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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Ironman Los Cabos 70.3 Triathlon

My first out of country experience and my first half ironman distance. Here is my race report!
Saturday, the day before, I tried to go to the swim practice, but was unable to due to parking being off limits. So instead I spent the day planning my race out and wandering off to another beach area where swimming was allowed. It never occurred to me that it would be too dangerous to swim in any part of the ocean, but it was HIGHLY recommended (along with numerous beach signs with warnings on them) that I not swim where there were no swimming signs or lifeguards. I do not know if the undertow was too much in these areas or not, but I would like to compare it to the Atlantic waters since I never saw you couldn’t swim anywhere along the Atlantic, and I’ve been on beaches from Maine to Southern Florida and the Bahamas. Regardless, the waters WERE NOT like the Atlantic waters, they were clear and warm, and the sand always settled fast. No fish or seaweed to be found, no debris. I’ll never forget it.

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Panic set in on Saturday as I realized I was missing my timing chip strap…no time, no race. Quickly realizing this, I went back and admitted I’d misplaced it and got another. I had already dropped my bike off at transition 1 (T1), which is the only place it may have been misplaced
It was super cool they had little signs with our names on them and our country flags. I let the air out of my tires before leaving. Onto Transition 2 (T2), a few miles away downtown in another village, I dropped off my run bag, just hoping I had everything I needed in there. Then it was back to the hotel to rest up. I managed a pretty good sleep considering daylight savings for Baja California Sur was that night!! Fall back ONE HOUR! I set my alarm for 1:58am, to make sure my cell phone turned back on its own. It did, and I went back to sleep.

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The next morning, waking up at 4:45am, I got dressed and had a honey stinger waffle as planned and a bunch of water. We headed out with just my goggles and swim cap; I felt so unprepared since I’m used to carrying everything for my event with me the day of and setting up. We arrived off the bus for a 0.5 mile walk down the big hill to swim start and T1. It was dark but everyone around me was buzzing with excitment, bringing the darkness into a sort of light. I was wide awake and ready to go, unlike most races since they start so early. I got body marked and put on all the sunscreen I could, knowing I couldn’t put any on later. I set up at my bike T1 area and put air in my tires and went off to the swim corrals. I placed myself in the 45:00-50:00 finish time corral for the 1.2 mile swim. The waters were at 85°F — No wetsuits. Everyone in my corral (self seeding) was happy and very social. I met a woman from Germany, another from Mexico, and another from Canada. It was really a world wide sporting event! The guns went off for the rolling swim start, pros were in the water. Rolling start was pretty easy, although I don’t remember what happened. I entered the warm warm waters openingly, but forgot to start my garmin (I ended up starting it about 40 or so seconds after I crossed the first timing mat). I got into my rhythm super fast and was easing into the swim, my swim. It was so clear and the sun was rising as I reached the 400m mark, revealing deeper waters underneith. Everything was so calming. Rounding the first buoy of the retangle swim, I met with the ocean current. It wasn’t too strong, but it was enough to slow my swim a bit. I could tell when a wave of the current passed by as the waters cooled a few degrees. Along the longer leg of the swim, I was met with a few waves, but it was easy to go with the flow so to speak, and breathe when the wave would drop. Rounding the 2nd buoy, you couldn’t really see the 3rd! The sun was behind us, but there was no middle buoys to follow. I got a little off track, and by doing so was intercepted by a jellyfish. I have been stung before, so the pain was nothing new. It hurt for a good 30-45 minutes afterwards and on the bike, but I just went with it. There were also these tiny little jellyfish (they aren’t jellyfish but they felt like one) that are native to Mexican waters about half the size of a pea and bright blue! I encountered about 4 or 5 of these, one on my face, but the pain would only last about 30 seconds or so. Rounding the 3rd buoy (finally) and heading towards the swim exit, I felt my watch go off for the 3rd time, and I had a faster split, but I was behind in over all time for my finish goal. I sped up as much as I could. About 400m from the swim exit, I spotted the bottom of the ocean floor again. I saw corals and fish deep beneath me it was soooo lovely. It was really one of my favorite parts. If I could do this swim all over again, I would. I dislike swimming the most of the 3 sports but this made me love it that day. The salt water helped a lot too! I had to remember to kick, and I really felt where I was in the water. I started to stand when I thought I could touch the ocean floor, but NOPE. Sank. Swam again and tried at a more shallow depth haha. A few waves near the exit, but I lifted my legs to the side and ran on to T1.

