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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Rocky Raccoon 100 - because racing 1 ultra a month is just not enough... :)

Here's to another one. Photo Cred: Calum Neff
Last Saturday I completed my lucky #13 ultra, the Rocky Raccoon 100, in Huntsville, Tx just 3 short weeks after the Bandera 100K.  This race also marked my 3rd completed 100 miler, a distance that I have learned to admire, respect, and hope to one day master.  Thankfully unlike Bandera, we lucked out with perfect race day weather - mild and dry!

As we lined up at the start I found my teammate Matt Zmolek, and knew I'd be in good shape for the first of five 20 mile loops as he's great company until I tell him to stop letting me slow him down! The loop starts with nearly immediate double track, wide enough to get around people; but not wide enough to not feel crowded. I tried hard to run comfortable, but maybe a little quick to secure a spot where I could run a safe distance behind the person in front of me without ensuring a tumble if they caught a one of the many roots.  This navigation of people and roots occupied most of first 5 miles or so.  Somewhere around mile 4 or 5 Matt and I were able to get enough distance around us to really  run free and start enjoying the crisp, but not cold, morning.

At exactly the 10K point we ran through the DamNation aid station and we seemed to be clicking along right around 10 minute pace.  Perfect.  After DamNation the course takes you on the longest segment without an aid station, a 6 mile loop with the only "big" hill on the course.  This is my favorite part of the course.  It's terrain is pretty similar to the rest of the course, rolling hills and roots; but the hills and roots are perhaps a little bit better spaced as for whatever reason, it's a little more runnable than the rest of the very runnable course.  Also, when you get back to DamNation, you are over half way through the loop.

Upon returning to DamNation, I realized I hadn't been eating much, so I started making my way through my rations as we proceeded along the trail.  Matt and I were running very comfortably, and in the cool air I simply hadn't noticed. OOPS! Somewhere along this segment, I happened to check my watch to see where our splits were and realized that I probably shouldn't be clicking off sub 9 minute miles, no matter HOW GOOD they felt at the time.  So when we got to Park Road aid station, I told Matt to have a great race, and stayed at the station a minute or two longer than him to ensure I didn't try to catch him again, a nasty old road racing habit of mine that has taken a long time to die - I ALWAYS try to catch people running in front of me.

Park Road became my favorite aid station stop of the day.  Maybe it was because I'd see fellow Team TROT runner Cal Neff, and TROT owner Rob Goyen and fellow Houston Area Trail Runner Jose out there all day; or maybe it was because it was a giant party all day.  Either way, it was a fun little pit stop.

The segment between Park Road and the loop start/finish is another really enjoyable segment.  More of the same rolling hills, and the last 2.5 miles are the same as the first 2.5 miles of the course so it's a good chance to see where you are, and get a glimpse of the unicorns up front running sub 15 and 16 hour 100 mile times. Eventually, I came out of the woods, and crossed the road into the S/F chute. 1 lap down in 3:19 - almost exactly 10 minute pace.  Not too shabby.
20 miles down - photo cred: Jeff Ball
Thanks to my fantastic  crew of Team TROT runners and HATRs, I was in and out quickly and off onto lap 2.  My NASCAR style pit-stop made me realize again how lucky I am to be part of such a phenomenal running community.  Seeing them after the end of my first loop was actually the first time I had ever met Team TROT members Tracie Akerhielm and Jeff Ball.  Fellow HATR Mark Kenney was also there to help out.

Lap 2 went pretty similar to lap 1.  I felt good and was still clicking along at a decent pace.  The only hiccup was the catch up eating I had done, had well, caught up and I was a bit overloaded for the first half of the loop.  I took the volunteers advice and stuck to ginger-ale only, and by mile 32.2, I was back to feeling just about normal.  I would be a bit more conscious about how much I was eating the rest of the day though, and this little hiccup probably hurt me a bit later on when I didn't have the energy stores from steadily fueling all day. In fact from mile 15.7 to 35.7 the only calories I took were gingerale, 1 orange slice, and 1 hammer gel. But as Cal can attest, when I reached Park Road at mile 35.7, I was ready to get my calories back up and at least attempt to keep my energy levels back in check. I downed some stir-fried ramen, and was on my way.
Bacon grease stir-fried ramen. Don't judge me.
Photo Cred: Calum Neff
I finished the second loop in 3:32.  About where I expected to be, a little slower than loop 1; but still nice and steady.  The miles started to hit me a little as I headed out for loop 3. I still felt great; but I could feel the tiredness setting in.  I tried to keep fueling, keep moving, and started taking in a little bit of caffeine to get the extra pep.  I kept moving pretty well this lap and crossed the 50mile mark around 8:52 or so, and finished the lap in 3:53.  Upon reaching mile 60, I knew I didn't have another sub 4 hour loop in me; but hoped I still had about a 4:20-4:30 hour lap in me.

Another lap bites the dust. Photo cred: Jeff Ball
The lap started out pretty fantastic, with Tracie as my safety runner I was able to click through the 100K mark in 11:15 - a PR of about 1hr.  We continued on at a pretty decent rate until about 66 miles, and then I got tired.  REALLY tired.  The rest of the lap was a bit of a struggle.  I wanted to be moving faster; but was having a very hard time doing so, and the roots had grown to colossal heights, as had those small gently rolling hills from earlier in the day.   Eventually, we got through the loop about 40 minutes slower than planned (just over 5 hours); but still with plenty of time to spare to hit a big PR.

When I arrived at mile 80, Daniel my gracious impromptu pacer from Brazos Bend was ready to go.  After a few minutes of chair sitting, and being waited on (THANK YOU!) I was off for lap 5.
I should probably take a minute here to thank and apologize to everyone that helped me on Saturday - you all really help me to achieve my best, and patiently deal with me in my not so proud moments of barking orders and whining. So thank you, thank you, thank you.  And PLEASE give me the opportunity to support you in your ultra endeavors I'd love to crew and pace you all at some point.

