Jen’s Toenail Chronicles: The Stages of Loss

I realized today that my toenail journey as not been documented as well as it could or should have been.  I haven’t shared the daily developments of the slow and sad demise of my big toenail as it deserved.  That toenail has been good to me and in its time of need, I simply turned blind eye. OK….for real…..I didn’t want to gross you out.  If you’re reading this and you are a runner – I know that nothing can gross you out.  But the general population is NOT equipped to handle this kind of stomach-churning info.  So non-runners proceed with caution.

It all started at Wildflower

My last blog about six weeks ago recapped my epic race weekend at Wildflower 50k & 13.1.  I mentioned briefly then that the trails BEAT my toes up.  Actually, my toes were more likely beat up because my shoes were a bit too small. I’m still in the denial state of grieving regarding those trail shoes.  I LOVE them and I keep trying to justify continuing to wear them.  It’s time for acceptance, but that simply isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

After the race, my two big toenails were completely purple, terribly sore and the worst was how they felt when I walked.  I honestly thought they might pop off at any moment.  (Talk about being FREAKED OUT.) I had some other toes with issues, as well, but the big toes were the main concern.

The Stage of Denial

As with any trauma, regardless of whether it is a large or small trauma, the first stage of grief, loss or just dealing with the situation is denial.  I kept thinking that my toes would be fine by the time I finally pulled into my driveway and got out of my car, but NOPE.  Denial is a lovely place – I’ve lived there a lot during my times of injury – so I tried to keep the visit there fairly short.  I went straight to…..

The Stage of Bargaining

I knew that the only way I had a chance of saving my toenails was to get holes in them and get the blood drained off. (OK…deep down I KNEW that I couldn’t save the nails, but damn, they hurt and I had to do something!)  I had dealt with blood under my toe once before, YEARS ago, when I dropped a 16 oz can of tomatoes on my big toe.  At the time, I had taken the tiniest drill bit and drilled a hole in my nail but it had taken me an entire afternoon to complete the task because I was so freaked out!  In the end, I lost my toenail but not until the new one grew in underneath.  I had hope that the same would happen here, but I wasn’t a runner then and I wasn’t pounding that foot on the ground several thousand times per week.

So when I got home from the race, I asked the hubs to get me the tiniest drill bit and I went right to work.  I drained the right toe because it was the worst.  (And it only took me 3 minutes this time!)  It still hurt, but it felt soooo much better!!  I drained the left toe the next morning.  Don’t even ask me why I waited.  I have no clue.  Sometimes I don’t have the most sense.

I made myself a tool to keep in my trail kit….for the next time ūüėČ

The Stage of Anger

I immediately found myself in this stage when I was trying to walk the next morning.  I wore my Altras, because…they soft and have a big toe box!!  I could NOT let the pads of my toes touch the ground.  That would cause pressure on my nail which would cause me to cringe and start hyperventilating and have a little panic attack.  I moved really slowly the next couple of days.  I may not have been *angry* but I was definitely experiencing high emotions regarding my toenails.  The biggest question was WHY DID I LET THIS HAPPEN?!?!?

The Stage of Denial…..again

As my toes started getting better (by the end of the week), I found myself in the stage of denial again, except this time I moved in and made myself comfortable there.  My big toenails looked pretty decent!!  I was convinced that I had saved them.  It was a miracle!!!  I spent a few days in ignorant bliss before transitioning to the next stage….

The Stage of Depression

My feeling of victory was short-lived.  A few days later, I trimmed my toenails then noticed that the right big toe was beginning to lift away from the nail bed.  NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!  I was crushed.  

I knew saving the nails was a long shot, but all signs seemed to signal that my heroic efforts were going to pay off.  I kept looking at it and thinking that maybe it wasn’t actually lifting.  Some days I went back into Denial, believing that the nail had actually reattached.  (I told you, I have a really nice house in Denial!!)  But every day the nail seemed to lift a little more and I soon arrived at Acceptance.

The Stage of Acceptance

Currently, I am waffling between the Stage of Acceptance and the Stage of Anger.  I have accepted that I am going to lose the nail.  I am patiently waiting to see how long the 3 on my left foot hang in there.  But I am at the point that I want this toenail to give up the ghost and go toward the light.  I may have sung “Let It Go”, in hopes that the toenail would LET GO.  I am sick of it being on there and me getting freaked out if I forget to cover with a bandaid and catch it on something.  That FREAKS ME OUT.

Today, I soaked it in Epsom salt water.  I tried to pry it loose.  No luck there, so I cut it wayyyyy down.  My current strategy is to treat it like a loose tooth and wiggle it every chance I get.  I know.  GROSS!!! 

I’m stuck in this holding pattern until the stupid toenail decides to give up or Jenn decides to come to Texas to yank it out!

Losing toenails isn’t that bad, y’all. 

Race Recap: Wildflower Trail 50k & 13.1

Better late than never, right??

