Thursday, September 18, 2014

NFEC 50-Mile Race Report

In my mind, this was the race that should not have happened. It defies explanation.  Injured all last
winter with IT band issues, not even that excited about running heading into the spring, I signed up for the North Face Endurance 50-Mile Challenge completely on a whim. Part of it was due to the fact that I had seen my husband run enough ultras now, that I was finally intrigued. Part of it was surely due to the fact that two friends of mine were training for their first 100-miler and were making it sound so F*U*N (yes, with all-cap/star emphasis).  To be honest, I was feeling left out. So, after waffling at the end of LAST year as to what I wanted 2014's goal to be, I finally decided what the hell and signed up for this 50-Mile C*H*A*L*L*E*N*G*E (also with all-cap/star emphasis) back in the early spring.

Since I haven't been writing, you are spared all the gory details about training and the emotions that went with that.  The short version is that I kind of pieced together a program based on Relentless Forward Progress and what a handful of friends and my husband suggested.  I opted to err on the side of undertraining, versus overtraining - so my program was by no means going to get me some outrageous time goal. The goal was to finish - and finish happily.

Basically, the gist of what I did was this: I ended up running four days a week. The Wednesday and Friday runs were my mid-week runs. They were generally at least an hour long, on trails, or involved some kind of hill or speed workout. Sunday and Monday were my back-to-back long runs.  Sundays were the longer of the two and built up to a 22-miler about two and a half months prior to NFEC in preparation for the one and only 50K I did in mid-July (Dances with Dirt).  After DwD, I built up again to a 24-miler, three weeks out from the 50 Mile.  These Sunday runs were typically done on roads. As they got longer, though, I usually incorporated a 10-mile loop that involved some good hills and then would run to the local state park so that the last few miles of the long run was done on trails.  I somehow thought running the trails on tired legs would be good experience.  Long Sunday runs were run every other week.  The "off" week was typically a 10-miler, done on trails.  I should add that - especially for the road runs - I utilized a 5/1 run/walk ratio.

The Monday runs varied in distance but were meant to challenge me to run on tired legs.  I kept the same run/walk ratio and pace, inasmuch as I could.  Quite often, they were run on trail, however.  And, after the DwD 50K, I took the advice of a friend and endurance coach and switched those workouts to a 1/1 run/walk interval.  That may sound crazy, but the whole idea behind it was to really work on my walking. Since it was a given that I was not going to run the whole 50 miles, but would rather incorporate quite a bit of walking, the hope was that I could teach myself to walk quickly. Up to this point, I have always been a dawdle walker. To this end, I think I had some very good success with adding this workout into the regimen. My Monday 1/1 run/walks weren't significantly slower than my Sunday 5/1 run/walks, due to the fact, I would guess, that in running and walking for "just one minute," I was able to convince myself to go faster at both paces.  That is to say, my runs and walks were just darn faster. (Ex.: 9-something versus 10:30 pace for the runs and 14 versus 17-something for the walks.)

Last year, while training for all those marathons and the 50K I did, I offset my running with bike riding and the occasional yoga.  I thought it was important to keep pounding away at the cardio for some reason.  This year, because of the injury I had recovered from, I thought maybe I should back off a bit. So, instead of doing two more days of cardio a week, I opted to do yoga instead: one class a week of hot/power yoga and one class a week of the stretchy/slow flow type of yoga that feels so good on tight muscles.  Saturdays were my one and only true rest day a week.

Was this the best plan ever? No clue. But, it seemed to work for me.  I had a really good, solid summer of training. I did manage to tweak my IT band about two and a half weeks out from the 50, though, and that added some stress going into the race. If I had just listened to my body at that point, though, it wouldn't have happened. Lessons learned.

So, on to the race.

When I first signed up for this event, it seemed like a brilliant idea to forego the traditional hotel room and go with camping instead. Seeing as the race start was scheduled for an uncivilized 5 a.m., sleeping at home and driving the two hours to the start would have been impossible. The race is staged from the Ottawa Lakes Campground, so tenting it there for the night and walking to the start at o'dark thirty seemed like a phenomenal choice - until it rained.

Home, sweet, home!
Getting to the campground and setting up the tent in a steady drizzle, the choice to camp suddenly seemed like a colossally bad decision. Add to that the fact that the lows overnight were supposed to be in the upper 30s and it was hard not to tell myself what a dumb ass I had been. And, I didn't just have me to think about, but also two kids. Suddenly I was very concerned we were all going to freeze to death in our sleep. In the spirit of adventure, though, we bundled up in double layers, crawled into our sleeping bags, piled high with fleece blankets (suddenly it wasn't such a bad thing that we had saved all those no-sew, double-layered fleece baby blankets. Cookie Monster and Winnie-the-Pooh were more than happy to help keep us toasty for the night).  Two phone alarms set for 3:45 a.m., it was time to sleep. Or was it?

As it turns out, it wasn't time to sleep. Listening to the rain fall on the tent, snuggled deep into my sleeping bag, I would have thought nothing would keep me awake. However, the idea of waking up and running 50 miles was apparently enough to do just that.

So it was that after a rather restless night of sleeping, the alarms sounded the time to wake up, face the chilly morning, and my fate. (Duh, duh, DUH! That sounded dramatic, didn't it?)

Getting dressed was done quickly. Despite the crappy weather the night before, the forecast for the run was actually ideal.  The start was to be a bit chilly with a temp of around 40 degrees, but the high wasn't supposed to get much above 60 degrees all day. And, no rain. All in all, fantastic!  I had decided for this run I would wear my Pearl Izumi N2 trail shoes, compression socks, Saucony Impulse shorts, PI ultra inside out shirt (short-sleeve), Smart Wool arm warmers, knit cap and gloves (for the start), as well as my Patagonia light-weight wind-breaker.  After getting dressed in running gear and then throwing my flannel pajama bottoms and a fleece jacket over everything, it was time for a quick bowl of instant oatmeal and some Via instant coffee, which my husband had thankfully gotten up to make for me.

We said our good-byes at the tent (the kidlets were still sleeping, after all), I grabbed my two drop bags, and walked by the light of my headlamp through the quiet campground, around the south end of the lake to the start area. Welcome to tent city!

The race had taken over a good-sized chunk of grass, bordered by two roads, the lake and a parking lot.  A dozen or more tents were set up around the perimeter with Clif hydration, blocks/gels, drop bag drop-off, and all the other trappings of a major event. I managed to find my way to packet pickup, got my bib and some pins, as well as my shirt, buff, and a pair of SmartWool socks. I was a few minutes late for the drop-bag dropoff, but I still managed to get there in enough time to shove my race swag and fleece jacket into the emptier of my two drop bags and send them on their way.

Corner of the race event's compound. (Picture taken the next day.)
Waiting around for the next fifteen minutes or so for the start, I wasn't too chilly.  Fires were blazing around the clearing to keep warm the runners and spectators alike. There were to be two waves to the 50-Mile start. According to announcements made, we were to line up in the appropriate wave according to what was marked on our bib. If no wave was indicated on our bibs, though, we could choose whichever one we wanted. Sweet! I didn't have a wave marked on mine and thought for about half a second to line up in wave 1. However, [not to stereotype here] when I saw who all was lining up in wave 1, I decided wave 2 would suit me just fine.

At 5 a.m., wave 1 was underway.  Three minutes later, it was our turn. Finally! Time to get the show on the road.

Anyone who has read my stuff in the past knows that I am not one for mile-by-mile blow-by-blows. (Thank goodness, right?) So, read on for my discombobulated account of this race.

The 50-Mile, as stated, starts at 5 a.m. What that means is that it is dark. In fact, it is dark for about an hour. You start off with about a half mile or so of road before getting on to the trails. I have to say that I loved this hour of dark. It was just fun. Except for the headlamps of other runners and the ground illuminated by the steady glow of my own headlamp, I couldn't see much of anything. It was like being in another world - a very insulated one. Being so early in the race, I was for the most part around other people for the entire time we were in the dark, so I wasn't too worried about getting lost. Glow sticks hanging from trailside branches showed the way.  Keeping my eyes on the ground in front of me helped me not to trip.  But also looking up once in a while to orient myself to the other headlamps let me know if a climb, descent, or bend in the trail were coming. It didn't take long (the first long climb) before I got a bit overheated, so I shimmied out of my jacket and tied it around my waist.

