Saturday, September 29, 2012

UROC 100K Race Report

It has taken my legs and my mind a while to recover from this race and finally get this thing posted, but I hope you will be entertained:-)

Here it was, finally here, UROC weekend! My first elite invitation to a race and hopefully some excellent elite stalking to be done this weekend. My crew and my pacers did an excellent job of pampering me before the race, which actually made me fee like the elite I wasn't. They made sure I had everything I needed, and that they would have everything I needed at every aid station. We had gotten down pretty late on Friday because of school and just in time for the elite panel followed by a late pasta dinner and I hadn't really slept well the night before so I hoped it wouldn't hit me at some point during the race. 

The morning of the race was just the normal pre-race rituals...bagel with almond butter, banana and coffee, kinesio tape on, lubed up, clothes on, plus the new addition of some UDee tatts for the special occasion. Dan and Sean who are with the UD Triathlon club traveled with us to do the half marathon and Alan to do the 50K that day starting later. We got to the race early enough for my start.  Then the morning was just elite stalking, nervous stretching and waiting. The race started at a pace I would probably start a marathon, which was actually not as fast as I thought. I hung back with the few elite women, minus Ellie. As expected, my ITband was painfully stiff starting out. I expected it to loosen up eventually but I had to do my best not to limp as we passed the crowd and the camera man.

I knew it was going to be a rough day when we entered the woods on from a wide rocky path and the first thing we did was descend a steep rocky mountain for about 2 miles, turn around at the “turn around here” sign at the bottom of the mountain, then head right back up the hillacious thing.  I was not enjoying this part of the race. Not only was the downhill not favorable to my knee at the time, but the steep rocky technical downhill did not play my strengths. Additionally, the cold air rushing by on the quick decent was making my eyes water and blurring my contacts, obscuring my vision a bit. The rocks were slick from the previous night’s rain, and the zero  traction combined with my relative clumsiness with technical descents were the bad combination that led to my crash in the first mile. I landed hard on my left elbow and hip on top of a rock. I got right back up and continued running beside Crystal, the girl about my age who finished 5th in UROC last year. I was playing the rocky stuff more cautiously now. The pain wasn’t too bad, but I landed directly on the same spot on my arm I had landed on my epic bike crash a couple weeks previously and within a minute blood was steadily flowing from the reopened wound.  So things didn’t start great, but it was enjoyable to run with Crystal and have some company for a bit. I found out (or rather, after my pre-race stalking, she confirmed) that she was an ultrarunner from Florida, who had run a number of 100Ks in Florida, usually winning the smaller races for the women. As we got closer to the bottom of the mountain the lead pack guys and Ellie came charging back up towards us. They were all still lumped in a pack at this point, with Ellie in the middle and all of them looked strong. I tried to take note of the rocky ascending strategies they used to plow up the mountains.

At the bottom of the mountain I had to make a woods bathroom pit stop so Crystal pulled ahead. I set off again headed straight up the rocky plummet I just came down, now running alone. There was actually only one woman behind me from the elite start at this point and I soon saw her on the way back. I ran up all the sections I considered runnable, focusing on my effort level rather than my pace. I hiked up everything too steep and/or technical. The woman behind me caught up to me about halfway up, as she charged up a section I chose to power hike. “Wow, you guys took off down that hill!” Hmmm really? Then she told me she was having issues with her contacts blurring too and she couldn’t see the rocks so had to slow down. So she charged on and I kept with my power hike, just telling myself that this was the smartest thing for me to do right now. I don’t really know how to run up steep mountains and didn’t think it was a good time to learn now.
So I emerged up to the next aid station, the left side of my body covered in the blood that had dripped down from my elbow, making a spectacular sight for the injury that looked far worse than it actually was. I saw my parents there ready to exchange my hand held so I held my bloody arm up proudly to display. After all, I needed some kind of explanation for being the last elite starter to come through the first aid station! Bryon Powell was also at the top with his clipboard and gave me a look of concern mixed with amazement as I help up my blood-dripping arm. I warned him to look out for the bear down there, which was the more interesting story than a clumsy Delawarian on a slick rock.
I switched out bottles when I saw my parents and aunt, dependably waiting at the first aid station at the top of the mountain, and blew through the aid station, taking off towards the next steep road hill, which was only a couple grades less than a vertical challenge. So power hike it was. I saw the blonde girl who had been in 3rd place coming back towards me on the previous section just ahead. I passed her quickly with my power hike and had to wonder how badly she was feeling at this point if she was crashing already. I thought she had been pretty far ahead just a couple miles ago. As expected,  I wouldn’t see her again that day.

