Monday, October 22, 2012

The road to recovery and through the Gates of Hellgate

Recovering from UROC was no jog through the park. Ok, well a rather slow and painful jog through the park. Things took much longer than anticipated. Rather neglecting the fact that this is the longest distance race I have run (in one running) to date, I majorly underestimated exactly how much it could and would take out of my legs. I had taken a couple of weeks off after Bandera completely from running, and then only remembered my injury rather than how I was feeling as I picked back up on training. So I guess I will have to admit that with JFK on the back of my mind and knowing that my fitness was not where I hoped it at this point, I probably rushed myself back into running too soon. I had also agreed to pace Josh Finger in for the Grindstone 100 mile that next Saturday and needed to confirm that I was good for running in 20-35 miles with a probable front runner for a slamming finish! So I went for my first run 4 days later on Wednesday evening at the Delaware Running Co weekly run. Unfortunately for me, only fast guys showed up on this particular weekly loop up to the Reservoir for a few loops and back. At this point the soreness in my legs with walking and stairs had faded, but my legs screamed in rebellion for the first couple miles of that run. Just burning aching stiffness everywhere. It was not pleasant. But a couple miles in the unpleasantness faded a bit and by the end of the 5 miles I was very happy to stop running, although my legs did feel much better and looser than when I started. Thursday I rode my bike and felt great that morning, then decided to try the legs for a run again in the evening, and felt slightly better but still pretty dead. Plus my ITB was bothering me quite a bit, but would loosen up further into the run, so with that, I decided that I would be good enough to pace Josh in for Grindstone, or for at least 20 miles of it.

Friday evening Alan and I made the drive down to the Blue Ridge Mountains once again in hopes to see the start of the race. I had talked him into accompanying me for the journey by reasoning that this would be a great opportunity to get trail volunteer hours for a Western States app! We had just made the drive back 5 days ago but it felt like much longer ago than that. I had been in touch with the MD from the medical team at who we would volunteer with the night of the race start. So we met up with Josh and his friend Matt, who was his training partner for the race and also running. I could tell that they were both really ready for this. They had both been down from PA a few times just to run parts of the course and had even  been attempting to acclimate themselves to running at night, starting many of their long runs at 6pm, just as the race would start. So at 6pm they were off, with Karl Meltzer and a few other guys taking the lead. They looped back after 1.5 miles and we got to see the leaders again, with Josh not too far behind. Then they went off into the night, Josh’s wife and matt’s wife went to eat someplace quick before going to meet them again at the next aid station. Alan and I went to get some pasta at the first pizza place in town we could find (and it’s in the middle of nowhere so it wasn’t easy!) then we went out to the aid station where we would be volunteering at around the 16 mile mark. It was around 8:30 when we got there and Josh had literally just passed through, so we missed him there. It was a few minutes before the herds of little bobbing head lamps started filing in from the darkness. It’s always a fun experience to help out at the aid stations for a 100 miler. The most medical attention anyone needed was a few hot spots and blisters to take care of, so I mostly just worked to figure out the contraptions on people’s camelbacks to fill them up and get them going again. I have to say that I really hope I do not smell as bad as most of the people that came through that aid station at that point, and if I do I am even more grateful for my crew to help me!! All in all it was a great experience, especially getting to shoot some with David Horton, a legend ultrarunner working with us at the aid station with a clipboard checking everyone in, who seemed to know everyone by face and by name without glancing at his sheet or their bibs.

After a few hours of volunteering we went back to the hotel for a few hours sleep before I would be up to pace Josh again. I woke up at 3AM to a text from Josh telling me he had dropped out. He was ok, nothing hurt, just was not feeling it tonight so had decided to call it at mile 33(ish). I was glad that he was ok and was just a little disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to run the course, until he told me that I should pace Matt, who did not have a pacer and who could use one. So we went on as planned, arriving to the mile 65 aid station around 6:30am and I started pacing Matt who came through just after sunrise. I was expecting a lot of hiking at this point in the race, so I was surprised at the pace we were moving at most of the time. If we weren’t power hiking up a rocky mountain, we were moving at a decent pace on the “flats” or hammering down some rocky descents. On the climbs, we were moving swiftly and my heart rate was up the entire time, and on the descents Matt would occasionally drop me, especially if it was really technical and I would have to catch him when it leveled out again. I thought back to how my legs felt on the rocky descents at UROC and I was astonished how well his legs could handle this stuff at this point. We talked a lot about running and racing and people crazier than us. Despite the technicality that was a bit out of my league on some sections, I was really enjoying this trail, the beautiful leaves, the climbs, the rocks, the roots the everything of this place. He told me the women’s CR was something like 23 hours held by Sandi Nypaver..hmmmmm, you know….Interesting, but no 100 milers for me yet!  “Have you ever heard of Hallgate?” Matt asked.
“Maybe..what is it?”  Then he went on the tell me about the crazy 100K starting at midnight held in the middle of December out on these trails by David Horton, the legend ultrarunner and endurance athlete who I had met at the aid station. It was part of the Virginia Beast Series races and considered to be one of the hardest ultras within the eastern region. Conditions on the trails at that time of year were usually pretty rough. Afterall, he told me, a couple of years ago people’s vision was severely impaired because their eyeballs had frozen a couple of years ago and they had to stop at the aid stations and wait by the fire to try and thaw them out. My initial thoughts were holy crap that race does sound crazy. Especially the staring at midnight part. But Alan would love it since he loves late night trail runs and usually is the one talking me into them ever since we went to the Midnight Love Run on the horseshoe trail starting at Jens house a couple of years ago. I was told Horton essentially handpicks the runners from the application based on previous races, but maybe I’d tell Alan to apply anyways..although the race would definitely kick his ass. Then, the more I fell in love with the trails out there, the more I considered applying myself…

