Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Next Big Goal - Rock Creek Outfitters Chattanooga Stage Race

3 mountains. 3 days. 60 miles. June 15-17. 12 weeks away.

3 weeks ago, after a month of hemming and hawing with my finger hovering over the "Register Now" button, I took a chance, and I signed up for Rock Creek Outfitters Chattanooga Stage Race.

I think the race has been around for about 10 years, but this is the first year the race director required you to sign up for the whole enchilada - all three days. The race is on "moderately technical trail" (their words) over 3 major mountains of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Day 1 - Raccoon Mountain - 18 miles
Day 2 - Lookout Mountain - 22 miles
Day 3 - Signal Mountain - 20 miles
Here's a Flickr album of some amazing pictures! 

I had friends who ran it last year. Some really awesome, completed badass runners. It looked so pretty, they had an incredible experience, and it looked HARD. Ever since they had started talking about it last April I had wanted to do this race. I was not trained up enough last year - I was still training for my first marathon at that point. But I have thought about that race often since they got back last June.
Photo Credit: Race's FB Page!
The problem was the time limit. The race has gained popularity and now that he's started selling out, he plans to start tightening up the time cutoffs each year. As a business move, it makes sense - that's a long time over three days to be out there, and if you can fill the race with faster people and still sell out, go for it. But for me, there are other priorities in my life (my family) and genetics that will limit, even with all the reasonable training I put in, how fast I am going to get. And I'm a slow, but consistent, trail runner.

So for this year, on moderately technical trail for 3 straight days over 3 mountains, you have to manage a 15-16 minute per mile pace every day. If you can't on any single day, you'll be asked not to come back. GULP. The race director said over the next few years he will tighten requirements until he reaches that you need to be 13 minutes per mile for each race day.
Photo Credit: Race's FB Page!
I often think about the part in the movie "The Matrix" where the Oracle talks to Neo about the fact that he's already made the choice, but he doesn't see it because he doesn't yet understand the choice. Bad paraphrasing, but I hope you get the idea.

I don't endeavor to be secret with my race plans, but sometimes I'm slow to make them public. But I talk about my training and that I have goals so I'm sure I seem like a big tease at times. I'm not always sure I can see past the choice I've made. This is an example. I know that I should go for it at Chattanooga. It's only going to get harder to attempt this race. But I've spent a good 6 weeks deciding

  • I'm a good runner even if I get told not to come back the next day
  • It's fine if other people think I'm a lousy runner if I'm told not to come back the next day
  • I'm proud that I have the fire in me to even try this and to sign up with no one I know going
  • I have a lot of training ahead of me in 12 weeks to get ready for this race - I will not be told to go home because I simply didn't try
  • I signed up weeks out and knew I would have to deal with whatever came out of the Gorge Waterfalls 50K race - maybe I can no longer stomach running for so many hours because of my pace, maybe I have an awful race, maybe I'm pulled off the course
So now that I had a good race at Gorge Waterfalls, everything falls into place. And I'm ready to openly talk about this next adventure and what it entails. I'm ready for anyone who wants to to follow along on my journey and my training. I'm ready to fail at completion but succeed at spirit and chutzpah if it comes to that.

A much more experienced trailrunner than me and hundred-miler, Jeremy, has agreed to coach and advise me the next 12 weeks. And I recently had my VO2 Max testing redone to aid my training as I focus on trying to do my best.

Come along on this ride! And maybe you'll want to join me on the next adventure!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Gorge Waterfalls 50K Race Report

All the agonizing, fretting, excitement, planning, preparing, researching, equipment-buying, training, powerwalking on a treadmill, my first experience running a marathon as a training run, the packing - it was all over. Race day was here.

Gorge Waterfalls 50k had pulled me in 5 months ago with its pictures and promises of a beautiful but challenging race course. I signed up four months ago, before I knew I was going to go through sinus surgery in the middle of the training cycle. I signed up, even though I knew it would be tight finishing in the time limit. And I signed up, even though I didn't know anyone else running it.

Even up to a day before, the course kept changing - 3 changes. This made a planner like me even more nervous. The course first changed because of sudden construction on the Gorge trails. Then it changed because the new course measured too short. Then race week, instead of the tropical storm they were supposed to get, the Cascade Mountains got snow dumped on them. Two days before, the race prep team found that the new 2500 ft ascent had hip deep snow! So it was changed again.