Soon after the top of the asphalt ascent the course led back down the mountain partway, only this time the section was less steep. Right before the turn to the descent, I saw a guy who I recognized to be Dave James walking slowly up the hill ahead. I knew he must have been having a bad day and dropped out early, but he still pointed me in the right direction at the upcoming turn in the course to ensure I didn’t follow him off course back to his condo. Thanks Dave! (Although quite a legitimate elite stalking opportunity).  This low grade road descent would have otherwise been a section I would have loved to pick up a good bit of speed on, but I found that now my quads had already taken a good beating and felt a little like rubber bands after the previous couple hours of mountain climbing. I checked my watch..less than 2 hours into the race. Man, I was screwed…

Soon the course turned off onto a single track path, which was flattish and gently rolling. I did a little celebratory dance in my head to be off road and comfortably picked up some speed. For a short time, this section was the closest thing I found to WCC trails so I tried to imagine I was home. My ITB had finally loosened up a bit and I was finally feeling like I was getting more comfortable, but not yet in my ideal rhythm. There were still some brief technical rocky sections, some stairs, some log hurdles. The trail seemed to be traversing the woods behind the condos and little houses in the resort. I recognized it from the 50K the previous year and was looking forward to the would-be upcoming smooth rolling section around the lake that I loved last year that unfortunately never came this year.

Soon I was on road again and at the next aid station. I swapped out bottles with my parents who had everything ready  so I didn’t need to stop for long, which I was grateful for. I had not been eating much up until this point and wasn’t very hungry but I forced myself to down a gel and a bit later some block shots so avoid a potential crash. At this time one or two guys from the open field had caught up to me (and had been horrified by my bloody arm). It actually took them much longer to catch up to me than I had thought. They each ran with me for a few minutes before they pulled ahead when we hit a hill but overall, I was by myself on this section. After the single track section we were back on the road for a very long section on the Blue Ridge parkway, the long long highway that much of the course ran on to get out to the Dragon’s back 4 mile out-and-back section. I had finally caught back up to Crystal on the beginning of this long road section, who was running with one of the guys from the elite start that I didn’t know. I saw her in the distance and it did take me a few minutes to catch them. I exchanged a few words of encouragement as I passed them. I had been by myself for a while and it was too early in the race yet for me to be too concerned with placing in the race and so I would have liked the company, but my steady pace felt good right now so I passed them and kept chugging along.

In case you needed another reminder of the 15% grade you're running up...

I was by myself again for what felt like a very long time on the parkway. It was better than running on your typical highway because of the spectacular views of beautiful autumn cloudy skies streaked with deep purple, blue and white clouds against colorful leaves of the trees surrounding you on top of all the climbs up the road. The course on the parkway was not marked at all, and there were large gaps between myself and the lead runners and the runners behind me so I found myself completely alone running through mountains, following nothing. People like myself, who have a history of going off course, tend to like “confidence markers” littering the course, so after a few miles of seeing nothing and no one I was beginning to become paranoid. At one point there were some pink ribbons tied to the trees leading onto what looked like a single track into the woods, so I was immediately excited to see this and followed it into the woods for a short while only to come to a pit of nothing less than a quarter mile in. So I figured I must be off course and continued back on the road. Now I was reallyyyy paranoid and even flagged down two old ladies in cars driving towards me to ask if they had seen orange flags of ribbons back in that direction. No, they hadn’t noticed they said. But the one old lady and her friend did turn their car back around, to my surprise, and drive back to look for me.  To my relief, a few minutes later my parents drove by and of course I flagged them down to confirm that I was on course. They said I was as drove back to confirm with me that I was, just after the two old ladies drove back towards me flashing me a thumbs up out their window. . Bless their hearts (and forget pediatrics, just to add to the list of reasons why working with old people is awesome!).  I was, in fact on course.
Before I reached Dragon’s back I started seeing the first elite guys, Max King and Sage coming back towards me on the out-and-back section of the course, which had now turned off onto a gravel road. They both looked like they were pushing the pace, but holding themselves together still looking strong. A few miles later back on a road, I saw the other lead guys, and soon afterwards Ellie Greenwood chugging along on the road back towards me. The final road section coming up to Dragons back was what I considered a barely-runnable climb. So basically when the irunfar camera man van came rolling up right next to me with a big video camera to document this precious moment, I was running like a fat kid up the mountain. Sure enough it was broadcast on the web in the section highlights later. God I hope not too many people watch that video. 