Lap 5 sucked.  But so it goes.  I did my best to run what I could, and power hike the rest (most of the loop).  I think it's evident that I still have a lot to learn when it comes to running 100 mile races; but this one went the best so far.  At no point did I want to quit, or did it seem impossible - even if I did have bouts of being deliriously sad or tired late in the night.  I got small lifts from the aid-stations, and from seeing Jeremy and Rob at DamNation. I also got to for a few small minutes take in the beauty of the tall pines as I convinced Daniel to let me take lie down for a few minutes at mile 85. :)

At 22:35, we made it back around and I crossed the finish line.  A full hour and 48 minutes earlier than I had at Brazos Bend only 7 weeks earlier. True, the last 60K took me every bit as long as the first 100K. But I made some great improvements over a season that started with a DNF at Cactus Rose and ended with a sub-24 and huge PR at Rocky Raccoon as well as a USATF medal for 7th female in the USATF 100 Mile National Championship.  Can't be disappointed with that! And I have a list of things that I could have done slightly differently that would have maybe improved my time - so I'll be ready to head into my next hundo with an even better plan of attack.
Rocky Buckle and USATF National Championship Bling.
Time to rest up a little bit and start training for spring.  Next up, a few shorter races to get some leg speed back at the San Felipe Shootout a 5K, 10K, and 1/2 marathon triple event in 1 morning.

Thanks to Hammer Nutrition for fueling me with several Gels and Perpetuem and Heed along the Way.  Also thanks to EPIC bars for the delicious Lamb bar that was my unofficial breakfast. And Feetures Elite Merino wool that kept my feet dry all day.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Bandera 100K "But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate to say that for destruction ice is also great"

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice. - Fire and Ice, Robert Frost

I've now ventured out to Bandera State Natural Area which lies west of San Antonio on two occasions to run ultras.  And while the races have only been 2.5 mos apart, the contrast between the days could not be more stark.  In October, the trail was dry and dusty and the day was scorching hot, exactly how you would picture a trail outside of an old cowboy town to be.  This past weekend in mid-January, it was frozen, muddy, and grey with freezing rain, fog, and even a little snow.  Each day led to its own unique challenges and hells to overcome, and the first time out here - I lost. I DNF'd at mile 65 due to some tendon trouble and a bit of a wounded pride.  Thus, this past Saturday was a bit of a rematch.
The day started later than usual, with a 730am start, I was well rested and alert; but also fearful.  In the few minutes I stood outside earlier to get a cup of coffee and some breakfast, I had froze and had a hard time getting warm again.  Fears of hypothermia set in and I had added what under normal circumstances for me, would have been far to many layers for doing anything physical outside at temps hovering around 30F. At 730, the race started and we were off.  I tucked myself into the middle of the pack and hung back to chat a little bit with the excited mid and back of the packers.  They were all going on about who wanted a Western States lotto entry, who was just trying to finish, and who was just trying to have an enjoyable day.  I found myself in that last category.
As planned, after spending most of the day hating life during my last ultra, this one was for fun.  (Yes, I do find running all day on trails "fun", even in freezing cold wet weather.) And I was determined to enjoy the day.  In the early miles I ran for conversation and warmth, stopping early to remove and stow my extra layer before continuing on.  Around mile 2 I was lucky enough to run into Rob and soon thereafter my teammate Matt.  This was fantastic.  Time on the trails with friends is the best way to spend time on the trail.  We sped along, moved up in the pack, and enjoyed a little banter before Rob slowed down a little  bit and we hit the first aid station.  From there Matt and I continued on and ran together as the field spread out and we found ourselves running alone for decent stretches at a time.  The way hills stretch out a field is one of the most incredible things about ultras.  In most marathons, you always have a sense of the race; but in ultras, you can truly lose yourself in the peacefulness of being alone on the trail.
Matt and I continued along until somewhere around mile 12 where I noticed I was trying just a bit too hard to keep up, and told Matt to go have a good race.  From there on I ran mostly by myself a side from a short comment here or there from another runner as we passed each other.  A few miles down the road I was feeling chipper again and tried to catch him; but I spent a minute or two too long at cross roads aid station getting situated to go pay The Sisters a visit. (The sisters are a series of short steep climbs riddled with rock and Sotol - sort of like the rest of the park ;) .)  After a cup of broth that I traded a fellow girl runner who was hoping to get some noodles, I was on my way.  The next 5 miles went down easy.  I noticed the hills; but they felt much easier in the cold than they had in the 90 degree temps of October.  Before I knew it I was back at the Cross Roads aid station and had caught another female runner.  In 9 more miles and I would be back at my drop bag prepping to start loop 2!
The last 9 miles were the hardest of each loop for me.  There was a LOT of rocks, and mud.  Mud to the point of having to scrape my shoes so that they didn't fall off my feet, mud.  And the last 5 had some of the steepest climbs on the course.  Which was fine after having several runnable miles; but the climbs were rocky, and the descents were very muddy and riddled with slippery rocks.  I found myself walking more than I would have liked to be for so early in the race. 
Around 6:15 into the race I completed loop one and by 6:17 I headed out on loop two.  My mantra for loop two was "this is the last time I have to..." every time I came to a section I disliked.  My other mantra was "run the runnable" as 1000 runners had done some damage to an already muddy trail, and with the on and off rain that had started the trail was anything but dry and fast.  In fact, there were several sections, some of them quite long, that I walked mainly for safety.  Since my goal was to have a good day, I had no problem NOT falling in the cold black mud because I slipped on a frozen rock, or the peanut butter mud.  Plus, with the ankle tendon problems I had last fall and after Brazos Bend, I wanted to play it safe.  As loop 2 began to unfold I found myself catching people.  Between nearly every aid station I was able to rope in another runner or two.  This really helped to keep me motivated.  Around 10:30 in I clicked past the 50 mile mark.  From here, I started estimated how long it would take to finish and focused on trying to keep my speed up.  This was most challenging when I again hit those last 9 miles.  But eventually, I made it past the last few climbs and steep descents and was able to cruise back into the lodge with a final time of 13:36.  Not good enough to come anywhere close to placing; but this was after all the USATF 100K championship, so I can't say I'm not happy to have come in 13th female, and well within the top 25% of all finishers. :)  
All in all, I had a great day.  I had done exactly what I wanted to do. I nailed my nutrition, I got my Western States lottery ticket for 2016, I beat the trail that kicked my butt a few months ago (granted the course is different, but still!) and more importantly I finally had a race that I really, really, enjoyed - something that hasn't really happened since last April.  I can't wait to see what 2015 holds with my renewed love of the game.  And I really can't wait to go back and see what I can do on a day where more of the course is runnable, and less of an mud run!
The aftermath on my shoes / gaiters
A big shout out of thanks to Trail Racing Over Texas for their continued support and to Rob Goyen who was at the finish line to watch me come in.  Ya'll are like a trail family, and I'm thrilled to be a part of it.  And of course a big thanks to my husband who supports all of my crazy ideas like running all day in the freezing cold. Love you!

