Tuesday, January 7, 2014

One Epic Run

Let's see if I can back up and retrace my steps for One Epic Run 24 hour race which took place Dec 7th at Croft State Park/Spartanburg, SC. (Photo credit: Viktor Trukov and Stephanie Moore).

I originally signed up for this race with the base goal of completing the marathon distance (26.2 miles), but quickly decided I was going all in and declared my intention to complete 50 kilometers (31 miles). Go big or go home is my motto.

My long time running buddy, Ashley, had planned to run with me as my "pacer" (more or less just to keep my in line and keep me motivated). But she came down with the flu a couple days before. So I made the trek to Spartanburg solo.

I got to the park about an hour early and found some familiar faces pretty quickly. After some mingling with friends, we gathered around the starting area. I took my spot in back of the pack, and we were off. The race started with a loop around the camping area in an attempt to thin out the crowd before entering the trail.

It was pretty congested for the first mile or so and had to walk a great deal in the beginning, so it was impossible to get into a good groove. I ran with Amy for the first two laps. The first lap around she pointed out some of the landmarks around the loop such as the graveyard and the firing range.

The weeks leading up to the race I did a lot of research obsessing over what to expect out of this course. I read every race report I could find, analyzed the elevation chart, and watched a YouTube video of the trail, but I still could not get a good feel for what was in store. Some people were telling me it was pretty challenging (as in some of the tougher loops at USNWC) and some were telling me it was easy peasy. After the first two loops, I came to the conclusion that the (slightly longer than) 5k loop was somewhere in between. There were some climbs that I would typically run with moderate effort on a normal day, but would choose to walk if I hoped to survive to see 50k. The weather also played a big part in the difficulty. The trail was sloppy, slippery, and muddy and the downhill sections were particularly difficult for me. With the questionable state of my knees, I needed to be super cautious and not bomb down these slick hills.
The end of the loop was pretty wretched hill and it took it's toll on me throughout the day. Despite having to walk that stupid hill every loop, I would run the last little bit to the end of the trail.....at least it looked like I had been running the whole time. I'm sure this act fooled no one! 
Finishing a lap, coming into the aide station
The first three laps were pretty uneventful, but my right knee (usually the "good" one!) started complaining. I eventually stopped and swapped my knee strap to the right knee and that seemed to help things temporarily. I ran the majority of this race alone, which was just fine by me. After each loop I would make a pit stop at the aide station, which was stocked with everything and more (even bacon)! Angela (the RD) did an excellent job covering all the food bases. I started off with eating my usuals...PB&J, gels, coke. After a while, I had to switch to salty foods.

During one pit stop, I noticed a bunch of sharpie marks on someone's forearm to count the laps. Like a little kid, I thought to myself "I wanna do it toooooo!" So I grabbed the sharpie and promptly marked off my laps. Little did I know that this would become an important motivator to keep me going. Knowing I would get to scribble another mark on my arm after each lap gave me a visual indicator of how much I had done and how much more I had to do.

Most of my memories of Epic are a mash up of clips and snippets of events. I remember getting a little boost of energy every time I would pass Mark's little girl (who was serenading us with Christmas carols). At one point, I spotted a pink My Little Pony along the trail (which, at the time I thought I had hallucinated). The booming of big guns as I passed the firing range. Meeting two beautiful German Shepherds who were keeping their owners company during their run. Being passed by one grumpy, rude runner who will remain nameless. The nice mountain biker who was patching up a huge mud hole with pine straw and bark for us.

Somewhere around the 15ish mile mark, is my normal slump time. Rich was at the aide station at this point, and decided to join me for the next lap in an attempt to perk me up. I was in a bad bad place mentally and physically and it would have been difficult for anyone to pull me out of that funk. I decided I needed to be alone after that lap and quietly snuck away. But before I exited stage left, Angela suggested I try a pickle. That pickle was a gift from God! I perked up pretty quickly after eating that magical slice of goodness. I must have been a little sodium depleted as the salty goodness settled my stomach right away. I wanted to grab the jar and guzzle down the pickle juice but came to my senses and opted to scarf down another pickle instead.

