All The Small Things (races) – Spring 2019

Alright, it’s been some time folks and I certainly have done a few things.

I didn’t manage to do a write up on the Wisconsin Marathon half, Galena Sky Trail 4 hour race, the Madtown half or Twilight 5k, or the Dirty 30 12 miler…all of these races having something in common…all but the Madtown half were shorter distances than the events offered. The Wisconsin was a full marathon, I did the half, mainly to support my friends Andrea and Damaris (who was visiting from the surface of the sun according to her and several other Florida residents) and take things easy two weeks post Blue Ridge Double Marathon. I did the Twilight 5k, of which it’s the 10k. I greatly dislike 10ks, and I was in no shape to PR, but I love me a good 5k hard out effort, and I love love love Madison Downtown at night (running only, I am in no way an urban girl). I opted for the Dirty 30, 50k ultra in Colorado, 12 miler to support Team BU members and my husband who ended up not being able to attend. It was a let down, but I went on many adventures knowing I didn’t have an ultra to run that weekend.

You don’t always need to do the longest distance offered, even if you’re trained to go that far, or that hard. This is a hobby for most, and meant to be fun. I decided to capitalize on that.

IMG_20190504_064900 Unexpectedly, the Wisconsin Marathon day was chilly. Upper 30s start, but crystal clear day (no rain for a change, what is this?!). I ended up wearing more than I bargained for a race, but again again again, “when have you ever been too warm?” Good point, again. I wore a thick black baselayer, a tech shirts on top (in honor of May the 4th that day, C3PO shirt), and 6” shorts…yeah that’s all I brought. I had stayed the evening with Andrea since that was closer to Kenosha than I was in Madison. Still hecking early wake up call. The half and the full started at the same time. I started closer to the front, banking on starting out easy 9:45 pace and dropping down, plus I was in the half and figured I’d be running a bit faster than those in the full anyway.

I’m still looking for a half PR, and today would not be the day, but I would try a few things differently. One was to try and negative split the half, a tall order with the paces I was prescribing myself. I had lost so much time outside to the brutal winter this year so my speed workouts were lacking.

I eased into my run quickly after starting, taking a step back from the rushing crowd around me desperately going sub 7 minute/mile pace, later on reducing their speeds to their own respective limits. I managed 9:36 for the first mile, and was pretty on target considering I needed to stay around 9:45. Second mile, settled into a 9:04 pace, third mile same. 4th mile, managed 8:59, but was feeling pressed a bit and took a step back at an aid station to re-evaluate. IMG_20190504_071311 By mile 5 I was at 9:17, more of where I needed to be and sustain and where I did a big think. I thought back when I did the Virginia 10 miler and how I felt at mile 6 with a similar pace. I knew at that race I could not hold onto the paces I was doing, but would just give it my all, for what I had.

IMG_20190504_075724Mile 5 here was the tale-tell sign I was not able to hang on to what I was maintaining currently. Heart rate was creeping up and I had slowed a bit to keep it within range of sustained effort. But that pace did not match a PR pace. The chill in the air had taken a bit of a toll on the leggies, and they felt like bricks and I was forcing the motion (still just a little too cold for me to operate efficiently). I had not actually warmed up yet. Boo. Most of the course had been shaded to this point, in neighborhoods and trees. The course was unamusing.

I texted/messaged some people and told them I had to slow down. Might have been a combination of Rich and Andrea. Unsure anymore. I tried to maintain 9:05 for mile 6, and then dropped as I hit my own wall at mile 7 and that ended up being 9:52. I took another gel (one I had had at mile 4) just to make sure it wasn’t that that was causing the wall. Mile 8 was a steady 9:51, and mile 9, 9:57 when the “hills” came along and the course started to open up to the sun. The sun was a blessing. I was starting to feel warmed with the baselayer on and wondered if it had been too much. But then never thought about it again. Mile 10 was 10:20…awful. I had fallen completely apart at the seams, walking and running. I took another gel. There was so little on course support and very few aid stations. They only provided water, maybe one or two offering gatorade…and that’s never good for me.

Mile 11 I just suffered. So embarrassed with my performance. I saw my pace slip steadily to 9:52, mile 12, 10:05…more walking. I pushed hard on mile 13 with everything I had and managed to bring it down to 9:38, sprinting the last 0.1, but it was pretty lost at this point. I had tried to fight for sub 2:05, but that slipped away too somewhere during mile 11. I managed a 2:06:20. I beat myself up for a bit, and then went to change clothes before I froze to death and find friends.

I pretty much knew my plans would be foiled, but was willing to take a risk. That’s fine. Now to shift the focus. My friend Damaris was out and about, and so was Andrea.

Damaris, being easily spotted with her raving red long locks and fellow Inknburn fanatic, messaged me and told me what happened to her race. It didn’t go very well, and she ended up dropping. So I hung out with her, not being able to figure out how to get back to Andrea on course and support her with the way the course worked. I was freezing my butt off still with temps climbing into the 50s. It was quite breezy so that didn’t help things. My newly formed blister from mile 7 also was not lending a helping…foot.

Andrea was running into some issues too. She had gotten lost on course, and I could understand why in the section she was in. The course wasn’t really marked all that well and as I was following a few hundred people, it was easy for me to lose myself and not have to think too hard where I was going. I kept things positive and told her she will get an ultra today. There was a cut off for this race though, and I knew she could beat it (and I know her plans called for her a PR, but today was a weird day for everyone). I managed to hunt her down by going backwards on the course (running), and finding her about 1.5 miles from the finish in a panic. I offered to pace her to that finish. I loved feeling useful. We got her in.

About the Wisconsin marathon event…

Well, this definitely was lackluster for a half marathon, but thinking beyond myself, this would be horrible for a full. The lack of aid stations being one for a road marathon, and a state marathon. The lack of things AT aid stations being another. I know I’ve done trail races with practical buffets lined up (though less often than road races), but I do expect some sort of electrolyte in addition to water typically at race aid stations. There was no food or energy products anywhere on course for half marathoners. I can not speak for the full. The course was rated to be flat. Mildly flat it was, but there were some slight inclines near the end of the half course. Nothing to shoot up heart rate much. The course was not really scenic at all except for a short time near Lake Michigan lakeshore on the path. Most was through neighborhoods. There was some moderate chaos around miles 9-11 where there was no direction for what side of the road you should be on, and since this section was an out and back you had people criss crossing over each other randomly like in a figure 8 configuration. The post race was not fantastic either, and if you didn’t search for the food tent you would surely miss it. They were shutting down those operations long before the final race cut off, a big no no in my book. I feel like this could have been much more “Wisconsin” and cheese themed. The stickers were the nicest part (I run for cheese). I would honestly not recommend this race.

Moving on, more cold snaps and SNOW. Yes it snowed again. This put training behind again for the Madtown half I had as my backup half PR attempt. I was honestly afraid it would be another cold year for the half. Last year I did NOT participate I heard the heat index was in the 90s. How I missed out! But leading up to that was The Galena Sky Trail Race.

Getting in a long run. I had goals for this race. I signed up for the 4 hour event, seeing as it started at noon. AT NOON FOLKS. The race was a little over an hour away from me I believe and I could almost sleep in! No worries! I slept nicely that evening. There was an 8 hour of course that started 4 hours earlier. Weather was looking less than idea and we (Megan who I teamed up with to go to the race) wondered if they would cancel. Nope. Good.

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It was raining on us the whole way there. We got there and set up camp.

By camp, I mean we brought a chair, cooler, and some supplies to be kept at their drop bag tent. The course ended up being a weird figure 8 course, so you had access to your drop bag at the start/finish, and about 1.3 miles into the course. The course was just short of 3 miles. The first part of the course was hilly, more steep, but had a nice gravel section. The second was mainly single track and rolling with two larger hills near the end. All the hills were very short. The whole race was at a ski resort of sorts in Galena, Illinois. The area was very pretty for the midwest and caught me by surprise. It looked like the lifts were turned into zip lines during the warmer months. The resort overlooked a lake far below it.

I was unsure if I could really run this race the way I wanted to. I was still on antibiotics for my annual sinus infection and had started doing some weights earlier in the week, more on that later. I was looking into getting in about 20 miles and was pretty happy the high temperature was going to be in the 70s (previously low 80s but that dream died with the forecasted rain), irregardless of the rain.

I was going to try something new, seeing this now as a long run. I brought along V8 Blueberry I believe was the flavor, to use as my fuel. Since this was a looped course, I had no interest in carrying a pack, so handheld it was. It also made things easy to refill or even grabbed while going around in circles.

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Event shirt, gender specific.

Check in was easy, and the shirt was amazingly designed, although I believe my size was a bit big (there’s no telling with womens sizing). The event crew was pretty organized and perky. Outside, glancing at the event already underway (the 8 hour had been going on 4 hours!), the aid station was pretty eye opening. They had literally everything I could have possibly wanted from an aid station which is saying a lot since I’m so picky about what I can/do consume. This consisted of watermelon and soda. Pretty sure they also had gels. They had warm food and a lot of volunteers. The only thing I could not figure out was how the course worked at first sight: there was a starting line and then the timing mats at the aid station right up the hill from the start. Seemed like everyone came from every direction!

Everyone gathered at the start, under the banner with timing mats there. This would end up being the start and end of the loop. I hung with Megan for the start, and then we parted ways afterwards. I quickly realized that my side hurt a bunch. I pushed it off cause it wasn’t a muscle that was typically bothersome. (For the record I’m sure I hurt before the race too, but not sure when it started and wasn’t triggered by any one thing.)

Going to do a series of pictures in order from the course…

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The decision sign, first half of course.

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Muddy, mildly manageable.

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Coming into the top of the resort from the first half of the loop back to the aid station. Featuring guy on zipline.

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Slick muck.

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Coming back into the aid area to finish a loop.

The course went straight up a short and steep hill. We were lucky the rain had stopped. The clouds still hung around, the ugly overcast skies that have been plaguing us. Just a good thunderstorm to make up for it some time? No? Oh well, drizzle piddle rain forever (and up until the writing of this report, it still is doing that thing). From the top, it settled in on a flatter gravel road until it moved into the woods for a while with some short rolling hills. This looped back around to the top of the resort before landing you back down into the aid station. From there, you continued down the hill and up again into the woods onto single track. This single track was more hilly and actually very muddy at this point. It was the kind of glassy mud where you can’t get traction but it’s still somehow sticky but doesn’t stick like clay. Very annoying. Out of the woods for a hot minute, you would come up to this opening where you could look over a few hundred foot drop to the lake below, very scenic. Back into the wood for another hill and back out of the wood to be greeted with the “biggest” hill, grassy and open. At the top, you took a quick turn and headed to the start again. Just past the start was the aid station and drop bag location.

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It was interesting to see how the course changed with each loop. Some parts dried out (the single track in the second half) and some parts got more beaten down and worse (the first half in the woods). The latter half of the second section remained bad the whole race. However, more about myself changed more often than 3 odd miles of loop. The pain on my right side just would come and go in waves of a few minutes. Nothing seemed to trigger it other than running, but even then, it would only sometimes be painful. It was a dull pain until it was sharp, and I would end up walking. I got a few laps in before I stopped to ask the medical staff on site about it. This took a good 15 minute chunk of time out of my efforts as I had to wait for the staff to get to the aid station and then talk it out.

They didn’t think it was appendicitis at least. They recommended going to urgent care when I got back. I did end up going to the doctor when I returned, but they didn’t know, nor did any tests. I’m always disappointed in the lack of tests my doctor does…like do they even touch people anymore or is society so sensitive that that isn’t something kosher anymore?? Raging aside, I decided to walk a loop.

I got lapped by Megan at some point in here or least half lapped. I told her what was going on, nothing serious at least. At this point, I found Heather, who was moving along using poles. I had never met her, but it was a great time getting in at least a loop with her and getting her story. She had just done a 100, and was just doing this race for fun (the 8 hour). It was great sharing the trail with her. I moved on towards the end of my last full lap before they switched everyone over to a short 0.6 mile out and back.

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Mud on course…

I debated a bit on what I wanted to do, but headed out at a faster pace, ignoring my side pain. I was around mile 14-15 at this point, not a big deal but I had wasted so much time. Why not try and do strides at the end? It was only 0.6 miles. It was very hard packed, non technical dirt (completely dry), but uphill the way out. There was a lone man standing at the end of the parade of out-and-backers who was the “cone” to turn around. I raced my way back realizing it was much easier to gather miles here. I gave it my all. I turned my 15-18 min/mi paces into 10 min/mi paces, and quickly dropping that to sub 9 min/mi for the next 2 miles. Never have I had sub 10 minute per mile pace at mile 15+. Mile 16 was 8:52. I pushed hard. I kept doing math because 4 hours was almost up and I wondered if I could get just one more out and back in. I waited a few seconds at the timing mats, but then decided why not, if I failed, it doesn’t mean I didn’t go that distance, it just wouldn’t count in the race results, and if I didn’t fail, it would count in the results. I did my best pace possible, no walking, dropping my pace to 8:20 min/mi. This is about what my best 5k pace is at this time, so to say I was beyond my comfort zone at mile 16 is an understatement. There was only one guy left, and he was already ahead of me. It was just me left by the final stretch. Everyone cheered, I pushed hard. I looked at my watch, I knew I was over now. I crossed the timing mat about 40 seconds past 4 hours. Lap was not counted.

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I was dying. I gave it everything. Megan caught me in a photo and we got our medals and cleaned up a bit and headed inside. The food and awards took forever, but glad Megan stayed as she got one of the age group awards! The food was really good in my opinion, and it was long enough after the race, I could nibble on it. Top 5 post race food buffets.

Had the course been dry, it would have been a challenge anyway due to the short and steep hills everywhere with only one quarter mile of flat section. But it was more so challenging because of the mud. The RD and crew were very nice to me. It meant a lot they checked on me and remembered me when I was having issues. I would definitely consider another one of their races (Ornery Mule Racing, they also put on Hennepin 100).

I didn’t run much during this time because of my side issues. More training lost here. But I have bigger goals and potential injury doesn’t interest me especially when no one can diagnosis it. A week later it was doing ok. I think it was from doing weighted squats after not doing them for a long time. My legs can handle probably more load than the rest of me, causing me to slightly strain some abdominal muscle. So I cautiously signed up in the last 3 days leading up so I knew I would get somewhat of the weather forecasted beforehand as well for the Madtown series of events.

The 5k was moved from its original starting and finishing location since I had done it. I went to meet up with some of the She Runs This Town group beforehand. I did not really like the new starting location. It was pretty far from where I parked (like 1.5 miles LOL). I legit did not think it would be that far from Monona terrace. Live and learn! A nice warm up was running the last 0.4 miles because I was now going to be late for the group picture eeeeek. Weaving in and out of the passerbys was quite the experience, not a negative one. Pretty fun actually. With all that done, saying hi to so many local friends; Lori, her daughter in their very cute outfits, and her son, Melissa, Leah, Amy, and more (I can’t remember everyone!), I meandered to the starting line to watch them all go off for the 10k. The 5k started a bit later. The music was overpowering at times. I lined up pretty near the front.

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Dusk almost looked like it was approaching and I hoped it would get darker by the time I finished. Temps were reaching the 80s which I was very happy about, a warm partly cloudy evening with some spicy humidity. I had a plan…for a 5k?! Yup. The idea was to try and run each mile faster than the last and start out slower than I usually do when I go all out in a 5k. Contrary to popular belief for ultra runners, I enjoy the 5k distance and putting forth a mighty effort for 20-30 minutes.

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Yes the Capitol is far away from the starting line !