Some notes on nutrition and gear:
Vest: UD Ultra Vesta.  First time racing in this vest.  I really liked the bottles.  I had a hard time getting in and out of the front pockets; but hopefully that'll get easier as I use it more.
Fuel: Hammer Perpetuem stayed in 1 10oz. bottle the whole day, and Heed/Water was in the other.  I also consumed quite a few Hammer gels, and 2 lamb flavored Epic bars.  I really think the protein of the perpetuem and epic bars is a big help while competing for so long.
Shoes: Brooks Pure Grit 3.  These are my go to for technical trails.  Light, good lugs, snugger fit, and just enough protection with the rockplate.  With the soft ground they also were all the cushion I needed.
Headlamp: Petzl Tika R+ (great light, small on off button that gave me a few fits to get on)

Clothing: A lot of people wonder how to dress for runs like this.  So here's how I dressed:
-3/4 The North Face tights
-Zoot compression calf socks
-Montrail tee
-generic technical longsleeve (race shirt)
-Brooks thin, water resistant, wind resistant jacket (unlined)
-1/2 zip thermal (for first 1.5 miles, then stored in my UD Vesta)
-gloves that convert to mittens (Brooks)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Brazos Bend 100 From trying to race to trying to finish.

Last weekend I ran the Brazos Bend 100.  A longer version of the 50 on slightly different trails; but in the same gorgeous park and put on by the same fantastic race directors Rob and Rachel.  Given my success last spring, and my frustrating summer and fall that contained 2 DNFs and a handful of minor injuries, I was ready to have a good race.  In fact, I was determined to.  I was certain that a flat and fast course like Brazos was exactly what I needed.

I went in to the race excited, anxious and really feeling quite good about my fitness and ability.  I had some some very high goals for myself, and REALLY wanted to have a great race.  Right before the gun went off I found fellow TROT ambassador Matt Zmolek, he also had some pretty big race day goals, so I was happy to have someone to keep a good pace with and keep conversation light and fun for the first few hours of the day.

The early miles clicked off easy.  I remembered to eat, alternated with some protein, and generally felt great!  In fact that would be the case for the first loop.  Fast and fun.  As I rocked into the aid station at mile 25 I was apparently a little too worried about getting out quickly again and left my Epic bars in my drop bag.  When I discovered this about 3 miles later, I was a bit upset.  But at that point I was still moving good, the sun was coming out, and with it the alligators and wildlife that make Brazos so enjoyable were also coming out.  Somewhere on the back equestrian trails though around mile 42 I started to come unglued.  It was warm. I only had GU and Hammer gels that lap.  I swear I could feel my body cannibalizing my muscles, and I was alone.  Running alone is typical in an ultra race, and for me it's usually one of my strengths.  I'm very used to being in the gap between the leaders and the main pack.  But today, for whatever reason, I HATED it, I just wanted some company, and I wasn't having any fun.  But on I went.  Getting the occasional cheer from people going the opposite direction and staying on what had become my "run/walk" strategy for that loop as a means of conserving energy.  But my spirits were getting awfully low. Finally, a little under 9 hours in - I hit mile 50.  Somehow I was still on target.

My husband and fellow trail runner Jose as well as Rob were at the start finish and helped me get loaded up, get some extra calories in and get on my way for loop 3.  I started hiking with Jeff beside me for a couple minutes as I tried to eat a pizza and mashed potato sandwich as fast as possible. Yeah, I eat some weird things; but real food works WAY better than gels, especially with the weird mood swings I was having due to severe calorie depletion, and possibly having way too much sugar. I swore, I'd start running again after I finished; but somehow my motivation never returned for that lap. It took me an agonizing amount of time to hit the aid station at 61, and what seemed like eternity to make it to Jeremy Hanson's aid station at about 65 miles.  I wanted to quit.  I felt fine. But I wasn't having fun.  Thankfully, Jeremy was able to clearly see that I was fine, and was determined to make it difficult to quit.  After 20+ minutes of snacking, sulking, and brooding I received just the invitation I needed to keep going.  A guy from GBR who was running to honor his late best friend came through the aid station and encouraged me to leave the aid station with him.  This was fantastic. What was even better is that I felt pretty okay thanks to all the fueling and resting I had been doing and was able to actually keep him company for the next 5 or so miles, before I lost him on a stretch of poor footed horse trails.  But the good news was that I was 5 miles away from quitting, and 5 miles closer to finishing lap 3.

As I strolled in to finish lap 3 around 10:40pm, I wasn't really feeling like going out for loop 4.  Turns out I am not a big fan of heavily wooded areas at night by myself (I already knew this fact; but since I intended on being done by shortly after midnight I hadn't worried about securing a pacer - yeah I know, I'm a wuss, whatevs). I had already heard an entire pack of coyotes. And my lap 3rd 25mile lap was slower than 2 of my 50mile times.  Talk about feeling LOW!  Thankfully, I belong to the greatest trail running club in the universe the Houston Area Trail Runners, and fellow member Daniel Pachon offered to keep me company for the last lap.  YAY! This made me so SO happy. So I downed a redbull, used a real potty, and waited for Daniel to get his running garb on.  At 11PM exactly headed out for lap 4.
Daniel, myself, and RD / HATR president Rob Goyen.
Still managed to beat the sun! :)

The goal for this lap was to run where I could, walk where I couldn't and eventually get my damn BUCKLE!  Somewhere along the way the dull ache at the front of my leg turned into a throbbing pain.  I could feel a few welts on my flexor tendon that were persisting through my compression socks.  (After the race, I wouldn't even be able to flex my foot for a full day; but at the time, this really only seemed like a 'minor' annoyance, not worth quitting over, anyhow...)  So every couple of miles there was a quick stop to try to rub out some off the inflammation before trudging on down the trail.  Eventually, we made it back to Jeremy's aid station.  I don't think he expected to see me again. But I sure was happy to see him!  I took a short rest and propped up my foot for a few minutes while Daniel and Jeremy and the other aid station volunteer took care of me. Yeah, pretty much the best volunteers and pacer EVER!  Eventually we hobbled off into the moonlight and on down the last 11.5 miles of trail.  Slow as snails, but we were making progress.

