Sunday, November 27, 2011

How's your endurance?

I don't seem to have the pinterest addiction that most of my friends do, but a bunch of my friends started a group board, where they pin awesome stuff, and it's a win win. They indulge their addiction, and I check in once a week or so and get to just look at that board to see the stuff worth looking at, and skip all that crap like "crafts" and "fashion" that is so far beyond me it's not even funny.

I actually felt like I overindulged just the amount that a normal American overindulges for Thanksgiving, which is significantly less than what is considered "overindulging" for me. Mainly because almost 100% of the Thanksgiving dishes included meat, so I didn't eat them, which actually seemed to be a good thing for my pants, because I can still fit into them.

I was watching a rerun of Friends the other day, and apparently Chandler refuses to eat any traditional Thanksgiving food on Thanksgiving, so in one of those flashback episodes Monica gives him macaroni and cheese instead. So, apparently not one writer, producer, or anyone in any way affiliated with the show has ever been to a black Thanksgiving? Because that's an important entree, and in my opinion, absolutely the best part. Too bad everyone else at my in laws agreed, so when I went to eat the leftovers for dinner Friday night, it was long gone.

Let's talk about endurance.

Eric and I left at 5am Thursday to drive to Ohio, and we also left at 5am today to return. Both times we completely lucked out and didn't hit any traffic. This has to do with endurance because, it takes endurance to survive that long in a car with someone (8+ hours both ways) and we actually have fun during long car rides, even 8 hours in. When we first dated we did a triangle from Baltimore to upstate NY to Ohio and back so we could get everyone introduced to all the families in one fell swoop. When we didn't want to kill each other after 20 + hours in the car in just a few days, I knew I was in it to win it. True story. I suggest this kind of relationship test before putting a ring on it.

Actually, I'm not sure if today counted though, because I was listening to The Hunger Games on audiobook throughout almost the entire drive and I swear I was actually in the arena with Katniss. It was intense, man.
There really just cannot ever, ever be enough young adult fiction images on this blog.
Another true story: I had to stop writing this blog post after that last sentence to watch The Hunger Games trailer. Again. And I cried. Again. OBSESSED.

What I really wanted to note, before I got completely carried away thinking about The Hunger Games, was my running endurance. My first run (5 days) after my first marathon was the worst three miler of my life, I had to stop and walk, and it was so painful. After my second marathon, the Shamrock Marathon, I was impressed that I'd bounced back so much more quickly than after my first marathon, in terms of soreness. However, two weeks after that race, I did a long run with Carolyn, who was training for a half. We did 11 miles, and I could honestly barely keep up an 11 minute mile pace. This made me really nervous when training for the 50 miler, because I knew I'd have to run the Baltimore Marathon, then jump right back in and complete two double digit runs the following weekend. 

But that all went fine, and while it wasn't easy, it wasn't phenomenally difficult, either. Now, my soreness is gone after the 50 miler, but in the first few days I wondered if it was going to be similar to my Shamrock experience, where I lack soreness, but my normal speed and endurance is shot. 

It's only been a week, so it's still early, but I've done three runs and they've all felt shockingly normal! I did 6 miles with Jessica on Friday, which was good. Yesterday morning I did 6 on my own, and other than insane midwest winds pushing me backwards and nothing to look at but cornfields, I felt terrific. After our car ride, I met up with my friends Mike and Colleen for a 7 miler at Loch Raven Reservoir, a notoriously hilly local path. With five hours of sleep and seven hours of driving under my belt (and twice as much coffee as water), I thought I was in for a rough run, but I felt strong, even though Colleen was really pushing the pace up the hills. There's still time for me to feel like crap, but, maybe the more you run, the faster you bounce back? I'm sure there's plenty of research that could have told me that years ago, but I have to do enough boring reading for grad classes. I'd rather just run my own 50 miles and see what happens from there. 

Do you agree that the longer/more you run, the faster you recover?

Are you obsessed with The Hunger Games yet, or do I need to come to your house and demand that you read it, as I've already done with several friends?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Rainbows and Unicorns!!

I just had an absolutely fabulous, beautiful 6 mile run, so this post will be written with rose colored glasses. I'm sure my normal cynicism will return soon.

So far, this Thanksgiving could not have gone better. After rushing out of work to the grocery store on Wednesday, I snagged the last cauliflower they had, the employees were extremely  helpful, and I was barely in line for a minute before I was on my merry way. Wednesday afternoon the day before Thankgiving? Not the experience I was expecting to have.