I’ve been trying to compile my thoughts so that I could recap my race in a somewhat organized manner, but I have completely given up on that. ¬†I’m going to try to hit the highlights without boring you to death or bouncing around so much that your head spins. ¬†The bottom line is that this may end up being¬†long and if you have the stamina to read it all the way through, then kudos to you!

Wildflower race weekend had been on my radar for quite some time. ¬†However, Alli’s team was scheduled to play that weekend if they didn’t get a bid to Nationals beforehand. ¬†Luckily, her team earned a bid at their first qualifier, so that issue was taken care of and Wildflower weekend was open on my schedule! ¬†Enter taper for Galveston – during which I COMPLETELY wigged out and I ended up registering for a 50k only 5 weeks post-70.3. ¬†Disclaimer: I have never claimed to make the best race decisions, or any decisions for that matter. ¬†At the moment I registered, it seemed like a such a good idea. ¬†Hours after, however, the realization of what I had done hit me like a brick wall when I suddenly realized that 50k is actually longer¬†than a marathon (just don’t ask).

Yes, I had a good base going into Galveston. ¬†Yes, I am stronger and more fit than ever before. ¬†But I trained to run a half marathon for Galveston 70.3 and I would basically be tripling that distance only 5 weeks later. ¬†Coach made me recover for a week after Galveston. ¬†Then I tapered the week before which took another week away. ¬†So I basically had 3 weeks to train and that made me a bit nervous. ¬†My longest long run was 15 miles. ¬†I can hardly type that without laughing, it sounds so ridiculous! ¬†Oh, and then I was lured by the double medal challenge and with Brent’s blessing added the half marathon to my race weekend plate. ¬†If I was going to do crazy things, might as well go totally insane with it.

Somehow, I kept my wits about me during this taper (so no crazy race sign-ups or excessive run gear purchases). ¬†In part, this was due to only having trained a short period of time for these races. ¬†I hadn’t been training long enough for it to become a constant factor in my mind. ¬†Also, I had ¬†ZERO expectations. ¬†My mindset going in was to put my body to a test and to <hopefully> develop some strategy for the ultras I have scheduled the remainder of the year. The most exciting part of doing this race (aside from the fact that it would be my first ultra on trails) was that my teammates who would be there. ¬†Originally we were to have a few Renegades racing. ¬†In the end, Ryan and I were the only ones who made it to the start lines. ¬†Ryan was also doing the double day challenge – he is actually the reason that I decided to participate in the double day challenge. ¬†If a teammate was going to run it, then so was I!! ¬†Ryan’s wife, and more importantly – MY Renegade Sister, Ashley was coming as well. ¬†Aaaaaaaand, my brother from another mother, Tim, had decided to volunteer since he couldn’t race. ¬†Having fun and fellowship with my teammates was WAYYYY more important to me than how my race went!!

I drove down to Bastrop after work on Friday, finally arrived just before 9 PM, got settled in and was in bed as quickly as I could manage. ¬†Of course, one never sleeps well on the night before a race and this proved to be no different. ¬†I couldn’t get the air conditioner set the way I wanted, ended up too warm and tossed and turned most of the night. ¬†I was up before the crack of dawn and was well on my way to the park by 4:30AM. ¬†The 50k started at 6:00AM, but there was no parking available in the park so we had to take shuttles in to the start line. ¬†Tim had just pulled in¬†when I got there, so we hitched a ride on the shuttle together!

Before I knew it, it was time to take off.  The sun was just starting to rise, but still dark enough that headlamps were a must Рeven if only for 15-20 minutes.  Temps were cool Рif memory serves, hovering around 50 degrees.  It was a great way to start a long day on the trails!  This course was a loop Рeach loop was 6.2 miles and we were to run 5 loops.  My strategy was to take it easy on the first loop, figure out what I had to deal with and adjust from there.  Also, I wanted to finish feeling as if I could still run 2 loops (because I would be running 2 loops the next day in the half).

Ashley took this gorgeous sunrise photo

First of all….the single-track course was so congested through the first half of the first loop ¬†– I couldn’t have attacked it hard even if that had been my plan. ¬†The first mile or so was somewhat technical with ups and downs and no places where you could open up. ¬†At the end of this section was the biggest climb in the race. ¬†At the top of this climb, the course crossed a road and fed into rolling trails heading to the back side of the course. ¬†The back part of the course was my favorite because in this section, I could open up and actually run. Knowing this was coming after the semi-technical front section helped me stay at ease and not push too aggressively on that part on the subsequent loops. ¬†About halfway through the back section, the course crossed a red-rock road and then continued on with small rollers. ¬†I loved this part of the course as well – this was the part of the course I ended up calling “The Ferns”, because the trail was cut through ferns and rich foliage. ¬†PLUS, there were enough trees established that a good part of this section was shaded!! (This park was damaged in the Austin area wildfires a few years ago and is finally seeing some growth again.) The end of this section fed right into the back aid station, which was around the 4.5 mile mark on the loop. ¬†We would then run down a gravel road for a bit before turning onto the next part of the trail, which was still very runnable and was shaded in spots. ¬†At around the mile-to-start/finish mark, we made a non-technical climb up a hill, then a very steep descent on which I never tried to brake too much. ¬†It was just easier to go with it than to try to resist gravity. And honestly, I was more scared to try to take it cautiously than I was to just run it. ¬†The only problem was that it was curvy and narrow and if people were ahead I had¬†to slow it down. ¬†After that, there was a short run through more rollers, then what I called “The Stairs”. ¬†This section was a fast descent but to combat erosion, logs had been placed and the end result was something like stair steps. ¬†At the end of the stairs, we crossed over water on some logs, then made a short climb and were back on the state park road. ¬†We had to run up this ridiculous (short) hill, then a small turn and run up some more to reach start/finish area. ¬†And then do it all again. ūüôā