Somewhere around 3am I found myself stumbling in a not so straight line, and was begging for a bench to lie down.  Eventually around mile 95 we came across the drop bag stop, and I was able to lie down on a tarp for a few minutes and take a little snooze.  Ten minutes and a full dream later, we were back on our way.  I felt semi- refreshed, and am glad that I laid down for a few minutes to both rest my leg, and close my eyes.  Finally, a little after 6 am, missing every goal I had set for myself except my goal to finish - Daniel got me across the finish line.  24:23, 101.8 miles, 1 buckle, and 1 Texas Two-Step award later I can say I am definitively happy I did not quit.

BUCKLE FEVER! No really, the fever is how I look so young in this picture.
I'm not sure why I had such a roller coaster day, aside from the fact that 100+ miles is a long ways to go.  But I think I maybe put too much pressure on myself to do well this race.  Which I know, from years and years of racing, never works out well for me.  I run my best when I enjoy the day and just run free without the pressure of hitting splits.  So for my next race, that is the only goal.  Enjoy the day.  After all, that is why we all do this crazy sport, isn't it?

Some notes on gear and fuel:
Shoes: Brooks Pure Grit 3 (miles 0-50) - great tread for all the mud; but perhaps a little minimal for 100 miles...
Altra Lone Peak 2 (miles 50-101.8) - Great shoe. Wish the tongue were a tad longer.
Pack: Nathan Hydration Intensity Pack - My go to for racing!
Fuel: Hammer Gels and GU, Epic Bars (Lamb is the real deal!), and Hammer Perpetuem (should have had more of this!!)
Compression: Zoot Ultra Compression socks (rocked! 1st time racing in them, they are amazing!)
2xu Half short - BEST distance short for warm weather I have found.
Top: Team TROT singlet by New Balance
Headlamp: Black Diamond the Spot - a very reliable light.

Thank you to Team TROT for believing in me even when I don't.  I look forward to an exciting year of racing with you all in 2015.  Starting with Bandera 100K in January!!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Brazos Bend, 50 miles of snake jumpin', gator watchin' fun!

Saturday, April 26 was my last weekend of a month of marathon+ distance weekend runs.  I opened the month with Hell's Hills 50 Miler on April 6, and then ran 27 miles the next weekend, and then did a 16 mile and a 31.5 mile long run over Easter weekend.  That said, I didn't have many expectations going into Brazos Bend.  I knew m legs felt good, and my feet felt tired - so tired in fact that I bought a pair of max cushion Altras to wear instead of my normal Brooks Pure Grit 2's. Yup, I committed the cardinal racing sin of racing in a style and pair of shoes that I had only worn on 1, four mile run prior.
Altra Olympus Gator Stompers still feeling good at 34 miles!
But sometimes the atmosphere is enough to change your outlook on your day.  As I checked in and saw the familiar faces of Rachel and Rob the amazing RD's, and started talking trail with some of the other ladies that were getting ready to run 50 Miles my desire to race started to come to the surface. I dropped my drop bag, sorted through my nutrition, put my Nathan Intensity pack on, and got ready for the day.

About 40 minutes to go until start time and I noticed that my back was wet and my pack was leaking.  Well crap. I found Rob and Jose and they helped me find secure some duct tape to hopefully keep the leak from being too quick.  It seemed to work, and soon enough I was back over by the start.  At 6 am sharp, Rob had us off and on our way.  Time to get moving!

I quickly settled into a group of 4 or 5 guys who were a bit chatty, and seemed to be moving at a slightly quick but comfortable pace. I figured that was okay, that given how flat the course was I wouldn't wear myself out too too much by going a little quick early, and besides ultras can be quite lonely so a little conversation was welcomed.  Not to mention that I have a large and irrational fear of reptiles, and I'd rather be in a group until the sun comes up and I can more easily spot all of the gators from a distance. True story.

At any rate, soon enough the sun started to come up, and I had settled in to a comfortable, yet quick pace with Brian Corbin.  I'd never met him before, but anyone that saw us would have sworn that we were old friends as we ran together and told stories for the rest of the first 16.7 mile loop.  I watched the miles click off on my garmin, and wondered if I would regret how quick they were later, despite how easy they felt now.  At some point our duo again became a group of 4-5 and we all enjoyed the early morning miles and saying hi and good luck to the 25 - 50K runners that were starting out on their journeys.  Around 2:20 we rolled through the first 16.77 mile loop.  Holy bejeepers! That is 7 hour pace.

After a quick refill of water and nutrition I was off again.  Due to speed of getting through aid stations, I ended up leaving the aid station on my own, despite rolling in with a group of folks.  Matt, the eventual 3rd place male, took off ahead, and I believe I made it out of the aid station second (of our little group). Knowing that maintaining that quick of a pace would not be wise, I decided to reign it in slightly and pulled back a little, but tried to keep my miles around 840-850...slowing down a little when I stopped paying attention and picking it back up after a slacker mile, soon enough I was near the first aid station and gaining on a girl that zoomed past me half way though lap 1.  I also had my first gator sighting.  A big 7 or 8 footer chilling in the water a little too close to where the gal ahead of hopped back on the trail after a little bathroom break. YIKES! Nothing will make you run down the center of a wide trail like being surrounded by gator infested water on both sides. Irrational fear realized, I wasn't in Kansas (er, Virginia) anymore.  At this point I started singing the song to the child's game 'gator golf' and had a nice little chuckle about the irony of the song. "What could be greater than playing a game of golf with a gator?"  Well, I could think of a few things. I'm pretty sure Mr. Gator wouldn't enjoy being shot in the mouth with a golf ball, and would take that as an open invitation for dinner where you'd be the main course! (There Liz, these are some of the things I think about while running!)

