Monday, September 16, 2013

Crazy-Fun on the Pinellas Trail

Partying along the Pinellas Trail

It was about a year ago that I started seriously thinking about running ultra-marathon distances, but not for the same reasons I run road races. I wanted to experience the JOY of running again and not feel pressured into fast paces. I had a love-hate relationship with running in the past, but decided to subtract the hate from the equation. Now I have an abundant love for running, as can be seen by my attempt to run a 40 mile trail.

I began my ultra journey yesterday, trying to run as long as I was having fun and not to tell myself "You cannot do this anymore; you don't have it in you!" I spent the week making sure I stayed active so that I went into the run feeling strong. I ran my normal marathon training mileage during the week and took a long bike ride in between, which helps my hip flexors for running. I ate a lot of lentils and veggies a couple days before. I rested and hydrated on Friday with some stretching, electrolytes, and lots of water. Here comes an over-share: I peed about two dozen times that day!!

I packed multiple bags full of a Nuun electrolyte tablet, 3 Hammer gels, a granola bar, pretzels, banana pancakes, pumpkin seeds, pb & banana sandwich, cinnamon pita chips, B12 Odwalla smoothie, 3 bananas, 1 mango, 1 peach, pasta salad, iPod, Garmin, phone, chargers, hat, change of running clothes and shoes, ID, sunscreen, hand towel, my handheld water bottles, and my "Green Bible" (a.k.a. my agenda). 

The alarm went off at 4:45 a.m. jostling me into reality. I had all my gear and food organized and ready to go on my dresser before bed, O.C.D. style. I said something to my Dad as I held my riverstone from his memorial service and dropped it into my pak. Once dressed I prepared the coffee, packed the car, and we were on our way to meet the FUR group for some "crazy" miles. I was looking forward to my first 10 miles with J.M. Signed in, received my numbered wristband, went potty, and we started at 6:40 a.m. following the attached route: Map of Challenge

Finishing up with J.M.
While maintaining a 9:30-ish pace, J.M. and I chatted about life and running. Running with friends = bonding time! THANK YOU J.M. for the magnificent miles and the bridge repeats you did at the end of your miles..BEAST! Not far past the bridge we arrived at J.M.'s stop and my first pit stop. Tony and Shay were happily waiting for us, cheering us on, and taking pics. 

At this point, I just wanted to eat something, but Shay told me I should take my shoes off and wring my socks. LOL..then she complained how nasty it was to see so much sweat being squeezed out. I tipped my shoes up on the curb only to find a puddle had formed when I went to put them back on. Feeling waterlogged, I spent about 10 minutes drying my feet while Tony ran into the nearby Publix to reload my bottles. I ate a couple bites of a banana pancake and drank quite a bit of water as I relaxed. I have read many times that if a runner sits during an ultra they take the chance of getting stuck, but not this girl! I was ready to get back on the trail, with my camelbak loaded and my mango in my hand, I set back out after a 15 minute stop. 
I mixed one bottle with a lemon/lime Nuun electrolyte tablet and munched on my mango. I let my tummy settle for the next quarter mile before I began a slow run. Surprisingly, I was in good spirits - not wanting to stop despite the increasing temperature. The first 20-ish miles were shaded enough to run more than walk as long as I had enough hydration. The trail started to get boring as I started through the downtown Clearwater area, and it took some twists onto sidewalks after the Mile 17 aid station. I turned the corner from Magnolia and was happy to hear clapping and see smiling faces. 

I wanted inside that cooler!

Asking me if I needed anything, she listed everything she could offer...and I said YES to all of it! Really though, I reloaded my water bottle with cold water and the other with ice & Gatorade. Next time I'm gonna stash a couple fig newtons and a banana in my bag, but at that moment some food sounded good and some did not appeal to me at all. Plus, I knew I would be running into my family, a.k.a. my crew at mile 20. Encouragement, hydration, and fueling offered with smiles boosted my love for this sport even more. So many people sacrifice time and energy to serve others, as we all are called to do! 

20 mile pit stop
Next stop - at almost the 20 mile mark at W. Bay Dr., I perched myself on the curb, peeled my shoes and socks off, and awaited instruction. I was drenched and hungry, very HUNGRY! My eyes had started to have a hard time focusing, so I knew it was time for food and electrolytes.I had been eating a little bit here and there - mainly pretzels, pumpkin seeds, and a banana pancake, but as I took a bite of my pb & banana sandwich I suddenly did not want to eat anything else. I did drink an Odwalla B12 smoothie.

Crew member #2 requested that I change clothes as planned. She accompanied me into McDonald's to change, or to make sure I carried out her complete instructions. In other words, she took great care of her Momma! I felt rejuvenated in dry clothes and shoes. I ran in my wider Brook's Pure Flow for the second half on purpose. I knew my feet would swell a bit with all the running. I just didn't realize it would be mainly the thick skin on the bottom of my feet.   

After a good 30 minutes, I was sent on my way as nicely as my crew could, encouraging me to run, but to be careful! I had been listening to music since mile 10, even though I normally cannot stand to have ear buds in when I run. I had one ear bud in and the other tucked out of my way. The music I chose varied, from J.T. (new & old), to Building 429, to Group 1 Crew, to Creed. 

