Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Backass Jackal Trail Marathon Race Report-- Marathon #7 and Maniac Status

Sunday, June 23 dawned hot and humid in Jackson, Tennessee.  The day started warm in the 70's and rose to around 90, with humidity at the 80%+ mark for parts of the race---very difficult conditions. 

Arriving at the race site at about 6:15 a.m., I had to drag my chair, cooler, and drop bag about 1/6 of a mile to the trail head-- through a parking lot, across a four-lane highway, up a steep grassy knoll, then down the trail a few yards.  That was a workout in itself!  (Luckily, nice fellow runners helped me with some of my junk.)

This was a very low-key Run It Fast Club event (also open to the public) with only 19 runners, no port-o-johns, no chip timing,and no finish line pizza and music---just people who love running and love the outdoors.  It was day 2 of a four-day series called the Jackal Marathons.  Day 1 was seven loops in one direction on a 3.75 mile trail, day 2 was seven loops backwards (or "backassed" as the race director would say), day 3 was in a nearby Pinson Mounds State Park on pavement, and day 4 was also paved in that park.  Some extreme runners did all four days--the "quadzilla."  I have the utmost respect for them, but I don't envy them one bit!  That's the thing about the Run It Fast Club--so many of them do these AMAZING things-- running a marathon every weekend (or two), running a marathon and an ultra in the same weekend, running four marathons in four days, finishing three or four 100 milers a year, running the Vol State 500K (yes 500K--300 miles!) in the South in July.  This group makes me feel like I can accomplish MORE, like I want to see just how far I can go and push my limits.   They are endorphin junkies, endurance addicts, and the most inspiring, encouraging, and passionate group of runners I have ever met.  (Anyone can join!  Go to  It's an international running club--no qualifications to meet, just be prepared to be motivated to accomplish GREAT things.)  I'm in the pink calf sleeves in a sassy pose.  (I have no idea why.)

The RD gave us some instructions (don't cross the flour on the ground--that's the wrong way!), we had a pre-race prayer (nice touch), and the 13 men and 6 women began the race.   I started out on the first loop kind of in the middle of the pack (where I did not belong).  A runner named Anthony and I ran that 3.75 mile loop together.  He had run the day before and knew the trail well.   I was running fairly easy and was able to hold a conversation, but even so, my heart rate quickly climbed high.  Soon, the hills and heat and what I thought was a gentle pace had me breathing harder than I should have been in the first four miles of a marathon.  Now I realize the pace was just a bit too fast for me.   But I was glad to have a buddy with me on the first loop nevertheless! 

In the second loop, Anthony went ahead and I began a VERY long journey alone.  For the remainder of the 26.2, I ran solo, except for a few seconds here or there with someone passing me (lapping me!) or coming toward me on an out-and-back pond loop.  There were times I could have tried to stick with someone and chat for a while, but I knew I needed to run MY pace, walk when I wanted/needed to walk, and enjoy the woods by myself.  Just like in the last trail marathon, I spent a ton of time alone in my thoughts, experiencing the journey on my terms.   I like that.   My heart rate and breathing finally calmed down in lap 3.  I guess my body was slow to adapt.

There was a certain paranoia that I would miss a turn or step on a snake or break a leg, and I didn't have my cell phone, but with a 3.75 mile loop, no one is ever all that far away.   There were some short, extremely steep uphills (like climbing a step ladder) and a couple of long inclines, but also some nice flat portions.  There was at least one downhill that was so steep, it was not runnable.  I carefully stepped my way down it all seven times. 

My laps alternated being good and bad.  Lap 1 was good, but in lap 2, I didn't feel well at all.  I had nausea and my heart rate was soaring.  I was concerned that I'd be a DNF.  There had been 3 DNF's the day before, out of 25 runners, due to the heat.  In lap 3, I rallied and felt better.  The nausea subsided.  In lap 4, I was just tired.  I think lap 5 was a good one, but lap 6 wasn't.  (It's kind of a blur.)  I had listened to music in laps 3, 4, and 5, but then my MP3 died.   Finishing lap 4 or 5 here:  (enhanced)   Yes, I ran in my sports bra part of the time.  Not to be a hussy, but good grief, it was HOT.

