Sky Runs

Taking the long way round

Category: Ultra (page 1 of 2)

Whippets Take Manhattan 50K Fat Ass-Fundraiser-Fun Run

 

This was my incredible send-off to the 2015 IAU 24-Hour World Championships. My final long training run before heading to Italy and one of my all-time favorite running experiences.

Back around mid-February, perhaps inspired by the fundraising efforts of others on the US team, some of my NYC running club teammates inquired if I had any fundraising plans and if they could do anything to help. Honestly I hadn’t given any thought to fundraising- apart from the funds committed by USATF and the IAU, and the very generous support of RunnerClinicNYC, I fully expected to cover the rest of the costs out of my own pocket.  I hoped to secure some kind of stipend from the NY office of USATF, as our team manager said we could contact regional chapters about this, but had no luck there.

So I got to thinking, if people would like to support my efforts, I would certainly be grateful for any help. But rather than just say, “hey, gimme some money!,” I wanted to do something special for the fundraising and give something back that could be of value to the running community- so I came up with the idea of organizing a 50K run around the perimeter of Manhattan and making shirts to commemorate the run (and, by extension, my participation in the world championships). The run around Manhattan is something many runners might think of doing but wouldn’t necessarily know how to- there are some tricky stretches, and the two times I had done the route previously I wound up somewhat lost in Harlem, where there is no path by the river.

I felt uncomfortable asking people to donate just to run with me, so I decided run itself would be free and open to all, with donations of $20+ getting a shirt. And knowing that 50K is not everyone’s idea of a fun run, I encouraged people to join for whatever mileage they felt up to and we combined it with the regularly scheduled Saturday morning Whippets run which I co-host- mainly I wanted to have a big running/going-away party!

A few weeks before the run, I scouted out the more unfamiliar northern half of the route to make sure I’d get all the directions right. I thought about letting people “race” Fat Ass-style, but figured it would be more fun if we could stay together as much as possible or at least regroup regularly, so I planned stops every 4-6 miles, where people could also find toilets and buy food or drink. These break points were near public transit, so others could also join in or leave the run as needed. I estimated the full route, with breaks, would take about 6 hours (5 hours of running at an easy pace, plus 1 hour divided among the five rest stops, waiting for traffic lights, etc.).

Im a sticker!

Im a sticker!

Thanks to my the design talents of Dashing Whippets teammates Patricia Tirona and Jerlyn Thomas, and financial support from the Whippets and RunnerClinicNYC, I was able to offer a nice soft long-sleeved cotton t-shirt (with snug ladies sizing too) and a commemorative sticker that I had printed up while I was in Hong Kong. I got back from Hong Kong late on Thursday night, organized all the things on Friday, and was up bright and early on Saturday to get rolling.

The ultra-rock star Mary Arnold of New York Running Company in Time Warner Center had offered to open the store early so that people could leave drop bags there for the finish, and she even brought coffee. There were already a bunch of people there by the time I got there around 7:45, and I was soon busy distributing shirts and stickers, posing for photos and signing some shirts. Mary was a great help with keeping things organized, as we had to hurry down to meet the other crowd of mainly Whippets who had gathered downstairs.

Swag pickup. Photo: Jerlyn Thomas

Swag pickup. Photo: Jerlyn Thomas

I made some announcements- most importantly, about food and beer downstairs afterwards, and we were ready to go around 8:10. It was cold! When I started thinking of this run back in February, the only Saturdays I could fit into my schedule were March 7 or 28, and I picked the later date for a better chance of nice weather. Not so, as we had a final bit of winter in store, but at least the paths were clear compared to earlier in the month, when too many of the uptown sections would have been covered in snow and slush.

Briefing the downstairs crew. Photo: Vincent Hsu

Briefing the downstairs crew. Photo: Vincent Hsu

Here’s the rest of the run, mostly in photos:

Early miles heading down the west side. Photo: Vincent Hsu

Early miles heading down the west side. Photo: Vincent Hsu

We started a little faster than expected.

First stop, South Ferry/ Staten Island Ferry Terminal Building (mile 6). Photo: TSP

First stop, South Ferry/ Staten Island Ferry Terminal Building (mile 6). Photo: TSP

Best to get the downtown portion of the run over with early before the area gets busy with tourists.

Heading north, we pass under the first of three bridges on the east side. Photo: Vincent Hsu

Heading north, we pass under the first of three bridges on the east side.  Photo: Vincent Hsu

We started seeing snowflakes as we headed uptown and some of us thought we were hallucinating.

After a detour onto First Ave. due to the UN, we took our next break at 59th and First Ave and a few others joined us there. Photo: Vincent Hsu

After a detour onto First Ave. due to the UN, we took our next break at 59th and First Ave (mile 12) and a few others joined us there. Photo: Vincent Hsu

 

Photo: Vincent Hsu

Up the East River Promenade. Photo: Vincent Hsu

Into Harlem, a bit of zigzagging inland as there is no river path through this part of town. C’mon NYC- let’s give this neighborhood river access like the rest of the city! But we got to see some of historic Harlem- 125th St and Malcolm X Blvd.

Starbucks at 145th and Bradhurst mile 18. Photo: Wade Lambert

Third stop: Starbucks at 145th and Bradhurst (mile 18.) Photo: Wade Lambert

We all went a bit crazy for coffee, food and the restrooms at the Starbucks here and spent a bit more time than scheduled.

Giant stairs on the way to Harlem River Drive. Photo: TSP

Giant stairs on the way to Harlem River Drive. Photo: TSP

By now the snow was really coming down. and we are running into a headwind. Crazy!

Twin Donut. Photo: Vincent Hsu

Twin Donut. Photo: Vincent Hsu

Fourth and most fabulous stop: Twin Donut at 218th and Broadway (Mile 22.5). We were running a bit late due to our extended break at the Starbucks but that gave a few more people a chance to meet us there, including Eric who had gone to the other Twin Donut 2 miles south of here!

GWB. Photo: Vincent Hsu

GWB. Photo: Vincent Hsu

Onto Seaman Avenue, Riverside Drive and the west side, with a few bits of hill before we head under the GWB and cruise the flats to the finish. The snow has stopped and the wind is at our backs, we can even see the clouds are starting to break.

Fifth and final stop: Fairway Supermarket at 125th and Riverside Drive (mile 27.5) I told folks back at Twin Donut that this stop would be optional since it was only 4 miles to the finish from here. We only pause briefly to say goodbye to Sara who has to get back to her family.

A few more miles to the finish. We have one more uphill stretch to climb in the last half mile back to TWC. I tell my companions we have to run it since we haven’t walked any of the previous 31 miles. I do feel a little tired in the last two miles.

Photo: Tiger Ellen

Photo: Tiger Ellen

And then we were done! Beer and food at Whole Foods Tap Room: a great spot for post-race/long run activities since you can bring in whatever you want to eat from the supermarket.

Huge thank you to everyone who joined for any mileage, and congrats to the full 50K finishers: Jeremy (longest run ever!), Martin, Wade, Margaret, Themba, Jerlyn, Otto, Stephen, Keila, Vincent and Vadim! I am so happy I could get a bunch of around your first trip around Manhattan!

Week in Review: 3/23

Monday: 11 miles easy

Tuesday: Rest and strength training

Wednesday: 6 miles easy

Thursday: 9 miles mostly easy to moderate with a few short intervals, strength workout

Friday: 5 miles easy

Saturday: 32 miles easy

Sunday: 13 miles easy

 

Badwater Choices

The news came as a shock.

 Hello Sky!

Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted to compete in the 2015 Badwater 135 Ultramarathon, presented by AdventureCORPS, Inc. You are part of a select group who will participate in what is recognized across the globe as “the world’s toughest footrace.”

Then… PAY NOW!

Shiiiiiiit. Who applies for the baddest of the badass races and forgets about it?! Seriously. I know, I did it “just to see” and figured I had no chance, since I’ve only completed the minimum three 100 milers required to apply. I thought I should start getting my name out there so that the organizers would eventually let me in. In any case, it wasn’t in my race plan, as July was supposed to provide a mid-season break with no racing.

But something happens once you get into a race like Badwater. The “can I do this?” mindset takes over, and since ultra runners tend to have short memories and optimistic outlooks, the answer is invariably “YES I can!”

But… The money. I won’t be prepared for this. It’s only five weeks after TGNY 100. TSP won’t be able to come. I don’t have a crew.

And but… If I turn it down now will they ever let me in again? Couldn’t this be my year of really big races? With the new nighttime start rule it will be cool at night, right? Will I regret it if I don’t go? Am I ever going to be better ultra-trained, with the same motivation and means to do this?

I put off making a decision as long as possible. I kept silent as I watched friends Facebook-announce their intentions to run Badwater to hundreds of likes and unanimous congratulations. When I asked TSP what he would do in my position, his reply displayed an appropriate level of maturity: “I wouldn’t have applied if I wasn’t planning to run it.”

I wrote out a check and put it in an envelope and carried it around for a couple of days. I researched nighttime temperatures in Death Valley in July and was alarmed to find that my guesstimate of, oh, around 50-60F was off by at least 40 degrees. I decided I needed to start re-reading Scott Jurek’s book, which I read so long ago I forgot he started it off by recounting how trashed he got from underestimating the Badwater race.

By Friday morning I’d had enough of self-doubt and took the plunge off the deep end. I dropped my check in the mail, posted something on Facebook, and went to work on preparations for the Millrose Games. By the time I checked in again I had enough offers of help to make at least two crews. Poof! My first big worry– vanished. Next up is the logistical challenge of setting dates for travel and booking hotels, flights and cars. And stuff like reflective vests and sprayers, ideally two I’m told. Oh crap, I just want to run. What did I get myself into this time?

No turning back now

No turning back now

Week in Review 2/9

Monday: AM: 4 miles easy to moderate. PM: 2 miles for running mechanics test

Tuesday: AM: 13 miles intervals, strength workout. PM: 3 miles easy to moderate

Wednesday: 3 miles easy, 45-minute pool running class

Thursday: AM: 10 miles with very short intervals. PM: 4.5 miles easy to moderate, strength workout

Friday: 3 miles easy

Saturday: 10 miles with VO2 max intervals, strength workout

Sunday: 14.5 miles with hills, 1:15 easy yoga

Pacing at Rocky Raccoon

Winter officially arrived with the threat of a record snowstorm in NYC that didn’t turn out to be all that and a bag of chips, but still managed to shut everything down, including my gym. I made up for it by doing stair sprint repeats in my building’s stairwell, destroying my calves in the process.

So the timing was perfect for a getaway to anywhere warmer, and when I heard that my friend Yoshiko was in need of a pacer for her sub-20 goal time at the Rocky Raccoon 100-miler, I couldn’t wait to pack my bags. I’ve been curious about the Rocky Raccoon race for some time, as it’s supposed to be one of the “easier” trail 100s, run on a relatively flat but rooty 20-mile loop course.

I flew out early on Friday just as another bout of snow started to drop, experienced a few stressful fight delays but eventually got lucky with my connections to Houston and hit the road to Huntsville with crewman Ken and Jackie, who was also running. We did the usual pre-race stuff: picked up supplies at Target, at went to packet pickup and the pre-race briefing, had an early and excellent dinner at Lindo Mexico, picked up more supplies and attempted to get to bed early.

