Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Short look back, long distance ahead

Ok yes, I have been putting this race recap on super delay but I'll give a quick recap. Basically I was not prepared in any shape or form for this race. We traveled down to Beaufort SC to take on the Mad Marsh 50k. The race was on a flat 4.5 mile loop that is on an abandoned golf course that is a lot of soft sand under long grasses with an occasional patch of blacktop. We arrived early to the race to pick up our packets. We had our normal stash of Honey Stinger and PB and J but being that the start finish was on the loop, we hardly even needed our bottles with us. We took off just after sunrise with perfect 50 degree weather and just the right amount of humidity and a soft breeze. Cutting to the chase,  I committed some cardinal sins of running:

1. I hadn't been training regularly since my marathon. My runs were infrequent and not long to anticipate a 50k.

2. I didn't take care of myself post race. I wasn't visiting my chiropractor...not foam rolling or even stretching.

3. I went out way too fast in the beginning of the race. An 8:30 pace is not a good start when you combine the above. I got arrogant with my speed and paid for it dearly.

I ate a very large piece of humble pie in Beaufort that Saturday by only being able to complete 13.5miles. By the last mile my IT bands were so tight and in so much pain, I was left to walk a 15:00 mile and DNF the race. John ran a strong race with completing just over 26.5 miles.

I needed that reality check as I begin to look ahead.

The next few races coming up with test me more than anything I have competed in before. Weymouth Woods 100k (providing I make it in...currently on the waiting list) will be my longest race to date as a distanced race (instead of 24hr marathons). My first 100 Miler will be in March and that to me will be the ultimate test. I get the chill bumps just thinking about the race. The anticipation and preparation will be intense and I look forward to every moment and every mile.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Time off

So my race world has been pretty quiet since Ridge to Bridge. The hype of qualifying for Boston has worn off a bit, although I did order the shirt from Adidas that proudly displays the "qualifier" in the bright yellow logo...yeah I just couldn't help it. But in the aftermath of all the racing, I have been pretty lazy.  This is probably the toughest part of competition...the off season. I technically have a race this weekend in South Carolina, the Mad Marsh 50k, but I have no intention of going fast. I want to enjoy the run without the pressure. This season has been a long successful one and I look forward to ending on a high note. I do feel a bit like a NASCAR driver in the sense that the "off season" lasts hardly a blink of an eye before you are back at it again. My next race is in January so training will continue but not really ratchet up until mid-December. But trust me, it is a welcome few weeks of a break.

My body has also started to rebound and the year of hard training is catching up with me. My entire left side seems to be falling apart. The IT band is flaring up again causing some issues with the knee. I am feeling older every day. The best thing I can do is maintain my foam rolling and resume visits to Greenapple Sports med and Dr. Duffy.

For this weekend, my plan is to run and see what happens. Race details to follow :)

Monday, October 24, 2011

First and Last...Do I smell Boston?

The alarm went off at 3:45a and the nerves automatically kicked in.  We were headed for Morganton NC to run in the Ridge To Bridge Marathon. This race would be my first official marathon and it was no coincidence that it is also a Boston Marathon qualifier. I decided to give qualifying a shot even though I didn't know if it was possible. After grilling all the marathoners that I knew (Theoden, Emily, Tracy S., Tracy T., Molly, Becki and Tom) I still had a raging case of nerves. I spent the past two weeks after my worrying, asking questions and running the race over in my mind... then a little bomb dropped.  I misread the qualifying times thinking I only had to run a 3:40 to qualify. For the 2012 race that would have worked but since that registration is already closed out,  I would have to qualify under the new time of 3:35 minutes. I found that little factoid out the Saturday prior to my race.  Five minutes faster...that is a big chunk of time. I realize that wanting to qualify for Boston is a lofty goal and a lot of runners spend years chasing it and this was my first but I felt the need to prove myself. The competitor in me wanted something tangible to feel that I was good. Silly I know,  but for those of you who know me this makes perfect sense. Qualifying for Boston is considered the Mecca to being have to be fast to get in...end of story. I wanted it and wanted it bad. My running coach Tom and I had reviewed the race plan on Friday via phone and discussed what I needed to focus on. There is 9+ miles of downhills in this race and the biggest mistake that is made is runners tear down the mountain and run out of gas on the flats. I needed to stay controlled on the hills and as long as I stick to the plan, I would be in under the time. But as I looked at the plan I had scratched out on paper, I still didn't have a sense of if I could do it or not. Tom reassured me "trust your have done all the preparation you can, now just run." If it's one thing I am good at, its following the race plan. I had a layout and I would stick to it come hell or high water. I even wrote it on my hand in sharpie marker to reassure. All I had to do was run.