I didn't run this race with anyone. In fact, the idea that I would be able to spend 50 miles by myself was one catalyst for finally signing up for an ultra. I wanted to know - more than anything - that mentally I could spend the time by myself. So, I was alone for most of the race, and I didn't listen to music. I entertained myself with my own thoughts - and sadly with eavesdropping too. To be honest several miles of this first loop were spent on the heels of two ladies who were holding a jolly conversation about fellow acquaintances, household stuff, and life in general. Shamelessly, I trotted behind them, entertaining myself with their conversation. Don't get me wrong - there was no judgement on my part. It was just something to do to pass the time.  If these ladies noticed my eavesdropping, they didn't seem to mind. Sadly, I eventually lost them, as they were clearly faster than I was.

That hour of darkness was almost magical in a way, and I was sad when it started to fade.  The time spent doing the first 7 miles went quickly, and I couldn't believe when we had looped back at mile 7 to a point in the trail that we had passed five miles earlier.  This was the first clue I had that this might be a good run, rather than my typical long distance slog.

Miles 7 to 21 passed in a blur.  Nothing really stands out in my memory about those miles.  I remember random thoughts, such as when I passed the half marathon mark, then again around 18 to 20 miles. How it seemed weird that I was passing mileage that typically are "are we there yet?" mileage.  The idea that I still had over half my race left flitted through my mind. However, as with meditation, I tried hard not to dwell on any thoughts, just recognize them and move on.

In those first miles, I stuck pretty well to my plan of eating three Clif Blocks every 45 minutes.  That is what I had determined beforehand.  I thought if I could stick to that as my base eating plan and simply supplement it with real food whenever I felt hungry, then that might be a good way to go.  Somewhere in those early miles I vaguely remember eating some potato chips and maybe a couple of bites of PB&J, but I didn't go too crazy on the food.

Approaching 20 miles, I started to look forward to the fact that I would be able to see my husband and kids.  They were planning to see me at miles 21, 28, and 35 - those aid stations with the easiest accessibility.  Little did I know that that mileage would contain the hardest terrain for me to handle.  Approaching the mile 21 aid station, we ran along the perimeter of a shooting range (clearly marked). Obviously, it was a busy day at the range, because the sound of shooting was loud, echoing as it did off the hills and through the trees. It sounded very close and was a bit unnerving. I kept wondering where the shooters were in relation to where I was and hoping they were farther away than they sounded.

Coming in to McMiller (Miles 21 and 35 aid station) the first time, I was so happy to see my family. The kids had obviously been told that they could dig into the bag of junk food Andy had only after I had come through, because as soon as they saw me it was a quick, hi mama, and then they began clamoring for food. (To show you how engaged my kids were with this event, they apparently quizzed grandma and grandpa the next day at their hotel about all the race shirts they were seeing: So, is 50K or 50 Miles longer? Did Mama do the 50K or 50 Miles? Is that the shorter distance? Sigh.)

Just coming in to Mile 21. Finally able to take off the hat, gloves, and jacket.
As a crew person, I have to say my husband was brilliant. He was supportive and cheerful and got right down to the business of seeing to what I needed before sending me off again with nary a moment wasted. (I'd like to think he learned this all from me, his intrepid and indefatigable crew chief over the past few years.) While it was fantastic to see the family (even if the kids only cared about the Fritos and Kit-Kats in the crew bag), it was a bit sad to leave them behind.  I had made the Mile 21 aid station, passing the cutoff, but I had a rough 14 mile out-and-back in front of me. Luckily, at the time, I was blissfully naive as to how rough it would be.

Heading out from McMiller, the trail started innocuously enough. It wasn't long, however, before it morphed onto a xc-ski trail with some hellacious climbs. In fact, they were so impressive to me that I can honestly say that I am now convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that I will NEVER be a serious, hardcore xc-skiier. I don't know how people go up or down those hills. In fact, even running, it became quickly clear that I was going to have trouble going up OR down these hills.  Actually, the ups weren't the problem (I was going to walk those anyway), however the downs were tough. That IT band that had started barking a few weeks earlier decided that it really didn't like the downhills. So, many of those steeper descents that I would have otherwise hoped to run down ended up being walkers as well. I spent the next few miles cursing myself that I had turned Andy down when he asked if I needed any Excedrin.

The hills aside, or maybe because of them, I would have to say that my lowest points in the race came between miles 21 and 26. At the time, I found this strange. I kept playing in my head how a friend of mine says that the hardest part for her is usually between miles 31 and 35, and how Andy always feels at his lowest between miles 40 and the finish. I couldn't help but think, Good Lord, if I already feel this crappy even before the halfway point, how is this race going to progress?  I remembered my first 50K where I had felt I hit the wall at mile 15. Although that was not the best feeling at the time, I also remembered that it never got worse - just stayed the same level of bad.

Hitting that low stretch mentally in the 50-Miler forced me to do a few things: the first of which was to ask myself how badly did I want this finish? The answer was pretty darn badly. I reminded myself that everyone has low points and challenges in ultras. I certainly haven't run very many of them, but I have crewed and cheered and now even paced one. I know that low points pass. The next thing I started doing was what I should have done from the start - that is, NOT to look at this race as one big whole, but rather break it down to its parts.  I was kind of doing that already. I was focusing more on getting from aid station to aid station, but then I started looking at the distances I was covering. Luckily for me, that played in my favor a bit. I was happy when I reached the marathon mark - certainly not a PR by any means but it was a time that was acceptable given the trail. I got a PR in the 50K distance. And, I got a PR in the 8-hour distance (as compared to Moose Mountain Marathon.) Additionally, I reminded myself over and over again, this is what I had trained for. I really needed to convince myself to trust that training.

So, in the end, it was in a way the little things that got me through. Heading up and over those hills in that middle section, I entertained myself with my bit of PR-vs.-non-PR math. As I got closer to the mile 28 aid station (the turnaround point for this hillacious out-and-back section), I did get a bit emotional. For one, I was happy at the chance to see my husband and kids again. Secondly, though, I thought there would be a good chance my parents would be there as well, and I couldn't wait to see them. (They have never seen me run an ultra and had decided this was the one! Not only that, but they had signed up to work an aid station that afternoon too at mile 45). Thirdly, I was more than ready to tell Andy to give me the drugs! Finally, on a negative note, I was a bit emotional because I knew that the turnaround would mean that I would have to go back over those damn hills again. Ugh.

At Mile 28, I got the family fix I needed with the husband, kids, and my parents. I got my one Exedrin, and I turned around and took off again into the woods. Heading back over the hills didn't seem as bad the second time around. Part of that comes surely from the fact that I knew there would be an end to them, but also I have to give the Exedrin some credit. It did take the edge off of the pain enough that I could start running down the hills again. Although the effects only lasted two-and-a-half hours, I was happy for the break I got from the nagging pain I kept feeling. It was during this stretch that I passed the 31-mile mark, entering that territory of "longer than I have ever run." I thought I would feel more jubilant or something at that point, but like the other thoughts I had entertained throughout the day it mostly just was noticed and then flitted out of my head again.

I guess I expected the last 19 miles of the race to be something crazy significant or mind-blowing. I mean, I had STRUGGLED through my two 50Ks, finishing with usually an average 14:30 pace. I was DONE after both of those races.  Hell, most of the marathons I have run have left me feeling spent and like crap - slow as I am. I thought for sure these last 19 miles would shred me. The fact is, though, they didn't.

I made it back through the worst of the hills and back to McMiller with plenty of time to spare before the hard cutoff. The miles leading into mile 35, I was once again treated to a volley of gunfire. (Don't those people ever give it a rest?) I was excited to see the family once again (minus my parents who had needed to head to their aid station duties), but I was also looking forward to seeing four of my friends who had surprised me the Thursday before by saying they were planning on coming down to cheer me on for the last part of the race. One was also planning on pacing me, which was allowed by Mile 35 as long as that person had registered and gotten a Pacer bib. I was excited at the thought of having a pacer, not so much for the pacing itself, but after almost 8.5 hours on the trail alone, a bit of conversation sounded nice. Plus, I knew that R. would be the person I needed to keep my walking going, because while my running pace was still pretty darn steady, my walking speed had flagged considerably over the course of the day - and there was more of it.

