Oh my, it’s been a long time since I blogged. I’ve actually run 3 races, which have gone undocumented, since I last hit the keyboard. Summer went by in a blur and before I knew it, I was back at work and busier than ever.
Race recaps in a flash
In July, I stayed an extra day after USAV Junior National Championships to run Afton Trail Run 50K. It was to be a challenging, hilly course and I was excited to run a race that would cause me to struggle. Except I didn’t struggle as much as I thought I would. The course was 2 loops of 25K and I did suffer some fatigue during the first loop. I didn’t start the race feeling my best and did the first loop at a pretty good pace, considering the hills I had to climb. Near the end of the first loop, I cursed myself – A LOT – for not overriding my ego and *just* doing the 25K. I DID NOT want to go back out on a second loop. I stopped at the aid station before heading back out and made a spur of the moment decision to throw out my fueling and nutrition strategy. I ate M&Ms, pretzels and drank Coke then headed out on the 2nd loop. I ran conservatively the first part of the loop but broke off with 10k to go and ran a really good pace. I wanted to finish under 6:30 and knew that I would really have to push to get to the finish in time. (At this point, I feel I should remind you how TERRIBLE I am at run math. I CAN NOT correctly do run math during a race.) I kept fueling on Coke, M&Ms & pretzels at the aid stations but got in and out as quickly as possible. I was also starting to feel the fatigue creep in, but the lure of sub 6:30 was enough to keep me going in spite of it. I ended up finishing in 6:23, which was just 14 minutes slower than Wildflower but there was also much more elevation. I was pretty happy with the way I pushed at the end and with the overall result.
In August, I traveled to 7iL Ranch in Cat Spring, Texas for Trail Racing Over Texas’ Habanero race weekend. My coach was attempting the 100 miler and I was going to be one of his pacers. Since I was already going to be there, I signed up for the 30K. The thing about Habanero is that the race starts at NOON. In Texas. In August. So it’s HOT. I, luckily, only had to do 3 loops of 6.2. When I finished, the heat index was 106 or something crazy like that. It was brutal. BIG kudos to all those who kept battling out there loop after loop. I don’t perform well in the heat and I was starting to decline fast there at the end. UltraSignUp has this ranking system. I should never go in and look at these rankings, but I do. I was ranked 3rd overall female going in – please know the field wasn’t large. Even with a small field, I honestly didn’t believe that I could get 3rd OA female. But….I finished 4th overall female and just 5 minutes behind 3rd place. I wasted more than 5 minutes in that race. This was the beginning of a wake up call for me. Still, I was really proud of myself for battling it out with the heat the way I did. It was a victory, for sure.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I went down to Mission Tejas State Park in East Texas to run another TROT race. I know they have worked hard to find places to host events that are outside the Houston area and wanted to support their efforts to host more races North. Plus, I had 36 miles scheduled that weekend and a 50K is a nice way to get miles in and break up the monotony of training. I was NOT prepared for the hills! Seriously, these hills reminded me of Afton Trail Race. This race made me realize just how unprepared I am for my upcoming 50 miler in the Hill Country. Again, I went in ranked 3rd overall female and, again, I thought there was no way that I could pull that off. I started out with the lead group but I was having a little calf issue and slowed down on the first big climb. It was dark. At the time, I didn’t know that I was the only female in that lead group, so I thought that I had fallen WAY out of contention for the podium and I just set out to check off the loops and get to the finish. As it turns out, I was in 2nd and 3rd most of the race. Of course, I didn’t have any crew there and I didn’t check the screen after each loop so I was completely in the dark. I struggled during the last 5k and it was during this time that I got chicked. I later learned that I was in 3rd place at the time and this woman knew I was 3rd place and she gave everything she had to pass me and try to stay ahead of me. Second race in a row that I missed the podium, coming in 4th OA female (my time was 6:27) and this time I lost by THREE MINUTES. I have to sharpen my skills and get myself to become more aggressive in these ultras. I am SO AFRAID of bonking. I MUST get out of my comfort zone in this area. If you have any suggestions, I’m all ears… This one is totally mental and I think I may be subconsciously sabotaging myself due to a fear of success?? Or maybe I just think too much.
I may have conquered myself but training is conquering me
I’ve been thinking a lot about my word of the year: conquer. It’s amazing the effect of simply choosing a word has on your life. I do not think of my word on a daily basis. Sometimes not even on a weekly basis. But the simple act of choosing a word has a profound impact in shaping the year, or it has in my case. This is the 3rd year that I have focused on one word throughout the calendar year and each year, I am amazed at how things come together. I think this relates to goals, as well, and posting our goals where we can see them daily makes a huge difference in us meeting those goals.
When I originally chose this word, it was to conquer my inner demons. I was going into Houston Marathon trying to get a BQ. I had gained A LOT of confidence but I still didn’t trust myself the way I should. I still had a lot of self doubt and anxiety about my performances. I trust myself so much more than I did 10 months ago. I believe in myself so much more than I did 10 months ago. I feel like I’ve turned a corner, for now, in that department.
But I’m still being conquered. Training for a 100 miler is NO JOKE. I thought that my biggest challenge would be juggling my hectic schedule to get all these miles in – and it has been a big challenge. But a bigger challenge has been battling the fatigue that comes with 40-50 mile weekends. I. AM. EXHAUSTED. Like Walking Dead zombie exhausted. And I’m just getting into the real meat of training. I have 2 more months of the Walking Dead before taper. I know this is all designed to give me the best chance of success on race day, but that doesn’t keep me from whining like a big pansy. Still, I’m thankful for the ability to run and the opportunity to train for a 100 mile race.
Brazos Bend will be a blast, but first….Rawhide
Next weekend, I’ll be attempting my first 50 mile race. This race is held on Flat Rock Ranch, which is where Ragnar Trail Hill Country was held last year. I didn’t get to run all my legs at that race, so I felt like I needed redemption on that course. Now that the race is getting close, I wonder if redemption is overrated.
Seriously, though. Originally, the thought of this race took my breath away. It scared me to death. I thought that there was NO WAY that I could manage 50 miles, PERIOD, and especially on this course. I thought about my word of the year and how the only way I could conquer anything was to step out and attempt what my brain registered as impossible. So I signed up. I love the transformation that happens during the course of training. I am not sure at what point I realized that I could do it, but I began to believe, fully and completely, that I am capable of finishing this race. However, I definitely still have my doubts. I’ve been wrestling with them the past few days but doubts aren’t all bad. They keep you humble and grounded. I’ll need to stay humble and grounded to keep my ego from getting in my way on race day.
Brazos Bend will be the next up on the schedule and the big finale for 2017. Most days, I feel pretty confident about being able to finish. Some days, I panic and wonder what I was thinking to believe I could do this. So many people talk about getting “the buckle”, but that is the least of my concern. I am not doing this for a buckle. I am doing this because I wanted to push myself farther than I ever have. I am doing this because I wanted to put myself into a place so low and so dark that I have to fight with every cell in my body to keep going. I am in it for that life-changing moment. The buckle will just be a tangible reminder of what I was able to accomplish.
But first, I have to survive the training.
OH!!! Almost forgot….I got another tattoo 🙂
In July, Carmen went with me to get another tattoo. I’ve been waiting for the perfect inspiration for my running-specific tattoo and I didn’t waste any time when it finally came to me. I hadn’t used this artist before and chose him because of a couple landscapes that I saw, but when we got there he mentioned that landscapes weren’t even his thing! I settled on Kokopelli and the cool thing is that he grew up in Arizona and knew all about Southwest and Kokopelli culture. He ended up being the perfect artist for this tat, and I LOVE the completed piece!
I’ve been trying to compile my thoughts so that I could recap my race in a somewhat organized manner, but I have completely given up on that. I’m going to try to hit the highlights without boring you to death or bouncing around so much that your head spins. The bottom line is that this may end up being long and if you have the stamina to read it all the way through, then kudos to you!
Wildflower race weekend had been on my radar for quite some time. However, Alli’s team was scheduled to play that weekend if they didn’t get a bid to Nationals beforehand. Luckily, her team earned a bid at their first qualifier, so that issue was taken care of and Wildflower weekend was open on my schedule! Enter taper for Galveston – during which I COMPLETELY wigged out and I ended up registering for a 50k only 5 weeks post-70.3. Disclaimer: I have never claimed to make the best race decisions, or any decisions for that matter. At the moment I registered, it seemed like a such a good idea. Hours after, however, the realization of what I had done hit me like a brick wall when I suddenly realized that 50k is actually longer than a marathon (just don’t ask).
Yes, I had a good base going into Galveston. Yes, I am stronger and more fit than ever before. But I trained to run a half marathon for Galveston 70.3 and I would basically be tripling that distance only 5 weeks later. Coach made me recover for a week after Galveston. Then I tapered the week before which took another week away. So I basically had 3 weeks to train and that made me a bit nervous. My longest long run was 15 miles. I can hardly type that without laughing, it sounds so ridiculous! Oh, and then I was lured by the double medal challenge and with Brent’s blessing added the half marathon to my race weekend plate. If I was going to do crazy things, might as well go totally insane with it.
