Friday, October 21, 2011

Enough Already

Almost one week post race and I think I have had enough.  Enough of second guessing myself.  Enough of being mad at myself.  Enough of being mad at the race.  Enough of looking for explanations, excuses, encouragement, lessons, etc.  I don't have regrets, but I do have a bit of a broken dream.  Perhaps that is the way it should be at this point.  So it's time to refocus.  Last Saturday was a "goal race" but it does not define me.  It was a great day of running that ended before I wanted it to.  Hmmm, there's that word.  "I".

I have a few goals left for the racing season.  Part of me wants to drop those goals for fear of failure.  Part of me wants to train like crazy and surpass those goals.  But I have a nagging voice inside me that is telling me that what is most important.  What my running always comes back to.  Joy.  Running with Joy.

If that involves casting aside the watches, the plans, the goals, the pressure, then so be it.  I choose to run with Joy.  I do not want to come away from another run feeling like I have this week.  It is NOT what I want for my life.

This is a daily decision.  This is a constant turning over of my will, my wants.  This is a never-ending lesson in remaining open to what plans God has for me instead of what "I" have planned for me.  And His plan is ALWAYS so much better!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd

The short story is that I stopped at mile 49.  The quads weren't having any more of the hills, no matter what I promised them.  The Lessons:
1.  Always carry more S caps.
2.  I must find a way to effectively train for hills, especially downhills.
3.  I need to find my pace and remain consistent.
4.  Truly understand the type of course I am planning to race on.  Consider elevation, terrain, and exposure.

Now for the long version.
The course for this inaugural race couldn't have been more scenic.  Gorgeous views of the Illinois river, rolling hills, changing foliage, and wonderful people all rolled into a warm autumn day that seemed to have all the makings of a great race day.

All in all, it was a very good day.  In fact, it was an amazing weekend!  Mark and I were able to meet with some friends that made us feel at home for the weekend.  Not only did Bill and Shelia put us up for the weekend, Bill also was one of the wonderful volunteers for the race and spent most all of Friday (beginning at o'dark thirty) and again back at the race site at 4 am on Saturday, working until the last runner went through his aid station on Sunday.  To do all of this, he had to use his vacation time.  That is some amazing dedication.

Brad and his wonderful wife, Rachel, welcomed us for a lovely visit to discuss the race plan, as Brad was to be my pacer.  He was energized and ready to go, taking time off of work and away from his young family to help me reach my goal.  By all accounts, aside from my tweaky ankle and achilles which has been in and out of a boot for the last two weeks, everything looked as if it were in order.

Mark and I enjoyed the later start time of 8 am and slept till about 5, then headed out to the start line.  It was a bit chilly at 43 degrees, but that quickly became a non-issue.

The RD called the runners to the start line.  There were three groups, 50K, 100K, and 100 milers.  We were all to start together.  I love smaller races for this reason.  We all start together and get to visit along the route.  Ken announced that the initial out and back for the 100 milers which was supposed to be 7 miles was actually closer to 8.  He assured us that it would be ok because we would get the biggest hill in OK out of the way right away.

The gun was fired and off we went.  The road was gravel and fairly flat.  We crossed over the river via a beautiful old bridge, a bridge I was slated to cross 6 times during the run.  Shortly after the bridge, the 100 milers veered right for our extra out and back while the rest of the pack went left to begin their respective loops for their race distance.

The course quickly changed to a tree-covered, gravel road that seemed to have a constant incline to it.  There were areas with steeper hills and then nice down hills.  I walked the uphills and enjoyed coasting the downs, while still trying to maintain my 8/2 running/walking method.   I met a few folks along the way, all just as nice as anyone I've ever met.  A gal, Laci, from Nebraska, attempting her first 100.  Randy Ellis, whom I had heard so much about from Bill.  A wonderful, gentleman whom I wish I could have visited longer with.  Several others and I chatted though I never got their names.  One young man, a Navy man, attempting not only his first 100, but his first trail RUN, never mind race!  Another young man from nearby Muskogee that had only driven the trail once or twice.    I also came upon Deborah Sexton at one point near the end of the first loop.  We were both hurting by then, so I don't really recall what we spoke of.  I probably was doing a lot of whining by then.  Several of us ran the "biggest hill in Oklahoma" together and we agreed that we were certainly glad we got it over early.

