BMO Phoenix Half Marathon Race Report

It’s been a crazy few months as I noted in my previous post. I’ve been coping with all the change by focusing my energy on training for another half marathon PR. My trusty running buddy Allison and I picked out a flat race that was likely to have pretty decent race weather, and begged our running mentor Steve to help us come up with a PR-worthy training plan. The training was challenging and confidence-building, as I was able to complete workouts that were harder and faster than I thought I could handle. I’m pretty sure I was adaptively funneling all of my anxiety about my job and my (lack of) money situation into running, and that turned out to be a great place to work through some of what came up around not having my life neatly following a plan that I set for it.

Fast forward to the day before the race. The forecast for race morning? 100 percent chance of rain, 15 mph winds with 25 mph gusts. This created a flurry of panic for the Sole Sisters and Oiselle team women running the race. Ponchos were purchased (thanks Jenn!), and I obsessively checked the weather up until I finally went to bed at 10 p.m. When the alarm went off at 3:30 am, I could hear the wind howling, but made myself shrug it off. The weather changes quickly in the southwest and besides, there were still three more hours till the race started!

I went into the race feeling confident in my training but nervous about the idea of actually executing a race plan that had me running a pace that I had as recently as September considered my 5k pace…only for 13.1 miles. When it started pouring a few minutes before 6:30 a.m., I relaxed, recognizing this as cue to let go of the things I couldn’t control (the weather), and take charge of what I could (my mental state). I enjoyed running the first few miles in the rain and only looked at my watch to make sure I wasn’t running too fast. By mile 6, I had settled into a groove and was doing a good job of maintaining a positive state of mind and not focusing too much on things that I couldn’t change, like the headwind and the somewhat slick footing due to the rain. It was around mile 7 that I was aware that I was working decently hard to keep my pace. Instead of freaking out like I often do and going into a spiral of “Oh my gosh! How am I going to run SIX MORE MILES at this pace if I’m already tired??” I just monitored my pace and reminded myself that I had been training consistently and had the mental and physical strength to run the race at this pace. At mile 10, I started working on increasing my pace. This was a great learning experience, because by mile 10, I was really fighting the urge to slow down drastically and/or walk. I felt tired, it was starting to feel like work to keep to an 8:38 pace, and 3 miles seemed like a long way to go feeling this way. I didn’t dwell on this feeling, and instead slowly picked up the pace. What was interesting was that running a little bit faster actually didn’t feel much more difficult than trying to keep the same pace. Finally, the Oiselle mantra, “go fast, take chances,” clicked. I knew that my best friend Melissa was going to try and meet me at mile 12.5 to run a half mile with me at the end, and I kept telling myself to keep up a good pace until I saw her. Once she joined me, I picked up the pace even more, partially to impress her with what a badass her best friend was, and partially because finally I knew that I was almost done and I was going to finish strong. I’ll admit, I almost tripped her when she picked up the pace even a little bit more and told me, “You got this.” I didn’t have a finishing kick in me, but I kept up the pace and finished feeling great.

The result? 1:51:57. Faster than my B goal of 1:55, faster than my A goal of 1:53 based on what the McMillan calculator predicted from my recent 10k race, and faster than I had actually believed I would ever race a half marathon. I was pretty pleased when I looked at my Garmin file for the race and saw that my last mile was sub 8-minute-mile pace.

Pretty sweet bling.

Pretty sweet bling.

The icing on the cake was that my running buddy also hit her crazy-fast goal of a 1:35, our birthday girl Sole Sister Kellie came within 3 seconds of her half marathon PR (after racing two back to back half marathons the previous weekend, no big deal), and Sole Sisters Jenn, Gwen, and Natasha all had PRs as well. The rain and wind were no match for our determination! I have a newfound appreciation for the mental aspects of running after this race- I went into it confident that with the right conditions, I could hit my goal. I knew I had trained hard and nailed key workouts, so when my race pace felt difficult, instead of doubting myself, I just focused on letting my body run the race I had trained for.

Post-race, it was great to celebrate with an Oiselle team dinner with 4 other Volee members plus family and friends. It was great to reconnect with some of the Phoenix area birds I had met before, and to meet other members of the flock for the first time. Here’s our demon-eyed crew (photo courtesy of Nicole) post-dinner.

Allison, Dana, yours truly, Ashley, and Nicole

Allison, Dana, yours truly, Ashley, and Nicole

As for what’s next…who knows. After two fairly intense training cycles for CIM and Phoenix and two big PRs, I’m planning to relax and run for fun for a few weeks. I did sign up for the North Fork 50 miler in Colorado for the end of June during a moment of temporary insanity on a whim, so we’ll see what happens with that!

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Race Report: 4th Annual Run with the Kenyans 8k!

So I have had the best intentions of writing a blog post per week, including a post about injury and another about what it means to compete as a mid-to-back of the pack runner, but sadly those posts still are suspended in the liminal space.