After flying in Friday night, I scouted the course for a couple hours Saturday morning. And I spent the day carb-loading: 3 donuts from the famous Voodoo Doughnuts, spaghetti and meatballs lunch with runner friend Andleeb at Pastini's, and lamb and gnocchi for dinner with Twitter friend and runner Teri (@runnerteri) at Portfino.

Race day morning, all my prep meant I was at the race early and in proper form. Two weeks of no Starbucks Mochas. 10 days of calorie monitoring (I dropped 3 pounds). One week of no alcohol. One week of major water hydration (about 150 ozs a day). Proper physical taper.

The weather was perfect, more so than we expected that morning. In the 40s all day. It was humid which kept you warm  And the 50% chance of rain never turned into any actual precipitation. True, it was cold, but the layers I'd practiced and planned were just right (tights, long sleeve shirt, light running vest, gloves for the beginning, and ear warmers).

So I'm in the parking lot 15 minutes before packet pickup even starts. A few of us stand around chatting. We're not quite sure where packet pickup or the start will be. But everyone's so relaxed about everything. About the time packet pickup should open, word travels through the crowd that James, te race director, has had a flat tire on the way here and he's waiting for a tow. Roadrunners would have generally lost their mind. But we all said, "oh, ok". We all just hung out and talked, all prepped a little. I nibbled two ginger lemon cookies (I had a bialy, kinda like a bagel, already for my breakfast) so I would keep getting calories in since I was sure we'd start a little late.
Texas Runners! (Although they are from the Austin area so I was the sole Dallasite) - Rod, Ben, Me, and Elizabeth
Race director James arrives and we all quietly, orderly, shuffle through packet pickup without a single gripe. Man, I love the trailrunner personality.

We start about 20 minutes late after the trail briefing. As part of it, James warns that there are several sections with ice, mud, or slippery rocks where we need to be careful and slow down. "There are cliffs and if you fall, you will die." We all nervously laugh. He says, "It's not funny."

We start and immediately, like the first 50 feet, hit a bottleneck across a skinny little bridge. Ha! Then through a field, across some boulders, and we cross a road to start the ascent. The first mile or so of switchbacks are paved trail. But this is steep! And we're in a big train of powerwalking fools. I smartly lined up toward the back, and they've switchbacks quickly spread everyone out. I will spend the first handful of miles bouncing around with 6 or 7 fun and energetic ultrarunners from out of state.

I planned to run by heart rate zone the whole race. Zone 1 and low Zone 2 are the most efficient zones, where I burn about 50% fat calories (save those carbs, i.e. glycogen). Zone 4 is a no-no. It's anaerobic and you burn only glycogen, not good for an endurance race. You'll bonk quick here.

My powerwalking sucks my heart rate up quick. Something I want to work on in the future. I hit Zone 4 a few times on this ascent. I curse myself repeatedly. Bad, bad Libby!! When heart rate is lower I feel like I'm moving like molasses. 

We do the majority of the ascent and then spend a couple miles along the cliff, working our way up high around a deep valley. During the whole ascent and this skirting we jump across rocks of big and little streams and see lots of smaller waterfalls. My shoes and socks are soaked 2 miles in with a stream whose rocks are drowned by all the melting snow. And that's some COLD water. While skirting the valley, we deal with a mile or so of slushy snow, packed down snow from all the runners ahead of me that's now a little icy, and mudpits formed by the tread of everyone who came before me.
Craig and Janice from California crossing a stream carefully. See that dropoff on the bottom left side. Yeah, that's a cliff. 40 foot plus drop or so.
This race had such rocky terrain for this Dallas girl. It slowed me down so much trying to keep my feet from being turned to hamburger.

More rocks - this was the standard look of the terrain for much of the race. Ugh.

We'd hit smaller waterfalls, like this one below running down a wall of rock, and small creeks over and over again. You quickly lost count.

We hit Multnomah Falls and our downhill of 1600 ft. It's slower going down than I thought I would get to be because of fighting through rocks. The cliffs provided a dilemma - the least rocks and flattest terrain would be about 12 inches wide right along the cliff edge. The next 2 feet before the wall would be rockier. I am not so fearless as I would sometimes like to be, and would like of my little girls often, which left me fighting rocks much closer to the wall.

As part of the descent, Multnomah Falls has 11 switchbacks of paved trails. And this was where we encountered our first of the obstacle known as TOURISTS. It wasn't so bad through here early in the day but it was much more disruptive coming back. This is a major Oregon tourist destination. We were guests there so we exercised lots of courtesy which could cost you seconds here and there but helped ensure the Forest Service would allow the race again next year!

