Monday, December 30, 2013

Cuboids, DNFs and a New Year

I didn't even know I had a cuboid.  I don't remember it from anatomy lessons and the bones song doesn't mention it.  You know the song.  "The toe bone is connected to the foot bone, the foot bone is connected to the ankle bone, the ankle bone is connected to the leg bone."  In case you don't remember the song, here is Mr. Mike to sing it for you.

Mr. Mike and the Bones song

It turns out that the song leaves a lot of bones out of our skeletal structure.  I guess "The fifth metatarsal is connected to the cuboid" doesn't have the same lyrical qualities. Here's the diagram:

Anyway, the day after Hellgate I had sharp pain on the side and bottom of my foot opposite from my arch.  It continued to get worse, to the point where I could not put much weight on it.  Apparently it was not going to get better on its own, so I allowed Dr. Google to diagnose my problem and cuboid subluxation is what he came up with.  In other words, that little bone was not where it was supposed to be.  Dr. Google advised that it could be fixed with manipulation of the bone but he cautioned, "This form of manual manipulation of the foot should be done by a trained specialist."  So I turned to Tony, who watched a couple of  YouTube videos and set forth manipulating and mobilizing.  It immediately felt a bit better, despite me not allowing him to do the "Cuboid Whip", which although supposedly effective, was way beyond my comfort zone.

I began icing it and self-mobilizing it.  I also started using KT tape on it to support it.  (One strip, starting on the heel, wrapping it under the cuboid from the side and a second strip, starting from the opposite side of my foot in front of my arch, wrapping it under my foot and cuboid.) As a result, two weeks later, I have run for three consecutive days, not pain free, but improving with each run.

So, how does one injure a cuboid to begin with?  At Hellgate, I was intending to change shoes, but didn't, and ended up wearing shoes that were tied way too tight and I don't think my foot was able to move the way it should have on technical surfaces.  I also remember rolling my ankle over (which is not uncommon), but this time the side of the foot hit a rock pretty hard.

The question then is, did the injury contribute to my DNF at Hellgate?  Unfortunately, I don't think so.  I say unfortunately because having an injury as an excuse for a DNF makes one feel a bit better.  Instead, the injury gave me two weeks of down time to contemplate my DNF, rather than being able to head back out to the trails with vengeance. 

This was not my first DNF.  I DNF'ed at Hellgate before because of the ice.  I DNF'ed at Old Dominion because of a hamstring injury.  I DNF'ed another time at Old Dominion because I simply did not want to be out there any more.  This was my first DNF caused by just being too slow and the mental beating I took when I realized that early on in the race. Before I started the race, I had already sabotaged myself by thinking I might DNF because of my lack of training.  But I imagined that it would come late in the race, when I was just too tired to run, not because I was just too slow.  Hmmm.  Regardless of the reason, all the DNFs suck because I know that somehow I could have done better. 

The disappointment in myself is balanced out by how much I enjoyed the race, which says something about the difference between racing and running.  There haven't been too many times when I have enjoyed a course that I am really trying to race.  I do, however, enjoy all my runs.

As the new year approaches, I have simple goals. I want to get fitter and faster and see how far I can go in a 48 hour race. If I don't get into the cycle of racing and recovering without a whole lot of time for training, I should be able to do that.  And if I can keep my cuboids where they belong, connected to the calcaneus and the metatarsals. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Hellgate 100K 2013

Ten years ago, I stood in front of a forest gate in the middle of the dark, cold woods with a hundred or so other runners. It was midnight in the mountain of Virginia and we were getting ready to run a brand new David Horton race, the Hellgate 100K.  It was December and freezing cold and in the first three miles, we would get wet from a stream crossing.  There was a lot of climbing and descent, some technical single track, rolling forest roads and cutoffs designed to push the average runner.  It also happened to be a special year because I started a conversation with the man who had given up his seat in the van for me.  We ended up running the first twenty four miles together and were married by the next Hellgate.

I ran four Hellgates in a row and each of them was unique.  That first one was marked by very high water and a lot of ice from flooding.  There was some snow and it was very cold.  It was also the only race I have ever finished over the time limit.  Hellgate #2 was also very cold with much more snow.  I finished that one, with ten minutes to spare.  Hellgate #3 was the ice year.  Not ice like the first year, but a few inches of snow covered by a half inch of ice.  Sometimes the ice broke when you stepped on it, other times it didn't.  The trail was a mess for a back of the packer, with chunked up ice everywhere.  I missed a cutoff that year at mile 42, the only time I had ever missed a cutoff.  Hellgate #4 was the very, very cold year.  I watched my breath freeze when I exhaled.  Up high, it was 12 degrees with about a 20 mph headwind.  When the sun came up, everything was foggy.  It turned out my corneas had frozen, as had other people's, giving rise to a new term "Hellgate eyes."  Despite that, I finished with a nice 43 minute cushion.  I was content with tying the score 2-2, and didn't run Hellgate again.

That is until this year, when I had the brilliant idea to run Hellgate one more time, as an anniversary run.  It didn't matter that Tony had long since quit running ultras; I thought it would be a nice little trot down memory lane.  As the race date drew closer and closer, however, I became really concerned about my training.  Or lack thereof.  From July to November, I coach cross country, which doesn't allow me to get the miles and type of training in that I would like.  I looked back at my mileage over the months, which averaged 33 miles per week. A month ahead of time, I went out and ran 50 miles, just to make sure I still could. Even if my body was ready, my mind was convinced I was not.

As the days ticked closer, I ended up with a cold.  I overdosed on Vitamin C and zinc, trying to keep it at bay.  This gave me nausea.  Then I started obsessively checking the weather.  The forecast fluctuated between cold rain, freezing rain and a wintery mix. This started a few days of trying to figure out what to wear.  I would only have access to my drop bag at mile 28 and then 42.  (Tony was not crewing me until the next morning and would not see me until mile 42.)   I finally decided on a tried and true combo- an old Patagonia race shirt, followed by an equally old CWX base layer, topped by a Brooks Utopia top and pants.  I carried my Marmot Precip jacket in my pack.  Then came the shoe decision.  I wear Brooks Glycerins on trail, but had run some in the Ghosts.  I decided I would wear the Ghosts for the first section, because they were lighter and would drain better in the creek.  Then I would change into nice dry Glycerins, which I have worn in the snow many times and have pretty good traction.  The forecast didn't call for the precipitation to start until morning.

