I've waited a whole week to start this post in hopes that I would think of something to say. Strangely this experience has left me a bit speechless. You'd think that after a 28 hour run, I'd have TONS to say! That's a long time! But no.
***** ***** *****
11 days past now. I think I'm starting to have some feelings about it. I suppose I'll start at the beginning?
Welcome to Tennessee!
We arrived at the Volunteer State late Thursday evening. I have never even driven through Tennessee, so being in an entirely new place was kind of cool. The drive through Kentucky was really beautiful, but there is definitely a shortage of Wendy's restaurants! We made it to the hotel shortly before bedtime and called it a day.
On Friday, we got lunch at the cutest little soup place and then wandered a bit until we needed to be at the school. The race was hosted at Alcoa High School, which seemed a little strange but ended up being wildly convenient. The nearby Smokies were visible from the campus, which put me in a smiley place. Growing up in the Poconos, on the AT, I have a special place in my heart for mountains!
We were sitting in the foyer (I think?) of the school waiting for the keynote speaker, Lazarus Lake, to arrive. If you're reading this blog, I'm thinking you know who he is. If you don't, I highly recommend watching the Barkley Marathons documentary on Netflix. This guy is unlike any other, hence the reason I'm borderline obsessed with him and was SO EXCITED to hear him speak. He was giving a talk on "How to finish the Barkley and other Ultramarathons." Now, most of you are already laughing at this title since you know that the former is a near impossibility and quite unlike the latter. If you don't, click the link. Really. Do it. Laz's talk was really interesting. He gave all sorts of advice that I will never follow, including questioning the reason for eating. There is no question that this dude is of the old school of runners. Included in his seemingly against science advice were some gems that really stuck with me. The one that impacted me the most was "You have to play the game the way the game unfolds." That statement hit me like I'd never heard anything else before. It just made so much sense, and was such a simple perspective that made all the pieces driving me crazy fall into place. (Not to mention the life lesson!) I left that talk full of adrenaline and excitement.
After packet pickup, we were supposed to attend the "almost mandatory" pre-race meeting. Since there is often important information at these things, we went. (Plus Laz was there. So there's that.) There must have been some directional mishaps in the past, because the RD Will made us call and respond what to do at rather obvious signs. It was pretty funny and definitely lifted the mood. Mrs. RD, Gail, was clearly in charge. She went through a very generous raffle with a mission! Add in a pistol squat contest, and the meeting was complete. Suddenly, we were both really hungry. We picked out a local brewery with a crazy long line, so Panera it was! After some mediocre carbs, we headed back to the hotel to relax and prepare for the following day(s).
Now, this is where I have trouble coming up with things to say. We'll see how this goes.
There was frost on the cars when we left for the school, but the temperatures were supposed to rise into the 40s before long. I am a chronic overdresser, so I went with one layer less than I though I'd need. The first lap was uneventful, and a little bit cold. I started in the shoes I'd done most of my training in, and figured I'd wear them until my joints started to hurt. While I love my Ultraboost, they don't have the cushioning that a road 100 needs. I grabbed an extra layer and went off on lap 2.
Sometime during the middle of this loop, I started to develop hot spots on the balls of my feet. It was unexpected and I got a little freaked out. I tried to get the rest of the loop done as carefully as possible and then I dealt with my feet. I figured it would be worth it to finish the loop a little slower than anticipated than risk a DNF because of blisters? A bunch of lube, a new pair of socks and a change of shoes, and I was on my way.
Loop 3 was completely unremarkable. My legs started to get tired, and I didn't want to eat anymore at the end. Both of these things were totally expected and my crew dealt with them flawlessly.
Loop 4 got crazy windy! I was still moving kind of well but the feet issues kept up. I was concerned but not worried. I continued to lube up and change socks every loop, and lance things when needed. Yuck.
Loop 5 brought the dark and the rain. Fortunately, I brought a LOT of gloves. I developed the fun game of trying to guess where people were from based on how they were dressed. Some people (southerners?) were in straight up parkas! The Canadians were in shorts. Go figure... I was excited to finish out this loop because I would get my pacers! My legs were starting to fight me and I was walking more than I anticipated. Play the game the way the game unfolds. This thought was in my head so often, along with a famous-ish ultra running quote- it never always gets worse. Typically I would have a minor freak out if my race was not going as planned. I knew that forcing the issue would likely be my downfall and I couldn't let that happen. I kept repeating those thoughts over and over and trying to prevent any other thoughts at all from entering my headspace. I finished the loop in about 12 hours, which was exactly where I wanted to be, but this was definitely when the wheels began to fall off.
Loops 6 through 9 were essentially the same. I had Tim, Jen, Beth and Tim again, in that order, doing everything they could to keep me fed/watered/focused/unfocused/moving forward. I would run a little more on some laps, and almost none on others. My feet were becoming incredibly blistered and nervy and it took A LOT to put those thoughts of pain aside. It was dark and raining and people were starting to look like zombies. the highlight was definitely Woody's Aid Station during loop 7. The New Year turned around mile 64, and I was SO HAPPY to have Jen with me to kiss and hug. It seems like such a small thing but right then it was everything. Woody's had champagne to celebrate, and I was more than happy to partake :)
Loop 7 gets a special place in hell. When Laz spoke, he broke the miles down like this: 1-30 as the beginning, 31-70 as the resolve, 71-90 as despair, and 91-100 as the reward. I call shenanigans on ALL OF THIS. I think being with Jen allowed me to subconsciously let my guard down a smidge. There was some ugly crying pretty much every time I saw her, and I allowed myself a few negative thoughts knowing that she would be there 100% and actually function as my mental state, making me get my shit back together. She is the only person that I have that trust in, and I knew that no matter what I was thinking, she would get me pointed int he right direction. I can't imagine how hard it was for her to see me like this, and she has already told me that she would prefer we not have this adventure again. You can't retain who you are as a person and maintain the focus and mental game to finish a 100. They are mutually exclusive, and you become an empty dissociated shell of your otherwise charismatic self. Anyway, loop 7. Yay distance PR, 100k! Woohoo! Oh shit, I still have 40 miles to go. There is no feeling in the world more devastating that I have ever experienced as a runner. Compile that with the fatigue of 60+ miles already run, awful feet, and a sour stomach, and I honestly have no idea how I kept going.
