Tomorrow I’ll Be an Ultra Runner!

I’ve been pretty quiet lately because the only things I do anymore are:

  1. run
  2. eat
  3. sleep
  4. work (where I try not to sleep)
  5. eat some more

Last December (maybe?) I got the awesome idea of running a 50 mile trail race – on my birthday – and to drag my BRF along for the ride.  She’s a sucker up for an adventure so, for the past 13 weeks we have been running. all. the. miles.

For real.

Tomorrow is our longest run in the training cycle – 31 miles.  For those who don’t know the metric system by heart, that’s a 50K (well, close enough for government work… Any bets that I get that last .07 on my watch before I stop? *hint, that’s a sucker’s bet!*).  Anything over 26.2 is an ultra but a 50K is one of the most common ultra race distances.  And this will be my first time hitting it.

quesy

We haven’t run in THREE days (OMG!  Do we even know how to run any more?!  I’m just kidding. Kind of.) and the weather has been all over the place with the rain/snow/sleet predictions.  We/I am going nutty!  It’s like we are practicing our taper madness now in addition to having it for real in six weeks!

I really do want to get back in the blogging habit so my goal is to write about our run by Monday night.  I’m sure it will be a riot!  Check back in and make sure I didn’t die!  Also, check out my IG feed – I’m much more active there.

(Ack!  I had to just add a new category for my tags – “Ultra”!)

 

Advertisements

Race Report: Ragnar Trail Relay Appalachians, WV

AKA: the One With All of the Mud

For over 28 hours, I and 7 other lunatics hearty souls who comprised my team joined 349 other teams and ran.

We ran through cloudy skies, we ran through torrential rain.

We need a boat!
We need a boat!

We ran through heavy mist, we ran through the dark with faulty headlights.

Ragnar.mud

We ran through mud.  So much mud.  Big mud puddles, slippery mud slides, sticky mud holes that threatened to take our shoes.

All three loops joined for the last 3/4 mile or so.  This picture was after it drained enough so we could run on the sides of the trail.
All three loops joined for the last 3/4 mile or so. This picture was after it drained enough so we could run on the sides of the trail (an improvement, believe it or not!).

We ran up endless hills, we ran through beautiful pine forests, we ran past illuminated disco balls that the race organizers hung in lieu of the “scenic overlook” for those running that trail overnight (I don’t even know!), we ran through swamps. We ran past monster ferns that were straight out of the Cretaceous Period – but we did not run past any bears!

We ran  climbed up monster boulders and managed to not break anything as we slid down them in our muddy shoes.

Mud + huge rock = "fun". This was a tiny rock compared to others on the Red Loop.
Mud + huge rock = “fun”. This was an itsy bitsy rock compared to others on the Red Loop.

We ran back to our campsite to save it from blowing away in the wind during the storm.  We ran to the food tent, in desperate search of coffee.  We ran to the bonfire where we had to wedge our way into the circle of warmth to stave off hypothermia.

Everyone trying to warm their booties!
Everyone trying to warm their booties!

We ran, we limped, we hiked, we walked for a total of 118.4 miles.  We cursed – A LOT!

Ragnar.red
F-ing Mud!
Best. Sign. Ever.
Best. Sign. Ever.

We survived!  Ragnar.medal

Would we do it again?  Some say no but others say… maybe!

"Hey, I heard about this great race!  It's a relay and it's in the woods and there's a bonfire!  It will be great! Come, join me!"
“Hey, I heard about this great race! It’s a relay and it’s in the woods and there’s a bonfire! It will be great! Come, join me!”

My heart-felt thanks goes to the rest of my team for joining me on this insane adventure and for not throwing me off the side of a mountain (or drowning me in a mud hole).  Oh, and I also stole their pictures because I didn’t take a damn one!  Thanks, guys! 🙂

Poser

I often don’t feel like a “real” runner. as if there are fake ones! I have raced over 204 miles since I started running two years ago. I have absolutely no idea how many miles I have run in training. Some days it feels like a million! I have done a lot in the past 2 years. First and foremost, I got my butt off the couch! But, I’ve also completed a marathon and set some significant personal records and overcome a lot of mental crap. Yet, even with all of those miles under my feet, I still feel like a fraud when I line up for a race. I imagine looks and whispers – “what is she doing here?”, “I hope she doesn’t get in my way!”, and maybe “oh my God, Becky, look at her butt!”

On Sunday, I ran a local trail race called Hemlock Overlook. It was a 5.5 or 10 mile trail that had a reputation for being a real bitch. I have been sweating it for a year and finally screwed up the courage to try.

20140303-191053.jpg

It was everything that was promised, and more! Tons of massive climbs, thick mud, exposed rocks, the works!

20140303-190739.jpg
I finished with a 13 minute average pace. Considering how hard I was sucking wind on some of the climbs, I’m okay with that.

