Sunday, October 19, 2014

Run for the Hills!! Go Commando Half Marathon Race Report

Yesterday was my 4th time going commando in Clarksville, TN.  Each year, I somehow forget how hilly the course is before the next one.  It's kind of like childbirth.

The Clarksville Visitors' Bureau did a FABULOUS job with this race--from the excellent expo, smooth packet pick up, quick shuttle ride to the start, to the finish line goodies (mini Snickers bars and coffee!).  I highly recommend it.  You might want to train on some hills though.  A lot.

My day started at 4:50 a.m.  I was out the door at 5:55 and made it to the shuttle stop at 6:15.  There were two school buses pulling in at the same time to transport runners to the start.  I quickly grabbed my drop bag and water bottle and jumped in line.  Riding the bus to the start in the darkness made me feel like I was running a big city marathon.

I got to the start and used a pristine port-o-potty.  It's nice to be first.  I wandered around the expo a bit, then posed for pics with some other runners by the statue of Wilma Rudolph.  Here is a group that trained with me from the YMCA and a few of my trail running friends.

After the group pic, disaster struck!  On one last quick trip to the port o john, I dropped my ipod in there!  

Oh well.

It was time to start, and it was so nice not to have a time goal.  I figured I'd run it in 2:15 to 2:20, taking it easy.  I did set another goal, however:  don't walk any of the hills.  I told myself over and over:
And I did!

I started at a conservative pace on the flat section and stayed there.  I had three running buddies at first, but by mile four, we had all separated.  That first hill is a beast, as you can see.  It goes up and up and up.  I just told myself to dig deep and get up it.  Almost all of those around me were walking by half way.  I was 4/5s away from the top when I spotted a man having a massive nose bleed.  He was asking police officers, volunteers, and other runners for a tissue.  He was walking on the side of the course with blood dripping off his chin. Luckily, I always carry emergency TP with me, so I ran over to him. I yelled, "I have tissue! It's kind of sweaty though."  He turned around, reached a bloody hand out for it, and took it.   My son has had massive nose bleeds regularly since he was about 4 years old.  I could relate to his predicament!  So, I paused for a couple of seconds to hand a bleeding man tissue and ran every step of the rest. I think it still counts. 

The downhill side of that massive hill was fun.  I tried to open up my stride and not "put the brakes on" with every step.   

The back side of this course starting around mile 8.5 is really challenging.  It feels kind of like this:  

But it's probably more like this. 
The best part of that section, though, is that you get to see all of your friends!  It's an out-and-back, so you can see the leaders as they are finishing as well as pretty much everyone ahead of and behind you.  I tried to shout a quick "Great job" or other encouragement to as many people as I could.  I caught back up to one of my original pace buddies around mile 9 or so, and we ran together for a while.  By mile 11, my legs were getting tired, and I had to dig deep to make it up the relentless hills without walking, especially the last two big ones. I was counting steps on the last one... 20...25...30...40...just 10 more steps....  Whew!   I made it up ALL the hills! 

I jogged it in to the finish, totally spent.  My finish time was 10 minutes slower than last year on this course (when I also made it up all the hills), but it was still a victory! My goal was attained.  After that marathon fiasco of two weeks ago, I needed this.  I needed to know I could run up big hills.  I needed to know I could run 13 miles nonstop (other than walking 3 or 4 steps at two aid stations to drink).  It was a GOOD DAY.   

All of the people I trained for the race finished as well.  I was able to see each one of them and share in their victories!  This is a really tough course for your first half marathon.  Or your 25th!  But hard things are worth doing.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

"Have To's" vs. "Want To's" in a Runner's Life

Burnout seems to be inevitable for me at least once a year.  Last year, I wanted to get faster, so I followed a really challenging training plan from July-November with lots of speedwork and lots of miles. I did set a new half-marathon PR, but a marathon PR eluded me, and I was terribly burned out by mid-October.  I followed that plan religiously.  My "have to's" involved five runs per week and running when I was absolutely exhausted.  I was too scared to tell my coach at the time that I was falling apart.  He was so nice and encouraging that I didn't want to disappoint him. Major fail on my part.

This year, I decided to focus on running FAR, not fast, and really emphasized trails.  I ran a trail marathon in February, a road one in March, a road half in April, another road half in May, a 41-mile ultra in June, and a trail marathon two weeks later.  I ran two trail half marathons in July, 166 training miles in August, a trail 50K in September, and a road marathon in October.  The trail 50K was my overall goal for the year, but I somehow talked myself into signing up for a 50-miler in November. 

In August, I really began to notice I was struggling,  I did a 9-mile trail race and felt like I could barely finish.  I backed off mileage in September, and my 50K went GREAT on rested legs, but I only ran 52 miles in all that month (with 31 of them at the same time!).  My marathon three weeks later on still tired and sore legs was awful.  My hamstrings and glutes were tight and cramping. My IT band hurt.  Apparently, it takes me more than three weeks to recover from a 50K hard effort.  Lesson learned.  Since then, I have decided NOT to run the 50-miler in November.  It feels so good to just let it go.  