Thanksgiving morning, Eric and I were on the road by 5am. In an odd role reversal, I felt great driving, and Eric could hardly keep his eyes open. Even after a Starbucks stop, he took over so I could eat breakfast, but I'd barely taken my last bite before he asked if he could pull over and switch back. I was listening to the Hunger Games on audiobook. It was a little hard to drive while crying, but other than that, it was a smooth trip.

We made it to my in laws well before expected, a little after 1pm, and were able to help out with making dinner. I don't have any pics from the night, but picture your family sitting around a table eating turkey, and now replace all your family members with me, Eric, and my in laws, and you've got the idea. 

Everyone was totally impressed with my 55 mile run, and I got to feel like a rock star. Until Eric's uncle asked where I placed in the 300 - some people who ran the race and I had to admit...uhhh....10th from last. Then I had to go directly to bed while all the grown ups (and children) were still hanging out because that 3am wakeup call/7 hrs driving caught up with me. 

Jessica just ran the JFK 50 with Kara, so we've been blog friends, comparing experiences. She tweeted me yesterday asking where in Ohio I was staying. It turns out that she was staying with her parents just a few towns over from my in laws! We agreed to meet for a run in the morning.

I'm really glad I took a full five days off after the Stone Mill 50 Miler to recover, but by the 3rd or 4th day, I couldn't wait to go for a run. Last night I went to bed SO excited to get up and run in the morning. I headed over to Jessica's parent's house and she took me on a gorgeous run in the bluffs along Lake Erie. So much more scenic than the cornfields I was planning on viewing. Jessica is a speed demon who will be training for Boston this spring, but she took it easy on me today, and we ran 6 miles at a 9:45 pace. I had no idea Ohio had any hills, but we ran up some pretty good ones, and it was pretty windy too. I felt a bit more winded than I think I normally would on a run, and I had some side stitches (probably as a result of Thanksgiving dinner) but everything else felt perfect. I felt like "myself" on the way home, to be super cheesy.

Now I can't wait to start training for the Myrtle Beach marathon! Oh, right, I'm supposed to be taking a month off from training.....

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sometimes running and I are frenemies

I read a lot of blogs, many about running, and it seems like the common thing for runners is to fall to pieces when they are training for a big race and the taper hits. (The taper is a few weeks before a  race when a training plan suddenly has you running significantly less mileage to rest up for the big day). Many runners truly struggle with having to reduce their mileage, and, I'll admit, I've felt this way training for marathons in the past. However, this fall, that feeling has been suspiciously absent, and I've started to wonder if I'm a real runner after all. 

Because I freakin' loved tapering, and now I am loving recovery just as much. While I read reports of runners bemoaning their short runs and extra energy that they had no outlet for, I thought "they must just not love sleep like I do."

And, I'll admit, I would love to run this week, but, forbidding myself from it hasn't been a huge hardship. 

I think I've made my love for running clear in this blog, but I also have a love for other things. As there are only 24 hours in a day, running naturally means you have less time for other things. Here are some reasons I love a reduced training schedule (or zero schedule!):

One of so many stream crossings

1. SLEEP. I love it so much. Unfortunately, I don't seem to have the ability to sleep 10 - 12 hours like some lucky ducks do (my body just refuses to, I swear). Still, living five minutes from work and putting absolutely zero effort into my appearance means that if I don't have to run, I can sleep till around 7:20 am, instead of 5 or 5:30 am. Which brings me to my next point.

2.  A social life. Training for a 50 mile race meant I needed my sleep, and to get 8 hours of sleep and then wake up to run 7 or 8 miles meant I needed to be in bed by 9. Doing a shorter run or no run at all means I actually go out after broomball, or celebrate a friend's birthday, see a movie, or whatever without cutting it short to rush home to get to bed early than my 8 year old students.