As I came through the start/finish aid station, people were yelling "First Woman!" at me.  This may seem like good news to some, but to me, this set me up for a mental battle that I wasn't prepared for.  Never in my wildest dreams would I ever have dreamed myself to be in such a position.  I had to tell myself continually, this is a long race.  You are only a few miles in and you are going WAY too FAST!  SLOW DOWN!  I tried slowing and I thought I was, but no one was passing me.  I made it to the second aid station, Mad Dog, and again, FIRST WOMAN!   Ugh.  This is not my goal...this is not my goal, was playing in my head.  I ducked into the woods hoping someone would pass me.  No one did.  I walked all the uphills and ran the downhills and tried to maintain the 8/2 pattern, but this was becoming more difficult as I was hitting hill after hill after hill.  Relatively butt.  There was not much flat to this course at all.

I continued on to the next aid station, Out and Back.  The folks running the aid stations couldn't have been more friendly, more helpful.  They were truly amazing.  What wasn't so amazing was the disappearance of the tree canopy.  Within an instant, I found myself in very exposed, hilly, and continued gravel road.  I should mention that I have never really run on gravel before.  I had always assumed gravel roads and dirt roads were the same thing.   In Massachusetts, we called any dirt road a gravel road, so perhaps this is where my misunderstanding is rooted from.

As I came back through Out and Back, (mile 10.2 for some, 18.2 for the 100 milers) I was still leading the girls.  I made a decision that at the next aid station, I would sit in the port-a-potty until at least 2 women passed me.

As I approached Savannah, the hills became more steep.  I could see Bill on the horizon cheering us all into the aid station.  He was encouraging us and loving on us and even ran a few steps with me promising that the hills would end soon.  I was hopeful that the backside of the loop would be flat and that this would give my legs a reprieve.  I think it was at this point that I realized that the road I was running on was really not a trail, it was a road.   There was nothing soft or forgiving about this road.  And as the sun beat down on me from the top, the ground beat on me from the bottom.  Everything was hurting at this point.  From the top of my head to the bottom of my feet, everything was screaming OUCH!   I mentioned this to Bill, and he mentioned that he had some Motrin at the aid station. 

I met Mark at Savannah and quickly ducked into the can.  I heard several people pass by and as I came out, I saw two girls take the lead.  Thank you, Lord.  That pressure was off.  I don't know why I let that play with my head so much, but, it did.

I downed some coconut water, filled my bottle, ate some Motrin, handed off my extra layer and left out of the aid station looking forward to flatter terrain.  Within minutes, I found myself climbing more hills.  My calves were already cramping so I doubled up on the S caps and walked more.  Even while walking I somehow caught up to Laci, the # 2 woman.  She was struggling with a hamstring issue.  As we played leap frog, we commiserated with one another.  She would stop in the middle of the trail to stretch her hamstring, I would stop to stretch my calf.  It was nice to have a voice to hear other than my own.

I found myself soon alone again, however, with Laci still battling her hamstring.  My S caps and coconut water seemed to do the trick with the cramping of the calves, at least for a little while.  The hills continued to show up and then the tree canopy disappeared again.  I pressed on hoping still that the course would eventually begin to flatten out.

I came into the Hard Up aid station and Mark was there again.  He really did an amazing job as my crew!  I didn't expect to see him there, but I was so glad he was there!  I was again beginning to cramp and the sun was burning me.  I never thought to put on sunscreen or even bring my sunglasses.  I don't usually have to worry about these two things on trail runs.  Mark filled my bottle again and I downed more coconut water.  He was giving me updates from my friends, most of whom were reminding me to slow down and double up on the S caps, which I was already doing.  Unfortunately, I ran out of S caps as I didn't plan to have to double up on the first loop.  I always carry extra, but for whatever reason, this day, I didn't do that.

There seemed to be quite a few residents driving the course.  I don't know if they were just curious or if the road is always that busy, but each vehicle that went by kicked up a fair amount of dust and made for difficult breathing.  Just more fun in the pot of good times. 