The end of the crap section (front) was at the top of this hill. I walked it every loop. This was loop 7 of the weekend and I refused to start walking it then! LOL

Race photo from Sunday on a rare flat section on the front part of the course. Lap 7 and still smiling ¬†ūüôā

I was really pleased with the time on my first loop. ¬†Since it was just past 7AM, the temps were still nice and cool. ¬†I felt GREAT and was having so much fun! I stopped at Renegade Central to refill my bottle and make more Tailwind and had a pouch of Clif Organic Food. ¬†Now, before I left my car in the parking lot, I made an error in judgement. ¬†I had brought 2 handheld bottles but opted to leave one in my car. ¬†I realized after that first loop that Ashley was at camp, was eager and ready to help and could have easily gotten it ready. ¬†What a foolish mistake I had made. ¬†This race was all about learning, though, right?? We managed with refilling my bottle and I went off to the port-o-potty. ¬†I should not have tried to go to potty. ¬†I waited in line for a couple minutes, then decided to just go on the back side of the course. ¬†I’m not sure what it is about Tailwind, but it makes me have to pee SO OFTEN! ¬†I ran past the main aid, checked in with Tim and was off on the trail again. ¬†After loop 2, I still felt great but having stopped at port-o-potty and then actually “going” in the bush caused my time to be a little bit longer. ¬†I could tell that Tim was a little worried when I came through to head out for loop 3, but honestly, I felt amazing.

Ashley was sending updates to Sherpa Carmen and asked for a thumbs up ūüôā

Loop 3 is when I started breaking the course down into chunks in my mind.  I had already decided the front mile was going to slow me down.  Nbd, I would make it up on the back 3.5.  I walked up the bigger hills and took the descents as fast as I could.  (I went in wanting to attack the downs and I am really happy with how I handled them.)  I started going through the checklist:  Yucky ascents with the logs (check), first bridge (check), second bridge (check), third bridge (check), big climb (sucky section almost over Рnow you can quit acting like a pansy!!), asphalt road (check), FUN except for the sand Рnow time to open up (check), and so on.  Breaking the course down helped keep my mind occupied and it helped to see that I was making progress.  At the end of loop 3, I was still feeling really good Рexcept for my toes.  I had noticed early on in the loop that my shoes were turning out to be too small and the fast, technical descents were causing my toes to bang into the end of my shoes.  But I chose not to think about it.  Nothing I could do at that point, especially since I had decided against bringing an extra pair to camp.

At the beginning of loop 4, I dug out the bandana, put some ice in it and tied around my neck.  I had tried this a couple of times in training and OH MY, does it help!  I flop around like a fish when temps are warm and I get hot.  Seriously, this whole bandana with ice thing is THE BOMB (Looks dorky but is still THE BOMB)!!!   I had not stopped at the back aid station on my first 3 loops, but I did on loop 4 so that I could get more ice and I decided to fill up with water as well.  The volunteers were so kind and told me how great I looked.  I joked that my longest training run had been 15 miles and how pleased I was with the way the day was going.  After getting some cold water dumped on my head by another amazing volunteer, I was on my way, feeling so refreshed and full of energy!

