Thursday, February 25, 2016

Rocky Raccoon 100 - The Struggle Was Real

I had read in many race reports that loop 4 is the most difficult to start, and if you can start it, there's a good chance you will finish. I was determined to start loop 4. I got back to my bag, added more clothes as it was getting really cold (at one point I had on 4 hoodies), my mittens, my lucky headband (found by my friend Cory on the Verrazano-Narrows bridge when I lost mine in the wind) and a hat. I switched out my shoes one more time, going with the Olympus – max cushion for feet that were getting kind of tired. Before we headed out, we stopped to fuel up, this time on hot chocolate and chocolate covered strawberries. YUM.

Also....sorry for the lack of pictures was dark!

The aide stations during ultra marathons and trail races compared to those at a road race are like night and day.  Instead of Gatorade and your occasional banana or orange slice, the aide stations are like buffets. So much food, so little time. Most of the volunteers are also ultra marathoners/trail runners, are so incredibly kind,caring and will do anything in their power to help. They are literally your trail angels and can make or break your race, but they always make it.  In the dead of the night they greet you with a smile, even though they are tired, likely cold and fatigued themselves, they look like they are having a blast (I have no doubt they are!) and do their best to see you on your way.  I truly think they are the reason most people finish the race.  I was so lucky that at the hardest point in the race, the long damnation loop, I had some local friends, Libby and Agustin, volunteering.  It was so great seeing familiar faces.  

Back to loop 4 in the dead of the night. So far, so good. Even though we were pretty much power hiking, we were making good time and the miles were rolling along. It was so nice to get to spend some time with Lisa. We don't get to see each other very often, but we have seen each other twice this year! She was the maid of honor at my wedding! We always pick up right where we left off. We were having so much fun chatting and laughing, that the first 10 miles of that loop flew by. We hit the first and second aide stations and then the damnation loop (which this time, really felt like damnation). Somewhere along that loop, I got really tired. I hadn't gotten a whole lot of sleep the night before because of that thunder, nerves and excitement. 

People had told me about hallucinations during 100 milers and it was one of those things that you don't really believe until you're experiencing it. It was happening. The ground seemed to be moving from side to side. I'm sure it was because of exhaustion, but it was getting more difficult to navigate when things weren't still looking through my eyeballs. It's really hard to explain. Then, some heavenly angel (another runner, I think - maybe it was an illusion) came by and offered me a caffeine tablet. Normally, I wouldn't take pills from strangers, but desperate times call for desperate measures and I've never met anyone out there that didn't seem trustworthy. That pretty much solved that problem and I felt pretty good again. We were slowing a little bit and getting really cold. We got back to damnation, sat under the heater for a bit, got our hot drinks,, which we later laughed about that we either needed sippy cups or straws to drink as half of the drinks were spilled all over our mittens, and headed back out.

Before long, we were at the dreaded rock road. Basically, it was a road that had been constructed for construction trucks, made of really sharp whitish rocks. This was and out and back portion, so I had already gone over it seven times and this would be my eighth. This blew. Looking back, I think it was where things really started to go wrong for me. My feel never really hurt the entire time (thanks Altra!), but those rocks felt like daggers this time. I could've swore I had spontaneously developed neuropathy. They didn't so much hurt my feet, but were making them feel like a pins and needles sensation. No bueno.