But I did. Beth and Tim got me through the next 20 miles somehow, and it was slow and painful. I had the PT stretch my legs out at some point, and my crew worried that I was wasting time. This was the closest I ever got to being cranky. I just wanted to stretch, my legs were killing me. Did it take a while? Yes. They were really trying to get me moving (which they were completely right to do), and I think they were worried after the loop 7 mental breakdown. But I got up and kept going. Nobody was going to stop me from doing this.
Until loop 10. I had no thoughts of quitting until 90 miles. I was hiking back up the hill to the school, talking to myself about how 90 miles was really a great accomplishment and couldn't I just be happy with that? Man, thoughts are the DEVIL. I felt like complete roadkill and I did not want to go back out. It was still raining, the paths were starting to flood and other people asking me how much longer I had was depressing me. Even though they were supporting me. Weird thoughts, seriously. I knew the best way to keep myself from stalling was to get in and out of that school as fast as possible before I had time to think about anything, So I grabbed my food and Jen, had a quick change of shoes, and took off.
Despite knowing that I would finish at this point, I couldn't turn myself back into a normal human. The change of shoes was a huge mistake, as was not re-lubing them. I didn't care. I didn't care about anything I don't think, and I think that's exactly the way it needed to be. My feet were on fire, swelling, and felt like lightning every time they hit the ground. Jen and I agreed on a specific run/walk ratio, and I was able to keep up with it which made me feel good. I had to stretch a time or three which helped my hammies stop protesting, and eventually we got it done. With a LOT of silent tears. I know it was probably harder on Jen than me. We crossed the finish line at 28:52, I was now a 100 miler. I went through the finisher's chute, to even more swag! We received a finisher's shirt, a finisher's visor, and the coolest buckle ever. Pictures were taken and hugs were given. And I felt nothing.
This is where I really have to look at myself and reflect. While that was exceptionally hard, it wasn't the hardest thing I've ever done, which was almost the point. I have always had a hard time being proud of myself. Everything I do is just another box checked off. Do I feel like I accomplished something? Sure. Not many people can run 100 miles. And it's true that nobody can ever take this away from me. I don't know what's wrong with me that I have trouble seeing what I did as pretty cool. I don't know when it will be enough for me. I'm hoping soon, because I'd like to know what that feels like.
As soon as I finished, my legs (um, more like everything from my belly button down?) sort of locked up. We all changed, watched some more finishers come in, and finally headed out for home. Neither Jen nor I had slept for the previous 30 or so hours so it wasn't long until we pulled over so Jen could nap for a few minutes. An hour later, I had to go to the bathroom and we both needed food. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that it took me 12 minutes to get out of the car, walk (that's the closest approximation of what was happening biomechanically) into to restaurant, and get on a toilet. It was something! I even left while Jen was still eating so I could get to the car and take some Advil and not have her wait for an additional 12 minutes. I always have a moment immediately following races when I can hardly move, and I always question how exactly I just did what I did. This was no different.
The week that followed was better and worse than I anticipated. Better because my legs healed up much quicker than I thought they would. I had a rough day or two at work but then my body was pretty okay! My feet, however, persisted in their misery. I swelled up pretty badly and had a lot of bruising. My left pinky looks deranged, and everything was itchy!! I have no idea what that last part was about. Maybe a heat reaction? The swelling went down in 5ish days, but then the real pain set in. Makes sense, since there was no longer a cushion of swell to rely on? That lasted another 4-5 days.
I went for my first run back yesterday, 11 days post-100. It was gloriously hard and painful and wonderful and magical. All the things. The right side of my body is still pretty angry, but I don't think it's anything Advil won't cure. I know I'm having trouble processing the Pistol, but I sure am glad to be running again :)
So here we are. Less than 48 hours to race start, I am somewhere between terrified and excited. Fortunately, Jen the therapist tells me these emotions spring from the same brain area, so I'm hoping to move the terrified just slightly over to the excited and call it a day. If only life worked so easily!
I think it's okay to be nervous before a run but I feel like with this one, anxiety took hold in a way that was just too much. Maybe because it's a new distance? One I'm having trouble wrapping my head around? Perhaps. If I choose to run this distance again I'll let you know. Oddly enough, the more things that go awry, the calmer I feel. Like the creek that is now a river clossing. Or the overnight rain at 40 degrees. At least I KNOW about these things and I think that's the biggest difference for me- knowing. And 100 miles, I do NOT know! (yet.)
In thinking about this distance, I have to really know why I'm doing this. For the darker times, which will be inevitable, I think knowing and remembering my motivation will be key. Nobody just goes and runs 100 miles to be able to say that they ran 100 miles. I don't think just wanting bragging rights will getone through this distance. So here is my why.