Saturday morning Ken and I got to sleep in since we had enough cars to go around. We headed to the start/finish area in time to see our runners come through after their first loop. Yoshiko was right on schedule and looking strong. The weather was mild, with the threat of rain holding off during the day at least. Of course, mild weather for running = cold for me to stand around in, so I was ridiculously bundled up out there.

After the first round

After the first round

Apparently in previous years crews were allowed to drive out to the further aid stations, making the job a round the clock one, but this year there was a new rule: no cars at aid stations. From a crewing perspective, that meant we had plenty of time to go and do other important stuff, like eat and take naps. Ken and I went out to pick up some more supplies and coffee and donuts before going for lunch at Bennie J’s Smoke Pit, the real deal Texas BBQ.

Pre-pace meal

Pre-pace meal

We came back to wait for our runners to come from their second loop, the last time we would see them before we started pacing into the night. Yoshiko was behind. I asked runners who knew her and had been near her earlier if they had seen her and was told she was coming soon, 5 to 10 minutes behind, they both said, even though they were about 15 minutes apart.

The hardest part of crewing for me is the waiting. I am the extremely anxious one standing at the edge of the course, neck craned trying to spot my runner, worry mounting over each minute of lateness. Yoshiko arrived about half an hour behind her 20-hour schedule looking a little flustered- her hands were puffy and she had gotten very dizzy on the course: sodium imbalance, possibly too many electrolytes. She didn’t seem to be dizzy anymore, so I told her to stop taking electrolyte pills and to drink only plain water and to eat non-salty food until the swelling started to go down, and gave her some ginger candy and coke to calm the tummy. It was too bad, she said the dream of sub-20 was gone, but she would still finish.

Crew city

Crew city at Rocky Raccoon

After our runners left Ken and I went to the car for a nap before we came back ready to pace. I slept solidly in the back seat for close to two hours, then dressed and readied up for the long night. As I waited for Yoshiko there was a little rain, it got dark, and Ian Sharman came in for the win. Yoshiko was not far behind and we headed out after a brief break for her.

I had forgotten that I’m still pretty uncomfortable running trails in the dark, especially with my crappy headlamps that just got crappier. Due to a baggage snafu at The North Face 50-Miler in December, the headlamp I had dropped off at the designated aid station after sunrise never made it back to me, but a staffer from the race production company’s Dallas office kindly offered to give me some of the other headlamps that were never claimed, and it just happened that he was coming down to Rocky Raccoon to volunteer. I was hoping for a Petzl Nao but instead I got two older but usable headlamps, each with their own flaws. Worried about relying on an unfamiliar piece of gear to do something important, I mostly stuck with my old backup headlamp, a Petzl Tikka with a cover that keeps popping off at the wrong times.

The course was not quite as rooty as I expected, in that the roots were spaced apart pretty nicely, but that is the thing that lulls one into a false sense of security, and with my crappy light source it was very hard to make out exactly where all the roots were. I fell twice in the early miles- the first time was an easy slow-motion tumble that I brushed off as no biggie, but the second came with a hard smack to the right knee, the kind that forced me to walk it off for a few minutes as I questioned my fitness for this treacherous overnight pacing gig. I knew I would pay for this later with swelling and discomfort, but at least I hit a new spot near the top of the kneecap, not further down where it had been hurt a few too many times before.

Yoshiko had asked me to run in front of her early on, but I kept getting too far ahead and I didn’t like that feeling, so after about 12 miles I asked her to go in front and I would pace her from behind. This worked out better as we could stay close together and when the trail opened up a bit we could run side-by-side. We came back in to the start/finish after around five and half hours which was good, it meant we were not losing much time on each lap. Yoshiko wasted no time getting out of the aid station as I was still fiddling with my gear, I’d catch up to her in a bit. It was still warm-ish so shed most of the excess clothing I had carried (windbreaker, buff, gloves and the outer layer of socks) but I kept my poncho just in case.

Even though our second loop together took a bit longer, it went by quicker because we were chatting more and we knew it was the last round. We had a bit of pouring rain, enough that I was glad to have the poncho handy, though of course as soon as I put it on the rain would ease off significantly. Once the sun started to rise and we hit the last stretch, Yoshiko took off at a fast enough pace that I wondered whether I should have pushed her harder earlier on. Her hands had still been puffy throughout the night, and given the uncertain risks I felt more comfortable keeping her company and making sure she was safe and taken care of.

The course became downright lovely in the daytime, and the roots were much easier to spot, though I’m still unsure of whether this will be one for me to race, as I still managed to fall (lightly) one more time after the sun came up. The organization was really terrific, with well stocked aid stations and kind volunteers and all the good stuff you’d expect from a well-run 100 mile race, including some very cool awards.

Week in Review: 1/26

Monday: 6.5 miles easy to moderate

Tuesday: AM: 3 miles easy out in the snow. PM: 17 x 1 minute stair intervals

Wednesday: AM: 5 miles walking. PM: Pool running class

Thursday: AM: 7 miles short intervals. PM: 3-mile tempo and strength workout

Friday: Off

Saturday-Sunday: 40 miles pacing

2014 in Review

This is a review of my year in running only. I didn’t start the year with too many concrete goals, so it’s interesting to see how things developed.

Towards the end of 2013 I put some broad ego-boosting goals in the “someday” file that include winning a race overall (it would have to be a very small one), running a sub-3-hour or seeing how close I can get, being the women’s winner at a marathon (again think small), and winning some prize money (think really small– even $25 or $50 would count!). I didn’t meet any of those this year but that’s fine because I can’t say I tried for any of them either. The closest I came was with the prize money. I won some expensive gear in the Hong Kong mountain races I ran, I helped my road running team win $400 as the second place women’s team at the NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5K, and I got my entry fee for NJ One Day refunded for hitting the 120-mile USA team qualifying standard, plus 75% off my next NJ trail series race for coming in second– but still, no “prize check” in my name!

Winter training in the Palisades. Photo: Tommy Pyon

Winter training was a frigid blur. Photo: Tommy Pyon

Coming into 2014, I only had a few races on the calendar (or should I say, that I’d already paid for): Boston, Berlin and NYC marathons, the Rock n Roll New Orleans, NYC and Lehigh halfs, Caumsett 50K and the North Face San Francisco 50-miler, plus I had committed to pacing 4:00 at the New Jersey marathon (Okay, maybe more than a few but still very little compared to the 34 races I ended up with!) Come January I started adding some big races that filled up quickly (TGNY 100, Vermont 100K) as well as last-minute sign-ups to run some low-key shorter races like the Boston Buildup races (a terrific series, btw). I started the year with some hip pain that still hasn’t totally gone away and spent a bit on chiro with Wayne Winnick and other treatment to keep me going at least to Boston. My original plan was to train well for my first Boston, run some half-marathon PRs along the way, and race the Caumsett 50K for a sub-4 hour time.

Cold-weather pacing at the Fred Lebow Manhattan Half. Photo: Atsede Aemro- Selassie

Dressed for cold-weather success pacing the Fred Lebow Manhattan Half. Photo: Atsede Aemro- Selassie

My real focus for the first several months was the Boston training. After a rough PR day at the New Orleans Half in early February, I dove in to week 9 of the Hanson’s Marathon Method and stuck to it pretty consistently for the rest of the cycle, with the addition of a few longer runs (20-22 miles) instead of the prescribed 16-mile maximum. This was my first winter of running and it was a baptism by fire. I got colds and the flu fairly regularly, especially after fast races, and my hip was a concern, so I scrapped the Caumsett 50K and ran the 25K instead. I did most of my speedwork on the treadmill, and even some of my easy runs when there was too much snow on the roads. Thanks to the New York Sports Club’s $30 for 30 days trial (which can be re-tried annually), I was able to use a treadmill two blocks from my apartment during the rough month from late January through most of February.

Framingham, Boston Marathon 10K mark. Photo: Joan Kim

Framingham, Boston Marathon 10K mark. First warm day of the year and I got a fantastic race outfit sunburn on the right side. Photo: Joan Kim

The training worked and I PR’d at the NYC Half and then ran an emotional 3:14:15 PR at my first Boston. It had taken me so long to get to there (8 years!), and after all that the city and running community had been through, I broke down in the Wellesley scream tunnel. Even now, the memory of their haunting cries brings tears to my eyes. The infamous hills did do me in but that will give me additional motivation for next time.

Four hours or bust! Photo: Otto Lam

Leading the charge to 4 hours at New Jersey. Photo: Otto Lam

Pacing the New Jersey Marathon six days after Boston was really tough in the state my quads were in, but Otto Lam did such a superb job of organizing the pace teams for the full and half that I really wanted to be a part of it, and we had a great time in the marathon party house that Kino arranged. I took it pretty easy for most of May, racing my first ever 5K (which I won, haha!) and starting a new training plan under my new coach Michele Yates. I told her my near-term goals were to get a sub-4:30 trail 50K, a win and under 20 hours at TGNY, and under 14 hours and podium at the Vermont 100K.

5K bling is much bigger than ultra bling. Photo: Tommy Pyon

Buckles shmuckles– 5K’s where all the bling is at. Photo: Tommy Pyon

My first ultra of the year was the PinelandsTrail Festival 50-Miler over Memorial Day weekend. I was signed up for the 50K and really wanted to run 4:30 or under to qualify for the elite corral at The North Face San Francisco 50-Miler. However, I wasn’t sure if I could run that time on trails and I didn’t know the Pinelands course at all, so I thought it might actually be “easier” to run the 50-mile race in under 8:30, the TNF elite qualifying time for that distance. I slept on it, woke up feeling pretty good, and changed my registration just minutes before the start. I started out a little too aggressively and had to slow in the last part of the race, but finished my first 50-miler with what felt like my best trail result to date, 8:11:30 and 2nd female! Oh, and I didn’t trip and fall!

This must be, oh, about 10 hours into the 12-hour. Photo: Larry Sillen

This must be, oh, about 10 hours into the 12-hour. Photo: Larry Sillen

After 50 miles, it was time to gear up my training for the TGNY 100 4 weeks later. I made a very late decision to run my first 12-Hour race at the BUS Joe Kleinerman run in early June, and won with just over 75 miles. The .97-mile loop was the shortest I’d ever run, it was hot that day and the course had a pretty significant hill, but I had a pretty good experience, while swearing to myself that this was enough and that I was NOT going to run a 24-hour race later this year.

Photo: Atsede Aemro-Selassie

Times Squaaaaaare here I come. Photo: Atsede Aemro-Selassie

TGNY was my first big goal race of the summer- the one that I really wanted to win and improve on my time from last year, which was a little under 23 hours. It was my first 100 miler last year and would now be my second. I didn’t spend as much time training on the course this year since I remembered most of it, just one group preview run organized by the RD Phil and another review of a tricky stretch in the Bronx. The 12-hour race was my real heavy training run and I felt good going in to TGNY. I only hit a few low points late in the run, and had great support from my pacers Emi, Simon and Francesca, as well as all the volunteers on the course. My goal was sub-20 and I ran 19:06. I also learned a few things about what I’ll have to do to run an even better race in 2015, which is what I plan to do.

