Women in Trail Running

Please enjoy my mixed smattering bag of womenly goodies on this little writing odyssey. I just kind of went with the flow…not that monthly flow, but yeah, you get it.
Now I may not speak for every female out there, but let’s get something straight…

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Or get muddy, but that’s everyone. Between the toes, under the nails, cuticles. So much for that pedi!

You will chafe. Somewhere, maybe somewhere you didn’t know you could. You’ll feel temperatures differently. You’re hot, she’s cold. It’s 50 degrees.

Maybe you leak a little in places. Maybe you get weird blisters just thinking about running. Maybe you run intervals. Maybe your heart is in a different place than your friend’s. Your hands swell. You get boob sweat in winter. Maybe you lack boobs and wear push up bras for running? I know I did for a long time. But don’t tell anyone.

Ladies come in all sizes, all shapes, and every ability. The ladies who are out there giving it what they have, have courage. Race day isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. No, a lot of training gets put in. And if a lot of training wasn’t put in (I admit I’m sometimes one of those), we put forth all of our experience on the course in front of us. That experience, however, comes from miles and miles of training under all sorts of conditions. Rain, snow, wind, more snow, heat of the sun midday, creepy lonely nights…those birds, will they attack? It’s just a robin.

Nope, that’s definitely a red winged black bird…time to run like heck. Que impromptu speed session. Wait, what’s that rustling over in the bushes? Ack! Chipmunk. But something deep in the back of our mind keeps us on our toes at every little change in environment, or sound that isn’t expected…

Our heads sometimes go straight to flight or fight, and being totally self aware that things are out to get us. That something could be men. No, not all men are dangerous, but there are some that are, and they wish for less than good things to happen to us. For what reason? Who knows. But we don’t deserve it.

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We are out there giving it our all, to work hard for ourselves. We oftentimes think about when we should run, or who we can run with, to give us that peace of mind, of protection against our society and world. We want to feel strong. So we make ourselves strong. And that can come in a variety of ways.

We go to the gym, putting on clothes that hope do not draw attention, especially in such an enclosed area. We head out to do our speed workout on the track, keeping covered afraid wearing just a sports bra even though it’s hot as the devil’s oven out just to not attract unwanted gazes, or worse, have others judge our rolls and scars. Out on the streets we run with a swivel to our head, keeping an eye out for followers, and trying to avoid cat calls. Driving to a running spot so people can’t track where we live, or how often we run a certain path…

We try so often to be safe and feel confident. Now I know I cannot help you all be more confident, it’s just the society we are in. But we have trails. Running freely and judgement free among the trees and tricky roots and rocks that line our path, making it a harder earned run. And when you get done, you can bask in the glory of what you accomplished. Running trails, you can leave your pace behind you. It will be what it will be.

I write this as my own blog post, just reaching out to other women out there, saying it’s ok to be experiencing these things. No it is not ok for society to treat us this way, but the winds of change are slow. Now I would like to talk about what we do out there.

Buzzing participants surround you, manly men, cocky men…oh neat there are some ladies here. You go to talk to them. They are just doing the 10k option, while you feel a little embarrassed you are running the 50k and will be in for the long haul, kind of wishing one of them was joining you in your day of labor.

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And don’t get me wrong, everyone who goes out there is a champion in my book, and I’m not meaning to say just a 10k, but I am reaching out to those of us who want to go that extra mile (or 20), who have drank from the sacred kool-aid we call ultra running. We sometimes feel very lonely, sometimes like we are the only ones there, and the few other women may look very intimidating; classic ultra long distance runner, long blonde hair, carrying just a handheld, lean and tall, and seemingly ignoring everything going on around them. You are there with your hydration pack, packed full of supplies for your long haul with blister kit, extra gels, salt tabs, body glide, chapstick, and bladder weighing in at 5 pounds no less.

But there is a smile under that trucker hat, as your focus soon shifts to the starting line as the sun begins to peak out revealing the trail before you. You start to focus in on the inner you, why you are here. Why are you there? You should be there for yourself, and it’s ok to be selfish! Enjoy your day.

I know it’s hard to be one of the few females out on course though. And sometimes it may seem that others aren’t experiencing the raging hot spot you are getting from higher than expected humidity under your bra, or wait, did that bee just sting me? The NERVE of that bee…no it was a wasp. Die wasp. Missed. Guess I’ll keep chugging along.

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It’s hard to be huffing and puffing on a hill — and yes you trained for that hill and you knew it was coming — and being passed by men who seem to be taking it in stride. Remember to take the time and bring the focus back on yourself and what YOU can do for yourself at any given moment. Each moment you earn for yourself. Each step you take forward (and sometimes a few lost steps that may add to your day, shake those off and accept the bonus miles and brag later). Each breath you are able to enjoy.

Close your eyes and take in what you have managed to accomplish. Sometimes it’s so hard when you compare yourself to others. And inevitably it will happen. To every one of us…big or small, faster or slower. Running generally is a solo sport. Don’t expect to run with others, everyone has different skills, and bless the trail angel when they come along and are by your side.

Let’s take a step back. You are there for the 10k, this is your first trail race, and you have worked so hard for so long to get to this point. You are nervous, but maybe you have some new and old friends by your side. Who quickly disperse once the run starts. You are alone with yourself. You are trying to convince yourself not to give into walking. Walking is so easy!

No, you did not get this far to give up on your arduous efforts leading up to this! You might feel so overwhelmed you don’t deserve to be there. Well, let me tell you the news.

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Breaking news really. You paid to be there (whether that’s paying for the shoes on your feet, or an event or whatnot), you worked hard to be there, and you have every right as every other person has to be there right in that moment, and all your future steps leading you forward. But your mind is a powerful thing, it can empower you and take it right away from you at the same time. Mental toughness, the willingness to refuse to quit. Build it up like a monument so no one can take it down. Come at each step that seems darker and darker with curiosity instead of anxiety or negativity. Ask what you may feel like in 5 minutes, or 90 seconds. Create a mantra…you can do anything for 1 minute. Negativity is temporary, I promise you that. But if you give up, you keep part of that darkness, and will only wonder what could have been if you’d taken the next step.

What is your limit? Can you actually find out? Is there one? You might find you have a temporary limit…work to remove it. Come back, try again and again. Seek joy and pleasure in your journey and soak every moment in, because one day you may not be able to later in life.

It’s rather interesting to see the stats on events, especially as they get longer. I see a lot of participation, women outweighing men, in shorter events. I see women get at it, every pace, every shape. These miles are nothing! But as the miles drag on, those of the female variety tend to lessen in participation. Are we scared of trying? I know from psych research that women are more cautious than men, not as likely to take risks. So it may come down to personality as well. Going the distance is definitely a risk, and an ever increasing risk of failure. We dislike failure. It may be that women are expected to raise kids. I don’t see a lack in participation from the male variety. Shouldn’t raising kids be a joint effort? Another societal expectation? I have no right to say since I do not have these experiences, but I know others who might be going through this. And maybe that’s completely ok with them, that’s their relationship and family.

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But I at least want to say: try. It becomes rather addicting to try, and to see new places, experience new things. Oh how I call the mountains’ name so often (they don’t answer back echoing the sounds of my empty wallet). Prove to yourself you can do hard things, and it’s ok that they are hard, even harder than you expected. And maybe you need a break. That’s ok too. In life there is ebb and flow. Up and down. Positivity and negativity.

Ultimately, you are going to be upset with yourself. You’re going to be angry at things. That’s normal. Go for a run, you’ll feel better, even if it’s delayed after a day or two. You don’t have to sit there and be supportive and positive all the time. We are women and our mood swings can be dangerous…to others. And sometimes ourselves. Find something you can do to chill. Take a salt bath. Drink some tea listening to classical music for 10 minutes. Yoga? I’m not a yoga person, but deep breathing is the shizzle I hear. Close your eyes and imagine your happy place. Do you hear the sound of the leaves crinkling before you on the ground? The smell of fresh pine. Can you hear muffling of the virgin snowfall? Or feel the radiant sunrays on your back, with the crickets singing off in the distance?

This has been quite an adventure in itself. Being a woman running can be lonely even in a crowded room. Hold your shoulders back, chin up, as cliche as that sounds, and march forward in your endeavors. YOUR endeavors. YOUR journey. Each step is so important, if just for you. Don’t be afraid to question, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. No one on Earth is perfect, no man, no woman. It’s hard not being afraid, but sometimes the greatest reward is overcoming that fear and just being you.

What is my Stress Fracture?

Well, if you didn’t know, I have an almost complete stress fracture of the Fibula. What does that mean, Steph? Bear with me, this is more of a personal blog about my struggle with this stress fracture and a way for me to get the anxiety out and release some thoughts…

It means my leg is not broken, yet. It means with continued activity it will break, and then recover time would be extended further than if I hadn’t. The fibula is the smaller of the two long bones in you lower leg, and mostly non-weight bearing but helps take a load off of the tibia, the main weight bearing bone of your leg. Usually, the fracture will happen in the lower or upper part of the fibula, however, mine is basically in the middle…atypical for a stress fracture for a runner. Skipping most of the medical jargon and stuff, I am here wondering what happened. I went through my head countless reasons, but none make a whole lot of sense. So let me give you the basic timeline at least from when I found out.