I started out, uphill toward the Capitol, at an 8:30 pace, my precise planned pace for the first mile, and it felt pushed slightly but felt good. Course flattened out as it passed by those involved with the 10k and I high fived them as they passed by. I found out quickly, when trying to drop pace here, I was unable to go faster than what I was doing and spit out an 8:34 mile. The last mile I knew would be the hardest, so I kind of knew my pace was screwed, but I felt the breath of those who might be behind me and kept up my pace. I knew I was fairly far in front compared to many in the 5k. I was maintaining between 8:05-8:30 pace until Observatory hill came up, and this is the first time I’ve had to do it backwards and was unsure how I would feel about it (we would do it reverse in the half the next morning). And wow, it went didn’t it? It dropped my average mile pace to 8:51. No one was really around me, but I pressed on. The finish was soon right after the hill, so I gave 100% of what I had left. I averaged sub 7:00 min/mi for the final push. People at the finish line asked if I was ok. The winner of the 10k came in a few minutes after me and he wanted a picture with me at the milk table. Aight. Total time was an unappealing 26:45. My best is over a minute faster, still trying to beat THAT PR. That one will take a lot more work.

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I waited thereafter (not cold!) for friends. I waited for Rich, and he got his 10k PR in (his first 10k haha). I waited for Steven, and he grabbed a nice PR time too. I waited for Leah and saw her power through the last 0.1. I found Lori and ran a bit with her pushing her to the finish. It was exciting.

Let me tell you about the course. It’s fine, and the darkness set in sometime near when I finished. Post race was really good. Lots of music and a good area to mingle, a backdrop to take pictures or selfies with, chocolate milk at the finish, and water, and some goodies too. They provided glow necklaces and bracelets at packet pickup. Timing and results were ready right after you finished. Pretty perfect. There was an aid station in the 5k but I typically don’t note them and ignore them. Overall still a really good race. I found out I placed in my age group, but since age group winners can double dip with overall awards, I did not get one. I believe 3/5 Overall female winners were in my age group! Tough competition but I would try again for real next year instead of holding back.

The one thing I have to say is there is no challenge option for half/5k (there is for half/10k) which would have been nice to not get two of the same event shirt.

Onto a few hours of sleep, then up the next morning and head off for the half. The half course had not changed since I did it in 2017. This means going up Observatory the right way, and early on. Though there would be a harder hill later.

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I planned on an event split race this time, keeping the heart rate in mind and in check. So I chose to switch off the garmin screen with pace and distance and went by feel. I started out with Steven and by mile 4 I had to say goodbye, after Observatory I needed some recovery time to bring my heart rate back to levels I could sustain. My complaint here was there was a short out and back and there was no timing mat at the end where you went around a cone. EASY section to cut the course on. After hearing multiple Marathon Investigation reports, I am thinking more about these things. How every day people feel the need to cut the course even if they aren’t winning. If you are reading this and you are a course cutter, yes I am calling you out. It’s just wrong my dudes.

This half I did differently than my marathons. I would tolerate up to 160 and then hold back more if I got close to it instead of forcing a walk above 154. This ended up rewarding me.

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Observatory Climb. (See people in the background climbin’)

The day was overcast so I had to create my own motivation. Alone now. My paces for the first few miles were 9:47, 9:51, 9:57, 10:02, 10:08, 9:44, and 10:20 for the first 7 miles. My half half split was about 1 hour and 5 minutes. I was told by many people this course would be not ideal for a half PR and I thought about this throughout the course going on my way. I was feeling pretty ok entering the arb section which is where I met some demons last time I did this race, hitting a wall in a half. I still feared this would happen as this is not my favorite part of the course. I managed to catch back up to Steven here and checked out an aid station. I didn’t “try” and catch him though, I let my pace stay steady. When I caught up to him with that, we ran together for a bit and I slowed and discussed a plan for the big hill. I had done hill repeats on it like a month before and there was no point wasting energy trying to run the whole thing. Walked the first steeper part and light run towards the top. I stopped and waited for Steven, but he was a little tired and told me to go on. I decided I wanted to run the last 5k pretty hard, so I went in with what I had left.

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Big hill at mile 9/10.

Mile 8 had been 9:39, 9:56 for mile 9 and 10:33 for mile 10. Now to go in. Everything was flatter now and free. I hit mile 11 at 10:50 with a not so quick stop to eat some aid station things. Dropping to 9:30 at mile 12, and busting out a 9:01 for the 13th mile and glided to the finish. I felt fairly comfy at mile 12, and managed the 9:01 pace but felt worse. My heart rate was settled in and really didn’t rise too much. I finished in 2:10:47. I felt entirely better than the Wisconsin Marathon Half although much slower. I’ll call it even splits. I also decided two other things…

1. I no longer want to try for a PR, because it was literally so painful trying to keep a certain pace whether I was trained or not for it, and it took a lot of joy out of running. So when I PR, I’m going to let it happen when it does.

2. This course is a great PR course for me. I had more trouble with the flatter Wisconsin Marathon course. I definitely need rollers.

Going up Observatory this way was WAY WAY easier on me, as it’s more gradual and I was able to run up it in several races. The down isn’t as rewarding but if you tuck your abs in right, you can cruise on down.

Overall these reports are more numerical and less detailed, but I’m writing these way after the fact too and that makes a huge difference. I have had very little time to do much writing lately and didn’t think these sparked too much interest.

Lastly, the Dirty 30 12 miler. It ran like a marathon, do I have your attention now?

There were a lot of new things about this race.

1. My muscles were super fatigued from all the “boot camp” work I did earlier in the week, including some short runs and hill work, swelling from my flight in my legs (ouch), mountain hikes/runs, and a full on aerobic class. I was shot. Used up I tell ya.

2. I was at elevation! Race was about 9000 feet above sea level and went higher.

3. I was dealing with something in the back of my left calf at this point as a result of the flight I took to get there and the swelling in my leg that resulted from that.

4. Not having looked at any of the course or website information beforehand. Trust me folks, this is NO NO for a racer, I figured 12 miles was 12 miles and left it at that. ALWAYS read the race website. This resulted in me not knowing the elevation gain, the elevation profile, or exactly WHERE it was and that there was no service in the surrounding area.

I learned a lot of things too, more on that later.

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The day started out cold. I freaked and didn’t bring pants (again). I probably would have done better with capris looking back at least. I would have done well to have arm sleeves too, but I only brought tech shirts, so I borrowed a long sleeve shirt from Lauren (Scott’s wife and she is too awesome). I wore a hat to keep in the heat. The start of the race is up up up. I quickly learned from others the gain on the 12 miler course was 4000 feet. I did me a think. Nah, that couldn’t be right. The 50k had about 7000 gain…that seemed right. No way could 12 miles fit that kind of gain in. Well up I went. It wasn’t bad, very steady and I settled into the conga line immediately. The start of the race was on a single track and no way around it.

First mile 13:02. For all the conga line, I did ok. The next mile had a lot of up and down. Was going 8 min/mi pace ON the TRAILS, until it went up again 0.6 miles into the mile killing my pace to 11:59. Still not a bad overall pace, then my right foot caught up with me. Yes that thing where my foot falls asleep and I have to stop and release the pressure. KILL the pace. Also up up up! This mile gained about 600 feet, not shabby, but with all the issues my time ended up being 21 minutes. Heeeeeey now. The next mile had about equal gain, and thus the problems continued and I was just so frustrated now. Another 21 minute mile. Who’s counting seconds anymore??

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Pretty sure this was one of the only mileage signs, nice.

I knew the top of this climb was soon. The trail was non technical. I arrived at the top just as the garmin spoke of mile 5, just in time to stop at the main aid station. This aid station, phew boy, it had everything you could want. They had watermelon! (Grilled things too, and some other candies…) I stopped ahead of the curve to fill up my bladder with Tailwind, I had been going through so much. Maybe this was a result of being at altitude? I headed off, downhill, down this jeep road, and there was a photographer (apparently there were only two official race photographers and neither of them caught me personally on course, and I saw three others at various places which got me excited to see the finisher pics, but WHO KNOWS WHO THEY WERE?!). With the aid station I managed a 14 min/mi (moving pace was an 11 min/mi, so I can assume I was eating watermelon for about 3 minutes).

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Talk about nontechnical.

I wasn’t really concerned with sunburn, as I had on a dark long sleeve shirt and hat, as the sun rose high in the sky above with puffy clouds…wait. Those are some dark puffy innocent clouds…

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Downhill didn’t go as well as I had planned, as I was still feeling a little off with my calf muscle (it was hard to push off with my toes like normal going uphill). I managed to get in a 12 min/mi. My abs were kind of tired from all the other workouts I had done. The next two miles were pure climbing again and were very open single track, something I am very unfamiliar with. This was up to the top of the mountain there. I was still feeling pretty laggy at best, and those clouds turned to storms. Out in the distance, they boomed some thunder as I caught a few other participants (surprising cause I was not power hiking well). Two more 22 minute miles slipped by. At this point, it only crossed my mind for a few minutes that I may have too much clothing on so I pulled up the sleeves a bit. Ah. That’s good enough. I was really hoping to beat the storm to the finish, but I entered the woods now.

Entering the pines…it was nice, and shelter from the seemingly oncoming rain storm. I was passed by the winner of the 50k at this point. No, I wasn’t THAT slow, the 50k race started a few hours earlier and the courses only overlapped at the beginning and end of the race. He just like….ran up the entire struggle bus climb, right there, he did that. I saw him. What a legend. Must be nice to be able to run up an 18% grade with ease. #goals

I had some fun running through the pines and the climb continued up. I got a good power hike on, hiking with another runner and chatting it up. I had talked to a bunch of other runners along the way, 95% of them were from Colorado. My goal was to beat these two other girls who had moved from Illinois to Colorado two or three years ago. The one girl I noted was wearing an Ironman 70.3 hat, which I wanted to know about until she kept telling her friend that she needed to beat my low-lander butt out of respect…clearly within earshot. She at one point told me that it was ok to feel bad since I didn’t have what it took to do well at altitude. Oh ok. Everyone else was pleasant and nice. I kept my effort even going up, afraid I was going to blow up at some point.

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The trail turned into more technical terrain as we slowly climbed to the top where we would receive our W and turn around to head home to the finish. This is more what I expected the whole race to be actually. Hit a 17 min/mi! I think I am finally pulling out of this funk. I took some pictures and headed down after saying hi to Mike from Team BU at the top. The climb down was easy peasey for me, just like home (Virginia), and I took a risk and went a bit faster on this technical stuff. I felt at home for real here. The rocks were far more stable and drier (where did the storm go? I could still hear thunder occasionally), and my feet were not wet, so here we go!

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Sweet sweet single track in the west.

I returned down to meet up with part of the trail we went up. Hit an 11:47 mile at mile 10. The next mile still had a bit of climbing, about 400 feet at least (according to my garmin, which was lowballing the elevation gain and loss for the race), and dropped my pace to 16 minutes. There was also an aid station here somewhere, maybe mile 9?, not as glamorous as the last. Climbed over a fallen tree I had climbed over before, trying not to get wood in my hands was more the issue but I could tell meeting up with more 50k’ers that their legs weren’t having the straddle movement now.

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Final mile was amazing. It was a windy, downhill, nontechnical roller coaster. I felt like I was flying, and passed quite a few more people. I hit the final stretch at a 7:50 pace. Not enough to save my average pace AT ALL by this point. But I honestly felt all warmed up now and ready to go. Oops. I managed to finish in 3:15, but garmin says it’s missing about 9 minutes of moving time in there so my paces were probably lost in the mountains. I know I stopped for a good amount of time at the main aid station, but only took coke from the 2nd, shot it, and left.

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Top of the big climb.

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At the crossroads of the big climb in the woods.

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I was a frozen mess, but it was COURTNEY! *fan girls*

Afterwards, I grabbed some food, which honestly was quite good with the option of hamburger or hot dog, potato salad, chips, fruit, and beans I think? 10/10 ending food. The guys at the grill were diggin’ it. My complaints for this are:

1. There was no medal for the 12 miler, nothing at the finish, which was rather disappointing.

2. There were low-lander awards for the 50k, but not the 12 miler (and literally only one low lander beat me iirc).

3. For the price you paid for the race, I just expected more out of it other than food. There was no shirt unless you ordered it with your registration.

Of course I am not a race director, but I have gotten more out of similar races for less cost. Not sure what the disconnect there is. It was hard to tell what effect the altitude had on me for the race because of all the other bodily stuff going on.

From here, you can read about my 40ish miles on Military Ridge State Trail Fastest Known Time, which I did a few days after getting back from all this, as that blog is already up. I just finished up with the S’more 24 hour race, and there will be a whole write up on that coming some time this week given I have the time to write this (this report took me a few days because I have been so busy).

Oh, and this marks off Colorado on my states list, so there’s that, but I’m sure I’ll be back for more of that sweet single track.

Blue Ridge Double Marathon

My first 50 miler, officially, yeah I know I’ve “done” 50 miles, but what does it feel like to stop at that time? Get ready for a picture show, cause I took a lot! I knew where to take them and most of them were on the fly, so sorry for the mass uploads! I tried to keep them in order.

This all started when my friend Robin messaged me last year and asked if I could come do it with her since the race suggested that you run with a friend so you are not alone at night (Safety!). Robin and I had met at the Dam 50k at Smith Mountain Lake in Sandy Level, VA two years ago somewhere with 10k left to go and ran the rest together. I have no seen her since, but we have stayed connected through facebook.

I had always wanted to do the Blue Ridge Double Marathon, but I was always afraid of the distance, and knowing what ONE marathon felt like there, with the pitch of the road, and the gain/loss on the course. But since Zion 100k the prior year, I had surmounted a bunch of long distance know-how and to not fear the unknown so much. Did I have too much knowledge of this one this time?

I had completed this course as my first marathon. I did terribly. I came back the next year ill prepared to say the least after having moved to Wisconsin and faced my first winter there (and the local said it was a mild winter, Lord help me). I did hardly any runs, and hardly any long runs for that matter, not knowing what to do when it was cold outside like it was, I had no running gear or even regular clothes to wear outside in those conditions. Training fail. It was my 3rd marathon then. I managed to mess around, and have a lot of fun (albeit super sore after), and finished 40 minutes faster than the previous year anyway, thanks mostly to upping my nutrition and figuring out how to pace the course. Another year later, I did it for a 3rd time and put some serious effort into training for it, including running my first 50k for training! I smashed my expectations and came in 30 minutes faster than the previous year, while it rained. I could not imagine doing the course faster than that, and had no unfinished business with the course or race.race_2042_photo_51324294

But there was the double marathon, and the opportunity to actually do it. I applied again, like I had two years in the past, to be a race ambassador. Regardless of where I was in this world, and no matter what I do, I will always support my hometown race. It’s really well put together and still the best marathon I’ve been to hands down. Many trail runners have described that it is the only road marathon they will ever do, a road marathon with a trail vibe. I became an ambassador and signed up for the double.

I made training plans, and put in some work, making the Terrapin 50k part of that training, along with hefty runs in the mountains for a month beforehand in Virginia. I was discouraged a little as some of my old segments were slower than I had been before. I didn’t feel more tired, I didn’t feel less adequate. My hormones probably playing some role there. What had been a warm start to spring in Virginia quickly turned late winter upon my arrival. Le sigh.

Race week went by so quickly. I monitored the forecast for two weeks out of course, and saw…

Rain. Thunder.

Why though.

Don’t I deserve a break?

Nah, said everyone.

