Saturday, April 24, 2010

Recovery and Reflection

I finally ran my first run since the OT 50 today.  What was supposed to be a nice, easy, slow jog, turned out to be a bit faster than what I had planned.  I started out at a 9:40 pace, but mile 3 was 8:42.  Not really a recovery run by my standards.  Of course, if I was an elite runner who just finished running Boston in 2:08, perhaps 8:42 might seem like a sluggish walk! 

I took this past week to really recover from the race.  I probably could have run Wednesday or Thursday, but my feet were still pretty beat up and my little-heard-from-sensible-side told me to take the few extra days rest and be sure that I didn't overdue things too soon.

I will admit that I am in awe of the trail runners that I read about who run huge miles day after day after day.  They run 50 milers and 100 milers most every other weekend and some even every weekend.  I wonder if they are superhuman or rather, if I am just kind of a wuss. 

I also admit that running is a very selfish passion, and after a weekend away doing what I love to do, I find I must balance my wants with my responsibilities as a wife and mom.  This is another reason why I don't rush right back into running after a big race.  I just need time to get back into my vocation.

This race was most definitely the hardest race I've ever participated in.  The first half of the race was purely a mental exercise for me.  From wanting to quit 3 miles into the race to committing to the full 50 by running through the aid station, I had to keep my mind from the dark places that it kept wanting to descend to.  After Northshore, the race became much more about the physical.  Everything hurt.  Everything.  And yet, my mind was made up that I would finish even if I had to crawl across the finish line. 

I think I probably walked 35-40% of the race.  After the last time through Northshore, running was less frequent mostly because of the blisters on my feet.  As well, I just felt so empty.  I had almost no energy.  Even when I was in the aid stations, I didn't have the energy to make a decision about what to eat, never mind actually eat.  As I reviewed the race information from my Garmin, I realized that I expended approximately 4800 calories, yet I took in less than 800.  I think I found my reason for the lack of energy.

I would really like to move away from the Honey Stingers and Gu during runs and move to more food based nutrition.  A few nuts, an avocado, some dried fruit, etc.  The problem is how to carry this with me.  I'd like to rely on aid stations more and carry less on runs, but I also want to be able to have the freedom to rely on myself as one never knows what an aid station will or won't have.  And in the case of the race I just ran, being the last runner, or close to it, on the course, the aid stations were pretty much packed up by the time I came through the last two. 

I still have a lot to assimilate from this experience.  This is what I love about every race/run that I do.  Even the short ones can give me so much information.  I do have some decisions to make regarding the 100 miler.  I am not sure if I should have more 50 milers under my belt and try to come out of those feeling stronger and more in control of my performance than what I have with the 2 I have completed.  Thankfully, I do not need to make that decision now.  I will train as if I am running the 100 and decide closer to the date which way I will go.

For now, I will take another fairly easy week of recovery runs and then start gearing back up with the training. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ouachita Trail 50 Miler

***  Disclaimer-This is an extremely long and rambling post that most probably will not be very coherent, but it is what it is and if I don't get it on the blog now, it might never happen. ***

About three weeks ago, I received a phone call from Bill who was kind enough to offer my an opportunity to run at a race that I had all but given up hope of running.  Earlier this year, I had considered running the Ouachita Trail Run, but things with the kids, work, life in general, just didn't seem to fall into place.  When this happens, I typically just chalk it up to it not being a race that was "meant to be".   Then Bill's call came.  I was chomping at the bit inside, but knew that it most probably would not happen because of the family schedule.

I made a phone call or two, said a prayer or three, and then talked with Mark about it.  "Things" seemed to be falling into place and before I knew it, I was telling Bill that I would be able to go!  Rick was also going to be heading to Arkansas, so we decided to all ride together.  To say I was excited would not even begin to explain how I felt about going.  This was going to be my first out of state race and my first 50 miler of the year.  After my DNF at Rocky Hill last year, I've been anxiously awaiting the opportunity to take this distance on again.

I had recently begun a new training regimen which went in four week blocks.  The first three weeks cycle up, and then the fourth week, cycle down.  It seemed to be working well and I had run a 45 mile week, then a 50 mile week before I realized that I would be running OT 50.  Putting this race into the works does give me reason to redo the training schedule, but it is worth it.

The longest run I managed to get in was a 17 miler 3 weeks before the race.  Not as long as I would have liked to have had under my belt going into a 50 miler, but considering I only had 3 weeks notice, I was happy with what I could do.

I collected prayer intentions for this race as I had for my 1st 50 miler last February.  I had one intention for each mile that I would run.  I am so glad that I had these because honestly, I believe that I might well have thrown in the towel if had not been for them and the obligation that I felt I had to pray for those who entrusted their prayers to me.