In Vermont. Photo: Lucimar

A month later in Vermont. Yeah so I basically wear the same three things for all my races, especially when it’s warm. Photo: Lucimar Araujo

In July I ran the Vermont 100K. The big 100-mile race is very popular with NYC ultrarunners, but despite all their assurances that the trail was “easy,” I needed to see for myself before I’d commit to 100 miles on a course that might chew me up through the night and spit me out the next morning. Of course they were right, it was easy (defined as: I never fell down, and if I don’t fall on a trail it must be easy). I ran with the ladies’ winner from the previous year for the first part, until we ran off course and added three miles, and then she got in a hurry to make up her position, so I spent the rest of the day solo relaxing on the peaceful country roads and trails, power-hiking the hills and running the rest. I beat my 14-hour goal by a lot, finishing in 11:54 for 2nd.

Mountain time

Mountain time on the infamous Incline.

August was a very difficult month for me for non-running reasons, and you could say I made it more difficult by challenging myself on the unfamiliar terrain of big mountains. I had won the UTMB lottery in my second year of trying, but was very indecisive about whether or not to go for what felt like a long time. A great group of runners I know were going and had booked a house in Chamonix for a week before the race, so that was a huge plus, and I couldn’t shake the dream of running through the Alps in 3 countries in one go. However, I couldn’t realistically run this race and go back to Europe for the Berlin marathon a month later. Reasoning that I might not have such a cool opportunity to do UTMB again in the near future (since you need both qualifying races and lottery luck to get in) I chose UTMB.

Two weeks out I ran the Pikes Peak marathon to prepare for UTMB, since the uphill portion of Pikes Peak would be much bigger than the biggest hills at UTMB, and the altitude greater. I absolutely fell in love with Colorado and got in some amazing mountain training on the days before the marathon. After all, I was training for UTMB, so no taper needed for Pikes Peak. I really enjoyed the Pikes Peak challenge but took a bad fall and banged my right knee on some rocks about a mile and a half before the finish.

Taking a break in the Swiss Alps. Photo: Harald Zundel

Taking a break in the Swiss Alps. Photo: Harald Zundel

It was really too bad as the sore knee followed me to Europe, where I did some easy hiking in the Swiss and French Alps during the ten days leading up UTMB. As much as I tried to avoid downhills that would aggravate my knee it simply wasn’t possible. And again, there was not much time for proper training or tapering, but I’ll take what I can get, especially when it involves unbelievable terrain.

Such a relief. Photo: Aleks Zuber

That’s 45 hours worth of relief on my face. Photo: Aleks Zuber

UTMB was an epically long race with some struggle. I had a great start despite the rain the first night and felt strong until around halfway, when my knee became an issue and I had to make the call on whether to quit or keep going with an occasionally hobbling pace on the downhills. Around 90K I was about ready to call it a day when I met an American guy named Nick who said, “oh please don’t quit” and reminded me that we had plenty of time to finish the race within the 46 hour cutoff. Thanks to him, who I occasionally met up with on some of the remaining parts of the course, I determined to stick it out.  Anyways, I always want to see the rest of the course and have a knack for persuading myself that, no matter how gnarly or soul-destroying the previous section was, the next one won’t be so bad (of course it can be worse!). I got my money’s worth at the aid stations, ate lots of cheese and salami and noodle soup and crackers, took a few catnaps, got massaged, sometimes hallucinated (but knew I was hallucinating), got sleepy and bored during the second night, sometimes lonely (no pacers allowed) and only cried in despair once at a never ending downhill and what felt like a long- delayed second surnrise. At the last major aid station, 20km from the finish, I got pale and dizzy, vomited, and made a big poop, and was held at the medical tent for an hour and half while my vitals were monitored. Once I was given the all-clear, I continued through one final brutal mountain, back to the village where I had started nearly 45 hours earlier, with my housemates there to run me in and cheer me to the finish. That made me feel like I can do anything.

To the finish of the Tahoe 200. Photo: Rebecca Lippman

To the finish of the Tahoe 200. Photo: Rebecca Lippman

2014 was also the year that I learned how to be an ultra pacer and crew person. I crewed and paced Teaspoon for 30-ish miles at Umstead in April, and within days of finishing UTMB I was on a plane to Reno to help Mama Michelle at the Tahoe 200, a 200+ MILE race around Lake Tahoe. I was so glad to be able to crew and pace Michelle since she was one of my pacers the first time I ran TGNY. 200+ miles has to be one of the hardest things I have ever seen anyone do- not just Michelle but for everyone out there. I was really glad that she persevered and despite all the struggle and pain she finished strong, running all the way down the last mountain. Remember, if she can run at the end of 200+  mountain miles and four and half days of sleep deprivation, you can always keep running too!

Hong Kongs Victoria to Peak Challenge. Photo: Club Balance

And chicking my way to the top of Hong Kong island. Photo: Club Balance

From Tahoe I traveled to Hong Kong for personal business, and made the best of the heat and humidity. I ran a couple of short steep uphill races and greatly enjoyed them, plus I won some fancy prizes like Salomon shoes and wireless headphones. It suits my lazy nature to walk hard up a lot of the big hills, plus pushing up a mountain in a race is something that makes me feel very alive.

Photo: Donna Sajulga-Tabios

Bloody but unbowed. Photo: Donna Sajulga-Tabios

Returning to New York in early October, I was in no way ready to race for good marathon times, but I still ran the Steamtown marathon the day before my birthday and decided to pace NYC instead of racing.  By this point I was pretty sure that if I wasn’t going to run good fall marathons (meaning PRs), I would go for my first 24-hour race at New Jersey One Day. I was familiar with the race venue and it wouldn’t require much travel or stress, and if the weather was bad I would stay home. I ran a 6-hour race two weeks out as my long run (got the win and a course record as a bonus), paced 3:45 at NYC on November 2nd, and toed the line at One Day the following week, running my marathon split in exactly 3:45 again. The 24-hour experience was a real handful and I’m still recovering. I was very happy with my 136 miles on my first crack at the 24-hour puzzle.

Two thumbs up for 24 hours. Photo: Otto Lam

Two thumbs up for 24 hours. Photo: Otto Lam

After a couple of weeks of recovery, I headed to California for my two final big races of the year, the Quad Dipsea and The North Face San Francisco 50 Mile. Very tired by this point, I still couldn’t pass up the chance to finally run in one of my favorite places in the world. Then I went and did a few more social races before I was really really really done for the year. Five days off and then back to some easy running, trying to stay around 30-60 relaxing minutes each day before the next training cycle begins in January.

Fun to the end of the year. Photo: Donna Sajulga-Tabios

Fun to the end of the year. Photo: Donna Sajulga-Tabios

A few other highlights from 2014 on the non-racing front:

Taking a quick break from pacing to give Mama a big hug. Photo: Young Cho

Gotta give our Mama a big hug during the marathon. Photo: Young Cho

After putting together a pace team for the 2013 NYC Marathon, New York Road Runners decided to start a pace team for its half marathons as well. I made the team and paced most of the NYRR halfs this year, as well at the marathon again. I love wearing the pacer singlet, carrying the sign (it’s not at all heavy!), and helping others achieve their goals with a steady pace.

I found a coach who’s my kind of crazy and a community of like-minded, hardworking runners at Rugged Running. Michele Yates is an incredible athlete and so inspiring, she really makes me want to train harder and smarter. As a bonus her services are pretty affordable and it feels like she is always there for us, even with a newborn baby and her own ambitious goals!

Whats inside is top-secret :-)

Whats inside is top-secret :-)

Purely through the luck of wearing a sample shoe size, I became a wear tester for Hoka One One and have logged a lot of miles and provided feedback on some of their shoes that will hit the market next year or later. This was really a dream come true!

Chilling at the TCS NYC Marathon Opening Ceremony and Parade of Nations

With my pro hospitality teammates at the TCS NYC Marathon Opening Ceremony and Parade of Nations

Through a chance volunteer assignment at the Milrose Games in February, I met the team that handles professional athlete hospitality for the big events with New York Road Runners and I had the opportunity to work with them on the preparations for the NYC Half, Mini 10K and the really big one, the TCS NYC Marathon. It’s a cliche but true that the world’s best runners are the nicest people too.

IMG_3920

I won some accolades too: My team gave me the Ultrarunner of the Year award for the second year in a row, I was awarded the New York Ultrarunning Grand Prix Championship title in March for racking up the most points in their races last year, and New York Road Runners recognized me as (ultra)runner-up for Ultrarunner of the Year. I can’t say I run for any of this kind of recognition but it is sweet and I am grateful for it.

And finally– 2014 in statistics!

Races run: 34

Marathons: 5

Ultras: 9

Race miles: 1013

Road race miles: 643

Trail race miles: 370

Total mileage: 2706

It sounds hokey but I’m very grateful that I was able to run this much, in so many beautiful places and surrounded by wonderful people all along the way. I get a little emotional when I think about it, how far I’ve come and how long the road ahead still is. Happy new year!

The North Face Endurance Challenge San Francisco 50 Mile

Every race experience is unique in its highs and lows, its pre-race anxiety and the post-race review, recollection, emotions and stock-taking. No matter how rough my race goes, there is always a point towards the final miles when the awareness of that day’s uniqueness takes hold. It’s like a sense of pre-nostalgia over what can never be repeated. Even if I were to go back and participate in that event again, it would always be a different race in innumerable ways- the people, the conditions, the thoughts and feelings of the mind and body. Those last miles typically fill me with joy and allow me to finish strong and happy most of the time, maybe all of the time.

So it was that TNF SF went from becoming a near-first DNF to another treasured memory of a full day out on the trails. It’s not easy to reconcile my non-competitive and competitive sides and this race was a test. Yes, I love winning and doing well, on the other hand, I run for fun and don’t want to suffer for it. Honestly, I want the easy wins! And even if I had prepared for it, TNF SF would never be an easy race to come out on top of- it’s full of hungry runners who eat mountains for breakfast and have a lot on the line in terms of sponsorships and more.

Still, I wanted to close out the year in style, and this was one the rare races that had been on my 2014 calendar before it was even 2014! I had registered for the 2013 race but decided to defer my entry to this year so I could the sub-freezing CIM that weekend instead. Back then, I wasn’t even thinking of being competitive, I just wanted to run this spectacular course, and I guess I didn’t know too much about all the other races in the area- I’d heard of North Face and Miwok and the various Dipsea races but that was about it.

So I made my plans to spend a week out west and, when I found out that the Quad Dipsea was a week before TNF SF, so I signed up for that too because YOLO. Of course, the Quad wrecked my quads and compromised my immune system, but nothing a little massage and lot of sleep couldn’t fix, right? I was back from the dead by Thursday and looking forward to Saturday as long as it didn’t rain. Because I’m a weather wimp.

On Friday evening I headed up to Mill Valley to stay with friends who work on the event production team. With an event of this scale (races from 5K to 50 miles over two days) and huge amount of rain (including another little downpour on Friday night into Saturday morning), there will always last minute emergencies, so dinner and bedtime got pushed back a little later than originally planned. Still, I was glad to get a peek “behind the scenes” and appreciate the huge efforts the organizer went through to keep a full 50-mile race and ensure that the course was safe, clear of hazards, and well marked.

