Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Let's Go DNF A Race!

This is not a sandbagging post. This is not a pessimistic post. This is a REALISTIC post. I'm going to a race this weekend to DNF (term means "Did Not Finish"). It's not a maybe, it's a definitely. If it was a goal race that had been all of my focus for the last 6 months, the story would be different. But that's not really where I slotted this race in my life, instead focusing on my first 100 miler attempt 2 months ago, so you accept what comes with those choices.

Gorge Waterfalls 100K is this weekend. I've run the 50K before, two years ago, but I really wanted to go and see how far I could get on this other course. So I signed up back in December, knowing fully well I also didn't know how Rocky Raccoon 100 would go at the beginning of February. And that I didn't know how I would feel after.

How has life been on the other side of my first time running for over 24 hours? Tiring. Stressful. Like a half inflated soccer ball. Drop me, and I thud down onto one flat side. I've not recovered fast from that race. And I've been pulled in a couple directions being 100% in when I need to be with my family and being 100% in for my participants when I need to be for the races I produce.

My last two runs a couple days ago were the first time I didn't feel like a heavy weight was part of me while I ran. And I felt fine afterward. So I'm finally coming back.

But Gorge Waterfalls has TIGHT time cutoffs for my back of the pack pace. The 100K is a 16 hour cutoff. I've known about it all along, and I'm grateful Race Director James agreed to do his incremental cutoffs based on consistent splits rather than positive splits. Why even look at the race? Because James puts on stellar races, although yes, races for fast people. Because this race course is still my favorite course I've run.

16 hour 100k cutoff means an 8 hour cutoff for 50K. I finished the 50K out there in 2012 in 8:30. I've only had one trail 50K faster than 8 hours, at a much easier race. My 50K split at Rocky Raccoon 100 was about 7:45, but again, that course is much faster for me than Gorge will be.

Add in a 1500 ft climb and then descent at mile 3.

Add in technical terrain.

Add in a 4 am start with 3 hours in the dark. Add in incremental cutoffs. Add in wet weather in Portland all week and potentially race day on Sunday.

So my plan? Yes, DNF.

But my hope?

  • To get through the incremental cutoff at mile 5.9. 
  • To get through the incremental cutoff at mile 12.9. 
  • And to get through the incremental cutoff at mile 21.8. A 15:30 pace through all that. I can do that at a hard racing pace if everything goes great. If things don't go great, I'll be pulled earlier than mile 21.8.
  • So I'm going there to plan to race my heart out to mile 21.8, then hope and pray to hold on enough to the turnaround at 50K in. I would really like to see all the course one-way.

I considered not going to the race, especially with the stress and lack of sleep for directing my next race one week later. But for one thing, I committed to friends, verbally and financially, to go. For another thing, I keep reminding myself that any mile on the trail is a good thing. Whether it's 6 miles, 13 miles, 22 miles, 31 miles, or more. It's hard to keep coming back there at times.

So let's go see some freaking amazing waterfalls and a beautiful course! And let's go DNF a race!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Good and Bad of Syllamo

Sometimes things don't go according to plan. And that's okay. But when the reality wasn't even in your scope of possibilities, it's kinda heartbreaking.

I decided early race week to go to the 3 Days of Syllamo race in far northern Arkansas. Day 1 is a 50K, Day 2 a 50 mile, and Day 3 a 20K, all on these remote trails in the mountains. I knew it was a hard race. I didn't know how hard. Or that my race would end sooner than I would like.
View one direction at a high cliff at mile 7

The Plan / The Trip

My plan was to do Days 1 and 3 of the race (so 31.1 + 12.4 miles). I committed in advance of a friend (who ended up not being able to go ultimately) so I reserved a nice big cabin that I had all to myself. I'd never done anything close to "roughin' it" so this is now the closest I've gotten to that.
My Cabin

Pretty view

Pump house number 11 cabin... with prop

It was a 7 hour drive to Mountain View, Arkansas. Uneventful - for some reason, running long distances has also made me an awesome roadtripper (time is relative!).

