Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A-game Race Recovery and Horse-Shoe Trail 50K Trail Race

Taking the proper time to recover from the JFK 50 mile while still trying to maintain my fitness for Bandera 100K at the same time has been a new type of challenge that I have never exactly been confronted with before.  The fifty took a lot out of me.  More so than I even thought that it would.  I think that I almost expected to bounce back from the race within a week after my recoveries from my ultra races in England.  Although never running 50 miles in “one sitting” in the past year, surely running 38 and 32 miles (or rather 40 and 34 miles!) on back-to-back days was surely a note-worthy indicator of my recovery abilities.  I also surprised myself when I was able to pace Mike for 40 miles at Burning River, just one week after running 41.5 miles in 6 hours at Endless Summer in the blistering heat.  What I didn’t consider was how different all of these races are from each other.  While a large fraction of success in the Isle of Wight seemed to stem from navigational abilities and moving forward on whatever terrain is thrown at you, JFK requires the physical abilities and mind-set hold a faster consistent pace without stopping or dropping for hours and hours after discomfort sets in, which beats the crap out of the legs.  I felt like JFK was certainly more physically demanding than any ultra I have done in the past year and has taken the longest to recover from.  But, as I read time and time again, the true key to success in ultrarunning seems to be experience, and so I guess the best thing I can do is to take what I learn from each experience and keep on trucking. 

I attempted my first 24 miles long run just one week out from JFK back on the Appalachian trail portion of the JFK course.  I can only describe the way I felt during the run as being beaten down and lifeless for the majority of it, having more than a few close calls while catching my feet on rocks as my still heavy legs struggled to pick them up.  In retrospect, this type of distance so close to the race was probably a rush to recovery too fast, as the run left my legs feeling more beat up and me more disheartened than I had been going into the run.  After the run, I promised myself that I wouldn’t push through a long run again until I was sure my body was ready. 

The next three weeks of final exams brought late nights of studying and bucket-loads of mental stress.  Most of my already scarce “spare time” for running was completely sapped.  I almost couldn’t/didn’t care about training for those few weeks and felt like I was just clawing my way along to keep up with school, which has always been at my top priority.  At the same time, I found it almost impossible to concentrate on my studies having beung cooped up for hours on end, and both my mind and vision would start to blur together the material.  My roommate and I both seemed to realize when one or the both of us would come to a point where we would start talking jibberish or not be hearing anything the other way saying, and this was the time when we knew we needed the run.  We had a few late-night runs, a few track workouts, a few early morning runs.  All short and sweet.  We banged out the miles and workouts as fast as we could so we could get back to the thousands of ppt slides (literally) waiting for us when we got back.  I have never much enjoyed interval training, or running just a few miles at an uncomfortable blistering pace, but there was something almost fun about chasing that girl (an “800m specialist”) around the track, quads on fire and gasping for breath that I just couldn’t get enough of.  She always has me by a few seconds in anything a mile or less, but I am always the one begging for just a couple more repsJ 

And when Karys was injured or tired, I’d drag myself out, kill it for a half hour or so, then force myself back to my work.  Even on days in my sleep-deprived cortisol-overloaded state when I thought the last thing I’d want to do is go out for a run, these sometimes would turn into days when I ran my best times.  There are a couple of note-able runs that stand out in my recovery period after JFK.  One of them was the 19:50 Turkey Trot 5K that I somehow managed to scrape up just 5 days after JFK.  I actually ended up losing my age group turkey in the race by just ONE second’s chip time…ugh…but the finishing time was more than I could hope for, with my quads still screaming at me for most of the way. 

Another one of them came later one Friday evening in Newark at the annual Reindeer Run 5K starting on Main Street in Newark.   I was on my bike ride home from a the Delaware Neuroscience research symposium poster session on the J-Hall path when it was dark around 6pm when I saw groups of people lighting the borders of the path with candles.  When I finally asked what all this was for and they told me the run started in an hour and there was still sign up on site. I was in.  I had actually completely forgotten about the race and had already run a 5 mile tempo run at 6:49 min/mi pace earlier that afternoon.  Mike was on his way over and somehow I talked him into joining too.  I felt decent starting off in the race, and my two mile split was at 12:20.  Though uncomfortable, at that point I felt like I could keep up my pace and surely finish in sub 19..until a quarter mile later when nature called.  The next mile was a struggle, and not with my legs, but I finished in 19:50, exactly to the second. Again.  UGh.  Mike had finished a couple minutes before me and asked how I felt after I crossed the finish line.  “I forgot how painful 5Ks are.”  My fellow ultra-runner looked at me with the same bewildered and understanding look on his face.  “I know…”

Finally enjoying some post finals Christmas time with the fam...hopefully Christmas cookies help set a new 100K PR J

I had a few good tempo runs when joining the Delaware Running Company group on their weekly night runs on a loop around Newark.  On one particular run I decided to join for an easier-paced study break run, which turned into a solid race-against-the-boys run ending at close to 6 minute pace, according to the Garmins.  We started our first mile, clocking an 8:20 and finished the 5.2 mile loop in just over 35 minutes.  I surprised myself with how good I felt, especially considering I had had a tempo run earlier that afternoon, but I felt a surge of my playful competition as I caught and passed all the guys in the last couple of miles that I just couldn’t resist. 

And, in hopes of battering up my quads as much as possible in preparation for the Bandera hills, I found the steepest hill of trail within reach that I could in the state of Delaware and went to work on some repeats.  I'd drive hard up and hammer back down even harder, which turned into more of a controlled falling.  I hate hill repeats but have grown to love them at the same time.  One one particularly chilly Saturday I took a break from the hours of manual muscle and range of motion testing to run out to White Clay and visit my hill.  With each time downhill I'd get faster and faster yet, until the last one I was flying so fast, legs pounding, feet aching, eyes watering in the cold air and tears streaming down the side of my face.  I embraced the feeling at that moment, as it let me know I was alive!  When I hit the bottom of the hill I didn't stop; I flew out from the single track and back onto the main trail, not stopping until I reached the lab again.  I went back to my studies that day more content than if I had just completed a 25 mile long run.

But even with the number of good tempo runs I was having over those few weeks, my body seemed to be undergoing a distance run block.  I attempted long runs a few times over those few weeks, and each time providing myself a bail-out option, which I ended up taking every time.  I can’t really put my finger on the problem, other than I just didn’t feel good for one reason or another.  I was having some small aches and pains since JFK, including hip bursitis pain, which seemed to migrate to shin splits and constant nagging ITBand tightness/achiness and these all seemed to worsen when I slowed my pace down and the miles added up.  In the month after JFK, with the exception of that fist weekend, I didn’t go further than 14 miles during any single run. And I was signed up to run 62 in Bandera, now just a few weeks away.  Ekk.  I was having my doubts.

           Mikeon the left in his plaid, with me bending to stretch somewhere behind him.  Photo by John Dunham.

