Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Western States 100, River Crossing at Rucky Chucky - a View from the Sidelines

I just had the most amazing race trip to California, and I didn't run a single step. A friend had spent a lot of energy helping faciliate the San Francisco Marathon Ambassadors (of which I'm a 2nd year ambassador) volunteering at the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run. The expectation was that the local ambassadors would have a lot of fun volunteering. This is referred to as the Mecca of ultrarunning for many. You have to qualify by being super fast and running 50 miles or more quickly, and then you have to be lucky to be drawn in the lottery. So when Peter found that we would be given the opportunity to volunteer at the Rucky Chucky Crossing of the American River at right around mile 80, I booked a plane ticket!

Friends and family said, "You are going to California to do what?!?"
"I'm going to wear a wetsuit and stand in a river waist-deep from midnight to 5 am and help these incredible athletes cross the cold American River at mile 80 of a crazy hard 100 mile race."
Yeah. Sounds pretty crazy.
My volunteer shirt. Each area had their own shirt and shirt color.
I knew it would be a volunteer experience unlike any other. I knew the airfare was worth the memories I would take home. I was so right about these things but had also underestimated how it would strengthen and build friendships and how it would inspire my own running.

First Stop - Visit the Finish Line

I carpooled with friends for this trip from San Francisco airport. 2 hours later and we were at the Auburn high school stadium that serves as the finish line. Runners enter the stadium and run 3/4 of the track to run through the arch.
The stadium where runners finish
We hung out and word spread that Timothy Olson was on course record pace. It was a cold year at Western States, and coupled with fast runners, it would end up being a record year for the men and women.
They were setting up the finish line!
Then, Olson entered the stadium. We all cheered loudly, I got the camera ready, and then snapped some pictures, held out my hand, and got a high-five from the winner himself. I'm not usually a starstruck person, but wow, was I here. 
Timothy Olson completing his series of high-fives coming into the finish

A happy Timothy waves to his adoring audience!

We then saw Ryan Sandes claim second place ten to 15 minutes later.
Ryan Sandes finishes strong with 2nd place!
Some quick fast food dinner and, since the aid station captain had mentioned yesterday that he'd had 5 people cancel on him, we decided to head to our volunteering gig early. We wound our way through super dark country dirt roads to arrive at the Rucky Chucky Crossing at mile 78 around 9:45 pm.

It Zips Up The Back

We found aid station captain Steve, and he was happy to see us. He put everybody to work and ordered us to change into our wetsuits and get in the water. I'd never worn a wetsuit. Changing into it took entirely too long as by the time Elise and I squeezed my legs in, we then learned that I had not paid attention to her instructions, and had put it on backwards. Argh.

20 minutes later I was squeezed into this sausage casing of a wetsuit. Lovely. Into the river, created from snowmelt, I went with my headlamp on. They had a cable strung across the river and a thick rope cable-tied to it. A raft was off to the side with a boater who could take volunteers to the other side or the occasional participant who didn't want to wade across, or was deemed unsafe to wade across safely.

We were spread out on the cable every few feet. We would shine our lamps low into the water, shout jokes and encouraging words to the runners and their pacers, point out dangerous rocks, grab a shoulder or arm to stabilize them, move gear that threatened to drop in and get wet, and hold the cable steady under the weight of runners leaning on it.
Seeing the Cable Crossing for the first time. Before I went to get the wetsuit on.
We'd start in the shallows and as a rested volunteer came back in, we would all move down, until you ended up in the middle with water almost at chest level. Which means for the small 5'0" women, it was at their armpits. Yowza. And then you moved your way up to the far end and then took a mandatory break to warm up as you got kicked off the other end with volunteers moving down the line.
Where I spent Western States
This picture was taken at the end of the volunteer stint at 5 am. From the near side of the river. Runners come down the canyon to the lower left light, which is where the cable starts. Then, they cross the river to the other side, which is the light on the far right. Then they start to work their way through the trees back up the canyon with the aid station at the top.

A Friendly Face

The strength of these runners was so impactful. They dutifully waded through this frigid river one step at a time. A few of us developed jokes to tell them and statements to get a laugh. The fellas always had the hardest time with that first step into the deeper water that caused certain body parts to get very very wet and cold. We heard all manner of obscenities and shouts that night. We would joke, "Only 3 piranhas spotted so far tonight." or "We've been accident-free now for 20 minutes!" and "If you round down, we haven't lost a runner yet!!"