3. Time with my husband. By the same token, even if I don't go out, I can stay up until a normal adult time (at least from what the cool kids tell me) and actually hang out with Eric once he gets home from work.
4. Other hobbies. I love reading, but between teaching, grad school, and training, I'd barely read a book all school year (probably could have if I reduced the blog reading, but let's not be ridiculous). On Sunday, without having to do a 10 mile run, I read about half of my new book for a new book club I joined (which is on a weekday, and I can stay as late as I want!).
Actual picture from Superbowl 2009. I don't wear glasses.
5. Not having to plan my life around running. It's been pretty sweet acting like a regular person this week not planning my life around when I could run. Tomorrow we'll be leaving for my in-laws in Ohio at 4am, so if I were in the height of training, I would either have to wake up at 2:30 am, or plan my entire week so that tomorrow could be my rest day. Also, the whole time we were there, I'd be nervous we'd stay out too late for me to wake up and run before any activities the following day. Now that I'm not officially training, I can just enjoy the trip, and run if I feel like it. 

Of course, that being said, running stuff was the first thing in my suitcase. As soon as this stupid asthma gets under control and I don't feel like I'm breathing through a straw, it's on like donkey kong. If I still feel like it, that is.

I plan to start training for the Myrtle Beach marathon the week before Christmas, so that leaves me nearly a month to do whatever I feel like. Obviously, the amount of time spent exercising just to keep in shape is significantly less than training for a 50 mile race, so I'm pretty excited to continue enjoying my free time. I also plan on getting wild and doing some exercise other than running - I know, it's hard to even believe that exists. Zumba, Body Pump, spin....the possibilities are endless.

I got to relive my Stone Mill 50 miler experience while reading Shelly's blog today, her recap is up, and I loved reading about the race from her (quite a bit more optimistic and experienced) viewpoint.

I'll leave you with some pictures from Thanksgiving 08, when we were first married and we hosted Thanksgiving for both families - seeing all our families and not spending two days in the car was amazing. Someday I hope to do it again.

Do you miss running like Rose missed Jack after the Titanic sunk, or do you love time off? From what I can tell, loving the time off is just me and me alone.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

You can never predict what an ultra will do to you

I didn't exactly know what to expect when recovering from this ultra marathon, but, not surprisingly, the recovery has been different than I could have even attempted to predict.

At some point yesterday morning, I realized that I was sitting down and standing up using only my legs, with no assistance from my arms. That meant that in the 36 hours or so since I'd finished the race, I'd gone from having to literally lift my legs out of the bed, to having to use my arms to grab something to pull myself up from a seated position, to my legs feeling totally fine. Going up stairs I could still feel it a bit, and I haven't tried going down since yesterday morning, so that remains to be seen. A one floor apartment is good for that.

So, my muscle soreness is nearly non-existent. But, I'm not problem free. I haven't mentioned it on the blog much, but I do have asthma. I almost never use my inhaler, and I can go months without needing it, but occasionally it hits me, and when it does, it hits hard, so I always carry it with me.

I had to use it a few times during the race (again, even when running, I really hardly ever use it) and, after the race was over, I felt like I was using it nonstop. When Eric and I went for a 2 mile stroll Sunday night, I felt like I couldn't catch my breath, and my chest was so tight, but I'd used the inhaler right before we had left.

Monday morning, walking from my car to the school building, and then down the hall to my classroom, while carrying my laptop and all my other miscellaneous crap had me so winded I honestly thought I'd have to stop and take a break.

Luckily, it was parent conference day, so there were no kids, and I'd already held most of mine before or after school the previous week. After my one and only for the day, I went to the school nurse, who listened to me breathe with the stethoscope, and recommended I call my doctor and tell them I needed an appointment that day. I called the doctor and the nurse I spoke with told me I needed to go to Patient First, an urgent care facility. Her exact words were "Not in an hour, NOW". Exactly what a hypochondriac like me needs to hear.

I was pretty sure it was just my asthma acting up, occasionally, the inhaler isn't enough and I need some more intense medication. I went to Patient First, told them about my symptoms and my race, and asked the doctor if this was a typical reaction. He responded "uhhh....I've never really treated any patients who have run 55 mile races before...."

After a chest xray, EKG, and horrifying blood test (horrifying because, as I had already mentioned, I am terrified of needles, and getting blood drawn is way more traumatic than a flu shot), the doctor told me it was, after all, my asthma. I got a nebulizer treatment (basically a crackpipe that's full of something helpful, but still makes you dizzy and lightheaded and your heart starts pounding) and now I'm on steroids. 

Soon, I will look like this.

That was all pretty exciting, and now I am feeling much better, except for these occasional random coughing fits where I can't catch my breath. Good times. Thanks, Stone Mill.