T1 took forever and a day. I finished the swim JUST under 1 hour, the time cutoff for the swim is 1 hour and 10 minutes. I made it. At my bike, I took an extensive amount of time removing sand from my feet with baby powder. Worked like a charm. I knew if I took the time to remove this, my feet would be fine the rest of the day. This turned out to be very true. I didn’t have sand anywhere else, so that was cool. On the body glide went EVERYWHERE ELSE. Drank up some water after taking my first gel. Time to roll out. It was all uphill from there. There was an aid station every 13km, so about every 7-8 miles. Not too bad. The heat wasn’t bad yet, quite nice actually. About 10 miles onto the bike I realized quickly this was NOT the bike course featured on the event page. At mile 17, I realized this REALLY WASN’T THE BIKE COURSE, as it started going up and up, up for 4 miles with no repreve. I was expecting a slightly rolling course with a massive climb at mile 36.5 (which was about 3 miles) and then all downhill from there. So maybe this climb just came earlier? NOPE. I kept with my plan, and kept pedaling. The heat by this point in the day was getting brutal. There was no wind on course. I was thankful I didn’t have to fight anything, but a breeze would have been nice. I’d say the temperatures were well above 93°F at this point, and the humidity was above 70%.

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I forced myself to make up time on the downhill, and returned back to the massive rolling hills I came from at the start. I kept checking my watch from mile 28 on, and I wasn’t on pace. I was struggling, even though I was putting my heart into it. I just wasn’t prepared for all the hills. I hit mile 40 and the next massive climb started. Little did I know it was a 5 mile climb with no repreve. It almost looked like one 4 miles into the climb, but it was just less steep there, and we kept on climbing. I passed many bikers with mechanical issues, a few who didn’t know how to change a tire, and many who just gave up. I reached the top and turned around. I sped as fast as I could going down, maintaining 28+ mph the whole way. Mile 52 came, and I was cutting the time cut off super close I was crying that I wasn’t going to make it. I busted my butt from mile 28 on, basically telling myself “I don’t care how trashed my legs are going to be for the run, if I don’t make the bike cutoff, I won’t be running at all!” I put everything I had into the last half of the bike, leaving nothing behind. A few more rolling hills before T2, and a slight downhill the last 2 miles I took full advantage of. My heart was racing as fast as I was racing the bike hoping I hadn’t missed the time cut off. I didn’t feel like I had wasted any time on the bike, nowhere did I think I could have made up lost time…

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I saw Rich, and yelled, “I don’t think I made it!”, and he told me they hadn’t been cutting people yet. I sparked my hope back and headed into T2, where they took my bike from me and I gathered my run items. A quick restroom break and I was back out there. IT WAS HOT. All pavement except for one trail section for about a mile on loose dirt/sand, NO SHADE whatsoever. One aid station at a time I told myself, one aid station every 1 km. I looked down at my watch. I’d gone 1.5 miles. I was tired and dreaded the run. Whatever. I reached mile 2.5 and went to a dark place in my mind and started questioning where I was as I saw a sign that said “Mile 4”. Did I miss a turn? Did I cut the course, will I be DQed now? After all this work?! The next aid station I got someone who knew english and asked about what distance I was really at, they did no good in helping me. I asked someone I passed on the course on the run too who knew english and they said it was really mile 7 or “something”. This discouraged me more. I kept running, and EVERY aid station was taking an ice shower as the volunteers said “shower?”. If I had not done this, I would have overheated I’m sure. The temperatures on the run were now peaking at 97°F (or 37°C) with 65% humidity, making that a heat index over 115°F!! It was bad enough the temperature without humidity was as high as my own body temperature…meaning I could not cool myself down. My legs kept going, I never cramped up, but my body was saying NO NO NO. Controlling my heart rate was number one priority as my pace on my run ran up to 12:00 min/miles. On the bright side, this was still not as slow as my first marathon average time (14:00 min/mi), but I was also facing death during that race and it was literally one foot in front of the other to move forward mentality. This race was different…My legs were perfectly fine other than normal fatigue from the distance I’d done. I reached “Mile 6” sign, and my watch read 4.5 miles…still in a dark place in my mind. I finally made it to the turn around point for lap two of the course. I looked back down at my garmin, I was around 6.4 miles. I was on track and the signs along the course WERE wrong.

