Friday, February 24, 2012

A Mid-Training-Plan Crisis: Sports Car Not Included

I've finally realized that about 5 weeks out from a race I tend to suffer from a "Mid-Training-Plan Crisis". It's not like everyone's going poorly. It's just far enough out from the end, the finality, that I freak out and completely lose common sense. I want to abandon the plan, tweak the plan, catastrophically change the plan.

It's 6 weeks into an 11 week training plan. With a 3 week taper for my 50K, that's 2 weeks left to throw myself into hard training. Long enough to tweak. Not long enough to significantly change things. Long enough to do something stupid and get myself injured.

But I must trust my training and stick with the plan. This blog post is super short today. Why? Because to go into much more detail would basically rehash the Beginner Beat column in the upcoming April 2012 issue of Texas Runner & Triathlete magazine. I write the column each month and thought this feeling would be a great one to discuss.

I'm sure I'm not the only one. Does this point in a training plan drive you a little bonkers?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cross Timbers Trail Marathon Race Report - Mud, mud, and more mud

It was raining as we huddled in the tent before the trail marathon start. I was at the Cross Timbers Trail Marathon at Lake Texoma, outside Whitesboro, Texas. Actually, my first trail marathon. My 4th marathon, and my 6th race of a marathon or longer. I had signed up just one week before. This was to be a "training run". What a crazy world I was now in that I was calling a marathon a training run. The big eye on the prize was that this was a test for me for the Gorge Waterfalls 50K in 5 weeks. That race has less steep gradients but 6500 feet elevation gain over 33 miles. Cross Timbers was a suitable exercise in finding out what that much climb meant because it's 5500 over just 26.2 miles and very steep climbs too for much of that.

I warn you this race report is long and a detailed narrative. But for me, this is my personal blog, so it's my record of what I did right and wrong to make sure I learn from it when I need to go back and revisit what worked and what didn't. This is my documentation, and if it's helpful or entertaining to others, that's just a bonus! You've been warned! ;-)

Marathon as Training Run? Test out all the ultimate race stuff
In this race, I had a lot of new gear and new strategies I wanted to test out for ultimately using at the Gorge Waterfalls 50K. I had trail shoes, my first ever pair, Brooks Cascadia, that I had gotten at Christmas and had used for a couple weekends of runs. I had my new Saucony running vest that I wanted to use for the damp conditions and waterfall spray at Gorge next month - and I'd never worn a run vest before and worried about chafing. I had my new Garmin Forerunner 910XT I'd only been using for about a week. I carefully chose my running hat and long sleeve San Francisco Marathon Ambassador shirt for the rain conditions. And I had my new hydration pack, the UltrAspire Surge, that had just come out on the market in December with very limited supply, so I snatched one up, and had been using it for just 27 miles last weekend so far. I'm normally a handheld bottle person but knew the Gorge Waterfalls 50K would have climb spots where I might need my hands. This race would prove the same, and I was glad I had the pack.

I was also trying to fix my nutrition. I can get sour stomach easily on a run, so I've found my nature is that if my stomach is good, I stop trying to put much in it so it will stay good. However, this led to what was probably hypoglycemia at mile 27 of the Wild Hare 50K, when I later tallied up only having eaten about 400 calories during the race up to that point. My plan was to consume a lot more calories this time. I feel like I spent as much time eating as running at this race, it was tiring work, but this explains why I'm going to talk more about what I ate through each aid station.

Race Day Arrives

Race day morning was temperatures hovering in the mid- to high-forties all day, with off and on rain. Winds at 8-12 miles per hour. I had gotten up at 3:30, yawn!, out the door by 4:10, yawn!, and was at the race site at 5:30 am. Checked in to get my packet, back to the car and ate my breakfast, then hung out until the start of the 50 milers. I got to meet Jeff, @HardCorpsRunner, who was running the marathon and his friend Jeff who was running the 50 mile. I was one of just a handful who stood to the side, wished the 50 Milers good luck in the dark, and cheered their start.

Back to the car to grab my pack and drop my headlamp I had used for just getting around the race site. Then to the tent to see more friends and hear the trail briefing again (had just heard it for the 50 milers an hour before).
My highly reflective running vest, LOL, along with Julie (@julie_runs) and Suann (@UltraLadySuann)
The race starts in the rain, and we first do a 1.2 mile loop on the pavement. It's because the trail is 12.5 each way so we need the extra mileage to finish the marathon. A girl Kirstin starts chatting with me, and I immediately enter "Happy Puppy" mode, which I would sadly remain in for the next 3 miles. I went out too fast. Too easy to do in a trail race that's single track as you just get carried along with the people ahead of you. Everyone's chatty and the distraction drives your pace even faster. I lose Kirstin the second we enter the trail, but within another mile I comfortably have a gal named Jen behind me and Jeff (@HardCorpsRunner) ahead of me. The happy puppy in me pays absolutely no attention to the terrain which would drive me mad on the back portion in the last few miles when NOTHING looked familiar.

