Tuesday, March 18, 2014

There's a first for everything...Citrus Trail 50k

Ultra-running...for those who want to see what happens beyond 26.2!!

I am an aspiring ultra-running fool. I say fool because most people look at me in confusion and want to know WHY I would do such a thing. I generally smile and say, "Because I love to be outside and I love to run!" I should interject that my mindset for ultra-running is NOT the same as road running. When I run marathons, half-marathon, 15k, 10k, and 5k distances, I go into the race mostly concerned with beating my previous time and lowering my PR (personal record). I intended on thoroughly enjoying my first 50k, especially since it was in the woods. 

Training for this race was a spectacular journey, with a few marathons as a way to test hydration, fueling, and pacing. All things happen in due time and with endless experimentation. I could have ran hills a bit more, but we have to learn from our mistakes...right? The week leading up to the race I maintained a healthy, whole foods diet. I hydrated as much as my body would let me. On Saturday evening, I spent quite a while putting together my drop bag, laying out my running clothes and shoes, my jacket, a change of clothes, a towel and hat, Mr. Garmin (all charged), and the course maps. I did some stretching in bed to try and relax, but it seemed like my brain was reluctant to shut down. I felt like I woke up about 30 minutes after finally falling asleep, but I was excited and ready for the challenge.

My teenage son, TJ, agreed to volunteer for as long as it took me to finish the course, despite the early wake up call. I underestimated the distance to the race start and arrived too late to leisurely get my things ready, but I heard Pharrell William's song Happy three times in the car making it stick in my head for so many miles. After parking I quickly gave a friend (thank you Alessandra) my drop bag to put in the aid station pile, pinned on my #6 bib, grabbed my Garmin, put on my hat, and had to adjust my water bottle in its holder why running to the start line. I was across the start line at 7:18 a.m. (3 minutes late) on a 31 mile adventure, for which I paid MONEY!

I started with a conservative pace, while still trying to catch up with my group of trail friends. I caught these awesome ladies by the 5 mile aid station. Too much conversation to share, and some I think should remain on the trail instead of share it on my blog. Most of my time was spent chatting/running with Alessandra. She was mostly in front of me, and I just kept telling myself to follow the rainbow tutu as we slowly pulled ahead of the rest of our group of 5 runners. I took a tough spill around mile 17, not really being able to catch myself before landing on the front of my thigh and right shoulder. I took a deep breath as Alessandra turned to check on me, stood up, and started running. I had to make myself stop to have her look for blood. No blood, but I was covered in dirt.

At the 20 mile aid station I knew I needed food. I did not eat my pb&j as I had planned, which was a mistake. I did have more cookies, pretzels, and a few M&Ms while the volunteer filled my water bottle. I did grab more gels and honey stinger chews for the remaining 11 miles. As I was leaving the aid station my tummy started cramping, which is why I brought an Imodium. I almost instantly felt better after taking it, but thinking back I should have eaten that pb&j and then taken the Imodium. Made a mental note for next time. I ended up running solo the rest of the course, having both positive and negative conversations with myself and with God. I think the heat/sun drained me.

My mind was playing tricks on me, trying to convince me to quit. Many times I would stop and look at the ground, telling myself I could just sit down for a little while. My mind told me I never wanted to run another ultra EVER again. It was a no-holds-barred, all out war with my mind. My body/legs felt like a beast, but the mind is powerful. I walked the last 2 miles instead of quitting, telling myself that I would see TJ when I arrived at the finish line. I thought I was seeing things when Juan popped up out of nowhere and asked what I needed. I told him about the fall and my hip hurting and he thrust ice into my possession after he told me to keep moving. He continued backward on the course looking for others and I finished the race holding that bag of ice to my neck, hip, and face.

I looked up when I heard "Come on Mom", cow-belling, and cheering forcing tears to glide freely down my salty face. TJ's huge smile made my heart burst with joy and I went right to his open arms, put my head on his chest as he hugged me and said, "You did it." I could hear others cheering and talking, but all I knew was him holding me. The race director, Kip, congratulated me and told me how awesome it was to have TJ as a volunteer. I am extremely proud of my giving and responsible young man for spending seven hours on a Sunday to serve others as they attempt to achieve their goals.

My goal was to finish first and foremost, but my secondary goal was to finish by seven hours. I finished with an official gun time of 7:28:55 and did not keel over or need medical attention. I was extremely dirty, with about a quarter cup of sand in my shoes. My legs were tired, but not in pain. I had no blisters on my feet or toes. I was on the verge of dehydration and what felt like starvation. I joined the group of finishers enjoying libations and chowing down on post-race foods. I practically inhaled my pb&j and banana before sitting down and happily accepting a cold heiferweisen beer from my lovely running partner Alessandra. I smiled at the experiences being shared and sharing my own, while TJ finished up his duties.