Okay, all decisions were finally made and Tony and I once again stood at the forest gate in the middle of the woods with 132 other people.  This time, however, I ventured out onto the trail and Tony went back to a nice warm hotel room.

The first section is a double track trail, leafy and rolling.  It is all runnable but  I took a few short walk breaks on hills, pacing myself off the other runners around me.  I felt pretty good and the dreaded wet stream crossing was neither too deep nor too cold.

The next section is all forest road.  You go a mile or so on flat to gently up, then take a sharp right and head steeply up the hill to the next aid station.  I ran/walked and again, thought I was moving pretty good.  But when I looked down the hill, I didn't see very many headlamps coming up behind me.  I reached the top at the next aid station, quickly refilled water and changed out of my wet socks and headed down the trail.

The third section starts off with a nice downhill technical section.  I still felt like I was moving good, keeping the distance between me and the other runners and passing one partway down.  The trail changes into grassy road and then back into singletrack.  You end up the section with an uphill gravel road and it was here that it started sleeting hard.  To keep my mind off eveyrthing, I tried to listen to my iPod but it was too cold to work.  Partway up, I started changing places with another woman.  She asked, "Am I last?" and I assured her that we couldn't be.  When I got to the aid station, however (where it was now snowing hard), the aid station worker told me there were only three others behind me, but I was 15 minutes ahead of cutoffs, which, this early on, was fine.

I headed out quickly, leaving some runners behind at the aid station and passing a handful more on the now snowy road.   I chatted briefly with a runner who had run all of the Hellgates and he told me we were indeed doing fine.  At this point in the race's history, he said, there are no marginal runners.  Except me, I thought, or maybe said out loud, opening the door for more negativity.

This next section is my favorite part in the race and the main reason why I wanted to come back.  It's part of the Promise Land course and follows a grassy road, overlooking the lights of the towns in the valley below for a good couple of miles.  This year it was exceptionally beautiful.  It was still snowing hard, but huge goose feather snowflakes were coming down and there were about three inches on the ground.  I could still see the lights below and I usually wonder what the "normal" people are doing down there at four in the morning.  This time, I just felt lucky that I was not one of the normal people and instead, part of a small group of people who were getting to experience this.  It was really quiet, as it is when it snows, the people behind me were still quite aways back and it was snowing so hard it was difficult to see through the beam of light.  Everything was white and despite the footprints in front of me and the lights behind me, it felt like I was alone.

This idyllic state abruptly ended when the double track turned to downhill single track.  All those footprints that had been somewhat dispersed on the road were now concentrated into a thin line, packing down the heavy wet snow.  My first thought was, "hmm...this could be a problem."  I didn't have time for a next one because I was down on the ground.  I sure was wishing I had worn my other shoes.

My ACL surgery comes into play at this point.  My knee did not hurt, but it is not as agile as it used to be.  So, I picked my way very slowly and gingerly down the snowy, slick, singletrack.  All those runners who I had passed and kept in front of on the uphill now passed me.  Finally I was at the bottom of the hill at the first hard cutoff aid station with about 13 minutes to spare.  This concerned me a bit so I got out quick and kept moving up the hill.

When we passed the spot where that aid station used to be, before bad weather forced it to move, I checked my watch and found I was almost 20 minutes ahead of the cutoff.  There was some good running here on nice snow covered roads before it changed back to single track.  I passed another runner, who was concerned we weren't going to meet the next cutoff.  I told him I thought we would be fine and I started to relax some.  I felt like the cutoffs should be getting less tight and I was determined not to be stressed out, constantly checking my watch and not enjoying a thing.  Instead, it was getting light and the trail snaked its way over and around hills and I just settled in and enjoyed the run.  Then the downhill technical section began.  I was once again slowly picking my way down and continued to move slowly when the trail turned to downhill double track. After getting passed again, I looked at my watch and really started to panic.  Regardless of how my legs felt about running fast downhill, I had to move and so I did.  I didn't look at the time when I got to the aid station, but I knew I was cutting it close.  I grabbed my dropbag, pulled my bag of food out of it, and headed out with five minutes to spare.  I was in such a hurry, I didn't think about the fact that I really needed to change shoes.

The next section is a long uphill on a gravel road that was packed with snow.  Same theme:  I thought I was moving well.  I left some runners behind and was only passed by one other person, who was using trekking poles.  However, that nice uphill is followed by a lot of downhill and I continued to be slow.  Same story:  I was passed by the people I had just passed and I began looking at my watch.  I lost a lot of time on the downhill and knew I wouldn't make the next cutoff.  I still kept moving hard and moved well up the long uphill to the aid station.  There, I was about 13 minutes past the cutoff and assumed I would be pulled, but they told me I could go on. I was actually disappointed in a way, because the weather had deteriorated, I knew the next section was hard and I knew I was not going to gain all that time back to meet the next cutoff. 

I ended up enjoying the next section, in part because I knew my race was over.  It starts off downhill on double track and then starts rolling.  It transitions to single track, climbing up the mountain and then down some technical trail.  The footing was very slippery on all the single track, the wind and sleet picked up and I heard a hunter shoot from somewhere down the hill below me.  I was hoping it was not in my direction. As the weather continued to worsen, the trail got slicker, I became concerned that I might fall and hang out here by myself for a long time.  I worked to catch up with another runner and stayed with him for the rest of the technical section.  More uphill double track follows, then a final long section of single track, where there was snow and leaf-covered rocks.  I had started this section knowing I wouldn't make the next cutoff, but I kept moving hard anyway.  The sleet changed to a steady rain, but I was still warm. After another wet creek crossing, the trail approached the aid station and here Tony came walking down the trail.  As always I was very happy to see him and walked the final third mile with him.  When I got to the aid station, I was about 13 minutes over.

I was not unhappy to have to stop.  I really enjoyed the night section and the daylight trail sections where I wasn't panicking.  I never felt exhausted and never felt like I was doing a death march. It was just stressful knowing I was behind and I am to the point where I just want to run and enjoy it.  Hellgate is the only race that I have ever had trouble with cutoffs and I think I am ready to concede defeat.  

