Monday, August 13, 2012

Indianapolis Eagle Creek Trail Marathon

This was kind of a spontaneous race sign up for me, but turned out to be a pretty good decision. I was a little apprehensive because I had just raced 38 miles the previous weekend in the WV mountains and was not sure how my legs, not yet accustomed to back-to-back weekend racing and long distances, would handle it. But I think I have missed the trails so much that I was in…plus I really needed redemption after the wrong turn and 3rd place finish from the weekend previous. Alan had been planning to come visit and we had been searching for possible trail races we could do over the weekend and this one was one of the only ones that really sounded appealing, and a couple days before we decided the 3 hour trip would be worth it. Especially since the race was sponsored by The North Face and we were sure to score some good swag. We drove up on Friday night, got about 5 hours sleep in a motel and signed up the morning of the race at the starting line.

After last weekends mountain climbing, I was looking forward to this race which was described as “smooth” and “flat” from the course description online. False. After the gun went off at the start what started as a couple of minutes on the smooth grass soon turned into a steep rocky hill of single track and I was power hiking up a wall within the first 10 minutes. After I saw my first mile split was 11 minutes, I let go of any hopes that I had for this to be a quick race. Again, after a week in the city, it felt good to be back on the trails. These trails were pretty smooth single track, with hard packed dirt, seemingly from lots of foot traffic or mountain bikes. It reminded me of WCC, except with more rocks and roots. And there were lots of logs and trees down in the middle of the trail that made me think that those 5am hurdle drills with my roommate training for the steeple chase might not have been a bad idea…

After glancing at the times from last year, I was surprised at the pace many people went out at. Only the top 5 times, including men had been under 5 hours. I was mid-to back of the pack starting out, but I started passing other people, including women, about 20 minutes in on some hills. No one hill was ever really bad-just short and steep enough to resort to power hike mode. About 30 minutes into the race and I had slowly closed the gap between myself and two women in maroon Indianapolis running club singlets. When I caught them they informed me that we were the top women. They were running at a decently comfortable pace for me so I stuck with them for a while. I learned that the younger of the two was the track and field and XC coach for Indiana University and a reputable 5Ker. We joked how we’d stick together until 5K to go, and then she’d make her move and crush me. At the pace we were going right now, I wasn’t planning to pick things up much till then so I thought it might actually happen.

So I played back and forth with these two women for most of the first half of the race. They might pull ahead on a steep hill that they went charging up and I chose to power hike. I would usually catch or pass them on any technical segments, particularly downhill because I am not as afraid of busting my butt on these things as most people. They would pass me again at an aid station where I stopped to fill up my hand held and they breezed through, water bottleless.  The whole first loop I felt decent, but never really great. I couldn’t really identify exactly what it was that was preventing me from feeling great…my legs, my head, my sleep deprivation from a long week at work…but I just felt like, while not feeling horrible, I couldn’t find my rhythm. Still, I felt decent so I made due with what I had.