John and I got up, went through the morning routines and hit the road at about 4:40am. We needed to be in the parking lot of the Brown Mountain Beach Resort by 6:30am to catch the buses to the starting line so I wanted to be sure we had plenty of breathing room. As we headed up, we talked about the race. I told him of my fear of not performing well, of worrying about racing too many races in too little time, that my knee was still sore on my Friday run, etc. He reassured me that I would be ok. We found our way to the parking lot (which happens to be the finish line) and headed to the buses. We met with Tom, Melinda and DC just outside and hopped on. At precisely 6:30 the buses pulled out for the 40 minute trek to the start line. We made small talk as the buses ascended but as we got closer, my heart started to pound and I grew quiet. I downed a plum and said a few silent prayers.  The sun was rising over the mountains as we pulled into the tiny gas station that was just across from the start streaking the sky with first pink then orange...God's morning paint job. It was a gorgeous day for a race in the mountains that were showing their full fall colors. It was a bit chilly but I opted for my same old race gear of my Nike compression shorts, Mich Ultra race shirt and knee socks that were dubbed the "Big Bird Legs" because they were fluorescent pink and orange striped. I added my Mountain Hardwear vest and Nike running gloves (I hate when my hands are cold) and decided to carry my small Amphipod so that I always has a supply of water/Gu Brew to sip off of.  I did add a new accessory of my Spibelt to carry my Honey Stinger Gels  (which didn't seem to stay put and migrated north every few miles during the race). After spending some time on the bus pinning on numbers and chips, we hopped off and headed to the line. This race was full of people I knew....Emily, Theoden, Leah, Steve and Tom and so we were in good company. After the few race announcements and lots of "good luck" the countdown was on...I remember looking up and a thought crossed my mind "Do I smell Boston?" It was odd at the time but became my race mantra. The crowd took off and I pressed start on the Garmin as I crossed the timing mat.

The first part of the race is pretty flat with a few gentle rises and drops and a little out and back turn around, complete with an orange cone with an impossibly tight turn. As we headed towards the turn, everyone I knew was in front of me and running back past. I tried not to panic because I was sticking to my plan of 8:30 miles in the first part of the race and I knew those downhills were coming. As we made the turn and headed back past the first aid station, I pulled out the first of my gels, washed it down with Gu Brew and found myself on the longest downhill I had ever run. John and I were both exchanging how we were feeling and dodging runners and cars as the switchbacks continued down. We crossed the half way mark and were almost exactly on time. I let out a big sigh; my Garmin wasn't synced with the miles and my pace was jumping all over so hitting that mark was a big relief.  I kept saying to myself "trust your training."

We came down off the mountain to the second little out and back (complete with orange cone)  and caught a second glimpse of the other runners. Tom, looking relaxed and cool as ever,  encouraged us with "good pace guys" but  I was starting to feel the fatigue. The flat was claiming a lot of victims and we were starting to pick them off but it wasn't feeling good. My legs felt like lead as we headed out past the local country store, across the bridge and  back out to the the rolling hills. This part of the race threatened to break me, as the gentle rises gave way to more flats, I struggled with the pace. I knew I was out of downhills for a while and this was the stretch the veterans of the race had warned about. If you take the downhills to fast you won't feel good on the flats...they will feel all uphill. I wasn't completely out of gas, but I was tired. I kept telling myself to just get to the last 6 miles and it will get better. I have a healthy fear of the "mile 19" curse because I have fallen victim to it in a few of my Ultras. This mile seems to be a breaking point for a lot of runners and can make or destroy your race. I just needed to hit mile 20 to get the feeling of doom out of my head. John was beside me pushing me the whole way and at about mile 22 I broke. John was pushing me to stay on pace at 8:15 and I couldn't take it. I snapped at him to stop "half wheeling" me. Note:  Half wheeling is the term that I learned from Tracy when a fellow runner runs that 1/2 stride ahead of you and drives you insane. I couldn't push any harder and I couldn't deal with being asked to. John decided to take off since he was feeling good and I was on my own.
The finish line...and the proof (gun time)

Those last few miles tested me mentally and physically more that I could have imagined. I began doing the math in my head for the pace I needed to maintain to get my qualifying time. All I could do was put the hammer down and run like hell to finish. I passed a few other runners and fought the urge to quit, cry, scream and sit down. I knew it was possible to attain and I wasn't going to give up easily. I could stand to hurt for 20 more minutes.

As I came within 3 of the finish, the flats gave way to a meandering downhill and before I knew it I could see the blue blow up finish line from the road. I saw John cross the line and hope spurred me on. The race volunteers steered me into the parking lot, the course flattened again and my legs were heavy. The cruelest part of this race is the "parking lot loop." You actually run past the finish line (its below you and off of the road) turn into where you park and loop the entire lot for your final .2 mile. Just as you feel motivated by the finish line, you have to run away from 26 miles it's a bit of a mind trick.