I took my usual pre-race Benadryl on Friday night and for once, it didn’t work! My mind stayed awake for some time as 11pm approached, and then I drifted in and out of consciousness until I heard the others getting ready to leave around 2am. I dozed on and off for another 20 minutes or so before getting up and putting together an ad hoc breakfast: Starbucks instant vanilla latte (the only critical breakfast item I remembered to bring) mixed with some of the coffee from the hotel room, 2 fun-size Snickers bars (the hotel’s version of pillow chocolates), and a couple of slices of focaccia from last night’s bread basket. Then I got dressed, opting to wear a shirt because Suzie had looked at me funny when I mentioned maybe not wearing one, plus arm sleeves. I went down to catch the last shuttle to the start, which I thought would leave at 3:45 but was not actually going until 4:10. There were three of us with a big old school bus to ourselves- one chill guy who’d done the race a few times (including the year of the rain, 2012) and a woman who looked poised to run fast (she did).

On the ride out

Quiet bus on the ride out

At the start area, the ground was very wet but the rain had stopped and it wasn’t cold at all. I dropped of my finish gear and drop bag on some tables inside a big tent—a nice touch so that our things wouldn’t get wet. I didn’t see anyone I knew so I after a couple of trips to the portapotties I went and stood near the start with the real elites. I was standing next to Kami Semick and Anna Frost, who was not running, was there hanging out and looking adorable. Shortly after 5, wave 1 got the call to go into the corrals and I tried to find a spot in the middle to back, but surrounded by enough people to keep me warm while we waited. Here is a start line video from iRunFar.com. I don’t see myself.

The start was fast, downhill and on an asphalt road, which never feels too comfortable with my shoes designed for mud. I wanted to run by feel so I had turned off the sound and vibration alerts on my watch and set the display to show the time of day, and planned to occasionally check my pace but not focus on it too much. I checked in that first mile or so and saw low 7:00s. Too fast! Next we headed uphill on a wide dirt road and I hung with some ladies for a while until I had to let them go. It was going to be a long day.

Annotated revised TNF SF course map from iRunFar.com

Annotated revised TNF SF course map from iRunFar.com

Due to a bridge being washed out by the rain, a later chunk of the course was cut and replaced by a second loop around the first section. This was a roughly 5-mile loop with about 800 feet of uphill over 2.5 miles, followed by about the same downhill. I started taking walking breaks early on the uphills, as folks from waves 2 and 3 and so on started passing. There was plenty of space on the gravel roads and wide trails in the early miles of the course, so all of the passing didn’t stress me out too much as I wasn’t in anyone’s way. Early in the second loop, I was happy to see a running friend from NYC looking really strong in her first 50-mile race. She went ahead and I hoped not to see her again.

I dont enjoy night running as much as I look like I do

I don’t enjoy night running anywhere nearly as much as it looks like I do

The full moon was out and the sky was clear, so we had some good nighttime views. However, I don’t like running in the dark, and my headlamp is not very powerful, but because I don’t like running at night I don’t want to invest in a better headlamp, so it’s a vicious cycle. My eyes were tired and so was the rest of me as I looked at my watch waiting for sunrise. 6:26? Nothing. 6:38? C’mon light! Close to 7, by the end of the second loop, the sky had brightened, and I was hoping we would be able to leave our headlamps at the new aid station at the end of the loop, instead of the original headlamp drop spot that was now later in the course. No such luck, I had to keep what was now just a heavy sweatband on my head for another three miles to the Tennessee Valley aid station.

The hours before sunrise had been very humid with some fog on the second loop, and I was uncomfortably soaked in my chilly sweat. And still tired in the foggy daylight as we headed up another long hill on the Miwok Trail and then down into Tennessee Valley. I’ve been telling myself too often that I must be mentally tired by now from all the races this year, so that’s how I am. Physically, I’m under-recovered, under-trained for this course, and full of aches and niggles and occasional shooting pains in the hips and back and knees. And again this week, my stomach was off, forcing up little pukes here and there along the way. Mine is not ever the race-ending kind of vomit, the type of Gl upheaval that makes it impossible to keep anything down and weakens a runner to the core. Rather, it’s an annoyingly gross and bleh kind of feeling that allows me to keep some gels and liquids coming in (though probably not enough) with an occasional mouthful coming back up. I keep Pepto and Tums or Rolaids on hand but I’m not sure that they help much. Well, at least I didn’t have to poop.

This is around when I was really struggling. Photo: Nate Dunn

This is around when I was really struggling. Photo: Nate Dunn

So for some time in this early-middle stretch, around miles 14-20, I went back and forth questioning whether I really wanted to finish if it meant 10 or 12 or 14 hours and boring kind of slog. My heart wasn’t in it at this point. I could stop and go back and enjoy something hot. Twenty miles was still a good training run that deserved a proper square meal at the end, right? I see myself later, justifying my reasons for quitting, knowing there doesn’t have to be a reason, knowing it doesn’t really matter to anyone but me.

But it’s not my style, I remind myself. I’ll DNF someday when some or all of my body quits on me and there’s no choice involved. Or maybe I’ll DNF because I just don’t feel like it, say today. Back and forth, this self-talk: Stop signing up for all the things, 50 miles is not a hundred or 24 but it’s still a commitment that you have to respect, you take these things too lightly…

Still, I can’t quell my curiosity about the course. I want to see it. All of it. And this is it, my last race of the year. I don’t really want to go out whimpy, do I? And it could be a nice day out, my last in the Bay Area for a while, so I want to experience it to the max. And I remember how fortunate and grateful I am to have the ability to be here in a beautiful place doing what I usually love when I’m not so damn tired. Where else would I really rather be and what would I rather be doing? Every race has its emotional lows. They pass. I know this.

Looking way too happy on the outside

Why do I look so freaking happy? Swear I’m dying inside

So I take it aid station to aid station, as my friend the great master Otto Lam has taught. After Muir Beach (mile 18) came what I had noted on my pace band as a “giant climb” of about 1500 feet in 5 miles to Cardiac aid station. I took it easy since I had no idea what this would look like. What it looked like, to start, was a long series of narrow switchbacks, which had turned into little streams with all the rain. I walked and walked with one foot on either side of the streams, still able to keep my feet dry. After the switchbacks the trail opened up on top of the hill as we took the more gradual and occasionally runnable Coast View Trail, and we saw a few leaders of the 50K race heading back already.

From Cardiac at mile 23 it was already practically the the halfway point, I told myself, and I decided to continue to the next aid station at McKennan Gulch, where my friend Harald might be working. I figured it would be nice to see a familiar face and I could delay my decision to quit until some further discussion.

Winner Sage Canaday right before I saw him on the way back to Cardiac aid station. Photo: iRunFar.com/Byron Powell

Winner Sage Canaday right before I saw him on the way back to Cardiac. Photo: iRunFar.com/Byron Powell

From Cardiac we went into the woods, and here came the front runners on their way to their second pass through Cardiac! Sage Canaday in first, about 13 miles ahead of me at this point, followed by Dakota Jones less than a minute behind. It’s always invigorating to see the people out front looking strong, so this section passed quickly. Then we had a long and gradual uphill out-and-back on the Coastal Trail on the way to McKennan Gulch that was all out in the open and looked like it would be even better downhill on the way back. The rule in trail running is that out-going runners are required to yield to the runners coming back, and here the trail was very narrow, so there was a lot of stop and go on the way up. Now I was actually looking forward to coming back, running downhill, and having everyone get out of my way!

Off the trail and onto a stretch of road to McKennan, I knew I had turned it around. The sun was now shining, we were running on top of the ocean and well past the halfway mark with a big downhill coming up. At the aid station (mile 28) I saw Harald up on a hilltop using his radio, we waved to each other from a distance, and I felt good to go on my way. I’d marked the next 5-mile stretch down to Stinson Beach as the “giant downhill” and indeed it was. The first portion of the out and back was as much fun as I expected, as most every runner coming up yielded, and I made sure to thank each one, the gratitude just oozing out of me. Here I saw the guy from the bus in the morning and my NYC running buddy on her first 50-miler, who I must have passed during an aid station break. Then we headed into the woods, still going down, with some of the steps that I love, though the rain had clearly taken a toll over the last week. Okay, as much as I love downhill, after 3 miles straight a break would be nice. But there was none, and that was still cool.

At the Stinson Beach aid station, I braced myself for what was up ahead. 2.7 miles on the Dipsea trail back to the Cardiac aid station, the same section that had been my hell twice over a week ago. First, some steps and gradual hills with the spectacular lookback views of the beach that magically erase the pain, and then a short section of runnable trail, followed by the killer stairs of the Steep Ravine. But wait! On the trail, the first bridge on the right that led to those stairs was roped off with a “wrong way” sign. What?! We stayed on the left side of the creek for a bit and took a different bridge further on, with different stairs that were a bit gentler and broken up with some flats and more moderate inclines (plus a ladder to climb!). Unfortunately, this meant we also skipped the redwoods section of the Dipsea and the ocean-facing ridgeline en route to Cardiac, and instead we stayed on a still-pretty wooded trail, heading back to Cardiac the way we’d seen Canaday and Jones hours ago. Well.. okay, phew, that wasn’t so bad. Only two more climbs to go, according to my notes, and neither would be as big.

But first, the “giant climb” in reverse, back to Muir Beach, part of the re-routing of the course. Now, with only 15 miles and a few hours to go, let’s do this! But first I needed to re-up my supplies at Cardiac, where I’d sent my drop bag. I must have had a brain fart when I only brought a sandwich-sized Ziploc for my drop-bag, but luckily Suzie had a spare shopper she loaned me. However, it was small and black and undistinctive, so it took some time for the volunteers to locate it. I did my best to suppress my impatience while they searched the field of mostly small black drop bags to find it, knowing they were doing their best and it was my fault anyways. I’m usually much better at this. Once found, I was offered a folding chair. “Here, have a seat,” the volunteer said sweetly. I looked at it with secret disdain. “I don’t need a seat for a 50 miler!” I thought to myself. So I put the bag on it instead. Seriously, unless I’m using a toilet or changing shoes, I have to be on my feet at least 12 hours before thinking about a sit break.

The way back to Muir Beach was now pretty muddy from all the 50K and 50-mile runners that had gone through, yet my mud shoes continued to work their magic, allowing me to run through everything with confidence. By now, with only a few hours to go, I could handle wet feet, so I ran straight through the streams and mud in the middle of the switchback section.

The first of the final two climbs was hard hard hard, with 1000 feet up over two miles, I was so hungry now, but still estimated about two hours til the finish with nearly 10 miles to go. I ate some crystallized ginger and played music for distraction. The next downhill was wonderful, with some nice shallow steps along the way. I came into the aid station strong and starving, gobbling on saltines and taking some to go.

I can say Im somewhat genuinely happy now

With less than 10 miles to go, I can say I’m somewhat genuinely enjoying myself here

The aid stations were closer together towards the end. Just three miles and one more climb to the last aid at Alta, and then it was less than three miles downhill to the finish. Well, except for that last stretch of road we started out on. Now it was time for the pre-nostalgia as we revisited those final miles of the first loop that we’d covered twice in the morning.  I let myself race a little, and being kind of obnoxious, every time I passed someone I glanced sideways at their bib to check the color– Only the orange-red 50-milers count!