After about 13 miles of pacing we met up with Josh and the wives at an aid station and Josh asked if I would be up for him pacing Matt starting at the next aid station for the last 13 miles. At this point my legs were definitely feeling it, even with our easy pace. Something had never really come back into them since UROC, so I was ok with calling it a day 7-8 miles later. And by those 7-8 miles my legs were pretty done. They just felt really drained and I was glad to hand over the pacing duties to Josh. We went back to the hotel to grab a quick shower and headed to the finish line to see Matt finish. He crossed the line in 20:55, with a 5th place overall finish, and which may be a new masters record for the course! So although it wasn’t my original pacing plan, I was happy with the short trip’s turn out, and Josh seemed to be satisfied with his decision to drop out since it just wasn’t his day, and went on the race Tussy Mountainback 50miler a few weeks later with a rocking 6:11 finishing time and 5th place overall.

After Grindstone I took a pretty low-key week as far as running because I knew it was what my body needed. The thought of losing fitness during a crucial time in preparation for JFK half killed my mental sanity at times, but I knew I would be pointlessly driving myself into the ground if I didn’t.  And I don’t know exactly what possessed me to do this, but when my crazy friend Dave Ploskonka sent me the early application for Hellgate this year, I applied immediately, and found out a few days later that I was actually accepted to run it! Well this was going to put a whole new spin on training this season… I was only running a few miles every other day and picked up on biking and swimming mileage for the week. I felt good when crosstraining, but something in my legs just felt like lead every time I ran so I always cut myself short. I went to New Orleans for a conference the following weekend and decide to give myself the time off from running completely for a few days, but even the following week my legs did not feel normal. Every time I thought I had had a half decent run, the next day I would feel like death running at 9 minute pace. Not good. It was now 3 weeks after UROC and I still had dead legs and I was actually getting genuinely concerned. It had never taken me this long to recover before! I was frustrated. I went out to French Creek trails with Steve to run with some of the Pacers, who I had not seen in a while the next weekend. They said there were plenty of options to cut the planning 3 hour run short, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to bail if needed. But I joined them for the whole 3 hours (including a couple stops, etc) , which amounted to about 16 miles of good hilly rocky trail. I like running with the Pacers because although I might be faster than most of them if it came down to a speedy road race, they continually kick my ass on the technical rocks, which forces me to bit the bullet and suck up my fear of falling flat on my face when handling rocky descents and traversing “rock gardens” to keep up with them. I am beginning to recognize technical rockiness as a significant weakness keeping me from being a true well-rounded ultrarunner, so have tried to convince myself to take the bruises and twisted ankles that will undoubtedly come with forcing me to pick up some speed on these sections of the trail. The only way I can improve is to bring my body through the motions and try to establish some type of gracefulness on these sections. Ok, we I at least hope that I can move faster than 25 minute pace on those sections!

The CafĂ© Gelato 10 miler was the next day, and I had really been up in the air about doing it. My legs still felt like death and I knew my time would be slow, so I almost didn’t want to show up to run it in front of the entire running community, most of whom know me as crazy ultrarunner girl who can run somewhat fast when she wants to. But the race was only $10 for students, and the sweet long sleeve DRC shirt you got was worth 4Xs that, so like a sucker I was in. At the start of the race I went out with some people I run with from Coach Fischer’s Tuesday night group, and I was comfortable, just chatting about this and that. I told them about my last race, my seemingly horrible recovery, and Hellgate, frozen eyeballs and all that was now quickly approaching. Yes, they continue to think I am completely insane J We were running at 7:50 pace and I was excited that this felt pretty comfortable for me right now, considering the 9 minute/mile death march I had been going at just a few days ago. And what was better for me was that I felt the pace was no longer forced, like it had been before, but my legs were moving naturally and smoothly again. My body was responding well today, but I knew today was not the day to push anything, so I just enjoyed myself out there on the smooth trail with good company and had fun. Eventually our little group split up, with Tara picking up the pace, myself picking up maybe a little bit, and everyone else falling behind a little. And despite me holding a consistent and comfortable pace without kicking in the end for a hard fast finish, it brought a small amount of happiness to my race to see that I could still some chick guys at the end who likely went out too hard J I finished in 1:17, and surprisingly won the $50 gift card to the restaurant that came with winning first in my age group, which is especially interesting and rather humorous as I finished in 1:12 last year in this race and got 3rd my age group hahah. Wherever, Ill take it!

I can be convinced to run 10+ miles for almost anything, including my new DRC shirt :-)

The week following the race about a month after UROC, the life finally seemed to come back into my legs and I was feeling pretty good on my attempted interval workout early in the week, pretty good on a progressive 20 mile run mid week, and still good for a shorter tempo run at 7 minute pace. I was able to get in lots of good quality running this past week with some higher mileage, and just in time for peak mileage week for JFK and the Halloweeny 50K and Marine Corps marathon back-to-back training run weekend! UROC may have put me out for a while, but I have since bounced back and am training happily again. And although I have come to accept that I am not going to run my PR at this year’s JFK, I am going to be happy and enjoy the experience of running on the woods of my own backyard with 1500 fellow crazy ultrarunning friends. There is next to nothing in this world that can be more awesome than that. As for Hellgate, well I really may be banking on my mental toughness to get me through that one ;-)

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