I loved the paved switchbacks and careened down them, taking back time I had lost on the uphill. After some more trail, I hit the mile 7 / mile 23 aid station at about 2 hours. And that's when I slapped my forehead and knew I needed to ignore all paces on my Garmin. Switchbacks and those elevation changes had seriously jacked with my paces and distance, and I found I was much faster than I thought I had been going. At the aid station I dipped two boiled potato pieces in salt, then left there with 3 chocolate chip cookies and 6 peanut M&Ms in one hand and a big orange wedge in the other. Jeremy always says, "get in and out as quick as you can!"

I had also been doing my honey stinger chews and GUs as planned. I stayed on target with that the whole race, consuming 600 calories of supplements besides all the aid station foods.

Back onto the trails, about a mile further down we hit an area that I decided to name Rockslide. It was about a mile of a bit of forest and then you'd hit a spot where at some point a rockslide had occurred and then repeat. Some rockslides were a mix of red volcanic dust and smaller rocks. 
One of the easy rockslide areas, small rocks and lots of dirt.
Others were big rocks where you couldn't tell a path at all and would play "guess which rocks are loose" on.
Yes, we started at the top between the two trees and went straight through to the bottom center of this pic. Do you see a path? I don't. Scrambled across the rocks and hoped you didn't hit one that was TOO loose.
Then a couple gorgeous waterfalls through this area would make you forget the hard terrain for a second. Here's Oneonta Falls.

Looking down on the falls area after I've crossed the bridge and made a couple switchbacks uphill
The bridge I crossed
THAT'S how steep the switchbacks were. I'm practically right under them but that's a few switchbacks up from me!
Then we ran BEHIND a waterfall. The beautiful Ponytail Falls. 
Before going behind the waterfall...

...And now out on the other side of it!
The next section was a winding mile and a half of very narrow single track with big mossy rocks in your path and overgrown ferns. During the race I nicknamed this area the "Primordial Soup". There's moss grown over entire boulders, downed trees, I think I even see an old forest service gate at one point grown over back in the woods.

One of the wider sections here, but steep downhill drop if you slip and lots of boulders!
Unfortunately at my pace, this was also where about 50 people had to pass me coming back. I know because I kept myself going by counting off every person who passed and giving a big smile and a "good job!" every single time. Some like #29 were overwhelmed focused on the tough terrain and almost body checked me as we passed each other - I don't think she ever saw me coming until that last second. Others like #38 stepped completely aside for me - a great gesture since my time isn't valued generally like the competitive folks in the front. I stood my ground more at this race, insisting with my body that if the space would allow it, we could both run by each other while squeezing into the forest edge a little. Where there wasn't room I would easily acquiesce, stop and step aside, the courtesy I think we all expect the slower runner to yield. The dance on single track in trailrunning is an interesting one.

At almost mile 12 was 2.2 miles of paved road shoulder. Not in the original course, and not the race director's first or second choice, it was what had to be done to find the distance after the last minute trail construction and snow issues. I shuffled along and waved to friends who passed me coming back. While you wanted to speed through this "easy" part of the course, I kept my heart rate in check and just hung out and recovered at an easy pace.
Still super scenic even on the shoulder of a road

Mile 14.3/16.3 aid station sends us back into the trail. I stop for boiled potatoes. I grab a couple cookies and more peanut M&Ms and know I'll be back soon. We are heading out to Elowah Falls, our turnaround point, before we repeat the whole route backwards!

I pass about 10 people on the way to the falls. The terrain's annoyingly rocky. One woman who passes me coming from the falls says, "Girl, in two minutes, this will all be worth it". Multiple people passing comment on what they jusy saw: "It will blow your mind." "The most beautiful thing I've ever seen." I speed up in excitement. And then I'm there and it truly is breathtaking. My face has lit up like a Christmas tree. Lush green moss everywhere, gigantic boulders, a roaring stream, and a 500 foot gushing waterfall, Elowah Falls, that covers me with spray and seems to reach all the way up to where the sun blindingly appears out from the tree canopy.
The falls is in this tiny isolated valley with these huge, moss-covered boulders

Happy Trailrunner Self-portrait Time!
I snap some pictures and check my watch. 4 hours for half the course! So unless I slow down by over 1 1/2 hours going back, I'll make the time cutoff! All my worries melt away, and I feel lighter.