Lap 9 was pretty painful. My knee was killing me, my energy was running on fumes, I was ready to be done! I suddenly realized that I was almost at the marathon mark. It was a surreal moment. Here I was about to complete a marathon, but there was no one around, no fan fare, no congratulations. Just me, alone in the woods.

I joined up with a guy somewhere along that lap and we ended up leap frogging each other for a mile or so. I would catch him on the uphills as my long legs would power walk up the incline, and he would re-pass me as he bombed down the hills. Eventually we got tired of the back and forth and we decided to just stick it out together, in sync, for the rest of the lap as we were both hurting pretty badly.

FINALLY....my 50k lap was coming up. I had wanted to be alone the entire day, but I needed someone I knew with me for this last lap....someone to witness me reach my goal. A familiar face was standing around, being lazy, doing nothing, so I drug this poor soul back out with me. I don't remember much about the last lap. At one point I was on the verge of tears because it felt like my knee was being ripped in two. I was whimpering to myself with each step, hoping I wasn't doing so aloud. I'm sure my pace was just above a painfully slow death march. I hope this wasn't pure torture for my companion to have to follow behind me. I was anxiously eyeballing my Garmin every few minutes, waiting for the 31 mile mark. Finally I hit the 31.1 mark and I stopped dead in my tracks and briefly took in the moment....only to be interrupted when he told me "keep going, it doesn't count until you finish the lap" Thanks for ruining the moment dude (haha), but I was really glad to have someone I knew around to share that moment with. I completed 10 loops at 7 hours 49 minutes....a long damn time to run!
10 marks...10 laps...31 miles
As I made my way to the aide station after that lap, I spotted pizza and made a beeline towards the table. I gobbled down at least four pieces without a second thought. It. was. delicious!

Again, there is a huge hole in my memory, but it was getting dark....and cold, and at some point I decided to change into some warm dry clothes. I pulled up a chair beside Angela, Rich, Tim, and Patrick next to the time clock and began to doze off briefly. I had never run trail at night and was adamant that I do at least one night time lap. So I forced myself to wake up and grab my headlamp and attempt one night time lap. It was not fun....it was actually a little scary. Not because I am a little girl afraid of the dark, but because I did not trust my shaky legs on slick trails, with limited visibility. I tried to navigate in the front but I got a little motion sick for some reason. I decided to follow and I focused on the reflective spots on the backs of the shoes in front of me. One night time lap was enough for me.

We all sat by the finish/time clock area for a while, eating grilled cheese/bacon sandwiches, slurping down delish chicken noodle soup, listening to Tim's horrible music selection, and there may or may not have been adult beverages around. Sometime around midnight I decided to try to get some sleep. Which meant I would be sleeping in my car. I do not recommend car camping in a Volkswagen Passat. No bueno, not comfortable. I somehow managed 4-5 hours of sleep and woke up to fogged up windows.

I hobbled like a stiff old lady to the aide station where they were cooking pancakes. I ate 4 or 5 pancakes and 2 or 3 nutty buddy bars. Ultra running has made me a pig! It was around 8 a.m. by then. I wanted to run a couple more laps, but knew I didn't have time, and did I want to push myself and risk injury?.....not really. So I called it a day with 11 laps (34.1 miles...35 miles by my Garmin) for my first attempt at One Epic Run. I call that a pretty good day.

I knew I had a lot more in me. I had kept the idea of 50 miles in the back of my mind, and I think I could have done it. Three things stopped me though...#1 running at night was too risky for me personally. I could have logged several loops before going to "bed" and #2 I spent far too long at the aide stations. My actual moving pace was pretty decent, but I did a lot of dilly dallying around wasting time stuffing my face, and #3 I slept too late. I should have gotten back out there at sunrise if I had any chance of making 50 miles. The overall winner, Rob Ducsay finished with 93 miles. Wow! Check out this video, courtesy of Mark Connolly to get a taste of the events of the day.

