What a Bear – 2017 Bear 100 Race Report (sort of)

I tried to write this blog post back in October, my race report for my first DNF at the Bear 100. I didn’t finish it. I didn’t really want to.

One and Half Runners was supposed to be a place for self-reflection. It exists for Colleen and me to catalog our running experiences: good or bad, fun or grueling. Colleen has been amazing at capturing the difficulty of chronic injury and illness and has been open and honest about how difficult it is. I relish every opportunity I get to read one of her posts as it provides an authentic peek into how she is progressing and growing as an athlete.

Then there’s me. One DNF and I went into full-on “woe is me” mode. I didn’t write this post. I didn’t write a report of my successful finish at Javelina. I didn’t write about my plans to run Boston or Miwok in 2018. I just didn’t want to. To be honest, I didn’t really want to think about running and certainly didn’t want to write about running. But now, three months removed from the DNF, the approach feels disingenuous. I didn’t take the time to reflect on my experience or try to grow as a runner. I signed up for Javelina for some closure, but that was obviously a reckless decision. So, time to reflect some and recap a bit to try and grow as a runner.

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Nervously waiting for the start.

A bit about the race. The Bear isn’t quite at high altitude, but it certainly has a lot of up and down. Through some pretty remote parts of Utah and just into Idaho (though I never crossed the state line) the Bear was one of the most beautiful races I’ve ever had the privilege of running. I usually geek out about the details of a race, but the Bear has a low key vibe with a barely functional website, so I tried to remain laid back about my approach. The first 20 miles are some of the hardest with a huge climb out of Logan, up Logan peak, and then descending back down to the valley. During the first 10 mile-long descent, I already felt some aches in my quads. Looking back, this was just the first mental slip up. I was absolutely fine, but a bit of doubt slipped in so early into my head that I think the whole day got derailed within those first few hours.

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Nothing but sunshine and sore quads at mile 20.

I met up with Colleen at around mile 19 for the first time and told her I was feeling off. But I’m not a quitter, and I certainly wasn’t prepared to DNF a race when I wasn’t injured and was definitely fit. So, I plugged along. The miles just went by so slowly, with so much more effort than I was used to. Sure, at Grindstone it rained so hard I basically got trench foot and I wanted to fall asleep on the side of the trail because of the 6PM start, but that made me feel like a bad ass! The Bear just made me feel weak and ill-prepared. I saw Colleen again at mile 35 and 45, each time looking admittedly worse for wear.

Leaving mile 50 and starting the second largest climb of the day, I was fortunate enough to run into Jeremy. Jeremy is a bad ass dude from Salt Lake City who has run pretty much every ultra I dream of doing. We chatted for the 8 or so miles between aid stations about why we push ourselves to these extremes, what these races mean, and how fortunate we are to do them. My spirits were lifting and our legs were starting to turn over faster. Finally, I was out of a 50 mile funk and ready to finish this thing! We came into the next aid station and got taken care of by our respective significant others before taking off for another dozen or so miles together. The sun set, and the last few miles of this section began to feel never ending. But I wasn’t alone, and finally I felt like myself.

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Jeremy and me on our upswing.

We got to the aid station and split up to tend to our separate needs. I used the restroom, got more clothes on, and tried to eat a lot. The temperature was dropping fast and I was quickly too cold and had to sit by the fire. Jeremy yelled to me he was taking off and to catch him, but that was the last I saw him. I stayed by the fire trying to warm up, but it never happened. I contemplated dropping here, before even trying to catch Jeremy, but I was still mentally far away from a DNF. I got out of my chair and away from the fire, and took off for a 15 miles on my own.

Out of the aid station I went, immediately starting to shiver. I’m not used to being cold during races, and the extreme chill made me uncomfortable and mad. I had no idea why I was lingering so long in aid stations and why my internal drive was so pathetic. I slowly warmed up on the climb and a long runnable descent had me striding along at a solid clip. I made it to the Logan River aid station (which is not crew accessible) and ate some noodles and waited for some runner to leave with me for the company. Again, if I had just started moving here I probably would have felt so much better, but the cold night left me oddly powerless. When I finally left 10 minutes or so later, I was greeted with a wide river crossing. I fell, submerging my gloves in the freezing water. Out the other side, my body was shaking rather violently as I power hiked desperately to warm up.

My race was over. I was cold and my gait was getting funky with the fatigue. The terrain was getting more technical, not easier as I had anticipated. I just wanted to stop. The next 7 miles from Logan river to where I would drop at mile 75 were extremely hard. I thought about how selfish I was for making Colleen crew for me for 30 hours in remote Utah, alone. I thought about how much money I had spent to get to the race, and how quitting seemed so wasteful. The race was going to be my qualifier for Western States and Hardrock – now what? The pity party raged on for about 2 hours, and when I death marched into the Beaver Mountain Lodge, my decision was made to quit.

Colleen did an amazing job trying to get me back out the door without seeming pushy. Apparently Jeremy was only 15 or so minutes ahead of me, which honestly deflated me even further for my decisions to wait so long at the aid stations. Jeremy went on to finish in 26 or so hours, and I’ve frequently said how if I had stayed with him I’d have a belt buckle for the Bear 100. But that’s a weak excuse and I don’t think I could’ve made it the last 25 miles in 6 hours. I do wish I had company, either Jeremy or a pacer, to drag me that last quarter. I know physically I could’ve done it, but the Bear broke me down and made me accept my first DNF.

I left the aid station and cried in the car. I cried the next morning at the AirBNB. I probably cried a few other times. Colleen was now in grief counselor mode as I tried to reconcile what had happened. Honestly, I thought I would slowly turn into the 50 year old ultrarunner without a single DNF on his ultrasignup account. And if I did have a DNF, the story behind it would be worth telling! But no, at the Bear I simply was worn down, beat up, and could not bring myself to finish. I’ve replayed the race in my head to many times. I think about the end result pretty much daily.