I gingerly walked to the car, overjoyed that TJ would be driving home. We took the scenic route and when he knew the rest of the way I shaded my face from the sun (I'd had enough of that ball of fire already) and dozed off. When we pulled into the drive way my husband was washing the other car. He kind of chuckled at me as I told him I would just sleep in the car for the night. After reluctantly getting out of the car, I was told how dirty I was - as if I couldn't tell by my steaming, stinky aroma and the crystallized salt on my skin. My husband insisted I wash off with the hose before tracking grime through the house. Seems I was disgruntled, or maybe just plain tuckered out.

I must include that when I walked into the house my 12 year old daughter was already cooking dinner (it was about 4:30 p.m.) for the family - loaded vegetable spaghetti. She was cutting up zucchini, mushrooms, onion, and garlic for the sauce and smiled when she saw me. Her first question was how was the race Mom? She makes me smile!! She was finishing dinner when I sat down on the floor to stretch and brought a plate out to me with pasta on it asking if it was enough. She made me a plate and brought it to me with a drink. She is too good to me!! She even cleaned up everything in the kitchen, letting me totally relax my mind and body. I'm so blessed!

Kip and the Endeavor Racing group put on a small but well run trail race for multiple distances - 50k, marathon, 10 miler, 4 miler. The aid stations had peanut and regular M&Ms, potato chips, pretzels, oreos and other cookies, gummi bears, gatorade and water, and a chair for those who dared to sit. The aid station volunteers cheered us on when we emerged from the woods and were extremely helpful, waiting on runners hand-and-foot - asking us how we felt. An overwhelming gratitude fell over me every time I encountered an aid station. I cannot thank them enough. I plan on volunteering for an ultra-race to pay-it-forward! What a wonderful, giving community of runners I am in!!

My drop bag item included: pb&j, a banana, honey stinger chomps, a gel, salt tablets, electrolyte powder, granola bar, and energy jelly beans. In my handheld I carried one peanut butter gel, one salted caramel gel, one chocolate outrage gel, five salt tablets, wipes, an Imodium pill, two pieces of gum, and maps for the course. I went potty once during the girls community potty break, keeping an eye out for critters.

The next time, yes I said next time, I will eat more whole foods along the course, which will help me continue to run through all the way to the finish line. I do not think I will change my pacing strategy, not running too fast in the beginning and walking up the inclines. I am not sure how long until I attempt that distance again, but I have my eyes open for the opportunity to push harder and dig deeper!! Happy Trails!

How will you break out of your comfort zone this month?!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Weekend of running..the fun and challenging kind

 Do not neglect the FUN RUN!!

Many runners find themselves sucked into a harsh training mode, which could squeeze the fun out of running. There have been plenty of times, during a weekly run and a race, when I would audibly say I hated running. I wondered why I was doing it too many times to admit. I know, I know - it's unimaginable. I had to take some time to think about why I run. We all have a WHY for anything we do, for any decision we make! What is your why?!

A rainbow of dye!
Saturday's Run or Dye 5k at Raymond James stadium started out with long lines at the runner check-in booth, but as soon as we received our sling bag race packets with goodies and dye we quickly forgot about the lines. I ran this fun race with my brother, Aaron, and the first half mile of the 2.5 mile 5k course accompanied by his daughter Lena. Even though we did not get our 3.1 miles in that morning we had a blast getting pelted by packets of dye as we stopped to walk through the dye stations. The more color we could get thrown on us the more fun we were having. I smiled the whole time and at the end I remembered my WHY for running. It may be different for others, but I enjoy running - hearing my rhythmic breath (labored or easy) and foot falls, both in the same beat. It is like hearing a heart beat of a loved one, it soothes me to hear feet padding along the course. I like meeting new people and chatting with them as if I have known them for years. I like how running with someone almost instantaneously strips away my inhibitions and allows for a honest, open relationship. I could go on and on, but now is the time for YOU to think of your why...complete this sentence, paragraph, or essay inserting whatever you do (running, parenting, eating healthy, biking, teaching, etc.):
 I enjoy __________ because...

Enjoy your surroundings!!

Great prep for the race I did on Sunday, the Long Play half marathon on the Croom mountain biking trails in the Withlacotchee State Forrest. For those of you who have not been trail running, TRY IT! Now back to your regularly scheduled blog.  I registered for the Long Play last year and had car trouble on race morning (at 4am) when leaving my house. I was able to get the registration deferred and run it this year, thanks to Tampa Races director. Packet pickup was easy, real restrooms - not port-o-potties, helpful volunteers, and lots of familiar faces to me.

