What do you do?

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My last post was quite a while ago, and it oddly enough foretold a lot of what I was about to experience. Sorry in advance, this one’s not going to be much about running or fitness.

Four months in a nutshell!

Several months ago, I applied for a job that, if I’m honest, was the absolute dream job. I’m not currently looking for a new job, but when I became aware of this one, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I sent in my resume and got a phone interview, which was thrilling enough. After the interview, I took a copy writing test so they could gauge my writing voice and see if I could fit with what they were looking for. Then two weeks went by. Those two weeks were torture. I couldn’t stop thinking about the job and whether they had moved on or just hadn’t gotten to me yet. Then, I went for a run in the woods and the whole idea of following pink flags and searching for my direction (that I wrote about last time) opened up in my head. I slowly accepted that this job was not for me. It was a trail that I wasn’t supposed to go down. I had told a few people about the situation, so I updated them saying that it was a no-go, and I would likely not hear anything again. Ashley and I planned a vacation to Colorado to head off to the mountains and renew.

Then I got the phone call, “You’ve been selected for an in-person interview…” Ooookay. Suddenly everything was moving really quickly. I was going to fly to Utah (!) at the end of the week, have lunch and a half-day interview with a bunch of different people, then fly back home the next day. I bought a new suit.

Then came three more torturous weeks while I waited to hear back from them. Then, finally: “You were a great candidate, but…” Darn, darn, darn, darny, darn!

At first, I was fine. And generally I’m okay with it. But every once in a while, I get really sad. I thought this was a done deal, and we were ready to pick up and move into the mountains of Utah. Now I’m readjusting to staying in the flat, humid, wet Southern Indiana. What I thought was going to be my dream job in a dream location turned out to be just a ruse.

So, for a few months, I was running along a trail that had both pink and blue flags. The pink ones turned left and went up a hill, and the blue ones went right and stayed flat. I really wanted to turn right, but my course is marked out with pink flags. I’ll follow them, but I’m not super thrilled to be climbing this hill right now.

So…what…

Well now I just dig back into life as I know it. We have some projects we’re working on at our house, and there is the ever-present training. I’ve been training for a while to run my first 50-miler at an event in my town, but now that event has been postponed. It’s not the end of the world – just kinda like gearing up for a big sneeze only to have it disappear. I’ll just readjust and get ready for the next sneeze, which is going to happen in November. I’ll tell everyone all about it soon! I am excited for it.

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You heard it here first, folks: Running 50 miles is just like sneezing!
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The intersection of trails and faith.

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Most of the time, I run on trails I’m very familiar with. Within an hour of my house, there are four trail systems that I have spent a lot of time learning. During the week, I run at either Audubon or Angel Mounds. For longer runs on the weekends, I run Harmonie and Lincoln State Park. No matter the distance, I know what to expect when I get out there.

Knowing the trails and what to expect makes trail running a lot easier and makes me feel a lot more confident when I hit the trails for a training run.

But every once in a while, I toe the starting line for a trail race that winds through woods and trails that I’ve never seen . I might turn a corner at some point and fly down a hill that I’ve never gone down before. It would make sense in this case to slow down, maybe even hike down that hill to avoid a misstep on unfamiliar terrain – but I don’t. I live for those downhills during a race. I’m not nervous because I’ve spent many days and hours running as fast as I can down hills back home. Training my mind to look a few steps ahead, training my feet to know how to land or jump over roots or fallen trees at a moment’s notice without even thinking twice.

This starts to feel like my life as a Christian – and how I have to practice faith to have stronger faith.

I’m very comfortable running on trails, especially when they’re my home trails – and that makes sense. But sometimes, running on trails gets really…special.

When I head into the woods for 31 miles in unfamiliar territory, I can’t depend on my knowledge to keep me from getting lost. I have to look for signs to guide me in the right direction. The night and weeks before the start of a race, the director and volunteers have gone through the course and marked everything with colored flags or big signs to help the runners know which way to go. For Gnaw Bone, I followed little pink flags. There were also blue, red, and white out there. Sometimes they were on my course, but I only had eyes for the pink ones because they were for me. If I followed the blue flags, I’d probably finish sooner, but it wouldn’t be my race that I finished. Sometimes the pink flags went up a hill, which didn’t seem like much fun – but that’s the hill I came to run, so I went with the pink flags.

Sometimes, life takes me down a path I’m not familiar with. When I head that direction, I do so knowing God has laid out a path for me to walk, and only He knows where it goes. I’m only there to run the race. Sometimes I’d prefer to run flat instead of up a hill, but the pink flags He set out for me go up the hill. If I go on the flat trail, I’ll get lost. If I follow the pink flags, I’ll get to the finish line. Sometimes the other trail looks like more fun, but that’s someone else’s path to run.