I am so tired of being wet and cold hahaha. Laughing at myself right? It came down to mid 50s race evening. Oh yeah, the race starts at 1am. Logistics in a bit, they are interesting sit tight. Rain and thunderstorms were predicted. The high the next day fluctuated from 59 to 68°F between the two weeks of obsessively watching the weather from three different models. The time of the second marathon varied between storms and dry and overcast skies. So in classic Virginia fashion, it was completely useless and an utter waste of time trying to figure it out, and it will be what it will be like every year. Virginia spring time in April varies from their last snow of the season to blazing heat with humidity weighing you down to the black pavement radiating back the same heat, seeping into your very soul. Yay weather!

So the logistics. You as a double marathoner had one of two choices for starting times. 1 am and 2:30 am. Regardless you had to be back to the starting line by 7:30 am in order to start with the actual marathon start at 7:35 am, although they press you to be back before 7 am. There needs to be a lot of thought put into this. You have about 6ish hours for the first half, and then 7.5 hours for the second, with a cutoff at mile 24 of 6 hours. When you finish your first marathon, you have downtime, and you have to utilize that time you have to 1) not lock up for the second marathon, 2) change clothes?, 3) refuel, as there is no on course support the first half, way less than you’d have in an ultra (more on that later), 4) use bathrooms, personal needs, etc, 5) plan the second marathon!

So when you cross the finish line for the first time, that ends your timer, unlike in an ultra, the clock does stop here. This down time is all yours. If you don’t allow yourself enough time between the two marathons, starting up and finishing the second will be more difficult. If you have too much time, your chances of starting the second feeling decent is low with legs locking up, and allowing your core to stop working, body temp cools down. Ideally you’d want to finish in some mid range where you won’t get too comfortable between them and where you won’t be struggling to do what you need to get done to transition to the second. One major thing about the first half is that it is unsupported, you must bring everything you need with you. You can’t stash anything, no one can bring you stuff. There was occasional water, but even then you didn’t know when you’d access it. This added a lot of weight to my pack. The second marathon is fully supported almost every mile, and was it glorious.

So there I was…

So it begins haha.

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I had plans to stay up progressively later and later during the week, but I ended up going to bed before even my normal bed times! So that didn’t pan out. I planned to sleep in as long as possible on the day of, day before? Friday. The race started 1 am Saturday. I slept in, got good calories in, went to the expo, now in the Patrick Henry hotel. Rain threatened the skies. Ate a good dinner at Ichiban Hibachi in Roanoke and went home to prepare. My hydration was on point too. Sweet tea all week long. I double checked my “bag” for the half way point and around 11:45pm Friday night, my sister picked me up and off we went to the starting line, as I saw a strong line of thunderstorms approaching the area…due to hit around 1 am.

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Radar 1 hour before race start at 1am.

 

Sweet!

We arrived at the starting line, checked in, and met up with Robin who had magically been able to sleep somehow in the middle of the day before the race!! We meandered into the road, blissfully forgetting the roads were all still open until a car would come by. The starting temps were not too bad, as it was very moist out, the humidity rising up in the 90% range. No wind. I donned my Altra Wasatch vest for the coming rain, that with 100% certainty would come. I wore my Inknburn 6” shorts and tech under, and my Orange Mud endurance pack full of 2L of water and tailwind mix, and new Noxgear night run vest (required). I also wore shoe light flashers, a reflective and flashing wristband, and a headlamp. I carried extra batteries, all my gels, extra tailwind, phone (required), and ipod in my plastic baggy although I did not listen to it during the first marathon. This all weighed so much more than what I was used to. This would take a toll.

The start of the race was much like any other, a gentle go out into the night runners of the ultra! The course I will break down into a few section, since I have detailed this course before in two or three other race reports…

BRM COURSE

The first section, the climb most of the way up Mill Mountain.

The second section, the rollers between Mill Mountain and Roanoke Mountain.

The third section, the climb and descent of Roanoke Mountain.

The fourth section, back to the rollers from before and climbing the rest of Mill Mountain to the half way point in the marathon.

The fifth section, descent from Mill Mountain down to the flattest stretch of the course along the Roanoke Greenway steadily climbing to the Peakwood Mountain climb.

The sixth section, Peakwood climb and descent.

The seventh section, post-Peakwood rollers.

The eighth section, Wasena park and bridges leading to downtown and finish line.

Then do it all over again!!

Robin and I were the team to get through the first marathon together, the second half up in the air depending on how we felt by then. The general vibe was cool going up the first climb on Walnut, discovering that some people did not have a headlamp! I saw this when I helped pace my friend Ginger at Umstead, but the guy who didn’t have a headlamp there was slower and steady and older, but he didn’t have a care in the world! Maybe this is a thing I’ve never noticed or maybe I do too technical of ultras typically at night, but this has only been recently I’ve seen people without headlamps at night! Someone please enLIGHTen me.

We walked some of this, not much, but it was mile 2 after all. The goal much of the loop was to run moderately conservative on the downhills (the grades were pretty steep and could take down your quads fairly quickly given too much effort), and power hike the major uphills, making side deals on which hills to run parts of given our current condition as to not burn out. Pacing for the double was trick to say the least. It constantly had you thinking about what you needed to do to help prevent yourself from being too beat up. This did make the time pass faster for sure and I hardly looked down at my watch to check the overall time…just pace was kept in mind per mile.

LET OPEN THE APOCALYPTIC SKIES! Mile 2 or 3, the heavens released on us the downpour. It was hard to hear Robin over the rain. I popped up my hood on my vest and carried on. Right before the rain started, I was getting kind of hot in my getup…almost. Then it rained and justified everything I was wearing. Because it was a vest I had thought about how I would stash it with the lack of sleeves. But then kept it on for the remainder of the marathon. It rained for a good bit at a heavy pace. The roads formed puddles that were mostly easily avoided, but wet shoes were immediately a factor, and this was my biggest fear of all. I feared with the wet feet that they would macerate quickly like they had before. I specifically wore very thin socks for this first marathon. I also wore my Altra Olympus for extra cushion and the draining specs. These ended up being great choices, regardless that it was trail shoes on a road. I knew I could count on them.

The rolling hills came and went, and were much longer than I remembered! But that also meant there were fewer of them. We got to the base of Roanoke Mountain. The rain had tapered off a bit. The climb was as I remembered. But this time was different. This time Roanoke Mountain overlook had been closed since the time of Cloudsplitter due to storm damage. So we were to go up Roanoke Mountain and come right back down the way we came instead of going the full loop. This would require runners to also do a small out and back along the rolling hills between Roanoke and Mill Mountains.

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“False” Summit up Roanoke Mountain, overlook.

Upon reaching the summit of Roanoke Mountain, we noticed very quickly there was lightning. Uh oh. Let’s run a bit faster now so we don’t have weather complications up there. I studied the lightning, and it seemed pretty far, but it was very bright in the dark of the night. Seemed like dry lightning. On the way down, we hit our best paces, trying to hold back as much as possible, again, trying to save the quads. This was the first major downhill section at a decent grade we had had yet. I got a slight bit depressed not seeing sub 10 min/mi on the way down, but I knew this had to pay off later.

Once down the mountain, we hit the out and back section through a camp ground, I admit I had never been before. Giant puddles! The pitch of the road went from real pitched to not at all. Thus puddling from the rain. I had 5 gels with me, and I managed to hit all of them at the intervals I needed to. Although this time, I had a hard time getting them down from the start. So if the gel was liquid enough, I would shoot it versus trying to break it down in my mouth. This went over well. Shoes still wet. Carry on.

The out and back was a lot shorter than I imagined it would be and it was roped off the entire way. Back we went to Mill Mountain. At this point I was realizing I was quickly going through water, which normally does not happen. I had no urge to restroom it up and I knew I was NOT dehydrated before the race going into it. Maybe it was because it was a night start? I’m used to fasting the night before a race and am never really thirsty before a race or workout in the morning. But I do usually drink a ton right before bed, especially if I work out before bed (which I do enjoy doing). I needed water, and waited until we saw a place to fill up. I knew at the top of Mill Mountain were bathrooms, and worse case, could fill up in the sink there (I had done it before during training back when). Luckily, at the top of Mill Mountain, there was a guy with the water jug. I filled it up and was out, although it was quite the task taking off all of my gear and putting it back on (remember I had the lit vest on top of my water pack). All this added up to quite a bit of time. But the view. I had signed up for this race for this night view of the city. The fog from the previous day had cleared and I was grateful. I had waited for this moment. And just a moment, we had to keep moving, with the cut off looming over us.

The good news was, all the port-o-potties were already up and out. I had christened one earlier at mile 5, and now it was Robin at mile 14. I noticed that the arrows used for the full/half/10k had not been placed everywhere, but they were at the top of Mill Mountain already. So another thing to note, you had to self-navigate the course! I knew the course like the back of my hand up through downtown. It was about to get fuzzy haha.

The greenway was challenging to traverse. It was flat. How do you run flat? It’s way more complicated than you think after climbing up and down two mountains. It’s harder on your mind and legs. You have nothing to throttle you, and no perception of how fast or slow to go, especially in the dark when you can’t see anything. I’ve always had issues here. We (well at least I did) fumbled around and got through it to reach the pre-climb to Peakwood. Things started getting more interesting.

The climb to Peakwood was what I remembered exactly, but felt a little different this time. Different from Roanoke Mountain. I was climbing better, although keeping it to a power hike. Robin remarked on the houses and how nice the neighborhood was. This was really the first neighborhood on course and nearly at mile 17. All of a sudden, I smelled smoke. Fire? We kept going and soon saw a glow on the hill side (near the peak of Peakwood) and lots of lights. Something was on fire! This is as much knowledge as we gleaned cause I never heard more about it. The fire truck came back down the mountain to meet us and pass by. Near the top, we smelled the odor more. We saw the city lights well below us off in the distance through the trees, still not full of leaves yet. The top was very anticlimactic. And we headed back down. Quads were talking, but not too bad. Peakwood is very steep but not as long as the other two climbs. Upon hitting the base of Peakwood coming back down, trucks were beginning to line up cones to close off the course for later.

58373920_2302407656492561_8251078431307988992_n And then creepy mannequin! EVERY YEAR!! This house puts out this mannequin and dresses them up to hold a sign. When you’re out at night, it makes it even more creepy! The guy who we’d talked to before shouted out out his bib number to the lifeless statue and then got closer and realized it was not a person! (We had periodic check in points where people recorded our bib numbers.)

This was pretty useful as we followed it for directions. We crossed the bridge heading to the final section of the course encountering one larger climb still to go somewhere in here. My pace felt fast for once, and I knew I needed more calories and started to worry about the second marathon at this point. Would I be able to run at all? I felt gross with all the wet clothes on still. Robin and I started making deals with each other at this point to get in as much running as we could hoping our legs didn’t dwindle away. Downtown is essentially a bunch of smaller rolling hills that are just very annoying. They aren’t steep and completely runnable, but at this point you just don’t want to run them. We made the most of it using electric poles and cars parked along side the road. Much of the marathon, we did not encounter any cars.

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Sunrises approaches.

Reaching Wasena park, we ran a lot of it, probably more than necessary here as it was very tiring (being more so the flat greenway section). It was A LOT longer than I remembered. I kept assuring Robin we’d be done with it when we weren’t. Welp. Finally we climbed out of Wasena park and headed towards the finish, which you could see the big tall bank building downtown and it looked REAL far away, but it was only 2 miles? The course provides you with this really short and really steep downhill here, and quads were definitely talking. I told Robin we’d probably have to walk this the second time! It was light enough we didn’t need headlamps as the sun was beginning to rise. We hit the downhill stretch and to the first finish. As we were coming in, some people were congregating at the start line and cheered us hard as the announcer announced us coming in. First loop was done in 5:46. We had about 40 mins until start 2.

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At this point, I met up with the family. Robin headed to her car to get her stuff done. I went to the changing rooms in a nearby hotel that the race had reserved for double marathoners (really great!!). I joined the women’s changing room, which they had a nice spread of water bottles and fruit and coffee and stuff I couldn’t really take in trying to get my own self under control. 59211530_1145435898962888_7029540847007825920_n I got out of my wet clothes using the Orange Mud changing towel and dried off. They also had towels for us at the hotel too! It was so good to get out. I was getting sore though. I dreaded the second loop, having a hard time sitting down. I had texted my mom earlier to go get me sprite. I downed 2/3 of the larger bottle. I took in some pixie sticks too. I changed into my lucky monarch tech from Inknburn, and new 6” shorts. I changed socks to a thicker pair, lubing my feet up with 2toms. I found NO blisters or maceration! I was in shock. I replaced my shoes with a brand new pair of Altra Escalantes. I had nothing against the Olympus for the 2nd lap, but I wanted a different feeling under my foot after all those road miles. I shed everything except my bra…which was brand new to me haha (new brand and everything y’all). Bra felt ok, although wet, I wasn’t going to change what was working. I kept working on the Sprite. Rich and Steven, both doing their first marathon that day, were waiting outside. I didn’t want to make them nervous but I still had this sinking feeling that the second lap was not going to go well. I tried not to voice it outloud.

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I hope I don’t look like I’ve done a marathon already!

I wanted them to have a great day. This race was hardly about me. I placed it on others for sure. I was here for Robin, she was the one who asked me. Was this an A race for me? Yes, but I was sharing it. I was here for Rich and Steven doing their first, and even tackling the hardest road marathon.

I went to the restrooms in the hotel to apply more 2toms to the more sensitive areas and more diaper rash cream too. I did some business there, but didn’t really have to pee still. I drank SO MUCH. I didn’t worry about it and carried on. I met back up with Robin for the second lap, the second marathon. We placed ourselves near the 6:00 pacer near the back of everyone.

We waited for the second start. The National Anthem was sung, opera style! Woah, that was new. The announcer told everyone to look out for us with our Pink Bibs. Red is for marathon, Yellow is for half marathoners, Green for 10k, and Pink for double marathon. Before we knew it, we were off. Rich and Steven were near us and were chatty as ever. We woke out watches back up, stating we had already done 26.4 miles (my watch is always somehow 0.2 miles over EVERY year regardless of watch I’ve used).

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Mom and sister.

We just laughed beside ourselves. When you know what you are up against, and have to do it again, it’s pretty real. My energy levels were awesome throughout the night, and I waned a little during sunrise, but was back at it again uppity and everything after the marathon started again. Beep beep, we were across and going again. I noticed pretty quickly on the first climb that my legs felt great again. Thank you Sprite and Mom. What calories will do for you!

58372979_801555030225668_7639893379517513728_nThe scenery in the daytime was amazing. The fog had settled on the mountains and was very pretty. The climb from the back of the pack was a bit of a different experience. I could see so many people from back here on the climb. We ran into some really neat people and chatted it up. We took Walnut Avenue a little more conservative power hiking a lot of it. Upon reaching the base climb of Mill Mountain, we agreed we felt pretty decent and decided to start running again. Felt pretty good! We make some deal and goal targets but would often forget because we were around so many people.

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Climbing up Walnut Avenue.

At the top of the first section going on to the rolling hills again, we noticed the puddles had drained! Mile 4 or 5 of the second marathon, reaching the 50k point, there was a photographer. We talked and said we would try and jump, cause why not? Good reason as to why not, our leggies were not what they used to be! I’ve seen it before in Ironman, where some hot shot dude goes up to the finish chute and does a jump and then instantly crumples to the ground in a pile of man. We were careful and I wasn’t sure how far I’d get off the ground but we counted down and did it! Good thing race pictures are free. Thank you Blue Ridge Marathon!!

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Let’s jump!

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Climbing the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mill Mountain.

The bugle man was still there playing for everyone who passed before ascending to Roanoke Mountain! What chops!