Once I got through the aid station, I was able to catch the girl ahead of me, and really get into a groove for the next several miles.  As I looped back around to the aid station, Jose told me I was in second as the girl 15 minutes ahead of me was hurting and had dropped.  I can't say that I believed him, as he has a tendency to lie about my position in races, but I couldn't be certain so I tried to pick it up a little to build a cushion between me and the girl I had passed, and to maybe gain on whomever was ahead of me.  Over the next few miles, I really started to enjoy the scenery.  It was getting late enough in the morning that the birds were all out, and with the overcast skies keeping the temperatures from rising too high I could really just enjoy running and enjoy the day.  I saw countless water birds, and several gators that all kept a respectful distance from the shore while trying to stay close enough to trick a non-suspecting bird that his nose is a great place to land.  I am also pretty certain that the quick splash, commingled with a bird's cry I heard while running by was the sound of success on one, now full, gator's part.

Eventually I made to the second aid station which marked the just over halfway point in the race.  I grabbed some watermelon and kept on moving.  The next section loops though some hardwood, and while it provides the most shaded section of the course, it also was in my opinion the longest and dullest stretch. Mainly because the section is so straight, and with the horse tracks you have to really pay attention so as to not roll your ankle, so it just seems to wind on and on.  But eventually, around 4:21 in, I hit the aid station at mile 30.  Here I had my pack, which seemed to be perhaps leaking a little more quickly now, refilled and took some Aleve to deal with the hip-flexor fatigue I was getting due to the lack of change in elevation, and grabbed a Hammer gel before getting on my way.
Gearing up for lap 3   -Photo Cred: Calum Neff
I came though lap 2 with a 2:30ish split, or 4:50 for 33.5 miles.  At 15 minutes ahead of my PR pace, I knew I had a good cushion to set another PR.  And as I approached the drop bag area Rob yells out that I am in 1st place, as the other girl also dropped and as rob said my eyes were like slot machines going, "ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!" After quickly grabbing a handheld out of my drop-bag, since I didn't  want to chance running out of water, I was off!  Goal for the lap was to maintain my position and not walk.  34 miles in I was feeling pretty good; but the legs were definitely starting to tire as was I.  And then at about 35 miles in, I got a big wake up call as I almost stepped on a big rat snake!  That'll get you moving!  At that point I really tried to focus on what was on or near the trail, as every stick started to look like a snake and I sure as heck didn't want to actually step on one.  Soon enough I came upon the first aid station of the loop, which meant I had 12 miles to go.  From there I tried to calculate how long it would take me to make the next aid station, and played this game the rest of the way in.  Finally, at 7:27 I crossed the finish line, and won my first 50 Miler. :o)  I was and am very excited about this race for a multitude of reasons: 1. I WON! 2. I ran an 18 minute PR on non-tapered, tired legs. 3. I ran every single step of this race - something I would have thought impossible 2 years ago. and 4. My final time of 7:27 works out to an avg pace of 8:56/mile, which equates to a 3:54 marathon.  I ran my first marathon in 3:54, and on this day I nearly ran 2 at the same pace. :)
Awesome huge finisher's medal, and a Karbach craft brew for my 1st place finish.
Some notes on gear:
Pack - Nathan Intensity Pack. I love this pack. I was disappointed with the bladder leaking; however, Nathan has already shipped me a replacement bladder free of charge.  So they get props for customer service and making things right. :)

Shoes - Altra Olympus.  Shoes worked out great.  I didn't get any hot spots or pressure points on my feet.  And it turns out that the extra weight of the cushion obviously didn't matter.  I also liked the rocker in the forefoot that kept me moving forward all day.  I can't comment on the traction though, as the course was flat and dry.  One thing to note is I usually wear a size 8 running shoes, and these are a 9.

Handheld - Amphipod 12oz. The only handheld I can comfortably run with.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hell's Hills 50M Race Report - What not to eat before you run 50miles...

Well it turns out there aren't all that many "hills" per se at Hell's Hills, but there's enough abrupt ups and downs, rocks, twists and turns, and "fun stuff" the last few miles of each loop to justify the name.

My Saturday morning started off pretty much like any other Ultra race day - EARLY.  By 340AM I had made it out to Rocky Hill Ranch in Smithville, Tx and was regretting not packing my typical gluten free PB sandwich also known as 2nd breakfast.  However, as I was getting situated, Rob Goyen (HATR president, and my Crew Master for the day) sent me a text asking if I wanted anything for breakfast. Thinking this was fantastic, I texted him back and anxiously awaited my eggs.  I figured this would be something bland, and packed with protein to keep me full awhile to boot.  I couldn't have been more thankful as I scarfed down an egg burrito, that while delicious may have turned out to be my stomach's culprit later on in the day.

The 50 mile edition of Hell's Hills started promptly at 5am, and off we went into the darkness winding our way through the woods and up and down some dirt paths riddled with roots and loose rocks.  I had been warned that the first few miles and the last few miles of each loop were the hardest so I settled into a 10 minute pace with a small group of folks and I was happy to have their eyes to help find the course through the trees.  We spent most of the first 7 miles to the first major aid station switching spots back and forth as one of us would just about miss a turn, and the ones behind would identify the correct path and move to the front of the pack until they also went the wrong way.

As we approached the first aid station, I didn't even slow down and took the lead heading into the next 5 mile section of the race.  I was very happy that this section was not nearly as technical, as the winding was reduced and the running surface turned mostly to soft dirt with minimal rocks.  I really enjoyed this section.  And it showed as I was clicking off 930-945 minute miles, and I maintained my position at the lead of the group.  What I couldn't get over though was that nearly 9 miles into a race, I was still running WITH a pack of folks.  There was still a solid group of 5-6 guys plus myself running within 45 seconds of each other.  As the trail winded on, and the path was nice and soft I forgot about the pack and slowly began to pull away from them as I began to focus more on my own race.  Somewhere around mile 10 or so as I had begun to gap the group of boys, I heard one of them ask another, "Is that a girl?".  I laughed to myself, smiled broadly and surged ahead a little harder to put a bit more distance between the pack.  Then around mile 11.5 or so, we hit the Blue Bonnets.  WOW.  It was amazingly beautiful - an absolutely massive field of wild flowers moving with the breeze like waves, it was stunning.  Pure joy of being able to run somewhere so special carried me through the aid station at mile 12 where I again, unlike some of the competition behind me, did not stop.  This was the last I heard of the group behind me, and I ran the next section to the end of the first loop pretty much solo until I caught a guy around mile 14 or 15.