Until the Horse-shoe trail 50K.  The low-key fat ass ultra “race” came just at the time when I needed it the most.  In my head, I had decided that if I couldn’t finish this rocky rooty 50K, there was no way I would be able to survive twice the distance three weeks away in early January.  When Mike and I arrived to the start of the run at 8:30 am on Sunday morning, there was an inch of snow coating the grass and trail, and probably 20 degrees out.  My buns were freezing even sporting my Under Armor running tights for one of the first times this season, along with three layers up top.  There were a total of 19 people setting out to start the run, including one chick who got out of her car in shorts with short socks.  If there wasn’t any doubt before, now I was surely about to get my butt kicked.

Mike and I stayed together for the first 17 miles of the race.  I took things pretty slow to start out, and was kind of surprised with how much my calves were burning when climbing the more technical rocky hills.  The climbs seemed pretty hard and I got left behind the initial starting pack and even by Mike within the first few miles.  But Mike waited to find me again and things got easier as the miles went on.  After the faster guys who knew the course pulled ahead of us, Mike and I got lost on two occasions, probably adding a couple of miles, with the shorts woman following us.  We got back on track to find Steve in the middle of the group, who joined us for the next few miles till he turned back early at the 10 mile aid station on the out-and-back course.


Me and my partner in crime in our UBER ROC champion jacketsJ

I was on my own with the shorts lady just before the turn-around when Mike fell behind from us a little.  From the looks of this woman’s bare legs, I had been expecting her to pull ahead of me a while ago.  And when she didn’t, I was expecting her to start falling behind any minute now.  Not that I am that fast, but I don’t get passed in later stages of ultras, and especially not by chicks.  Thinking about it, I don’t think I have ever been passed by a woman in an ultra distance race in my life, or at least not after the first couple miles.  I have been beat by plenty of women in my ultrarunning days, but by women who have started ahead of me and stayed ahead of me through the entirety of the race.  I enjoy being the chaser.  I dislike being chased, and even more dislike being passed.  I think this was the reason that after I found myself alone with this woman now down to the two-filly race, I decided to pick things up a couple notches.  But not before she informed me that she was a U.S. 24 hour champ.  Crapppp.  This chick was obviously never going to tire or drop pace, so I was going to lose her with speed.  I dropped her for the first time soon after the turn around, only for her join right beside me on the trail again after I had to make a pit stop for a few minutes.  I picked things up again.  She hung with me for a little while, but soon enough I lost her again. I was pushing things a bit, but I was surprised that I was still pretty comfortable, considering I was now into my twenty umth mile. 
Going into the run that day, I had told myself that today was about going the distance and not the pace, and now I think my conservativeness at the beginning of the run was paying off, as I felt like I was flying along through the bumpy rocky single track.  Something just felt almost magical about being out there in the middle of the woods on the crisp cold winter day, not knowing where I was or where I had to be next, just following the track and letting my body to the work, with my mind just wandering into the beauty of the majestic mountains around me.  I had been on these trails before, but only in the middle of the night during Jen’s Midnight Love runs.  This was the first time when I could truly enjoy the beauty of the middle-of-nowhere PA.   I fell in love with ultrarunning all over again right there and then.  I ran into the finish, still flying high and feeling great, or at least like I could go on for at least several more miles, which is what I would need to do in a three weeks time.   My finish time was (a pretty slow) 5:50, complete with a few wrong turns, navigational, delays and pit-stops.  The run and the pace were just what I felt like I needed. Check out winner and race director Josh Finger’s GPS tracking of the route:   I finished probably about 20 minutes before the shorts woman did, and despite it being a fatass event, even got a commemorative painted horse shoe and $20 gift card for being the first woman finisher! 
And two days later I was back out on the track doing mile repeats, where coach Fischer told me I was “one sick puppy” J

Up and Coming Bandera 100K

I have to say I have some mixed feelings about how Bandera will go for me.  It will certainly be the longest and farthest distance I have every attempted and the terrain is certainly going to be no jog through the park.  I think the best thing I can probably do now is to take things a bit easier and make sure that I am fully rested by the time race day rolls around.  Based on the recovery of my long runs after JFK, all I can do is to primarily focus on finishing the race, kind of just going along for the adventure and what the day brings, while meeting some great elites and spending a few days in an awesome drug-dealer mansion with some good friends just having fun along the way. 

For a while I was worried about the good chance that I could “DNF” the race, which is still largely possible.  I have never DNFed a race before, but have also never attempted the much longer distances.  After taking things in to perspective though, even DNFing at Bandera really wouldn’t be so bad.   It is rare to come across an elite ultra running athlete that has not DNFed at some point in one race or another.  (Even Devon Crosby-Helms DNFed at the 100K World Championship race in the Netherlands this year with a body trained like a thoroughobred!) And although I am by no means trying to compare myself to an elite in the field, the more races you do, the longer the distances, the less recovery time between, the more likely you are on race day to be faced with the decision of pulling yourself out when things just don’t feel right.  For every DNF on a race result page, there is usually a good underlying reason behind the letters that is not plainly visible, and I don’t think of any less of someone as an athlete for these three letters on their record, just as I won’t think anything less of myself if it happens to me in Texas. 

That being said, obviously I hope to walk (or rather hobble) away from the race having numbers, not letters next to my name on the results page.  I am as ready for the date as I am going to be and am ready to take whatever is thrown at me on that day, along with a much wanted and needed true running recovery period to follow!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

JFK 50 Mile 2011

When I woke up at 4:50AM with the acute care song (theme song of the class that’s been haunting my semester) stuck in my head, I should have known things might not go my way today.  But I felt confident that I was trained, rested and ready.  I ate my standard race/long run breakfast (bagel, jam, PB and banana), downed a small cup of coffee and headed to the starting line.  I pulled on my JMU tri top kit with black Saucony shorts and light black Underarmor shorts along with my Salomon trails and was on my short way to that start, about one mile from my home.

Youngest cutest members of the Team Jackie:-) (post race)

We arrived to the school on plenty of time, but for some reason everyone was late getting to the starting line.  I actually didn’t even think what time it was because we were just walking out towards the front of the bulk of the crowd, but when we were about 400 meters away, I heard someone on the loudspeaker say the race start was in 90 seconds.  I looked at my watch. Yikes!  I quickly skipped up as close as I could get to the starting line, but was stuck behind a big crowd.  When the starting horn went off, I was still pulling off my sweats (and nearly kicked my dad in the face in the process!).  But after I was finally on the road, I calmed down and settled into it.  The first long gradual hill to the single track went as expected, and I was working a bit to get to the trail head, trying to ensure that I wouldn’t get caught up in the congestion there like I did a couple of years ago.  It was going to be a good day of weather outside, but right now the coldness of the morning left my hands freezing, even inside my gloves and I kept scrunching them up trying to fend off the bitter sting of the cold.  Because of my late start, I didn’t get to see any of the elites at the start but I could see single figures in the distance up the hill, already largely spaced from the pack in less than a mile.   In the first mile, Mike and Ted came up from behind me and ran with me for a few hundred meters.  I had a pretty good idea that, as much as I’d like to, I was not going to be seeing these guys again till the finish line.  It wasn’t long before they went off and the second pair of Navy guys, LT and Matt came to pass me up the hill. 