The ride to Arkansas was a blast!  Bill and Rick kept me highly entertained and I was able to glean lots of information as well as inspiration coming into the race.  I never really take much in really knowing a course before I run it, but for some reason, I felt it necessary to really understand what I was getting myself into.  Perhaps this stemmed from my DNF last year at Hells Hills.  Rick has an uncanny knack for details and I hung on most every word that he was able to share about this race.  He had run on this trail previously and that knowledge helped to prepare me for what I knew would be a tough run. 

We arrived at our hotel, had dinner, applied our HTFU tattoos and said goodnight.  We were due to leave the hotel by 4:30, so our night closed down by 9 pm.  I went through my ritual of laying out my clothes, double checking gear, and trying to just relax.  When I laid out my socks, I realized that I had not grabbed my black injiniis, but rather, I had packed my black hand gloves.  Panic struck for a few moments, but then I remembered I had packed a few extras in my drop bags.

I awoke at 4, got dressed and ate a package of oatmeal before we headed out.  I know now, I should have eaten more for breakfast.  I don't think I took in even 100 calories before the start of the race.

We arrived at the start line by 5:00 am, picked up our packets and awaited the 6 am start.  Rick had told us what a character Chrissy Ferguson was, and she did not disappoint!  I loved her down to earth, no fuss approach to running.  Just show up, run, and be nice!  Of course the shouting out of "TEXAS SUCKS!"  was quite inspiring!

The first part of the race is run on about 3 miles of road.  It was a nice smooth road with rolling hills and a welcoming breeze in a sleepy town.  Beautiful.  We hit 2 miles in 18:00, so I knew I was already going out too fast.  I backed down during mile 3 and began to prepare myself for what I thought would be a bit of a struggle getting over the "hill".  I figured my thought process needed to be, the race doesn't start until I am over that hill, therefore, enjoy the climb and enjoy the view.  As I mentioned, I absorbed every word that Rick was able to share about this course, and especially about Pinnacle Mountain.  I was videos, read reports, and finally told myself, "It's only a mile long, how hard can it be?"   Yeah.

I began the ascent to the mountain.  It was steep and rocky.  Not little pebbles or medium boulders.  No. These were huge rocks that were very, very plentiful.  There was a small amount of running heading up to the mountain, but once we started the climb of Pinnacle, running stopped.  This wasn't even a hike.  This was a hand over fist, pull yourself up the mountain, climb.  I had to stop a few times to catch my breath.  I tried to make it look like I was admiring the view, but I couldn't see a thing.  Except defeat.  I was 3.5 miles into this race and I was considering quitting.  I heard some very dark thoughts cross my mind from, "you aren't a real trail runner" to "you can't do this" to "She's right, Texas sucks and I'm from Texas, so I suck.".  I planned to quit as soon as I got down the mountain. 

As I approached the Summit of Pinnacle, the photographer was there taking pictures of each and every runner.  As he took my picture, it gave me a moment to look around, see the gorgeous surroundings that God's Hand offered each of us that morning, and gave me a moment to collect myself.  I wasn't dead.  I wasn't dying.  I was ok.  Therefore, I would continue on and probably drop down to the 50 K.

Heading down the mountain was more treacherous than the ascent.  Trying to find secure footings atop the rocks was quite challenging at times.  I do wish I had been able to bring my camera to capture the incredible views, but I didn't want the extra weight with me for the race.  I have heard stories of people falling down this mountain.  Thankfully I did not fall and I did not see anyone else tumble either.  Again, it was impossible to run any steps at all on the descent, so I enjoyed to hike to the bottom.  We were able to start running somewhat as we approached the parking lot aid station.  It was nice to be on somewhat runnable terrain again, although, that would quickly change. 