Final thoughts: This was an excellent intro to ultra running! Epic will always and forever have a special place in my heart since it was my first ultra distance run, and such a kick ass event! Angela (RD) did a phenomenal job taking over RDing duties for this race. I can't think of a single thing to change. I recommend this race to all runners of any level. Because it's a 24 hour race, you can run as much or as little as you like. And you don't have to be an ultra runner, or even come out with the goal of running an ultra. It was one big awesome running party! I got to hang out with some old friends and met a lot new ones. One Epic Run will have a permanent spot on my race calendar!

I was pretty exhausted when I finally got home. Between running 34 miles and car camping, I took a well deserved nap.

The End.
Sleeping Beauty. HA!
My badass bling!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Harbison 50K

Race reports are not my favorite thing to write (or to read to be quite honest). They are often long and chock full of mundane details. This one is no different, but the details are necessary to tell the full story. I'll try to keep you entertained with pictures, courtesy of Brian Guzik and Viktor Trukov.

I'm jumping a little ahead of myself with this race report. I have yet to write the race report for One Epic Run back in December. But for those that know me will agree, I have a pretty foggy memory....at best. So I'd better write my thoughts for Harbison ASAP before they disappear into thin air.

Before Epic I didn't understand how some runners allowed themselves to sign up for ultras for back to back months....risking burnout and injury. After Epic, I knew I was hooked on ultra running, and discovered how that happens. Almost immediately, I began scanning through the Ultrasignup calendar. I had eyeballed Harbison 50K before I decided on Epic, but never once considered doing them both. Two ultras within a month of each other? My body was feeling pretty worn down, my knees hurt, it was a dumb idea. Angela (RD for Epic) insisted I should signup, which ignited a desire to throw caution to the wind. I watched the remaining spots dwindle down to just 6 left. I finally caved into the peer pressure and pulled the proverbial trigger and signed myself up for another dang ultra.

Originally, Angela and I were going to just make the drive to Columbia the morning of the race, which meant we would be departing around 4 a.m. Thankfully we changed our minds when Angela had the bright idea to go down the night before. As an added bonus, another friend Jessica would be joining for this adventure!

So we loaded up and made the the trip to Columbia Friday night. SOMEBODY (ahem...Tim and David!) had the bright idea to go to Hooters for dinner because it was close to the hotel. I think us girls were worried #1 are hot wings and buffalo chicken sandwiches a good idea for our prerace meal? #2 most importantly, the beer selection was going to suck! But, against our better judgement, we went anyway.

We made our way back to the hotel, full of crappy bar food, and even crappier beer. The temps were originally supposed to be pretty mild. However when race day rolled around, the forecast was about 10 degrees colder than we anticipated. Us girls were a little conflicted on our wardrobe choices. I opted for my trusty Salomon skirt, my new "just run ya'll" t-shirt, arm sleeves, and a light Brooks jacket...knowing I would ditch the Brooks jacket within the first 30 minutes. My knees have bothered me since Epic and have had to go back to using my knee sleeves on both knees. I was conflicted as to whether I should wear them or not, as they irritate the backs of my knees. Did I want to deal with horrible chafing or horrible knee pain? I opted for knee pain, as the decision maker was purely based on the fact I would look like I was running in thigh highs.

Not a good look, is it? HOT mess!
We got to the race site before sunrise, with plenty of time to check in, deposit our drop bags, hit the porta jons, and socialize. It was quite frigid with the cold humid air. We huddled around a lone propane heater in a futile attempt to get warm.
Me and Jessica
Viktor, Irina, Me, Jessica, and Angela
Angela, me, and Jessica

170ish shivering runners (correct me if I'm wrong) congregate at the starting line. I spotted a few crazies without shirts and a couple in running sandals. My legs were beet red and burned with every step, I can't imagine how they felt! The start was pretty uneventful. We started out on a wide gravel road with a slight incline.

I ended up sticking with Angela and Jason. It was going to be a long day and I was glad that we soon settled into a nice comfortable pace.

Disclaimer: This is where my memory starts getting a little spotty and things start running together.

The course was well marked. Had I run this race alone, I think I could have navigated along pretty well. The volunteers were awesome, and the aide stations were very well stocked with everything I needed, food wise. I probably could have gotten away without my pack and certainly did not need my drop bags.