Finally I had reached the anticipated Dragons Back out-and-back section of trail, four miles each way, with the promised vertical challenge in the middle. I saw my parents and aunt at the aid station just before entering the trail head. I was not hungry, and if anything slightly nauseous, but I knew I needed something of substance in my stomach right now, so I took a Cliff back into the section telling myself that it had to be gone by the time I came back out. Coming into the aid station was a bit of a rough stretch. My legs felt like they were done already and I was only 31 miles in. I thought this could be a very long section ahead.
Surprisingly, when I got back in the single track in Dragons Back, I felt somewhat rejuvenated for a few miles. I really liked this smooth rolling single track and tried to find a rhythm in it. I started thinking out Geoff Roes’ race report from last year’s race and how he had been uplifted on this section and made a few passes and a comeback here to win the whole race later. I prayed that I too would be uplifted here.
Overall, the whole section was pretty up and down for me. I was feeling relatively good when I went in, then I hit the more technical rocks and the vertical challenge, which was steep, but also short, and I seemed to fade a bit again. Then when I thought the turn around was close I picked it up a bit more. Then when it came much later than expected, I faded a bit. I saw Ragen Petrie, 2nd place woman and the woman who had passed me going up the big climb in the beginning here. I calculated that the 3rd place woman was about 16 minutes ahead of me at this point. She looked good when I saw her. Better than I must have looked so I did not have high hopes of catching her.

Finally I reached the turn around point and headed back, feeling pretty much the same as I had headed out. I took note on my watch when I saw Crystal coming back towards me that I had about an 18 minute lead on her. Then, to my surprise, I saw a woman in the open field not 10 minutes behind her, meaning that after the 15 minute head start I had on her, she was 20 mintues of less behind me now, and there was no telling if she could cut the lead. Yikes! Now I felt a little bit like I was being chased, so I picked things up a bit. The terrain turned more gentle after the vertical challenge, which for me was a controlled fall back down, so I was able to pick things up a bit.

I came out of that section feeling better about myself than I had when I had entered, and minus a Cliff bar that my stomach was handling well at the moment. I saw my parents again and the was back to hitting the road.

The road made everything hurt again. My feet my quads my Sis my back…ughhh this sucked. I was thankful for the little gravelly jeep road that came up a couple miles later. It was a lonely section, but much better than asphalt right now. Although now, about 45 miles in I was coming to realize just how trashed my legs were and how untrained for this course I really had been. Then I had to pee. Suddenly, like really badly. I took a quick assessment of my legs. Nope, squatting was not happening right now. So, right in the middle of the trail for lack of better available location, for the first time in my life, I peed standing up. And, for the first time in the race, I realized I had rhabdomyolysis! Must mean I am working hard! Happy moments make me smile.
Not much longer after my pee-standing-up experience, one of the guys in the open field who I had met at a Trail Dawg race a few weeks beforehand passed me. We ran together for a short while and it was good to see a familiar face. Then, we hit the road again, I got excited about the caffeine  Powerbar gel the woman at the little water station had, and picked up the pace on the road and he fell back a bit.

A few more miles of road then I saw my parents before entering a technical rocky hilly single track trail section that would turn out to be my official least favorite part of the whole day. I moved slow and really struggled on this section. My trashed legs just couldn’t coordinate the rock gardens jutting out of the steep descents and everytime I tried to pick up speed and run down one I would stumble. So I was forced to walk (or hobble) a good bit of this section. Every time the trail looked like it was becoming smoother and more runnable, more rocks would emerge around the corner and I would be forced to walk again. The Delaware guy was apparently loving the trails, hating the roads that day and passed me again on the trail. The one elite guy that I had passed with Crystal 20 miles back also flew down one of the rocky descents and passed me here. Ughhh. They seemed to move so gracefully here, but when I tried my legs just wouldn’t let it happen. More confirmation that I was not well trained for this course. This section was long a frustrating and I was actually very happy to see the road on the other side where it emerged. 

