Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Lesson in Suffering: 50K Race Report!

The good news is I have a new distance PR--31.86 miles, a bit over 50K.   The bad news is the price I paid to get there!

I'll just start at the beginning.   We got to the race site around 5:30 p.m. and picked up our race packets.  Run Under the Stars has great race swag:  tech shirt, hat, aqua pod, and bag.   There were seven in our little group and we set up a little camp site area together. 

One of my biggest concerns all week was my stiff neck.  As it turned out, it wasn't a problem at all.  The other big concern was the blisters I have been suffering with since I bought my new 2nd pair of size 10 Brooks Ravenna 3's EXACTLY like my old ones down to the color.    My old ones have a couple of hundred miles on them, so I figured I'd better buy a new, fresher pair for this ultra.   In the old ones, blisters were not an issue. In all of my longer training runs in these, I'd get blisters.  For some reason, it didn't dawn on me that they could be different.  I thought maybe it was a summer thing with humidity or a sock problem.  I brought the old Ravennas, the new ones, and a pair of Saucony Kinvaras.  I also brought 6 different pairs of "good socks" :  2 pairs of Wright Socks (double layer), some Swiftwick compression socks, some medium Smartwool (that I wore for my marathon and all marathon long runs), thinner Smartwool, and Ininji toe socks.

The half-mile horse track wasn't exactly what I expected.  Crushed limestone is a lot like running down a dirt/small gravel/sandy road.    It had been graded earlier in the week when it was wet, leaving deep grooves that were not supposed to be there.  

We had a funny start.  They said, "Go!" and we all said, "Which way??"   They said, "That way!" and pointed behind us.  So we went.   I had on my new Ravennas.  It was about 80 with a high humidity.

Marlene and I started at a really comfortable 10:45 pace.  We had agreed to run two laps (1 mile), then take a one minute walk break.   I just hoped to finish in 7 hours, averaging a 13:30 pace with eating/drinking, bathroom breaks, etc.   The rough track took some getting used to.  The grooves threatened to turn an ankle.  Traction was difficult on the sandy surface.   You know how running on the beach, you have to work a little bit harder to get anywhere?  It was like that.  There was not the energy return of asphalt or even a hard-packed trail.  I think I used muscles I wasn't used to using!

Our tent was about 200 yards off the track.  It's a good thing!  I stopped there a lot. 

By mile three, I had hot spots on my right foot on the 2nd toe and pinky toe both top and bottom that were hurting.   I headed to the tent and re-Body Glided my feet and changed socks.   I lost 4 or 5 minutes walking to the tent, digging out the body glide, and deciding on socks.    I headed out for 4 more miles.  By mile seven, there were blisters on that foot.  I stopped again at the tent and this time, tried to use the tape I had brought on the two problem toes.  It took quite a while to tape them smoothly and comfortably.  I tried the Ininji toe socks.  Stuffing my feet into my shoes, I knew immediately the socks wouldn't work.  Then I untaped my toes and tried to use moleskin on the areas, but I didn't have scissors.  My friend Lyndi found me some, and I tried to use moleskin on the blisters, but it wouldn't stick well.  I wrestled with it and put it on the toe socks again.   This time, I lost about 13 minutes frantically working on my feet!   (The smart thing would have been to use the old shoes from the start..... hindsight....)   I was still in the new Ravennas.  I was getting really stressed about my feet because I knew I had a LONG way to go. 

I ran with pain in every step from the blisters.  I made it to mile ten and was about to just give up hope of 50K.  Every step hurt so much.  By now, the toenails on my left foot were hurting, too, which means either a blister under the nail or bruising.  I think my feet swelled or something and the shoes put pressure on them.   They just felt too tight.  I stopped AGAIN and this time, the moleskin came off with the toe sock and I used just plain old Band Aid blister bandages.  I had only brought 4 for the trip, unfortunately.   I found the thinner Smartwool socks and switched shoes to my Kinvaras.  I also started listening to music to take my mind off.    The band aids did pretty well, but the one on my pinky toe kept rubbing the toe next to it, causing a new hot spot.  I stopped at the tent again at mile 11.5 and put the toe socks back on so that the toes were at least separated.   I was bored with going around and around and in pain and just over it all. 

Then I walked for three miles.  I called my husband.  I was almost in tears. I whined.   Every step even walking was painful.  I had both feet just completely trashed with painful toenails and multiple blisters.  I posted on Facebook that I had monster blisters and that today probably wasn't my day to complete an ultramarathon.  My friends on the course kept passing me and asking, "Are you ok?"  "How are you doing?"   Not well, not well.  I could see the sympathy on their faces.   I finally passed the 13.1 mile mark in the slowest 13.1 time I had ever had including training runs, etc.  It was close to midnight.  I SERIOUSLY considered stopping at 13.1.   But, throughout the night, my WONDERFUL friends back home kept sending me text messages saying, "You can do it!"  "Don't give up!"  and Bible verses about God giving me strength to do this. 