We were thanked by everyone. People incredulously asked how we could stay in so long, not realizing until we answered that we were blessed with the wetsuits. A dozen times runners lamented our "awful job" we'd been given as volunteers, and I would say, "Awful?!? I flew all the way from Texas JUST to help all of you. There's nowhere I'd rather be than helping you fine folks." That would get a jaw drop then a huge smile. I was happy to let them know that what they were doing was amazing and meant a lot to all of us. Ironically, friends at the aid station on the other side of the river actually had a runner say to them, "Did you know there's a volunteer in the river who flew all the way from Texas to help?" They laughed and said, "Yep, that's Libby." So fun!
Waist deep, in a river, in a wetsuit, with a headlamp. Oh, and I can't swim.
Maybe midnight, I suddenly found myself face to face with Martin in the middle of the river. "OH, hi Martin!" This was buddy Suann's (@UltraLadySuann) boyfriend, and yes, I met him for the first time in the American River. We exchanged big smiles. He ended up running 7 minutes shy of 24 hours. Yep, silver buckle - on his first ever 100 miler.

Around 1 am, I hear from the far side of the river someone yelling my name from the rocks. Aside from our headlamps, it's basically pitch dark out here. A million stars, the silhouette of pine trees against a black sky, and occasionally little bobbing headlamps of runners coming down the canyon and then those who have crossed heading back up. I yell, "Yes, who is it?" It's Lesli, Josh's wife. And over the next hour, she's concerned we haven't seen Josh yet, with his pacer Jeremy who is also my running coach.

2 am, Josh and Jeremy arrive! Josh gets to me first, big smile, and I give him a big hug and lots of encouraging words. Jeremy next and another hug. This was Josh's first 100, and I never get to see Jeremy because he doesn't live locally.
A picture of Josh later, when he would come in to the finish
A few minutes after Josh and Jeremy, another hug for Dallas runner Nick, who was making this his 2nd 100 miler and would end the day only a couple minutes after Josh.
Nick as he would look coming into the finish later.

Now It's Just Plain Cold

I took a short 20 minute break after that, my first and only break, to get some pizza, some pulled pork, and Elise fixed me a hot steamy cup of hot cocoa - such a doll! The volunteer spread of food was pretty great, along with the volunteers that tended to that. You didn't know how cold you were until you got out of the river. And my shoulders and thighs ached slightly from stabilizing the cable and staying on our own feet.

Through the 3 o' clock hour, it got colder and colder. Low 40s in the air temperature. At some point the water was feeling warmer than the air, which was weird. To warm my hands, I would dip them in this river that had been created from snowmelt. Weird. You could see your breath in the air. The jobs closer to the bank were less fun because less of you was submerged so it was colder.

At 4 am, I'd spent a total of 5 hours in the river and had enough. The volunteer group was a good number. And I knew I needed extra time to get out of my wetsuit and changed in the dark in the SUV at the campsite. And man, peeling off a wetsuit is definitely a skill I need to work on. I also hadn't realized how numb my fingers were.

See It Through to the Finish

A couple warning horns in the half hour before aid station close. And then that final honk at 5 am that showed that the course at this point was closed. Sadly, 2 runners and their pacers came in minutes later. There were tears. That was rough. Friend Laura was sweet and gave them rides into town.

We went back to the finish line in the stadium at 6 am and stayed until exactly at the cutoff. There were some touching finishes. I was able to scream and cheer in Josh and Nick. I was able to meet Josh and Martin's crews and hang out with Suann and Jeremy a bit. We saw a local, very social runner, who had an entourage cheering for him as he was the last official finisher, a little over a minute before the 30 hour cutoff.
Josh Witte completes the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run, raising his arms in triumph!
Nick Polito finishes the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run!
Right before the cutoff horn, a runner appeared coming into the stadium. The crowd went into an uproar. I fought through the choking feeling in my throat, and even though I knew he couldn't make it in time, I found myself instinctively screaming "RUN! RUN!" I knew there was no sprint left in the man. He had just come 100.2 miles! The announcer said it would be too late. He announced the man and said this would have been his 10th Western States finish. That's when I left the stadium, in tears, as I heard him finish unofficially 17 seconds past the 30 hour mark. I cried to the car and regained my composure. It completely broke your heart to witness this. He looked happy coming around the track, but I hurt for him so bad.

