Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Loco Marathon

I got the idea in my head a few years back that I wanted to run the Boston Marathon. I mean, I'm a runner, I live in Boston, it only makes sense that I should do this race. But you've gotta qualify for the thing, and that means running a fast-enough road marathon before you can even sign up. And of course, I wanted to run reasonably fast, so that when people ask the inevitable "oh, you're a runner? have you run a marathon?" you can be like "yeah, and a fast one too."

I'm known for my humility.

After watching the 2017 race, there were so many people in it that I knew and they were all inspiring and I was all like "omg I wanna run this race!" But, it takes a while to get ready for a marathon, you have to do lots of long runs and do them on pavement and pay attention to pace, and all this stuff that is actually kind of new to me, because I run for time rather than distance, seeking hills and forest and rocks and things, and while I do regular track workouts, I have no idea how fast to run when it's just on a boring old road. So, I downloaded a training plan from the internet, tweaked it to fit all my other various athletic obligations, and signed up for the Quebec City marathon, pretty much the latest race I could run and still sign up for Boston to run the 2018 race. Enter the Great Smashed Kneecap of Summer 2017, an ill-advised 24-hour couch-to-marathon plan after 9 weeks off, and definitely no BQ.

That's ok, we all have setbacks. My kneecap recovered just fine, and I signed up for a spring race, convincing my friend Sharon to join me at Sugarloaf. Enter the 2018 World Cup course setting and subsequent knee injury (of the other knee) brought on through too much skiing, too little sleep, and far too much stress. That one took two months of patiently waiting for my body to fix itself, again without really being able to bend my knee during the recovery time. A little gun shy that mere stress could trigger actual physical ailments, I was careful returning to training, and hesitant to drop yet another $100 on a race entry if I didn't think I could race it. Thanks to time and the tireless work by the folks at Beantown Physio, I finally declared myself healed and ready to rock this July, and started to put in some miles again.

But I still didn't sign up for a race. When you're coming back from zero, it takes a long time to get to the point where you're putting in adequate mileage to start to contemplate long races, and I wasn't willing to let myself latch onto a race, yet. Mentally and emotionally, I couldn't handle it if something happened and I wouldn't be able to run. And yet the miles ticked by, one at a time, until I was finally reaching that strange point in marathon training where 10 miles no longer feels like a big deal. And, with a little prodding from Sharon, I signed up for a race on October 28th - the Loco Marathon.

The race
B goal: BQ (3:35, though technically 3:30 because the race fills up)
A goal: Faster than that

Sharon was running the half marathon, while I got to do a second lap, but we could start together. I really had no idea how fast I'd be running - you're supposed to know these things, but I didn't have much to go on in terms of half marathons or 10ks. I figured I'd do what I do best, run by feel, and listen to my body. I have something like 700 race starts over the last decade to draw experience from, so even though the race course surface may be different, I'm still piloting the same beat up body.

Pre-race vibe
 The first ten miles were a total breeze. The weather was cool and misty, I had dressed perfectly for it, I had a happy song in my head, and there were plenty of people around me. I started out behind the 7:35 pace group, knowing that I just had to tick off every 5-mi lap in 40 minutes or less to hit my Boston Qualification (BQ) time. I figured that I should slowly let the 7:35 guy get out of sight, but I'd rather fall into a pace early and hang on to it as things got rough, than try to summon the extreme mental oomph required to negative split anything. Never been my forte, negative splitting. So, I cruised through those first five miles quite happily, chatting a little first with Sharon and then with another two ladies that I was near. The course was gorgeous, rural and pretty flat, through farms and fields on quiet roads. I think most of the traffic was from spectators who were trying to get to good cheering locations.

The second five miles were equally fun. I was relaxing up the hills, rolling down them, remembering to eat my special running gummies (gotta love a sport where you're not only allowed, but SUPPOSED TO eat gummy bears as you do it!), and smiling about how much fun it is to run. Each of the first two five-mile laps I'd earned about 2 minutes of cushion against my BQ, which I was sure I'd dig into later. The last three miles of each Loco loop were on a dirt rail trail, and I was expecting something a little more finished, maybe cinder. It was a bit of a surprise to thus find myself splashing through mud puddles on an uneven trail - hey, this is the good stuff! I wasn't expecting to actually have fun!

The course got much quieter after lapping through the half - seemed most people were just doing one lap. I started to pick off runners, seemed like a lot of people were starting to fade on lap 2. At the 15mi mark, I reminded myself that at Pisgah, I was only halfway done. This seemed to help with the almost-there syndrome that you otherwise get in long races. Stay focused, you've got a lot of running left to do.