Another mile or so back to Mile 14/16 aid station. The volunteers help fill my hydration pack. I had started the race with 70 ounces (2 liters), and, while it was heavy, I'm glad I didn't have to refill more than once. So I left aid station 16 with another heavy 70 ounces to carry me to the end. A 4 oz cup of coke and another 2 boiled potato pieces before I leave. More peanut M&Ms, two chocolate chip cookies. I end up putting the cookies in a front pouch of the pack and eat them about a mile down the road. 

2.2 miles of road again. I know now that only 4 people are behind me. There's no pride, there's no shame, it's just where I stand. Road is boring, and I am not looking forward to the Primordial Soup area again. The claustrophobic feel of the narrow single track, the winding, how eerily quiet that area is, you feel completely alone like you are miles and miles from the nearest living thing.

A few waterfalls. A few pictures taken. Back through Rockslide area. Uneventful. Just chugging along. 

Time seems to move slowly. I'm over the twenty mile mark. 

I hit the aid station for miles 7/23 at 6 hours. I sit in a chair and retie my shoes. A volunteer pumps me up with comments about how I only have two more hours or a little more. In the last ten minutes it had already sunk in. I tell him there's a chance I'll PR on this difficult course. Another cookie, more M&Ms. The 11 switchbacks of Multnomah Falls are a killer. I'm dodging tourists and feel like I'm hardly moving. The whole ascent and then skirting the valley up on the cliff in my head feels like it was hours. And while my heart rate isn't awful, I feel like the total heart pumping time is wearing on me. I feel like it's beating hard. I feel like I can't completely get my breathing under control. I'm a little woozy and my stomach feels a little knotted and off. I stop sometimes and just stand for a minute and hold on to the wall next to me. After about a mile of this and feeling so slow-going, I sit on a steep mound of soft moss an plants and put my head between my knees. Two minutes and I feel a world of difference. I talked to two other people who experienced the same thing. Wish I knew the cause. But wish even more that I had done the head between the knees thing a mile earlier. 

The descent starts and I'm going through tons of sticky slick mud from the 250 runners who came before me. Great, it's bad flashbacks to Cross Timbers Trail Marathon 2012. Then I see Janice and Craig from California up ahead of me a little ways. It's motivation. I haven't seen another runner since the turnaround. I don't have a desire to pass them, just to catch up. But they're strong on the rocky flat areas so I only slowly gain ground as I'm now trying to haul.

I finally catch them when we hit the paved trail steep switchbacks. But we saw on the out portion of the course that I was a better downhill runner and as I had told them at mile 7, "but you're both better at everything else!" So I pass them quickly and I am gaining speed from here. I would kill for a perfectly accurate measure of splits through here because I outdid myself. But I groan loudly at the very sharp turn of every switchback. I had heard people say this course kills your quads, and I hadn't understood. It was the downhill while holding yourself back, people would say. Still didn't get it. Midway through the race I could see that it would be sections where you opened up your stride downhill only to suddenly stop short from super rocky sections - this happened a lot. Or how a lot of the severe downhills would be switchbacks where you suddenly had to slam on the brakes, do a 180 and  then go again. That said, while I let out a big groan during those switchbacks, after the race my quads felt fine. I knew those naturally overly developed quad muscles would come in handy, even as my trainer has worked hard to make other muscles learn to carry the load! Ha!

I make it all the way down to a race official at the road and I say, "How much farther?" I've been ticking away the minutes on my watch as I realized I was close to my 8:21 PR set on the relatively flat Rocky Raccoon 50k course.

She answers, "1.5 miles." All the wind is let out of my sails. Oh. That PR is not gonna happen. In my happy puppy-ness of the first 30 minutes of the race, I had not realized it was so far.

Oh well, how close to the PR can I get? Plus I've found out the last couple miles that I have a lot more gas in the tank than I thought I did, so let's see what this body can do. And what it does it gets me on the wrong path for a minute and a half as the body is doing okay but the mind is getting tired. Oops. Back on the path, I'm ticking through the minutes. Back across the road, back across the boulders, and then my gosh, was the field we ran through in the beginning this long? Back across the bottleneck bridge, around a corner, and I see the finish line. I lengthen my stride an actually have a pretty fantastic kick in the end! 