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I was feeling better now physically which was weird in my opinion because I was at mile 7 on the run and that usually doesn’t happen even on just run practice days. I looked at my overall time again. I knew I had to put everything I had into the race now…it was do or DNF. I lost one of my gels I had brought somewhere along the way, the last one I was supposed to take. The next aid station I took one of theirs…never tried the brand and never heard of it. It was molten banana flavored, probably the worst thing I’ve had, but I knew I had to take it or risk slowing down or hitting the wall. The ice showers were becoming less effective and I was drying out faster from them. My shoes sloshed about in water pools. I reached mile 11.5 and I stopped sweating. I took a bunch of drink at the next aid station. I reached mile 12. ONE MORE MILE, I asked myself, when can I NOT do ONE mile?? My last mile ended up being my fastest by almost 90 seconds, at 10:30 pace. All the Vamos vamos from the crowd really helped towards the end. Even though a lot of what was being yelled was in spanish, I somehow knew what it all meant, and it meant a lot people were out in the heat supporting us athletes.

I turned the corner and heard my name and city and state, I saw the giant arch, I almost cried. I beat the time cut off by finishing at 7 hours, 52 minutes, and 57 seconds, just shy of the 8 hour cut off finish. I did not come this far and train so hard to fail here, that was my mantra. Nothing had ever pushed me so hard, nothing had every tested my endurance and mentality than this race. I was prepared, yet unprepared all at the same time. As coach put it, you’ve set yourself up for a great PR in your next race!

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My worst injury was my back sunburn, which wasn’t nearly as severe as I’ve had in the past anyway, but still pretty bad. I had minor chaffing in the back and under the arms, but no blisters on the feet (and I was wearing new shoes that hadn’t been broken in yet, don’t tell anyone!). I was greeted with a nice free massage. The hospitality of the locals was amazing. The food was also amazing. The water was not so amazing but I think I managed to avoid most of it. I’m pretty sure towards the end of the race I saw more ambulances than aid stations. Many dropped out or passed out, and some even cheated by cutting the course I heard. Overall it was amazing experience and I will never forget it. If there’s one thing I’m good at, I’m good at making a good first race story. My first marathon I was without nutrition or gels, my first half is still my fastest and one of my coldest/hilliest race, my first 5k I got 3rd in my age group, my first triathlon I cut my foot right after the swim and didn’t notice until I was finished. I can’t wait to push on and train to be better. My goals do not stop here. Bonus points if you made it this far. I left out a lot, but if you want to know more I can elaborate below

Devil’s Lake Off-Road Challenge Sprint Triathlon

It rained a lot yesterday. This made for a VERY muddy race. But the day started off beautiful, low 60s and full sun breaking out. Water temperatures were around 72°F, a bit chilly, but not NEARLY as chilly as my perception had me believe. I could have went without a wetsuit, but why not? I was a running a little behind arriving to the venue because I got lost (again), had 15 minutes to set up in transition before it closed. Rushing, I set everything up as best as I could and started putting on the wetsuit (whew, what a workout). Rushing through that process, I managed to get the right knee twisted up, which didn’t make the swim as easy for that leg. But whatever, it was a MUCH shorter swim than I had been doing.