So, a week later, I have been beating myself up for being so slow. Tony's practical advice is to just get faster and quit worrying about it. So, once my foot heals (wrong shoes, too tight), I will.

Year in Review and What's Next?

This year has been nothing to write home about.  I did the inaugural Georgia Death Race, the Inaugural Leatherwood 50 miler, ran a 50K at Black Mountain Monster and went to Vermont and ran the 100 there.  It seems like my running has been very inconsistent this year, so my goal for next year is to get consistent.  The inconsistency has made me feel like not much of a runner, so I want to put more miles in, drag the tire more, do a little speedwork and hillwork.  Once again, I would like to run the Bartram and do 100 on the AT.  I am running Delerium 24 hour in February and am thinking that my next challenge will be to tackle a 48 hour. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Vermont 100

It was a dark and stormy night....
I always wanted to start a race report with that line.  But, in truth, it was anything but dark the night before Vermont 100.  Shortly after I climbed into my tent at Silver Hill Meadows, a torrential storm rolled in with winds that threatened to rip my tent stakes out of the ground, blinding lightning flashes and booming thunder.  I felt sure that there was about to be an unfortunate catastrophe, but since I had no option other than to stay in the tent, I put earplugs in, covered my eyes with my hoodie and tried to sleep.
When I woke up at 3:15 to get ready for the 4:00 a.m. start, I couldn't find my flashlight.    No problem, I would just use the headlamp that I brought for the start.  I fumbled in my pack for it, flipped the switch on and nothing happened.  Great.  How am I going to start the race without a light?
I was in this predicament because I had been traveling for two weeks prior to the race and had kind of thrown things together before I had left home.  Apparently, one thing I overlooked was replacing the batteries in the headlamp.  This was not a great way to start a race that I already had concerns about.  After Leatherwood in April, I injured my hamstrings and really didn't start back normal training until the end of May. I only got in five weeks of steady running and no speed work whatsoever.  I was concerned that I didn't have enough miles in to finish, and if I did, would I be fast enough to finish before the 30 hour cutoff?
So, for several precious minutes, I fumbled around in the dark for the flashlight and finally found it down inside my sleeping bag.  At least I would have light for a little while until those batteries died.  I rushed around, ate a granola bar, stood forever in the porta-potty line and made it to the start just in time for the fireworks.
photo by Jacqueline Choi

Yes, fireworks.  A solid five minutes of fireworks rocked the peaceful Vermont valley at 4 a.m.  I couldn't help but wonder what the neighbors would have to say, but it was a great way to start a race.
photo from Vermont 100 FB page
After the show, we were off into the night. I really can't give you a turn by turn course description, because so much of it blended together in my mind. It was 80 miles of road, mostly packed crushed gravel. The rest was double track and single track, some of it very muddy and rocky. So instead of trying to take you through the course, I'll talk about things that stood out.
photo by Jacqueline Choi
An hour after our start, we heard booms off in the distance.  The race is held simultaneously with a 100 mile horse race, which starts an hour later, and apparently   the horses were treated to a fireworks show as well.  I wondered how much they liked all that noise.  Anyway, about an hour later, the first horses started coming by and this became a pretty cool distraction. I was surprised at how seamless the interaction between runners and horses was.
photo by Jacqueline Choi
Early on, the course takes you through the small, quaint town of Woodstock. Although it is a fairly long paved road section, you are rewarded with people lining the streets cheering, something you don't usually get in an ultra.
photo by Jacqueline Choi
The area was beautiful.  You ran through the rolling countryside dotted with well-kept old farms, some over 200 years old. When you got bored, you had plenty of cows, horses and donkeys to talk to.  At one point, we ran through an old covered bridge.  The natural scenery was beautiful as well, and you were rewarded with an incredible view of it from Sound of Music Hill. 
photo by Jacqueline Choi
 At night there was a full moon, illuminating the fields, reflecting off creeks, and silhouetting the barns and homes.  The birch trees looked like they were brightly lit up in the moonlight.  As the night wore on, a mist rose in the valleys.  I watched the moon setting orange, followed by a purple sunrise.  I remarked to another runner that although I would love to be one of those people who were finished before dark, they really didn't know what they were missing.
photo by Jacqueline Choi
The local people were so friendly.  Those working in their yards cheered as you went by or expressed their disbelief at what you were doing.  Some people had set up impromptu aid stations outside their farms, offering water or a hose down as you went by.  Even at night, there were people sitting by the course, watching us go by. 
The weather
photo by Jacqueline Choi
I remarked to several people about how lucky we were with the weather, but I think that I may have been in the minority in that belief.  Vermont is known to be hot and humid, and don't get me wrong, it was hot and humid, but it was not as bad as it could have been.  It was cloudy off and on and there was a breeze all day long.  It really felt a lot like home and I only got a little overheated once, on a   Not only did the humidity itself take a toll on people, but it also led to hypothermia because everyone's clothes stayed wet into the night. A lot of people had foot issues from their feet staying wet, as well.  I did have foot problems, but I changed into a dry shirt late in the afternoon and felt comfortable all night long.
paved road section. However, apparently there was a bigger drop rate than normal, according to one of the medical personnel.
 So, my race....
Well, it was 100 miles.  Which means that sometimes I felt really good, which was followed by periods of feeling really bad.
mile 48
 I decided to try KT tape on my knee which always aches and hurts in long runs (ACL surgery).  It never hurt a bit and I didn't even remember I had the tape on, until someone mentioned it.  Early on, however one area on my right quad started hurting, simultaneously with both hamstrings.  I probably should have done a lot more road running.  Heck, I should have done a lot more running.  Anyway, it was almost impossible to bend over to tie my shoes and I kept thinking about how bad my quad was hurting.  As I was approaching mile 40, though, I came up on Amy Palmiero Winters, who had taken off her prosthetic leg and was shaking rocks out of it.  I quit thinking about my aches and pains at that point.
Talking with Amy and listening to other people's stories helped pass the time.  I ran with people who were running their first 100, people who were trying to do better than last year, people who were also recovering from injuries, people who were feeling fantastic and people battling their own demons.  I passed someone who I'm pretty sure had been self-medicating with a little weed.
 Seeing Tony for the first time at mile 40 was a big mental pick-me-up and changing shoes into a newer pair of Glycerins helped my legs felt better for a time.  The last 25 miles of the race became pretty rough, though. My feet hurt, my quads were shot and my stomach turned south on me and I had a hard time eating anything. The last hour of the race I had really painful hunger pangs, but could eat nothing.
 Despite not having a good day physically, it was one of my better days mentally.  I was able to set my negative thoughts, something I usually struggle with.  I told myself I was getting to enjoy a 100 mile self-guided tour of Vermont and I made it a goal to see as much of the course in daylight as I could.  Then I enjoyed the nighttime. 
Whenever my mind started obsessively calculating how much longer it would take to get to the next aid station, how fast I was moving, or trying to figure out if I would finish in time, I asked myself, "What does it matter?  I'm doing the best I can and I'll get there when I get there.  In the meantime, enjoy the here and now."  Kind words from friends came to my mind and I focused on those.  Tony's common sense tough love from Massanutten years ago came back when things got really bad.  "What are you going to do?  Sit down in the trail and die?"   No, I guess I'll just keep going.  I spent a lot of time being thankful that I was able to run 100 again.  And with a no iPod rule, fragments of the strangest songs popped in my head.  Barry Manilow, really?
Race Organization
I was impressed by how well things were organized. Three different horse races and a 100k were held simultaneously with the 100 mile race and not all of them followed the same course.  Plastic plates in different colors with arrows were used to mark the course and they were much easier to follow than streamers.  The aid station workers were super helpful, and Corona and a burger at Margaritaville were a pleasant surprise.  An army of medical workers were available and they checked my blood pressure and pulse at the finish for me.  Everything seemed to be done right and I saw no glitches whatsoever.
 I had only two wishes, both of which I could have addressed myself.  The drop bags at the aid stations were not well organized and I spent a lot of time searching for mine.  It was a huge race with both 100 milers and 100k runners and therefore there was a big pile of bags.  The volunteers had put them in order at some point but by the time I came through, they were pretty messed up.  I need to get more noticeable drop bags than giant ziplocks.  Secondly, I really needed some good solid food late in the race.  The last real food was the burger, sometime before dark.  Yes, there was ramen and little sandwiches, but my stomach needed something pretty substantial.  I had only packed light things in my drop bags and in the future, I need to plan better.  I guess I've been spoiled with egg sandwiches, egg burritos, pizza, bacon, and more at other races.
In the end, I finished in 27:41, 159th out of the 325 starters.  It wasn't pretty towards the end and while I was a little frustrated at my lack of training, I was also impressed with my body's ability to keep moving forward despite that lack of training.  When I signed up months ago, I thought this would be a good opportunity to run under 24, but as the race got closer, I knew I would be happy with just being able to finish.  I was really happy with the KT tape and this was the first race I ran without any knee discomfort or pain.   At Pinhoti, I limped the last 20 miles or so.  I was also really happy at being able to find a way to keep the negative thoughts at bay. 
 Vermont was a well-organized, beautiful race that I would recommend to anyone.  It is not really my type of course with so much road, but I am very glad I came to run it.
A special thanks to Jacqueline Choi, another Vermont finisher, who took most of these great pics!