Even though I don’t know the woods I’ll be running in for my race, I’m not completely unprepared when I get there. For many races, there have been people who have run it before – and we runners like to brag. I can find course descriptions and race reports for nearly every run I’ve done. If those aren’t available, I can usually read about the trails in the area or a course description from the race website. I’ll have a pretty good, if a little vague, idea of what to expect when I start the race. Of course my experience will be unique to me, but there are a few things I know for sure. There will be hills – and they’ll likely be harder than I expect. There will be other runners to share my time with. There will be a finish line.

The Bible is a pretty valuable resource. While the stories in it are old, the Bible’s advice on learning to trust God and seek His will is timeless. The world is also filled with people who have had experiences similar to mine. With their help, advice, and support, I’ll feel a tiny bit more confident when I start down an unfamiliar path.

I used to think life is a race. You come speeding through the start line and don’t stop until you cross the finish line. But life isn’t a race – because life isn’t always hard. Life is more like a series of races. You train for the races, line up when it’s your turn, and do your absolute best no matter which way the pink flags go. When they go up a hill and the blue flags go left and finish, follow the pink ones because that’s your race. Sometimes your race really sucks, and you’d really prefer to be anywhere else, and that’s okay. Eventually, this race will be over, and it’ll be time to rest and get ready for the next one.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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2014 in Review

I have always found great closure in a sort of review of what I’ve done over the last year. I try to avoid falling into nostalgia as long as I can, but some days when I think back to the sweaty trail runs and 100 mile bike rides, my eyes glaze, and I get a stupid look on my face. I love my fitness hobby and the places it takes me – the sights I get to see and the miles I cover on foot or on two skinny wheels.

The Year of the Beast(y)
Miles ran: 549.17
Miles biked: 683.72

It has been a heck of a year.

I started it off by running 4.5 miles to Oak Hill Cemetery, a beautiful, quiet location. My last run of the year mirrored that, only I looped around inside the cemetery to get a good hill workout. Ashley also joined me for what would become a 6-mile run.

Here are some highlights between my first run of the year on January 2 to my last run on December 31:

Bobs February 22: Competed in my first duathlon (run, bike, run), Bob’s Indoor Duathlon. I won first place in my age category! (pictured left)

photo[5] copyApril 12: Undertook the Kentucky Century Challenge, beginning with the Redbud Ride Century in London, Kentucky, for the second year in a row. Redbud is one of my absolute favorite rides. The course goes through Daniel Boone National Forest. The most-discussed portion of the century route is the 22% grade Tussey Hill at mile 50 (pictured right). Approaching a hill sloped at 22% is akin to approaching a wall. I would ride 2 more Kentucky centuries in 2014, cycling quite a bit less than in 2013, focusing instead on running. I plan to bring my cycling mileage back up in 2015.

April 19: Finished my second half marathon at the Kentucky Derby Festival in Louisville. In 2013, this was my first half marathon. In 2014, I beat that time by 8 minutes and 32 seconds.

April 23: While running my regular 5k route from home, I found out that the water at the little park was turned on – signaling the beginning of spring! I noted it when I uploaded the run to Garmin. Thank goodness that seemingly endless winter was over.

IMG_2118May 10: I graduated with my master’s degree and immediately drove 26 straight hours to stay in a cabin in Maine for a week. (pictured left)

 

June 9: I began training for my second marathon.

July 3: I started this blog.

“This year, I’ve learned a lot about strength training, fueling, and strategy for these types of events, so I’m hitting the road with fresh legs and determination.”  – Welcome!

July 12: Arena Challenge: 1,000 stairs, dozens of obstacles, Ford Center in Downtown Evansville.

“They also, graciously, provided us with five exercise stations between sets of stairs…” – Running: A Full Body Workout.

 

IMG_2481On September 6, I ran the inaugural Rugged Red Trail Half Marathon in Red River Gorge, Kentucky. My first trail half, my first time in the gorge. It is one of the most grueling events I’ve done.

“…all the energy in my body was gone. I’ve never felt so depleted where the only option is to sit, which I did.” – Race Report: Rugged Red

IMG_20141004_170638October 4: I ran the Evansville Half Marathon, besting my (road) 13.1 PR by another 6 minutes, finishing in under two hours. This was followed a few hours later by the Dog ‘n’ Suds 5k, where Sadie, Ashley, and I won 3rd place trophies. (Sadie and I pictured left – click for a larger image where you can actually see Sadie.)

 

IMG_2510October 19: I ran my second marathon, setting a marathon PR by beating my first marathon by nearly 10 minutes. (pictured right)

“I raced down the road, my eye on the clock. I crossed the finish line strong and elated.” – #RNRStL


I’m a few days into training for Gnaw Bone, and I can see the challenges lining up. I also feel like this year is going to be a big one for reasons not connected to Gnaw Bone or even to running. There’s an entire year ahead, with all the clichés attached to give us pause and adrenaline.