Within the first three miles, I knew my knees were taking a nosedive. I wore my usual knee strap on my left knee...the one that gives me the most trouble. However, the right knee was the one misbehaving at this point. Thankfully I was smart enough to put one of my knee sleeves in my pack. I had my other one in a drop bag, but it was at the later aide station. So, at the first aide station, I did the smart (although not fashionable) thing and wrestled the stupid sleeve onto my knee. My knee felt pretty good after that, and it would stay quiet for several more miles.

I had packed my iPod, but I would not be needing it this day. The miles started flying by as Angela, Jason, and I chatted. One of the things I LOVE most about ultras is the people. I have met so many new people and collected several new friends. I was in good company this day and it made my time in the woods so much more enjoyable....and would become a welcome distraction during the suffering of the last miles. As the my Garmin alerted each passing mile, Angela would chime in with a WOO HOO! That would make me chuckle a little every time, even at the very last mile. Thanks for keeping me smiling Angela!
Still smiling

I was mentally prepared for a pretty tough course. But I was pleasantly surprised that it was not as brutal as I had imagined. There were some challenging areas for sure. The first half of the loop was pretty tame.....small rolling hills, well groomed stretches with few rocks or roots, no real extreme downhills (which my knees were thankful for). We power walked most of the infamous Spiderwoman trail, but it was not a major climb. Despite the challenge, this was one of my favorite parts of the trail. After the climb, we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the Broad River.

The trail was a good mix of single track and fire road, and this was a two loop course. There were one or two little creek crossings, but you could easily hop over them (at the end I just barreled through the water because I didn't have the energy to "hop"). The three of us took turns leap frogging positions in our little conga line and we kept a pretty even pace.

I was pleased that I did not spend much time dilly dallying around at the aide stations. I would scarf down a pickle, chips, and some coke and was on my way. Again, the volunteers were awesome, and there were plenty of them to take care of anything we needed.

Somewhere around the middle of the race, I went against one of my rules and decided it was time to take some ibuprofen. I may be over dramatic, but the nurse in me worries about my kidneys when I run long distances and ibuprofen is notoriously harsh on your renal system. I actually never carry ibuprofen, but this day I did because I had a feeling my knees would become very angry, to the point that I would consider dropping out. I guess the risk of DNF was worse than risking kidney damage.

My knees felt fabulous about a two miles later, but my stomach was beginning to feel not so fabulous. No matter what I did from that point on, my stomach got progressively worse. I'm not sure if it was coincidence that things went south in the GI department after the dose of ibuprofen, or something else went wrong such as a depleted sodium level. Whatever it was, it was bad. I never vomited, but I wanted to. At one point it, I would get nauseous when I walked and it felt better to run. But I had to give into walking the hills. I was furious with my tummy because I felt great otherwise. Stupid stomach!

Despite feeling wretched, I was still having a good time. At one point I thought to myself "this is going by too fast, I'm having too much fun for it to end so soon!" I would be changing my tune in the last miles.

The second loop around was quite different for me for some reason. I was seeing a lot of things that I didn't remember during the first loop such as HUGE freakin houses that lined the edge of one section of the trail, and a few HUGE fallen trees across the trail that were chopped in half. We joked a little about how non observant I am. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon for me. I am a pretty oblivious runner.

My Garmin was getting close to the 30 mile mark, yet we all felt like we were much farther from the finish. My Garmin chimed the 30 mile mark as we passed a gentleman that informed us we had just 2 miles left. WHAT??!! TWO MILES??!! I was mentally devastated. My stomach was in knots at this point, ready to heave the gel, pickles, coke, chips, and magical pork rinds (thanks Angela!) that I consumed throughout the day. Surely this old man was playing a cruel joke on us. I know trail mileage is never 100% accurate, you can often expect a race that is a little too long or too short (hell, the distance of my own race that I direct is off too). Regardless of this knowledge, I wanted to cry. The 31 mile alert chimed, still no where near the finish. I looked at my Garmin every minute or so from that point on, hoping we would see the finish soon. But we continued to chug up the, what seemed like, endless fireroad.