The first section of trail went smoothly and soon I was climbing up the steep, steep paved road section to get on the second section of Appalachian trail.  I played it safe and took power walks up all the really steep segments here.  The top actually came pretty quickly and before I knew it someone was calling out “5 ½ miles!”   The trail was just as rocky as when I’d last left it, except now there was a fresh layer of leaves overtop, making things extra tricky at parts.  I was passed by one woman here that I would see later on the canal.  Otherwise, it was just me and the men.  And soon, I found that it was just me.  It was kind of strange to be alone on the trail when I knew there were 1500 other people out right now on the same trail.  Almost eerie.  But I found a comfortable rhythm and stuck with it, making a decent pace.  I decided that I was feeling OK.  Not great, but OK.  My stomach also seemed to be cooperating this morning, which I was grateful for.  I broke into my Cliff block shots, which I carried in the pocket of my Northface handheld about an hour in and just kind of chewed on them gradually for the next half hour.

Coming off the switchbacks and hitting the canal at mile 15-16 my legs felt…meh.  They didn’t feel bad, but definitely not fresh, which I guess is understandable.  I took a bathroom break soon after hitting the canal and then started working on settling into my forever-on-a-flat-road pace.  Glancing at my watch and split times, I saw I was over 30 minutes behind a finishing time of 7:15, so I knew I had some making up to do.  I was alright with this, obviously, as all the hard hills and technical terrain are in the first few miles of the race.  Now it was just about picking a pace that I could sustain for the next several hours.  I know that the biggest mistake people make in the JFK race is so go out too hard at the start of the canal.  The canal is 27.2 miles, just one mile over a marathon, but your quads have just taken a pretty good pounding on the trail and switchbacks, not to mention the 9 miles of rolling hills you have left to go after you finish.  In other words, you should NOT go out at marathon pace.  I planned to go out at a pace that was a little faster than last year, with the intention to pick things up around the 32 mile mark if I was feeling it. 

The pace felt pretty comfortable, probably around 8:30s, but from the way I was feeling I guessed that this was going to get harder to hold later on down the road.  I met a couple of guys on the canal and ran with them off and on, most of them traveling from pretty far to come to this race.  Some of them picked up the pace after a few miles, and I chose not to follow.  I’d be seeing them again later down the canal. 

I was informed that I was the 12th woman coming off of the Appalachian Trail, so I thought that there were either more competitive elite women out there than we thought or else some people went out way too hard.  I saw one girl just ahead of me when I got on the canal, but she was keeping a pretty good pace for a while, so it took me a few miles to catch and pass her.  I picked off one other woman a while later who was running by herself.  I was looking forward to getting to the Antietam aid station, around mile 27, which always has the biggest crowds and I knew “Team Jackie” would be there to swap out my handheld and get more gels.  When I ran through here I think I was 10th place woman, with 9th just in front of me.  She stopped at the aid station, and I passed her when I ran through.  

Around the 30 mile mark there was an aid station where I grabbed a cup of water on my breeze through.  As I was leaving I heard someone yell “Damnit Jackie!”  I had to laugh when I saw Matt and LT behind me stopped at the aid station.  It just wouldn’t be a JFK if I didn’t chick at least a couple of Navy guys J
Around the 4 hour mark my quads started feeling annoyingly sore.  And I knew it was way too early for them to start feeling this way.  Then, almost suddenly, it felt like someone flipped the off switch to my legs, and they felt gone.  Just like that.  I looked at my watch.  4:22.  I had at least 3 more hours of running to go.  Not good.  I was a little puzzled because I thought my legs felt worse now than they had during my 5 hour training run, Halloweeny, or even the UROC 50K around 5 hours.  This should not be happening right now, and I’m not sure why it was.  It was a bit disheartening, but I thought I was just kind of sinking into a race low and I’d come back out of it soon enough.  So I didn’t slow down much, and kept the pace at a bit of a push to try and get through it. 

I thought I was eating smart.  I was drinking Gatorade from my handheld and took gels every hour to 45 minutes and also has some Jelly babies and another pack of Cliff blocks.  I wasn’t hungry, but knew it was important to keep the calories coming.  However I did not consume anything of substance, and by the five hour mark I was beginning to feel pretty nauseated, which I attributed all the sweetness of the gels and Gatorade.  I knew I should have probably eaten a granola bar, fruit or something to appease my stomach earlier on, but now I was too nauseous to even think about chewing and swallowing food, so I continued to choke down gels.  It was a vicious cycle. 

But I kept at it, nauseated and leg screaming, at times almost having to force myself not to drop pace.  I was determined though, and I always come into ultras ready to take what the day will throw and feeding off of strong will and stubbornness at times when I need to push through the hard parts.  And the miles came and passed, some being harder than others.  Like Matt would say after the race, it felt like someone was taking a rubber mallet and smacking my quads with it on every stride.  It was pretty uncomfortable, so I just tried to think about anything but running.  From a couple quick glances at my watch and split times though, I was reeling in on my finishing time, from more than 15 minutes off of 7:30 finish, then to 12 minutes, before long 7 minutes…  Normally I don’t like looking at my splits and doing mental math during races, but this is the first race where I have actually found that doing this actually helped boost me a little.  I felt like crap but I was still making progress. 
How can you not be lifted when you see a cute little girl holding this sign? Love my little cousin Margaret:-) 

Right now all I could think about was getting to Taylors landing at mile 38, the next aid station where I would see my crew again.  My legs felt so crappy that I had re-evaluated my decision of changing up my shoes and decided to do it at this point, hoping that it would give me at least a small feeling of rejuvenation I would need to get through the next 12 miles.  My crew was great and made the shoe change and chip swap pretty smoothly and quickly.  But when I set off again, I found it didn’t really do much.  It wasn’t my feet that were the problem; it was my legs.  And trying to alleviate something more distal in the chain just wasn’t going to work. 

Still I pushed on, trying not to drop pace, and at this point really considering that I’d be really lucky to scrape 7:30.  I calculated that I was about 3 minutes off this time right now and I still had some time make-up to do.  This was the point in the race when the canal really seems endless.  The best thing to do is probably to not look too far ahead of you, because you can see off so far in the distance…and you can’t see the end.   Soon after Taylors landing a boy with a bandana ran up beside me.  “Hi.  Did you run this race last year?  Because you passed me around this point last year when I died on the canal!”  I don’t know if it was more funny that he actually remembered my from last year or that he was admitting this to me right now at the same exact point.  He ran up ahead a few hundred feet to meet up with his friends where he slowed down again.  I passed them all about a minute later, giving a couple words of encouragement like I usually do.  But one of the bandana guys friends decided to try to hang with me and asked if he could run with me for a while.  Sure.  He was a bit SOB but was holding it together pretty well, at least seemingly.  He told me that this was the fastest he had fun in hours and thanked me for giving him the boost.  We small talked for a little while, and although I had no idea who this guy was, it was kind of nice to have some companionship for once during the race.  The last thing I remember him saying was “you’re probably going to leave me in the dust here soon…”  And after the next aid station, I didn’t see him again and I was back to running solo. 