Homeward Bound

A long 2 hour drive back to San Francisco. I'd slept a restless 30 minutes all night but the adrenaline was still there so no sleeping in the car for me.

Flying out of SFO ended up being a disaster. And by our 3rd plane change due to "broken part" issues, I crashed hard and slept the whole plane ride. Home at 2 am instead of my originally planned 9 pm arrival. But worth the trip.

Impactful

That's the word that I keep using in descriptions of the weekend to others. I can not express how hard the memories of the runners and the people I was surrounded with are now engrained into my consciousness. An amazing weekend that I think will help guide my own running in the future!


Monday, June 18, 2012

Doctor, Doctor, Give Me The News

Doctor, doctor, give me the news
I've got a bad case of lovin' you
No pill's gonna cure my ill
I've got a bad case of lovin' you
-- Bad Case of Lovin' You, Robert Palmer
Well, my love of running and challenging myself had led me to some interesting times. Luckily, a pill is "gonna cure my ill" in this case!

Performance problems at Jemez and then Chattanooga in the last month could have gotten me sad, mopey, and resentful. DNFs (Did Not Finish) are never easy. However, in both cases these races were still incredible experiences although still painful in the moment, and it appears a huge blessing to me in helping me learn more about my body!

Jemez 50K brought me home thinking, after my first ever exposure to altitude, that I suffer easily from altitude sickness. A runner friend suggested I get my ferritin (iron) levels checked since it can make altitude sickness worse, so I did. Blessing #1 for Jemez because it turned out my ferritin and iron saturation levels are very low.

However, Chattanooga Stage Race wasn't an altitude race. So with a doctor's appointment already scheduled for a few days after I got back, I headed off to Chattanooga. Only to have similar, although way less severe, problems. Blessing #2 for Chattanooga because now I knew in my heart, I didn't have an altitude problem made worse by iron deficiency - I had an iron deficiency problem that at Jemez had been made worse by altitude!

I called this morning and the doctor was able to fit me in right away instead of waiting until Wednesday. He confirmed that I had textbook symptoms of iron deficiency. I'm lucky that my red blood cell counts and hemoglobin are still in normal ranges so I do NOT have anemia. I have iron deficiency which is one of the possible causes of anemia. Just clarifying the wording here.

(By the way, I never would have known it if the doctor hadn't told me but my lab work had also shown my cholesterol is incredibly good. I guess that means more In-n-Out Burger and Pluckers Chicken for me!)  ;-)

I start iron pills (ferrous sulfate) 3 times a day with a glass of orange juice to aid in the absorption of the iron. The doctor said I might have already had somewhat lower iron levels but the very increased intensity of training this season, coupled with changes to menstrual cycles and my diet, have made this now a very visible problem.

I'm a mathematician remember, so I love my quantification of changes. So the doctor plans to retest my iron levels in 2 weeks. The hope is that in 2 to 4 weeks I should feel better generally and not be plagued with these symptoms out of long hard runs anymore!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

2012 Chattanooga Stage Race - A Race Report

Update after posting - June 18: The doctor fit me in early. And I have answers now...

It was Day 2 of the Chattanooga Stage Race. I thought I was losing my mind. I wracked my brain and the mathematician in me truly went through my running by the numbers. So far this year, I had run 665 miles (compared to 1000 total in all of last year), had completed 4 marathons, 2 half marathons, 1 25K trail race, and 1 50K trail race… and 7 miles into this day’s race I was gasping for air like this was a full Everest summit! 7 miles?!? What was going on???

Flashback to the day before…

Day 1 of the Chattanooga Stage Race was 18 miles on Raccoon Mountain. I had trained hard for months for this race. Interestingly, I was not scared by 60 miles in 3 days over 3 mountains. I knew I could complete the distance. My biggest source of anxiety was that the time cutoffs each day meant that I might not finish it fast enough to be allowed to return for the next day’s race. This race had sold out early and had a very fast competitive field of runners. While I had gotten faster through the season, I didn’t know yet if pushing the pace for 60 miles was something I could do, and my pace meant I had no margin of error in making those cutoffs. Run strong for a full 60 miles or out of luck. I went in there planning to try my best but prepared for the very real possibility of not completing the 60 miles.

