I rang the bell.

Last Saturday, I ran my second 50k! It was in Montgomery Bell State Park in Burns, Tennessee. If you have the chance, you should visit. It’s beautiful, and the people who work there are wonderful.

The executive summary is that the main issues that plagued my run at Gnaw Bone (GI and IT – all my problems are acronyms) didn’t factor in this race. Probably this benefit is part of what led me to finish Bell Ringer in 6:59:46 (official time). This is significantly faster than my first ultra, which I finished in 8:12:26.

But wait, there’s more!

Pt. 1: Before the race.

Unlike before Gnaw Bone, I didn’t have much to say in the two weeks prior to this race. Last time, I had final thoughts and goals, and all sorts of heartfelt flowers and hearts. This time I didn’t. That’s because any goals I had set were thrown out the window when I started experiencing IT Band pain several weeks ago. After the initial injury, I took a few days off from running. After that, though, I had some really great runs (even covering 22 miles) with no pain at all. Then, two weeks before race day, I had a really painful 16 miler. I took a few days off and tried to run again, but couldn’t even get through six miles without having ITB pain again.

So, sparing some details, I took off from running for the last two weeks of training – opting instead for more aggressive ITB rehab, which included daily targeted exercising and foam rolling, but virtually no running. I did run twice, but no significant mileage.

I couldn’t stop thinking about my IT Band every moment of every day during those last two weeks. IT pain is very painful and impossible to run through. I ran 18 miles of my first marathon with that really terrible pain, and it broke me down, both mentally and physically. I was not interested in having that problem again. I had to decide whether to do this race or not. Obviously I went through with it, modifying my lofty goals to the following three:

  1. Finish the race with no IT injury.
  2. Finish the race in spite of IT injury.
  3. Finish the race before my watch battery dies.

I was scared. My mindset was basically “how far can I get before IT pain starts setting in?”


Pt. 2: Race day.

BeginningI couldn’t stop thinking about my IT band. So finally, I just decided thinking about it isn’t going to fix anything. I would hand it over to God, and let him take care of that part. I would just hit the trails with water and dates in my pack and my head securely attached to my shoulders.

So, at 7:00 in the morning, in 64-degree weather (unheard of even in the “south”), I was ready to go. The race director yelled, “Ready? Ok…GO!” and all 300 of us took off down the road.

The beginning of any race is always so interesting. I love watching the people around me. Some are warming up, some are standing still, some are setting their playlists – and we’ve all got our eyes on the finish line already. When we cross under the starting banner, the excitement level is high. People joke with each other. There is always, always someone, no matter how long the race, who’ll say “are we almost done? How much further?” No one likes that guy. Well, I guess I don’t know if no one likes him. I just know I certainly don’t.

Nor do I like the guy who, 3 miles into 31, says “we’re one-tenth done!” To which I respond to myself, “I gotta get away from that guy.”

We had pavement for a little while before heading into the woods where the hills, roots, and rocks took center stage for the next several hours.

At mile 8, we came out of the woods to a big aid station that was a hub of sorts. We would stop at this station three times, and it served as the final split for the 25k and 50k course. It was also a really convenient and accessible place for spectators to gather, so it was an energetic, musical, cow-bell-filled location with water, Gatorade, cookies, fruit, and my drop bag. It was also where Ashley was waiting for me.

Somewhere between mile 1 and mile 8, I tweaked my left calf muscle. So, I put some BioFreeze on there and took off back into the woods.

Leaving aid

The next part of the course was on the extensive mountain biking trails in Montgomery Bell. These were amazing. At first, we ran up some great switchbacks, which were a little challenging and congested, but after a while, the trails leveled out into four miles of “flats” where we could open up a little and really move. I was at the front of a line of four guys, and the conversations behind me were colorful. One guy dropped back after a while because he couldn’t stop falling all over the place. The other guys talked about nipple chafing (“the red 11”), plastic surgery, and the pitfalls of typing in the wrong thing on Google (it’s DicksSportingGoods.com, BTW. You gotta type in the whole thing).

Five miles later, we’re back at the big aid station. Ashley was there, ready to take care of me. I ate the most magical potato.

It’s mile 14 or so now, and the 25k runners split off onto a trail that goes about a half mile to the finish line. The 50k runners go down the road and up a hill to run 17 more miles. Up until this point, I was always either right in front of or right behind other runners. But when I split to go back into the woods, I found myself completely alone for a long time, looking for the little green flags marking the course, giving me an affirming “don’t worry, you’re not lost.”

The course went up a hill, along a ridgline, and then down to go around a lake. The trail around the lake was one of the most difficult. It was very rooty, rocky, jerkingly rolly, and all around unpredictable. It was too difficult to run it, so I walked that part, giving my legs a nice respite, sort of. It wasn’t a relaxing hike. We went around another lake that was similar to this. Aside from these instances, the course was only moderately technical. It was a very runnable 31 miles.


Part 3: Overcoming the darkness.