The last aid station at the end of the canal came sooner than expected and seconds later I found myself on the road battling up the last big hill before the finish.  This year, this hill felt steeper and harder than both years past, and it was actually the first year that I had to walk up a part of it.  After up-chucking a small amount of gel or some other grossness up my throat and into my mouth,  I decided to let myself walk for less than a minute up the damn thing and also so I could give myself the mini pep talk that I needed to finish up this thing.  At the aid station, I had stopped briefly to refill my water and grabbed a cup of Coke and sipped it a little up the hill.  I hoped it might help with my stomach a bit.  Less than 9 miles to go. 

The last miles were a push.  Especially since I knew I was cutting it so close to last year’s time.  But I was in pain right now and didn’t even want to look at my watch anymore.  I’m going to run this thing in as hard and as best that I can and looking at my watch time is not going to make a difference in my effort, so there’s no point.  The mile countdown starting from number 8 began.  I concentrated on a few guys that I saw ahead of me and managed to catch and pass about three or four of them.  I wasn’t thinking about the finish line yet though.  Just thinking about getting to around the 46 mile mark and intersection where I would see my dad who would be waiting for me.  I didn’t really need anything.  Nothing at this point was going to make me feel any better.  It would just really lift my spirits to break up this long final stretch of road and see someone along the way. 

There were a couple of aid stations along the way, which I pretty much just blew through, just taking a cup of water or something small to drink.  I finally came to the corner where I knew I’d see my dad.  I had actually thought it was coming sooner than it actually did, so I had spent the last mile thinking that he wasn’t able to get through the traffic to get there, so it was an extra treat to actually see him now.  Less than a 5K to go. 

After turning this corner, I spotted a guy ahead in the distance, and just ahead of him a little further, a woman.  She was pretty far up at this point, and I knew it was probably out of my reach at this point to be able to catch her.  At this point, it felt like a tractor trailer had run over my legs.  Then backed up and hit them again, just to be sure the job was done.  I had nothing.  I didn’t even hesitate at the 1.5 mile-to-go aid station.  Soon I was rounding corners where the cops directed traffic, excited to see my family and crew at the finish line.  I knew I’d see my grandfather, aunts and little cousins coming out to support me, all representing the purple and gold “Team Jackie” shirts.  We looked like a real teamJ  Somehow I managed to pass that last guy in the last few hundred meters when I saw the finish line and heard the announcers.  I saw the clock said 7:29, my last year time as I approached from a distance so I kicked it in with everything I had left to try to cut it as close as possible.  Clock time was 7:30:16 when I crossed and I came in 9th place woman overall.  My stopwatch had 7:29:50 from the time I crossed the starting matt this morning. 

The medal felt like 20 pounds around my neck after that rough day.

Of course, my favorite boys:-)  Mike did really awesome, with a 6:42 this year and Ted a 7:08.  Matt and LT weren't far behind me, finishing in 7:40 and an amazing first 50 mile time for Matt!

More team Jackie!


For a while, I was kind of disappointed with my finish.  All I could think about was how great of a race I had last year and trying to figure out what went wrong this year.  But as I stood up at the awards ceremony, Mike Spinnler announcing the women ahead of me and their accomplishments, I realized that I must be good for something to be able to stand up there with the top ten.  These were some of the best ultrarunning women in the country, including some women on the U.S. national 100K team!  The first woman finished in 6:32, coming close to Devon Crosby-Helms CR and I was happy to see Cassie Scallion a relatively “new girl” from Wisconsin take in her first big win in the ultrarunning world.  Meghan Arborgast finished just two minutes behind her, and blew out the female masters record by some 85 minutes!  So, rather counter to portrayal by the pre-media coverage, the women’s field did turn out to be pretty “stacked” afterall. 

Additionally, I consider myself very lucky to have the support that I did for this race.  At every allowable aid station, I’d find my dad about a mile out, where he’d ask me what I needed and then phone into my mom and my aunt, who had everything ready to go for me when I came through.  They would even run beside me for a small distance so I wouldn’t have to stop or slow down.  And my dad hates to run.  They definitely saved me at least a few minutes and I am grateful for the sacrifices they made to all day for me.  Not to mention the signs made by my aunt that lifted my spirits and the matching purple and gold T shirts that no one could miss!

In talking with some respected running friends and coaches after the race, they congratulated me on what they considered to be a solid race, despite how I felt.  And when I saw Mike Spinnler at the Hagerstown Turkey Trot a few days later on Thanksgiving (ran a 19:50 5K on brick legs, took 5th place and literally missed winning my age group turkey by ONE second to a 25 yo ahead of me. Gahhhhh.  Still, Ill take it.), he quoted…It takes a good runner to run a great race on a good day.  It takes a great runner to run a good race on a bad day. 
It’s hard when you feel like you have poured your heart and soul into one race for so long.  An entire year worth of blood, sweat and tears poured into one day, a few hours, a single shot to give it everything you’ve got.  You do everything within your power to make this your day, the best day with the greatest feeling you have felt all year.  When something goes wrong, it feels like your world is crumbling around you in that single moment.  To be able to hold it together and push yourself through the end, that’s what takes a great runner. 
In retrospect, I think I learned some important lessons out on that JFK course on that day.  And to be honest, I don’t know that I would trade it for a feel-great glorious Jackie Day.  I think that what I have gained from that race is worth more to me than a glorious finish on a good day, that might have gotten me something like 5th place amongst the women in that field.  And what I gained will surely help to push me through the next adventure I get myself into.

So what’s next…..weeeeellllll…

I can now officially say that it is on January 7th in Texas at the Bandera 100K, the 2012 USA Track and Field 100km Trail National Championships!  I had actually been eyeing this race with Mike before going into JFK, but wanted to wait and see how I recovered before I made the official commitment.  At first, I wallowed in self-doubt for a little after JFK, questioning my endurance and my fitness ability to even be able to complete a race like this.  This will easily be the hardest race I have ever attempted.  Even though 62 miles is just 12 more than 50, the terrain is all single track and apparently pretty rocky and technical and I could easily be on my feet for an additional 4+ hours compared to JFK.  I am both thrilled and scared to death, but we will see what happens out there in that grand old state of TEXAS! 

Check out the slide show my aunt put together!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Training for JFK 2011

4 Weeks till Race day…

The week of 4 weeks out, I logged a 100 mile week, with a few good speed workouts midweek and a key 5 plus hour, 35 mile trail run on Saturday.  I knew I needed this run just as much mentally as I did physically.  Realistically, I knew I was fully capable of running a distance more than 30 miles, but this is the first time since my 6Hour race in July that I have run this far, and something inside me needed to know that I still could.  The first hour of the run I actually felt pretty crappy, and I thought that this could possibly turn into feeling like the longest run of my life.  But I kept about a sub 9mmi pace on the trail and sometime before two hours in, I got into my groove and got into my long trail run zone.  I just let my body do the work and my mind wander.  And it did a lot of wandering during those next few hours of beautiful cool crisp fall single track in WCC.  When I was on the last stretch in the final 30 minutes of so and off the single track and on the flat smooth road, I started picking up speed.  It was kind of a paradoxical legs were now to the point of soreness, which came with every foot strike on the pavement, yet I felt good.  I finished up with a pretty decent pace, and on the JHall trail in the last 2 miles, I pushed the pace, estimating I had to be running faster than marathon pace (I have seriously got to get a Garmin!)  When I turned into the parking lot of my apartment complex, I chucked my handheld under a tree and kept running.  I ran past my building, back out into the street and did a little lollipop mile loop around my development, still pushing the pace harder.  I finished that run feeling tired, but like I could keep going, yet really satisfied, which is exactly what I wanted out of the run.  It was a major confidence booster, not only to get in the miles but to know that I could run the distance and still feel like I could go further.   