At mile 14, many in our little group gathered at our camp site.  I took a second to check my Facebook page, and the encouraging words just came pouring in.  I took 2 extra strength Tylenol.   I hoped to get to at least 20 miles, and was prepared to do it in my flip flops if necessary.  Everyone was changing into their extra pair of shoes as we all sat in a little circle.  Then it suddenly dawned on me that if none of MY SHOES worked, I should see if anyone had some extra shoes I could try.   I knew my friend Marlene wore the same size as me.   I asked if anyone else in our group was roughly a women's size 10?   My friend James was just taking off his shoes that he'd already run 20 or so miles in for some fresh shoes.  He offered them to me.  I put them on.  They were some kind of Asics---I usually wear stability, but these neutral, sweaty, borrowed shoes that were about 2 or 3 sizes too big felt so good on my feet!   My toes touched nothing inside there, which was exactly what I needed!   Dude shoes are so nice and wide.  I might start buying them for myself.  Seriously. 

I wasn't sure if I could run in too-big shoes. My friend Dorothy said they looked like clown shoes on my feet. I didn't care. I took off and and never looked back.  The miles clicked by wonderfully.   I smiled for the first time ALL NIGHT.  I was making jokes about my "magic shoes."  It was after midnight at this time, and I knew I was in it for the long haul--at least 26.2.  The pain was still there, but it was managable.  Somewhere around mile 20, they turned off some of the lights and our path was lit by luminaries---a true "run under the stars."    At this point, I'd think something slightly funny and just die laughing.   This was while running alone.  I think I was delirious.   I was just making lemonade.....   I'd see my friends often on the course and we'd say hi or run a bit together.   There were four other runners there that I knew.   I was trying to remember my mantra "Relentless forward progress," but my brain was tired.  "Relentless forward determination?"  Nope, that's not it.   "Relentless forward movement?"  Noooo.   It took me a few times.  

By mile 26, I was fairly sure I could complete 50K.   This 26.2 was literally more than two hours slower than mine only 6 weeks ago from all that shoe/sock drama.    I was happy I felt ok endurance-wise and in my knees, ankles, and neck.  My feet were bothering me again and I broke my cardinal rule---I took ibuprofen during a race!    In miles 26-31.5, I ran some, I walked some.  I had been going around and around for SEVEN hours.  Both feet and ALL my toenails were hurting again.  My troublesome left knee didn't hurt all night until mile 30.  Can't beat that.  At the end, I was happy to still be able to run what I thought was the last mile and a half.  I finished my 31st mile strong.   I let out a whoo-hoo at the finish and told the guy at the timing table I was done so I could get my medal.  He told me to keep going.  I didn't know that a 50K is slightly over 31 miles, so I had to do another whole half-mile lap for the chip reader to give me credit for 50K!    So off I went.   31.86 miles Garmin distance with all the trips to the tent.   Just a little over 8 hours.   I ran 26.58 six weeks ago in 4:36, but this hurt much worse, took 8 hours,  tore my feet up completely and it was only five more miles.   Funny how that happens.  

My husband said my feet look much worse than he's ever seen them.   I will probably lose the big toenail since there is a blister under it.  Three others are just covered with blisters on top and the bottom and all around the nail.   Pretty.  

I don't think ultramarathoning is for me.    It is too punishing on the body.   I ran/walked almost 32 miles, but got nowhere.   What is the point of that?   What did it prove?   I suffered.  I wrecked my feet.  I am sore and I will have to take time off for recovery.  I can't say I had a lot of fun, just a little fun after I got my magic shoes and when I was slightly delirious. 

There is a running quote I was reminded of as I watched people limping and hurting toward the end:  Running Never Takes More than It Gives Back.   Believe in the Run.  I'm honestly not so sure about this one.   Senseless suffering.  Did it make me somehow "more" of a runner?  I don't think so.   Of course, I've only had 1.5 hours of sleep in the last 36 hours, so maybe it will look different tomorrow?   Hubby thinks so.  (He may change his tune when 3 of my toenails fall off just in time for our couple trip to Fort Lauderdale!)

**Note: I know my experience is my own and my head wasn't in the best place for a lot of the race. I don't want to detract from the wonderful accomplishments of my 11 buddies from the course. They really did an amazing job! Just being honest about MY experience as a reminder to FUTURE ME.