My form was horrible, everything hurt but as I inched close to the line I looked at my watch and thought again, "Do I smell Boston?" My time was going to be good enough to qualify. As I pushed those last few strides, I saw Tom beaming just past the finish line. As I glanced at the clock (gun time) and saw the 3:31 on it, I let out what was a combination of a sob and laugh. I had done it. Tom's first comment... "I am so proud of you" brought me to tears. All the training, all the downhill repeats in the God awful hot days, all the long runs and worry had paid off. I had finished what I set out to accomplish. For all of you that encouraged me, I felt you out there pushing me on...I carried your hopes with me on that course and am glad you were there with me for every step. Thank you for all your kind words and encouragement I am truly grateful to you. I ran my first and last marathon with all my heart and all the effort I had. If by a miracle I actually get into Boston, I will come out of my marathon "retirement" to run it but for now I will hang my hat in the house of the Ultras.

Monday, October 10, 2011

New River Re-do

Yesterday I competed in the New River 50k held in the tiny town of Fries, VA just off 77N on the scenic New River. This race is almost 100% flat and winds out and back on the New River Trail. Wonderfully maintained and very friendly to first timers,  this race was my first Ultra last year. I came back this year to chase a better time and to introduce my husband to the Ultra world. My only goal was to finish with a better time than last year and to get some miles on my legs as my marathon approaches. After catching the Toby Keith concert, we drove the two hours up to Galax, Va and stayed at the Super 8 for the night. Getting up early to get everything packed, I tried to give as much advice  to John as my novice brain would allow in order to make sure he was ready for his first race. We filled our Nathan Hydration packs and tucked in our favorite snacks including the infamous PB&J Uncrustables and Honey Stingers along with the basic needs of chapstick, salt/electrolyte pills and Gu Brew. After a quick hot breakfast (always oatmeal for me) we packed the car and headed to the starting line to pick up our packets....easier said than done.

After missing the initial turn off the main road, we proceeded to scower every inch of the countryside looking for a way in. We drove around for an extra 30minutes until we finally found the trail and managed to make our way into the park with 10 minutes to spare at check in. This was not how I wanted my race morning to start and believe me and I was hoping it wasn't a bad omen for the rest of the day. After checking in we met with my good friend and running coach Tom at the starting line. We were also joined by some Gaston County Runners, Patrick and Beckie who we previously had only chatted with online. Before we knew it, the countdown was going and we were off. Taking off at a nice little clip, we settled into a little group that consisted of John, Tom, Patrick, Beckie and myself. We were soon joined by a wonderful runner named Holly who was running her first Ultra as well. We took the long stretch to the aid station to chat about injuries, races etc.and to enjoy the beautiful river that runs next to this part of the course. After the aid station, the course then crosses the river on a beautiful old fashioned trestle bridge and leads to the railroad tunnel that is dark enough to not be able to see your feet. These are my two favorite parts of the course. As we kept trucking to the turning around, I stuck to my nutrition plan of Gu Brew and Honey Stinger Gels. We stayed a pretty steady pace of 8:30-9min miles and I felt pretty good as we ducked into the aid stations along the way to refill our bottles and pick up some grub. Just before the turn, John's pack decided to break and made it impossible for him to carry. He dumped it at the aid station and proceeded with his Amphipod and pockets full of gels and Honey Stinger Waffles. This did concern me a bit, but this race is so well manned and the aid stations are done so well that I figured he would be ok. As we started back after the turn, we found that Holly and I were holding onto the 4th and 5th spots for the women and I wanted so badly to finish above my goal of top 10 women but my glutes were having none of it.

Last year my quads and IT bands were the issue, but this year it the the posterior chain that was angry. Mostly my glute medius was the tightest and from time to time, this forced me into walking. Tom and Holly had pulled out ahead by a significant stretch by then and I gave up trying to keep up. I kept pushing and urged John to go ahead of me while I fought with miles back on my own. As I struggled with those John pushed onwards and was feeling good. I was so proud of him and could catch glimpses of him from time to time in his bright orange vest. That kept me motivated. Occasionally I would feel good and pick up my pace and it was at the last aid station where I finally caught up with him. We started that 5+ miles back along the river that in the morning is so pretty, but it can be sheer torture on the return. This is where John got the first feeling of the term "when the wheels fall off." That part of the trail stretches on so long that you swear you'll never get through it. Long, flat and with meandering curves that keep the next part of the trail just out of sight, we leaped frogged each other several times in that stretch.

Montrail. I waited for John to finish and had to admit that it brought me to tears to see him finishing so strong. I could see the relief on his face and I was so proud that he ran so well. Smashing my first Ultra time by 30 minutes, he was a true warrior! After Tom snapped another photo and I discovered that I also scored a Montail running hat in the raffle they have (another bonus of this awesome race), we made our way to the car to grab a beer and sit in the river. This is one of the best parts of the post race! The New River runs about 50 yards from the finish line and offers a wonderful piece of therapy for an aching body. Sitting in the river, Tom summed it up perfectly "what more could you ask for, a beautiful day, good friends, good beer and a ice bath!" So very spot on.