We call this the staring-at-your-feet-face

The next five miles got tough. Some of it was being on a second loop of what you've already done, and some of it was just the accumulated repetitive motion starting to wear on me. I may be able to do 50ks and Pemi loops and whatever else, but those have so many different motions for your legs - this marathon business was the same damn thing, over and over and over. By my calculations, that's 18,180 strides that I took on Sunday, each one almost identical to the last. And, I was doing them considerably faster than all those training strides (maybe 720,000 strides, give or take a few thousand), because I didn't really know how fast I was supposed to be going in training. This wasn't nearly as easy as the first time through this loop.

Running was taking much more concentration, now, and I was more focused now, a little less smiley. My quads were doing their best to shit the bed, sharp pain with each step, and there's nothing to do about that except put it out of your mind and keep ticking off miles. I was very slowly reeling in a guy ahead of me when two guys that I'd dropped on the rail trail caught back up to me. This was excellent timing, because I was entering a pretty low point, wondering if I'd still hit a BQ if I walked the rest of the course. I got into their draft, back up to speed at 7:35 miles, and it was a lot of work, but I could keep my legs going through strength of will. Our little group of four continued to pick off miles, not much chatter now, and we finally got to the little hill before the rail trail and I knew I'd make it. I can force myself through three miles of anything!

Laughing at Sharon's sign. Chuck Norris never ran a marathon. It was really funny at the time. 

Sharon was at the top of the hill with some funny signs, and that totally bolstered my spirits. I was looking forward to the mud, too, if only because I wanted to use different muscles, and as I churned my way up the rail trail I caught a glimpse of a woman way ahead of me. Target: acquired. I started pace counting, just to stay focused and take my mind off my quads and keep moving, and though it felt like it took forever, I eventually caught up to her. Two miles left. You can count to 1440, just keep counting paces. The last 5-mi lap dinged, and I was still banking time against the BQ. Go me! One more mile. Half a mile. Two tenths. Started to see more spectators. Into the final muddy field. Oh man I can see the finish! Crossed that line, and I have never been so happy to stop running.

Still running, not jogging. splish splash!

HR and pace both slowly dropping as my legs crashed

Overall, I'm quite pleased with how the race went. I hit my goal, and even though I was exploring the pain cave for much of the last eight miles, I was able to push through without losing too much time. For having no idea how fast I ought to have been training, I discovered that the answer was "much faster than I did." It would have been nice to maintain my 1:39 half split, but I think without the faster road training, it just wasn't going to happen. A part of me wants to tackle this challenge again, because I'm fairly sure sub-3:20 is within reach, maybe even sub-3:15. But a much larger part of me is very happy to just sign up for and run the 2020 Boston Marathon and call it good (we all know a fast Boston Marathon is out of the question because of ski season).

The best part? Both knee injuries are just history. For the meantime, I have put that injury-demon to rest.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Orienteering USA Nationals

Orienteering USA Nationals were hosted by the Southern Michigan Orienteering Club and Orienteering Cincinnati, two weekends back. The joint effort meant that the venues were spread pretty far apart, but it enabled the event to happen, which was a good thing. Middle and Sprint distance races were in South Bend, Indiana, and the long distance was up near Bishop Lake, Michigan. Two states I hadn't orienteered in before!

Drive from Detroit to South Bend featured a lot of this

Middle Distance
I'd had a pretty hectic week at work leading into the weekend, and combined with a very short night of sleep to catch the early flight to Detroit, I was feeling somewhat zombie-ish for Friday's middle distance race. The map, such as we'd seen before the race, looked to be a flat course, with a lot of trail route choices. I knew it would feel like a cross country race, so I tried to psych myself up, but couldn't quite tap into the right mindset. The cold soaking rain wasn't helping matters, and I would much rather have been back in the warm hotel room wrapped in a blanket.

I also badly miscalculated how much time I had before my start - I had thought I had 40 minutes, but it turned out I had 7 minutes. Whoopsie. I tried to keep the effort steady at first, to let my legs warm up, but then found myself lacking enough give-a-damns to either push hard or to push through any forest. I fell into the trap of reading one control at a time, and thus got totally caught by the trap with the uncrossable fence (that, yes, we had driven past to get into the park. D'oh).

