Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Ice Age 50-Miler Race Report

Well, this isn't exactly the race report I hoped I'd be writing. I of course wanted to be celebrating the completion of my first 50-miler. But it was not to be. That said, I am very proud of what I did accomplish (both with my fundraising and in the race). I am proud of the way my body held up physically and how I handled the hills and trails. For whatever reason, despite drinking what I thought was a lot of fluids, I got very dehydrated, which led to dizziness, and the decision to call it a day at the mile 40.3 aid station. Yes, I was/am disappointed - I wanted more than anything to finish! But I left it all out there...and I even impressed myself with what I was able to do out there. I'll take it. For now.

I read race reports where people go mile by mile, or section by section, and explain exactly how they felt and what they were thinking and doing during that part of the race. I have no idea how those people remember with such detail and clarity. I'd like to think that I can't remember specifics because I was so in the zone, in the moment, while I was out there...not thinking about how I will report back, but just enjoying the "being" on the trail. Whatever the case, here are some random thoughts and memories of what happened out there:

I completed law school - literally - on Thursday (May 8th) at about 4:45pm. I walked out of my last final exam and it felt a bit surreal...I wanted to celebrate, but I had to pack! My flight departed for WI at 6am the next morning!

I arrived in Milwaukee at around 8:30am and met my mom, who had flown in from Duluth, at the airport. We got in our rental car and drove the 40 minutes to the hotel, which was about 15 miles from the race start. Once there we just hung out and relaxed. I got my drop bags and crew bag ready for the next day, laid out my clothes and I was ready to roll!

My race fuel!

My mom hanging out in the hotel as I got ready for the race.
At around 4pm we went to packet pickup which was held at a restaurant just up the road from our hotel. It was very low-key and painless!

Sign on the restaurant where we went for packet pickup

My race number: "Lucky" 13!

The alarm(s) went off at 4am on Saturday. I was definitely anxious before the start, but I felt ready to go. I strangely had an excellent night's sleep the night before so I felt rested and solid before the start.

It was still chilly in the morning when we arrived at the start.

Right before the start! Ready to go.

The race has 3 distinct parts: The first is a loop on a XC ski trail and the second and third are two "out and backs" on the single-track Ice Age trail. If you are interested in seeing how the course is laid out, you can click here.

The race course.

I felt really good from the start, which was on a nice grassy trail. The trail was nice and wide here so I was able to chat with several different runners - something I love about trail running culture: the people. They are all so down to earth, so supportive, and friendly. Not that there aren't friendly people in road races, of course...but it's just, well, different. It's different in a way that I find preferable. Even the people who were out there looking for a specific time (as opposed to those of us just hoping to complete the race, and before the cutoff) don't take themselves quite as seriously as road runners do. I just love it.

After that first loop, the trail got more challenging. It was now "single-track" (only enough space for one runner at a time, so no running side by side) and since it was out and back, there were people going in both directions.

The trail started off reasonable enough, but sometime after mile 17 it started getting very hilly. At least for this girl who trained on the flat paths of Washington DC. I knew the course would be hilly...but I wasn't prepared for how steep and constant they were. That said: I realized right away that I was handling them really well. I hiked all of the uphills (everyone around me did this). This is a common way of handling the length and terrain of a trail race, especially an ultra. People were talking about taking the downhills easy because they can shred your quads after a while...but I pounded them all. I am not exactly built for distance running...but what I do have is lots of strength in my rear end and quads! I've never had trouble with downhills: I am built for them. And I take them aggressively. It's extremely fun and exhilarating.

Side note: It was pretty cool, on the first out and back, to jump out of the way when the elites flew by me. The speed with which they run the trails is amazing. And even though they were racing for more than just completion, they still made a point of saying something encouraging ("nice work" "looking good" and the like...) as we passed each other on the trail. Pretty awesome.

In the end, both a men's and women's course record were set that day - pretty amazing considering how warm it got in the afternoon. But they, of course, were done before the afternoon! For the approximately 6 hours, give or take, that they were running the weather was pretty great. You can read about the elite race here.