I went to packet pickup Thursday night and met a couple folks from Kansas City.
Packet pickup

Then, dinner and bed. Oh, but not before a complete freakout about getting lost on the course. This race was notorious about people getting lost, especially on Day 1. And packet pickup confirmed there were about 50 people running Day 1. And I knew a couple people were lost last year until about 9:30 at night. And I knew there was no cell service at the race site. And and and... More on that in a minute.

Race Morning

I got there super early and hung out in the car until trail briefing time 5 minutes before the start. You could see everyone else was equally freaked out about getting lost. A detailed conversation from the race director about the trail markings and questions from everyone there with lots of chitter-chatter amongst the participants. Melissa Linan then tells me a few years ago someone was lost for 2 days... they had to cancel the Sunday race for search and rescue efforts. Great, now I'm really freaking out.

Summing Up This Race

I thought about going through this race as I usually do, mile by mile, memory by memory. But instead, I'm going to focus on the huge recurring stressors in this race:
  1. Course Marking
  2. Terrain / Elevation Gain
  3. Time Cutoffs

Course Marking

It was as bad as everyone warned. In 20 miles, there were MAYBE 50-70 TOTAL flaggings. We're definitely spoiled with Tejas Trails races where confidence markers are everywhere. But this was the essence of minimal. You could go MILES without a marker.

If you are slow, you don't have the luxury of going off -course. Those incremental cutoffs (tied to an ultimate 9 hour cutoff at the finish) will get you. I knew this. I knew I *had* to stay on course.

The only marker you would get was an intersection and even then, it would not always be crystal clear which way you were supposed to go. Is that a trail? Or a deer trail? Or a rain washout area? Oh, and they've had leaf fall through this forest, so the whole course is like a Magic Eye picture. If you aren't looking at it at the right angle, you can't see the trail at all. It just looks like a leaf-strewn forest.
Find the trail here... I dare ya! It's not easy.

Luckily, experience on my side, I had gone through that at training at Isle Du Bois in the fall, and pacing at Ozark Trail 100. That gave me some confidence.

What didn't give me confidence?

  • Aid station at mile 4.5 when the volunteer says, "There's a bunch of intersections on this loop. Pay close attention to the markers."
  • Mile 5 when we're out on a loop that reconnects us at mile 9 to the aid station we just left at mile 4.5. And two guys are running TOWARD me. The guy in front sees my look of panic and yells "Wait. Don't worry. We accidentally did the loop backwards."
  • Mile 5.5 when Darcy Africa, yes, one of the fastest women in the US, Darcy Africa, came up behind me, yells a Hi, passes, and says she got lost for a few miles. I yelled that it must feel good to be back on the course. And then I panic. People are seriously getting lost if I'm in front of Darcy this far into a race.
  • Mile 10 when another gal caught me and sped by.
  • Mile 12 when a guy named Ben catches me and had lost 2.5 miles to the course so far. And he had run the race before. 
  • When you are constantly checking the ground for the occasional soft forest soil spots between the rocks and roots, to make sure running shoes had been there before you.

I knew I couldn't afford to get lost. So any possible intersection I would pass and do a 360 degree check of the area to make sure I headed the right way. That's a lot of lost time, but not as much time as getting lost.

Terrain / Elevation Gain

I knew this would be the most gain I'd had in such a short span. Gorge Waterfalls 50K was about 6500 ft gain. This was to be 7000 ft. And this was more rolling than Gorge's two big climbs plus some extra.

It wasn't that it was rolling hills - it was that it was rolling hills on rocky terrain + under-utilized trail. The terrain was rockier than I expected. The rock spacing was nice that it was still very runnable. But my feet were constantly landing on a rock.

Look down and I miss the potential first trail marker I've seen in miles. Look up and I miss a rock and fall. These are great options.