Not seeing said uncrossable fence on my map, because I was being a little lazy with the map reading, I chose to go straight-ish out of 11, and crossed the muddy slough. That part looked so innocent on the map! I was chest-deep, with a foot stuck under branches, and wondering if that was how I was going to die. Spoiler: I got out. Shortly thereafter, I emerged from the woods and hit the fence, and had I read the whole leg, I would have just run around to the north, stayed dry, and saved a few minutes and a lot of annoyance. Ah well, orienteering. You think you're soaked through when you orienteer in the rain, but you're not *really* soaked until you've gone swimming.
The red line is my GPS track. If you look at the beautiful piece between controls 11 and 12, you'll first see a zigzag on the trail, where I'm searching for a way through some thick multiflora rose. You can't quite tell how much time I spent wallowing in that thing blue line of muck, but that was a while, and then I had to run around the fence anyway. The thick dark blue line is the route I *should* have taken, thus saving myself a few minutes... d'oh. 

The few controls in the woods after the stream-fence debacle were too few to get me back into a good mood. Mostly, I was upset that I had skimped when packing, and would thus have to wear this wet and muddy kit tomorrow, too. Anyway, I finished the race not feeling great about it, and like I'd left some 3-4 minutes out there in terms of effort and sharp navigation, but it was good enough for a silver medal behind Ali, who had blazed around the course in lightning time.

Sprint Championship
Saturday was colder than I'd expected, but in good news, my kit, that I had painstakingly rinsed out in the shower, was dry enough to wear. There were two sprints today, and the combined time would be used to crown the national champion. Ali could only race the Friday race, so given the depth of the women's field, this race was mine to lose. My recent marathon training has been a lot of slow miles, so I was somewhat worried that I wouldn't have enough get-up-and-go for sprint racing, and I was correct in my worries.

Speaking of marathon training, I was also trying to get in my last hard-ish workout on the plan. My compromise involved doing two mile repeats in the warmup for my first sprint, and while the mile repeats felt great, I could tell as I was running that my sprinting was suffering. Not surprising.

The first sprint sent us across a knee-deep ford of a cold river on the way to the second control. This wasn't cool, because my feet were now wet and frozen, and shortly thereafter I felt my lower legs lock up because of the cold. The course was relatively straightforward, and I had good sprint-flow, always knowing my exit direction and anticipating well, but I didn't have much speed to give it. That was enough to take the women's win by 35 seconds over second place, who wasn't actually US-Championship-eligible, and third place among the men, just 43 seconds behind Wyatt.

We had a short break, and then it was time for the second sprint, which promised to be more woodsy. Alena, the second place woman from the morning's sprint, was starting just 1 minute behind me, so I was worried that she'd get to hunt me down. Indeed, after a few micro-route decisions that were the wrong decisions, and one long hesitation in the floodplain near #11, she had made contact. Darn! I tried to keep up, and slowly narrowed the gap, but the race was over too quickly. At this point I was totally exhausted, the heavy warmup, two races, and all of last week's stress crashing into me all at once. And we still had a 3h drive to get to the banquet location and our hotel for the night.

Handing out the medals after the sprint

Long distance championship
It felt like morning came too soon, especially considering how far west in the time zone we were. Pitch black at 8am! Today's race, up near Bishop Lake, promised to be some interesting glaciated terrain, again with relatively thick undergrowth, but at least some good navigational challenges to keep things interesting. It also promised to be even colder than Saturday, with the front that had blown through and brought a little ice and snow the night before. Exciting!

My plan for this race was to keep the effort pretty low, and treat it as a long training run. See the above thing about the marathon. I knew that my nearest F21 competitors would likely be running even slower, and I didn't want to totally trash my taper by building on the fatigue I was already feeling. So, the intention was to have perfectly clean navigation, looking for good micro-routes, sending it down the hills, and taking it easy on the uphills. This plan in general went pretty well, and the slower pace definitely helped me have clean navigation.

Fun glacial stuff!

This was interesting terrain and a fun course, not quite as nasty vegetation as I'd anticipated, despite plenty of green, which was well-used as a navigational challenge. I started out carefully, not sure how I'd deal with the glacial terrain, and made a couple hesitation-errors, but got into my flow moved steadily. I found myself choosing straight-ish routes, and reading the topography well enough. While this certainly wasn't a super fast time for me, it was good enough to beat all the women, even Alena, the speedy non-US-eligible runner! I was very pleased with that, as it was a little unexpected. Woo!