 I came through the halfway point at the end of the first loop in 2:07 with the two women probably a minute behind me. I heard the announcer announce their names as I hit the trail again. As much as I wanted to cross the finish in my Delaware singlet, the day was heating up fast so I had pulled it off at the halfway point and went with the sports bra. I saw Alan on my way back out for loop #2 and he told me I was in 3rd place. Interesting since I had assumed I was in first from the information the two behind me had said. I found one of the women about 2 minutes later on a hill. She looked completely dead. I quickly passed her and wasn’t really concerned with her catching me again. Still, I knew the other two women were right behind me and thought I might have even heard them.
This part of the race was not particularly my favorite in the way it was structured. I was on my way out for the 2nd loop, and all the slower marathoners and half marathoners were coming in from their first lap and the narrow single track got crowded. Someone had to be pushed off into the trees and it was usually me. Some people gave me words of encouragement about how good I looked which seemed to give me more energy. We came out to the strip of road in the middle of the race that was a steady up grade of about a mile on asphault. That’s where I first noticed that I was passing other marathoners. The standard guys that went out too hard too early and were hurting now. After getting back on the trail after the road, I was by myself for a few minutes without seeing anyone. Then I came across this younger guy, a marathoner, who was walking looking completely demoralized. He was lean and fit, probably a XC runner trying to go for the trail marathon and I felt a little sorry for him. When I passed him going down the hill I told him to hop on my heels. He actually did and for the next mile or so I had some company. And my assumptions were correct.  It was short lived and he needed to stop to walk again, but by the time he dropped off, I was feeling the best I had all day. Now we were on a gravel canal path that looped around the lake and I just put myself in cruise for a while. I really couldn’t gauge how fast I was going, but I guessed it had to be sub 8minmi pace.
 I saw a woman running back towards me on the single track, who must be a marathoner who was way ahead of me, but didn’t look like she was moving fast enough to be beating me by this much right now, or even beating me at all actually. I told her good job and she responded that she started the marathon early and wasn’t actually officially racing. So I was winning right now. It lifted my spirits more, especially since I was feeling pretty good already.  But I was still being chased, or so I thought.
I was really cruising on the single track now. I continued to chick the field of out-too-hard guys, which was particularly dense for this race I thought, and people coming towards me encouraged me on “First woman!” This sounded all-too-familiar from last weekend I thought, but it did make me laugh a little inside my head. No wrong turns.
I was actually looking forward to the long gently down grade of road for a mile so I could pick up some speed on the way back in and I was feeling pretty good, but when I actually hit the asphalt, something suddenly hit me. I felt the heat of the sun on my face, body, in my eyes and suddenly felt dead. Within a minute my legs seemed to retaliate against me and every stride took some effort. I felt like I was hitting the wall and hitting it hard. The only thing that kept me moving as quickly as I could was the fact that I was being chased by a 5Ker and running scared. There were about 4 miles to go, and if she caught me now I knew I was done.
So I kept cranking out whatever I could with my fear of being caught, but I could tell my pace was dropping drastically. Still, no woman had ever passed me in a long distance race past mile 2 or 3 and I was going to do everything in my power not to let it happen now.  I was getting a head ache. Then I realized I couldn’t remember the last thing I had eaten during the past 4 hours and considered it was probably combination heat, tired legs from the previous weekend, and nutrition. I was a little ashamed of my rookie mistake and quickly sucked down a gel, even though I knew it was probably pointless. I don’t really know why I had forgotten to eat. I really wasn’t hungry and had been drinking the watered down HEED at the aid stations, but it wasn’t enough.
Even with my drastic drop in pace, I was still passing guys, which offered some encouragement in my state. I was headed back on the single track again with about 3 miles left to go, going down a hill, when I saw this older guy swaying a little bit in his stride walking up the hill I was going down. As we approached each other all I heard him say was “It’s so humid…” Then he puked on me. UGGGHHHHhhhh!!! All down my left leg. It looked like mostly fluid with minimal chunks, fortunately I guess?  Welp, in all my adventures of trail running, that’s never happened before. And of all the places to get puked on, the middle of the woods in a trail race…I had always imagined this could be a risk of going to a college bar, but never considered it for these types of events. But I did what any girl winning the race would do—kept running!

I was pretty happy to hear the voices and music of the finish line as I approached. Of course I still found it in me to kick it in for the finish, giving a quick glance over my shoulder before I did so for the 5K girl, who I was sure could probably also beat me in an 800 too. But no one to be seen. I crossed the finish line happy. Happy it was over because I had been dead for the past 4 miles, but mostly happy that I knew I was back to running and had finally won a race again. My time was 4:20, the second loop being 6 minutes slower than my first, which was slow for me in peak condition, but I wasn’t in peak condition, and I was happy with this. In actuality, I had been running scared for the last few miles for no real reason; I had put almost a half hour on any woman in the field.

 Thrilled to be finished.

I waited for a long time for the next woman to come in and made friends with some of the top fast guys. During the time the awards ceremony for the top 3 men was announced and after a while the RD even asked me if I would like them to just announce me as the female champion so I wouldn’t need to wait for the others, which I thought was funny. But I was waiting on Alan to finish anyways. He finished in about 5 and half hours, the humidity getting to him a bit.  TNF awarded me with a $125 check and a $150 TNF gift card along with a nice plaque for the I Love Me wall. Then we went to the distillery on the way home and I spent about half my winnings in Wild Turkey 101 bourbon. Good day all aroundJ

Middle Podium once again! Unfortunately, this race didn’t have tape for the champions to break through so can’t cross that off the bucket list just yetJ

Although I wasn’t thrilled about my 4:20 marathon time, it did feel good the be the female champion again in a race. I have been smart with coming back from injury, trying not to do too much too fast, but just thinking about how hard a 4 mile run felt about a month ago to winning marathons and ultras (well, almost), my exponential improvements are very encouraging. It certainly give me the boost I am going to need when it’s time to run with the big dogs at UROC in a few weeks!

