*To DNS or DNF–that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of a run unstarted
Or run the race and risk a sea of troubles
And by so doing: to die, or at least screw up my leg
And continue my IT band issues: to start, to run until I can
Run no longer; and by DNF, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That flesh is susceptible to? [Hell no!] ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly not to be wished on anyone. To start (or not), to run,
To run, perchance to Dream. Aye, there’s the rub,

For in the grand scheme of life, my IT band problems are self-inflicted and trivial.

Umstead marathon was supposed to be my last big race, but I had to sign up for the Medoc Spring Race, a race styled after Dipsea with a staged start. It’s only 7.5 miles–the perfect distance, plus a fun format to keep me out of a post-season slump.

Then my running buddy decided to drop from the Umstead 100, so I was no longer needed as a pacer. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail 50K is the same weekend, on Sunday. Here was an opportunity to squeeze in an ultra on my home turf. The timing after Umstead was perfect. Steve emailed me and asked, “which distance did you sign up for?” “What kind of idiot do you think I am?” I retorted. It was another two weeks before I actually admitted—um, THAT kind. [He wasn’t surprised.]

When I first went to Mimi, the ITB issue seemed bad, much worse than I thought. I knew my left side was out of balance, but not the extent—weaker, less flexible, limited range of motion. I emailed Bull City. The 12 mile distance is full. It’s 50K or bust.

But, I have made so much progress in two weeks that I have guarded optimism, perhaps too much. Why not start and see how it goes? It’s hard to know how much better I am, though. The only thing that caused pain was running downhill. I’ve done two flat runs with zero pain.

If I consider the distance, my ITBS, and the fact that I would like to be in reasonable shape to run well at Medoc, it seems ridiculous to even start the 50K. Why would I risk the setback on my PT and careful strengthening to do a race that is not my A race, a race that I signed up for out of serendipity?

It’s not just a 50K run, though. The following weekend, I will speak at the memorial service for my lifelong friend Suzie, who was killed last September on her early morning run by a hit-and-run driver in Eureka CA. I had signed up counting on the 50K to help me steady myself for a much tougher event, one that will take everything I have.

I could accomplish this in other ways. But the singular effort of running a long way and the need to focus intently on the trail allow me both time and space for my brain to wander and my heart to find peace. And Suzie loved running trails.

It seems unlikely that I can go the full distance, and I do want to run Medoc with my son Stephen and my friends two weeks later. A friend told me that my brain and body will reach an agreement at some point and I’ll know the right decision.

I’m not afraid of pain, which is temporary. I’m afraid of the setback, of having to start from scratch again and extending the recovery time. If I thought I could run the 15 miles to the dam without causing additional problems, I’d do so happily and call it a very successful DNF. It’s hard to imagine that I’ll be able to run much farther.

My heart and brain will find the right answer. I just can’t see it yet.

*A line from a poem or story gets stuck in my head, and there’s no going back. Acknowledgement and apologies to: Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. “To Be, or Not to Be” [Internet]: Wikipedia. Available from:,_or_not_to_be

Adventures in Cross-Training

I appear to have an IT Band Situation. Apparently, it’s caused by running too much on uneven surfaces. Which is my favorite kind of running.

Part 1.
I go see the fabulous Peep PT Mimi, who has the friendliest smile and can contort your body in amazing ways. She is certified in ART, which I’m told stands for Active Release Therapy. I prefer to call it “All Righty Then!” which captures the surprise I felt as my foot approached my ear. All is great until she pulls out a small plastic purple comb that doesn’t have any teeth. I’m not impressed, even as she tells me about the inventor (Grafton) and how this is going to smooth out the bumps in my IT band. She runs it over my leg and it is like hitting those bumpy sound warning strips on the side of the highway that are designed to wake you up if you fall asleep at the wheel. It is really that bad. And the yelp I make is nearly as loud.