Field of Blue Bonnet's at Hell's Hills
The third section was a mixed bag.  It started off very much like the second section - very runnable.  I enjoyed the sun coming up, running through some southern pines, and being able to click off some more steady miles.  About 3 miles into this section though, you hit the fun stuff.  The hills get steeper, and the trail gets a little bumpier again.  And then with about 1.5 to go in the loop you wind your way up and down and around a few short, but very serious climbs.  A few of these climbs are aptly named the Grind, and the Wall, and one of the descents has a XXX warning for mountain bikers.  Needless to say, I would not attempt that section of trail on wheels.  However, eventually I popped out onto the field and made my way to the aid station at the end of loop 1 in 2:45.

With crew-master Rob, I was refilled and on my way by 2:47.  While I was starting the second loop I took stock of where I was and noted that my hands were pretty swollen.  CRAP.  Too much salt, or too little?  I took stock of what I had eaten, and realized the answer had to be too much.  I didn't worry too much about this though, because it should be warming up soon, at which point my body would use the salt, and besides I had water in my pack this loop.  I continued on, trying to maintain my pace, and was soon rewarded by blazing past the 2nd place female.  Excellent I thought, my race was playing out just as planned.  Soon enough I passed the 7 mile aid station, at which point I thought about, but passed on the idea of using the port-o-john there as my stomach was really starting to talk to me.

A few miles into this section, I realized my mistake of not using the bathroom.  But, I figured the next aid station likely had a port-o-john also, and surely I could make it another 5 miles.  When I got there, I realized this wasn't the case and went off into the woods.  After a quick off course excursion, I felt much better and went about tackling the remainder of the loop.  After a few more miles though, I realized that my "much better" was about to be short lived, and I slowed down a bit making it back in to the start finish about 5 minutes slower than my first lap.

While at the S/F aid station, rob asked how I was doing, and I told him my stomach was sour.   But I knew I had over 3hrs and 20 minutes to make it home in under 9 hours.  I grabbed some 7-up, my gluten free annie's animal crackers and went off on my way.  The next 7 miles took forever.  I was very unhappy to be running the hardest section of the course on a very not happy stomach.  I took a few more bathroom trips into the woods, and walked more than my legs needed to at that point of the race.  It was incredibly frustrating.  My legs felt reasonably good still, but every time I pushed the pace, I had to head off trail for a few minutes.  Eventually, after 80minutes, I made it to the mile 7 aid station.  Here I grabbed some ginger ale and then made a stop at the portojohn before continuing on my way.

At this point my stomach was finally starting to be a bit more agreeable.  I was able to convince myself that the next section was runnable, and ran every step to the 12 mile aid station.  From here, I just had to make it home.  I continued to plod my way down the course forcing myself to run until I hit the harder sections, and then quickly hiked the hills.  But at this point, have to deal with my stomach for 18 miles had taken a lot out of me and my run and fast hike had slowed considerably.  But I knew I was approaching the end, and eventually I popped out onto the field, and although my stomach problem was starting to resurface from pushing again for so many miles, I was able to run it the rest of the way in.  Finishing in 8:46, good enough for 2nd female and 8th overall.

Showing off my 2nd Place Rooster Award :)
While I clearly didn't have the day I had planned on, I couldn't be disappointed with my performance.  Having never had stomach problems like that in a race before, I just needed to figure out what caused it.  After carefully considering my food, and the noticed salt spike early in the race I am fairly certain that the fast-food style eggs, plus the flour tortilla (which I eat minimal gluten to begin with) must have been loaded with more salt than I anticipated.  Plus some future research would list eggs as a source of magnesium which can REALLY jack up your GI system during endurance events.  So lesson learned.  Don't change your nutrition the day of an ultra!  And perhaps gluten has a larger impact on my intestinal system than I have been previously willing to admit.  That said, I am fairly certain that I can prevent having such an issue at a future race and will return to the race diet that has worked for me so well in the past!  I am looking forward to testing this theory later in April at Brazo's Bend 50 Mile on 4/26.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Rocky 50 Race Report - Running like I stole something.

Last Saturday I toed the line for the Rocky 50 Miler. My intention was to run around 8:30, give or take.  I knew I was fit, and having previously run a 9:09 on a much hillier course, I figured this was doable and would be a huge accomplishment.

Cruising into mile 45.6
As Jeff and I got ready at the start and I told him good luck I figured we'd probably run at least the first lap together, as he is also really fit right now, and could definitely go sub-9 as well.  But when the gun went off I immediately lost track of him as the start was very crowded and there were some people in front of us that should have probably started a little further back.

As I found my rhythm in the first few minutes, my excitement quieted a little and I enjoyed watching the snow fall through the light of my headlamp.  Due to it being dark at start, I had really no idea how I was doing position wise.  This was fine by me. I knew there were some fast girls registered and was content to go about running my own race.  The first 3 miles really were without significance, other than I realized that the crowd has thinned out and I was comfortably running with 1 other person near me after about mile 2.
Sooner than I expected we reached the first aid station, and Jose was there to cheer and offer support.  My mind was focused more on my husband than on myself at that point, so my only request to Jose was to keep me updated on Jeff's progress the rest of the day.

Over the next 3 miles to the second aid station I enjoyed the mildly technical terrain, and the winds of the trails, and had some conversation with a guy I caught up to shortly after the start of this section.  As we approached Damnation at mile 6.2 I asked the guy how far this aid station was because we got to it much quicker than I thought we would - around 56 minutes or so.  Upon realizing that I was 6.2 not 5.8 miles into the course, I decided to hang back a little and let the fellow go on without me.

I proceeded along at my own pace, and even let a girl go on without me as she caught me going up the one hill on the course that I hiked all 3 times.  At this point, I still thought I was averaging about 9:40-10:00 pace, depending on the ups and downs and terrain of any given mile and really hadn't a clue as to the incredible journey of a race I was embarking upon.  As the course wound back to Damnation and I saw all the folks behind me, I started to realize that my run was perhaps going better than I planned.  I was pleased.  I slowed at Damnation to ensure that I hadn't taken a wrong turn, and we really were supposed to come back this way as I was running solo at this point and then continued on my way to the next aid station.