 

The home stretch. Dude in blue is gonna pass me back soon

The home stretch. Dude in blue is gonna pass me back soon

I was planning to walk some of that last uphill stretch, but then a 50-mile guy who I’d just passed zipped by me, one volunteer said “half a mile to go” and another said, “just 5 minutes” and I was like, okay, let’s try to do this in 5. Still, that uphill hurt. I paused to walk for a second and looked back over my shoulder to see another 50-mile woman and her pacer catching up. Oh nooooo! Yup, so I killed myself sprinting uphill to the finish of a 50-mile like it was a 5K, knowing full well that this woman had already “won” based on chip time since she had started in a later wave–  she wouldn’t  have had a pacer if she had been in wave 1. And she still passed me like 5 feet before the finish line! Still, I’m glad it went down like that- it was the most fun and crazy way to end this very long run.

Finally

Grrrr, an eye of the tiger finish

Ah, to be done! My watch had died on the final climb, and I saw the finish clock said it was 3:13pm. Later I went to the results tent and saw that my time was actually 10:09, since we had started a little after 5am. I was 4th in my AG but only the 34th woman, with winner Magdalena Boulet about three hours ahead. I was happy to make the top 5 of my AG as that was one of my little goals. Later still, I saw that my time was very much in line with the realistic calculations I’d done in my notebook that put me at the finish between 10:00 and 10:15. As opposed to the fantasy projections of 8:00-8:30 that could only become a reality with some actual training for this.

I moaned and groaned a lot after the race, probably more because I was sleepy-tired. I moaned for the half hour or so it took me to wipe all the mud off and get discreetly changed in corner of the gear drop tent, and while I wandered around vaguely looking for the people I knew, and as I scarfed down the way-too-healthy post-race meal of chicken breast, spaghetti with veggies, and salad greens. I finally found my friends, and two of us headed back to the city on school bus full of November Project people who had run the marathon relay and hence still had tons of energy to jump and sing and be jolly. One of them shared his beer and another gave me a neat elevation tattoo designed for the original 50-mile course. For next time. Then it was bus and MUNI back to my place, shower, packing, and a properly indulgent Mexican meal before passing out.

Party bus on the ride back

Party bus on the ride back

Two days later, I don’t know how it’s possible that I don’t hurt anywhere nearly as much as after the Quad Dipsea. TNF had a similar amount of elevation gain and loss, but was about 80% longer in miles and took about 60% longer in time, with downhill stretches that went on for up to five miles. The cold came back, which is to be expected after spending 10 hours running in my chilled sweat. Weirdly, I’ve been most sore in the crooks of my elbows, both sides, even though my handheld was in my right hand 99% of the time. I felt tightness in there during the race and would try to stretch my arms out every now and then, but it’s not something I’ve ever experienced before. Maybe wearing cold and wet arm sleeves all day had something to do with it? Once again, I miraculously managed not to fall on the trails during the whole race! I did lose my balance in the mud once, when a puddle I stepped into was much deeper than I expected, but I still avoided a full face- or butt-plant. Despite all the mud and sogginess, I am also blister-free thanks to the same footcare combo that I used at Quad Dipsea: Salomon Fellraisers, Smartwool toe socks, and Trailtoes anti-friction lubricant.

As always, I’m happy to have finished, to have spent a beautiful week in one of my favorite places and to have a chance to catch up with lots of friends along the way. Though I still feel just a little teeny-tiny bit fraudulent about starting among the elite trail runners. Many, though not all, of the top runners would make the call to save their efforts and drop on a bad day, and some did, which probably put me at the DFL end of the wave 1 runners. But really, I have little to save myself for and I wanted to get my money’s worth and experience the full course.

I’m now looking forward to a period of winding down and reflection as the year comes to an end, and one key question I have to ask myself is whether to continue signing up for these trail and mountain races or whether to stick to racing on roads. As much as I loved the TNF course and would like to run the original, unmodified course and race well on it, I also know that going much faster than I did last weekend could result in some spills and tumble and risks of serious injuries. Living in NYC, I simply don’t train on trails and mountains enough to become very good at racing them, and I don’t like going into races feeling that underprepared.  (And I’m lazy about using the treadmill or stair machine to simulate hills). 2015 Is still wide open, with only one single race committed to my calendar. Like moving into an empty new home, it’s a fresh feeling that won’t last more than a few weeks max. Before I can fly again, it’s time to dream!

New Routes

So it’s been raining quite a bit in California this week. Where I’m staying in this land of microclimates that is the Bay Area, the rain has been heavy at times, but intermittent enough that I’ve been able to spend some time out and about most days without having to open my umbrella too often. But apparently there was more rain at the SF airport in a few days this week than in ALL of 2013, and there have been reports of mudslides, rockslides, sinkholes and huge puddles around the state.

So it’s not really possible for the TNF course to come away unscathed. We had an email early this morning regarding a minor course change and another this afternoon of a larger change—due to a bridge being washed out, the loop from Cardiac aid station through the Muir Woods to the Old Inn has been cut, and the mileage will be made up by running the first loop of the course twice. It seems like the organizers are working hard to keep it a 50-mile race this year, unlike in 2012, when severe rains forced a last-minute shortening to 46 miles. After studying and planning for the original course, my sense of direction can’t fully comprehend the changes. I know it’s simple, but it’s not. I’ll try to embrace the surprises and have fun with it even if I don’t always know where I’m going. Just like the old days, really not so long ago, when I didn’t have a clue about things like course maps, elevation charts and pace bands. (Yeah right, I’m revising my security bracelet anyways).

The revised TNF SF course

The revised TNF SF course

After coming down with a little cold, I administered some aggressive self-treatment and think I nipped it in the bud. On Wednesday I woke up feeling stuffy in the head, so I rested more, and canceled my plans for the day apart from getting a massage. I tried Zicam for the first time, taking it every three hours as directed, took two Nyquil at bedtime and slept at least ten hours that night. Thursday I woke up feeling much better and thought about swimming, but decided against being wet and felt like going for a run instead.

I had to go for packet pickup at The North Face store in Union Square anyways, so I figured why not run there. Google Maps told me it would be 4.5 miles- perfect. I packed up my UD vest with a change of shirt and other necessities and headed east and north through Golden Gate Park, past Kezar stadium and through the Panhandle, past my old nemesis DMV on Fell Street, and so on, til I crossed Fillmore Street and saw the Marina beckoning.

That hill, that view

This way!

 

I’d been wanting to stop by that area at some point this week to check out the course for the New Year’s One Day race —the one I am NOT going to run! I checked Google again for the distance to Chrissy Field- about 3 miles, no prob- and headed over for some foggy views.

The gravel side of the SF One Day course (the other side is asphalt)

The gravel side of the SF One Day course (smooth asphalt on the other side of the lagoon)

Afterwards I stopped at Sports Basement for some hot coffee and a snack and wound up buying too much stuff- mostly bars and assorted energy fuel. I only found out at the register that TNF runners get 20% all purchases this weekend, otherwise I would have justified buying more unnecessary items.

Like a kid in a ...

Like a kid in a …

Having run about 7 easy miles already, which was enough, I hopped on a bus to Union Square to grab my bib and swag- Smartwool running socks, a tech-fabric buff, and T-shirt which will be printed and waiting for me at the finish- all in the race series’ signature fluorescent yellow.

TNF swag

TNF swag

Time to pack up now before I head out to spend the night in Mill Valley with some friends at the host hotel. With the relative warmth and humidity, I’m planning on similar gear as what worked for the Vermont 100K:  bumhuggers and a sports bra, and maybe a light top. An 18 oz. handheld for hydration, and I’ll fit my gels and other necessities in the handheld pouch, a SPIbelt and the little pockets in my shorts. As much as I’d prefer a more cushioned shoe, I’ll stick with the Salomon Fellraisers for the wet ground traction.

I leave you with a couple of videos of the race that I enjoyed while on my sickbed earlier this week:

UltraSportsLive.TV Preview

From Salomon, starring Anna Frost (in 2010?)

Endurables’ coverage of the 2013 Men’s Race

A midpacker’s view of the 2012 race with the rain

The Ginger Runner’s 2013 race

Sky High and Low in San Francisco

Three days  of recovering from the Quad Dipsea. I got one good day and two progressively worse.

First the good one. It was Sunday, so someone was getting a little ahead of herself there. It rained all morning , so I stayed in bed and rested up until the sun came out at midday. By then I was raring to get out and have a look around, and knowing that there was a lot more of the much-needed rain in the forecast for the week ahead, I felt obliged to take advantage of the dry weather. I wound up walking close to 5 miles throughout the day, with breaks for lunch, coffee, and the trail running film festival‘s SF stop at the Roxie Theater . I figured my route would be pretty flat but I forgot about the big hill on the way to coffee.

Uphill, no prob

Uphill, no prob…

 

Oh my quads. Going down the steep grade, I had to turn around and take a few backwards walking breaks.

But going down? #@!*!!!

But going down? #@!*!!!

Despite not being much of a trail runner and being “on hold” as far as my race plans for next year, the film festival made me want to sign up for all sorts of things like the Gorge Waterfall 100K, the Yakima Skyline 50K and others put on by the show’s organizers, Rainshadow Running. Unfortunately I did not win one of the free race entry raffles, which would have forced me to pick one. And despite a couple of trailers (like this one) and short films (like this) on the FKT craze, I’m not all tempted to look for one yet. I enjoy too much of the “running party” and camaraderie aspect of races, plus my lazy side prefers to leave the course scouting and provision of supplies to someone else. I would be too chickenshit to go unsupported and feel too guilty about drafting a small army to take care of me. But maybe it’s just a failure of my own imagination, not having found a trail I love and know well enough to undertake that kind of challenge on. I could change my mind too. I mean, look at how my June vow to myself not to run a 24-hour race this year turned out.

This pretty much sums it up

This pretty much sums up why I love races

The film fest also got me more excited about TNF this weekend–It was a full house, there was beer, and the usual small-world friendly trail running vibe.  Two of the of the three people sitting around me who I chatted with are also doing doing TNF events this weekend- one for the 50K and one for the marathon, and I was recognized by of the Cardiac aid station volunteers at Dipsea.

That excitement was somewhat short-lived when I woke up with still super-achey quads on Monday. I don’t know whether it was really the course, or my shoes, or some other factor like nutrition that has left me in such bad shape. My quads haven’t suffered very much this year, even after the heavy downhills at Steamtown, Pikes Peak, Vermont, UTMB and other runs. Boston is the only other race that trashed my quads as badly as Quad Dipsea this year, and the only common point they share (besides the downhill) is that afterwards, my stomach was messed up, I had to *go* a lot, and kind of lost my appetite as a result. I’ve still been getting hungry and am eating, but probably not as much as usual post-race and maybe not enough to repair the muscle damage fast enough.

I made sure not to walk much on Monday, which was easy because there was more rain, but staying inside and being online gave me lots of time to dwell on what I sometimes feel may be a shaky chance for making the U.S. 24-hour team based on my 136 miles at One Day. I know that there are still some “last chance” races, which it seems every woman who wants to get on or stay on the team is planning to run, and I could too, but I really don’t want to. And I know that I shouldn’t be thinking about 24 hour races when I’m still deep in the throes of recovery pain, because so many parts of my body are screaming, “NO RUN!” at me. I am going on 40 races for 2014 (including a couple of 5ks but mostly longer stuff), and even my mind wants a breather.