Part 2.
Sunday is completely crummy but I am jealous when Andrew, Stephen and Will head out to Umstead to run the Sycamore loop. They returned muddy, soaking wet and freezing. My envy knows no bounds. [Yes, I realize this is a character flaw.] I meet Ann at the Y at 11 to swim and would have bailed if she hadn’t been there (she concurs). We swim for an hour and have a great workout. I had planned to try deep-water running but Mimi already told me how painfully boring it is. I also didn’t want Ann to sit the hot tub alone. On the plus side, the jet on my aching hip flexor totally rocks.

Part 3.
I see Danny and Kerry on the spin bikes as I head out to grudgingly try a Bike to Nowhere. Within 15 minutes Danny actually fakes his own death so he can leave. Kerry and I accost unsuspecting Peeps who happen by, whining about our injuries and begging them to share stories that would lift our dampened spirits. Audrey can hear us yakking over her iPod, 4 treadmills away. Gordy chooses a treadmill even farther away. Soon, we have our own radius of empty bikes and treadmills. But, I actually make it an hour on the bike without bursting into flames. I leave, deciding that Peeps make everything better, even swims on cold rainy days and Bikes to Nowhere.

Part 4.
I go to spin class at 5:45 am after my spouse unwisely stays up too late watching basketball. To my amazement there are a dozen Peeps there. My butt is so sore from Sunday that I sit on my towel. Fortunately, nobody laughs. Rosemary leads a hill workout and I quickly realize that a seated ride is all my ITB can do. I zone out a little because the buzzing of many spin bikes makes it so I can’t hear or talk. I perk up a little when Rosemary skips a song that she says isn’t Y-appropriate, and spend the rest of the class wondering what it is. I make it through a second hour in a 24 hour period on the Bike to Nowhere, which has got to be a record.

Part 5.
After spin class, most Peeps flee while Cheryl, Ann and I head into 30 minutes of Absolute Abs. I like to think I have decent core strength but quickly realize how wrong I am. I should have known I was in trouble as soon as Rosemary tells us to get out the bosu. She tells us to lie on the ball with our hands and feet in the air, perching on our backs like dead bugs. Which is the name of this move (could there be a more obvious warning?). From there, you get to your feet, stand up, go down into plank, stand up again, then sit and lean back on the bosu, assuming the dead bug position. The first time, I sit too far forward, and my big feet pull me down. The second time, I sit farther back. I lean back, picking up my feet to assume the dead bug stance. Next thing I know my feet are flying over my head as I flip over backwards. Fortunately, Ann and some dude I hope never to see again are the only witnesses. Ann laughs. The dude grabs my bosu the minute class ends and takes it away from me.

Part 6.
I head back to Mimi after diligently following her plan of stretch and strengthening exercises that should give me better balance and strength. I do a little foam rolling before our appointment, and am happy to notice that my hip flexor feels better even than it did this morning. And this time my foot really does almost touch my ear as some of the tightness is addressed. Even Mimi seems cautiously optimistic (knowing full well that if she’s too excited, I’ll go right out and do something dumb). I get the OK to try a short, flat, straight run on Thursday. I want to start cheering. See what I mean? All Righty Then!

When I showed Andrew my Umstead marathon splits and asked him what I should do to improve my marathon, he said I should add cross-training and core work. Oh, and sleep like a normal person. Still working on the sleep part. Thanks to all the Peeps and especially Mimi who have offered healing and support!

2013 Umstead Trail Marathon. Me versus My Brain, or How I Conquered Mile 19.

Most Saturday mornings, you can find me out with the Peeps at Umstead State Park, running the bridle paths or single-track trails. There’s a collective groan when we decide to run Turkey Creek—it’s steep and hilly. But here’s what I tell the naysayers: if you train at Umstead, every road race will seem easy.