Happy Day!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Kanawha (38 mile) 50K

Somehow I was talked into it. Last weekend on the group run, Ed had talked up this 50K in West Virginia that he was racing the following weekend and wanted some company for the journey. Ok, so he really only had to mention it a few times before I eventually talked myself into it. I checked out the race when I got home and I felt my heart rate increase just looking at the elevation profile. Holy crap—this was worse than the HAT run and there was no way I was in any kind of shape to run this race the way I wanted to. But still, I really wanted to do it. I hadn’t had a real race since March at the HAT run, and while I had had a decent race considering, it had left a bitter taste in my mouth. I knew the 50K would be a good supported training run for UROC with all the elevation, but more than anything, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do the distance. I hadn’t gone over 20 miles in any of my training runs the past few weeks as I built up my mileage, and at that distance I had felt like I was dead tired. And while I was certainly improving my fitttness and distance since coming back, it discouraged me a bit to think of how tired I was on a run that covered only 30% of the distance UROC would be. I needed to pull myself out of this rut and prove to myself that I could run an ultra distance again. I needed to run Kanawha.

Elevation profile breaks the race down into 5 “big” mountain climbs with several mini hills mixed in between.
So there I was, on a school bus at 6:30am on Saturday morning, headed out to the starting line of the point-to-point WV mountain trail race.  I really had no idea what to expect from myself, but my plan was to run conservatively at the beginning and see what I had left in me for the last 10 miles. I should have known that today would be an adventure though when the RD admitted that he and the pre race crew had found some of the course markings had been sabotaged the night before. They corrected what they could, but who knew how much had been done. I was about to find out. 

So when the starting gun went off (or malfunctioned) around 7:30, I stuck with that plan. I was running with Ed for the first mile or so, which started out on a road before meeting up with the single track. Sub-8s Ed informed us after the first mile and a half. The pace wasn’t hard, but not completely comfortable I admitted, and so I decided to drop it a bit while Ed kept it up. I saw him disappear at the trail head and thought I might not see him again this race. He was in better running condition than I was and he was a veteran ultra runner and good at pacing himself from what I gauged.
Two girls running together had started ahead of us on the road, one with a black visor and pink camelback, the other with a green shirt. They were pulling ahead quickly on the road, just behind fast pack of front running guys, and probably running just over 7 minute miles right now on the road.  If I had to judge by running form, I had told Ed, if anything went right today I would be seeing the green shirt again, although the pink camel back I was not sure of. Soon, a blond girl with two short pigtails passed rather quickly. The road wide open road at the beginning allowed me to see everyone ahead, so I knew I was the 4th place woman right now. I took note of this, but didn’t chase. I was running my own race today.
The road had started off relatively flat, but once we hit the single track, everything started going up. I was soon power walking up some switch backs just 30 minutes into the race. I was never any good at running up steep technical terrain and so decided now was not a good time to start learning. But apparently my power hike is pretty efficient, because in the next 5 minutes I had power hiked my way past a few other runners, including green shirt 3rd place girl as she was running up the same hill heaving for breath. I had a feeling I would not be seeing her again.
Even power hiking, the climbs were pretty exhausting. At the top of the climb, the trail took a plunge, and I thought I wasn’t able to go much faster down the mountain, as my running felt more like a controlled falling. My feet slammed into rocks, slid down the mud from the rain the night before, my ankles almost twisting and my quads getting pounded. I reminded myself to start incorporating technical downhill running into my training asap after this race. There was no doubt that these hills were going to take a toll over the next 30 miles.
After passing a few runners on the hills, I found myself running alone for a while. The trail dumped out at shallow creek and I followed the white flags over the large slick mud and moss covered rocks. Maybe it was because the sound of the running water suddenly reminded me that I had to pee and stopped concentrating or just because everything was so slick from the previous nights rain, on a landing to one of the slick rocks my foot slipped out from underneath me and I landed on my side in the stream, my hip and lateral knee taking the blow of the fall. ARGhhhhhh. The pain shot through the whole right side of my leg and hurt pretty freaking badly. Badly enough to make me lay there in the water for a few seconds before getting up again. When I got up, I knew it would be nothing more than a good couple of bruises but  it did force me to limp for a couple of minutes before pulling everything together to run again. Just as I was starting to run again two guys I passed on the hills passed me again. The next few miles we spent running together, passing each other back and forth on hills and certain segments. I would usually pass them on the hills and single track while they passed me again every time the trail opened up for a while or came out on a gravel road. A few miles in, the trail opened up and we were running on gravel road for 2-3 miles. The guy running beside me complained about too much road in the race so far, but I was secretly grateful for a break from the technicality of the course and welcomed the smooth rolling gravel road as a chance to pick up my pace a bit and not have tothink about the wet rocks, roots and mud beneath my feet.
I was carrying only my amphipod handheld, but found that the aid stations were perfectly spaced for me. Each time I came to one, I was just finishing the last of what was in my water bottle and ready for a refill. I didn’t have a crew, so naturally had to spend more time at the aid stations to fill up than usual, but I was still getting in and out of them pretty quickly. I was drinking a bit of Gatorade for calories, but only ate a honey waffle snack and some energy beans as I wasn’t too hungry. 