My finish

After about 20 minutes and some race review, we headed to the car for a change and into the second best part of the post race...the soup lunch. There are these wonderful women who make the most delicious homemade soups, bread and cookies that is served in the Bingo hall just up from the finish line. To a tired body and a stomach so tired of synthetic tasting food, it's heaven. John and I settled in with a few runners at lunch, stuffed our tummys full and headed to the car. We were able to catch up with Patrick and Beckie who both seemed to really enjoy the experience and both of them had an awesome race!

John finishing his first Ultra!

I have to say that this race is going to become an annual trek for me. Annette Bednosky is an awesome RD not to mention a stud Ultra runner herself (check out her accomplishments at USATF's website) but she has everything perfected. The volunteers were always cheering, quick to get you anything you needed at the aid stations and sprinkled all over the course to keep motivating. The aid stations have everything you can think of to eat and drink. Last year I had the privilege of having this as my first and I have to admit it spoiled me. My hat goes off to everyone involved in this race. I am very content with my finish and John's and will be back for another shot next year. I look forward to my marathon in two weeks and have all my fingers and toes crossed that I can pull out another successful race. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How Hard Was That!?!

Saturday's race was the Georgia Jewel 35, 50 and 100 mile race held on the Pinhoti Trail in Dalton GA. This race had a lot of "firsts" for me other than just place. It was my first race solo, my first 35 miler, and the first time I was doubting myself and the first time I would forget my essentials...more on that later.... I left Friday afternoon to travel the 5 hours to get to the packet pickup and decided to stay for the pasta dinner. Hindsight, I am not sure why I don't do that more often. I met so many nice people and had dinner with a few runners that were trekking the 100 miler. As I spoke with other runners, I began to realize that I did not do the best job at looking at the layout of the course. The words "hilly" "rocky" "climbing" kept popping up in race conversations. I was intimidated to say the least at the pickup seeing that most of the runners that were there not only looked well seasoned, but were bearing the evidence that they were on their shirts. Included in the chest trophies were the Umstead 100 miler (coincidentally that will be my first 100 miler) and the ever famous Western States.  After dinner and checking my drop bag one last time (I felt very inadequate since all I had was a tiny bag with an extra pair of shoes in it) I headed off to stay with my Aunt and Uncle who live in Dalton. After catching up with the family and seeing my cousins, Gina, Joe and Hannah, who came up from Fort Benning for the weekend, I eventually crawled into bed way past when I should have. It was going to be an early morning. I tossed and turned and had numerous occasions where I dreamt I slept through the alarm and thus missing the race, only to discover it was 1am or 2am. When the alarm finally chirped at 4am...I was up and ready to go. I donned my Michelob Ultra shirt, Nike Compression shorts and navy knee socks with sparkly silver tops for the race. These socks were by necessity, not choice. Let me briefly interject here and describe the terrible job I did in packing for this race.
After realizing on the Monday before the race that it would take me 5 hours to get to Dalton, not the 3 that I originally thought I was totally disoriented. I packed on Thursday night and had everything in the car ready to go. As I poured over maps and routes to get to Dalton, I realized that not only had I left my Garmin Forerunner at home, I had a sneaking suspicion that I hadn't packed a sports bra. After racing home to grab the watch and checking my bag....which had no sports bra....I also noticed  hadn't packed and extra pair of shoes or a drop bag. So grabbing all of it and finally heading down 85S towards ATL, I then realized that I had also forgotten knee socks. Now this isn't something I normally race in but after two rounds on Prednisone due to poison ivy, it has become a necessity. Groaning, I swore I would just pick some up when I got there. This is where the doubt began to creep in as to whether or not this whole racing thing was a good idea. After my dinner I stopped into a local K-Mart and located the socks. To my horror, the only thing I could find was a pair of navy socks with silver sparkly tops....anyone who knows me will tell you I am not a "sparkles" kind of girl. I prefer by fluorescent knee highs in the yellow/green or purple/blue stripes.  But forgetful girls cannot be picky and they would have to work and they just so happened to match the rest of what I was racing in.
So after I decked myself out in multiple shades of blue, I quietly crept to the kitchen for my traditional oatmeal and peanut butter breakfast. My cousin Joe had offered to drop me off at the race so he stumbled in shortly there after. After last minute consideration, I filled my Nathan pack pockets with 3 Honey Stinger Gels, a pack of Honey Stinger Chews, a strawberry jam Uncrustable, Gu Tablets, A pack of Justin's Nut Butter,  salt capsules and electrolyte caps. I was determined this race to not carry so much food on me and rely more on the aid stations, but I thought hey...I brought them so I may as well pack them. This would turn out to be a very smart decision later on. Then we were off to the Dalton Convention Center and the start of the 35 and 50 miler.
Pre Race Photo
The morning was a chilly 56 degrees with a small breeze and humidity. I was perfect racing weather.  After thanking Joe and saying I would see him in about 5 1/2 hours...I checked in and settled down near the base camp fires. Something that you may not know about Ultras is that there isn't a "warm up" for our races. Rarely will you see anyone jogging to get the legs going or stretching prior to the race. Many of us choose to sit down seeing that we will be spending the next umpteen hours on our feet. The other runners were friendly as we discussed past races and upcoming ones. I met Ellen, who grew up in Charlotte and has a friend who wants to find some Ultra runners in the area, so we exchanged info. I took the mandatory pre-race photo in front of the sign and got ready to go to the line. At 6am sharp, the race began. I had been warned that the first 2-2.5 miles are almost straight up hill and was glad for the advise to "take it easy as the start". As we climbed the hills, I remember thinking "this isn't so bad" and then looking up to see one of the leader's headlight bobbing up in front of us at a significant height. I settled in with a group of guys and we joked when we hit a small decline. We turned left into the woods and continued to climb
Coming into Snake Creek Gap Aid Station
until we finally took a final switchback with a hill and leveled out. Just before this, a green short clad girl squeaked around me onto the trail. She introduced herself as Kathleen and took the lead of our little group. It was completely dark other than the headlights and we wound our way through the trails. At this point, my strategy was to stay with the group and allow them to pull me out as far as I dared. The pace was quick but I was feeling good and my estimates had us in the front 1/3 of the pack of runners. As dawn broke, we quickly began to realize that the trail was not only technical but was rocky as hell. I made a few mental notes on some steep downhills knowing that I would have the reverse when I returned. We chatted along the way discovering that we had been at the same race back in May (the Black Mountain Monster) and talked about husbands, races, and home improvement projects we had to do on Sunday. I stayed ahead of my nutrition plan using my watch as a guideline on when to drink/eat. We alternated running and walking through some of the heavier rock out croppings. Kathleen was a stud, she ran up hills that I had no choice to walk and she was tough.
The turn-  Tony in front (50 Miler)