A month later I went on to have a successful race at Javelina. Obviously motivation was high, but I did it alone, without the pressure of making Colleen sit idly for hours or wiping snot from my mustache. And that is a good summary for how I feel about the whole thing. Mentally, I think my race at the Bear is the logical conclusion of 3 years of break-neck ultrarunning. I spent 2015-2017 going to whatever race I wanted, pushing hard, and finishing by any means necessary. In Utah, I couldn’t. Physically, I think I was fine and fit to finish. But mentally, I was at the end of my rope. At the end, I was exhausted by the high benchmark I had set for myself. The march to mile 75 to drop, all I had was feeling selfish for the sacrifices myself and others had made to help me get there.

But what I’m left with is a greater appreciation for being a part of this wonderful sport. I’ve been so lucky to travel the country and meet so many amazing people. I feel like a trail runner, and one that’s excited for all the adventures to come. It feels much less like a need to prove myself and more an opportunity to experience magnificent places and push my boundaries.

A note from the Half Runner:

Matt loves to think I get bored and hate crewing for 30 hours, but I honestly had the most wonderful time crewing solo at this race. Matt got me some fun camera toys for my birthday, so I spent the day enjoying the weather, taking photos, reading books, and making friends with all the other spouses/significant others there supporting their crazy runners. And met a cute puppy! Stay tuned for my recap of Utah, in photo form!

New Year, New City, Same Injury-Prone Me

Yep, I’m still here! While I didn’t blog often in the first place (let’s be real, I just spend my time pestering Matt to write blog posts since he runs about 20 times as much as me) but unlike Matt, I actually have an excuse ūüėČ I’ve been dealing with an injured ankle/foot for a few months now. During my 50 miler, I ended up twisting my ankle at some point, and due to the adrenaline and runners high, didn’t think much of it. It hurt for a hot second but was nothing in comparison to what my quads felt like, so I barely noticed it. I had mentioned it to my doctor post-50 miler when I went in for my rib/upper respiratory issue, and she said just to let me know if it persisted.

After my last blog post (embarrassingly in late August) I noticed growing pain in my ankle when I was running. It had always been there post-50 miler, but not super prevalent. I mostly ignored it and assumed it was just a passing issue. After a few more weeks of the pain not really getting any better, it eventually transferred to my foot. At this point, I knew there must be something wrong, and I was likely making it worse. I went for a run on October 9th and decided to call it quits until I saw my doctor.

At this point, the pain was mostly in my foot and I was no longer running, so my doctor really only focused on my foot pain. She did an x-ray which didn’t show any signs of a fracture. She told me to wait 10 days and if it still hurt, we would get an MRI. Cut to 10 days later, pain is still there, she says we can do another x-ray. I put up a big fuss, and it was thankfully changed to an MRI. Unfortunately, the MRI didn’t show any signs of a fracture, and my doctor’s exact words to me were “Your MRI is normal so you do not have a stress fracture. Your pain is probably due to ligament or tendon strain. I hope it feels better soon.” Like actually my doctor just said it was PROBABLY a strain, and that she hopes it feels better soon. I almost lost my mind. I temporarily gave up, felt defeated, and just thought “well if it were a bigger issue, I guess my doctor would be more concerned.”

After a few days of wallowing in self-pity and wishing I could run, Matt convinced me to just make an appointment with my sports medicine doctor. I didn’t realize I didn’t need a referral with my health insurance, so I asked my doctor for a referral, and another whole issue ensued. I called and asked for a referral on a Thursday and they said I would hear back from someone within 1-2 business days confirming that the referral was processed. I called back on Monday since I hadn’t heard from them, and they said that it hadn’t processed and that they had no record of the referral, so I had to go through my doctor’s office again. They also let me know it wouldn’t be approved for 4-6 weeks. At this point, I was furious with my doctor’s office. I called my insurance directly, and they told me I didn’t even need a referral, so I immediately called and made an appointment with my sports medicine doctor as soon as he could see me, which ended up being about 2 weeks later.

Within 5 minutes of the appointment, he diagnosed me with a sprained ankle, sprained mid-foot (due to changing my running form to avoid ankle pain), and my cuboid bone was misaligned. He popped my bone back into place and gave me a referral to physical therapy. I’ve been in therapy for about 4 weeks and should be back up and running within hopefully the next 2 weeks.

These past 3 months have been incredibly hard for me. We’ve been planning as much for our wedding as possible since we are leaving for Austin soon, working on figuring out where we are going to live in Austin, going through our belongings to figure out what we are and aren’t taking to Austin, raising a new puppy, maintaining balance between our work lives and social lives, and of course the holidays.

I have had an incredibly hard time finding the emotional and mental strength to do any sort of workouts. My goal was to focus on strength training, but I’ve just been so drained and depressed about not being able to run. I honestly hate going to the gym – I miss the ease of just being able to lace up, step outside, and go run for as long as I want. While I know working out is a good stress relief, I’ve found going up to the gym for a workout ends up being more stressful than no workout at all. I just get inside my head and think about how much I miss running, and how much I hate staring out a window at the outdoors while working out on an elliptical or bike.

That being said, while I want to turn this awful feeling around and find something I’m more interested in, we are moving in less than a month, so it’s hard to commit to something now that I’m not sure will be as easily available or close to home as something like the yoga studio down the road from our apartment. My goal once we’ve moved is to find an activity or gym that feels less like a torture chamber and spend as much time per week doing that as I do building up my running base again. While I should be back to running soon, I want to be able to consistently work on my core while also not working out at home – I’m about to work from home permanently and will need to get out of the house to exercise or I might actually go insane.

I’m hoping I can get out of this funk as soon as possible by getting out of my comfort zone in Austin, and find a source of stress relief that isn’t running in case (okay let’s be real, when) I get injured again. While I’m excited to get back to running, I am going to take it slow, and not get ahead of myself by signing up for races before I’m ready. Hopefully, by springtime, I’ll be back in at least marathon shape, and maybe I can squeeze in another ultramarathon before our #GrandElamUltraMarriagethon in September of 2018!

 

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Oh also, this is Felix, our 4-month-old Labradoodle Puppy!

 

TARC Summer Classic 50k Race Report – 2017 Edition!