Tunnel near the beginning of the race.
I really liked the mountainous single track. It reminded me a little of the Appalachain trail, except probably less rocky and with that, more muddy, and the random openings into farms and fields reminded me of running in England last summer, with some barbed wire and live stock thrown in there. A lot of the trail went through private property, so there were barbed wire and electric fences more than occasionally throughout the trail that you had to stop and carefully climb over a ladder to cross.
It was about 2.5 hours in and I was running solo again when I came to one particular barbed wire fence ladder that had a big red hand-made sign staked up next to it reading: Warning: Bull loose in field. Bull??? Whatttt????!! And then I saw where the single track let out into a field, going directly up a steep hill into tall grasses. I hesitated a bit, looking around the open field, preparing myself for the charging beast to come barreling down the hill any second. I saw another racer walking up the hill in the distance, and I hurried to catch him. “You’re going to take the hit from this loose bull when he comes, right?” I said in my sweetest tomne.
“Hahahah,” he panted. “Well I think he’ll go for the slowest moving creature, so seeing as you’re faster than I am right now, I guess so.” I laughed to as I passed him, but really I hoped he was right. I passed him quickly and followed the spray painted yellow and while blazes of the trail alongside the fence. A minute later, I came to the end of the corner of the barbed wire fence and saw where the blazed continued ahead and turned on the road. On the other side of the barbed wire fence. I fence was tall, with 6-7 strings of barbed wire and no ladder to climb over. I was trapped in on the wrong side of the fence with the bull. I looked behind me but my fellow human racer was no where to be seen. AGHHHHHH!!! I literally screamed as I thought I saw what had to be the bull in the distance trotting my way. So, my choices were bull horn through the gut, or barbed wire slicing through my skin. I chose the later. I pushed down one part of the wire between the barb s with my hand the most I could, then carefully and swiftly as I could manage, ducked and pulled my legs through the small hole. I felt the sting of the wire on the inside of my thigh and back of my shoulder as I stumbled down into the trench on the other side of the hill. No doubt this race was going to be interesting. I was quickly back on track and running down the roads following with white flags again, more than relieved I had once again escaped a dangerous encounter with wildlife in an ultra. And in that moment I again realized how much I missed the thrill of ultra running J