I could keep digging this hole.  I could keep putting in running (very slow at this point) and walking miles, so I could eke out a finish at the 50-miler in November.  But I don't WANT to.  My motivation and energy left me sometime in September---maybe at that 50K finish line.  I'm sick of the "have to's."  
  • I "have to" get in at least 40 miles this week!   
  • I "have to"  get in one more long run of 24-25 miles!
  • I "have to" get in one 40-mile weekend before this 50-miler.
  • I "have to" run at least one more back-to-back.  (Good grief, how I hate back-to-backs!)
I debated on whether to let this race go for weeks.  I knew I no longer had any desire to do it, but I didn't want to be a quitter.  I didn't want to disappoint a friend running it with me.  I didn't want to leave my roommate for the night in a tough spot.  A wise friend put all this stressing out into perspective for me though.  "It's only running," she said.  Yep.  I'd forgotten that.  Yes, it is a HUGE passion in  my life and a big part of me, but it really is "only running."

Sometimes, a DNS is the smartest thing for your body.  I'm listening to my body.  It needs a break.  It needs a period of time where the running is because I WANT TO and not because I have to.   I'm excited to allow myself some real recovery time and to do some short races in the upcoming weeks.  I want to have fun for a bit.

I have tentatively planned my spring schedule, and it's much gentler than what I did this year.  (Learn from your mistakes!)

I have an early spring road marathon planned.  I have a late spring trail marathon or ultra planned (debating which.)  Then I have time to recover and a destination race sometime in late summer or fall. I'd like to have some 5K's, 10K's, 15K's, 10-milers, or half marathons in the mix, too, without overdoing it.  I've forgotten how to run fast. 

I thought I could run a marathon or ultramarathon every month (or even two in one month), but I can't.  Right now, my body just can't handle it.  I have friends who run a marathon or ultra every weekend, but they are not ME.  All those long, slow miles have worn me out and made me slower.

I'm excited to finish out the rest of the year just doing what I want to.   Tomorrow is the Go Commando Half Marathon.  It is a "want to."  I'm an ambassador for the race, and I trained several individuals for it.  I have no idea how my body will react, but I'm just planning on taking it gently as a training run.   I read recently that "A grateful heart can run forever."  So, I plan to just RUN GRATEFUL.  

After tomorrow, I doubt I'll go above 10 miles for a while--unless I WANT TO.  Next weekend, my hubby and I are running a costumed 5-mile trail race to celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary because we want to!  I will be thanking God for my husband and this gift of running.  There are enough "have to's" in the world.  Enjoy the "want to's"!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Boulevard of Broken Dreams in Winchester, TN: Southern TN Power Classic Race Report

"I walk a lonely road....  Don't know where it goes
But it's home to me and I walk alone...

My shadow's the only one that walks beside me.  My shallow heart's the only thing that's beating. Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me.  Until then, I walk alone....

Check my vital signs to know I'm still alive
And I walk alone.  
I walk alone."
                                                         ---Green Day

Very appropriate lyrics for my 18th marathon/ultramarathon today in Winchester, TN!   My goal going in was to just have a solid, smart training run for my upcoming 50-miler.  I *hoped* to come in under 4:50, but I was fine with under 5 hours.  Three of my last four road marathons have been 4:56-4:58.

Three weeks ago, I had a GREAT trail 50K race.  I ran my heart out on that course.  I was so pleased with the results.  Since then, the legs have understandably been sore and tired.   I ran several shorter runs in the first two weeks after that race as part of my recovery, took some Pilates/yoga classes, and biked a little.  I tapered from running on Thursday and Friday of this week.

My family and I traveled to Winchester on Friday night and made it to packet pickup only five minutes before it closed.  Then we went to my in-laws house in a nearby town for the night.  I managed to get about four hours sleep.  

My stomach had been uneasy on Thursday evening and Friday, but I figured it was all the carbs I was loading with.  I'm normally a low-to-moderate carb eater.   However, this morning after my normal oatmeal and coffee, I realized it was still not quite right.  Ugg.

I got to the race, and it was a chilly 37 degrees!  I hung out in my car as long as I could.  I saw lots of folks I knew at the start, which is always nice.  I kept this jacket on until about mile 14! 

The race started and the first four miles went by great.  Those were really scenic miles.  I was running relaxed, chatting with a friend for a couple of them, and for most of those early miles, my Garmin was on 10:35 pace every time I looked down.  (In hindsight, I wish it had been 10:45 or 11).   I realized quickly that I needed a pit stop at mile four, and had to wait in line for just a minute or two at the port o john.   I got back on course and ran another 10:35 mile.  Around mile 6, we ventured onto this busy five-lane boulevard.  Many of the businesses had "Boulevard" in their name, which made me think of the above song.   At that time, though, the "dream" of a solid race wasn't broken. Yet.  