I found out on July 9th, 2019, for an MRI I had done at 7:45pm the previous evening, July 8th. That day, I had already played 2 or 3 songs, not difficult for me, on our dance game with friends without any pain. My sports med doctors had called me directly and told me to be on crutches for 2 weeks, and the results from the MRI indicated swelling and edema around the fracture site, indicating the fracture was nearly completed and it was my body’s way of trying to protect itself. It was a hard pill to swallow, and emotionally, I had to hold it together, for the sake of my doctor on the phone, and the crew of friends who were visiting for a pokemon go ex raid (special kind of event you get invited to do to catch a special pokemon). There were all of a sudden so many steps I now had to take in my personal life to make immediate changes. I was overwhelmed, and since I had guests over, I could do nothing at the time. In retrospect, this might have been for the best since it prevented me from panicking.

Everything went through my head. How did this happen. Why did this happen. When would I be well again. I am going to miss our summer in Wisconsin this year, after it had been cold for so very long. We had only had summer a week or two when I got the call and I have been having a massively bad time adapting to my new climate in the upper midwest, and each passing season, it seems to get worse. I guess I’ll delve into that a bit.

When I moved to Wisconsin, winter of 2016, I found the cold to be novel. However, I immediately struggled to get outside with temperatures hovering around 0°F and snow everywhere all the time. I came from a place with cold and snow, but what I had to be outside in was not nearly warm enough, and after moving expenses and starting out married life with Rich, we had no money to invest in new clothes. The following winter, 2016/2017, was quite mild, and I was outside more often than before. But I thought this was what normal winter was, which I would be wrong about. I just lucked out. I took a break from running long after I PR’d my half marathon time and finished a late season 70.3 Ironman race (my first, Los Cabos, see here). I remember finally getting a winter coat good enough for the climate then at least and we decided to build a house (that wouldn’t be ready until August, a year after we purchased it) and my mind and life was occupied by that.

Fast forward to winter 2017/2018, post Ironman Wisconsin and Xterra Maui. I took more time off than ever, rather burned out from the training of both of those. I ran when I felt like it, 3-5 miles here and there, not getting monthly run miles past 30 miles/month. Then Andrea hits me up and says do Zion with me. I say ok. I figure I’ll train well enough. I struggled through it, but hit it hard in March and did my 2nd 50k (and coldest and wettest to date, it was awful weather) and long back to back weekends training myself as I got my coaching certificate earlier that year. I ended up doing the 100k in April, pretty well prepared with two months of mostly solid training. By this time I had more outerwear meant for Wisconsin, but it was another milder winter. Unknowing to me.

Again, fast forward to 2018/2019, my worst winter yet and the one I tried really hard to train through. Back in October 2018, I finished Cloudsplitter 100, but with a partially torn anterior tibialis tendon tear that took me down hard. I managed to get back up to marathon distance by December, and tried to hang onto some sort of base from that until February when I did Rocky Raccoon 100k. I fought hard to get in miles, but every time I would go out, everything would go wrong. I would deteriorate so quickly and get tired super fast to the point I would want to fall asleep on the trail. I got rashes and bumps on almost all my runs over 15 minutes outside below 40°F. I started bleeding from places I should not have been bleeding from and after every effort outside, I wound up falling asleep in front of our fireplace. It wouldn’t be until I rested that my body would feel normal again. I also noticed that my internal body temperature after running (taken less than 2 minutes after stopping) was below 94°F every time. That was rather scary. I was diagnosis with cold urticaria, and prescribed antihistamines for the winter months. I had to switch my training to be indoors and my training fell apart a little.

I managed to get in another 50k for my birthday, Terrapin Mountain, and it went as well as it could have given I did not have the mountain to properly train with in Wisconsin. I rested a bit, and continued to train along the mountains back in Virginia, preparing for the Blue Ridge Double Marathon in April. I rocked the double despite the weather. I wasn’t even sore from it. I had zero pain and did a few easy and light runs the following week. It was still pretty cold in Wisconsin this past year (2019) when I returned back after being in Virginia for a month, and my training lightened up a lot. I did a few 3-9 mile runs 2-3 times a week, but didn’t get in the speed work I had wanted for training for the halves I wanted to try and PR. I did one half at the beginning of May and at the end of May. In-between, I started doing weights, and really overdid it one day with legs, and did something to hurt my abdominal area, which showed in a 17 mile run I took super easy a week later. I rested another week, and did more light running. The last weekend in May was the Madtown half. I kept my effort even and was pretty successful considering I had no speed work in my agenda going into it. Still too cold for my muscle to really put power into strides.

The following weekend, I did a bunch of boot camp style workouts, but nothing long. Most things were intense though. I had done more weight lifting 2 days beforehand too, including legs again. When I flew out to Colorado, I was massively dehydrated. I admit, I am very bad about hydrating, but some of this was not preventable in this case due to travel mishaps…I was basically late for everything preventing me from getting water on the other side of security, and a flight too short for the airline to have water on board, and my next flight boarding on the other side of a large airport before I landed.

When I ran between those two flights, I could already tell my legs were swelling, as I could feel my heart beat pounding against the tight walls of my legs. It wasn’t quite painful yet, but I could tell I was in trouble. I did not have time for water, as I was the last person to board that flight even with running across the airport. I immediately pushed the button for service and they didn’t come to me until the flight was taking off. I finally got some water…even if it was a tiny cup. By the time I landed in Colorado, my legs were shiny and full of fluid and very puffy, but hard as rocks. I could feel my heart beat inside them even while sitting. I tried to do my leg exercises on the plane, but being in the middle seat with an obese person sitting next to me and using some of my own seat (I will save you my rant on that), I had absolutely no room. I went to sleep that night and got up early to go run.

Usually when this happens to my legs, and yes I have tried compression on planes, and several brands (I am supposed to be called about a personalized medical pair, but its been two weeks now—they call YOU), I just work out, go for a run typically, and after about 20 minutes, I start experiencing a LOT of leg pain and pulsing feeling like my muscles are tearing apart, and if I can push through that, the swelling will diminish and I’m back to normal and can run normally after that. I have done this a few times before, every time with the same feeling and same result. This time felt a bit different. This time it felt like my muscles were being pulled apart more so than before, and were bleeding inside. I was with my friend Scott, doing a life in the day sort of thing and doing all the workouts. I mentioned I needed to stop, trying to massage my legs and let blood flow through them. I remember my right leg hurt a bunch and I was close to limping. My left leg was also in bad shape but not as bad. Since it was only a little under 3 miles, I don’t think it got the fluid out of my legs. Maybe it was the altitude, lack of oxygen, maybe it was the dehydration. There were so many things going on right at that time.

I did a few more workouts that morning before heading to a local gym where I foam rolled my right leg out. It was about 60% better after, but I then noticed my left leg was still in the same shape. My priority though was my right leg and I kept tending to it. Some rest that night, and I woke up with some residual swelling, but not nearly as bad as it had been the day prior. My legs were still super tight across the skin and muscles, but they were starting to jiggle again (for lack of a better word). I took a step out of bed and my left leg hurt, and hurt to touch. My pain overall still was not absent from the swelling and the feeling of my muscles being ripped the day before (I don’t think they tore, but that’s debatable, I’m just describing a feeling for the sake of this blog). I continued to workout and run. The beginning of runs would feel horrible and I would limp on my left side. But the longer I went and warmed up, the better it got. This was the case for every run afterwards, and was up until I got the MRI.

I decided to then do the FKT I had planned a few days after getting back from Colorado. 40 miles along the Military Ridge State Trail, solo. I started out in some pain, but it went away with the miles. I felt pretty good at the end in fact. The next morning I was only a little sore and the pain in my left leg was present, but not as it had been the previous weekend. I had scheduled a doctors appointment with my primary care office about the swelling by this point. I was worried about deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, a very real and scary danger involving leg swelling that can potentially kill you if there is a pulmonary embolism (PE). I was able to get a scan of my veins and an x-ray done to rule them out. Results came back negative. I was able to get an x-ray scheduled and done after S’mores 24, 53 more miles on the leg. I had played a soccer game the week before, and some of the push offs from the left leg felt real bad. I decided to rest it at that point. The x-ray came back with a small thing that triggered something from the tech and told them to investigate. At this point I had been referred to a sports medicine doctor for their opinion. This is now late June and I had been active this whole time being told by 3 doctors so far “let pain be your guide”. I did this, but apparently this ended up being for the worst. I got in to see her in July. She said she doubted it was a stress fracture because of its location and my history I had given with my training of when the pain started. I did fail the hop test, as I did not even want to “hop” on one foot knowing it would hurt. I didn’t know what this meant at the time.

During this period of time, I had two professional massages, and they commented how tight it was and it felt like a knot to them. It did hurt when they massaged it and it was not better when I left. But it also wasn’t worse.

By the time the MRI was scheduled, insurance caught up, it was July 8th, and when asked by the lab tech where my pain was, I could no longer find it. I guessed since I knew it had turned into a spot of pain as the pain from the left calf subsided over the weeks. So from May 30th until July 9th, I was fairly to extremely active on the leg in question, only stopping a majority of activity after June 26th when I was told to just bike and not run. When I got the call about the results, biking was no longer an option.