Somehow, I kept my wits about me during this taper (so no crazy race sign-ups or excessive run gear purchases). In part, this was due to only having trained a short period of time for these races. I hadn’t been training long enough for it to become a constant factor in my mind. Also, I had ZERO expectations. My mindset going in was to put my body to a test and to <hopefully> develop some strategy for the ultras I have scheduled the remainder of the year. The most exciting part of doing this race (aside from the fact that it would be my first ultra on trails) was that my teammates who would be there. Originally we were to have a few Renegades racing. In the end, Ryan and I were the only ones who made it to the start lines. Ryan was also doing the double day challenge – he is actually the reason that I decided to participate in the double day challenge. If a teammate was going to run it, then so was I!! Ryan’s wife, and more importantly – MY Renegade Sister, Ashley was coming as well. Aaaaaaaand, my brother from another mother, Tim, had decided to volunteer since he couldn’t race. Having fun and fellowship with my teammates was WAYYYY more important to me than how my race went!!
I drove down to Bastrop after work on Friday, finally arrived just before 9 PM, got settled in and was in bed as quickly as I could manage. Of course, one never sleeps well on the night before a race and this proved to be no different. I couldn’t get the air conditioner set the way I wanted, ended up too warm and tossed and turned most of the night. I was up before the crack of dawn and was well on my way to the park by 4:30AM. The 50k started at 6:00AM, but there was no parking available in the park so we had to take shuttles in to the start line. Tim had just pulled in when I got there, so we hitched a ride on the shuttle together!
Before I knew it, it was time to take off. The sun was just starting to rise, but still dark enough that headlamps were a must – even if only for 15-20 minutes. Temps were cool – if memory serves, hovering around 50 degrees. It was a great way to start a long day on the trails! This course was a loop – each loop was 6.2 miles and we were to run 5 loops. My strategy was to take it easy on the first loop, figure out what I had to deal with and adjust from there. Also, I wanted to finish feeling as if I could still run 2 loops (because I would be running 2 loops the next day in the half).
First of all….the single-track course was so congested through the first half of the first loop – I couldn’t have attacked it hard even if that had been my plan. The first mile or so was somewhat technical with ups and downs and no places where you could open up. At the end of this section was the biggest climb in the race. At the top of this climb, the course crossed a road and fed into rolling trails heading to the back side of the course. The back part of the course was my favorite because in this section, I could open up and actually run. Knowing this was coming after the semi-technical front section helped me stay at ease and not push too aggressively on that part on the subsequent loops. About halfway through the back section, the course crossed a red-rock road and then continued on with small rollers. I loved this part of the course as well – this was the part of the course I ended up calling “The Ferns”, because the trail was cut through ferns and rich foliage. PLUS, there were enough trees established that a good part of this section was shaded!! (This park was damaged in the Austin area wildfires a few years ago and is finally seeing some growth again.) The end of this section fed right into the back aid station, which was around the 4.5 mile mark on the loop. We would then run down a gravel road for a bit before turning onto the next part of the trail, which was still very runnable and was shaded in spots. At around the mile-to-start/finish mark, we made a non-technical climb up a hill, then a very steep descent on which I never tried to brake too much. It was just easier to go with it than to try to resist gravity. And honestly, I was more scared to try to take it cautiously than I was to just run it. The only problem was that it was curvy and narrow and if people were ahead I had to slow it down. After that, there was a short run through more rollers, then what I called “The Stairs”. This section was a fast descent but to combat erosion, logs had been placed and the end result was something like stair steps. At the end of the stairs, we crossed over water on some logs, then made a short climb and were back on the state park road. We had to run up this ridiculous (short) hill, then a small turn and run up some more to reach start/finish area. And then do it all again. 🙂
I was really pleased with the time on my first loop. Since it was just past 7AM, the temps were still nice and cool. I felt GREAT and was having so much fun! I stopped at Renegade Central to refill my bottle and make more Tailwind and had a pouch of Clif Organic Food. Now, before I left my car in the parking lot, I made an error in judgement. I had brought 2 handheld bottles but opted to leave one in my car. I realized after that first loop that Ashley was at camp, was eager and ready to help and could have easily gotten it ready. What a foolish mistake I had made. This race was all about learning, though, right?? We managed with refilling my bottle and I went off to the port-o-potty. I should not have tried to go to potty. I waited in line for a couple minutes, then decided to just go on the back side of the course. I’m not sure what it is about Tailwind, but it makes me have to pee SO OFTEN! I ran past the main aid, checked in with Tim and was off on the trail again. After loop 2, I still felt great but having stopped at port-o-potty and then actually “going” in the bush caused my time to be a little bit longer. I could tell that Tim was a little worried when I came through to head out for loop 3, but honestly, I felt amazing.
Loop 3 is when I started breaking the course down into chunks in my mind. I had already decided the front mile was going to slow me down. Nbd, I would make it up on the back 3.5. I walked up the bigger hills and took the descents as fast as I could. (I went in wanting to attack the downs and I am really happy with how I handled them.) I started going through the checklist: Yucky ascents with the logs (check), first bridge (check), second bridge (check), third bridge (check), big climb (sucky section almost over – now you can quit acting like a pansy!!), asphalt road (check), FUN except for the sand – now time to open up (check), and so on. Breaking the course down helped keep my mind occupied and it helped to see that I was making progress. At the end of loop 3, I was still feeling really good – except for my toes. I had noticed early on in the loop that my shoes were turning out to be too small and the fast, technical descents were causing my toes to bang into the end of my shoes. But I chose not to think about it. Nothing I could do at that point, especially since I had decided against bringing an extra pair to camp.
At the beginning of loop 4, I dug out the bandana, put some ice in it and tied around my neck. I had tried this a couple of times in training and OH MY, does it help! I flop around like a fish when temps are warm and I get hot. Seriously, this whole bandana with ice thing is THE BOMB (Looks dorky but is still THE BOMB)!!! I had not stopped at the back aid station on my first 3 loops, but I did on loop 4 so that I could get more ice and I decided to fill up with water as well. The volunteers were so kind and told me how great I looked. I joked that my longest training run had been 15 miles and how pleased I was with the way the day was going. After getting some cold water dumped on my head by another amazing volunteer, I was on my way, feeling so refreshed and full of energy!
In no time at all, I was starting my last and final loop. I decided to get a little extra kick and drank a shot of Fireball. It sure did taste good! LOL!!! I’m not sure how much it helped, though, because I think it just made me sleepy for a bit. I’ll stick to beer. As far as running, I could tell that my legs were somewhat tired, but nothing near what I thought they would be – and I have felt much higher fatigue in shorter races. I did walk more ups on the front section than I had in the previous loops, but I still wasn’t sure how I would respond the last half of the loop. I wanted to play it safe. Plus, I had to keep reminding myself that I still had 13 miles to run the next day. I wanted to finish the weekend strong, which meant holding back some on this race. Once again, I stopped at the aid station on the back of the course to refill the ice. Again, those amazing volunteers!!! They went on and on about how strong I looked and one of them even remarked, “That 15 mile training plan is working REALLY well for you!” That just goes to show that one kind word can completely make a person’s day, because it sure did boost my confidence! Before I knew it, I was running up that stupid hill back to the finish (I ran that hill every time….the only reason I walked the others was because of terrain and to save energy). I finished in 6:09:59, which, if I’m honest, was a little slower than I had hoped. I really wanted 6 hours or less. But I wasn’t going to waste any energy on regrets. I had SO MUCH for which to be proud. I had tackled the race, nailed my hydration and fueling, remained strong throughout the race, stayed in the game mentally AND saved some energy for the next day’s race. It was EPIC! Any doubts that I had about transitioning to trails and ultras were completely erased. And, I have to be honest. I wasn’t NEARLY as excited as Ashley or my friend, Kolbe (who had run the 10k but hung around to cheer me on and see me finish). Their excitement was absolutely contagious and I couldn’t help but smile.
Side note: Toenails. Does anyone really need them? So after the race, I knew things would probably be bad. Like I said – I could tell during the race that things weren’t right. I gingerly removed my shoes and socks and I had some that were pretty black already, but all were attached so I guess that was a win?? Ok…I’ve never had toenail issues. This was a new one for me, but acting like a pansy about it wouldn’t really change anything, so I decided to suck it up. I had some mild hyperventilation moments here and there but overall, I kept my cool about it. I knew that Sunday was going to be tough! My toenails were sore and sensitive and did NOT want to be shoved into a pair of shoes again! I chose to pull a Scarlet O’Hara and think about that tomorrow.
Eventually, we became so hungry that we decided a shower and food was now the order of the day and left the race venue to head to our respective hotels to clean up. Shiner Strawberry Blonde had recently shown up on the shelves and I brought some with me. I couldn’t wait to have a beer!! I took it into the bathroom with me, drank half, showered and enjoyed the last half while I was getting dressed. We all met at a delicious burger joint where I had ANOTHER beer with my burger. I had such a good time chatting and hanging with my teammates. It’s always fun and usually full of hilarious conversation. Tim left soon after to head back home and Ashley, Ryan and I went back to our hotels for some much needed rest before dinner. Kolbe stopped by to visit with me before she headed out of town. She loves that Strawberry Blonde so I gave her a few to take home. 🙂 I enjoyed seeing her SO MUCH!!! After she left, I tried to rest, but endorphins from the race just wouldn’t let me doze off.