Coming in to Mile 35. Really, the only muddy part of the course.
I tried not to get too excited as I neared the aid station, though. I didn't want to be disappointed if for some reason they weren't there. I knew they had some other things going on in the morning hours that might hinder their timely appearance on the trails of southern Wisconsin. And, as it turns out, they didn't make it on time.

As I got into the aid station, I asked Andy if they were there, and he said they had called ten minutes before to say they were almost there. So, I took some time to have a couple of ginger chews (the tummy was fine but it just didn't seem like a bad idea), grabbed my hat from the drop bag, refilled bottles with Coke and water, stuffed a Snickers bar I had brought in my pack, and finally went to the bathroom - my only time through the entire race (probably not a good thing), and checked out the "cave" my children were digging out in a big pile of rubble. I asked Andy if I should worry that my hands were swelling a bit. He said no, just don't drink so much. I shoved a second Exerderin tablet in my pack in case I needed it, dawdled around a minute or so more, before Andy finally broke the news that I should probably head out.

So, off I went. Without the brilliant conversationalist in tow that I had dreamed of, I latched on to a couple of girls that I had been playing leapfrog with for the past many miles. We chatted a bit, and they told me about their experience running this event the year before. Their news that the worst of the hills was behind us cheered me considerably, as did their attitude that now with the last hard cutoff of the race also behind us we could just dilly-dally our way to the finish if we wanted.  Yay! Even the realization that I still had 15 miles to go couldn't dampen my spirits at that point.

As the girls planned on walking for a good five minutes before cranking the legs back up again, I decided to trot on ahead (we would play leapfrog still to the finish, as it turns out). I enjoyed the first half of my Snickers - tucking the second half in my pack to save it "for a special occasion" (such as when I was hungry and wanted a Snickers).

As it turns out, the hills weren't completely behind us at Mile 35. There were still some pretty good ones on the way to mile 40.  The leg was starting to bother me again, but I was hoping to avoid taking the second Exedrin if I could help it. Getting out of the woods and hills again and cutting through the prairie, I was super excited to see my friends there to cheer me on! They had gotten lost on the way to the last aid station and felt bad about missing me. We had a nice chat, although I am sure I was a bit out of it. R. was ready to pace me at that point without a bib, but being such an obnoxious rule follower at times I felt I had to turn her down. Although the chances of anyone DQ'ing me at that point (clearly I wasn't a front-runner) were close to zero, I didn't want to take the chance. Besides, a part of me wanted to see if I could do 50 on my own. At this point in the event, it seemed important to try. Of course, that didn't mean I didn't want to see my own personal cheering squad as often as possible, so I was thrilled to see them at all the aid stations heading into the finish, as well as major road crossings!

Between Miles 40 and 45, there was one last, long hill climb, which I had been warned about by another friend. I enjoyed the second half of my Snickers somewhere in there, and I became a bit more gregarious during the last few remaining interactions with fellow racers.  None of us were going to win anything; we were just in it for the finish. With that all but assured at this point in the event, conversations had more of a tinge of "job well done" bonhomie. Everyone was more relaxed, except of course for those who were really still struggling.

For myself, I definitely felt tired, but I can't say I felt any worse really than I had 10 miles earlier. Mentally, I was ready to be done, but physically, while I wasn't fantastic I also wasn't miserable. I was somewhere in between the two. Everything after that mile 35 cutoff had the feel of "I can do this." There was no hurry. At one point, given my pace I knew I could break 11:30, but that time had passed.  I suppose at some point it went through my head if I made an effort I could then get under 12 hours, but now that the end was near the finish time didn't seem to be that important as long as I finished.

As I approached the Mile 45 aid station, I once again was able to look forward to seeing my parents who at that point had spent the afternoon working the aid station. Seeing them and chatting a bit about their hours there just added to my overall happiness. It was nice to have introduced them to a rewarding experience as well.

Mile 45 aid station with mom and dad.
And then I finished. I continued my run/walk, walking a bit more just because I could. I did take that second Exedrin before the Mile 45 aid station, I believe. My leg was uncomfortable and I didn't want to finish out the race at that level of discomfort. At any level of discomfort, though, I think running into the finish was the best feeling ever.

All in all, I am really happy with my first 50-Mile experience. Unlike my first marathon eight years before, I finished feeling good and ready and willing to take on another similar challenge.  I am pleased with my time, too. My average pace was only 14:29 by the end, but that is the average pace of my two 50Ks! That means, I added on 19 miles without significantly lowering my average pace. I am sure a lot of that has to do with the perfect weather conditions, but still - it's enough to encourage me that this ultra distance trail running may not be so outside the realm of possibility for me.  In any event, I am already hatching plans for my next event.

What little was left of the day was spent enjoying the afterglow of finishing. The family, a friend and I all grabbed pizza in town, and then with the kids bundled off to enjoy the warmth and swimming pool of grandma and grandpa's hotel, Andy and I enjoyed an IPA in front of our campfire. I'll spare you the details of my second sleepless night where every move meant roaring discomfort and I finally felt hungry again at 2 a.m., meaning I had to leave the warm sleeping bag to scrounge around for food in our car. But, I will leave you with something someone once told me - if you feel like you might want to do an ultra, then do one. Don't worry about whether you can finish it or not. But if the feeling is there, you might as well follow it. I am glad I did.

IPA in hand. Now I am really done.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Zumbro 17-Mile Trail Run Race Report

Mud-covered post-run. (Sorry about the lack
of pictures you will find here, but I knew I would be
 slow enough without playing the tourist.) 
Friday, April 11, 2014, was a beautiful day in the upper Midwest. Driving from Wisconsin to Minnesota past rolling farm fields, crossing the famed Mississippi River, and then continuing our journey along the bluffs of The Big Muddy was an exercise in contentment. The weather was perfect. Not too warm, not too cold. Clear skies. Even a bit of sun. It was the perfect start to what would be an imperfect race weekend – at least weather-wise.

The husband and I were on our way to the Zumbro 17-Mile Trail Race in Theilman, Minnesota. The 17-Miler was actually the “short” run, part of a wider 100-mile and 50-mile event, which had started that day at 8 a.m. As we pulled into Olive Garden in Onalaska, Wisconsin, for dinner, we mulled over the fact that the 100-milers had already been on the trail for 10 hours. As we crossed Ol' Man River into the dying sun and then turned north towards the hotel we would be staying at, we noted that the 50-milers would be starting in about five hours at 12:01 a.m., spending the first seven hours of their journey in utter darkness. We, on the other hand, doing the short race, had the luxury of leisurely driving into the area, getting a decent night's sleep at the AmericInn in Wabasha, Minnesota, (of Grumpy Old Men movie fame, apparently), and having a lovely breakfast before driving to our relatively late start of 9 a.m., well-rested and ready to go.

Then it rained.

Sitting in the car at the campground start.  Rain, rain, go away....
Waking up on Saturday morning to a very light drizzle was not the worst thing in the world, especially after the weather man on the local news noted that any rain would be passing by 9 a.m. (our start time). It should be noted that the “local” news was from the Twin Cities, approximately 90 miles northwest of our race start.

Driving from our hotel in Wabasha into the Zumbro River Bottoms Management Area, where the race was staged, the light drizzle became a bit more emphatic. Pulling into the campground, emphatic became even more insistent as thunder and lightning entered the fray. By the time we had parked our car and gotten our race bibs, the rain had become a downright downpour with some hail thrown in for good measure. It was 8:15 a.m. We still had 45 minutes to the start.

Ok, I didn't say that it was big hail, but still....
Sitting in the car, waiting for 9 a.m., watching the weather steamroll over us, I was hard-pressed to remember why I had actually signed up for this event. After all, I had just spent almost five months trying to rehab an ornery IT band and now was dealing with a grumpy hip flexor and/or groin muscle. (Hard to say where that pinching is coming from.) I had jokingly told my friends that if my plan of slowly getting back into running while simultaneously training for a 17-mile trail race worked, I would write a book.

The fact is, though, that ever since running the Moose Mountain Marathon the previous September on the Superior Trail on the North Shore of Minnesota, I had fallen in love with Rock Steady Running's events. They do trail races well. With Zumbro, I wanted to see what else they had.

Back in the car, we slowly got ourselves ready: making last-minute clothing changes as dictated by the rain and 40-something-degree weather, pinning bib numbers, prepping hydration, etc. As it approached 9 a.m., the sky began to brighten; the rain let up a bit and then miraculously ceased. It was time to run.

