Friday, December 28, 2012

One Epic Run (well, not too epic for me)

Alan and I had both signed up for One Epic 24 hour Run, but I told him the week before that I had not done a long run since Pinhoti that didn't hurt.  We agreed that we wouldn't run the full 24 hours and would either do 50 miles or 100K.

The race was held at Croft State Park near Spartanburg, S.C., less than three hours from home.  The race director reserved a loop of the campground so runners could camp (for free) during the race and have access to the restrooms and hot showers.  Alan and I, however, opted to drive up that morning since we weren't staying the full 24 hours.

Check-in was well organized, runners received a beanie rather than a t-shirt, and after a short race briefing, we were off.  The run is on a single-track 3 mile loop.  You first head downhill to cross a scenic river (on a bridge) and then gradually uphill through the woods until you hit the combat zone.  (To the left of the trail was a 20 foot bank and directly behind that was a firing range.  Judging from the constant barrage of gunfire, this was a very popular firing range.  And oddly, and this may be a remnant instinct from my law enforcement days, every time I passed by, I had a strange urge to crawl on my belly up that bank and peek over to see what they were firing.  Of course, I also had an urge to go take a nap in the car, but I resisted both). 

Anyway, back to the run.  A lot of the course was nicely groomed, but there were some technical areas with roots and uneven ground, along with a small stream crossing on a log.  There were some hills, but it was all runnable. You continued clockwise, heading back towards the river on a long flat section, back over the bridge and up to the aid station to check-in.  This was a great aid station:  jerky, sandwiches, potatoes, sweets, pretzels, gels, pizza in the afternoon, and a lot of other food that I didn't try. The volunteers were super friendly and helpful and the race felt like a reunion of area runners. You were almost always around someone you knew.

Unfortunately, my run continued the pattern of hurting since Pinhoti.  My knee felt stiff and sore and I was doing some weird compensating with my other leg.  Pretty soon my uneven gait made everything hurt and I quit having fun.   I decided to stop at 50K and Alan agreed to as well.  After a hot shower, I left a 24 hour race for the first time ever before dark.  It was actually kind of nice.

I was disappointed, not so much with only running 50K, but with the problems I was having with my legs.  Tony, who has done the whole ACL thing and more, on more than one occasion, says that despite what the doctors say, it will be a year and a half to two years before everything is normal.  So, I am back to serious rehabbing, trying to build up my weaker leg more, and not a whole lot of running since the race. I don't have any major runs for a while, so I am just going to be patient, have fun, and do whatever my legs feel like doing.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Pinhoti 100

The Ultrasignup Click

I signed up for the Pinhoti 100 mile race on a whim.  I usually can't run a race on the first weekend of  November because that is the date of the State Cross Country Championships.  This year, though, I knew my young team would not be ready for state.  So an impulse click  later, I was registered.

Post-click remorse set in immediately.  Running 100 miles on trail would be a true test of the knee.  I had run 93 miles on it on the one year anniversary of the ACL surgery, but that was on a flat, crushed gravel course.  Pinhoti was only two months later.  Maybe I needed more time, more training, more strength before I attempted that. If I tried and failed because of my knee, that would be a major mental setback.

So, I put in some tough miles in October and felt relatively hopeful that the knee would hold up.  What I became very unsure of,  though, was if I could make the cutoffs.  I'm still rebuilding.  I am slower and much more cautious on downhills and technical terrain. Because of these doubts, I felt no excitement about the upcoming race, just a sense of foreboding. I procrastinated on planning and spent no time reading anything about the race other than what was necessary.  I decided I would just show up and run.

The Course

The course is point-to-point from Heflin, Alabama to Sylacauga in the Talladega National Forest. It is eighty miles of single track, with some twenty miles of jeep road and pavement thrown in.

The race starts in Pine Glen Campground at 6 a.m., which means you run the first 40 minutes or so in the dark.  It also immediately goes to single track, so you have to be careful where you put yourself so you aren't stuck in the line of a couple hundred people going too fast or too slow.  I opted to take the too slow option so I didn't wear myself out at the start  and was pleasantly surprised that we were running a perfect pace until the sun came up.  Then someone up front put the brakes on and we started doing a lot of walking.  It was really hard to pass because of the terrain, but I eventually got frustrated and just did it.  I spent a little while in solitude, caught between the faster group and slower group, grateful that I wasn't breathing a bunch of dust and happy to run my own pace.