And that under-utilized trail part? It meant that I had to laugh about Bandera, the ultra termed "the trail that bites". Screw sotol cactus, because the trails of Syllamo bite. With what? With the overgrown branches, brambles, and briars. I have the ripped/pulled sleeve of a shirt (which a volunteer used manicure scissors to cut the 6 inch fabric pull off at mile 4.5) and the welts on my legs to prove it.

Well, this was my first big miles back since the 80 miles at Rocky Raccoon 6 weeks ago, and I could feel it. I kept the pace conservative once I saw what the terrain was.

By the way, there were three creek crossings in miles 13-15. Not the minor crossings of multiple times before and after that. These were 50 feet across, almost knee deep crossings. And the first one? Slickrock under the water. I actually slipped and had to submerge both arms, and handheld water bottle, into the water down to touch the rock to keep myself from falling. The next couple crossings were pebbles plus sandy shore so way easier. All creeks were about 40 degrees (according to the race director) from the big ice/sleet they had recently received. And they numbed my feet!

But the constant rocks did a number on me. Something around mile 16 happened and I headed downhill (figuratively) with pain in my left arch. While this is the leg that has dealt with plantar fasciitis off and on, I'm in maintenance phase with that. I see a sports chiro regularly, stretch as often as I can remember, and I'm cleared for all running. So I think the rigidity with all the old trauma / scarring on that arch plus that terrain means I suffered some sort of contusion or trauma on a rock. I was fine - I was fine - then between miles 15-17 I turned from fine into favoring my right foot and wincing off and on from sharp pain in my left foot.

Plantar fasciitis doesn't ever hurt me DURING the run, just late in the day sometimes and first when I wake up (so I do ankle rolling before I jump out of bed to prevent more micro-tears). This isn't like that. It hurt like TRAUMA. (And the day after, it feels like a bad bruise. I want the doctor to confirm before I get back to running of course though.)

Which at mile 19.5 meant that I missed the last incremental cutoff before the finish by 5 minutes. Sigh. Even if I had made the cutoff, the right thing to do with my foot was to drop to be completely honest.
 Cool rock wall we ran against...

...that led to this neat rock staircase. Note I was too busy trying to
avoid cutoffs to get a ton of pics of the constant rocky terrain.

Time Cutoffs

Constantly calculating splits. Fun times. I was consistent through mile 15. Recalculate by how much my Garmin has been off from the aid station splits. Okay, still on a 16:30ish pace. I need sub around-17:10 pace to make all the cutoffs.

Until my pace degrades as my left foot hurts terribly. And I watch that "oh, good, I have 30 seconds per mile over 15 miles to spread over the next 15 miles" fade into oblivion.

Even funnier is watching the faster people pass me and not be worried about cutoffs even when they had lost 2.5 miles to the trail markers.

I hadn't expected the terrain of this trail. My fault. Most of my 50Ks have been under 9 hours (the cutoff). However, I also did a 9:30 at Bighorn and a 9:52 my first year of Bandera. Technicality slows me down significantly anyway.

So when I came wincing into mile 19.5, the fellow said "What do you need?" And I said, "I didn't make time cutoff." I had known it was coming for 2 miles. It dominated my thoughts. He said, "Huh?" And looked at his watch. Sure enough, I was his first to not make cutoff so he didn't even know the time had passed.

I can't fully elaborate on the stress that comes with fighting closely against time cutoffs. And at least I'm used to it. For being a stage race, Race Director Steve Kirk is kinder on his cutoffs than the race director for the Chattanooga Stage Races (been there, done that, have the DNF to show for it).