Even more important than tackling that beast, though, was the fact that I felt like I actually belonged. I wasn’t intimidated by the super fit cross-country boys nor did I feel like I stuck out like a big n00b. I just jumped in and did my best. The race director had to adjust the course because of ice (no falling off cliffs, please!) so the 5 milers did one big and one little loop while the 10 milers did one big and two little. There were so many people passing and being passed that it was impossible to worry about your place in the pack. I didn’t worry when others passed me or became too cocky when I passed others. It was so nice to just run my own race and not worry about imaginary whispers and looks! Okay, so the ten year old who finished in 45 minutes kinda pissed me off…;)

20140303-191231.jpg

My next race is the Rock n Roll DC half marathon in two weeks. It is (obviously) a road race with very clearly defined corrals. Even though I will be more aware of the others, I will do my very best to keep my head high and “own” my place at the starting line.

I run. I am a runner.

Rules of the Trail

I participated in one of the local trail races last weekend.  Overall, a good time was had by all but there were a few WTF moments that made me realize that not everyone knows how trail running is different than road running and, therefore, has a different set of “rules”.  Here are a few that came to mind:

1. Call it out when you are passing.  Trails are usually fairly narrow and it can be tricky to pass someone. If you call out “on your left”, it alerts the person ahead of you that you want to pass so they can move over a bit.

2. Don’t wear earphones. If you do, you can’t hear those around you.  In a trail race, this is extremely dangerous and can usually get you disqualified.

3. Don’t slow to a walk without checking behind you.  Okay, this is true on the road too but on the trail, which is NARROW (have I mentioned that?) people tend to bunch up and run in pretty tight formation if they are unable to pass.  If someone at the front suddenly stops, the whole group goes down.

4. If you are walking, stay to the right and be mindful of those wanting to pass.  ‘Nuff said.

5. Point out unexpected hazards.  Some people call them out but I never have enough breath to project so I just point down.  I do this for unexpected drops, a particularly large rock/root, etc.  Also, watch the person ahead of you and if they suddenly point down, treat that spot with care.

6. If you see someone take a fall or is obviously limping along, ask if they are alright and if they need assistance.  There is usually an aid station relatively close so you can tell the workers to send help.  If you are trained and want to so more, that’s up to you but at least ask.

7. If you take a fall and someone asks if you are okay, don’t get embarrassed and huffy. We’ve all gone down and trail runners need to take care of each other.  If you’re fine, just say “I’m good! Thanks for checking!” and move on at a comfortable pace.  Don’t act like you suddenly need to “prove” yourself by sprinting off without a word to the would-be Samaritan.

8. Have fun.  Run the best race you can given the trail conditions and the natural congestion.  If you get behind a slower group, bide your time until you can politely pass. Don’t huff and mutter and elbow your way through. Settle down and enjoy the scenery while you wait to move – you’ll live longer without the extra stress!

9. Accept the mud.  Chances are good that you are going to get wet and muddy.  Just go for it!  Trying to find a drier spot to cross may take more time and take you off the course.  You’ll wash up just fine later.

10. Thank the volunteers.  All race volunteers work hard and endure a lot but the trail group often has to hike to their location, stand for long periods of time in the woods (where it is usually shady and cold), and deal with a lot of weird crap.  Hopefully, they are making your race better by providing fuel, fluids, and moral support.  A thank you from the runners goes a long way toward warming the hands that are freezing and chapped from dipping Gatorade all morning.

Do you have any “rules” you would add to the list?  Do you prefer road or trails?

Race Report: Fountainhead Half Marathon

I have professed my love for Marine Corp road races in the past and now it is time to do the same with EX2 Adventures and trail races!  I ran/walked/sloshed in the mud their inaugural half marathon at Fountainhead Regional Park yesterday and had a great time (what better way to kick off marathon training??)

Registration, Packet Pick Up

The registration fees were very reasonable for this race – early bird is only $60. I used my volunteer coupon that I received for volunteering for the Hemlock Overlook race towards the registration costs.  Packet pick up was the morning of the race.  After signing a waiver, I quickly moved through the pick-up line for my number (99!) and shirt.  The shirt is a cotton shirt so I won’t use it for running but it’s a great royal blue with a gold logo (a nice nod to Boston) that I know I will use a lot during my “normal” life.  My only gripe is that the shirts do run very small but I already knew that and sized up.  My husband dropped me off at 7 and I was through packet pick up and hit the bathrooms by 7:15.

Pre-Race

The pre-race announcements started promptly at 7:50.  The race director walked us through the course, made sure we knew which way to go at the trail splits (right!), described the aid stations, and made sure everyone knew the basic rules of trail races – no headphones, pass on the left, let people know you are passing, etc.  At 8:00, we started the half mile prologue to place ourselves before entering the trail head.

The Course

When I volunteered at Hemlock Overlook, I thought that I was so glad I wasn’t trying to run that!  It was very hilly and looked incredibly tough.  Well, guess what!  Fountainhead is at the other end of the same system!  Thankfully, I have trained out there twice, made it 4 miles out the last run, so I sort of knew what was in store for me but the unknown 3 miles were … hmm, challenging.

Image
My Garmin died at mile 9 – it was more of the same only all of the downhills in mile 1-3 were now uphills!

It is a heavily wooded forest so there was no direct sun, other than one small open area.

You can see how steep the hills are by the angle at the side - and this wasn't a terribly big one!
You can see how steep the hills are by the angle at the side – and this wasn’t a terribly big one!
Walk the plank!
Walk the plank!