We were still doing ok on time, but I felt like I was consistently slowing, I feel like it was mostly because of the cold. I know I grew up in MN, but 30 degrees and 80% humidity makes for a very, very cold night for someone with thin Texas blood. There were people in the aide tents that looked hypothermic. At the very end of the rock road, I saw Lint again. He was out on his final loop and looked like he had just had a full night's sleep! He gave me a great pep talk and told me to get after it. It helped my spirits, a lot. Just before the final aide station prior the starting area, things really got bad. Now I had fully expected to endure a good amount of pain, tiredness and overall loathing for running during this race, but all of a sudden, my body just stopped working. We would stop and stretch. I kept trying to shake it out, but it just wasn't happening. I had poorly planned for cold weather and while I had on 4 jackets, mittens, a buff and a hat, all I had on my legs were a thin pair of barre tights and a running skirt. Just. Wasn't. Cutting. It. In hindsight, I'm pretty sure this is what earned me my DNF. The volunteers at the final aide station told me I still had 90 minutes to get back to the start to make the cut off, which was 4.5 miles away, something that would normally take me maybe an hour or a bit under. I just didn't see how it was going to happen, I could barely move. I tried to pick it up and run again, but that wasn't working either. Nothing really hurt, yet everything hurt. I was doing some kind of Frankenstein march. To make matters worse, I had started the race with a bit of a cough (the downfalls of doing a pediatric rotation – lots of sick kiddos spreading germs) and it was getting worse. I started getting teary about making it this far and considering stopping and could barely breathe. I started seeing things again. Buildings that were actually logs/trees. I was kind of delirious. Lisa did nothing but encourage me ,tell me I had this & couldn't stop, but I had already decided that this would be my last lap. I am pretty stubborn, but she just wasn't having it.  I couldn't have picked a better sidekick. We tried to get back to the start and were within just a few tenths of a mile, when we finally saw a road. I called Ryan and he came and got us.

at least we are still smiling!
I was crushed. I had made it 80 freaking miles and couldn't pull it off. I think it would've felt less painful had I only made it 40 or 50. I know running 80 miles is a feat in itself, but I didn't go there to run 80 miles, I went there to run 100, it just wasn't possible.

Ryan took my timing chip back to the start and handed it in. He collected my  parting gift as well. We were all exhausted. We chatted a bit with Lisa and Matt. I told all of them to promise that they would never let me do this again, no matter what and we said our good byes.

Ryan and I went back to the hotel for a little nap. Even the walk to the room was painful. A shower had never felt so incredibly good. Sleep was fitful and came in short spurts. I had started running a fever and my cough had gotten much, much worse. There were tears. At one point I woke up and couldn't stretch out my arms and convinced myself I had rhabdo (I didn't).  Sometimes knowing a lot of things about medicine can be a bad thing. 

while I slept, Lisa stayed up to catch the sunrise Sunday morning - isn't this gorgeous?
I was so mad and disappointed in myself over this. I feel like there could've been a much better outcome if only had I invested in some warmer tights, clothes, whatever. Over the days that followed, I feel like I went through stages of grief. I was angry, sad, angry again, but now? Now I am just more determined than ever. I had told all of my close friends that I was going to defer Leadville until 2017; that if I couldn't complete and “easier” 100 miler, how the hell would I be able to do one at 10-14k feet? Honestly, I really don't think any of them believed me, but being the great friends they are, went along with it anyway. I questioned my tenacity and toughness. Went over about 40 miles in my head over and over to figure out what I did wrong.

While I had been planning on this race since early fall, when I got into Leadville I had seriously questioned not doing it. My weekends are kind of precious to me right now, plus I had a crap ton of course work due that weekend. Yet after thinking about it for a day or two, I decided it would be a great confidence booster.  Like I said, I had put in all of the training, I didn't want that to go to waste.  Plus, I decided it would be really good experience to know what it feels like to pull a difficult all-nighter, which I hadn't done in over a decade. While I used to work nights as a nurse, this was nothing like working. Not even close. So after all of the anger passed, I really came to be at peace with the fact that I didn't finish. There were a lot of other people that dropped for the same reason I did, because it had gotten so cold and they weren't prepared for it. I learned A LOT and that made the entire experience worth it. I now know how to train myself better for Leadville.  I would've hated to be unprepared there (although I've done my fair share of research on that too). I think I'm even more excited now the DNF will make a Leadville finish even sweeter. 

So that's my long story...even though it didn't have an the outcome I desired, it was an adventure and that's what I want in my life - more adventure.

A HUGE thank you to everyone that helped me that weekend....Ryan, Lisa, Matt - their help was priceless. They all put up with my bossiness and grumpiness (especially Lisa). All of my friends who cheered my on virtually.  Going back and reading all of their messages made me cry happy tears. It is good to be loved. 

There is certainly more adventure to be had....

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Rocky Raccoon 100 (Part One) - The Good Stuff

A DNF (sorry...spoiler!) is kind of like a grief process. It's nothing like a death of course, but I feel like I'm going through the motions. I was in the anger stage when I wrote this, now I have moved on to acceptance and moving forward.