I don’t want to make myself miserable over any of this. So I put things in perspective. My first effort at 24-hours was very much an exploratory effort, and I certainly didn’t have the Team USA dream building up for a long time going into the race. Representing the USA at the world 24-hour championships in Italy next year is something I thought would be cool but only started feeling really super-stressful important to me after I finished One Day, and I don’t like that feeling. This is for fun. So if I don’t make the cut, I can run all the other races in the spring, including Boston, and focus on building speed at the 50-mile to 100K distances next year. Still I hope I get it, and who knows- by the end of this month I may feel well-rested and relaxed enough to tell Maggie, “let’s go make that road trip to Pensacola!”

Today brought more rain and still more pain, but I decided to get some kind of light activity off my feet and got a day pass for the UCSF gym and pool nearby. I foam rolled, went to a yoga-style fitness class that nearly killed my hips, recumbent biked, swam and sauna’d. The pool was much warmer than I’m used to, which was relaxing, though my quads still hurt even with my lazy freestyle kick (aka dragging my legs behind me with an occasional flutter to keep them from sinking). I tried the kickboard for two laps and had zero power, and I’m used to motoring fast with the kickboard. So as I was leaving I decided to splurge on a 75-minute massage for tomorrow. Otherwise TNF is gonna look like DNF…

tnf course map

Coming back from the gym, I started noticing a runny nose, which has progressed into regular sniffles and a stuffy feeling in my head as the evening progressed. Uh oh., and I was just today or yesterday thinking to myself it’s been a while since I’ve had a cold! I don’t think I would enjoy 50 miles of being under the weather, so I’m already scoping out which aid stations would be the best places to drop: Tennessee Valley at Mile 8.7, if it meant I could walk back to the start/finish, otherwise Muir Beach at 12.7 and Stinson at 27.8 have road access connecting to Highway 1, beyond that I would be finishing.  But I’m also ultrahydrating with tea, planning a lot of sleep, and spending some time calculating paces after I saw this post.  Not that it matters too much, because even though I’m on the “elite” start list*, I’m also among the handful of ladies on the list that iRunFar deemed unimpressive enough *not* to feature in it’s women’s preview of the race.  (sob, sob, sob, boohoohoo- JK, I would freak out if my name was there).  Phew, so no pressure, right?

* While there are obviously plenty of truly elite badass and ultra-talented runners on the list, TNF is pretty generous with it’s open-to-all  qualifying criteria for the elite start. I made the “A” standard with an 8:11 on an easy trail 50-miler, a good time for a non-trail-running roadie like me but nowhere near the level that some of these mountain ladies can run at.  Besides the bragging rights of getting to line up with the elites and harass them for selfies at the start, we get to go out first at 5:00 am, with all the successive waves starting later in one minute intervals. That’s not much of an advantage for me at all as I’m bound to get extremely stressed with all the later runners coming up behind me and passing me in the dark for hours (sunrise is not until around 7am). And elite starters can’t have pacers– I wouldn’t seek one out for 50 miles, but neither would I turn down an offer for company for the last 20 or so. So I’m basically doing it for the bragging rights, okay? And a little bummed that Liza Howard, Rory Bosio and Anna Frost– who were all sure to become my new BFFs–  have withdrawn from the race.

The Quad Dipsea

 

Well that was fun! Not a super great as a “race” for me but terrific for training and boosting my confidence for TNF SF next week- not to mention the killer scenery, even with fog and some clouds. Since the 28.4-mile Quad Dipsea is technically an ultramarathon, here is an appropriately ultra-long post on how it went today, composed while the experience is still nice and fresh in my head.

After posting last night, I hurried to get my stuff ready and get to sleep, with a little help from Benadryl. It still took me a while to fall asleep as I was feeling all sorts of “taper pains” in my legs and feet, in places that have never hurt before.

My alarm went off at 5:30 and I snoozed it once, I was still so drowsy. Breakfast was instant coffees- a mix of Starbucks vanilla latte and Christmas blend, half a hard pumpkin bagel, some sweet and crunchy currant “twigs” (think Raisin Bran in stick form), and a couple of walnut pieces and dried apples and a dried fig- stuff I picked up at a neighborhood grocery store last night. I didn’t have much appetite and I’m generally not big on breakfast but I love my morning coffee and need to eat a bit to get my digestion moving along. It moved along nicely and then I showered and got ready.

Emi and Peter picked me up a little after 6:30 and we headed over to Mill Valley, a quick drive with no traffic. My stomach didn’t feel great and I still felt sleepy despite the coffee, so when we stopped at a gas station I decided to get a Coke. As I was trying to decide between a can (tastes better) or a bottle (to save some for later), I saw that they had Mexican Coke. Score! Sure, drinking a caffeinated drink less than an hour before a race start might force me to make some pits stops, but it would be worth it.

I picked up my packet and was warmly welcomed for coming all the way from New York (almost all the runners here are from California), then I organized my gear, took 2 Tylenol , two Peptos and a salt pill, peed several times, and got some photos with Emi, who was planning to do some running on other trails nearby and find a couple of spots to cheer me along the course.

With my trail angel before the start. Photo: Emi Yasaka

With my trail angel before the start. Photo: Emi Yasaka

I lined up somewhere towards the front quarter of the field as some announcements were made that I couldn’t hear, except for the part about the only rule being to “have fun.” The start was fast and straight up a short and steep bit of road, then we hit the stairs where I felt Icould hold my own. I don’t mind stairs, or if I ever did I’ve learned to appreciate them, because they are everywhere on the trails in Hong Kong. Some of the early steps were so shallow that even I could take them two at a time.

After the first stretch of stairs came another steep road section, much longer than the first, and everyone around me was still running hard. I hadn’t really digested the fact that “not too cold and some rain likely” actually means “pretty warm with 100% humidity” when running a race uphill. So I was gasping, lungs burning, legs lagging, kind of regretting my decision to add an extra layer on my back with the pack, and pulling down my totally unnecessary arm sleeves. Since it wasn’t raining, the visor came off too. Oh, and I realized that although I’d pressed something on my watch as we crossed the start mat, it wasn’t the start button, so I was about 4 minutes behind on my Garmin.

More stairs, a little more road, and then we got on the trail, up for a little bit to start, where by now loads of people were passing me, men and women. I let them all go and reminded myself that this first out and back should be a recce, and if I felt good I could “race” more in the second half. And I promised myself I didn’t have to run up any of the hills, ever (which curiously makes it possible to run up some of the hills, sometimes).

After climbing about 500 feet in the first mile and change, we headed downhill for about the same for a mile or so, a mix of stairs and smooth trail. Now people were passing me on the downhillls too and I felt a bit shitty. My legs were slow, and I wondered if maybe this “taper” thing just isn’t for me. Pushing in the humidity was messing with my stomach and it felt gross. I realized that with the amount of sweat oozing out of me I should probably take salt pills regularly, but when I went to grab one I realized I only had two left- for another 6 hours or so! Yeah, I was expecting high 50s to feel much cooler. I was soaked by now, and debated whether to shed my shirt at the halfway point, but then my pack might chafe me, so I also thought about leaving my pack and just carrying my water bottle and putting some gels in my pocket.

The welcome downhill stretch was followed by the first of the big climbs, roughly 1000 feet over two miles to the Cardiac aid station. This climb didn’t feel too bad, and since my watch was behind it felt like I got there way sooner than expected. I refilled my bottle, drank a bit of Coke, and raided a jar of S-Caps to re-up my salt supplies.

The next 2.7 miles down to Stinson Beach were almost entirely downhill, a nice relief. There were smooth ridgelines shrouded in cool fog, rainforest sections where it was actually raining, a stretch of gorgeous smooth trail among the big trees, more stairs, and finally the gorgeous approach to the beach, with a wide open section before hitting stairs and wooded trail for the final descent. The aid station was by a road crossing a little ahead of the turn-around point, which was also on a road, and not actually on the beach. I would have liked to touchdown on the sand, though of course not run on it.

I still didn’t feel too good coming down and had a little puke or two on the side of the trail and let quite a few others pass me. I get really stressed out when people are at my back and feel like I could fall any second. When I did feel better, going down the stairs, I occasionally found myself stuck in a train with no safe way to pass. I wondered whether I should stop running trail races with single track. I love being on it, but I can get grumpy about the crowding in the early stages of races and the Chatty Cathys coming up behind me sounding like they’re having so much fun while I am suffering trying to stay upright, dammit. (Of course, if I had someone to talk to it would be awesome until I got distracted and broke my face).

We saw a lot of the race leaders on this stretch, with first male and female way ahead of the others. I tried to count how many women were in front of me, but it wasn’t really possible because there had been an early start option for runners who were concerned about making cutoffs, and it looked like many of those coming back up the steep hill were conserving their energy.

Coming back from the first turnaround, which I hit in 1:30, I had the feeling that I would like to see this again, and so I might as well finish the race (Plus, 90% finished last year, and I don’t want my first DNF to be like that). I took my first picture here, something I rarely do, looking back at the crescent of beach.

The Stinson Beach lookback

The Stinson Beach lookback

Going back up the stairs on the big uphill to Cardiac was hell. It was not only me thinking that. As I got near the top of the stairs, I heard a guy down below let loose a scream of desperate rage. That made me feel better and I managed to run a bit through the redwoods section. I started making weak fartlek bargains—just run up to that next tree, or bush, or whatever marked the end of a gentle part of the incline. I got some music on for the tougher uphill stretches, but I couldn’t listen to much on the downhill portions. It’s too dangerous for me. And there were really no flats on this course, maybe a couple hundred meters here and there.

Happy to be almost halfway there. Photo: Emi Yasaka

Happy to be almost halfway there. Photo: Emi Yasaka

As I refilled and left Cardiac, I saw another woman making her way slowly down the hill, and decided to pass her- though she may have been an early starter for all I knew. I finally started to feel a bit more comfortable on this long downhill. The next uphill was shorter and not as much of a sufferfest as the trip from Stinson to Cardiac, and Emi was there near the top cheering and taking pictures, which gave me a huge boost. The final downhill to the halfway point was glorious. Especially the stairs, where I motored down and passed a lot of dudes. I got to the halfway at 3:05, filled my bottle and headed back up right away. I couldn’t be bothered to fiddle with anything else.

"Run with friends," "Fly high," "Have fun," they say.

“Run with friends,” “Fly high,” “Have fun,” they say.

The next 7 miles back out to Stinson beach was the leg I felt best on. I stayed steady on the upstairs and first uphill, cruised the first downhill and steps down, and again didn’t suffer too much on the way to Cardiac, continually bargaining with myself to run up the less steep portions. I passed a few people and not too many passed me. On the way down to Stinson, I began to pass quite a few women who had probably been way ahead of me earlier, maybe five or so altogether. One of them gave me a really hard time about passing her, I caught up to her in the redwoods, called out, “on your left” and thought I heard her say something scoldy like, “you can’t pass me now.” Hmm… So I hung on her tail, until the path widened a bit and she shouted at me to “Go now! Go now!” But she wouldn’t slow down to let me pass either, so I really had to sprint to get by. Oh well, at least it was downhill.