The Zumbro 100, 50, and 17-mile trail races are located in the Zumbro River Bottoms Management Area in southern Minnesota's Bluff Country. It lies within a portion of the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood Forest. The race is run mostly on single- and double-track trail, with a couple of stretches on gravel maintenance road thrown in for good measure. The net elevation change is 6,196 feet: 3,098 feet up and 3,098 feet down. The 17-mile race is actually a 16.7-mile loop that leaves the campground, wends its way along trails with names such as West Scenic Trail, Bridge Trail, Old Pump Trail, Ant Hill Trail, and Sand Slide Trail, to name a few, before landing you back at the campground. The 50-milers do three of these loops. The 100-milers six.

There are four aid stations out on the course. It's approximately three miles to Aid Station 1 (AS1), 4.3 miles to AS2, 2.7 miles to AS3, almost 4 miles to AS4, and then another 2.7 miles to the finish.

So, enough of the statistics. How did the race go?

After a relatively low-key start, the 200 or so odd 17-mile runners headed out across the campground. The main occupation at this point was dodging the puddles that had popped up all over the campground. As time would soon tell there wasn't much point in that. Approaching the trailhead, our merry band of misfits slowed to a walk as we all tried to squeeze onto the single-track. Being at the back of the pack, this wasn't that unusual. Much like the Keweenaw and Moose Mountain runs I had done last year, I was used to the fact that when you are getting funneled onto single-track, you can't really expect to go any faster than the folks in front of you. Given that in this race, the funneling point was immediately followed by an uphill, I knew that we'd be walking for a few minutes. So, I passed the time by chatting with the folks around me: spouses of 100-milers, the undertrained-but-determined, and Hoka aficionados. Good conversations all.

At some point on this uphill slog, it became clear that we were going to be running through some mud, as if the booming thunderstorm before the start and the huge puddles in the campground hadn't been clue enough to that fact. Even so, I was still naively unclear as to what the ramifications for this would be. I started to catch on as we approached our first downhill segment. Looking ahead on the trail, I could see that those further up the conga line we had formed were starting to head downhill and they were still walking. My cohorts around me and I laughed and wondered what the hold up was. Reaching the top of our little single-track hill in the woods, looking down at what awaited us, though, it became quite clear. The downhills were going to be beautiful messes of chute-shaped mud. And, it was slippery. The only way to navigate it without falling would be a) to either go off trail (which was brush-choked) or b) head down the slippery slide, grabbing trees as you went. I chose B. For the next 16.5-miles, the single-track descents were often to become a carefully choreographed dance as I basically slid from tree to tree. After the race, my shoulders would be sore from all the upper-body work I had done, both trying to keep myself from falling on the downhills and to help pull myself up on the uphills.

Example of the hills we scaled.
Of course, there were runnable hills, too. (For me, naturally, that refers to downhills, as I walk uphill as a rule.) Those mainly were the trails that had a lot of rocks or roots poking out so that I could jump from one to the other, were somewhat navigable off-trail, or whose mud had been so churned up that you could essentially plant your heel in it as you ran down, i.e., turning it almost into a downhill stair run versus a hill.

About twenty minutes into the race, just in case the course weren't muddy enough, it started to rain again, and not just any rain – a thunderstorm. I don't think I have ever run in thunder and lightning before, so that was a new experience. I kept thinking about the Pikes Peak Ascent I had done in 2011 and how paranoid they had been about running during a thunderstorm. Of course, that was at 14,000 feet and above treeline; this was only at about 1,000 feet and in the woods. I kept telling myself that this wasn't really a big deal. And it wasn't. The worst part about it was that it got me wet. Up until that point, I had enjoyed the illusion that I might manage to keep everything above the ankles dry.

The whole race wasn't run up or down hills, of course. There were some nice, flat runnable sections, but even these turned out to be more of a challenge than they otherwise might have been. Single-track was transformed into a slippery, narrow chute, while double-track tended to be flooded. With the latter, the choice was either to run through the puddles, or try to pick your way around. My choice throughout the race was to tiptoe my way around the puddles. Mentally, I am sure the option of picking my way carefully through the ankle-deep mud to the side of the trail seemed like a drier proposition than picking my way through the ankle-deep puddles and mud down the middle of the trail.

To be honest, it didn't even occur to me to plow through the puddles until coming out of the first aid station, when I witnessed a tired looking 100- or 50-miler resolutely walking straight through the middle of the flooded trail. I remember thinking that person must be really whipped to have given up on trying to keep her feet dry. What I should have realized was that, really, I was fooling myself. My feet weren't dry and they weren't going to dry during this event. In the end, I decided that I should have just followed that ultrarunner's lead. Running through the puddles would have saved me not only time, but effort. Surely, despite the water, the center of the trail would have required less effort than picking around the overhanging brush while navigating the sketchy footing at the trail's edge. Lessons learned for next time.

It would be hard for me to remember this entire race, blow-by-blow, given how distracted I was by the muddy conditions, however a few things stand out to me about this event. Regarding the trail itself, it was a fantastic mix of different challenges. I am not a really strong runner, so as I get tired the flat sections lose their charm for me. But I love power-walking up the hills and running the downhills – even late in the race. This event had a great mix of everything. Plenty of hills, but also enough flat sections to keep the flat-land runners happy. The footing did not seem too technical to me. There were a couple of rocky sections, but for the most part, the trail was fair. Of course, I can't judge too well given all the mud.

There was one stretch in the middle of the race that seemed to dry out, because the soil was more sandy. That was great until the race put you into a dry creek bottom. There was a decent stretch where you were running through sand. Not a little sand, but like on a beach – and it wasn't hard-packed. I chose to walk much of this, because it seemed to take a lot of strength that I didn't have to power through it. Making up for the sandy part was what seemed like a mile-long stretch of dirt road as we approached Aid Station 4. For people who run well, this would be a boon. I had a 50-miler pass me on this stretch, because she said the flat sections gave her her energy back. After being up and down hills so much (and given that I had only been doing a run/walk as I recovered from my injury), I found this section to be a slog. I ran/walked it, but as this came around the same time that my 13-mile “wall” did, I was feeling pretty pooped. I was happy to have this section behind me after the last aid station and to get back to some hills for the final stretch.

I didn't wear a watch for this race, and I didn't wear the run/walk interval timer I had been training with to get back into running. With a nine-hour time limit on the event, I knew I had the luxury of lollygagging if I wanted/needed to. The event for me was a slow one, for sure. I finished at about 4:45. To be honest, my goal time in dry conditions had only been 4:15, so to have missed it by only a half hour given all the mud, I was happy.

In fact, I can honestly say that overall I really did enjoy the run. I had a smile on my face for the first thirteen miles, which coincidentally is the length of my longest training run for this event. The area itself is beautiful. The climbs are tough but manageable, and the sweeping views you see of the river once you get up there are fantastic. I enjoyed the loop concept that allowed me to feel I was running with people for the entire race. Even as my 17-mile field thinned out, there were 50- and 100-milers still out there to talk to.

I am happy that I only had to do one loop, though. If I were in it for the 50- or 100-miler, I think mentally I would have a hard time. I am not a huge fan of multiple loops for long runs anyway, but one that has the challenges this one has would be especially hard.  I mean, after being quit of that sandy section, I would have been less than thrilled to realize that I had to do it two (or five!) more times.  I really give a lot of credit to the folks who did it. Again, though, I am biased by the conditions we had. I talked to several of the longer distance runners on the trail and they all said they enjoyed the run. For most of their race, they were able to enjoy pleasant, dry weather conditions. It only got hard at the end, but then doesn't any race even without the thunderstorms?

I definitely think this is a race worth doing, and if it were something that was closer to home for me, I know I would be out there again. As it is, I think I might enjoy getting back to it someday. I would love to run these trails in fair conditions...and maybe next time take some pictures.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Monday Mischung

St. Pat's 5K Run/Walk 

Yes, I did.  Injury and all.  I wasn't planning on it.  Truly.  But when you wake up in the morning and find yourself overwhelmed with the desire to do a race (after months of indifference), you just go with it. At least I did.