There is a spot along South Turkey Creek—south of the bridge that parallels Ebenezer Church Rd, past where the trail climbs past the butt tree, but before you reach Loblolly Trail and the junction with Reedy Creek Rd. It looks innocuous enough, and I’ve run by it plenty of times in training, though always with eyes narrowed in fear and loathing. It is at this spot, mile 19, where my will to run drained away in the 2009 and 2012 Umstead marathons (summarized here, with agonizing detail here), my first and 3rd marathons. [Mile 19 at my other marathon, NYC, was in the Bronx, and wasn’t much better.]

It doesn't look so bad, does it? A beautiful stretch of scenic Piedmont woods. Don't be fooled. I have abandoned my soul here.

It looks lovely, doesn’t it? A beautiful stretch of scenic Piedmont woods. Don’t be fooled. I have abandoned my soul here twice (many thanks for finding this photo, Scott Lynch).

Not bonking at Mile 19 sounds like a lame non-goal. But I’ve raced Uwharrie 20 twice without bonking, and I didn’t bonk on my 40 miler either. However, my pace was much slower for these races, because of the terrain and distance. Could I sustain a faster, steady pace for a marathon distance without crashing and burning at mile 19? I needed to know.

My second goal was to run even or negative splits. If I succeeded at these two goals I wondered whether that would lead me to an Umstead PR (sub-4:14). I thought it was possible. I wasn’t in as good shape as I was last year, but I thought I could beat my time if I ran a smarter race. It was going to be me versus my brain. [And those who know me would bet money that my go-for-broke attitude would make me smack that Mile 19 wall like a bug.]

It was a fast start. In past years I’ve managed to scrape into the top 15, earning a handmade wooden plaque of that year’s animal mascot. Both times, I was toward the front of the big pack and in the top 10 women (until mile 19). This year I was well behind that pack, clearly behind a couple dozen women. I wanted to work my way up to the front, but my brain knew that this race was against me and nobody else (not even the uber-fashionable woman who elbowed me—twice—in the first mile. Really?).

I ran with Steve a bit before we hopped on the single-track. He helpfully suggested that I not lose my mind on Company Mill. Next, he chastised me for slowing down too much. I suspect he was worried I’d talk non-stop for 20+ miles. Sure enough, he fled shortly thereafter and I didn’t see him again til Turkey Creek.

It’s a funny thing–running 5+ miles of single track at Umstead, then heading down the Corkscrew to Turkey Creek–to hit mile 9 and think “well, the easy part is done.” But, Turkey Creek lies ahead. Twice.

I passed my buddies Anna and Martin on Reedy Creek Rd., out for a run after they volunteered for morning parking duty. Carolyn was all over the course. Audrey was waiting with the Ladies in Red at the Trinity Rd. aid station, and Candace and Danny were on the Ebenezer Church Bridge. Diane and Richard were riding around the course on bikes, as was Tara. Dennis and Claudia were taking finish line photos. Jon, Steve, Pat, Joanna, and Andrea were all doing the race with me. Fran, Libby, and Robert, and Andrew and the boys were at the finish line. Hometown races rock.

I also recognized and met at least a dozen local folks, many of whom I’ve seen at races and connected with on the blogosphere and Facebook, which was really fun. Even after the race I was connecting names with faces in race photographs and regretting I didn’t meet more people.

Scott and I conquer Round 1 of Turkey Creek.

Scott and I conquer Round 1 of Turkey Creek. Woo hoo! (photo by Audrey)

At the Shamrock Aid Station (yes, I touched the clover for luck–I was on North Turkey Creek, for Pete’s sake), I caught up with Scott Lynch, who patiently waited for me to select a homemade cookie and fill my water bottle. We entertained each other with stories of rash decisions we’ve made while running. We were at 2:07 at the halfway point, a little behind where I’d wanted to be, but close (I was under 2 hrs at the half in 2009 and 2012, and wanted to be closer to 2:05). Sadly, norovirus came out of nowhere and attacked Scott at the bike+bridle aid station and I continued back by myself. I had no idea how bad it was until I read his race report afterward. Way to hang tough, Scott.

It's now a running joke that I can be caught snacking at every aid station. Banana?