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Running Hot: Tips for Racing in the Heat and Humidity

The BMM shirt this year- the eyes glow in the dark.
This was supposed to be a post about the 2013 edition of the Black Mountain Monster 24 hour, but a week after the Leatherwood 50 miler I had a moment or two of stupidity.  Okay maybe three.  First, I decided to go really heavy on legs in the gym, which made my hamstrings hurt.  Then the next day, I did speed work on the track for the first time in months   This made my hamstrings hurt.  So, in order to stretch them out, I did about 50 yards of walking lunges.  This did not make my hamstrings feel any better.  Did I mention that this was a week after Leatherwood?  What it did do was keep me from running very much for the next four weeks.  So in order to compensate for my lack of common sense, I decided I would use BMM as a training run for Vermont 100, run a 50K and go home.

This is how my training has gone.  It's not a pretty picture.

The BMM 2013 was therefore, pretty uneventful.  I showed up late, got to see a bunch of old friends, and left early.  But as I was running my 5K loops during the hottest part of the day, I watched what some others were doing and saw how some of them were suffering pretty badly, which caused me to reflect on some of my hot races.  BMM, pretty much every year.  Merrill's Mile, where the temperature registered 100 on the track. Old Dominion, the year of 100 plus degrees with near 100% humidity.  Laurel Valley.  Woods Ferry.  Chattooga. North Fork 50. In all these races, I fared better than many others in the heat, so I thought I'd share a thing or two that has worked for me.  Keep in mind, this is my experience and what has worked for me, but it may not work for you. 

1.  Downshift.  While it is cool in the morning, I try to get some decent miles in.  I don't overdo it so I am worn out, but I run with a purpose.  During the hottest part of the day, I just run steadily, but take many more walk breaks and try to keep my heart rate down.

2.  Sun vs. shade I watch a lot of people running  on double-track or gravel roads and not taking advantage of the shade.  They pick a straight line and run it.  I snake my way down the trail staying in the shade, even if it is a little tiny bit, as much as possible.  I figure that even if it is just part of my body in the shade, that is better than being in the full sun.

3.  Walk breaks.  At OD there is a really long stretch of runnable dirt road in the hottest part of the day.  During the hot year, I watched a lot of people take advantage of that and fly past me, only to DNF later.  Keeping with the theme of downshifting, I took walk breaks in the shade.  It might seem to make sense to walk in the sun so you are not exerting yourself on the hottest parts of the course, but I look at it from a time perspective.  If I walk in the shade, I spend more time cooling down.  If I run in the sun, I spend less time in that heat. 

4.  Nutrition.  During the hottest parts of the day, I eat what is easiest for me to digest, generally gels.  I know my body is working hard to keep me cool, so I give it a break by not having to divert more energy to the stomach. I do a lot of orange slices, just drinking the juice and not eating the pulp, which seems to get my sugar in line.  Pickle juice is great during the heat.  If it is a 24 hour race, I keep a jar in the my cooler and take a swig now and then.  I have taken a gel flask filled with it on trail races.  At North Fork, they even had some at an aid station. 