I have a confession to make. A lot of the time, at least recently, I don’t love running. I have not been “loving the process”. I haven’t been thrilled with my races. Most training runs feel like a slog. While a bit demoralizing, I think it’s to be expected to be honest. In 2016 and 2017 I accomplished more than I had ever really expected as a runner. Two 100 mile races, half marathon PR, 5K PR, a Boston qualifier. It was just success followed by success followed by success. Everything had such tremendous payoff it felt incredibly rewarding. Now, it feels like I am just going through the motions. Seven Sisters was a bright spot of running with friends and craziness that was genuinely exciting. I’m still anxiously awaiting The Bear, since 100 milers are so challenging and unique, but TARC Spring, Wachusett, and to some extent Escarpment felt like a grind. There were moments during Escarpment I thought “I fucking love running”, but a lot of that race was punishing and challenging. The mentality was taking a toll, but on Saturday, all I could think was “I really fucking love running!”

Sure, the TARC Summer classic was still 31 miles. And 31 miles is a long way. And whenever you go a long way there are some low points. The point is that every low quickly left and was replaced by gratifying highs. The race, the community, and my performance all culminated in a great day. I’m hoping that I can take this rekindled energy and train hard going into the Bear.

A large part of what made the day work was treating the race as a training run. Normally, I think this is a bullshit excuse to wipe away a sub-optimal performance, but I had 40 miles on my legs from the week leading up to it, had run 24.5 miles on my long run the previous Sunday, and hadn’t done anything to really treat it as an A or even B race. So while I undoubtedly spent parts of loop 1 doing mathematical gymnastics to estimate a finish time, I quickly let any thoughts of performance and position slip away. I was going to run 31 miles and I’d either be in first place, last place, or somewhere in between. What’s funny is that I had tried to do the same thing at this race¬†two years earlier¬†and failed miserably. So, after three years of ultrarunning, I can safely say I know how to use a race as a training run.

TARC Summer 2017!
Having a blast! Photo Credit – Edith O Dixon

Like two years ago, I think the TARC Summer classic is one of the most enjoyable courses I have run! It has a mix of everything: single track, fire road, hills, techy sections. A 10 mile loop is just long enough to stay fresh but short enough to seem manageable. What’s also amazing is that I can summarize the race in three sentences.

  1. On my first loop, I settled in to running by feel and enjoying the day, and after about 5 miles everything clicked and it was smooth sailing.
  2. I fell right before the start on the second loop, but it got me fired up to run faster than the first loop!
  3. On the last loop, I fell again and felt a bit sorry for myself, so it went a bit slower but I still finished in 5:34 (in 2015 I ran a 6:39)!!!

Boom, easiest race recap ever! Honestly, it is difficult to write a report about a race I have already run. Especially when the goal was supposed to be the same. This year though, I was able to have a spectacular time. I feel reinvigorated for the final 6 weeks leading up to the Bear 100! Can’t wait to see how it goes.

Strava

TARC Summer Classic 50K – 2017

Gear

  1. Salomon Sense Ultra
  2. Balega Socks
  3. Nathan Handheld
  4. Garmin Fenix 3
  5. Gu, Tailwind
  6. Ciele GoCap

Pacing for Revenge at Manitou’s Revenge

Ultra runners are fueled by testing their limits. Nothing about the sport is easy or even sane, but the pursuit of pushing our bodies to their absolute limits drives us forward. As we attempt new races, run different trails, and ramp up our training, our limits stretch further and further. We get new benchmarks to evaluate ourselves. PRs and previous times become our foundation as a runner. Your Ultrasignup results page grows and becomes a public record of your race days, good and bad. This quest to push beyond one’s limits can become a bit all-consuming, at least for me, as new races pop up or instagram photos of faraway trails fill social media. Past successes become fuel for attempting the next insane event. But as we reach for the next distance or race with double the elevation gain, it can become difficult to measure if we are actually still improving. That’s why pacing Mike at Manitou’s Revenge was so fun for me. The race wasn’t about the next great event (although I am not sure you can top what Manitou’s got to offer), but rather a return to prove oneself against one of the most brutal events out there.

To be transparent, I had never met Mike before Manitou’s. We “met” over twitter as I saw him cast the net for pacers at this year’s event. I took the bait and said why not, I’ll pace a stranger for several hours of running. We chatted over email and social media, but right away it was clear that Mike had ambitions for this year’s event. He had finished Manitou’s in 2016, being the last finisher in around 23.5 hours. He was coming back for revenge. Or at least I deemed it to be revenge. Coming in as a pacer, it was perfect. Mike’s goal would give me clear direction for the day and getting Mike to his finish.

I was picking Mike up at the 5th aid station of the race, Platte Cove. The drive up to the aid station was a perfect introduction to what the day would hold. Dense fog and a winding road greeted me and Colleen in the Catskills. Conditions were wet and the course would be slick. We got settled and waited for Mike to roll in.

Meeting Mike at the aid station was a lot like how I imagine online dating would work, but if one of the participants had just run 30 miles and had 24 miles to run. Mike wasn’t exactly on time, and came rolling in looking a tad disheveled. It quickly turned into crew/pacing duties as I grabbed his drop bag and worked to get any food and gear he needed. Compared to the runners just prior to him, Mike was in and out of the aid station. He was a bit behind on time, but in good spirits and raced the first 30 miles extremely smart. That made my job much easier.

Now, Manitou’s doesn’t cut you any breaks. The first 30 miles suck (so I hear). The last 24 miles also suck (so I know). It’s a 54 miler that runs like a hundred. So, leaving the aid station, I knew we had 7.5 miles to the Mink Hollow aid station, but the volunteers at Platte Cove assured me the next 7.5 run more like 12. Having now completed it, I’d say that’s accurate. This next session is when the course hops on the Devil’s Path, which happens to be very aptly named. The “trail” takes no prisoners, consisting of unrelenting climbs requiring you to use your hands and descents that range from sketchy to I-should’ve-written-my-will before-offering-to-pace-this-race. In all seriousness, some of the down climbing sections were more serious than going up.

Over the 7.5 miles, there are three peaks – Indian Head, Twin, and Sugarloaf. With no section really allowing for sustained running, Mike and I chipped away the course over the slick rocks and gnarly elevation profile. During this section, we’d pick up Paul, who would manage to snap 2 trekking poles on the Devil’s path, and Jodi. We ran into Jodi right before Mink Hollow who was convinced she was going to drop. The course was treacherous and no ultra was worth killing yourself, so it seemed like the logical decision. Mike and Paul assured her that the worst was over and right there and then we formed a pack that would stick together for the remaining 16.5 miles.