Finally, I started on lap 7.  Many in the race had already finished by the time I was starting my final lap.  I had a huge adrenaline surge knowing that I was on my last loop.  As I ran, I played silly games.  I said goodbye to all the things I had passed over and over.   "Goodbye, tall grass."   "Goodbye, red door randomly laying in the woods."  "Goodbye pond loop, my least favorite part of the race."   I felt a sort of nostalgia on that last loop because I may never run this trail again, and I had spent the better part of the day making friends with it.  It sounds weird, but you become one with the trail in races like this.  It because almost like a living, breathing creature.  Speaking of living, breathing creatures, I had a too-close encounter with a huge deer in lap 6.   He was as tall as my shoulder.  I came around a corner and startled him.  He saw me, snorted loudly, and bounded a few steps away.  Then he stopped, and turned and looked at me defiantly.   I know it scared us BOTH!   I was thinking, "Do deer attack??"   Other than that, I saw a tiny tarantula-looking spider, but no snakes.  Another runner reported that he saw a huge one on the trail (not really helpful to know that...).   Several times, I heard something rustling in the leaves just off the trail, but I never stuck around to investigate!

I started my last loop with 5:36 on the clock.  I was sure I could come in by 6:36.  All my loops had been between 45 minutes (first one) and 59 minutes.   I know that sounds painfully slow, but the conditions were TOUGH, and I'm just not a strong trail runner or hiker.  My trail pace is 12:30 on a good day, and my hiking pace is more like 16-18 minute mile.   However, I was feeling surprisingly good starting that loop.  I started playing the STEP-COUNTING game.     I could walk the worst parts of the trail, but if there was a runnable portion, I had to run, and run at least 70 steps.  Why 70?  I have no idea.  I had to run between 70 and 200 steps nonstop each time I ran.   I zipped fairly quickly through the first 1.5 miles of the last loop that way.  I was actually having fun.   The first loop and the first part of the last loop turned out to be my favorite parts of the day!  Selfie at start of loop 7.  I had grabbed my phone since there were only 4 or 5 of us left on the trail: 

Then some things went wrong, and I stopped enjoying the race quite so much.  I wound up walking the last two miles.  The blisters on the bottoms of my feet hurt, both knees were hurting, and I was emotionally done.  I was feeling a little nauseous again, and I was ready to be finished.  I HATE that the race ended on a bad note.   I crossed the finish line at 6:43, but there was no joy on my face.  (Walking less, I have no doubt I would have made my 6:36 goal, but my B. Goal was 6:48, so at least I beat that.)   Not a happy face:

Trail marathons are hard.  However, a day in the woods is still a blessing. 

I realized the night before the race that I would qualify for Marathon Maniacs if I completed the marathon-  two trail marathons and an ultra in 90 days.   None on pavement.   I'm not sure if I'll join.

Recovery is going great except for my right ankle.  I tripped a total of 9 times and lightly rolled my right ankle inward somewhere in middle of the race.   The tendon on the top of my foot feels a bit strained and that ankle is stills sore.  Quads, calves, hamstrings, knees---everything else is fine.  Thank goodness! 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Bad Decisions Make the Best Stories

I read a quote recently, "Bad decisions make the best stories."   I've got some pretty good stories!  I hope this weekend isn't one of them.   I recently signed up for a trail marathon on a whim.  It is a Run It Fast Club event.  It is cheap, relatively close by, and involved cool people.  How could I not?

The Backass Jackal Trail Marathon in Jackson, TN only has 25 participants-- and only 3 or 4 of them are women!   It is basically self-supported, no port-o-John, and a relatively easy trail, technically speaking.   We will repeat a 3.75 mile loop until we hit 26.2.

I hope to do a little better than the last mudfest of a marathon.  7:08 or some ridiculous time.  Pouring rain.  Standing water.  Mud, mud, and then more mud! Resorting to crawling up a slippery incline.  Woefully undertrained.  This time, I've got a 27-mile trail run (the aforementioned marathon where I got slightly lost), a bunch of trail four milers, and an, ahem, ultra marathon of 38.5 miles under my belt.  Oh, and comfortable trail shoes, finally!

So what am I worried about???  Oh, a little thing called the heat index of 100 at noon (the 5 hour mark) and 103 at 1:00 pm, when I will likely (hopefully?)  finish.