Half a lifetime ago, when I was 18, I took a little joyride into NYC with some friends. We lived in the Poconos, about 70 miles outside the city, but I'm pretty sure that nobody's parents knew what we were up to. If there is such a thing as a sign, I believe we got ours when the driver got pulled over before we even left town. An hour later, the driver became sleepy and pulled over to change drivers on a deep shoulder on Rt. 80, in Patterson, NJ. I was asleep, so I don't have a recollection of what happened next. All I know is what I've been told, what I've seen pictures of, and details I'm not quite sure how I know. We were hit by a truck driver who had fallen asleep. He was carrying apples. Our car, a Volkswagon Gulf, was tiny but fortuntely had the gas tank on the passenger side. One person in our car was physically unharmed and she had the wherewithal to climb out of the sunroof and flag someone down on the highway after the driver of the truck either refused or couldn't understand her (he was Russian). She ended up flagging down some type of medical professional, and we were minutes from a world-class trauma hospital. (For such a horrific event, there were a lot of things with us that night.) The next week is a blur to me. Being asleep ended up saving my life, because it allowed me to be thrown between the front seats of the car when my seat ceased to exist. My seatbelt was on, which prevented me from flying through the windshield. It did rupture my spleen, but I figure that's a small price to pay. My other big injury was an ankle break that required a lot of treatment. They couldn't operate on it immediately because of my splenectomy and unstable vital signs. I was clinically dead three times. One of my only memories from the hospital was the orthopedic surgeon coming in and lifting up my left leg and using the palm of his hand to flip the medial side of my ankle back into place. Forcefully. All I remember is sitting up, screaming, and passing out. My mom said that this actually raised my vital signs to a less concerning level, but that my sister almost punched the guy.
Recovery was a nightmare. Initially I couldn't do anything. I had broken ribs, a 10-inch incision on my stomach that was stapled together, a cast on my leg covering more staples and some new screws, and some bruises and abrasions. While very physically painful, I don't think that this was the worst part of it. For the next few years, I had additional surgeries on my ankle and Achilles tendon, 5 to be exact. My doctors would not clear me to play sports in college and mentioned that a more sedentary hobby would likely be my best bet. I've been active my entire life- I played soccer three seasons in high school, cheered, danced, and generally just enjoyed being active. Now I was looking at basket weaving?
Relative sedentarism won out for the next 5 or 6 years. Looking back, I was not happy with or about much. I was mean to people, ruined relationships, and played with mind-altering substances perhaps a bit too much. I didn't realize it then, but looking back now I was trying to process this event. I just didnt know how. And I think I still am.
I joined a gym and began running, simple as that. This was 10 years ago. I remember the first time I ran a mile. I was so proud of myself, and that doesn't happen often. I had found my outlet, but there were issues along the way.
I run kind of funny. Some describe it as "prancing," others say I run like a ballerina. I'd say both are accurate. I have 0 degrees of flexion in my left ankle, meaning I can't bend it past a 90 degree angle. This translates to me running on my toes or with feet turned out. Turns out, either is great for you! I've gone through PT many times, trying to get that sucker to loosen up, I've had it cleaned out twice- nothing makes it budge. Ballerina runner it is! This worked out pretty well until I surpassed the marathon distance. The way my feet land places a tremendous amout of stress on a particular ligament that runs from the toes to the fibular head. I've snapped both fibulas over the past few years.
I went through one more round of PT this year in the spring, after my second stress fracture. I was training for a 100 miler, and I got pretty angry when it dawned on me that this wasn't my fault. I'd be able to do this if not for this small issue, which I had no say in. Some ass from Russia who was, at the time, breaking the law was responsible. Talk about angry and bitter...
I adapted my training and tried to fix my gait enough so that I woundn't be breaking bones. Here I am, 2 days out, and nothing seems to be broken. I'll call that a win.
What I realized is that my destiny can't be controlled by anyone- I will NEVER let this man, or anyone else, TAKE something from me. I was the one letting him. Nothing can be taken from us, ever, if we don't let it. I'm sad it took me half my life to figure this out, but grateful that I learned the lesson.
That is my "why." To prove that nobody can control what I can do, except me. Nobody can take anything from you. Create your own ending.
I started running in May. Week by week, my mileage increased, and hard workouts were completed. I felt like my body was in a good place, and ready to train for the formidable 100 mile distance. I learned a lot during the summer months. It's okay to bail on a run if it isn't fun. It's okay to miss a workout every once in a while, 6 miles will not make or break a race in December. It's okay to slow down and have fun, and maybe carry a dinosaur on your back if it makes you laugh. Above all, this is something I LOVE to do. I needed to not lose sight of that-and I think I succeeded.
Training started to ramp up in September. My mileage was higher than it's ever been and I felt strong. Then that familiar fear started to creep into my mind. My other two attempts at training for a 100 have resulted in broken bones. Fibulas actually, both of them. I don't discriminate. "Experience is the best teacher," so the saying goes- I needed to get out of my head.
I pushed it out of my head and enjoyed the next few months. I ran 25k at Woodstock in the pouring rain, and 25k at Not Yo Momma's with some great friends. I ran the Ragnar Buckeye Country relay, and then some. I was legitimately having the time of my life- running for fun. Summer never seemed to end ths year, and the Columbus Marathon was a stellar example of one of those things you just can't control. I ran the half with some of the folks from my training group, and it went really well. They were halfway to their goal when I sent them off on their own. But then it got hot, and there was carnage. I was reminded that it happens. I can't control all the elements. Sigh. (*All stellar races. Check them out!)
October came and went and I was now running a marathon every weekend. I felt really good! My body was figuring out a rhythm... um, kind of... and my mind felt solid. I was running through tired legs and a foggy head, but finishing feeling really satisfied, like I had learned something from every run. Run With Scissors showed me that when you feel awful, you can still run 10 more miles. (thanks Beth!) NYC taught me that sticking with the first plan isn't always correct. (And also that my career might need some tweaking.) My unofficial Possum 50k revealed that I can get lost anywhere, but also that I can tough out really nasty weather. I outlasted the Army Corps, just saying. I also figured out a ton about nutrition from this one! Brokeman's reminded me that I love this sport, and again, that I can't control all. But I CAN make better decisions! (*I repeat- great races, great people!)