This is my last year racing in the elite category as per age classes. I can always choose to keep running against the elites, and may well do that for a while, but I also have permission to race the "old ladies' next year. Looking forward to it, but it was nice to go out with two gold medals and a silver!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Pemi loop

This hike has been on my bucket list for a while, so when Ari mentioned that he wanted to run the Pemi loop this fall, I thought it might fit perfectly in with my marathon training. Kind of. At least if you look at it all squinty or something. I mean, hiking over 10,000ft of climb is totally good prep for rolling out 8-minute miles endlessly, right? Well, at the very least, this promised to fill my soul with mountain views and rocks and leaves and things, and I was all in.

Unfortunately my body didn't totally agree with this all-in attitude. My right foot hadn't quite recovered from Pisgah, and throwing another 50k at it, this time with hills, was not kind. But I started the day hoping for the best, because that's what I do.

We went debated the merits of clockwise vs counterclockwise in the car, and ultimately settled on clockwise, mostly because that was how Ari has always done it in the past, and it means you reach Galehead Hut after having already done the bulk of the climbing and rough trail. Gabriel and I were up for whatever, having never done this loop before and happy to rely on someone else's expertise.

We jogged off toward the Osseo trail with high spirits. Up the trail to Flume Ari and Gabriel quickly dropped me, and I discovered that my legs were definitely feeling the heavy training load from last week. I made the conscious decision to back off a little, because life is a lot more fun when you're not suffering, and gosh was it a beautiful day for putting one foot in front of the other! The boys didn't have to wait for *too* long at the top, and the ridge between Flume and Liberty was great. We jogged along happily, but once we hit Little Haystack, we started running into the crowds on the Franconia Ridge. I don't blame them, because that is the most amazing accessible trail that I can think of, but we passed maybe 100-150 people between Little Haystack and Lafayette, in both directions. The whole ridge was in a cloud, which took away any sense of distance, but it was nice to not get totally fried by the sun.
Looking east from Flume. One of those days!

South from Flume.

Hey we're going to go into that cloud! 

I had to do handstands on top of Lafayette, because tradition, and then we left the crowds behind as we traipsed off toward Garfield. I had been feeling pretty good along the ridge, but various injuries were starting to niggle as we descended from the ridge, and I knew I'd be in for a long day. Normally I can dance down the hills, but not this day. I tried to put the pain out of my mind, because with some overuse injuries you have the luxury of knowing that you're probably not doing longterm damage, and you can just push through. But, I was certainly feeling pretty battered by the time we'd gone up and down Garfield and the following lumpy bits of trail. Galehead was a welcome site!

One of my old skiers, Hannah, is working at Galehead this season, but unfortunately was out packing food for the hut last Saturday, so our paths didn't cross. But, she left me a plate full of bread and cookies, and a cardboard Pemi Loop Queen crown, which I tried to wear for the rest of the loop. Unfortunately, cardboard isn't a great material for durability when you're wearing it on your sweaty head, but I loved the thought of it!

Looking down into the Pemigewasset wilderness from Garfield

A bowl of soup at the hut, and then we headed off for our last real climb of the day, up South Twin. It's tough to get moving again after sitting down, but you don't really have a choice. Unfortunately by the top of this one, my plantar fascia foot was starting to really hurt, and the subsequent ridge, which should have been awesome running, was just sort of a painful slog, trying to match pace with the boys, and not being too successful at it. I'd never been up to Mt. Bond before, and it was gorgeous. Beautiful views of the Franconia ridge to one side and the Presidentials to the other, nothing steep or difficult to traverse, just lots of nice trail. Bondcliff was as cool as everyone has always said it is; I'd like to go do that again and have a picnic up there.

My Pemi Loop Queen crown on top of South Twin

Ari and Gabriel heading up Mt. Bond

The boys on top of Bondcliff

Thus some 22-something miles into the day, we finally started downhill, and my foot was pretty upset at being asked to bear weight. We still made it down reasonably quickly, but then those final five miles of flat old railroad by the river... those were rough. I couldn't put power through either foot, and resorted to sort of hillbounding with my poles, at a struggle shuffle 13-minute mile. Oof. Takes a long time to cover flat ground when you're going that slowly, but Ari was a good friend and hung back to tell me stories. Gabriel couldn't stand the idea of that final piece of trail taking so long, and ran ahead. I can't blame him, and wished I'd been able to manage a more respectable pace, but sometimes you just gotta run what you brung.

The eponymous river

So after a very long slog, we were back to the car, some 10.5 hours after starting. 30 miles and 10,000ft of climb is a big day, no matter who you are. What a crazy awesome day. Of course I wished I could have gone faster, because that's who I am, but for now I am very satisfied having just made it around. While that may qualify as a bucket list item, I'm not writing off doing it again, on fresher legs!