Ashley, Ryan and I went to eat at a very cute restaurant that overlooked the Colorado River. We sat outside and enjoyed the view, good beer, good company and some good music! We sat there until we realized that we should probably get back to our hotels and get in bed so we could get some rest.
When I returned to my house (I had actually rented and Airbnb room in a woman’s home), I got things ready for the next day and packed up as much as possible. The next morning I was up early, but not quite as early as Saturday as my race didn’t start until 7:30. Getting socks on was…..difficult. I had some anxiety – ok A LOT of anxiety – about running and pounding my toes even more than had already been done. I wore a different pair of shoes, but after the race start quickly realized that the new pair wasn’t really working either. Basically I think the damage had been done and nothing (short of not racing) would help. And I did consider DNS but only for a second – what would that accomplish?? Sometimes you just do things!! (If you know that quote – high five!) My ultimate goal in doing these races to was to put myself in a difficult mental situation. I hadn’t had any issues to battle during Saturday’s race – it had been much less difficult than I had expected. I was actually a little disappointed that I didn’t have any mental battles. To continue on in spite of my toes became the mental battle. And that probably sounds pansyish, but it really was the only mental battle of my weekend.
We started Sunday’s race by running up a “little” hill to a structure then turning around and coming back down and back through the start/finish area to start loop 1 (Thanks, Rob). I got caught up in the descent and how fresh my legs felt (YES…my legs felt fresh!) and temporarily forgot about my toes. I was running well and using the same strategy as on Saturday. Take it easy. Walk the big ups and don’t overdo. My calves did begin to scream at me a little bit on loop 1 and I wondered if it would work out or if I would have to deal with it the entire race. Well, as luck (or fate) would have it, I ended jabbing my right big toe when I tripped on a rock. And since I thought that I had completely ripped my toenail off, I stopped thinking about my calves and I was well into loop 2 when I realized I hadn’t thought about them for a while nor did they hurt any longer. That right toe. I won’t lie. I fretted over it. I wanted to stop and check it out. But I didn’t. I knew that there wasn’t anything I could do and it wasn’t keeping me from running. However, I quit pushing as hard and I took those downhills a bit more cautiously. In hindsight, that kind of ticks me off. But in the moment that’s how I handled it. I didn’t panic or let it affect my race much. So I guess that’s a win.
Seven loops over the weekend and my only real issues were toes. LOL I know that was directly related to shoes – I needed a bigger size. Why I didn’t realize they were a little snug when I got them, I don’t know!! The weekend was about working out the kinks and figuring out what worked and what didn’t and I most definitely succeeded there.
I headed to my car pretty soon after I finished, although it seemed like I had to wait for the shuttle for the longest! I did “clean up” in my car with my BYOT (Bring Your Own Towel), changed clothes and headed home! When I got home, I soaked my feet and tried to figure out how to proceed. I did some work on them over the next few days but I won’t gross you out with the details here. But I DO have all my toenails and things are pretty much back to normal!
The amazing thing is that I didn’t experience much in the way of soreness – it was minimal. I credit that to my nutrition and to staying hydrated and fueling properly during the race. Plus, trails are just easier on the joints. I also didn’t get that big rush of hunger that I generally get a couple days post-long run. Again, I think that fueling with enough during the race went a long way to helping my body during the race and gave me a jump start on recovery. I also tried out this stuff called “Vespa” and I am 99.9% sure it made an extremely positive impact on my fueling. It is a product designed to kick your metabolism into a deeper fat burn and worked really well with my Metabolic Efficiency plan.
I’ve been on rest and recovery for the last 10 days and I’ve let loose and drank a few beers. I even let loose over the weekend and just ate what I wanted – I ended up with a headache but I ate what I wanted! LOL!! This has been a good reset period to get me ready to go for the remainder of the year, but that is for another blog post! 🙂
If you’ve read my blog over the years, you know that I lost my dearest friend years ago – 13 years ago tomorrow to be exact. I try not to bring it up too often. I know it can be a subject that makes people feel uncomfortable and helpless and I totally understand why. I don’t want to be that person…the one that can never move on or process their feelings, constantly reminding everyone of her sorrow. But sometimes, I need to process and work through emotions for myself. And that is the real reason for today’s blog – so I can hash out and work through some of these emotions that have come flooding back to me today.
This morning, within the span of minutes, I found myself in a funk. All of a sudden, I felt like I had a great weight on my chest, my stomach was nauseated and hurting and I felt incredibly anxious. At first, I blew it off as nerves for my upcoming 50k/13.1 race weekend but as I considered that, I didn’t believe the anxiety was race-driven. And then it dawned on me. Thirteen years ago today was the last day that I would spend with Allison. We had been sponsors at church camp and after driving home had decided to go wash our clothes at the laundromat. It was there that she would have an episode that would lead to her being carried by air ambulance to the hospital where she would later pass away. Even though it has been 13 years, it is still incredibly difficult for me to think about the events of that day.
Losing Allison was obviously a terrible tragedy for everyone involved, especially for her family. It was the biggest devastation that any of us had ever faced, and with it came a loss of innocence about the world. Where I had once embraced life with joy and anticipation, I could no longer find the joy in living. I’ve often said that the light in the world dimmed the day that Allison died. I think it is still true today, even after years of coping with the grief and finally finding ways to feel joy – it will always be a hollow substitute to what I felt before she died.
The grief was so huge and overwhelming, at first. Just trying to process the enormity of that loss was nearly impossible. As the days and weeks went by, the loss was hammered home and I didn’t handle it well AT ALL. Soon, my grief turned into depression and instead of being constantly sad, I felt like I was living in a black hole, void of all emotion. I did force myself to continue going through the motions of life. I wasn’t really vested in it, but I tried to be. Looking back at that time in my life feels like I was trapped in a nightmare. I don’t really remember much of what I did, but I remember everything just feeling gray. Thank God that my husband and children survived that era. I was completely checked-out.
I practiced this going through the motions for years. YEARS. I slowly began to have more moments of joy. Real joy. Where, for a few moments, I began to actually feel happiness again. Those moments starting coming more often, but I was still trapped in the fog of depression.
I’ve mentioned several times about how running gave me my sparkle back. Allison was a runner. I believe with all my heart that this is no coincidence. Allison was always trying to convert me to running in life – why would it change in death?? Anyway, the more I ran, the more I began to feel joy again. I never run without thinking of Allison, so I think running has helped me continue to feel close to her as well.
The reason I’m detailing all this now – today – is because of a running documentary that I recently watched. This film highlighted ultra-runner Nikki Kimball and her attempt to break the MEN’s FKT on The Long Trail in Vermont. She missed the men’s record by a day, but went on to set a new women’s record by 2.5 days! Anyway, she was very candid about her struggle with depression – intense depression. When I heard her say this in the movie, it stopped me dead in my tracks. I knew immediately that this was the real reason I’ve been drawn to ultra-running.
“I think that depression is my secret weapon. When things get really, really bad in an expedition or an ultra race, I can look back at the pain I was in at the worst of my depression and the pain of an ultra race isn’t that bad. ……..One of the things about depression, you know it’s not that you just feel sad – you feel nothing. And I think one of the reasons I do ultras is because it gives me the highest highs and the low lows. But I can handle acute, strong lows. That juxtaposed to feeling nothing is fantastic.” ~Nikki Kimball
First of all, the feeling nothing within the framework of depression is SPOT ON. And as far as feeling pain – I have felt some pain in my racing and training. I’ve been tired and hurting and all I want to do is stop. But when you keep going through the pain, it is such a victorious feeling. But I haven’t felt the pain enough….
I don’t have a lot of ultras under my belt right now, but I truly believe the lure of the pain is a big part of what makes ultras so enticing to me. Getting to that place where you don’t think you can continue. Getting to the place that you don’t want to continue. Yet you do continue and you prevail and you feel something and it is a reminder to you that you are still living. Maybe I’m crazy, but all of us distance runners are. And most of us have pain in our past that pushes us to keep doing the crazy things.
This weekend is going to be tough. I signed up for a 50k on Saturday and 13.1 on Sunday…on a trail….in the Hill Country. I knew it was a stretch when I signed up, being only 5 weeks out from Galveston. I didn’t give myself time for a proper build. But I’m going to welcome the battle. I want it to hurt. I want to fight for it. Because I will prevail. And because it’s that time of the year, I will be fighting in honor of Allison. I know she will be right beside me.
I’ve been noticing a lot of people posting about their “My Why” – what fuels their passion (in my circles this equates to running and triathlon, but this movement isn’t restricted to that), which got me thinking – what is MY Why?
Honestly? My Why is selfishly ME. I feel slightly guilty about that, since a lot of people seem to be motivated by their spouse or children or family. The bottom line is that I feel like I love my family better because I do this endurance thing for myself.And, for me, motivation has to come from the inside – not from an outside source.
I do this for ME because running and endurance sports gave me my sparkle back. When Allison died, and for several years after, I really didn’t think that I would ever enjoy life again. Running gave me that feeling again of actually being alive. Instead of going through the motions of life, I am finally LIVING life again.