Slightly before the first aid station at mile 10, we strung out a bit and I found myself mostly alone. This is when I took a nose dive in the dirt. Not the last time I would fall, but the most significant time. I split the webbing at my first finger and banged my knee pretty hard. I got up, brushed most of the dirt off and cursed my heavy feet. I vowed that I wouldn't let nature beat me. The trail was very remote and very lonely. I knew that if I got hurt, I would have to walk to find help and that walk may be upwards of 7+ miles to anywhere. At the aid station, we all stopped to laugh catch our breaths and refuel. I pulled out my PB&J after realizing that the station had little more than cookies and water and munched it down happily. I was ten miles in and feeling good...I wanted to keep moving so I strolled down the road, finished my sandwich and picked up my pace.Most of the next two miles was a nice steady downhill, which again I knew would prove tough on the way back in. Tony, a new friend of mine, lead us as cruised through the switchbacks and rocky outcrops. There were four of us that stuck relatively close at this point in the race and as we descended into the manned aid station, I realized that none of them were turning. Most had been 50 milers...I would be heading back on my own. As I filled my pack, dumped my headlamp in my drop bag and headed back out, I glanced at my watch. I wanted to know how far behind me the next female was. I had lost count of the guys we passed who had already turned, but I knew I was the first woman. When our paths crossed, it had been about 3 minutes after I left the aid station. I did the math and figured I had a little over a half mile lead on her- give or take a few minutes- long story short...I ran the next 17.5 miles scared. I wanted more than anything to win the race. I honestly didn't expect it but once I was in the lead, I wanted it. I told myself that I couldn't loose, if I was going to spend 5+ hours running in the woods, I better make it worth it. Before I knew it I was at the aid station with 10 to go. Unfortunately there was no water and very little food other than peanut butter cookies. My stomach would have none of it. I tried to eat one, but spat it much sugar. I decided the only think I could do was ditch taking the Gu tabs in my handheld to save water and stick with S-caps and salt tabs. Thank goodness I had stocked my pack with food....I was down to one gel, peanut butter and the chews. I vetoed the peanut butter because of rationing water and went with the gel. Downed it and headed homewards. I knew that most of back 5 of the trail had been small up hills and down but had been rocky and technical as hell. I went as fast as I could without killing myself. I eventually passed another runner who told me had was having leg cramps I chugged on, he tried to go with me...I heard the horrible sound of a foot catching rock and my gut wrenched as he fell. I asked if he was ok and thought "what the hell am I gonna do if he says no?" He waved me on and I continued home-bound. My watch started to inform me that it was running out of battery life. At this point I knew I would be in those woods for about 7 hours. Poor Joe would be at the finish wondering where I was.  I prayed it would last that long and started to sing to myself. I make it a habit not to run with headphones for two reasons....I want to feel what's going on with my body and want to be aware of other runners around me. So I had my voice and the song "Yes Jesus Loves Me" to keep me company. I begged, bargained and promised out there in those woods. I'm not a religious person but that is what popped into my head; a song from my childhood. I caught two more runners just shy of the 4 mile mark and my hopes started to lift. I sped up only to be thwarted by my calf cramping in my right leg. I yelled a disapproving "no dammit" and did the only thing that seemed logical...I stopped and punched it,  downed an electrolyte and salt cap and trudged on. I didn't want to stretch fearing that I was well past that having any benefit. When it seized I slowed....when it relaxed I ran. I will say the trail runs along a beautiful part of the mountains, horizontally across them so the vistas are gorgeous. But to someone looking for the trail exit, they were excruciatingly long. I knew once I came out, it would be all down hill. That moment came and two things happened: 1. I ran out of water 2. My left calf joined the cramping party. I am sure I was an awkward sight trying to keep from going downhill too fast to save my sore quads but keep my calves from cramping. As I came out of the trail and onto the road, I was filled with the idea that I was going to be run down. It wasn't until the bottom of one of the hills where I had about a 400m view that I could convince myself I was going to win. The sun was hot, I was exhausted and I had nothing left but to finish the road I started on. As I got closer to the convention center, Joe and his wife Gina passed me in his car waving and honking for me. The volunteers at the race started cheering as they saw me approaching and I turned into the home stretch. It was a lonely sight with only about 10 people at the base camp,  my aunt and cousin Mandy (who came from Chattanooga that morning) and the photographer who insisted on taking a "finishing picture" as I crossed the line. I was handed some water and ushered to a chair with congratulations mixing in the air. After resting, giving an interview,  reliving some of the trail with my fellow runners, peeling off my shoes and socks and cheering a few more racers in, I headed back to the house for a shower, dinner and hit the road home to Gastonia. This race may have been one of the hardest things I have completed mentally. There were times that I wanted to cry, times where I was completely exhausted, and times where I just didn't think I could. But I did and I did it pretty damn well. I am proud of myself and everyone who ran that race. I found a new strength inside myself and made some pretty fantastic friends along the way.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Race Time