Part of the reason it took so long was 1) insurance, and 2) progression of doctors trying to figure out what the pain was. I will say this though, I do not thing it was the increase in activity AFTER my days in Colorado in early June which would explain why it’s so severe (I had a huge increase in mileage and activity post Colorado including the 40 and 50 miler only two weeks apart), but it probably most certainly made it worse, despite my pain decreasing over this period of time, only being irritated during soccer games and the beginning of runs. My gut says that it started that weekend in Colorado, and because of the swelling I had.

The only mechanism that explains where it is, and don’t quote me because this is all new information and might be that my anatomy is bad, is a muscle pulling at the bone until it fractures. The purpose of the fibula is supporting muscles of the lower leg and ankle stability. I never turned my ankle, at least not within the last year. Ankle feels fine and has been fine. A trigger for a fracture is also weak calf muscles, I’m fairly confident my 16” calf is not weak and is well supported. My body was not fatigued either so it’s not like the fibula had to take any addition weight on. Unless it was too much weight when I did weights the few times leading up to the Colorado trip.

Could it have started during Cloudsplitter? I had major swelling post race, but my pain was limited to my torn tendon on my right (but who knows what 80+ miles compensating on my left leg to make up for the injured right leg would do?), and anterior shin pain on both legs evenly. I haven’t experienced any leg pain since Cloudsplitter. Not after Rocky, not after Blue Ridge. I felt so good physically going into May and my mileage dropped a lot then, so I wasn’t spiking in mileage or effort.

Whether it was cumulative or sudden, I don’t think I will ever know. I know that MRI’s don’t lie, and yes I felt pretty good physically when I went in for the MRI July 8th, hardly any pain I could even hunt down. It blows my mind that I am one step away from a broken leg. I’m glad I mostly started resting 12 days before the MRI, although I biked a few times (no pain at ALL), went for a hike and a few short walks (around half a mile) without pain, and played some dance games without pain as well. As I sit here, I have absolutely no pain left at all. Of course, I have been on crutches, so maybe that has changed? I feel baffled by the fact that I have that much internal swelling and I can’t feel anything.

I friend suggested that maybe my muscles are so strong that they are supporting my bone enough that I can’t feel it. I would believe that easily. I also remember I took a nice salt bath (also trying to figure out if that would help the pain go away) earlier in mid June, and letting my leg move in the water and feeling the site of pain back then. Since then, I have been cleared to swim as I wish, and have been. Yesterday, as of this blog, I swam with my legs, and felt nothing. I assume I was feeling the swelling from the fracture, and not the actual fracture since there aren’t nerve endings in bone.

Regardless, I have started to seek my own help, and asked for a therapist, 1) to help deal with this life changing event (going from very active, to hardly active at all for the sake of healing) and coping with the associated depression resulting from not doing anything and trying not to blame myself, and 2) how in the world will I deal with another winter, when I was not able to fully experience and enjoy summer in the best ways I know how? This makes me sad writing it out. I started writing this very blog post to help me cope and get my thoughts out instead of making countless social media posts that go nowhere but probably annoy people and think I’m complaining for the sake of complaining. However, there is quite a waiting list to be seen. I am trying not to get discouraged by this.

There is also quite a long wait for physical therapy of which my insurance does not want to cover (although they covered it for the torn tendon earlier in the year, it took from early November to early January to be seen). So I need to start educating myself on how to recover properly in case I am truly declined from PT. I found a useful medical journal article that details the study of recovery for patients who are active runners recovering from a tibia fracture. Although the tibia is the weight bearing bone in the leg, the recovery for that is much longer and involved, so I figure if I follow that protocol as described therein, then that should be a good enough plan for a fibial injury.

Where do I go from here? I of course have bailed out of Badger 100, which was supposed to be my 2nd 100, and I had goals of going sub 24 hours. I instead will be volunteering and doing my best to bring my best to those out there. August 7th is the date to look to right now, which is when I can start weight bearing again. I was told to wait for 6 weeks before running is attempted. Six weeks is August 21st.

It will be touch and go from week 4 on in my honest opinion. I oftentimes forget I am really broken, and walk away without my crutches like a normal person. I’m babying and limping on purpose, even though I do not have to. I am trying to be super careful. I have upped my calcium and Vitamin D intake to normal daily recommended values at least just in case that was a cause. I do wonder after recovering for a few weeks when I can put in effort like as in stairclimbing and other activities to build endurance and muscle. I still have so many questions, many that cannot be answered. I am still talking to doctors about my leg swelling, and will know more the more flights I take, but part of me doesn’t want to cause it on purpose just to show the doctors how bad it is.

Looking ahead, Cloudsplitter may be off the menu in any capacity, but I’m going to take it day by day, and build as strong of a body as I can with what I can do so I can jump back into training safely. If an ultra is off the table, then I have a few long distance triathlons that I can train for that happen in the winter (given they don’t sell out). I know I am hitting swimming hard, and can already do a half ironman swim under the time cut-off. Next step in recovery is biking, since it is not as weight bearing as running. Building these up and keeping my base cardio is important to me. Whether than ends in a triathlon, an ultra, or nothing at all and getting good enough to beast the Georgia Death Race for my birthday in March, I’m going to come back.

Run S’mores 24 – 2019

Run S’mores 24 hour race…

Or 16 hours.

June has been quite the month for me, I’ve reached more miles this month than any other month, but a majority of it has been either tapering or ramping up and banging out big miles. It’s kind of an experiment in coaching myself to better learn how the body handles big efforts over a shorter period of time. I always hope I can learn for myself and then help clients out and back it with some science (and experimentation). I had S’mores on my calendar for quite a few months now, always seemed like a good idea to run for 24 hours on a 3 mile looped course in late June when it would be warm and sunny. Well some of that ended up being true, but not a lot.

I based this off of the 50k I did on a 5k hilly course last year (Hot Hilly Hairy), which is still my 50k PR. It was pretty nice having a base camp you could access every 3 miles with all your goodies. Uh no. Wait, let’s fast forward now.

The events leading up to this didn’t seem too bad, a lot of piddly miles mixed with larger and harder efforts. After the Blue Ridge Double Marathon, I recovered surprisingly quickly and was running two days later. I wanted to train for PR’ing my half distance but the cold and snow quickly stopped that. I still ended up doing the Wisconsin Marathon Half May 4th, doing a dance game tournament the weekend after, and the weekend after that the Galena Sky Trail race 4 hour where I had stressed out/pulled my abdominal wall slightly while trying to do weights (unknowingly at the time), preventing me from really going all out. A week after and basically taking a whole week off from working out besides arm focused weights, I did the Twilight 5k and Madtown Half that weekend. From there, I ventured to Colorado where I was signed up for the Dirty 30 12 miler in Golden. On the plane, my legs and feet ended up swelling up (and I’m still trying to pursue why this is happening but as of today, still haven’t heard back from my doctor after being cleared for DVT and muscle tears).

IMG_20190601_111400_1After getting off the plane and sleeping for a short period of time, and being dehydrated from travel, I went for a short run. I could tell my legs were extra tight from the fluid that had built up from the flight, and usually a short run will loosen things up. I eventually felt my left leg release a bit, but my right leg was being quite stubborn. I did another workout right after, nothing intense and then a hill repeat and strength workout. A break in the day, I went to foam roll hard. I focused mainly on the right leg since it was annoying me at this point. Never has it taken so long to release this and I was getting impatient, and also focusing on hydration too. That trip, I ended up doing a bunch more, with runs being fairly short in the 5-7 mile range but with a lot of gain, with the exception of the Dirty 30, where my left leg would actually hurt until about mile 6 where it just went away, and I couldn’t even feel it for 3 days after. Back on the plane, I kept trying to move around (probably to the displeasure of the people next to me) and keep my legs from swelling. I am not sure it worked, and my left calf remained knotted up (and whatever it is it is doing right now STILL).

I got professional massages, took salt baths, used ibuprofen, foam rolled, everything. Nothing seems to help.

61940362_1277002745808074_8382098796674285568_nI ended up running the entire FKT with this issue, and it eventually it calmed down during the run again. It was irritated afterwards, but again calmed down. But then I played a soccer game and irritated it further with the power required to stop-go during a game. And here I am…going to the doctor, not getting answers. They told me let pain be the guide, and really didn’t pursue the issue further and said they would call me about setting up another appointment with a specialist. Still no call today. I’m not going to go off on how much I hate my PCP and how she has disrespected my activities with a personal bias, so deep breath. S’mores 24.

I was mentally prepared to just walk for 24 hours. But I soon forget how long it takes to walk 3 miles, and how little practice I have power hiking at pace lately, which makes me use a different form that tends to create precisely ONE hot spot on my right foot. I got cleared from DVT noon on Friday the day before the race. I went to the grocery store and bought a number of things I wanted to try. I wanted to do this event totally on real food or liquids. I grabbed the new orange vanilla coke, some grape juice, pineapple-tangerine fruit cups in coconut water, apples, nectarines, grapes, and watermelon. The site did not specify that they would have any on course nutrition or support besides water, so I assumed I was going in on my own.