8 hours and 30 minutes. Only 9 minutes slower than my PR. And amazingly, 15 minutes faster than my performance at Wild Hare 50k which had 4800 feet less of elevation gain and matching decline! And my first half of the race was 4:00 and second half was 4:30, and when the second half had a 1600-ft ascent at mile 27 or so, I'll take those splits!

I'm ecstatic! In the last mile of the race, I was very emotional and was expecting I would sob at the finish line but I'm too happy and surrounded by such smiling faces. Race director James shakes my hand and congratulates me, twitter friend Sarah (@sarah430) is working the finish line and introduces herself, and new friends Mark and Elizabeth are there.

Immediately after I saw my finish time I knew I want to go back to Rocky Raccoon because I now think I could do so much on that course and break my PR with the training I've been through and the knowledge I've gained.

Gorge Waterfalls 50k lived up to its promise. A challenging race. An absolutely beautiful course. A personal friendly race production. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a scenic challenge!

Next Up: Captaining a team this weekend for the 4th year in a row at the Texas Independence Relay, a 203-mile relay race. We have an amazing 10-person team called the "Queens of the Road". Ready for a fun weekend!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Last Run Before the 50K - Perceived Exertion vs Heart Rate Zone Test

Perceived exertion test compared to heart rate zones. Hadn't run since Sunday with Steve out of town until late last night. The Gorge Waterfalls 50K race is in 48 hours.

0.1mi warmup walk. 1 mile at Zone 1, perfect 50% of calorie burn was fat, 11:30 pace. THIS IS AROUND WHERE I WANT TO FEEL FOR 9 1/2 HOURS SUNDAY OR I WON'T MAKE IT. 

Then... 1 mile at Zone 3, pushing over anaerobic threshold in the last 1/4 mile. only 27% of calorie burn was fat as an average, 10:08 pace. This is what makes you hypoglycemic in an endurance race! DO NOT DO THIS!

Ended with 0.25 mi cooldown walk. Heart rate recovered quickly, which was great to see.

Legs feel good. Calves slightly tight. 
Immediately had 2 scoops of L-glutamine powder when I came in the door along with a bagel to start putting in carbs for the slow 48-hour carb loading.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Peek Into My Pack for Gorge Waterfalls 50K

For Gorge Waterfalls 50K on Sunday, I've started my packing, and repacking, and checking, and repacking. ;-)

I laid out exactly what I wanted to carry with me for 9 1/2 hours. Below is the anatomy of my UltraSpire Surge pack. Note I will also put my phone (I always feel better having it on me, just in case) in the waterproof pocket the camera is in, and may chop up half a bagel to put in the main pack compartment for added fuel since aid stations are 10 miles apart. Click on it to see the picture big with text!

Now to lay out my apparel and gear and inventory!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Twelve Days of Taper

It's race week! With only 5 days to race day with the Gorge Waterfalls 50K, this is honestly the hardest race taper I've ever gone through. Normally, the taper doesn't bother me too much. Hubby is happy to see me since I'm not running 6 days a week, I get more rest, and I truly relax some because I know the benefit of having fresh legs at the race.

I'm sure it's been much harder partly because I'm extra nervous about this race. I really have resolved that the 32  or so miles don't bother me, the 2 2500-foot mountain ascents don't bother me, but the time limit of 9.5 hours makes me genuinely nervous. Sticking with the mantra "Seeing some of this amazing course is better than seeing none" for the chance I'm yanked off the course.

Taper's also been rough because sickness, both mine and the family, non-stop for several weeks means that I did not get that last really big set of back-of-back long runs, of a 20 miler with a 10 miler the next day. So in honor of my taper madness...


On the First Day of Taper, my training gave to me...
   ... two weeks of no Starbucks mochas.   (I like to cut these out as I approach race day. Easier on the waistline and no caffeine headache when I go without on race day)

On the Second Day of Taper, my training gave to me...
  ... trying to "cram for this test"   (Last week was the overwhelming feeling of "OMG, what more workouts can I do to physically get ready?!?")
  ... and two weeks of no Starbucks mochas.   

On the Third Day of Taper, my training gave to me...
  ... a focus on hydration (every time I don't have a bottle or glass in my hand and realize it, I go get another one)
  ... trying to "cram for this test"  
  ... and two weeks of no Starbucks mochas.   

On the Fourth Day of Taper, my training gave to me...
  ... training log review to see progress (what a nice reassurance, and a call back to the mantra "trust the training")
  ... a focus on hydration
  ... trying to "cram for this test"  
  ... and two weeks of no Starbucks mochas.   

