Friday, October 19, 2012

Bear Chase 50k

This is long overdue, but for a few days after the race, I couldn't sit down to write. Literally, because if I sat down, I wasn't able to stand back up.

As we prepared to toe the starting line, I began fumbling with my iPhone. I don't own a Garmin, so I planned on tracking my splits with a GPS app, while also using it to keep in touch with my boyfriend and family on the trail. Oh, and listening to music.

Earlier that morning, I had created my special "Bear Chase Playlist," an eclectic mix ranging from indie rock to German industrial to growly death metal. I always listen to music or podcasts during my training runs. I wear the same clothes, carry the same gear, eat the same breakfast.. this was not the morning to experiment. So when my iPhone started acting up... I panicked. And yelled "Fuck!" A lot. (Sorry, everyone.) The power/lock button has been broken on my phone for a long time, so resetting was not an option. Somehow I activated voice control, and my phone started calling an employee of mine from two years ago. Then it called my assistant principal from back in my teaching days.

This was at 6:30 in the morning.

Finally, after thoroughly embarrassing myself and those around me, I resigned myself to carrying a $200 paperweight on my arm. Oh well, maybe I'd make some friends. It was still dark, maybe I wouldn't be recognized.

Lap 1
The beginning of a run is always the hardest part. My legs feel like lead, my breathing is erratic, my steps are clumsy as I try to find a rhythm. But for this first lap, I felt pretty good, considering my rough start. This being my first race, I knew it would be a challenge trying to pace myself with 200 people around me, and this became apparent as we bottle-necked into the single-track trail. I was passed. I passed other runners. For about two miles, I didn't have to think, and that was nice. The first aid station came up quickly (about 3 miles in), but it was liquids-only, and my water bottle was still pretty full.

The small loop follows the large loop for much of the way, but breaks away a few times. One of the break-away points is right before the trail leading up to Mount Carbon, the longest climb on the course. Laps 2 and 3 follow the big loop up this hill, and I used this time to stop and rest for a second, and let my friend catch up. I pointed up to the mountain. Earlier that day I'd said I thought the trail might be just short of a quarter mile to get to the top. I was indicating that I was probably very, very wrong. I finished the rest of the lap with him while chatting with another girl. She was a seasoned ultra runner, totally Zen about it. I saw her several other times on the course, and she always looked fresh and strong. Not fast, but very comfortable and confident. (Although I passed her two or three times on the course, she wound up finishing a minute or so before me.)

Lap 2
Aaron met me right after the start/finish line as I began lap 2. I passed him my phone, and declined his offer of his iPhone. The poor guy was really going to wait for me for 7 hours without a phone. I went over to my drop bag and swallowed a gel. I might have kissed Aaron good-bye, I don't remember, but I walked to the aid station and surveyed my options. Filled up my water bottle, took a shot of sport drink, and then we were off again.

Within about 20 feet of leaving the aid station, I realized I'd forgotten Body Glide this morning... d'oh. The inside of my thighs were being chafed pretty badly as the short liner started riding up. I cut my ankle pretty badly a few days before the race, and the bandage was starting to grate on my nerves at about the same time. I was having trouble keeping up with my friend (he said we were averaging about a 10:30 pace at this point), so I slowed down to take care of my ankle. When I was sure he was far enough ahead, I used the SPF chapstick stowed in my handheld to lubricate my thigh. Yum. But it didn't bother me again for the rest of the race.

From this point on, I stopped and walked through every aid station, which averaged about 3.1 miles. Soda became my best friend, settling my stomach and giving me a little caffeine boost. I tried eating cookies and chips, and though chewing was a hassle, these sat a lot better than the gel did.

The trail crosses a river . Though I've run in this park many times, I could never find this part of the trail. By the time I reached it, I'd run about 13 miles, and over about a quarter mile you cross the river three times. The water reached my knees. It was ice cold, and felt amazing. I was impressed with how well my shoes drained... but then the trail turns paved right before the next aid station, and that was a pain. I jogged past a girl I recognized from Daily Mile, and we headed up to the station together. I swallowed some soda and watermelon, peed in the port-o-potty (the only time I used the bathroom during the whole race), and took off up the hill back onto the trail.

Coming up to the start/finish line, Aaron was waiting for me around the turn. It was a great motivational boost, and the whole time I was reminded of how lucky I am to have him.. that the poor guy would be waiting another 2+ hour for me to make it back around, after already waiting for 4.