I have an ultramarathoner sticker for my car, but I don't think I'm going to put it on.  "Ultramarathoner" implies that it is who you are, and it isn't me.    I might look into a 50K sticker though.... Just sayin.' 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Relentless Forward Progress

Tomorrow I will attempt to run my first (and last??) ultramarathon.   A 50K is only a few more miles than a marathon--about 4.8 more miles.   I'm not at 100%. body wise.  I woke up with a stiff neck six days ago, and it got progressively worse.  It's like a really, really bad crick in my neck along with some radiating shoulder pain.   Today, my neck and shoulder are still bothering me, but they are improved.  The pain is manageable.  I actually ran 2 miles yesterday with minimal pain, I'd say maybe a 2.5 on the pain scale of 1-10.  

Run Under the Stars begins at 8 in the evening.  About 100 of us will circle a half-mile horse track between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.    Some people will run 50, even 60 miles.   I'll be content with 31.  And fairly content with 26.2 if the body is just not up for cooperating.   I plan to STOP at 31, which hopefully will be around 3:00 a.m. or earlier.  I might be able to squeak out 35 or even 40, but at what cost??   50K is plenty. 

To say I am well-rested is an understatement.  I've run a total of 2.5 miles since last Saturday.  I did walk a mile and cycled 2, but I don't know when my legs have felt this rested.  I have to remember to hold back because fresh legs that go even a little too fast in miles 1-4 are going to suffer in the next 27!

I came across the coolest quote about running ultras today on  It simply stated how to run an ultramarathon:

Maintain relentless forward progress until you finish.  

I'm going to Sharpie-tattoo that on my forearm to read over and over. 

Other quotes I found on were these: 

One thing you can count on in an ultra is some sort of nagging pain--a sour stomach, an irritable tendon, a recalcitrant knee. Pain's a given. It's all about how you handle it.

I am mentally preparing myself to suffer.  In a marathon or really in any RACE where you give it your all, you have to accept a certain amount of suffering.  If you aren't suffering, you aren't racing!   That is what racing feels like.  In a a marathon or ultra marathon, suffering is a given, even if you run it "easy."  Crossfit is like that, too.  If you aren't suffering to some degree in a WOD, you probably aren't doing it right! 

And this one answering the question of WHY run an ultra?

At the finish, I vowed I'd never run that far again; a promise that even now, a few years later, I've had little desire to break. But I was suffused with this warm sense of overwhelming fulfillment. In one day, I'd totally rejiggered how I calculated my abilities and weaknesses. What I'm trying to say, maudlin or not, is that I was deeply happy.

The by-products of my run--dogged patience, redrawn boundaries of endurance, deep energy reserves--improved my life running-wise and everything-else-wise. It aided my concentration skills at work. It helped me cope with the all-night stresses of a newborn. In a small but essential way, I felt transformed.

So I suppose that's my answer. Why run an ultra? Because it feels so damn good when you finish.

I hope I have some measure of happiness at the end.  :-)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Tapering Down to Nothing

This is the official taper week of rest before the my attempt at an ultramarathon on Saturday.  Tapering this week?  NOT a problem. 

I haven't run since Saturday.  Because I can't.  

I suppose I did something slightly dumb.  On Friday, I started a push up challenge.  1500 push ups by June 30.  I did 75 on Friday and 50 on Saturday.  I do pushups on a regular basis-- 50 or more a couple of times a week, so it wasn't totally crazy.  I was sore on Saturday from the Friday push ups, but did my 50.  I ran 8 miles on Saturday at a 10:13 pace as well, a little speedier than my easy pace should be.   

I woke up on Sunday with a very stiff neck.  Throughout the day, it got progressively worse, including spasms during church from neck to right shoulder blade.   I have been taking anti-inflammatories since Sunday.  I fired up the heating pad that night before bed, but hardly slept a wink.  I just couldn't get comfortable in any position.   It was a little better on Monday, so I didn't panic.  Still didn't sleep much on Monday night.   I'd be asleep then move wrong and wake myself up.  Strangely, it was worse on Tuesday.   I didn't try to run until Tuesday afternoon.   I ran all of five minutes.  The jarring hurt my neck and then a pain and tightness moved to my lower right back.  That was when I started freaking out a bit.   A stiff neck is one thing, but an impinged nerve or something is different.  Again, anti-inflammatories and heating pad.  It was a bit better on Wednesday morning.  I tried to jog a mile.  Nope.   The jarring again bothered my neck and the pain radiated into my lower back.  