On the Fifth Day of Taper, my training gave to me...
  ... race strategy planning (nothing calms me down like understanding the course the best I can, planning out my paces and strategies)
  ... training log review to see progress
  ... a focus on hydration
  ... trying to "cram for this test"  
  ... and two weeks of no Starbucks mochas.   
No Race Strategy Band this time! But lots of planning & course learning/review

On the Sixth Day of Taper, my training gave to me...
  ... many sick friends across my Facebook newsfeed (no, stay back, vile creatures! I WILL not get sick this close to the race.)
  ... race strategy planning
  ... training log review to see progress
  ... a focus on hydration
  ... trying to "cram for this test"  
  ... and two weeks of no Starbucks mochas.   

On the Seventh Day of Taper, my training gave to me...
  ... calorie tracking (taper crazy people tend to be hungry all the time and some eat eat eat. I've been craving sweets bad. So 9 days to race day I started tracking all my calories so I don't add 5 pounds before I get to the starting line.)
  ... many sick friends across my Facebook newsfeed
  ... race strategy planning 
  ... training log review to see progress
  ... a focus on hydration
  ... trying to "cram for this test"  
  ... and two weeks of no Starbucks mochas.   
This is the app I use for tracking calories. Super helpful!

On the Eighth Day of Taper, my training gave to me...
  ... Garmin screen changes (I have certain data I want easily available race day for a trail race. I also turn off my auto-lap each mile since that's not terribly helpful or always accurate on a trail race)
  ... calorie tracking
  ... many sick friends across my Facebook newsfeed
  ... race strategy planning 
  ... training log review to see progress
  ... a focus on hydration
  ... trying to "cram for this test"  
  ... and two weeks of no Starbucks mochas.   

On the Ninth Day of Taper, my training gave to me...
  ... Lots of extra sleep (I normally function on 6-7 hours a night. I'm a night owl and like to stay up late. But I've been doing 8-9 hours through the taper. Taper's about getting well-rested for the race day!)
  ... Garmin screen changes
  ... calorie tracking
  ... many sick friends across my Facebook newsfeed
  ... race strategy planning 
  ... training log review to see progress
  ... a focus on hydration
  ... trying to "cram for this test"  
  ... and two weeks of no Starbucks mochas.   

On the Tenth Day of Taper, my training gave to me...
  ... No alcohol race week (calories and dehydration that I don't need!)
  ... Lots of extra sleep 
  ... Garmin screen changes
  ... calorie tracking
  ... many sick friends across my Facebook newsfeed
  ... race strategy planning 
  ... training log review to see progress
  ... a focus on hydration
  ... trying to "cram for this test"  
  ... and two weeks of no Starbucks mochas.   

On the Eleventh Day of Taper, my training gave to me...
  ... Very reduced race week running (like zero! Steve's out of town so there's no opportunities for me to run this week.)
  ... No alcohol race week
  ... Lots of extra sleep 
  ... Garmin screen changes
  ... calorie tracking
  ... many sick friends across my Facebook newsfeed
  ... race strategy planning 
  ... training log review to see progress
  ... a focus on hydration
  ... trying to "cram for this test"  
  ... and two weeks of no Starbucks mochas.   

On the Twelfth Day of Taper, my training gave to me...
  ... Packing and repacking and repacking (getting prepared for the exact race day gear, apparel, and supplies I will need. Visualizing each part of the race start to finish in relation to those items)
  ... Very reduced race week running
  ... No alcohol race week
  ... Lots of extra sleep 
  ... Garmin screen changes
  ... calorie tracking
  ... many sick friends across my Facebook newsfeed
  ... race strategy planning 
  ... training log review to see progress
  ... a focus on hydration
  ... trying to "cram for this test"  
  ... and two weeks of no Starbucks mochas.   
I needed so little at my first marathon. The packing for this race feels so big next to it!

Hope you enjoyed this!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Roll, or Powerwalk, with the Punches - Gorge Waterfalls 50K Course Change

So more details are unfolding about the changes for Gorge Waterfalls. It was to be a 32-33 mile (as most people say James' race courses are longer than the advertised minimum distance, c'mon 50K is just a guideline anyway!) jaunt, west-to-east, point-to-point, along the Columbia River Gorge covering about 6500 ft elevation gain, a big part of that being climbing a 1500 ft mountain the first 2 miles. Original Course...

BUT! There's construction on the path. So a week ago the race posted about the construction and hoped to have a new approved course to reveal by March 10.

