Friday, November 11, 2016

Stonecat 50

I signed up for a 50-mile race, back in June. I think the reason I signed up had something to do with catching the bug after running Pisgah in 2013, and wanting to check this idiotic thing off my bucket list. Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t awesome, with a late WOC and later NAOC leaving only four weekends that I could go long, before tapering off. I was definitely apprehensive heading in. Two goals:

A. Finish, no more broken than I started
B. Don’t finish, no more broken than I started

Naturally, I also wanted to run well, which for me meant around an 8-hour time, and preferably in first place. Because why not shoot for the moon? But the main focus was on goal A.

First lap
We started out in the dark, and I like that, because you feel like a badass, just flying along. Flying is an exaggeration, we were all sort of trundling off into the darkness. I made a pit stop about 20 minutes in, and that put me in no-man's land, so I spent the next 1:40 alone. That was actually kind of enjoyable; I knew I was racing people but I was appreciating the solitude. The first aid station came in about 45 minutes, and I topped off a little water, but didn’t need much else. I spent pretty much all day munching on Clif Bloks.

Between the two aid stations I felt like I was really rolling along nicely, and the trail was flat and wide, and my biggest worry was that I wouldn't be able to match this pace later in the race. Somewhere in here it started to get light, and that was so beautiful. Especially when I went through a swamp or a field, everything was covered in frost and the sun was just starting to hit it, glistening and sparkling. Wheee! And it snowed on me a little bit! More wheee!

After the second aid station was more double track and then two chunks of singletrack, both starting with a nice climb, which meant I could do some walking. The lead marathoner guy passed me somewhere in here, and scared the heck out of me, since I’d been running totally alone and in my own little sparkling world for so long. I felt good, but was worried that my hamstrings were already feeling kind of tired, especially as I pushed the pace on the flats. That thing I mentioned about only doing four long runs... yeah.

Second Lap
Ed greeted me at the lap, and I had a hardboiled egg and a salt potato to go. I also changed my shirt, which had gotten way too sweaty under my jacket while carrying a water bottle belt. Dumped the belt for a handheld here. The second place woman came in as I was leaving, so I knew I wasn't alone out there, and that helped me keep focused. The fun singletrack on the way to the first aid station was a little less fun this time, but I kept focusing on really striding out the downhills. Got to the aid in about a minute faster this time, probably because it was light out. Begged some ibuprofen off a lady spectating, for the ankle, then on to the next aid. Still munching on Clif Bloks. I like those.

Took a quarter pbj at the next aid. I had hit it in the same time as lap 1, so I guess the pace was ok, but I was sort of waiting for a hamstring cramp. On the first climb of the final section, the lead marathon woman caught up to me, followed by a 50-mile woman. She had on some sort of crappy music player blaring pop music, so I wanted to be out of earshot, either in front or behind. I tried to remind myself to run my own race, since they were jogging the uphills and I was walking, but competitive juices were upset that I’d been caught. I came through the lap in another two hours, so the pace was good, but I was starting to notice the tiredness. I told Ed that this was a stupid idea, and he promptly said “No it’s not! You love running!” Clearly he had read my instructions to him to remind me that I signed myself up for this endeavor.

Third lap
I was quicker through home base than the other woman (Suki), and left with a salt potato in my hand, walking on the gradual uphills to eat it. Different drink mix in my bottle this lap, and I think that was a mistake - it started to mess with my stomach. Previously I'd just been taking Nuun tablets, which are fizzy and not sweet and I find them both tasty and very nice to my stomach. Suki jogged past me in the first few miles of the lap, and promptly disappeared. Run your own race. Stopped to pee somewhere, and then kept on plugging. Again, focusing on proper strides, especially on the downhills, no shuffling. Shortly before the first aid I passed Suki, which is always heartening, but she came into the aid just behind me. Run your own race. I kept plugging, and we ran together for a bit, but then a woman in a green jacket caught us, and moved right past us, and Suki followed. Run your own race. They were gone, and that was when I really started to notice that my stomach was in a lot of discomfort. I was down to shuffle-pace, and that sucked.

Two pit stops later fixed whatever was going on, and soon I was able to properly stride out again. I was definitely tired, but hey, that’s a state of mind, right? I walked the two uphills on the singletrack, but I could run the downhills again, and my stride was still even, despite some aches and pains. I was going to finish this damn thing.

I was passing lots of marathon people now, most on their second lap, and it helped a bit to have rabbits ahead of me. Somewhere near the end got passed by the lead dude and his pacers, and they were MOVING. I tried to keep up for a bit, considering we were on a downhill, and even that was too tough. Dang. Hit the lap in about 2:15, big slow-down. But, now I get a pacer!

Fourth lap
Tom Dmukaskas, from the CSU running section, had agreed to pace me for my final lap. We haven’t run together a whole lot, but I’ve always enjoyed my interactions with him, so I figured it would work out. As we started out, he was questioning how I felt, getting a sense of how much I wanted to be pushed and how much I was capable of at the moment. I certainly didn’t feel like I was capable of much, and I was 10 minutes down on the lady in green and maybe 5 minutes down on Suki, so I wasn’t feeling hopeful either. But I’m a fighter, and he figured that out, and once he discovered that i was still running downhills well, we started pushing those. I had chosen to carry a water bottle belt again this lap, because my arms were getting tired of carrying the handheld, but it was giving me a stomach cramp. This hindered me for a bit, but I dumped the belt at the first aid station, while keeping the bottle, and that helped the stomach.