Going for round two. Photo: Emi Yasaka

Going for round two. Photo: Emi Yasaka

Coming back up from Stinson was hell again, this time squared. I had pushed a bit on the final bit down to the turnaround to pass just one more lady, which of course meant running back up the that stretch of road uphill to keep the distance and “look strong” to intimidate the competition. But it totally didn’t work! She caught me again on a gentle incline after the stairs and I never saw her again. My climbing legs started to feel like jelly. By the time I got back to Cardiac and refilled my bottle two of the other ladies who I’d passed had caught up to me, including the one I’d struggled to pass, and they barely stopped for aid before taking off down the hill. I gave chase for a bit but couldn’t hold the speed on this slick, steep, rooty and rocky downhill. I didn’t want to fall today, and was really hoping to avoid a repeat of Pikes Peak, where, among several other spills, I managed to bang my right knee hard while speeding on the very last mile of trail. Apparently in the single and double Dipsea races it’s legal to cut switchbacks and take shortcuts (though not in the Quad). I seriously don’t see how it’s possible to cut the course without killing yourself- all of the areas between switchbacks looked overgrown and many other portions of the course were steep enough as is without trying to find a steeper “shortcut.”

After I let the ladies go, I got into a nice groove coming down, and reminded myself once more that the final uphill stretch was not as bad as the big hill from Stinson to Cardiac. The worst had passed, just one mile or so up to go, and then I could let it rip down to the finish. I passed a new woman who was struggling on the uphill portion, and as we neared the end of the uphill I spotted my trail-passing nemesis once more.  Alright, race on!

I picked it up hard on the downhill road, eased a bit on a short stretch of trail, then got right behind her on the first set of stairs going down, and pushed hard to get ahead of her on the next strip of road before the longer final set of steps. She was gunning to stay ahead of me too but I knew I just needed to get to the stairs first. I did, went down a few steps, and then- slip! At least the steps were shallow and there was a handrail. I pulled up and kept going. A few more steps and slip! “Again?!” I said out loud. This lady must have thought I was being insane to keep going like that because I think she eased off a bit. I kept storming down the steps without any more falls and pulled in at 6:17 and change, 9th woman and 4th in my AG. Number ten came in about 30 seconds behind. The winner, Caren Spore, was also in my AG, has the course record (4:38) and basically wins every time she runs this race. She looked super strong every time I saw her.

dipsea finish emi

Done! Photo: Emi Yasaka

Phew, I was really happy to be done without too much pain. I didn’t have any firm goals but, on a whim, I thought top 10 would be nice (but unlikely given the first half of the race), as would would beating my 6:33 time from the Pikes Peak marathon, which, besides being shorter, also has less elevation gain and faster course record times than the Quad Dipsea. I would have liked a negative split too, but that wasn’t meant to be. However, when I went to check out my placement, the guy at the computer congratulated me for staying consistent with my 3:05 and 3:12 splits. I’m curious to see how others paced when the results are posted. I do feel that I worked harder in the second half than in the first, though part 2 was far more enjoyable for me.

28 miles was my limit today, just as 14 was it for last week. So while I’m still a bit nervous about going out with the “elites” at TNF next week, I’m a lot more hopeful about finishing. TNF has around 9200 feet of elevation gain drops 10,000   in 50 miles, while today was closer to 9300 up and down again in 28. I’ll try to stick with today’s winning strategy of starting slow, letting people pass me in the early miles, and picking it up when I feel good. I’m really not a good hill and trail runner– I live in a flat town and I fall down so much that I’m too scared to go near Bear Mountain or any of the hard trails around New York City– but I love to get out in beautiful surroundings with more forgiving terrain and see what I can do. I suppose I could go it alone on these trails but then I’d have to carry more stuff (mostly water) and I might get lost or freak out at bears and snakes and mountain lions. Participating in trail and mountain races motivates me to push a little more, while also humbling me outside of my natural habitat. It’s a fine balance to stay comfortably within myself while outside of my comfort zone, but when it works like today it feels pretty sweet.

I pretty much wore what was in my outfit photo last night, except I swapped a lightweight Outdoor Research Echo t-shirt for the matchy-matchy Salomon top. Partly because I didn’t want to look too Euro, but also because I was worried that friction from my pack could mess up the fabric .The Salomon Fellraisers worked really well on the terrain today, which was pretty wet, though there wasn’t too much mud. I managed no falls on the trails today, which is almost a miracle! The bottoms of my feet hurt a bit after the race, since they don’t have as much cushion as I’m used to. I dream of someday finding a pair of Hokas with good tread and big lugs for these kinds of conditions. The Smartwool toe socks kept my feet comfy and blister free. They’re not so easy to find, even in stores that sell Smartwool products, so I usually wear Injinjis unless it looks like it’s going to be wet out.

I packed 4 gels, 2 bars, and 2 packs of chewy stuff but didn’t eat very much because my stomach felt so off. I took what I needed whenever I felt my energy levels running low, every 45 minutes to an hour What I ended up consuming: 1 packet of Clif Shot Blocks, 1 packet of Squeezy chews (something I got at a race in Hong Kong), 1 mini-packet of GU Chomps (from the aid station), 1 Salty Caramel GU = 555 calories, plus some Coke, Sprite and ginger ale from the aid stations.

Right after I changed, which took forever since I was slow and soaked, I ate some delicious fresh hot Firetrail Pizza at the finish, from some kind of portable oven they brought out, and downed some GU Brew and half a beer. You have to finish to get your race swag– a Mountain Hardwear tech-t AND an Eddie Bauer zip neck fleece.

Theres a tasty slice of pizza on that glowing plate. Photo: Emi Yasaka

Theres a tasty slice of pizza on that glowing plate. Photo: Emi Yasaka

Thanks to the organizers for such a cool experience. The course was really well marked- I only made a wrong turn once because I was following some hikers going down a hill instead of looking up for the pink ribbons, and there were loads of volunteers stopping traffic at the road crossings and being super supportive.

California Jitters and Gear

Hills east of Fremont

Open spaces east of Fremont on the approach to SFO

I’m back in California for the third time in a year, in a place so lovely it hurts.

One of my few regrets in life is that I was not a runner during the three years that I lived in the Bay Area, back in the early 2000s. I ran in the Stanford foothills exactly twice—the first time during orientation week, with a group of ex-military guys who quickly left the slower among us in their dust, and one other time mor than a year later. During 1L I used a classmate and I used to go for evening jogs around the track at Angell Field, and during my third year I occasionally walked-ran on the treadmills in the little gym at Tressider Union. Every time I come back here, a little piece of me moans over those lost years of outdoor recreation.

I’ve been lucky to make up for it with quite a few memorable races out here over the past couple of years—the Tahoe Rim Trail 50K in July 2012 (my first solo ultra), the San Francisco Marathon a week later (my first sub-4 since my very first marathon in 2006), plus last year’s Big Sur Marathon (my first BQ!) and California International Marathon (first freezing weather race). And let’s not forget the epic 4 days of crewing and pacing 85 or 90 miles with Mama Mason at the Tahoe 200 in September.

Next up is the gorgeous Marin headlands area. I’m still nervous about my legs but they’re feeling pretty happy. Yesterday and today were total rest days, with very little walking, some ice, rolling and stretching, and lots of eating.

bands

I’ve prepared my “pace” bands, which don’t actually have any paces on them, just notes on the mileage and elevation changes between aid stations. And I’ve reviewed my Garmin activities to see what I did in the weeks before my previous comparable races this year- Pikes Peak in August was the closest to Quad Dipsea, and the Pinelands 50 Mile and Vermont 100K are somewhat analogous to TNF 50. It scared me a little to see how much I was running then and how little I tapered, basically only a day off (maaaaybe two) in the week leading up to those races. Now that I’ve actually rested I feel really unprepared and out of it. I’m hoping/praying that it will all come back to me with the start gun.

Now it’s time to prepare my gear. As usual, I overpacked, since I’m far from home and the weather in somewhat unpredictable. Some rain is likely tomorrow and probably warmer weather next Saturday. Here’s what I got.

 Nutrition:

fuel

My usual stuff. This is for both races (78 miles total). I try to stick to the gels as much as possible, with some chews and bars for when my tummy gets that empty hungry feeling. I probably won’t end up using much UCAN, and the ginger helps combat any funny tummy feelings. I’ll mostly drink plain water and some coke and ginger ale from the aid stations. After the 24 hours a few weeks ago, I’m almost done with Vespa and down to one VFuel, but I just restocked big time with their 40% off sale this weekend. Yup, gels were the only thing I needed to buy on Black Friday.

 Shoes:

shoes

My trusty old Hoka Stinsons got pretty beat up after the UTMB and Tahoe pacing, and I haven’t gotten around to replacing them yet, , so I brought out two pairs of Salomon shoes. I’ll probably go with the purple Fellraiser for tomorrow if there’s a chance of mud, and the red SLAB XT6 Softground for TNF next week if the ground is still damp. If it’s looking dry next week I’ll opt for a pair of Hoka road shoes.

 Hydration pack:

hydration

Probably the Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek pack for tomorrow and next week. The other options are the UltrAspire waistpack or the Nathan handheld-Spibelt combo. I’ll use some combination of the Salomon soft flask and one of the other flat bottles in the UD vest, as the original UD 20 oz. bottles are cylindrical and press into my ribcage too much.

 Other stuff:

stuff

Saltstick pills; chewable Pepto Bismol and Tums for the tummy; KT Tape, Voltaren and Tylenol for my leg issues; Vaseline, Trailtoes and hydrocortisone ointment for chafing; Neosporin for booboos and (not pictured) wet wipes for poopoos. I don’t actually carry all of it, only the smaller, lighter items.

 The outfit:

outfit

Looks like it will be a little wet but not too cold, with temps in the mid-50s. Do I dare to go out looking like a wannabe Salomon athlete? As much as I love the SLAB skirt and top I feel it’s a bit much to wear them together.

Okay, time for bed. I’ll need a lot of luck for tomorrow, but I’m blessed to have a running angel out there cheering me on tomorrow, and not wanting to disappoint her will probably keep me going as long as I can.

Ultra Recovery: Ten Days After One Day

Why did I do this to myself? Part of the fear of racing hard is dealing what it will do to your body afterwards. Pre-race taper sucks because you are raring to go, knowing you can run but saving yourself for the big day. Post-race recovery sucks because you’re broken, basically, and can do nothing to fix it but wait until your body heals itself. And you have no one or nothing to blame but yourself.

But it’s worth it, of course, when a race goes well. The physical pain is offset by some serious emotional elation. It’s not quite like a drug, because the body still hurts so damn much and you can feel that, but it is. Think of the endorphin rush that comes from running a marathon, then multiply it by 5, and you get roughly the high that comes from running 136 miles. And unlike a drug high, it’s not something external that you take, it’s something you make. Instead of disrupting, it feels natural and organic and in sync with everything you are and want to be. It’s some heavy shit, I know, that leaves me looking on to the next one.

I’ll admit, I’m not great at actively pursuing recovery. Ice baths, foam rolling, hydrating: I know I should be doing it but I’m either too lazy or too busy. I prefer active bitching and moaning until I can run again.