Much to the surprise of a lot of people, I showed up at the Rocky Raccoon 100 mile race the weekend of 2/6/16. While this had been something on my schedule for months and I had been planning for it all along, I didn't tell very many people of my intentions for several very personal reasons.

PS I did not earn this buckle.

I put in (almost) all of the training. I did a 50 mile race, back to back marathons and a couple of 50ks thrown in for good measure to get ready for this. I felt really good about this race. I could only see myself crossing the finish line. I knew what it felt like to suffer (see Rough Creek 40). I felt tough. I fell a little off the plan after the holidays, with grad school deadlines and then a minor hip injury. I didn't get a lot of miles in those last few weeks leading up to Rocky, but I had already put in my dues.

Brazos Bend 50
The weather for the weekend was looking beautiful, heading into race weekend. One of my best and oldest friends from MN was driving down for the weekend just for this. I was incredibly honored. She and her boyfriend had never been to Texas and now they were coming for me?

This is not Lisa, this is a raccoon showing his glee!
Initially, I wasn't planning on having a pacer. I have these bizarre notions to do these things myself. I did a 50 miler on my own without a pacer (which was really never a is kind of unusual for that to be allowed in the first place), but I couldn't wait to spend some time with Lisa in the dead of the night for 20 miles – everyone's girl's night out dream, right?! It was really a blessing in disguise.

Ryan and I had a fun little road trip down to Huntsville on Friday afternoon. We made a required pit stop at Buc ee's (a gas station mecca that all people must experience once in their lives) and made it to the park for packet pick up.

because, fudge n'more
I tried to get some sleep Friday night and was actually kind of successful until I heard the LOUD, BOOMING thunder! What. The. Ever. Living. Hell. I have had the worst luck with race weather over the last year or so....40 mph winds, rain, rain and swamp ass humidity. The forecast said NO RAIN. What was happening here? So it rained for a few minutes. Kind of a lot of bark with no bite, but unfortunately, that was at 0345. My alarm was set for 0440 and now I was wide awake listening for more rain.

We left for the park around 0510 and were met with a ginormous line-up, although it did start moving ok. When we got to the ranger station and got ready to pay, the ranger told us that the car in front of us had paid our fees for the day. Seriously, trail runners are a unique group. We decided to pay it forward and pay the entry for the car behind us as well. It was good karma.

I got to the start and it was a sea of headlamps and darkness. I had wanted to meet up with fellow Altra ambassador, Lint, and see Lisa before the race started and I had no idea how I was going to make this happen with just a few minutes until the start.

scared, ready and nervous, really about to cry
I no more dropped my bag at the drop site stood up, but heard someone call my name. It was Lint! He recognized my pink jacket! Have you ever met a total badass? Well I have. Lint has hiked the Pacific Coast Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and my dream, the Appalachian Trail all the way through, at one time, three separate times. Sometimes from North to South, sometimes the other way around. He referred to himself as the “everyday runner”. I laughed.

We said our hellos, I decided to stick with him for awhile so I wouldn't tear off like I'm good for and before I knew it, it was go time. Then out of nowhere...there's Lisa and Matt! I only got to say hello, and give Lisa a quick hug. They had also gotten up at the butt crack of dawn to see me cross the start. I almost cried I was so happy! A quick hug and I took off.

gorgeous, right? my friend Lisa took this as we were all plodding along in the forest. see more of her amazing photography here.
Lint kept telling me that he wasn't a fast runner. Ummmm....yeah. What he is, is a super fast walker (and a solid runner). We were hiking 14min/miles. The start was pretty congested, which was probably a good thing. One of my goals for the race was not to fall (plenty of you know why) and running in the dark on a rooty trail with lots of energy would've surely seen a face plant had I not held back some at the start.

what a gorgeous day to run 100 miles
The aide stations, very well stocked and as frequent as about 4 miles apart, with the exception of damnation, which proved to be the most challenging section of all the entire day, both physically and mentally, 7 miles in a loop. But, being the researcher I am, I knew this well ahead of time and had prepared my head for it.

We did a lot of talking about trails, friends, talked with lots of people along the way who had some really amazing stories. We caught up to Gunhild Swanson, a 70 year old spitfire who had an epic finish at Western States last summer. She was so nice, super positive and really funny too! It was an honor to meet her, even though it was brief. I met up with her a couple more times during the day, eventually she passed me one last time out on the damnation loop. She is crazy amazing!