It didn't take too long for the process of passing and being passed started.  As the sun rose higher, a combination of the heat, the dust aggravating my asthma, and the incessantly rolling terrain began to take a toll on me.  I was now being passed on a regular basis.  I tried to keep up, but couldn't comfortably move any faster and I had to keep reminding myself to be patient and do my own thing.  It really wore down my morale, though, since I already had major doubts about my competence.  I couldn't tell if I was moving too slowly or if I was doing okay.

The terrain of the first thirty miles or so was tough for me.  I'm used to big climbs and descents, but at Pinhoti, it's very rolling, with lots of 50-100 yard climbs and descents.  I eventually started walking the little hills, not because I needed to, but because the terrain wasn't providing any natural walk breaks.  And I continued to be passed and my morale continued to drop.  Then my calf and shins on my "bad" leg started to hurt pretty badly and my right quad felt trashed from compensating. I was not having fun.  After a mere thirteen miles, I began to wonder how I could continue to do this for another 87 miles?

Finally, I stopped and  loosened my shoe and the shin splints went away.  The crowds had thinned out on the trail and I was running my own pace without worrying about being too slow.  When I met Tony at an aid station and told him I wanted to quit but he couldn't let me,  he told me I was better in the last 50 miles and it would get better. I was still being hard on myself at the aid station at mile 34 as I realized how much I was slowing down.  Then the long, steep climb up Bald Rock started.  And that's when things began to get a lot better.

This is More Like It

That climb was more like what I was used to and my legs seemed to recognize it.  My energy spiked and I began alternating between power walking hard and running,  passing people along the way.  This feeling lasted for the next 40 miles. I wasn't burning up the trail, but I felt good at a point when a lot of people were feeling bad.  From about 3 in the afternoon to 2 in the morning, the only person who passed me out on the trail (although some may have got out of aid stations faster) was Jason Sullivan, who had also experienced a resurgence. My mind got right again and I felt stronger and stronger as I passed people. I didn't know if the feeling would last a few minutes or a few hours, so I just went with it.  I used what I had when I had it. 

The heat took its toll on a lot of people, but somehow (despite running in the snow earlier in the week), I adjusted to it.  (The race had a 56% finishing rate). Instead of doing everything on schedule, this time I just listened to my body.  Whenever a muscle started to hurt, I popped another s-cap.  When I started to feel a little pang of hunger or a drop in energy,  I ate even if I had just eaten 15 minutes before.  I didn't push water just because I though I ought to. As a result, despite the heat and the climbs, I felt okay.  

Back to the Course 

That long climb up Bald Rock felt so much more like home and the view from the rooftop of Alabama was beautiful.  What was even more beautiful was seeing Tony up top holding a Chick Fillet bag.  One spicy chicken sandwich and change of clothes later, I was heading down Blue Hell, a super steep rocky, slippery, leaf covered descent.  I had changed out of sweaty tops, but I think I sweat more in that one section just trying to work my way down it than I had in the heat of the day.  Once I hit the bottom, I came into an area with brilliant maples glowing in the late afternoon sun, a really nice pick me up. The leaves were beautiful throughout the course, but the backlighting here made them even more special

The next section had some pavement  and gravel roads. A lot of people were walking, but I wanted to make some time, so I ran most of it.  The aid station came quickly and would be the last one in the daylight.  On to thirteen hours of darkness. And speaking of aid stations,the aid station volunteers throughout the course were outstanding.  They filled my bottle, offered me food, helped me find the trail and were always so encouraging.   I was a little disappointed to find that several aid stations were out of things like coke and sandwiches when I came through and I wasn't even at the back of the pack. I've learned not to depend on aid stations too much,though, and I carry what I need.  

Back to the Course Again

As the miles wore on, a lot of the trail became pretty monotonous and I'm sure the 13 hours of darkness contributed to that.  It seemed like you were just constantly doing little ups and downs and switchbacks in the woods.  There were some old jeep roads, which broke things up, but for the most part it all looked the same.  There was one more big climb, preceded by a couple miles of the aforesaid monotony, and it was there that some people started passing me.  I saw their headlamps behind me at every switchback and as the climb started, they gained on me and passed me, once again dropping my morale back down.  Then the rocky terrain up top should have been my strong point, but I found myself being very cautious, picking my footing carefully because my legs were so fatigued. 

Sit Down and Cry

The last 15 miles were horrible.  It was predominantly gravel road and all I could think about was the pace I was moving at and how long it would take me to finish. The aid station workers assured me that I had plenty of time to finish, but they didn't know how I felt at that point.  Fifteen minute miles should have been easy, but they weren't.  The road was rolling, but there were not many long descents to help with momentum.  My legs were dead and hurt badly,  something that hadn't happened to that degree before. I have always been able to still do some running at the end,  but I walked a lot of those 15 miles. And the last miles were the worst. Perfectly straight pavement . You could see tiny dots of people far up the road, giving you a visual reminder of just how far you had left.  Only one person in sight at that point was doing any running and although I tried a little shuffle now and then, I resigned myself to join the death march.