My hydration was good.  I was emptying my bottles between aid stations and seemed to be emptying my bladder often enough.  All good signs that I wasn't dehydrating.  I headed out of Hard Up onto Last Gasp, thinking to myself...there can only be one reason that this station is called Last Gasp...more hills.

Very shortly after leaving Hard Up, the gravel road turned to a black top road, completely uncovered in the heat of the day.  I don't do well in these circumstances.  The hills continued and with each one, I just shook my head in a sort of disgust.  Music wasn't helping, prayer wasn't helping.  I was just plain miserable.  At some point on this section of road, a dog came up behind me and while he wasn't aggressive, he was very "happy" and jumped up on me.  I tried to push him away and took a nice bite on the hand.  He didn't mean to bite me, but this really took me by surprise.

I think the black top continue for several miles, until just before the Last Gasp.  I hit the gravel road once more, the final aid station and headed into the start/finish.  I was still 2nd woman at this point, but I knew that I would be resting a good while at the aid station.

I crossed that beautiful bridge for the 4th time of the day and found myself quickly in a chair.  I told Mark I wasn't going anywhere for awhile.  I needed to have a think about the situation.  I was completely drained.  I was completed deflated by my prospect on those hills for not just one, but two more loops.  I felt as if I had already run 70 something miles, not 40.

As I sat there, having my think, Mark doctored me up with food, drink, pickle juice. Everything he could think of.  Mexican coke in hand, I started to feel a bit better.  My head was back in the game and after about a 25 minute rest stop, I donned the hydration vest and headed back out.

Again, the road was fairly flat until about a mile from the start and then the hills started all over again.  I tried running, but the quads were spent.  My head was ok.  My mood was ok.  My legs quit.  I figured I'd walk for awhile till they decided to show up.  I alternated between a run and a walk.  I couldn't muster more than a few steps without having to start walking again.  And as I gained a bit of a run, a hill would show up, which I had to walk.  The downhills I took slowly.  But it wasn't long before I knew it was over.  I decided to not make a decision until I reached the first aid station, which was reportedly 4 miles out.  Hill after hill after hill, miles came and went, running was near impossible.  Maybe five feet at most ten feet at a time.  This was making for a painstakingly slow 4 miles.  As I looked at my watch, I noticed I was at mile 4.8, with no aid station in site.  At this point, I became angry.  I don't know who or what I was angry at, but I was angry.  I suppose thinking that aid station was at 4 miles and not at 5 was the infamous straw for me.    The thought of going over these hills twice more, possibly having another dog come at me in the dark, the self-doubt and realization that walking 50+ miles was what I was looking at and I didn't like it one bit. 

Finally, at mile 5, I saw the aid station, I saw another runner getting into the car to head back to the finish and I told them to wait for me.  As I hobbled to the car, one aid station worker asked if I was sure.  I suppose the glare from my eyes said it all...he walked away and never looked back.  He knew I was done.

I managed to throw myself into the back seat and couldn't believe I was throwing in the towel.  The volunteers driving us back told us that many people were taken back by the amount of hills this "relatively flat" course had.  The gentleman that was also heading back was dropping from the 100K.  He was just as upset as I.  It was a long car ride back, but the ladies were so encouraging.  We came upon several runners, all of whom were walking at this point, and cheered them from the car. 

I reached the start/finish and was never happier.  I didn't see Mark, so I used someone's phone to call him and tell him that I was done.  He was surprised, but came to see what was going on.  I wanted to be sure to get the message to Brad before he drove all the way out to the race for no reason.

While the RD states he will record my 50K time as a finish, I can't really accept that.  I set out to finish a 100 miler and I didn't do that.  I am ok with my decision, though I am not happy about it.  I was most disappointed in not being able to run with Brad.  I felt pretty badly about not meeting my goal.  Everyone did so much to help me, so much to support me, and I feel disappointed in myself for not meeting my end of the plan.

God and I had a long talk out on the trail.   I asked Him to take over if it was His will for me to continue.  I told Him that I understood He knows my heart and that if what I want didn't mesh with His will, I was ok with that.  Perhaps there was a different lesson in all of this for me today.