Still having fun, but HOT!
Between 20 and 30 miles, Mr. Garmin died, the trail shade was dwindling, the heat was rising, and my phone was almost dead. However, I received quite a few encouraging text messages from family & friends and Facebook posts, all helped to keep me moving. I know God placed all of those messages strategically in my lap to keep me going. I draped a hand towel over my hat to shield my face from the scorching sun. I was still running more than walking until the Mile 30 pit stop at Tyrone Blvd.  

My crew pulled out the chairs, told me to take my shoes and socks off, and provided me with food and drink options. There was no asking at that point, as Tony demanded that I drink and eat right before running into Target to get G2 and water. I never had any tummy issues during the whole run, which surprised me. I remembered that we brought pasta salad for the bbq at the end and it sounded wonderful. I wish Tony would have captured my LOVE of this pasta salad. As I sat in a chair, without shoes and socks on and my feet up on another chair, I feasted - picking out the pieces of pasta and tomatoes - while hugging the bowl like a long lost friend. It was the best pasta I have ever tasted. 

At this point, I felt like this is going to happen, but looking back I realize it WAS ALREADY HAPPENING..the whole way. Nobody ran next to me past mile 10, nobody yelled at me to run, nobody was next to me for miles and miles. During these times, I would normally hear that little voice saying "you can't do this" or "you can stop, it's no big deal". I did not hear that voice along that whole trail, even after running out of water at mile 34. I get ahead of myself.

I will never leave my pack again and not sure why I did - not thinking clearly apparently. I left my pack and took my hand held with a gel and my iPod in the pocket, since I had just eaten. No phone, no Garmin, and no camelpak. Tony went to try and charge my phone before the next stop, which was suppose to be at 49th St S, about 4 miles away. However, for whatever reason my crew was not at the rendez vous point. The temps were very high, I was out of water, and started doing way more walking than running. With limited options to fill the bottle, I just kept walking, albeit a bit slower than normal. 

Various thoughts went through my head, from Tony being lost, to something bad happening to him and Shay, but I never became angry (which would not be beyond me when I'm stressed). I had made it about 7 miles when I heard "Mom!!" and a horn. I turned to find my crew yelling at me, but flipped my white towel at them and started crying. If I am being honest, I have to say I know exactly how toddlers feel when they have been at pre-school all day and when their parents finally get there they well up with tears. I became a toddler for almost 5 minutes as I walked to the nearest intersection for Tony to park. 

I sat on the curb of 31st S and the Pinellas Trail. The event director had already called Tony to check on me and he reported that I was still on the trail. He was so distraught that he lost contact with me for so long and was worried out of his mind. My eyes were not focusing well and I my feet were aching oozing sponges. Tony mentioned that it was just before 6 p.m. and had been without water for 3 miles. I wanted to finish, but decided against it with the help of Tony. I'm guessing I didn't look so well either. Of course, Tony forced more water and G2 on me.

We called the director and informed them that I would be stopping at 31st St S and Tony drove me to the finish. I did NOT regret my decision to stop at 35 point 5 freaking miles as I thought I might if I stopped. As I rode along in the car, I could not even grasp what I had just done. When I walked up to the runners and volunteers they started clapping and yelling for me. Then they proceeded to force food on all three of us. They were breaking down the tents and tables and we went home loaded with plenty of food. I cannot say a big enough thank you to the director for checking on me and all the runners who stayed until the very end. I am grateful!! 

I thought I would have to be carted into the house when we arrived home, but I was able to gingerly get out of the car and take myself inside. I took an inventory of my body: some thigh chafing, a red face, and a bruised big toenail bed. I showered, drank more water, did some light stretching, and had a beer with my husband to celebrate before eating more food. I thought I'd be ready for bed, but stayed up until almost 11 p.m. On Sunday morning, when I woke up, I stretched in bed. I felt great!! I had no foot, calf, thigh, hip, or back soreness. NOTHING was nagging me, which must have been due to good posture. It is Monday and I felt good enough for a 24 mile bike ride.

I know I have missed a few things along the way, but I would like to share my Nutrition:
Eating a little at a time: 1 banana, 1 mango, 1 peach, 1 espresso Hammer gel, pretzels, pumpkin seeds, Nuun electrolyte, banana pancakes, Odwalla smoothie B12 blend, G2 grape, ICE, soooo much WATER (but only peed once during the run), and pasta salad.

Here are a few miscellaneous photos:
20 mile bridge

Meeting my crew!

J.M. & I finishing her 10 miler.

Bay Pines Blvd bridge

Things I would change:
I would not carry my big Camelbak, but would carry one half that size. My crew would have a cooler with ice, G2, water, and loads of fresh, cold fruit. I would charge my phone and Garmin at each pit stop possible. Finally, I would try to get someone to bike alongside of me. 

Lastly, I would like to share some inspiration and encouragement for others that went through my mind at some point on that trail. Never doubt yourself. Never hold back from something that displays your passion. Be real with yourself and others. Do something that scares you. Think positively. Always make forward progress.  BELIEVE YOU CAN!! 

"No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he always be there to help you come through it." (1 Cor. 10:13)