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I also brought along with me: Rich, handheld water bottle, face wipes (new!), all my antichafe products, bug spray, umbrella, running jacket and vest (waterproof), new Kogalla “head”lamp, two headlamps and batteries, light up night running vest (required), hiking poles (why not), plastic baggies, poncho, visor, extra shoes and socks and gaiters, two power banks and cords, soft flask, sunscreen, biofreeze, orange mud pack and bladder, calf sleeves, headband, and some random other things thrown in.

I ended up using a lot of this stuff. My goal was to be able to walk/run the next day (keep the effort in check), and to keep the feet happy (no blisters!)…this was really important to me. I would rather sacrifice my mileage and time than be beat up from this.

I found Megan and Joan, the two I would share a tent base camp aid station with. It was a bit further out from the start/finish than I bargained for, not their fault, but I feel like everyone was in this situation. HHH had it so all the tents and runner areas were set up along where the runners came through, not an area designated beside it where you had to remove yourself from the course somewhat to get aid. This ended up giving me more than 3 extra miles total during this event. That is no small amount.

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Anyway, I dropped everything at the tent, and planned on it storming at some point, or all points. The weather leading up to Saturday was a mixed bag of goodies….goodies? Booties. It was forecasted to be upper 70s, generally this didn’t change, and 40-80% chance of thunderstorms at any given time, and this went for Saturday night as well. The threat for Saturday night did not diminish before race day, however the chance for rain on Saturday magically disappeared for some odd reason. Weather, y’know?

IMG_20190622_084831It was pretty sunny, and a little humid. I recall midday humidity being around 62%, which was abnormal for the area. But weather has been butts lately…nothing above 70 degrees, no sun, just overcast drizzle crap day after day. No true storms either. I just wanted summer. My plan was to just do a lap and see how course conditions were (since it had been raining) and see if I needed to change up anything about myself…socks, shoes, nutrition, etc. Should note that a majority of people there were relay teams. There was also a mini 6 hour S’mores.

I lined up around 8:50am for the 9am start. I had chosen my Altra Superiors with gaiters, and zensah mid calf compression socks (see how they would work, no antichafe had been applied at this point), Inknburn shorts and new racerback top, handheld water bottle filled with grape juice. I carried nothing else but my iPod. I positioned myself towards the back unsure what my legs would do. I didn’t do a shake out run beforehand, or really that week. I was nervous for what my legs would feel like.

I started my watch when the Race Director set off the race (it’s 24 hours total no matter when you cross the starting line). I took a few steps and I knew I would be in for a long day. It was difficult to get moving and could feel a slight limp in my stride…if you could call my mini shuffle a stride. I eventually caught up with Megan that loop.

The Course:

It started out grassy and prairie like, my favorite, out to a quick jaunt through a forest of big pine cones that should be avoided (they would turn an ankle later in a race if not careful), returning to grass with hard packed dirt under it…which made it not so bad. The sun shone through and lead to a steep downhill that landed you right back in the forest. Cue the wood chips! The RD had told us in the pre race briefing that they had covered the muddy sections with wood chips. This lull in the course would lead to the first uphill which led to another sunny area and back into the woods were it was so flat, and very runnable. So many wood chips though, and very soft underfooting here. This lead to some soft rolling hills that weaved in and out. Nothing was single track about this course. Always at least double track. Somewhere in here there were cones that went slightly downhill (about a mile in), then back up. The next mile was pretty unmemorable with one bigger hill that went up (and not down). This uphill lead to some pitched trail slanting to the right in the sunshine, hard packed dirt again. Back into the forest, the wood chips littered the area.

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If I may, this was similar to Habanero with the sand, but it was all wood chips. Not something to fondly remember on race day !

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Turtle eggs on course!

The hills rose and fell more, shorter this time, and by a lake it seemed. You could hear the frogs and various animal life but couldn’t see it. The trees here yawned in the wind. Yes, I can hear most everything while I have my iPod playing, I only tune in to it when I’m bored. This lead to a long downhill and then up to level off for a bit of almost muddy path, and then a short downhill leading to the only muddy place on the whole course before it rose sharply for a very brief time to the only aid station on course at exactly mile 2.5. This lead back into the sunshine and grassy plains, but still with hard packed dirt. I mention the dirt because the dirt below the grass is very important with how it runs. Soft dirt can grow thicker grass and is much harder to run on. The trail fell beyond the aid station back into the woods with the cones from before (the only section with 2-way traffic), and slightly uphill. Once past the cones, there was a nice section without grass or chips, and was just hard dirt and very easily run. This lead back to the start/finish to complete the loop.

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Long endless stretch of super runnable ground.

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The hill before the hill at the end.

Just beyond the timing mats, was the exit for the course for solo/double runners and our tents. This is where all the extra distance was tacked on.

So I was suffering a bit on the first lap. I was trying to take things slow, but caught up to Megan shortly. I decided to just run with her since her pace seemed logical to me. This may have been a mistake on my part since I had not trained at that pace, but I wanted the company more than I cared about what I was doing. I honestly didn’t have plan leading up to it with all the mess going on with my body recently and unsolved mysteries. I just knew you had to make it to 50 miles to get the buckle. I had wanted to try and get the womens course record, but today was definitely not going to be the day, that also required 80 some miles. I was still willing to put in 100km worth of miles today.

FB_IMG_1561334790518Megan’s goal was to get in 50 miles in under 12 hours. She also wanted to get in 100km no matter what. All good stuff. Joan was doing her first ultra and off on her own. We wished her well and tried to keep up with how she was doing throughout the day. Megan and I agreed to skip going to the tent for the first 6 miles. When we got to the first aid station, I was about half way through my grape juice so diluted it half way and that hit the right ratio and hit the spot. I could tell I was not hydrated enough though going into the race. When we returned to the tent after the 2nd lap, I grabbed some more grape juice and downed an entire coke (200 total calories), which didn’t end up coming back to bit me.

I refilled my bottle at the aid station the 3rd round with water (in addition to the grape juice I hadn’t drank yet). Megan told me her husband would be bringing the dogs to run with later. I was ok with this. I took a quick bathroom break upon returning to the start/finish, and then going back to the tent again. I cleaned my face with the cleansing wipes and reapplied sunscreen. I told Rich he could go hang with friends and come back around 4pm. We had no idea where Joan was. I tried not to think about the number of miles we had left. I ate some watermelon and refilled my bottle with grape juice, I felt so proud I was keeping up with nutrition…

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On the 4th loop I believe when we stopped back at the tent, I ended up trying to eat an oatmeal cream pie and a rice crispy treat, both new to me. I also had more coke.

The dogs ended up joining us shortly. Hootie was first up, the regular to Megan’s training runs. She had a nice belt to attach him to and he behaved like he didn’t have a care in the world and just went along, pulling Megan along at a slow trot. I remarked that I felt so slow watching Hootie not give any effort in moving forward on the leash. We did this loop a wee bit faster. Next up was Bette, the puppy who had little experience. She kept me on my toes as she weaved in every direction on our loop. It was around this time (hitting around 18-20ish miles) that I decided to switch to my Altra Timps and out of the socks I was wearing. The socks I had been adjusting for several miles not really noticing they were bruising my ankles yet.

It was such a relief to get rid of the tight socks, but I noticed when I put on the new socks that my ankles were not happy at all with the compression they had been under for so long. Ugh. I was a bit sad I hadn’t caught this before now.

Bette’s loop was much slower as we walked mainly through it. It was a nice break. Back around again, we picked up Hootie for one last go around. The sun was high now. But the first major steep hill (mentioned somewhere around mile 2 on the loop), we ALL spotted two little creatures. They were raccoons, but they were so small. Hootie got so excited (more excited than this old decaying stump he liked so much twice in a row), and Megan had a hard time persuading him to move on.

 

 

I noticed at this point my stomach was becoming more unhappy. It had been progressively getting worse each loop. I couldn’t tell what was causing it. When we got back around, we dropped Hootie off and we went off on our first solo loop (without puppers) in 9 miles. I told Megan I would stick with her until about 50k and try and do a loop fast and one loop power hiked as fast as I could. I could tell the heat was really getting to Megan at this point, walking through all the sunny sections now. I tried to keep her in good spirits. I didn’t notice the heat too badly, I suppose it was upper 70s by now, but the sun was what I really noticed. We’ve had so little sun this year that I knew it would be harder to deal with for any of us. I noticed it the most during my FKT for Military Ridge. But I still didn’t have enough exposure in my opinion to be good with all of it. I still don’t think the heat or sun played a role in how I felt.

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As much discomfort as my stomach was in, I could always still smile for the sunshine. (Coming down from the on aid station.)