The key is to run smart (I'm not known for that), hydrate, fuel, and not push too hard.  Maybe someday, I will see what I can  really do on a trail.

After Backass, I get to start training with elite marathoner Justin Gillette.  That is scary and exciting at the same time!  Coach Justin has me running six days a week.  That will be a new experience.  Then, in July I will run the Loonies Midnight Marathon for fun (and because I'm a little loony).  I kind of dig these night runs!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Run Under the Stars 2013: An Amazing Night

I finally feel like an ultramarathoner!  I completed 38.5 miles in 9 hours, 21 minutes at Run Under the Stars on Saturday night/Sunday morning.  That's 67 laps around a 1/2 mile horse track! 

There is a CONDENSED VERSION at the bottom if you want to skip to that!

I got up early on Saturday and planned to drive to Paducah, KY, check into the hotel, take a two-hour nap, and then meet some people for a pre-race dinner.  I arrived in Paducah around 2:00 p.m.  I took my drop bag and cooler to the track then drove to the hotel.  When I got there, I discovered a big hotel snafu (totally my fault), and had to find another hotel.  It took almost an hour and a half to get that sorted out, so rather than a nap, I got lots of stress.  I tried to put it behind me and move forward with the race.  I missed dinner and headed to the track about 6:15 p.m.  Here's a pre-race pic  (when you stay alone, a mirror pic will have to do): 

I was really excited about the race.  I so hoped it would go better than last year.  Turns out, it was amazing from start to finish.

When I first arrived, I started introducing myself to people from my running club Run It Fast.  It's a group I joined from the website, and I'd met 10 or so runners from the club.  I've talked regularly to 20 or 30 on Facebook, and it was nice to finally meet in person.  This is how many club members showed up to the race: 
Having this many people there to be friendly with made a huge difference! 
There were also about 10  runners from my hometown, many of whom ran it with me last year, plus a few new recruits.
The start was a bit unusual.  We started, and at the end of my first loop, the race staff ran out right as I was crossing the timing area and yelled, "Stop!"   The people who were ahead of me kept rounding the track, but I stopped, as did those behind me.  Apparently, the timing system wasn't picking up our chips.   A couple of minutes later, we had a 2nd start.  This time, I ran 4 laps (2 miles) before the race director stopped us again.   The system just wasn't working.  It was around 8:40 p.m., and they told us they were setting up a different timing system and that we would resume at 9:00.  Well, it was about 9:18 p.m. before the 3rd (and final!) start.   The timer was only set for 9 hours, so RUTS was only about 9 hours, 26 minutes this year.   My running time was 9 hours and 21 minutes.
I started running at a conservative pace, taking walk breaks occasionally, and having great chats with new friends and total strangers.   Everyone was so encouraging and friendly.   I was determined to stay on the track the entire time, no rest breaks, and that's what I did.  I only sat down to change socks and shoes 3 times and to empty rocks out of my shoes twice.  I ate and drank on the move.   I occasionally grabbed my mp3 player and listened to music for an hour at a time (just one ear bud), then I'd put it back down.  I didn't want to miss the opportunity to talk to people! 
Throughout the night, I just ran slow and steady and determined.  We were all in this together and the running community was constantly encouraging one another.  "How are you feeling?"  "You look strong."  "You are doing great!"  One older gentleman, in his 70's or older, said to me, "It's just so nice to see you young women out here."  I said, "Not that young."  He said, "Wait until you're my age!"  Then he sped off.   The whole night was a testament to the spirit of the running community.  We are a family.   I felt very grateful to be a part of that.
One funny thing happened.  I was running along kind of in a zone, and I hear the runners behind me yelling, "Stop!  Watch out!!"   I looked and thought, "Aw, the kitty from last year is back."  Then, "That's NOT a kitty!"  There was a skunk crossing the track right in front of me.  (I just had a similar close call  with a copperhead snake on a trail three weeks ago!)   I came to a dead stop and retreated.  I have never been that close to a skunk.   He ran into a drainage pipe in the ditch beside the track.  Throughout the night, I made sure to run on the OTHER side of the track in that area.   Occasionally, he'd poke his head out of the drain and spook us into an immediate sprint.   Apparently, he actually chased one runner about 20 yards.  I guess that's how you do speedwork in an ultra. 
At some point around midnight, I developed a "system" and used it until mile 38.  Around midnight, the lights on one side of the track had been turned off, and only a few tiki torches lit our way.   It was very dark, but it was also very cool.  There was a line of tents on the dark side of the track.   I called that area "tent city" (reference to my favorite play RENT) in my mind, and as soon as I got to the first tent, I'd power walk until the last one.  It was maybe .1.  Sometimes I'd walk all the way to the Santa Claus pole (that's how I thought of the red/white striped pole just a few steps past the last tent) or the restroom area.  My favorite part of the track was just beyond the restroom where we began to run in the light again.  I'd get as close to the inside as possible and run where the grass meets the gravel.  The grass helped greatly.   After I discovered running on the edge of the grass, I looked forward to that spot in every loop!  Then I'd run until I passed the timing table, walk a few seconds past my chair and drop bag to get any needed food/drink,  and run again until tent city.  Over and over.  It worked for me.   38.5 miles.   In those last few miles at dawn, it seemed like there were only 25 or so people left on the track.  I was happy to be one of them. 
I had a secret goal I had only shared with one person.  I set a high goal of placing in the top 10 women.  Turned out, I was 8th woman overall.   If I'd had the missing 30 minutes, I think I would have completed 40 miles.   (At the end, I was thinking, "Thank God, it was short!")
Relentless forward progress.  Determination.  Ignoring the blister I had by mile 3.  Trying to ignore the half-dollar sized one on the bottom of my left foot by mile 13 that made every step painful.  Changing shoes, changing socks.  Grateful for all the encouragement from other runners.   26.2 in 6 hours. 30 miles by 4:00 a.m.  Fueling with Mountain Dew and Extra-Strength Tylenol.   Still running.  Making my goal of more than 31.5.  New mileage territory.  Going through some low periods of time where I was sure I could not run anymore, but running anyway.  Birds started singing by 4:45 a.m., a new day.  Daylight started coming around 5:00.   Realizing that I could probably get in four more miles.  Renewed determination and energy.  Running at a 12-13 minute mile pace because that was all I could do.  Watching the sun rise.  Beating my goal of 37.5 miles (60K).  Hitting 38 miles.  There's still time on the clock.  Walking one last lap to stretch out my legs.  38.5 miles.   Relieved to see only 5 minutes on the clock left and knowing I didn't have a 10-minute pace in me for one more lap.  Permission to stop.   8th woman overall.  Joy. 
This was taken in mile 37 or 38.  My joy is evident. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