Blazing into the finish
The Croom "hills" brought out my beast! Pushed up the hills, then turned to look from the top each time at what I just conquered and enjoy the view. I have mentioned in past posts that I run with no music and this run was just another reminder of why. I love the sound of nature and the crunch of my feet on the gravel, dried leaves, and twigs with the underlying melody of the breeze blowing through the tall pines. I must have been in some sort of zone because time flew by quickly. However, it could have been partly because I ran with my friend, Jodi for most of the course.

Jodi hugs!
I came in as the 7th female and 23rd overall with an official time of 2:04:56, which was fast enough to win my age group division. Every runner received an LP for a finisher's medal (for those of you who are too young to remember those, they are records to be played on a turn table). The race director called my name not long after I finished and gave me a race tech shirt as my age group award. However, the best finisher's gift from that morning was a HUGE hug from my sweet Jodi!!

During the drive home, I spent some time thinking about the challenging course and how I felt throughout the race. I realized that focusing on enjoying the scenery and conquering those hills was the reason I stayed positive and finished with a smile on my face!!

Have fun and enjoy the road or trail!!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Inaugural Celebration Marathon!!

26.2 miles of Celebration
2014 Inaugural Celebration Marathon & Half

Many runners know the anxiety and/or excitement that flows through our bodies during the week before our races. The last week of "training" (a.k.a. running happy) I took it easy and limited my running to short, easy runs - for me. My Aunt Karen flew down from frigid New York to warm, sunny Florida to be here for my marathon, bringing positive vibes for my journey. I even had the chance to run with her on Saturday for an easy 4 miles to make sure my legs were not stiff at the start. The remainder of the day we spent at my sister's house. She is an awesome athlete and understands the necessity for healthy foods before race day and provided a wonderful vegetarian pot pie soup with loads of veggies sided with homemade yeast rolls. I was not shy and devoured at least 10 of those delicious rolls and a huge bowl of soup. Having ingested as much as I could, I sat down to chat with family about life and running over a glass of red wine. 

The night before a race is always a fidgety one and I thought I'd never slip into la la land, but the wine at Rachel's certainly helped my mind and body relax to sleep. However, before turning in for the night I checked my facebook and found numerous posts of encouragement and motivation from Strider friends and family. I laid out my Suncoast Strider long sleeve shirt, shorts, gloves, beanie, sports bra, socks, and my oldest Pure Flow I own and packed a change of clothes for our visit to Nana's. I packed my gu, salt tablets, immodium for the tummy, gum, and Mr. Garmin. As with any race, you can be assured that I will represent my Suncoast Striders - THE best running group ever! 

Pinning on the bib
I must have slept well because my 4:40 a.m. alarm startled me. I was ready in a flash and hyper-excited! Brewed my favorite coffee, ate my cheese grits and a slice of french toast before grabbing a banana and rushing out the door. Arriving in Celebration, FL in only an hour, I felt the urge to..well, you know and rushed to the port-o-potty while my Aunt Karen procured the race packet/bib. Feeling flushed out, I pinned on bib #134 just moments before handing everything over to my aunt, giving her a dry hug, and hearing the national anthem being sung. I was blessed to find and hug my cheery friend Jodi, all lit up for her half marathon, but was a little bummed I could not find anyone else from our running group.

Ready to celebrate running
Mr. Garmin was ready and we (500+ runners) set out on a fantastical journey through the streets of Celebration. However, before continuing on I must mention a conversation I had with my husband a week before about my pace during my next marathon, discussing what worked in previous marathons or long runs and ending in a promise to keep an average of 9:20 minute/mile while running and walking through the water stations - long enough to swish, drink, and burp. I also could not stop to walk unless I was at a water stop, but if I felt like it then I had to slow my pace down by about 15 seconds. I watched my splits every mile so I could keep the promise I made and truly find out if running slower and walking through the water stops would work for me. I was eager to see how I felt at mile 20, which is the dreaded "wall" for most runners.

The sun was slowly beginning to awaken as I made my way out of the heart of Celebration, heading onto the double loop course. Beautiful houses lined the streets in the residential areas, the grand Celebration Heath facility lay on the north edge of the loop, and after the Celebration Blvd. straight-away a boardwalk led through the "Alligator petting zone" woods. Signs such as the one about the alligators lined the 2-3 mile north part of the loop, for what other reason but to entertain us. I must say that I smiled and even chuckled a bit at many of them. I know I forgot some, but here are a few (paraphrased): Chuck Norris almost ran this marathon. We know this is not Disney, but we did not wake you up at 2 a.m. either. What does the fox say?!

A few more things about the course :
Mile 13 - ready for some gloves and a GU
I felt that the water stops were perfectly placed, not too close nor too far apart. I never felt any sloshing or a terrible thirst along the course. However, I was not able to drink the gatorade since it was red, which makes my tummy yucky. There were people cheering, in residential areas and the town center, along the course, with only a few empty spots. It seemed I was being followed by a few spectators, as a lady on a bike was traveling throughout the course cheering on her husband. It just so happens that I was ahead of him by a couple minutes each time she stopped and she always cheered for me. I thanked her every time I saw her and asked if she was following me. It made me think of riding my bike along the Clearwater Marathon course cheering on my friends and from that I continued to be motivated and encouraged. 