5.  Ice, ice baby.  A small ziplock bag filled with ice cubes is a wonderful thing. I put it in my hat, on the back of my neck, in the waistline of my shorts and in my sports bra.  I can open it up and get a cube to suck on, which is a nice treat a couple miles after an aid station. At aid stations, I fill my water bottle with ice and water and I get a nice boost by downing a cup of coke on ice before I go.

6.  Wetting yourself down.  If I am on a course with creek crossings, I stop at each one to scoop up some water and splash my face, neck and arms with it. However, too much water on you can cause issues.  At OD and North Fork, water in buckets was available for you to pour on you.  At OD with the humidity, once that water hit my shoes and socks, they never dried out and I ended up with some blisters.  At North Fork, with no humidity, that was not a problem.

7. What to wear.  A white hat to reflect the sun.  Wicking, light, breathable clothes in light colors.  I am almost always in my Brooks uniform, which is fluorescent yellow and is breathable mesh that dries pretty quickly. A couple of times in a race I have worn the Brooks D'lite Micro Mesh top, and I wear it frequently to train in. It is very light and breathable, but it is also see-through.  I like their new Race Day singlet, which is also very light and airy, but not see through.  I carry a bandana on hot days to dip in water and put around my neck or use it to wash my face. I change socks a couple of times to try to keep my feet as dry as possible. I use Body Glide and try to reapply it during the race.  At OD, I did not and I had chafing lines every place a piece of clothing touched me.  Every seam in my clothes left marks on me.

This is the Brooks D'lite top

8.  Water and salt.  There has been a lot written lately about overdoing it on water and salt in ultras.  What works for me is to not to try to force water down, but drink when I am thirsty, which happens to be frequently in the heat.  I take one to two Succeeds depending on how much I am sweating.  I have only cramped up once in a race and that was remedied by some Gatorade and Succeeds. 

9.  Lower your expectations.  A brutally hot day is not the day to PR.  Usually my goal is to be one of the survivors.  At the hot OD, over half the field DNF'ed and finishing that race was a greater accomplishment than when I ran it under 24 hours.

As I said, these thing have worked for me in the past and I guess we'll see if they still do when I run Vermont next month, known for the heat, humidity and full sun.  If you have any other tips, I would love to read them!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Leatherwood Mountains 50 Miler

Pics from the Leatherwood Facebook Page

The basics:  The inaugural Leatherwood Mountains 50 mile run was held in conjunction with a  50K and 10 miler.  It was located in the countryside outside Lenoir, NC at the Leatherwood Mountains Resort, a horse-oriented vacation resort with mountain cabins and miles of riding trails.  It was mainly on these trails that the race was held.  Mark Connolly and Tim Worden were the race directors and did a nice job organizing it.

The course layout:  The 50 mile runners ran three loops, each color-coded.  The first loop was 25 miles, the second 15 and the third 10.  Each loop started and ended at the start/finish area which made it convenient to have a drop bag/cooler waiting for you.

The terrain:  Mainly single-track, much of it fairly technical. with some gravel road and pavement sections. Relentless steep, but relatively short, climbs and descents.  The trails at times were heavily covered in leaves, disguising what was underneath. There was a lot of mud because of the rainstorms the day before and that, combined with some stream crossings meant wet feet most of the day.  Some of the super-steep descents were really slick and many runners had a nice coating of mud on their backsides. If the Garmin data on the website is accurate, you get over 13,000 feet of gain.  (For comparison, the Mountain Masochist has 9,000 feet). 

The aid:  The aid stations seemed to be 5-8 miles apart (guesstimating).  They had everything I could have wanted:  potatoes with salt, sweets, chips, pretzels, gels, coke, chicken broth, BACON and PBR (although I passed on the latter).  The volunteers were super helpful and friendly.

Highlights of the course Pretty mountain views and cool breezes up high.  Passing a lot of very nice cabins.  A long paved/gravel road section that winds through farmland, reminiscent of Old Dominion.

Logistics:  Cabins were available to rent on site and it was a great location for a family to come and hang out, with a restaurant on site.  (I stayed in Lenoir, which was about 30 minutes away.)  Packet pickup and check in was well organized and I had a nice women's cut technical shirt already tucked in my bag.  You were allowed a drop bag at the Rawhide aid station, which you passed through several times, but I just went with leaving a box at the start/finish.

Race organization:  Excellent, despite first year glitches. It's obvious the race directors wanted everyone to have a great time and put a lot of time and effort into it. I have no doubt everything will be fine-tuned next year.

The 'I run for swag' factor:  Socks, sticker, tech-t-shirt in a woman's cut and a pint glass.

My race:  This was the first time my knee felt good going into a race and I think I have built up a solid base in training.  I feel strong, but slow. 

The race started well.  The mile or so of flat pavement in the beginning helped me get my breathing under control and once we hit the first steep gravel road climb, I felt good power-hiking and was able to pass many runners.  My legs were turning over good on the steep technical downhills, although I was trying to be as cautious as possible in the deep leaves.  I was able to stay upright on the slick mud, although I did a lot of twisting and turning.

As the miles wore on, the fact that I still don't have as much agility in my "bad" leg slowed me down, but that's a minor issue I can fix.  All day long, I felt relatively good and I think I was moving steadily on all the hills, although I am still not pushing out of my comfort zone.  My knee started to feel achy and stiff about three hours in, but no actual pain.

Despite feeling good physically, I did have some bad times mentally.  The course marking were confusing (which the race directors will be adjusting next year) and as a result, runners were taking wrong turns onto the 50K course or getting in some bonus miles.  Although I am quite sure I stayed on course, there were runners who were behind me that ended up in front and some in front that ended up in back.  Also, the 50K started an hour after the 50 mile, meaning there were a lot of people out on the course who were passing me.

After the initial 25 mile loop, I began to feel like I was way in the back, judging from all the people ahead of me on out and backs and how alone I was at other times.  This was frustrating, because I felt like I was moving well.  I bent Dan Hartley's ear on the last ten mile loop with my frustration and conviction that we were alone at the back of the pack.  He assured me we were somewhere in the middle and it turns out he was right (4th female, 37 out of 77 starters, 12 hours 30 minutes).