I Believe I Said, "Never Again," But Here I Go......

A year ago, I ran 31.86 miles (just over 50K) at the Run Under the Stars 10-hour endurance event as my first and only ultramarathon.   It did not go well, as documented in my blog post written after I got home.  Here is an excerpt written as "a reminder to FUTURE ME": 

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.

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?  

 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.   

"Future Me" is apparently hard-headed or a masochist, because in about 58 hours, I'm running the same race again.   Practically the day registration opened, I whipped out my credit card and paid money.... to suffer.... once again.   Redemption = money well spent.

Maybe I'm broken somehow to even want to do this again, I don't know.  I'm not any better trained than last year, but I do know more than I did then.  I have bigger shoes to allow for my feet swelling.  I have a better plan for locating my stuff closer to the track (instead of having to walk 25-30 extra steps into the infield).  I plan to walk more often in the early miles.   Last year, it wasn't that my fitness or my endurance or even my legs betrayed me--- it was my feet and my spirit!   Covered in blisters and rubbed raw by 10 miles in from too-tight shoes and swollen feet, every step was painful.   Bored after six laps and not really talking to anyone, I just circled and circled alone and wondered when it would start being fun (as promised).   This time, I know about 35 or 40 people (a few for real, many just from FB conversations), so finding someone to pass the miles with should not be a problem.

The goal is to just come out of this better in three ways:

1.  Go further than 31.86 miles, achieving a new PL (personal long).  60K might be nice.
2.  Have a positive attitude the majority of the race---just a spirit of thankfulness for being able to run and spend time with new (and old) friends, determination to meet my goal of improving over last year, and to simply EMBRACE the inevitable suffering that comes with an ultramarathon.