When I saw my crew with my parents, Dan, Sean and Alan at the other end of this section I must have looked pretty rough. I remember being a bit disoriented at the aid station, and later do not remember hearing things that they claimed were said to me. Opps. Anyways, Dan offered to pace me here and I would have liked him to, but I was paranoid about pacers being permitted here since I was in 4th place and eligible for prize $. So I declined, which made for another long section of road ahead.

This was a tough section. I was in that part of the ultra where every single stride sent pain shooting through my quads and even into my Sis and back, which made for a less than pleasant few miles. I tried to come out of it mentally, to think about anything other than the pain and the seemingly endless miles to go at this point. I thought about my ice bath tonight that would numb my whole lower half. I thought about getting massaged later. I thought about my best training runs and feeling on top of the world. I thought about my worst training runs, which had given me the strength to push through miles like these right now. I thought about standing with the elites at the finish line, standing on the podium next to them if I could hold my position. I thought about how good my left shoulder was feeling right now (strategy adopted from Marshal Ulrich..jeez even that was hurting though…)  I thought about the shot of liquor that Alan would probably offer to me again at the next aid station and which I would probably accept…

And then there it was! The last aid station. Just 3.5 miles and one mountain to go. I downed the shot of Kentucky bourbon Alan had waiting for me, which was a whole Dixie cup full and actually more like 2 shots. It burned the whole way down my esophagus and felt warm when it hit my stomach.  At that point I was so sick of sweet things it actually tasted good.

Of course the next thing the course had in for you was one final plummet down a mountain on asphault just before you ascended the final 15% grade climb mountain just afterwards. I have gone down some pretty quad busting hills on some pretty busted quads, but that particular mountain at that particular moment has to be one of the most painful that stands out in my memory. The good news is that the bourbon started kicking in about halfway down and took the edge off just a little bit. Enough for me to laugh out loud about how much this course had kicked my ass today, say what the hell and keep hammering down. When I got to the bottom, it was right back up straight to the top of the mountain to the finish. This was the road with all the 15% grade signs, which were great reminders now, as I had temporarily forgotten how insane I was for signing up for this thing while training in the state of Delaware.

Checking my watch I was approaching that time of 12:08, my Bandera 100K time which I had really wanted to beat (despite Ian Sharman’s warning about how tough this course was compared to Bandera). I knew it was going to be close and that I most likely wouldn’t make it, but I thought I could try to cut it as close as possible. And the bourbon was actually doing a pretty great job right now, so I put my head down the drove up the climb running. It was steep, it was tough, it was a section that I would have done a good bit of power walking at any other point in the race. I didn’t let myself look up towards the winding road and the seemlingly endless climb to get to the top or to allow myself to judge the steepness in the process. I simply stared at the road 5 ft infront of me and just ran as hard and as fast as I could. This actually felt a hell of a lot better than descending that mountain before had felt.

When I did finally look up when I heard music of the finish line, my dad was standing at the top of the mountain to greet me. When I reached the top of the climb I opened up my stride to the little decent to the finish ( almost making a wrong turn again this year in the process). I crossed in 12:13. I think I hugged everyone there, but again, I was a little disoriented at the time. Then I sat down on the asphalt just past the finish line, just like I had been thinking about doing for the last 10 miles. It didn’t feel quite as good as I thought it would. Things still hurt and were starting to stiffen up. And just as soon as I sat down, one of the RDs came up to me and told me the awards ceremony way about to start and I had to get inside.

It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to get to stand up there next to the elites at the awards ceremony like I was one of them. Plus I got a plaque for making top 5 and  $1000 check, my largest race winnings by far to this day, which was also pretty nice.

Women's Results: 
  1. Ellie Greenwood - 9:04:19
  2. Ragan Petrie – 9:51:15
  3. Anne Spillane – 11:02:00
  4. Jacqueline Palmer – 12:13:40
  5. Krystle Martinez – 12:53:59
All the women in the top 5 ran pretty much uncontested, with EG crushing us all. 