In no time at all, I was starting my last and final loop. ¬†I decided to get a little extra kick and drank a shot of Fireball. ¬†It sure did taste good! ¬†LOL!!! I’m not sure how much it helped, though, because I think it just made me sleepy for a bit. ¬†I’ll stick to beer. ¬†As far as running, I could tell that my legs were somewhat tired, but nothing near what I thought they would be – and I have felt much higher fatigue in shorter races. ¬†I did walk more ups on the front section than I had in the previous loops, but I still wasn’t sure how I would respond the last half of the loop. ¬†I wanted to play it safe. ¬†Plus, I had to keep reminding myself that I still had 13 miles to run the next day. ¬†I wanted to finish the weekend strong, which meant holding back some on this race. ¬†Once again, I stopped at the aid station on the back of the course to refill the ice. ¬†Again, those amazing volunteers!!! ¬†They went on and on about how strong I looked and one of them even remarked, “That 15 mile training plan is working REALLY well for you!” ¬†That just goes to show that one kind word can completely make a person’s day, because it sure did boost my confidence! ¬†Before I knew it, I was running¬†up that stupid hill back to the finish (I ran that hill every time….the only reason I walked the others was because of terrain and to save energy). ¬†I finished in 6:09:59, which, if I’m honest, was a little slower than I had hoped. ¬†I really wanted 6 hours or less. ¬†But I wasn’t going to waste any energy on regrets. ¬†I had SO MUCH for which to be proud. ¬†I had tackled the race, nailed my hydration and fueling, remained strong throughout the race, stayed in the game mentally AND saved some energy for the next day’s race. ¬†It was EPIC! ¬†Any doubts that I had about transitioning to trails and ultras were completely erased. ¬†And, I have to be honest. ¬†I wasn’t NEARLY as excited as Ashley or my friend, Kolbe (who had run the 10k but hung around to cheer me on and see me finish). ¬†Their excitement was absolutely contagious and I couldn’t help but smile.

Little kick for last loop

Side note: ¬†Toenails. ¬†Does anyone really need them? ¬†So after the race, I knew things would probably¬†be bad. ¬†Like I said – I could tell during the race that things weren’t right. ¬†I gingerly removed my shoes and socks and I had some that were pretty black already, but all were attached so I guess that was a win?? ¬†Ok…I’ve never had toenail issues. ¬†This was a new one for me, but acting like a pansy about it wouldn’t really change anything, so I decided to suck it up. ¬†I had some mild hyperventilation moments here and there but overall, I kept my cool about it. ¬†I knew that Sunday was going to be tough! ¬†My toenails were sore and sensitive and did NOT want to be shoved into a pair of shoes again! ¬†I chose to pull a Scarlet O’Hara and think about that tomorrow.

Eventually, we became so hungry that we decided a shower and food was now the order of the day and left the race venue to head to our respective hotels to clean up. ¬†Shiner Strawberry Blonde had recently shown up on the shelves and I brought some with me. ¬†I couldn’t wait to have a beer!! ¬†I took it into the bathroom with me, drank half, showered and enjoyed the last half while I was getting dressed. ¬†We all met at a delicious burger joint where I had ANOTHER beer with my burger. ¬†I had such a good time chatting and hanging with my teammates. ¬†It’s always fun and usually full of hilarious conversation. ¬†Tim left soon after to head back home and Ashley, Ryan and I went back to our hotels for some much needed rest before dinner. ¬†Kolbe stopped by to visit with me before she headed out of town. ¬†She loves that Strawberry Blonde so I gave her a few to take home. ūüôā ¬†I enjoyed seeing her SO MUCH!!! ¬†After she left, I tried to rest, but endorphins from the race just wouldn’t let me doze off.

Finishing the 50k

My TEAM!!!

Kolbe!!

Ashley, Ryan and I went to eat at a very cute restaurant that overlooked the Colorado River.  We sat outside and enjoyed the view, good beer, good company and some good music!  We sat there until we realized that we should probably get back to our hotels and get in bed so we could get some rest.

When I returned to my house (I had actually rented and Airbnb room in a woman’s home), I got things ready for the next day and packed up as much as possible. ¬†The next morning I was up early, but not quite as early as Saturday as my race didn’t start until 7:30.¬† Getting socks on was…..difficult. ¬†I had some anxiety – ok A LOT of anxiety – about running and pounding my toes even more than had already been done. ¬†I wore a different pair of shoes, but after the race start quickly realized that the new pair wasn’t really working either. ¬†Basically I think the damage had been done and nothing (short of not racing) would help. ¬†And I did consider DNS but only for a second – what would that accomplish?? ¬†Sometimes you just do things!! (If you know that quote – high five!) My ultimate goal in doing these races to was to put myself in a difficult mental situation. ¬†I hadn’t had any issues to battle during Saturday’s race – it had been much less difficult than I had expected. ¬†I was actually a little disappointed that I didn’t have any mental battles. ¬†To¬†continue on in spite of my toes became the mental battle. ¬†And that probably sounds pansyish, but it really was the only mental battle of my weekend.

We started Sunday’s race by running up a “little” hill to a structure then turning around and coming back down and back through the start/finish area to start loop 1 (Thanks, Rob). ¬†I got caught up in the descent and how fresh my legs felt (YES…my legs felt fresh!) and temporarily forgot about my toes. ¬†I was running well and using the same strategy as on Saturday. ¬†Take it easy. ¬†Walk the big ups and don’t overdo. ¬†My calves did begin to scream at me a little bit on loop 1 and I wondered if it would work out or if I would have to deal with it the entire race. ¬†Well, as luck (or fate) would have it, I ended jabbing my right big toe when I tripped on a rock. ¬†And since I thought that I had completely ripped my toenail off, I stopped thinking about my calves and I was well into loop 2 when I realized I hadn’t thought about them for a while nor did they hurt any longer. ¬†That right toe. ¬†I won’t lie. ¬†I fretted over it. ¬†I wanted to stop and check it out. ¬†But I didn’t. ¬†I knew that there wasn’t anything I could do and it wasn’t keeping me from running. ¬†However, I quit pushing as hard and I took those downhills a bit more cautiously. ¬†In hindsight, that kind of ticks me off. ¬†But in the moment that’s how I handled it. ¬†I didn’t panic or let it affect my race¬†much. ¬†So I guess that’s a win.