One thing that has followed a normal pattern - I was massively burned out on training directly before the race, hated running, couldn't wait to take a break....and now that the race is over, I can't wait to start running again. I'm guessing it's not wise to start just yet, considering my legs are still a bit tight and I almost needed an oxygen tank to make it into work. I'll just fantasize about it for now.

Fantasize, and google races. Kara and I may have been chatting about some upcoming 100 milers. Not in the immediate future or anything, but it's on the horizon.

I do have broomball tonight, so I will be running on the ice for between 9 and 18 minutes. I have been told to bring my roid rage, and I plan to.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

55 miles - the aftermath

After my first marathon, I wasn't exactly shocked to be sore and tired. I had no idea what to expect after a 50 miler, and, just like the race itself, the after effects were crazier than I could have imagined. As we drove home, I thought every light I saw (such as street lights, headlights, etc) was a headlamp of a runner who had gotten lost. I swear my thoughts were starting to take on a Colombian accent. I felt really short of breath and kept using my inhaler, which is actually still going on, so, as always, any medical professionals, feel free to weigh in on that.

The race was apparently a total body workout. Every muscle in my arms was sore, my back was killing me, my neck hurt, and my abs felt like I'd gone to one of those crazy bikini body bootcamp. My feet and ankles, which I realize aren't shocking places to hurt after a race, were really tight and sore, which did surprise me, because that's never happened after a marathon.

Here's what my "walking" looked like the day after running a 55 mile race:

After reading Victoria's blog about her post marathon ideas, I thought maybe I should actually do something to promote recovery, and not just sit around and cry when I had to pee.

Eric and I took a walk, covering about 2 miles or so. I did Yoga for Runners when I got home. I then attempted to foam roll, but even just getting on the floor was tough, and the foam rolling was pretty painful. I probably lasted less than five minutes before I gave up to go make ice cream. It did seem to help, this morning, I was still extremely stiff, but I didn't have to pick my legs up one by one and put them on the floor to get out of bed, so, that's improvement.

Oddly, my appetite seems pretty normal. I expected to be completely starving the day following the race (especially since it took me so long to finish that I never got to stuff my face with Mexican food). I was a little extra hungry for breakfast, and had 1.5 bagels, but then I ate a normal sized lunch and was stuffed, like it was a Thanksgiving dinner. Dinner was actually a tad on the small side, and then I made a bowl of homemade ice cream, and couldn't even finish it! That is truly a first in my life.

Luckily, today we are having parent teacher conferences, so if I get hit with a sudden insatiable hunger, I can  go out and stuff my face whenever I want.

Bad news - I have to get my flu shot today. Our school nurse is a friend and fellow marathon runner, who is always telling me how impressed she is by my ultra training. I'm planning to go see her and impress her with my 50 miler story as soon as I arrive, because this afternoon, when it's flu shot time, whatever respect she has for me will immediately dissolve when I turn into a sniveling, crying child begging for mercy. I have a gigantic fear of needles.

The million dollar question: Would you do another 50 miler?

 Well, Perry astutely realized that I wrote in my recap "We were off on our first 50 mile adventure". I didn't do it on purpose, but, I want to do another one. I'm not frantically googling or anything like that, but, I really want to try a race that's actually 50 miles and see what happens. I think Stone Mill was fantastically organized and was filled with wonderful volunteers, and great trails, but there's no way in hell I would ever subject myself to that again.

The magically growing, never ending "50 mile" race

My dad mentioned on Facebook the other day that he would need 7.25 hours to read my 50 miler race report, as well as food and water at the ready. Considering it took nearly double that amount of time for me to run the race, if you are nice enough to want to read all about it, break out the popcorn, and get comfortable!

I’ve mentioned before that marathons seem to be never ending, with the miles somehow growing longer and longer as you get past 20 and closer to 26. Well, yesterday, I got to find out what it was like when a race started actually becoming longer and longer in the last few miles, and it wasn’t a figment of my delirious, exhausted imagination.

The day began at 3:20am, when Eric and I got up, threw on clothes, loaded up the car, and headed with Lily to Gaithersburg, Maryland, to a high school where the race started and finished.
Perry, me, and Lily at the start
I’d never started a race in the dark, and, lucky me, I not only got to experience what that was like, but also what it was like to finish a race in the dark! 
Still half asleep
Could not have done it without my incredible support crew!