Super cute women's race shirt - purple with pink contrast stitching and print
Gorgeous morning for a run. 68 degrees at the start (it would be about 84 at the finish). 80% humidity which would decrease as the skies cleared to a perfect blue. We ran completely around the lake on the mountain that has a dam had huge electrical conduits. 211 of the originally signed up 250 runners were ready to run (normal attrition from injury and change of plans since it had an early sell out this year). I was able to meet Chip, Josh, Rebecca, and Keith all from San Antonio. Such nice, and fast, runners. I know ultimately Josh placed 4th overall in the final standings of the three days combined!

Happy runner!
The morning of Day 1 was perfect for me in terms of my own running. Everything was dead on – hydration, nutrition, no nervous tummy, muscles felt great, I could feel my heat/humidity training had paid off. I pushed the pace, but it wasn’t anything completely unreasonable, just a steady push to keep a strong aerobic pace. First aid station I check my pace, and I’m right where I need to be, like a little over a 14 minute per mile pace.

The electrical magnitude of what purpose this lake and dam serves
Sidebar: Let’s talk aid station food -- First aid station was a bit of a disappointment from what I’m used to at Joe Prusaitis’ Tejas Trails races or what James Varner at Rainshadow Running in Washington/Oregon produces. A couple pill cups with a trail mix of peanuts and raisins and maybe some banana (I don’t remember the banana so much but I wouldn’t because I hate banana). Second aid station was worse from the viewpoint that I was happy to see potatoes, but they were next to a Morton’s container at salt, and I personally prefer the bowl of salt that you dip the side of the potato in. But the potato was almost raw and shortly after getting on the trail I spit the majority of it out. They had also gotten unlucky in their oranges because my slice was sour – very blech. I wasn’t completely dependent on the aid station food and could shrug it off. But I’m a lover of chocolate cookies, peanut M&Ms, well-boiled potatoes, and orange slices with the peel still on (I want to keep my grubby trail hands off the orange “meat”!), and this race just didn’t satisfy those needs.

View from Aid Station 2 after emerging from the woods
About mile 9, things went wrong. Very wrong. I couldn’t catch my breath. At all. It’s not like I had been all out sprinting this race. But this difficulty breathing started to set in with each step. It was like someone had put my chest into a cage, this tightness around my torso, and I loosened my pack and heart rate monitor but nothing could make that feeling go away. By mile 14 I decided I needed to seek out medical at the finish and check my oxygen. It was feeling a little like I had felt at Jemez 50K, but I’d call it “Jemez Lite” – maybe only 20% as bad. I could still struggle through it and muster a normal run pace with only occasional stops for a minute or so to somewhat recover my breath. And I had this sleepiness descend on me where I just wanted to lay down SO bad. But this wasn’t hypoglycemia – no death march. Just this longing to sleep. And with every gasp this tunnel would get smaller as I felt like there was no end to this, and I would never ever get a full breath again. Hard to describe. The oxygen deprivation made me a little staggery on the trails at time, disoriented, and dizzy. When your footing is important, this is scary.

I crossed the finish line ahead of the 4:30 cutoff with a time of 4:18. This was actually great for me. For this pace, it meant my 25K time had been about 15 minutes better than my April 25K PR I had set (which was really 7 minutes better since I had gotten lost for 8 minutes at that race). By the way, while one person finished after me, I was the last person to cross in the time limit.

A couple folks I had run with earlier in the race cheered me by name into the finish. I crossed and tried to play it cool. There was this weird mix in me of a) I need to find medical and check this out, and b) I don’t want to alert the race crew that I might be struggling or they might forbid me from continuing . But when the runners who had cheered me in said, “How are you feeling?”, my immediate answer was “I can’t breathe.” I sat on a cooler and worked to recover my breath, chatted with another finisher after that for a couple minutes about the problem I was having, and then spotted the medical banner and headed over casually. It had been about 10 minutes from my finish. I told the nurse my concerns, and she dug out her pulse oximeter to check my oxygen saturation level but told me we had probably waited too long as every minute since my finish I had been recovering. Confirmed, my level was 97%. I was kicking myself – I shouldn’t have tried to be so casual, I should have just collapsed like I was feeling at the finish and had my oxygen checked right away.