In general: I loved this race. I loved the course, I loved the event, I loved being out there. I was inspired by my mission (and success!) to raise money for Jacob's Ladder and I was excited that the race was finally happening. My body felt great and I realized I really was in great shape and ready for this race. I have never trained as long or as consistently for anything and it really paid off. Additionally, I did core/strength classes at the gym all semester and I think that really helped both my endurance and my ability to handle the hills and the technical parts of the trail. And I am proud of all of that.

But around mile 35, I started feeling dizzy. This happens, so at first I thought I'd be able to figure it out by doing something with my food or fluids. It was definitely warm (though I didn't really feel overly hot) and I had been running for a long time. And I thought my nutrition had been going well. I found that what I was craving most were the PBJ sandwiches at the aid stations and I had 1-2 pieces of those (they were cut in quarters) at nearly all of the aid stations. In between, I had Gu Roctane gels and Gu Chomps. But not that much. I only had 2-3 actual Gu packets and I think 3 packs of chomps during the whole race. For fluids, I was drinking water and water mixed with Nuun electrolyte tablets. I made a point of drinking a bunch of water while at the aid station and then filling up my 20 oz bottle before leaving the station. It's hard to imagine that I didn't drink enough, or how I could have had more, but clearly my body needed more. I was, of course, sweating a lot. I took a LOT of salt tabs (S-Caps), more than I ever have before, because I could feel the salt drying on my skin. The only other symptom I had that something was wrong, other than the dizziness, were my swollen fingers: they were HUGE. Very puffy - so much so that I could hardly bend them. They looked like huge sausages. This is not completely abnormal, but I have never seen them this big before.

At the mile 37 aid station I tried everything. I had some banana, salt, tons of water...I took off running again but I just didn't feel right. By mile 38 I was walking and trying to decide if I could push through. During the whole race I had been making good time without feeling like I was putting in too much effort. I had hit the half way point (aid station at 24.4) at 5 hours, 15 minutes. And at that point I still felt realy great!

I was feeling great at the halfway point!

But as I was walking mile 38 I realized I was losing a lot of time and knew that if I was going to push it through to the end and make the cut offs, I really needed to start alternating running. I tried over and over again but I was just too darn dizzy. My peripheral vision was fuzzy...and it was just too hard to run and dodge the roots and rocks in this kind of shape. I was probably around mile 39 when I decided that I had to stop at the next aid station, mile 40.3 (the point to the far right on the map above) and drop out. It was a terrible decision/feeling. And a very long walk to get there. 

I think the most frustrating thing was that I otherwise felt really good - physically, that is. Yes, I was tired. And yes, I had soreness (my hamstrings and lower back were definitely talking!). But I felt like I could do it...if I could have just figure out what was going wrong with my nutrition. But it wasn't meant to be.

When I got to the aid station I found my trusty crew: my mom and step mom, who had been so incredibly amazing all day! It had been so great all day arriving at the aid station and having them waiting there for me...snapping pictures and getting me whatever food and water I demanded! They were amazing, especially since they had never done, or seen, anything like a trail ultra before! I was so grateful to have them there all day. They had been so impressed by how strong I felt every time they had seen me up to this point. As such, it sucked to tell them that I had to stop. I sat down for a while and finally pulled off my timing chip and gave it to the volunteers. I wasn't the only one doing that...but that didn't make it any easier.

Here are some pics that my mom took at the aid stations:

I really did have a lot of fun.
See? Fun.
Loved those PBJ sandwiches
See? I drank a LOT!
I had the best crew - even when I got grumpier and more demanding. "GIMEE CHOMPS NOW!"

The whole experience was just so incredible: training for an ultra, fundraising for a cause I really cared about, and focusing on it all for so long - it was really a full year's journey when all was said and done. Thank you, again, to everyone who supported me through your donations to Jacob's Ladder (I raised $3,635!) and for your encouragement through the long training process.  It was truly one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had. And even though I technically didn't "finish," I definitely completed an incredible journey. My thanks to everyone who was a part of the journey with me.

Up Next? On Sunday I graduate from Georgetown Law. A pretty great couple of weeks.

All gussied up in my graduation garb

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Two Weeks to Go!