Climbing Indian Head
It’s worse than it looks.

At Mink Hollow, the crew recomposed themselves and geared up for the crushing climb up Plateau. Mike was 30 minutes ahead of where we was this time last year. “Perfect,” I thought, “we are gonna get him a PR at this rate”. The last climb on the Devil’s Path is another ass-kicker of steep, sketchy climbing. Once we topped out, the trail smooths before a turn down of the peak following a side trail. By this time, it was dark. While it was still a few minutes until sunset, the dense canopy and fog made running without a headlamp a no-go. The four of us did our best to navigate the admittedly smoother trail, but thick fog and slick rocks made running uncomfortable. I was hoping to start putting the pressure on the group at this point, but part of being a good pacer is knowing your place. We were moving incredibly strong and steady, so we ran smooth sections and walked quickly through the rest to Silver Hollow Notch.

Devil's Path Chute
Pretty sure we came down this chute. One of those “where’s the trail?” moments

By Silver Hollow, we were close to 45 minutes ahead of Mike’s arrival last year! The runners took time here to take in a substantial amount of calories. Manitou’s starts absurdly early if you factor in the bus ride from the finish up to Windham. At this point, everyone was pushing close to 24 hours awake, so just staying positive at this point is a huge success. As we focused for the remaining miles, the biggest moth I’ve ever seen tried to fly away with one of the aid station volunteers before landing on the pop-up tent. Thoroughly disturbed by the thing, I gently urged the runners to get going so I’d be able to avoid getting hit by it. We got moving up the climb from Silver Hollow, which tops out before running a slightly off-camber downhill to a creek. We made really good time down this stretch, and we all enjoyed the cold water on our feet in the humidity. Mike took a minute to douse himself in cold water before we started the final climb of the course.

Manitou's Revenge Runners
The crew!

The climb up to the Willow aid station is pretty damn rough. I’d say if it were 30 miles earlier on the course, it’d be runnable. But after 48 or so miles, it is unrelenting. We marched up the slope, appreciating that finally the trail makers used switch backs but still annoyed with the trail’s persistence. In the final half mile of the climb, Jodi pulled ahead to take a bit more time at the aid station while Paul, Mike, and I took our time to not overexert. Finally, we reached Willow towards the top of the hill! The aid station was stocked with hot food and plenty of snacks, which was super impressive considering it was a 2 mile hike in to the aid station. The volunteers were super friendly and joked with Mike about his later appearance a year prior. At this point, we were an hour and half ahead of Mike’s previous time and energy levels were much higher.

The crew took off from willow for the final 500 feet of climbing to the fire tower. The fog got really thick here and I really struggled as a pacer keeping the group on course. I did my best to keep a bit ahead to identify the next blaze and keep the crew moving along. Suddenly, there was a huge fire tower right next to us! The climbing was done! All downhill from here! But of course, Manitou would not let us off easily. 3 miles of downhill covered in football sized rocks that teetered, rolled, and rocked as we tread down them. We kept a strong hiking pace down, not risking a busted bone or face on the slick and unstable rocks. The group decided to finish together, and having spent 6 or so hours together at this point it seemed fitting. We finally bottomed out and made our way down the last mile of road.

In the final mile, we all expressed our gratitude of having such great company for so long. Mike thanked me for pacing him on a whim and I told him not to mention it, for I had a blast and there isn’t too much better than sharing some trail miles with good company. Finishing and reflecting on the day, I’m left wondering how I am as a pacer. I got Mike to the finish and 2 runners tagged along. But did I push hard enough? Did I say the right things? Had I been too cutting with some of my jokes and jabs? Even though I have my self-doubts, the experience to me speaks more about each own’s limits. Mike PRed on the course by 2 hours. A demonstrable improvement from last year. He pushed hard and dug deep. Viewing as an outsider, he encapsulated one of the things I love so much about ultra running: the need to push our limits.

 

Seven Sisters Race Recap 2017

Let me start by saying¬†that for once, Matt adequately prepared me for a race for the first time ever. Most of the time we go for a run or a race and he tells me “oh it’s super easy” or “after the first half it’s all downhill” and inevitably it’s the hardest race I’ve ever run or the entire thing is uphill. Sometimes I wonder if he knows the difference between uphill and downhill… but for Seven Sisters, he gave me fair warning. He may have even slightly questioned it when I signed up. The man knows I hate running uphill, and knew I’d have to do a lot of it. I decided to sign up anyways, since I’ve got Wachusett coming up, and it was definitely a good decision.

Long story short, only one of us had been responsible and remembered to purchase a bib (ahem, it was me). We decided to go to the race together and hope that the bad weather had driven some folks away. Luckily, about 10 minutes before the race, we were able to snag a bib last minute – many, many thanks to the race director, Amy! You’re a lifesaver!

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Shortly after this photo “wait, you took your engagement ring off right?!” – I think he knows how clumsy I am!

It had been raining all night, and was super warm and muggy for the race. I¬†was already¬†worried I’d overheat and wish I had a handheld instead of my hydration pack, but I knew I needed both hands free for climbing up rocks and grabbing onto trees to keep myself from falling. It ended up being a good decision, but I was still slightly too hot the whole time. I’m a little worried about this for Wachusett in particular since it’ll be mid-June in Boston, and there’s only access to a drop bag at mile 13 and mile 37, so I really want a pack to carry my goods in, but don’t want to overheat.

We started, and¬†immediate gained 500 feet of elevation in a half mile. Matt warned me of the first hill, so I was prepared and went nice and slow. It was a little frustrating to be passed by a lot of runners on that first hill, mostly because I felt in the way. I started in the third wave, and was shocked by the amount of runners that started in that wave that shot past me in the first mile. Now, how many of those runners continued to crush it and how many crashed after 4 miles, the world may never know. But nevertheless, I felt in the way and a little self conscious, but I knew I had bigger fish to fry. It’s easier for me to check myself before I wreck myself on trails than on the road. When I’m on the road, I want to pass everyone. When I’m on the trails, I somehow remember my body has limits, and that I can control my speed. Either way, I kept myself strong and steady through the first uphill, and ran as much as I could of the downhill, but I needed to be careful. Wachusett is just around the corner, and nothing would have broken my spirits more than taking a bad fall and having to call yet ANOTHER ultra marathon in 2017.