Although I do not consider UROC one of my best races, it was certainly one of the hardest and has also made me hungry for another 100K competition. I had been looking forward to competing in this race, but really wasn’t adequately trained with enough climbing and most likely mileage for this course. Throughout the entire 12+ hours I was running, I was aerobically unchallenged. But my legs were done so early in the race that they really limited any aerobic strength and advantage that I could have had. But I did work with what my body gave me on that day and I am satisfied with that, and I do know that I am capable of better. I also got a pretty good battle scar and some bloody race pics that make me look pretty bad-ass J

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Preparation for UROC 100K: Stumpys Marathon, Gunpowder 50K and more…

Since arriving back in the homeland of Delaware from Kentucky, I have been training well overall with good peak mileage weeks and several other runs that  have confirmed my fitness and boosted my confidence as UROC approaches. It started out with a 25 mile run along the familiarity of my favorite JFK section of the Appalachain trail, which I ran with Alan when I stopped at my parents house on the way back from Kentucky. I was somewhat sad to leave Kentucky, but being able to run in my home terrain felt so good I dreaded for the run to end. I set up the usual point-to-point by parking a car at the boat ramp on the canal and we left from my parents house. For the first time in months the weather felt a bit cooler in the cloudy overcast, though still humid. We stayed together for the first few miles, then I would pull up ahead, feeling good, and turn back around every so often to meet back up with him. It meant more hills and time on the trail for me, both of which were good things at this point in training. By the middle of the App trail segment, it started pouring rain with full blown thunder and lightning like it had been threatening to do all day. Before long water was gushing down from the rocks from the hills of the trail above and we were treading up a violent river. It was fun. I tried to keep running the best I could, but the water was so deep it was impossible to see the already slick rocks beneath my feet and it was all I could do but to keep from falling on my face. Alan definitely got faster and we laughed about how we are more equally matched in extreme weather. It was the most fun I had had on a run in a while and I knew there was absolutely no where else that I wanted to be right in this moment. Moments like these remind me why I have fallen in love with running outdoors. When we got the to canal the rain had died down a bit and I took off for the car. I wasn’t wearing a Garmin, but I wanted to keep around 7:30 pace and faster as I approached the car, probably another 7 miles away.  The weather was cool and I felt good, so I pushed the pace. As I continued to push as I thought I must be nearing the car, I was reminded of that monotonous feeling of the JFK race on the canal, with no idea where you are or how long you have to go because everything looks the same. Maybe for this reason I pushed a bit early and was forced to hold the pace, that “hurt so good” feeling I knew I would love when it was all over. However fast I was running, it was fast enough to leave me lightheaded, nauseous and very satisfied by the time I got to the truck at the boat ramp. It was good to be back home and my fitness was coming back J

Back at school with the new semester I loved being able to fall into routine again with speed workouts and tempo runs. I hadn’t been able to be as religious as I’d like about either since coming back this summer, but I worked with what I had, and it was very motivating to feel my speed and fitness improving exponentially by the week. The first week I was back I did my routine mile repeat workout up at the Reservoir and was a bit discouraged when 6:45 mm pace felt like more of a push than it should have. Two weeks later I went back for the same workout and was banging out 6:20s, no problem and couldn’t get enough of them! I was flying high on this day, running my last fastest repeat at 6:10 without even putting in a max effort, and was forced to cut it short or else be late for class (stupid PT school getting in the way of the running career, againnn…J )  Whatever got into me this day, the workout was a huge boost as evidence of my own fitness gains.
Stumpy’s Marathon
First female at Stumpy's Trail Dawg marathon in 4:20. Who wouldn't run 28 miles for such a nice rock?!!

