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.

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.

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.