Finally we made a left turn and the volunteer told us we had just 1/4 mile left. I wanted to stop and hug and kiss him, but that would have been creepy.  Instead, I just kicked it into the highest gear I had left, which was just above a slow jog at that point. I finally saw the finish line, and David (the RD) was waiting for me, arms outstretched holding a medal, ready to put over my neck. That was one of the best feelings in the world!
I didn't have a time goal in mind for this race. My MO was just finish! However, I was pretty pleased with our finish time 7:20 for 32.17 miles. Placing 101 out of 144 finishers. Giving me a 65.76% ranking on Ultrasignup.com. I'm not quite sure what that percentage means, but I'm pretty sure it will become important to me because I am completely obsessed with numbers.

So, my final thoughts on Harbison 50k....I am SO glad I decided to do this race. It was a very well organized race on a beautiful, challenging but manageable, course. There were lots of first time ultra finishers, and technically this was my first ultra distance race. This will definitely be on my calendar for next year.

But the most important outcome of this race is that I was able to prove to myself that I am tougher and have a willpower that I never thought I was capable of. I used to be one to give up on everything I ever started. People ask why I go to these physical extremes with running, triathlons, and now ultras. I do it to remind myself that no matter how painful things get, I can accomplish anything I put my mind to.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Reluctantly Returning to Blogging

Forgive me blog world, for I have sinned. It has been over 2 years since my last......

Wait.....I am not Catholic! Why am I confessing?

I reckon I do owe my old "followers" (and myself) an apology for up and disappearing. Some of you may remember a time, long long ago, when I used to blog. Scratch that, a time when I was obsessed with blogging. Especially blogging about my adventures in running/triathlon at "My Reason to Tri". But one day, I lost the will to write (as some of you breathed a sigh a relief!). I became burnt out on product reviews, obtaining and keeping sponsorships/ambassadorships, boosting site hits, branding, blah, blah, blah. One day I just dropped it like it was hot. Even went so far as to let my paid (see, I was obsessed) domain address expire, and eventually deactivated the original feed. However, I couldn't quite bear to delete the whole damned thing....it's all still archived in case I ever forget I was once an "athlete".

Blogging became a moot point anyway, I was just faking it because I was also burnt out on training. My knee wouldn't give up the fight, and continued to plague me with pain. One day, in the middle of a 4 mile trail run at Lake James, I stopped dead in my tracks, and said to myself "this is stupid!" I quit running, riding, swimming....everything....right then and there. I turned my back, and did not return for over a year.

So why the renewed interest in writing and documenting my (muddling through) "training"?
#1. I must be bored. I am on winter break from grad school and I feel some sort of strange compulsion to write. I should be welcoming the respite from being under the gun to pound out 30 page papers.....not finding something new to write about!
#2. I actually have something to write about again. I've taken up a new "hobby", a whole new beast called ultraaaaaa running. And by "hobby", I mean an all consuming, time suck.

What is ultra running you may be asking yourself? Is it some mystical version of running that is a better than average running? No, not at all, quite possibly the opposite. Ultra running is the act of running an ultra marathon.  And an ultra marathon is an ultra crazy distance over 26.2 miles. Standard ultra marathons are formatted as 50 kilometers (31 miles), 50 miles, 100 kilometers (62 miles), 100 miles....and beyonnnnnd. Although, technically, an ultra marathon can mean just one step beyond the 26.2 mile mark. But that's a whole other subject, often a sore one amongst ultra geeks.

So, how did I get turned on to this ludicrous sport when my last measurable run lead to my early running retirement? I befriended one of these mythical ultra runner creatures in late 2012. I had never actually known anyone who was dumb brave enough run an ultra, and was simply in awe of them. How was it possible to run that far and survive? I remember asking, "how does it feel to run an ultra?" The reply was "death, it feels like death!" So, the only logical thought I had was "I MUST TRY THIS thing called ultraaaa marathoning!!!!" Of course, it felt ridiculous to even utter those words aloud, so I kept the dream of one day running an ultra to myself for a few more months.