To Summarize... The Good and Bad of Syllamo

First, to get it out of the way, the bad:

  • I didn't finish a race I never intended to DNF... and this DNF came without blood spurts (North Face New York) or hallucinations (Tahoe Rim Trail) or anything fun to characterize it. Something got screwed up in my foot and I lost time and I lost too much time.
  • I would have emotionally loved to have finished this race. I timed out and DNFed Rocky Raccoon 100 6 weeks ago, and I am fully aware that the tight time limit of 16 hours for the 12000-ft gain Gorge Waterfalls 100K in 2 weeks will result in a DNF somewhere along the course. I wanted a finish here.
And then, to refocus, the good:
  • I proved to myself that trail experience does pay off. I never got lost on the trail when others did. I got into the race and said, "Oh, this is Ozark Trail or Isle Du Bois" and I knew what to do. 
  • I chose to loose small amounts of time in multiple moments wayfinding course markers, over 30 minutes of time lost on a trail that wasn't part of the race.
  • I stomped across multiple significant creek crossings. My lube job on my feet worked great. I handled soggy heavy freezing cold feet until my feet warmth dried the socks again. My shoes were still wet the morning after (note for stage races: pack multiple trail shoes!)
  • I kept moving until I got to a cutoff. And in reality, I'm glad for the cutoff because I needed to stop and otherwise I would have probably kept going and seriously injured myself.
  • A huge experience that will aid me in the future.
  • Stunning scenery like here at mile 7 where we hit a high point over the White River.
View looking back at mile 7 on a cliff

Next Up:

Gorge Waterfalls 100K in 2 weeks. I'm happy because I get to enjoy a weekend with Lesley and Jeremy, running one of my favorite races (when I ran the 50K) ever. I'm upset that I know I can't finish it. It's an awesome thing to qualify for Western States and for many 100Ks that means finishing in under 16 hours. James (the Race Director) has such a strict cutoff for the whole race that it's, yes, 16 hours. For 12000 ft of gain and loss. It's a bear of a race. And James wouldn't do it any other way. He makes tough races, and none of us mind that. But I go into it hoping to get through the turnaround at mile 31 so I'll have seen the whole out-and-back course all of one way, and then try to make it as far as I can back before I get caught up in an incremental time cutoff.

I'm going to try hard to continue focusing on the beauty of Gorge Waterfalls and not the likely DNF.

Keep running happy!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

2014 Atoka A-OK 25K Race Report

I needed some trail miles, my frequent race partner Lesley had childcare, and we found ourselves at 5 am on a Sunday morning on March 2, 2014 driving 2 hours north to Oklahoma for a last minute race day registration for the Atoka A-OK 25K trail race. Bad weather was predicted for the morning - potential ice and snow in Oklahoma and Texas. We thought it could be miserable race conditions but we'd be able to travel, which we thankfully were.

We arrived at Mary Ann Miller's big piece of country property, the site for the race. You know it's a small race when you park an hour before and can still park 30 feet from the start/finish line.

We went into the small steel building where Mary Ann took our entry forms and money, and our friend Teresa was there helping out and handed us our bibs. I was able to chat with my friend Edgar for a minute, and he snapped a picture of me too:

It was 26 degrees outside and small snow/ice flurries were coming down. We went back to the car to stay warm until 5 minutes before the start. While I didn't have to use it, the outhouse right between the car and start/finish line was a nice decorative touch.

Lesley and I connected with Mitchel as we waited at the start line. There were only 20 of us, and many we knew who were pre-registered weren't there. The race was limited to only 75 and had sold out (Mary Ann expected some to not show up race day so we had arranged ahead of time that it was okay to sign up race day morning). We thought maybe a lot of the 50K people had taken the early start an hour before. We then found out only 2 people had. Where was everybody?

The race starts and immediately the 10 people in front try to go off the wrong direction and we all get turned back on course a second later. Lesley, Mitchell, and I hang out in what we think is the back. The first 1.6 miles is the single track portion. It's strewn with rocks, and a few roots, and winds through the woods in a rolling fashion. But the leaf fall was so great that there were inches of it in places hiding more rocks and roots. Lesley was coming off a broken foot and I wasn't keen on a bad fall so we took it easy.