Today we started to get more info about the new out-and-back course options, starting from the same start line. He needs more distance because the trail construction is at about mile 13.7 of the old course. It looks highly likely now that, instead of the 1500 feet up the first 2 miles and then coming back down, we get to climb all the way to the top of the mountain, to a spot called

Um, interesting. And also 2,460 feet up.

The view from the area of Devils Rest from this website
They are saying there is snow and ice up there right now. So hoping for hot weather to melt that away!

And then when we come back, in the very last miles of the race, "just" (words from the race director) 1600 feet. You know, when we're feeling fresh as a daisy, when our legs don't feel tired at all, ha ha ha!

So now it looks like 6500-7000 feet elevation gain, and per the race, "the majority of which will be in the two big climbs already mentioned the remainder will be from smaller climbs most of which are in the 100ft to 200ft range with a couple 400ft climbs thrown in."

Thankfully, we'll still get to see a majority of the waterfalls as they were on the later part of the course. Of concern, the 9 hour time limit. I was already nervous but have been practicing my mantra of going for it: "Better to try and see part of the beautiful course and have an experience than to not try at all and not know."

And now, if it's a pretty day, I can't imagine how gorgeous the view will be from Devil's Rest. And how often can you say your first big climb in a race was almost 2500 feet in a 50K, and possibly with snow!! It will be an amazing experience, so don't worry about my fretting about the time limit and difficulty, I'm still excited to be going on this adventure!

UPDATE: Just heard from Race Director... We get to go up to Devils Rest on the out AND on the back part of the course. Yes, that's up 2500 feet TWO TIMES. 7500 total elevation gain over the course. This is gonna be a beastly experience - can't wait!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Yesterday I Climbed a Mountain... as Speedwork

I didn't run trails in the cold and rain Saturday morning because I got up at 5 am and was just zonkered. Totally exhausted. I ended up sleeping like the dead for the next 4 hours to hit 10 1/2 hours of sleep total. Thanks to Steve for letting me sleep in, too!

So late that evening I went to the treadmill and plugged in one of my new heart rate training workouts. This one had a several minute warmup and cooldown built in, and then 12 intervals of the following... 2 minutes Zone 1 (pretty easy pace), 2 minutes Zone 2 (more uncomfortable pace), 1 minute Zone 3 (almost at anaerobic threshold, i.e. "sucking wind"). So 60 minutes of speedwork across the 12 speed intervals. Here's the workout as described through the system I'm using on the computer...

But I decided to do it on a 12% incline, the max my home treadmill will do. This was such a hard workout, but in the end I did 3 miles in 75:34. Yes, me, who hates the treadmill - I stayed on there for 75 minutes! Intervals and sucking wind and trying to recover and repeating kept me awfully distracted. And what does 3 miles at a 12% grade equate to? 1,900 feet elevation gain in only 3 miles!!!

Here's how the results looked. You can see the zones highlighted with a graph of my actual heart rate.

What's funny when I now look at my week's workout log, is that I did 3 miles in half the time I would normally have done a plain-vanilla 13 miles long run on a Saturday.

The mountain I will climb at the beginning of the Gorge Waterfalls 50K is 1500 ft in 2 miles, so this was great practice for that race in 2 weeks. And good practice generally for any hilly courses. By the time San Francisco Marathon rolls around in July, I'll be calling those hilly sections just bumps. Or least that would be awesome, and that's how it plays out in my head. ;-)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Gorge Waterfalls 50K Course Change - And a Planner's Panic

I'm such a planner, and that makes me a very atypical trailrunner. But Gorge Waterfalls 50K on March 25 deserved and benefitted from my obsessive analyzing nature. The race has a 9 hour time limit that I have beat my head against a wall about because, on a good race day, it's gonna be close given the distance (probably 32-33 miles, 50K on a trail is just a "minimum" when you see it on a race distance) and elevation gain (6500 feet).

Well I went out on the race website yesterday to look something up, and there was a big note on the main page.

"NOTICE: Due to a construction project on the Gorge Trail in an area with no alternate routes the course is now going to be an out and back from the west end of the route with a slight change to the route between Wahkenna Falls and Multnomah Falls. More details coming soon. The race will still go past almost all of the waterfalls."

Wait, what?!? After I've researched pictures of every step of this course (well, the best I could). And analyzed and planned my running for every up and downhill. Again, not a big deal if you are fast, but don't you DARE judge me when I'm skirting the line of a time limit on what for me is a tough course for my pace.