Anyway, since my somewhat ego-stifling performance at the Shiprock Half Marathon, I’ve been on an anti training plan. This has looked like running when I feel like it, for however long I feel like it, and at whatever pace I feel like running- usually without a Garmin. This anti-training period has been wonderful for reminding me of what I love about running: the sheer joy of it, the ability to see things from high up places, the adventure of it all, the companionship–and for minimizing the parts that have felt frustrating since coming back from an injury: the uncertainty, the unpredictability, the difficulty of trying to push past a stuck place.

Based on my anti-training mantra, I decided to sign up for my first 8k race this weekend “just for fun.” There were other reasons: The 4th Annual Run with the Kenyans for Global Health 8k is a race that supports a cause that I believe in (improving the quality of and access to preventive and primary health care for Kenyan children) and the race is organized by a friend in the running community. Also, it’s an out and back course with legit elite Kenyan runners participating in the run, so it’s actually like, for a millisecond or two, you get to run *with* elite Kenyans.

Elite Kenyan runners at the start. If you look really hard you can see my shoe in the back of the picture. Just kidding, you can't.

Elite Kenyan runners at the start. If you look really hard you can see my shoe in the back of the picture. Just kidding, you can’t.

Okay, the other thing is that all entrants get a hand-carved giraffe. And if there’s one thing that pretty much everyone needs in life, it’s a hand-carved giraffe. I was pretty excited about mine.

Best race goodie ever.

Best race goodie ever.

So race morning, I skipped breakfast like a anti-training champ, and hopped in the car with my running buddy Allison. We see lots of our running pals at the start of the race, and since I was wearing my Oiselle Long Roga shorts which comfortably fit my iPhone 5, I clearly needed to take lots of pictures to take full advantage of this perk.

If you stand next to a speedster like Arlene, some of their speed might rub off on you. Or so I hoped!

If you stand next to a speedster like Arlene, some of her speed might rub off on you. Or so I hoped!

It had been a windy and ominous sounding night, but the race ended up not being too windy, and the breeze was helpful as it was a rather warm morning. I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself at the start of the race. I wasn’t really nervous because I was running “for fun.” I decided I should try to run at an even-ish pace and maybe speed up at the end, and try for an average pace under 9 min/miles, so basically treat the race like a tempo run. And when I say treat it like a tempo run, that’s hypothetical, because I almost never do tempo runs. Anyway. after a ceremony where we got to hear about how superfast the elites running in the race were, which was pretty neat, we were off and running.

Heel striking like a champ!

Heel striking like a champ!

Mile 1: 8:50. The first mile felt great. I kept noticing that I was inching towards an 8:15 pace and trying to slow down. I felt like I could run superfast forever, but was also aware that this was a delusion. I was running behind a girl wearing a shirt that said, “I need my space,” which I found pretty hilarious.

Mile 2: 8:49 The second mile was also pretty easy, I was just bopping to my music and smiling at people and feeling happy to be alive and running.

Mile 3: 8:44 During this mile, I started seeing the elite Kenyan runners as well as all of the fleet-footed front of the pack runners as they turned around on the out-and-back course. The first three elites that I saw all had the same, faraway and focused look in their eyes. It was if they were completely attuned to an internal world and their eyes weren’t really noticing much else. However, I grinned at each one like a dork and gave them a thumbs up just in case. Once I turned around, I got to do my share of high five-ing and smiling at all the runners I passed. The mile went by pretty quickly.

Mile 4: 8:50 At right about 3.4 miles, I decided that this had been great and all, but I was tired and hot and totally over running. The “I need my space” girl was still in sight, so I focused on keeping her close (don’t worry, I honored her need for a personal space bubble) and thinking happy thoughts about coffee and safari animals. I was filled with an inexplicable urge to walk.

Final .97: 8:36 (8:49 pace) I’m not going to lie. I took a leisurely walk break to get a drink of water at the beginning of this mile. My legs were all, “meh,” and my head was all, “meh,” and I was aware that since I didn’t have a race plan, whatever I was doing was actually my race plan. I passed the “I need my space” girl.  I did start running again, at a decent pace, but I was totally over the running feeling. I was ready for the drinking coffee feeling, or walking slowly while breathing in full gulps of air feeling. Which must be why, a mere half mile before the finish line, I stopped for a walk break. Then the “I need my space girl” passed me again. And then a dude ran by me and said encouraging things, but the subtext was “Are you serious? Freaking run already!” and so I started running again. Then I passed the guy who had said the encouraging things, and said some encouraging things back, and then we ran a few steps together, turned the corner, and Encouraging Guy is all, “LET’S SPRINT THIS IN! C’MON!” And so that’s what we did. He out-kicked my butt.

Encouraging Guy wins the race! But really, aren't we all winners?  Sad truth: no.

Encouraging Guy wins the race! But really, aren’t we all winners?
Sad truth: no.

Overall time: 43:48 (average pace: 8:48).

Must stop the Garmin or it didn't happen.

Must stop the Garmin or it didn’t happen.

I actually was 3rd in my age group of 30-39 and as such, got a hand-carved zebra as an award. Amazing!

Getting my zebra award on the red carpet.