At several points along those last fifteen miles I really wanted to quit.  I kept hearing Tony say what he said when he paced me at my first 100, "What are you going to do, sit down in the middle of the trail and cry?"    Yes, actually, that would be nice.   But that would just prolong how long I was out there and I was more than ready to be done.  And I had something to prove to myself.  I know that I may never be 100%.  My knee will still give me some problems.  But fourteen months after surgery, if it could undergo a hundred mile pounding and twisting on rough terrain, I would be able to quit worrying about it and get on with my running.

Finally. A turn off the road, a hundred meters or so on the track at Sylacauga and done.  Tony there, making me smile as always. A pretty new buckle to add to the Virginian ones.    192 starters.  108 finishers.  85th overall.  28:42.  Much more than I expected.


This race was a huge mental challenge.  I recognized all along what my negativity was doing to me but was powerless to stop the thoughts from coming.  What finally helped was distracting myself by singing along to my iPod (and I apologize to anyone within hearing distance).  Ironically, both "Stronger" and "If I Die Young" came up frequently.  And having some short conversations with other runners was also a good distraction.  One of the best parts of ultrarunning is meeting other people who help you along, whether or not they realize it.

There were many beautiful aspects of this course.  The fall colors were brilliant.  The view from Bald Rock was outstanding.  The areas of cushy pine needles were a welcome break. The moonrise and an accompanying shooting star on the dark trail was one of those special moments most people won't experience.  The colorful sunrise and all the good things that a rising sun portends in a ultra, accompanied by the cheers from an aid station that you had desperately wanted to reach a happy bonus.  And that red rubberized track was the most welcome sight of all.

Thanks to Scott Hodukavich, Vikena Yutz, and Tony for the pics.  And thanks to my surgeon and physical therapist for making this possible again. : )

Friday, September 7, 2012

Merrill's Mile 2012


Camp Frank D. Merrill, an active Army Ranger base.

Course Description
A one mile crushed gravel loop.  Flat, except for 10 feet of gain. (And after awhile, you knew exactly where that ten feet of gain was).

Run the one mile loop as many times as possible in a 24 hour period. Which leads to the obvious question....

1.  I hate flat. I hate nice crushed gravel paths.  I can't think of anything more mentally challenging than running in a one mile circle for 24 hours.  And there you have it.

2.  The race was on the one year anniversary of my ACL surgery.  It would be a nice way to thank my surgeon.

3.  Willy Syndram knows how to con people into running his races.  He put that darn donkey on the t-shirt.  And plus he's a nice guy who puts on good races.

My race

There's not a whole lot to describe, as my race consisted of running 93 laps around the one mile track.   So I'll break it down into Bad Things and Good Things

The Bad

  • The repetitive motion of running in flat loops trashed my quads.  I hurt pretty bad at 20 miles.  At 50, I was upset, not knowing how I could go much further and thinking I would go home with less mileage than I made at BMM three months earlier with my knee still hurting.  After a long visit to the chiropractic tent (what a luxury) I was able to shuffle along.  Two more visits in the night kept me going.                                          

  • It was 88 in the shade with high humidity.  We were not in the shade.  We ran in full sun most of the day.  A thermometer sitting on a chair along the course registered 100.  I was soaking wet all day. I couldn't use my iPod because there was nowhere dry to put it.  Eventually I stuck it in a plastic bag and stuck it in my sports bra.  Great.  Another place chafed.

  • Blisters under each of my big toenails.  Enough said.

  • Porta-potties in the full sun at the hottest part of the day.  Not a welcome sauna.

The Good

  • The aforementioned chiropractors, without whom I couldn't have finished.

  • The well organized race, encouraging race director, and extremely helpful and patient volunteers, especially those who kept up with my laps.

  • Running most of the night with just the light of the full moon.

  • After a bad year with my knee, hitting the 90 mile mark and trying not to cry because my knee didn't hurt.

  • Finishing with 93 miles, 2nd female, 3rd overall and a nice pair of Leki trekking poles, perfect for my next adventure.

  • Raising over $1100 for the Butterfly Fund.

  • Having the perfect crew member take care of me.

Here's a video of the start

How do you run 24 hours?

I have had many questions about how you go about running one of these races.  So here's my own how-to manual.
Step 1:  Set up camp.  There are rules about setting up camp.