I took a cup of Skratch mix every aid station. I really still don’t like Skratch, it doesn’t taste good. But it was what the race provided and who was I to complain about not carrying a water pack the second half? My shoulders and back were really sore from carrying around that weight even now.

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Going into the fog during the rolling hills.

We started the climb to Roanoke Mountain again, ugh. This time was a bit slower. The grade seemed a little steeper in the day time. And being able to see where the climb stopped (or in this case didn’t stop) was a mind game. But this was an out and back and we saw the first few males in the race coming down! In the top 10 males, there was the top double marathoner male, he was blazing fast and to keep up with the regular top marathoners with fresh legs?! CRAZY! I was very impressed. I would start looking for Rich and Steven who we lost literally 0.1 miles into the marathon hahaha. I knew they wouldn’t be able to go as slow as the 6:00 hour pacer. We were also ahead of the 6:00 pacer at this point.

But the most touching and brilliant pick-me-up were the people in the marathon coming down. Everyone could recognize the pink bibs and would shout out “go doublers!” This is when we started to cluster with others doing the double marathon. We ended up in a group of at least 6 of us, which is insane to think about considering there were only 61 or so who started. Every time we passed people, which was quite often, there would be a little party of shouting and yelling at us, and it was the absolute most motivating thing to be recognized for what we were doing. I was emotional.

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Time to climb Roanoke Mountain part 2.

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“False” Summit up Roanoke Mountain, daytime.

I really hated that the course had to be changed from the traditional course of the Roanoke Mountain loop, but honestly seeing people on the out and back instead was really cool. The first aid station up there, I stopped quickly and it seemed that there was a volunteer there this year JUST to take pictures of people with their phone at the first overlook (the false summit for Roanoke Mountain…and every mountain had a false summit). Neat. We continued our way up and met up with Steven. I was puzzled. Where was Rich? Did something happen? Steven said he was just in the restroom. I saw Rich soon after and high fived him. He and Steven looked great! And a lot of the worst parts were over by now, even though it was mile 7. 2 climbs done out of 4.

(I consider the climbs to be: Mill Mountain, Roanoke Mountain, Mill Mountain summit, and Peakwood.)

At the top the aid station there had some oranges. I took oranges at every aid station that had them.

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The real summit!

Time to turn around and head back down. Oof. Ok, yeah quads took a pounding. It was very hard going down as our pace suffered barely squeaking out 13:00 min/mi. I shot some gel and tried to get the calories up. Coming down near the base, I could swear I heard my mom, but I had thought that before going up and thought it was the same person, whoever it was. But no, it was mom. She was ringing quite the cow bell, and I was confused as to where she got it! Sister took pictures and we carried onward back to the rolling hills. This time we could see the guardrails and make deals running from guardrail ends to beginning and the gaps in-between. This doesn’t work well at night! I saw the 6:00 hour pacer catching us, boo. I tried to pull Robin along…I’m sorry Robin!

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Roanoke Mountain overlook, other side.

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A new mascot appears this year!!

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We made it back down!!

We climbed Mill Mountain summit for the second time, passing by the zoo up there. Seeing the star the second time, Robin asked if I needed to stop to take a picture. I declined because I had done it so much before, and I am still ok with this decision. I stopped in the middle of the night. Robin took her port-o-potty break and I jammed stuff into my mouth. Quads were yelling on the way down Mill Mountain as we tried to extend our strides the best we could. Quick pit stop at the Moo-mosas stand (thank you guys) who always have mimosas and orange juice. I chugged three glasses of OJ down. I try not to have expectations that the locals who come out for the race every year will be there every year, but they don’t seem to disappoint. Annnnd the 6 hour pacer passes us. I finally took my first pee break at mile 14.5. FINALLY. We swept down and hit the greenway again. Just as tough as before, we managed through it. The climb up to the Peakwood climb was just as unpleasant and maybe longer than before, but we met up with Robin’s friend Wayne who indeed wanted a sweaty hug. It was refreshing. We looked at the houses in the daylight.

This is when I met a lady doing the marathon stopped on the side of the curb. She said she was cramping. I had been carrying this packet of salt chews for the entire race. I did not need them. I gave them to her and told her to eat them. She felt so relieved. And it hit me. The first time I did this marathon, a double marathoner came by me not too long before we did this year, who gave me one of his own gels and saved my race. I felt like I gave back what I had taken. The same lady caught up with us and kept us company for a while and said I had saved her race and felt much better. Then I saw the family again! Told me Rich was fast, and Steven was doing well.

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Pre-climb to Peakwood.

It was on the way up Peakwood that I also realized something kicked in. I was power hiking well, too well. Was this how it was supposed to be at Cloudsplitter before I messed up my tendon? I was consistent and felt powerful walking up, and much better than I did the first time. It’s like all my training from before hadn’t really left me. I kept feeling bad I was so in front of Robin, but we had a little crew of hikers going up. I kept checking in with her, and didn’t want to leave her.

 

Here are a slew of pictures describing Peakwood:

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The entrance to Peakwood.

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One of the steeper grades. I know you’re not supposed to take a picture of a hill because it will never do it justice, but hey.

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Almost to the top of Peakwood.

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Sign sort of shows steepness!

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The worst switchback! Near entrance to Peakwood.

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UP UP UP says the pavement. “Your last Mountain.”

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The top of Peakwood, around mile 18, was the Fink’s Aid station. They no longer had strawberries, sad day, but they still had grapes, which I took in quite a few of. This is also when Robin shot her fireball flask. Down we went! Ouch ouch ouch. We were still running though and that’s what mattered. Thankfully this was the last one. We passed some people on the way down, those no longer able to run downhill. Not going all out on the first loop was really paying off now. Shortly after the 20 mile mark, there was a young girl on the side of the road with watermelon on a stick. I immediately stopped and had some and shared the story I had:

During my first marathon, there was a small girl, probably around the age of 5 or so, who nervously gave out watermelon on a stick around this point. It was the most marvelous watermelon I had had. I was so thankful.

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She responded that it was probably her as her family did this every year. It hit me it had been four years now since then. She had grown up so much. I thanked her and her family for being out and helping all these times and that it meant a lot to me. I felt my life come full circle.

Our pace picked up a bit at the base of Peakwood mountain heading into downtown. We felt good, and I remarked that maybe Robin should have had the fireball earlier haha, and more of it. 58379879_583137065526595_571575828299644928_n Back to the mannequin, who…was wearing something different?? Oh ok. Downtown was rough, and we made even more deals for running between random inanimate objects. Let’s face it, if we were losing it and picked animate objects, this story would be more interesting, but we would have died. Our deals this time seemed to coincide with the deals we had made before, so we weren’t selling ourselves short of running. We were just proud we were running at all! Oh and I found a penny. Again, in an ultra.

I checked my text messages to see if I could figure out how Rich was doing during one of our short walk breaks. I couldn’t get the app to work. And realized Team BU women’s chat had sent me a message saying I was 8th female. What? I tried to put it in the back of my mind instead of the front, but every time I heard I’m doing ok, it lights a fire in me. From some of the repeated sections of the course though, I was pretty sure I couldn’t catch anyone (and found out later I had lost my 5th place position somewhere at the beginning of lap 2, but none of that matter because you could only check placings based on the 2nd marathon and there wasn’t data for the first to my understanding). Wasena! I hit the 50 mile mark before 12 hours was up!!! YAY!

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We agreed to walk a bit more here, and ended up running more than we had before because of this. I wanted to make sure I found the “Jesus Saves” Sign because somehow I miss it every freaking year. I found it!! I also found the big hill we agreed to walk down. It was a challenge walking DOWN a hill especially one that steep, but it was worthwhile. No leg snapping! I saw the bank building again, how is that two miles away again?!

Somewhere in here, I turned a corner and there was a cat. I perked up and the cat didn’t move as we approached. So I squatted down, like you do in an ultra (not even thinking it would be an issue, and it wasn’t?) and make clicking kissy noises at the cat. 57614897_403445283830659_1207567348471431168_n THE CAT CAME, MY ULTRA LIFE IS NOW COMPLETE. I petted the kitty and then got up and left. Turning more corners I realized I had a second wind. Robin did not. I could really go, but we were this close to the finish and I did not want to leave her, nor did I think running any faster would 1) put me below 12 hours, 2) give me a better place in the race. I’d come this far with her. Time to wrap it up. It started to rain again, the first time during the second marathon. I didn’t care at this point, the race was basically over. If I was wet, I was wet. Feet are how they are now.

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We came into the finishing shoot and Robin takes off. I catch up to her to stay by her side and finish the double marathon, the second marathon in 6:19, our total finishing time 12:07. I ended up 8th overall female, another top 10 female finish, 7th for my group (non-masters). After finishing, we found out Robin placed 2nd masters female! Feet were perfectly fine post race. I chugged down two cold chocolate milks easily. Thank you again for having these!! Eating was of course impossible.

I did not want to be on my feet however. Standing in line for the massage guy was a pain, but well worth while. I was really surprised how tight I wasn’t. I was kind of sore for two days and then on Tuesday I ran 6 miles with my friend Lori with ease. I was astonished. This was the first time I had run an ultra and been able to run after with my feet not being so mangled and my soreness at a relative minimum. I truly learned a lot more in this race and it was my first road ultra too.

I don’t think I am in love with the 50 miler. Just like the 10k and half marathon distances, I think it is awkward. I would rather just put in the effort to fulfill a 100k at that point. I clearly had more to give at the finish. Would I do the double again? Probably so. Would I do another 50 miler? It would have to be something special for me to consider it to be honest.

With the A race over for now, I rest and work on speed and getting faster. I am not injured and feel fantastic actually. I don’t feel tired or drained and I am ready for the next big thing. Except there is no next big thing for quite a while.

 

SPECIAL SHORT RACE REPORT: SLOW-K (5k, Sunday the day after the double).

Since the feet were unharmed during the making of this Ultra, I decided to drag my tired butt out of bed after not sleeping from 8:30am Friday through 9pm Saturday night for the exciting slow-k, a new addition to the Blue Ridge Marathon weekend set the stage near Wasena park, at River’s Edge Sports Complex.

The idea of this was to bring everyone together whether they ran or not in a very slow 5k “race”/event. Steven, Rich, and I headed to Roanoke for the almost hours drive to meet up with Robin again. The big news was that Jeff Galloway was going to be there! And donuts.

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They picked a fine donut, the premium Krispy Kreme kind. I had one, and was instantly sick! (My stomach was not taking things well at all.) So I added to the pleasure and fixed a hot chocolate (versus the coffee they had, I don’t drink coffee so having the hot chocolate alternative was awesome!). The “race” bibs were Leis with a small sticker with you “number”. So cute!! The morning was super rain threatening, but nothing became of that. Not too cool either.

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The start was more of a casual gathering of folks that were in the area. The announcement was made from the race director herself that “some races start with a gun, some start with a gong, and some even start by the lighting of a cigarette!” I laughed really loudly getting the joke, but a lot of people did not get the Barkley Marathons joke. “But, we start our race with the ceremonial bite of a donut!” She casually meandered to the start line. The bite was taken several minutes after the “start” time listed, classic. It really added to the coolness factor.

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And we were off, slowly! Had to pace ourselves for the big hill. I had run this 3 mile course several several times when I lived in the area, it was a very simple course that you really can’t mess up. It was on the greenway of course, and we all know how bad I am at pacing on the greenway by now!

Check out these signs…

The first stretch across the creek was wet and difficult, I tripped over some loose concrete and must remember to pick up my feet, this ain’t no trail race, but remember your basics! Soon we were already a mile into it, Robin sipping her coffee, trying to get nutrition down. I was running on donut power. Eventually, we broke free of the crowd to see those who were losing the slow-k, those running the event! Blasphemy. It looked like he was going to go sub 25, poor soul. A few followed him, but most stayed with the pack focusing on form and forward motion together.

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The Hill, and an aid station?! FANCY!!

Then the hill came. Robin and I made a deal that we would try and run the one hill. Ready, set, LUNGE! We lurched forward, our hamstrings crying out, IT band speaking another language. But we made it, heart rate beating so fast it wondered what we were even doing out here.

Then we found our target. We had caught THE Jeff Galloway. Hard not to spot him. We found a steady pace behind him using him as a buffer against the wind (there was no wind), being more aero and cutting down our energy output. Our pace increased! It was difficult but we kept up with this Olympian.

The end was near as we approached the creek again. A small incline separated us and victory. We placed well in the midpack, as we ran the last 0.02 miles into the finisher chute (which I was personally surprised there was one!) passing Jeff and securing our place, the only time we can say we beat an Olympian.

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Yes, it was a tough battle, but 55.5 miles completed for the weekend.

Terrapin Moutain 50k

Sedalia Center, Bedford, VA – My hometown

March 23rd, 2019, one day before my 32nd birthday.

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I came back early to Virginia to train a bit up for the Blue Ridge Double Marathon (April 13th, Roanoke, VA), hitting up a 50k I’d been eyeing for a while, but was never in Virginia the right time of the year. I wanted to do another 50k for my birthday considering it was:

1. on a weekend again (last time for a while!)

2. Very close to the number of miles I am old (31 vs 32)

3. In my hometown, and my family had purchased the Sedalia Center and turned it into what it is today (Arts center)

4. Very good elevation training for the Blue Ridge Double

The Blue Ridge Double Marathon has a little less than 8000 feet of gain and equal loss, Wisconsin isn’t the best place to get training let’s say. I got some good time on feet and very good mental training from the Cactus Classic Marathon not long ago. Everything pointed to this being the perfect race and the perfect fit.

The race itself was 31.3 miles, 7000+ feet of elevation gain (again, equal loss), along and on Terrapin Mountain in Jefferson National Forest, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, just north of the Peaks of Otter in Bedford, where I love to train…and a 9 hour cut off.

55576572_403077580471699_745418842968162304_n Ouch. Two of my 50ks I’ve taken rather leisurely, I’ve finished in 9-9.5 hours (albeit one was in blizzard conditions and my toes threatening frostbite; the other, Table Rock, another training race with just over 5000 feet of gain, one mountain but right after a hurricane hit making water crossings….interesting). My only other 50k with comparable gain was my first (also just over 5000 feet of gain over two mountains) but only about half of it was truly off road and not much of it trail…well, some of it just random flags marking your way in the woods. There wasn’t a good comparison for anything. This made me fear the 9 hour cut off time. I estimated I needed under a 17 min/mi. No biggie, back to being fearless?

I got back to Virginia the Monday before the race, tired, but the drive was manageable. I ended up planning a cool training run on Wednesday where I would run from a parking lot, up to Flat top summit, back down to the parking lot, and then up to Sharp Top summit and back down again. I stopped to take in the views and pictures, but tried to keep up the effort when I was moving. It totaled 8.5 miles with 3,300 feet of gain (for perspective, that’s most of the Blue Ridge Marathon’s elevation gain condensed into a third of the distance of 26.2 miles). Felt great the whole time. Felt great the next morning, but that afternoon, I started to feel sore. By Friday, I was having issues going down the stairs. The downhills I did was taking a bigger toll than I realized.

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The Pavilion overlooked by Terrapin Mountain

Friday afternoon, I went with my mom over to Sedalia to check out the scene and pick up my bib. What a windy windy day. Windchills dropped into the lower 30s before sundown. I was seriously not prepared to deal with these temperatures. Once again, I trusted a long term forecast (it was previously supposed to be in the upper 60s for highs, although the forecast for a sunny day held true). I brought only certain attire. The open pavilion was not sheltered from the winds, and the mountain loomed over the center from behind. I picked up one bib, a hand made mug, and a few stickers and a luggage tag, and one fall copy of trail runner magazine. I got to speak with the Race Director, a younger guy (Clark Zealand). I guess I was so nervous I gave him the impression I didn’t know what I was doing.