In my last post, I mentioned that I turned my ankle a few times at Brokeman's because I really had no business being on the trail. I should have been running on a bike path to mimic my race environment. If you recall, I was nervous (HA!). As any sane person would do, I just continued running and panicing, pretending that nothing was wrong and it was just a little sprain that would heal. My hyperventilating brain was like "OMG NONONO WE ONLY HAVE 3.5 MORE WEEKS WE CAN'T HAVE AN INJURY NOW WE HAVE TO TRAIN AND WE CAN'T SHUT IT DOWN NOW EITHER BECAUSE IT'D BE TOO LONG UNTIL THE RACE..." I pity anyone who was around me- sorry!! I pushed through a super fun 5k with friends, and was optimistic- it hurt a lot for a mile and a half, but then it seemed to go away. I ran 10 more Festivus miles that afternoon and it was uncomfortable, but not painful.#denial. I took the next day off, and then tried to run 7 that Tuesday. It was devestating. I was able to run a little bit, but it was excrutiating. To this point, I was very sure I could dissociate through the pain I'd been having for 100 miles. But this was different. It was a knife slicing through the top of my foot into the ankle and out the other side. To make it worse, I was on a Christmas light run with Jen- our favorite. Me and my dumb ankle ruined it :( I took the rest of the week off, and looked forward to my doctor's appointment on Friday.
I was not super optimistic about seeing my doctor. Sometimes he is amazing, but others, I just don't think he takes me seriously. I am 110% the type of person who only goes to the doctor when something is absolutely WRONG, and I know my body. For example- the last injury I had, I went to see him and got a lecture about needing to foam roll more. Except what was wrong was 3 areas of stress fracture in my leg, not my reluctance to perform self-myofascial release. I told him what I did and what I continued to do, and he rolled my foot around a bit and said, "I know exactly what you did. Roll over and relax." Twist, pull, yank, CRUNCH. My talus was dislocated, and now it was relocated. The relief was almost immediate and I almost cried. He said I was good to go, have fun running!
It's been 24 miles since that appointment, and I am completely pain free. My ankle still feels thick, as if there is some residual swelling and I don't quite trust that it's stable. Man, are my fingers crossed!! I will run out the rest of my plan, and make it to the starting line with two functioning ankles. (I will explain the irony and importance of this statement in my 1 week out post.)
I now have this sense of calm over me. I know I've missed some runs due to tweaks and minor injuries, and that I probably could have cross trained/stretched/rolled/nutritioned more. It's the thoughts we all have as races approach- the "what ifs". I am seasoned enough to know that absolutely nothing I do now will fix those deficits, and that I just need to roll with it and stay healthy for 3 more weeks.
I can do this.
(Where's the rest of the storm, you ask? And the calm after? Let's talk about the taper next week...)
I only ran 35ish miles this week. It feels weird, like I missed something? Have you ever had that feeling while training for a race? I'm not sure that I have... I can recall approaching taper weeks with dread, I'm not a fan AT ALL. But this feels different, perhaps because I've never attempted this before? I don't know... it still feels so big, so ambiguous, that I can't wrap my head around it.
THIS is 100 miles.
I'd be lying if I said this was a completely smooth training cycle. I think it's actually been not too bad, but I'm the type of person who loses sight of that whenever something less-than-perfect pops up. The less-than-perfect in this case is a cranky left peroneal tendon. It started bothering me mid-November, and I got scared because it literally stopped me in my tracks. The pain shooting into my foot was pretty unbearable, so I took 4 days off. In hindsight, 4 days will not make or break a training cycle. But at that moment, the world was ending.
I'm not sure how to explain what goes on in my head, in a way that makes sense to people. I have an Anxiety Disorder with OCD features. I have also made the decision to forego medication for this, so it's a demon I fight on a regular basis. I think it takes people by surprise, because those who "know" me would likely tell you I'm super laid back, free spirited, and happy. I am all these things in so many ways... but those who KNOW me have seen this side. It can be ugly and emotional and scary, but I really believe running has helped me to manage this in a lot of ways. The appeal of a schedule, of hitting prescribed paces to the second, of managing nutrition to the calorie- this makes my OCD smile :) The problem (and reflection?) comes in when things don't go as planned. I think all runners know that this is bound to happen, someway, somehow. We get injured, we forget things, we encounter situations that are out of our control. DISASTER STRIKES. It happens... and then what? The world still turns, and you begin again. Knowing this somehow does not help! Oh anxiety... you are the devil.
My 4 days off were somewhat tumultuous, I was pretty sure I could never finish the 100 having not met every single run that existed. The situation blew up in my head bigger because I had my peak week just a week away. If I can't run a simple 5 miler without pain, how in the world am I supposed to get through a 50k and 50 miler in the same week? It was an emotional week.
Magically, the rest, ice, and massive amounts of NSAIDS helped. The following week, I ran pretty pain free. Okay self, maybe we CAN do this. Crisis averted. Enter poor decision making! I rolled my ankle (the left, of course) running that week on a difficult trail that I had no business being on. Here we go again.
I took the next week (this past week) really easy, walking a few miles one day instead of running, and just being aware of how things feel. I've continued to ice, massage, and take Advil, and I even got a compression sleeve to support it. My long runs went pretty well, I ran 6 on Saturday and although I was aware of some discomfort, I couldn't call it painful. Sunday I ran a pretty speedy 5k, followed by 10 more easy with some friends. The 5k definitely fired the ankle up, but it dissipated as I went along. I was really curious to see how it would respond after a break to drive to run #2, as it had been stiffening up pretty quickly after activity. I was pleasantly surprised to see that although it felt tight and stiff, it wasn't painful. I think as long as I continue to baby it, it will be okay.
But I'm still going crazy because of the "what if's." I still have 4 weeks to get through! What if it doesn't heal, and I have to take more time off? Will my legs be stale and will my fitness disappear? I have one more long run to conquer, a 24/14 this weekend. What if it's a disaster? Shoud l I take an extra day off this week in preparation for that? It's really a never-ending barrage of mental anguish. I am grateful that I survived my peak week already, that was a big hurdle I'm happy to have completed. I spoke to someone pretty recently who has a lot more experience than I do, and he told me that he shut it down 2.5 weeks before his last 100 and he was fine. His body was beat up and he felt it would be better to go in slightly undertrained than injured. I'm trying to keep these thoughts in my head when I make decisions.