1.  It cannot be comfortable if you plan to run all 24 hours.

2.  Spend hours contemplating everything you might need and pack it. Then spend a long time worrying that you didn't pack the right things.

3.  Camp cannot be complicated because you have to break it back down and carry it to the vehicle after running 24 hours. Unless you do Step #2.
Step 2:  Marry the perfect crew member.

      At the hottest part of the day, Tony went to town and bought a mister to spray me down to cool me off.  He  brought me a hamburger and listened to me complain. He brought ice cold Pepsi's and root beers.  (Well, those were supposed to be for him, but they were so good.) He videotaped me so I could see my progression from a straight up strider to a crumpled shuffler in the the heat of the day.  And he broke down camp for me.

Step 3:  Make sure there are activities nearby to entertain your crew member or they will get bored and  no longer be a perfect crew member.

Step 4:  Annoy the lap counters by double checking them every other lap.  It turns out that these lap counters were spot on , but there have been issues at other races.  The last thing you want is to have a lap or two missed.  I've even had to correct one who had given me an extra lap.  (Yes, that was a real moral dilemma).

Step 5:  Figure out what your stomach will handle.  In the extreme heat, my stomach likes GUs, pudding, my new favorite Honey Stinger waffles and pickle juice.

Step 6:  Put one foot in front of the other and don't ever think about how far you have gone or how much farther you have to go.  "Yay!  I've run 12 hours" is immediately followed by "Oh, I have to do that again." In fact, when people ask me what I think about when I run that far, I really don't have an answer.  I think hard about not thinking.  I think about if I need to eat.  Or take a Succeed.  Or if I am drinking enough.  Or too little.  Or why I haven't needed to use the restroom.  Or what is off enough in my system to make my fingers swell some.  Or if I should change shoes.  Or "Ow, that hurts." Or where did Tony go?

Step 7:  Send your crew member to a hotel at night so there is no chance of you getting in the vehicle and quitting. Make him promise not to take you back to the hotel even if you really want to go.

And that's it.  Pretty easy, in theory.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Laurel Valley #8

I signed up for Laurel Valley a few months ago, but as the time drew closer, I began to have second thoughts about the wisdom of running it when my ACL wasn't yet 100%.

First:  If you've ever had any knee issues, you know that stairs are not your friends.  There's A LOT of stairs at LV.  Has anyone ever counted the stairs?  There's no way to describe all the sets of stairs, their steepness, narrowness, slickness, never-endingness.  Pictures don't do them justice, but here's some from fellow LV runner, Chris Knodel:

Second:  I push myself a lot at LV.  I made the mistake once of running 7:52 and so I think that I can do that again (which I haven't).  If I was stubborn and pushed it this year, I would only get frustrated with the fact that I can't run like I did a year ago (or especially the year of the 7:52).

Luckily for me, the very wise Bill Keane invited me to hang out with him as he ran with Claude Sinclair at a more enjoyable pace.  I would be going easy on the stairs and not pushing myself too hard.

But, the day did not go quite as planned.  Claude took a really bad fall and was forced to turn back, so Bill accompanied him while I was given the job of helping sweep.  That was probably the best thing that I could have done.  I relaxed and enjoyed the day, met new friends, caught up with old, stopped and looked at the scenery and generally felt terrific.  At an easier pace, I felt strong and fresh and really enjoyed being helpful, rather than just running for myself.  Instead of coming out of LV demoralized, I felt confident for the first time in over a year.

This is Emily.  I spent most of the day with her and enjoyed the experience of running with someone, rather than solo as I usually do.

Bill came back in towards the end (with a surprise hamburger) and for the first time ever, those stairs climbing up Whitewater Falls did not seem all that bad.  Okay, they were bad.

But the knee did not hurt.  And that's a milestone (or 35.7 of them).

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

On Fire: North Fork 50K and other Western Adventures

Disclaimer:  I am not a pyromaniac and you are in no danger of spontaneous combustion if you hang out with me.

Boulder was the first stop on my western trip this summer.  I was attending a week-long history seminar at the University of Colorado and planned to use the time to try to do some running at elevation before the North Fork 50K the following Saturday in Pine, Colorado.   The first day, I ran from campus up to the Flatirons and ran a little bit on the trails there.  Okay, so I ran a block and walked a block.  It was 103 degrees and even though the elevation was only 5400 feet, I was still sucking some air.  The next day I planned to head to the top of the Flatirons to get even higher, but at lunchtime, there was a dry lightning storm.  When we came out of class a couple hours later, this is what we saw:

I went ahead and ran toward the Flatirons, but the fire was growing so the area was sealed off and would remain that way for the rest of the week.  The first night, as the fire grew, the campus was smoky, but the firefighters were able to start containing it within a couple of days, unlike the larger fires burning simultaneously in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs.

