2012 Blue Ridge Relay with 12 Things Gawn Fishin’

Writing a race report for a 210 mile relay in the Blue Ridge mountains in September, with 12 teammates, two 15 passenger vans, 27,000+ feet of elevation change, over 30+ hours is a bit like:

1. Answering an email from a student that states: “I was absent yesterday. Did I miss anything important?”

2. Trying to explain to my folks why I would run a 40 mile trail ultramarathon, and why I loved it (believe me, my parents aren’t the only ones).

3. Explaining to my 9 year old at bedtime (when else?) why it is likely that life exists on other, Earth-like planets.

Rather than attempting this insurmountable task, I instead present you with the awesome video of our experience, put together by my 12 Things teammate Gordy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eg4X6Z6uINY

A few notes for those of you who may not know the 12 Things:

+ This was the second running of the BRR for the 12 Things. We will always be the 12 Things. Last year we were the 12 Things I Hate About Running. This year we were 12 Things Gawn Fishin’.

12 Things Gawn Fishin’ at the start! And yes, we are all wearing pants.

+ We have the most fun and best support of any of the 145 teams on the relay. We entertain our own runners and other teams with lots of silliness along the way.
Some of the treats we left in other teams’ vans.

+ Gordy manages some kind of cinematic magic to turn a group of 12 wacky goofballs into a somewhat cool, but completely dysfunctional family. Though I’m harboring a twinge of regret over some of my costumes. Ha ha! NO I’M NOT!!!

What?!

We can’t wait for 2013!

Triple Lakes Trail 40-Miler Race report: Some thoughts about running my first ultra-marathon

Writing my race report throughout the day as I ran went something like this: at mile 22, my knee started to hurt. At mile 27, other things started hurting. At mile 32, things really were hurting. At mile 34, things REALLY were hurting. At mile 36, dang, EVERYTHING WAS REALLY, REALLY hurting. Let’s face it: running an ultra-marathon hurts. You can see why a mile-by-mile race recap would not build readership for my blog, so I’ve instead collected a few tidbits. It’s rather long, but so was the race.

My running buddies Jon, Joanna, and Danny knew I was coming into this race after a tough week, and they were awesome. I can’t point to anything specific, but having understanding friends who know you are struggling helped a lot. In addition, Andrew helped me get through an incredibly hard week and encouraged me to stick with my plan of doing the race. I really appreciated all the kind thoughts and gestures from my friends, too. In the months of training leading up to this race, I covered many miles with many different friends, and I will say it again: running buddies are the best! All of this incredible support helped me get to the finish. Thanks.

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Joanna, Jon, Steph and Danny at the finish. We made it!

The trail ran through the woods and along the lake and it really was a beautiful course. The day was gorgeous. It was warm, but we were mostly in the shade and the humidity was low.

The course was a marathon loop with an added out-and-back for the 40 milers, with the turnaround at mile 19.5 (where our first of two drop bags were). The marathoners split off at mile 11, so everyone you saw beyond that was doing the 40 mile distance. And, we got to see everyone on the out-and-back segment, so it was great to see my buddies and check in with each other. Danny and I ran together off and on until the turnaround at mile 19.5, which was awesome.

The trail crossed several greenway paths, so there were all kinds of hikers and mountain bikers out on the trail who had no idea what we were doing. One family’s smiles faded into shocked disbelief after the following exchange: “Good job! How far do you have to go?” “Eighteen, I think.” “Another guy we saw said 22.” “No, that’s how far we’ve already gone.”

Steve sent us a quote from Medoc (or so he says) on Friday: “Do not assume the person in front of you knows where they are going (especially if their trail name is Ray Charles). Most likely the person in front of you is an idiot. They are just a faster idiot than you are.” Well, that ended up being quite appropriate as Danny, Joanna and I all missed the same [well-marked] turn, going straight and coming out to a road around mile 16. [Danny will try to blame this on me. But, I ran into him while re-tracing my steps, trying to figure out where the turn was that I had missed—it was behind him, so he missed that turn all by himself.]

Putting wet washcloths in ziplock bags for my drop bags at mile 19.5 and 31 was a great idea. It was so nice to wipe some of the salt and grime from my face. I was right at 4 hours at mile 19.5.

Reaching the marathon mark around 5:10 was rather demoralizing. Not because of the time, but because all I could think was, cripes, I still have to run a half marathon! Miles 27-30 were a bit tough.

The thought of Jon and Joanna discovering a pair of high-heeled shoes and a rubber chicken (among other goodies) in their mile 19.5 drop bags kept me entertained for hours (admittedly, I’m easily amused). If I ever get so serious about running and training that I don’t have time for these kinds of shenanigans, please remind me that I’ve lost my way.