In the 20s, things started to get a little rough – not surprisingly. After running for more than four hours, the soreness and fatigue is hard to ignore. My tweaked left calf wasn’t letting up. It really only caused a problem when I was going uphill, so of course I compensated by pushing harder with my right leg on the hills, which made my right quad get sore. Tired, sweaty, thirsty, sore, and not sure what to do about it, I found myself walking on even the easy parts. Wondering if running these long distances is really a thing I want to do. Sound familiar? Probably. Because it happens during every long race. I’ll bullet point this section:

  • Of course I’ll keep doing these events. They’re amazing, and I love them.
  • I won’t ever walk past this fatigue and soreness, so I may as well run.
  • It’s a beautiful day, and I’m privileged to be able to spend it running in the woods – which is my absolute favorite thing to do in the whole world.

So I started running. At the next aid station, I grabbed some Chex Mix, which completely changed my world in ways you can’t even imagine.

My mantra became “Keep going, you’re doing great. Keep going! You’re doing great! Keep going….you’re doing great.

I knew the soreness wouldn’t go away because I was not going to stop running.

I knew the fatigue wouldn’t go away because I was not going to stop running.

The dark thoughts, however, did go away – because I didn’t stop running. I kept going. I was doing great.


Pt. 4: Finish it up.

I wasn’t running fast, but I was running consistently. I ignored everything except the woods. The trees and birds were singing, and it was just the most perfect thing. If you haven’t heard the trees sing, then you simply need to spend more time in the woods.

At mile 24, I turned out onto a gravel road and ran down to meet Ashley at a creepy little aid station between an old cemetery and a little archway under some train tracks. We talked a little about how I was sore and tired, but she assured me I looked like a badass. I had another potato and some Chex Mix, and headed back down the gravel road and finally back into the woods.

After a little while, I could hear the finish line. Cheering, the big bell that finishers ring, and the announcer telling everyone how great they were doing. Then, the trail veered right, and those sounds died away. That was kinda mean. It did, though, give me a surge of adrenaline, and I was flying down the trail, which suddenly dropped down the side of the hill to the big aid station for the third and final time. The finish line, I was told, was a half mile away. I joked with them about how I already heard the finish line, but it was taken away. And she told me that was torture, “Sort of like how there’s a big staircase right at the end.” A staircase. Great!

I took off, ready to kick that staircase right in the face. The last half mile didn’t have anything I couldn’t handle. There was a big, stupid staircase, but I climbed it. After the staircase, there was a big stupid hill in the parking lot, at the top of which was the finish line. I ran up that big stupid hill with big stupid grin on my face. Ashley was cheering me on “You’re going to come in under seven hours!”

“I know, I can’t even believe it!”

I finished, and I rang the bell.

Bell

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Rain(running)man

This - only wetter. And colder.
This – only wetter. And colder.

Last Saturday, I got up early to run 22 miles on the road. There was rain in the forecast, and I tried to get up early enough that I would finish my run before it started coming down. Not to be outdone, the rain started before I did. It stopped long enough for me to get on the road and get about 11 miles into the run. Then, along with turning south into a bit of a headwind, I started feeling drops of cold rain on my arms. These cold drops slowly turned into a chilly drizzle, which became a moderate downpour. It wasn’t terribly pleasant. A few miles later, I was soaking wet and pretty cold.

After three hours and 46 minutes, I walked up the steps to my front door. I kicked off my shoes, which were soaked through despite my best efforts. It’s funny that even when I’m running in a steady rain, I will still avoid tromping through puddles. There wasn’t a dry spot on my body, my shoes and socks were soaked through – but I was definitely not going to run through a puddle!

I opened the door into my warm house, and Ashley was standing there with one towel on the floor and one in her hands, ready to help me dry off. There was also a towel in the bathroom, which was toasty warm for when I got done with my shower. Fresh coffee would soon be brewing, and I would be dry and warm – and off my feet.

One of the biggest, most important elements of my burgeoning ultrarunning dreams is having Ashley there – when I get home, when I get done with a race, and when I reach an aid station. I don’t have to ask her to do that – she just does, and it’s amazing.


New Foot Buddies!

Showing their age.
Showing their age.

This long run was a milestone for my Altra Instincts. I crossed over the 300-mile mark with this pair, which means I’ll be pulling out a fresh new pair of shoes very soon! I’ll finish out 2015 with my current shoes, and wait to start using the new shoes until 2016.

Altra has definitely made my running an even more enjoyable experience. (No, I’m not paid for this…I just love Altras.)

I’ve talked before about my wide feet and my search for shoes that accommodated my leg paddles. When I first started buying high quality running shoes, I was getting Brooks Dyad in 4E width! I don’t think my feet are that wide, but apparently Brooks does. Regardless of the wide shoes, my toes would still get cramped. Not after all that many miles, my big toe would start to break through the top, and after a little longer, my little toes would burst out through the sides. I went through five pairs of Dyads, and I don’t think I got 300 miles on any of them. Also, despite the 4E width, my toenails would get bruised and fall off.

I was content with losing toenails and running through the tops and sides of my Dyads – I thought this was just the way things were. But, I was considering moving almost exclusively to trail running, and no one makes trail shoes in wide. No one! I looked everywhere, read loads of (riveting) shoe reviews, and found nothing.

Then I read about Altra and its Footshape Toebox and zero drop platforms. This is where, in the infomercial of my life, the black and white changes to brilliant color, and I stop falling all over the furniture.