I have hashed this out with a few friends, and I understand this.  My disappointment comes not from an incomplete 100 miler, but more, that I could have let others down.  But my support system is so wonderful that they do not feel let down.  They are encouraged and inspired by my efforts, and I am left with two feelings.  I am so blessed and so loved.  I couldn't ask for anything more.  My inspiration and my encouragement comes from those around me, near and far.  Those who are willing to take time from their families to send words of hope, prayers, and well wishes.  Those who give of themselves physically and never complain or expect anything in return.  Those who take care of me when I am discouraged.  Those who take care of my family when I am absent.

I have said before, this is NOT something that I can do alone.  First and foremost, my help comes from Him.  And then, I watch His hands and feet serve me and help me to reach my goals.  I stand in awe of all of those beautiful souls. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Race Week

One of the biggest challenges in my life is remaining completely present within the moment I am in.  I have an uncanny knack for living in the future.  Waiting with great anticipation for things that are to come.  Even to the point of great anxiety and fear and at the expense of losing the moment I should be embracing.

My goal this week is to remain present with the children as we do school, chores, errands, etc.  The simple activities of the day can provide so many opportunities to deepen our relationship with one another, and I am sad to say, I often miss these opportunities because I am planning, worrying, getting ready for something yet to be.

While I do need to prepare for the race, I am going to leave my focus on the present.  It's all I have.  That saying, tomorrow may not come, is so true, and what good is my life if all I have ever done is looked ahead to the moments I "think" I may have the privilege of living rather than embracing the ones I am given every minute of the day?

Simple Mom is a favorite blog of mine and her post today could not have come at a better time for me.  While she and I are going through different scenarios of life, the sentiment is the same.  The grass is greener where you water it.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Rest, then Taper

It makes an excellent standing aid.

I had to take a few extra days of rest last week due to a very sore left ankle and some continued respiratory junk left over from the week before.

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, I was fully prepared to take on my low mileage taper week and not complain about how low the miles would be.  Strangely, as I began to run, I felt a twinge in the RIGHT ankle.  I cut that run short and took the cue to ice it and administer Advil.

Tuesday, I swam and ran a few on the treadmill and it seemed better, but not great.  Waking up Wednesday, I was limping pretty badly.  Darn those rest days!  A few days off and I start to fall apart.
I've been donning "the boot" again and complaining the whole time.  I hate that thing.  Trying to rest the Achilles so it is ready for next week.  I haven't run since Tuesday and I'm a nut job.

100 push ups yesterday.  125 today.  More tomorrow, I'm sure.  Still doesn't take the edge off.  Just leaves me with really sore shoulders.

May go swim or row tonight.  Hoping all of this fades away just as quickly as it showed up.  The apocalypse in my head is spinning out of control.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Shoe Review - Brooks Pure Project PureGrit

Who doesn't get excited when seeing this little blue box?!

And who doesn't love free stuff?!  All of this came with my new shoes!

I should preface this review with the disclaimer that I am NOT a professional runner.  I am NOT a professional product reviewer.  Any opinions I state here are purely my uneducated experience I have had with this shoe. 

I have been running in Brooks almost my entire running career, a short career of 5 years.  I had a brief stint with Asics when I first began, switched to Brooks Adrenaline shortly thereafter, and after a hip stress fracture, I realized that I was running in the wrong shoe and had too much structure to my shoes.  While running trails, I have ALWAYS run in the Brooks Cascadia which is a neutral trail shoe. It should be said that I LOVE my Cascadias. What was interesting to me I could not understand why I needed so much support in road running, but seemed to need less on the dirt.  Running in the neutral Cascadia gave me the confidence I needed to switch to the Glycerine last year and I have felt very, very comfortable in my neutral road shoes.

I did read Born to Run and while I can appreciate the minimalist approach to running, I don't think it is a good fit for me, at this point.  I am always interested in a lighter shoe with trends toward the "less is more" approach.

A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune of winning a gift card to Luke's Locker at the Casa 5K.  With that in hand, I headed to Luke's to see about some shoes.  I have been watching and waiting for the launch of the new Brooks Line of shoes, Pure Project since early this summer.  A few reviews had come across my path and though I am not a "minimalist" runner, I was intrigued by this new, lightweight, but not necessarily minimalist style shoe. 