The first (and last) 6.5 miles of this course are the toughest. Lots of up and downhills. At this point, it's a little wet, a little rainy, but still getting muddy. Around mile 2, I "paint my booty" by sliding down a muddy hill on my butt unintentionally.

Aid Station 1 - About 3.7 miles in
Jen, Jeff, and I hit the first aid station. I've already had a half pack of Honey Stinger orange chews. I eat a peanut butter cracker and grab 4 gumdrops. In and out - do not "move in" to the aid station! A little while later, I have my first GU. We climb up and down massive hills criss-crossed with rocks and roots. I lose Jeff and Jen during this time because I occasionally stop to take pictures. Every time I come around the bend I'm amazed at the next up or down hill. About 3 1/2 miles in, the 180 half marathoners, who started a half hour after us but didn't have to do the initial 1.2 miles of pavement, start to catch us. As slower runners, we get caught by a lot more of them, and I'm constantly having to move off the trail in this very narrow single track to let someone by. My hands start to feel cold (it was in the 40s) so I pull my gloves out of my pack and put them on.
See the little person at the top!
Mile 5 or so and now the half marathoners are coming back on this out-and-back route. So I'm stepping off the path for letting slower half marathoners pass me, and again for the oncoming fast half marathoners. It's a bit chaotic, and slowgoing. And inbetween all of this we're still climbing up and down these giant rock-laden hills!

Aid Station 2 - About 7.7 miles in
This aid station has every kind of cookie, cracker, or chocolate you could ever want. I get a peanut butter and chocolate chips ahoy cookie, half of a slice of chocolate orange, and a couple pretzels. We finally hit some runnable nice "normal" trail, but I feel so tired and sore between my early too-fast miles and all that climbing. I muster a run and keep it going. I eat another half pack of Honey Stinger chews. I finally start to feel in a rhythm. But there's always something I hit to slow me down again. Another really rooted section, or out of nowhere a bunch of lava rocks, big ones.

A little while later a deep sandy beach (I think of "Sandlands", Grasslands, and chuckle in that moment). Around mile 9 we even hit an asphalt road (a blessing) for a little bit, athough the steep gradient up to the road sucks for the reward of road.
An example of one of the "better sections" of trail - less muddy, less rooted, less rocky - but still a lot of elevation. See how much further down she is! (Photo Credit: Bryan Moore)
Aid Station 3 - About 11.5 miles in
Another couple pretzels, a few gumdrops, and an orange slice to enjoy down the road, and I'm off again. Some major sinkable mud spots through here with nice opportunities to submerge a foot deep enough in the sludge to get your foot just wet enough to make you give out a "Yeow!" This spot feels pretty runnable though. It starts to warm up and right before the next aid station I take off my gloves.

Aid Station 4 (Turnaround) - 13.1 miles
It's 3hrs,45min into the race. It's warmed up some so I remove my gloves as I approach the aid station and have the volunteer shove them in my pack. A nice volunteer asks if we need to refill my water pack. I tell her I'd filled it to 60 oz this morning and didn't feel like I'd drunk much. She checks anyway, I'm down to like 15 oz! Great sign I'm hydrating well! They refill it. I have a cup of coke. I hate coke, but it had worked so well when I got sick at Wild Hare 50K that I've decided to continue on that as "rocket fuel" for this race. The volunteer asks what I want and fills my hand with 4 pretzels and two delicious chocolate truffles.

Back on the course where everything will look different but slightly familiar on the "back" portion. Another half pack of Honey Stingers, and a GU over the next few miles. I try to call Elaine because cell reception has been awful. With no data at that moment I want her to help communicate to Steve and my mom how I'm doing, but our phone call cuts in and out. A short bit later I have enough bars to text, but I always seem to need a full 3 out of 5 bars to tweet, so I text Elaine.

It's a little over 4 hours in and it has started to rain again. Big drops this time, not a light rain. This rain would continue and only get worse up until the finish 4 hours later.