It’s the little things, like putting a rubber chicken in your buddy’s drop bag, that make these races so fun!

Hitting mile 30 was awesome! After 30 miles, I would shout “WOOHOOO!” at every mile marker. I must say that I was less enthusiastic at miles 34 and 37, but I made myself do it to keep up my morale. I was mostly by myself, and my whoops echoed around the empty forest.

One section of the race went through a clearing overgrown with kudzu and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was waiting to grab lagging ultra-runners. I picked up my pace a bit.

I ran up to a doe and got really close before she saw me around mile 32. She stared for a long moment, then leapt gracefully away. I admired her ability to pick her legs up so high.

Half a mile later I found myself planning ahead for a fallen sourwood tree that was about 10 inches off the ground. I slowed down and seriously considered whether to step over it with my left or right foot. And let’s face it—I was not approaching it with anything that could be called speed.

Stubbing your toe on a root hurts. Stubbing your toe on a root at mile 35 is agonizing.

I don’t know how people run 100 miles. I can definitely see why Danny focused on 8 laps at Umstead, instead of the miles completed or remaining. It is funny how the time flies by out on the trail, though. At several points I was startled to look at my watch and see that I’d been running for 6, 7, and 8 hours. The day really flew by.

Many know that I hate Fritos but love their salty goodness on long runs. Danny put a bag of them in my mile 31 drop bag and they were awesome! I’m sorry there isn’t a photo of me running at mile 32, beaming ridiculously and holding onto a bag of Fritos. One lady out hiking exclaimed “oh my goodness, I wondered if you people ate on these runs.” Fritos: Running Food of Champions!

My biggest concerns going in were a) emotional and mental exhaustion, b) physical lack of sleep and poor eating all week, c) nutrition problems during the race. I was most afraid that I didn’t have the capacity to get through the inevitable pain of that distance. My mental preparation on Friday helped immensely—out on the trail, I felt peace and joy, and I was never overwhelmed with sadness. I kept thinking how much Suzie would have loved running on the trails, and how grateful I was to be out there.

Although I don’t know how it’s possible, I did not feel very tired during the race. I had a few bouts with a queasy stomach but nothing too bad, and ate all the way up until mile 32.

On the other hand, I was not expecting ITB problems, but both knees hurt pretty badly and by mile 33, I had a hard time running the downhills. By mile 36, I could only run the flats. I walked most of mile 38, but I wanted to run the last mile, even though you had to pass the finish, run around a pond (including a jump (!) over water—soaked my foot at mile 39.9) and up a hill to the finish.

Telling yourself you have two miles to go at mile 38 in a 40-miler is just as tough as telling yourself you have two miles to go in a marathon, a half marathon, a 10-miler, or a 10K. That second-to-last mile is always tough, no matter what the distance.

Andrew helped me put together a training plan that was very doable, and made sure I could complete all my long training runs. I think that continuing track and tempo runs, and doing hill repeats really helped my training. I think I needed to do more strength/functional training (maybe could have helped the ITB) and a bit more trail running. Today I feel pretty good—I’m sore, but surprisingly, not bad.

There were only 13 women in the 40 mile race, of 56 finishers total. I placed third in my 40-49 age group because one woman placed overall and another won master’s (I was 9th of 13 women, 39th of 56). My time was 8:50, which was a 13:16 pace. My new race strategy is to sign up for races that no one else wants to do.

This was my first race over a marathon distance, but I don’t think it will be my last!

I made it!

Triple Lakes Preview

I’m running my first ultra-marathon tomorrow, Triple Lakes Trail, and I’ve signed on for the 40 miler, along with my friend Joanna and just 12 other women. I badgered my running buddies Jon and Danny into signing up as well. We made our final plans over bagels and coffee this morning and are departing at a typically insane hour tomorrow morning.

My training has gone well. I ran 168 miles in August, but I’ve scaled down since then (110 mi for September). My longest run (which seems like ages ago) was 29.5 miles. I’ve done some functional fitness for strength, but my training has mainly comprised 3-4 days/week of running—usually track or hills on Tuesday, a great Thursday tempo run, long run on the weekend, and a recovery run on Sunday or Monday. I think it’s enough. I hope it’s enough.

I ran hard on my segments of the Blue Ridge Relay the second week of September (I was runner #11 on the 12 Things Gawn Fishin’ team, for those in the know—6.3, 5.6, and 4.2 miles, all with a “hard” rating) and wasn’t really sore afterward. I even managed to mostly recover from the sleep deprivation.