But, obviously, there’s a lot that took place in the middle. After picking up our bibs, dropping off our drop bags, using the bathroom, and taking a few pictures, Lily and I were off on our first 50 mile adventure! 
Hello reflective gear
The race started with a half mile loop around the high school before heading off on the trail through the woods. Considering that we’d received an email on Thursday informing us that the race would be a bit long, we thought it was odd that they would add that loop, instead of just heading us straight onto the trail. In retrospect, that really should have been a warning sign.

I was worried about going out too fast, but, luckily, that was impossible, due to the darkness of the woods, the slick, frost covered leaves we were running on, and the 300+ people all sharing a single track trail. 

I found running in the dark on trails really stressful, like I’d expected, and was really hoping not to have to do too much of it at the end of the race. HA.

In the first 5 miles, I turned my right ankle three times, which was really painful. The thick layer of leaves hid all sorts of branches, roots, and rocks, so it was like running on a hidden minefield. Additionally, the trail was just nonstop sharp inclines and steep declines. I hoped it wouldn’t be like that for long. Unfortunately, while there were several flatter, more runable sections, the majority of the race was on those type of trails.

Once the sun came up and I could take my headlamp off, my mood improved quite a bit. We couldn’t have asked for better weather, it was dry and cool, but warm enough to be comfortable. The sun was out, and the woods had some really beautiful views, and the terrain was varied enough to keep things interesting. I entertained Lily, as well as our fellow runners, spending about five miles detailing the plots of all of the Twilight novels, since she hadn’t read them and didn’t intend to.

At the 8 mile aid station, Eric, and Perry’s wife Crystal, were waiting for us, as well as bite sized pieces of poptarts, and a ton of other food. Seeing the familiar faces cheering us on was great. 
Look how happy we are.....
At mile 8, it's all fun and games
Every single aid station was well organized, staffed by incredible, friendly, unbelievably helpful volunteers, and filled with every variety imaginable of delicious food. There is no way I could ever remember it all, but some highlights that I had were butterscotch rice krispy treats (baked by a volunteer!), potatoes with salt, goldfish, several kinds of cheez-its, little pieces of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (another race favorite), fig newtons, oatmeal cookies, an amazing little piece of pumpkin donut (and I don’t even normally like donuts), and these rich, decadent brownie bites, also baked by a volunteer. He joked that they were “special” brownies, and I have to admit, at that point, I prayed he was serious (he wasn’t). Some fun items that I didn’t try were grilled cheese sandwiches (literally, made fresh on a grill right there), roast beef and turkey sandwiches, chicken noodle soup, and Jim Beam! The volunteers said people actually did shots of it!

In the first 20 miles, I had two big falls. The leaves cushioned them, so they didn’t really hurt, what actually hurt more was the times I didn’t fall, and just twisted my ankle, or back, catching myself. There were tons of stream crossings, and we managed to keep our feet dry for a lot of them, but they still took time, and one involved “rappelling” down a muddy, 90 degree dropoff by holding on to partially broken tree branch.
 We also had to climb over some boulders, similar to what the Northface 50K looked like, except this was as we went through underpasses. So, it wasn’t just a 50 miler, but also a bit of an adventure race.

Eric surprised us at mile 15!
Yup, climbing over that fence was fun, especially on the way back
At mile 20, we headed out for 3 or 4 miles on the C&O canal. This was the only part of the race where we could just run a normal pace, without worrying about getting lost or falling, so we kept about a 9:30 pace here. The views were gorgeous, but, for some reason, mentally, this seemed really tough. We weren’t talking much, and I just wanted this to end and to get back on the trails. I have no idea how the JFK runners survived 27 miles of that boredom.

After the canal, we arrived at the mile 23 aid station, which had our first drop bags. I was excited, since this was a bit of a milestone. My Garmin said we had run 24 miles, so I started ignoring it at that point and gave it to Eric soon after. I suddenly felt so nauseous and shaky that I couldn’t eat anything, and slowly sipped some Gatorade while Lily changed her wet shoes (my trail shoes dry so fast, so I kept them). I felt a little better after that, and the aid station even had ginger tablets! I somehow managed to eat one of those amazing homemade brownie bites, and we headed out.