Yesterday was the local St. Pat's 10-Miler and 5K. Last year, because it was on St. Patrick's Day, it was a 17K, which I ran.  You can see my race report here.  It wasn't the best day, and - as with so many races that don't go well - I swore I would never do it again.  Well, I lied to myself apparently, because yesterday I did it again, albeit the short version.

Waking up in the morning, I had no intention of doing a 5K.  In fact, my schedule had a one-hour run/walk planned for me.  This is my down week, as I am trying valiantly to build up time on my feet during my weekend long "efforts" while recovering (hopefully) from this IT band injury.  I am using Galloway's run/walk method to slowly get myself running more, and right now I am at a 1:30 run to 3:30 walk interval.  I am being VERY conservative getting back into this.  Why?  Well, that is the topic of another post, but in short the ITB is still bugging me a bit and I don't ever, ever, ever want to piss it off again.  

Anyway, like I said, I had no intention of doing any sort of race, but while getting the kids ready to join my parents for church I saw the local news guys at the start of the St. Pat's run/walk.  All of the sudden, without any explanation, I got really excited about the idea of replacing my one hour run/walk with this 5K.  Since the folks in the background didn't look like they were about ready to head out (it was 7:30 a.m.), I told myself that if I looked online and the race didn't start until 9, then I would do it.  Seeing as the course wasn't that far from me made this doable.  So, I looked and the decision was made.

Next began a mad rush to choke down some oatmeal and get dressed in the multiple layers required for 6 degrees (thankfully, above zero).  I tried to take special care of how I dressed since I am getting over a head cold.  I certainly didn't want this madness to result in making the cold worse.  

The race itself was just what I needed. I got there, registered, stuffed the shirt they gave me in my puffy jacket pocket, and then found some friends from the local running community to chat with.  It was a great morning of nominal anonymity as I made this first foray into running events this year.  (I don't count the Samson Stomp in January, as I wasn't excited about that one really.)

Starting out the event, I had every intention of sticking to my 1:30/3:30 interval split, but one gets caught up in the crowd and the first time I actually looked down at my watch, I was already approaching 4 minutes of running.  It did flit through my mind to just go with it, but then my head overtook my heart and I decided to drop back to a walk and do the rest of the 5K at my modest run/walk intervals.  

So, how did I do?  Well, given that the walk interval is two minutes longer than the running one, I would have expected finishing somewhere north of 40 minutes.  However, according to my watch, I finished 3.11 miles in 35:31.  That's better than some 5Ks I have run with slower friends, and not much slower than some I have just run on my own.  Woot!  And that leads me to my next Mischung topic....namely....


In all honesty, I can say that if there is one thing I am pleased with - as a result of this injury - is my walking.  I set out to use this time, inasmuch as I could, to teach myself how to walk quickly, as I have always been a dawdle walker.  And, I think I have succeeded.  During the race yesterday, I walked fast, at times 13:30 pace or faster.  But, the most amazing thing, is I was quite comfortable doing so.  I wasn't huffing and puffing.  During these fast walk breaks, I was quite capable of catching my breath.  Now, this tells me a couple of things: first, that with proper technique I am sure I could walk much faster, and, second, that I am ready to take on some longer trail ultras (at least mentally).  I am not that fast of a runner, but I always figured that more than anything it was the walking that slowed me down.  Not because of the walking itself (because a lot of folks do that on trail ultras), but rather because I walk so slowly.  I think that has changed now, and I am excited by that.

heart-rate-monitor training

It sucks. I have given up.  It's hopeless.  Okay. That's the short story.  The long story is - in brief - that I was getting seriously frustrated by the fact that I wasn't seeing any results big enough to record.  There may have been micro-gains here and there but it wasn't enough to keep me motivated.  I think if I were to try this again (which I probably will at some point), I would need to be in a better place to start with. I know, that is probably cheating somehow.  But, when I do this I want to be able to run...not be in that no-man's land of the run/walk.  Also, it would help to have a coach (or cheerleader) to jolly me along when the going got tough.  I know, I am high-maintenance like that. Anyway, I am sure there is something to it, but I just wasn't ready to take the time to figure it out yet.

vo2 testing

At our running club's volunteer appreciation dinner recently, I actually won a free session of VO2 testing.  I don't have too much to say about this yet, but I am excited about it and will write it up once I have done it.

So, that's all... for today.  Happy St. Patrick's Day!  

Monday, February 10, 2014

Monday Mischung

So, in today's Monday Mischung, my first post since last week's Monday Mischung, I give you in no particular order some happenings from the past week:


For the first time since I joined Facebook, I took a completely premeditated break from it.  Of course, I have taken a hiatus here and there before due to vacation and just being busy, but this was the first time I told myself to give it a rest. So, I did.  On Wednesday of last week I announced my intentions to the Facebook world (because I thought if I didn't give myself some accountability, I would cave), and then shut it down for five days - until this morning, in fact.  

..... the reason why

So why give up Facebook anyway? Well, the short answer was simply that I realized that I was on it way too much.  That's the big picture.  The actual catalyst was that I posted something and didn't get many responses from it.  To be brutally honest, my feelings were a bit hurt by that. Peevish? Perhaps.  But, see, that was the problem.  Not that I didn't get many responses, but that I cared about it.  The fact that I was bothered by the lack of response drove me to shut 'er down.  In one swift aha moment, it became clear to me that I had started to invest way too much into this medium.  I needed to get a grip.  Social media can open us up to all sorts of rejection on many levels, but that is only if you care.  For me, Facebook is a great way to follow interests, groups, runs, and organizations I like; it's a fun way to stay in contact with friends, too.  But that's all I want it to be.  I want it to be a source of information and amusement.  I don't want to care about it.  So, it was time to back off.

..... so how did it go?

Really well, surprisingly.  It was refreshing actually to not feel like I had to check Facebook 100 times a day to see if someone had posted anything.  I came to realize exactly how much time I spend if not on the site, then thinking about it - wondering if someone responded to something I posted, curious if a friend had posted a status update.  Giving myself permission to NOT go out there actually was kind of a relief.  The few times I did think about it, I was almost relieved that I didn't have to go check anything.  It was like a random thought that flitted into and out of my mind.  And I really stuck to my word.  I didn't go to Facebook once in those five days.  By the time this morning rolled around, I had found a kind of peace that I was loathe to disturb, and I have to admit it was with a bit of reluctance that I did check Facebook this morning.  But, alas, curiosity got the better of me...

..... lessons learned

I learned a couple of lessons these past five days.
  1. Allowing myself to NOT go on social media, I felt a lot more at peace for some reason.  Maybe it was because I didn't feel like my thoughts were always on the virtual world as well as the real one in front of my eyes.
  2. I don't really need to know everything that is going on in people's lives. Sometimes it is fun to run into someone at a running store expo and really be able to find out (and be happily surprised) by what is happening in their lives, rather than starting every conversation with "oh, yeah, I saw that on Facebook."
  3. I need to set up some rules for myself going forward.  I like staying in touch with people and knowing a bit of what is going on, so I doubt I will give up Facebook completely.  However, I need to limit my access to it, so that I am not stopping by the computer 20 times just to see what's happening.  What a time suck that is.
running and exercise life

I have to say I still don't really have my mojo back with this yet, and I am starting to wonder if I ever will.  I have been exercising six days a week, and the injury isn't bothering me as much as it was.  It is definitely still there, though.  Here is the past week's breakdown:

Monday: Rest Day
Tuesday: Treadmill walk/run for 55 minutes, PT exercises
Wednesday: Rowing for 6.9K in 40 minutes
Thursday: Treadmill walk/run for 55 minutes, shoveled for 30 minutes, abbreviated PT exercises (back was bothered by the shoveling)
Friday: Rowing for 22 minutes (time was short due to other obligations), so quasi-rest day for me
Saturday: Cross-country skiing for 3 miles, two-hour restorative yoga workshop
Sunday: Treadmill walk/run for 80 minutes (5.3 miles), PT exercises and arm exercises

heart rate monitor training

I am still wearing the heart rate monitor for exercise and attempting to keep in that low fat-burning zone.  Having done this for three weeks now, my summary of the experience so far is this is tough.  I should probably write up a longer post on this, but suffice it to say that when you are trying to stay within 10 heart beats of a certain range, this becomes more of an exercise in frustration than anything else it seems.  