I really had no idea what mile I was at in the race. Online, I had seen people had reported that the entire race was really clocked at 33 miles on accurate Garmins. Sometimes I would see a mile marker on the trail and since we were running the trail from end to the start at the Boy scout camp, each mile marker really told you how many more miles you had left to go. I was keeping track of race time on my watch, but rarely looked at it, as there really was no point. The trails kept climbing and then plunging again and started taking their toll on my unaccustomed legs. When I started feeling onset of that old familiar sore achiness in my legs I glanced down at my watch. Just over 3 hours. I still had at least 2 more hours to go and probably more considering the mountains at the end I had left to climb. Uh oh. I tried not to let it discourage me, and just held only a reasonably comfortable pace, popping a caffeine gel, which I took more in hopes of the caffeine suppression of pain than I did for the calories. It seemed to help a bit.
The trail opened up to another gravel road, which took a very steep drop for probably more than a mile. I like running downhill, but this drop was so steep it hurt. I passed several racers on this segment and I could tell they were hurting by the way they carefully edged their way down, likely in attempt to nurse achy legs from all the previous hills. But experience had taught me that handling steep hills in this way really didn’t help much in reality, so I just bit my lip and hammered down in the best controlled fall that I could. At times I could feel my legs wobbling a little beneath me, as they were beginning to grow unsteady from fatigue. And although I controlled it the best I could, my feet slammed into the ground and my toes jammed up against the front of my shoes with every step. The thought of what my toe nails were going to look like after this race made me smile. I couldn’t wait to lose my first toe nail of the season!
And then I saw the 2nd place blonde girl with pigtails ahead who must have drastically dropped pace. It took me less than a minute to catch her after I saw her a distance ahead. As I blew by her, I realized my patience had paid off. I didn’t have to try to catch anyone. I was running my own race, my own pace, and they were coming to me. Plus I much liked being the chaser rather than the chasee.
At the bottom of the steep hill, the road split. There were a couple of while flags going straight so I kept running this way. But soon, I stopped seeing blazes or white flags on the road and there was no visible trail head or other turn indicated. There was a guy following me a ways in the distance and I stopped and turned to him, as I was unsettled when I hadn’t seen flags for more than a quarter mile. He had no idea if we were going the right way. Then another runner appeared behind him after a minute of debating. He didn’t know either but there was no where else to go. Then I saw some of the faster guys that had been leading the race at the very beginning running  back or way. Crap. Wrong way. Apparently this was the sabotage from last night that the RD had been talking about this morning. A car was driving back with them to reset the flag markers, which were supposed to indicate a sharp right at the bottom of the gravel hill. When I got back to the turn, the pigtail girl was just reaching the bottom. I told her which way to turn and then quickly put her behind me again. I made sure to act on my second pass quickly, something I’ve learned from reading the race reports and strategies of the elites, as not to give her the confidence that she might be able to chase me. Plus when you are dead tired and feel like crap at that point in the race, nothing makes you feel worse than one of your fellow competitors blowing by you looking great.  She made no attempt.
When the front pack guys who made the wrong turn caught up with me, Ed was in the pack. It was about that point in the race when people were getting tired, and you could tell that they were a little ticked about going off course for over a mile. I guess I was lucky in that I didn’t get quite as far as they did. I was pretty glad to see Ed though, and thought we might even stick together to finish the race. But apparently that feeling wasn’t mutual as later he told me that all he wanted to do was beat me. With Ed was a young guy with dreadlocks from WVU who we had met on the bus ride to the starting line that morning and another guy. They were moving at a pretty decent pace but I thought I might be able to keep up with them. Ed took off soon after at a pace that I wasn’t trying to keep up with. I could tell he was feeling good and I was happy he was having a good race he deserved. I was feeling good, but not that good, so I ended up landing myself behind dreadlocks guy for a while.
Dreadlocks guy was one of those guys who treats the ultra like a 5K and guns it from the start. I remember seeing him in the far distance on the first mile of open road, probably running 6 minute miles. Now, I could tell he was draining, spiraling downwards, and fast. He was putting in a lot of effort to keep our pace, even though we probably still had 10 miles to go. He would dramatically drop pace on any type of incline, but when I tried to pass him on the side of the trail, he would move over and cut me off. I thought this was just clumsiness at first, until I told him I was coming to his left the third time it happened and he deliberately rammed me into a tree to block me from going by. “Just hold on a second” he panted. Who the hell was this guy?? And ouch that tree kind of hurt. Then I quickly put it together and realized that this guy not only despised being passed, but had a phobia of being chicked. Which also made him the most fun type of guy to chickJ
Although obnoxious dreadlock guy refused to let me pass on the trail, soon the trail opened up into a grassy field where I finally made my move. Only he sped up and sprinted ahead. Ughhh are you kidding me… Oh well, now this is just going to be a fun game for the rest of the race. He might be running faster right now, but I could tell I was feeling 100 times better than he was keeping that pace, so I just smirked inside my head, set myself on cruise control and waited for his blow-up. He blew ahead of me a little ways after that, but I didn’t chase. However, I now couldn’t care less about where the first place female was or how far ahead she was. All I knew was that dreadlock guy was not beating me. And I decided if it came down to it, I would push myself till I puked to make sure it didn’t happen.
When I came to the next aid station I filled my water and blew through pretty fast. I decided to take one of my double caffeine gels for a little kick. Dreadlock guy was doubled over heaving on one of the water tables having someone pour water all over his shirtless body. He also wasn’t carrying any type of hydration, which should have been the neon warning sign of his stupidity. When he saw me leave that aid station as quickly as I had entered, he jumped up and chased me down the road. Are you serious?? Next we came to farm, with the white flags of the course indicating to go through the people’s front yard. The family was sitting outside and the mother waved and smiled. The flags led right up to a horse fence with a locked latched gate and two ponies, necks arched over the gate like they wanted to be petted, staring right at us. Two little 8yo girls pointed to the fence. “Through there!” Again, are you serious?? So I unlatched the gate, put my hands on the horses necks and giving them a good pet, while making sure they didn’t escape behind me, then carefully inched my way around them. I had just gotten around them when dreadlock guy called from behind me to wait. I thought he might actually be in serious danger and my conscious might be annoyingly heavy if I let this go, so I stopped and waited for him, only to have him come blowing by me again. He didn’t need help. He just didn’t want me to be ahead of him. Ugghhhhh this could be a longggg 9 miles if this kept up.