It’s now a running joke that I can be caught snacking at every aid station. Banana? (photo by Audrey)

I ate another banana to ward off cramps, and started back down Turkey Creek alone and  feeling apprehensive. How great was it to see Joanna and Andrea looking strong and steady! I crossed the Ebenezer Church bridge and left my banana-, snot-, and gu-slimed gloves with understanding friends, who also helped me ditch my long-sleeved shirt. I wasn’t really keeping track of my time, just checking mile times on my Timex at most of the mile markers. I came up on mile 19 and ran strong past it, but didn’t want to jinx myself by blowing a raspberry. I cruised into the Trinity Rd. aid station for a second time feeling very upbeat. And some guy had just said he’d try to hang with me—of course, my ego totally deflated when I found out that this was his taper run for the Graveyard 100 the following weekend (hope it went well, Sultan!).

Now it was just a 10K to go and it’s nice downhill cruising until you hit the Corkscrew. I tried to pick up my pace a bit, knowing the last few hills that were in store and wanting to see if I could even-split the race. I could tell that my legs had other ideas.

There are always a lot of wheels at the bottom of Cedar Ridge.

There are always a lot of wheels at the bottom of Cedar Ridge. It’s not really a fun spot on the Umstead marathon. (photo by Shannon)

As I slogged down Cedar Ridge with my ITB complaining ever more loudly, I decided that a negative split was a tall order for Umstead. Running up the Corkscrew, Cedar Ridge and Cemetery Hill in the last 10K while picking up your pace is a bit much to ask. Just as I reached this conclusion, my spirits picked up when I caught sight of Jon and Steve coming back up the hill, and Candace and Danny at the turnaround.

Diane was waiting for me when I came back out on Reedy Creek Rd. I was feeling whipped. She said nice things and rode along with me as we caught up with my friend Pat and his bike escort Richard. I started slogging up Cemetery Hill. “Tell me a story, Diane,” I begged. “What’s going on with your foot, anyway?” It turned out to be the story of the Second Metatarsal Stress Fracture, a tragedy involving Diane’s foot in the title role. Not recommended at bedtime; it could cause nightmares. Get better soon, my friend.

Finish line ahead!

Yahoo! Finish line ahead! (photo by Diane)

I arrived at the crest and started feeling much better. In fact, I felt great. “Hey Diane,” I said. “What do you need? You’re almost there!” “See that woman up there?” I was starting to grin, a little slyly. “Yes.” “I’m going to reel her in.” Ah, but I’ve been that person so many times. When I came up beside her, just before the last turn, I said “hey, we’re nearly there. Let’s run it in.” I gave it my all on the last half mile in, finishing in a happy and completely done 4:16 (2 minutes behind my Umstead PR, 3rd fastest marathon–out of 4 😉 ).

Stick a fork in me, bro. I'm done.

Stick a fork in me, bro. I’m done. (photo by Claudia)


I’ll cut to the data. Like any good scientist, I LOVE data, especially visual data. I made this chart comparing my 2012 and 2013 Umstead marathons and overlaying an enlightening piece of data—the elevation chart.

I can't decide which is nerdier--that I made this chart, or that I made it with splits from my Timex and an Excel spreadsheet. Vintage nerd!

I can’t decide which is nerdier–that I made this chart, or that I made it with splits from my Timex and an Excel spreadsheet. Old school geek!

My conclusions from this chart:
1. No bonk! Woo hoo!
2. Umstead is flippin’ hilly. It’s a hard race, even if you do run there every weekend.
3. If the race had been longer, I would have caught my 2012 self. Or died.
4. I might have PR’d if I hadn’t picnicked at every aid station. All my slowest miles included aid stations. On the other hand, see #1.
5. Fastest mile was mile 26, 8:28 pace! Rock and roll!

What you can’t tell from the chart: Best. Marathon. Ever.

Bringing our Peep Andrea home through the Tower of Power. Rock and roll!

Cheering our Peep Andrea across the finish line through the Tower of Power. Hometown races are the best! (photo by Claudia)