 North Fork 50K
Ironically, the North Fork 50K is a fund-raiser for a fire department that battled a large wildfire a few years ago and much of the race traverses the area that was burned.  The race date just happened to fall the day after my class ended which enabled me to finally run a race out west.  (For those of you who do not know me, I have asthma and had ACL reconstruction surgery last fall, important details for the rest of the story.)  This would be my first race at altitude and my first race on a somewhat difficult course since the ACL surgery.  I've had a lot of trouble doing some casual running when I've been out west, so this would be an interesting test. My six days in Boulder would not be enough to acclimate me, but I hoped (incorrectly) that my handful of runs at 5-6,000 feet at home would help.

When Tony and I arrived race morning, everything was well organized, parking was no problem and the volunteers were friendly and helpful.   The plan was for Tony to fish (the North Fork of the Platte runs through the park) while I ran.  Tony would end up catching 35 fish while waiting for me to finish.

The race starts next to the river, following it for a short distance before starting the first long climb.  I was in no real hurry; I was here to just run. At least that was my attitude for the first part of the race.  My months of hiking helped as I was able to keep up with many runners on the climb, and quickly the first climb was over. You'll notice in the pictures just how nice the trails are, compared to trails in the Appalachians.

Even though I had kept up with many runners at the start of the climb, by the time things started to level off, I felt like I was being passed by everyone.  I am so slow!  At one point, I heard some creaking behind me and thought, "Great.  I'm about to be passed by someone in a wheelchair."  It turned out to be a mountain biker, but that is how I felt the whole day.

This first section went through the open burn section and then dipped down into some woods for the descent into the first aid station.  Everyone was helpful and encouraging and there was a wide variety of goodies to choose from.

The next section ran through some woods and then came out into another burned area.  The wide open view was beautiful and the pictures really don't do it justice.  Unfortunately, the sun was really beating down on us by this point and would continue until the next big climb. I enjoyed this section.  There was a lot of downhill to accompany the views. 

The second aid station was stocked as well as the first and in addition to food and water, I was treated to a nice sponge-down.  The course then followed a dirt road briefly before heading uphill again.  The trail was shaded and ran through some conifers and aspen, making it a nice break from the hot sun.  I was able to keep moving steadily on this climb, but stopped at one point and took my brace off.  I think the brace is what is making the knee hurt at this point because I have to cinch it down so tight on long runs. (I also decided that after this race, I was done wearing the brace.) When I finally hit the top, some mountain bikers assured me it was all downhill at this point and it was.  It was a nice rolling run, but I was starting to have problems not only with the knee, but with energy.  Even though I could get a deep breath, I was losing steam.
Photo by Brian Gaines

After the third aid station, you were back out in the burn area again.  This area was really pretty with some cool rock formations and great views.

It was very hot but tolerable and after the short climb, it was all downhill.  Here, the wheels fell off as I had to start taking walk breaks even on downhills and the knee was hurting.  I was still having fun and enjoying the course, but it was frustrating. (Okay, I'll admit this.  I thought that once the surgeon let me start running again in March, that I would be back to my old self within a couple months.  The knee would no longer hurt and I would have my strength, speed and endurance back.  Apparently this is not the case and the asthma just compounded my frustration.)

Anyway, the course went back through aid station two (making it handy for drop bags) and then the last climb began.  It was not steep, but I was walking everything that was not downhill and walking it slowly.  The course dipped back into some sparse woods and the skies started to darken.  It began to thunder and I really wanted to be past the top and on the downhill before the storm hit.  Unfortunately, I was at the top on some rocks when it started raining, but it was brief and lightning was not an issue.  The rain did two things for me.  It cooled things down some and I was able to run again for a time.  At home, when ozone is a problem, sometimes the rain will clean things out. 

After stopping at an unmanned water station, I was able to run for quite a while on a rolling dirt road.  By the end of the road, though, I was back to death-marching it.  The trail twisted through a lightly wooded area and down to the last aid station. It was getting hot again and I passed a couple people here who were having a tough time with cramping.  (It was hard for me to know how much electrolytes to take in, since there is no humidity and although I knew I was sweating, I had no idea how much.) The last aid station was catering to both 50K runners on their way to the finish and 50 milers who had headed out again, so it was a pretty busy place.  Despite that, volunteers put ice and water in my pack and gave me a cup of pickle juice without looking at me strangely

The last section was very pretty and mainly downhill.  I was taking a lot of walk breaks and favoring my knee, so I had plenty of opportunities to take pictures! 