Getting my zebra award on the red carpet.

Lesson learned: Next time, don’t stop and walk DURING THE LAST MILE OF A RACE so you can be a cheetah, not a zebra. The 2nd place woman finished less than a minute ahead of me.

Sometimes you are the predator, sometime you are the prey.

Sometimes you are the predator, sometime you are the prey.

After the race, there was a totally delectable feast of Kenyan food, accompanied by music and dancing. The whole event had a really unique feeling. I will be definitely be running it again next year!

What I learned from this race:

It was a nice change of pace to go into this race with no real expectations for myself. Even though I am far from fast, I am very competitive by nature, especially with myself. Once I started making improvements in my running, I started to get so competitive that I think I was psyching myself out for every race. I could have run faster today, but the point was to enjoy the race, which for the most part I did. I did a 8.5 mile hilly training run the day before this run, so I feel pretty good about keeping a sub-9 pace for 5 miles. I was just happy to be out there racing in my Oiselle jersey with a healthy body and an open mind.

So about that walk break 4 minutes from finishing the race…this seems to be a recurrent theme in my races this year. I realized that this is pointing to one major shortcoming in my training: a lack of tempo runs. I generally enjoy speedwork and can consistently hit my paces for 400s through mile repeats, but I can do it because I know I have that little breather in between efforts. What I haven’t practiced much is maintaining an effort over an extended period without the physical or mental equivalent of a walk break, and I think that’s showing up in my races. As much as tempo runs intimidate me, I think I need to commit to incorporating them into my weekly training if I want to see more consistency in the second half of my longer races this fall.

Overall, the 4th Annual Run with the Kenyans 8k was a great experience, and I look forward to doing it again next year and hope that I can run fast enough to win the CHEETAH!

The best laid schemes of mice and (wo)men…Shiprock Half Marathon Race Report

In January, I had a pretty disappointing experience at Phoenix Rock and Roll Half Marathon. For the most part, this was due to an untreated injury. Since that race, I sought consultation with a physical therapist and started addressing some of the causes of that injury. With patience, I was able to up my mileage from the 15-20 I was averaging in December and January to 30-35 miles per week in March and April. I also started training with the Oxy-Gen Morons in February and was doing more difficult long runs. Given all of these factors, I signed up for the Shiprock Half Marathon hoping to PR and break two hours.

The Shiprock Half Marathon is held in beautiful and remote Shiprock, New Mexico. The race starts at the striking Shiprock landmark, which is apparently the core of an ancient volcano.

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Photo credit: Shiprock Marathon

I travelled to the race with my running buddy, Allison, and another friend, Christine, who was running the marathon and also hoping to PR.

I felt pretty prepared for race day. I knew that the pace would feel challenging and my goal was to do a negative split since I thought I went out too fast at Phoenix. Allison and I talked about the plan to go out at a 9:15 pace for the first 5 miles and then pick up the pace for the last 8.

The day before the race, I was well hydrated, well-nourished, and had my race day gear all ready to go.

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Oiselle singlet, Distance Short, Arm Warmers, and hat, plus pre-race Picky Bar and Nuun.

Race morning started with an inauspicious 4 a.m. dream that I had missed my goal by 6 minutes because I had to make a portapottie stop in the middle of the race. I woke up relieved to realize that I actually hadn’t raced yet. Allison and I breakfasted and headed to the finish line, where we caught a bus that would drop us off at the start. This part of the race was really well organized. We didn’t have to wait more than a few minutes to get on the bus and arrived at the start with a half hour to spare. We used this time to take goofy pictures and do a short warm up run.

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Arm-length photography at its finest, and Shiprock in the background.

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Me sporting my amazing throwaway longsleeve whale shirt at the start.

The race started at 8:00 a.m. sharp, and was one of the more informal race starts I’ve been to. There was no timing mat, and the race director started the race by saying “3…2…1…Go!”

It was perfect race weather- mid 40s at the start that warmed up to the high 60s by the end. There was a 5-10 mph headwind for the whole race, which was useful towards the end when we were running under full New Mexico sun.

The first four miles were downhill, which made it hard to stick to the plan to run a 9:15 pace. I felt fantastic and excited, and the downhill made the pace feel easy. Our first 4 miles were 9:07, 9:02, 9:12, 9:07. I kept looking at my watch and trying to slow down, but it wasn’t happening. The highlight of the first four miles was seeing Christine fly by us in her bright pink Oxy-Gen morons singlet with a race vehicle tailing her- I realized she was in first place female for the marathon!

Most of mile 5 was uphill, and combined with a water stop, we came in at 9:39. My legs started to feel a little bit tired at this point, and the next miles reflected that: 9:11, 9:25. I was keeping an eye on our average overall pace and we were still within the window of being able to make sub-2 with a negative split.

At mile 7, I was aware that we were supposed to be picking up the pace, but my legs did not feel springy and fresh. Instead, they felt heavy and tired. For some reason, I was also feeling really nauseous. During miles 6 and 7, I was doing a lot of positive pep talk inside of my head, saying things like “you have the training to do this,” “this will feel hard, but you can do it,” and, “more than halfway done…you got this!”