Why wouldn’t shoes be shaped like feet? Sure the shoes look a little clowny, but they are so incredibly comfortable. I’ve run many miles over all sorts of terrain, and there is nothing better for me and my paddle feet than Altra. I run almost exclusively in Altras now, and have no plans on changing anytime soon. As a matter of fact, they just updated their Olympus (max cushion trail shoe, and my first Altra purchase) with new soles, more aggressive lugs, and some snazzy new colors. I can’t wait to get my feet in some of those!

In the meantime, though, I’m excited to start burning through another pair of Instincts on January 1. Scroll down to see them!

Merry early Christmas to me!
Merry early Christmas to me!

 

Yep. They're exactly the same. Sweet fresh foam.
Yep. They’re exactly the same. Sweet fresh foam.

Tough days.

IMG_20151114_095644254 [73589] Even after 1,200+ miles, this running activity can still throw a wrench at me. Or, perhaps more appropriately, hide a bunch of wrenches under freshly fallen leaves.

Let me explain.

After a week of pretty stellar runs, I headed into a high-mileage weekend with great hopes. The plan was to run 17 miles on the trails on Saturday followed by an easy 11 on the roads on Sunday. I felt really confident about these runs, and I was really looking forward to them.

Saturday was an incredible day. The skies were insanely blue, which is something I’ve been missing lately. The trees in Harmonie State Park had dropped many of their leaves, so my view of the sky and of the forest beyond the leaves was nearly unfettered as I plowed through the deep piles. In general, the run was pretty great. But, under all those fallen leaves were roots and branches that I couldn’t see until my feet landed on them or inadvertently kicked them. I was constantly stabilizing or recovering from dramatically tripping. I think I fell all the way down twice, which is always frustrating. But tripping without falling is just as frustrating, really – and surprisingly painful. My legs felt really beat up after a while.

I have a friend who is studying to be a physical therapist, so she can tell me if this is all wacko, but my theory is that constantly pulling myself upright and trying to correct sudden imbalances overworked my stabilizers, which led to pain in my IT Band (UPDATE: She doesn’t think it’s wacko). This pain is something I’m unfortunately really familiar with. When that pain starts, aside from stopping running immediately, there’s no way to keep it from getting worse. I kept running and finished my 17 miles on increasingly painful legs. It’s my own fault.

I used to deal with pretty regular IT pain. It made my first marathon incredibly painful – but after many months of dogged ITBS rehab, I had it under control really well, so I don’t deal with this very often anymore. It’s really frustrating when I get that pain, and it’s that frustration and ill-placed determination that keeps me running when the IT pain starts.

Anyway, I tried to treat my legs really well on Saturday night (compression, elevation, quality foam rolling time) so that I could still go out on Sunday and get those 11 miles done. You may not be surprised that a little more than 2 miles into the run, my IT band started hurting again. I stretched and tried to manage it, but ultimately decided to cut the run short. When I got home after 4.89 miles, I could barely get up the stairs to my house.


These are tough days.

It’s so hard to come home and have to say “Today was a bad run.” It truly is. I texted a friend a little while after my run to admit I cut it short. It was a therapeutic admission. While I was stretching and rolling, I thought, “Maybe I won’t tell her. I’ll keep it to myself and let her think I did just fine.” But admitting that I had a bad run was important for me in order to move past it and get on to the next part. She responded by telling me that she cut her long run short, too – and that we need to figure out a way to encourage each other through these hard times – and she’s absolutely right. We runners can spend a lot of time patting ourselves on the back for the great runs and impressing one another with the long distances, but being able to admit when we had a bad run or a bad string of runs is just as important to our ability to get out there and keep impressing and inspiring one another.

Maybe the hardest part about being a runner is when I have to admit that I don’t always have it all together, and that – despite the work I do and the food I eat – sometimes it just really hurts too bad to keep running the impressive miles I aspire to. Sure, most of miles come easy, but with each success, the perceived failures bite even deeper.

But, keeping true to the ultradistance, I’m in this for the long haul. Maybe I’ll “fail” a run now and then – but, as you may have read in an inspirational picture on the Internet – failure doesn’t come from falling, it comes from not getting up.

As I write this, there are three weeks and six days until my next ultramarathon (the countdown widget is a “nice” reminder). I had a plan for those weeks, too. But, this weekend’s IT trouble necessitates a new plan: ITB rehab from strengthrunning.com. This is definitely not a new thing for me. I’ve done this routine so many times, I could do it in my sleep. But I haven’t done it lately. This routine focuses on hip and glute strength, improvements that will keep me from relying on my poor IT band to stabilize me on downhills and unpredictable terrain.

While it’s hard to move past the disappointment of the weekend, I have a new vision and optimism as I start the last several weeks of training before Bell Ringer. As always, there are strengths I need to cultivate in my mind and body, new habits to build on, and routine to establish. Wish me luck, and I’ll do the same for you!
IMG_20151115_091445721 [73590]

Consistent leg turnover

IMG_20150428_174847364

The Bonanza Begins

This past weekend was a magnificent running bonanza. It started off on Saturday with my fourth Chilly Hilly 5k, a trail run in Audubon State Park in Kentucky. This is one of my favorite races in one of my favorite places to run.

The first time I ran this race was in 2012, and I finished in 28:07 – a 9:04/mi pace. This is pretty impressive, considering the terrain (it’s very hilly) – and I haven’t been able to get near that pace since. In 2013 and 2014, the race took place only a few weeks after I ran a marathon, so I was in a running lull both times. I pulled out 31:48 and 31:33 respectively.