I've been terrible about updating, I know. For the 3 of you that read this: I apologize!

I've been busy writing papers, registering for the bar exam, applying for jobs...oh, yeah...and running!

I run the Ice Age 50-miler in two weeks from today!

I ran my last long run, 25 miles, last weekend. Then I started my taper. The week before that I ran a nice, solid 30-mile run. I've only run two runs of 30+ miles this training cycle. I'd hoped to do more but, well, it just didn't work out that way. That said, I ran a bunch of 26-mile runs (including two marathon "races") and, for the most part, everything has gone really well. I am injury free at least...and that is huge. I don't think I've ever even had a marathon training cycle where I was completely injury free. I mean, I have definitely had niggles and soreness and some nagging issues while training for this 50, but none that required that I actually "sit out" and wait to heal. So I may not have run as many miles as I originally hoped, but that I kept my injury-prone sprinter's body healthy is a huge win.

I am extremely nervous about the race. Several people have asked me if I have a particular time goal in mind. Um, yeah. The time I have to run to beat the cut-off(s)! Me completing a trail 50 in that time, 12 hours, is by no means certain even if I am completely healthy. Now, you may be doing math and thinking: wait, that should be easy. You can average 14 minute miles! Well, I hope so. But trail races, and ultras, are just so much different. You cannot just take your road time and average that out and assume that you can maintain it. First of all, trails are much more challenging. They slow you down for lots of reasons. Second, I have to do stuff like eat! And make pit stops! And address whatever may come along the way. Finally: It's FIFTY MILES. So in theory I think I can overall maintain 12-minute miles on the trail (2+ minutes/mile slower than my road marathon pace, faster on the flats, taking it easy on the hills)...but I will also lose time on pit stops and at aid stations. And dealing with whatever else comes up.

I am really just hoping for good weather. When I ran my 50K (55K) back in March, I felt great...but the trail was just a complete mud pit. I ran strong all day, but it was just slow going getting through the sticky goo. The hills and roots and rocks at Ice Age will be enough of a challenge...so I am sending all of my positive thoughts to Wisconsin in hopes of a nice day on May 10th.

So, to repeat, my goal is to finish before the cutoff, which is 12 hours. The race is being extra strict this year and the last 5 or so aid stations have strict cut off times. So if I don't make it to them by the required time, I will be pulled from the race. If that happens, it won't be because I didn't give it everything I had. I know I can do it. But things go wrong in races. And you just can't predict some of them. My only goal is to work my butt off and do my best.

Oh yeah: I met my fundraising goal!! I am so incredibly excited about this. I have never raised this much money before. I am so thankful for so much support from so many generous people. You can read all of their names here.

I am heading into 2 weeks of final exams: my last exams EVER, I hope. (The bar exam aside...that comes up in July.) I will take my last law school exam on May 8th, hop a plane on May 9, and run the Ice Age Trail-50 on May 10. Then I head back to Washington DC on May 11 to prepare to move and then I graduate on May 18. So much to do, but it's all exciting. OK, the impending exams aren't exciting...but being done with them most definitely is.

Thanks again to everyone who has supported me through this training and fundraising. Really, I have been training for this race for almost an entire year! I signed up to run the JFK-50 last spring and trained hard through the summer only to get a quirky injury last August that kept me out for most the fall. I was unable to run JFK  and was only able to start training again in mid-October. Really, I have to be amazed that I have remained as healthy as I have since recovering from that nasty injury. I'd like to be more fit going into my first real ultra race (yes, I ran that 55K, but I wasn't "racing" per se)...but I will take what I was able to get out of this training cycle. My body did not love the ultra training, but it allowed me to plug along and do the best I could. For that, I am thankful.

I'll post a pre-race update close to race day, May 10.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

"50 for 35": Thank You For Your Donation!

Because my fundraising site does not list everyone who has generously contributed to my "50 for 35" challenge, I wanted to post a list of names to thank everyone who has donated. If you do not see your name and donated, let me know! It does take a week or so for me to get updates on who has contributed.