Mile 6 contained a long, gradual uphill.  So did mile 7.  And mile 8.  They don't look like much on the elevation profile, but they were definitely hills.   I still maintained that 10:35 pace my body was defaulting to.   I was taking a gel every 40 minutes and drinking regularly.   At mile 8, I realized I needed another pit stop.  

Things started to unravel a bit in miles 9 and 10.  I started defaulting to a 10:40-10:49 pace.  There were many hills.   Around mile 11, I started feeling really sick.  I slowed down and walked more.  My legs were suddenly very tired.   I struggled through miles 12 and 13 and got to the half-way mark at about 2:22 or 2:23.   I had been expecting 2:18-2:20, so I wasn't that far off at that point.  

Miles 14-17 went from bad to worse.  I felt like someone was hitting me in the stomach with a baseball bat with every step.  I was nauseated.  My left ankle (my bum one) had started to hurt.   My hamstrings and glutes were cramping and my fingers were swelling.  My body was just not cooperating.  I had zero energy.  Looking back, I don't think my stomach was digesting the gels and electrolytes.  I think they were just sitting there, not doing anyone any good.  It was a fight to run at all, and I walked a bunch.  I walked alone.  I wondered how I would ever finish 26.2 feeling the way I was.

Around mile 18, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" actually came on my iphone.  I laughed.  I was out on some random country road in Estill Springs, TN walking alone, feeling terrible,  probably needing my vital signs checked.  :-)  

I finally told myself, "Let's just end this running charade and walk it in during the last 8 miles."  Just after I made peace with that, an EMT rode up on a bike.  

"How many are behind you?" he asked.

"A few, I guess.  I'm sure I'm not last."   He rides away and I think, "Oh, Dear Lord, could I possibly be last???"   It was a very small race, and quite a few had passed me in my struggle.  I thought I knew of at least two who were behind me, but then I wondered if they had a bad day, too, and maybe DNF'd, and I was truly Dead Last Finisher.  

There was a man up ahead, and I made it my mission to catch and pass him.  That meant running again.  He was walking as much as I was.  I finally passed him, and he said lied, "You're looking good."   I rebounded a bit for mile 19, but by 20, I felt bad again and had to make another pit stop.  I thought, "How am I going to stand this stomach/ankle/muscle pain another hour??"  The stomach pain was by far the worst.  I asked the mile 20 aid workers for Tylenol to take the edge off, but they didn't have any.   I actually used my Bradley Natural Childbirth breathing for a little while.  It was MISERABLE--the most miserable I have ever been in any race.

Losing time at that pit stop allowed the man to catch back up to me.  As he passed me (we'd gone back and forth a few times throughout the second half), I said, "We should just run this together," and it turned out to be the BEST THING I did all day.  

He stopped running when I said that, and we starting walking side-by-side.  His name was Jer. He was an incredibly nice 58-ish year old from Winchester and  a great talker.  Since he lived in the area, he pointed out his running routes, the road to his house that we passed right by, and told me all about Tims Ford Lake and all the local landmarks.  He told me about his four kids and his job at the Air Force Base.  We talked about our favorite races and our PR's.  We ran the downhills and some of the flats and walked all the uphills.  I've said it before in this blog:  Suffering shared is greatly reduced.   We were both struggling, but we kept our minds off of it.  I didn't even notice my stomach pain (much) in those miles.  

At around mile 26, my buddy George appeared on the course to run me in.  He had finished over 30 minutes earlier and always comes back for me in races.  Jer and I had picked up another runner who was struggling around 25.5.  George and I ran a little ahead of them to the finish, but the three of us finished within seconds of one another.   I'm not sure I've ever been that relieved to be DONE with a race.  It was 10 minutes slower than my previous slowest (my first) marathon.  A personal worst.

Jer was absolutely a blessing to me today and saved the latter part of my race.  He told me later that no, it was I who had saved him.  George was a blessing, too.  Seeing so many friends before, during, and after the race was nice, as well.  It wasn't ALL misery, but I can't say it is what I'd call fun!

I couldn't really stomach any food at the finish line and even chocolate milk (my favorite) was iffy.  I limped rather pathetically to my car and headed back to my in laws.  I spent about 20 minutes defiling their bathroom, then took a shower and felt semi-human again.  Semi.   Let's say it was a long two-hour drive home.

The really, really, really bad ones make us stronger, right??

Race hydration/nutrition today:  Tailwind Raspberry Buzz, water, a bit of Gatorade at aid stations, Huma Chia gels, one Gu Vanilla with caffeine, 1/2 banana.  (almost exactly the same as in Stanky Creek 50K)
 Post-race:  Chocolate milk at the finish. Then I choked down a Hammer Recoverite Vanilla shake (from Stride Box!)  mixed with tepid water from my car on the drive back to my in-laws.