This Saturday, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Ashley and I have gone out to Audubon a lot this year, but not recently. I elected to start in very front of the second wave. This was the first time I ever started at the front of the pack. It was an odd sensation to start running immediately when the “Go!” was given. Even with smaller races like this one, there is a little time between the starting horn and when you actually start running. But not today! “Go!” “Oh…me?”

Chilly Hilly has one of the toughest starts to a race that I’ve done. I can’t think of many races that start on an uphill – but the Chilly Hilly really brings it. The very first part is a really long uphill on the road followed by two more hills before getting to the Backcountry trailhead and singletrack. My legs were feeling fresh and powerful, and I was pleased to be well in front of all but two runners in the pack by the time we got into the woods. The trailhead is also a grueling hill. I passed those two runners about halfway up. So, heading into the woods, I was at the front of my wave – and pretty happy about it.

While running this course through the spring and summer this year, I developed a specific plan of attack that I thought might help me. Since this is a pretty tough course, it’s not realistic to think that I could go all out the entire way. I would need a few places where I could dial it back and get my heart and legs back under control. For example, I knew that the hills at the beginning were hard and long, but they were followed by a long stretch of flat or downhill areas – great for recovery! I identified a few areas like this along the course, as well as some other places where I could really pull out all the stops and blaze down the trail to make up for the recovery areas. By the end of the summer, I had the course mapped out and a plan of attack dialed in. I put that plan to the test last Saturday, and it worked like a dream.

I stayed well ahead of my wave the whole race and even infiltrated the first wave by passing four or five runners. I passed two runners on my old nemesis, the Stupid Steep Staircase at the lake. I have no pictures, so you’ll just have to trust me. It’s stupid and steep.

The trails were covered in leaves and a little damp, so I took some of the downhills and sharp turns pretty cautiously. Roots and rocks were hiding within. I wasn’t going to be contending for first place or anything like that, so the glory of getting an unrecognized course PR was not worth the potential price of a broken face.

I rounded the corner into the finish line at 29:47 (9:36 pace). At 6th place in my age group and 26th overall, it was not enough to earn a medal – but it’s the best time I’ve had out there in three years, so I consider it a race well done.

Shoe Talk
I raced in my Merrell Trail Gloves. These have become my favorite go-tos for short races, road or trail. They’re light, supremely grippy on the trails, and fit like a glove – as one might imagine.


The Bonanza Continues

I had 15 miles on the schedule for this weekend. To get these miles in, I could either run the Chilly Hilly course five times after the race (blaaaaaah), or go straight home, change into dry running clothes, and hit the road. Partway through the race, I decided I would do neither and just run my 15 miles on Sunday after church.

So, when I got home in the mid-morning on Sunday, I got in my gear and hit the road. It started off a little rough. I was trying out some new bluetooth headphones that ended up not working at all, so I stopped running and switched back to my Yurbuds, which were like a breath of fresh air after trying the strange new ones. Then I had a rock in my left shoe, so I stopped running again to take off my shoe and drain it of its boulder passenger. Then the insole was slipping in my right shoe. So I stopped running AGAIN and fixed that problem. After that, though, everything was pretty smooth going. It was a beautiful, sunny day with a slight chill in the air. Perfect for a long run.

I started off pretty easy, like I usually do for long runs, and slowly, each mile got faster and faster. Not crazy fast, just incrementally so. It’s really a great sign for a long run to naturally have negative splits. At the halfway point, I really picked it up. Everything was really clicking, and it felt so great. The 15 miles flowed really well, and I was done before I knew it.

Shoe Talk
Of course I wore my trusty roadies: Altra Instinct. My feet always thank me when I pull on these green monsters. The insole sliding around is an unfortunate development. It only happens in the right shoe, and it only started after I ran in a downpour thunderstorm several weeks ago. I’ll probably put a little glue in there to hold it in place for a while. I’m not ready to give them up yet. I have 250 miles on this pair, so I’m almost due for another set, but these are holding up really well. There’s no unexpected wear on them.

What I listened to
Here are the podcasts I listened to on my long run. A nice combo of education and humor to keep my mind off the pavement.
Radiolab: Staph Retreat (about staph infections and ancient remedies)
The Memory Palace: no. 116,842 (bite size history show – this one was about the first woman to get a patent)
Ask Me Another: Gilbert Gottfried: Too Soon! (fantastic trivia game show from NPR)
Trail Talk: How to Travel and Camp Before an Ultramarathon (great tips from Rock Creek Runner!)

Then I finished it off with my Beast playlist on Spotify. I don’t remember which songs were played, but there was some Queen, Modest Mouse, Panic! At the Disco, and Muse! Basically if I like a song, I add it to that playlist. It gets a little ecclectic, but that’s what gets my feet moving.

2015 Rugged Red

This is a long one: Both Ashley and I share our 2015 Rugged Red experience below, followed by bonus pictures!


Last Saturday was the second Rugged Red in Red River Gorge, Kentucky! Nearly everything about it was opposite of last year’s race, with one notable exception: The course was the same.

The beginning.