 

I got to ask if the course had any water crossings. He assured me that there were several creek crossings as well as mountain runoff water everywhere. I asked how much road there was, was answered it depended on what I considered road. He assured me that there was a bunch of satisfying single track. He mentioned that part of the course overlapped with both the Promise Land 50k (another 50k that has been on my radar but it’s in May and I’m usually recovering from another big event in mid-April) and Hellgate 100k (something I had wanted to do last year but was injured)…super interesting to me.

We left the center and returned to Bedford where we ate at Ruby Tuesday’s where I got ribs and a nice salad…a new pre-race meal from a new place! I don’t really fear what I eat beforehand anymore. It will be what will be. However, I know my body very well and I know my stomach is not very sensitive, even during a race (post race is a different story). I had most things sorted out for the race, but getting a taste of what 45°F and high winds felt like at the race site made me make some small changes.

I did not bring any tights, so capris it was. I changed my previous thicker socks opting out for my thinnest most compressive socks to help water shed (from being forewarned about the water on course). I was going to wear a singlet and a lightweight long sleeve pullover over top, but switched to my thermal long sleeve turtleneck (keeping the singlet on top of the thermal baselayer) and my Altra Wasatch jacket (wind/water proof)…yes three layers for a starting temp in the upper 30s. I changed my head gear to a hat and a tech tube over it covering my ears. Based on the race elevation profile, I opted to leave my pole with my mom who would meet me at the mile 9.5 aid station (the only aid station you could have crew at), as most of the first 1/3 of the course was a little uphill, and 5 miles of downhill on a gravel road. I kept with my choice of using the Altra Timps (1.5s) and trail gaiters.

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Sunrise that morning (mom’s pic)

I got in bed around 9pm, but we all know how the story goes.

 

I was awake every hour, almost on the hour, the entire night. The wind didn’t help blowing against the window of my room. I got up about 15 minutes before my alarm, around 5:00am. I crawled out of bed and got ready. Darkness greeted us as we headed back to the Sedalia Center. Light was no where in sight even upon arrival. It was bitterly cold, the wind remnants were still making their way through, so we sat in the car as more and more people arrived. There was going to be a pre-race briefing at 6:30am at the pavilion. I crawled again out of the car with an additional coat on, and listened to the meeting. It was just cold. My moral was sinking with the temperatures. He mentioned that there was still snow up there. Great.

Let me speak about how this went mentally a bit. There was something off about this event. I am pretty comfortable doing 50ks, even when I’m not trained, I usually have no fear, but I had a great anxiety radiating from this. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I discussed this feeling with friends and my team, but no one really understood what was going on. And how could anyone? I didn’t know myself. This was something I was alone on and I would have to get through it myself. I just didn’t want to start. I’ve never really had this feeling be this strong before. Like something bad was going to happen. I kept thinking about my plan…I knew there was a 10 mile climb in the middle part of the race, and I knew there was 5 miles of downhill before it, and rolling downhill after it until the finish that I planned on banking some time. I knew I needed to push myself appropriately to beat the cut off, put my head down, and power hike my best hike for all the uphills. I knew I was sore still that race morning and not sure how that would affect my pace.

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Sunrise, also mom’s pic

6:45am, the first twilight appeared, good thing because I was getting nervous about not bringing my headlight. We returned to the car after the meeting. 5 minutes from the 7am start, I reluctantly headed to the starting line, two giant yellow inflatables. Sunrise was at 7:14am if I recall correctly. It was light enough to see the trail at this point. But somehow my nerves didn’t settle and I became uneasy. 2 minutes til start, we all lined up in the short corral, all 400 of us between the half marathon and the 50k, and I got my Garmin ready. Now THIS was a race start I remember.

55564390_2226569950731048_6466732047686696960_nThe race was of course started off with a large gong, literally. The gong was hit several times as I pressed start on the Garmin (which wasn’t GPS ready, sigh), and we all headed out to the road to head up the first climb. I expected the participants to be more elite at this race, the race website mentioning that this race advises that this should not be your first at this distance, or your first trail race. I had asked on facebook to east coast trail runners who have done it how much road there was. Mixed answers all over. Jeep roads are roads, dirt roads are roads, gravel roads are roads…but none are asphalt. This race had them all and more. So kicking things off was the paved road that led to the left out to another paved road that led to a (assumed) jeep road that was well eroded away going straight up in vert. I ran a big portion of this and a little into the bigger climb that was getting a lot more steep as it went. The trail was wet, lots of mountain run off. I assumed the rest of the course would be this way.

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My sunrise pic.

I was getting more and more discouraged. Some dude was constantly yelling out, and another guy behind me was constantly screaming out “THIS IS A HARD 5K Y’ALL”, like it was funny. It was not. He said this like a dozen times or more. I looked up as the climb got harder, and saw the mountain was on fire (the sunrise, not literal fire). This is a pretty rare sight where the mountains look red instead of blue (Blue Ridge Mountains). It was stunning. I grabbed my phone and took some pictures. My mom also saw this and took pictures from a different place of course. This apparently happened the morning of my first 50k, which wasn’t too far from where we were, and when I was leaving with my friend Andrea to go back to Wisconsin last October. All in Bedford county.

55730991_427939057968780_7448547063152771072_nPretty soon the trail leveled out just a bit to open up to our first stream crossing. Water was flowing pretty good, but it didn’t seem too deep. A bunch of half marathoners (who stayed with the 50k’ers for the first 4 miles before diverting) were trying to go off trail to try and find a better place to cross. Some were in the way in the shallow part and I didn’t want to waste time waiting for them to tip toe around the creek. I don’t mind they were trying their best to make good of the situation cause they had the whole 9 hours to finish a half, but I didn’t have that luxury. I plowed through the crossing, the water splashing up to my hips soaking me from there down. My Altra drained super fast and the socks did their job. So early on in the race, I was glad I wore the minimal socks. However this is when things went downhill (while still going uphill!) very very fast.

The first gust of wind took my breath away. That wind hit my wet capris and stole all my body heat. I started to tear up. It hurt so bad. I kept thinking about the Cactus Classic marathon and how cold that was, but mentally I could not move past how bad my skin felt wet and cold, and each gust of wind that hit me chipped away my already low moral. I wanted nothing more than to be in a warm car, or in a fleece blanket. I had taken my allergy meds so the temperatures weren’t affecting me that badly (starting temps were at 39°F and were supposed to drop 1-2 more degrees before it started to rise throughout the day again; RD: “Good news everyone, it’s supposed to be sunny and 56°F today….[long pause] at 4pm today!”).

55608067_878889169111342_3933785079259594752_nI continued to climb and struck up a conversation with another girl. She had done the race back in 2016 or 2017, and didn’t finish by 3 minutes. 3 minutes… I asked if the climbing continued, and she said yeah. She said she was determined to finish and she pushed onward by running segments of the hill. I continued to power hike hardly being able to keep an 18:00 min/mi pace because my thighs were frozen stiff. I had to occasionally stop to place my hands on them to warm them. Sure would have been nice to have had trekking poles for this, had I known this climb was this steep and this long, would have been worthwhile even with the 5 miles of downhill awaiting on the other side at this point. My regret weighed on me. I wasn’t able to keep a decent pace at all. The trail had at some point turned into single track like a traditional hiking trail. I was hurting still. I couldn’t even perform at the level I expected of myself, and every time I tried to run a bit, I could feel that lingering soreness pulling on my muscles. I wanted to quit. There was no way out. I hated everything. Why were things so bad?

The hill crested up at the first aid station. I crunched down and tried to warm my legs. I had hit my first gel (GU S’mores, I usually don’t do GU, but this is a pretty good one) just before arrival. I felt good I kept my nutrition on pace this early, despite my actual pace cracking over 17:00 min/mi. I came up to the table, and grabbed two little cups of coke (well off-brand), and two orange slices and headed off with little downtime. The longer I stood, the colder I got. 5 miles of downhill have arrived. Misery was hanging off of me like a veil. I trotted downward from the aid station, and realized my legs were still really tights and sore from the run the past week. I was still discouraged. So much negativity. This path going down was purely gravel. Easy time to make up pace. Things were dry and more sheltered. My legs started to warm up as I approached an easy 11:00 min/mi pace trying to hold myself back a bunch because I knew I could easily blow up on this. The scenery started to change quickly. A few good miles dropped my pace down to the 14-15 min/mi average. I was feeling a bit better, but I knew the 10 mile climb would be long and slow regardless of terrain.

55881996_1518116398320342_3957881430633086976_nThe road dumped down to the next aid station, now 3 miles away from the last one. This was perhaps my favorite, manned by what appeared to be local college students, blasting music from their car, and a single table advertising that they had REAL coke, not the off-brand coke the other aid stations were trying to pass off. I found this hilarious and loved it and applauded them. They also had oranges, and I took some of that too. I asked where people were since I had not seen anyone for miles now (since the half marathons split off at the last aid station). I also realized that my watch distance was off by about 0.4 miles now (behind). So my pace wasn’t as dismal as it appeared. I took off back down the hill.

I needed to relieve myself at some point, but felt comfy finding a safe place to do so since I had not seen a single soul in almost an hour and there was no promise of any port-o’s along the course. It was at this point I realized my capris had completely dried from the water earlier! I was so excited, thank you so much Inknburn for making quick dry material. I also realized I wasn’t sweating much which also helped in warming me up. The run rose above the trees and I felt glorious. The wind would occasionally whip at me, but wasn’t nearly as bad. I still clung onto wearing all my layers but unzipped a part of my jacket. I passed by some cabins and hit another paved road.

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From the previous day

Along this part, I quickly noticed this was where me and my mom got lost the previous afternoon looking for the 9-10 mile aid station location (so she could meet me there). I knew I was close to the next aid station. I ran past the rushing creek for a few of those final downhill miles, and it was very peaceful. Very beautiful. I saw the aid station from afar and moral rose. I was finally getting out of that huge slump. I wasn’t by any means on cloud 9, but it was where I should be.

55505648_269442474009486_1445216440238997504_nI arrived at the 9-10 mile aid station around the 2 hour mark, right when I said I would be at the earliest. Confidence rose, as well as the course right past the aid station. This aid station was also quite small, but friendly. I grabbed some grapes and a few mandarin orange slices, which actually were really good as opposed to orange slices. I grabbed quite a bit of coke and met my mom. Yay someone finally made it to the crew point at the beginning of my race! Big smiles.

55514099_908498869541708_4909985601807187968_nI grabbed my poles and talked a bit and then headed uphill to the 10 mile climb; mile 9.5 to about mile 20. Still on a gravel one-lane road, I locked in my power hiking pace and settle in for the long haul, literally. I remembered what I felt like at Table Rock 50k, same kind of gravel, going click click click click on up. I was told I was 5 minutes behind the guy in front of me at the aid station.

The grade of the hill was probably varying between 10-15%, just what I had been training for, although after a long time I really thought I would burn out. I was exerting pretty good effort, at least zone 3 from what it felt like. I avoided looking down at my watch unless the mile beep was heard. I was hitting around 15 min/mi constantly. Somewhere in here, the gravel road turned into single track. Same kind of single track that I found around mile 2-3 that discouraged me so. Poles definitely made it better. I started to wonder where the stream crossings were. My feet were definitely not wet. I arrived back out of the woods as the grade of the hill increased a bit at the aid station with the real coke and along the gravel road again. I greeted them all again asking if I was last. They said there were a few behind me. I got some more real coke in me and saw my watch was about 0.6 miles behind now (this was mile 13.2ish). It was another 3-4 miles to the next aid station.

55690714_643338852753933_4025760648557232128_nIt was pretty lonely still. A half hour passed, just clicking along, when I came across a single soul…well multiple single souls. It was a small group of people making their way up around the bend. I told myself as soon as I catch them (obviously I had been catching them this whole time) I would hit up a gel. Good plan. I got to them. They would run occasionally, but mostly just walking. I noticed the guy had a gash in the middle of his forehead with dried blood. He seemed to be taking the lead of their group, as one of the women in the group didn’t feel great it seemed. He told her to walk backwards, and as I passed, I asked if everything was ok. He said she just had a tight butt. I said I wish I had that problem, trying to make a light-hearted joke. The group chuckled and I wished them luck and moved onward, and still upward.

Caught one more girl, she was by herself. We chatted a bit when I would catch her. She would run a bit and then walk slowly for a bit. This made me feel more confident in my power hiking training since I was keeping up. This was her first 50k. I told her she picked a doozie of one! She hadn’t done a marathon yet either (although she had done one in training, just not a race).

I made it back up to the aid station, which apparently I would hit 3 times total during the race, and got some more fake coke and this time they had watermelon. I grabbed a slice and oh man let me tell you. Watermelon is the hands down best aid station food even though it’s low in carbs and stuff, it just feels good man. I felt up my water pack and I was good for the next 5-6 miles (as they told me that’s how far it would be, more accurately “it’s 5 or 6 miles depending on which one you like better”, which I did not quite understand). The section would be a lollipop style out and back with a really long stick.

Still going uphill, the trail turned into jeep road, or double track, you choose which. If I were a jeep, and yes, I have a jeep, I would feel pretty uncomfortable taking my car up here haha. It was all fun and games until I encountered a gate. The gate was to keep cars out of the path, it was metal and extended across the whole trail and a little off to the left side. The right side was useless to maneuver around since it was up a bank, and the left side seemed like the path of least resistance as there was a little foot trodden path around it to the side. The metal pole jutted out into that little path and I ducked under it, but then BAM. I stood up too quickly, and really hit my head just above the forehead…a sound that resonated pretty loudly considering the people behind me yelled if I was ok.

I honestly wasn’t sure, I hadn’t hit my head like that in forever it seemed. It wasn’t bleeding, but it was pounding. I slowed to a walk to do self-assessment. I wasn’t dizzy, my vision was ok. Everything seemed to be ok, as the girl I had passed passed me again. I saw all the people coming back from their round trip to the top. If there was a place for bad things to happen, this was it. There were so many people. I resumed my power hike and caught up to the girl again, as the mountain here rose up along the ridgeline. The double track became grassy…great, prairies, my favorite. Insert rolling eyes here.

There are trails I don’t like, and they are grassy ones and horse trails (where the ground is pitted with hoof indents). There were no horse trails here though.

The grass wasn’t that bad, as a majority of it hadn’t started growing yet. It wasn’t dead, but it was close. It more so was interesting because it was on a mountain…why is there grass on a mountain?! The main reason I don’t like grass/prairie is because of the lumpiness. It’s annoying you can’t really be 100% sure of where you’re stepping and how it’s going to turn your ankles. Slows me down for sure. The mountain got a bit steeper after about 6-7 miles into the 10 mile climb. My head was doing a bit better, and I kept drinking. I still hadn’t gone through my 2L pack of tailwind mix though. I was salty all over.

55564256_382200872626176_662649553249370112_nAbout 2 miles from the turn around in the “pop” of the lolli, I ran into some more guys and passed them after a quick chat. I rejoined the girl doing her first ultra, and we hiked together the rest of the way and when we got to the top, there was a guy there camped out making sure everyone punched their bib. On this course, there were 3 locations where you had to punch your bib (all with different punch patterns) to assure you didn’t cut the course. This first one was very obvious, more on that later.

The end of the 10 mile climb was upon us. Mile 19 something. I kept thinking about the similar climb in Cloudsplitter at mile 79 (the 10-12 mile climb from there), and I just couldn’t recall anything other than the pain I was in trying to run the little bits of that uphill to try and make the cut-off; listening to my dying watch beep telling me I did anywhere from a 7 min/mi to a 34 min/mi…so mentally draining and that’s where my mental toughness so to speak came in to play. At least on this climb, it was sunny, albeit windy as heck, and it was daylight, no hurricanes, no cold fronts, and my watch was almost accurate to within 1-2 minutes per mile. I knew at this point, there was one more big climb, but I got to go downhill for the next 3 miles!

