Monday, November 5, 2007

Zero to 54 in Six Weeks

Well, my Cross Country team missed the state race by one place at regionals, so I had no excuse not to run the Mountain Masochist 50 miler on Saturday. I was concerned about running the race, since I've only been training for six weeks after three months off with my hamstrings. My longest run was 25 miles and my weekly mileage was low, so I was worried about my endurance. In addition, my pace is a lot slower as I am learning to run with shorter strides, so I was worried about not hitting the cutoffs even if my endurance was up. But one of our friends, Alan, was going up to run it, so I decided that I would go and run as much of it as I could. My two goals: not to reinjure myself, and run as far as I could before missing a cutoff.

The race started at 6:30 a.m., with the temperature around 32 degrees. It would not get light until a little after seven, but then it warmed up nicely into the 40s and 50s, depending on the elevation. The day was beautiful, with a clear blue sky and a lot of the leaves still holding their fall colors.

The first few miles of the course are on pavement- first on the Blue Ridge Parkway, then paralleling the James River. After that, you are in the woods on single and double-track and forest roads. I was hoping to see my husband, Tony, at aid station 4, but he was apparently still eating the breakfast buffet at the Peaks of Otter Lodge, so I sucked down another GU and headed on. I was a little concerned when Jay Finkle passed me, because where he passes me in a race usually indicates whether or not I am doing well. If it's not until later in the race, I usually end up fine, but during my only two DNF races, he has passed me early on.

The next sections of the course consist of a long, steady uphill on a gravel road, followed by an even longer downhill. I got frustrated on the downhill because of my shorter strides and I was passed by a lot of people. I reminded myself of my two goals, though, and just kept moving. Tony had shown up aid station 5, and it's always a good morale boost to see him at the aid stations. At the halfway point, I was on an eleven hour pace and was staying well ahead of the cutoffs. I relaxed a little and began enjoying the day more. The "5" mile loop was particularly beautiful, even though I had a bit of a low spot there on the climb. I forced myself to think about the here and now and not what was coming up in the run. I've made that mistake before in runs- thinking about how much farther I have to go and how hard it would be.

I got my second wind in the next to the last section (only 7 more miles, the sign says, even though it's more like 10-11) on the last climb. In the past, that climb has really sucked, but it didn't feel any harder than a trail I do on a weekly basis here at home. I thought about that, and not how I was about 48 miles into a run. I hit the top and felt good, and was able to run strong (not fast) the last six miles. Tony was waiting for me in the last mile and I finished 40 minutes ahead of the cutoff in 11:20. It was not a PR, but it was my second best time of my four MMTR finishes. Nothing hurt out of the ordinary, just general soreness. Not even any blisters (thanks Brooks!).

As always, I met a lot of nice people, several of whom were running the race for the first time. Alan finished his first 50 (ahead of me) and his wife Trish and our friend Larry got to crew for the first time at an ultra. (At least it wasn't Hellgate). The aid station volunteers were great and Dr. Horton puts on a first-rate race. I'll be back next year, unless my xc team is at state, which will be fine, too.

Friday, October 12, 2007

On The Trail Again

After three months of no running at all, I am finally back on the trails again. I went to the Speed Clinic at UVA in August where they hooked me up to a 3-D infra-red computer and had me run on a treadmill. The computer spit out a lot of info and after they analyzed everything, I'm surprised I had ever been able to finish a race at all, never mind doing well at some of them. Anyway, I apparently ask way too much of my hamstrings and I put a lot of torque on them, which over time resulted in my injury. They sent me a DVD of my running, with a narrative explaining what I do wrong and what I need to do to fix my problems. The DVD included video of exercises and stretches to do to help me heal and prevent future injury. I wish I had gone there sooner.

So, after following the program for a couple of months, I am back running full time, although much slower. The main training intervention is that I have to take 180 steps a minute, which is a LOT shorter and faster stride than I usually do. My uphills are about the same, but my downhills are SO much slower. I am registered for the Masochist next month and for the first time since my first year of ultras, I am worried about cutoffs. (Maybe my girls cross country team will make it to state, which is held on the same day as the Masochist and then I won't have anything to worry about.) I ran my longest run so far yesterday, 20 miles, on the Appalachian Trail. It was beautiful and despite my slowness, I am just grateful that I am able to run again at this, my favorite time of year. Overall I felt good, although my injury to the ligaments in my ankle and hip, which contributed to the hamstring problem, still are not healed yet. Those are just a little stiff and sore, unlike the pain that I did have with the hamstrings. It was nice to just run mindlessly (except for counting those darn steps now and then) and enjoy the woods.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Broken Hamstrings

After several visits to a doctor, physical therapist, chiropractor and orthopedist, I was finally diagnosed (they think) with partially detached tendons in both my hamstrings. Which means no running, for at least three months. I could dwell (and I have) on all the things I miss about running (especially when I have summers off and could spend a lot of time on the trails), but I am trying to be positive about the whole thing (which supposedly helps with the healing process).