Lap 3
I ran most of this lap alone, in contemplative silence. When I hit the 20-mile mark, I was buzzing. Why didn't I sign up for the 50-mile race? This was easy!

At mile 22, I was crashing and cursing. Why did I sign up for a 50k? Who runs 30 miles? Who were these crazy people running FIFTY MILES that were passing me?

It was at this point I just stopped paying attention to the miles. My goal was to get from one aid station to the next, and that's what I used to get me through. The final aid station came up sooner than I expected. I was running and walking at this point, but when I saw the "1 mile to Start/Finish," I picked up the pace.

As I ran through the parking lot right before the finish line, I heard the announcer call my name. Um, but I wasn't close by yet? And why was he saying that I was doing a cartwheel over the finish line? Apparently he'd mistaken the girl in front of me for me. Poor girl ran 31 miles, cartwheeled over the finish line, and had her name messed up!

I ran across the finish (as the announcer apologized), got my medal, and collapsed against Aaron who was waiting for me. I remember wondering where the photographers were for my finish photo, and was a little upset that there were none around. It would seem running for 6.5 hours had me a bit distracted, because there are a few amazing pictures of me and Aaron hugging at the finish line!

Overall, The Bear Chase was a great race. The aid stations were fully stocked and staffed by amazing volunteers, the course was almost entirely runnable with some difficult steep sections, and the loops are long enough that you don't get bored doing the same one twice. Next year, my coworker and I plan to do the 50-miler. Four 12.5-mile laps, woo!

Monday, June 18, 2012

I'm sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of inefficiency.

I said this to a coworker the other night as I shut off the Bissel sound machine, which at some point in its short life also doubled as a vacuum cleaner. After a few more passes over the same speck of dust on the rug, I was ready to give up. Two platitudes warred: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" was ultimately drowned out by "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." I shut off the vacuum and pulled out the broom instead.

Sometimes I wonder this about my running. I'm slow, often painfully so, and half the time I'm at peace with this knowledge--that is, on the days my legs are fresh and I'm hitting my target pace, I tell myself it's okay that my long runs often are two to four minutes slower per mile than my shorter (5-10 mile) runs. Basically I do the same thing over and over again, and wait for the results to change--while riding a long, long plateau.

About two weeks ago, I had my longest run ever. I completed 18 miles in about three and a half hours, a pace that should have left me feeling comfortable, though tired and sore. I hydrated throughout the run, consumed a scant few calories even, and while I was tired mentally that last mile, I felt fine. I shouldn't have been dry-heaving for half an hour after I stopped. I shouldn't have passed out on the community's gym floor, where I stopped when I couldn't make the extra two hundred foot walk to my apartment. I shouldn't have had to sleep for three hours after I was finally able to crawl out of the bathroom.

And then I woke up the next morning, banged out six more miles, and went on with my life.

This coming Wednesday, I have another long run ahead and frankly after my last performance, I'm terrified. What did I do wrong last time? What can I change this time around? I am capable of completing this distance--I'm stubborn to a fault and will likely die trying to meet a distance goal someday--but I'd like to do so without the foam around the mouth, gelatinous legs, migraine-level headaches and fever. And at a pace faster than 11:40 miles.

This week I'll change up my nutrition, because quite frankly, even though my stomach tightens and can't hold food during a run, NOT eating (and getting in sodium) hasn't helped my body cover  long distances with any degree of efficiency.

I'm not sure 50 kilometers is going to be as nice to me as my last 18-miler.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Marathon Training: A week in review

Last Sunday, I ran 11 miles. The following day, I ran another 10. Tuesday morning over a bowl of oatmeal, breakfast ice cream and a few bananas, I decided I needed to develop a base if I was going to keep running like this. Four ten-mile runs in a one-week period was probably more than my undeveloped running muscles could handle, and I'm still getting a grip on what it means to fuel. (Hence ice cream at 7 a.m.)

The marathon seems like a good place to start. I downloaded some generic "intermediate" training plan after breakfast, and started plugging all the mileage into my Google calendar. Because of Monday's unnecessary long run, I picked up the training plan a day late. This schedule does exactly what I need it to. It lets me run six days a week, gives me a mandatory rest day--something I'm not very good with--and forces me to incorporate a speed workout.