When I headed out with the girl, she lost me pretty quickly moving much faster than me downhill. My head pounded in protest, so I kept my run slower than I wanted. My quads also protested from being sore still. So this is where my training caught up to me, doing it so close to a race. I kept a pretty good 11-12 min/mi pace down the double track “roads” and right when I was about to get back to the metal gate, there were two racers I passed. I felt my heart drop as I knew they were at least 5 miles behind me, and I calculated as I often do obsessively in races (I swear this takes up half of my mental energy and 80% of what I think about when I run), that they would not make the cut off. I got to the metal gate and distinctively put my hands on the metal end and slowly wiggled my way around it. Safe.

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Snow. I found it.

As I headed to the aid station, with it in sight, I started to remove my water pack and get it ready to be refilled. I started the painful process of removing my jacket. It was finally getting warmer, as I’m sure it was around noon or later now. I tied it tightly around my waist. At the aid station, I refilled with tailwind (thanks for being the sponsor! I carried a bag of tailwind around the entire race for nothing haha), grabbed MORE watermelon, and more fake coke. I was ready for the climb, as the climb went literally straight up at the aid station on single track. Being able to see it from the get-go was pretty encouraging, for me anyway. It looked exactly like I expected.

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Technical trail is technical.

Oh, it’s cold without my jacket. I don’t think the wind “returned” but it sure made its presence known. I hiked my usual hike for this terrain and grade. It was steep, technical, and almost exactly like Sharp top. Go figure. Same county, same string of mountains. The only difference was that this climb leveled off some times. Sharp top does not level off. The climb was about 2 miles. I hit times I had seen before on these kinds of hikes, so I was fine seeing them (the 21-27 min/mi). I didn’t fight it and just kept my effort level even. It got more rocky. The top was great. There was a short out and back, probably a quarter of a mile, where the 2nd bib punch was. It was out on a rocky outcropping, overlooking the land. The punch was a little closer to the edge than I would have liked let’s say. Upon turning around, my dizziness from being at the point of no return (drop-offs surrounding me) jumped at me and I knew I had to move back fast or I’d be doomed (dooming myself). Heights don’t do me any good.

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This was the top of Terrapin Mountain.

Now it was off to what is known as fat man’s misery. I was intrigued by this and thought about what it might be. It was described as as place with two rocks that was hard to get between. One, I didn’t know if there was a way around? And Two, would everyone fit through it? I passed by some very large rocks the size of cars up here that may have been like it, as I had to climb down them.

55460023_2117992804958303_409036325740609536_nBut until I arrived at fat man’s misery I didn’t truly know. What I witnessed answered all my questions. I had caught up to the group in front of me as well, another group I had not caught before. There was a guy there pacing the group from the Blue Ridge Trail Runner’s group (that I had went to my first group run with the Thursday before the race and did a really fun scavenger hunt run with them through the city of Lynchburg…of which I knew like 2-3 of the clues of like 30—insert shame face emoji here). This guy had caught me at mile 13 (just getting on course I assume) and was heading up to the multi-stop aid station before the Terrapin Mountain climb to join his runner.

55897223_336715943861078_820092780758958080_nThere were two very very large rocks that there was no way around, that seemed to be joined by other very large rocks surrounding it. If you were to find your way around, you would have found your way off the side of the mountain. They formed what looked like a very small cave that was slanted like a parallelogram (got that spelling right first try, thanks spelling tests in geometry 10th grade!). I called out to the guy asking if he would take my picture at the end. He said sure! I tried to hurry my way through, and quickly realized the drop down into the pit was larger than my inseam. I slid down my best slide into the dark, small pit below in-between the two rocks. The passage between them was…interesting. It really made you feel fat because you could not stand upright, but your feet were balanced. Trying to walk forward while keeping your whole body at an angle otherwise is actually very difficult, so I would slide my torso forward, then my hips, then my torso, and so on until I was through. Whew!

He got my picture and I thanked him. He moved on quickly to catch his group. I got out and it wasn’t over. I reached another pile of large boulders. I had to climb them to get over them. OUCH. Oh no, I was cramping, and threatening to cramp in every muscle, literally. The rocks were much too high for me not to hoist myself up or throw my knee over and pull up. Joys of being an average girl.

I was starting to panic a bit seeing as I could not manage myself into a position where I would not cramp. I was perhaps gonna cry. I was stuck and I shouldn’t be. This was the first time I had not brought salt with me. Figures. I was stronger than this, I can get over these stupid rocks. I might hurt my capris but I was gonna get over this. This was not going to stop me from finishing…they’re just ROCKS. I thought about the Dawn Wall. Heck, I can climb one small boulder. I gripped the sides of the rock with both palms and gave one LARGE push and hoisted myself up so my butt would “grab” the side and I’d be able to slide off the other side. OUCH. Again. It felt like my entire chest cramped inward. Like the muscles from my shoulders to my sternum seized up. I’ve never felt anything like it. I knew I just had to relax. I made it. And I slid off the back side with a small jump.

I started to run a bit, as I felt so tight in the torso. I focused on breathing and relaxing my muscles. Mind over matter. This helped a lot and I started to drink a LOT more than I had been, seeing as tailwind was my only source of salt out here, although I was not thirsty…tricky game to play folks. Heading DOWN the mountain, it was a lot like Sharp top. I knew the terrain and hunkered down, tightening the abs and locking into position for the steep downward grades on the technical single track. My chest slowly relaxed over the next mile. My foot started cramping forcing me to a walk for a hot minute. Mind over matter…

56184244_338723480093743_6172360710115295232_nI passed through caves of rhododendrons, passed by massive hibernating grape vines. Truly was a scenic trail. It was what I expected here and also what I needed and wanted all along. I was slow as the trail started its countless switchbacks. Garmin slowed as it clocked this one mile at almost 30 minutes. I knew I had been moving the whole time, so I blamed the switchbacks. It was about six miles from the last aid station. I knew this was the long haul between them. The trail winded down and turned into pure forest single track. Every time I thought I was at the bottom, I wasn’t. A few stream crossings finally appeared, although more in the way of mountain runoff. I was able to tip toe around basically all of them. No biggie at all, and no loss in time. Dry feet are happy feet.

I had heard rumors of a rock garden from a past participant. So far on course, and now closing in at the marathon mark, I had seen nothing worthy of the rock gardens from Cloudsplitter. Then it appeared, out of thin air really…no, not really, they’ve been there a while. The rocks resembled something of what I found at Cloudsplitter, but VERY dry. Not too long a stretch either, but mostly downhill made it more complicated than it needed to be. Was this what Cloudsplitter would have been like dry?! I started to question everything in life.

The trail split at the bottom it seemed. Go straight to the aid station, awaiting me at the bottom of a very large rock gravel “road”, and the right, going back to the start/finish. A crew of dudes sat there directing “traffic”. I went forward looking forward to that fake coke. Hey I can’t tell anymore now anyway what’s fake and what’s real. Noted. The rocks along this path were annoying. I didn’t even mind the rock garden or the technical boulders at the top of Terrapin. Heavens no, not these rocks. They were like rocks that wanted to be sckree but couldn’t make it to the top, the fallen angels of rocks. Ah the classic Bedford county red clay/mud. Good thing it’s dry, no stains to anger mom today.

Continuing down into the aid station, I found good southern folk with all the fixin’s. Literally. This aid station was the buffet you wanted in a trail race. Potatoes, soup, sandwiches, pickles, candy, corn?, and a lot more. I spotted the watermelon and grapes right away and honed in. I ate a piece and then realized on the table there was a thing of salt. I thought to myself, hey that’s real nice at this point to have salt for those who need it. Then I thought again, looking at what was in my hands… WATERMELON. SALTED FREAKING WATERMELON WHAT A GENIUS IDEA!!!! 11/10 for this aid station, heavy clapping. I swooped that salt right up and spread it on a fresh piece of watermelon. I bit down, and HEAVENS OPENED UP TO ME. Nothing was more mouth quenching (it’s the quenchiest), the umami. I would do this race again for this moment in time. What was this? MORE? Sweet tea!! And not the absolute cheapest stuff either (sorry Devil’s Lake Dances with Dirt). 3 cups please.

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Reluctantly, I had to leave back up the fallen rocks hill. Getting back to the intersection of trails, I asked if I went right (my previous left), and they said no, up the hill to my left. Sad face. “But that’s uphill again”. They didn’t find it funny I guess. I thought I was hilarious.

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From earlier in the race, but additional picture!

UP the hill I went. And that’s the story for the next 6 miles. Rolling hills…but it mainly just felt like it was uphill. I ran a lot more here making up time somehow in fear I would miss the cut-off. More streams, but like, actual creeks. Easy to jump rock to rock if you have agility still. I could see if you were tired, jumping rocks and potentially slipping on one into the frozen waters of the Atlantic below would not be your cup of tea. I found out at this point, I was not tired at all. I had finally warmed up, and was actually sweating a bit, and was moving very well. I had expected the last part to 1) be on “roads”/roads and 2) for it to be net downhill. Where did these hills come from?!

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This picture captures everything about my hometown. Taken about a mile from the finish.

I’ll save you the details, but all of it was moderately technical single track that went up and occasionally down for a bit. This was more so a trail (after looking at my relive) that went along the side of the mountain instead of actually going up or down it, which is why it was so up and down. I was so tired of it all! I put forth a lot more effort here. I had also been told by a prior participant that when I got to the stream crossing you couldn’t avoid, you were almost home. Well this stream I came on was certain high from the recent rain and I was able to avoid about half of it. Pretty nice stream. Though there was no avoiding the silt that entered the shoes whenever I crossed a stream. Pfft. Eventually the trail spit me out onto the “road” we started on, I recognized a cabin we’d passed in the first 2 miles. It was wet, same as before, as I no longer cared about wet feet this close to the finish. 56328689_165974090971204_7655112063554945024_n

55639990_2370984943134603_5453005712974151680_nBack on the paved road, I could see the finish area. I was keeping a pretty mild 10:30-11:00 min/mi pace. It was sunny and warmer. About a quarter of a mile away I could see my mom and sister sitting on the side and I waved my poles. I came into the grass shoot with the giant yellow inflatables at 8 hours and 11 minutes, about 50 minutes before the cut-off time that made me so nervous before. In a 50k, 50 minutes is quite a bit. In a 100 miler, 50 minutes is not a lot in my opinion (cough Cloudsplitter, although none my fault for being so late to finish, well kind of my fault for falling). I was in super good shape and although my soreness was still there, it was not nearly as bad as it felt before. The course was 31.3 miles. My watch totaled 30.3, a whole mile off, no doubt due to the switchbacks and mountains…with their powers combined, makes GPS irrelevant.

All I wanted to do was put my feet up. I got changed in the port-o and we headed out for Pokemon Go Community day for a bit. The next day, I was not really sore at all, and was moving MUCH better than I had on race day or the two days leading up to race day. This race was really solid prep for the Blue Ridge Marathon Double. I did a mountain run on the road yesterday even and everything was easier and more manageable than it has been in past times. This was the first time I truly stuck to a race plan I created for myself. I told myself to power hike my best on the climbs and run the down and flats. I had specific paces to hit on each up and down, and hit them right on target. I just did not know how that would turn out time wise for beating the cut off. My nutrition plan played well for the most part, I could have had more in the middle climb, but everything went ok. I am truly tired of the cold however. There are still things to learn from this, no matter how many races I do. I hope I can pass down information to others.

I am currently signed up for the Blue Ridge Double Marathon April 13th (1am woooo!), The Epic “80” mile gravel bike, plan to be at the Wisconsin Marathon for my friends, the Dirty 30 12- miler (was supposed to be Rich’s first 50k, but that didn’t pan out due to work scheduling), and the Badger 100 miler in August. There are others, but they won’t be for racing. I have yet to decide what to do at Cloudsplitter. On the one hand, I want to do the course right, and not injured and have a good day. On the other hand, I have done it and have nothing to prove, there are far more 100s out there for me. Maybe I will figure it out.

Blue Ridge Marathon – 2017

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Roanoke Mountain

2nd fastest marathon yet (rofl)
April 22nd, 2017, my 3rd Blue Ridge Marathon. For those of you reading, this was my very first marathon I did back in 2015, it was hot (85°F) and humid and sunny, and things did not go well at all. I managed to finish in 6:12 and felt like death. Fast forward to 2016, when it was chilly (topping out at about 56°F), but sunny! I was not prepared or trained at all for this run, still managed a 5:26 finish and felt like death but was intact. So here we are in 2017, marathon #5 for me and every year I keep coming back. This year it would be about 64-70°F and rain/clouds

As some of you know already I headed back to the Blue Rigde Mountains March 27th. My plan was to prepare for the marathon with my first Ultra Marathon, the Smith Mountain Lake Dam 50k April 1st (a trail race for the most part), which climbed two mountains on course. It was rough, but I kept things slow, and finished, with THE hardest climb I’ve every done, hiking/walking/running, 1000 ft in just a mile.

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Afterwards, I thought I went so slow that it probably didn’t help me much. Of course looking back now, I’d like to do it again. I also signed up for my first 10k, Mill Mountain Mayhem (a trail race), ironically, which was a week later, April 8th. This went horribly, mainly because the first half of the race was a bottleneck where I got stuck going at a slower pace than I wanted, and tried to catch up the latter half, which was impossible due to the mountain climb (this race went up and down one mountain). Legs were ok, but how I felt rather discouraged me from feeling good about the marathon two weeks out. The next week, I practiced climbing the same mountain I did in the 10k on my bike for ironman training. The first 20 miles felt terrible, and I hit what I felt was my lactate threshold several times up the climb. The last 13ish miles were fine though. I attempted a final 2 hour 30 min run a week before the marathon. I had plans to climb Mill Mountain again but I couldn’t even make my legs get that far into my run. I made about 10 miles in that run and had a terrible pace, struggling with my heart rate, and finally just quit. Per usual before a long endurance event, I did a speed test (I usually just do a fast 5k race) for a mile and busted out my fastest mile to date since starting running at 6:49. I feel like this knocks whatever is left in my legs out and my average pace during the distance event feels faster than my training runs. Maybe I’m crazy for this, but it has worked.

Race Day. I was discouraged by the rain, of course, as probably many of the runners were. With a little luck, the start of the race wasn’t rain-filled. The race time was moved from 7:20am to 7:35am from last years’ start time, I guess I did notice a few changes with the shift of the race director. Regardless, I was determined to run my heart out (well, somewhat literally). I had a plan to run-walk the first mountain so I was not to overdo it from the start, then run as fast as I could downhills, and run-walk uphills with 4 mins running, 1 min walk, and do that for the 3 mountains and run a nice consistent pace for the remaining 10k that’s much flatter. I knew the course like the back of my hand…

None of this was true haha.