So, on the positive side, I am not totally broken. I can still do a lot of things that do not put tension on the hamstrings. I am now a much improved mountain biker, although I melted my front tire when the bike rack was too low and the car exhaust pipe got it. I never had that problem with my running shoes. I can run a 6 minute mile forwards or backwards (on the eliptical), something I never achieved on the ground. I am getting good at walking backwards uphill (on the stair climber). My swimming is getting better and if only I could run, I think I could knock out that off-road Ironman this year. I'm spending more time in the weight room. Being injured also comes in handy when I get lazy. "I'd really like to wash those dishes, but leaning over the sink puts too much pressure on my hamstrings."

I am going to the Speed Clinic at the University of Virginia next month to get help with rehab and they sounded very positive about being able to get me running right again. So, I hope I can run the Masochist and Hellgate this year (I've never missed a Hellgate). In the meantime, I'll miss the heat, humidity, yellow jackets, and the climb up Whitewater Falls at Laurel Valley for the first time since I've been running ultras. But there's always next year.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

DNF/BWT(Did Not Finish, But Wanted To)

My husband Tony has told me over and over that it would happen to me eventually. I, however, am stubborn and refused to believe him. In the Smoky Mountain Adventure Race, I stood shivering in the surprise snowstorm, after my brakes on my mountain bike kept icing up so I couldn’t ride it, having to make the decision between going on or quitting. Tony pretty much made that decision for me, just minutes before they closed the course down because of the weather. So I don’t really count that as a DNF. Then in 2005, at Hellgate 100K, the course was covered with a few inches of snow with an inch or so of ice on top of it. Sometimes the ice broke when you ran on it, sometimes it didn’t. When it did, all the people running in front of me had chopped it up into big, sharp chunks that turned your ankle with every step. Anyway, I missed the time cutoff at mile 42 and got pulled from the race. So that was a DNF, but not a voluntary one. I went back in 2006 and corrected that mistake.

This year, one of my big races was the Old Dominion 100 mile race in Virginia. I have posted my report from last year, so I won’t get into another course description. I’ve had some things not go as planned leading up to this race, particularly my hamstring and ankle injuries. (One week prior to the Run For Africa 24 hour race in April, I pulled/tore something in both hamstrings, and then hit a rock wrong and hurt my ankle. I ran 95 miles at the Africa race, then two weeks later Promise Land 50K, and have spent the last four weeks trying to recover.) Because of the injuries, I haven’t been able to train like I wanted to, but was optimistic because of the miles I got in in April. I felt like I had more endurance, and would just suck up the hamstring pain. I’ve always had tight hamstrings and have dealt with that, and it wasn’t like I had broken anything. (Did I mention I am stubborn?)

The race started well. I had plenty of energy going up Woodstock tower and wanted to get in as many miles as I could before it got hot. The downhill after the tower went well, although I had to shorten up my stride. The climb on the single-track trail was fine, but once I hit the rocky downhill, I slowed down. Things started to get a little worse on the miles of country roads. The ibuprofen was wearing off after two hours, but I didn’t want to take it that often. It also got very hot (88 degrees at 11:30), but I was still ahead of my splits from last year at the 32 mile point. The next section is uphill trail, with a mile or so of downhill on pavement before you start several miles of trail. I ran out of water twice (didn’t get enough at two aid stations) and was having a hard time running on anything rocky. After the medical check station at mile 43, there is a long gravel road, mostly downhill, but I was walking a lot (in the rain, which cooled things down considerably) and by mile 47 was 20 minutes behind last year’s splits. On the long gravel road to Edinburg Gap, I was taking a lot of walking breaks on the downhill. I was telling myself to just lean forward and that either my legs would move me or I would fall. After I climbed up the ATV trail, I wasn’t running more than 10 steps on the gradual downhill before I started walking again. It wasn’t my hamstrings that hurt, however. It was my ankles, my knees, and my quads. My quads have never actually hurt during a race. They’ve been fatigued, and then very sore after the race, but never during. I think what my body did was compensate for not being able to use the hamstrings. Not only did I switch to using the quads, but I was taking shorter steps on the downhill and flats, so my legs got more of a pounding.