Do other people think this way when they train? I can't remember another training cycle that has been so mentally draining! I mean, the physical ass-whooping I expected... but I'm exhausted in the head :/
If we are looking at signs, I do believe the night prior to the race really did its best to provide me with a neon, blinking, bar-window sign telling me to go home. I happen to be an optimist, so sometimes (read: always) I ignore those not so positive cues. I rented a cottage on site, and actually thought I might get murdered. It was just one of those ridiculous feelings. I was by myself for a few hours before my friends came down, and really got the creepies! Self, put on your big girl pants, and ignore the creepies. You are being silly. Okay then, let's unpack. Oh wait, let's not do that without tripping and falling over every stinking curb/rock/step/water spout in existence. Oyy. It's cool, I probably didn't need any of those things to feel good tomorrow. NBD. I am a hot mess. Eventually others arrived, and I felt much less like I was going to get murdered or impaled by a rock. (There was a porch light. Who knew.)
That trench reached up out of the leaves and grabbed a hold of the outside of my foot. My ankle turned in an all-too-familiar way, and that was the beginning of the end. I went flying out in front of me, and the first thing my eyes landed on was a log laying across the trail. Seemed like a good thing to aim for? I reached my hands out (I know I know BAD IDEA) for the log, made contact, and went down hard. Initially, my body collapsed in a very forced push-up motion, which my arms couldn't really support. My right hand slipped and twisted on itself, and then all was still. I got up, assessed my body, and realized that while my ankle was sore, the worst of the fall impacted my hand. This is now the SECOND RACE IN A ROW where I have injured my HAND while RUNNING. (There was an NYC incident involving a port-o-potty and an iron gate. Long story.) I need my own hashtag. Something along the lines of #whathehell, #whoevendoesthat, etc. After I assessed myself, I kept moving. The thoughts I should have had a week ago were now surfacing. I probably should not have chosen a trail 50 to cap off my 90 mile week of running. This was supposed to be the hardest week of my training, My legs are tired. My body is tired. My brain is foggy. I probably should have opted for a nice flat bike trail where I wouldn't be nearly as likely to roll/fall/impale myself with things. In hindsight, running this race with an angry peroneal tendon at the end of a peak week might have actually been irresponsible on my part.
really forced me to examine the risk/reward of EVERY decision, which I think has been good for me as a person overall. I can't say it's a real comfortable position for me to be in, but perhaps it's what I was meant to learn this cycle. Introspection and bruised ankles aside, the run was a good time. And I only got lost once!
The volunteers and RD were on point. They were READY an hour before the actual start, which was really nice for those of us who opted to take off early. If you've ever chosen to take an early start, you know that this is an anomaly. You're typically on notice that you're on your own until the regular start peeps can be expected at respective aid stations. The first aid station we came to was at 3.5ish miles, and the gentleman there even volunteered to take things back to the start/finish for us. The markings were good. I typically like a heavily marked course, because I lose focus like nobody's business. I didn't have that reassurance here, but I DID have a map literally pinned to me and markings at every potential "get lost" point. Speaking of getting lost... I only got lost one time! That's a really strong showing for me. In fact, I chose the GPS watch I wear mostly because of the "track back" feature it offers- that's how often I get lost on trails. I don't mind, It's an adventure! I got un-lost at the second aid station, which was unmanned as expected. There was a giant bag of Peanut M&Ms, water, and Tang. Not a bad station. The course detoured a bit due to controlled fires, but I met some nice dudes from Akron on the road and they showed me where the trail I missed was. Thanks new friends! The volunteer at the 1st/3rd aid station was super nice and he told me the other group just started. I was looking forward to seeing some of my running buddies on this out-and-back section, and heckling them appropriately.
As I neared the end, I was a little sad that I was done here for the day. I knew it was the right decision, but these choices just weigh so heavily. I informed the volunteer that I was a DNF because I thought I might have a problem with my hand. The RD was really nice and went over to her first-aid kit and asked if I needed ice. I was bummed but it was nice to feel so cared about :) I hung out for a few minutes and checked in with some buddies, then took off for Columbus. I could smell the chili on the fire, I'm certain the folks who stuck around enjoyed some quality time and good food! Time to head home and finish this 50!
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the swag. Brokeman's, for a low-frills company, had some of the BEST swag I've ever gotten! The hoodie is maybe the softest thing I've ever worn. I haven't taken it off much since getting it. And it even stayed super soft after washing it! I have been the recipient of many a race hoodie, this one is hands down tops. We also received a big coffee mug, which is now in heavy tea drinking rotation. I thought these items were really well thought out and high quality, not just a token prize thingie. I would check out the stuff on the Cordova Ink website, it's high quality with great graphics. I now own a few pieces and I love them :)
Location: Lake Hope/Zaleski State Park
Entrants: Maybe 60? I'm guessing from the bib numbers. It felt like a nice, small field.
Cost: 60 bucks, any distance! No swag option offered as well for less.
Swag: Hoodie and big coffee mug.
Nutrition: Since I blew it really badly during last week's 50k, I tried harder this week :) I alternated PowerBar fruit squeezes and Honey Stinger GF waffles, every 2 miles. I chugged a full pack of Skratch emergency hydration (lemon lime, didn't taste awful) at the end of the loop (18ish miles). For the remainder, I ate the fruit squeezes, waffles, and my sister's Thanksgiving potato disaster cheese cups every 3 miles, Skratch again after 15 miles.
Thumb update: Still hurts! I think I might just be old. Plus my job necessitates I use it a lot, so no rest!
Ankle update: I think it's just a POS. It hurts, goes back and forth between behind the ankle bump and the front of ankle. I'm trying to formulate a plan to get through the next 4 weeks rested, but prepared.