This was a real low point for me. I felt shaky, dizzy, and completely lacking any energy as we started running again. My never ending appetite and serious commitment to always having snacks available means I am not really familiar with what “low blood sugar” feels like, so that may have been it, but who knows. I was extremely concerned. I’d never felt like that in any race before, and in both of my previous ultras (50Ks), sure, I’d gotten tired, had pain in my legs, etc, but I always felt strong until the end. I was pretty concerned, since I still had 28.5 miles to go, and if I continued to feel like this, or, worse, decline, I really didn’t see how finishing was a possibility.

This is where I truly don’t see how people can run a race like this alone. Lily entertained me by telling stories of crazy former roommates, and then I entertained her by telling her the story of my number one most hated person, ever. Telling that story got me fired up again, and the anger fueled me enough that I began to feel better. Just in time to traverse the giant mud bogs that almost sucked our shoes off. Just like Warrior Dash, all over again!

We saw Eric again at the 29 mile aid station, and here we were feeling good, joking, and laughing. We spent way too long at every aid station, but I don’t regret it. It was great to see Eric, and mentally, I felt I needed the breaks. In the other two ultras, I felt I was able to let go of worrying about the miles, how far I had to go, and just enjoy the experience on the trails. Yesterday, that didn’t happen. Although there were a lot of times that I enjoyed myself (during the day, anyway), I just couldn’t get past that nagging thought that 50 miles is a long ass way. It was constantly preying on my mind, intimidating me, and making me wish for the end.

My Little Slice of Awesome headband helped me so much in this race

This sign was a cruel joke

Aid station 34 was more of the same, Eric was there, and we met a volunteer who had run a 100 mile race, who told us to stop wasting time, and literally pushed us back onto the trails. We needed him at every aid station!

Once again, as we approached aid station 39, where our second drop bags were, and where we were required to get our headlamps again, I felt terrible. 

It looks like we're leaving, but this was actually our approach.

Can you tell I want to hurl and cry?

Eric was there, being so helpful and attentive as usual, but nothing he could do could help me, other than put me in the car and take me home, which was what I desperately wanted. It was starting to get cold, I felt too nauseous to eat, and putting together sentences seemed difficult. I managed to wash down some advil with the ginger ale that the wonderful race organizers thoughtfully had, and choke down a few goldfish. A guy who had already finished the race was there picking up his headlamp, and for some reason, that just mentally beat me down so much, knowing that he was done, and we had nearly a half marathon to go, and the sun was already starting to set. I felt really bad, wishing I could put on a braver face for Eric, but it just wasn’t happening. Somehow, I forced myself to head out again.

Lily told me she wanted to pray before it got completely dark, so for the next several miles, I listened to her quietly saying Rosaries. Even though I’m not Catholic, and even though some of it was in Spanish, listening to it was incredibly soothing and really helped me cheer up and feel better. Which was good, because when we got to the next aid station, that was where things really started to go downhill.

I really should have just had Eric drop me off here

The next aid station was at the high school where we started, and where we would finish. We had done a big lollipop out and back, and would now be finishing the race on an out and back in a different direction. I asked the volunteer there what mile we were at. He told me “This is mile 41, you have 9 to go.” I desperately cried “BUT IS IT REALLY NINE? Because we got this email…..”
He assured me “Yes, it’s really 9, you see, you are actually at mile 44. You’re just going to go out 4.5, and then come back 4.5”.

Ok, are we seeing a problem yet? If we were at mile 44, and this was supposed to be a 50 mile race, WHY THE HELL WOULDN’T THEY PUT THE TURNAROUND 3 MILES AWAY?? I was so desperate that I told Lily we should just turn around 3 miles out anyway, but since we had no Garmins anymore, and we had to check in at the last aid station at the turnaround, that wouldn’t work. She told me we hadn’t come this far to cheat, and brought me back to my senses.

We continued running to the next aid station, and the volunteer there told us it was decision time. The 12 hour cutoff had already passed (not that we weren’t on track to finish in 12 hours, it had already been 12 hours), so we had to decide if we thought we would be able to finish the race, or drop out here. He said “You have at least 3.5, maybe 4 miles out to the turnaround and back, then a mile and a half from here back to the school, so at least 8.5 miles left of the race.” I’m not great at math in the best of circumstances, and certainly not after running more than 45 miles. However, I was told there were 9 miles left at the school, and after running a mile and a half, I was being told there were at least 8.5 more miles left. I pretty much flipped out on him, demanding to know why the miles kept increasing, then we headed out, and I was consumed with guilt over my meanness for the rest of the race.

