From Grief to Depression to Ultras

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.

One of my favorite pics of Allison. I can still hear her laugh.

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.

My Why

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!!

IRONMAN Texas 70.3 finish

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!

What is YOUR Why??

It’s 70.3 race week and taper madness is in overdrive!

The thought occurred to me recently that I NEVER post training updates anymore.  And I rarely do.  I was at the point that I felt like I was saying the same thing over and over and over….and the last thing I want is to remind people of the movie Groundhog Day.  So I took a break.  Another {valid} reason is that life was a whirlwind and I legitimately couldn’t find the time or the energy to devote to a post.  But Spring is here and with it a renewed spirit.  Oh, and its TAPER WEEK!!

Galveston is here and I completely lost my mind in taper AGAIN. 

I signed up for Galveston THE DAY registration opened last July.  In fact, at the time I had not even participated in my first sprint tri.  How smart is that?!?  LOL!!  I became nauseated when I hit that “Register” button, but that didn’t last too long because Galveston was SO FAR AWAY that it didn’t seem real.  My training hasn’t been as conventional as most since the timing of Houston delayed the start to tri training.  And I threw that 50K in there right in the meat of Galveston training….Brent definitely earned his money on this training cycle.

I wigged out last week. I wouldn’t describe the feeling that I had as being nervous….at this point I am actually feeling pretty confident.  (Qualifying for Boston has calmed my nerves A LOT.  I know I can do it – I will just need to manage the day well.)  But I had A LOT of energy and I couldn’t get a handle on it.  So I signed up for not one, but TWO upcoming 50Ks.  Brent is going to earn his money again because one of them is just 4 weeks after Galveston.

My mantra: Survive the swim

Even with my sparse posts the last few months, one thing should still be clear: the swim was my biggest fear (biking and running are just a matter of managing endurance, and I know I can do that).  I took a SIX MONTH BREAK from the pool.  I swam (that term is used loosely) at my sprint tri at the end of August and I didn’t get in the pool again until after I ran Houston Marathon in mid-January.  The encouraging thing is that I could hardly tell that I had taken a break!  I haven’t had one bad swim (aaaaand I probably just jinxed myself) since starting back.  The turning point was the day I set out to swim a mile: without a warm up and without stopping.  I swam 2,300!  I was 275 yards in when a guy asked to share the lane.  I stopped only long enough to hear his question and to respond with a yes.  My mistake was pausing my watch because it ended up lapping my Garmin.  I was SO UPSET about it that I decided to swim my 1,760 yards but when I got there I wanted to hit 2,000.  And because I was at the opposite end of the pool when this happened, I have one lap of 275 and another of 2,025.  It wasn’t fast by any means, but I didn’t panic like I usually do in the warmup (remember…I had NO warmup) and I freaking did it!!!  OK, OK….I know that I will likely panic when I jump off that pier and find myself surrounded by hundreds of other swimmers, but I also know I just need to settle my nerves and just keep swimming.  I wouldn’t say that I am looking forward to the swim, but I am ready to get in the water and do what I now know I can do!

Bike: Don’t get blown away

If you had asked me how I felt about the bike two weeks ago, I would have told you that I would be lucky to finish in four hours.  My rides had all been on the trainer and I just don’t trust the trainer.  When I am finished with my workouts, I always feel like I should have pushed harder.  I haven’t mastered that killer instinct on the bike that I have on the run.  I can get myself to that place and maintain it much easier on the run than I can on the bike, BUT….

That is slowly changing.  Even though I was never able to do the long, long rides outside, I have been doing rides outside the last couple of weeks.  I can tell that I am much stronger than I was last Fall and that is encouraging.  I had to fight wind on most of these rides and I was able to keep going – not always as hard as I wanted, but I kept going.  Typically, Galveston has a very windy bike course, since it is right along the sea wall so managing the headwinds will be the biggest challenge.  I must keep in mind that a good bike equals a bad run.  I have to remember to hold back on the bike to keep my run from going South.  I hope my ego listens on race day.

Another BIG announcement is that I FINALLY named my bike!  I’ve spent all this time with her and I couldn’t settle on a name.  All the names that were suggested or that I thought of just never fit.  So I waited for the right timing and inspiration.  A couple of weeks ago, an idea for a name came to me and I just knew it was perfect!!  (It’s kind of like deciding on a tattoo….you just know when it is right.)  I named her Brienne, after Brienne of Tarth on Game of Thrones.  Brienne of Tarth is loyal, brave, noble, dependable, and a little bit quirky.  🙂

Run: The jam to my peanut butter

Obviously running is my favorite – it’s the discipline in which I feel like I excel.  I have NO CLUE how my legs will react after pedaling for 56 miles.  Then there is the added challenge (for me) of running in the heat of the day (although the current forecast is thunderstorms, so rain AND CLOUDS!!).  I don’t even know what to expect to be able to do on the run.