But it didn’t. Somehow we caught up with Ed and another runner again in the next mile or so on one of the last big mountain climbs. The guys were holding a pretty good pace, but when we got to the mountain, dreadlock guy (now leading the way, of course) started treating the climb like a jog through the park. I took the opportunity to efficiently power hike right up past him running up the mountainous single track when he was too gassed to do anything about it. It felt great. It was a pretty long climb so I kept pushing the power hike. Although not running, this was hard work. I put in some extra effort in my attempt to drop dreadlock once and for all. I thought (and hoped) Ed had taken my lead and was right behind me. But at the top of the mountain I realized no one was in sight or earshot at all, so I started hammering down the next decent, once again solo.
Then I saw the first place female. I hadn’t thought that I would see her, and I was still basking in some glory of finally dropping dreadlocks, but there she was, carefully and painfully toeing her way down the mountain. Yesssss! I caught her almost as soon as I saw her and blew by her quickly and almost effortlessly. She was nice and yelled some words of encouragement to me as I passed, and I replied something in return although I cant remember the exact dialogue. She was nice.
And then I was in first. First place woman. Winning the race!!! I hadn’t really imagined myself in this position again any time soon and I hadn’t been in this position in a very long time, but man it felt good right now. I could still run this distance. I could still do well in a race.  I was flying high. Of course, I was the one being chased now and I kept up my pace to put as much distance between us as I could, but I knew that by the way I was feeling and they way they looked, there was no chance of them catching up unless something went horribly wrong.
But I was feeling good and in no real danger of blowing up. Although these mountains were killing me right now. Just as soon as I passed the girl on the decent, I found myself climbing into a wall again. A steep muddy rocky wall. I didn’t want to right now, but I was forced to power hike up some pitches of the climb. I probably would have walked up these on fresh legs to be honest. But I wanted that win. I threw in everything I had on those climbs, pushing my legs, clawing at mud and rocks, anything to get myself up and to the next white flag leading the way. The climbs were so steep at part and my face so close to the vertical mountain infront of me that I could smell the dirt under my nose. When I looked down at my legs they were streaked with mud and dirt and blood. My singlet and shorts were completely soaked and sticking to my body I could taste the strong staltiness around my lips on my tongue. It looked, smelled and tasted like a victory to meJ
Then I came to the last aid station. About 3.5 miles to go, one of the ladies at the station informed me. Perfect—Ill be finished in 30 minutes or less!  I took off from the aid station, barely stopping for water. I was tired, but convinced myself to keep the pace. I pushed hard for another 30 minutes, following the blazes on the trees and white flags, weaving in and out of single track, climbing and descending…until I tore around a corner and came out into an opening…and then, dejavue. I had been there before. I was almost certain. I almost stopped dead in my tracks, but what was I going to do? I cheched in front and behind me and white flags the whole way. I convinced myself it just looked very similar and ran on. About 3 minutes later the trail led on an opening. And there was that last aid station. Again.
I felt my heart sink. Everything inside me sank. NOOOOOOOO!!!!! How could I be there right now? Again? I had just been there! I must have taken a wrong turn somehow and doubled back on the course, that was supposed to be point-to-point. But how?? I had been following flags the entire time. Had this been part of the pre-race sabotage? I checked my watch. Almost 30 minutes lost with my extra loop since I came into the aid station the last time. I asked the volunteers if they were sure that was the correct way to go. They were. I asked if any other women had run through here. They had.
Ughhhhh. And there went my race. Another runner soon came into the aid station. He was one of the guys I was running with earlier. I decided to stick with him so I wouldn’t get lost again and just jog it into the finish. The wrong turn had disheartened me a bit, but I tried to keep a positive attitude. Afterall, this was a training run and the extra mileage would be good for 100K training. Not to mention give me the assurance that I can run the distance, which was the entire point of signing up for this race!
We found were I made the wrong turn, as I carefully scrutinized every white flag and possible other way to go on the way in. There was a split in the trail, with an initial blaze indicating to turn left, which I went with,  but if you looked carefully, there was a while flag hanging in a tree in the distance to the right. Same trail, same white flags..ughh. Soon after another runner caught up to us from behind. Ed! I hadn’t really been wanting to run as slow as we were, but I didn’t feel like running by myself anymore in my disheartened and now somewhat tired state. Ed and I set the perfect jog-in pace and just took it easy into the finish, but laughing and talking and taking our minds off the pain our bodies were in. Although I had somehow managed to suppress the seemingly faint feelings of discomfort when I knew I was winning the race, after the second time at the last aid station every small pain and discomfort seemed to intensify. My feet ached pretty badly (definitely loosing toe nails though which was kind of exciting, I thought), the external rotator muscles deep in my buttock felt like they were spasming with tightness, my SI joints ached, and my quads were screaming with every foot strike. Going on mile 38 and this is not what they signed up for. But the company did help somewhat, so I was grateful for that.
When we approached the finish line coming out of the woods and rounding the lake, I realized I had never before finished a race with anyone. At least not one I wasn’t pacing for. It was fun. And I was happy. Not just for the finish line, but just happy to be back out in the woods again, healthy and able to run all day. And that makes me happy J And when I crossed the finish line they announced I was the third woman, and the pink camelback girl and blonde pigtail girl hurried over to me and exclaimed “You were hauling ass! Where did you get lost?!” The frustration of getting lost had completely diminished now and I felt a little pride at their astonishment. I am back. And I am going to be ready for UROC in just a couple of months.
West Virginia road trip!