After the expo, I officially had the marathon yippies running through my blood. Jen and I wanted to go for a run and we figured that taking the subway 5 miles away and running back would be the best way to do so. We opted to go north since we enjoy running though Central Park. I'm shocked that Jen let me get away with the "let's just get on a subway and see what happens" plan. Love her :) We immediately went the wrong way, but realized it pretty quickly when we ended up running to a river, not a park. Oops. We turned around and were on our way. Again. We ran down through the park, around the Jackie O reservoir (my favorite!), and through the last few miles of the course. We continued down Park Ave., and then things got real serious.
LUNCH. (Side note. I am from NY. Jen is from Bethlehem, which is an hour outside NY. We are used to exceptional pizza and bagels. Enter Ohio, where they have neither of these things. They think they have good pizza, but they do not. Not even a little bit. Ohio pizza is sort of like you put some ketchup on a Matza cracker, throw some cheese on and pop it in the broiler. It's not good. Don't even get me started on bagels.) We saw a pizza shop close to the hotel, and stopped there on the way back from running. 2 slices and a soda for 5 bucks? Yes. Twice, actually. We went back to the room to eat, shower, and relax before dinner.
Speaking of dinner... The pre-marathon-pig-out-a-thon dinner is a must. Therefore, careful time and attention goes into choosing the "just right" restaurant. I landed on Serendipity, which is famous for their deserts. (If you're surprised at this point, you haven't been paying attention.) I figured, sure, I could go for some fresh fruit and veggies, some complex/simple carbs that would metabolize seamlessly into energy tomorrow... Or FROZEN HOT CHOCOLATE. I mean, come on people. Not even a choice. We took the train uptown and wandered right past Dylan's Candy Bar, put our name on a list, and then back to the candy. Dylan's was epic. 3 floors full of every novelty you could imagine, complete with happy people insisting you try their fudge flavor. *Sigh* (Note- small child birthday party detracts slightly from this experience. Plan carefully.) Back to Serendipity. I hate to say this, because it feels like sacrilege... it wasn't great. The wait was long, the tables were wobbly, crowded, and poorly placed, and the food was mediocre and over priced. Ah well, it was an experience. Now on to bed!
I guess it's time to stop playing tourist in my birthplace and run a marathon! Because that's why I'm here :) Sometimes I get caught up in the whole experience that it feels like an afterthought? Silly, I know.
They say this event is a marathon, just to get to the marathon...
The alarm went off at 5AM, which was WAY too early for ANY day, in my humble opinion. I felt really bad because Jen was stuck in this tiny 8x10 hotel room with me, and had zero obligation to have anything to do with 5AM. I tried my best to have all my stuff ready in the bathroom so I wouldn't be noisy, but I possess the grace of a clumsy elephant. Sorry Jen! My plan was to be out of the room by 5:50ish, walk down the block to the bagel place, get a cup of tea and a bagel, and be on the 4 train by 6:05. I met a few lovely runners along the way, also confused about where to transfer to the yellow train. We got it figured out eventually, and all made it to Whitehall Terminal in time to catch our ferries. My particular boarding time was 7:15, but in 2013 the ferry was, hands down, the most chaotic experience of the day. It made herding cats look easy. I was glad I got there a few minutes early, because it was the same story. I was looking around, and I eyed people set to run in the first wave... I would in NO WAY have the balls to take such a late ferry!! Agida, just thinking about it... oyy. The ferry ride itself was lovely. If you've never had the opportunity, consider doing it once. The views of the Financial District, the bridges, and Lady Liberty are unparalleled. Anyway... We landed on Staten Island around 7:45, and then proceed to get stuck. Like, sardines-in-a-can stuck. The mass was just not moving out of the SI ferry terminal. *Feeling even better that I left early* Eventually, we got out. I think the holdup came from the more organized bus lines. Everyone was funneled into an amusement park style repeated S-curve type thingie, so it just made it slow to get out of the building. NBD. Once that was accomplished, we boarded the buses to Fort Wadsworth, our final destination. Well, the final destination to start the journey to our final destination... I met some really lovely people on the buses. A prosecutor from Manhattan who really likes Brooklyn, a Texas belle who was into trail running, and a middle school teacher, much like myself. The ride itself is only 15 minutes, but then we got stuck for the second time. The buses enter a lollipop-style road of sorts, and the plan is to disembark at the security gates. Seems simple enough, yes? Our bus had stopped in what looked like an endless line of buses. I was not concerned, because EARLY, but the Wave 1 runners were starting to freak out, because their corrals were going to close. The bus drivers decided the runners were more of a pain to deal with than the police, so they all let the runners off the buses in the middle of the island. We all did eventually make it to security, where the cause of the stuck buses was pretty apparent- they couldn't get through because of frantic runners! It was a chicken-egg situation, really. We moved through security and into the start villages, where we eventually found our green corral home. I would like to say it was an awesome experience, but it wasn't. We were pretty early in the grand scheme of things, and everything was out and disorganized. The volunteers had all the Dunkin hats, leaving none for the runners, There was no hot water for any tea or coffee, and nobody could be bothered to get off their cell phones to fix the problems. (I love volunteering for races. I realize how important it is to help races run smoothly. But if you're going to volunteer, please be attentive and don't deplete runner resources for yourselves. Especially for such an expensive race.) We made it to a grassy spot and laid out on blankets, making final preparations for the day. I found Vicci a few minutes later, and she was headed for her corral shortly thereafter. I had another 20 minutes to wait for my corral to open, and all I can say is, thank goodness for wonderful weather! I feel like I was there in just enough time to get ready, get calm, and get to my corral. All in all, it took 4 hours and 50 minutes to get from the hotel to the start cannon, which was, in fact, considerably longer than it took me to run the actual marathon. So I guess those folks were right!
(This might be a good time to mention that I had a small wager on this race. One I secretly knew I would never win, but hey- I'm competitive. I'm training to run a 100 miler in December, and the biggest flaw in my training has been my ability to slow down. Or not slow down. You get my idea. I worked it out that I might need to implement a 16 min run/4 min walk type of thing to hit a reasonable pace to survive 100 miles. I worked that out to be about a 5 hour marathon. Enter bet. If I could come in OVER that time, Jen had to buy dinner. Under, and it was on me. I'll let you guess how this worked out.)