The rest of the race is a blur of hills, mud, and rocks. It was the single most intense 12(ish) miles of my running career. The race had over 4,000 feet of elevation gain over 12(ish) miles, which is INSANE considering Wachusett has just about double that elevation gain, but over 50 miles.¬†During the whole first half, every time I’d start enjoying the downhill, my heart would sink as I realized that would be an uphill on the way back. By the time I got to the turnaround, I was so tired, and couldn’t believe I had to do it all over again but backwards. My right shoe was rubbing against the back of my heel on every uphill and was so irritating that I contemplated just taking it off. I settled by throwing on a scoop of vaseline on my heel at the turnaround and crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t have a giant blister by the end of the race. Definitely glad I wore them during this race, since I was planning on these being my race shoes for Wachusett. After how quickly they blistered my heels, they’re definitely not coming to Wachusett!

By maybe mile 8, I was surrounded by a lot of defeated human beings.¬†Everyone around me was covered in mud, sweat, and some even had blood dripping down their faces (or other body parts). It was like a goddamn battle field. I was lucky (or just slow enough) to not fall during the race, though my hands were literally covered in mud¬†afterwards. Before I started, I ran into a woman running with gloves and thought that was bizarre considering the weather, but I get it now. It was definitely a super technical course, and pretty dangerous if you went all out, and I’m glad I focused on just staying upright and finishing.

All in all, the race was incredibly fun, and I can’t wait to do it again. I like to think I could run it much faster if the weather was better, but it’s New England, and I don’t think it will ever not be rainy, wet, and muddy for this race. That certainly won’t keep me away – I’ll be back to get muddy again in 2018!

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Trying not to fall on my face in front of Matt, maybe a half mile from the finish!

 

Strava:

https://www.strava.com/activities/973920472

 

Gear:

Saucony Peregrine 6
Nike Pro HyperCool Shorts
Ciele GoCap
Nathan VaporAiress Hydration Pack
My personal OG race shirt: the 2009 Boilermaker Road Race Shirt

Now What?

 

 

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Photo by Scott Goldstein!

I sat down with the intention of writing a race recap for the Hyannis Marathon, and I just can’t bring myself to do it. To sum it up, it went better than I had ever imagined it could. I was shooting for sub-4, and surpassed that goal by running a 3:50:24. I felt strong the entire time, I stayed hydrated and took in calories as I needed them, and I finished strong with my last 5 miles being around 8:30 pace. Hands down it was my best performance out of any race I’ve ever run. Maybe someday I’ll have the energy to write a more detailed race report, but for now, I’ll tell you about my post-marathon week.

Let’s start with Monday. I expected to be sore, maybe have some stiff knees or sore shins, but I was nowhere near as bad as I thought I would be. I even biked to work, no problem! After¬†biking in to work, I started to feel some pain in my lower right abdomen. Pain very similar, but less intense, to my pain I had a few weeks ago before I ended up in the hospital with a ruptured cyst. I told myself I was probably just sore from the race, and it would go away.

Cut to Tuesday. I feel amazing, like I barely even ran a marathon, so after work I go for a quick 3 mile run. My legs are tired, but in great shape. I start getting excited for my long run on Saturday of 23 miles. Cut to Wednesday, the pain in my abdomen is still lingering, intensifying just enough to make me worried after my bike ride home. I listened to my body and skipped my run. I worked from home on Thursday and called my gynecologist to see if they could get me an appointment. By some miracle from the heavens, she has an open appointment at 2pm. By a whole other miracle, the company I work for is amazing, and let me take the rest of the day off of work to see my doctor.

I explain the situation and tell her I’m nervous I might have another cyst. I tell her I went to the ER not a month ago for a ruptured ovarian cyst, and she asks me some questions. When was the last time you had a cyst that caused pain? Are you still on birth control? Are you skipping any pills? Are you pregnant? Does it hurt during intercourse? You know, the fun questions we all love our gynecologist asking. She says she can get me an ultrasound at 4pm in Chelsea if I’m willing to drive out there.

Cut to 3:00, I’m in Chelsea (way too early) waiting anxiously for my appointment, exhausted from¬†the lack of sleep thanks to stress about my health. I get two ultrasounds and they say I’ll hear back the next morning. Cut to Friday during my lunch break. It was past noon and I hadn’t heard anything so of course I call in a panic, asking¬†for my doctor to call me back. She calls me a few minutes later and tells me I have yet another ovarian cyst. She mentions they’re not normal cysts, they’re hemorrhagic ovarian cysts (aka filled with blood) which is why they’re so painful. They have absolutely no idea why I’m getting cysts due to the fact that birth control is supposed to prevent cysts from forming at all.

It’s also over 5cm in diameter, so she recommends I don’t exercise for at least 6 weeks, which is when I will need a follow-up ultrasound to see if the cyst has gotten any smaller. If it has gotten smaller, I will need to be monitored for future cysts while they try to figure out why I keep getting cysts. If it hasn’t gotten smaller, I will need to meet with a surgeon to go over my options for removing the cysts. There’s a chance if they remove the cysts but haven’t figured out why I am getting them, they will come back, and they would go over my other options, which are far less appealing and end with me not being able to have children.

I have 5 short weeks to go until the Gorge Waterfalls 100k, but was advised not to run for the next 6 weeks. I’m still unsure about what I’ll do on race day, but for now I’m taking it day by day. If my pain subsides soon, I might try easing back into a running routine, but skip the biking, since it seems to aggravate it much more than running.¬†My doctor did say if my cyst ended up rupturing, it would decrease in size sooner than it would if it didn’t rupture, but it seems pretty¬†morbid to hope for a rupture since it basically made¬†any movement excruciatingly painful for 4-5 days.

