We started off at the JFK 9.6ish mile mark and started out straight up a hill, which apparently I have forgotten the length and steepness of since my last running of it. Ugh, it seemed to go on forever. I had gone out at a conservative pace, but was still one of the front runners, with two other girls running right behind me with Steve. There were 5 of us that stuck together for a little bit. The one girl, the faster of the two, was the female winner of the Trail Dawg Triple Crown this year. The other girl was her friend, a fellow adventure racer I think. At the start of the run my legs felt a bit off, and I was pushing harder up the hills to keep up with them than I would have liked. I was getting a little frustrated that this wasn’t feeling easy for me. I thought I had finally recovered from the freakin UROC race!! But I knew the right thing to do was to drop back and try to settle into my own pace rather than forcing myself to keep up with someone else’s pace in frustration. So I let the other 4 pull ahead of me on the trail and tried to settle in. This was just a training run, afterall.
Before long we were on the technical rock garden section, where I tried to implement some of the strategies I had observed from the Pacers the weekend prior to this while on the HST. On the descents, they had long fluid strides that seemed to be planned ahead with foot placement and accelerated with the momentum of each stride. So I went with this strategy through the rock gardens and tried not to slow down much. It was hard work, but physically and mentally to continuously plan out every stride within fractions of a second and my ankle gave out several times, but I must have been moving faster than my pack ahead of me because I soon caught up to them after this section. Steve, the two girls and I entered the canal toe path together and stayed together on that section. We were running at 8:30 pace which is normally that “all day long” pace for me, but my legs still didn’t feel loosened up and the pace didn’t come as easily as I would have liked. We arrived at the next aid station together and started the steep climb up the Maryland Heights trail not far apart. This was a very steep power hiking section and today was crowded with tourists who were crowding most of the trail and often hard to get around. The two girls and myself stopped at one point to take a bathroom stop and Steve surged on ahead. So then it was just the three of us girls ascending the rest of the mountain. I have to say that this is a situation I have never found myself in during an ulta before. I don’t think I have run more than a few miles with a girl in an ultra, and even then it was only a single one. Surprise surprise we got lost temporarily at the top but quickly corrected our strayed path and began the mountain descent. This was especially tricky with all the people. We ran out to the scenic overlook out and back section on the way down and were surprised that there were now about 8 people in front of us, who we later realized had cut off part of the course. I and my newly found girl friends stuck together for the mountain descent, and it would have been more fun to hammer down this section if I hadn’t been having some ITBand issues. I actually liked these girls, which is somewhat of a surprise because girls can sometimes annoy me during long races, and we came into the 3rd aid station stop together. I was happy to see my mom there with my old shoes to change into, since the new ones were rubbing my foot the wrong way a bit since they were not broken in yet, and surprised and happy to see Auntie Ann. I changed my shoes, filled my water, got some food and continued back on the toe path back towards Harpers Ferry for that loop.
My popular hand-made bib skirt, photo courtesy of Auntie Ann.
Leaving that aid station I felt like a new woman. I don’t know if it was the change of shoes, the food, or even just seeing my mom and my aunt at the 18 mile mark, but as I set out down the tow path again I finally felt warmed up and ready to run! I picked up the pace here to about 8 min/mi pace and the other two girls fell back from me back at the aid station. When I got to the Harper’s Ferry bridge I did my best not to plow over the Asian tourists in the way on the narrow foot bridge and took off on the other side of it through historic Harpers Ferry, drawing more than a few stares from the tourists and even the costumed 1800s war actor people giving the history tours outside on the other side. I guess we must have been quite the spectacle running through here in full costume, myself in a skirt made from tattered race big numbers and orange and black feathers in my hair. I power hiked up the stone stairs to Jefferson rock like I was on a mission. And I was. I had a gremlin to catch (a girl that had passed us when we had gone astray on the MD heights section earlier). I ran up the rest of the stairs, up the hill through the cemetery, up a road and through another creepy looking gate before getting lost again. I couldn’t find where the trail picked up again. However, I did find the gremlin, who was also lost here. Soon enough we found where the trail picked back up after all the construction and hopped back on it here. Now I recognized this section from last year and knew where to go. The gremlin and I ran together for about a mile of two, until reaching the foot bridge again at the end of the loop, at which I snaked my way through tourists and hit the tow path hard on the other side and I lost her.
