Yep, that picture is an accurate description of us; no shortage of good times when we're together.

So there it is, my tale of 50 miles. It was hard. It was amazing. It was so much more than I thought it would be. As I sit here 4 days later, I'm still deliriously happy. I'm so proud of myself for committing to this race, especially when everyone said "you just had surgery, there's no way you can do that!".

The take home message is this: If you put in hard work, and a whole lot of heart, the sky is the limit. If I can run 50 miles, I promise that each of you reading this can achieve anything you want. Dream big my friends.

And finally, I couldn't write this report without including the reason for everything I do, and by far my biggest fan!

Thank you to everyone for all of the calls, texts, tweets, messages. I am incredibly blessed to be surrounded by such amazing people.

Now onto the next adventure - Sara and I are tackling the Philadelphia Marathon next weekend, as her final hurrah before the baby comes! 10 days to go!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Day I Became An Ultramarathoner (Stone Cat 50-Miler Race Report, Part I)

Yikes, this has been hard to write. I want to capture the day *just right*, and be able to describe in print just what an amazing day yesterday happened to be.

This race was a long time in the making; I spent many months putting in a ridiculous amount of sweat, blood, and tears to ensure I finished this 50-miler upright and in good spirits. As they say, it takes an army. I have an incredible support system who motivates me every single day to get out there and be my best. Those people are the ones who were instrumental in getting me to that starting line.

I'm going to break this into pieces, instead of a 60,000 word essay which would bore you all to tears.

The Morning

I was woken up by my 3 alarms (yes, I'm OCD with alarms; I have an irrational fear of over-sleeping for important events).

Grabbed alllllllllllllll of my stuff (and there was a lot of it), and headed to Ipswich

I was a disaster; stomach in knots and complete butterflies everywhere. I had done a 30+ mile training run, but there was about a 19 mile gap from my longest training run, and the 50 mile race distance. That is a long freaking way of "unknown".

It was awesome to show up at the gym and see familiar faces; it helped distract me from my brain, which was on total overdrive. It was pitch black outside, and I knew we were running with headlamps until the sun rose. It was something I haven't done a lot of, and the trails are hard enough for a clutz like me to navigate in the broad daylight, nevermind the dark.

Headlamps are so sexy.. 
As we shuffled out to the start line, I felt for the notes that I had friends write; I knew I would need those during my low points in the race for the extra motivation to fight for the finish..

Moments before the gun went off (more like the person yelling GO GO GO, but either way..), I turned to Sara for some words of encouragement  I knew all I had to do was get through those first 2 loops solo, and then I would have her by my side for the final 25 miles. With 2 100 mile races, and many many 50 mile races under her belt, I knew she was the best person to be taking me home for my first 50 miler.

The First Two Loops

God that start was tough. It was so dark, and there were so many headlamps bobbing around a small trail. It was absolutely surreal..

As we were heading into the woods
My goal INSTANTLY turned to staying upright; it was slippery, the first part was narrow, and it was going to be a long day. There was no need for me to gain a few minutes, only to fall on my face and ruin momentum early in the game.

I found a veteran ultrarunnner within the first 5 minutes, and stayed on her hip. She carried me for the first 30ish minutes, and then we said our good-byes. She was shooting for a 12.5 hour finish, and while I would have been happy with ANY finish, I knew I had trained to be faster than that.

After I left her, it got really lonely; this was a HUGE deviation from road races that I wasn't expecting. I'm used to spectators along the course, and being surrounded by people throughout the miles. With only a couple hundred runners between the marathon and 50-miler, combined with being in the trails, I spent a LOT of time alone with my thoughts.

Plodding along through the first aid station (they were at miles 4.2 and 7.5ish), I realized I needed to come up with a solid plan, and implement it immediately. I was just kinda floating along, walking when I saw people walking, running when others were doing the same. No real game plan, and I knew I was setting myself up for a complete implosion if I continued this way. I needed direction.

During training, I've read no less than 48 different ways to execute a 50-miler; they all have some variation of a walk/run plan. I decided on a 4 minute run/2 minute walk plan, and would stick to it until I picked up Sara at mile 25. While I knew this might slow me down a bit, I need to preserve my emotional stability for as long as possible. Control what I could control.

I was using my little Timex to do the run/walk, and resetting it to zero after each hour. It made the time and miles seem so much more manageable than when I was just shuffling around the woods with no plan. My Garmin 405 was constantly running, but the numbers on that watch were way more scary, so I focused on each 6 minute "set" on my Timex. Before I knew it, I was coming up to the school to check-in, and to start loop 2.

why yes, I was using my headlamp as a tourniquet..
I pulled in, grabbed more nutrition, had some words with Sara, and headed back out to the woods.

This loop was much like the first; I stuck to my 4/2 plan, but this time would open up to 5-6 minutes of running if I happened to be on a flat/rolling area. I walked every steep hill, no matter whether or not the watch said to run or walk. My time running was definitely faster than the first loop, and I did a very fast walk for the 2-minute "walk breaks".

After I went through the 7.5 mile aid station, I knew these were the last miles of the entire day I would have to run alone. I also knew that JoJess, Scott, and Miguel would be there, cheering their faces off. This, in and of itself, powered me to get to that check-in station with a huge smile on my face. I saw Scott and Lisa on their way back out, shouted encouragement, and went to grab my running partner!!!

I found a groove this loop, ran happy, and my time was considerably faster than the first loop. I felt strong, and had growing confidence that I would ACTUALLY finish this race well under the time limit!

I've gotten a lot of questions about aid stations and nutrition, so here is what worked REALLY well for me.  I spent very little time at any aid stations, treating them like any other marathon aid station. I grabbed coke/water, drank it, and left. I never came to a complete stop, and not once during the entire race did I "stop" completely unless I was changing a shirt, re-filling my pack, etc. I also stuck to Clif Bloks and Healthy Bites ONLY. One block/bite every other mile, for the entire 50 miles (although I did have to switch to gummy bears the last 10 miles; more on that later). I took a salt tab on the hour, and also took 1 Ibuprofen every 8-10 miles. I drank Gatorade from my pack during every walk break, therefore never going more than 4 minutes without taking fluid. 

.... to be continued