The gun went off, and I placed myself further in the front in a faster pace group to start off. Every other year I started further back and was always locked in until mile 2.5 with people. I guess I didn’t place myself far enough ahead AGAIN. I was still locked with people not running my pace (and this is still an issue with self-seeding in races anyway), and was frustrated trying to get ahead and find empty space. The first mile is always the warmup. 3/4 of the mile is somewhat inclined, and then the last 1/4 mile is straight up Walnut Ave, where the first real climb begins. 9:16 for the first mile, not bad, basically where I wanted to be before I slowed WAY down for the climb. The 2nd mile had 278 feet of climb, on your way up Mill Mountain, I was doing well with the 4-1 run-walk, until I decided to keep running through one of them, then got tired, and blew that plan out. After that it just became a game with juggling my heart rate trying to keep it from skyrocketing too early. That also didn’t go well, hitting a high of 189 bpm for miles 2 and 3 even with being conservative. Oh well. Mile 2.7, the top of the first climb where the race splits off from Marathon and half and 10k, was the first timing mat. Average pace was 10:49 min/mi. My calves were screaming, but I knew they’d calm down later. Marathon runners split off and kept going off to a section of large rolling hills leading to Roanoke Mountain. 1,785 feet of elevation gain from mile 2 to mile 7. These rolling hills were probably one of the hardest sections and then delivering the final blow having to climb Roanoke Mountain at the end. I realized how lonely I was at this point. I missed having a running buddy to just complain to or waste time talking with, making crude jokes or commenting on other runners saying “how in the world can you still be running up this thing?! Make me feel better and walk too!” It started raining at mile 4.5, bleh. In addition I noticed that my hands had swelled up. I did something wrong in my nutrition plan, but I couldn’t put my finger on what. So through the next aid stations I played around with not taking in salt and adding more water. For the rest of the race, I never got it right. They began to hurt about half way through, but whatever.

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Roanoke Mountain

I was averaging some slow 11 min/mi paces here until the super climb hit me in the face taking me down to a 15:18 mile for mile 6 and 13:32 mile for mile 7, my calves stopped screaming as much at least. At the top, my breath was taken away from the scenery, all the dense fog up there settling on the mountains, just reminded me of where I lived. I whipped out my camera and took the only pictures from the race there, of course this added time which is probably why my pace was so bad at mile 6. Worth. I was so excited to have reached the top. Not. There are technically two peaks on Roanoke Mountain, and I had only reached the first haha, I knew this though. Upon reaching the crest of the mountain, I knew it was time to buckle down, engage the abs and run hard downhill. 805 feet of loss in two miles heading down Roanoke Mountain! I won’t lie, it’s a ton of fun flying down. I could feel my quads firing, and they were on it. I had complete control. I averaged about 8:15 min/mi on the downhill, very close to my 5k pace! Coming back to Mill Mountain via the large rolling hills (I really dislike these…especially now), I settled back into a slower pace and conserved, doing about 1 min/mi better pace than I did the first go-around earlier on miles 4-5. Now one of the most dreaded climbs, the short 1.5 miles up to the peak of Mill Mountain, very very steep.
I knew this peak would take me up to the half way point, 13 miles into the race. I was glad to be done and clocked my half time at 2 hours and 26 minutes, not bad at all!! However, I knew even if I maintained my pace for the last half of the race, I would AT BEST be able to finish in 4:52. *sigh* My goal this whole time was sub 5 hours. I knew I’d have to fight for that.

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I locked and loaded my quads for the next large descent. I blasted down at managed a 7:35 mile at mile 14! I was elated with this. Stopped at an aid station and mile 15 was 9:10 along the greenway. Here was where I started having more so mental difficulties. My legs did NOT want to run flats. It was fairly flat on miles 16 and 17, with just 242 feet of gain and 62 feet of loss. Then mile 18. I knew this was the hardest of the climbs being the steepest and last climb. 3 miles of climbing now…my only goal was to crush my time climbing it from last year, 43:24 for that 5k. This year it was 39:13!! Good enough for me! I pumped my arms hard pushing myself up. Now the final large descend. Only about 400 feet in 1.5 miles, but I took what I could get. At this point, mile 20.5, I met a very interesting runner that I started to talk with, Justin. He was great and my spirits really lifted. I realized descending the final mountain that my feet had taken the brunt of my run so far and I could feel the blisters under my metatarsals much like I did after my feet got wet during the 50k. If this was the only pain I was in, I was fine with it (although right now sitting here I will tell you very differently not being able to walk with these open blisters). I was glad to have had someone push me through the final 10k or so, which are the most mentally draining miles. The next 10k are the flattest of the race, with just 310 feet of gain, but you want to walk so badly. Granted there are some steep sections left, including bridges and short, steep hills, but in general, the rise and fall of the course is over.
My pace dropped a lot. I still had my eye on the sub 5 hour finish. I ran through puddles and I was soaked. Under my arms were chafed from lack of body glide I neglected to apply prior to the race (missed those spots :/). My heart rate was in control again, keeping it around 165 mostly. I continued to push hard the last 2 miles (c’mon, it’s TWO MILES). My legs were tired, but mostly felt fine.

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I busted into a sprint the last 0.2 (which was technically the last 0.4…this course is always 0.2 LONGER, clocking 26.45 miles last year and 26.40 miles this year). This threw off my time obviously. I turned the corner, the final short climb before the downhill finish chute, and I saw the clock: 4 hours 55 minutes 33 seconds…I had to make it there before 4:57! I was totally focus on beating whatever last minute clock time I had in my mind. I finished at 4 hours and 56 minutes and 23 seconds. I tried to make my finish picture look good at least, I have failed to do this years prior, the first year trying not to pass out, and last year stopping my garmin (classic!).

 

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I waltz over to get my medal, and my legs felt surprisingly good. I got my chocolate milk and headed over to the free massage tent.

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Final Results

I climbed up onto the table and realized as soon as the therapist started on my legs that I was really NOT in bad condition whatsoever! I hardly had any soreness or pain. While I was laying there, I overheard some people saying the race had been cancelled due to storms. I heard thunder off in the distance. Well, at least I finished before the worst of it hit! I later found out they called the race at 4 hours and 52 minutes into the race, before I had crossed the finish line…that my time may not be official. It turned out, I recently found out, that my time was official, and at 4:52, they started taking down the timing mats, and if you hadn’t crossed all the timing mats before the finish, your time was not official. Those on the course were notified and given the option to finish at their own risk and would be given an unofficial time. A few minutes later, it poured down hard rain and stormed pretty bad to the point of flooding. I felt a pit in my heart and stomach for those out there doing the double marathon.
I will say in conclusion that this was the best I’ve felt post race for either a half OR a full marathon as far as my conditioning and muscles go. I thought I would honestly regret doing the 50k (which ended up being like 52k lol), but in reality it helped fuel my sprints downhill and prevented my legs from getting totally messed up during the marathon. For the first time after a marathon, I could stand up, sit down, squat, move, all without assistance. I am pretty burnt out on running at the moment, and am glad there are no more races.

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Elevation Profile from Garmin

However, there are some burning questions I will need to answer in the future here…
– Will I decide to go back and do the 50k again? I did have a lot of fun with it.
– Will I return to do the Blue Ridge Marathon again? If I do, will I choose to do the marathon or the double? Is it worth my 2018 running and athletic season to do something that daunting and SO early in the season when I know training through the winter in Wisconsin probably will not get me ready in time. Is that worth it?
– Will I decide to do more than a 50k next year in general? What lies ahead? Would I prefer to work on speed and make my marathon times faster, is potentially qualifying for Boston one day even a possibility with my body and skills? Or would I just want to go further?
I enjoy getting faster, and I enjoy testing my limits. In the documentary, The Barkley Marathons, Laz says that race appeals to the smarter crowds because they are used to succeeding, and this is appealing because they could and probably will fail. What am I looking for?

Stats from the race:
– First marathon in the rain
– Cut exactly 30 minutes from my race time from last year
– Elevation Gain: 3918 feet
– Average Pace: 11:14 min/mi
– Distance: 26.40 miles
– Average Heart rate: 170 bpm
– Best pace: 6:42 min/mi
– Calories burned: ~2,715
– Clothes were all Inknburn, 6″ shorts and cami top
– Shoes were Altra Escalentes size 7.5
– Socks were Feetures Compression
– Nutrition: Honey Stingers (  ) + Skratch on course electrolytes (  )

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Smith Mountain Lake Dam 50k Ultra Run

Event in Penhook, VA at the Smith Mountain Lake Dam. 50k that was really 32.25 miles…Horton Miles they called it.
This was my first ultra marathon, and well, it was a doozy:

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Well this was more impromptu race than planned. The plan was to use this race as a training run for the Blue Ridge Marathon (coming up April 22nd, Roanoke, VA, ~4000 ft elevation gain), because living in Wisconsin, there was nothing to prepare me enough for my goal marathon. Looking at previous years’ garmin data from three other people, I saw:
1. It was 32ish miles, not 31
2. There were two mountains, the first one less steep at the start, the second one looked like a 90° wall at mile 21
3. No one ran up the second mountain no matter what pace they displayed
4. Roughly 5000 ft elevation gain
5. The “hills” between the two mountains looked rolling
My initial plan was to run-walk up to the 5k mark (where the first mountain ended) until the 21 mile mark (where the 2nd mountain began), get to the top and take it easy until the finish. Let’s say that plan was thrown in the trash after about 8 minutes in of the 7 hours and 40 minutes I was out there.

I had driven to Virginia (home) two days before, and prepped the way I knew best, bringing down my sitting swelling I got while driving for 17 hours, and hydrating the best I could. I had my protein bar before the race, along with some sweet tea. I decided to bring along my hydration pack, as annoying and heavy as it is with 2L of water/nuun inside, along with my honey stingers and phone. So let’s get on with how the race went…

Started off on the bridge in front of the Smith Mountain Lake Dam, a place I never got to visit before as close to it as I lived my whole life (to be fair, I never saw Natural Bridge either…). It was windy, and at a starting temperature of about 57°F, it was chilly. I ditched my jacket at the start, don’t regret doing that, because the first mountain heated me up fast. There were about 30 some people doing the 50k, a very small gathering, but EVERY SINGLE PERSON seemed to be an experienced ultra runner, even by appearance, they just looked like seasoned runners.

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Smith Mountain Lake Dam wedged between two Mountains

Apparently I was the only one who hadn’t done an ultra before, as many had done 50+ miles before. Gun start, no chip time, which isn’t a problem when you are inches away from the starting line. The course went directly upwards from the start up the first mountain. My plan, was run four minutes, walk one. I was successful in two cycles of that before I had to just walk. My calves were already crying and aching. Not a good sign in mile ONE out of 30+. I had done some warm up exercises before starting, but it wasn’t enough. Everyone was walking. Finally reached mile two after 18 minutes. Great start? Reached the top a bit after and started to run again. From what the elevation profile looked like, it would just be rolling hills from there to mile 21. Wrong again. The course soon became pavement by mile 4 or 5 and was paved until mile 20.

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The course rose and fell, but the rises were a LOT steeper than the profile led on. I did my best to run the more level bits and downhills and the starting of every uphill. My feet were bothering me a lot actually with the swelling. I knew it would eventually go away (turns out that was mile 6 when it dissipated), so I fought through and ignored it. I figured out by mile 4 that this would not be my race, not feeling my best. I kept on going. I finally got a few sub 10:30 min/mi splits along the way, but I said I would take this race easy. I really took it as easy as I possibly could, not feeling guilty about my average time constantly displayed on my garmin. I occasionally stopped to check my directions for the course to make sure I wasn’t lost. I had had three nightmares the night before, and one of those was getting lost. The course WAS marked really well, but I can’t help my anxiety about getting lost. My legs actually felt better by mile 9, they actually felt warmed up (my calves weren’t screaming anymore). I hit the half marathon mark by 2:47 and some change. Possibly my slowest half marathon ever. This was 5 minutes SLOWER than my half at Ironman Los Cabos 70.3, and that was at 97°F and 65% humidity! I thought THAT was a struggle! Granite I was taking this much slower on purpose. I still didn’t feel good at this point, just sluggish and not at my potential. No injuries or nagging pains though.

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I honestly don’t remember much after that, I refilled my water at the aid station at mile 16. There was an aid station every 4-5 miles, which I found pretty often from what I’ve heard about ultra marathons/trail races. I was thankful for that. There was tailwind at every other aid station which I was also thankful for. Around mile 19.5, I was passed by two guys a few minutes apart. I figured out later that was first and second place. They looked unphased by the course! Little did I know, that the first place finisher was attacked by 3 dogs about a mile back! These were also the first people I’ve seen since everyone separated by mile 2. I came into the finisher area (the finish of the first loop), I panicked for a hot minute thinking I cut the course. I was assured by the race directors I was fine. I took a quick bathroom break and refilled my water again before making the trek up the second mountain…the death climb. I may not remember much of the first 20 some miles, but I sure remembered everything from that point on.

So I left for the rest of the race. It wasn’t straight up at first, there was some climbing, but it was sloped and steady. There were 8 stream crossings, and no way around them except to go straight through them, too far to jump across, besides jumping at this point was probably not a good idea with the chances of falling pretty high. This was a trail race, and they stuffed it into this section. I was already soaked from the first two stream crossings, so I decided to quickly cross the other. The third one was the one that got me. I’m used to running in the woods, no problem, but not really streams. The 3rd one I sank knee deep into mud, getting all into my shoes and socks. I had to stop to remove from pebbles which would have caused me grief later. At this point, I knew I was doing well at conserving because I could still bend over. But trying to hold my foot up off the ground, I got a sudden charly horse in my foot and thigh. I broke out the emergency salt sticks I had brought with me. Never had another cramp! I went on my way, now dirty and trying to clean myself off while going through the remaining stream crossings. The steeper climb began. I took some pictures of it, but little did I know that was not the true start of the climb…

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Half way up the Death Climb

It started getting too steep to even walk around mile 21.64 (I remember distinctly because I needed to know when the climbing stopped). I was getting out of breath after just one minute of climbing…WALKING! I don’t know if you can call what I did walking even as you could not set your foot full on the ground, the slope was too steep, you were forced on your toes. I’m glad I run on my toes to midfoot, my calves were prepared but burning. When I got too out of breath to continue, I would stop at a larger tree to hold on to and turn my feet sideways so I would not fall. When I caught my breath, I would push myself off the trees to continue on and look for the next tree then the next tree, making small goals. I remember looking down at my garmin and seeing 22.18, I hadn’t gone anywhere. My heart sank, it was so hard. The path was washed out from the heavy rain the day before and loose rocks everywhere. This made footing VERY difficult. I spent the time going up looking at pretty rocks and admiring the geology. This mile climb took me 33 minutes. I can run an easy EASY 5k sub 30 minutes! I could not possibly go any faster here. There was only one effort level: go or not go. What seemed like (and probably was) forever, I reached the top. Stopped for a quick pic and to catch my breath. Had some soda at mile 23. I continued on my way for the rolling hills on washed out gravel roads.

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Mile 24, I passed my first person, she was from Richmond, and was gunning for a 50 miler this summer. After a quick chat, I wished her well, and continued on. I hit the marathon mark (26.2) around six hours and 17 minutes in. Hit the aid station up there. I soon caught up to a nice runner Robin. She seemed very nice and we had some nice chats and I felt like we pushed each other the rest of the way. It was nice having someone to talk to and run beside, especially after the aid station at mile 29 (they told us about the dogs). I felt a LOT better after the marathon mark than I had previously in the race. I have no idea why. I stopped taking nutrition though, it mainly slipped my mind. Despite being told to “go on” by Robin, it was more worthwhile to stick it out with her, and a lot more fun. The course didn’t seem as hard, and the final section was a repeat of the end of the first loop, and I think I ran a lot more in the latter part of the race. I actually was feeling good at this point, with the only hold up the space right under my metatarsals. Turns out the skin was being pushed too much on the death climb after getting my skin soaked by the stream crossings and caused some blistering and a small raw strip of skin that developed on the bottom of my foot. I guess I’m lucky that was my only real injury, if you want to even call it that. It was nice coming into the finish. Although I didn’t come NEAR the finish time interval I was aiming for or predicted, I am happy I even finished and was able to push/not push through certain obstacles.