Those first 20 miles flew by. Before I knew it, I was at my drop bag, changed my clothes and shoes, restocked and headed out for miles 20-40. I was still feeling really good, super fresh. I made a point to keep eating and more importantly drinking as this has been an issue for me in the past. Another goal: no puking.

I had started out wearing my Altra Superiors, which handled like a dream on the rooty parts of the trail. I knew I wanted them early on as they are light and fast, but also knew I didn't want to run the entire race in them as they don't have a lot of cushion and a rock road along the road could get pretty gnarly later on. So I switched up to my Lone Peaks, light with more cushion. Perfect for running and hiking.
These shoes have seen some adventure.
Most of this loop was really a blur. I met up with another girl about my age from Maryland and we shared some laughs and stories. This really helped this loop go along pretty quickly too.  Lisa, Matt and Ryan had also met me at one point along the way. I could see the boy's orange sweatshirts before they could see me!

twinsies! photo cred L. Groene
I was doing well on time, taking about 4:45 on loop one and just a bit over that on the second loop. My splits were still really nice. I was still running a good portion of the trail. While it was pretty rooty in a lot of place, it was still a beautiful, runable trail. It was a gorgeous day and the woods were bathed in sunshine, yet it never got too hot.

At the last aide station on loop 2 I had to stop and take care of my feet, or else I knew they would take care of my later in the day. I could feel a couple of hot spots creeping up between my toes, so the amazing volunteers helped me with getting them lubed up and made a good point about turning my compression socks inside out so the seam wouldn't rub on my toes.

a fallen tree with a root system as tall as me
Before I knew it, I was back at the staging area with my drop bag and amazing crew: Lisa, Matt and Ryan. They helped me do what seemed like a million things in about 10 minutes. I changed my clothes and socks again and felt ready to go again. I was doing really well with my nutrition, eating something substantial at every stop. It was hard not to turn down quesadillas, potato soup, mashed potatoes, hamburgers and so many other things. When it started getting dark, there was even hot chocolate, coffee and of course, chicken broth. I wasn't really hungry, but I knew I had to eat. Poor nutrition has gotten me into some bad situations in the past and I wasn't about to let that be my downfall this day.

I had my own personal paparazzi! phog credit to Lisa Groene
After I had passed the damnation station, my son called me. He told me he had wanted to call me to see how far I had gotten and how much further I had to go. At that point, I think I was 47 miles into the race. It was good to hear his voice. He had wanted to come with us, be he also had a birthday party he wanted to attend. He was pretty torn, but we decided the birthday party would be more fun for him this time (he is going to Leadville with us this summer and is super stoked!).

Soon after I hung up, it started getting dark. Headlamps on. This lap had been pretty lonely as runners were very spread out, some had already dropped and the really fast people were close to finishing. I started listening to one of my audible books, but later decided I really liked the silence of the woods. It was so peaceful. Even the sky was amazing, almost many bright stars that you just don't see in the city. I was still feeling really good and really positive, but I knew it was time to have Lisa come with me for a loop. At first we had discussed her doing miles 80-100 with me, but after this lonely loop and the fact that I was getting a little sleepy, I decided it was best she come with me for loop 4.  

I had to - #bearfact
How's that for a cliff hanger? 

Stay tuned for Rocky Raccoon....the not so good. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Friday Five - 2016 Goals

While 2016 is already about 1/10th over, I realized that I hadn't yet put my goals "out there". I'm not one to make resolutions at the start of the new year, but I've found that by telling others what my goals are, the more likely I am to meet them. Call it accountability, but I like having something to go back to and look at to see where I've been and where I'm going.

I looked back at my goals for 2015 and found that I was able to meet most of them.

Get closer to a 4:20 marathon time - I only did two marathons, one was basically a training run for my 100 mile race, so I really wasn't focusing on a goal time and the other was really early in the year and was consistent with my previous times in the 4:30s.

I didn't get to my sub 2 half marathon either. I ran one half, for which I was sorely undertrained for and tanked about half way through.

I didn't run any 5ks, so I have no sense of reference there!

What did I do in 2015?

I got this pretty little thing.

I made my second *100 club* at my local pure barre studio and am well on my way to 250.