I can say that I am able to get my legs under me a lot more quickly now than at the beginning of training.  I noticed after Sunday’s bike that they didn’t feel nearly as heavy as they normally do. (That is likely related to the fact that the wind was at my back on the last half of my ride….)  I’m trying to go in with a generous time goal in case my legs just scream NO.  🙂

Race nutrition 

I don’t think it would be an understatement to say that race nutrition has given me more anxiety than the swim.  I generally use UCAN for running.  I can actually tell a difference in my sustained energy when I use UCAN, but it isn’t the best tasting substance.  I can handle it for marathon distances or less, but I just can’t face the prospect of drinking or taking UCAN gel every hour for 6-7 hours.  I JUST CAN’T.

Plus, the remainder of my year is going to be about extending my ultra distances and it doesn’t seem feasible to me in those situations either, so I have been making the transition to Tailwind.  Tailwind is a lightly flavored elecrolyte/carb mix that you add to your water, so I felt like it would be perfect on the bike.  And it has worked for me on the bike.  As I sit here typing this, FIVE days out from the race, I am STILL unsure how I am going to fuel my run.  I know how dangerous and stupid that is.

I am seriously considering making a UCAN gel just for the run, then carrying an emergency gel in case I get in trouble.  The big question mark here is: how will my GI tract handle those two substances at once in an endurance event?  You have to be careful what you take in while on UCAN because the sugary stuff can intensify the stomach upset.  I am going to take it all with me and decide by Saturday night.  Maybe I’ll flip a coin!  LOL   If use both and it goes South, I will chalk it up to training my stomach for those upcoming ultras.  Speaking of….

Why can’t I just focus on one thing at once?

In the weeks after Houston, I took some time to simply enjoy what I had accomplished.  I wasn’t stressed in the least about Cowtown 50k and I didn’t really have any goals to speak of.  I just wanted to have fun and finish and I did exactly that, plus some!  I became so chill about everything, though – even Galveston – that I wondered if I had lost my drive.  I wondered if qualifying for Boston could have been more of a curse?  When you’re hungry, you work a lot harder and achieve a whole lot more.

I should have known better.  I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER.  As soon as my last big bike and last big run was done, so was my chill time.  I became restless. Plus, I had just returned from a volleyball national qualifier in St. Louis – a roller coaster weekend of INTENSE games where we found ourselves in the final and walked away with 2nd place AND a bid to nationals.  And the leftover emotion from this bid to nationals was the pebble that turned into an avalanche.

It all started like this: My teammate Tim was planning to run Wildflower 50K the first weekend of May.  I promised I would run it with him IF Alli’s team qualified for nationals.  If they didn’t end up with a bid from a national qualifier, we would have to attempt a bid at the Region tournament which is the same weekend as Wildflower.  So I had started the taper, Alli’s team battled it out for a bid to nationals and I realized that the May weekend was now open – I could run Wildflower!!!!!  Of course I signed up immediately!  That night, I literally woke up at 2AM in a cold, panicky sweat, at that moment realizing (for the first time, really) that I had just signed up for a 50K one month after Galveston.  One thought was, “JEN….that is LONGER than a marathon!”  *sigh*

So how did I deal with this stress of adding this longer-than-a-marathon 50K to my race schedule??  The VERY NEXT DAY, after I asked Twitterverse for help finding a race around the time we will be in Minnesota for Nationals, I signed up for ANOTHER 50K.  And, AGAIN, I had a complete shutdown of all rational thoughts along with a complete brain disconnect.  Some people get drunk to do damage on Ultra Signup.  NOT ME.  My brain shuts off, ADHD impuslivity takes over and when I come to my senses (I imagine this is how people feel who get drunk, then wake up in an unfamiliar bed the next morning.), I realize what I have done.  Let me say, first, that this race is PERFECT.  It is a 50K and is the day after Nationals wraps up.  I can send Alli back with teammates to be picked up in Dallas by Bobby so that I can stay an extra couple of days to get a run in while I’m in another state.  However, at the moment I signed up, 9,340′ of total elevation gain and 9,340′ of total elevation loss didn’t seem that difficult.  But when I came out of my Ultra Signup, ADHD-induced coma, I went into full-blown panic mode.  I know what downhill does to your quads.  One only needs to utter the name, Rochester, for me to shudder and curl up in the fetal position in the nearest corner.  Rochester was the hilliest race I had ever done and I was not mentally prepared, nor were my quads.  I now have a plan on how to strengthen my quads and I’ll be finding hillier routes for my longer runs – I’m sure it will be OK.  The BEST part of this is that my friend, Pood, lives in Minnesota and he is driving down (I assume he is coming “down” the state) to run it with me!!!  Pood was part of the St. Louis Rock n Roll group and he ran that race with me.  We make a GREAT race team!!  And I can honestly say that he is one of the most genuinely nice and caring people that I have EVER met.  We are going to slay those downhills!!

 

Basically, nothing has changed in my life since I’ve been posting less.  I’m the same ditzy, crazy runner that digs herself a big hole to climb out of.  But that’s how I function best and I love it!!