Post race, my legs are not as bad off as they were after the Mesa-Phoenix Marathon about a month ago (hard to imagine since it feels a lot longer than that). My arms ache the most probably, and probably due to using trees and propelling myself up steep hills. My back and shoulders are sore probably because I’m not used to carrying so much weight on my back (but it was worth it in the long run with the daytime high ending up being 68°F with full sun. Speaking of sun, I am sunburnt, which I wasn’t worried about because I thought there would be enough tree cover to not get burned. However, just because there were a ton of trees, doesn’t mean those trees have leaves yet! Looking back, I don’t think there was anything I could have done differently. My quads ache, but far less sore than they have been and my calves are suspiciously doing ok for the most part. If there was a time and place for calf sleeves, this was it. I attribute my calf wellness to them this time.

17632439_1268585806528845_5903544910115254943_oI found out, as a neat tid-bit, that David Horton, the race director, was the 2nd person to finish the Barkely Marathons. If you haven’t seen the documentary or heard of the Barkley, look it up…it certain is interesting!

Right now I am busy recovering for my next race next weekend, my first 10k! (Ironic), which I don’t know if I will be truly racing, depending on my recovery this week. After that, I have a week of further recovery to get ready for the Blue Ridge Marathon. I am hoping to break the 5 hour mark on that marathon this year, the 3rd year I’ll be participating in it. Once again, if you have made it to the end of this, CONGRATULATIONS!! Thanks for reading, I’ll eventually get a real blog page up and running, but I’m lazy and busy running (literally). Lastly I’d like to say, if Ironman is easier than this was, I will 1. be surprised, 2. probably cry…I’ll probably be emotional anyways. Big thanks to my mom for making it out and being patient as I mulled through this course. Peace out!

Post race thoughts: Yeah I probably will go back and do this again. It’s addicting.

Mesa-Phoenix Marathon

I’ll make this race report sweet and to the point. The BMO Mesa-Phoenix Marathon (Marathon #4 for me, #1 for Alex).

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This was by FAR the earliest race I’ve ever started, and earliest I’ve ever gotten up for a race period, even ones I’ve traveled over 2 hours for I was not up THAT early. We got up at around 4:15am Saturday. It was hard with the time zone change and my bad habits of staying up later that week. The last bus to the starting line would leave at 5:15am, since it was a one-way race start to finish (Started in Phoenix, ended in Mesa). I checked the weather app, and realized it was currently 36°F, I did not sign up to run in my training conditions!! I thought it would be at LEAST above 45°F! It was going to be sunny…but the race started at 6:30am, HALF AN HOUR before sunrise! So we were going to be running in the dark? That’s a new one. With Ironman lasting until midnight, I knew I’d be running in the dark eventually, but now?! Anyway, we made our way from the hotel to the finish line area where the buses were. LOADS of traffic. And no signs as to what area the buses were in, or which bus went to which distance (there was a 10k bus and half marathon bus too). Very frustratingly, we made our way, got dropped off at 5:15am! (literally spending most of the time trying to figure out where to go once we were there), running around (literally) trying to find the right bus. We found the half bus, they pointed us in the right direction. We ran probably a good half a mile before reaching the right buses. It was FREEZING! I had planned on wearing a tank and shorts, thankfully Alex had brought me my extra long sleeve of the same shirt with her to the race for me. I ended up using that even if it DID warm up later. On the bus we warmed up. I think we were on the bus to the starting line for like 45 minutes! Long trip.

Once we arrived, about 6:00am, Alex wanted to use the port-o-potties before taking off. Understandable, so we got in line. What we didn’t know was that the line was not really moving much. We saw many take off into the darkness of the nearby desert to do their thing. The Bus driver had warned us to not creep out into the desert, saying there were “jumping cacti” out there. He was right! A poor soul came out of the brush with a cactus stuck in his arm the size of a pineapple. A girl was pulling the needles out, and he was trying to get a lot of cacti out of his shoes. Well, 6:15am came and went, then 6:22am, and then 6:28am, and then some fireworks! There was the race start. We missed it. We continued to wait, and with a lot of other people. We knew it was chipped timed, but never had I actually started a race without everyone else. Waiting for the johns, we added 14 minutes onto our “time”. Alex was totally chill though, so it kept me in the right state of mind at least.

STILL COLD, sun no where to be found, we made our way to the starting line, did a few pre-run stretches and dynamic exercises (very good idea), and away we went! We chatted up some fellow slow starters and joked around. First mile, 8:43….uuuuh, why. SLOW DOWN, Alex’s slogan for me the whole race it turns out. To be fair, the first 5k was all downhill, and the steepest decline of the race. We saw Seth, Alex’s hubby, shooting the race at mile 1.5. It was cool to see him and one of their friends near the start taking pictures for the race. Mile 2, 8:51…not good enough STILL. I didn’t feel like I was going very fast. My heart rate was low. I knew this would catch up with me though. Mile 3, 9:06…doing better? At least the sun was starting to rise.

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Mile 4, things got more real. The first 4 miles went by like the blink of an eye, quite honestly. Mile four started the 1.75 mile climb, very steady and seemingly endless. Mid 9 minute pace, this was good. I was ok with that. Still way faster than I trained and almost matching my best half marathon pace. Still need to slow down. I really tried Alex, I did! Walking through aid stations helped a little I think. Aid stations every 2 miles though was pretty daunting to me. I really need on at least every 1.5 miles. But adding that bit of info to things I need to keep in mind. The nuun in my bottle kept me at bay.

10k in, I *almost* matched my PR for, around 57 minutes (my PR is 56 minutes). Still cruising along 10 miles in, mostly sub 10 min/mi pace for mile splits. Still felt good, was still cold 10 miles in though, I could feel it in my legs. Half way point!! Coming in at 2 hours and 4 minutes, my 2nd fastest half behind 2:02, and ahead of 2:10, quite substantial given this was a MARATHON. Wake up call, go slower please! I was finally warming up, sigh. Mile 15 is where it hit Alex mostly, pace dropped off finally. A lot of mystery things happened, like side stitches and cramping, that we couldn’t manage to get resolved. Legs were good to go, but pain is hard to ignore when it’s not muscle fatigue related. From that point on, it was REALLY FLAT, I mean, the course was advertised as “all downhill” but in reality, there was a pretty long climb at the beginning, and once you reach about half way, it’s just very very flat, maybe like 7 feet of decline per mile or less. Mile 23 or something was even at an incline actually (like 7 feet or something). For those of us who don’t practice on flat straights, this is hard on the muscles.

On my end, I was feeling good, like really good. Usually for me, miles 15-19 are a nightmare. I’m usually pushing through when I really don’t want to, and every mile feels like an eternity. Not this time around. I have more faith in my training now even though I didn’t get in any super long runs beforehand. I do not leave Alex for any of this though. My goal was to get her to the finish line. I kept hydrating though, noticing that it was getting warmer outside and I could tell I was wearing a long sleeve shirt. I was lucky it was long sleeve in that I did not get sunburned. I also avoided under arm chaffing. One of the things I did NOT think about was the lower humidity, I think it was around 18% that day, and I had not trained in that kind of condition since May last year when I was in New Mexico. At least I had some experience with this. I knew you had to drink even though you don’t feel yourself sweating, it all evaporates. I think this little memory saved me.

Running into mile 23, I started feeling heavy in my legs every time we went from run to walk to run again. If I had not walked, I would not have felt so heavy I think. I knew this is where doing a longer run would have helped. It didn’t bother me too much. Mile 25, one more mile left, we decided to push it to the end a little more, less walking. Ended up with 10:30 pace for that one, and last 0.15 miles we went harder (9:05 pace average for last 0.2 miles). I was super proud of Alex digging deep and going at the end. I did NOT touch my garmin until after I knew pictures were taken at the finish, I am always hitting that stop button asap, but this time I waited. I knew I’d PRed my marathon time by half an hour, so a few seconds didn’t matter too much. Clocked garmin at 4:36:00 exactly at 26.21 miles. 4 seconds off from the chip time which was 4:35:56. Not bad at all. Big hugs at the finish line. I was happy it was over, and a few hours later, realizing again that I like running marathons over half marathons.

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I can’t say much about the finish line food, I am NEVER hungry after a race of any kind or distance (although I am always hungry after swimming, which is always been a mystery to me), I just can’t stomach it. Apparently it was plentiful and good. The race itself as it was run was just OK in my opinion, nothing spectacular, nothing really stood out to me that would call me back to do it again. Racing in Arizona itself was nice however, which now knocks that state off my list of states I’ve raced in. I assume Nevada and New Mexico will be similar, although I don’t know if I’m counting New Mexico since the first two races I’ve ever done weren’t really races but just “runs” that were supported with a t-shirt and 2 aid stations (first two half marathons as well!).

Lastly, I guess I’ll say again, congrats to whoever made it this far again, and apologize for saying this was going to be short and sweet…the memories tend to flood back while I’m writing and I’m too lazy to scroll up and fix what I wrote. Now onto training for the rest of my BIG year of 2017, next up to bat is the Blue Ridge Marathon (on year 3 of this one, hoping to get sub 5 hours I think is a good goal!), and on-going training for Ironman Wisconsin.

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Dances with Dirt Devil’s Lake Half Marathon

Dance with Dirt Devil’s Lake Trail Half Marathon, my first trail half and my 6th total half marathon (even if the course was a little short of 13.1). Finished in 2:24:19, with ~2,100 ft elevation change, not close to the #blueridgemarathon or blue ridge half marathon elevation change, but it was challenging! There were some steeper grades and most climbs were not nearly as long as the road marathon’s, but they were tough to say the least, especially the one that lasted almost 2 miles and had me walking and heart rate talking over 200 bpm. Participation was a lot more than last years’ race totaling about 770 for the half distance, about 50 in my gender age group alone (one of the largest).

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I woke up about 4:15am in order to get ready and leave before 5am to get to the race in time. Good thing I did the open water swim practice the day before and got up early then to get me used to the early hour. I was gathering my items to head to the race…water pack check, protein bar for breakfast check, electrolytes check, body glide check, gels and energy….nope. I had totally forgotten I ran out during the last half marathon 2 weeks ago and didn’t buy more. Looks like this is going to be an interesting race. Race day temps were expected to be in the high 70s or low 80s with sun. Perfect day for a race. But when we got there, it was clouding over, sad face. I wandered around checking out a few in #Inknburn and all the different running shoes. About 3/5 the people wore trail shoes. I honestly don’t know how people handled wearing road shoes the whole race. I watched as the marathoners started the race at 6:30am, there were maybe 30 total of them!! I wish I could have done the marathon with them, the half was so crowded on the single track trails. 7am hits and the horn goes off, only your gun time would count for time. I was going to try and place in my age group since awards were 5 deep…but the story continues.

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Mile 1 was fast, I was with the faster group and hit about 9:10 average, too fast, have to slow down. The hills did that for me, next mile was 10:14, ok pace, but should be slower still. When I was reaching mile 3, however, my right foot started going to sleep…just like the last two trail races I did (my first tri was 5k, foot started going to sleep at 2.85 miles, and the 9 mile trail race where it went to sleep at mile 1!). I thought, crap, this is happening AGAIN, and I had been trying to hunt down the reason why this was happening last two races, but never did I guess. I stopped at a bench and loosened my laces. Went on and it started happening again. I stopped at the next bench, and took the laces and undid the first eyelet and loosened the rest. Kept going for a little while longer, but it started again, but I was going down a steep grade and could not stop. By the bottom, I stopped at a stump and sat down, took my right shoe off and took my sock off, maybe the sock was too much compression? I went into mile 4 and trail turned to pavement and the climbs started, where my foot recovered, no sleeping here. Came to the first water stop, I took a sip but not much more since I was carrying. Hit mile 4 with a nice pace of 10:23. Back to the trails. I started feeling a blister develop, now it’s too late to stop that I thought. Bad news approaching mile, my foot started acting up AGAIN! I was so mad at this point, since all my little stops had already cost me 7 minutes of time!! Mile 5, I sat down, untied my WHOLE shoe, and re-laced them only lacing the top 3 and putting my one sock back on (blister feeling really bad now). I got back to it, but by this time the BIG climb up the east bluff had started. From this point on, I no longer had issues with my foot falling asleep.

Along this part of the trail, I saw many fall and trip. I was slow going up, but I flew downhill every chance I got. I thought people might think I was stupid for going so fast downhill, but I had a lot of confidence in my ability to maintain my footing.

4.3 to 6.3 miles was all uphill, and the steepest grade being around mile 5.4 going up to 6 miles. I had to walk it was so steep, and my heart rate reached 203 bpm WALKING! My pace suffered during miles 5 and 6 dropping to 13 min/mile and 14 min/mile. Still a nice pace considering the elevation change, just one mile was 321 feet, no downhill. I recovered and wish I had a gel at this point. Mile 7 and 8 suffered in time trying to recover from the giant climb and successive climbs, about 250 feet of change for each of the miles. Part of this trail was between large rocks, which I had encountered last weekend when I did some of these trails near the race. This slowed everyone down because you had to literally climb down the rocks, no running here was possible. I came up and over to the edge of the bluff at the top, and took a picture here now my time did not matter to me, just finishing. It was beautiful and saw where they were having the swim race in the lake below. Due to the path being so narrow here, I could not make up much time. It was very crowded, so many people not confident in moving forward between the rocks and the drop off being just a meter away from them. Certain death if you fell off the path here. I was a little annoyed I couldn’t move past them to catch up.

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I got my 2nd wind by mile 9, thinking, I only have a little ways to go now. I chilled out listening to 10 minutes of Focus Shift and brought my pace back to 10:23. Mile 10 I suffered again as I was fighting against my mortal enemy: tall grass. This mile was all in the sun, but that was not the hard part. The hard part was shuffling through the grass for over a mile. It felt like running in dry sand. My pace slowed but I used the time to recover my heart rate. Mile 11 is always one of my hardest mentally and physically. But I was proud I had a pace of 10:11! Although not many hills during this mile, I was still able to push myself. Mile 12, approaching the finish. There was a large portion of the end up another hill with a steep grade. Where I heard a voice at the top, saying, “Only 100 yards until the downhill to the finish!” I did not really know what 100 yards was, but I knew it wasn’t far. I pushed and pushed to get there, and saw the steep slope downhill to the finish. I went as fast as I could down to there with all my energy, yes I can beat the 2:30 finish I set out to beat today! I paced under 6:00 min/mile for the little that was left of the race, wow. I finished knowing I did not make the age group cut off, but was happy I finished faster than I expected at least, and learned a lot. The food was amazing at the end, which I usually don’t eat after a race (I let my stomach settle for a bit before attempting to eat). I found my new post race food 😀 FRUIT!! It was amazing and my stomach loved me. This was a first for sure. Nothing can beat watermelon, which I did have during my first marathon because a little girl was handing it out.

I was surprised to see people did not finish. I saw lots of people walking around with bandages. I guess falling is a common problem in trail races. I know my running through the woods when I was little carried over now, as I never felt in danger personally, but could sense others did not feel the same. I rolled my right ankle twice pretty badly, but was able to keep going. Even today I don’t feel any damage there, this was always the case in soccer too when that happened. The course was also not dirt, but more so mud, the ground was very soft all the way, which I thought would slow me down some. Maybe it did? I haven’t timed a good long run in a while.

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I would like to attempt the marathon or 50k next year, as it was a great little environment. Now I know what to do with my shoes as well. For now, I get ready for the Xterra race series in just a few shorts weeks, and cannot wait to combine mountain biking with technical trail running.