I (finally!) decided to do this classic trail dawg race this year. I have been hearing about this fatass marathon(ish) distance trail run in WCC for the past couple of years, but it always falls on the same day as the Delaware Diamondman Half Ironman, so I have never actually done it. This year I decided that I would benefit from the trail race more and additionally save $200. Plus I wanted to do this 100mile century ride in Dover the day before. So I went down to Dover on Saturday with Alan for the flat, hopefully fast 100 miles. Although there were not many steep climbs in Kentucky, I knew my cruising speed on the bike had increased when I had forced to keep the pace with the A-group or else get dropped and lost in the middle of the unfamiliar state! At first I was riding with a fast pack of guys from the Annapolis cycling club. They were very nice letting me free-load off of their draft as they averaged around 24mph. The pace was a bit of a push for me here but I wanted to see how long I could hold onto this. It turned out to be about 35 miles, and I was dropped on a windy segment when a new leader surged at 27mph and I fell off the back, got caught in the wind and couldn’t push hard enough to catch back on. Oh well, fun while it lastedJ  A few minutes later a guy decked out on ironman gear pulled up beside me in his aerobars going at a decent pace, around 20mph and I hopped into his wheel. He was fine for a few miles, but then he started talking to me and swerving a bit. One of the times he turned his head to look at me while I was on his wheel, I clipped his back tire with my front and went down in the grass on the side of the road. The end result after the medic people came to pick me up was some good road rash and a mild concussion with a decent headache. I decided (or rather, the medics made me) to call it a day and Alan stopped his ride home and took me home. I would decide the next morning if I would still run in Stumpys if the headache went away.
Rise and shine, no headache! Which only meant for a fun-filled morning of trails. The morning was nice and cool and I almost started out with a long sleeved shirt, but was glad I decided to stick with my singlet later. My plan for the race was to treat it as a training race, and if that meant winning then that was just an added bonus. But I told myself I was not going to chase. So I started out pretty conservatively, behind the pack of fast guys in the front, but still one of the first women. I was happy for Angus to join me for the first few miles. He is always someone fun to talk to and honestly, I really look up to the down-to-earth local cowboy. Who is also ridiculously fast. Way faster than me. I asked him what he was doing back here and he said he needed to stay controlled for a while at the beginning. He wasn’t even training for anything. Ok, if he insisted. After a few miles though he pulled ahead, followed by a couple of other guys (who I would be seeing later) at a road crossing and I knew better than to follow him. There was a girl that had been running close behind me on the single track for the whole race, who looked strangely familiar until I remembered that she was the girl that I had passed a little after the halfway point in the Dirty German 50K over a year ago. We talked a little bit. She was running really really close behind me so it was awkward not to. I asked if she wanted to pass but she said the pace was perfect and she didn’t want to ruin my rhythm by going ahead. When we got to a road section that spread out a little bit so she was a couple feet ahead of me, she even stopped at the trail head and waited for me to hop on infront of her. Hmmm ok, well whatever.

Mmmmmm I love road rash.

I am not exactly sure how it came to be, but for the first couple of hours I somehow was leading a running pace line of about 7 people through the single track, dirty german girl included. At first it was kind of cool thinking that I was the leader of a pack, but after a while I got pretty tired of being constantly aware that there such a large group so close behind, and very conscious about moving to slow or any pace change that might annoy the group, even though I made sure no one wanted to pass. It sounded stupid, but I just couldn’t get into my rhythm like this. Besides, I kind of had to pee anyways and it would have felt strange suddenly pulling off the trail. So at the next aid station I made a break for a pit stop while others stopped quickly to pick up water. And when I got back on the trail I found myself alone for a while and for the first time that day was finally able to get comfortable.

I cruised through the familiar middle run and white clay trails, the trails I train on every week and was really loving the cool weather, show of fall colors and gentle rolling hills. I just took it all in and settled into a comfortable rhythm. I could tell my legs had done something noteable the day before (chasing the Annapolis guys on my bike) but I was still comfortable. The course was surprisingly well-marked for a trail dawg race, and ironically, I deviated from the course only one time only because I knew where we were supposed to end up after crossing one road segment, which caused me to cut a corner and saw no markings for half a mile, which in turn brought back horrible flashbacks of me being lost in all the other trail dawg races, second guess myself, backtrack the half a mile until I found another runner. The guy I found came cruising up at a pretty good pace and we stuck together for a little while. He said that he had started 20 minutes behind everyone because he had a bet with his friend that he could find him and pass him. When we got the the flat gravel path section, I knew we had about an hour left in the race and I wanted to pick up the pace. Plus, I still hadn’t caught up to the dirty german girl who I knew must be close. I picked things up to about 7:30 pace and was a little surprised when he stayed with me, not even sounding too belabored. After running by myself for a while I was happy to have this companion. We actually started talking about brains and brain derived neurotrophic factors as it relates to motor learning and neuroplasticity. I wish I could remember who he said he was, but all I can really recall was that he was some type of teacher working on a BDNF project with the school systems. Either way, nothing better than a little mid-run brain talkJ