I do this for ME because every time I conquer something that I once thought was impossible, I gain more confidence. I have struggled with self-confidence/self-esteem my entire life and while I feel like that will always be a struggle for me – I now struggle just a little bit less. I don’t have to doubt my abilities as an endurance athlete because when I toe the start line, I have put in the training and the hard work to get there – and I’m kind-of good at this endurance thing. 🙂
I do this for ME because, at this point, I am having a whole lot of fun seeing what crazy new goal I can accomplish. I no longer look at a challenge and think, “there is NO WAY I could do this”. I no longer shake with fear when I consider something unthinkable. I just try to evaluate whether the pain involved will be worth it. 😉
I do this for ME because I want to push myself to the edge and force myself dig deeper than I ever have to finish a training run/race. Because when you push yourself past your limits, you find things out about yourself that you never would have known otherwise. And crossing that finish line is so much sweeter when a big struggle was involved!!
Oh, and I do this for ME because I’m an endorphin addict and I looooooove those long runs! The bigger the goal, the longer the training runs!
On Sunday, I finally realized a dream that I had been holding on to for a really long time. I became an ultra marathoner.
I started running in 2011 and ran my first half almost 2 years later in 2013. One year later, I ran my first Cowtown Half Marathon, which was my second half. This is the race that made me want to become an ultra marathoner. I hate to admit it, but I was envious of all the people running the ultra. Even though I hadn’t even run a full marathon at the time (although I had trained for Dallas 2013 which was cancelled due to ice), I knew that running an ultra was my ultimate goal and I wouldn’t be satisfied until I achieved it.
I trained for Dallas again in the Fall of 2014….too well, because I ended up with IT issues. But I was too stubborn to quit and “ran” it anyway. (Those last 6 miles were so slow and painful, but I finished with an embarrassing 5:18.) I was determined to train smarter in 2015 and took the time to rehab my IT. Running Dallas again was a MUST – I needed redemption, but Cowtown Ultra was the main blip on my radar. I signed up for both, convinced that I could do it. THANK GOODNESS that the running gods had me cross paths with my coach, Brent. He started coaching me late in the Fall and got me to the Dallas start line healthier than I had ever been and I ran a 4:15 (which was 15 minutes faster than my goal). But in order to keep me healthy, he recommended that I drop from the ultra to the half at Cowtown 2016. It made me SO SAD, but I trusted him and knew it was for my own good.
So for 2017, I was registered for the Cowtown Half – I planned to use it as a training run/warm-up for the run portion of Ironman Texas 70.3 in Galveston. When one of my teammates started asking about the ultra, I asked if I could run it and was given the green light! (And I upgraded my registration in record time – before Brent could figure out what he had given me permission to do!)
Carmen Reed was running her first 10k and Suzanne Kennedy joined her in the fun for her first 10k – they crushed it in their Saturday race!! Jeri was running the half on Sunday. We spent the weekend together roaming around Cowtown and had an wonderful time together!!
I ran Houston Marathon just 6 weeks ago. I quickly realized that training for a 50k so soon after and training for a 50k and half Ironman simultaneously was a foolish choice. Training kicked my rear but I persisted (with a lot of uncharacteristic whining and belly-aching) and I survived.
I typically fret over how I will perform at races, but I didn’t fret about this race. Houston gave me A LOT of confidence and removed any feelings of having to prove myself. I have proven myself to ME and that needed to happen because I was full of self-doubt.
I went into the race without any goal times. Well…..I knew what I would like to hit, but I was prepared to be OK with just finishing. I knew that hurting at some point in the race was inevitable so my strategy was to run by heart rate and try not to go out too fast. I felt that I could manage the extra mileage by keeping my heart rate in check, but I was still a little leery because of the time crunch caused by running this so close to Houston made any training for this race short and sweet. In any case, I had no doubt that I could do it – it was just a matter of how well I managed everything. Early in the week, the forecast was horrid. Temps were supposed to be close to 70 with sunny skies and winds gusting up to 30 mph. Honestly, I dreaded this because it would only serve to make a difficult race even harder. I didn’t check the forecast again until we were in Ft. Worth on Saturday and I literally started jumping up and down, screaming with excitement (while we were in CVS and I *may* have startled the clerk). Temps while I was expected to be on the course were to be in the 40s with partly cloudy skies and winds around 10 mph. I felt like I had just won the lottery!
Race morning was so cold at around 40°!! Several of the Renegades were racing and everyone who could make it met for a pic. My fellow Renegade sister, Ashley, said it best when she shared our group pic, “From first time 10k finishers to 50k & everything in between. Love sharing the dreams & then witnessing the successes of these Renegades. We all have our own story but together it’s an even more powerful one.” Being a part of this group is one of the main reasons I’ve been so successful over the past 1 1/2 years. This is the MOST SUPPORTIVE team out there – and we support EVERY one of our athletes from slower to faster and shorter to longer distance athletes. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of!
I waffled back and forth on whether to do UCAN or Tailwind for this race. I tried Tailwind at the tail end of training, but I don’t think I found the right balance because I found myself hungry and hitting an energy wall. I ended up going with UCAN because it really does work for me and I can tell a HUGE difference when I don’t fuel with it. (Some tweaking will be in order as I extend my distance to the 50 miler later this year.) In the end, UCAN came through for me again, as you’ll see when I describe the later stages of my race.
The race finally started with sunny skies and temps still close to 40. I started out consistently running 8:45s and thought that I was DOOMING myself to failure. But I had decided to run by heart rate and my heart rate was in zone 1, so I maintained that pace. I went over 9 minutes on mile 7 and thinking back it was probably the streets in the stockyards…or the shucking of my t-shirt – I was trying to be extra careful not to twist an ankle (or step in Longhorn dung!). Early on, it seemed that the day would be sunny and that caused me some anxiety but the clouds slowly rolled in. Winds stayed at around 10, I’m guessing, and I even got chilly coming up to the mile 9 hill and through downtown. I managed the mile 9 hill just fine and enjoyed the cruise DOWN through downtown through the marathon split.
The back side of the course had an immediate hill that I was not expecting. I could obviously have avoided this surprise by studying the elevation map, but as I said earlier – I did not concern myself about this race at all. I barely got packed in time to leave town!!
I maintained splits close to 8:45 but started creeping up toward the 9:00 mile pace in miles 15-17. Around mile 18, I found myself running next to a man named Joe, from McKinney, who proudly proclaimed his Florida roots with his Florida Gator shirt. He was running naked (all you non-runners calm down – it just means he was running without a watch!) and was hoping to hit a 4:00 marathon or better. Well, guess what!?! I was hoping to hit a 4:00 marathon, too!! (Even though I wouldn’t admit that to the general public.) We decided to stick together until the marathon split around mile 25. My friend Joe kept me going during those 7 miles and the funny thing is – he thought I slowed down for him. WE simply kept at OUR pace. It was a nice relief to share the road with someone. And I just do better when I feel like I have to keep up with someone. All my miles with Joe were sub-9, except for mile 19. I was a little sad saying goodbye to Joe, but I sent him on his way – he should have easily come in around 3:52-3:53 which was under his goal!
Honestly, I was amazed that I was able to maintain mostly sub-9 miles up to this point, which made me smile even more. 🙂 And my legs felt amazing! A tiny bit fatigued, maybe, but my legs felt better at mile 25 than they felt at mile 20 in Houston. I was extremely encouraged because at this point, I knew if <when> things went downhill fast, I could suffer through a 10k and manage. I crossed the 26.2 timing mat at 3:53 (which was only +5 from my Houston time) and legs were STILL feeling OK.
Mile 27. Mile 27 is when my quads started feeling grouchy. And my brain wanted to be at the turnaround already. Except I didn’t really know where the turnaround was because I hadn’t studied the race map that well. I did know that it had to be by mile 28. Well the turnaround was at mile 27.5. Mile 28 was my slowest mile of the race, because I stopped for a BEER. And that beer tasted SO GOOD!!! The aid station volunteers laughed at me because I went on…and on….and on about it! I drank almost half and realized that I would never finish if I hung around drinking beer all day. (In reality it was maybe 45 seconds.) So off I went and then I was joined by another male runner – and he rocked the trail runner look with his well-maintained beard. This guy was a lifesaver. He was the type of person that oozed positivity. He cheered on EVERY SINGLE runner that we passed. Between mile 28-29,we had turned back South and at this point the wind had really picked up. My legs didn’t want to have ANYTHING to do with running into these winds. I knew I would be OK if I could just make it to mile 30. Mr. Positive stayed with me until then, but at mile 30 he cranked it up, said, “One mile, LET’S GO” and was off in a flash. My goal was simply to maintain what I could at that point and I couldn’t have kept up with him if I had tried so I let him charge on. I was getting so close to that last little bit of the course that is so familiar to me. It seems to go on forever yet I know it isn’t THAT long…and….there was a tiny hill. I walked just a bit. I’m a little mad at myself for this, but at that moment I felt that I needed to give myself the chance to collect my wits for the finish. Onward and upward I went! And right over the hill was the turn to the road to the finish!
That last little bit of the course always seems so long. My mouth always starts watering because I want to see that finish line and cross! My best pace on mile 31 was 8:27 and my best pace on the last .06 was 8:07. I was SO READY to be finished! After I fought my way down the finish line chute, I grinned the entire way across. I came close to crying, but I managed to hold back the tears. I was BEYOND happy (and still am)!!