As the sun grew lower in the sky, my stomach felt worse. Rich had made it back to camp. I had some more coke and at some point had eaten some pineapple (of which I am at least sensitive to allergy wise, or flat out allergic)…the only things I can point to for this stomach discomfort was either the pineapple, too much sugar, or too much water. I kept drinking the grape juice for another lap though. At one point, Megan wanted to run, and my stomach just said no (this was a first for me). I broke into a power hike and fell behind. This was the first time we broke apart. I managed to keep her in sight for a majority of the loop until I passed her hiking on the hills. I entered camp alone and decided to keep moving past camp in a power hike. My hot spot made itself known….boo. I decided quickly after leaving the camp area that I would put some antichafing stuff on when I got back. I managed a great loop in time, but my stomach kept decaying. I stopped at camp and had some more watermelon and soda. When I left, I started to feel even worse. I slowed and huddled over in total discomfort. I remember after having a sip of grape juice I wanted to throw up and got that saliva feeling in my mouth but my body would not do it. I felt if I could just throw up, I would feel better. But my body is pretty resilient. My pace dropped severely after being able to maintain 14:30 pace by simply walking, down to 18:30. I crawled my way back to camp as it got darker and saw people passing me with lights on. I told Rich I was going to the porto.

I believe I was in there for at least 20 minutes if not longer trying to produce anything. Nothing. No relief came, and I decided that I would go lie down in the tent. I laid down for a very long time. My total time resting on this loop alone was one hour. I changed my shirt to my long sleeve shirt I brought, and my vest. I wanted to switch to my hydration pack but I realized I forgot the clip to my bladder. Ahhhh I found out the one important thing this race I forgot to pack. Usually has something to do with the hydration I’m using. Oh well. I wasn’t planning on drinking anymore anyway. I was feeling much better, probably 40% better, after lying down. I got out and it was cold. The sun was down and I prepped my headlamps. I could still see a little and wondered how far I could get without a headlamp. Just something to keep my occupied. My pace was terrible, especially after resting and not moving for an hour. I have never done this in an ultra, but nor have I had stomach issues. I’m glad it was at a timed race at least.

The negativity spoke to me so much here. Your pace is bad. Why do you keep going. This is an embarrassment. You shouldn’t have tried…

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Unmemorable 2nd mile.

I hated everything about myself and how I was failure. Yet I kept moving forward like I always do. I thought about all the times I had gone this far and how much harder the terrain was then and the conditions worse than today. Why could I not do well today? Yet I kept moving forward…

Eventually, I turned on my headlamp and didn’t worry about what my watch said, although it hurt to see each mile pass and the numbers it displayed, displeased on how slow they were ticking by. I couldn’t run…my ankles were killing me, I was alone, and now my feet felt like I’d done too much. I tried not to let those be an excuse for why I was feeling bad. My stomach churned some more but not as angry as it had been, allowing me to walk.

I messaged Andrea to see how far away she was. She was coming. I got back to camp and decided to wait for her. I went back into the tent to stay warm. I waited for probably another 40-45 minutes, but I didn’t care about time anymore. I continued to not intake anything as my stomach was on the mend. I had some more coke, but not nearly in the amounts I had been taking in. I switched to my soft flask and carried that (apparently not small enough though since it did bother me, so note taken, not good for long runs) with just water. I had two more laps. The previous lap I had just fallen into Rich’s chest and didn’t want to go back out.

A lot of people say when you sit down and get comfortable, you won’t want to go back out, causing people to DNF/quit, but my personal comfort is being held by Rich. Note taken there too as much as that sucks. I sat down every chance I got and was always able to get up and get back out there. Two more laps.

Andrea arrived and it was hard to get moving. Andrea tried to convince me for a few additional laps, but even 50 miles seemed like a stretch at this point. My feet were pounding. They had so much cumulative fatigue over the past few weeks, they were done with my nonsense. Our laps were slow and I continually apologized to her about the pace. I was so glad to listen to her whole adventure from Yeti that she did earlier that month and distracted me from myself. A voice in the dark when I was in the dark. The second lap we decided to do her intervals but backwards, so 1 run, 4 walk. It was a lot and I was very slow. I counted down the hills, and said goodbye to each and every wood chip. I said goodbye to the mud puddle.

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This wood chip made it home somehow, I guess to be expected with all the wood chips on course. It will be burned ceremoniously.

I ran the last little bit the best I could. I had had my poles for some time now ever since I started power hiking loops, and I am not sure they did me much good (I would use them, then not but carrying them never bothered me), but they did keep me accountable for moving forward. I finished 53.5 miles in 16 hours and 30 minutes, very embarrassingly. It was 17 laps, so the race total was 51.5 miles. Megan had finished in about 16 hour and Joan finished in around 17 hours (times not precise for them).

My feet hurt to the bone pretty good, so no more laps for me, no matter how much others wanted it.

I felt like not staying the whole 24 hours was a disservice to what I had signed up for. I felt like leaving early was a DNF in my book. I still have a lot of bad feelings about how I did, but looking back I’m not sure they could have been avoided at all.

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Gotta finish.

Let me break it down. No it’s not the smartest to run on something that could be an injury. No I still don’t know what it is, but I am taking some time off now from pounding anything (regardless of sport) to let things possibly heal, including my feet and bones. I knew excessive fatigue played a role the minute I started the race. This is my highest mileage month I’ve ever had in my career of running so that is to be expected. This gives me better ideas in how to train and how to up my foundation. I have also added three cross training sports now and feel stronger than I have ever.

For the stomach issues. I’m sure going in not hydrated enough played a role and drinking way too much for my body to process during the event was a bad idea. I assume that eating pineapple is just a bad choice on my part but thought it may play out ok. The watermelon was ok, and I added salt to it, but it wasn’t a very good melon. Between the grape juice and the soda, I probably over compensated in sugar per hour. The initial laps were certainly not taking me a full hour (not until the last few) and I was taking in too much and probably too much at once. I wouldn’t define it as gut rot feeling, but just cramps and that affected my form from the hips up. No lower digestive issues. I am sure having a cream pie, rice crispy treat, and soda did me no favors. This was the first time I had been able to really over fuel and I certainly did.

IMG_20190622_144014Pace. Had I cared about myself and made it my own race, I would have kept to what I had been practicing. I think the stride I was taking to maintain running with Megan were much too short. I also ran without using the intervals I had been practicing (I didn’t plan on using them anyway because of the hilly nature of the course, of which I got about 5000 feet of gain over the 50 some miles, but this is probably underestimated since garmin has been doing that recently). I also kept in mind if my form was being affected by my calf, I would just hike.

What went right?

Despite It being a horrible race for me personally, I did do some things right of which I can only now talk about. I bought, and used periodically, these facial cleansing wipes (not make up remover wipes) because my acne has a history of being really bad after ultras and it’s just something I’ve wanted to try and prevent for some time now as I have enough acne issues outside of running. I have to say besides making you feel completely refreshed, they prevented 98% of the post race acne. I am very happy with this outcome and hope to share with others. Also, grape juice does work for me, maybe not better so than the blueberry V8 though. My electrolyte balance was dead on and I did not add electrolytes until near the end when that’s what I would take from the one aid station. I did add salt to my watermelon, but I would only eat 1-3 pieces at a time. I never felt any leg cramps during or after.

It was interesting to note that this is one of the first ultra courses I’ve been on recently where I haven’t had wet feet. I knew I was sweating, so while I was stopped waiting for my stomach to settle down, I went ahead and took my socks off and cleaned my feet with hand sanitizer. They dried up like a charm. I know the socks were still moist, but it was a good time to try something new like that. I look forward to using this trick on wetter courses in the future.

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This buckle size though…

Otherwise, what did I think of the event? The course was solid, nothing wrong and great places always for people to pass who were fast and doing the relay. Requiring reflective and lit vest while on a trail I still think isn’t something you should have to do though. Having one aid station 0.5 mile away from the finish I thought was kind of dumb, but mentally broke the course down further so I’d rather have one than none. I would have put the aid station where the cones were, as it was very near the campground anyway and there were trails to get there. Although I hate on the wood chips, I am grateful for them as the course remained the same throughout the race no matter how many times people passed over the trails. Rain never came. The shirts were great. The medals and buckle were really great quality and the buckle was massive for no reason lol. It was odd it took the race crew a few hours to place a water cooler at the start/finish, and there was kind of an aid station near there, but it was behind the toilets and I have no idea what they provided. The race website didn’t speak of offering more than water, so that’s what I planned for. There seemed to be more than that as there were gels at the one aid station and they provided nuun there too…and chairs. Thank you so much for the chairs at the aid station. The volunteers were great too. Overall even with the little quirks, it was a good event. I would probably be more into the relay next year as something new to do, with just one other person would be interesting. The teams go up to 8. Lastly, they only gave awards to the top male and female finisher, so there really was no reason to push hard. I think giving out more awards, or at least top 3 overall, would have been better.

I’m still beating myself up over time and distance. I expected more out of myself. The Blue Ridge Double was easier, worse conditions, more vert. Even Terrapin Mountain 50k with the 10 mile climb I was faster at the 50k mark. My 100ks were all faster paces, and all of them were far worse conditions in gain/loss on course, being sick, being sandy, being hot, being cold… You can only control what you do about it. Live and learn. Megan said, do it until it’s not fun. What great words that day. I’m glad I didn’t force more miles. I need to mentally move on but it will be very difficult. More about that in the next report I guess.