When I got back to the canal path I was feeling pretty good. I picked up the pace to 7:30s for a little while here, which was a bit of an effort that I still felt good with. Soon enough I saw Steve up ahead in the distance, who I could tell had slowed down quite a bit from before. He had probably put about a mile on us after the bathroom stop on MD Heights because we saw him headed to Harpers Ferry as we were still coming down the mountain before the aid station. He looked like he was feeling good then, but maybe not so good now. When I caught up to him I told him to stay on my heels, which he did for a couple hundred feet maybe, but then drifted back again.
So I was by myself again, just cruising down the C&O. I just took it all in..the rushing water to my right, the cool brisk air, the colorful crunchy leaves under my feet and the soft crunchy sound of them and the gravel with every stride…and now, finally, 20+ miles in, everything on the canal was just enjoyable. Anyone who has ever run the JFK knows that this is not always how things are on the C&O!
I will defeat ALL the boys someday...;-)
I came to the final aid station where my mom and my aunt were waiting for me to arrive. I stopped for a couple of minutes here to get a snack. I was pretty thrilled that my stomach was cooperating today and anytime I consider any feelings of hunger during an ultra to be a good sign for my stomach not shutting down as it tends to in races that end poorly. Then I set off again, back into the woods on the App trail and straight up the mountain I had descended earlier that morning. The rest of the run in I felt pretty good and was really enjoying myself. I worked on my footwork with the technical rocky stuff which was probably even better training on tired legs. I worked to perfect my power hike up the steepest sections and ran up anything I was able. I was probably having the time of my life on what I call the “mini-hurdle” stretch, and used all the hurdling skills I don’t have to hurdle logs down a hill. The last downhill rocky stretch into Gapland is pretty fun going that direction, and I reminded myself that this was a significant uphill stretch in JFK. I crossed the finish line (aka gapland pavilion) in 5:52 as first woman finisher and 2nd overall (just 1 place away from crossing an OA win off the bucket list-darn!)
Leaves are pretty. Not sure what I'm doing...
Marine Corps Marathon
I haven’t done a good ultra distance double-double weekend in over a month, since before UROC, so the stiff soreness of that greeted me on my stumble out of bed and to the bathroom the next morning made me question my abilities to cover a distance of 26.2 miles in the next couple of hours. Nonetheless, hurricane on the way, we hit the road for DC, with Alan being the “official” entrant and myself the bandit runner. Since I didn’t have the official MCM bib, I decided it was a good idea to wear my bib skirt again, in hopes people would assume the official bib was buried somewhere within the layers of the skirt.
After parking, Alan and I lost each other soon afterwards when I went searching for a nonexistent bathroom in the metro station. So I ended up meeting some perfect strangers and a nice security guard who gave me the “marathon special” free metro ride to the starting line. When I finally started the race, it was 17 minutes after the official start gun, and herd of people were still shuffling over the starting line. The first minute or so the legs were pretty stiff, but the energy levels and atmosphere of 35,000 people running a marathon through the city were enough to suppress most of the soreness with the first couple of miles.
The streets were crowded. Really crowded. It was hard to navigate through all the people to anyplace fast..until I discovered the median. In the beginning, the race started out down two lanes of a highway separated by a grass median, on which no one was choosing to run, so I jumped on the opportunity. Literally, I jumped up on the median and took off, dodging through highway signs and hurdling over abandoned garments of clothing. Every 10 seconds I would hear a “Nice skirt!” which I would continue to hear with increasing frequency for the entire duration of the next 3.5 hours.
I was actually feeling surprisingly good right now. I had not run a marathon road race in over a year, especially after running an ultra distance the day before so was not sure what to expect from my body, but I had ambitious hopes to run a 3:45. So I took off at first around 7:20 pace in hopes to catch up to the 3:45 pace group, until I actually did the calculations in my head and realized that wouldn’t happen until around mile 23 with running at this pace, which I knew I couldn’t and shouldn’t sustain for this long, so I reluctantly settled down to a comfortable 8:30 pace.