Yes I know I have been a slack blogger, but hey training for three races is a lot of work (not to mention a full time job, husband and three dogs) The first race of this season is this weekend and I have to admit I am pretty nervous.  This is the inaugural race for the Georgia Jewel 35, 50 and 100 miler so I am excited to be a part of it even if I am just racing the 35 miles. The weather seems to have finally broken and it looks like I will have a mild morning and lovely afternoon to race in. I don't have many expectations other than to finish in a good time and to give my best effort on the trail but as I begin to pack my gear for the 5 hour trip south, I am reflecting on the time that I spend  running and why I do it. Just to put one foot in front of the other is the purist form of the human expression of running, but it runs deeper than that for me. There is a certain freedom that I can feel in my heart when I step outside to run. There is no judgement, no phone to answer, to fake smiles or laughs to dish out. It's me, the road and the distance between. In risk of sounding like a Nike commercial, I run to ease my mind and because I can. Many people deal with life with drugs, booze or some other excuse. My drug of choice seems to be mileage. Not that life is difficult, but the relief I get from laying down a few hard hill repeats or sprints is way more exhilarating than anything I can get from a bottle. If you ever stop to look around after a race, there is a sense of peace and accomplishment that permeates the air. That is a common bond that all runners share. It is what keeps me signing up and spending endless money on the simple idea of running from point to point for nothing more than a time and a medal. It's what is making me drive those 5 miles to go racing through the woods in the middle of Georgia. So if you aren't racing this weekend, raise a glass to me sometime between the hours of 6am and noon and think of the possibilities if you were to step outside and run! Cheers and miles!!! Much love and luck, by the way, to my peeps running at the Lake Hinson 24hr and my tri buddies running at the Augusta Iron Man! Run fast!!

Monday, August 22, 2011

All about the gear

The first thing that any runner has to learn is that it is all about the gear. From making sure you have the right sports bra (this is crucial trust me) to making sure that you have the right sock for 30+ miles, its easy to get overwhelmed and overspent on running gear. For some, gear isn't important....for those of us who have climbed in the shower after wearing the wrong pair of running shorts and yelped  as the water (which you swear is made of thumbtacks) hit those raw inner thighs....we know different. So I decided I would list a few of my favs since I get a lot of questions about what I wear/eat/carry on long races. These are just my thoughts and are in no way product endorsements so take it as you will:

1.Shoes- I have been and always will be a Saucony girl. Since the 8th grade I have donned some sort of form of the Jazz edition and loved them always.
Bonus: They are not that from $65-$75 dollars.
Bummer: They aren't always in stock. Pretty popular so when I do find them, I buy two.