QUEENS We enter Queens at the halfway mark, 13.1. On a bridge, of course. I hit this in 2:15, which did not bode well for my bet! I did what any rational person would do- I got on FaceBook. Really, what's a bigger time suck? Right. I hadn't really been paying attention to my watch as far as pace goes, only to note when time mandated I walked- anything ending on :56, :16, :36 meant I had 4 minutes to walk. My legs were tired by design, so I didn't mind it. I wish we spent more time here, I don't really feel like I ever got a feel for the "flavor" of Queens, so to speak. I think most of us are thinking of what lies ahead during this short stretch- the Queensboro bridge and the 1st Ave. wall of noise. The mile or two before those things is reflective, thinking about where you've run today, and what lies ahead. There's not a lot of time to process it before the bridge summons. Statistically, it's not as long or hard as the Verrazano, but I think that's bullpoops. I mean, I know it's not, cuz math, but anyone who's been at mile 15 of a marathon knows where I'm at. Your legs are starting to fight back, you're tired mentally, and you know you still have a long, long way to go. The Queensboro is a behemoth, beckoning you... it promises you Manhattan if you can just keep your resolve for the next 20 minutes... eerily quiet, all the hooting and hollering has ceased. All you hear is the shuffling of one foot in front of the other, trying to just get over the apex. And then you do, into the loudest wall you've ever encountered.
MANHATTAN (Part 2) Coming back into Manhattan is so bittersweet. It's a (relatively) quick 10k to the finish line, we made it to the final borough! BUT- it's not an easy 10k, and that is known. The first stop is Harlem. In my mind, this is a top 3 cheer area. The people here are wild! They have obviously made this their day, cheering on others though their part of town. The champions have come and gone, and now it's just us- the every(wo)man. HECK YEAH THEY CHEER!! We've worked hard! Thanks, Harlem. At this point, we make the right turn onto 5th. It's the last road we will run on before Central Park... and the finish. The crowds here are 5 people deep; raucous, inebriated cheering is the only thing on their agendas. It's a hell of a way to finish a race. 5th Ave rolls up and down, each tiny hill feeling just a bit steeper than the last. The descending street signs tick off, and I wonder how many more we will see before entering the park? 109th, the north border, comes and goes. Somewhere around 86th, we finally enter, arguably, the most famous park in the world. The math starts running through my head. At this point, I know I'm buying dinner. I wonder how fast I can run this final 5k? I look down, and I'm pleased to see I'm still ticking off 9s pretty effortlessly. (They should have been no faster than 10s- oops. Now I see the flaw in my spectacular pacing plan.) I decide to just enjoy the ride down to 59th, the southern edge of the park. It's less than a mile from here, and people's emotions are beginning to show. Down 59th to Columbus Circle, and a quick right turn later... the finish arch is in sight. It's been a beautiful day.
AFTERMATH I have to marvel at the logistical nightmare this marathon must be to put on. Major congratulations to the NYRRs and the city of NY for making this happen. That being said, the mile long hike up and out of Central Park is a little brutal. It's amazing how hard it is to walk for a bunch of people who just ran for 4 hours straight! They do a nice job of getting runners medals, heat sheets, and food bags. Which are delicious because they are not gatorade. As I wander along, I start to consider how I'm getting back to the hotel. Some people might have already had this information, but then there's me. Thankfully, I had my phone on airplane mode most of the day, so I had a bit of battery life remaining! (Hey, I knew I needed to go go south and east. I would've figured it out eventually! Yay subways!) I got in touch with Jen and she met me on the way back, and filled me in on the adventures she had today. I love her a lot. She's always my biggest cheerleader, no matter how many of these things I do. Everyone should have a Jen. After a quick shower, we walked over to Penelope's, where we ate after the last NYC marathon. The food and drinks are exceptional, prices reasonable, and it's a little, under-the-radar type place. After I ate way too much, we walked back over to the hotel, packed up, and called it a night. I will be sad to leave :(
HEROES I am compelled to take a moment to recognize all the charity and fundraising groups that take part in this race. I was so inspired by them, to see the passion they had for each individual cause, from Fred's Team here in NYC, to a Cancer support network in Australia. There were hashtags all over the place, each representing someone's "most important thing." Someday, I'd like to run for MS. It's a cause that strikes my family in a number of ways, and it's important enough to me that I should get over myself and just make the commitment. But one group in particular really impacted me- Achilles International. These athletes and their partners are mind blowing. Some blind, tethered to guides, others missing limbs and surrounded for safety. It really puts into perspective the ideas of hard work and suffering. And the guides have the biggest hearts, working with these athletes to achieve greatness. I must do something like this one day. I made sure to greet each of these athletes by name as we passed, and I think I had tears in my eyes for each. I've just never been so inspired.
Time up: 5AM
Time out of the hotel: 5:50AM
Wave start: 10:40AM
Nutrition: AM; Bagel with CC, Tea. AM Snack: banana and tea. Race fuel: one package of orange Skratch chews, three pouches of PowerBar Simple Fruit (one caffeinated), gatorade and water about every mile. Post Race: Gatorade Recovery Protein Shake.
Cost: Well... $255 for the race + 3 nights in a hotel + food + gas + tolls + shopping = kind of a lot. But totally priceless!
Saturday brought the beginning of my "marathon" training schedule. I don't mean that I am training for a marathon, but rather have runs amounting to a marathon or more pretty much every weekend from here until the new year. TRUST ME, running sweet races in beautiful places is so much better than running solo for hours on end. Although sometimes necessary, it's generally boring as hell.