The next section of the loop is the most boring and for me, as well as the most disconcerting section of the loop.  It winds back through the woods on some of the trails I had already seen that morning and then spits you out on a undulating and very dull fire road.  Having not looked at a course map ahead of time, I was unsure if I was supposed to be on the same trail as earlier again, and was slightly worried that I was going the wrong way!  But once I got on the fire road I knew I was gong the correct way and proceeded along to the next aid station.  At this aid station both Jose as well as my co-worker Maryann were there to cheer me on.  I was feeling solid, and was happy to hear that Jeff was only a minute or two back at mile 3.  Without slowing I was through the aid station and on to the last section of the first loop.

This section is my favorite section of the course.  It has a few inclines and then eventually winds back into the path that we are on at the beginning of each loop.  As I got nearer the end of the loop I was the leaders heading back out for loop number two.  I determined that some 7 girls or so were ahead of me.  Huh, I thought I would be higher up than that!  Then once I got to the loop end aid station and saw my time, I was in a little bit of disbelief.  2:31 for 16.7 miles, and in either 7 or 8th place.  Wow. Weather was definitely on our side today.  I quickly got my pack refilled, and Jose helped me sort out my food for loop 2 and off I went at 2:34 elapsed.

A few minutes into the second loop I saw Jeff coming in to finish loop 1, he looked strong and after passing quick cheers for one another as we passed I continued on to what would be another excellent loop.  I felt strong. I sort of just bopped on down the path, and paid a little more attention to the distance between the aid stations this time.  This loop I stopped at Damnation to briefly down some quick fluids before continuing on to the little lollipop section of 2.? miles before arriving back at Damnation.  This time I saw Jeffrey on  my way back to the aid station, and as I told him he was doing great, he replied that "you're doing better!" his encouragement helped lift my energy as I cruised back through Damnation and through the halfway point of the course in under 4 hours.  At this point it hit me that so long as nothing went wrong the last 25, I really had a solid shot at finishing right around 8 hours.

En route to the next aid station at mile 29 I started to have some serious cramping in my right quad.  This was unexpected, but not surprising since I was pushing pace quite a bit as compared to my last 50 milers, and I had a few minutes of cramping in my left hammy earlier in the loop. A few minutes later, I was happy to see some folks up in the distance to try to catch and worked to ignore the pain and try to close the gap as I approached Jose and Maryann.  At 29 I had to stop and get some vitamin-I in hopes that it would help lessen the pain in my quad.  It didn't much, but on I kept trucking and by playing games with myself I got myself through the lap, passed another girl, and finished the lap around other words my lap splits were almost DEAD EVEN 34 miles into a race!  WHO DOES THAT?!  After a bit of  a mishap at the aid station resulting in a quarter of my pack being spilled on me, I was off for lap 3!  If I could hold pace again, I'd come in nearly an HOUR ahead of my goal, and if my quad didn't loosen up, I still had nearly 3 hours left to break 8, and 3:30 to break my goal.  No matter what, I was going to PR today.  If that doesn't get your adrenaline flowing, then you must be a corpse already.  I was ready to tackle the third loop and set off down towards the first aid station.

The last loop was by far the hardest.  I knew exactly how much distance I had to the next tree, or so it seemed, from having already seen the course so much that day.  And my legs were getting tired.  I added in a few fast walk segments, and made it past the first aid station by about 1 mile before my garmin finally gave out.  As a side note, I hadn't really been using my garmin for much more than controlling my pace early in the race, and then helping to keep myself moving as my legs got tired on loop 3; but once it gave out, I knew I just had to push more if I wanted to meet my goals.  I kept winding through the woods and eventually made it back to Damnation, at which point I asked if anyone had the total distance and was told that I'd be at 25 miles when I came back through.  I couldn't do math in my head at this point, and just tried to keep moving and trying to get back to Damnation before too much time had passed. Somewhere on this lollipop I started to feel good again, I was slowly catching people that were still on loop 2 and this gave me energy to feed off of and keep pushing.  I was still taking very brief walk breaks here and there; but they were shorter and fewer.  After I went through Damnation for a final time, when I knew I had less than 9 miles to go I was ready to start pushing again.  I took one final short walk break and then started pushing until I heard the party at mile 45.6.

Leaving mile 45.6 and talking strategy with Jose
This was my longest stop at an aid station other than the end of each loop all day. I needed to eat; but couldn't suck down any more Gu, and needed water as I knew I was almost dry in my pack.  While I was trying to sort out what I needed in my head, Jose got me psyched up by telling me that I was in 5th, and within striking distance of 4th.  He also is a big liar and told me that she looked rough, and was going to be easy to catch.  Newly motivated, hydrated, and fed I started down the trail with 2 goals in mind.  Break 8 hours, and catch the chic in front of me.  I was going to run until I couldn't run anymore.  Somewhere about 2 miles into this section, my pack went dry.  Crap.  But okay, 2ish miles from homes, and I could manage that, right?  Soon after that I caught glimpse of the 4th place girl.  She looked strong and was simply enjoying the day. Double crap. Okay. Time to rethink this.  I knew I could make it through without the water, but I needed to pass her with conviction.  So I slowed up for a minute and took stock of what was in the bank, and then I picked it back up, passed her and never looked back.

Now I just had to make it home! Dang I was thirsty though, and I needed to eat something, but only had Gu's on me that weren't going to go down without the water to chase them.  I started figuring out how far I was, and eventually realized that the worse thing I could do right now was not take in anything.  So, I took off my fleece ear warmer and sucked some of the salty sweat out of the band.  Yeah, I did that.  Yeah it sounds disgusting.  But, it worked.  I got both the fluids and salt I needed and felt much better as I got closer and closer to home.  When I crossed the road about a half mile out, I turned on the jets, and when I crossed the final road and started down the chute, I turned on the turbo, especially once I saw the clock.  I sprinted in to a final time of 7:45:06, 4th place female, and 12th overall.  I was and still am ecstatic over how well this race went! I can't wait to line up for my next 50 Miler in a few months.

So elated about this race!

Some end notes and credits:
-Jose may simply be the best crew anyone could ever ask for.  He was quick and got me what I needed as I needed it, and crewed for both me and Jeff for the majority of the race, running back and forth between the aid stations to see us both multiple times.
-Jeffrey also had a fantastic race, and a 20 minute PR, and I'm super happy and lucky to have such a great motivating training partner every day.
-Seeing Maryann each loop and knowing that I had all of Luke's Locker in Katy cheering for me, as well as the entire Houston Area Trail Runner crew was also incredibly motivating. I was happy to be earning points for the HATRs!