WCC path.

I did the whole run by myself.  It seems like it might get lonely to be running by yourself for 5 hours, even without any music.  But I actually found this solo training run to give me the peace of mind I needed.  The concern of holding back someone else's pace or taking someone out too far or too long were not there.  Just me alone in the woods, in my zone.  Nice every once in a while.

The day after this long run Mike had come down and we were planning to run the Cafe Gelato 10 miler Sunday morning.  I really had no idea how my body was going to react to an attempt at a fast 10 mile race but I thought I'd give it a stab.  Surprisingly, I felt pretty decent during the race, and I pushed the pace a bit, but didn't give things a full-out blasting effort because I didn't want a true "race pace" to take everything out of me for the next few days in the week.  I finished the relatively flat trail race in 1:12, averaging 7:12 mmis, which I was very happy with.  I won 3rd place my age group 20-24, with a few UDXC athletes showing up to blow it away (winning time 56 minutes!).  Mike and I ran a 5 mile "cool down" afterwards before redeeming our free waffle cone gelatos:-) 

After a Monday of cross training, Tuesday I got in some decent speed work with a few mile repeats on a 5:45am run, followed later in the day by 6 Xs 800s on the treadmill followed by some lifting in the afternoon on my break from my typical 10 hours of class on Tuesdays.  I logged 20 miles for the day. 

Wednesday I planned to do a "medium-long distance" run at a steady pace, and after a long 4 hour data collection early in the morning with a stroke patient, I went on a 2 + hour run through WCC, estimating I was keeping about sub 8mmis, feeling that I was running just a bit easier than marathon pace.  After working with patients like this,  I often find myself somewhat more motivated on my runs...whether it's the consideration that I am so privileged to be able to go out the door and do the things that I do or simply the thought of Thank god that's not me.  My life may not be the most ideal right now, feeling like I am constantly under pressure and stress, but I cannot imagine having a life dictated by a neurological impairment like stroke coupled with all the comorbidities that go with it.  I consider myself in the unique position of being exposed to such a wide variety of people from both extremes of the physical activity spectrum, which can really put things in perspective.   About 16ish miles later I finished back at my lab feeling fairly tired before going in for a couple more hours of class (soft tissue massage lab, just what I needed--score!)  I came home early for the day, around 5:30, half starving, and knowing I needed to read and study for my practical exam tomorrow and my exam early next week and not really planning to run again that day, but I was itching.  So there I was, finding myself in that all-too-familiar predicament of being torn between hunger and desire to run.  My solution?  I grabbed a few handfuls of Chex cereal, gulped down some lemonade Gatorade and headed out the door again for a hopefully quick run on the J-Hall trail.  I absolutely hate running on an empty stomach, and I had found myself doing this on my run earlier that afternoon.  However, there is that fine line between just enough and too much, and too much can also make for a rather unpleasant run (as I am all too familiar!).  My snack today must have been just enough because I walked back out the door feeling rejuvinated and ready for a tempo run.  I usually do my tempos on my 5:45 am Thursday morning runs, but it has now reached that time of year when it is pitch dark until around 7am, and I find it hard to run my fastest when I am worried about tripping over something and eating it on the way down.  So I am finding myself having to try and work in the tempo pace somewhere else in my week and it hasn't quite found a good place just yet.  But today, I cranked out two quick bouts of about 2.3 miles each at sub 7 minute pace and felt good doing it, keeping my times within 4 seconds of each other.  Even though it was fast, I usually find myself unsatisfied with runs less than 5-6 miles, almost like I have barely whet my appetite.  I wanted to keep running, but I knew I needed to get back to studying of these exams...argghhhhh what to I went upstairs to my apartment, grabbed my notes and headed to the treadmill at my apartment complex.  I put myself at 7:30mmi pace and went at it for another hour.  I felt pretty decent, and mostly just reminded of how boring any kind of distance running on the treadmill can really be.  When I couldn't stand being stuck in the stuffy incandescent lit little gym anymore, I called it a day and went home to shower and continue my studying until bed.  On the walk back, I realized I had run about 28.5 miles for the day, with some quality paced stuff.  And I could have probably kept going, although my legs were feeling it a bit by the end of the night.  

3 Weeks till race day…

Three weeks out I continued with my high mileage week, logging 112 miles by Sunday.  I felt really good about this week, as it wasn’t just about the miles but about the quality of my workouts.

 It didn’t seem like things would be this way from the start. I took a cross training day on Monday to try to get a little rest from my hard week before going into my Tuesday morning workout.  I took a moderately paced 7 miles this Tuesday at 6am before class, planning to hit my intervals hard at my 3pm break from class.  But when 3pm came around, I felt like absolute crap.  The first 800 felt way harder than it should have, and things only went downhill from there, with stomach issues that onset soon after.  After the first 3-4 sets, I decided that enough was enough and stepped down from my state of misery. 
This workout was a bit discouraging, as this was supposed to be my last really hard set of speedwork before tapering down next week.  Wednesday afternoon I had to do a little bit of mental coaxing to get myself out to WCC for a run.  I wasn’t even planning on doing anything fast, but it’s amazing sometimes after you start the run how quickly you can actually start feeling good and have a complete change of mind.  By the time I had run the half mile of so down to enter the park, I had decided that today was a tempo day.  And when I hit my line, I was off.  About 2.5 miles later I realized that I had just run the fastest tempo I have ever run on this training course…and by 40 seconds! The day was beautiful and cool and I felt good.  I had some time so I decided to prolong my run.  I did another 3 miles of speed, an out and back, each split being faster than the last.  I took short easy run breaks between the fast segments.  On the last 2.5 mile segment I went in feeling a bit tired, but I still pushed the pace.  I ran this almost as fast as my first, still clocking the fastest time I ever have.  I went back into lab feeling more than content, my spirits once again lifted. 

That weekend was the Halloweeny 50K, which was certainly an adventure, and turned out to be a pretty great run, after bearing through the rain, snow and extreme weather conditions. ( I was the first and ONLY woman to complete the run, yippeeeyyyy!!)  The next day Mike and I went back out to the C&O canal and got in 15 miles at a pretty comfortable pace through the aftermath of the storm on a bright and sunny day.  I could feel the miles on this day, but was surprised that I didn’t seem to need to push myself through the run at this pace; it just came kind of naturally.