Normally I would hear what my doctor said, politely agree to disagree as young people tend to do, and go about my way, silently suffering. But this time, there is a chance that if it doesn’t rupture or decrease in size, strenuous exercise could cause ovarian torsion, and I’d likely end up losing my ovary. While I’m happy to be an idiot and maybe cause some extra shin pain or push through some knee pain, losing an ovary at 26 isn’t something I’m willing to risk.

I am absolutely heartbroken that this is happening to me after 3 months of intense, dedicated training for this 100k. I’m in the best shape of my life, and I’ve never been more prepared or excited for a race. But for once, this seems like something I shouldn’t brush off and try to push through. I will keep you all posted on my recovery and my game-day decision, but as of now it’s looking like we will just be enjoying a week of vacation in Oregon in April instead of racing.¬†Word on the street is their food and beer game is strong out in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe instead of running a 100k, we’ll drive a 100k and where each aid station would be, we’ll stop for food and beer! Sounds fun, but let’s be real, we were probably planning on doing that after my race anyways.

 

A (few) Bump(s) in the Road

The past 3 weeks have been a whirlwind of change and chaos in the GrandElam household. On January 17th, I started a new job with Zagster, a bike sharing company based out of Cambridge. It’s been absolutely amazing, and I’m so glad I took the leap and changed careers. My whole first two weeks were filled with cramming as much information into my head that I could possibly handle. I’d come home after work and just sit¬†there silently playing with Gustav. No TV, no music, just catching up with Matt and playing with the pupper while my brain rested.

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Picked up a new hobby recently – taking requests for birthdays/anniversaries/babies/weddings now ūüėČ

After my first¬†week at Zagster, Matt and I went to New Hampshire for the weekend to go cross country skiing on Saturday and get in some downhill skiing on Sunday. The weekend was amazing, but as it turns out, we are great at running and not so great at cross country skiing. There were many falls involved, a few bruises, and a slight pain in my left abdomen that I ignored at the time. I ended up not getting a real long run in that weekend since we spent about 5 hours cross country skiing and my legs were already so sore. We went downhill skiing on Sunday, and I called it early since it was rainy and my abdomen was bothering me still. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I figured I should try to rest.

The following week, I was biking home from work when my abdomen started to really hurt. I went home and told Matt who, as a robot, told me to “go for a run and see how it felt.” Of course I did, and I made it about 1/4 of a mile before I wanted to die, so I turned around and went home to rest. I was frantically Googling my pain, so of course thought I had cancer and was dying, but listened to Matt who told me to “rest up” and said I’d “probably be fine by Saturday for our long run.” I have a history of inguinal hernias (I’ve had one on each side) and also ovarian cysts, so I was hyper aware of my pain and very worried.

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From our cross country skiing adventure! The perfect weather for it.

I went to work the next day and had trouble just walking from my car to the building. I tried calling my doctor to make an appointment, but since I hadn’t seen my doctor since switching insurance, I had to wait a week to get be seen because it was an initial appointment. I made the appointment for the following week, and got back to work. When I got home I was still in a lot of pain, so I decided to ask my friend in med school what he recommended – should I wait a week or go to Urgent Care that night? He recommended Urgent Care, so off I went at 7:30pm on a Thursday.

 

The Urgent Care I went to ended up not having any imaging, so they recommended I go to the ER. After sitting in the waiting room for like 2.5 hours while a woman was alternating between violently vomiting and weeping (and trying not to vomit myself from the sound of her vomiting… good god I hate hospitals) I finally got into a room. After many more hours of waiting, a ghetto pelvic exam where¬†I was propped up on a bedpan because they didn’t have a proper Ob-Gyn table for me, and 2 different ultrasounds, they found out I had a ruptured ovarian cyst. If you’ve never had a ruptured ovarian cyst, well, they’re really fucking painful. I was having a hard time walking upright, and every bump I hit while driving sent shooting pains through my lower abdomen. The worst part? There’s¬†nothing they can really do at that point other than give you Motrin and tell you to rest.

Matt and I went home at just about 3am and were super exhausted from such a long, stressful night. We both went into work the next day (though I left work early to work from the couch all afternoon) and when Matt got home at 6pm, he locked his bike up on our bike rack in our garage and headed back for a run since he was too tired to wake up early to run, since we were at the ER all night. At 7pm, he got back and our bikes were gone. Someone had cut the U-locks on both our bikes and stolen them.

You can imagine we had a pretty shitty 24 hours, but luckily¬†we have decent renters insurance, so we should be able to get most of the cost of our replacement bikes reimbursed. Plus, I do work for a bike sharing company, so I have the option of using a Zagster bike for a while until my new bike comes in. While I’m really upset our bikes were taken and we had to deal with filing a police report/talking to our building manager/etc, we are able to replace our bikes and are adult enough to have insurance for them.

I spent the following 8 days resting. Like RESTING resting. I literally spent all weekend on the couch, unless I was driving to a friend’s house to sit on their couch. I spent a lot of time embroidering, watching Arrested Development, and cuddling with Goose. It was a long week and a half off of running, and I’ve never been so thankful to be back to running. I went snowboarding this past Saturday and everything felt great, so I went for an 18 miler on Sunday – totally pain free! I mean painful in my legs, but not painful in my abdomen.

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First (and last) time snowboarding glades. WAS NOT FOR ME. But hey, I tried.

For a while I was feeling pretty down about missing a key part of my training, but I’m honestly glad it was a random injury and not a running-related injury. Matt assured me that it was probably for the best – a week off of running with TRULY resting (no cross training, no bike commuting, etc) will most likely help prevent overuse injuries throughout the next few weeks, and it really didn’t take away anything from my overall fitness level. My 18 miler didn’t feel any harder than it would have had I run 50 miles the week before. I’m ready to get back into it and crush some 50-60 mile weeks for the next few weeks!

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My first goal for these next few¬†weeks is to start upping my hill game.¬†My 100k has about 12,000 feet of elevation gain, so I’ve gotta work my way up to getting at least 7,000 feet in each week so my legs are ready for that kind of workout. So if you see me cruising¬†along the Charles these next few weeks, slap me and tell me to go run Summit repeats or I’m gonna regret it by mile 5 of this race. My second goal is to crush my marathon PR at the Hyannis Marathon on February 26th. My 18 miler yesterday went really well – I averaged 9:00/miles. If I can hold onto a 9 minute mile for a marathon, I would not only PR by a full 30 minutes, I could break 4 hours. This is a lofty goal, but based on my past few weeks, I don’t think it’s out of reach. Fingers crossed!