2. Socks- OK so far I love the Injinjis for long runs. I did pick up a pair or two of Smartwool's as well and currently have some regular Asics and Saucony's for the rest of the runs.
Bonus: Pretty long lasting compared to the athletic socks I wear all the time at work
Bummer: Performance socks can be pricey...check out sales/clearances

3. Tights (Capri and full length)- I am tall so I have issues with length of tights but tried and true Nike comes through for me. Fabric is always just right and there is always a drawstring and pocket.
Bonus: There is a Nike outlet down 85 South in Gaffney that carries a decent selection
Bummer: Sells out of sizes quickly when the weather turns

4. Shorts- I have fallen in love with the Saucony Run Lux shorts. I have quads and thighs so inevitably they will rub when I run. These shorts stay put 99% of the time (nothing stays put in humidity) and are so soft.
Bonus: They are the perfect length and don't have that unflattering split on the side
Bummer: Don't have a zip pocket in the back

5. Sports Bras- Not needing to strap anything down per say, I prefer the Champion brand. They last a long time and are made of the more polyester material as opposed to cotton which gets too bulky for me when I sweat. They come in a ton of patterns and colors so its easy to match
Bonus: Its a pretty popular brand so its available at most Targets, Dicks and sporting goods stores
Bummer: You have to cover up the pretty colors in the winter

6. Shirts- Yes I know this covers a lot but here is my opinions:
Tank- Nike singlet. Lightweight and flattering cut without those giant armholes or tight compression (yuck)
Base Shirt- Again, I like the Nike fitted running t's. They are dri-fit and very light...flattering length too
Long Sleeve- My closet is full of these, but my favorite has to be the Skirtsports Long Sleeve Runner Tee. I'll spear the men all the cute details, but ladies do check it out. It is very cute and very functional.
Vest- Have two but love my Mountain Hardwear running vest. It was pricey but has saved my butt many times. Its very thin but offers a ton of protection in a packable form.

7. Accessories- Covers the rest of what you may need:
Hats/Visors- Haven't found a bad one yet but I tend to look for the Headsweats brand. The terry cloth inside the brim works wonders for heavy sweaters.
Thermal hats- Love my Saucony beanie. Has a hole for the pony tail and covers my ears without making me feel deaf when I run.
Arm warmers-  Nike Livestrong. Its a personal preference but I support the foundation so I proudly don them. If you haven't discovered them, they are detachable sleeves...fantastic for days where you don't want to have to peel off the long sleeve but isn't warm enough for short.
Glasses- These can get crazy expensive, but I took the advise of Runner's World and tried Ryders. They are inexpensive but have lasted my beating them up.
Gloves- Nike thermal running gloves-keeps my hands pretty warm and the best part is that is has a build in terry cloth section on the index finger for your runny winter nose. That alone is worth its weight in gold.
Headlamp- I love my Tikka 2 Plus. Simply put it's cheap, easy to find and has a good battery. I wore it on my 24hr run and had no issues as all with it. Very comfortable.
Watch- I'm a stickler for pace and distance so I am all about my Garmin. Love it or leave it, you can't beat it
Waterbottle- Ok this one I am passionate about. Do yourself a favor and go buy an Amphipod. They are the bright green/yellow bottles with frogs on them. Whoever designed them is a genius. They are so comfortable and keep your hand relaxed while you run. Come in various sizes and have thermal sleeves as an accessory. Best on the market hands down.
Hydration Pack- Nathan Intensity Race Vests- Ergonomically designed to ride in the high center of the back (to avoid slumping) Pockets galore on the front of the best for carrying all the goodies for the race.

Again, these are just my musings but these are my favorites. You don't have to shell out a lot of money for the gear from above but some things are worth it (the Garmin will run you the most)  I encourage you to spend time online looking for deals. Anyone who knows me will tell you that very rarely will I pay full price. Here are a few websites to check for deals:

Also do visit the outlets, they run some good off deals. Its worth the trip to Gaffney or the Tangier outlets just a short drive in Georgia (one in Dohlenega and one in Commerce).

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Victim of Training

As you see on the right side of this hand dandy blog, I have a few races coming up. I am biting the bullet and trying to hit the qualifying time for the Boston Marathon at the Ridge to Bridge Marathon. Which coincidentally is going to be my first "official" marathon. See I sort of leap frogged the natural progression of racing. Usually it starts with the 5ks and 10ks then onto half marathons and full marathons and then to Triathlons. Well this little lady decided  to jump into a 50k after her first half and skip that progression. My first 26.2 mile run happened during that race...with 4 miles left to go! So the R2B will be my first recorded/timed/official marathon. Which leads to training

The training doesn't seem so bad on paper as it hangs on the wall of my office/cubicle. I admit I am a bit intimidated by the 7+ miles of "screaming downhills" that are part of the race. But I am sticking to the plan (thanks Tom) and hoping for the best.  That means lots of miles. Lots and lots. Did I mention the mileage???