After I got my medal and grabbed my phone to text Carmen, a woman sitting on the curb congratulated me. I told her it was my first ultra and that I was over the moon! She said, “You HAVE to ring the bell!!” I mentioned getting my friend to come take my picture, but she volunteered. She stood in line with me, videoed me ringing the bell and then took my picture. I thanked her and went on my way to get food, finisher shirts and my extra challenge medal. And after that, I went to find the important stuff – BEER!!
I think cold molasses moves faster than I do after a race. It always takes me SO LONG. I finally made my way to the building where Carmen, Suzanne and Jeri were waiting on me. Carmen is my sherpa – she is THE BEST sherpa!! I can’t believe she hung around in the cold for almost 5 freaking hours just to snap a couple of pics of me finishing. She is seriously amazing. Suzanne, deserves her own medal for sticking around as well when she really didn’t have to. That meant the world to me!!
As we were leaving to walk back to our hotel, I got a message from Brent that simply said “Dude! Podium!” I read it in disbelief, relayed my disbelief and he sent back a screen shot of my results. THIRD IN MY AGE GROUP!!! How in the heck??? All I can say is that it was an amazing day!! I later found out that I missed first in my age group by TWO FREAKING MINUTES. The beer stop and the walk stop would have closed that gap for sure. And maybe I should have tried to keep up with Mr. Positive. But I had a GREAT race and placing in my first ultra is an amazing accomplishment, so NO REGRETS!
This race was absolutely amazing. I smiled almost the entire race and I rarely smile during races because I’m all business. I can sincerely say that I enjoyed EVERY SINGLE MINUTE. I had just been waiting for so long to cross this threshold. And things work out in God’s time. I wanted to rush this and do it last year, but I listened. I was signed up to run a 50 miler but I listened and dropped when I realized it wasn’t the right time. And I was rewarded with one of the most amazing races that I have ever run!! (I know you’re wishing at this point that I would use and adjective besides amazing!)
What’s next to CONQUER?
Ironman Texas 70.3 at Galveston is next on the plate. The thought of it made me throw up in my mouth a little today because I feel like it’s totally out of my league. I am gaining confidence in the water, though, and that is encouraging for the swim. I say that my only goal is to make the swim cutoff then manage the rest of the race, but I know you all know that isn’t quite true. I am competitive (with myself, anyway) and I have a time goal in mind. I just hope I can get close to it! In the end, my goal is to enjoy Galveston like I enjoyed Cowtown – hopefully good things will happen! I know that Brent will give me what I need to be prepared. The rest is up to me!
After that, all that is on the calendar is Brazos Bend 50 in December. After this race, I know I can do it. I just need to reign myself in and not set the bar too high. But I can worry about that after Galveston.
I know I want to work on manintaining/increasing my speed, then focus on BB50. Other than that, I’ll just have to see what pops up!
In an attempt to dig myself out of the blogging black hole that I have allowed myself to fall into, I’m penning this catch up post.
Half Ironman training is…..kicking my ass.
There is NO other way to put it. Of course, most of the ass kicking is of my own making because I am terribly over-scheduled. Some of the ass kicking is because I, um, probably scheduled a big race too soon after Houston…..in my defense – switching from Cowtown Half Marathon to the 50k seemed like a really good idea at the time! LOL!! And I think some of the ass kicking is due to my lack of motivation. I used every single ounce of motivation, determination and dedication that I possessed while I was training for and racing at Houston. I did what I set out to do and grabbed my BQ. And since it was such a huge goal and I spent such a long time focusing on it – the absence of chasing it is causing me to flounder. I am struggling to maintain focus on these shorter term races and I am most definitely struggling to set my goals for the remainder of the year. I’m going to get there, though!!
After Houston, I reveled in the glory of my BQ for exactly 5 days, then it was back to work. (I literally had NO time to waste to get started on my 70.3 training. The timing of Houston had already put me behind the 8-ball in relationship to Galveston.) I know planning my workouts caused some stress for my coach. It sounds so ridiculous when I put it down in print – I’m training for a 50k and a half Ironman AT THE SAME TIME. Big-time kudos to my coach for: 1) the balancing act (aka training plan) that he put together for me, and 2) choosing to create a training plan instead of strangling me (which, I’m sure crossed his mind)!
The first week of 70.3 training was HELL. I was SO EXHAUSTED. The second week – I was still exhausted, but my schedule was wonkier than usual. I had some out-of-the-norm commitments that required rearranging my training schedule. I *nearly* skipped a bike workout. I intended to get up early to do before work; then I moved to the next day (which was a rest/swim day) and planned to do early. I got up and just skipped it that morning. I tried to justify to myself that swimming was enough for that day. But I confessed to Brent that I skipped the bike and whined because I was tired. All he had to say was, “You’ll be tired at Galveston” and I decided to do it when I got home…..at 9 PM…after driving Alli to practice and after swimming. I did it and I was STILL exhausted, but at least I could live with myself. I needed that kick in the rear and I’m glad that Brent is willing to do the kicking when it is needed.
I’m now in week 3. I did my 2 hour ride on Tuesday and it was easier. (Probably because I had been off work for 2 days, but I’m choosing to believe that I’m getting stronger!) I have one more really long run this weekend in prep for my ultra in 2 weeks, then the “long” runs won’t be as long. I finally feel like I’m on the edge of getting a handle on juggling it all again.
Back in the pool
I jumped back into the pool a couple weeks ago. It had been six long months since I had done swimming of any kind. I was pleasantly surprised that my fitness in the water seemed about the same as the last time I swam!! This was a huge mental boost for me, as the swim is the biggest question mark for my 70.3.
But the same day I got back into the pool, I learned that the pool I use was scheduled to be closed beginning Feb 1 through sometime in the Fall. SERIOUSLY. I did something completely out of the ordinary for me: I didn’t fret – I just started looking and found another pool across town. Last week I was able to visit this new pool for a swim and I’m not sure it is going to work. It is smaller and a high school swim team practices there at the same time that I am available to swim. Most likely, I’ll head back to the pool in which I started It isn’t my favorite, but it will get me by.
At Galveston, if I can get myself warmed up and avoid the panic related to that and figure out how to manage the inevitable panic related to all the people in the water, I really do believe that I can finish the swim before the cutoff.
Rocky Raccoon 100 Pacer
This weekend, my long run was to be a very SLOW skip around Huntsville State Park as a pacer for my teammate, Tim, on his last 20 mile loop of his 100 mile attempt. As it turns out, having a fractured tibia isn’t conducive to finishing a 100 mile race and Tim was forced to drop after 40 miles. I know that another 100 mile attempt is the LAST thing on his mind right now, but he is going to have to attempt another just so I can fulfill my job as pacer!
The Flu? Ain’t got no time for that!
I drove down to Huntsville for the race and arrived Saturday around lunch. Around 2 PM, Alli started texting me saying she was nauseous. Then she texted saying she thought she had a fever. Then she texted saying she was achy. UH OH. I had a gut feeling that she was coming down with the flu. She was at a friend’s for the night, since I had planned to be running at 12-5AM-ish and Bobby was gone to the lake. Logan picked her up and brought her home. I decided to stay in Huntsville, but deep down I wasn’t convinced that was the right decision.
Brent came in from loop 3 and after he got off on loop 4 with his pacer, Alli started texting me again. She still wasn’t feeling well and Ibuprofen wasn’t working all that well. My mom knew she was home sick with Logan and was having a fit to go down and stay with her. (My mom is 83 and notoriously fretful. I knew she wouldn’t sleep a wink unless I came home.) So I decided to leave my Renegade family behind to go home and take care of my little girl. It was a tough decision, but the right one. I was home before midnight. We arrived at the clinic as soon as it was open on Sunday and, sure enough, Alli had the flu.
The timing of this illness couldn’t have come at a better time, for me. On Monday, I did NOTHING. I actually thought I was coming down with something. But I believe it was my body finally being able to relax for the first time in….forever….and it was letting go of all that exhaustion and tension. Alli was still running fever on Tuesday, so we stayed home again. I felt much more energized and got several things accomplished around the house, which also helped my mood and energy level.
Yesterday, Alli was back at school and I was back at work. She was zapped after school, though, so I made the decision to keep her home from practice.
Hopefully, the time off will give me enough of a boost to make it to Spring Break. Alli’s team will be heading into qualifier season, which is difficult because of the amount of travel. But I’ll also be two weeks away from Galveston and a break will be in sight!!
I’m trying not to sign up for any races for a little bit of time after Galveston. I am beginning to think that a couple week break, then maintaining base might be the best plan for a while, to give my mind and body a little break.
So much has been happening in the World of Jen, but I haven’t had the time to blog about it!! I am going to make a concerted effort to post on a regular basis again.
This weekend was the culmination of more than 9 months of focus and hard work. In the beginning, this goal seemed so far out of my reach and the race so far away that it seemed like a dream. And now that the race is done, it still seems like a dream! Someone needs to pinch me.
The week before the race was the SLOWEST WEEK EVER. It seemed like time was standing still. I had worked so hard for so long – I was just ready to race and find out – could I do it or not??
Despite all the hurdles and doubts I experienced during training, I had gained a lot of confidence about the race. My training had been going SO WELL. But my last long run was horrible. I figured out after the run that I had let myself get dehydrated. As bad as the run was, I stayed in zone 1 for the majority of the run and was only one minute off my marathon goal pace, which was very encouraging going into the race! My goal was 3:45, although my *official* BQ time was 3:55. I knew that a 3:45 would give me a big enough time cushion that I wouldn’t have to wonder all summer about actually making it into Boston.