I tried on a few others that have had my eye as well. Specifically, the NB Minimus and the Merrell Trail Glove.  While both of these shoes appeal to my sense of "less is more" and at first glance were very comfortable, a few steps on the treadmill and I knew that there is no way I was ready for them.  They are very minimal in nature and I am just not there in my gait yet.

I then asked about the PureGrit.  What I knew is that the heel drop was 4mm, so not quite at the same level as the other two shoes I had tried on, but certainly a shift from the 12 mm heel drop that I currently have on my Cascadias.  The shoe jock brought them out and I gave them a whirl.  They felt great going on and I took a spin in them on the tread mill.  I could feel a difference in the heel, but I knew that I would experience this from the outset.

I was ready to take the new treads home only to find out that they could not be sold till the next day, October 1st.  I was heartbroken.  Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love new shoes, especially new running shoes.  Knowing I would have to wait to come back and purchase them was Pure alright, pure torture.

I left the store, dismayed and deflated, but I did return to pick them up on October 2nd, exercising my patience muscle.    Probably the best part about buying these shoes was the final out of pocket expense for me.  With my gift card and running club member discount, these beauties cost me 16.00!

I knew I was going to have to wait a day to try them out since I had already run on Sunday morning.  I also knew that I would not be able to tolerate a long run in them as I needed to get acclimated to them over what I figured would be a few runs.

Last evening was the moment I had been waiting for.  I took the new babies out of their box and slipped them on.  First thing I noticed when putting them on was how very, very light they were.  7.6 ounces vs the Cascadia 10.4 ounces makes a huge difference.

I also loved the wide elastic strap across the nicely padded tongue of the shoe.  This made for a comfortably snug fit without the necessity of having to tie the laces too tightly.  I love a snug shoe, but I have found that if I tie the laces as tightly as I'd like, I end up with numbness in my foot.  This is not an issue with the Grit.  Very nice feature.

The shoes truly feel like as if they could be your favorite house slipper.  Comfortable, cushioning the boney areas of my feet, under the ball of the foot.  They were springy and yet, I could feel the ground beneath me.
The sole of the shoe has a one piece construction and seems very durable with rugged tread needed for the dirt.  There is a small split between the Great toe and the others and I believe this helps with the flexibility of the shoe and therefore the foot while traversing the rocks and such.

I headed out to the trail to run a short while before Yoga class.  I have been experiencing some Achilles Tendon pain in the right foot the last week or so and hoped that this would not be an issue.  The trail I ran had a nice flat, compact dirt aspect with a few rocks and sticks scattered about.  I could "feel" the trail much more effectively than in any other shoe I have run in.  Right away, I noticed the heel drop.  While running in the store, it didn't seem too significant of a change, but within 15 mins, I knew I was going to have to ease into these shoes.

My feet felt very comfortable.  My toes had plenty of room, and the legs felt much lighter than normal.  I run a few inclines and interestingly enough, felt like my legs were doing a bit more work than usual.
I even noticed my pace was up quite a bit, but that was short-lived.

By mile 1.5, both legs were feeling the effects of the lower heel drop and the calves were burning.  I took several walk breaks of a short duration to ease up the unpleasant feeling I was experiencing.  That feeling coupled with the Achilles issue on the right foot, gave me reason to stop at mile 3.   I figured out very quickly that the next two weeks should not be about trying out new shoes.  I have a 100 coming up and that needs to be my focus.

I also realized that though my running gait has changed quite a bit, I am still quite the heel striker.  I am definitely not striking the heels as hard as I used to, but I am not by any stretch of the imagination a mid to fore-foot runner, yet.

If I had to offer any negatives about the shoe thus far, my suggestion would be color.  I always feel drawn to the colors of the mens shoes.  I wish shoe folks would get that women don't always need "girly" colors.  I prefer power colors like red, orange, black, neon green, etc.  I love my bright yellow and bright green Cascadias.  Getting them dirty is a badge of honor and seemingly a right of passage for any trail runner.  Somehow, brown trail shoes seem somewhat anti-climactic.  How can I possibly get these things dirty?

I really, really like the PureGrit.  And I look forward to getting home from this race and taking them out for a few miles.  I will need to keep the runs shorter at first until I feel that my gait has acclimated to the change.  I am not willing to risk an injury at this point or really at any point just for a shoe.