The morning of the race began very early. When the alarm went off at 3:30 in the morning (2:30 a.m. at home), Ashley and I crawled out of the tent, cleaned up, and got in our running clothes. We were at the shuttle pick-up location very well on time (5:00 a.m.) – while the same could not be said for many other runners. Possibly victims of sleeping in or last minute decisions to not bail on the race due to the rain. Oh yeah, it rained the whole night before the race, most of the morning before the race started, and then several times during the race. The course was damp, but our spirits were not. (creative writing degree, thank you very much.) We had to wait a long time before the buses finally pulled out of the parking lot. Some of the delay was on purpose, though. With the cloud cover, the sun wouldn’t be shining on the dark trails when the first wave took off – so they delayed about 15 minutes to accommodate for that. Anyway. Bus ride finished, we got to the Chimney Top trail head and headed to the portojohns (another similarity to last year…45-minute bus ride + ~450 runners = big line). We cheered on the three waves that started before my wave started, and then I got in a clump of other runners. Ashley’s and my experience separates here, as I was in Wave 4, and she was in Wave 5.

Andrew

The instructions were similar to last year. “Be careful, sometimes people die.” and then a horn blew, and we set off down the gravel road in search of this “Rugged Red” we all were promised.

To start the RR course, runners go down about 1.5 miles of a rolling gravel road. It’s not the most fun portion, but it definitely makes it that much more exciting when you do get to the true dirt trail portion of the race – which continues for the next 12 miles, so there’s really nothing to complain about. The course blasts down technical switchbacks to the bottom of a ravine where we cross a stream and climb back up a grueling incline that rose above the low, drizzling clouds.

While the water rushed from both the sky and creeks, it would be insincere to say the rain didn’t affect me. As the rain pattered against the leaves, rocks, streams, and my fellow runners, I couldn’t stop smiling and thinking to myself “This is perfect. There is no other way I’d rather spend my weekend.” I was truly elated.

The miles wore on, and I barely noticed except for the few people in front of me who slapped each mile marker as we passed it. Three, four, six, eight….they flew past without much notice. Absolutely the trail was difficult: I was climbing hundreds of feet in minutes, not stopping to breathe at the top – but running on. Unlike most races or training runs, with each mile completed, I felt a surge of energy. I flowed up the hills and blasted down the quad-busting downhills, pushing incrementally harder, feeling exponentially greater with every person, tree, rock, and root I passed. It was amazing, and I felt – truly – like a million bucks, even as my legs asked politely if we could take the next hill a little less aggressively. “We’ll rest at 13.2!” was always my response.

A few highlights:
Shortly after mile 8, we crossed a suspension bridge. There were a few spectators sitting in the woods playing guitar and singing to the passing runners. It was one of the best parts of the race. Their songs followed us as we ran past them, across the bridge and road, and up the next hill.

Mile 10-11
We were climbing up the hill that broke me last year. I recognized a big rock, and knew that when we turned the corner, I’d be facing some of the really large step-ups where I had to stop and sit last year. I was feeling 100% this year, though, and as we approached the area, I continued forward with strength and confidence I could only dream about last year.

Mile 12
When I passed the 12 mile marker, I high-fived the sign, and said “Let’s run this out.” I drank the rest of my Skratch, ate my last date, and took off. I came down a hill pretty aggressively and took off up a little uphill into the woods past a ravine – and down the wrong trail. Not only the wrong trail, but in the complete opposite direction of the finish line. I went down a big hill and halfway up the next before realizing I hadn’t seen any trail markings in a while. I turned around a little ways in, really not knowing how far off course I had gone. I ran back down the hill and up the other side, and finally back to the Rugged Red course. I saw a stream of runners come down a hill and turn at the giant yellow arrow that I had missed. A giant, yellow arrow and a big “RUGGED RED” sign. It was so clearly marked, I have no clue how I missed it. I was heartened only by the fact that two runners followed me during my bonus miles, so they missed the marker, too. All told, I got an extra ~1.67 miles and around 30 minutes added to my finish time.

Rugged wrong.
Rugged wrong.

Finished.
When I got back on course, it was only 7 or 8 minutes to the finish. I crossed the line at 3:30, which is about a 30 minutes faster than last year – a pretty decent improvement. Without my bonus miles, I probably would have cut an entire hour off last year’s finish and finished under 3 hours, but…you know. Extra miles ‘n’ such.

While I’m disappointed that I didn’t improve my overall finish time as well as I could have, I still feel incredibly good about the race. I ran exceptionally well with a fuel and hydration strategy that was much better than last year. I’m sure the hundreds of miles I’ve run on trails in the last year helped out a lot as well. Training for Gnaw Bone has gotten me into pretty good shape, something I’ve only built on while getting back into training for December’s Bell Ringer 50k.

beastiefinish


Ashley

Since I started my pre-race report with three thoughts I figured I could start off my race report similarly. Full circle people, it’s all about full circles.

1. “This place and these people are amazing.”
2. “So I’m running back and forth across a creek while its pouring rain and there is nothing I would rather be doing.”
3. “I’m totally doing this again next year.”

From those you should have a pretty good idea about how the Rugged Red went, but I’ll elaborate because that’s what I’m here for. Andrew’s rundown of the general parts of the day is pretty detailed so I’ll try to focus mostly on my own personal running experience out there.