January and February were touch and go months. Three road miles was a death march. I felt like a turtle running through peanut butter. My first trail run back was torture, I barely made it a mile! How would I ever complete an ultra? I shelved the idea for a while, filed it back into my subconscious and just concentrated on building up a "solid" base....which, at the time, a solid base was just 15 miles per week, and a long run was 5 miles. I had a lot of work to do!

Slowly but surely, my mileage improved. I was running 20 miles a week. My long runs were hovering around 8 miles. And I was getting close to breaking the elusive 100 mile/month barrier that I was never able to reach.....even in the height of triathlon training! Then SNAP! I made a tragic misstep just one mile into a run at Poston. Of course, I never went to the doctor (nurse + runner = bad patient!) but I self diagnosed the injury as a high grade two/low grade three, inversion ankle sprain.

Side note (and shameless plug)....I think Poston secretly hates me for allowing 100 runners to trample her trails last year. I host a 5k/10 mile trail race called Race for RARE. She has punished me, with bumps, scrapes, bruises, near misses, a nasty sprain, and one chipped tooth. I'm sorry Poston, but can we play nice now? The race is on again for March 22nd this year.....so deal with it Poston!
I digress.....

True to my stubborn nature, I got back out on the trails way too soon.  I've probably done some minor, although long term/permanent damage. Seven months later, and I still have pain (although I dare not admit it....shit, I just did!). But somehow, despite the injury and pain, just one month after the incident, I hit my first ever 100 mile month. Dumb!

For those who don't know my background, my longest race (or run for that matter) was a half marathon....which actually wasn't quite a half marathon...but that's another story (I'm still slightly bitter about that.) I also dabbled in sprint distance triathlons. So my path to ultra marathoning was not exactly conventional....skip over marathon, directly to ultra marathon, completely logical! But apparently this is common in the ultra world....weridos!

I'll spare you the (even more) boring details of my training that lead up to my first ever ultra distance race.....One Epic Run. Instead, I will dazzle you with a pictorial cliff notes version of June thru November 2013:

Trail friend at Poston, or Bunkacabra spawn?

Dammit! Left ankle assessment after sprain. Not so bad?

15 minutes later. Uhhhh, maybe it's kinda bad?
One hour later. Alright, it is bad!

Post sprain treatment. Although I did not adhere to the "rest" portion of the rehab process, I did ice and compress the hell out of it for many weeks to follow!

Just a few weeks post ankle sprain, I decided it was a good idea to run climb up and down every single f*@%ing step at Bank of America Stadium. Go Panthers!

See, I really did do that nonsense!!!!
Muddy legs, courtesy of Poston

More muddy legs at Poston

Forehead....meet fallen tree. Fallen tree.....meet forehead. Yet another Poston attack, resulting in a chipped tooth. I decided to take a hiatus from Poston after that incident.

Crawling over logs on the (pretty primitive) 16 mile loop at KM Battleground

Creek crossing on that same primitive loop
First ever 20 miler at USNWC

Trail friend at USNWC

My sentiments exactly regarding this run at Boulders

Swamp ass at Boulders

Crappy 6 miler at USNWC

I swore this was a (small) bear print at Kings Mtn. You see it, don't you? Ok, whatever, I'm an idiot!

Second ever 20 miler. Thought for sure I was dying

Another crappy 6 miles...in the cold, cold rain. Trying to earn some street cred.

One of my favorite spots...at Boulders

Last long run before Epic at USNWC. Felt great, finally feeling confident.
Getting cold....time for tights.

Last trail run before Epic. Fitting that this was at Lake James, the site where I lost my mojo over two years ago! Note the orange flower, I have deemed it my lucky charm and trademark.

So there ya have it folks....like it or not, I am (still reluctantly) re-entering the blog world. I am super self conscious about my writing abilities. Forgive the choppiness....I had to switch gears from creative/journalistic/bullshit writing to "scholarly" writing for grad school. I still have mental whiplash and writing for "fun" feels a little forced.

Next episode: How I survived One Epic Run. What I (vaguely) remember, what I might have hallucinated, and how pickles saved my life!