One of the best parts of my race was on that last ten mile loop, trying to keep up with Dan on a steep, technical downhill.  For the first time since my surgery, I flew down the mountain like I used to.  With 45 miles under my belt, my knee felt just fine.

One week later my knee has not swelled and there has been minimal pain. Maybe, finally, I have balanced out my legs and found a shoe (Brooks Glycerins) that make my knee happy. My goal to this point has been to just get my knee back to normal.  After the Georgia Death Race and this race, I feel like I can now focus on getting back to being the runner I used to be.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Boston Reflections

I learned about the explosions at the Boston Marathon on my way to run on the Appalachain Trail after work.  It had happened less than an hour before, so details were still sketchy, but I did know that  people had died at the finish line area.  My thoughts went immediately to my friends and the members of my Brooks family who were running Boston.  But then I started thinking about all the family members and children who wait excitedly for their runner at the finish.  By the time I hit the ridgeline and started  downhill, my throat had closed up and I was hyperventilating.  All weekend there had been so much excitement among runners about the race that they had trained so hard for and then to have it end in such tragedy.

 I stopped until I could breathe again and looked around, appreciating my solitude and the relative safety of these mountains and woods.  But then I had a reality check.  The suspect in my first murder scene as a police officer had fled to Pennsylvania and killed two hikers on the AT.  Less than a mile from where I was standing, Gary Hilton had dumped the body of John Bryant, an elderly hiker he had killed near Brevard.  About two miles away, Alan and I had the enounter with the crazy guy in the van at the trailhead, who acted like he had a gun.  Two miles in the other direction, I had an unsettling encounter with a hiker who may have been Eric Rudolph, the Olympic bomber, when he first went on the run. A friend of mine had a violent enounter while running the AT.  This trail and these mountains are no more safe than anywhere else.  But as I continued to look around, I still found a sense of  peace that only these mountains bring me.  As I ran, three older through-hikers, obviously enjoying their day, blissfully unaware of what was happening in the world, stepped aside so I could pass by.  They were delighted to learn that they only had a short distance left to the road  and thanked me so I could continue on my "gallop".  "Don't take this the wrong way," one of them said as I left, "but you smell good."  

What a great place this trail is.  Moments that make me smile sure do outweigh the ones that make me sad.  This world is such a place, too.  

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Snow Runs

We didn't get much snow this winter until March and the official start of spring was ushered in by three days of it. Earlier in the month, the DoubleTop 100 in Northern Georgia had to be halted mid-race because of the dangerous snowy road conditions.  Alan and I were supposed to sweep the night section and I was pretty disappointed that I would not get to.  So, instead of heading to Georgia, we headed to Standing Indian and did a 28 mile snow run that ended at midnight, fulfilling any need I had to run in a frigid blowing snowstorm for awhile.  Well, at least three weeks.  Here's some pics from that run:

Two weeks ago I was on spring break and it snowed for three days.   On Monday, I did an 8-mile run to Siler's Bald on the AT and back and found a few inches of snow.  Usually, in weather like that (strong winds, low 20's and snowing), I have complete solitude on the trail.  But it is through-hiker season here and I shared the trail with 24 of them on that four mile stretch of trail.  Several of them were heading back down the mountain, unprepared for the weather.  I eventually ended up in front, alone, and in an area sheltered from the wind just below the bald, I found a winter wonderland:

The next day, I messaged Alan to see if he knew where a lot of snow was.  He didn't but offered to take me up to Wayah Bald, one of the high points in the Southern Nantahalas so I could run back "down" to Franklin on the Bartram Trail (there is a lot of steep uphill on that downhill run).  I took him up on the offer and a couple of hours later, he dropped me off at Sawmill Gap, a remote trailhead on a snow-covered forest road.  There were three or four inches on the road and more on the ground. Everything was white and beautiful, not only from the snow, but from a heavy coating of rime ice.  I hopped out of the truck, he drove off and as I rounded the corner to get on the trail, I discovered that there was a lot more snow than I had imagined.  I was expecting a few inches, not a foot or more.  After Alan drove away and I discovered the amount of snow I would be post-holing through, I thought that maybe this wasn't a really good idea after all.  But then I remembered that this was Alan's idea and if I died of hypothermia, Tony could be mad at him instead of me.

The first few hundred yards were beautiful with the deep powdery snow, the solid white trees, the silence except for the strong, steady wind and a very real sense of being alone, far away from everything.

Then, the going got pretty tough.  There was probably only about 8" in sheltered areas where there was no wind, but there wasn't many of those areas on the ridge line.  The strong winds had piled up 24"-30" drifts for much of the two miles between Sawmill Gap and the intersection with the AT.  It was slow going pushing through the drifts, especially on the uphills, but it was well-worth it. I had a sense of wonderment, coupled with a strong sense of caution.  It was 22 degrees when I got out of the truck and the wind was blowing hard.  I was dressed warmly enough and carried some extra layers, but it would be awhile before anyone could get to me, even if they knew to come get me.  So, while enjoying the sublime beauty, I moved slowly enough to be careful, but fast enough not to be caught in the dark before reaching Franklin 16 miles away.

Right before the intersection with the AT, there was a spot sheltered from the wind where the snow had covered everything:

Once on the AT, about six hikers had already pushed through the snow that day, so the going was easier for the next four miles or so.  Then it was back on the Bartram, where the newest obstacle was snow laden rhododendron blocking the trail.  Again, slow going as I stopped to shake them off so I could pass.

As the elevation dropped, so did the snow depth until I got to the area where I had taken pictures of the bear prints and large cat prints in the snow a few weeks before.

That area is exposed to the wind and once again I was back in deep drifts.  This time, though, it was also a very steep downhill, with the consequence of the snow packing up my legs under my pants as I post-holed down the slope. Eventually, the snow became spottier and I was relieved that I could move faster, more safely, but at the same time I was disappointed that the adventure was coming to an end.

I have never taken for granted my ability to get out into the mountains and run, but runs like these just remind me of how lucky I am to have these epic adventures. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Georgia Death Race

I almost talked myself out of running the Georgia Death Race.