 Remnants of a post-race meal. Sushi..yummm.

Back in Action

After a less than ideal Spring running season, I think I am finally back in action and ready to get back into training mode. Perfect timing, after receiving my first ever official “elite invitation” to the UROC 100K race in Charlottesville, VA. Dealing with my shin injury that forced me to cut out running completely for 6 weeks has been tough, but I will be stronger for it coming into this upcoming season as my body has had ample time to recover and I will train smarter because of it. Plus I have gotten to spend lots of quality time outside on my new Cannondale road bike and have become a (relatively) bad-ass cyclist J

I started running again in mid-June, but the come-back has been a slow process. At first it felt so great to be out on the trails again, even out on the roads again and I fell in love with everything I had missed about running all over again…for the first 4 miles. Then suddenly, and rather unexpectedly, everything would get a lot harder. Kind of just felt like my legs were just heavy. Just nothing left in them. And then there come the hills. I can’t remember my body ever feeling so heavy. I went on (what turned into) an 8 mile trail run with Steve about three weeks after staring up agianat WCC and I felt like a fat kid as I pushed my hands on my quads in a desperate attempt coming up the steep grassy hill at the very end. I thought that I would drastically drop my mileage cycling now that I could run again, but as cycling is still an endurance event that I can actually do for many hours, I stuck with long rides on the weekends, followed by whatever run I could muster out of my legs soon to follow. It served to be a good training strategy, as it kept me religious with my slow mileage buildup for running while satisfying my crave for endurance and companionship with cycling.
Last weekend I had my first “long” run on the Appalachian trail after I finished off a week of finals and stopped at my parents house to stay for a couple nights on my way to Kentucky, where I will be for the next six weeks of the summer for my first full time internship. I was a bit apprehensive about this run since I seemed to be hitting “the wall” in all my training runs up to this time at around mile 10. But after a couple of inspiring runs that week, I was ready to give it a shot. Tom joined me that morning and we ran 18 miles on the trail, including the first section of the JFK. Minus the crazy steep hills which I power hiked a few miles in (where I still felt kinda like a fat kid) the rest of the run went very smoothly and was rather enjoyable. I got into a rhythm (likely a slow rhythm, but nonetheless) and everything started feeling comfortable again. And I was back out in the woods, in my home territory, and running again! It was a very happy day. Unfortunately Tom wasn’t feeling as great as I was and my brother and I went back to pick him up where he stopped short at Gapland gap. It was the perfect run for me though, because I got company for the first half and then just enjoyed some quality nature time and set myself loose going down some of those hills (also nearly breaking my ankle). And for the first time since I could remember, I felt like I could keep running when I came out of the trail and probably would have if my brother hadn’t been there to pick me up.
My first week in Kentucky could have gone better. It started with what was intended to be a leisurely bike ride around town on my commuter to check out the area when I arrived on Sunday, which turned into me ending up lost in the ghetto for 10 miles, flat tire and phone dying. Next I started feeling sick all week, which brought on a horrible stomach ache that came on at work and during my runs that I couldn’t shake. And although I still attempted, it made any type of physical activity pretty miserable. I only followed one 7-mile running route which I found online around the city through a development, due to my 10-11 hour/day work schedule and fear of getting lost again in the ghetto. I don’t like running through the city, with its uneven sidewalks, traffic lights and unconsiderate motorists. I liked the woods and back country roads and solitude from the craziness. But I worked with what I had.
On Tuesday night I had had enough of the city and was going to do everything it took to find some of these Kentucky horse farms that everyone was talking about. It was a bit sketchy riding my bike on some roads out of the city, but when I found them, they just kept coming. It was beautiful out there. Just endless miles of rolling back country roads surrounded by grassy fields and horse farms. Only horses too; no cows, sheep, goats to be found.  I had a planned route that I had studied on google maps a couple of times the night before, but soon enough, I was just exploring roads, turning whenever something looked interesting or had a cool name. And the roads are unbelievably smooth. It felt like my skinny road tires were riding on velvet.  I saw several other cyclists out there at the time, all looking like they were going not much less than 30mph. When I was headed back in, I saw a group of them in the parking lot of the airport. I rolled up to the group and chatted for a few minutes. That’s how I found out about the Blue Grass Cycling club ride calendar. Then I rode with a couple of the guys, who are UK grad students, back into town towards the university where my apartment is and they took me a much less sketchy way.