Two of the San Antonio runners, Chip and Josh, came over to chat, but at that point, I was in a mood. I apologized later for my funk saying I just didn’t understand what was going on with my body and was frustrated at the time.

I called Lesley while leaving the race site and said, “This was freaking hard. Is this just what all out racing feels like? I can’t do that again.” We talked through the next day’s course. And as we talked, I started to forget what those last 9 miles felt like. Maybe it was a fluke, I thought. Lesley was happy that my muscles felt so good. Funny how I hadn’t thought about that until we talked, but yes, no hobbling. And into the next morning, especially with my usual recovery tricks of double ice baths, I had no physical soreness. I felt like all those miles and all those hours of strength training had made me durable on trails.

Fast forward to Day 2…

Day 2 was 22 miles on Lookout Mountain. For the second day, I had the best parking spot, having scouted the race site the day before and set out from the hotel nice and early. 20 feet from the start/finish!

Perfect parking!
Once again, everything with me at the start was right as rain. My body was cooperating. My planning had worked. I was prepared.

Ready to start Day 2
The race started, and I chatted with the back-of the-pack folks around me as we all warmed up and got moving.

Sidebar: Make friends with those around you -- Lynda from Day 1 who was so sweet in her concern but had strongly urged me to get an inhaler for day 2 from a Doc-in-the-box because of the possibility it was adult onset asthma, not knowing that I’m wary of drugs anyway for their possible side effects but especially so when traveling in a new town alone. Jack was an ex-Marine with a Semper Fi tattoo. Tom fiddled with his Walkman that had already broken a half mile into the race. And Buddy who I called Birmingham because that’s where he was from. I love the people I get to meet trail running!

We went down a gravel road for almost a mile. Then we hit the 9 minute bottleneck of a very tight climb up the cliff with ropes set into the walls and attached to trees! Like we stood around with our Garmin's showing a lap pace of nothing while everyone single-file climbed up this section.

Bottleneck!
Up a mountain ridge to mile 2.5, then turned and came back down to finish the first loop back at the start at mile 5.3. I was in a good pack, rocking along and having fun. We headed out on the out-and-back connector trail to another section of land. I got left behind by the pack at about mile 7 when the hint of problems started again. By 7.5, I was having the same struggle. And I thought I was losing my mind.

7.5 miles and I’m huffing and puffing like I just raced Usain Bolt. What is going on? My pace is on target. It’s not like I just pulled 2 minutes/mile faster than I normally run. The chest constriction, the gasping, it got worse and worse. I flashbacked to the day before, I flashbacked to the much worse version of this at Jemez. And I had this overwhelming desire to sleep forever, to lay down in the dirt and sleep. And those who know what a priss I am and how much I hate being dirty would tell you that was a big telltale sign that something was wrong.

The fastest runners were coming back around mile 13 at this point. Thankfully it was a wider track in some areas due to ATV use so I didn’t have to keep stepping off the trail. Funny that this was where I finally met Andrew, a Michigan runner who I had kept in touch through Facebook during the training cycle. “Hi, Libby, it’s Andrew!” as he ran by at breakneck speed. I think he had been like 5th after the first day. Wow.

Then I spent 3 miles sorting out my brain as I just tried to keep moving forward. In a world where runners continually bombard each other with images and wording that implies there is no room for failure, and better to die trying than quit, I was having to make a tough decision. Was I weak and just giving up? Or was something medically wrong? And in my heart I knew the answer. Something was wrong, and I needed to stop instead of risk being Careflite-d off the mountain in the 5 miles to the next aid station. I had found out the week before the race that my ferritin (iron) levels were very low, but I didn’t know what effects that could have. I had an appointment scheduled for the Wednesday after the race to find out if we would need injections or IV to supplement my iron and what the cause of the iron deficiency could be. So with that info and this suspicious activity, I just knew that this was not normal. This was not weak. This was sick.

The sweeper caught me about a mile from the aid station at mile 10.7. I told him I had settled it in my head and I was done when we got to the aid station. He was nice and patient and made what could have been an awkward mile instead a calm shadow behind me. He helped me pick out the trail two times when I know it should have been obvious but my head was getting increasing swimmy. Yeah, I look back and think, that is so not a good sign.