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about who I am now as a runner, a reevaluation sparked by my recent knee issues.  In the fourteen months following the surgery, my running slowly progressed.  But, as I discussed in my previous post, the last four months had been more of a setback.  Any athlete who has had a serious injury knows that the hardest part of rehab is not knowing if you'll ever be capable of doing what you used to do.  By the time I reached the start line of the Death Race, I had convinced myself that my days of running the really tough, technical stuff might be over and I needed to focus on different goals.  However, here I was, with four weeks of training, getting ready to do something really stupid.  Nineteen hours later, laying face down in the dirt, I had no regrets.  Except for maybe not seeing that root.

The Georgia Death Race is a 64 mile point to point run in the North Georgia mountains.  It starts at Vogel State Park near Blairsville and ends at Amicalola Falls near Dawsonville.  The first half of the run follows the ridgeline on single track and by the time you are finished, you have endured over 30,000 feet of elevation change.  This seems almost impossible in Georgia, but much like with the Bartram  Trail, the original trail designer must have believed that switchbacks are for sissies.  If there is a mountain, you go over it, not around.

Created by Cary Stephens (not the full course)
This was the inaugural race and everything seemed to come off well organized and well planned.  The website and handbook were informative and any questions were answered quickly on the race's Facebook page.  The race director, Sean Blanton, was enthusiastic and easy to communicate with.  The start and finish venues were ideal, with lodging, camping and ample parking.  There were a couple of facets of the race I didn't personally like, but it is the race director's prerogative and I am fine with following his rules.  One is the 4:00 a.m. start.  It's hard to get any sleep, but I did appreciate being done before midnight.  The other is the mandatory gear list.  Even Hellgate, which dishes out frozen corneas and frostbite, doesn't have one.  With the gear I had to carry on a 70 degree day, I didn't have enough room for things I actually could use.  But I knew what I had to carry when I signed up for it and I understand why that requirement was there, so I have no complaints.

The check in and drop bag drop off went smoothly that morning. After a reading from Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities (it was the best of times, it was the worst of times...), the RD sent  the runners off into the night.  After a short run through the campground, runners hit the single track and remained there for the next 28 miles.  Just like any race on single track, there was a long conga line, but I ended up somewhere in the middle in a pack that was moving at the pace I wanted to.  After an initial steep climb, a long downhill gave everyone a chance to spread out before the big, steep 2000 foot climb to come.  The views of the lights in the valley down below were a nice reward as you continued the climb.

Photo by John McBrayer
After finally topping out, you ran on some gentle rolling trail for a short time.  I think that was the last time there was any gentle, rolling terrain for the rest of the race.  From there it was straight down the mountain on rough, muddy, canted trail.  A failure to control your slide would have resulted in a tumble over the edge and then you would have appreciated all the mandatory gear you had in your pack. And then the pattern began. Hit the gap at the bottom and start a steep crawl over the next peak.  I learned not to look up and see where I had to go; it was too demoralizing.  I focused on the trail in front of me and just kept plugging along.  The views from the ridgelines were exceptionally nice since there were not any leaves on the trees and the 4 a.m. start did give you a beautiful sunrise.

The heat became a major issue as the day wore on.  Without any leaves, there was no shade, and although there was a nice wind, the climbs became tougher and tougher.  Around 20 miles, you drop down a couple miles to an aid station.  It is an out and back and I could tell by looking at the runners coming up the hill that it was going to be tough getting back up that hill.  It was not as steep as the other climbs, just longer and hotter.  By the time we hit the next aid station, the heat had really cranked up.  This was the first really warm weekend of the year and most of us were not acclimated.  This is what I was doing two weeks before (yes, my hair is frozen) :

 Anyway, my body tends to handle heat and cold well and I didn't have major issues.  Some other runners were not so lucky and the heat ended their race.

At mile 28, there was a short, easy road section, followed by a a nice swinging bridge and then a cruel surprise- another long steep climb.  This turned into a seven mile section of single track with more steep climbs and descents. People were really starting to suffer from the heat here.

At the end of this section, however, it was all forest road to the end.  Unfortunately, the roads were gravel and at times rough, beating up your feet pretty badly.  Luckily, I ended up running with a couple of other runners whose pace kept me moving decently and conversation distracted me from the monotony of road.

There was a particularly pretty section of paved road that went through some farm land.  Everything was green, the daffodils were blooming and the people were friendly.  When the road turned back to gravel, a never-ending climb to next aid station began.  It wasn't steep, but after a long, hot day, it was just tiring.  The mileage was off in some parts of the course and I'm hoping this was one of the sections. It sure felt longer than seven miles.

Once you reach the final aid station at the top, you have a nice easy run downhill to Amicalola Falls State Park.  Once in the park, you finish by running down a steep, rocky road, and then down a final, rooty section of trail to the finish.  About 500 yards from the finish, I took my only spill of the day and it was a good one. One moment I was upright and the next minute face down in the dirt.  Literally.  I skinned my forehead and my nose. I landed on my bad knee. After laying there briefly, laughing at my stupidity, I got up and assessed the damage.  I was afraid Tony would see me  at the finish with blood streaming down my face, so I rinsed it with my water and waited for two runners who came up behind me to make sure it didn't look too bad.   A few minutes later, I had my spike in my hand, a nice finish to over nineteen hours of running.

 So, my day....

My knee didn't hurt.  The moment I decided it couldn't handle the tough runs, it proved me wrong.  I have no explanation for that.  I was hurting just sitting the day before. Eight hours on similar terrain on the Bartram made me limp.  But today, nineteen hours of steep controlled slides, mud, off camber trails, rocks, and uneven gravel didn't bother it.  I did take some ibuprofen to keep inflammation down, but not much. When I fell at the end of  the race, I scraped and bruised the knee, but it still works fine.  I didn't feel the imbalance in my legs that I had been feeling, so my visits to the weight room have paid off.  I guess I'll know for sure when I go for a run on it in a day or two. My big problem, though, was my asthma. I already had some chest congestion before the race started.  Being stuck in the dust of other runners made it worse and my lungs ached most of the day.

I did not expect to go under 20 hours.  Even though I did not try to push my pace at any point and was careful to run as gently as I could, I finished at least five hours faster than I predicted.  I was in a good mood all day, very thankful that my knee was working, that I was capable of doing this race, and I was just happy to be out there.