 Day 0

As I mentioned in my last post, I wasn’t feeling too hot when the 24-hour race ended. One minute I was walking purposefully and happily to the finish, and the next, as I crossed the timing mat for the last time and sat down, I became a spazzy invalid. Things had started hurting a lot at night during the race, as expected. I remember smacking my quads and butt to wake them up, and massaging my abs, lower back and upper arms while I ran to soothe their pain. But afterwards, I was almost immobile, and I knew it didn’t help that I couldn’t eat or drink immediately upon finishing. Instead, I was retching and puking up some nasty brown goo. Once I got it all out, though I felt much better, and on the ride home I actually started feeling properly hungry.

I got home and took a shower right away, just to get it over with, and it felt fantastic. Something I love about going out to my limits is that coming home the simplest luxuries we take for granted every day become a source of great joy. Like a hot shower, flannel pajamas, and a cheese omelet from the diner around the corner, which is exactly what I ordered, with fries and whole wheat toast. My stomach must have shrunk from the lack of food overnight, because I could only eat half of the meal, but it was enough to get me sated and ready for some sleep. I napped, ate a bit of dinner (Peruvian Chinese food: some Lomo Saltado with yellow rice, roasted chicken and fried rice) and tried to sleep some more.

 Day 1

On Monday much of the pain in areas other than my legs had faded and I felt much better than on Sunday, but I was still I hobbling disaster. I literally had to pull my legs in and out of bed, or on and off the sofa, with my hands (a stretching rope works well too, I found). Craving bread, I went to Zabar’s two blocks away and bought half a dozens kinds of loaves and rolls. It took an hour or so. I slept in brief spurts, as if I had jet lag, which I guess I did in a way after shaking up my body clock so severely. During the 24 hours I had drank as much Coca Cola as I could take, alternated my gels and chews with those that had moderate amounts of caffeine, and had shots of 5-Hour Energy around 12 and 17 hours in. I was never sleepy or tired during the event.

Day 2

On Tuesday I felt slightly better but only by like 10% or so. Now is when the recovery starts getting old. And I know, I did this to myself, so the pity party can only go so far. And the mental elation is still there, making the physical pain pale in comparison. I eat the bread, crave a croissant, go out to buy one and run some errands. “Run” is way too strong a word. I walk a few blocks very slowly, that’s all. There’s still very little walking going on, and seeing other people run looks amazing. Dinner is pizza and beer to celebrate.

 Day 3

Compression and a donut. Photo: Sky Canaves

Compression and a donut. Photo: Sky Canaves

By Wednesday I am ready to test myself, so I go for a walk of about 2 miles. Originally, my big goals for this week were to walk one mile and swim one time. As I set out, I am no longer the slowest person on the streets. I’m almost normal. Not NYC-normal speed, but around tourist-normal. This is a vast improvement. I get tired as I approach the one mile mark and consider hopping on a subway for the rest of my journey, instead I stop at a magazine shop for a few minutes and feel up to continue. Half a mile of so later, I stop for a quick bite of veggies and pasta salads, then I walk a little more before catching a bus. My acupuncturist, Russ Stram of Runner Clinic NYC, has generously offered me the use of his Normatec compression boots for several days, so I start using them once or twice a day for 30-40 minutes. It feels very tight at first and I can barely stay at level 4 or 5 (of 7), but it’s a real luxury and I’m very grateful for it.

Day 4

Thursday I’m pretty tired again from my urban hike, so I take it easy and write up my recollections of One Day. I feel that I can almost walk normally except for some tightness at the front of my right hip/hip flexor, which gives me a peg leg sort of shuffle. I feel like I can start getting back to my life soon, which of course includes running at least 50-60 miles per week.

Then I look up the “Race Recovery” section in the Ultramarathon chapter of Tim Noakes’s Lore of Running (aka the “Runner’s Bible”), which reminds me:

Once you have completed the ultramarathon race to your satisfaction, it is time for a good rest. I suggest that for three months you should do little or no running but concentrate on other non-weight-bearing activities, such as swimming, cycling, or working out in a gym. … A minimum of one month’s near total rest is desirable.

I’m in trouble.

Day 5

Friday I get most of my routine back. I do loads of laundry and clean house, partly inspired by guests coming on Sunday, and I couldn’t have my apartment looking like a giant aid station. (Although my gang of ultra running friends would totally understand, a feisty pup is also coming over and he’d be likely to OD on all the gels, water bottles and toe socks laying around). I get out for a very short swim and walk back about another two miles and get some grocery shopping done as well. The water felt good but my walking stride was still a bit peg-legged.

 Day 6

Cheering on the 60K. The loud cowbell was the medal for the Pinelands 50-mile race. Photo: NYRR

Cheering on the 60K. The loud red cowbell was the medal for the Pinelands 50-mile race. Photo: NYRR

I’ve been looking forward to Saturday all week. This day is the NYRR NYC 60K (FKA Knickerbocker 60K), the only ultra put on by NYRR. I was going solely to cheer, though of course some people asked if I was going to run. NO WAY! The course– nine 4-mile inner loops in Central Park, plus a little 1.2 mile out and back– makes it great for spectating, and I would say it is one of THE two great get-togethers of the NYC ultra running community (the other one is Phil McCarthy’s TGNY 100, though that one requires that you pretty much run the whole 100-mile loop if you want to see everyone who’s out volunteering and helping out and stuff). Last year I ran the 60K, and loved the vibe of seeing friends and teammates out all along the course, and especially as we passed by the start/finish area by Engineer’s Gate on East 90th. Even Mary Wittenberg was out on her ElliptiGo cheering us on and snapping photos.

I had told Otto that I would be there early to pick up some brownies that he bought for later (just decadent artisanal brownies from Chelsea market, no funny business there), but I left home a little late, meaning I had to walk/run the mile to the start. The run part was laughable but still faster than walking, and I made it minutes before the start horn blew at 8am. Many friends and teammates were running, from speedsters going for the podium to first-time ultra runners just hoping to finish, while others came by to spectate and cheer. Though cold, the day was sunny enough that the chill didn’t feel awful, at least not to me in my many layers, topped off by my giant NJ One Day sweatshirt (I had asked for a small but somehow wound up with an XL). My One Day podium pals Maggie and Yoshiko came to town from Philly, and we all matched.

Cheering felt like great recovery. We made a lot of noise, stood around for over five hours, and none of it hurt. It was too exciting watching the drama unfold as runners we knew traded first places, set PRs, and struggled through their first or one of many ultras. I would have loved to pace someone too, but even a walking a single four-mile loop would have been too much too soon. Afterwards we walked back the one mile to my place, which felt like a long time. The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent partying “recovery-style”: eating and drinking (with Nuun at least as popular as the beer), taking turns in the compression boots and playing with my ever-growing collection of recovery tools, and enjoying/moaning through some of Tiger’s massage techniques. Our puppy guest of honor had a pretty good time as well.

Time for a wild ultra party! Photo: Maggie Guterl

Hardcore party, ultra-style. Photo: Maggie Guterl

Day 7

It is one week after One Day, and I wanted to see how I could run. My goal was modest: one loop around the reservoir, plus the return trip to and from home, or about 3.5 miles. I did it, slowly, and with hobbled form. The tightness in my right hip/hip flexor is causing me to lean over to the right side and it looks pretty atrocious. But it felt great. That evening, I fall asleep in the compression boots.

 Day 8

I do a bit more focused recovery today. Some time in the compression boots, an easy half hour swim, some time in the sauna afterwards, and a visit to Runner Clinic NYC to treat the tightness on my right side. I fall asleep at 8:30pm, soon after dinner. Following the days of over-excitability and somewhat erratic sleep immediately after One Day, my body seems to be demanding more quality rest.

Day 9

Today is the first f’ing freezing-ass cold day of the season and Day 1 in my plan to beat the wintertime whimpyness out of myself. Last winter I gave myself a grace period of sorts, since it was my first year of cold-weather running, which coincided nicely with the Polar Vortex. I focused my winter training on the Boston Marathon in April and ran no ultra distances until late May of this year. I still logged plenty of frigid miles, but I did most of my short, hard speed work on a treadmill as well as easy runs when there was too much snow on the ground. Even though I never ran more than about 3 hours outdoors during the winter, I often found myself getting sick, especially right after racing (I did a bunch of shorter races in the range of 15K-25K). I don’t know if I can train the colds and flus away, but I’ll try.

So even though it was around 30F with a wind chill feel of under 20F, the sun was out and I figured I was good for a trip up to Grandma’s in Inwood. At least the wind was blowing from the west so I’d get it at my side and back as I headed north-northeast. I bundled up: long-sleeve Craft thermal shirt, a singlet and a fleece-lined wind-blocking jacket on top, long tights with fleece-lining on the thighs, knee- high socks, and shorts on the bottom, plus a buff, fleece headband, fleece hat, and super-warm mittens. I did not at all miss really having to think hard about what to wear before each run these last 7 or so months. It pays off though: apart from my frosty nose, I didn’t get too cold keeping an easy pace for 7.5 miles. My hip was still tight, but I have some wacky ideas about the body adapting around its minor aches and pains. I’ve run through so many of them and kept going, with a little more rest here and there, and more treatment when I can get it. Within a few miles today I felt more comfortable, got into a rhythm, and enjoyed the paths full of late autumn’s fallen leaves.

Day 10

On this Wednesday I wake up feeling sore from the previous day’s run. The original plan was to swim today, but since I didn’t have enough time to go to the pool in the morning so I decided to try for another freezing ass run, just a short 3.5 mile reservoir loop. This never happens, but I didn’t make it. I bundled up and set out, and my tight hip felt worse than ever, and I turned around and walked back home before I even got to the park. I’d rather run like a parentheses than cut a run short, so this was bad.

Later, I got a chance to go to the pool and got a good 45 minutes in, my longest swim in months. Then I sauna’d and started working on some hip strengthening exercise (clams, clams, clams).

As I recover, I am both anxious about my races in the coming weeks and casting about for an excuse to go run another 24-hour race around the end of the year. I’m heading to San Francisco next week for the Quad Dipsea on November 29th and The North Face Endurance Challenge San Francisco 50-mile championship race a week later. These are not big goal races, but rather a bit of a year-end treat to myself to run some mountains in one of my favorite places and catch up with friends along the way. Still, I’m not sure if my legs are ready for Quad Dipsea in another ten days, and I’m mentally preparing myself to let it become my first DNF if finishing would mean injury. And I gasped to see the company I’m keeping on the “elite” list for the TNF 50-mile race. I had been thinking of doing the sensible thing and switching down to the 50K or marathon distance, but seeing my name up there is keeping me in the game for now. It’s pride and ego, I know, and could well result in a “double-DNF” trip for me.

As for “the other 24-hour,” while running at One Day I remember telling myself to hurry up and qualify for Team USA, otherwise I would have to do it all again in 6 weeks for a final shot to make the team. That was a strong incentive, and in the days right after the race I felt pretty secure that my total mileage would be enough. After all, the only other American woman who ran more in 24 hours this year was right there with me. But I may have underestimated the number of ladies who really want a spot on the team. Last weekend, one ran over 140 miles, and in a few weeks a bunch of motivated speedsters are going to run around a track for 24 hours at the Desert Solstice Invitational. If more than three of them top 136 miles, then I have to think long and hard about whether to go for one of the “last chance” races around the very end of December/very beginning of January. Of course I don’t want to do it, but now that I have the dream and the experience it may well be worth a shot to make what could be the most competitive 24-hour women’s team in history!

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