We crossed several wooden bridges, a few quagmires of mud, and one larger stream that was we couldn’t jump.  The stream was a lot of fun, the very steep and muddy hill right after it was a bit less fun.  I was a little worried about that hill because it was a real mess by the time I hit it.  I made  it up safely but it did kick off my tendonitis in my ankle.

Trail Support and Aid Stations

There were volunteers ALL OVER this trail!  I was amazed!  They were at all of the spots where we had to split onto a side trail for the loops and there were several that were just out to make sure everything was okay.  There were 4 aid tables that we hit a total of 7 times.  They had water, Gatorade, and one of the double stops had Gu in a variety of flavors.  There was plenty of water, etc., even for those of us bringing up the back.  There was even a nice golden retriever that I had to pet a bit to boost my morale. 🙂  It was pretty humid in the woods and I was sweating like a horse heavily.  I decided at the last minute to bring my small bottle of extra concentrated EFX and I’m glad I did.  I drank at least one cup of water at every station, all of my handheld, and even refilled it at one of the later stops and still drank most of that!  I also used two of my new Huma Chia gels, review coming tomorrow.

Partial view of the lake
Partial view of the lake

The trail was very well marked in the unmanned areas.  There were LONG pink streamers that even I could spot and the “wrong” trails were marked off with caution tape.  There were several times when I totally lost the pack so I really appreciated the conscientious marking.

Finish

I was one of the last runners in.  I knew I would be and I’m okay with that.  My only goal was to stay ahead of the sweep, and I did!  At mile 7, I saw a runner behind me who was wearing a vest and I thought that was the sweep.  I panicked a bit because I knew I couldn’t push hard for an extra 6 miles.  Turns out that it was just a runner wearing a Nathan’s hydration vest!  D’oh!

My final time was something like 3:20.  I did a lot of walking at the end.  Even with my late finish, there was still plenty of food left including hot egg and cheese wraps!  They were perfect for my rebelling stomach!  They also had cookies, a variety of crackers, bananas, water, soda, and Papa John’s pizza (much to Little Runner’s delight!).

Overall

Overall, I give this race a solid A.  I truly hated that muddy hill but I think it would have been a different story if it had been drier.   Everyone was super friendly and helpful. I must also comment on my fellow runners – trail runners are not the same as road runners.  At my other halves, I hardly get a head nod from the faster runners as they pass me on the way back.  At this race, every runner who passed me told me “good job” or the like.  One woman even told me that I was stronger than I thought and to keep pushing.  I really appreciated those words of encouragement!  What a great group of people!

I really hope they keep this course in the rotation and I plan to do it again next year.  Maybe I’ll be “middle of the pack” by then!

DONE!
DONE!

Happy Trails

Luckily, my first run at Fountainhead was not nearly as mystifying as Ayn Rand’s literary doorstop!

Last week, I was struck by the brilliant idea to attempt membership in the Half Marathon Fanatic club.  One way to qualify is to run 3 halves in 90 days.  I was able to quickly find my second but the third was proving elusive due to other, previously scheduled races.  I then found a local 1/2 trail race at Fountainhead Regional Park and thought I should try a test run before committing.  I knew some of the runners in my MRTT group train there regularly so I asked if anyone would be willing to show me the ropes.  Three of us quickly settled on a Sunday afternoon run.

Before this, I have run only a handful of “trails”.  On a scale of difficulty, it has been 1) paved paths, 2) Lake Accotink, 3) Burke Lake, and 4) Wakefield. I volunteered at a trail race at Hemlock Overlook in March and was a bit shocked by how beat up the runners were as they came through my aid station – I would rate it a 6 or 7 on my little scale based on what I saw.  I had heard that Fountainhead was about on par with Hemlock Overlook as for difficulty.  I finally looked closely at the map yesterday morning and realized that they were PART OF THE SAME SYSTEM!  Oy!

The park is very easy to access and there is plenty of parking.  Mountain bikers and runners/hikers stay to separate trails so there is no worry of being run over. The trail is very steep and rough in spots so there are no strollers to dodge (though we did see one poor woman trying to haul one over roots).  There is full foliage so plenty of shade and there is a few nice views of streams and the lake.  The trail took us over a couple of stream crossings but the foot bridges were very well maintained.  The only “bad” part was the number of dogs that were off their leash.  We didn’t have any problems but we did have a moment of surprise when we came running around a corner and there was a big, fluffy dog sitting there with the owner several yards away.  He just sat and watched us but it did unnerve me a bit.

We decided to just run a 6 mile out-and-back and that was just fine for a first taste.  I really did enjoy the run and the trail was fairly well marked and easy to follow.  I can see that I need to wear real trail shoes for this one, though.  I didn’t slide too much but I can tell it is a slippery, muddy mess when it rains.  Amazingly, I didn’t fall once!  I stumbled a few times but I do that even on flat surfaces 🙂

A lot of hills!
A lot of hills!

Overall, this was a great run!  It was fun to try something new and use a totally different set of muscles.  I hope to put this park into my rotation for the coming months, especially when things heat up in the summer.