Mile 8: 9:50. I lost Allison at this point. She could tell that I was struggling and figured that I might be grateful to work it out on my own. I took an excessively long walk break at the water stop and tried to get it together. I was telling myself that I could still finish under 2:05 and feel good about that. I checked in with my body and noted that nothing hurt, my legs just felt tired and heavy. I still felt pretty nauseous, but kept working on the positive self talk, which was quickly becoming an argument between two voices.

Mile 9: 9:25. I kept checking my average pace and tried to focus on coming in under 2:05. My head was playing all sorts of games with me during this mile. I was getting hot, the gentle wind felt somehow hostile, and all kinds of doubts were crowding my mind. Even though I logically knew that finishing in under 2:05 would be a good run for me, the feeling of failure crept in, as I thought about all the people who knew about the goal I set and what they would think about me failing to achieve it.

Mile 10: 10:52. Halfway through this mile, the nausea became more pronounced and I actually stopped and threw up on the side of the road, which was not one of my finest moments. This shook me up, as I generally don’t have GI issues when I run and I was not sure what was going on. I walked a good bit of this mile and felt demoralized. All of the positive self talk that had kept me feeling hopeful during the first 8 miles was replaced by a negative voice that was so compelling and ugly that it felt like it was wrapping my legs and my heart in lead. The meta-process was somewhat hilarious, as my therapist self was sitting back and observing the wreckage and thinking, “Hmmmm.”

Miles 11-13: 10:36, 10:45, 10:32. My best assessment of what happened in the last three miles is that I just gave in to the doubts and frustration. My legs felt spent, it was hot, there was a headwind, I was shaky from throwing up…I just gave up. Part of me knew that it was possible to push through these feelings and bring in the race at a decent pace, that my head was the biggest obstacle stopping me from doing so, but I just didn’t have the focus to regroup and push.

Last .25 mile: 9:27 pace. This was the most telling thing about the race to me. No matter how awful I feel, I usually can get it together enough to muster some kind of kick at the end. The last quarter mile of the race (the course measured long for almost everyone I talked to- I came up with 13.25) went through a stretch of sand, and in my sorry state it was almost more than I could manage. I jogged it in, feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and disappointed. My Garmin has my final time as 2:07:52, but I think my official time was a 2:09.

The  highlight of finishing was finding out that while Christine hadn’t hit her goal to PR, she was the first overall female in the marathon, winning in 3:20:48.

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Christine and I post-race. Christine is a winner!

The race had some pretty cool finisher awards, including a unique medal and a long sleeve tech tee.

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Pretty medal and tee.

After watching Christine get her gorgeous pottery award, we concluded our race excursion with a stop at Three Rivers Brewery, where we had consolation prize beers and lunch.

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Takeaway points from this race:

The good:
-I finished without feeling any pain and without injury, despite running on roads with significant camber for the majority of the race. My PT is working!

-The first 9 miles of the race were pretty good. They made me realize I could run a great 10k at this point.

-This race taught me some things about the importance of mental readiness.

Room for improvement:

-I definitely need to start incorporating race pace miles in at least some of my long runs leading up to a goal race. I think fast finish long runs might help me get used to the feeling of working through dead legs and tired mind and still hitting my pace.

-I still have a lot of “baggage” from when I first started running and had 11 minute miles as my race pace. Part of me still doubts that I can be a faster runner because I don’t see myself that way. My running has changed in the past 2 years, but a lot of my self-concept as a runner has not changed with it. I need to trust that I can push myself without falling apart physically or mentally.

-I put too much focus on a number defining success in this race. It was a beautiful day to run, a beautiful course, and I let my expectations narrow my experience of the race.

-I went into this race having worked 110 hours over the previous 11 days. I don’t think I factored the resulting mental fatigue into my race preparation.

So, while this race certainly was not the race I was imagining, it was valuable in its own way and I will use the experience to prepare better for my next goal race.

Race Report: My first 5k!

I have never been particularly curious to try a 5k, for a number of reasons. When I first started running again after a 7 year hiatus, I was so slow that I figured if I wanted to impress anyone with my runner-ness, I would have to run a lot of (slow) miles instead of only a few. I also like to set goals that seem slightly impossible to achieve because they motivate me to push myself, and a half marathon fit the bill better than a 5k. Now I’ve been running pretty consistently for the past three years, with my longest race being a 50k, I finally decided to brave a 5k race just for fun.

The impetus for this 5k was that a fellow Oiselle team member, Karissa, happened to be visiting Albuquerque and we thought it would be fun to meet up and sport our snazzy singlets at a race. I hoped that running a new race distance would help me leave my disappointment about my poor performance in Phoenix behind. I wasn’t too stressed about how fast I would run, as it would be a 5k PR no matter what! My ankle had for the most part recovered (but still needs strengthening), but I was not looking to go all out and possibly re-injure myself. I confess, the thought did cross my mind that if I jogged it, then besting my 5k PR would be pretty easy.