When we got on the single track, he told me his goal was to finish in 3:40, at which I laughed at him and wished him good luck in his attempt to cover 7 miles in 15 minutes  as he sped ahead. He remained within distance of me for the next couple minutes though and then we came out in a little single track in an open field and I saw her up ahead. I could tell she dropped pace and I although I had picked up the pace significantly, I didn’t push more to catch her. I just kept my rhythm and let her come to me. When I passed her a minute later she told me she had been wondering where I was. I had to laugh, as I suppose this would have been a good question if I was actually racing. Meanwhile I had to laugh at how short-lived the brain guy’s surge had been because I was surprised to find myself catching up to him and reeling him in quickly. When I passed him I encouraged him to hold onto the pace with me, which lasted maybe a minute before he fell off again.
So far in the race I really hadn’t done much chicking of guys, which I attributed to the veteran fast guys out on the course in the train dawg race up there with Angus…untillll there was about 3 miles left to go. After the last aid station it seemed like I was catching and dropping a fast front runner guy every 2 minutes! I was also accelerating, feeling good with the end in reach. The last part of the race was through open fields in the sun and downhill. Although many people complained about the heat of this section afterwards, I personally really liked the downhill aspect of the last finishing section, which allowed for a fast finish. I felt strong pushing it into the finish , down the hills and across the flat section of the park to the pile of prize rocks awaiting me at the finish line. The whole course was clocked at 28 miles, which I finished in 4:20. This was the same time I had finished the North Face marathon in Indianapolis, plus a couple of extra miles on a comparable course and without too much effort, so I was pretty happy with my improvements.

Rather surprisingly, the week following Stumpy’s, I had some great runs, including some amazingly good speed work and rides.

Gunpowder 50K

This was going to be my last long run until the big race. I had run at Gunpowder once or twice before and really liked the trails. They were relatively smooth, with some hills but nothing too technical. The course description said it would be three 10 mile loops. Thirty one miles seemed like a long run only two weeks out from UROC, but I wanted to use the three loops as a progressive run, and the plan was to go out easy enough so I could negative split each lap by 5 minutes.

When Alan, Kristen and I actually arrived to the race however (after googlemaps took us on an interesting detour) we were informed that the course was changed to two 15 mile loops rather than the original 3 ten miles ones. I stuck with my plan to stick with both of them for the first loop. Alan was originally planning to do 2 laps and so dropped to one, and Kristen, who had originally planned to do one lap, was going to suck it up and go the extra five miles.

Thing started out less smooth feeling than I’d hoped, but I guess that is what happens when the race starts off up a hill for the first few miles. The trail was mostly smooth dirt single tract with plenty of roots and some rocks. There were plenty of logs and branches to hurdle over throughout the entire thing too, so I got to practice my steeple chasing skills (yes, I do have a small desire to compete in an open steeple chase at a meet for fun next spring!). So we took it really easy on the first 15 miles. There were some downhill single track sections that I wanted to open up and barrel down, but I suppressed the urge to save for the second lap when I was by myself. We finished the 15 mile loop in something like 2:40.  I stopped for a quick snack with Alan and Kristen and they headed home and I set back out for another loop.

I started ascending up that same hill, but this time I felt almost better. I couldn’t really tell if my pace had even changed since the first time, but I just felt more comfortable. Before long I started reeling in some of the fast guys also out for a second loop. Sometimes, when it’s not too close to the end of the race, like now, the guys I catch will see me and suddenly get a second wind and speed off ahead. That’s pretty much what the first two guys I saw did. (The second guy I ran across was actually peeing in the dead middle of the trail facing towards me. Awkwarrrdddddddd…he undstandably ran away. Fast!) I planned to keep things comfortable for another hour, then pick things up the last hour and a half. I ran by myself for most of this second loop, occasionally talking with a guy before passing him for good. I did come across one woman on the trail who was stopped in the middle of the trail by two equestrian riders and she, I, and the two other guys that sandwiched behind us were all trapped with no where to go but into the thorn bushes to our left or down the embankment and into the creek to our right, also scattered with thorns. So basically the solution was for all of us runners to pile and shove ourselves into the thorn bushes in attempt for the horses not to buck kick us all as they passed. After the surprise stop and picking a few thorns out of my body with my teeth and wiping away some blood from some new scratches on my knee, I was off again, hurdling over logs and trees on the narrow trail and didn’t see or hear the another woman again. This was all right before my least favorite section of the course where we had to run through an overgrown singly track with long grass and throns sticking out every which way. I added to my accumulation of battle wounds from this training run and toughed it out the best I could, only falling once when the edge of my foot went into a hidden gopher hole covered by long tall grass on the side of the trail.