Maybe it is just me, but because I am stuck somewhere between a run and a walk right now, I find myself constantly having to fiddle with my pace or the incline to stay within the range I need.  I did have a very good session on the treadmill on Tuesday where I was running for a lot longer than I had been previously - upwards of two minutes at times!  By comparison, yesterday's long "run" became mostly a walk as my heart rate just kept soaring every time I started to run.  I may have been tired from the previous evening or the two glasses of wine I had drunk, but in any event...frustrating.

At the same time, I have to admit that yesterday's failure to execute was eye-opening in its own right.  How many times have I gone on a run and just felt "off?" Perhaps it was the wine the night before, or maybe I stayed up too late.  Maybe I was coming down with a cold.  The fact is, though, that there have been plenty of times when I have felt that off feeling, pushed myself to run anyway, and then paid for it - either by being wiped out, injuring myself, or just feeling poorly.  The books and experts would have you listen to your body in these circumstances, but what if you are no good and listening to what it is telling you?  Yesterday's treadmill experience was enlightening, because I did feel a bit off, but I never would have slowed my pace if it hadn't been for the heart rate monitor telling me to do so.  So, in the end, frustrating but intriguing. 

As stated, I have been doing the heart rate monitor thing for three weeks now, and I have to start giving some thought as to where to go from here.  The original article I read suggested that if you hadn't been injured for longer than three months then you should follow this low heart rate regimen for only one month.  That would mean that by the end of this week I could start following my uninjured heart rate recommendation, which would allow me five more heart beats a minute.  That means instead of having to stay within a range of 122-132 heart beats per minute, I could bump up to 127-137 heart beats per minute.  That may not sound like much, but I have to believe that might be the difference between a frustrated walk/run and being able to run very, very slowly.  

Unfortunately, though, since my injury has STILL not gone completely away, I feel that I should keep at the lower HB recommendation for two more months (what is recommended to treat chronic injuries).  

Of course, the thought has crossed my mind that this whole heart rate monitor training stuff could be a bunch of hooey, which could mean I am wasting precious weeks of recovery.  However, since I started doing it I haven't missed a day of exercise due to an injury flare-up.  That's a positive, right? I guess I will just continue to take this one day at a time.  The alternative, as far as I can see, is to just cease all activity for a while, and that isn't an option for me.

coconut oil

So, given that this post is way too long as it is, I think I will wrap it up with one last observation.  Coconut Oil.  I mentioned a while back that I was experimenting with using coconut oil as a hand lotion.  I have chronically dry hands, and the only thing that seems to help them is a steroid medication I got from my dermatologist.  Since I hate taking prescription drugs of any kind, I thought I would give coconut oil a go. I had heard a lot of good things about it, so why not? Well, unfortunately, it seems to be drying my hands out even further! I didn't want to believe it was the coconut oil, so I tried it for a couple of weeks.  There is no denying now, however, that it seems to be causing my skin (even on the backs of my hands) to become more dry and even red and irritated.  Part of me realizes that when you are living somewhere where the temperature is hovering around zero for months on end and static is your constant companion, it could just be that nothing would help.  But, I keep dreaming of the day I find some natural product that can keep my hands healthy.  I guess I will just keep dreaming.

Happy Running!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Monday Mischung

I have 30 minutes to write this blog, so if the quality of writing is not up to the stellar standards I have set thus far, you will know why.

workout week

In today's Monday Mischung, I will start out with a brief summary of what my workout week looked like. It was as follows:

Monday: Rest. Well, that was easy.

Tuesday: Rowing - 6 kilometers; 3 sets of PT exercises.

Wednesday: Walking/Running on Treadmill - 3.4 miles in 50 minutes.

Thursday: Rowing - 6.7 kilometers; 3 sets of PT exercises.

Friday: Yoga class; Walking on Treadmill - 3+ miles in 50 minutes; 2 sets of three arm exercises

Saturday: Rowing - 5K in 30 minutes; 3 sets of PT exercises.

Sunday: XC Skiing - 80 minutes; 2 sets of PT exercises

Today: Rest.

Summary: I am happy with the consistency of getting some exercise done. I am trying very hard to exercise in my fat burning, inflammation-prevention zone, and that is proving hard.  Obviously, I am limited to mostly walking on the treadmill, otherwise my HR spikes.  So, I try to mix it up with short, slow run bursts, fast walking, and slower walking at an incline.  My HR tends to float higher than it should before I can scale things back and get it where it needs to be, and I don't know how detrimental those indiscretions are to this whole experiment.  This whole HR thing is a learning curve, one that I am determined to master.

While the treadmill is a challenge, rowing with the heart rate monitor seems to be easier.  There, my issue is that my heart rate tends to get too low. So, I am dropping off the bottom of my ideal heart rate zone.  On the positive side, though, I have to say that keeping more or less to my fat burning heart rate, I feel I could row forever - not something I have had the pleasure of knowing before.

As to cross-country skiing, I have not worn my heart rate monitor, so I don't know what I am doing there.  My guess is that it is too high for my fat burning zone, but until I strap on the HRM, I won't know.  Maybe next opportunity I get, I will try the HRM.

pt exercises

As you can see, I have been fairly consistent with my PT exercises.  I was initially shooting for every other day, but now I think I will settle for doing them Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.  I think every day is probably ideal, but I know that I would get burned out doing them so often. With this schedule, I know I can be more consistent and hang in there longer.  I hope they are still doing some good.  For the record, my PT exercises consist of 10 reps of each of the following exercises: clam with band, sidestep with band, a hamstring circuit with a balance ball (three different exercises x 10 each), one-legged squats, and calf raises.  It takes me aobut ten minutes to complete each set, so you can see this is quite the time investment (especially when I do three sets) and I wouldn't be doing them if I didn't think they would help.


Is it getting better? I sure as hell hope so.  I have to say, though, that I don't know for a fact.  It definitely feels better.  This injury at its worst made my knee feel like it was going to pop with every step. In other words, it felt like it was running off its track.  It was sore enough that I couldn't walk without a limp and I was constantly in fear that I was going to irritate it further.  At this time, I can say I haven't had that knee-weirdness problem for a good week and a half or so.  And that is brilliant!  The not-so-good news is that there is a lingering soreness on the outside of my leg (mid-IT band), and that doesn't seem to want to go away anytime soon.  It seems to get a bit sore with my rowing and treadmill work, but it doesn't hurt, per se, so I am hoping going back to its old pre-injury normal before finally dissipating.  I am trying to be consistent with foam rolling and stretching, but to be honest I see both of these activities as a minor irritation in my days, and as such they sometimes get swept under the mental carpet where I can't see them.

I continue to tread carefully though, and while I am optimistically seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, with that comes also the worry that I will never completely trust my IT band again.  I have never had an injury that lingered for so long (and kept me from running!).  If this does clear up, I feel I will freak out anytime there is a twinge over there.  Post-traumatic injury syndrome?


I still love skiing, but I really need to learn to manage hills and turns better. Yesterday's ski loop saw me going down that little hill (with the curve and wood sign) again.  That's the one I wiped out on the first time I tried it, and then conquered - much to my delight - the last time I went down it.  Yesterday, it was the hill's turn to dominate as I wiped out once again.  I do give myself a lot of credit, though, as there were NO groomed tracks down the hill this time.  The snow was flat and hard-packed.  The fact that I even decided to give it a go still makes me shake my head with wonder.  Anyway, the bad news about all this is that somehow I yanked my big toe quite strangely when I fell over at the bottom.  It's still sore today.  Hopefully this won't be another long, drawn out process of healing.  All this injury recovery stuff is starting to set my teeth on edge.

lunch challenge

So, I finished my personal wellness challenge of eating a rawish lunch every day and it went well. I did botch three days, but I made up for them by tacking on some extra days.  All in all, I have to say that I do feel better for having done the challenge.  I think that my gut was much happier on the whole by the time I was done, and I really have started craving fruits and veggies.  I can definitely see continuing this indefinitely.


Did anyone else watch the Superbowl last night? What a snooze fest.  I felt sorry for Denver, who I was voting for by the way.  They just seemed to have a bad day.  My kids were thrilled that Seattle won, though, so I can be happy for them.  Why Seattle?  Well, following the train of thought that the enemy to my enemy is my friend, my daughter decided Seattle deserved her vote because they beat San Francisco, who of course was the team that quashed the Packers' hopes of a Superbowl run - so, obviously, they must be on our side.  Obviously.

Time's up and time to go.