I’m not going to lie, just stopping there was pretty tempting, as opposed to heading back to the pitch black woods and running 8.5 or 9 more miles. Now, if you are picturing an 8.5 mile run around your neighborhood, stop. This meant 8.5 miles in complete darkness, surrounded by nothing but trees, having no idea what mile you are out, how much further your have, and constantly risking getting lost or falling. When I originally looked at the course map, I thought maybe they would take it easy on us in that last section. Of course that wasn’t the case, and we were once again on wet leaves, roots, branches, and rocks, going up and down steep hills. The idea of falling and getting hurt was very real and terrifying, because it meant slowly freezing to death while praying somebody could run the trails fast enough to find you and help you. On the other hand, going slowly enough to avoid falling was incredibly frustrating, because it just meant the finish line was further and further away. Going out, running away from the finish line, passing happy returning runners, knowing it would be so long before we were going in their direction, was just so depressing.

After running at least 2 miles (estimated from the reports I got from the volunteers and other runners), we asked a woman coming towards us how far to the aid station. She looked at her watch and proclaimed “I left there exactly 24 minutes ago”. WHAT? We didn’t care for that answer, so we asked another guy. He gave us a dejected, angry look and said “I don’t want to lie to you”. Well, nothing good can follow that. “It’s at least 2 more miles, and you have to cross an icy stream. The aid station is at mile 49. This is actually a 55 or 56 mile race”.

Ok, are you following along? The email said the 50 mile race was 51.5 miles. At mile 44, we were told we had 9 more miles. We ran another mile and a half, and we were told we had 8.5 more miles. We kept running around 2 more miles past that, and we were told we STILL HAD 8 MORE MILES LEFT. Not only that, but it was 25 degrees out, and we would have to cross a nearly knee deep, icy stream, not once, but twice. At the pace we were going, 8 miles would easily mean almost 2 more hours in the cold, pitch dark woods.

Hearing that was like being punched in the stomach. Plus, at this point, the race distance had been extended 3 times, who knows what the last aid station would tell us, if we even made it there? Since that was at mile 49, I prayed they would tell us it was too late, and pull us from the course. At that point, I would have been completely fine with running a 49 mile race.

We got to the stream crossing. It was so wide, deep, and slippery, that there was a rope to hold on to as you went across. The gold medal of the day goes to the volunteer who was sitting in the woods, all alone, helping runners across the stream. The water was truly freezing, and as soon as we got across, Lily burst into tears. Oddly, stepping into the role of comforter seemed to help me, I guess it gave me something to focus on other than my own misery. After the tears, we both broke in to hysterical laughter, and arrived at the last aid station, determined to finish.

I had some cider and a pretzel stick, and we turned back. Knowing we were finally headed towards the end was a huge mental boost, and I actually felt pretty good here. It was still overwhelming to be so far away and to be all alone in the dark, but for the first time, I finally thought I may actually cross the finish line of this race.

We slowly made our way back, this time seeing almost nobody. Other than one wrong turn, we got back to the original “decision time” aid station, where I couldn’t wait to apologize to the volunteer, who hadn’t even noticed anything wrong and wasn’t concerned at all. Of course, the “mile and a half” back to the school had turned into “a mile and three quarters”, but it meant we were almost finished, and we were ecstatic.

We finally exited the woods on the road and saw the school, and in a final, cruel joke, the reflective lights on the trees that had been guiding us led us away from the school, back into the woods, down a huge hill, so that we could finish on a gigantic incline. Eric was there cheering us on, and Lily grabbed my hand and literally yanked me up the hill, but WE MADE IT! 14 hours, 27 minutes, and 35 seconds after we began, we proudly crossed the finish line.
We had originally planned to get home, go out to eat, drink sangria, and celebrate. Well, by the time we were done, the restaurant was closed. We had a little pizza that was in the school cafeteria for us, got in the car that Eric had thoughtfully already warmed up for us, and he drove us home. The second I got in the apartment I stumbled/shuffled to the kitchen, grabbed the wine I had waiting for me and the corkscrew, and poured myself a glass in the bathroom, which I drank while showering. My legs were killing me, so I planned to drink myself to sleep. I ate some Cheez-Its while catching up on the tweets that Eric had sent during the race, drank more wine, and then went to sleep. I wish I could say I passed out until morning, but I slept horribly, my legs hurt even if I didn’t move them, and nothing was comfortable.