Last year I really enjoyed the race. I was very tired at times, but never to the point where I couldn’t run downhill. This year I quit enjoying the race at about mile 14. So, fifty miles later I decided that it was time to stop. I was 40 minutes behind last year’s splits and had no shot at finishing under 24 hours. I’ve done this distance before, so I didn’t have to prove to myself that I am capable of doing it. I love to run, I love that course, and my favorite section was coming up. I remember last year blasting down the road to Mudhole Gap and then rock-hopping the trail that follows it. The thought of walking the downhills and figuring out how to get across all of those rocks, however, convinced me to stop. So I did. The aid station workers at Little Fort couldn’t have been better. I got a massage, was told encouraging things and that as an endurance athlete, sometimes you just had to know when enough is enough.

So, that’s my first voluntary DNF. Tony thinks I need some psychological counseling along with physical therapy to help me deal with it. It is very traumatic.

Things to do different next year:
1. Don’t run injured
2. Back off even more in the hot sections
3. Carry the pack rather than just a water bottle
4. Wear road shoes (more cushioning) until mile 32, then switch to trail shoes (Brooks Cascadias).
5. Eat more whether I feel like it or not. Supplement the GU with more real food or do more GU more often.

Promise Land 50K

David Horton’s Promise Land 50K is my favorite 50K, despite the fact that I have yet to have a really good run there. The course is beautiful and has a good mix of difficult trails and easier grass and gravel roads. The course starts at the Promise Land camp, some 15 minutes or so from Bedford. Many people choose to camp there the night before, but we usually get a motel. The race has a very early start, 5:30 a.m., so if you have to arrive late on Friday night, you don’t get much sleep anyway.

The course starts out, in the dark, on a gravel road which climbs uphill, steadily at first, and then rather steeply. At that point you get on a section of trail that you run the other direction during Hellgate 100K. The trail continues to climb until it dumps you out on a grassy fire road that is for the most part downhill. This section is usually beautiful. The sun is coming up, the grass is very green and the dogwoods and redbuds are blooming. Except for this year, because of a late freeze. And last year, when the torrential downpour and constant flashes from the lightning kept me from seeing very much at all. Anyway, after that section (which has some Horton miles in it, miles that tend to be much longer than the traditional mile), you head uphill again on trail and an old logging road until you reach the Blue Ridge Parkway. Then you have a nice, long, gradual downhill on a maintained gravel road which takes you to the only point your crew has access to, the Sunset Fields overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The next section is my favorite section. It is downhill on rooty, rocky, single-track trail. It ends up on some old logging roads, and then back on single-track that has way too many little rocks that turn your ankles. You cross a creek a couple of times (which was a little difficult last year in the aftermath of the torrential downpour) and end up at an aid station at the start of a road section. The road section is long and flat and pretty boring, but you can make up some time here as it is easy to run. Then you’re back on single-track and old logging roads and a couple more aid stations until you end up at the bottom of Apple Orchard Falls. The climb up Apple Orchard has gotten easier for me every year, but it is by no means easy. It is towards the end of the run and you climb back up to the Blue Ridge Parkway on steep single-track on legs that are already tired. There is a nice waterfall there that you cross in front of, but I haven’t paid too much attention to it. Once you make it to the top, you’re back on the single-track and gravel road from the beginning of the race, only it is now all downhill.

I didn’t have a great experience at the race this year. The week before the Run for Africa, I injured my ankle and then my hamstrings. I ran the 95 miles at that race and then wasn’t able to recover fully before this race, two weeks later. I should have just run this race easy, but I didn’t. When I got towards the bottom of my favorite single-track section, my hamstrings had started to hurt badly and I was unable to stretch out my stride. As a result, I started getting passed by many people on the downhills, which usually doesn’t happen. On the flat road section, I really started to hurt and the rest of the race was spent going very easy on the downhills and trying to make up for it on the uphills. On the last long downhill stretch of the race, Mike Day (who had run at Run for Africa, then Crowder’s Mountain 50K the next weekend) passed me and told me I could still get my PR if I hurried. I looked at my watch with a mile left and only five minutes more to get my PR, or so I thought, and with my legs not cooperating, I just took it easy. It turns out that I was mistaken about my PR and missed it by only a minute. Oh well. There’s always next year.