On Saturday morning I got up early to meet the BG running club for a weekly group at 6:20am, which turned out to be on some of the same back roads I had ridden on that week. Some of the runners were just introducing themselves to me when a few others ran up and I realized that I knew one of the guys in the group. I could not recall how, but I was sure that I had had extensive conversations with him at some point in time. When I asked how I knew him he replied in a thick Southern inflected tone “Well, I don’t know, I’m from Texas.”
Then it clicked. “BANDERA!!!” This was the guy that had run in the last 20 miles of Bandera with Matt and Alex and then, not wanting to drive the 2+ hours back to his hotel, had come back to our house and hung out after the race. Thrilled that I now had not only seen a familiar face for the first time in a week, but had found a fellow ultrarunner and potential training partner in the weeks to come, I ran 17 miles that morning, the first 7 with the group, then when they left another 10 on my own. I felt pretty decent the whole time. Definitely lost some leg speed and strength up the hills, but minus the chaffing (apparently back to the rookie mistakes of forgetting the body glide). Afterwards I went into my PT clinic to use the gym and do some hip and core strengthening, a part coming-back rehab I am trying to keep honest with. (And if you need a good core workout I have three letters for you: T.R.X. Ouch). After I was finished my run and workout for the day, my instinct was to go home, get out my books and start studying for the next 7-8 hours or until I fell asleep. And as stressful and exhausting as it can be to put in 10-12 hour workdays every day of the week, it is sure nice to go into a weekend with literally nothing to do until Monday morning. I plan on enjoying this luxury to the fullest while it lasts!
On Sunday I got up to meet up the the BG cycling club’s annual “Tour de Pancakes” 45mile ride, which I had found on the ride calendar. I was feeling my legs a bit from the day before, but somehow I was still able to stay strong with a group of about 15 cyclists, averaging nearly 20mph for 45 miles. I really didn’t know I was even capable of such speed, even with riding the wheels of the group, but the rolling hills of the back Kentucky roads are not nearly as steep as those of PA an MD, so the effort didn’t seem like a 20 mph effort. I even pulled for my share of miles, and helped some old guys riding my wheel to catch back up with the group when they fell off. The ride was really fun and I met some nice people, who I will hopefully get to ride with again in the next few weeks. And the crazy lady leading the ride was, well, crazy, but once you got over the first feelings of annoyance as she barked at you to “Delaware, is that all you got?! Pick it up!!” it was almost sort of motivating. Or at least made me pick up some speed to shut her up. And the pancake breakfast afterwards was amazing and I don’t think I have ever seen such a large buffet of breakfast food at a breakfast potluck. I kept things light though, because from there I was going to meet up with Ed for a trail run…
When locating a good single track trail around the area, we settled on Raven Run, one of the “longer” trails consisting of a whole 10 miles of single track. Apparently there are a few good long trails, but they are over an hour drive and since we didn’t get started till the afternoon we decided to keep it local for today and just run the thing twice or something like that. The trail itself was pretty nice for most parts, but we had soon covered all the single track there was in less than 90 minutes, so headed out again for more. I liked Lexington, but it felt so good to feel like I was out of the city, away from all the people and just lost in the middle of the woods again. It was beautiful out there, with the trail running alongside the Kentucky river and a small stream, and mostly in cool shaded areas out of the mid afternoon heat. Even with the shade though, we were both going through water pretty fast and when we stopped around 4:00 we were both pretty tired and dehydrated. 13 miles according to Ed’s Nike chip.

Raven Run training run with Ed.

Running these past few weeks has been tough. It was hard enough to give it up completely for 6 weeks, but possibly even harder to come back from that and feeling like to you are starting from scratch again, especially when you know where you were. To go out for the first few runs and come back completely exhausted after 4 miles, when you know you could run over 40 miles before feeling that way just months ago. But these past few weeks I have been freed from the gripping paranoia of going out for a run and waiting, wondering and dreading what pain would come on next and when. This past spring season, running had stopped being a pleasurable stress relieving activity that brought a sense of achievement to my life and instead turned to a source of stress, dissatisfaction and disappointment. Now, while I am not exactly in the best ultrarunning shape of my life, I am back to running pain free and it makes me so happy that the limiting factor was my own aerobic fitness rather than something out of my control. 

Loving the trails again.

View of the KY river.

I have a lot of work to do before the UROC 100K, but I can feel my running fitness returning at an exponential rate, and I think I will be ready when that date this September rolls around. And starting a clean slate of running while being in a new place in the city of Lexington, where no one knows who I am, I feel freed of expectations and feel better about building from what seems like nothing. While I want to do well in the race, in the end I run for the fun and challenge of the experience. So whether or not I am in the most prime ultra shape of my life in these next couple of months, if I am healthy and strong enough to finish, I plan to give the race a shot and hold back my embarrassment of getting my butt kicked by the other elites at the starting line J