I was able to warm up early on and tackle the first big climb at an okay pace. The trail was still pretty crowded so there was lots of passing and being passed going on but that cleared up pretty quickly. On I went and it was during the fifth mile I found myself alone, running along and through a creek in the pouring rain, and just smiling to myself. I was having so much fun. That feeling never went away even as I climbed more or when I found myself laying on my back on a downhill. A root or rock tripped me and I somehow managed to hook my arm around a tree (seriously, I’m not really sure what happened) and I ended up staring up the trail I was descending. I just got back up, brushed myself off as well as possible, and kept going. I’ve fallen before and I will fall again, so far so good (apparently I know how to fall without seriously hurting myself, so hey, great life skill achieved).

It was after my little fall that I starting thinking about how bits and pieces of all the different trails I run at home came together to help me get ready for a course that you simply can’t come near to replicating around here. Downhills from Audubon, long ridge lines from Harmonie, hills from both Audubon and Lincoln, fast flats from Angel Mounds, roots from them all. All those hours and loops really paid off as I found myself keeping my pace up and counting down the miles quicker than expected.

Andrew had told me that after I “stepped up a tall rock” you would start winding your way down to the finish line. Well, at mile 11 I met up with that tall rock that was really the whole hillside and required several “step ups” (we can blame last year’s heat exhaustion on his vague memories). But he wasn’t wrong, after that I found myself descending quickly and before I knew it I heard the sweet sounding commotion of the finish line. I came out of the woods, ran up on the road and down the large grassy lawn. I had talked with Andrew about my expected finish time, and I had guessed 4 hours if everything was going right. I crossed at 3:41.

Soaked and dirty from the trail!
Soaked and dirty from the trail!

The rest of the weekend was just as great. I was definitely “suffering” from runner’s high, additionally fueled by pizza from Miguel’s and getting to spend it all with my favorite guy (see above). It rained off and on the rest of Saturday, but Sunday brought on sunny skies and we took our time enjoying them before heading home (on the way we got beer, vegan crab cakes, and a cactus!).


Bonus pictures.

Hover for captions; click to enlarge

Pre-Race Report

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This coming weekend is the second annual Rugged Red Trail Half Marathon in Red River Gorge, Kentucky! I ran the inaugural race last year, which resulted in the most consistently popular post on my blog. I learned a lot from that race and from the many miles of trails I’ve run since.

The RR took me and my hubris for a ride, spitting me out at the finish line completely trail weary. Once on the course, faced with an insurmountable boulder, I had to sit for 10 minutes to gather my spirits before continuing. I had to sit a second time when I was simply too tired to go on.

The gorge whipped me good. So, clearly, I need to do it again.

Probably the main thing the RR taught me is that there is no place for naïve pride on the trail. Any trail. The other thing is that I need to learn how to fuel properly during a race. This hadn’t been an issue before, since all my other half marathons were on the road and wildly supported with a water stop every mile and food in bowls on the course. This was not the case on the RR. There were only two water stops, and virtually no food. I ran my body completely empty out there.

Since that day, I’ve run many miles on trails (including a 50k ultramarathon and two other trail half marathons), so I have a little better idea of what it takes to cover that distance in the woods.

Here are a few key things I’m bringing to RR this year:
Medjool dates. These are a natural, whole food alternative to popular gels that many runners use. I find these to be more effective and a lot easier to stomach on a hot day.

These little suckers are the best in-run fuel I’ve found for myself. I bring them out on every long run I do. Every 30-40 minutes to an hour, I pop one of those bad boys in my mouth and drink a bunch of water to wash it down. Before long, I have the energy I need to keep moving through rough terrain or to keep my pace up during the late miles of a progression.

Electrolyte drink. I’ve been using Skratch as my in-run electrolyte replenisher for a while now, and it’s great. I’ve found that the lemon and limes flavor sits best with me. Electrolytes are lost through sweat. Extreme situations might find a person reaching for salt tablets, but I haven’t needed something like that yet. Basically the Skratch comes in handy late in a long run when I start feeling crabby. I should probably drink it sooner than that, but a crabby disposition is a good indication that I need some salt/electrolytes.

New trail shoes. While my shoes were not a big issue last year, I’m still excited to use my new Altra Lone Peaks for this year’s RR. My Brooks Cascadias were and are fine shoes, but they’re a bit narrow, giving me blisters on my little toes after 8 miles or so.


My wife Ashley is running the RR for the first time this year, so I recruited her to share her thoughts. This brings us to a new segment on Infinite MPG:

Ashley’s thinkin’ spot.

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As a spectator at last year’s Rugged Red, I had a few reactions:

1. “Oh my god, it is a million degrees and humid. I feel like I’m going to melt.”
2. “I wish I knew how the runners are doing out there.”
3. “I want to do this next year.”

Listening to Andrew’s and our friend Eric’s race recaps (even as they recounted the craziness) only made me want to do it more. I was hesitant at first as I am not as strong of a runner as Andrew and had less trail experience, but ultimately I made the decision to go for it.

I’ve trained for and raced five road half marathons, and I knew training for this run would take a much different strategy than those. For the RR, I committed to a trail-specific plan created by Doug Hay for his Trail Runner’s System. Andrew is a member, and it is a great resource for all levels of trail runners.

How did this plan differ from previous ones I’ve done?