2 Weeks till race day…

The Saturday of 2 weeks out I decided to take my last run of any type of distance.  I met up with Doug and Paul, two fast guys from UD Tri club, and we did a 16 mile run, with some decent hills thrown in at the middle, and we averaged 7:30 pace overall.  The hills were a bit of a push, but I felt really good running at this pace.  In the last few miles I could tell the guys were getting a bit tired, as they are not used to running this kind of distance, but I was almost feeling better than I had during the first few miles.  The last couple miles on some good flattish stretches we ran 7mmi flats coming back into Newark.  I ran back to Doug’s place with him and he gave me his Garmin to use for the next couple weeks of training.  For the last two mile run back home to my apartment I kicked it in with a couple of 6:50 mmis.  I don’t know how accurate these things are, but if it’s right then awesome!  I didn’t want to stop when I got back, but I kind of forced myself to call it quits for the day. 

The next day I took an easy 10 mile run, practicing a pace I hoped to be sustaining on the canal during the race and felt pretty decent.  Accurate or not, the Garmin lets me know that I am running pretty consistent pace, and if it actually is right, I am running a good bit faster than I think I am!
In the week that followed, I pretty much did everything that I normally do during a training week, except less of it.  I cut my mileage and during my normal two-a-days I did crosstraining instead of a second run if I felt like I needed to.

1 week till race day:

On Saturday I went with Mike to volunteer at the Rosaryville 50K, with a 4:45am wake-up.  It started out a freezing cold morning that turned into a beautiful day.  The course consisted of three 9.5 mile loops through bumpy single track trail with a short pavement segment out and back from the start/finish line.  Mike and I ran one loop out from the starting line and back to give about 10 miles at a pretty relaxed pace.  My legs felt decent and it felt good to be out on the trails in the woods again.  The run did let me know that I needed to rest up this week though, because I hope to feel a hundred times better on JFK race day.  I just felt a little tired and run down mentally, which I attribute to my lack of sleep during a very stressful past few days (or few weeks for that matter).  The next day I attended the Society for Neuroscience conference (braiinnnnnnnssssssJ ) and didn’t run, asleep by 8pm that night and not waking until 12 hours later.  One of the best nights of sleep I have had in a while. 

My runs this week so far have felt easy.  Seemingly too easy.  But I guess that’s how things should be right now.  I have not gone into a week feeling so fresh in a while.  I did a little less than 4 miles at 6:40 pace with my roommate, broken up on Monday, with an easy warm-up/cool down.  I felt great, and hardly phased at all when I finished.  I wanted to run again later than day but refrained.  Early Tuesday morning I hit the track with the UDXC team and did some 400s, with long 400 recovery, just at a pace that felt smooth and natural to me.  Coach Fischer helped to keep me religious with my taper.  I finished up with a few striders.  The running felt easy.

As for the rest of the week, I plan to do the same thing I did last year.  Easy 5 miles on Wednesday, probably not running at all Thursday and Friday, just maybe swimming some laps or spinning out on my trainer. 
I am certainly finding myself in a different situation and state of mind than I was during the few days before the race last year at this time.  I was injured, so was not even sure that I ‘d be able to complete the race.  I missed out on my “peak mileage week” last year at the time of injury, so I believed that this set me back a bit in my training.  I also  didn’t have the confidence-booster runs that I have had in the past few weeks, and really was unable to do much speed work in the month leading up to the race.  I think that this did force me to rest up and stay true to my tapper, but I do still think I was set back in my training which could have had an effect on my performance, despite the fact that I had the best race of my life on race day.  For this reason, I feel that I am physically more fit and ready this year for the race.  However, last year everything fell into place last year, with not only fitness, but with weather, nutrition, stomach conditions, and mentality on race day.  It is certainly a rarity for everything to fall into place on race day, so for everything to happen in this way for this year is probably more than I can hope for.  Last year I also had this feeling of “comfortable uncertainty,” with little to no expectations for what that race day will bring.  This year there are expectations, both of myself and from others (like the ones who gave me a seeded spot this year!).  I cannot say that I really have a plan, other than to let my body guide me to run in my own rhythm and feel. 

So the single digit countdown continues, antsy with my taper and keeping me more nervous and excited than ever!

My list of post-race indulgences…

·         Jefe night!!!  Rocking out to all my requested favs…Tom Petty, O.A.R., old school Blink-182, Sublime, Zack Brown, Wagon Wheel and so much more…aannnnnd drinking apple pie, key lime and tequila shots from Jefe till I puke. (Kidding…well, kinda…J )   
·         SAS pumpkin cupcake
·         Pumpkin spice latte with soy
·         Sushi (okay,so there was probably a little of this pre-race…)
·         Frozen yogurt.
·         ROCK CLIMBING!! And feeling every ache pain and wound that come with it in the days to followJ
·         Christmas cookies!!!

Probably many more to come and open to suggestions…any ideas?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halloweeny 50K

The snowstorm brought us an unexpected Halloween treat with more than 6 inches of snow falling on us from the time we started at 8am until we finished the run.  I cannot ever remember  being so cold in my life, or in a place on top of the mountain so beautiful with the first snowfall of the year.  The day certainly brought a more than expected adventure through some tough conditions that would bring quite a challenge my "toughness," and probably more so mentally than physically.

BEFORE all the snow sets in.

Costumes were note mandatory but "highly encouraged" so I thought I'd make out well with my $2.80 five year old costume I found a goodwill and cut up to fit over my body.  It ended up being an orange tutu fringed with black pompoms and an orange, red and black sequence halter tube top, under which I wore black underarmor cold gear and lightweight Salomon running capris.  Also had the 12 cent Halloween themed bandana to match, which I would soon wish was fleece lined.  Mike was wearing a candycorn costume (gotta love Goodwill).  We started warming up a bit after starting up, and soon I found myself wanted to ditch the extra weight of the heavy fleece I was wearing overtop, which was drawing in water, and also the weight of my handheld, which was preventing me from pulling my cold fingers into my sleeve.  There was a steady shower of snow/freezing rain but the trail were not covered with snow.  Yet.  The leaves covering the trail, including the rocks and the tree roots, were wet and slippery though, so we had to be pretty cautious over the technical stuff, especially the switchbacks before reaching the canal.   By aid station 1, I ditched my wet fleece and Mike and I both ditched our water bottles, as neither of us had consumed any fluids for the first several miles, and I could not foresee myself drinking enough to be worth it today.

And the snow continues...


When we took a right turn onto the canal after emerging from the woods, we were immediately blasted by icy snow, rain and wind.  Being out beside the open water without and trees to shield us from the wind, we probably found ourselves the coldest.  I realized that I definitely could have been better prepared for this run, with at least a baseball cap, not to mention a Buff or Ali -baba mask to protect my stinging face from this bitter coldness.  My tutu, now fringed with icicles, was actually holding up pretty well, the warmest part of my body probably being my butt. But things weren't too bad, as we soon turned up the Maryland Heights trail to ascend the mountain loop.  Things got a little less cold as soon as we got off the canal and onto the trail to start our ascent.  The ascent was long and gradual, but most was runnable, the worst part probably being that my feet kept loosing traction under the wet leaves and rocks now thoroughly covered with a few inches of snow and causing little slips and a higher level of work and effort.  Not much longer after we entered this winter wonderland, we heard a loud CRACK followed a few seconds later by a CRASHH as a large tree branch smashed to the ground beside us.  Seconds later we heard the same loud crack followed by a crash from somewhere up ahead.  Steve, who we had met up with on the trail, claimed that these tree branches snapping under the weight of the newly fallen ice and snow were the so-called "widow-makers."  There are very few moments in my life when I have literally felt like I was running for my life, but this certainly turned out to be one of them. We trekked onwards and upwards, but each CRACK made us all jump, look around and attempt to point out the location or the source.  We had a couple of close calls, including one branch that fell  directly behind Mike and I, and which caused Steve who was right behind us to scurry back down the mountain to avoid it.  Another time came when we heard a particularly loud crack just ahead of us and an entire tree trunk snapped in half and fell into the path just barely escaped running through.

