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!

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