  • 4 months instead of 3 months
  • Higher weekday mileage
  • More longer “long” runs

Fun tidbit: My very first weekend long run for this training plan fell on the weekend of the Harmonie Half. So I’ve come full circle: I started with a trail half – and I’ll end with a trail half. (I didn’t train specifically for the Harmonie Half, since I had just finished a road half in April – so the miles just sorta carried over.)

With this training plan, I shattered my previous miles-per-month record twice by almost 30 miles. It went from 60 miles to 88. A huge difference. Also I was able to run all but two of my long runs on trails. We switched up between a few local State Parks and found some great areas to loop around. This was fantastic for me because my legs and hips do so much better on trails than they do on the road. I even found a stairwell at my work that offered the perfect lunchtime stairs session. Yes, I am that lady going up and down the stairs over and over again.

I’m so excited about this race; I’ll be back to let you know how it went!


Our stuff, rugged and red.

kits

Establishing structure.

Last week the fitness center was closed. So I couldn’t get my gym time in. This week I’m headed back, and I’ve built a more clear structure to my workout week to help me focus. This way I won’t be deciding what I’m going to do at the gym on my way to the gym.

Monday: Easy elliptical.

Getting on the elliptical helped me turn a significant corner in my fitness life seven years ago. After a while, though, it was hard to find a place for it in my routine. I haven’t very consistently used the machine for a few years now, but lately I’ve enjoyed getting back on the ol’ pedaler again. Monday is supposed to be an easy active recovery day following long weekend runs and cross training. Elliptical fits the bill quite nicely. I pull up some Netflix on my phone and get to relatively easy work.

Tuesday: In the weight room.

I’ve talked before about how strength training is a very important ingredient to running strong, fast, and injury free. I haven’t been completely ignoring it, but I also haven’t been spending much quality time in the weight room until a couple of weeks ago. It has felt really great to get back into some of those workouts, and Tuesdays will be a fantastic day to do them on the regular, to put it vernacularly.

Wednesday: Faster blaster.

I’m calling it this because it rhymes, and I like a good superfluous rhyme.

I love the 12 Minute Athlete workouts, but I don’t want to do them every day. It’s kind of easy to get burned out on them, since they’re high intensity and focused a lot on legs. Leg days are good though, so I’m keeping these in on Wednesdays. It’s far enough away from the long-run weekend that my legs will have recovered nicely. I’ll also be able to work on those fast twitch muscles, getting my heart and body ready for fast, technical trail races and explosive uphills!

Thursday: Core.

Sit ups, crunches, kettlebell, pull ups, and more! Using one day to focus on building those core muscles will benefit every other thing I do.

Friday: Rest and occasional race.

Ah, the rest day! I love it. I go to the salad bar and get a massive salad, which I eat in a little park. It’s a special day for eating great food and putting my feet up in preparation for Saturday’s long run.

However, the Full Moon Fever races I talked about last week are all on Friday evenings once a month. So, occasionally Friday won’t be a complete rest day. FMF is a fast 5k, and last week’s race taught me I need to be sure to have effective recovery foods on hand for when the race is over. Gotta be ready to head out on a long run first thing in the morning.

Speaking of which…

Full Moon Fever #1

On Friday at the series’ first race this season, Ashley won second place in her age group AND a brand new pair of Altra shoes. I’m jealous of both, but she busted it out there! She pulled out a course PR, so the shoes and award were well earned.

I did pretty well. I did not place in my age group, but I managed 25:03 finish time, so it was right around an 8:00 pace, which I’ll accept. I haven’t been doing any speed work, opting instead for keeping my heart rate at a Maffetone-approved <155, which will help me (slowly!) build a solid endurance base – great for ultrarunning.

It was encouraging to see my 5k pace unchanged from the last race I did (Laufenfest in July, 25:02), even though I’m not doing speed work. Laufenfest was also a road race, while FMF is a trail race.

My age group (30-39) is a competitive one. All the top finishers are crossing the line at least five minutes before me. But I did notice that those paces haven’t changed much from last year’s series, so if I can improve my time, I may be able to place at some point this year. Chopping five minutes off a 5k is not going to be easy, but it’s one of my goals for the year, so I’m keeping my eye on that 20-minute finish.

Excitement.

This week is the first week of training for my second 50k, and I am really excited to get started again! So, for this periodic installment to my blog (which occasionally updates weekly), I thought I would share all the things I’m excited about.

Cuz fun.


bell ringer

Bell Ringer 50k

I have three big races coming up, and instead of just listing all three of them, I thought I’d talk about this one. The Bell Ringer is in Montgomery, Tennessee, which is outside of Nashville, Tennessee – the country music capital of the known universe. There’s also a Trader Joe’s there. And an REI! I just got more excited. “Yeah, I’ll be running a 50k in December…but also going shopping!”


Untitled-1All the races!

I can’t help it. I love these events!

Last year was the first year for a night trail run series called “Full Moon Fever.” We run into the woods after dark for a flat, fast 5k. These events are put on by a relatively new event production company called 40 lb Sledgehammer, and they’re great people. They put on great events, and we love going either to watch or to participate. The FMF series is sponsored by Altra this year!

Of course the Rugged Red is coming up – and I’m so excited to get back on the trails of the Red River Gorge. It’s a beautiful, inspiring part of the country. I know the area a little better now, and I have a little memory of the course, so I think it will be to my advantage.

