Sunday, September 21, 2014

Race Report: Iron Mountain Trail Run 50 Miler

A little late, but better late than never.

Two years ago I swore that I would never run the IMTR 50 miler again. Apparently 2 years is just long enough to forget why I made that promise. A few friends had signed up with plans to rent the same house we'd stayed in 2 years ago...and sounded like fun. We were going to hang out, drink beer, run a little, then drink more beer. By the time I actually got around to signing up, the race was full so I added my name to the wait list and promptly forgot about it until about 6 weeks out from the race when I received an email informing me that I got in. Whoopdidoo! Needless to say, I was probably a little undertrained as I stepped up to the starting line.

The first 4.5 miles were pancake flat along the Creeper Trail, a pretty footpath along a bubbling creek through a quaint, little town. Sounds nice, right?!? And it actually was; kind of boring, but your legs are nice and warmed up by the time you hit the Appalachian Trail and start to ascend the side of a mountain. The next 11ish miles were up and down (mostly up) along very rocky, narrow footpaths that weave along cliffs and creek beds. I can’t say I was appreciating the scenery as I walked along the trail, trying desperately to run, but unable to control my prosthesis as it bounced off rocks in all directions. I made up a little ground skidding down some rocks from a good tumble after catching my prosthesis on a rock, but as I got up noticed I could barely put weight on my prosthetic leg. 

A few runners stopped, but pressed on when I told them there wasn’t anything they could do to help. I took a few ginger steps, the pain sharp, but stable; not getting worse. I hobbled into the aid station at mile 15 and sat down to re-assess. In previous posts I've written about how it would take medical personnel to pull me off of a race course before I'd ever think about quitting, but on this particular day I had a harder time convincing myself to push on. I was thinking about the Uwharrie 100 I had in a few months and was concerned I might do some real damage that I wouldn't recover from quickly. But I could still walk so I pressed on. Actually, with each step, the pain in my leg subsided, but by now I was flirting with the time cut off and would need to keep a steady pace to finish under within 12 hours. 

At mile ~28ish I ran into one of my friends staying with us in the house we'd rented who'd just finished Western States 2 weeks before. He was hurting; fighting off cramps and spasms every time he picked up the pace, and had been facing the same question I had been for the past 15 miles- is this worth the finish? By then it felt good to be past the halfway point, but in reality we still faced about a marathon worth of running with at least 2 really long, really steep climbs before the finish. We walked/jogged together for awhile, trying to help each other probe these questions, in the back of our minds knowing that we would both push on. And that we did. I finally finished just under the cut-off, rounding the corner to the finish line amid many cheering fans. It was not the best race I'd ever run, not the fastest finish, but it was a reminder that with the right mindset I could do anything.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Umstead 100 Race Report

I should have known it was going to be an interesting day based on the way it started. On our way to the race I ran through a mental list of things to bring - running shoe - got it, food to last the entire day - got it, sunscreen - got it, running leg - oh crap, FORGOT IT. A u-turn and 10 minutes later I was racing through the house to grab the most essential running component I own. This meant that Alex (my fiancee) and I got to the race site with just 15 minutes to spare, enough time to throw my race bag along the side of the course, open a fold-out chair, and stand in line for the bathroom only to give up because I didn't want to miss the race start. We finally got to the start line at 5:58am...and then the gun went off.

With all the excitement of the morning, I barely had a chance to think about the actual race until it started. By that time I chose to settle into an easy 11:45 pace that put me in the middle of the pack with Alex, and had brought us through for lap 1 at 2:28:32, slightly slower than planned, but respectable. At that point Alex said, "see you tomorrow" (which luckily was not the case as we crossed paths a few more times on the course and after he finished), and I was on my own for the rest of the race.
I was able to stay with the pack most of the race this year.

I continued on in silence for a few miles until I realized that I was already focusing on my aches and pains...and it was way too early for that. I turned on an audiobook I had already listened to (so I wouldn't have to pay too much attention) to drown out the completely unproductive thoughts running through my head, which sounded something like this: "why am I doing this again?", "isn't 25 miles still considered a good, long run for the day?", "how many more laps do I have?", and so on and so on. The audiobook distracted me enough to get through lap 2 in 2:27:26, which was great for 25 miles, except I felt like I'd already run 50.

Now, to back track for a moment, I spent most of Friday evening packing up individual bags with everything I would need for each lap. Food, change of socks/shoes/clothes/liners/or whatever other item I thought I would need by that lap, ibuprofen, and pepto tablets. These bags were laid out neatly next to my chair to require as little thinking as possible as I came through the start/finish area for each lap since I'm notorious for wanting something for the next lap (I'll ruminate on it for miles before I get to the aid station) and then completely forget about it until I'm a quarter mile past the aid station. So I planned ahead. Poorly apparently. Because everything I needed was in the wrong bag and I didn't want any of the food I'd planned to eat.

Since nutrition had been such an issue during this race last year, I wanted to be particularly smart about it this year. I was going to take in ~100 calories in some form (shot blocks, slim jims, pb&j) every 3 miles and then ~200 calories at aid station (AS) #1 and AS#2, a good plan in theory, but not one that my GI system would go along with. Initially I settled on potato pieces covered in salt followed by a small cup of sweet tea and cookies at AS#1 and AS#2. By 11am the volunteers had started up the grills and were offering hot dogs, burgers, and chicken sandwiches. I have to admit, I was surprised by how well the hot dogs, potatoes, cookies, and sweet tea sat on lap 3 and 4.
Ginger ale and salt concoction prepared by Shannon. Not sure if I'll do that drink again! 