Heading towards the Lake Vista Aid Station, my focus changed from getting over the mountain to making cutoffs.  I had a "plan" in place, but that went out the window.  Maintaining a 12:00 - 13:00 min pace seemed impossible. The terrain was difficult with lots of hills, large rocks, and little relief of a nice flat straightaway.  I again turned to thoughts of how lousy a runner I am, who did I think I was running with the real trail runners.  Seriously, I felt like I was a big joke.   I made up my mind to forget the cut offs and drop down to the 50K.  I ran at a pace I could easily manage and before I knew it, we were approaching North Shore.  As we came upon the turnaround for the 50K a few things hit me.  First, and in my mind most important, were my prayer intentions.  If I dropped down to the 50K, there would be several prayer intentions that I would not be able to run for.  Second, all of my gear, including the key to Bill's car, was tucked into the 50 mile turnaround drop bag.  Even if I did drop down, I didn't know if I would be able to get my gear for hours and I would be standing around the finish line doing nothing.  Then of course my stubborn side came out and I thought a lot about my DNF at Hell's Hills.  I didn't want another DNF.  I could still be a finisher in the 50 K, and any smart person would have opted for that, but I am not one known for my sensible intelligence. There was a small group of runners behind me who were talking each other through the same thoughts I was having.  The leader of the group was so positive!  He was telling us that our legs didn't hurt, our minds were clear, and this was all fun!  He told us that we could do this and that we would be so happy when we finished!  My decision was made.  I was sticking it out.   As we hit the NorthShore Aid station, I grabbed my hydration vest and my S caps/honey/gu/fruit bars.  I didn't eat like I should have at the AS because I was afraid I'd rethink my decision to gut out the 50 miler.   The volunteers were awesome in getting us in and out and not letting us linger as well.  They would even pack baggies of food for us to take if we were so inclined!

Once we passed through the AS, the trail seemed to calm down a bit.  The terrain was still hilly, but the rocks didn't seem as plentiful.  There seemed to be some relief for our tired legs.  Now my mind was able to focus on some goals, like the cut offs, and trying to replenish my body with some nutrition. 

The next several miles went by without much incident and I started playing leap frog with a few different guys.  I noticed that one of the men was doing more walking than running and moving at a pretty good clip.  I asked him if he thought he would make the finish and he replied that he had done it before, and though it would take him all day, he would finish.  Bingo.  If I could keep up with him, I should be good.  Shortly after meeting him, I ran into a runner from Tulsa, Brad.  A great guy who I ended up running/walking with most of the race after that.  He shared with me that this was his first 50 miler and he was enjoying my pacing him as he felt like he could finish.  I later learned that he had served 2 times in Iraq and lost many friends over there.  I felt that we should stick together to help pull one another to the finish line.  We were running about the same pace anyway.  At one point, I was ahead of him and as we were crossing one of the many creeks, I lost my footing and did a face plant onto a large rock.  I hit my entire right side, including my face.  Painful does not begin to describe it.  Brad saw me go down and as a paramedic and nursing student, he quickly came to my aid to check me out.  I was bloodied, but I was ok and I just started walking.  I knew I needed to keep moving if I didn't want to stiffen up.  My knee was extremely painful, but I tried to put that out of my mind and started calling on the prayers of those I knew were praying for me as well as offering up my pain for those I was praying for.  I think Brad figured I would drop at that point, but my stubborn butt was doing no such thing.  My goal was the cut off for the Turnaround. 

I realized that Brad was having some trouble after awhile and discovered that his feet were badly blistered.  I enticed him with some foot care at the Turnaround aid station if we could make it there in time.  We did, with about 20 minutes to spare, so while his father tended to his feet, I tended to my bladder with my one and only bathroom stop the entire race. 

I grabbed my nutrition refill bag and began to realize that I was not ingesting things as I had planned.  I knew that my calorie count was very limited which is not a good thing.  My hands were quite swollen.  The only thing I was consistently ingesting were my S caps and hydration.  I did eat more fruit at this aid station.  But clearly not enough to make up the deficiency.

Brad and I headed out to make our next cutoff and he mentioned that he was going to walk for awhile.  His stomach was upset and he needed to get to a good place mentally.  I told him we would stick together, offered him some papaya, and we walked for a good 15 mins.  We talked about everything from our families, to our upbringing, to The Office, etc.  He has a beautiful little boy and I enjoyed so much about hearing the stories from this young father.  I asked him about his tattoos and he asked me about mine.  When I shared with him that mine were temporary, he said, "WOW, I was trying to put you together in my head and the tattoos just didn't fit in there!"   We laughed and I shared with him my trail name for the day...Crystal Falls.  We laughed as we recalled how Crystal Falls fell into the creek. 

As we hit our last cut off aid station, it was time for me to have my feet looked at.  They were a mess and the volunteer who tended to them qualifies as a Saint in my book.  She took awesome care of me, my feet, and my nutrition.  Brad and I headed back onto the trail, feeling relief that we had made all the cutoffs and were on the home stretch of 13 miles to the finish line.