After the first aid station, we move to jeep/ATV road for an out and back segment. At the turnaround point, with two layers of gloves on, you had to sign your initials and put your bib number and time. Coming back we saw there were actually some people behind us.

Back to the first aid station, then rutted road to the second aid station a few miles later. I double checked which way to go. The second aid station gets visited 3 times total, so you don't want to miss a dog-leg on this course.

The couple miles to the next turnaround-and-sign-the-log point was rolling fields with a little section of single track woods. The wind would gust through the field.

Heading back to the second aid station, we noticed that all the wisps of hair coming out from under my hat were frosted, covered in ice. Small flurries came down the whole race. The road we were on was washboarded and rutted, and the frozen ground felt really hard on my feet. The 3rd aid station was a turnaround and unmanned station. We signed the log and head back toward the 2nd aid station. During this section was when we started to notice our water bottles were starting to freeze. It wasn't just freezing the pulltop; the underside of the lid was frozen. And of course, half the water was ice too.

We had to pass around water bottles to get the lids unscrewed since they were frozen closed. I kept my lid closed more loosely after that and I think some water sloshed out little by little the rest of the race because the zipper on my jacket on that side where I hold my bottle had a huge ice block around it after we finished.

Back at the second aid station we refilled our water bottles and drank right there since the lid on-and-off thing was annoying. We knew that we were close enough to the finish that it was more practical to drink right there and again at the next aid station. I grabbed more chocolate covered peanuts, which, since we hit that aid station 3 times, was my primary fuel for the race.

Arriving back at the first aid station, we had only 1.6 miles to the finish. I had wondered before this race if I would get a new PR (my old 25K PR from April 2012 at Hells Hills was 3:46). Lesley decided to have us pick up the pace a little to widen that PR and then she wanted to catch up and pass the people in front of us at some point.

Basically, on the rocky, leaf-strewn, single track part, we went from a 13:30 average pace to an 11:20 pace for the last 2 miles. Ow. I might have hated Lesley for about 10 minutes.

We crossed the finish, and I was so happy with the 3:24 finish - a 22 minute PR improvement! Big group hug and picture.

This was my first time running with Mitchel. The three of us were a great racing trio in pacing and conversation. Mitchel and Lesley are a little faster than me on the flat jeep road stretches, but they were cool with holding back a little when I would ask since my legs just haven't been 100% since the 80 miles I ran on February 1st.

Mary Ann let us pick out any of the very individual finisher plaques and then told us to grab a honey bear of Oklahoma honey! Nice!

Then, some time in front of the furnace with chili made by the race director herself before we hit the road to come home. I checked my weather app and it said it was 19 degrees with a wind chill of 3. 3!

There was some ice on the ground in Sherman, TX, coming back through, but otherwise, the route was in good shape.

So was it miserably cold out? YES! Was I glad I went? YES!! What an enjoyable small race that I can recommend!

Jacket Recommendation

I absolutely love the jacket I wore for this race. I'd only had it for a month, and it passed its first big test! Lesley and Mitchel each had on 4 layers on their core. I had on one long sleeve standard tech shirt and my amazing GoLite jacket. My core was incredibly warm the whole time I was out there. And it's super lightweight at only 12 ozs. It's the purple jacket in all the pictures. GoLite jackets are very affordable compared to other similar brands. Check it out - the GoLite Women's Demaree 800 Fill Down Jacket! And thanks to Jeremy for passing me this recommendation when I was looking for a jacket.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Recovery Should Be Respected

I fell victim the last couple weeks to the jealousy of watching everyone around me bounce back from the Rocky Raccoon 100 Miler. At least I thought everyone but me was recovered. People started putting in miles that I would save for near peak week. First time 100 mile finisher friends ran the Cowtown 50K. Back to the grind. Back to training.