 

Gorge Waterfall Training – Month 1

I started writing this blog post 2 weeks ago and here I am now, finally posting it. Life has been a little crazy, but more on that in another post later. For now, a recap of my first few weeks of Gorge Waterfall 100k training!

I officially started my training block for the Gorge Waterfalls 100k on December 19th. The first day was a huge success (spoiler: it was a rest day) and the rest of the week went just as well. I clocked in 31.5 miles the first week, with my long run of 10 miles on Christmas. I was worried about finding the motivation to run each run over Christmas break, but I’m just so eager to have a good training block and nervous about running 62 miles that I’ve been finding it easy to stay motivated.

Week 2 went well, even though I ended up being sick on New Years Eve and New Years, so I was slightly short on mileage. Matt and I had the week off, so we got a lot accomplished around the apartment, played with Goosey, and even got some trail miles in while the weather was still warm – though to be fair it is now January 25th and is still 40+ degrees outside, so who knows when winter will really hit. I ended up getting in 32.6 miles for the week instead of my 35. I was disappointed at first, but realized it’s not worth it to worry about missing miles when I’m sick – my body needed rest.

Week 3¬†started out with an extremely cold and rainy run. Matt and I slept in on Tuesday and regretted that pretty hard when we¬†realized it was going to be rainy, cold, and windy all night. We toughed it out for 7 miles, then I immediately got in the shower and¬†thawed myself out.¬†On Thursday I went to my first ever North Face Mountain Athletics workout with my girl Molly, and it was a blast. I ended up underestimating how far it was from my house, so my easy run to get there turned into almost 5k pace, and the workout was pretty run-centric, so I was exhausted after. Totally worth it though, and I can’t wait to go back again! All in all I clocked 39.2 miles for the week, and felt really good about it.

Week 4 started out with a miserable run on the treadmill that I ended up cutting short. I tried running outside, but it was super slick on the sidewalks, and I am not about to break my ankle going for a 7 mile run 4 weeks into my training plan. I also did not trust my shoes to get me through that run without slipping and falling – they weren’t the best running shoes and didn’t have a lot of traction.

At this point, I started realizing I didn’t like my new shoes too much – I’d been trying the Nike Free RN Distance since I got them for like 30 dollars on black Friday, but they’re just not great for the amount of miles I’m putting in, and also my running technique. I decided to reorder the Saucony Ride 9s I’ve been using for the past 6 months or so – they were pretty worn down at this point (about 400 miles on them) and I hadn’t had any injuries or soreness since I’ve been wearing them. It feels good to be running in a fresh pair again – it was definitely necessary! We went trail running for our long run on Sunday with Ryan and Tammy (our TBC long run crew lately!) and got in 15ish miles for my long run. Altogether, I ran 43 miles for the week and was feeling pretty good, but my shins have been a little sore, so I had to make a decision about my week 5 training and how I could get my training in without going overboard.

Week 5 was a little different, but I feel confident I made the right decision. I only got 36 miles in, but I got about 10 of cross country skiing, and 3-4 hours of snowboarding in as well, so I had some great cross training in. I didn’t get a super long run in, but I was only planning on 14 (ended up getting 8 in) and have been crushing my long runs for the past 2 months, so I’m not too concerned about it. This next week I plan on getting all my miles in as long as my shins are feeling good – gotta up the stretching, rolling, and strengthening if I want to continue being injury free for the next 2 months.

I’ve also started biking to work regularly, which is adding another element of cross training to my training that I wasn’t necessarily planning on before. I’m glad I’ve started biking to work for sure,¬†and will continue to do so no matter how my training goes, but I need to adjust my expectations of training until I’m a little more in biking shape.

I promise to be less of a stranger to blogging going forward… for real this time.

 

 

Probably Jinxing Myself

I know I’ve been off the blogosphere recently,¬†and it’s taken me a while to figure out why.¬†Honestly, the past 2 months¬†or so of running have been going… really, really well.¬†Like so well that I’ve been nervous to write about it in fear that I’ll jinx it. But enough is enough –¬†it’s been too long since I’ve blogged.

I officially started training for my first 100k yesterday on December 19th (started with a rest day – nailed it btw), but the past two months have just been me building up my base. My training¬†really kicked off when we went to Colorado in August post-toenail removal (also update: toenail grew back and is still sideways, so I’ll have to take care of that again someday… but not yet). I’ve been slowly building up from 10 miles a week to 30 – with some weeks biting off more than I should¬†chew. It was so hard to run only 10 or 15 miles in a week when I so badly wanted to¬†do multiple runs a week including a 10 mile long run.¬†I started to try to focus on the fact that I needed to stay injury free, and the best way to do that was to take it slow.

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Crushed my half marathon PR at the Cambridge Half Marathon!

After tackling the WOahMAN at November Project, I started to ramp up smart again. Other than one week where I just ran two times (16 miles total) I started to do more, but shorter, runs to keep steadily increasing my mileage. I’ve also struggled with this because I’ve been wanting to make my long runs longer each week, but if I add 2 or 3 miles onto a long run, I can’t add any more miles during the week since I wanted to stick to only adding on 2-5 miles per week. The whole past 2 months have just been a balancing act of¬†trying to reign in my enthusiasm and run smart, while also being painfully aware that my base had to be solid af leading up to 100k training.

Now that the start¬†of my training plan is finally here, I am pleasantly surprised at how prepared I am feeling. I’ve never felt¬†stronger physically or mentally going into a training plan. Physically, I’ve been running smart but fast – if I compare my long run paces¬†at the start of my Bear Mountain training compared to my lead up to Gorge Waterfalls training,¬†I’ve consistently cut off 20-30 seconds per mile. Working at a taproom and constantly lifting/moving kegs has also definitely had an impact on my overall form – I never really focus on my upper body, but I’ve been getting naturally stronger just from work, and my posture has been significantly better than it was last time I was running regularly.

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Matt has been leading weekend TBC long runs!