Right now, I am treating my calf muscle myself and resting. I will maybe get in some minor miles soon, but until mid July I am not planning on ramping up much more with the final push in miles for Badger. Lots of heat training whenever we actually get summer, which looks like maybe this week. We are about a month behind in climate for the year, so hopefully this fall will be super warm. If that’s the case, I’m willing to consider something at Tunnel Hill. I will not know until closer to then. I just don’t dig being cold. My next event is probably going to be Dance with Dirt Devil’s Lake again, but unsure on the distance…again. I have some trail work this next weekend I’m doing to help them so that’s cool.

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.

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.

Ironman Wisconsin

Ironman Wisconsin

My first full Ironman.

I started doing triathlon in March of 2016 (also getting my very first road bike ever!), doing my first sprint in June 2016. I had ridden mountain bikes short distances (less than 10 miles), all sort of terrain, and been running since August of 2013. I knew how to swim, what I call “survival” swimming skills, since I was about 6 or 7 years old, but never refined it until about July 2016…yes after my first sprint (I did a lot of back stroke and not freestyle). To put it bluntly, I was a true novice. Most triathletes come from one of the three backgrounds, swimming being a popular one. Mine was running, the last sport in the triathlon, the one that’s hardest to do well at at that point in a race. I did my first few Xterra races that summer of 2016 (equivalent to olympic distance and time, effort is a different story), and succeeded in finishing my first half Ironman in late October 2016 in Los Cabos Mexico, beating the cutoff by 8 minutes (8 hour cutoff). My swim was slow then, finishing in about 58 minutes (granted it was the ocean and no wetsuit), but was wonderful, my bike was VERY slow as I encountered an unexpected bike course change that was NOT on the website (that I had trained according to), and a death run (temperatures were in the upper 90s with high humidity and full sun!), averaging 12:28 mins/mi. In short, I prepared myself the best I could given time and course conditions. I sought out a new PR on the Ironman 70.3 Ohio course this year, end of July. I busted out a solid bike, my swim was ok, and the run…I struggled a lot on (11:42 mins/mi, LOTS of walking), granted it was hot then in the upper 80s, but that wasn’t the issue. In all, I hadn’t had a good longer distance triathlon where I was comfortable on the run until the USAT National Age Group Championships in Omaha, Nebraska.

I had just come off a peak week of Ironman training before the race on August 12th, 2017, and I didn’t feel great on those days and felt like I had a small cold. I pressed on. I had the race of my life. My swim was great, not wetsuit legal, 1 mile swim in 43 minutes, my bike was fast averaging 17.3 mph for the 40k ride, and then busting out an almost 10k PR on the hot steamy pavement at 57:38. The next day however, I felt like I had been hit by the sick bus three times over. From that point on, I did not do any workouts until the week before Ironman in September. Depression got to me, despair, whatever you want to call it…my fear of now being unable to finish Ironman was real. I kept trying smaller workouts, but I would not get better every time I tried. I did everything right, drank fluids, slept, rested, stretched…nothing was making me better. A few days before race day, I finally felt like it had dissipated. Picked up my packet early Thursday. Friday, I went to pick up my mom and sister after the Welcome Banquet, and Ironman weekend began.

At this point, I’m going to go into some smaller prerace details, if you would rather skip to race day, scroll on down!

I wasn’t used to doing such a long race locally, as many of you know, I generally travel for longer races and racecation when possible. So I was a mess with the excess amount of time I had to put everything together into the little gear bags and organize a mess of items I would need for race day. That Friday, I was thankful two items I wanted to wear for the run came in: One from Inknburn (thank you Tani!) and one from a friend to “rent” for the weekend. I also got in a few more spare tubes for my bike. Eventually it all came together. Saturday I dropped off my bike (early!) and walked a lot downtown. Also, handed off the T1/T2 bags, which was well organized I thought. It had been chilly that week, so light jackets were required (at least by someone as cold as I am), but that also brought the Lake Monona temps down to about 67°F. Usually pre-race evening, I eat either asian or mexican food to have something spicy. Every place we went was so busy! So I had some mac’n’cheese…not the greatest pre-race meal but it did ok. Dropped by Culver’s and picked up some frozen lemonaid for my special needs on the bike 🙂 That evening, I knew sleeping would be difficult, but I didn’t know I wouldn’t get more than 3 hours, and those were not all at once. The anxiety was high with me…I thought about time cut offs, I thought about what would happen, plans in case something went wrong. Over and over again, in my head I raced through race day. I was exhausted, so I pulled up the site “how slow can you go in an ironman” and the athlete guide, memorizing numbers and paces.
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Eventually I rose at about 3:30am, getting up to eat some lucky charms and hydrate a little. My mom had gotten me a small pusheen plushie keychain and I put it on my camelback for good luck. I woke everyone else up and we packed up and walked out the door. Got to downtown about 5am, and I dropped off my special needs bags. I headed towards my T1 bag, when I got there, I realized I had forgotten my throw-away jacket I had gotten at goodwill (the temperatures that morning were NOT going to be friendly to me!) and panicked slightly as I thought that also had my salt and gels for the bike in that same bag. It turned out the only thing I was missing was the jacket. My mom let me have her spare fleece jacket ❤

I calmed down. Well kind of. My heart rate was bouncing at about 80-100 bpm the whole morning. I went to my bike and added the nutrition and water bottles. With wetsuit in hand, I went back into the Monona Terrace and waited in the warmth. 51°F start temps were not my friend. The day weighed on me already…I didn’t really see anyone I knew that morning. I didn’t speak to anyone, I just kept focused. Around 6:20am, I got half my wetsuit on and headed down to the swim start.


RACE DAY

This year is the first year in IMWI that they did not have a mass wave start. I did not know how to feel about this considering I never did it before (although I have done a wave start, rolling start, and mass start). There were to be just a few waves, 5 or 6, with the first wave of the day starting at 6:40am (Pro Men) and every subsequent wave 5 minutes after the other. I was in wave two, or as I liked to call it, the test wave. No one really knew how this was going to work with so many people in each wave (~500). I said my goodbyes and got my garmin ready, swim cap on, goggles in place… I looked over the swim start in awe. It was so far. I knew 2.4 miles was going to be long and arduous, but just seeing it laid out was overwhelming. Almost. It was what it was, and I was going to just do it. I was going to make it to the bike.

The canon sounded for the pro men, and they were off. The sunrise was beautiful that morning, no fog or clouds. Bright orange. As soon as they were off, they opened it up for our wave to get in the water. I got in position, far right, closer to the shore instead of the buoys to avoid being run over, and treaded water for a while. Amazingly I felt like we were all in the water for more than 5 minutes. The water did not feel cold. Confidence rose! Canon was set off at 6:45am (making my specific final cutoff time 11:45pm, not midnight). I got into a rhythm right away. I decided to play two games with myself during the swim to make it feel like it was going faster; one, was to count the people who ran into me, two, being to count each 100 yd that passed as my watch buzzed.

Only had a few bumps in the first few hundred yards, was pretty tame, and my watch was buzzing, looking down, I was impressed with my splits! I was pretty happy. Somewhere along the stretch, the wave behind me caught up and I was rustled around a bit more, but not too bad, was still to the outside where there weren’t too many people. I spent some time watching the Monona Terrace pass, thinking about how bored people must be watching people swim what would take most of these people the same amount of time to run a half marathon! I made it past the first red turn buoy and was still pretty happy, pace was good! Still not too many people. But it was somewhere here, when I noticed my watch was not going off any more. I would pause briefly to look down and see if it was still recording or if I’d managed to hit a button by accident and it had stopped. No, it was still going, but I wasn’t stopping long enough to figure out why it wasn’t buzzing. Whatever, the next wave of people had caught up and was more people running over top of me (mainly men). It got a little messy in the back stretch (the longest). The sun was glaring, making it hard to spot the sight buoys, I swear I couldn’t seen any of them most of the time, so I ended up following people instead (never a good idea). I ended up creeping into the more dense line of swimmers close to the sight buoys this way and felt like a trapped fish in a net full of other fish flopping around aimlessly. I swam back outside but this time there were more people. Finally, my watch ended up buzzing and it read 21:01….what? So it literally lost GPS or something the last 21 minutes? That’s never happened before, not even close! The next split didn’t go off until 15 minutes later. This didn’t bother me too much because it was the time I was worried about. I was sad because I wouldn’t have splits for my longest ever swim (and most important one), but I would still finish! THEN, my watch started buzzing every 10-20 seconds! What in the actual world? Was it catching up on the splits it had missed? After a few minutes, I never felt it buzz again.

I rounded the 3rd turn buoy and my heart jumped for joy…I was almost home free! Well, no. This segment ended up being longer than expected. I probably got pretty far out and off target on this stretch, and the turn heading back to shore for whatever reason…this is probably where my time added up since I was pretty sure my 100 splits weren’t that much worse than where my watch stopped caring. I pushed so hard in the last 800m of the swim… I wanted to be done. I never wanted to swim 2.4 miles again in my life. Then there it was, the exit.