"50 for 35" Contributors
Livhu Ndou
Michele Keane
Scott Hiza
Coley Mangrum
Kate Graham
Kate Baldwin
Madonna Lennon
Liz Schroeder
JoAnna Cobb
Brenda Schwerdt
Jennifer Mullins
Jeff Litman
Jeffrey and Hope Austin-Phillips
Jen McEwen
Barbara Russ
Kendra Carlson
Kelly Ohman
Mary Witte
Amy Shogren
Linda Goodman
Susan Hellman
Andrea Lien
Bjorna Jayson
Bonnie Russ
Genevieve Augustin
Kristine Bowers
Bliss Peterson
Annette Hansen
Lauren Beatty
Beth Cleary
Sara Vallie
Lori Baldwin
Pat Hellman
Carrie Dzuck
Andrea Knutson
Melissa Gaylord
Vivian Adkins
Peter Froehlingsdorf
Wendy Miller
Jason Fields
Beverly Haeckel
Pamela Russ
Grant Loehnig
Mark Anderson
Mickey Fisher
Sarah Seidelmann
Emily Betz
Santo Carfora
Olga Kogan
Kelli Slonim
Kei Terauchi
Neil Glazman
Angela Rowles
Annalisa Peterson
Mary Lee
Reghann LaFrance
Mary Elizabeth Stone
Leslie Beiers
Jennifer Wyss
Matt and Katie Hedman
Justin Haeckel
Sandy Schaefer
Christina Meier
Glenn Johnson
Will and Kyra Zhang
Kerstin Hokanson
Kendall Schoolmeester
Brenna Egan
Danielle Davis
Natalie Wolf

From me and everyone at Jacob's Ladder: Thank you!

Brief Update: A Couple of Races

I can't believe I haven't posted in over a month! This will be brief, but heregoes:

On February 16th I was supposed to run a low-key local marathon but it was canceled due to weather. As such, I had to go out on my own that day to get in the scheduled 26 miles. It was my longest training run ever and went surprisingly well. I was tired, of course, but felt strong throughout.

The next week I got the nasty cold/flu bug that was going around and was out for a few days. As such, I "only" ran a long run of 20 miles that weekend.

The next week, ending on March 2nd, was another solid week and I managed to do another 26 on my own. This one felt even better than the first one. Slow but steady, I kept it easy.

Last weekend, on March 8th, I ran a super duper muddy 50K+ (it was 55K, or 34 miles according the GPS watches of fellow runners) and my goodness was that an experience! We'd had a big snow storm on Monday of that week and it had almost all melted by race day. We were running through a relentless vat of deep, sticky mud and it was hard to really get going at any point. Our shes felt like bricks! It was a fun but very challenging day. I felt strong, though and was happy with how my fitness held up. I'll definitely have to proceed much faster on the trail at Ice Age if I want to finish the race before the cut off. So here's hoping there are no epic downpours leading up to the race. That said, I will be tapered, rested, and have more adrenaline working for me on that day...so I am feeling OK about my pace.

Yesterday, March 15, I ran the Rock 'n' Roll marathon here in DC. I felt pretty good considering I'd run the trail ultra just a week before. I was sore, though, from my strength class at the gym - all the better for training, I guess - the goal, after all, is to be running on tired legs. I definitely had those. That said, I still felt really good all day. My bladder was a bit finicky and I had to stop a bunch of times to go to the bathroom. And, unlike when you're out on the trail, you can't just squat anywhere you want when you're on the streets of DC! (The National Park Service frowns upon it.) According to my GPS watch, I literally spent about 15 minutes not moving! (i.e., waiting in line). I have never had that happen before and I was thankful it wasn't a goal race. I ran nice and easy. To give you and idea of how different the effort level was, my final time was about 50 minutes slower than my marathon PR. It made for a fun finish, though, where I had TONS of energy left to finish the last mile strong. I had a fun day, but the race course was pretty crappy. No, it was really crappy. The first half was scenic, and probably 80% of the runners were only doing the half. After that it was just dreadful...running, for the most part, through industrial parks and construction sites. I have never really been impressed with the Rock 'n' Roll races - they are overpriced and there are just so many other great, independent events out there. I won't be doing this one again.