Wednesday was a 6-mile run. Nothing to shake a stick at. Thursday I ran 4 miles, and clocked in averaging an 8:48 mile. I liked the short distance because I could run faster. That is, until I ran into a steep hill charging at an 8:20 pace that degenerated into an 11 minute per mile shuffle. Friday I ran 6 miles, pacing under a 9-minute mile. Was I already getting faster?

Saturday's 3-mile run started off poorly. As I was rounding the corner of my apartment community's parking lot, one of the cars facing the street honked at me. Startled, I stumbled and fumbled with my iPhone to pause my run tracker. The woman sitting in the driver's seat could have been 40 or 70, dressed in a bathrobe and draped with a blanket. The car had a stale cigarette smell, and I pitied the aging golden retriever wheezing in the passenger's seat. The back was filled with junk,  probably everything the lady owned.

"Tell me how to get to McDonald's," she said. I had to step back, because the cigarette smoke was burning my already over-taxed lungs.

I haven't been in a McDonald's in over six years, and I've stopped "seeing" them. They're everywhere. I gave the woman some generic directions to what might have been a McDonald's, or a Taco Bell, or a Wendy's. I'm still not sure, all I know is there's some fast food restaurant where I directed her, because I'd used the drive-thru to reach the street on a previous day's run.

Despite the interruption, overall it wound up being a nice short run with negative splits, averaging an 8:32 pace.

Sunday's 10-mile run was a drag. I'd made a gel with chia seeds and agave nectar, which I tried to sip while I was still jogging and managed to inhale the seeds, some of which are still lodged in my nose.

Today is a rest day, which I will use to (possibly) get another few thousand words into my novella-in-progress, and (hopefully) extract the sprouting chia seeds from my nasal cavity.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Long distance versus speed..

I'm not a fast runner.

I accept this fact. There was a time in my running life, back in college when I had definition in my abs and an 8-minute mile was my easy day. But that time has come and gone.

Nowadays, I've shortened my stride. Slowed myself down to enjoy the mountains. I stop to take pictures, slow down on the uphills and focus on my footwork. I try to convince myself I run because I love to run, and not to get faster or break any land speed records.

However, I don't find that I'm any easier on myself at the end of the run, and while I shouldn't make any excuses for my performance (unless it's valid), I need to take some pause before doing so.

I ran an easy 10 miles today. I went out knowing it was going to be long and slow, and I had no idea how fast it was going to be. Didn't really care, because it was cold, windy, raining, maybe snowing, and cloudy in Denver for the first time in ages. I finished the run at about a 10-minute pace with splits all over the place because of long and steep hills. I felt good the whole way, never feeling like I was exerting too much energy and ended back at my apartment fairly certain I could run another several miles at the same pace comfortably.

Then I really looked at my numbers, and felt defeated. No, I didn't hurt at mile 4, but I could have sworn I was running at least a 9-minute pace. Did I really only finish the final mile in 9:58, because I swore I was flying!

Afterwards, I compared my time with my last easy long run, a 9.29 mile lap up the road and back about two months ago. I averaged a 10:51 pace that run (even when I paused the timer to take the two pictures at Bear Creek on the right, which I ran by today under heavy cloud cover). I did almost a minute better per mile over a longer distance today.

Long distances are humbling. It isn't just how physically fit you are, but mentally prepared as well. Two hours of running, four, six, twenty-four hours... it takes more than strong legs to get you there.

And gives you a greater appreciation for the view!

Monday, March 12, 2012

How school almost made me hate running but then taught me to appreciate it

To me, gym class always seemed like punishment. I was short, overweight and painfully shy, so this loud, highly social class was always a struggle for me. If choosing teams in gym class were the litmus test for popularity, I was consistently the least popular kid in school--even though my volleyball serve was killer. None of that really bothered me, though. The only thing I was really, truly frightened of was the dreaded mile run.

In middle school, the "mile" was us running 9 and a half times around our school yard, where the gym teacher would heckle us as we plodded along, telling us that he sees a 60-year-old man out there every day running the mile, and we couldn't catch up to him at the pace we were going. That meant little to me then, because as an overweight 12-year-old, I could barely shlog a lap, much less run it. ("Shlog" is a word I will use frequently.)

I turned 27 earlier this month, and if I stretch my spine and keep really good posture, the top of my head can hit the 5'3" mark. I know for sure when I was 14 years old, I wasn't quite up to my full height potential, but was already pushing 150 pounds, and still couldn't run half a mile without stopping.