3.  To take care of my body throughout--my feet, hydration, nutrition.  If something feels injured, I hope I will have the courage to STOP and not make it any worse. 

I don't want this race to take more than it gives back this year

We'll see......

Monday, June 3, 2013

Happy Six-Year Anniversary, Running!

This month, I am celebrating six years as a runner.   I can't believe it has been six years since I took those first steps on the treadmill at the YMCA.  I was 36 years old and had never been any sort of athlete.  At the time, I had a one-year old, a three-year- old, and a five-year-old.  I was a stay-at-home mom and my life completely revolved about being Nate, Annabeth, and Julia's mom and Chris's wife.  I loved my family, but I felt like I was losing myself.  Maybe it was a bit of post-partum depression, or maybe I was just looking for something for ME, to have some significance outside these four walls. 

I had actually been a regular exerciser for about three years, but I didn't actually sweat.  I thought I was one of those women who didn't perspire!  In fact, I was one of those women who "played" on the elliptical with resistance 0 for 45 minutes while mainly exercising my mouth to other moms beside me.   But one day, all of that changed. 

Walking through the back corridor at the YMCA one day in early June, I noticed a bulletin board advertising the upcoming Valerie Hunter Kelly Clarksville Half Marathon and 5K in October.  I thought, "I have no idea how far 5 kilometers is, but surely I can be ready for it by October."  When I got to the exercise floor, I had to ask someone how far 5K was.  :-)  

Three miles seemed fairly reasonable.  After all, my friends Tracy and Sherri had recently run a half marathon!   (Again, I wasn't sure how far that was, but I was pretty sure it was FAR!)   Encouraged, I hopped on the treadmill and cautiously adjusted it to a running pace.  It was tough.  I couldn't seem to run and breathe at the same time.  I only made it a quarter-mile before I had to stop.   But the next day, I did it again.  One day, I was so excited to run a half-mile without stopping.  I finally learned to run slowly and breathe at the same time.  Eventually, I started running a bit outside.  (June in Tennessee is a ROUGH time to start, but I didn't know any better!) 

My husband decided to start running as well, and we'd take turns running around the block where we live.  Two times around the block and running to the stop sign down the street was a mile, according to our car's odometer.  I remember the first time I ran it without stopping.   I came in red-faced and proud and announced, "I just ran the whole mile without stopping."  He was impressed.  Then he achieved that milestone a few days later.   In those early days of running, my husband struggled with shin splints.  Neither of us had real running shoes, but I somehow avoided any problems.  Then he broke a toe, and I was suddenly on my own in this journey.  

I was ready for that 5K in October.  In fact, I was ready for one in August!   The week before it, I ran three miles in my neighborhood.  My goals were to run the R3 Anniversary run without walking and under 35 minutes.  Not being last would be nice, too!    I pinned that bib to my shirt for the first time, and the rest is history.....   (I made both goals, by the way!)

I ran a 5K a month for August-December, each a little faster than the one before it.  I started reading everything I could get my hands on about running.  I started writing this running blog.  I joined a 10K training group at the R3 running store in December and was so excited to have a coach.   I remember the first time I ran 5K in under 30 minutes with my coach by my side that January.  In February, I ran my first 10K-- a tiny race on a blustery day and came in LAST.  I ran it in 1:03, which was pretty good, but it was just a small race.  Then in April, I ran the Country Music Half Marathon in 2:19:01, my first big-city race, finishing in the top half of the field.   I was definitely hooked. 

More half-marathons, a full marathon, and becoming a RRCA Certified Running Coach followed.   Two years after those first steps, I found myself coaching a half-marathon training group and a Couch to 5K group for that same October race that inspired me to start.   Just this past year, I coached Valerie Hunter Kelly to run her first half marathon and proudly ran her in to the finish.   Full circle. 

Running is about so much more than fitness.  It has given me confidence, independence, goals to strive for, and hope.  Running has profoundly changed me, or maybe it's just allowed me to realize the potential of who I was always supposed to be.   I will be forever grateful to have had this opportunity and hope to run for many, many years to come.  God knew exactly what I needed when I walked down that hallway that day.  I am so thankful for the new friends it has brought into my life, the adventures, the challenges, and most of all, the "new me." 

This was taken right before my 6th marathon this past April--my first trail marathon.  I ran it in honor of my 6th year of running.