We ran to that little speck where my finger is pointing, then back and that’s when the race really started

 

Seven loops over the weekend and my only real issues were toes. ¬†LOL ¬†I know that was directly related to shoes – I needed a bigger size. ¬†Why I didn’t realize they were a little snug when I got them, I don’t know!! ¬†The weekend was about working out the kinks and figuring out what worked and what didn’t and I most definitely succeeded there.

Definitely got dirty out there!

I headed to my car pretty soon after I finished, although it seemed like I had to wait for the shuttle for the longest! ¬†I did “clean up” in my car with my BYOT (Bring Your Own Towel), changed clothes and headed home! ¬†When I got home, I soaked my feet and tried to figure out how to proceed. ¬†I did some work on them over the next few days but I won’t gross you out with the details here. But I DO have all my toenails and things are pretty much back to normal!

Still feeling fresh on Sunday!

The amazing thing is that I didn’t experience much in the way of soreness ¬†– it was minimal. ¬†I credit that to my nutrition and to staying hydrated and fueling properly during the race. ¬†Plus, trails are just easier on the joints. I also didn’t get that big rush of hunger that I generally get a couple days post-long run. ¬†Again, I think that fueling with enough during the race went a long way to helping my body during the race and gave me a jump start on recovery. ¬†I also tried out this stuff called “Vespa” and I am 99.9% sure it made an extremely positive impact on my fueling. ¬†It is a product designed to kick your metabolism into a deeper fat burn and worked really well with my Metabolic Efficiency plan.

I’ve been on ¬†rest and recovery for the last 10 days and I’ve let loose and drank a few beers. ¬†I even let loose over the weekend and just ate what I wanted – I ended up with a headache but I ate what I wanted! ¬†LOL!! ¬†This has been a good reset period to get me ready to go for the remainder of the year, but that is for another blog post! ūüôā

 

 

From Grief to Depression to Ultras

If you’ve read my blog over the years, you know that I lost my dearest friend years ago – 13 years ago tomorrow to be exact. ¬†I try not to bring it up too often. ¬†I know it can be a subject that makes people feel uncomfortable and helpless and I totally understand why. ¬†I don’t want to be that¬†person…the one that can never move on or process their feelings, constantly reminding everyone of her sorrow. ¬†But sometimes, I need to process and work through emotions for myself. ¬†And that is the real reason for today’s blog – so I can hash out and work through¬†some of these emotions that have come flooding back to me today.

This morning,¬†within the span of minutes, I found myself in a funk. ¬†All of a sudden, I felt like I had a great weight on my chest, my stomach was nauseated and hurting and I felt incredibly anxious. ¬†At first, I blew it off as nerves for my upcoming 50k/13.1 race weekend but as I considered that, I didn’t believe the anxiety was race-driven. ¬†And then it dawned on me. ¬†Thirteen years ago today was the last day that I would spend with Allison. ¬†We had been sponsors at church camp and after driving home had decided to go wash our clothes ¬†at the laundromat. ¬†It was there that she would have an episode that would lead to her being carried by air ambulance to the hospital where she would later pass away. ¬†Even though it has been 13 years, it is still incredibly difficult for me to think about the events of ¬†that day.

One of my favorite pics of Allison. I can still hear her laugh.

Losing Allison was obviously a terrible tragedy for everyone involved, especially for her family. ¬†It was the biggest devastation that any of us had ever faced, and with it came a loss of innocence about the world. ¬†Where I had once embraced life with joy and anticipation, I could no longer find the joy in living. ¬†I’ve often said that the light in the world dimmed the day that Allison died. ¬†I think it is still true today, even after years of coping with the grief and finally finding ways to feel joy – it will always be a hollow substitute to what I felt before she died.

The grief was so huge and overwhelming, at first. ¬†Just trying to process the enormity of that loss was nearly impossible. ¬†As the days and weeks went by, the loss was hammered home and I didn’t handle it well AT ALL. ¬†Soon, my grief turned into depression and instead of being constantly sad, I felt like I was living in a black hole, void of all emotion. ¬†I did force myself to continue going through the motions of life. ¬†I wasn’t really vested in it, but I tried to be. ¬†Looking back at that time in my life feels like I was trapped in a nightmare. ¬†I don’t really remember much of what I did, but I remember everything just feeling gray. ¬†Thank God that my husband and children survived that era. ¬†I was completely checked-out.