I could tell my legs were a bit tired from the previous day’s beathing, but aside from this, aerobically the pace felt effortless and even my stride felt comfortable and fluid so I stuck with it. The bigger issue was trying to navigate through the much slower moving people now surrounding me thanks to my late start. And the streets were absolutely packed. I had to really concentrate on not stepping on people’s heels infront of me. There were so many people that I was usually just skirting up the side of the crowd on a small trail or sidewalk so that I could continue my 8:30 pace consistently.
And I was able to settle into a consistent pace. According to my Garmin, every mile split for the next 15 miles were within 2 seconds of each other. I was just comfortable cruising, continuing to fly by people, the whole time hearing “Nice skirt!” as I passed by. The excitement of the crowd was a pretty cool experience and sure passing by every person around you gives you a little boost, but the downside to this is that I wasn’t really able to meet any friends to run with. After a while, running by myself while surrounded by screaming spectators in the midst of a sea of 35,000 runners, it became a paradoxically lonely race.
So with about 8-9 miles to go, either out of boredom or loneliness, I decided to pick up the pace a little and settled into around 8:10s. Meanwhile, everyone around me seemed to be becoming a little delusional. Not that people were running in a straight line before this time, but more and more people started running into me, stepping on each others feet, tripping over uneven curbs and sidewalks. And everything within the sea of runners got a lot quitter. All compliments of my bib skirt now seemed to becoming from spectators only and the runners I passed were breathing heavily. Within the crowd of runners itself, things were almost eerily silent and all I could hear was panting and observe biomechanics breaking down in everyone in front of me. People working so hard to attain the goals they had been working hard at for weeks. It was pretty cool to be a part of it.
With less than 3 miles to go, I felt someone latch onto my heels and began following closely behind me. The pre-hurricane wind was pretty brutal at this point and we were running straight into it. I glanced behind me and saw it was a short girl, maybe about my age. The look on her face and rapid breathing indicated she was working very hard in the last stages of the race. “Stay on me. Ill take the wind and run us in the rest of the way.” She gave no audible response but crept up closer to my hip to get out of the wind, now giving me a pretty good blast. So I held our pace just where it was at until I felt her start to lose me an drop off about a mile later. I tried slowing down a little to see if she could catch me again, but I think she lost it by that point.
I sped up again, finished out the race, actually seeing someone from DRC on my way in. I intended to jump out of the race prior to the gated hill just before the finish line where the marines scream at you while you run up. But at that time I was bottlenecked into the crowd and couldn’t make it to the edge and into the spectators without tripping eight people, so I ran up the hill and across the finishing mat where I continued to be funneled along and a marine hung a finisher medal around my neck. They didn’t even look for the marine corps bib and when I tried to tell him that I wasn’t an official runner he made some comment about he’d let me keep it in exchange for my phone number, so I just smiled and ran off.
I had felt good during the race but my legs began to stiffen up within minutes after crossing the finish line and before long I had adopted the stiff legged gait pattern of the other finishers. I hoped that this wasn’t going to put me out for too long so I could do a couple harder runs this week.
And it didn’t. I took the next day off running for some light cross training, which was perfect timing in the midst of the hurricane. Tuesday the legs felt great again and I went out hungry again for a hard tempo and felt amazing. I hit the trail with Alan right after the tempo planning to get in a few recovery miles to check out the damage from the previous day’s hurricane. I finished with about 15 miles for the day and feeling like a million bucks. It was a huge confidence booster for JFK in 3 weeks and Hellgate just 3 weeks after that.
This weekend has traditionally been my peak mileage weekend before the taper period prior to JFK, but this year I do not anticipate racing JFK hard and will probably sneak in a few more long runs in preparation for Hellgate so I don’t die in the Blue Ridge Mountains. So I will “train through” JFK, or at least take only a “mini taper” in hopes to get the maximum training benefit out of JFK and prepare for Hellgate! Hopefully this plan doesn’t backfire on me… well I do enjoy living life on the edge J