Last picture before Mike's camera battery froze and left at Aid station 1.  

Reaching the top of the mountain made the ascent all worth it though.  We climbed up and over two stone walls (and saw a snowman!) and started our journey back down the mountain. Descending from the peak of the mountain was treacherous, and we took things pretty cautiously.  We soon reached more runnable parts though, and the feeling of printing my tracks into the smooth freshly powdered snow on top of the mountain never felt so good.  We really were in the middle of a winter wonderland in October!

From the mountain, we got back on the canal, hit Aid station 3, and set out for Harpers Ferry.  This was probably the worst stretch.  The canal was bitter cold, and I found myself shivering even while running, which is something I cannot ever remember doing, especially so late into the run, and I usually find myself getting warmer while running than most others.  I had had to practically drag myself out from the shelter at the third aid station to go on, and a few miles later when we crossed the bridge and hit the town of Harpers Ferry, I found myself huddled shivering under the hot air hand dryer in the public restroom after losing a glove on the bridge. I was the first warm thing I had felt in hours.  I have never been so grateful for a hand dryer in my life and I probably stayed under there for 15 minutes (and drawing more than a few stares from some other women who came into the bathroom). 
By the time I came out, I had made up my mind to call it a day.  We were about 18 miles in, it was a good day of running, but now I was absolutely freezing cold and I could not imagine my cold wet self going back out to face the wind and snow again to run another half marathon distance.  I told Mike my decision outside, and even though he said that he was fine with it, the disappointed look on his face let me know he wanted to go on. 

Annnndddddd so I told myself I would suck it up and just run to the top of Jefferson rock, so I could at least see the view from the top before heading back to the aid station on the canal for a ride back.  Aaaannnnndddddd after our short steep climb up to Jefferson rock, I agreed that we were practically halfway around this Harpers Ferry loop in the course so we might as well just finish it.  Annnnnndddddd when we finally finished up the loop of Harpers Ferry and found ourselves back at the intersection of the canal, I was not nearly as cold as I was when I had started out of the bathroom, and I decided to just suck it up and just crank out 10 more miles to finish this damn thing. 

So there I was, back on the App trail again with Mike, ascending back up the switchbacks now covered in snow, on our way back to Gapland gap.  I must say, if there is one "good thing" about being that cold and uncomfortable for so many hours is that I really did not even feel the miles.  Over 20 miles in, the only discomfort I felt was the coldness and wetness, cold bitter singing snow on my face and cold completely soaked feet, but nothing really in my legs, although I am sure they were somewhat fatigued.  I actually enjoyed the App trail run back.  The technicality of the course now covered in a nice layer of snow to hide the rocks and other trail obstructions prevented us from picking up too much speed, but most everything was still runnable.  I even felt good enough to agree to add on the little Weaverton Cliff out-and-back that Mike and I had missed in the course on the way out to get in the full 50K distance.  Still, when we guessed we had to be close to the finish at Gapland, the miles seemed to go on forever.  I had yet to look at my watch today.  I didn't even want to at this point. 

A couple of miles out from the finish, we heard someone up ahead yell "Hurry!"  My parents had apparently decided to take a hike through the woods while waiting for us at Gapland.  It was good to see them and even better to know that the end was near!  We finally came down the final descent into Gapland, cheering with glee (or at least I was!)  The blazing fire that was mentioned at the start had been on my mind since mile 1 and I was very much looking forward to getting to it. 

Dad looking for us before finally going out to find us.

I had started the time on my stopwatch when we initially started the run, but otherwise had not taken a single look at my watch all day long.  My hands were buried in my sleeves the entire time.  Not that I am ever that obsessed over my times and splits, but this is something I have never really done before.  But I kind of liked not having any sense of time on this run.  Plus I knew our time had to be pretty slow, considering the extreme weather conditions coupled with the technical terrain and stopping for several minutes at a time each aid station to find some respite.  I had been taking my longest aid station stops ever on this run because it just felt so good every time we reached shelter!
It still took me hours to warm up after finishing, even after changing into dry clothes.  By this time the roads were so bad that my dad drove us all home in the 4-wheel-drive pick-up, almost hitting a stop sign on the way out of the parkinglot!  And, after dreaming to a steamy hot shower for over 7 hours, the power was out when we got home :-(  Thank goodness for my dad and generators! 

I would receive an email a few days later from the RD informing me that I was the ONLY woman to complete the run.  Of the 150+ runners signed up for the event, there were 49 starters, and only 15 finishers..myself among the men:-)  The write up has my "official" run time as a 6:36, out doing even UBER rock(4:59), making this by far the slowest 50K time I have ever run.  But I am ok with that.  Because the Halloweeny run, for me, turned out to be one of those training runs where pace and overall time really didn't matter anymore.  The run was about testing my toughness and challenging my true mental fortitude to continue on when things got tough and uncomfortable.  Of course I would be able to run a 31 mile distance.  I was trained and so the distance in itself would be something I could easily complete with full confidence.  But when the less-than-ideal weather conditions threw a wrench in my plans, I was challenged.  There was a time when I thought I truly wanted to quit more than anything. But I stuck it out and was able to push through the conditions for a few more hours, and actually had a lot of fun doing it.  Being able to deal with unexpected disasters and overcome a mental desire to quit in states of physical discomfort is essentially what ultrarunning is all about.  My confidence for JFK race day 2011 has been lifted yet higher...and in alllll weather conditions, not to mention an awesome tutu:-)  Bring on the snow and the rain!!!

Literally couldn't move my lips to smile better for this picture.  They were frozen.  Costumes held up for 30+ miles though!

Happy Halloweeny!  

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Shepherdstown 26.2

So, apparently I can win marathons...rather unexpectedly finished First Place Female with a time of 3:18:42, and even set a new female course record (according to the website).  May not be close to my PR (3:09 at Delaware marathon in 2010) but I am happy with the results, as I had decided to treat this as a training run and certainly went into it on "unfresh" legs. What was probably even more exciting this day was that my mom ran her first 10K (yep, I signed her up for Mother's Day this year) in 54 minutes (that's 8:50mmi pace) and placed 3rd in her age group in doing so!  I knew I got my genes from somewhere :-)
                                                                                Mom and me both get awards:-)

I was a bit nervous about how my body was going to perform on race morning for this one considering I had a pretty hard 50K course race just last weekend at UROC and I have pushed myself hard in training the past 2-3 weeks logging around 85 miles per week.  Additionally, Shepherdstown is a supposed to be a pretty tough course, with lots of challenging hills and all of them coming after the 15 mile mark.