Moving on to the race
Race morning finally arrived, with the race starting under “Yellow” (caution). The humidity was 97% and temps at the start were in the mid-60s. Race officials urged runners to slow down as heat exhaustion and dehydration were expected to affect a lot of people. Now, I’m a Texas girl and I consider myself a pro at dealing with humidity, but this humidity was tougher than anything I had ever dealt with. Even so, I felt fairly confident that I could run close to my goal of 3:45.
There were a couple of Renegades staying in the same hotel and I met them in the lobby to walk to the corrals. Renegade Alex was in route and planned to meet up with us in corral A. And one of my childhood friends, Emily, that I grew up with in church met us in the corrals as well. Alex, Emily and I planned to start slower than goal pace and warm up a couple miles before getting into race pace. The gun finally went off and we started and managed to pace mile one exactly as planned. Seriously though, I was sweating by the end of mile one.
After the mile two, I was ready to get going. I could tell that maintaining my pace would be difficult late in the race and I knew that I couldn’t waste any more time getting up to speed. Emily’s plan was to warm up a bit more, so Alex and I went ahead to try to get into our groove. Alex and I had discussed running the entire race together, but he had some sickness that interrupted his training. The plan on race day was for him to hang with me as long as he was able.
Truth be told, he drug me along. There were a lot of times that I wanted to slow down, but having Alex there was enough to push me to maintain the pace. I am certain that my race would have derailed in the first half, if he hadn’t run with me.
Mile 7 was definitely a highlight, because Renegades Ashley and Ryan had set up camp to cheer all of us on. I am always amazed by how much of a boost seeing familiar faces along the route gives me!
Alex and I kept plodding along, right on track until around mile 16. Our splits up to that point had been mostly between 8:30-8:40, but our pace was beginning to slow somewhat and we were hitting around 8:45. I was tired, but I wasn’t exhausted and I didn’t feel much differently than I had at mile 5. Alex told me that his legs were starting to cramp and that he wasn’t sure how much longer he would be able to keep up the pace. I stayed with him another mile or so then decided that I needed to go on without him so I could try get back on track, even though leaving him killed my soul!!
Approaching mile 20, I began to struggle with turnover in my legs. But I was able to push to gain a little ground when I felt like I was losing too much. I had been told that beer would be served at mile 20, but when I passed the aid station at mile 20 and saw no beer in sight, I started feeling a little sad and a little panicked. Michelob was actually camped at mile 21. I drank that Mich Ultra (if you know me – you know how much that I dislike Mich Ultra) and at the time it was the most delicious tasting beer that had ever passed my lips! The beer always gives me a boost late in the race and it was no different this time. I really wanted to pick up the pace for that last 10k, but I just couldn’t maintain the turnover in my legs. The last six miles were up and down and not consistent coming in at: 8:31, 8:48, 8:31, 8:41, 8:54, 8:27. I remember the last turn into downtown that took me to the finish. My mouth was watering when I saw the 40k sign, then the 26 mile sign, then the FINISH!! I crossed the mat with 3:47:45 and GOT MY BQ!!!
I don’t remember much about the course, honestly. I was so focused on maintaining my pace and staying on track. Alex kept me going for the first 2/3 of the race. My homemade pace band was a LIFESAVER. I had noted all the water stops and where I should be in 5 mile intervals. I stopped at ALL the water stations up to mile 20 and after my beer, decided that I was good to go and needed to keep pushing. I never hit the wall. My nutrition was perfect and I had ZERO issues with nausea or GI stuff. I didn’t experience any chafing or blisters, either!! After my dehydrated training run, I had been hyper-focused on being well hydrated for the race and I believe that helped as well. (People were down all over the course those last 6 miles.) The entire race, I felt confident that Sunday was MY day to BQ. The race went so well (except for the humidity making it feel like I was breathing through a straw) that I felt more secure every single mile. I remember thinking at mile 20 that I totally had it!! But 10k-to-go is a lot of race and I quickly cautioned myself not to get cocky and comfortable. I really did push as hard as I could on that last 10k, but I just didn’t have the ability to really pick up the pace like I wanted. I need to figure out how to give myself that kick in the rear that is needed to make a last-ditch effort and grind out the best time possible. Guess I’ll go back to the drawing board on that one!
I am still on cloud 9. I still can’t believe it!!! I am also unsure what to do with life at this point. I have been laser-focused on this race for the last 9 months. It’s an odd feeling to have no BIG races coming up (unless you count my first 50k and my first half Ironman as BIG ;).
BIG thanks to all who supported me along the way!! I appreciate you so much!
I had the BEST. WEEKEND. EVER!! I went to the Houston area for Brazos Bend 100 – but I only ran the half marathon. So many Renegades were running it that I couldn’t resist the opportunity to hang out with my awesome teammates! Seven of us were running the half, one was running the full marathon and four brave souls were attempting the 50 miler. Side note: I was originally signed up to run Big Cedar with this group and I dropped that race to attempt to qualify for Boston. Even though I know it was the right decision, seeing them attempting the 50 really made me want to be out there with them – and made me a wee bit jealous!
Fellow Renegade Jeri and I made the trek down to Houston on Friday afternoon. We met the crew for dinner, then brought Renegade Melinda back with us as the three of us were all staying at the same hotel. (Somehow, we didn’t take ANY pics of the group at dinner!!)
We got up before the ass-crack of dawn and started the trek to Brazos Bend. Thankfully, we had an uneventful trip and arrived right on time. The parking gods were smiling down on us (probably because Melinda is SO NICE) and a park ranger waved us onto the grass to park (we had heard that the grass might be off-limits). We were LITERALLY as close to our Renegade camp as we could get. Sweeeeeeeet!!
I went to pick up my bib and then started going through my pre-race routine. I stopped to go cheer the 50 milers on as they started on their long journey. I spent a little more time getting ready then went to see Ashley off on her 26.2 mile stroll (which was actually closer to 28). Before I knew it, it was time to head to the start line for the half!
I really had no specific goals for this race. Even though this was technically a *trail* race, the *trails* were gravel and smooth, for the most part. And even though these trails were to be easy and non-technical, I didn’t expect to run as well as I do on asphalt. I decided to run the best I could but play it smart and hold back, if needed. With Houston only 5 weeks away, I had no wiggle room for nursing an injury – especially if it was a result of my stupidity.
I started out a little bit fast and decided to ease up a tad around mile 3 and let myself get into a groove. Still, I managed to somehow get away from the pack and found myself alone when I came back around Elm Lake – the wind coming off the lake was frigid and I wanted SO BADLY to have someone in front of me to block it. As luck would have it, there were a couple of guys not too far ahead of me. I caught up to them and they were running a pace I could live with so I decided to draft them for a while. I hung with them for a couple of miles until it seemed like they were slowing down (or maybe I was finally warmed up) so I broke up with them and went on my way.
At this point, I was running 8:15-8:20 miles and it felt like such an easy pace. (Add THAT to the list of things that I NEVER thought would come out of my mouth….seriously.) I figured I would rock along and start kicking it up as I got deeper into the race. I didn’t account for the swamp section of the course, where the road was rutted and muddy and I had to run around the puddles in the grass. I felt like this was slowing me down, but the gospel according to Garmin says that these miles were 8:05-8:10 range, so I suppose that was all in my head. I passed Brent and Tim as they were coming back down this stretch – they were nearing the end of their first loop and they looked strong and seemed in good spirits.
I rocked along until mile 10 and decided I should probably try to get myself into the pain zone some, so I tried to kick it up a little bit. I’m not sure if my quads were tired from the surface – it definitely was an easy trail but it wasn’t asphalt – or if it was from the flat course. In any case, I felt a little fatigue in them. I still managed sub-8 on miles 11 & 12. I slowed some on mile 13, but was able to finish strong.
My time: 1:52:37 (the course was actually 13.78 miles). I finished 35th overall, 9th in women and 1st in my age group (40-49). I was VERY pleased with the results!! Garmin clocked my time at the 13.1 mark as 1:46:31 – only about 1 minute off my road PR. Something worth mentioning is that my heart rate on the 1:45 road race was in zone 5 for most of the race. My heart rate was in zone 3 for the majority of this race and the temps and conditions were similar, so YAY for improving fitness!
After the Half
After I cleaned up, there wasn’t much to do but wait. And eat. And wait some more. Ashley came in from her first loop looking strong and under her time goal and headed out again. Then the other half marathoners started coming in. Brent came through to start his 3rd loop. Tim came in not too long after Brent. He was dealing with some plantar and tight calf issues, so I stretched him out and massaged his calves while he grabbed some food. We got Tim on his way again and then Ryan came rolling through. We took care of him and he was off in no time.