I crossed the 50 mile mark in 10:14:45, which was a good time for me, but my aches and pains were getting more noticeable and I'd already pulled out all my tricks to feel better (I'd already changed my shoes, my sock, and my liner). The next lap ended up being more of a mental feat than a physical one as I urged my body to keep going and try to enjoy the experience in the process. I started walking more, even slight hills that I could have easily run, because my head just wasn't in it and my nutrition started to go down the toilet. I needed a personal cheerleader, which was exactly what I got as I came in from lap 6 and asked for a pacer. My pacer, Rich, was a gregarious and efficient runner who might as well have been carrying pom poms as we quickly (or at least more quickly than last lap) ticked off the miles.

Some of the downhills were actually tougher than the uphills because of the breaking forces on the quads and  hip flexors.
I had also changed at this point into compression tights and a new sports bra, which put a new spring in my step. I felt better for some reason. Maybe it was the company. Or maybe it was the fact that I was 3/4 of the was done. Whatever it was, I found a second wind, which carried me through lap 7 and into lap 8 where I picked up a new pacer, Collin, who was even more aggressive than Rich. He had pulled his last pacee through to a top 10 finish for males and when I told him my desire to finish under 24 hours (I had 3 hrs 45 min to meet this goal), he asked what I thought about trying to finish in under 23 hours. I thought he was crazy.

The bottom of my left foot felt like it caught fire every time I took a step and my left hip flexor muscles would occasionally stop functioning. On top of that I could no longer take in more than a few sips of water and GU without feeling like I would get violently ill, and I had the hiccups (likely from all of the unprocessed hot dogs pressing against my diaphragm). Surprisingly, the only thing that still felt okay was my residual limb, which was tenuous at best and I knew could give out on me at any moment. Despite that, when he said run, I ran. And sometimes, even when he didn't say run, I ran anyways. It honestly felt good to run so I ran as much of the lap as I could, even if it was just a slow shuffle at some points. I didn't look at my watch. I didn't want to know how fast I needed to run. I just maintained the fastest pace that I could until I saw the lights of the start/finish line ahead. And then I smiled when I saw the clock, which read 22:55:24. It felt good to be done before the sun came up. It felt good to beat my goal. And Collin should be proud that he also pulled me in for 10th place overall for females!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Mile 61 at 45min

Wow, exhaustion is slowly catching up with me. And it's getting quiet out on the course as 50 milers retire for the day. Going to have to start focusing on putting one foot in front of the other!

Mile 23.3 in 4:30

Walking up another hill. Whee! One hot spot on my good foot. And a little hip pain. Whoot

Mile 17 of Umstead

Feeling pretty good at 3hr 19min. Got some  tightness in my legs. Otherwise eating and drinking well.

Monday, April 1, 2013


Truly, one of the most difficult periods of training is the taper. As the volume and intensity gradually drop off until race day the body begins to recover fully from the constant and demanding training. This is also about the time when your brain starts to question all the training you've done until now. Are you ready? Should you have done one more long run or another brick workout? Will it all come together on race day? Every rest day (and there should be more now that you're tapering) youll wonder if you should fit in one more workout. And this is when you must turn off your overactive brain and just trust in your training. You're about 2-3 weeks out from race day (or 1 week out from the Umstead 100 in my case right now) and there's nothing you can do now except recover. So sit back, relax and enjoy your easy weeks because race day is just around the corner!

This post comes at a time when I am indeed tapering so I am very familiar with this scenario. I have trained hard for this race, but there are a lot of unknowns on race day that you can't prepare for, especially during a 100 miler. I will do everything in my power to beat 24 hours, but only race day will tell if that'll be enough.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The flats of Florida

Ahhh...the good ol' flat asphalt of Florida. About as boring as running gets. Just slightly more exciting than pounding out the miles on a treadmill. Which, is exactly where I ended up today when the temperature reached 90 F and the wind gusts hit 25mph.

Floridians, please don't take offense. I actually learned to love running 12 years ago when I was high school cross country runner in Boca Raton. And every time I return to Florida I look forward to the endless flat roads that should be so fast. So why aren't they? I asked myself this question yesterday during my moderately fast (speed is relative when you're training for a hundred) tempo run yesterday.

After much debate with myself I settled on the fact that the run just becomes so monotonous that my mind goes numb and I stop pushing myself. There's no hill to push myself to the top of and there's no cruising downhill for a few minutes of needed recovery. The only change in speed and effort is when I tell myself to push it to the stop sign or when I let myself walk the last 0.2 miles home.

Except for this 7 mile bridge. I'd be happy to run this road a few time.
I biked it once with WWP, but still hope to run it some day in my life.
In the end, it's really not that bad. It just reminds me how much I love change in terrain and the excitement of trail running. It reminds of me of why I love to run. Which is a good thing less than 3 weeks out from Umstead 100 as I taper for the race and remind myself why I signed up in the first place.