I practiced this going through the motions for years.  YEARS.  I slowly began to have more moments of joy.  Real joy.  Where, for a few moments, I began to actually feel happiness again.  Those moments starting coming more often, but I was still trapped in the fog of depression.

I’ve mentioned several times about how running gave me my sparkle back. ¬†Allison was a runner. ¬†I believe with all my heart that this is no coincidence. ¬†Allison was always trying to convert me to running in life – why would it change in death?? ¬†Anyway, the more I ran, the more I began to feel joy again. ¬†I never run without thinking of Allison, so I think running has helped me continue to feel close to her as well.

The reason I’m detailing all this now – today – is because of a running documentary that I recently watched. ¬†This film highlighted ultra-runner Nikki Kimball and her attempt to break the MEN’s FKT on The Long Trail in Vermont. ¬†She missed the men’s record by a day, but went on to set a new women’s record by 2.5 days! ¬†Anyway, she was very candid about her struggle with depression – intense depression. ¬†When I heard her say this in the movie, it stopped me dead in my tracks. ¬†I knew immediately that this was the real reason I’ve been drawn to ultra-running.

“I think that depression is my secret weapon. ¬†When things get really, really bad in an expedition or an ultra race, I can look back at the pain I was in at the worst of my depression and the pain of an ultra race isn’t that bad. ¬†……..One of the things about depression, you know it’s not that you just feel sad – you feel¬†nothing. ¬†And I think one of the reasons I do ultras is because it gives me the highest highs and the low lows. ¬†But I can handle acute, strong lows. ¬†That juxtaposed to feeling nothing is fantastic.” ¬† ¬† ~Nikki Kimball

First of all, the feeling nothing within the framework of depression¬†is SPOT ON. ¬†And as far as feeling pain –¬†I have felt some pain in my racing and training. ¬†I’ve been tired and hurting and all I want to do is stop. ¬†But when you keep going through the pain, it is such a victorious feeling. ¬†But I haven’t felt the pain enough….

I don’t have a lot of ultras under my belt right now, but I truly believe the lure of the pain is a big part of what makes ultras so enticing to me. ¬†Getting to that place where you don’t think you can continue. ¬†Getting to the place that you don’t want to continue. ¬†Yet you do continue and you prevail and you feel¬†something and it is a reminder to you that you are still living. ¬†Maybe I’m crazy, but all of us distance runners are. ¬†And most of us have pain in our past that pushes us to keep doing the crazy things.

This weekend is going to be tough. ¬†I signed up for a 50k on Saturday and 13.1 on Sunday…on a trail….in the Hill Country. ¬†I knew it was a stretch when I signed up, being only 5 weeks out from Galveston. ¬†I didn’t give myself time for a proper build. ¬†But I’m going to welcome the battle. ¬†I want it to hurt. ¬†I want to fight for it. ¬†Because I will prevail. ¬†And because it’s that time of the year, I will be fighting in honor of Allison. ¬†I know she will be right beside me.

My Why

I’ve been noticing a lot of people posting about their “My Why” – what fuels their passion (in my circles this equates to running and triathlon, but this movement isn’t restricted to that), which got me thinking – what is MY Why?

Honestly? My Why is selfishly ME. I feel slightly guilty about that, since a lot of people seem to be motivated by their spouse or children or family. The bottom line is that I feel like I love my family better because I do this endurance thing for myself.  And, for me, motivation has to come from the inside Рnot from an outside source. 

I do this for ME because running and endurance sports gave me my sparkle back.¬† When Allison died, and for several years after, I really didn’t think that I would ever enjoy life again. ¬†Running gave me that feeling again of actually being alive. ¬†Instead of going through the motions of life, I am finally LIVING life again. ¬†

I do this for ME because every time I conquer something that I once thought was impossible, I gain more confidence. I have struggled with self-confidence/self-esteem my entire life and while I feel like that will always be a struggle for me – I now struggle just a little bit less. ¬†I don’t have to doubt my abilities as an endurance athlete because when I toe the start line, I have put in the training and the hard work to get there – and I’m kind-of good at this endurance thing. ūüôā ¬†

I do this for ME because, at this point, I am having a whole lot of fun seeing what crazy new goal I can accomplish. ¬†I no longer look at a challenge and think, “there is NO WAY I could do this”. ¬†I no longer shake with fear when I consider something unthinkable. ¬†I just try to evaluate whether the pain involved will be worth it. ¬†ūüėČ

I do this for ME because I want to push myself to the edge and force myself dig deeper than I ever have to finish a training run/race.  Because when you push yourself past your limits, you find things out about yourself that you never would have known otherwise.  And crossing that finish line is so much sweeter when a big struggle was involved!!

IRONMAN Texas 70.3 finish

Oh, and I do this for ME because I’m an endorphin addict and I looooooove those long runs! ¬†The bigger the goal, the longer the training runs!

What is YOUR Why??