I know I'll be okay. So I'm kinda scary calm. Yeah, that scares me more. Like maybe I'm in denial and it hasn't set in.

My big wonder and concern is that the 1500 ft mountain we climb up miles 1-2 and back down miles 3-4 will turn into climbing it twice on this modified out-and-back, but the second time, it's miles 28-31. Yowza. And now the elevation gain would also be substantially more.

But who knows? The race director loves hilly, difficult courses, so I should be mentally prepared. He's hoping to post details by March 10 when the course is approved. So I'm eyeing their Facebook page multiple times a day until then.

It's not that I can't handle whatever he comes up with. I just want to plan to handle whatever he comes up with.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

VO2Max Testing

Let me start by saying I have no degrees in exercise physiology, and I don't pretend to understand all of this stuff. That said, I had done my last VO2Max test a year ago right after Sophie was born to get a baseline for where I was at that time. VO2Max was 35 (average, 50th percentile, for a female in my age band) and Anaerobic Threshold was 166 bpm.

My trainer, Donnie, retested me this morning. So my VO2Max moved to 36.5. Now 60th percentile for female in my age band. But man, I was mad - 1300 miles run since the last test and that's all it moved! But Donnie also pointed out that I've been running most of that as base miles, lower heart rate training to run for a long time, and VO2Max won't reflect that. If I had spent 1300 miles of speedwork, then it would tell a different story.

The test helped confirm the reinforcement that I run most efficiently at my comfortable everyday pace, which in turn since it's a comfortable pace I run a lot, makes me more efficient at that pace. It's a chicken or the egg thing as Donnie explained.

But the graph also showed a greater degradation of my fat-burning and oxygen-using efficiency than we would like beyond my aerobic base of about 145 beats per minute. See the picture here where Donnie drew in what it would be nicer to see for me as an ultrarunner.

So more Zone 3 training, and intervals between Zone 1 and Zone 3, ahead for me!

By the way, my Anaerobic Threshold had moved only slightly from 166 a year ago to 171 now. Again, I haven't been doing speed training much so I shouldn't have expected that to go up much anyway.

Also, super duper cool is the fact that the VO2Max testing software, New Leaf, works with my Garmin 910XT!

It downloaded my exact data into the Garmin so when I see calorie burn, and fat calorie burn, it will actually be mostly accurate!! And whereas I always ignored the seemingly arbitrary Zone data from a workout, now the Zones are based on reality.

Finally, the New Leaf system lets me download custom workouts based on my heart rate training zones. So hey, want to do a workout where I spend 2 minutes in Zone 1 and pop up for 1 minute in Zone 3 and repeat? And not look at your watch every half minute to see if the heart rate is in that zone while remembering the heart rate zone ranges? It does all that. I just downloaded the workouts and it will beep and vibrate and get all pissy at me if my heart rate leaves the prescribed zone if I turn on one of those workouts.

Super cool! I can't wait to try some of these workouts and see in a few months the changes in my results!

The House of Sickness

To catch this blog up, this has been our house for the past 4 weeks...

Sophie: RSV (respiratory virus that can be very dangerous in little ones), ear infection, bacterial cold-like thing with gooey eyes, double ear infection (again), regular-style cold, double ear infection (AGAIN!).

Marissa: Brochialitis (like RSV but in older kids), bad cold with lingering cough.

Steve: bacterial cold-like thing with gooey eyes for the man who NEVER gets sick.

ME: Hard training week ended with my body shutting down and a 102 degree fever after being attacked by both a bad cold virus and a stomach bug that caused me to lose 7 pounds in 5 days. Now treatment for a sinus infection. And the coughing and sleeping wrong one night led to major misalignment to where I almost couldn't move my neck. 6 days later and my neck is better thanks to my licensed massage therapist and my chiropractor but I'm still out of alignment and have inflammation because I have a raging headache.

We just can't win! I've disinfected the house, and we're hoping to get past all of this. In the meantime, I missed the final peak week of training for Gorge Waterfalls 50K which was supposed to end with a 20 miler Saturday and a 10 miler Sunday. All my sickness led to that being 5.3 miles Saturday and then 4.4 miles on trails on Sunday.

And amazingly, I'm OKAY. Most people would go crazy without that last big run. But I feel like I have worked really hard in this training cycle. The work has been banked, and there's nothing more to do about it now. Trust the training.