Happy Running!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What's the Rush?

It's Wednesday, hump day for many people. For me it is the start of a crazy busy five days, and I have about five minutes to tell you about it.

So, for people who NEVER get invited to do anything, this is a week of showing us how wrong we can be.  Between the four of us who live in this house, we have three parties and one sleepover we are invited to. I will let you guess who is going where, because really that doesn't matter. What does matter is that we have a lot going on.  Add to that two karate classes, one yoga class, gift buying for two different kids, food making for one event, and skiing on Sunday, and I think I will be ready to sleep for twelve hours straight Sunday night - after Dowton Abbey and Sherlock, of course.

Somewhere around all that I plan to fit in two treadmill sessions and at least one rowing session.

Speaking of which, I just finished my first walk/RUN on the treadmill since starting my heart-rate-monitor return-to-fitness routine.  I actually was able to run a bit at 12:30 pace while staying within my prescribed, inflammation-avoidance zone.  Of course, by "staying within" I mean I bounced a couple beats high when I ran and a couple of beats low when I walked.  It's turning out to be really hard to keep in the zone I need without erring either too high or too low. If nothing else, that is what makes this approach to exercise frustrating. More on that in another post, however.

The good news, though, was that I got to RUN again for a little bit.  Generally, as far as I could tell, I was managing about a one minute run to one minute walk.  I did that for 35 minutes.  So, with warm up and cool down and a bit of walking at incline at the end of the run/walk, I got in 50 minutes of quality exercise and 3.4 miles.  I followed that up with a bit of stretching and some upper body weight work.  (I have not done arm weights in about two years, but it suddenly sounded like a good idea. I'll let you know if it was in the next day or two.)  I will also be very curious to see if my leg backslides at all in the next couple of days.

By the way, while on the treadmill, I listened to a great Ultrarunner Podcast interview with Candace Burt, who recently came in second female at H.U.R.T. 100.  She is also the race director for the new Tahoe 200 Mile Trail Race coming up this year.  Anyway, good listen if you have the time.

Of course, I decided to celebrate my run/walk by negating all the calories I had just burned with a piece of vegan banana-walnut-chocolate-chip cake with chocolate ganache that I baked last night.

My daughter was thrilled by the idea of the cake, since - as she put it - I never bake cakes.  However, I don't know if she was thrilled with the cake itself, bananas and nuts not really being her thing.  My son just licked off the frosting being no kind of cake lover at all.  The husband thought it was okay. He's not a huge cake fan either, but as he stated this wasn't really cake and it wasn't really banana bread; it was somewhere inbetween. I took that to mean, he wasn't wowed either.  I thought it was okay, but as with a lot of vegan baking the texture was a bit dense. Ah well, back to the drawing board, I guess.

Healthy lunch today will be a smoothie!

Happy Running!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Monday Mischung

Monday is my rest day. The end.

Haha, just kidding! If you are reading this, you aren't getting off that easy.  No, actually, today IS my rest day, and for that reason I don't want to blow my few precious hours alone on the computer, so I was trying to come up with a cool title for a this and that post - like you see on other blogs. I wanted to come up with some cool spin on Monday using the magic of alliteration, but that didn't work out so well for me.  Maybe because it's Monday, but my brain wasn't firing on all alliteration cylinders.  So then I was thinking Monday Madness, Monday Mayhem, yada, yada, yada, but those weren't doing it for me either.  So, finally, I settled on something that I love but of course no one else would understand...Monday Mischung.  Mischung being the German word for "mix."  (I suppose I could have done Monday Mix, but oh well too late.)

Anyhoo, and without further ado, here is my Monday Mischung.  A grab bag of thoughts and happenings, as spewed out by moi.


First of all, it's -9 degrees here.  Yes, nine BELOW zero. And, that is air temperature.  With wind chill it's like -20 or something.  And tomorrow is going to be colder with morning wind chills dropping to about 50 degrees BELOW zero.  There isn't too much more to say to that.  If you are reading this from the same neck of the woods as I am writing it, then you know what I am talking about.  If you are reading this from somewhere warmer, quit your belly aching about whatever temps you have right now and be thankful.  Because, frankly, I love winters, but there is nothing like a freeze-your-boogers, get-frostbite-in-five-minutes type of temperature to make you appreciate ANYTHING else.

the coffee-cocount-oil combo

So, I have recently heard of people putting butter in their morning coffee. I am not sure what that is all about, and I don't care since it is nothing I would ever do.  But then I heard of others putting coconut oil in their coffee.  Now you're talking my language. We happen to have two jars of that lying around the house.  Typically, we use it for cooking, although lately I have been experimenting with using it as a skin lotion.  (I am having so many dry skin issues and nothing seems to help.) 

Anyway, I thought I would try it this morning.  The conclusion?  Not sure.  I still have a really hard time purposely adding fat into my diet.  I mean, I don't eat low-fat by any means, but I don't go out of my way to add it in either.  I added all of about a half of a teaspoon to my cup of coffee, and I can't say that it really impacts the taste much.  There might be a bit more richness of flavor, but that is a might.  A definite con to this is that I am a little turned off by the globules of fat floating on the surface of my coffee.  (There is nothing that says good morning like drinking a steaming mug of oil slick!)

Not to be completely negative, though, on the positive side I don't feel like I need to add any Chapstick this morning.  

drag queen bingo

What can I say about this?  A cousin of mine recently celebrated her birthday by going to drag queen bingo with her friends.  Although I love where I live, there are just times when I wish we had some more goings ons in the area.  It's not every day you get to go to drag queen bingo.  And if you are living here - it's not ever.  I am missing out on some of life's truly must-do experiences.


After an entire lifetime of not eating pomegranates, this winter I have discovered this wonderful fruit and embraced it wholly.  Ever since learning how to whack the pomegranate arils out of their husks, I have been adding them to my morning oatmeal.  We are talking weeks now that I have been doing this.  Alas, it seems that pomegranate season is coming to a close, because I have been to three grocery stores in the past week and none has the fruit.  There is still one place I have to try, but if they don't have them, I will consider poms out of season.  Since running out of pomegranates I have been adding two little Halo oranges to my oatmeal and that's not half bad either.  

wellness project challenge

I am on Day 18 of my Wellness Project Challenge to eat a rawish lunch every day, and I am doing okay.  I have blown it two days out of the 18 - the one day being while we were on the road to Milwaukee and the second day when I couldn't pass up leftover soup - but otherwise I have eaten either a large salad or had smoothies for lunch.  I don't know if I feel any healthier for doing this, but I do enjoy the happy feeling I get from thinking I am making a good choice.  If nothing else, these past weeks have taught me how to efficiently make a salad that lasts a few days.  Seeing as it was always the making of the salad that kept me from eating them, I think I may be over that now.

downton abbey and sherlock

To illustrate to you how little of a life I have, let's talk tv.  I hardly ever watch television. In fact, we don't even have cable.  However, last year, I got hooked on Downton Abbey at the start of season 3.  I don't know why I started watching it, but everyone was talking about it, so I had to see for myself.  Now, every Sunday night, you will find me snuggled into the sofa with a glass of wine and the tv all to myself. (The husband flees the room to read elsewhere.)  Now, if that weren't bad enough, out of curiosity, I started watching Sherlock last night (I recognized the actor from Star Trek: Into the Darkness), and now I think I will be watching that as well.  Strangely, Sherlock is starting season 3 this year.  I guess I have to let shows mature for a couple of years before I'll watch them.  Anyway, I really enjoy these Sunday nights and will be sad to see the seasons come to an end.

running life

I am still not running. I haven't run a step - again - in about one and a half weeks, and it has been officially over two months since my IT band stopped functioning properly.  I have to say, though, that I am okay with it all.  I am taking on the heart-rate-monitor return-to-fitness approach and it's all good.  In fact, I should have realized at the end of last year - when I was having such a difficult time coming up with goals for myself in 2014 - that I needed a break.  Obviously, this is my body's way of giving me one, so I have decided to go with the flow.  I'll get back to it. I know I will.  However, I want to be running ultras until I am 100 years old, not have a brief but furious career.  Also, I have suffered a lot of injuries in the past few years, and by all accounts (I have had THREE running analyses done) I am a very efficient runner.  So, it's time for me to break the cycle now.  I don't want this injury better. I want it GONE, and I am willing to do whatever it takes to do that.