I’m excited to share it with you all, as well as I am excited to hear about your adventures and plans.

Cemetery

#RNRStL

IMG_2483
I ran marathon #2, and it was pretty great. My official time was 4:45:04, which is slower than I had hoped for, but there’s more!

The Run
Ashley and I walked from our hotel to the starting corrals. I got in line for the port-a-john and did my business in plenty of time to get back to my place. We scouted out the 4:30 pace group, and started the day off hanging with a group of people that I would run next to for the next few hours.

I don’t normally use this platform to review the vocal performances preceding these races, but I’d like to note here that the individual singing the National Anthem before the starting gun was not nearly as good as the person who sang it before we ran the Evansville Half. It did not affect my performance, thankfully, and I soon forgot about the voice that couldn’t choose between singing flat and singing sharp (maybe it evened out in the end?), but perhaps my remembering it is noteworthy enough to mention.

Once we finally got through the starting banner, we ran toward the sunrise under the city’s strange and stunning Arch, but not for long. The course had us winding around the downtown streets in a large elbowy circle. It was exactly as I remembered it from last year. The footfalls of runners, cheers of onlookers, and the music from a few bands echoed off the tall buildings. The rising sun beamed on us occasionally between the buildings, but we were in the cool shade for the majority of our time down there.

I don’t know if I mentioned the major draw of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon/Half Marathon event is the music. There are live, local bands every mile, usually playing familiar songs. It’s the first thing I learned about the RnR runs, and it is definitely my favorite. Bands ranged from rock ‘n’ roll, to Americana, to a DJ spinning his mixes underneath the curve of an overpass. Each was distinct from the other, and always something to look forward to.

Mile 10
The full marathon course split from the half marathon at around mile 10. There were volunteers and signs saying “HALF MARATHON ON THE LEFT; FULL MARATHON ON THE RIGHT,” and I had a surge of adrenaline. I was again taking the path that would wind me away from a 13.1 mile finish to the more crazy 26.2 mile finish. I prayed for Ashley as the barrier came up dividing the two distances, and I followed the 4:30 group. We were a pod of probably 25 runners completely separated from a mass of people. While we ran with the half marathon course, it was difficult at times to make sure I was not losing the group. But once we separated, it was incredibly obvious who we were and what our intention was. We were the 4:30 pace team.

Our course took us around the buildings of the Anheiser-Busch Brewing Company, which was neat. We’ve toured the facility several times, and it was cool to see familiar buildings from different angles, and several different buildings. It smelled heavily of hops. It was almost like drinking a light, crisp lager.

Miles 13-20
Mostly, this part of the course was a long, straight line for several miles before looping around the beautiful Carondelet Park (St. Louis knows how to do parks) and heading back on the same course. This out-and-back had its benefits, as I could observe the course for what I would be running on the way back. For instance, a great portion of the long, straight road was an easy downward slope on the way out, which meant we’d be going up on the way back. There were a few other hills I watched runners struggle up while I went down, knowing that I’d be struggling up those same hills in 45 minutes or so.

I started losing the pace group once we got inside the park. I had to stop to stretch my legs and get a drink of water, and I couldn’t catch up with them again. This left me to count my footfalls over and over again to keep my cadence up. 1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4, 3-2-3-4, 4-2-3-4, again and again.

As the miles racked up, my legs got sore, and it became harder to run. After 20 miles, I had to walk briefly, which I would do off and on for the next few miles. When I felt my form failing, I’d walk to get it back and then start running again. I don’t like to sacrifice form for a few reasons. It’s not healthy for the body. Poor form causes more strain on the knees and hips, which would cause more suffering in the long run. Additionally, a person running with poor form looks terrible in pictures. You can see the broken down body and soul, and I don’t want to imagine myself looking like that. So, partially practical, partially vanity – but I guess whatever works.

Finish strong!
We joined back up with the half marathon course just before mile 24, and I ran the rest of the race. My legs were sore, but I felt good otherwise. The Arch was coming in and out of view, and I knew we finished at a park near it. I got close and closer, and finally turned the corner where I could see the finish line. I started scanning the street sides, and finally saw Ashley waving at me. I had another surge of adrenaline as I reached both arms above my head to wave back. I raced down the road, my eye on the clock. I crossed the finish line strong and elated.

I can smell the bananas!
I can smell the bananas!

How did it feel?
It felt great. I didn’t hit my target, but I held onto it for a long time. Finishing this marathon injury free was more important to me than a time goal, but striving for a certain time was an excellent motivator for training. I’ll hit the 4:30 soon enough. Someday, I’ll finish sub-four hours.

I’ve learned new things. I’ve set new goals. I’m headed for the next! Next, incidentally, is this Saturday in Audubon. The Chilly Hilly 5k is upon us once again, and for the third year in a row, I’ll hit those trails in racing form. Once I’m done, I’ll write about it right here for you.