Meanwhile, I've been struggling to recover. A week ago Saturday I had a full blown meltdown. I was supposed to hit the trails, but I couldn't find a sub for my run group, so I went to the pavement group run for North Texas Runners to lead off the group. With Cowtown Marathon that weekend, we had a small group of about 20, and no one was my pace.

6.2 miles alone and I was miserable. I fought for a 13 minute pace when my easy pace would normally be 12 minute miles. The pavement felt so hard. Everything hurt. Everything was tired. Nothing in me wanted to be there.

I've had unusual stress the last two weeks between family in the hospital and a rare business trip of Steve's. 

I had thought I was "recovering" this week. I had worked out the last 6 days but never much at a time. Although a hard strength workout Wednesday had wiped me out.

So that Saturday afternoon, I broke down and cried to my husband. Nothing had felt good since the race. I didn't feel like I was recovering. The 6 miler that morning felt afterwards like I had run 20 miles. I laid down and took a one and a half hour nap after this meltdown. Big sign I wasn't recovered.

But how could I not be recovered? I was reverse tapering. I was doing smaller miles than my friends out there. 

Week 1 post-Rocky: 0 miles
Week 2 post-Rocky: 10.5 miles
Week 3 post-Rocky: 23 miles

But I needed more rest. So I changed the plan for this past week.

This Past Week

I focused this week on happy shorter runs for my mental and physical recovery. I tried to seriously listen to my body and not force it. Donnie backed off the intensity in strength training. Jeremy backed off the intensity of the running workouts.

10 hours, 9 minutes. 32.5 miles.

Monday: 2:04. 4.4 miles. I had 1 hour of strength training (lighter load, slow focused movements), then I hit the trails for 4.4 miles and convinced Lesley to join me. We took it super easy and walked a couple 10 second breaks in there.

Tuesday: 0:00. I went to the sports chiropractor and found out that I was kind of messed up everywhere, but I wasn't acutely messed up anywhere. That knot on the inside of my calf was making my adductor annoyed. My feet were annoyed. I had fascial adhesions all over my lower legs. A Graston treatment later and my pain tolerance was worn a little thin, I had a headache, and I felt like I'd expended energy. I chose to forego the run. I couldn't nap midday, but I rested in bed for 30 minutes.

Wednesday: 1:59. 5 miles. I woke up wanting to run that day. I took that as a good sign. It was 28 degrees out. A cold day after the last week's warm weather. I had zero interest in bundling with a million layers. And part of this recovery is enjoying the run right now! So I picked a great show on Netflix and did an easy 5 miles. Afterwards I was overjoyed. It actually felt pretty easy. I'd forgotten that feeling over just the last 3+ weeks! I also had 1 hour of strength training.

Thursday: 1:05. 4.85 miles. I hit the trails again with Aubrey this time for 4.85 miles. I never do trails two weekdays in a week! Easy pace and felt good again. Although afterwards, I was a little tired.

Friday: 1:37. 2.8 miles. 1 hour strength training. Back to the trail. I wanted to go, which is a great sign. After a 2.2 mile loop, my left foot started to hurt a little (I've been rehabbing plantar fasciitis), I felt a little tired, and I knew that if I got back home quickly, I could squeeze in a short nap. Listening to my body, I did a shortened second loop to do 2.8 miles. I had to check myself a few times to make sure I wasn't just being lazy. But I know I need to listen to these signals right now, and I'd rather err on the side of easing back more slowly.

Saturday: 0:00. Took it easy, spending lots of time with family.

Sunday: 3:24. 15.5 miles. I went to the Atoka A-OK 25K trail race in Oklahoma with Lesley. We had a lot of fun in freezing temperatures. Race report to come. I did set a 22 minute PR in the 25K distance.

And Where Am I Now?

I'm feeling pretty okay. I have 4 weeks until Gorge Waterfalls 100K so I can't imagine we'll build my mileage much longer, but I hope to get in some good miles this week again. I'm learning to respect the recovery. I want to get back to feeling 100%, not limping along at 60% for weeks.