So, I have settled into a routine of walking on the treadmill and rowing, alternating between the two for six days out of the week.  I do both within my fat burning HR zone.  I do PT exercises every other day and yoga once or twice a week.  If I can get out and xc-ski, then I throw that in there as well.  Mondays are my rest days.  I have only been doing the HR thing for about a week now, so I am ever hopeful that as my base fitness improves I will be able to move up into slow running.  But, as stated before, I am going to keep at this as long as it takes to feel like I have really made a difference in this injury.  I am not going back into running with this "on the mend" or "lingering."  This time it has to be gone.  


Feeling better, but not gone.  This past week has been brilliant.  I noticed the leg acting up after the Samson Stomp last Sunday, but since then I haven't felt it get wonky at all. Occasionally I do notice tightness, though, so I know it is still there waiting in the wings.  Patience is my friend right now.

Happy Running!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Samson Stomp and Much Needed Night Away

It is no secret that I have been a little blue.  Not seriously, but enough. My running life is in flux, and I am not sure which way to turn. Should I go with the flow, or fight the flow with everything I've got?  I'm at a loss.  What is clear is that despite my despair this past weekend about heading to Milwaukee for a race I couldn't race, the night away was a much needed distraction.

Our busy 36 hours began with ski lessons in the Green Bay area for the kiddos.  We had already packed up the car, made a sandwich lunch, tucked some movies for the DVD player in the backseat, and dropped the dog at the kennel.  Skiing could have easily turned into a chore to get through before heading to Milwaukee for the main focus of our weekend, but instead it became a nice way to kick things off.

With the kids ensconced in their age-appropriate groups, the husband and I hit the ski trails. The snow was fantastic, much better than two weeks ago. And, although, the temperature was in the chilly single digits, our hour and a half spent skiing was pleasant.  Aside from being a bit overdressed, I quickly found my rhythm on the trails and really enjoyed the time out there.  I managed to go down the couple of hills along the route (including that one with the curve I wiped out on two weeks ago) without incident, and I even managed to walk UP a hill without holding everyone up or having to take off my skis.  Really, all in all, a fantastic experience.  To top things off, the kids each seemed to have a good day as well.  Skiing-wise, things are coming along.

As soon as we all got changed and into dry duds, it was time to take our adventure south.  We ate our lunch, plugged in a movie for the kids, and hit the road.

Every time we go to Milwaukee I am reminded of what a nice city it is.  There are areas that are absolutely charming, and I always leave there with the feeling that I would like to explore it more.  As with other visits, though, this one was a whirlwind tour, so we didn't get to see as much as I would like.

Getting into town, we had decided we would go see a National Geographic Penguin movie at the public museum's Imax.  (Our son is in love with all things penguin.)  Having some time to kill before the matinee, we headed over to Trader Joe's for some shopping.  We don't really go too crazy while there, but it is fun to pick up some TJ-branded items, such as cereal, dried fruit and trail mixes, wine, sauces, and chocolate items.  It's more of a novelty than anything, I think, but we enjoy it.

After the movie let out, it turned out we had ten minutes until the museum's free last half-hour of the day.  So, we got a little bit of bonus educational time going through the butterfly house, dinosaur and rainforest exhibits before we had to vacate the premises.  Dinner that evening was at Beans and Barley, a vegetarian-friendly restaurant and health-food store not too far from the museum.  Delicious food and then an hour in the pool for the kidlets was the perfect end to our day.

Sunday morning, we got up early to get ready to check out and head over to the real reason for our weekend trip - the Samson Stomp 5K, 2-Mile, and 1-Mile running events at the Milwaukee County Zoo.  After packing up and checking out, we had a nice breakfast at First Watch in Brookfield, which offered a really nice selection of healthy and not-so-healthy breakfast items.  (I had the banana granola-crunch multigrain pancakes, while the husband had house-made muesli and fresh fruit. E. had scrambled eggs, which she loves but never gets at home, while LG had a bagel with cream cheese.  Both kids had fresh fruit as well.)

Samson Stomp

As we were waved into the zoo's parking lot by the booth workers, we couldn't help but notice a sign: Samson Stomp Sold Out.  This is a popular event.  Two years ago, when we did it for the first time, we noticed that as well, and it wasn't even nearly as pleasant weather-wise then as it was yesterday.  With temps forecast into the 30s, but with a brisk wind, yesterday's race really wasn't that bad for a winter event in Wisconsin.

Originally, the husband and I had both signed up for the 5K race, while the kids were registered for the 1-Mile.  The husband's mom, who was hoping to come visit had signed up for the 2-Mile, but when her trip was canceled and my injury became a nuisance it was decided that I would take her 2-Mile bib.  Not a terrible deal because I had run the 5K two years ago. This would be husband's first time with it.

So, getting into the zoo and wending our way through to the packet pickup, we got our race numbers and shirts and then found a cozy corner to pin our numbers on.

The way the races are staggered at the Samson Stomp make it an ideal family event.  With the husband's 5K race starting at 9:30 a.m., and my 2-Mile starting at 10:15 a.m., he had time to run and wrap up his event while the kids and I watched the penguins and visited the ape house.  Then I was able to walk my 2-Mile event with enough time to see my kids and the husband off at the 1-Mile race start, which began at 10:45 a.m.  A kids' race of .25 miles also kicks off at 11 a.m.

There isn't too much to report on my 2-Mile event.  I had planned to walk it, and that I did, with the exception of four or five downhill segments, where I could not ignore the temptation to run. I could definitely feel the hamstring tendons tightening up on me, but the walk (or the short duration of the event) seemed to keep any real irritation at bay.  I finished in 30:10, and that is with stopping to take the following photos along the route.

Dall Sheep
One of the roads we traveled.
Polar Bear
Finish Line
All things considered, I was happy with my effort.  I failed to bring my heart rate monitor, so I have no way of knowing if I kept my heart rate under that 132 rate, but seeing as I know I spiked past that skiing the day before, oh well. Today is a rest day, but I will pick up the HR monitor again tomorrow for my treadmill walk. Sigh.

The others in my small group did well in their respective races. The husband bemoaned that he was "so slow" with a 20-minute or so finish.  Cue the violin.  The kids did great finishing their mile run in the 12-minute range.  Lots of fun.

After the race, we hit a Starbucks where I finally earned Gold membership.  (I am such a dork.  I really don't even care, but their marketing scheme worked. They threw out the challenge of the Gold level and I took it on.) After coffee and smoothies, we worked our way to Performance Running Outfitters where I spoke to some perfect strangers about all my woes.  After listening to me patiently, measuring my feet, watching me walk, and asking me lots of questions, they brought out the Brooks Defyance - a huge departure from my beloved Cortanas (at least stack-height-wise).  However, for the lady who can point out at least 10 things I hate about a shoe as soon as I put them on, I was struck dumb.  I had nothing to say. I put these shoes on, and I was just sort of like - oh, they feel pretty good.  I jogged around their minute track and hopped on the 'mill, and really I was sold.  So, I am trying something new - at least until Saucony comes around and gives me my old-style Cortanas back.

The interesting thing about PRO was that when I was videotaped on the treadmill, the person watching me commented that, running, I was about as efficient as efficient can be. To which I responded, then why am I always fricking injured?  He shrugged and agreed it's a mystery.  The husband's theory is that I clean up my running act when I am "on display."  That could be, I suppose.

In any event, having walked out with a brand-spanking-new pair of running shoes, we then went to REI where I bought a new pair of Dansko clogs on sale. It was my day for shoes.  I have now almost doubled my shoe collection.  Ha-ha....and you probably think I am kidding.

A linner at the Cheesecake Factory finished up our weekend.

So, a busy but good time, and as I said it was good to get away, even if just for a day.

Food-wise, I fell off the wagon on my one-rawish-meal-a-day challenge on Saturday. We had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch traveling to Milwaukee, but getting to a veg-friendly restaurant in Milwaukee, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to have a regular dinner there.  So, instead of the salad I should have had, I ordered a vegetable and tofu stirfry with coconut ginger curry sauce served over brown rice.  It was delicious.

I did get back on the wagon yesterday, though, as after the Cheesecake Factory for our late lunch, I really wasn't too hungry again until about 8:30 p.m., when I had a banana.  Today, I got back to the salad thing for lunch, and what do you know? It tasted good.

Happy  Running!