DNFing at mile 10.7? It still sounds odd to me, and that’s how I know I’m sick and that iron deficiency is wrecking my racing right now. 10.7 mile trail run should not be an issue for me. That’s not even long in my book anymore. Struggling with that distance was not in MY norm.

The nurse at the aid station didn’t have an oximeter but they could see I was struggling, and she commented on me being “out of it” and clammy. They immediately set me down in a camp chair for a long time. After the aid station was cleaned up and packed up, a nice volunteer named Mark took me back to the start/finish line.

My last view of the course from where the Mile 10.7 Aid Station stood.
I remembered to take this right before I climbed in the volunteer's truck to go back. :-(
On the drive down the mountain, I called my husband first, just like on the first day. And on this second day, I called my friend Elaine. She was a blessing when I needed a quick cry and to sort out and start processing the two days.

Final Verdict

I may not have done Day 3. I may not have finished Day 2. But I am SO glad I went and experienced this race. It was beautiful and a fantastic way to feel like I really saw a piece of a region of the US I had never been too! I made new friends. I had a lot of fun. I got the opportunity to push myself some and be really proud of the results. I reached out of my comfort zone. And I have discovered there’s something going on at higher exertion with longer duration that needs to be remedied, so I’m glad to know about this!

Is It the Iron Deficiency?


After the DNF, late that night, I googled around and found an article from Running Times Magazine that really opened my eyes. The elite female marathoner with iron deficiency in the article had just described me to a T: “When my levels are low, I notice that my breathing gets really hard and I labor up the smallest hills,” says Russell. “In general I just feel lethargic and don’t have much energy.”

Another article I found was able to quantify even what ferritin level counts as low. “Dr. Martin says that in his experience with runners, training and racing performances are usually affected when ferritin levels drop below 20 ng/ml, and that when those athletes increase their ferritin levels above 25 ng/ml they experience a rapid turnaround in performance.” To put this in perspective, my ferritin level tested at 11 ng/ml. Well below the 20 number referenced.

Update: Right after posting this race report, a friend sent me this eye-opening post by elite marathoner Camille Herron. A good read as I'm educating myself. So I wanted to add it here.

So is iron deficiency the cause? I don’t know. I know I want an answer. I know I want a solution. I would love to know how long this has been a problem. I definitely want to know that these symptoms and the low iron isn’t just a sign of something more serious – it’s awful when your head goes there. The first article I referenced implies I may have always had a low iron problem that doesn’t show up on a lot of standard occasional bloodwork and that I had just learned to live with low iron. So maybe it’s just showing up with the intensity of these recent races. Or the iron levels have dipped much lower in the last couple months with the training intensity.

Next Steps

That’s easy – get fixed up. That’s my only goal right now. Figure out exactly what’s wrong with this new doctor and my recent bloodwork lab results, decide treatment, find out how long until I’m healthy again, make a plan to retest then, test myself physically at that point to see that I’m better. Training schedules are all on hold. At this exact second, ALL races are on hold. My chat yesterday with my coach Jeremy, who knows my training so well and could validate for me that I was not going crazy, ended with “Right now, focus on small HAPPY runs.” Some nice easy running with friends while I sort all this out. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How Last Week's Taper Went

Even my husband noticed that last week's miles were low. I'm on taper. It's 10 days until I run the Chattanooga Stage Race. And you know your physical taper is REALLY tapered when your husband points it out.

After so many weekends of either travel or long runs, Steve and I wanted at least one weekend day for brunch with the family. So Saturday I didn't run, and we and the girls headed down to North Dallas to try a new brunch place we'd heard of recently. We love our brunches - great french toast, spicy Migas, even breakfast tacos. With any combo of eggs, meats (chorizo, bacon, sausage), cheeses, and breads/pastries, I'm in heaven. Well, this brunch place's food and service were unfortunately very underwhelming.