I went to one of the city's top high schools where the academics were rigorous, and gym class was no exception--I thought they were joking when they said we'd have written exams in every class. Besides the actually tests we had in gym, the teacher was... tough. She was a no-excuses woman who was rumored to be a retired drill sergeant. And she had us out running 4 miles in a single gym period.

If we didn't meet certain goals in one gym period, we'd be out running the next day. If we ran one day, but didn't meet the expectations set for us, we'd be out again the next day. Normally we'd know it was a running day because she would chase us out of the locker rooms and out the front door. Some days, we'd be settled into the gymnasium ready to do ANYTHING but running, and--surprise!--out the door we'd go for a 3-mile time trial. We were just out there, sprinting laps or trying to race the gym teacher around the track. I dry-heaved a few times at the end of a run, came close to vomiting more than once. Some kids did throw up on the track.

Running became punishment for me, and the idea that some people did this for fun absolutely boggled my mind. I watched the tall, lean cross-country kids glide along the track effortlessly, while I was running (shlogging) mile after mile with terrible form, in cotton T-shirts or sweatshirts and Payless-brand sneakers, with no access to water and a really, really bad attitude following me every quarter-mile.

Eventually all that running did pay off. There were other things going on in my life at the time, but by my third year in high school, I had lost nearly 30 pounds. I stopped skipping laps on the track. I still couldn't finish four miles in a gym period, but I could jog 3 without stopping. And over the summer, every once in a while once or twice a month, I'd even go out for a short fun run in the park near my house.

The seed was planted, but it took years to germinate and grow to its full potential. Even now, when anyone comments on my form, how far or fast or whether I should focus on intervals or weight training, I find myself retreating a little because it reminds me of the time when running wasn't fun. But then I get over it. Or put the volume up a little louder on my iPod.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

It's just blood

I've been planning some kind of epic first post outlining my motivation for starting a blog in a feeble attempt to make it different from all other beginner running blogs. To emphasize how I went from non-runner to halfhearted runner to oh-my-gods-I-love-being-a runner and all the road dirt and trail mud caked to my legs is something I should be proud of.

I'm still somewhere between "this doesn't suck so much anymore" and "halfhearted."

But (there always is one), I don't think I'll be running for a few days now, so I may as well use Post One for lamentations on why I won't be logging miles.

Last night, I heard my cat scratching up my sofa. We have two cats, the Wants-To-Be-Good one who weighs nearly 20 pounds and thinks sitting on our faces and purring like an engine is what we want him to do, and the Generally-Evil-With-Sweet-Moments one, who waits until we're in bed to scratch on the couch because he knows we won't do anything about it. Just look at that face... pure evil! Since this happens every night, normally I roll over, put the pillow over my head and try to ignore it. It was a cheap World Market sofa, anyway.

This night, however, is different from most other nights in that I wasn't so comfortably settled into bed that I couldn't get up to do something about it. In fact, my partner and I were watching a pretty depressing documentary about mountaintop-removal coal mining in West Virginia when all I selfishly wanted to do was finish reading my book.

My partner swears he was going to tell me not to do it, but I grabbed a pillow anyway and ran into the living room. Now, I'd never actually hit my cat (and admit to it publicly), but he has an irrational fear of pillows being swung through the air in his general direction, and my intention was to condition him against scratching the furniture. Scratch the furniture, crazy pillow-wielding ladies will come after you. Simple enough for a small cat-mind to comprehend, yes?

On my clumsy amble into the living room, I felt my pinky toe scratch against something. It hurt, but I was on a mission. Jack, the furniture-destroying cat, was already hiding under the coffee table. Somehow I found myself on the floor clutching my foot and screaming about how I'd removed my toenail. For whatever reason, we have a brick propping the bedroom door open, and I'd kicked that on my way out the door.

My partner grabbed our backpacking first-aid kit, ready to use the skills we developed when we took a Wilderness First Aid course. While he was rummaging around for it, I peeked under my hand and tried to make sense of where all the blood was coming from. My toenail was fine. What I had actually done was ripped the tip of my pinky toe off. Once I had finished screaming (I'm not very good at dealing with injuries) and the river of blood slowed to a trickle, we irrigated the wound, dabbed some triple antibiotic ointment around the toe, wrapped it in gauze and tape, and crossed our fingers that the skin would reattach in the morning.

So far, so good. This morning, without investigated too closely and disrupting the healing process--or throwing up--everything looks like it's stitching back together. Hopefully it will stop throbbing and I'll be back on the trail by Monday so I can use my new running toy!