158_m-100781936-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1952_010954-10994227 I found myself out of the water, legs felt fine. Looked up. Clock reads 2:01:xx, wow that was slow. I was unaware that this time was what I was going to base my bike off of, and that was wrong, I finished in 1:55 (forgetting the pros started five minutes before). Got stripped down by the wetsuit strippers and headed up the Helix to T1. I was running, I was happy to be DONE with the swim. But about half way up, the cold air and COLD COLD concrete hit me like a rock. I froze and had to start walking. Every step became painful and my feet turned numb. I made it into the building at last and it was warm again. I tried running a little more, but it just wasn’t happening. I got my bag and headed into the changing room. I got lots of help! I really wasn’t expecting people to actually to things for me. I gave away my volunteer band here. I was very thankful. I placed a towel around my tri shorts trying to get them more dry. I had a smaller towel for my legs and feet. I wiped them down but I had little to no control over my feet and toes (still frozen). I tried massively to get my socks on, but it wasn’t happening. I had to wait until I thawed out a little. So I ate my fruit cup as planned, and continued to do what I could to get ready for the bike. I finally got myself together and headed out the door with my bike shoes in hand. My feet were still really cold and I tried, again, to run to my bike, but it was just hard on my feet. In the end, I did what was best for them so I could finish the day in one piece. Got my bike and headed out onto the course down the Helix. Transition time was about 19 minutes and some change…that was almost 5 minutes longer than my longest expected time in transition 😦

finisherpix_1952_044113 I chalked up the total time to be starting the bike at 2:20 after my swim start (in my mind, although this was not actually true little to my knowledge). Now, time for 5000 feet of gain on the bike. The VERY first thing I felt when I mounted and biked off were my arms…holy crap I felt like I wouldn’t have the energy to hold myself up! The swim had done a real number on my arms and shoulders. I knew ahead of time the first few miles would be slow, as I was behind people and they were enforcing that people not pass on the bike path out of town. My average speed was really low, about 12 mph at best with the people in front of me. It was frustrating, but I knew it was going to take me about 20 miles to warm up anyway. I convinced myself it was fine, I’d catch up later. The sun was bright and lovely. Winds were light and variable. Not too many people spectating along this portion (the Stick). As predicted, I had a very hard time warming up. My feet were frozen for about 15 miles, and I kept the fleece on for two aid stations (when I had planned to ditch it at the first aid station), even with arm sleeves on underneath. The first few hills were difficult to say the least, I had no momentum and energy was low. I didn’t get discouraged here because I knew before 20 miles hit, I was pretty useless anyway, it has happened on every.single.hard.long.ride. Whalen was terrible, per usually, however it was nice being able to cruise through every stop sign…best day.

Once on the first loop, I made a note on my watch how far it had been since leaving transition and the time. I would check every hour what my average pace was. This kept me very busy mentally. I cruised and paced myself on the lower side on the first loop and stuck with my nutrition plan. I hit the roads outside of Verona and noticed a little wind. Well, wind does seem to find its way into every IMWI race! I sucked it up. On the way up the highway to Mt. Horeb, I ended up getting behind a car. I actually ended up following behind this car for a while (car was afraid to pass the cyclists in front of me heading up the hill!). I just chilled and thought it was funny. I had one of my best rides up to Mt. Horeb. The crowds there were great! I was pumping to the music that was blasting when I could, getting into it and just enjoying the time. I stopped at the aid station to refill my bottles and take a gel. Then I was off. I didn’t like spending as much time as I did at aid stations, but I’m not competent on the bike yet to maneuver around like a pro. Looking back, I would probably just ditch my water bottles and keep replacing them with the ones at the race to save time. Everything was going according to plan, through the Wittie roller coaster (actually did well on this part), up through Garfoot, and then it was onto Observatory. I passed by a barn on the way out, and I thought to myself, “ I’m going to earn that barn and cow.” Temperatures were up in the low 70s, you couldn’t have asked for nicer weather really.

The whole plan from the start was to walk Barlow, the fated new hill on the Wisconsin bike course (replacing stagecoach and two of the three sisters Timber and Old Sauk). As I was on the road, I was asked by a few people “is this Barlow?” and the answer was always no. Finally, got to the steeper portion of what IS Barlow, and spun up as far as I could and dismounted. There was crowd support on both sides, but it wasn’t crowded (I am slow at swimming and biking, so I guess I just wasn’t in the most dense part of the people participating), no one was being stupid taking sideways approaches to the hill. About half the people were trying to power up, and half were with me, just walking on the side. Once I hit my starting line (a small filled in crack in the road I knew well), I mounted and continued to spin up passing all those who were still trying to spin up the big hill. Felt pretty good and evil at the same time. Got to Mineral Point road, and there were there photographers! Ok, at the top of hills, alright then. Legs were a little tired, but continued to spin them out. Being able to cruise through the intersection at the bottom of the big hill on Mineral point was awesome. This is where I noticed more wind on course. Sigh. I pushed pretty hard through this section and up until I came on this random hill where my friend Kat was! This was the first person I recognized in or out of the race since before the start. I was delighted! You picked THIS hill? Pretty cool though! I made my way back to the start of the loop but first…

Midtown. My nemesis. Out of all the sisters on the original bike course, midtown was the one I had the most issues with for whatever reason. So I got off my bike and walked it. No shame, although people tried to push me to bike anyway. Just not worth it to me. I never got up it before, today was not going to be any different. NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY LOL. I was looking forward to seeing my bike mechanic Richard in a speedo on the way up, but I guess he had left by the time I got there. There were plenty more people there, and I’d say the most densely crowded part of the bike course. I wish I had had more time to enjoy the spectators and take it all in. I had a mission and my focus had returned.finisherpix_1952_075834

Made my way into Verona through the way of Milky Way by Epic and flew down the nicely paved roads. Smooth like butter. I realized then my little parts down there were suffering a lot…actually no, they plain hurt more so than usual. But I needed to get to downtown Verona where the festival was! So I was happy to make the right turn into the Verona festival area. I was met with slight disappointment. A brief recap, I had volunteered there last year and knew what it was like…they had tents and food and an announcer where they called your name as you went by on your bike, so many people and their lawn chairs just having a good time. What I experienced was about 2/3 of that. There was no announcer for me. There weren’t too many people like there were last year. It looked more empty. I looked around desperately for my family, but I didn’t see them (and apparently didn’t hear them). I left downtown Verona a little sad. My 56 mile split was close to 3 hours 50 minutes. A tad slower than I wanted, but decent, putting me in a good place to beast the 2nd loop and make the cut off. I topped off my now empty camelback with fresh water. I noticed it was very hard to put back on (the slider at the top of the bag)…

Time to start loop two and get to special needs. I was looking forward to my Culver’s beverage and some chamois butter. I thought about my friend Shana, and where she was. I figured she passed me on the swim and I wouldn’t see her again. I arrived at special needs, mile 60 on the bike…this is where everything went to crap on the bike. I couldn’t figure out upon arriving at special needs that my personal bag was WAY down the line near the end (but I couldn’t tell where the end was), so my speed was drastically reduced. Eventually I found my bag and a volunteer brought it to me. I went fast, and took my camelback off and pulled on the slider. I couldn’t get it off. I knew I was weaker now, but I was in a hurry. I put a lot of force into it, so much my wrist bent back far enough to press the “back” button on my garmin…this was VERY BAD. The back button on the garmin during multisport mode will take you to the next sport (Swim, back → T1, back → Bike, back → T2, back → Run, back → end), and there is no way to my knowledge to go back. I fiddled with the watch desperately for I have no idea how long in a panic. I tried everything to make it go back. I finally settled on setting it to “Run” and letting it track that way. Shouldn’t be that different right? I was wrong, and I have no idea why still. I was wasting a lot of time with this at this point. I just got back on my bike and continued on. About a mile or so later, the watched buzzed telling me my “split”, it was 12 minutes. Mine you, I didn’t set the watch to “Run” mode until I was already about to ride. There is no way it took me 12 minutes on a bike to go 1 mile. I was angry at this point and very upset, as the panic laid on thicker. I just gave up. The last time I took mental note of total time was 6 hours and 27 minutes (including swim and transition), mile 60. I was riding, saved the first set of data and started a new multisport “workout”, flipping through Swim and T1, and got it back onto “Bike” mode. Whatever, I will just assume my first loop was slow and now I have a new average to build on. But the pain down below and my sit bones were becoming more apparent and it was hard for me to take the rough roads sitting down. I switched positions on the bike as much as I could, but it was slowing me down and my arms still hurt from the swim. This was awful. I felt awful, although my speeds were better than the first loop, the wind picked up a little making things more frustrating. I was mentally going down. Under this kind of pressure on myself, I do not let myself fail however.175_m-100781936-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1952_056579-10994244