So Sunday was a "kill 8 birds with one stone" morning. I needed 10 miles. I wanted to cheer for friends running a triathlon. I wanted to be in the company of amazing people. I knew I should blanket some cars with Showdown Half flyers for advertising. Elaine and I met up at 6 AM that morning in Las Colinas, ran a few miles, cheered friends, put out flyers, cheered some more, and had to leave to get back to the rest of the day. I hadn't realized with watching for multiple friends spread out on the course plus 3 sports plus multiple loops for the bike and run portions, getting in those 10 miles was just not going to happen. Then I had a fun day with my lovely family.

Yes, I had a 4 mile weekend. Add to it Marissa's strep throat last week with an evening urgent care visit, and my runs were less than I would have anticipated too. I ended last week with 27 miles.

But one of those runs in there was speedwork, and I hit all my 200m and 800m repeat target paces for that 5.5 miles. And yes, I could have panicked about getting more miles, but how would forcing that help me overall?

It's a taper. It's about rest. About recovery. About sleep. About getting ready for the task at hand. The last thing that will help is to a) give up sleep to force in a run, b) screw up my diet or routines to force in a run, or c) stress out over work deadlines that occurred last week that I would miss if I had forced in a run.

Now let's see how this week goes. 18 miles in my training plan from Coach Jeremy. He knows my mental health determines my fitness race day more than lots of miles in the taper, so we're both focused on giving me the freshest legs possible for when the race starts.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Where My Peeps At?

There are a lot of moments that this Chattanooga Stage Race coming up seems really like a stupid idea. I think it's my company in friends and social media. I need to get this brain dump out, so please forgive the fragmented thoughts.

A lot of runner friends and acquaintances...

  • ...are doing their first triathlon (the bug has bit people hard this season).
  • ...are going further and harder in the triathlon world than they have before.
  • ...have taken up cycling.
  • ...are running 50 milers for the first time.
  • ...are running 50 milers for the hundredth time.
  • ...are doing their first marathon in the next year.
  • ...do a few marathons a year and have one scheduled for the fall like they do each year.
There's a good chance that if you read this blog, and I count you as a Facebook friend or Twitter tweep, that you may fall in this boat.

And me?
I'm not doing a distance for the first time. I've done 20 miles before. Oh, but not 3 days in a row. Not on technical trail. 

But I can accept that this is different than a lot of friends' goals right now.  But it sucks, yes, that's the word, sucks, when the thought that dominates me isn't covering the distance. It is the obsession with time. 

And not a time obsession the way, again, a lot of runners get to have it - "Oh, I want a new personal record." "Oh, I hope to break 3 hours on this course."

No, it's a time FREAKOUT to not get pulled off the course. And Twitter friend Gene tried to console me with thoughts that the race director will be kind (which I certainly hope so), but he also made the comment that there were many more people my pace than 10 minutes per mile on technical trail.

And no, actually, that's just not true. This race gets FAST people. 250 of them. At last year's Day 2 of 22 miles, 90% of the finishers were a 12:35 min/mi pace or better on hard trail. WHAT?!?

I know I'll be last. I don't even mind that part. I'm on that cusp of the time limit and know that a lot can happen in 60 miles to cement making that cut each day or to burn that chance completely.

But right now I feel so alone. I really don't know anyone else in this situation at this kind of distance. I know it can't be, but I look at the fast times for this race last year, I look at my almost dead last place at Gorge Waterfalls 50K, my almost dead last place at Wild Hare 50k, how did I get here?

I've run 615 miles in the last 5 months. It's not like I attach lead weights to my legs. I've dropped 17 pounds in the year. I've gone from 30% body fat to 18.5% body fat in that time. I regularly strength train 3 hours a week with my trainer. And I am still one of the slowest people I've ever known out there in the ultrarunning circuit!

Am I doing something wrong? None of that stuff sounds wrong. Does no one my pace do what I do truly? Basically no one my pace tries to do 50Ks or stage races?!?

I feel like I don't belong. I feel out of all the circles of runners with those other goals. My awesome is defined differently at this moment than their awesome.

Yes, I sometimes feel like maybe I don't deserve to be there, deserve these goals. Then, I smack myself in the forehead and kill that thought.

It's looking as hot and humid as I feared it could possibly be for all 3 days. It's going to be a rough battle. How many people do you know trying to run 60 trails miles in 3 days and make it all in 16 hours max?!? This isn't a brag of "look what I'm doing"; it's a forlorn "what the hell am I doing here?"

We'll see as it all unravels starting June 15.