The race was on Superbowl Sunday, and it was a totally flat course. I “prepared” for it by running 8 miles the day before and having a nutritional powerhouse of a dinner that consisted of buffalo chicken wings and java imperial stout.

In the morning, I met up with Karissa (who was very easy to spot in her Oiselle singlet!) and we chatted away as we waited for the race to start. Karissa noted that she shared my special affliction of exercise-induced asthma, and as a Pittsburgh native, she was pretty curious about what it would be like to run at 5000+ feet for the first time.

Here we are, ready to race!

3.1 miles? We got this.

3.1 miles? We got this.

I’m wearing my favorite Oiselle running top, the Stripey Longsleeve Scoop Neck, my team singlet, and the running shorts that first sold me on Oiselle, the Roga short. Karissa is rocking the long Roga short, her team singlet, and a sunshine-y bright Rundelicious pullover. We are both wearing compression socks, which as everyone knows, make you look like a very Serious Runner. They also help cover more of your legs when it’s 40 degrees out.

The race was held at a local school, and the start involved hilariously doing most of a lap around a track, encouraging silly antics such as starting the race at a 7:30 pace.

Starting a race on the track was a curious idea.

Starting a race on the track was a curious idea. This is actually the 10k runners starting, looking very speedy.

Karissa and I parted ways after racing around the track like spirited Thoroughbreds together, and I decided to push my pace and see what happened. I was nervous to run too fast, as I had not been doing much speedwork and was pretty sure if I went out at my mile repeat pace then my race would conclude after approximately 1 mile. I ran the first mile at a comfortable 8:43, and since that felt great, I ran the next mile slightly faster, at 8:37. The high point of mile two was passing a lot of people including several small children and a Serious Looking Runner Guy who I had been following for the first mile. I was still strangely nervous to go all out for the last mile, as I had my floppy Phoenix finish still in my mind, but I ran it in 8:31 and got to pass more people. Serious Looking Runner Guy was close behind me the entire time, which made me determined not to let him pass me. Why? No idea. It was a pretty small race (250 runners in the 5k), so it felt odd to be passing so many other runners. Once I saw the finish line, I sped up to a 6:46 pace for the final .1 (well, .13 according to my Garmin).

The end result? A 26:54, which put me 7th out of 39 in my age group and 68th overall. I feel pretty pleased with it, but I’m also looking forward to running more 5k races this year to see if I can, you know, run them faster.

After I finished, I watched a couple of my super speedy running pals from my Tuesday morning run club finish the 10k race, and then decided to go back out to run Karissa in. I imagined that she was having some choice words with her lungs about oxygen utilization, which turned out to be true. I found her looking determined and slightly breathless about a quarter mile from the finish, and ran her in. She had a pretty good kick for someone who was marginally avoiding an asthma attack! I was also impressed by how well she handled not really breathing while also running for 30+ minutes. You can read her race report here.

Here we are at the finish. Yes, there are striking height differences between us. 🙂

Not pictured: Karissa's 6" stiletto heels. I'm not actually that short. Okay, I really am.

Not pictured: Karissa’s 6″ stiletto heels. I’m not actually that short.
Okay, I really am.

The most amazing thing happened while we were standing around after the race. The Serious Looking Runner Guy that I had passed during mile 2 came up to me and told me that he wanted to thank me for pacing him during the race, and that thanks to me, he had run his fastest 5k in years. I think I responded by looking confused, smiling, and saying, “Great race!” Me? Serious Looking Runner Guy’s rabbit? What?

Takeaway points: running a new distance is fun, my Oiselle teammates are amazing–I can’t wait to meet more of them, and sometimes I surprise myself.

Race Report: Phoenix Rock And Roll Half Marathon

So I’ve been meaning to write a post about injury and inertia but in the meantime, I’ve been  gradually running more and hurting less for long enough that I felt ready to sign up for a January half marathon. Several of my running buddies had talked about training for Phoenix, and so I decided that would be my first race of 2013.

In fact, I was feeling so optimistic about my healing peroneal tendon/ankle/calf trio, that I thought maybe I should try for a PR in Phoenix, despite the reality that I was working more and running less than I had been when I ran my half marathon PR in December 2011. I’ll get to the flaws in this plan after the race report.

One of the highlights of the Phoenix trip was getting to meet some my fellow Oiselle team members at the race expo. Meghan and Ashley were also racing the half, and were both hoping for PRs on the course (which they achieved!).  I also got to meet speedster and coach Allison and Nuun hydration goddess Megan, who were not running due to injuries. Meeting this group confirmed what I had suspected: the women who are drawn to Oiselle tend to be badass, smart, and strong women.

Ashley, Allison, yours truly, Megan, and Meghan.

Ashley, Allison, yours truly, Megan, and Meghan.

After the expo, my friend Joyce and I secured the necessary ingredients for a paleo-friendly pre-race dinner. We got our race gear ready and then enjoyed a fine gourmet feast.

Giant yam, chicken breast, coconut water. Dinner of champions.