Riding back into Mt. Horeb the 2nd time, I realized my cleat was coming apart (again, as it had in my century ride earlier in training and I couldn’t fix it then). I stopped and put it back together. I was MORE frustrated and this kept building. I still stuck with my plan. I kept doing all this mental math. I had no idea what the total time was, although I had a watch with the actual time, I wanted to know my personal time. I reached mile 80 on the bike, and thought, ok, I will make it given the time. Some time after this I realized the bike was 112 miles not 107 miles…I had forgotten about 5 miles in my calculations and panicked for real. I thought…I’m not going to make the cut off. I kept up my speeds, fought with every hills, “burned all my matches”, I didn’t CARE if at this point I had “legs” to do the run. I just wanted to get to the run. I made it back into Verona, and little to no one was still there. Whatever. But I did see my family this time. This made me happy and sad. I didn’t want to let them down. Or my friends who have passed away…I was racing for them too. I pulled from all these emotions and pressed onward. I asked myself continuously how I was supposed to do a marathon after the bike if I made it. I made it back to the stick…15 miles left…checked the watch time. I thought I was going to miss the cut off time by 8 minutes or so. I knew there were very few hills left, one being Whalen. I tackled it, I ate it for breakfast. I busted out 16 mph, 17.5 mph, 19.1 mph, 20 mph… I was going as fast as I could carry myself back to the capitol. There was one last little incline, and at that point, I realized I had no more matches to burn. I had a lot of trouble getting up the hill. I had nothing left for hills. I wanted to cry. I was so close. I reached the Alliant building parking lot and got stuck behind some people on the bike path. Once off the bike path, I pushed as hard as I could still, 19 mph… Mind you my average speed on the first loop was a little over 14 mph to give you and idea of how panicked I was.21733730_1430233327030758_120849633_o

I went up the Helix again, thinking about all those who said “it’s not that bad, it’s not that steep”…it was still hard on me. I ran into T2, asking so many people if I had made it. The volunteers said I was fine and didn’t know why I was so worried. I was crying. I still wasn’t convinced I had made it. I was emotional because I knew the one thing that would stop me from finishing would be the bike if there was something to stop me…the cut off. The cut off was 5:35pm, or somewhere in there. I made it in at 4:45pm. I couldn’t really gather myself in T2. I came out of changing walking. I saw my family standing right there outside the door. I heard them say “it will be ok”. I had my fruit cup in my hand, and began to run…holding back more tears. I felt like a failure. Afterwards I found out my bike was 7:45 total time, average of 14.4 mph…which was around my target goal.

I went up and around the capitol, and my first mile was pretty fast…or maybe it wasn’t. I found out afterwards, my watch GPS was funky and didn’t get the right splits for my run. I stopped at the first aid stations, still wallowing in myself. I took some orange slices and coke. Screw my nutrition plan.

I slogged around in my shoes, reaching the 2.7 mile mark or thereabouts and my right foot started going numb. This stupid condition, whatever it is, is completely random and always happens about 3 miles into runs, no matter WHAT kind of run it is…uphill/downhill, flat, fast, slow, recovery, intervals, marathon, 5k…blah. I kept stopping to relieve pressure every 0.2 miles. This stopped at 4.5 miles. Then I started feeling ok. Took an annoying potty break (which I had to wait in line for). And then the game changed.finisherpix_1952_105479

Mile 5-6, ok, I can run up these hills and nothing bad is happening. I told myself I would just run until I burned out and then do walk-run intervals thereafter. But I wasn’t burning out. I kept taking fruit from aid stations (just grapes and oranges, the safe fruits…I could have a bad reaction to bananas), and coke, every other aid station, and water almost every aid station. I took a few gels throughout the run course, but I probably didn’t take more than 4 the whole marathon…last time I did this, it was in my 50k, and it was hard anyway and things turned out ok then. I got to Observatory (downtown Observatory, not the bike course road), the big “hill” of the run course. I went straight up, no issues, and it was empowering. Oh the strange looks I got every time I kept running up a “hill”. Overall, in retrospect, the course felt fairly flat to me with the exception of Observatory, and only part of that. This was my only “reach” goal for Ironman that I kept to myself mostly. I secretly wanted to do ok on the run, but none of my other half ironman races have I had a decent run where I could keep going, so I didn’t have much hope. I reached mile 8 and 9…still going. It was getting darker and darker. I absolutely LOVE running at night, especially in the city!! Such hype. I passed by several people I knew now, most heading towards the 2nd loop or on the second run loop.

State street was full of drunk college students that were somehow focus and hype on calling out our names on the run, it was interesting to say the least. I made it back up to the turn around, and just wondered again and again “how am I still able to run”, when is the bonk, where is the wall? I always felt I would have to walk because I couldn’t go any further. My watch was saying I was keeping a good pace, but my watch also kept saying that I was getting further and further ahead of the mile markers. When I was at the turn around, I was already 0.6 miles ahead of the mile markers, which at least were every mile, where on the bike course, I’m pretty sure I hardly saw any at all. Regardless, I was unaware at the time if my watch was correct or not, and plus my pace was pretty consistent. At the capitol square, I saw Kat yelling, and my coach was there, my family…didn’t seem them lol. I just missed them each of every first loop of the courses for whatever reason. I went around the turn around and into special needs for the run. I was not asked if I needed it, or yelled at with my number…I wasn’t concerned because I didn’t need anything from it, but it was a bit disappointing. Moving along, my motto after every aid station I walked through (eating the fruit and drinking water) I would tell myself “now back to my regularity scheduled beasting…”. I was ecstatic working my way through the course. I made my way back onto the lake shore path, now covered in completely darkness, no light to be found (which slowed me down a little in pace). I was running along when a random participant started running with me with his flashlight. About 45 seconds later he speaks to me saying, “I thought I would at least run with you until you reach the next lamp post!” So we ran for about 2 minutes, getting close to the light and then he says to me, “Ah you are going so fast I can’t keep up but good luck! The light is pretty close now” and laughs. I appreciate him! Another random stranger I found was when I arrived back at Observatory. She was walking, and we talked a little, and I encouraged her to start running again (another marathon runner! Like me!), we ran together through some of the down hill portion of Observatory, and she wished me luck and I went on my way. It looked like this run was going to be done alone, unlike the last few of my races where I find random people and we work together to finish the run off. I was ok with that. I didn’t even miss the music I usually like to run with. There were a lot of random people on course who had music blasting.

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Around mile 22, I felt tired at last. I yawned, and was fighting sleepiness actually. I encountered a few guys throwing up, but ran into a man who was violently throwing up. I informed the next aid station. I was thankful I felt great. I was feeling so much better than at the end of any other marathon and started to try and push harder. I knew I was about 2 miles away, and knew I had about 20 minutes or less of running left in this extensive race. I was excited, I was going to finish! I sped up, legs hurt, but it was ok.

I came up State street for the final time. I really never noticed the hills, and still really didn’t. There were so many people, and I was excited. A 5:12 marathon is wonderful! I crushed that compared to any other thing I did that day or in training. I couldn’t be more proud of that alone. Where did that all come from? I’ll have no idea.

Two corners from the finish, I was starting to choke up really bad, started struggling to breath even. I was holding a lot back. I didn’t even think about posing for the finisher pic, I just wanted that finisher chute. I cruised down holding back even more, and you could see it all over my face. I saw my family and friends! 15:23:37 was my final time. I had just run the marathon (albeit the aid stations).

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I didn’t even heard Mike Reilly call my name I was so emotional. I had worked and fought so hard for this moment, and realized the whole moment was everything that day. I passed through and was greeted by a friendly face of the catcher Lisa who I knew. I was thankful I knew those behind the finish. I got my barn and cow medal! I spoke with my coach briefly, and got my picture taken. I felt fine, just like after a regular marathon. I finally got my shiny metal jacket (so pro!)…I dunno, I always wanted to finish a hard race and have an insulated sheet put over me. I immediately saw my friends Ben and Sean who I thought wouldn’t be back that weekend, and it made me so happy to see them waving back at me! I saw my mom and husband and sister, I saw my friend Kat too! I was surrounded by love.

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It was the most celebrated race finish I’ve ever had. It made it all seem like it was worthwhile. My stomach turned into a hot mess, seeming very angry (although it amounted to nothing), and all I wanted to do was sit down and not be standing. So I left the race early (I really wanted to stay) to take care of myself.

To answer some questions some people have asked…
Are you going to sign up again? No, I would like to volunteer again next year and act all crazy now I know where to go and what to see better. If I ever sign up again, I want to make sure I can obtain a sub 1:40 swim because I’m not spending my PR on a half marathon in the water again. I want to make sure I have more experience on the bike to have the confidence that I will have no issue making the cut off when the time comes. Get stronger, get better!

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Are you going to get a tattoo? Probably not seeing a lot of people would dislike me if I did so. Besides, Ironman is a brand and I do not like the idea of being branded when there is uncertainty that it will last forever unlike a tattoo. There’s a lot of mixed feelings about it.

What’s next? Well I have still have Xterra Worlds in about 1.5 months. Time to get stronger on the bike…right after this recovery period!

I would probably do IMWI again if I decided to do one again unless they decide to create one in the Appalachian mountains 😉 But for now, I move onward. I am an Ironman.

Swim: Coeur Sports Bra, Wattie Ink. Tri shorts, Blue Seventy Helix Wetsuit

Bike: Zoot Wisconsin Tri Top, Inknburn Robot arm sleeves, Compression socks, Specialized carbon bike shoes, LG Helmet

Run: Altra Escalante shoes, Inknburn 6” shorts and singlet

Watch: Garmin 935 (fail..which it didn’t the past few races, but there was an update on Saturday, maybe that had something to do with it?)

Ring: Qalo

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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