As I headed toward the finish, I found Tony fishing and he ran with me to the finish.  I was determined that I was not going to walk this last 1/4 mile, but when I hit the finish line, I was hyperventilating, a scary first for me. 

At the finish, there was a free BBQ for runners and their families, a cool finishers award and an ice-cold river to soak your feet in.  

This was a great race.  The course was beautiful and well-marked and under normal circumstances, pretty runnable. As for me, I've run a couple 50K long runs since surgery and 53 miles at Black Mountain, but this 50K felt like the last twenty miles of a hundred.  My time was 7:55, my slowest ever.  I guess I can cross Hardrock and Leadville off my to do lists!


So, Tony and I headed to Woods Landing, southwest of Laramie to a cabin on a river that we had rented.  This is what we saw as we got closer. Not a good sign.

As we got within a half mile of the cabin:

This was the start of the Squirrel Creek fire, which at this point was about 500 acres, but grew to over 10,000 acres. We were evacuated from our cabin after a couple hours and spent the rest of the vacation in Laramie, where nothing was on fire.  I tried all week to run at 7,000-11,000 feet in elevation, very unsuccessfully. I was ready to hang up the running shoes, but am back to running very normally, albeit slowly, here at home. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Book Review: Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek

If you are reading this blog, I'm going to assume you are a runner, probably an ultrarunner, and you are familiar with Scott Jurek.  Scott Jurek is viewed by many in the ultrarunning community as a respected ambassador of the sport.  Looking at Jurek from afar, one sees a quiet, unassuming runner who has a long list of ultrarunning accomplishments, including numerous wins, course records and the American record in the 24 hour race format.  This book is the first time I recall Jurek doing some serious self-promotion, but as you read the book, you feel that rather than promoting himself, Jurek is simply sharing his story in order to pass on what he has learned.  Jurek does not come off as pretentious; he is the winner of the race who stays at the finish line to congratulate all the other runners. He said, of sitting at the Western States finish line,  "If you were an ultrarunner, you were an ultrarunner...We paid the same price and garnered the same joy. And staying at the finish line, I got to remind myself of our collective struggle, to experience that joy over and over again." Gestures like that earn you respect in the world of ultrarunning.

When I first read the title of the book, I assumed the book would focus a lot on Jurek's vegan lifestyle and a little less about his running.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that while the vegan lifestyle is the cornerstone of his running, the book was really the story of Jurek's ultrarunning career.  The book weaves together three integral parts of his ultrarunning journey: his childhood background, his vegan lifestyle and his friendship with Dusty Olsen.  Each chapter then ends with some useful running tips and a vegan recipe, striking a nice balance of autobiography and how-to advice.

In his book, Jurek credits his tough childhood for laying the foundation for his ultrarunning career.  He watched his mother, diagnosed at an early age with multiple sclerosis, slowly deteriorate, while Jurek took on added responsibilities and dealt with his authoritarian father who, understandably, had difficulty dealing with his wife's illness.  His father's phrase, "Sometimes we just do things" is a central theme in the book.  Running became an escape for Jurek and the discipline he learned from his father turned into self-discipline later.

Jurek also credits turning vegan as a game-changer for his running career.  He outlines how his overall running, energy, and recovery time improved once he cut out the animal products and figured out how to get adequate protein from other sources. He had trained hard but could not reach his goals until he changed his diet.  Jurek does not preach to the reader, but his story makes one think a little more about food choices.

Despite what he refers to as the lonely nature of our sport, Jurek describes just how tight friendships with other ultrarunners can be.  One constant in his running career was Dusty Olsen, his bad-boy, rebellious best friend, who, Jurek admitted, had more natural running talent.  Dusty got him into ultrarunning and supported him throughout, pacing and crewing him to many of his wins.  Dusty had little sympathy for any issue Jurek had during a race and constantly pushed him harder.  At Western States, as Jurek was on his knees, vomiting violently, Dusty tells him to "do that sh*t standing up.  "C'mon, let's get running."  Jurek thinks a lot about his running and how to improve it, but Dusty never gave Jurek any choice but to run and run hard.

One thing that struck me with Jurek's story is just how similar ultrarunners are, whether they are breaking course records or struggling with cut-offs.  Many times while reading, I found myself relating to Jurek's experiences.  From the drive to train to bad decision-making  to dealing with struggles in a race, Jurek shows just how alike we are.  While the book's subtitle is "My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness,"  from my experiences with ultrarunners and their motivations, I found nothing at all unlikely about his story.