When I got to the section of downhill single track in the last 6 miles that I had held back on the first time around, I let go this time. This part was really fun because it was downhill, but a very slight grade for the most part with some flat sections between each gently slope.  On the downhills I was flying, but not really working, just letting my body go and telling my legs not to brake or slow me down. On the flat sections I loved the feel of the momentum from the hill carrying me partway through the section. And when I felt it fading, I would accelerate to keep the speed. I was surprised how easy it was to keep the speed up and was pleased with how my legs were feeling when it occurred to me there was over 25 miles beneath them already.  I was by myself and in the zone now. Loving the feeling of my body and mind working together to skip over tree roots and rocks, hurdling the occasional log. I practiced getting the feel of my body on the trail. Everything seemed to work together in complete harmony at that moment. My quick careful footwork, the light impact of each stride accepted through my thighs and my body lighting rotating with the movement in perfect harmony. No stride was exactly like the last and it was amazing to me how little my conscious mind even had to think about making this all work together so perfectly. I practiced accelerating, then pushing the pace hard to see how my body would respond. Each time I reached in for a dig, my legs smoothly responded without complaint. There were plenty of roots, rocks, even some downed logs throughout the trail but I felt like I was gliding on air. The feeling was great and I took it all the way to the finish line, including up the last 2 mile long hill. I was not seeing too many guys until that very last uphill section, when I chicked (what might be a record) four of them in the last half mile uphill to the finish. I finished feeling controlled, strong, collected and now empowered by new the new confidence of how good I was really feeling with 31 miles on my legs. I finished the entire race in an easy-paced 5:03 and had negative split the second loop by 17 minutes.

So that was it—the last “long” run before the big race day just 14 days later. Over the past two weeks I have had three only moderately hard runs, but kept them short and have been staying true to my taper. I’ve felt decent in most of my runs the past couple weeks, really good in a couple, and admittedly rather crappy in a couple others. One of my favorite runs over the past couple weeks was when I paced Alan for the campus 5K last Thursday. I decided to stay with him because I didn’t want to completely burn up my legs by racing for the female win at the front of the pack and knowing me I would probably push it till I puked at the finish line and I thought that would be too much right now. Plus it would be more rewarding to pace Alan in for a 5K PR. And it was. We ran pretty consistently at 6:45minmi pace and finished in 21:03. I was surprised by how 6:45s felt almost comfortable for me the entire race and now have new dreams of making this my new marathon cruising speed at some point in the futureJ  All other runs have been shake-out or short intervals keeping my legs from feeling sluggish. Last weekend I gave a last moderate effort workout with 10 miles at 7:40 pace and a medium distance bike ride the next day. This week I have been attempting to get as much rest as I can both physically and mentally while balancing peace of mind and sanity from drop in physical activity.

Random surprise 3rd place trophy I won at the campus 5K. Alan gets a PR, I get the trophy. Life’s just not fair!

I think it’s going to be a strange feeling traveling back to UROC this year. And not only because I have double the daunting distance of 62 miles of mountains to race. Last year our motivation for traveling to Virginia was our hope of meeting and stalking the elites in the 100K. This year, as unreal as it may actually be, they are calling me one of them and I may even be getting interviewed like I am one of them (like anyone on irf actually cares what I have to say before the race anyways hahah) and sitting at the same table with them if the email I got last week addressed to the elite runners is actually correct! It really is going to be an awesome experience to get to sit next to the people I read about and idolize, and almost as much of one as the run itself will be. I am thrilled, excited and or course nervy about this opportunity and I hope I can bring out the best of whatever I have been able to build up within me over the past couple months on race day. I have been impressed with how many gains I have been able to make in my running fitness since coming back from seemingly nothing a couple of months ago, and I don’t doubt that I will continue to make these gains following recovery from this race.
So now, I am as ready as I could ever be for race day. Not to mention I only have 7 toenails, which is a good indicator I must be training hard J

Bring on the Virginia mountains!!

UROC elevation profile. Over 7,000 feet of climbing yahoo!