I knew it was going to be a long day out here. I knew about the climbing yet to come in miles 20 and beyond. I was working hard to keep a steady run pace for these runnable sections. And the phrase that I kept thinking was "I'm Enduring." Over and over again. "I'm an endurance athlete... And I'm enduring." It's highly likely I'm DFL (Dead F*&%ing Last) in this race, "But I'm enduring." This mantra would carry me through the second half of this race.

Aid Station 3 again - About 15.5 miles in
The volunteers were so great about asking as you approached "What do you need?" And I've gotten good now at knowing what I want before I get there. I immediately ask for coke. They're out and someone is on their way with more. Sad panda. I flounder. That's not in my plan for them to be out of coke. He starts to list off everything they do have. He says, "Boiled salted potatoes." My ears perk up. They will have those at Gorge Waterfalls 50K, I should practice with that. They are exactly what you can imagine - someone boiled whole potatoes, they covered them with salt, then sliced them into rounds, and they are sitting there cold in a tupperware. A sarcastic YUM. I take two slices. They taste as gross as I expect them to, but they are heavy good carbs so I know they are helping me. I also grab an orange slice for the road. The orange slices are more distraction than anything else, and slow release of some flavor as I work to gnaw every little bit of juice I can get out of it.

I go through the beach area again. I laugh out loud because I feel like with a picture you might think it was a stormy day on a beach in Hawaii or something. I snap a couple pictures to remember that feeling.

Dirty camera screen, but still - do I look like I could be on a pretty beach on vacation? LOL
Another mile down the road I hit Jeff who has decided to powerwalk the second half of the course because he didn't really train up for this race (he's there because he's the driver for his friend doing the 50 miler). I give him the choice, come with me, or keep doing what you are doing. We decide to stick together. I was glad for the company.

At this point, I'm cold and want my gloves on again. But my hands have begun to swell and my gloves are normally pretty fitted. Note to self: need gloves in one bigger size. I had to go glove-less the rest of the race with numb hands. Brrrr.

Aid Station 2 again - About 19.5 miles in
So happy when the clock was about 5hr,45min when we got here. That gives me hope for making the cutoff at mile 20 at Gorge Waterfalls (about 6 hours for that cutoff).

We hang out for a few minutes here because we know what's ahead. We know we have to go back through the hilly section next, and it's been raining nonstop for about 1 1/2 hours. This is also where it sinks in how well I picked my gear because I would actually forget it was raining at times because I felt so well protected by my running hat, vest, and long sleeve shirt I had chosen.

My friend David comes through on his way back out on the 50 miler. He was having such a strong run and had a smile for us. He ended up finishing 50 miles on those wet and muddy conditions in about 10 hours. Insane!

I grab a cup of Coke at this aid station, and I down half of a Dixie cup with some sort of mix of nuts and chocolate chips and yogurt chips. I'm a picky eater, so it's funny for me to slam a cup of some combo of foods I would normally look at suspiciously and ask what's in it.

And then it got ugly. Things have become MAJORLY slick. These major up and downhills are covered in rocks and boulders. I thought about and told Jeff the story of Courtney (@cisforcourtney) who a while back had tripped and fallen out on a trail run and hit her head pretty badly on a rock when she fell. That story scared me so much as I went through this course. I wasn't so worried about getting muddy or slipping and sliding, it was sliding and hitting a root or a rock badly.

The limestone dirt has foamed into a slippery mud. Imagine... 30 50-milers have already come through here out AND back AND back out again, 90 marathoners have already come through here out AND back, and 180 half marathoners have come out AND back, and it just keeps raining. They've frothed up the dirt into major mud for the very back of the marathon pack, which means me and Jeff.
All you can do is walk and slide through it. 50 Miler back out on his second loop.
We take turns trying to pick the least slippery path. On downhills my hands frequently have to go down in the mud when I take a slip. We joke that I'll write "Trudging" into my next training plan, because I seem to have the worst center of gravity and balance. I feel like I've written a scene for a Monty Python skit, "We're peasants... we trudge... it's just what we do."
A great picture of this slipper mud (Photo Credit: Bryan Moore)
Aid Station 1 again - About 23.7 miles in
It felt like we would never get there. And so much wouldn't feel familiar. One of us would say, "Are we sure we're still on the path?" and then there's a white flag right in front of us. Yeah, we were tired. We hit the last aid station, and I feel like I've eaten as much as I've been running. I do TWO cups of Coke at this point, and a couple pretzels, and decide I'm done with food.