I really don't know how non-ultrarunners will receive Eat and Run.  A book that starts off with the author puking at Badwater and watching the puke evaporate before it hit the road might not be appealing to some readers.  But I enjoyed Jurek's story of his ups and downs, his overcoming obstacles, and his rediscovery of the joy of ultrarunning.  Although at times the book left me wishing for more details, it did make me want to go out and run...and make some guacamole.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Black Mountain Monster: Brain and Body finish the Conversation.

Sometime around 10 p.m. on the Black Mountain course.  (On little uphill on the section of single track in the woods after the paved section.  You know where I mean.)

Body:  Hey, Brain, we're doing great!  We've been plugging along for over 40 miles now!

Brain:  Umm, I wouldn't say we're doing great.  It took us over 12 hours to do it. And we're getting lapped by everyone, even the lap counters.  And you're limping.

Body:  Are you living back in 2010 or something?  We've been reconstructed.  Things still aren't working right.  We're wearing this flipping brace that irritates the heck out of us. 

Brain:  But I wanted everything to feel good and work right.  It's been nine months.

Body:  The surgeon said we could START running again at 6-9 months.  I'm not really sure what he would think of us running a 24 hour race at this point.  But I'm giving her all she's got, captain.

Brain:  Sigh. You're right.  But I think we should stop after 50 miles.

Body:  Stop?  I don't want to stop.

Brain:  You're limping and I don't really see the point in continuing on just to say we did.

Body:  But you know how these runs work.  If we just keep moving, we'll stack up a lot of miles.  I can do it.  I can keep moving.  See?  We're moving now.  And I only limp some of the time.

Brain:  I think I just received a message from the knee.  Yes, I did.  It said, "Ouch!"

Body: What happened to "suck it up, buttercup?"  Oh, I get it.  You're that evil twin Brain.  The one that shows up when we are really tired and can come up with 100 logical and rational reasons we should stop. You aren't fooling me.

Brain:  Look, we've had a good day.  We've seen lots of people we haven't seen in a long time and we've had fun.  Quit arguing.  We're going to try something new and stop BEFORE we are miserable.

Brain got the last word, because Body went into flight or fight mode as a gigantic, screaming, squealing, high speed train suddenly came barreling through the woods, twenty feet from the trail, throwing sparks and sounding like at any moment it was going to derail and kill us all.  By the time the adrenaline subsided and Body knew what it was doing, Brain had checked out with the lap counter.

52.7 miles in 14:01, run in memory of Angela Ivory.  For some reason I heard footsteps behind me all day.  It was making me crazy turning around looking and finding no one there trying to pass me.  Although it was probably something I was wearing, I would like to think it was Angela out there, enjoying an ultra one more time. 


Thursday, May 31, 2012

What Were You Thinking?

I know I will ask myself this question many times in the upcoming month.  I have always had the problem of biting off more than I can chew, but then gutting through it anyway.  Sometimes my body has a hard time keeping up with what my brain thinks I can do. For example:

Brain:  Let's run Black Mountain Monster in June.

Body:  Okay! It would be a nice, easy course to do a little 12 hour on for our first race back.

Brain:  Let's sign up for the 24 hour!

Body:  But we've only been "running" since March.

Brain:   We've been running since March.  That's THREE whole months!

Body:  But my longest run has only been about six hours.  That would be four times as long!

Brain:  But we walked 30 miles in 11 1/2 hours in January.

Body:  That was walking.  Six months ago. You're going to make me run. And you do realize that they put our knee back together and Left Quad still wants to grow up and be big and strong like Right Quad?

Brain:  Oh, it'll be fine.  We'll go nice and easy and walk a lot.

Body:  Sure, whatever.

Brain:  Oh, and by the way, three weeks later we are going to run the North Fork 50 miler in Colorado.

Body:  What??? I thought you were going to sign us up for the 50K?  You know we have trouble with asthma and altitude!

Brain:  Oh, suck it up buttercup. We'll get more bang for our buck by getting to see an extra 20 miles of the course.

Body:  Some days, I really hate you.

Brain: you think we can set a new mileage PR this weekend? 

Body:   Like today. I'm telling the doctor on you.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Six months later

On March 2nd, I reached the magical milestone of six months. Apparently this was the only number that mattered to my surgeon, not 92, as in my knee was at 92% of my other knee, or 30, as in how many miles I could walk on it in a day. I had to reach 6 months before I could run. The visit was pretty brief. He told me that this was what we had been working towards, me running 100s again, so he told me to head out and start training. Wear your brace. Case closed, adios.

Last week, for the first time, I ran on technical trail. I've been stopping and walking on anything rough but I just followed Tony. I jumped up on logs on my bad leg, and landed on it as well. I kicked some roots, ran on uneven rocks, and even "sprinted". It was all good and it was the best run I've had in eight months. Then this week I ditched the brace for two miles on the road. Amazing how five straps and some airplane-grade metal can cramp your style!