Its not easy to have your feet hit the floor at 5am and don running clothes while your eyes still want to stay shut and your body wants to stay in bed. That leads me to this morning's story. I have once again managed to loose a part of myself in training... another unfortunate victim of  long distance running. This time it happened in my sleep (poor pinki toe) and left me with a full foot of painted nails minus one. Much to my husband's dismay we found it frolicking in the bed sheets when I noticed it was missing. This side effect, no matter what anyone tells you, is unavoidable in my case.

Minus one :(
God did not grant me beautiful feet without imperfections. Instead he smacked me with a dose of heredity that leaves me with a less than appealing set that are not sandal ready at any point in time. I make amends with the general public by keeping the nails painted...or at least where the nail used to be, painted. To date I have lost 3 and probably more to come. I have lubed up, changed socks, tried Injinjis (those weird little toe socks), cut my nails, loosened my shoes, changed my shoes, soaked my feet and everything under the sun...and yet at the end of it all there are still blisters (although the Injinjis do help with that) and black toe nails.

Sigh...just can't be beautiful all the time. Isn't distance running glamorous? Not to mention the chafing, sweating, poison ivy, mud, rain, snow, puking, peeing in the woods, roadkill, bugs, spiderwebs (if you have ever run at the USNWC you know) and much much more that we distance people endure for this fantastic sport. It's all part of the process, and if it means my toe nails are the only price I pay for sticking to the training and loving the miles, I would give them all up. So the next time you are propping your pretty little tootsies up, take a look at your feet and think of mine...minus a few nails, lol.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A little explaning to do

Nike Human Race- Chicago
Ok so I admit, I am not a fan of blogging. I don't really enjoy reading the thoughts of other people, nor do I wish that was one of my super powers (given a choice) But since I somehow managed to land an ambassadorship with Michelob Ultra...I have to give it a shot.

To put it bluntly, I am a runner reborn . I started way back in the 7th grade running cross country for Marlington Middle School (hats off to my coach Butch) and ran a total 4 varsity years under the tutelage of one of the best cross country coaches in the world, Jerry Marshall and his fantastic assistant coach Molly Middleton. After pursuing two miserable years in college athletics at Kent State University, I stopped running altogether. I mean I would take an occasional jog here and there, but no racing or serious mileage. Mostly to keep my slowing metabolism at bay and my ass in a size 8 jeans. Along the way my husband John and I raced a few odds and ends races like the Nike Human Race in Chicago and Columbus and the Princess Half Marathon at Disney World (which I finished and swore I would never race anything longer than that.)

Fast forward to my brilliant idea to race in the Run For Your Life Grand Prix Series last year...and pursue victory in the "Athena" category. During my racing  my training partner, Tracy, filled my ear with the idea of doing longer races. I had complained to her that I didn't enjoy the 5ks as much as I once did so she suggested we give the New River 50k a shot.Forgetting what I swore at Disney World, I agreed. As we stood on the starting line that brisk October morning with about 75 others, Tom Patch (a fellow Ultra Runner, friend and coach) turned to me and politely asked "so Anji, what's your longest run far?" Knowing that I was new to this ultra running scene and having just known me through a mutual friend at the time (Beacham) Tom was simply holding conversation. I bravely stated "13 miles." This incurred the stares and chuckles from about half of the runners. I admit, I hadn't run anything close to the 30+ miles this race was calling for...and I was scared. That led to the 5+ hours of my first Ultra Race and I was hooked. Many a funny stories came from that race day, including a lost skittle and a spooked horse...but mostly it blossomed my love for distance running. I finished the Grand Prix series with the Athena Title (or as Ken calls it the "fastest fat girl in Charlotte")and decided to hang up the short runs and pursue this mystical beast called "Ultra Running".  Since then I have competed in the Freedom Park New Years Ultra, the Black Mountain Monster  and the Uwharrie Mountain Run. I have so much to learn and so far to go, but that is part of the journey and I am glad to be on it!

Tracy, Tom and I at the Freedom Park New Year's Ultra
Ok so that's how I started racing again...but why the Peanut Butter and Jelly, right? Well during that first race in Virginia, there was an aid station at the halfway point that had these little pb&js on homemade bread. They tasted like manna from heaven!! I couldn't understand why a tiny little square of protein, sugar and carbs could taste so magnificent. Whatever the staple has become PB&J's at every race and every midnight Booty Loop Run (yes we do that) Thanks to Smucker's, I can get them prepackaged, frozen and sans crust. I have spread the love for the "Uncrustables" to my fellow runners and the fever has taken hold. So if you can't find them for your kid's lunch (which they are way too high in calories for that anyway) it may be because your neighborhood ultra runner has a race and or long run coming up.

Well that sums it up for now. I hope to keep you updated on my life of racing and the great people and stories that come hand and hand with the Ultra world. Enjoy!!