I ran 5 ultra marathons! Many more than I actually thought I would, some just a few weeks apart. I did a 40 mile race that had been a goal for over a year.

As far as my personal goals....

I had a wonderful time with our friends and family in Mexico last summer and got married!

photo by Stephanie Davis Photography

I am two quarters away from finishing my graduate degree and becoming a nurse practitioner (officially 177 days, but who's counting?).

This old girl?  She's still with us & we celebrated her being a teenager on Monday.  I know she is biding time, but I love her as much as can every day.

My goal to get to bed earlier? Midnight isn't bad, right?

So what am I in for this year?

Last month was a pretty big milestone for me. I turned forty twenty-six! Therefore, I have decided that I am going to crush 2016.

These amazing friends and sisters threw me a "surprise" party.
I don't know what I did to deserve all of this love.
Epic starts now.

1. Complete 100 miles.

Yes. All at one time.  I had my first attempt at this two weeks ago (more to come on that soon) and (spoiler alert) I had to DNF at mile 80.  I was very discouraged by this initially and pleaded with Ryan to "never me do that again".

Of course, my story changed after just a few days...

Earlier this year, I had "won" an entry into Leadville 100 this August. I had briefly thought about calling it off after my first 100 experience, but then realized, I didn't necessarily need to finish that race, I needed to experience it in order to ready me for the huge challenge this summer.

I think my fate at Rocky only sweetened the pot for Leadville.

I also couldn't bear to tell my son that we might not be going to Colorado and I'm so glad I didn't share my moments of weakness with him. He is so excited about this trip and has really gotten into hiking.  I almost think I have him talked into doing a trail race with me this year!

Which brings me to goal 2.

2. Explore more with my family.

Ryan, Louis and I went out to a gorgeous state park near our home a few weeks ago and had so much fun.  We hiked for nearly 2 hours and Louis didn't want to leave! I tried taking him for a "shorter" hike a couple of weeks ago and declined, stating that 2 miles wasn't long enough for him.

We saw so many cool things including a few of these guys (which I have never actually seen alive in the wild).

3. Finish my slog through grad school.

At least that's what it feels like right now....I am just 25 weeks away, 177 days. 288 clinical hours.

I finished my pediatric rotation last week, which I had initially been kind of apprehensive about...and other than getting sick a couple of times, I really loved it.

Next up in women's health and I have no idea what to expect really as I've never working with that particular population. Then back to family practice at the same clinic where I did my rotation last summer, which I loved as well.  All of that will lead up to Leadville 100, my sadistic graduation gift to myself.

4. 250 Club at the barre.

I'm  already half way there! After 2 years and over 200 total pure barre classes (at two different studios), I still love my barre workouts. They keep me uninjured and give me some super strong legs. I attribute barre to the reason I recover from my ultras so quickly. My goal is 3 classes a week so that I get to my goal by the end of the year.

5. Make the most of my Altra ambassadorship.

Towards the end of last year, I found out that I was selected to be an Altra ambassador.  So what's that?

Altra is just the most awesome brand of shoes that I've ever worn (and I've worn a lot different shoes). Thy are shoes that are shaped like your foot (instead of super narrow squishing your toes together), with a zero drop, allowing for more of a natural run. I tried a pair out last spring and was pretty much in love. I professed my love for Altra to the company and was shocked that they chose me.  I have met so many awesome people and have gotten some really amazing advice from much more experienced trail runners. I met fellow ambassador, Lint, at Rocky 100, who called himself the "everyday runner".  So yeah...the everyday runner that has hiked the PCT, AT and CDT three times each. That must make me their hobby runner. Seriously though, that is how awesome all of these other people are! I am so humbled by this group; they are *truly* inspiring in so many ways, have so much knowledge to share and totally live the #zerolimits #embracethespace philosophy. I am seriously honored to be a part of it and have already had so many cool opportunities with them! All of Altras already have quite the story to tell.  They have gotten me through some pretty gnarly adventures already, yet somehow still manage to wash up looking like they're brand new...maybe I'm doing something wrong?

Thanks again to the ladies in DC for the Friday Five Linkup!  Check out more awesome race signage at Courtney at Eat, Pray, Run DC, Mar at Mar on the Run and Cynthia at You Signed Up For What?!