-Alternated filling my pack with Gu Brew, Water, and HEED (on course electrolyte drink) this plan worked perfectly with not going overboard on the salt and staying hydrated...until I ran out of fluid on the last lap!
-Ate 1 bonk breaker bar and 3-4 GUs per loop.  The bonk breaker bars worked fantastically as did the Gu until my stomach said no more!  I'll have to have more bland food in my pack for later stages of my next race. I think eating more would be helpful.

-Wore the Nathan Intensity Women's Specific Pack.  I love this pack; but I hate that people at aid stations can never figure out how to open / close it.
-Black Diamond the Spot headlamp clearly illuminated all of the roots early in the morning without weighing me down.
-Wore the Brooks Pure Grit 2 which did an awesome job protecting my feet, keeping them nimble, and gripping the few muddy spots.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Consistency and My First Ultra Win

Saturday Dec. 7, marked another anniversary of Pearl Harbor. It also marked the first Houston Area Trail Runners (HATRs) race, fun run, or speak easy run if you will on the Ho Chi Minh trails in Memorial Park, Houston. The race almost didn't happen due to issues with permits and potential flooding/ park trail closures. Luckily, the HATR group is headed up by an awesome guy, Rob Goyen, that went to battle with both the city and the park so that we could have our event. The catch was no advertising, and no signage could be put up at the run. Hence why I am referring to it as a speak easy race (the difference being, we weren't doing anything illegal - just playing by the city's specific rules). 

The race brought out some fun loving trail and ultra runners, as being a 6 hr event - there are no DNFs. The course was a 5 mile loop on the Ho Chi Minh trails, which is the premium spot for trail running within Houston city limits. All runners were invited to run as many laps as they wanted to or could complete within the 6 hour limit. 

The fun kicked off promptly at 6am with a nearly 60 runners crazy enough to brave the frigid temps (for Houston) and not scared off by the threat of a little water falling from the sky or mud on the ground. For the record, even this Yankee thought it was downright COLD at 27 degrees. 

As the race started I situated myself near the front, I'd say top 10 - an uncharacteristic move on my part; but I had a feeling that I really had a shot of doing well. Besides, with the amount of single track, I didn't want to get pushed too far to the back with the start. 

We started down the trail heading in the opposite direction of what I am used to running with the HATR group on Saturday and Sunday mornings.  It was incredibly dark and cold. After a few minutes of trying to stay with the rabbits to both warm up more quickly, and use the extra light offered by their headlamps, I settled into what seemed like a slow but maintainable pace. I had a feeling that this first night lap might be a bit slower than I wanted; but since I usually have the opposite problem, I was okay with that.  The trail winds quite a bit and has some nice little rollers the majority of the way. So once I got far enough back that I had to rely on my own light, I definitely proceeded cautiously, stopping a few times to check for markers, and yelling to the folks behind me where there were trees to jump over or duck under, sharp turns, or poor footing. I was especially careful to do this after I heard someone not too far back trip over some knarly roots. 

After what seemed like far longer than 2.5 miles I made it to the 1/2 way aid station with a group of 3-5 other guys running close to me. As we proceeded to the Bayou crossing, we got a little hung up and went slightly off course before a few runners with better eyes than our group tracked down the markers and got us back on course. 

From here, the course flies! It's a undulating single track that just winds around the outskirts of the park. This part of the loop has the best footing by far, and I could feel that I was making up time. I was warming up, and starting to wish I hadn't worn sleeves or gloves. In around 53 minutes I am through lap 1, and told that I am indeed the first female.

This news was pretty exciting. I'd never won a trail race before, so I had every intent of staying where I had positioned myself.  The sun was starting to come up and by the time I finished the second loop I felt super awake and ready to race.  At this point I still hadn't stopped for aid, as I was fully loaded with Gus and my 2L Nathan Hydration pack - my own sneaky time saving measure for ultra racing. :) And as I went by the aid station, I checked my watch and sure enough - I was about a minute faster.

The 3rd loop was one of the most fun loops, I was lapping some of the runners and enjoying myself immensely on the windy single track while I shouted words of encouragement to everyone I encountered.  I was down right chipper. And I was haulin'!  I finished this lap in 48 minutes and some change and was super thrilled that I was negative splitting an ultra! What the heck!!! Heading out for lap 4, I was determined to try to negative split the whole darn thing, and flew around the next 5 miles in 47:51, fast enough to claim the fastest female loop time prize for the event.  Yowza's.  

At this point I was pretty confident I was going to win the women's and just needed to hang on for a few more laps - my goal was to finish 30 miles in 1st for the women, and juuuussst over 5 hours so I wouldn't be allowed to start another loop.  I know, a bit of a slacker's aspiration....but it was COLD still, and 30 was my ideal distance for the week having only 1 other long run being the 26.2 mile training run I ran the Sunday before, and a long year of racing planned for 2014.

Lap 5 was a little unremarkable, I did start getting a little tired, but still did a good job maintaining pace coming through the loop in 49:22, which was just about perfect for my aforementioned goals, and my dream of negative splitting a freaking ultra distance event! As I got into lap 6, I debated how badly my legs felt and whether I should go for 35 miles.  As I approached the water crossing and came upon one female I had not seen previously during the race that was moving pretty well, I thought I might HAVE to run 35 to ensure she didn't catch me again!  A few minutes later I realized that 30 would be sufficient and put it in cruise control to coast in to the finish in 5:00:30, a PR trail 30 mile time, and on pace for what would have been a significant 50K PR.  As I got to the aid station, Rob told me I had 1 minute to start another loop if I wanted to. And I told him, that I was good, I timed it perfectly - I ran the fastest 30 miler I could without feeling obligated to run 35!

In the end I was 1st female and 4th overall. And I couldn't have been happier with my first ultra experience in Texas!  (I do hope it's a little warmer for the next one though!).  And despite slowing a little on the last 2 laps, my second 15 miles wound up being almost 4 minutes faster than my first 15 miles, and it was the most consistent I have ever run an ultra from start to finish. I couldn't be more excited to train and race here in 2014.

Happy Trails Everyone!