I’ll be updating next week with a full Ironman Texas 70.3 race report!

Jen

Popping my Ultra Marathon Cherry

On Sunday, I finally realized a dream that I had been holding on to for a really long time.  I became an ultra marathoner.

The Backstory

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!!img_4472

The Race

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!img_4502-1

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!?! 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!

I'm past mile 20 at this point and STILL SMILING! :)
I’m past mile 20 at this point and STILL SMILING! 🙂

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!

My ONE pic with Mr. Positive - he is waving and I am struggling!
My ONE pic with Mr. Positive – he is waving and I am struggling!
But 5 steps later and I manage a smile....AT MILE 30!
But 5 steps later and I manage a smile….AT MILE 30!

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)!!img_4546

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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!!img_4542img_4511

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! img_4512

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!

Until next time,

Jen 💙

The TRIals of 70.3 Training and “Other Stuff”

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. 

Happy Thursday!!

 

My One Word 2017: Conquer

Since January is already over, I guess I should formally announce My One Word for 2017.  I have picked a word of focus for my year over each of the past two years and I believe the practice helps to shape my year in many positive ways.

The first year, I chose “balance” because I felt my running was out of balance ( I was always getting injured) and time management in my life was out of balance as well.  Of course, maintaining balance is an ongoing struggle but I do believe that I handle it better since maintaining focus on it for an entire year.

Last year, I chose the word, “uncomfortable”, because nothing good ever happens in your comfort zone.  WOW! I had NO idea how uncomfortable I could make myself, and I also had NO idea the amount of growth that could happen once I pushed myself to live in that uncomfortable place.  To say that 2016 was an amazing year would be an understatement.img_3507

Moving on to 2017…..I wanted to choose a word that would build upon what I accomplished last year.  At first, I toyed with “risk”, because I wanted to risk “failure” in training and races.  I felt like the best way to grow was to push myself to do something that wasn’t a sure thing.  However, after some input from friends, I realized that “risk” implied that I was leaving things to chance.  And I am doing anything but that!  So after my Sole Sister mentioned the word “conquer” (and explained some of her reasoning), I realized that “conquer” would actually be more difficult for me to achieve.

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Sooooo, as Jenn pointed out, I actually DO need to conquer self-doubt, second guessing and feeling inadequate.  WHY does she always have to be right??  Even so, I really didn’t want to settle on “conquer”.  Putting myself in a situation in which I might have to deal with failure would have been MUCH easier than working on these other issues.  I even had a race picked out that I didn’t think I would finish – I think I could DNF a difficult race and be OK with myself before I could conquer self-doubt.  Conquering myself is definitely going to be the bigger challenge, by far!

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Fast forward to Houston Marathon.  Contrary to my normal mental outlook, I was actually VERY confident going into the race that I would get my BQ, even when the weather conditions went South and the race was to start under caution.  But going into a race with confidence and actually achieving the goal are two different things.

Earning that BQ has been a game-changer where my mental state is concerned.  I know it won’t last forever and I know that I’ll find myself in a place of doubt again at some point in the future, but for now, I actually believe in and am proud of myself.  Before, I felt like I had something to prove (maybe only to myself??) and I feel like I have proven it.  I am legitimate and enough, in my eyes anyway, which has calmed the restlessness of feeling inadequate (for now, anyway).

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Right now, I’m in a really good place.  I have some big races coming up, but I am still basking in the glory of my performance at Houston.  Obviously I want to race well anytime that I race, but I am not putting a lot of pressure on myself at all.  These are bucket list races and I am running them for the pure joy involved.  More on those adventures next time!!

Happy February, all!

Jen

My BQ Attempt: Houston Marathon Race Recap

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.img_3778

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.

Renegades Alex and Janie with me in the corral
Renegades Alex and Janie with me in the corral
We made Emily an honorary Renegade for the weekend!
We made Emily an honorary Renegade for the weekend!

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!

Seeing Ashley and hearing her cheering us on was a huge motivator!!
Seeing Ashley and hearing her cheering us on was a huge motivator!!

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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!!

This was taken by @simonebfd at mile 22.
This was taken by @simonebfd at mile 22.
I remember hearing someone say Jen, but I was too tired to turn my head at that point!
I remember hearing someone say Jen, but I was too tired to turn my head at that point!

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 could see the finish and my mouth was watering....literally!
I could see the finish and my mouth was watering….literally!

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I swore I wouldn't show the masses but Sole Sister talked me into it.
I swore I wouldn’t show the masses but Sole Sister talked me into it.

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!

Seriously. I didn't have to think much about where the next aid station would be or try to calculate how far off pace I was. This saved me A LOT of mental energy.
Seriously. I didn’t have to think much about where the next aid station would be or try to calculate how far off pace I was. This saved me A LOT of mental energy.

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 ;).612209_246376053_xlarge-1

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Celebration
Celebration

BIG thanks to all who supported me along the way!!  I appreciate you so much!