My First: Ironman Texas 70.3 Race Recap

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. ¬†The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” ~John Bingham

 

Getting to Galveston

What would I do without Carmen?? If the time comes that I do a big race in a far-away city and she can’t come, I may just implode. ¬†We have a great time road-tripping to these events and her laid-back personality helps keep me calm. ¬†I do better when I’m calm.

We headed down early Friday morning with a brief stop in Dallas to visit my ART/FACTR/Graston/Fascial Stretch/Cupping/Massage guy, Mel. ¬†I really never know exactly what technique he will try – it’s always fun to guess! ¬†On pre-race tune ups, it is usually a bit of fascial stretch with ART to get any kinks out and massage. ¬†Ahhhhh. ¬†I left his office feeling lighter than air. ¬†We then grabbed a quick lunch and were back on the road and rolled into Galveston around 5 PM.

No trip is complete without a Buc-ee’s stop!

Race Eve 

Saturday morning, most of us had a bike ride and brick run because Brent coaches almost all of us.  LOL!  So Tim, Craig, Levi, Brent and I went out about 7AM for a very windy ride and run before breakfast.  Of course, no trip is complete without me doing something stupid.  We were nearing the end of our ride and came to a stop light.  I unclipped my right foot (WHY??) and fell right over when I tried to put my left foot down.  So dumb.  I swear I need constant supervision!  Big thanks to Levi and Brent who talked me through some stuff on our ride and gave me a lot of pointers.

After the ride and run, we headed out for breakfast, which was actually more like brunch. ¬†The wait was worth it, though, because those pancakes were some of the most delicious I’ve ever had!

Once we made it back to the beach house, we loaded up our bikes and headed to athlete check in. ¬†After getting all our stuff and attending the athlete briefing, we checked in our bikes. ¬†This caused me some anxiety because at the time there was a high possibility of strong storms (including hail) moving through that night. ¬†I couldn’t stand the thought of her being left out all by herself in the elements. ¬†Once again, Levi talked me through the race step-by-step, which relieved some anxiety. ¬†Knowledge is power!

It was SO HARD to leave her!

A cool part of this race is that our club is registered with Ironman and we qualified for our own bike rack, so all of our bikes were racked together!  It was nice knowing that the people who you would see next to you in transition would be your teammates!

We had a Renegade get-together that afternoon after bike check-in and it was so much fun getting to meet and talk to teammates face to face (many for the first time). ¬†We don’t all get to see each other much and it was great fun!

After the party and dinner, those of us racing made all our last minute preparations then we were off to bed!

I have to say that I received the sweetest text from Ashley that evening Рit brought tears to my eyes!!  She is so supportive of me Рof everyone, really РI hope I can develop that spirit when I grow up!

FINALLY – Time to race!

I slept until 1:30AM. ¬†I just couldn’t sleep! ¬†I wasn’t nervous or anxious, I was just ready to go and see what the day would bring. ¬†When the clock finally rolled around to 4:15, I got up, waited for my turn to hop in the shower and gathered all my things for our 5:15 departure.

I rode with Levi because he had the club’s VIP parking pass. ¬†Turns out that we didn’t need the VIP parking anyway because we got there early enough that our parking spot was right next to transition! ¬†We all headed over to start getting things ready for the day. ¬†After checking and double checking and taking my UCAN for the swim, I slipped on my wetsuit and my friend Tim and I headed over to the Renegade tent to wait until GO time.

Since I was in the first swim wave after the elites and Tim was just 2 starts after me, we headed over to the swim around 6:30. ¬†We had a few moments to sit on the curb and just talk. ¬†At this point, I had started getting some nerves, but Tim is such a calm, soothing soul – being able to talk things through with him calmed me down before the nerves could really take hold. ¬†I wouldn’t have wanted to share that time with anyone else. ¬†I cherish Tim’s friendship more than words can express!

We noticed that someone holding a Wave 9 start was standing right in front of us and realized that it was time to snap out of the zen moment, so we hopped up from the curb and headed toward our places in line.  Leaving Tim at Wave 5 was pretty hard to do, but we said our goodbyes and good lucks and I was on my way to find Wave 3.

The Dreaded Swim

The way this race starts is everyone jumps off the pier (it really isn’t bad – the water might be 2 feet below the deck) and then swims over to the start line. ¬†Even with the confidence I had going into the swim, I was prepared for a full-blown panic attack. ¬†Part of my plan to avoid this was to get at the very back of the pack and start to the right.

WELL.