I digress :) Run With Scissors is one of the best around. The RD, Roy, hangs out in a death costume smoking a cigar, occasionally yelling "Go!" to begin the costume parade around Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The proceeds go to Run to Share, a great organization that funds philanthropies. The Halloween race attire did NOT disappoint- both Donald Trump and Jesus showed up for the half marathon. The volunteers are all seasoned ultra vets, and know just exactly what participants want and need to keep spirits and legs strong. Except grilled cheese, but that's a whole different blog ;)
This run came about a while ago, when my friend Beth asked me if I'd consider running half with her. She was attempting a pretty big distance PR (double marathon-woot!) and understandably wanted some company. The plan was, she would run with our friend Mike for the first marathon, and then pick me up at the aid station for marathon number 2. There was not an exact time cutoff, but the finish area closes at dark so she needed to be in by then. I got in touch with Roy, got permission to start a bit later than that other marathoners, and was pretty excited about it! Beth and I actually finished the half marathon together the year prior, so it was clearly meant to be.
Race day morning.. always crazy fun. The drive to Cleveland from Columbus is a few highway hours, and I hit it just right for one of the most brilliant sunrises I've ever seen. I was hoping to myself that Beth and Mike were seeing it too! They started at 4AM, so it was dark then. Really dark. I arrived close to 9AM, expecting Beth and Mike to arrive around 10:30. Beth thought she could do the first loop in 6.5 hours, and then that would leave her 8ish more hours of daylight for the second. When I arrived, the half marathoners were just beginning. I walked into the shelter to grab my packet, and to my surprise, it had already been picked up! I wasn't any of the folks I was with so... oops? No big deal, I just needed a new number and I was on my way. Funny boys they were, I was gifted 69. Roy told me to turn it around if I didn't like it, so I did. Hah. Hugh got me into the timing system, Mark eased my worries about my upcoming 100, and right on schedule, Beth and Mike showed up!
Off we go. Sort of. The first mile or two, I got filled in on how the first loop was and how Beth and Mike were doing. I could tell very quickly on my own that we would not be together for long. Beth was running like she just started. I was thinking to myself, "Holy crap! I was thinking I'd have some time to warm up, have a nice little jog to the Pine Hollow AS..." Um, no. Girl had a MISSION. The first few miles of the course were downhill, which can be telling as far as how a distance runner is doing. In all reality, it's the downhills that'll get you. Anyone can climb a hill slowly, but coming down is a whole different skill set. The impact is quite jarring on one's quads and knees. I saw Mike start to float back, and I thought maybe he just needed some reset time. I hollered back every mile or so, and he was still there. At the mile 4ish aid station, I knew he needed to back off, and that's the last I saw of him :( I was REALLY hoping we'd all stay together for the duration, I guess you never know wishes the running gods will grant.
After the Pine Hollow AS, we had some really nice rolling terrain. Nothing too technical, all covered with gorgeous yellow leaves of fall, and trees to match. words can't do it justice.
That got us to the Covered Bridge AS, about 10ish miles in. We had a 5 mile loop ahead that was the most challenging part of the course. Lucky for us, Beth's stomach began to implode and we needed to stop for a brief break. Nothing a good poop and 3 minute rest won't do for a runner! Soon we were heading back out to the beginning, on the long stretch back to Pine Hollow. Beth was running amazingly well.
This is where the mental game begins. She had been running for almost 10 hours here, 40 solid miles. You really have to remember NOW how much you want this, how much the pain doesn't matter, all while pretending that you don't know that you still have 10 miles to run. It is mind control at its best. She was a trooper, I never would have expected anything less. I let her lead because she was still running quite a bit, and her spirits seemed high. We also were in absolutely zero danger of missing the dark cutoff, so really, there were no worries. After getting stopped by a train and four dozen horses, we made our way back to Pine Hollow.
Here's the Reader's Digest version. I'm 36, happy almost all the time, love life, and especially running. This was not always the case. I played soccer most of my young life, for three seasons a year. I loved it, and I was pretty good. When I was 18, I broke my ankle in a bad, bad way, and my Doctor laughed at me when I tried to get medically cleared to play soccer collegiately. Fast forward 10 years (I'm still trying to piece together my 20s), 1 marriage, 1 impending divorce, a house in a city I don't like, and a toxic job... apparently my solution was to join a gym. One thing led to another, and soon I was running 5k's. Fast forward 8 MORE years. I have a fabulous wife, great friends, a wonderful job, and I'm still running. It seems to be my thing. While I enjoyed the 5k's of my past and everything they taught me, it turns out I much prefer longer distances. Right now, I'm training for my first 100. Well, training for my third 100, but hoping I get to the start line for the first time. The first attempt resulted in discovering a thyroid disorder, the second in a triple area of stress fractures. Third time is a charm, yes??!? Truth be told, I'm afraid that the modifications I've made might get me through training, but might not be enough to make it happen on game day. I guess time will tell? Anyway, I've chosen the Pistol 100, in Alcoa, TN. It runs Dec. 31 through Jan. 1, and I could not imagine a better way to begin the new year :) Check them out here. I am just shy of halfway through my training, and feeling good. I'll likely begin documenting my training adventures here, Now you're (relatively) caught up!
Well then! Hello! So glad you somehow found your way here, and I hope you enjoy it. So who am I? Well... as a professional, I'm a teacher. Middle School. I absolutely love my job, with one or two little teeny little issues. But generally, I'm pretty sure I landed exactly where I belong. Have you ever spent 8 hours with a bunch of small humans? Seriously hilarious. Right at this very moment, for example, they are all taping their fingers together and trying to Houdini their ways out of it. Most layers of tape wins. All this while drawing different types of cells and trying to convince their teacher that they should be allowed dissect frogs. Additionally, I am trying to explain to them exactly how bad I beat my beloved JP at Fantasy Football. I mean, not even close, folks. SMACK. DOWN. My spirit animal child is trying to convince me that she is not artistic enough for this assignment, and another one is trying to problem solve her way back into her seat, which is currently occupied by a microscope. I would say this is a fairly accurate portrayal of my typical workday. Back to class now- see ya!