Race morning was cold (48 degrees) wet and drizzly.  Yesssssss!  I have been waiting for this heat to drop and the chill to set in for months and it seems that now that time of year is finally here!  I love the cold.  Not snow, just cold.  Plus I don't mind running in the rain (as long as I have a good supply of Bodyglide and Vasaline).  Probably saves my body some precious electrolytes and sweat.  Yeaaa admittedly, when I'm running I tend to be a pretty heavy sweater.

Going into the race, I knew this wasn't a fast marathon, as there is no prize $ and the previous female course record time was 3:28, and so I was rather surprised to see so many people gunning it right off the start.  Less than a mile into the race on a little out-and-back and I saw the leading female had to be almost half a mile ahead of me.  Then I counted three or four other women close behind her.  I mean, I was taking the pace pretty conservatively, but whew, maybe the female CR was going to get blown out this year.  A little demon suddenly appeared on my shoulder looking to push the pace, and it was at that moment I told myself NO CHASING.  There was just no way.  And it turned out to be the decision that saved my race.

My legs felt pretty decent starting out, or at least better than they had all week when I was walking around "like a cowgirl" on Monday and taking the stairs sideways till about Wednesday-ish.  I kept the pace seemingly tame, making sure I wasn't reaching out of my comfort zone, but the bright yellow mile markers that marked every mile let me know that I was running pretty even 7:30mmis.  But it felt comfortable so I went with it.  I found the mile markers ever mile kind of annoying because it always seemed to cue me to look down at my watch every seven and a half minutes and do mental math, so soon I just pulled my sleeve over my hand and kept my thumb through the slit to prevent this.

Made it down the little metal grated spiral staircase of Harpers Ferry with no difficulty, although I heard some horror stories about some people behind me.  I kept things consistent on the canal, still knowing that I was in 5th place and not seeing any of the other women, even in the distance.  I did need to take a pit stop in the woods around mile 6 that cost me about a minute and a half, but no further difficulties after that.  At the half marathon point I did note the time on my watch to be 1:41.

At mile 15 we turned off the canal and the hills started.  We joined up the half marathoners at this point and there were a lot of them, so I was constantly passing people.  But it wasn't too hard to tell who was half and who was full because we were hitting the end of their pack and their pace was significantly slower.  I had met a friend on the canal and we ran together for a couple of miles, and then he passed me going up the first couple of hills.  I caught up with him a few minutes later though, right after I passed the woman who I noted had been leading during the first couple of miles of the race at the smoking fast pace.  So I must now be in 4th.

I figured I probably slowed down some on the hills, but for the most part I was feeling pretty strong.  It felt like a mini accomplishment everytime I peaked over the top on one.  I could tell my legs were a little sapped though, so I just tried to keep the pace consistent and not push anything here.  Soon I had lost my friend and saw the 3rd female in the distance.  She seemed to be keeping a pretty good pace but I was gaining on her and soon I passed her on an ascent.

There was a point soon after this where the marathoners turned right to do an approximate 1 mile lollipop loop up a pretty big hill and back down again before turning right again to join back up the with half marathoners and go up another hill.  When I turned to start this loop, I saw the first place female and her pacer just leaving the loop, followed by the 2nd place about 2 minutes behind.   So they had to be about a mile in front of me around mile 18 and they both looked pretty good.  I was feeling pretty good, but not that good, so I kind of doubted I would catch them if they were both strong finishers.  But if they faltered...:-)  When I hit the top of the hill and did the turn around, I saw 4th female place was less than a minute behind me, 5th place seconds behind her, closely followed by 6th and 7th place.  Yikes!  Well, I guess now that I had made my move to pass I was going to be chased for the rest of the race rather than playing chaser. Can't say that I really liked the position, but it is what it is and I just went with it.

We hit an especially hard hill on Antietam battlefield a mile or so later.  I saw it and my heart fell a little.  I thought I might have to walk up a part of it.  But I put my head down, started plowing up, and before I knew it I had reached the top.  My aunt was waiting for me towards the top and I heard her cheering, but I think I had my head down.  I tried to smile and grabbed a bottle of water from her but I probably didn't look good.  Surprisingly, I was feeling better than I probably looked, but it was a hard hill and I needed a gel.  She had come at just the right time and I was able to choke one down pretty easily with the water bottle, since I was not a big fan of the Styrofoam cups at the aid stations and the mini handheld I was carrying was dry.  Thank God I have dedicated supported like my aunt, waiting around for me in the freezing rain for hours just catch me running by for seconds.

We finally crested a hill soon after mile 21 and I knew the rest of the race should be pretty smooth sailing from there.  I kicked the speed up a notch.  I can't say it was really because I thought I was being chased or because I thought I had a chance of catching the first two women.  I think I was just used to finishing my training runs strong and if this was to be treated as a training run, this is what I wanted to do.  It was raining a little harder now, which made things colder and I was enjoying it.

2.2 miles left to go came around sooner than I expected and I started pushing more.  The congestion from the half marathon provided some obstacle, but they would usually move aside and most would cheer me on, some saying "First woman!" which I knew couldn't be true.

Then I saw her.  First place woman.  I recognized her from behind and her pacer had already turned around and spotted me.  I also saw the 26 mile marker ahead.  I gunned it.  As I passed, I heard her pacer say "Wanna chase her?"  I was pretty gassed at this point.  I didn't feel like I was going to be very competitive if things were going to come down to a quarter mile sprint.  But as Devon Crosby Helms puts it, I went to the well.  The well was dry.  So I found a shovel and dug deeper.  I dug.  I had no idea if she had accepted the challenge or not, but I wasn't looking behind me.  I can't push any harder!  I dug deeper.  I flew across that bridge and around a tricky sharp turn, try as I may without knocking (too many) of the half marathoners over, and burned it across the football field to the finish line insight.

The final sprint might have taken a bit out of me because one of the volunteers followed me from the finish asking if I needed medical attention.  No hahahah just finished a bit hard.  She crossed the finish less than a minute later, so I guess she hadn't actually tried to catch me, but still the finish sprint felt good.  My digital watch time, which is the official time they went with since the timing mats didn't pick me up, was 3:18:42.  I was the first female finisher, so I must have passed the other second place chick at some point and not realized it.

 Finally managed to get my prize at the "awards ceremony" but not before they missed me finish, missed my chip time that never came through, and almost gave away my trophy to the girl I out-sprinted!  At least I did sneak away with a $50 gift card. 

This is actually the first marathon distance I have ever placed first (although I've had a few close calls with seconds) and probably the most thrilling finish I have ever had.  I am also pretty psyched about negative splitting in a race with all the big monstrous hills in the last half of the race!  But what's worth more to me perhaps, is that, coupled with last weekend, has shown what I am capable of doing on tired legs, which is going to be critical in this year's JFK.  My confidence is boosted and I am counting down the days!

Check out Martinburg's newspaper The Journal's article write-up on the race!

 Just talking to the press. nbd :-)

My winners plaque.  Note the white foam tape coming out from underneath...don't do this race for the trophies and medal which is about comparable hahah.