A half mile later Jeff and I come upon Becky. She's like a cartoon. There's a short steep hill. She tries to climb it and sliidddddes back down. She's able to laugh about it, but she's been there a couple minutes...and later joked she wonders how much longer she would have been there without us. I go first and almost rip my tights on the tree root I decide to basically use just upper body strength to pull myself up on since my feet have no traction. Jeff goes next and stops at the top. He tells Becky to grab his hand to pull herself up and helps her to the top. We all stick together through the end of the race.

At one point we tackle an uphill where I felt like I pulled a glute muscle because I had to pull myself up on roots and lift a leg to a plateau a good 3 feet up from where I was. Ow.
I've just finished climbing the uphill. You can see Becky using tree roots to climb up behind me and Jeff.
The puddles in the last mile have gotten deep, and we just stop trying to avoid them. And we're thankful to be out of the slippery up- and downhills. We keep up a slow run all the way to the end.

Just a tenth of a mile from the end or so and I hit a slick spot and go down on my hands and knees. And slide a couple feet. My hand and one knee hit a sharp rock that stops my sliding. I come into the finish with the muddiest knees and hands ever, the finish crew is laughing. :-)

8 hours and 4 minutes. What a long day! Non-stop rain the last 4 hours. 5500 elevation gain and loss. Minor cuts all over my hands from grabbing trees for support on slippery muddy sections. A cut and bruise on my knee from the fall & slide that careened into the rock near the finish. Sore hamstrings and glutes from climbing. And definitely the hardest race I've ever done, and that includes the two 50Ks I've run.

I have a small wood plaque etched with the race logo for finishing. Of course my hands were so muddy that right now the plaque is a muddy mess and I'll have to take a hose to it, LOL.

And so nice to have my friend Corina right there when I finished, and the race director Teresa with a big smile!

Next Up: Gorge Waterfalls 50K
Plane tickets are booked. In 5 weeks I'm off to Oregon to tackle a very tough, but incredibly fun and beautiful, 50K with 250 other crazies! I may not make the time cutoffs at each aid station, but I won't know if I don't try. So I'm going for it!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What Happens on the Trail Stays on the Trail... Unless You Blog About It

So the plan for this weekend was 20 miles on Saturday and 10 miles on Sunday, all on trail. However, last weekend I had just come off an awful week and managed only 9 / 5, all on pavement. Previous weekend I was happy though to have done double 12.3 milers.

I had no takers and planned to go out to Erwin Park in McKinney all alone. They have an 8 mile loop. But I woke up this morning to one of the coldest mornings I've ever run. And so this run soon turned into a case of "back in my day" when "we walked uphill both ways" sort of stories, LOL:

  • Wind chills of 11 at the start and 21 when I finished. My Pearl Izumi gloves work great for 35-40 degree weather, but they were not adequate for those temps, and my fingers were frozen 15 minutes in. In fact, I never felt that cold except for how cold and numb my hands were.
  • Winds about 20 mph. This was awful at Erwin Park where it's surrounded by open pastures, and the park itself has lots of open fields to run through between wooded sections. Those fields were the worst, and a big gust would yield the occasional squeal.
  • Essentially ran completely alone for 4 hours. I saw maybe 8 people out there the whole time. A couple guys from DORBA fixing up the trail, a couple guys clearing tree limbs, two mountain bikers, and two guys running trails that would have let me pass but I had only a couple miles left and begged for them to let me hang out with them for half a mile. Raised my spirits immensely.
  • An extra 5 pounds on my back. I tried out my UltraSpire Surge hydration pack for the first time. Note I really never wear a pack and usually run with a handheld. I filled the pack's bladder almost completely up since I didn't know how much I'd drink. So that meant I carried about 5 pounds the whole 16 miles that I wouldn't be used to.

And then I lost another part of my trail virginity, hence, the title of this blog post. It's just a part of trailrunning that while you are out there, nature is your restroom. However, for my dozens of trail runs and a few races, I have NEVER had to potty out on the trail. I pride myself on a strong bladder and a good tendency to balance sweating and hydrating pretty decently. Until today. The combo of super cold and staying hydrating meant I wasn't sweating enough. About 11 miles in, I had to pee. I thought I might as well get this first time over with, on the day the trails were completely desolate. I took only a step off the trail and dropped my drawers. Wow, it was cold out. Of course, then I feel like I'm going forever and someone's going to happen upon me. No one did.

For me, who HATES even using public restrooms and tries to avoid needing a portalet at races, this was a big step. Naturally though, "Trail Priss" here hopes she doesn't have to do this too often!

My goals were more about time out on the trails than miles, so I tried not to fret about miles and would tweet out my status each hour on the hour to track progress. In the end, I completed 2 loops of the Park, which is 8 miles each, for 16 miles in 3 hours, 40 minutes!