Before Brent went back out, he mentioned one of us coming pace him on the back side of the course. Some time passed and Karon mentioned that it was about time to go find him and that I would probably be the best one to run him in. I went to put on my wet, stinky, cold running clothes back on and headed out to find him. I was pretty sure I knew where he was, but ran into Ashley as I was headed that way. I asked if she had seen Brent, but she didn’t remember seeing him – this was on the section of the course that was out and back, so I knew she would have passed him. I should have kept going but I was afraid that he was back up the course in the opposite direction, so I ran in a bit with her until we ran into Karon. Luckily Brent called Karon right as I walked up. He was actually on the part of the trail I had been headed down, after all. I felt TERRIBLE because of all that time I had just wasted. So I headed BACK to find him….. I also felt horrible skipping by all these 50 and 100 mile runners. They had been out there so long and I had eaten, cleaned up and taken a nap in my warm car. I had only run 14 miles, so my legs were relatively fresh. I kept telling them I wasn’t racing – just headed to pace someone. Seriously, it’s such a defeating feeling when people whiz by you like that – it has happened to me during marathons with people running the relay. I knew Brent had 7 miles to go when I left Karon and I expected to run into him by the time I got to mile 4, but nope. When I started coming up on the last aid station where the course turned around I started to get worried because…..WHERE WAS HE?!? As I got closer, I saw him over at the aid station just snacking and talking. Off we went to run in these last few miles. As soon as we got within sight of the finish line, he took off in a sprint…..and met his goal of coming in under 9 hours! I felt so honored to be able to be a part of that!
Unfortunately, Jeri and I had to head back home and I wasn’t able to see Tim, Ryan or Melinda finish. I really hated to miss it but I also didn’t want to be driving up I-45 after midnight! But in February….when these guys run the 100 miler…I WILL be there!! Plus I get the honor of pacing Melinda on her last lap. I’m beyond excited! It is so much fun being able to cheer on your teammates and see them crush their goals!!
Until then, I have my eyes set on Houston. It’s not going to be easy but I am starting to believe that I can do it!! Less than 5 weeks to go!!
I had serious Rangover this week. If you’ve never run a Ragnar, then you have no idea how real Rangover is!
I struggled in coming to terms with my performance in this race. I started having some hip flexor issues and ended up not running my last leg which knocked my ego and pride for a few loops. I could not shake the terrible feelings that I had. I HATE making excuses and even though I knew it was the smart thing to do to protect my training going into Houston; I still felt like I was making excuses for my lack of performance.
I have also been holding on to a lot of disappointment in myself at Rochester. I know that I got a PR. I know that I got 2nd in my age group. I know I should be happy with that. But I went into that race thinking that I needed to run 4:00 or better to be on track for Houston. And whether or not that is true, my brain is still hanging onto that as truth. As a result, I still have lingering feelings of that race being a complete and total failure. (OK….it does sound ridiculous when I write it down, but my mind can be a little ridiculous.)
Aaaaaaand I’m still dealing with the emotional scars from my first psoas injury and the battle to get my fitness back that spanned the hot summer months. I’ve been busy enough in training that there hasn’t been much time for all this to bubble to the surface.
Oh, and now that Ragnar was over, I had nothing to distract me from the fact that Houston is LESS THAN 90 DAYS AWAY. I may have wondered out loud why in the world I thought I could ever BQ and that I was stupid for even trying. Yeah, I know.
Honestly, I wanted a break between Ragnar and the remainder of my Houston training. I was getting pretty tired and I know how much good just a little rest does for my body and my mental state. I was relieved when I first saw that Brent had included these few days of rest in my schedule. But I was SO disappointed with *my* Ragnar performance. Our team got 3rd and I think that made it worse because I felt like if Kelly and Brent hadn’t been as tired from running my mileage, we could have probably snagged 2nd. Here I was coming off yet another disappointing race performance and then I had to sit ALL WEEK. It was the perfect storm.
By mid-week, I was to the point that I was not dealing well at all with all my emotions. I fell COMPLETELY apart. I am usually so controlled and so good at holding things together, but I could not redirect my thoughts no matter how hard I tried. Yesterday, I had a complete and total meltdown at work FOR THE ENTIRE DAY. My coworkers that knew about it were shocked and scared, I’m sure, because I NEVER cry and I rarely lose it. Our counselor came strolling by mid-morning during one of my many mini-breakdowns during the day and wanted to discuss, but I wasn’t in ANY mood to discuss ANYTHING at that moment. In fact, I wasn’t planning on being in a mood to discuss anything at anytime during the rest of the day. But she has figured me out pretty well so she cornered me at lunch (I literally had NO escape). And 1,000,000 counselor-y questions later, she had actually calmed me down and helped me come to a point of acceptance (kind-of) about my recent race performances. (So, thank you, Julia!! Even though I was super irritated with you at the time and might have thrown daggers toward you had any been in my pocket!)
Basically, she said that maybe my expectations in certain situations are unrealistic. Ragnar, for example: I didn’t really have a lot of control over what my hip flexors did yet I was beating myself up for making a decision that protected my long-term plan. So my expectation that I should be able to “do it all” in that situation was unrealistic. I’ll admit that she was probably right. In addition, I think the fear of failure at Houston was a big part of it, too. The closer it has gotten; the more my anxiety has grown. I have A LOT of anxiety about not being able to meet my goal.
After our discussion, I felt better but still had a few meltdowns throughout the day. I got a good night’s sleep and even though I still don’t feel completely over it, I have felt much better today!
The mental game is the hardest
Before this week, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the mental aspect of training and racing. I am able to keep myself focused and calm and I don’t talk negatively to myself during workouts and races. So maybe I have that part covered.
It’s the after workouts (and especially after races!) where I need to improve. I must stop second guessing and over-analyzing my misses in every race and every workout, because I do a lot of that. I need to find a balance between self-reflection and honest criticism versus the unrealistic expectations that Julia mentioned. And Brent was right, too. I do put too much pressure on myself.
I think I have some ways in which I can improve.
Instead of not being able to move on from a disappointing performance, I am going to find something that I can work on to get better. I already had one from Rochester that I was planning to try during my next half marathon in two weeks: getting out of the aid stations more quickly and not keeping my head down as much – I need to look farther ahead instead of getting lost in my thoughts.
As far as putting pressure on myself – I think a lot of this is coming from this BQ attempt. I mean, that’s A LOT of pressure to perform. I have ONE shot. It isn’t like I can pick another marathon a couple weeks later and try again. That, in itself, is a lot of pressure. Plus, I just don’t know how I will react if I miss at Houston. The fear of failing is real and completely overtakes me sometimes. So how can I deal with it? I’m not sure. I think I am going to 1) get rid of the hashtag #roadtoHouston (…does talking about it increase the amount of pressure I feel?) 2) just focus on one workout at a time and 3) try not to think about it. I’ll be spending quite a bit of time trying to master #3.
Finally, I just need to believe in myself. I have a hard time doing that.
My friends are better than yours
I am SO BLESSED with so many good friends. I can’t close without giving them a shout-out. Kelly, who ALWAYS has my back and Carmen, who is honest enough with me not to put up with my whiny-ass bullshit. And of course, Brent! He doesn’t put up with my whiny-ass bullshit either. I know I’ve missed people. But this if for ALL you guys that believe in me when I don’t really believe in myself (which is sadly, too often) – THANK YOU!!
This past weekend, I traveled to Rochester for a mini-reunion with my Sole Sister Jenn – OH, and to run a little race! I ran the Rochester Marathon!! 🙂
Back in the winter months when I was planning to run the Big Cedar 50 miler this November, my coach advised me to find “a hilly marathon to run in late September/early October” as a warm up to the 50M. I started looking around and found NOTHING in Texas that fit the requirements. So I expanded my search to surrounding states and found nothing. When I started considering farther away states, I had the idea to start looking in states where I had friends. So I started looking then asked Jenn to send me her race schedule. Low and behold, she was to run her first full marathon on September 18. So we started talking about it and she was SO excited, but I cautioned her it was a bit earlier than Brent had suggested so I had to get it cleared through him. He did and I signed up immediately! I was so excited to have the opportunity to be there when she crossed the finish line to become a marathoner!!
Fast forward. Jenn started having pain in her knee…or at least she thought it was her knee. She ran about 3,000 races before she broke down and consulted medical attention (mind you, she is a MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL). Diagnosis: stress fracture in her femur. This meant she wouldn’t be able to run the marathon….or the half-marathon. I felt SO BADLY that I would be going up there for her to wait around for me to cross the finish line. On the flip side, she felt SO BADLY that I was coming up to run a race that she could’t run. So we both felt badly, but there was no way that I would have cancelled!! She was the ONLY reason I chose that race!!
My own struggle with my psoas and running in the Devil’s Armpit is well documented so I won’t revisit it here. Suffice to say that I felt unprepared for this race simply because of the Jedi mind tricks the heat played on my brain.
Race week finally arrived and OFF I GO!
This marathon training has seemed so short. The first half of it was shared with training for my first sprint triathlon at the end of July. Plus, maybe I’m getting old because time seems to fly these days. In any case, I didn’t really feel like I trained for a marathon at all! LOL
Friday came and I was ready to go!! My bag had been packed for days…..well, my race gear at least! My day didn’t start exactly as I had planned. I had packed greek yogurt, boiled eggs and some almonds and cheese for the trip AND TSA MADE ME THROW THE GREEK YOGURT AWAY. I was so mad. Our security is SERIOUSLY A BIG *&^%(*& JOKE!!! <insert stress here> My metabolic efficiency plan is lower carb and currently no grains….try finding anything to fit that description in an airport! I looked at the yogurt that was available in a couple of places, but it was too high in sugar and carbs so I decided to eat my eggs and add cheese or almonds. My fat intake would just have to be a little higher than normal.