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Got in the water 5 minutes after the guys. Water was beautiful, clear, slightly wavy. Then we were off. Hit a bunch of people, bunch of people hit me. Weeds appeared about where you could no longer touch (which was quite a ways out!), which slowed me down a little…I don’t like weeds. I was able to focus on my strokes and my breathing quite well this time. I was still on the slower side, but I had people behind me. The goal was to not be the last out of the water. In the last turn, I managed to pass 3 other girls, which gave me a last little boost. As soon as I could stand, I did, and lifted my legs high and ran to transition. My swim was about where I thought it would be, about 9 minutes, but it was also about 450 m, not the 400 lol, I will count every meter extra!

Got on the bike and headed out. Oh the hills were alive with this one. The first 2 miles of the bike were straight up. Walked a little of the steeper parts trying not to blow my legs for the run (like I did last time). I succeeded. Flattening out, I ran into countless long stretches of MUD, lots and lots of wheel-turning mud. If you didn’t have momentum going in, it made it hard to pedal through it. One shook me off the left, but I managed to push off a tree and continue on. Lots of little ups and down, overall managed to go faster on average. This was part of the same course I had during the Dances with Dirt Half I did earlier this year so I knew parts of the course which was nice. Although it was not as fun spinning through wet, dense, grassy bits. The familiar gave me more confidence and before I knew it the first loop was over. I started passing some other females, and was going well until I hit one of the mud ditches the wrong way.

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I went sliding for about 12 feet on my right side with the bike still under me. As much as it was gross, I was stopped by the grassy patch ahead and “brushed” myself off. I got back on the bike, removing large chunks of ground and mud I had collected in the crash, but my bike did not go. I panicked. I started doing an inspection as people started passing by, one by one. All that time I had made up was now gone. I finally got gunk out of my rear cassette and technical bits around the derailleur and found my chain just hanging there. I put the chain back on by some miracle, and the bike protested for a few meters, but I got it shifting again and got back on my way. This put me way behind and inevitably behind 2nd place in my age group. The last 2 miles returned back to transition, and were all downhill, and it was fun getting to use my tech knowledge to gather speed. I was so afraid I was going to crash from skidding on gravel and going downhill (hard to see what was ahead because of the angle of the sun and such through the trees), but all was good.

I returned to transition and tried to hurry myself along, dropping bike and helmet (almost forgot haha), and grabbed a gel and headed out again. As soon as I was out of transition, I realized I had forgotten my run bib, whoops. I stopped for a hot second and thought about going back to get it, but I don’t know exactly how timing mats work and I didn’t want to set it off the wrong way so I went out to the run hoping they didn’t hate me for leaving it behind.

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As expected, the trail led straight up the east bluff, for 1.9 miles. The last bit was the hardest, and in fact, the hardest heart-rate spiking segment I had on the half marathon for Devil’s Lake. I ran as much as I could up and up. I was so glad to see the turn around and headed straight back down as fast and safe as I could manage on loose gravel and dirt. Thank you Altra trail shoes. The run was rather uneventful so I’ll just leave it as it was a big climb and a bid descent haha. Entering the finisher area on the grass, I managed to pass a few more people. I got to the finish 35 minutes after the run start…a little slower than I liked, but I blame part of it on the hesitation I had coming out of transition and getting water at the aid station. I finished in 1:47:37 (unofficial), which was pretty good.

The race was a lot of fun. It would have been nice to have not crashed, costing me 2nd place. Post race, I hung out with Aida, and we took some pictures in the lake with my bike. I did throw my bike in the lake, which helped getting some gnarly bits off. I will def do this one again next year…I’m coming back for 1st!! Also, no damage done to me in the crash. Getting the bike inspected though! It had a rough time of it after the mud incident. I also enjoyed wearing my #inknburn of sugar skulls which seemed to match the theme for devil’s lake

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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.