Old Race Report- Last Year's OD 100

Old Dominion (The Original) 2006

Two years ago I ran the MMT as my first and only 100. Thirty-five and a half hours later, along with 28 blisters and a black eye, I decided that I liked 50Ks a lot more. This year however, I decided to give 100s one more chance and picked the OD 100 as my trial run. This turned out to be one of my better decisions. From the prerace briefing Friday night to the awards breakfast Sunday morning, I had nothing but a positive experience. Everyone I encountered was so helpful, enthusiastic and encouraging. There were aid stations every four miles or so and the volunteers and other runners' support crews (thanks Anita, Susan and others) helped me with everything from filling my water bottle and making me jelly sandwiches to finding tape to fix my MP3 that I dropped.

The race started Saturday morning at 4:00 a.m. at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds. After a lap around the track, the runners were off with a police escort through the sleeping town of Woodstock. The first four miles or so were paved, but then gave way to a gravel road winding up the first significant climb to Woodstock Tower. I followed a veteran of many 100s, Dan Brenden, up the mountain, jogging here and there to keep up with his fast walk pace. He left me at the top, but I would see him off and on throughout the day. Joining me was Michael Oliva, from New York City, who was running his first 100. Not only was it his first 100, but he had also never run on trail nor in the dark. He would spend the first 50 miles with me and the last with Jay Finkle and ended up placing 2nd overall.

After the tower, the course followed gravel roads down deeper into the woods and then onto a rocky section of trail as it was starting to get light out. The weather turned out perfect- cool, overcast for most of the day, with low humidity and a breeze. After leaving the trail, the course followed winding dirt roads through the Shenandoah Valley countryside. The scenery was beautiful and the first 50K passed quickly and easily. The course again turned to trail, winding through mountain laurel in full bloom. The Duncan
Hollow Trail was the first slow section of our run as it climbed ever so slowly until it finally crested and dropped quickly to our first medical check station. We came up on horseback riders who willingly gave us trail and encouraged us in our run.
The next 12 miles or so again followed country roads and the race personnel had marked the 50 mile mark for us. At 10 hours and 36 minutes, it was a PR for me (although the Masochist is the only 50 miler I run!). It was at this point that Jay Finkle caught up with us and gave me good advice about finishing sub-24. He also pointed out the trail to Short Mountain, which thankfully we passed by. Jay would end up finishing 3rd overall with his best OD time.

The last half of the race is more difficult. There is a steep, rocky ATV trail, ("This is a monster hill, good luck!," said an ATVer who passed me) followed by another section of gravel road, and then the rocky trail with several creek crossings after leaving Mudhole Gap. This is followed by some nice downhill, to the next medical check station at Elizabeth Furnace at mile 75. (Brian Kistner, last years' winner, had been well in the lead when he was forced to drop out here due to a knee injury). Here I picked up my husband, who made the transition from my Happy Meal supplier (NFI) to my safety-runner, although he insists he is retired from running. The next eleven miles up and over Sherman and Veach Gaps are the slowest and most difficult of the race and I was very glad for his company. Joey Anderson is right- this part sucks. When I started the race, I was only hoping to finish. As the day went on and more and more people told me I could finish under 24, I began to believe them. Veach Gap made a disbeliever out of me.
I couldn't believe it took over 4 hours to cover 11 miles, 3 of them a stretch of dirt road. But after that section, something kicked in and I realized I only had a half-marathon to run. After the climb back up Woodstock Tower, blasting down the other side and a brief encounter with a skunk, who eventually yielded the way, I found my way back to the fairgrounds, completed the same lap around the track as I did in the morning (only I think they added a mile or two to it) and finished in 23:38. I was glad to see Fred Dummar come in shortly behind me.

I had a great experience and highly recommend this race. The course is beautiful with enough varied terrain and scenery to keep you distracted from the fact you are running 100 miles. There were bear and deer sightings, along with the skunks. The aid was excellent and frequent, the course well-marked, and the race was professionally run.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Run For Africa

Run for Africa was my first 24 hour race. I found it to be much more difficult, mentally, than a point-to-point 100 miler. In a 100, I don't think about how many more miles I have to go, I just think of it as getting from one aid station to the next. The terrain is different between each aid station and you have the incentive to finish faster so you can get the race over with faster.

In the 24-hour format, all that changes. You know exactly what to expect and exactly how long you are going to be running. If you go faster, you'll get more miles in, but in the middle of the night in a thunderstorm, I found it very hard to be concerned about getting any extra miles in. In addition, our vehicle was conveniently parked at the three-mile mark, which made it very tempting to take extended breaks in the comfort of a nice dry and warm environment.