Shortly after getting back onto the trail, we ended up splitting up for a bit so that he could relieve himself.  I continued on, walking, hoping he'd catch me.  Eventually he did and we ran/walk some more.  He was feeling better and I began my descent into that black abyss of not enough nutrition.  I wanted him to finish this race more than I wanted to finish it for myself.  I stuck with him to be sure he would get to the finish line.  When I realized I was holding him back, I told him that I needed to stop for a bathroom break and that I would catch him.  I hung back for a minute or two and then traveled to the next aid station solo.  As I reached the aid station, I inquired about Brad.  They told me I could probably catch him as he wasn't looking too good.  They also started forcing things on me, so I must have looked pretty bad.  We had made all of the cut offs except the last finish line cut off and I figured at this point I wouldn't get a medal, but I would finish the 50 miles.  The volunteer handed me a pickle and told me to eat it.  I felt an instant jolt and headed out to find Brad.  I was still not feeling that great, but my walking pace was about 14:00/mile so I kept with that.  My blisters were getting worse and running on them proved to be quite uncomfortable.  I could feel them pop from time to time and with that came some relief.  Strange.  I continued on hoping to find Brad, but to no avail.  I hoped he was doing ok.  I, unfortunately, started coming unglued.  As I came into the final few aid stations, they were packed up and had little to offer except water, not that I could have taken anything in anyway.  Knowing that I was probably the last runner out on the trail was a bit discouraging, but I was going to finish the mileage regardless. 

As I entered into the last few miles of the race, I began another ascent up what seemed to be Pinnacle Mountain.  At one point, I thought I was going to loose my mind thinking I had taken a wrong turn, missed a sign, misunderstood directions and would end up going over that stupid mountain again.  I almost cried.  But then I felt a sense of peace, thinking someone's prayers were carrying me, I continued on and figured, if I climbed that mountain again, I would just climb down it again.  HTFU came to life in a big way for me.  Honestly, trust was another factor.  Could I trust myself right now?  Could I trust the trail?  I climbed the trail and before I knew it, I was out on the road again heading for the finish line.  It was 7:01, past finishing time, but I didn't care.  I knew I was 3 miles from home and nothing was stopping me now.  I hit the road running as much as possible.  It was a downhill run, which I thought would have been easy, but it was not.  Every step was painful.  My quads were shot and my feet were macerated.  I ran anyway.  There were no rocks to stop me.  Visions of the finish line ran through my head.  I also thought of Rick and Bill waiting and wondering where the heck I was!  We still had to drive 8 hours home after the race!! 

As I hit the exit of Pinnacle mountain park, I knew I had 2 miles left and picked up the pace, trying to walk/run as quickly as possible.  Finally, I saw Brad!  He was walking with his dad and I called out to him.  He stopped turned around and looked like he was going to wait for me.  I told him to turn around and go get his medal!  He did turn around and continue on.  I eventually caught up to him shortly after his dad got into the car and left him to finish on his own.  Brad looked pretty rough around the edges, but he was going to finish!  We were going to finish!  He told me he was really sick and wanted to throw up.  He asked me to continue on without him and by the tone of his voice, I knew he needed to do this on his own.  With little more than a mile to go, I left him behind.  It was the right time to do that. 

Then I saw Bill's car.  Bill and Rick were heading out to look for me.  It was so invigorating to see them and gave me just enough rally to get me across the finish line!  As I rounded the corner to the finish line, I saw Brad's family and told them what a great guy he was and what a great crew they were!  I could hear Chrissy screaming at me to get my butt over the finish line through her megaphone.  She was a riot!  And as I crossed the line in 13:20, she placed a medal around my neck.
I never expected to get that medal as I did not make the finish time cut off, but being the class act that Chrissy is, she gave it to me.  Thank you, Chrissy.  It will be one of my most cherished medals ever. 

Shortly after my finish, Bill and Rick were grabbing food for me, drinks, and calling Mark to let him know I was ok.  I know that Mark must have been worried since I had thought I'd be finished in 11 hours.  I ate a nice cheeseburger covered in mustard!  I could have eaten 3 or 4.  Definitely not on my vegan diet plan, but I was so hungry!  The awesome volunteers even offered to make me a veggie burger.  Incredible.  I thanked them as much as I could and then told them just to give me the beef!  They loved that!
As I sat in my chair eating my burger, I waited to see Brad cross the line.  He finally did and received his medal!  I was so excited for him and so proud to have been able to run with a true hero.  We took a few pictures together and then parted ways.  I had hoped to be able to locate him online through Facebook or email, but I have not had any luck yet.  I am hoping that Chrissy will be able to forward my information on to him. 

In summary, there is no amount of preparation I could have done for this race that would have made me more ready.  This race, I believe, requires advance exposure to the trails.   I learned a lot about myself this time, as I usually do.  I also learned about how poor nutrition can affect a runner over the long haul.  I will need to take this information into my training for my upcoming runs.  All in all, I am so glad that I did this race and I might even give it another go sometime.