Giant yam, chicken breast, coconut water. Dinner of champions.

We didn’t have to leave for the race until 6:45, which gave me plenty of time to have coffee, a banana, and some almond butter. My ankle was Rocktaped together, and I was ready to go! I jazzed up my Oiselle singlet with violet Rogas because bright colors make me smile.

Featuring: Oiselle singlet & Oiselle violet Roga shorts.

Featuring: Oiselle singlet & Oiselle violet Roga shorts.

We met up with Nancy, who was also shooting for 1:59, at the corral. My friend Trisha had also agreed to run with me “just for fun” and she found us shortly before the race started. She knew I was hoping for a 1:59something and since she is a speedster, she was confident she could help me keep the pace. I had looked at the course elevation profile and figured that I would try for even splits from miles 1-7, allow for a slight pace increase miles 8-10, and then speed up for the last 3 miles.

Course elevation profile.

Course elevation profile.

I felt great for the first 6 miles, especially after we had gotten through the first mile of people piled up on top of each other, and tried to keep myself from focusing on all of the miles ahead and just work through one mile at a time. The first 6 miles were right on pace: 9:03, 9:02, 9:09, 8:58, 9:13, 9:00. We kept with the 30 second walk breaks every two miles that I had used through training, which seemed to help my tendon keep from coiling up into a angry tight ball of pain. By mile 7, I was starting to feel the slight incline and it felt harder to keep up the pace. The slight camber in the road was irritating my ankle, but I tried hard to focus on the mental aspects of running and push all doubts out of my mind about the strength of my ankle. My Garmin ominously started displaying a “battery low” warning at this point.

Mile 7: 9:30. As we started mile 8, Nancy pulled ahead, and I was sorting through my options in my head. Could I fall back for two miles and try to make up the time in the last three miles? The tightness through my foot, ankle, and calf was starting to flirt with pain the longer that I ran, and after checking in with my body, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to push for race pace without collateral damage. This was the point where I fell apart mentally: once I recognized my goal was out of reach, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I was terrified of finishing the race injured and having to take more time off: I’d barely survived my last running hiatus.

Mile 8: 10:04. When I saw this split, I felt demoralized. I won’t lie: I actually thought about dropping out at this point. I had to stop twice during this mile to stretch out my calf and ankle, and I could feel my shoulders creeping up towards my ears as I was trying to force my mind away from the discomfort. Mile 9: 10:11. We hit mile 10 at 1:34:56, and my Garmin died halfway through mile 10.  When that happened, I semi-jokingly said to Trisha, “I’m not sure if I’m going to finish.” Luckily, she didn’t entertain this idea for long, so we kept going, but I had to stop often to walk and stretch. The biggest injury at this point was my ego. I knew I couldn’t bust out a 5k at race pace, and in some ways I felt like it was the first half marathon I had ever run. My mind was a mess. I was obsessing over whether I’d pushed my ankle too far, whether this was the kind of pain I should just suck up and deal with (but what if I couldn’t run after), and wondering if I could conjure up an invisible helicopter that could swoop me off the course without anyone noticing. I was thankful for Trisha’s upbeat attitude and her encouragement to get this thing done.

The last 5k was a sad combination of walking and running. The high point was when Trisha pointed out where we would finish and told me that we only had .25 miles to go. Since my Garmin had died, I didn’t believe her, but once I realized that there was only a 400 between me and the end of this ego-bruising race, we “sprinted” to the finish. I was so demoralized that I didn’t even look at the clock as we crossed the finish line.

The damage? 2:11:01. Which was about 11 minutes and three seconds slower than what I had hoped to run. We found Joyce and Nancy at the finish, and found out that they had both set PRs on the course, both by several minutes.

Turning that frown upside down with the lovely Trisha.

Finishers! Turning that frown upside down with the lovely Trisha.

Finding out that several of my friends and teammates had set PRs on the course helped brighten my mood, as did the realization that my ankle was not swollen to the size of a baseball and that I could still walk on it without limping. Though I was not at all impressed with my time, I took a moment to remember that when I ran it in January 2010, my second half marathon, I was pretty pleased with my 2:24. Perspective, lady, perspective.

Looking back on this race plan, I think my biggest mistake was making a goal too ambitious for where I was with running this fall. I was coming back from an injury, prioritizing my new job over running, and had not built up a strong enough base to justify my expectations for this race. When I ran a 2:00:34 in Tucson, I had been running about 30-35 miles a week, with several long runs over 15 miles in the two months prior to the race. In contrast, I have been averaging 20-25 miles a week, with only 1 12 mile run and 1 10 mile run in the 6 weeks prior to the race. My goal for this race should have been to run a consistent pace and finish feeling strong, not to set a PR.

I’m glad that I finished with an ankle that is ready to resume running (and start PT!) and that the greatest injuries I sustained were to my pride. I am resolved to focus on strengthening in the next month so that I have the foundation for more ambitious goals later in 2013, which hopefully includes another go-around with the Jemez 50k.

 

Jemez 50k Race Report

Burn

We considered staking ourselves if we couldn’t finish the run.