The race was well done.  The terrain was extremely challenging and beautiful. The aid stations workers and radio operators were all friendly and helpful.  The course was exceptionally well marked and whenever I started to worry if I was in the right place I found a marker.  I wish there had been more real food at the aid stations later in the day, but that is a problem at many races. Apparently there had been some, but it was gone when I came through and a couple of aid stations had run out of coke. The bacon aid station, however, did not disappoint!  The drop bag return was a bit problematic, but the race director quickly contacted me and is mailing what I was missing.

It was nice to see many friends from NC, SC and GA at the race, both running and crewing. The Foothills crowd was well represented (Psyche and Charles, Byron, the Lundblads).  And congratulations to Mark Lundblad who won the race tearing it up in 11:40!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

ACL Update at 18 Months

If you are looking for a running post, I'll save you some time. This post about ACL pain over a year post-op.  I couldn't find a lot of information when I googled it, so thought I should post an update.

After Pinhoti 100 in November, I had a lot of bad runs.  My knee would start aching, I would compensate with the other leg and by the end of any run over 8 miles, I just hurt from the hips down.  I also noticed that my muscle strength was still out of balance, so I started doing some rehab again. (Once I got my weekly mileage up, I had stopped rehabbing, mistakenly thinking that the hills and trails would suffice).

Around Christmas, my long incision scar started to feel painfully tight when I ran, and then the next weekend,  I rolled my right ankle a little, which yanked on my left (bad) knee.  It hurt, but then I finished the run out no problem.  After that run, the top of my scar swelled up and whenever I tried to run for the next couple of weeks, it hurt too much.  The pain emanated from the scar, but it also felt like things were digging into the kneecap above the scar.  I got very frustrated because this was the first time since surgery that it hurt too much to run.  After a couple weeks of rest, ice and massage, the swelling and pain subsided to the point where I could run again. I did two back to back eight mile runs with what I now consider normal pain: where I can run, but the knee reminds me constantly that it still isn't 100%.

I  went to see my surgeon to make sure there wasn't something bad going on inside.  He was a little concerned that I might be having issues with the screw, but X-rays showed everything intact.  He said I probably did something to it when I rolled my ankle and in the future, whenever it started giving me trouble, to back off and get on the bike for a little while.  Ice, three advil three times a day and if it doesn't respond to ice, try heat.  He also said there's a bursa in there that might get irritated.

Since then (the end of January), I have been in the gym twice a week working my legs hard. Interestingly, my "bad" leg was stronger in some ways than my "good" leg.  After a month, I don't see a big difference in my legs anymore.  I have been stretching a lot and I have slowly worked my mileage up.  It still hurts, more on some days than others, but it is not pain that causes me to limp or compensate. Some days it feels like I have a sharp rock behind my kneecap, other times it is more patellar tendon pain, where it connects to the kneecap.

As of early March, I have run a 28 mile trail run in the snow with little problem. I yanked the knee initially on a rocky trail and it hurt for a couple hours, but subsided.  I ran a 24 mile extremely steep run and it hurt pretty bad on the downhills by the end of the day.  This weekend I run the Georgia Death Race, a 60 mile steep run and that will be the big test.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Best Run of the Year

Normally I don't write about my weekend long runs, but my last run of 2012 was pretty special.  Trail running in the snow is my favorite thing to do and I had missed all of last winter with my ACL. So when it dusted snow at my house in the valley this weekend, I decided to head up to Standing Indian to see what I could find .

The plan was to run a 24 miles loop, up Kimsey Creek, north on the AT over Standing Indian and back to the car on Long Branch.  Since Pinhoti, I haven't had a good long run.  My knee ends up hurting and I compensate with my other leg, which then also ends up hurting.  After stopping at 50K at One Epic Run, I decided to refocus on rehabbing and to try different shoes in hopes of getting more cushion.  I ordered the Glycerins and they have felt good on the short runs I have done.  (Three years ago, I switched from the Cascadias to road shoes, Ravennas, even on the most technical trails, like the Massanutten, with much success.) So this would be a test run.

There was snow on Kimsey Creek and the temperature was still at freezing, despite my 11 a.m. start time. Kimsey Creek is very rocky and wet, but the Glycerins did well, with the exception of trying to cross the ice coated rocks at the edge of these little falls. But nothing would have done well on that!

As I got higher in elevation, I also moved into ice-covered trees. Closer to Deep Gap, I passed through a tunnel of ice covered bushed and trees. With the sunlight behind it, it was spectacular, but the pictures don't capture the scene.

  On the AT, there was more snow, not more than a couple inches except where it had drifted.  It was exceptionally cold, as always, on the back side of Standing Indian, well below freezing with a brisk wind.  Past the shelter, the trail became more treacherous, with a thick coating of ice under the snow.  Luckily, I had brought my Kahtoolas, hoping I would get to use them.  (It's always a good run when you get to strap on the microspikes).

The scenery became even more spectacular as I climbed, with the combination of ice, snow and rime ice.

I decided to take the side trail to the to top of Standing Indian and found only one other set of footprints up top.  I had passed a family on the way up and I felt very lucky to be one of the few people to see this view that day.

When I continued on the AT south of Standing Indian, there were no other footprints in the snow, and I was again thankful for being able to be on the trail that day.  The rhododendrons were coated in ice and when you brushed by them as you ran, it sounded like pieces of glass tinkling.


I ended up shortening my run to about 16 miles because I had spent so much time taking pictures. During the run, I had wrenched my knee a little (looking up at the ice instead of down at the rocks), but other than that, my body felt good for the first time in awhile.  The Glycerins were very comfortable, even with the Kahtoolahs strapped on.

So 2012 came to an end with this spectacular run.  I've had a long road back this year and still have obstacles to overcome, but I sure am thankful to be able to run through these mountains again.

 Best moments of 2012

1.  After eight months of no running after tearing my ACL, being allowed to start running in March.

2.  My first run back on the trails.

3.  Running in the fall leaves and running in the snow.

4.  Running 93 miles on the one year anniversary of the surgery.

5.  Running Pinhoti 100 two months later.

 2013 Goals

1.  Getting my knee and leg back to 100%.
2.  March:  Georgia Death Race
3.  July:  Vermont 100
4.  Fall:  Running the Bartram Trail (110 miles) northbound (because southbound didn't hurt enough?)