This trip seemed to take FOREVER! I was so ready to see my friend!! When my plane FINALLY landed, I was walking to the luggage carousel and I saw the “Ain’t Texas” shirt first before I noticed who was wearing it. IT WAS JENN!!!!
We dropped my bags, picked up our packets, went grocery shopping for my special diet and for the weekend then headed off to Joshua’s football game. (Football in New York is WAY different than Texas, btw!) It was a crazy busy afternoon!
Saturday we didn’t have set in stone plans. We slept in (until 7 AM!) and drank coffee for quite some time then decided to head out for my 2-mile run before the rains came. Jenn rode her bike alongside me and we talked and chatted the whole way. The run felt SO GOOD. When we got back home, her husband, John, was finishing up breakfast. Bless their hearts for being so accommodating with my pre-race food binge/special diet. I say this because I had to eat SO MUCH FOOD (and it was so specific)! LOL My ME specialist with whom I am working sent me a very detailed plan. I followed it almost to the letter (I had to make some modifications for lunch.) We didn’t have breakfast until 10AM, so with the late start I had even less time between meals to get all this food down. I felt as if I needed to be rolled away from the breakfast table – I was so full!
Jenn wanted to take me around Rochester, so I made my between-breakfast-and-lunch-smoothie and we headed out. Our first stop was Genesee Brewery, which is located right on the Genesee River. I WAS STILL SO FULL – by now it was after Noon and I had downed my smoothie in the car. I couldn’t drink much, so we decided to get a flight and share. (The beer here was the best of the day overall, by the way!) I SWEAR I only sipped!!
Our next stop was Rochester Brewery. The beer here was OK, but they had a scotch ale that tickled my taste buds, so it was my favorite beer of the day.
For lunch, we went to an apparently famous BBQ restaurant – Dinosaur Bar B Que. It was delicious, but different than Texas BBQ. Of course, I was still stuffed from breakfast and smoothie but that didn’t stop me from stuffing my face…again!
After we ate, we made our way home for a quiet pre-race evening and late dinner.
I slept like a baby. It seemed like I had just closed my eyes and my alarm was already going off!! I fixed my race-day breakfast, got all my gear together and we were headed to the start line! We got there in plenty of time – Jenn and I are of the same mindset that you must get there early. I like to get there early to get myself centered before the race (and use the potties 200 times), but I think for her it is more about parking.
We made our way to the start and lined up. I never had pre-race jitters except for the couple of minutes when the race countdown had begun. The gun went off and the course immediately turned into a steep downhill. I tried to hold back for a bit but decided just to go with it and let gravity take over. So my nutrition change called for making UCAN gel. (Surprisingly, when you add Base salts and use coconut water, it doesn’t taste half bad!) I had 2 containers of UCAN gel in my belt and each of them had 2 servings of UCAN. I really only needed three, but I like to be prepared. I ALWAYS carry extra. I also had a GU, in case of emergency. Boy Scout status here. Running down the hill, I felt those gel containers bouncing around and as I reached back to steady them, ONE FELL OUT. Either I am as mentally strong as Fort Knox, or things like this have happened too often to count because I didn’t even really panic. (I think we ALL know which…) Seriously, though, what was I going to do….go back and attempt to get it and get trampled?!? NO. I just needed to adjust my strategy. I decided to spread out my servings of UCAN over a bit longer period of time, then use my GU between mile 20-22. And so the first mile came in at 7:59. (I SWEAR IT WAS GRAVITY!)
I settled into a fairly steady pace soon after my plunge from Mt. Everest and averaged between 8:30-9:20 until the halfway mark. All of this time, I had stayed in zone 2 heart rate, which was NOT the plan. The plan was to run 3-5 in zone 2, kick it up into zone 3 then give it everything at mile 20. Riiiiiiight. There were hills. LOTS OF HILLS. Downhills, too, which were just as bad because they were generally steep and I could tell my quads would pay for those soon. By mile 8, I could tell that the ups and downs were already taking a toll. I was on pace to run around 2:00 for the first half and I knew that my legs wouldn’t be able to keep up. I knew that I wasn’t going to hit 4:00. I HAD to reconcile this and not let it affect me mentally. I made a decision, though, not to slow down. What would that accomplish?? I knew I was going to slow down at some point and wanted to cover as much ground as I could before that happened. Despite the killer hills; despite shredding my quads on the downhills; despite my fueling issue; despite the rising temps; I still ran the first half in 1:55.
As the second loop started, I could tell that I was slowing down. Now came the ever-burning question: when to use the last half of the fuel I had left? I had taken the first serving at mile 8, which was around the 1:10 mark. I decided to try to wait until 16, even if it was a bit past 2:20 (which I knew it would be! LOL). I was expecting an aid station at 16, but in the second half there was an aid station at 14.5 and not again until 17. So I took the UCAN at 17. This made me a little behind my re-fuel. I was beginning to fatigue and to add insult to injury, I had to stop for the bathroom, which ticked me off. I NEVER have to stop during races. Bleh. I could tell by mile 19 that my energy level was decent and had been steadied by the UCAN, but remember wondering if my legs would be able to take me another 7 miles. My quads were the problem and so fatigued from the downhills. I ended up taking the emergency GU at mile 21, just to make sure I kept my energy levels up for those last 5 miles. I had already slowed down – I was running between 10:00-10:30 min miles for the most part and I couldn’t afford to lose anymore time by losing more energy. All this time, I was STILL in zone 2. That seriously bothered me, but my legs didn’t have it in them to run fast enough to get my heart rate up. I finally crossed the finish line at 4:10:43, a PR by about 4 min 30 sec – yes, a PR was great but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t upset about not being able to run this race better.
As soon as I got my medal, I was nearly tackled by Jenn! I forgot to mention that Jenn, after the femur fracture, dropped back to the half and had decided to walk it. On Saturday, she said she might run the last 3 miles if she wasn’t feeling any pain. She casually told me that SHE RAN THE ENTIRE RACE. Oh Jenn. What am I to do with her?!? I am so proud of her tenacity and how she refuses to never give up!! She also said that she thought I might have placed in my age group, because (and I quote), “I was looking at people’s faces and judging their age and everyone was younger than you.” Because you can ALWAYS determine someone’s age just by looking! LOL
We made our way to the results tent and I had snagged 2nd place in my age group! That was definitely icing on the cake! I laid down on a bench while Jenn went to claim her special medal for finishing the Four Seasons Challenge, then we went out to claim my Major Award!
OK, I really didn’t food binge. LOL But I did eat a Garbage Plate. Apparently it is a concoction that is unique to Rochester. Jenn and I shared one because I knew that I would NEVER be able to eat a whole one. It had macaroni salad, home fries and hamburger patties on top. So odd! LOL It wasn’t bad. Personally, I would have preferred mac’n’cheese but Jenn claimed that NY’ers love their macaroni salad! LOL
We ended up getting Panera for dinner, which made me happy :), and settled in to watch football before it was time to head to bed.
I want to take this time to say HOW MUCH that I enjoyed spending the weekend with Jenn and her family. She told me before I came how much I would love her husband and her boys and she was so right!!
Post-race demons and coming to acceptance
I’m not going to lie. I was not happy that I didn’t run a sub-4 marathon. In my mind, getting to that point was going to be validation that I was on-track for Houston and my BQ attempt. I tried to focus on the positives. I tried to reason with myself with all the reasons that I should be proud of 4:10, but none of it worked. When my coach asked me what my feelings were about the race (I have a feeling that he already knew), he told me to list the negatives and the positives. That actually helped.
My legs didn’t have it in them.
Stayed in zone 2
Missed goal time of 4:00
Wasn’t as tired afterward as in past marathons (I’m sure that had nothing to do with staying in zone 2)
Didn’t break down mentally in race (I waited until after LOL)
1:55 first half, even with the hills
2nd age group
No stomach upset/issues (this was my first race using UCAN as fuel during the race)
I also decided to list some variables that I knew had effected the race:
Taper seemed shorter (maybe it wasn’t)
Started new nutrition program 3 weeks ago
Fueling fiasco at start of race
Temps for the race had increased steadily and it was fairly humid.
And, things I need to figure out going forward:
Why did my legs feel so dead when I never got out of zone 2? Was it solely the hills? Is any of it related to transitioning to metabolic efficiency? I mean, I just started this process.
Why do I feel like I failed if I was able to come out with a PR and age group place?
I have had a couple days to get the race endorphins out of my system and catch up on sleep. I did a little research and the elevation gain for Rochester (according to Strava) is 915 feet. The elevation gain for Dallas is 524. So I basically ran twice the elevation, or difficulty, and still managed a nearly-5 min PR. That actually made me feel better.
I also need to remember that I had to overcome a setback with that psoas and I still managed a PR. Even more important and encouraging is that I have had no aches and pains aside from my quads. My quads were mad over those downhills, but they haven’t been grumbling too much.
Most importantly, I am BLESSED. Blessed that I was able to travel to see my friend. Blessed that I can even run at all. Blessed that my body is healthy.
So yeah, I was upset for a bit. I acknowledged my feelings, worked through them and have managed to find myself on the sunny side of the situation!
THANK YOU to everyone for all your support!!! All the texts, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram messages and comments, for signing up for the tracking that didn’t work – YOU ALL ROCK!!