Here is my extremely belated race report.

My first ultramarathon is in the books!

The Jemez Mountain Trail Runs 50k is reportedly one of the tougher 50k races in the country, what with the 7200+ elevation gain over the course and the fact that much of the course is run at or above 9,000 feet, meaning that there is very little air in the air.

I chose Jemez as my first 50k because it was close to home and because the course looked beautiful and challenging. I knew I wouldn’t be trying to break any land speed records with the terrain, and since I’m a pretty strong hiker, I felt confident I could finish the race in some fashion no matter what.

On the morning of the race, the alarm went off at 4:00 a.m. Ouch! I was out the door and on my way to the race by 5:15, accompanied by 1-time Jemez survivor Brenda, who was going back for a faster time and more suffering. It looked like we would have perfect race weather- low 50s at the start and getting up to the low to mid 70s by the afternoon. It was my first time officially racing for Oiselle’s team of badass women runners and wearing the team racing singlet- what a cool feeling! I was nervous and excited when we got started at 6 a.m., but the sight of the sun rising over the mountains filled me with joy and I just felt content to be out and running in such a beautiful place.

The first 4-5 miles went by quickly- they were mostly runnable on clear trails. I’d miraculously managed to avoid any kind of overuse injuries throughout my training until a 20 mile run 2 weeks out from the race- during this run, I tweaked my peroneal tendon rock hopping on a down hill trail, and it had been a bit cranky and creaky ever since. I was assuming it might complain some during the 50k, but the discomfort had been tolerable during runs, so I wasn’t too worried about it. Around mile 4, I met a woman who had broken three of her ribs earlier in the week. I ran with her for long enough to realize she was a complete badass, and I never would have seen her in this race save a glimpse of her receding pigtails had it not been for her injury. We parted ways at the first aid station because her boyfriend was waiting there to tell her he was going to drop out of the half marathon. I was cruising along at a good clip on rocky trails, feeling happy, when I landed strangely on my ankle, leading to a funny crunch sound, a searing pain, and instant swelling. This was just after I’d passed two veteran ultrarunners who commented that they were using me as a pacer since I was running/hiking so consistently.

After the crunching noise, I rapidly cycled through several or Kübler-Ross’s stages of grieving: denial (I said, “Maybe it’s fine” and tried to run on it, while trying not to scream each time my foot hit the ground), anger (once I realized running was not going to happen, I kicked a rock at the side of the trail…with my good foot. Oops.), bargaining (I beseeched some unknown Higher Power…if you just let me make it through this race, I promise I’ll rest, and see a PT, and stretch and use my foam roller every day…), depression (in which I contemplated dropping out of the race, as I couldn’t imagine surviving 25 more miles on what felt like a broken ankle, and also concluded I would probably never ever run again), and finally…acceptance.

About that acceptance. I’m pretty sure I would have limped to the next aid station and dropped out had I not encountered, once again, Badass Pigtail Girl With Broken Ribs (her actual name was Jody). I was limping along, sniffling and feeling incredibly sorry for myself, when she caught up to me. She noted that I didn’t look so hot. I affirmed the correctness of this observation. I remembered that she had 3 broken ribs, and was also from Texas, which has oxygen in the air. It put things in perspective a bit. In this moment, the Gimp Squad was born. Jody and I decided we were going to finish the race together, even if it meant we were the last ones in at the finish. This turned out to be what saved my race. Being a super type-A personality in some ways, I was obsessing over how slow I was going to go and how all of my training was wasted because I was going to be the last one to finish the race. This line of thinking would obviously get somewhat tiresome over the course of 25 more miles. Luckily, I stopped dwelling on the alternate searing pain and numbness originating from my ankle as Jody and I started talking about life, the universe, and everything else.

It was one of those funny moments in running where even as all this was happening, I was thinking to myself, “I’m learning something about how to deal with life right now.” Life is nothing if not full of unexpected and often unwanted curveballs thrown at you that, in an instant, change your trajectory. As Jody and I limped/jogged/hiked along the course, talking and laughing, I found myself thinking, “Just let yourself be here, now.” I’m pretty sure that I read that in a self-help book somewhere, or maybe it’s some great platitude of wisdom I handed to a client without actually thinking it would apply to me at some point in the near future. Strangely enough, there is actually some truth to this clichéd phrase. I felt the pull of self-pity and anger let up as I allowed myself to open up mentally to the experience that I was actually having- not the one I had imagined or hoped for, to be sure, but the one that was happening in the present.

Jody and I definitely had significantly more fun that the runners around us, probably because we had abandoned the idea of trying to be fast and had relaxed into the idea that we were going to be hiking uphill for a really long time, and it was probably going to hurt. A lot. At one point as we picked our way up a steep ascent that wound through a burn area littered with sharp stakes (we took care to avoid these), another runner said in an awed and slightly belligerent tone of voice, “are you guys actually enjoying this?” And we actually were. We stopped to revel in the incredible scenery often, and chatted with the runners that passed us. We offered encouragement to a Venezuelan runner we found sitting at the side of the trail at 10,000 feet, and got him running again. We coined a phrase for the strange type of movement that propelled us forward: “ultra slogging.”