I called a local sports massage place to get an appointment ASAP.   My sports massage was at 11:30---30 minutes of pain, but hopefully it will put my body on the path to healing.   The masseuse (sp?)  hit some trigger points that were very, very sore.  He applied pressure until the pain subsided.   He diagnosed torticollis, aka stiff neck.  He gave me some exercises to do at home and wants to see me again on Friday.

Now, I sit here five hours post-massage, it still hurts.  The massage wasn't a magic "cure all" as I had hoped, but I'm assuming a good night's rest will help.  I keep reminding myself it's only Wednesday.  The race isn't until Saturday night.

I've talked to a few friends about this injury/condition/whatever-it-is and gotten several theories. 
  • The Crossfit friends tend to lean toward running marathons being pretty terrible for the body and this is my body's way of communicating with me and I should listen.   They are sort of anti-long distance running.  I get that.  It IS hard on the body, except I haven't been doing much in the way of long distances the last few weeks.   Well, OK, that 16 miler 3 weeks ago....
  • The running friends tend to think it is stress-related and that I've been really worried/anxious/stressed-out about this race.  That's not really true.  I planned to take it SO EASY in this run.   I am a little worried about blisters and being up half the night (8:00 pm start) and trying to sleep in a tent when it's hot and I'm tired and sore instead of a real bed.   But I have no delusions of running this thing remotely fast.  I was actually thinking of a 4:1 run/walk from the very beginning.  However, I have had some personal stress over the last month that wasn't about this race. 
  • My physical therapist friend said it is likely a facet impingement in the neck.  I've got to google that.  She advised me NOT to run in the ultra.
  • My massage therapist thought it was a combination of running, push ups, and stress all rolled into one.  He said to wait and decide on Friday but he thinks it is still a possibility. 
Though I didn't have a lot of anxiety regarding this race when this all started on Sunday, I'm GETTING STRESSED every day it doesn't get better.   Now, I've got some serious anxiety about the race!  I can't start a 31-miler with pain in my neck every single step.   I won't do it.   That would be ridiculous.  In a marathon or ultra, you certainly expect to suffer at some point, but not in the first mile.   

So, my dream of doing an ultra may have to be......deferred.    We'll see.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Life After Marathon.....

Well, it only took me a month to blog again after the marathon.  Burnout hit pretty hard post-marathon.  I didn't run for 5 days, then I only ran because I had to teach my running class at the YMCA.   I took a couple of weeks with very, very little running.   In the back of my mind, however, was the upcoming ULTRAMARATHON on my plate.  I was scared to take TOO much time off, but knew my body needed to recover.   So, other than a few 3 and 4 milers during the week, in the past month I've run/walked a 9.5 miler (4:1 ratio--two weeks after the marathon), struggled through a 16 miler (which was ok up until 10, tough up to 13 and brutal in the last 3), and run a 7-miler as my long runs.    Add all that TOGETHER, and you get just over 50K.   Hmmmm...   I figure that plus my marathon training will get me through (I hope).   It's next weekend, at any rate, so (to quote a phrase I actually hate) "it is what it is." 

That last longish run--the whopping 7 miler-- included a 5K race.  It was super hot and humid and my race plan went out the window.   I finished in 27:53 and got 1st in my age group (41-50) out of 28 women.  It was a pretty good day, but I HATE 5K's.  They are short but painful.

I feel slightly less burned out at any rate, and I feel mostly recovered, so it's all good.   I just plan to run/walk that 31 miles next weekend---- just going slow and easy and finishing.   Apparently in ultrarunning circles, that is acceptable, if not expected.   Yay!   If I can average around 13-minute miles, I'll be happy.   My slowest marathon average (1st one) was a 12:15 pace and I walked a TON.   I'd like to finish in 7 hours, there I said it.    (That is a 13:31 pace.)   The thing with 7 hour races though, is you have a LOT of aid stops and restroom breaks.   I have to remember to figure in those with my time.

My nutrition/hydration plan is the following:
Lots of water
Some Cytomax until I get sick of it
Heed (offered on the course) and maybe some Powerade.  I like that lemon Powerade isn't too sweet.
6 or so gels  (GU peanut butter, vanilla, chocolate, just plain, and lemon sublime)
1 or 2 bottles of Ensure
Salt caps
For real food---I'm taking Garden of Eatin' Organic Blue Corn Tortilla chips (I will be sick of sweet), a baked white potato, and two baked sweet potatoes.   If I'm to stay GLUTEN-FREE, I won't be able to partake of the pizza and bagels and other offerings on the course.    I guess I will take a protein shake and figure out something to eat AFTER the race, which runs from 8:00 p.m. to around 3:00 a.m. or whenever I finish.  

Wish me luck.  I'm honestly a bit nervous.