I started last week feeling relaxed, excited and pretty confident about the race. Then, my childhood best friend Suzie was tragically killed last Thursday on her early morning run, and my world turned upside down. I found myself grappling with sometimes overwhelming grief and loss. I’ve had difficulty eating and sleeping, averaging 3-4 hours of sleep each night. Constant nausea and emptiness assault my stomach. My whole body aches from stress. Emotionally and mentally, I am exhausted. I honestly wondered how I could attempt the race at all.

Services for Suzie are in Eureka tomorrow, and of course I wish I could be there. But, it isn’t easy to get to Eureka, and what I’d like to do there is spend meaningful time with her children and husband, which won’t be possible.

I thought back to the great run we had together in early July. I was in NJ, visiting Suzie (who came back East infrequently) and her family, and celebrating her Nana’s 100th birthday. Her husband Hank generously volunteered for kid and pancake-making duty so we could get out early for a run together. We ran ten miles on a dirt road near Hartshorne Woods over rolling hills, and talked about our children, our running, our work, and our lives. I shared that I had just signed up for my first ultra-marathon, Triple Lakes 40. I didn’t need to explain to Suzie why I would want to run 40 miles. She totally got it. She was excited for me and we talked at length about the training involved and finding balance, as well as our mutual love of trail running.

Suzie and I always ran a deficit of time. Even when we were in high school, we wrote several pages-long letters to each other every week, and made lists of topics we absolutely needed to discuss. This time was no different. Reconnecting was wonderful after several years, but I left New Jersey wishing we could have spent more time together.

Determination was one of Suzie’s strongest personality traits, and I will channel that tomorrow for forty miles of single-track. I have spent the afternoon working on my game face, which I hope will be aided by some food and sleep. I will spend my day running trails and reconnecting with my lifelong friend. Honestly, I can think of no better tribute.

Bring it on, and see you on the other side!

Seeking peace.

I drove to Umstead last Saturday to run alone.

Last Thursday night, I learned that my best friend growing up was tragically killed in a hit-and-run collision as she did her usual 5:30 am run with two girlfriends in Eureka, CA. All were wearing reflective gear and headlamps. Suzie’s two friends were gravely injured, but fortunately they pulled through and are now in stable condition. Suzie died at the scene. She leaves behind an 8 year old son and a 4 year old daughter, in addition to her husband, family, and many friends.

It is somehow easier to grieve for her family than it is for myself. But at some point on Friday evening, I had lost my capacity to reach out. It was time to look inward, as much as it hurt. I made the turn onto the trail and ran slowly, trying to keep my breathing even despite my sometimes overwhelming emotions.

I was grateful for the intermittent rain, not so much because fit my mood, really, but it promised fewer people and the time I needed with my thoughts.

Familiarity was something that Suzie treasured, and I appreciated this as I descended the trail I knew so well toward Sycamore Creek. I remembered her answer to one of those internet surveys, mountains or the ocean? “I like the woods,” she said, “walking the familiar and ordinary paths, places you can get to know well and return to again and again.”

I alternated between running and walking, trying to remember to drink water and go easy. I really don’t know how far I went. Saturday was a journey. Suzie and I had met when we were 8 and 9 years old at the Atlantic Highlands boat yard, the same age our children are now.

Snapshots kept appearing as I ran along the creek. Birthday parties in Neptune. Roller skating in Atlantic Highlands. Bike adventures around Monmouth County. High school crushes. That time she tried to kill me on a mountain bike. My wedding, and hers. Our canoe/camping trip on the Kickapoo. Her trips to NC to help out when my boys were born. Hiking together in Yosemite when she was a seasonal ranger. And our 10 mile run this summer.

Memories, but no tears. It’s hard to believe that she’s gone. I crossed Reedy Creek Road and headed down Company Mill Trail, finally turning to run along the creek and past the bridge. Here I stopped and walked downstream a ways, looking for a quiet spot. Raindrops fell into the creek, creating surface bubbles that floated with the current.

I plucked a handful of samaras from the gnarled green ash leaning over the stream, letting them filter through my fingers and spiral into the water. Most tumbled over the rocks, flowing with the clear water over the riffles. Two lingered in an eddy, turning in circles. Go, I willed them. Go downriver. You can’t stay here. This pool takes you nowhere. Let go and flow with the river.

I blinked. My heart filled and my sorrow spilled over. I was there for a long time. But I found some of the peace I’d been searching for, and steadied myself for the rocky trails that lie ahead.

Carrying Simon and Malcolm in Yosemite NP in 2005.

Letting go.

I plucked a handful of samaras from the gnarled green ash leaning over the creek, letting them sift through my fingers and spin slowly into the water below. Most leapt over the rocks, flowing with the clear water over the riffles. Two lingered in an eddy, turning in circles. Go, I willed them. Go downriver. You can’t stay here. This pool takes you nowhere. Let go and flow with the river.