The steep climbs were actually the least painful part of the course for me, because my ankle didn’t complain as much. I had done a lot of fast hiking in training and so I could keep a decent pace as we hiked up the steepest parts  of the course (in one mile, we climbed 1200+ feet, according to my Garmin!). But the altitude and the climbing was hard for Jody since her broken ribs made breathing painful and difficult to begin with, and even more so when she was out of breath. And, since she was from Texas, the altitude didn’t help matters much. At this point, I’d decided to stay with her for as long as I could, because I was having fun and we were distracting each other from our injuries. So I waited with her when she needed to stop seeing stars and eventually we made it to the Ski Lodge aid station, where I had two trusty running friends waiting to boost my spirits. I told them what had happened with my ankle, and told them that I was running with a woman who had three broken ribs. They looked at me like they suspected I had altitude sickness, but smiled and nodded. I think my friend Ron was prepared to pace me in if I needed it, but he told me I was looking good and making good time, so after Jody and I stuffed our faces with aid station goodies, we were off again, with “only” a half marathon or so to go.

We were done with most of the major climbs, but the rock-strewn downhills were excruciating on my ankle. Every time it wobbled, it would hurt so badly that I would get dizzy. I started to think I had actually torn a tendon or something, because I’d never had such intense pain save when I had stress fractures in my ankle. Jody showed me a way to go down the steep descents that helped minimize the wobbling, and so I slowly crab-walked down the descents I normally would have loved just bombing down as fast as possible. At this point, I told Jody she should leave me behind, because she could have gone much faster without waiting for me with my crab-walking moves. But she insisted that she was going to stay with me since I had stayed with her through the climbs, and besides, it seemed fitting that after so many hours of suffering together, the Gimp Squad was going to finish as a team. I was secretly relieved that she decided to stay with me, because between running through a severe burn area that looked like a desolate wasteland and the incessant downhills, I was struggling to keep it together mentally and knew if I was on my own, I might spiral into a dark cloud of doom.

We kept ultra-slogging along, and the tone of our conversation got more serious. We talked about overcoming adversity in our life, the losses we had suffered, the strength we had gained from the bumps in the road. When we saw on our Garmins that we had completed a marathon, we briefly cheered for ourselves for being stubborn (and stupid?) enough to keep going despite our bruised bodies. About 4 miles from the end, my friend Allison met us in the middle of another burn area to bring us in. Allison took our semi-delirious conversation and addled mental state in stride and kept us moving along. We were happy to have an addition to our deleterious duo and Allison was at least somewhat entertained by how loopy we were.

There was a funny moment at the last aid station- aptly named the Last Chance Saloon- where we for some reason decided to run up the hill as fast as we could (which was not very fast at all), laughing as we ran at the arbitrary decision. The people at the aid station told us, “We don’t see many people running up this hill looking as good as you do.” We just looked at each other and laughed some more. What they didn’t know was that was some of the only running we had managed to do over the last 25 miles! From this aid station, we supposedly had only 2 more miles to go. Jody and I decided to celebrate with a shot of tequila. At this point, we figured it couldn’t possibly hurt, and in the best possible scenario, the alcohol would numb the pain. Right?

We kept slogging, and got passed by some young shirtless guys who were actually running. Kinda fast.  This inspired a rare string of curses from me, which made Jody laugh. Her broken ribs weren’t too psyched about this. We hit 31.1 miles, but strangely were not at the finish line. At this point, I think I might have thrown a miniature tantrum and threatened to park myself on a rock until they moved the finish line to the appropriate spot. Somehow, we kept moving, until we hit the celebratory “you’re almost at the end” rock climbing chute. Yes, at the end of a hellaciously difficult ultra, there is an almost straight up rock chute that you must ascend, single file, before you can run to the finish. Hilarious. Amazingly, my running crew had congregated at the top. With cowbell. They used a combination of praise, affirmations, and threats to get us up to the top. I stopped here to talk to my buddies and process the experience, until my friend Steve reminded me that the race was not actually over, and if I shut my mouth and started moving, we would finish in under 10 hours. This inspired Jody and I to suddenly bust a move and start running. My ankle hurt like hell, but I didn’t care. I was almost done. about 50 meters from the finish line, we grabbed hands and skipped in to the finish line, 9 hours and 57 minutes later.

This 50k taught me so much about myself. Even though I fell far short of my original time goal of 9 hours, I managed to enjoy what could have been a truly awful day, made a new friend, and finished my first ultramarathon despite an ankle that pretty much had stopped functioning as an actual ankle. Steve had promised that when I finished, I’d probably be cursing and saying “never again,” and by the next day I’d be wondering when I could sign up for the next year. Surprisingly, I never had the “never again” moment. Almost immediately after I crossed the finish line, I thought to myself, “setting a PR on the course next year should be easy- if all my body parts are working correctly!”

Jemez 50k 2013, here I come!