Run for Africa is a 24-hour trail race, actually set up as a team relay race. All of the proceeds go directly to support sustainable wells in villages in Africa. The race director, Will Harlan, himself an accomplished ultrarunner, agreed to allow solo runners compete in both a 24 hour and a 12 hour division. As a result, over 40 teams registered along with 15 solo runners, and the organization was able to raise over $20,000 for the cause.

The race was superbly organized. Prior to the race, Will was very helpful with questions I had and even mailed me a map of the course so I could go preview it. When we arrived on Saturday morning, the check-in was very smooth, and along with your t-shirt, you received a photo of one of the kids in Africa who your run was helping out. The pre-race meeting, a half hour prior to the race, was short and to the point and it was nice not having to arrive the night before a race to go to the meeting.

The race started at noon on Saturday and ended at noon on Sunday. The start/finish line was located in the middle of a grassy field where many of the runners had set up tents. The main food tent was there and although I didn't have a chance to take advantage of it, there was free pizza and beer for the runners, along with breakfast in the morning. Bands were playing throughout the day and evening on Saturday and it made for a very festive atmosphere. Then again, at 4:00 in the morning, in the rain, it was difficult to run by all those people sleeping soundly in their tents.

The course was a five mile loop with approximately 700 feet of elevation gain per loop. The first mile was the most difficult, as it climbed steep single track with wash-outs in areas, up to an aid station at about the 1.2 mile mark. Volunteers were there throughout the day, handing out water and Gatorade. Then you began a descent down gravel roads, with washouts in the beginning, but ending up on maintained gravel roads until it leveled out around 2.2 miles. The course then wound around beautiful Lake Eden, along with its many Canadian geese, on grassy paths. At the 3.1 mile mark, there was a fully stocked aid station with water, Gatorade, Cliff bars, bananas, etc.. The course continued around the lake and then wound uphill on gravel roads, and back down to the lake. You again passed the 3.1 mile aid station, this time at about 4.4 miles. You also passed right by the bathrooms and showers, which was very convenient so you didn't have to wait in line for the porta-potties at the start/finish area. However, it was also difficult stepping out of the rain and mud, listening to the hot showers running, and then going back out again. The course ended up with a loop around the field, where you checked in and started the process over again.

The first few laps of the course were very enjoyable. I met several other ultrarunners and we stayed in vicinity of each other for a long time, which made the time go by much faster. There were constantly relay team members passing by, some of which were elite ultrarunners themselves, who I usually only see at the start line of a race. (One was not running the solo event because he had just run across the Sahara!) The weather was overcast, but warm, for most of the afternoon, with occasional drizzle and sprinkles starting in the evening. By midnight, some of the solo runners and teams had stopped at the 12 hour mark and everyone became much more spread out. I went for long periods of time without seeing anyone. Tony (my husband) ran two laps with me at different times, despite his torn meniscus, and kept me company. After midnight, it started raining steadily, and then a thunderstorm moved in. My loops were getting slower and slower. I started out with 50 minute loops, which gradually lengthened, and had passed the 50 mile mark around 10:20 after a few breaks to change shoes and clothes. By 4:00 a.m., I was pretty frustrated. I was drenched, cold, everything hurt, my loops were taking around 75 minutes or longer, I still had eight hours to go and my goal of over 100 miles seemed unattainable. So, at mile three on the next loop, I climbed into the truck where Tony was trying to sleep, changed into dry clothes, turned on the heat, drank an Ensure and napped off and on for the next hour or so. As the sky started to lighten and the rain stopped, my spirits improved and I hobbled back out of the truck and onto the loop again. As I passed through the start/finish area, I learned that there were only 4 people left in the 24 hour solo and that I was leading in laps, but only by one. That motivated me a bit more and I finished shortly after noon with 95 miles.

Our friend and adventure racing partner, Alan Buckner, ran the 12-hour solo as his first ultra and finished before midnight with 50 miles. His longest race prior to that had been the Bartram Trail 21 mile endurance run three weeks before.

I can't say enough good things about the race director and volunteers. The aid station at 3.1 remained manned at all times despite the weather and the volunteers were handing out cups of water and Gatorade to everyone who came through. At the start/finish area, the volunteers checked on me every time I went through, asking if they could get me anything or if I needed anything. From my perspective, everything went very smoothly, despite having over 40 teams running plus the soloists. The results for the top three in each category were ready immediately after the race and some extremely nice prizes were given to the first place teams and soloists. The fact that 100 percent of your entry fee went directly to the charity made the race even more special.