Mentally,¬†I’ve tried to do most of my runs without listening to podcasts or music to get used to running solo without distractions. I can listen to music during my 100k, but I’ve got a feeling that I’ll end up getting sick of my playlist after about 3 hours, so I’d rather keep it as reinforcements¬†for if (let’s be real, when) I hit the wall. I’ve also tried to throw in a few solo long runs, since I’m not allowed a pacer at the race.

The only thing I need to focus on is trail running a lot more during my plan. I’m hoping to hit the trails at least once a week so I can get more elevation in, as well as strengthen¬†up the¬†stabilizers that I’ll need for a trail race. It’s a whole different game on the trails, and I’d hate to crash during my race from not getting enough trails in. The hope is that soon I can transition to having¬†at least half of my long runs on trails, as well as some shorter trail runs added in. It’ll be difficult during the winter once the snow really hits, but I just need to focus on the big picture.

One of the biggest things that’s been helping me feel strong and run strong, other than actually training smart and planning out my weeks, has been the support from my friends and family. I’ve always just considered myself a slower runner, unable to keep up with a lot of my friends, so I never really applied myself. I’ve always run at a pace where I’m comfortable enough to chat the entire time. My lovely friend Kate pointed out to me when we were running that I was keeping up an 8:40/mile pace and still having conversations – that¬†I’ve had it in me all along but just¬†didn’t have the¬†confidence to actually try.

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Ryan, Matt, and I heading out for a freezing cold 12 miler

I recently also met a new running buddy named Ryan who is the perfect match for my pace. Having him around has¬†made me a much more social runner, and someone who’s excited to wake up at 5am on a Thursday knowing I’ll have someone my pace who will keep me company on runs. Matt will always accommodate me if I ask him to, but it’s nice to not feel like I’m holding him back but still being able to run with someone. Plus, Ryan is new to distance running, so I’m excited to¬†watch him go from a half marathoner to marathoner and hopefully to an ultra marathoner, if I get my way!

I’ve spent the better part of my running career constantly doubting myself and not reaching my full potential. Going into this training block I’m finally feeling strong, healthy,¬†and pretty confident. I’m excited to see¬†how training continues to go, and see how my races I’ve got lined up end up going. So far, I’ve got the Hyannis Marathon (really a training run for my 100k in April), Gorge Waterfalls 100k, and the Ghost Train 75 miler. Luckily, my Ghost Train registration can be changed to any distance in 15 mile increments, ranging from 15 miles to 100 miles. I also plan on signing up for The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler if my training goes well! If it doesn’t go well, or I’m feeling “lazy” I’ll probably sign up for the marathon instead.

I’m going to try to post weekly updates to keep myself honest and have a place to reflect on my training as it’s happening, so stay tuned!

B.A.A. Half Marathon 2016

I hadn’t planned on running the B.A.A Half Marathon this year,¬†but a few days before a spot opened up so I decided to go for it and test my half marathon legs. ¬†I’ve been training for the Cambridge Half Marathon coming up in November¬†so I thought if I can run a tougher course a month before the race, I’d definitely be set for the CHM.

Matt ran his 100 miler the Friday and Saturday before the race in the pouring rain, so when I woke up and realized it was going to be chilly and rainy, I couldn’t let it get me down. ¬†If Matt can run 27 hours in the rain, I could¬†handle 2 without whining about it. ¬†I woke up late, ate dry cereal for breakfast (we were out of milk of course), hopped on my bike, and biked the 4ish miles to start. ¬†I felt warmed up and ready to go by the time I got there. ¬†I ran into a few other NPers and¬†get excited about racing.

When I started, I didn’t have a time goal in mind. ¬†My half marathon PR was on a completely flat course when I wasn’t training for ultras or marathons, so I didn’t think it was smart to try to PR on this tougher course in less than ideal weather. ¬†Last year I ran the B.A.A. Half in 2:02:29, and I wasn’t even sure I could beat that this year. My goal of the race was just to have negative splits, so I started at a nice, easy pace and used this race as my long run for the week.

By the halfway point, I was feeling pretty good (albeit wet and already chafing from my sports bra) and was ready to push it to the next level. ¬†I had forgotten about all the hills in the second half of the course, but I actually ended up feeling really strong on them. ¬†I haven’t been going out of my way to¬†run hills during my training runs, but I think I’ve just been pushing myself to try harder and not avoid hilly routes when I run, so I’ve definitely become a stronger hill runner in the past few months, which helped during this course.

I did some mental math and realized if I pushed pretty hard for the second half of the race, I could definitely beat my course record from last year. ¬†I kicked it in gear and pushed myself as hard as I felt comfortable with considering there are some ultras in my future that I don’t want to injure myself before. ¬†I ended up finishing with a time of 1:58:32 – a solid 4 minutes faster than my time last year. ¬†Last year I had been struggling with IT Band issues as well, so the fact that I ran faster and felt strong the entire time this year gives me hope for my training season this year.

After the race, I realized the temperature had dropped significantly during the race Рsomething I was grateful for during the race, but very unhappy about as I climbed on my bike.  I started biking home with my teeth literally chattering when a familiar voice yelled out to me to come pull into the next parking lot.  My savior, Kelvin, offered me a ride home which I gratefully accepted through chattering teeth.  I got home and immediately hopped in the shower to warm up.

Overall, the race was amazing. ¬†The course is great and challenging, I felt strong, and even the weather could have been worse! ¬†My biggest¬†complaint, as it was last year, is the damn drop bag situation. ¬†It’s chaos. ¬†This year was even more chaotic because it was raining and much colder at the finish than it was at the start. ¬†This meant everyone was trying to avoid the rain by changing into dry clothes inside the drop bag tent. ¬†This made it impossible for people to get to their own bags.

The only other semi-annoying thing to deal with is that there aren’t any bike racks near the start. ¬†While I understand most people aren’t biking to and from a half marathon, it would be great if they could get a temporary bike rack for the race for any runners or spectators – this was an issue for me in 2013 when Matt ran it and I spectated, last year when I ran, and again this year.
Strava:
B.A.A. Half Marathon 2016

Gear:
Garmin Forerunner 620
Ciele GoCap
Stance Socks
Saucony Ride 9 Shoes