This morning, I forced myself to walk down three flights of stairs, and across the street to get bagels. The movement helped a bit, but I’m still so stiff and sore that I can barely walk. Unlike a marathon, everything hurts – my back, neck, arms, abs, feet, everything. I guess that’s because I ran more than two marathons combined. My plan is to not move, and just read, blog, and eat all day.

When I sit like this, it doesn't hurt.

I need to give a huge thank you to the many supportive, encouraging comments that I've gotten from my family and friends (both blog and real life!). Thank you so much to Lily for running with me and getting me out of my bad moods when necessary – I could not ask for a better training buddy! I really appreciate Perry and his wife Crystal waiting around for two and a half hours after Perry finished just to cheer us on at the finish line! Eric wins the husband of the year/decade/century/millenium for driving us to the race at 4am, and spending the entire 14.5 hours following us around to aid stations, cheering at the finish, taking us home, and taking care of me today. I truly could not have done it without him.
I expected running 50 miles to be extremely hard, luckily, by adding mileage and choosing the hardest course possible, Stone Mill managed to exceed even my wildest expectations. Somehow, I'm still glad I did it.

Here's our "thoughts" from after the race (I put it in quotes because real thinking is impossible at that point).

Friday, November 18, 2011

50 Miler Eve

Well, I'm as trained as I'm going to get, my bags are packed, my Garmins are both charging (yes, I'm bringing two, thanks to my sister for loaning hers to the cause), and the 50 miler is happening tomorrow, ready or not. 

A friend reminded me after my last blog post that this was something I've been training for for quite a while, and that I actually signed up for because I wanted to do, so I should really stop acting like I'm headed to a death march (my words, his were much nicer).

Luckily I have a foolproof plan that saves me whenever I'm being a whiny little bitch - I think of everyone that can't run, or even walk, and while they may still call me crazy for trying to run 50 miles, I try to be thankful that it's even an option for me. In particular, I always focus on my grandmother, who is the picture of determination in the face of adversity. She got me through quite a few rough miles at the Marine Corps Marathon.

So, with that in mind, my goal today is working on getting excited for this race. I forgot to mention in my last post that I do have one goal: To have fun! Sounds cheesy and ridiculous, and most likely impossible at many points, but I want to at least enjoy as much of it as I can.

Things that are helping me with my goal:
  • Pajama day (today): Not directly related, but fantastic. Tell me you are not reading this and wishing you could go to work in your pajamas all day.
  • Breaking Dawn: Things may get rough in this race, but it can't be worse than ending your honeymoon early because a vampire spawn trying to kill you from inside your body.
  • Cheez-Its: I banned myself from them in college, because I'd buy them and eat half the box in the car on the way home (I know, it sounds like a Biggest Loser application tidbit) so I haven't had any since 2005, at the latest. They will be providing me race fuel at mile 23 tomorrow.

Things that are not helping me with my goal:
  • This excerpt from an email I received yesterday. By the way, the distance is closer to 51.5 miles, just so you know

Uhhh....what? I didn't sign on for that. I think Victoria's tweet probably summed up the appropriate reaction.

 Right because it is completely reasonable to run 50 miles but not 51.5

Ok, I see the point, but think of the last race you ran - did you want to do the distance you signed up for, or did you want to do 1.5 miles more than that? I'm guessing that at mile 50, 1.5 miles isn't going to feel like 1.5 miles on an average run.

But, whether I liked it or not, last night I had a 51.5 mile race to prepare for. Of course, being me, I had made a spreadsheet last weekend that detailed what to put in each drop bag, in my camelbak, in my bag for before and after, and with Eric. While boiling potatoes, I diligently crossed off each item, but it was confusing, even so.

Can you see the spreadsheet?

Drop bags and camelbak

I changed the batteries on everything battery powered, whether it was needed or not
Packing took awhile, but I still think nothing is worse than packing for a triathlon.

And that's it, until you hopefully hear from me on Sunday! I may be tweeting, or I may ask my husband to tweet for me, but if you are interested (who wouldn't be?), hurry up and request to follow me, because my tweets are protected, and once I leave for Breaking Dawn, I'm pretty much done with the internet until after the race!

Thank you so much to everyone who has left so many wonderful encouraging comments, I'll try not to let you down!