The Indian-Celina Challenge is another local run. It claims to be one of the hardest marathons in Indiana, and I find that pretty easy to believe. With long hills and beautiful trails, this promises to be a really challenging go for my third marathon distance.


5:00 a.m. wake up call!

“Really?”

Really.

I’ll admit, I’m not always excited at 5:00 a.m. when both alarm clocks start going off. But, when I’m out there running, the cobwebs slowly drift away, and it’s great.

I’ve tried to keep a positive attitude about waking up early, and it seems to be helping. I’ve kept the schedule for two weeks, and the benefits are outstanding. I even convinced Ashley to get up early with me, which is really nice.


Writing!

I’ve recently decided to start creatively writing with a little more structure. Finish the dozen or so stories that I’ve started, and get going on some other projects rolling around in the ol’ brain bank. I haven’t started doing this yet, but I will soon.


Bicycling!

We’ve been trying to get back on our bikes lately because we both miss it. I especially miss riding centuries, but I don’t think I’m in the right cycling condition to just jump back into one of those. We started slowly by riding our fixed-gear bikes around the neighborhood and out to coffee. Then last week, we went on a short (12-mile) ride with the Adventure Club, a local Meetup group that is a little more low-key than the cycling groups we’ve ridden with in the past. We used our mountain bikes for the easy-paced ride on the Greenway path. We’re going to ride with them again on Tuesday, and we’re really looking forward to it! This will be a longer ride out in the Kentucky countryside, so we got our road bikes out and tuned them up for this one. Let’s go ride!

New shoes (to run my victory lap)!

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Guys, I got new shoes! My feet are now proudly paired with a pair of Altra Instincts, the color of which demands to be recognized.

An aesthetic complaint I had about the Dyads that I’ve run in for many miles was that they are drab. Standard black and white…sometimes a splash of subdued blue…blah. Plus, I had to buy super double extra wide in them so my paddlefeet could fit comfortably.

Well the Instincts are just as blue as can be. And they are the shape of paddlefeet.

As I mentioned before, Altras have appealed to be because they are shaped like feet. This renders them somewhat odd to look at, and according to the guy at the store, that turns some people off. They don’t want their shoes to be weirdos.

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Personally, I don’t care. As soon as I started reading about how wide the toe box was, I had to try a pair. First trail shoes, and now road shoes – I’m all set! My toes have all the room they need.

Another distinction Altra holds to is that their shoes are zero drops – allowing your feet to run more naturally.

Illustrations of this drop business so I don't have to use words.
Illustrations of this drop business so I don’t have to use words.

Dyads have a 10mm drop. The Altra Olympus also has a zero drop, but maybe I didn’t notice it as much because they have a lot more cushion, or because I mainly run trails with those (cuz they be trail shoes), I don’t know. But I was shocked at how much I felt the difference zero drops make in the Instincts. Not a bad difference – just quite different. Runners with a more aggressive heel strike might have problems transitioning to zeros from 10mm, so if you’re one of them (and are considering zero drop shoes), see if you can try out these shoes before buying them. You might want to be careful when transitioning.

Another hint is to keep an eye out for sales (as if I have to even say this). According to the salesperson I talked with, “Altra keeps coming out with new version after new version, but really the main difference is different colors and design.” I got both of my Altras on discount because they aren’t the newest version. I’m not really a shoe elitist, so I likely wouldn’t notice small differences between versions anyway.


Victorious!

Aside from running, I can occasionally be found playing floor hockey with an intramural team at the university where I work. I just finished my second season, and I’m surprised at how much I enjoy it, to be honest. I’ve never been a sports person, and have never really felt the drive to win, win, win. Floor hockey has apparently changed all that. The competition feels really good (and it’s a good way to get some sprint work in!). It’s a really tough workout some nights, since I fit it in with my regular workout. Anyway, our tournament just ended, and my team is the reigning champ! We tied, but our team won in a shootout. Hurray hockey! I busted myself up pretty good. Some highlights were me falling hard on my right knee almost immediately, bowling over several opponents, and diving headfirst into the goal to avoid smashing my team’s keeper (and captain). So I have a busted knee (swollen, tender…but run worthy!), a bruised middle finger, and a sore left arm. At least I have all my teeth.

Maybe we're old. Maybe we're ragtag. But we're definitely champs!
Maybe we’re old. Maybe we’re ragtag. But we’re definitely champs!

Thought for the week: Motivation

This week, I came across a Facebook post in a group I’m in (1000 miles in 2015). The post was a call for motivation, and the range of responses was amusing.
– Think of all the people who are immobile and can’t move even if they wanted to. (Kind of a bummer…)
– It’s not work; you just get to go play outside for a few hours! (There’s unicorns out there!)
– Go for it, you got it, ra ra ra! (Go find your unicorn!)
– Fine, don’t run. But you’ll feel bad later for skipping it, and it’ll be your own fault. (Unicorns aren’t real.)
– Screw motivation. Cultivate discipline. Discipline will get you out the door whether you “feel like it” or not. (Quit being a baby.)

That last one was my favorite. It’s true that I don’t always feel motivated to run. I have to do it a lot, every week, with increasing distances and difficulty. Discipline is the only thing that’ll get you out the door on cold nights after long days. Nothing else is trustworthy. Motivation is fleeting; discipline is dependable. Go find your unicorn, whether you feel like it today or not!