If you own a Garmin you have heard the bleep as you accomplish each mile. I made sure to note my pace and adjust it according to my promise. I knew the pace would fluctuate depending on where the water stops were located. Many of my miles were within the 9:15-9:25 pace until I passed mile 20, when I slowed to around a 10 min/mile pace until my last .26 miles. The course (according to Mr Garmin) was 26.26 and ended into the heart of Celebration with hundreds and hundreds of people cheering. 

Mile 15 - still happy
I have some friends and family to whom I dedicated miles because I believe when we give our thoughts to others it produces positive vibes within ourselves and others. In my opinion, giving of ourselves, our time and energy, is what was intended when we were created. I did not decide who would get which set of miles prior to the race, but I knew for whom I would run them. My first 4 miles were given to my sister, who cannot run right now due to injury, but who displayed a warrior's spirit at Disney for her first marathon. Thinking of her pushing herself also carried me through miles 16-19 because that is where our bodies think "this is enough". As a blonde haired runner ran up next to me I smiled because this girl ran and looked like my friend JB, but she was seriously muscular. Mile 5 and 6 I ran with JB on my mind, sending her healing vibes for her foot. I thought of my Aunt Karen as I ran through the "alligator petting zone" at miles 7 and 20, as she loves alligators so much. Also, I sent her warming thoughts during miles 10-13, happily seeing her and getting my gloves because my hands were so darn cold. The dreaded wall appeared about mile 22, at which time I began to think about my friends Audrey and Amber and their marathon experiences last week in Clearwater, over bridges and on a "lonely" course. While miles 22-24 were tough, I knew that if these two ladies could persevere on a tougher course then I could surely not stop on a flat course filled with spectators. The last mile of the course I ran thinking of my husband, Tony. He is the one who made me promise to run a specific pace and HE believed it would allow me to RUN the entire race. Throughout the course I carried thoughts of my Dad, who passed away too soon, never able to see me or my siblings run a race - but he was always proud of how we continued forward progress regardless of the challenges. A marathon is like that, isn't it? If we move forward then we WILL make it to our goals!

Home stretch
My original goal for this race was to run a sub-4:30 and I shattered that by sticking to my fueling and pace plan. Race day fuel consisted of GU brand salted caramel packets at mile 5 and 16, a GU peanut butter at mile 10, and a vanilla Clif shot that tasted like marshmallows. I had water at every water stop - swishing, spitting, and drinking the remainder. My average pace for the 26.26 miles was 9:42 min/mile. As I came around the final corner to see the clock at 4:15 and my Garmin at 4:14, I bolted for the finish, coming across with my arms raised in celebration. I was elated, to say the least, in having accomplished my goal while enjoying the whole journey!

Happiest run EVER!
My gratitude radiates to so many people. My Dad always encouraged me to set higher goals and take off after them - thank you Dad! My husband always shares great advice with me, sometimes I listen and sometimes I don't, but now realize I should always consider the advice given in love - thank you Tony! The Striders never cease to amaze me with their perseverance and motivation - thank you Strider Nation! As I passed mile 26, I heard my name being screamed so loud and looked up to see Rachel, Eli, Christina, and Andrew cheering. Happy tears spilled out of my eyes as I smiled and WOO-ed - Thank you Rachel, that even though you are in pain you were still there and for always being a great example in ALL parts of life! Thank you Christina and Andrew for showing your love for this sport and for me! Thank you Eli for coming to see your aunt accomplish her goal, even though you did not want to hug me! My Aunt Karen flew down to spend the whole weekend with me and to be a part of this marathon celebration. Thank you Aunt Karen for catching memories in great photos, being along the course when I needed to see you, and for your encouragement and smiles! Also, I want to thank my step-mom, Phyllis, for the delicious post-race food. We all know how important that is for recovery.

Final result and awesome bling
My final chip time was 4:14:41 - an average pace of 9:43.
I finished #199 out of 500+ runners and #21 out of 52 runners in my age group.
PR by 21:04

The ONLY complaint I have is that the post-race food ran out before I finished. We had to acquire a "food card" to be punched by each station, but out of the twelve places I was only able to get Michelob Ultra, a Mimosa, a couple garlic breads, and a water. There were no bananas and minimal bottled water, along with a serious lack of volunteers around to assist runners after the finish. Other than these issues I have NO complaint and seriously enjoyed my mimosa and two Mic ultras before making my way to the car.

If I mentioned things about the race to you that may not be on this blog, please feel free to add in the comments. I feel as if I just traveled the same 26.26 miles and think I will eat lunch and have more coffee!!