Tomorrow, 10 miles in Plano on Oak Point Nature Preserve trails with a bunch of great friends! I haven't checked the weather, but I really hope it's a little warmer!!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Obsessive much?

I've been slowly collecting pictures and course data for the Gorge Waterfalls 50K. And then relooking at it constantly. I finally decided I needed to amalgamate these obsessions instead of keeping 30 tabs open on my internet browser. Now I can revisit it all through this post whenever I need to.

Photographer's Pics of the Gorge Area (Not Exact Race Route)
The race finish, also where we park, is at Wyeth Campground, Exit 51 off of I-84. Then, they shuttle you a 40 minute drive west to the Wahkenna Falls Trailhead, which is Exit 35 off of I-84. This is the start, and then we begin our point-to-point 31(plus) miles. It's been said that the race director, James Varner, always ends up with courses that are long, and this one is rumored to have been more like 32+ miles per GPS. Hmm.

A friend sent me this link titled "Long Winter Walk with Friends" to understanding the beauty, and treacherous terrain, of the region, minus hopefully a vast majority of the snow when I'm there! Definite freaky moments of "I'm going to run or powerwalk where?" Again, these pics aren't from the actual course. They were taken at Eagle Creek Trail which is located off Exit 41 of I-84. So it's a side trail from right where we'll be going through it seems like, even just from the exit ramp number.

A couple of the pictures from the photographer's blog post...
Walking along the side of a mountain, just a normal Sunday, LOL

Um, I heard there were cliffs. Yikes. But look at that view!

Look at the size of those trees!
Videos That Capture The Beauty
Then I keep reading and rereading @RunnerTeri's blog post from last year's Gorge Waterfalls 50K. It was a good write-up with some great pictures. Also, she has a link to this video of Elowah Falls from the race company, which is so cool and gets me psyched up! Listen to the thunderous sound of the falls!

Speaking of videos, this video actually shows the race start too!

And this video was taken by one of the actual race participants. Because he's running, it's pretty shaky at times, but he captured video during the race of a waterfall that we actually get to run BEHIND!!!

More Examples of Brutal But Beautiful Terrain
Laura K's blog entry from last year has some amazing pictures. Example: a slope talus crossing. I had to look up what this even means. Basically, the mountain has a trail going through it, but it doesn't really level off, it's just there in the middle of this large slope down the mountain. See Laura's picture.
See the rocky trail crossing the side of this mountain? I'll be running that!
Here's a picture from one of the official photographers. Look at the little people and the cliffs!
Photo credit: Candace Burt
A look at a steep switchback. Note the height of the surrounding walls next to the trail to see steepness!
Photo credit: Tom Riley
Course and Elevation Profile
I found this page of someone's Garmin data who ran it last year. Here's a snapshot of the course and elevation profile...

Travel Plans
I guess it's getting real, because I've finally started looking at travel plans. It looks like there are two nearby towns.

1) Cascade Locks, 20 minutes away. There are two types of hotels, $60 a night really cheap ones and $250 a night resorts. The more affordable ones have reviewed where it's described that they give you earplugs for the trains that go right by them in the middle of the night. Um, no thank you.

2) Hood River, 15 minutes away. Good standard hotels here. Looks like I'll stay there!

Staying at a hotel in Hood River is 1 hr, 15 min from Portland.

I'm thinking about flying in late Friday to Portland Airport, getting my rental car, and staying Friday night at an airport hotel.

Saturday: I could spend a couple hours in Portland, then drive the little over an hour to the Hood River hotel, stopping to make sure I can find the race parking along the way. Rest, maybe a nap, dinner, lay out gear, bedtime.

Sunday: run the race.

Monday afternoon: fly back home!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Shocking Total in January's Running Report Card

It's that time where every runner tallies up their miles and blogs about it. Well, after directing a race and a sinus surgery, in January, I didn't even have my first run back until January 12th. While I have been going through an intense ramp-up, I assumed my miles wouldn't be too high - it was just too little of the month. But I went ahead and added it up this morning.

January 2012: 100.1 miles! Yes, over 100 miles! And that's 22 1/2 hours of running, and another 7 hours of strength training sessions with my trainer!

No wonder I'm sore today. So I will start February with no running today, but an hour strength training this evening, so it's not a day completely "off".

This last 5 days, I've hit 41.2 miles. And with tomorrow night's intended run, I should have my highest 7-day mileage total ever. 

The hard miles won't stop there... February goal: about 140 miles!