Along the doubletrack towards the second aid, I was finding a bit of a second wind, mostly thanks to Tom. We rolled past a guy on a downhill, and then just kept rolling. I was thinking about my form again, which helped, and now that the cramp had passed I was munching on Clif Bloks again. We hit a chunk of single track and started treating the downhill/flats as intervals - shuffle up the hill, then try and keep rolling as long as possible on the downhill. This worked, because we caught Suki at the top of one of the hills, and promptly left her in my dust. Normally I like to recover a bit first, but there weren’t too many real downhills, so I figured I should use them while they were there. Then for a few miles it was tough going, because I had to keep the pressure on, but out of sight out of mind, and she was behind me.

After the final aid station, things were getting painful. I was shuffling. Ankle, achilles, a random tendon behind my knee, and my feet soles were all clamoring for attention. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. Tom would let me take short walking breaks on the barely-perceptible uphills, but then it was back to running. We finally hit the last two single track climbs, which meant a more sustained walking break, and I needed that. The downhills were getting painful, because I’d had to loosen my shoe because of my ankle swelling or something, causing my foot to fall asleep, so now my shoe was loose and every downhill step my foot would slide my toes into the front of my shoe. I might lose that toenail. Anyway, we finally hit the doubletrack, and I could smell the hotdogs, figuratively, so trundled in to the finish at top speed, very, very, VERY glad to be done.

So after 8.5 hours, I ended up about 15 minutes behind the green girl, and maybe 10 ahead of Suki. Pretty ok with that time, especially given the insufficient training leading up to the race. Really pleased I was able to find a second (fourth?) wind on the final lap to catch back up to Suki. Super duper thanks to Ed for all his crewing help, and to Tom for the pacing. Definitely helped keep me in a more neutral state of mind rather than just tired and grumpy.


Apparently crewing your runner makes you hungry, too. We didn't bother with plates for dinner.

The day after, we hosted an orienteering event - Forest-X - at the Fells. It actually felt really good to walk around, and I was very relieved to not appear to have any injuries from this ridiculous endeavor. Check that one off the list! It'll need a damn good reason to do that again. 50-mile race is a bit of a misnomer, since I just spent the whole time plodding along - doesn't feel like a race. Looking forward to ski season now!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Miles to go before I sleep

Fall is finally happening! It took a while, but we're finally getting frostier mornings and some leafy colors. My long runs lately have been had me thinking poetically, and lately I feel like Frost is hitting home.

    Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.   
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.   
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

I made a poor choice in June, and signed up for a 50-miler in November. Given my taper schedule for the late-August/mid-September races, I had about six weeks between North Americans and the Stonecat 50. This is maybe time for 4-5 long runs, and long runs are supposed to be the backbone of ultra training. Six weeks is not enough time to train for an ultra, but somehow this seemed like a good plan in June. So while I do feel woefully unprepared, it has been a fun journey nonetheless, collecting miles like pokemons.

My feet have taken me some cool places lately. To be totally honest, I have no need of vertical, because the Stonecat course is basically flat. I didn't realize that when I signed up, or maybe I would have thought twice. Running up mountains is a lot more fun than doing loops on a flat and marshy trail, but I wanted a local-ish 50-miler. Despite not needing vertical, I go to the mountains whenever I get a chance. One of those chances was at Ali's wedding - naturally, she joined in a running-appropriate version of a wedding dress :)

Favorite sort of selfie! Camel's Hump in the background.

For some reasons, I couldn't get any takers for a Sunday morning four-hour jaunt in chilly clouds. It was beautiful and meditative. I'd never been on that part of the Long Trail.

Back in Boston, more miles of flat pavement. At least sometimes there are nice views - from across the river, the city looks clean and modern. Can't see the rats from over here!

Ed and I did a scavenger hunt a few weekends ago, thanks to a free entry. It was as gimmicky and ridiculous as we expected, and it was also kind of awesome. 100 riddles, once solved, gave 100 different locations around the city. You could run or bike or take public transit to get to these locations, take a geotagged photo, and try to unlock points and levels and get free stuff. It ended with free beer at the Harpoon brewery, and it was a long day - 11 hours of scavenging. We spent about an hour sitting there answering riddles before we got moving, and then we only walked - we had decided that we didn't feel like being super competitive. That didn't work; we walked 22 miles and were up there with some of the longest distances traveled by foot. Two tactical mistakes - because the whole thing was phone-based, we didn't do well with managing our phone batteries. I only brought one charger for the two of us, and we did all our riddle answering with a lot of google help, which drained our batteries. So we lost a few hours charging phones during the day. But overall, pretty fun, and an interesting way to get a long day on my feet.

The next weekend I was hoping to do a Pemi loop, since Ari had me convinced that this was a good idea, but then it snowed enough to make things icy on the ridges, and that combined with 100mph winds up there kept us below treeline. We stayed on pretty flat trails in a valley, and it was still pretty windy, so I feel like we made the right choice. It was definitely a beautiful day for a long run.

Shoal Pond in the snow. About as serene as it gets.

Thoreau Falls

Snow on fall leaves!

I had the opportunity to fly down to DC, where I got to hang out with Barney and his family, and help Boris and Alli with a junior training camp. Lots of fun in some really beautiful forests. Not the ideal taper weekend, but hey, board games count as rest, right?

And getting a little quality time with a beagle is nothing to scoff at. 

Two days from now I lace up my shoes and do something stupid. I'm kind of excited, kind of anxious, and hoping I can remember to find the joy while I run.