I still have pain. The surgeon found arthritis behind the kneecap (no surprise) and that in combo with the scar tissue hurts in certain positions, mainly walking steep uphills and doing lunges. It still swells up on occasion, freaking me out, making me think I've done something horrible. When you Google "knee swells 6 months after ACL surgery," you find that you are far from alone in freaking out, but apparently the swelling will happen for a while.

So anyway, I HOPE this is the last ACL rehab blog post. Here's a few things I've learned in this experience:

1. I can survive eight months of no running without seriously alienating friends and family.
2. After three afternoons a week of power hiking a very steep part of the Bartram, I can now cover that same section almost as fast hiking as I could running. That workout's a keeper.
3. As much as I hate spending time in the gym, it is a good thing. Sigh.
4. After spending all that time around other people in PT, you appreciate how trivial and temporary knee surgery is compared to their problems. I am a lucky girl!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fun News (and a Setback)

If you haven't already read about Liz and Scott's record setting quest, check this out

If anyone can do it, they can. Here they are gearing up to help me finish the Bartram.

As for me, no more running per the surgeon for at least two months. PT thinks my muscles are strong enough to support the knee, so I've been running for about three weeks, but the surgeon says it's too early. I was enjoying the idea of getting back into it so soon, but becoming a stronger, faster hiker will pay off. Still, disappointed.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

12 Hours of Hostelity

"Poor decisions make good stories," is the Dumass (Dahlonega Ultra Marathon Association) Events' slogan.

"Please don't be my second story," is what my surgeon told me the last time I saw him, referring to the fact that he has only had one patient retear his ACL after surgery, doing something he shouldn't have been doing.

I had picked the Dumass 12/24 Hours of Hostelity to be my first ultra "hike" with my physical therapist's blessing. It sounded pretty tame. It was a little .65 mile double and single track trail with only 100 feet of elevation gain that passed through the back porch of the Dahlonega Hiker Hostel every loop. So Tony and I headed down to the North Georgia mountains, where I discovered that 100 feet of elevation gain can feel pretty significant when you walk 46 loops. And I want a second opinion on that 100 foot number.

The morning started off good. The Hostel was an ideal venue for the race. Racers had the luxury of using the downstairs area throughout the run as a place to get out of the cold or rest or stash their gear. Race Director Willy Syndram had done a professional job organizing the race and was using things you would normally see in a larger races, such as chip timing and a live video feed throughout the run. The large back porch and deck of the hostel had ample space for the well-stocked aid station and timing station, plus had a fire pit with a fire going all day and night.

Willy gave the runners a short briefing and then led everyone one loop around the course to make sure everyone was familiar with it. The course started at the back deck, looped around the hostel, past the chickens (who talked to you every time you went by) and down into the woods. The trail was wide enough for two people and was dirt/clay with three or four rocks or roots to worry about. The first part of the course in the woods consisted up switchbacks that, with the exception of two short, steep uphills, were gently rolling. After you popped out of the woods, you were at a powerline area (the Chasm of Despair), which consisted of a long steep drop and then a short, steep uphill. Then you were back at the hostel.

I'm assuming that the weather in the days leading up to the race was similar to the weather here in the NC mountains. We had had a lot of rain and then some snow and very cold temps. When the run started at 9:00, the ground was frozen. After about an hour, though, it started to thaw and turn into sloppy, slippery mud. It was at this point that I started to think about those two quotes. I hated to leave after only finishing a 5K, but I was starting to slip and slide and I really didn't want to become story #2.

Willy's marathon session of blowing leaves onto the trail to provide traction and me remembering that I had snow spikes in the car made me comfortable enough with the trail to stay. I had originally hoped for a 50K in about 10 hours, but it became apparent early on that with the mud, that wasn't going to happen. I stuck it out for 46 laps (my age) in 11 1/2 hours, which turned out to be 30 miles. Surprisingly, that was good enough for 3rd female and 6/14 runners in the 12 hour. Tony hung out with me for 18 miles of it and that made it extra nice. My longest hike thus far has been 18 miles in 6 hours, so this was a big jump. And it was my first ultra distance since June 2011.

It was great to be back in the ultra-world, although watching everyone else made me miss running. Hiking, however, is much more relaxing than running. I didn't eat, drink or sweat as much and my legs still felt good after 11 hours.

No knee issues, no brace issues. The rest of me feels like I've been hit by a truck, though.

Photos by Jenny Coker and Tony Davis