Next weekend = no race! Whew. The week after that, on March 30th, I am running another small, local marathon. That will be my last organized event before Ice Ace on May 10th. Only 55 days to go!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

This. Is. Hard.

Yep. Training for an ultramarathon is hard. And no, at no point did I think it would be easy. Or even just a minor challenge. I knew it would be extreme. That was, after all, the point of taking on this crazy endeavor. But now that I am in the thick of it: wow. It's by far the most difficult physical challenge I have ever taken on in my life. And it's mentally challenging too.

I run alone. I don't have training partners. That is partly by choice (I could join a running club) and partly by default (I don't have any friends around me who run). It's how I have done most of my running since I started running distances longer than 100 meters during my second year of college. For the most part, I like it that way. I can think, listen to great books or music, and generally just be guided by my own whims and decisions. But it can also be difficult. Chatting does help the miles go by and it is nice/would be nice to have someone with whom to commiserate when the miles get long and tough.

Anyway, I run alone. As my mileage goes up and up, that means more and more time on my feet to, among other things, think about why the heck I am out there. I'd say 90% of the time I know the answer to that and it's positive: I love it. I love running, I love nature, I love fitness, I love reaching for challenging goals. But there are times when I am just tired and over it and hoping that the mileage on my GPS watch will move a wee bit faster. This morning was one of those times.

Yesterday I ran my longest training run ever: 24 miles. Before this I had completed a 22-miler during marathon training, so 24 was the longest I've gone aside from the 7 marathons I have completed since 2007. Yesterday went amazingly well. Sure I had some moments of fatigue, a few nutritional problems, and some freezing fingers. But overall I could not have asked for a better confidence-builder as I work my way towards my 50-miler.

This morning I set out to complete 12 miles. In ultra training, the key is to do back-to-back long runs on the weekend. The goal in doing the second long run is that you are running on tired legs, thus getting your legs trained for the longer challenge of the ultra. When I first started this morning I was surprised: my legs felt amazingly springy after their long journey yesterday! But after about 5 miles, they'd had enough. They were just, well, tired. BUT: this story has a happy ending! By the time I hit the National Mall again and was about 2 miles from home, I noticed that though in my head I was tired and over it, my legs didn't actually feel that bad. A look at my watch showed me that while my HR was nice and low, I was actually moving at a pretty decent clip. Running fast was not the goal; the goal was to run easy and keep my HR in check. Which I was doing and, in fact, had done for the whole run.

All this to repeat the oft-stated reality that SO much of training is mental. I had decided in my head that I was tired (and my legs, or course, were tired after yesterday) and got stuck in that grumpy mental state of wanting-it-over-ness. It wasn't until I got lost in my thoughts, snapped back to reality, and realized that I didn't actually feel so bad that I was able to give myself a break, recognize that I was succeeding, and bask in the glory of all the benefits I am getting from my diligent training. In short: it's working. I am becoming a better, stronger runner and I am gaining endurance.

I have a ways to go, but I am glad to feel like I am on the right track. Just 13 weeks until the Ice Age 50-miler!

Over the next 6-7 weeks I will be doing a bunch of organized events as training runs. (To be specific: 3 marathons and a trail 50K). I signed up for these mostly so that I could mix things up, run on courses with aid, practice running trails, and, well, because races (whether you actually "race" them or not) are fun! You will find a list of my upcoming events on the right side of this screen.

And, as always, my fundraising continues. I've raised $2,195 towards my $3,500 goal! Please click on the link on the side of the screen if you'd like to donate - any amount is appreciated! Thank you, again, to those of you who have already contributed.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Fundraising Website Updated!

Just a quick update to note that my fundraising website has been updated to show my new race and date.

I'd love your support as I try to raise $3,500 for Jacob's Ladder, an amazing school for children (including my nephew Henry) with neurodevelopmental challenges.

Any amount is appreciated. And thanks!

Fundraising Site

In other news: my training is going great and my weekly mileage is going up and up. As part of my training, I am registered to run a marathon and a 50K on my way towards competing in the 50-miler in May. Stay posted!