I got in the water, swam to the start, looked around and realized – I WAS AT THE VERY FRONT OF THE LINE. ¬†We were off and I swam about 100 yards (maybe) before I completely lost it. ¬†I should have tried to start slow and easy, but it is hard to start slow and easy when over 100 people are swimming up from behind over and around you. ¬†So I tried to backstroke to calm myself down and that DID NOT work. ¬†I actually had to stop for a bit because I was so close to hyperventilating. ¬†I did have the presence of mind to realize that I needed to keep moving forward, so I inched along as I could. ¬†This went on for at least 10 minutes. ¬†Me making progress little by little because I didn’t want to put my face in the water and feel like I was drowning. ¬†Until….I just got pissed. ¬†I told myself to quit acting like a pansy and just swim. (That’s the PG version.) ¬†And I started swimming. ¬†I decided to breathe every other stroke and that would also help me keep my eyes on the buoys. ¬†I found a good rhythm very quickly and found my swim zone. ¬†By this time, I had made the first turn and was heading down the longest stretch of the course. ¬†Red buoys were the turn markers, but on the long stretch the buoys in between were orange so it was hard to tell how far I had to go when I looked down the line. ¬†Not cool. ¬†I like yellow. ¬†LOL

I FINALLY reached the buoy for the last turn and was on the home stretch! ¬†I was so focused on watching the now yellow buoys that I didn’t even realize how close I was to the exit. ¬†I did a happy dance inside my wet suit when I figured that out! ¬†Before I knew it, I was on the exit ramp. ¬†I walked out of the water (just like coach instructed) and headed to the wet suit strippers. ¬†But after I got through with them, I was just ready to get to transition so I started jogging a bit. ¬†I heard Carmen yelling my name and looked to see her and Brent standing there. ¬†I think I managed a wave and continued on to my bike!

Side note:  By the end of the swim, I was SO OVER salt water!  I did a good job not swallowing much, but my sinuses and throat were starting to burn.  (My nose ran like a faucet for the rest of the race Рit was like I had an entire hour with a Neti pot.)  Also, I was thinking during the swim that the waters sure were choppy, but I had no reference so I thought all that was normal.  When I ran into Noah in T1 and he made a remark about how bad the swim was, I felt much better about myself!

Blustery Bike

The bike is always windy at Galveston. ¬†I knew this going in, but with the crazy weather that had been forecast, the winds were supposed to be even more brutal. ¬†I really don’t know what the winds actually were but I heard 20-25 mph. ¬†I know there were times that it gusted more than that because it would catch my wheels.

So I finally got out of transition and out on the bike, but there were SO MANY PEOPLE that I was riding like 14mph, which honestly ticked me off. ¬†I had to remind myself that it would thin out when we got out on the main road and that the goal was NOT to chase people down. ¬†I was committed to riding a smart bike leg and not blowing my legs out for the run. ¬†I found a nice rhythm pretty quickly and, depending on the amount of cyclists around, was able to keep anywhere from 17-22mph. ¬† (I’m not going to lie, I wanted 20mph avg on the bike, but I knew it was foolish to attempt that.) ¬†I passed a lot of people and got passed by a lot of bad ass men – and a few women, too. ¬†I kept my pace and just passed when I had to. ¬†HOWEVER, if you were a woman and I could see 45-49 on your calf, I DID pass you! ¬†LOL ¬†Apparently I managed the no-draft zone well because I saw the race officials often and never got a penalty!

I had to stop at the first aid station, which was around 20 mile mark, I think, because I was about to pee in my shorts!  I would have peed on the bike, but since they specifically said not to in the athlete briefing I figured best not to chance it.  As far as nutrition, I took UCAN again before the bike and had Tailwind in my bottles for out on the course.

The bridge that we had to ride over was so freaking bumpy. ¬†I swear I felt like I was riding on rumble strips. ¬†I noticed at the turn around that the bracket holding my bottle cage between my aero bars was loose on one side. ¬†I thought about stopping and getting my hex tool out of my bag, but I wasn’t sure if I had packed it. ¬†Then I considered stopping at one of the support vehicles, but all that would take time that I didn’t want to give up, so I decided to chance it and see what happened. ¬†Well….that bracket came loose and fell off. ¬†And right before it fell off, I found myself on the bumpy bridge again and a guy behind me said I had lost my left rear bottle (out of a Gorilla cage) and that bottle had my last leg of Tailwind in it. ¬†I wasn’t too concerned about it though, because I had enough Tailwind for 3 hours on the bike and I had elected to start the bike with UCAN which covered the first hour. ¬†I was pretty sure that my nutrition would suffice. ¬†As I approached mile 40, my shoulders were starting to cramp from white knuckling my aero bars (to keep my bike from blowing over in the cross winds) and I noticed that I was hungry, too. ¬†Plus that stupid cage between my aero bars was driving me NUTS. ¬†I stopped at mile 40 and grabbed the emergency bar I had stashed on my bike, rearranged my bottles so that I didn’t have anything in that aero cage, stretched out my shoulders and went off again. ¬†My mouth was watering for the end of the bike. ¬†I was SO READY to be done because my shoulders felt crampy, but my legs still felt fresh. ¬†I checked my heart rate – 107. ¬†LOL ¬†I know it wasn’t that low the entire bike, but I laughed a little bit that it was that low at mile 50. ¬†I stayed in aero basically the entire 56 miles, to combat the wind.

I’ll speak to the wind a bit. ¬†Even though that wind would catch my race wheels, I was SO GLAD it was a crosswind. ¬†I didn’t feel like I had to fight for every pedal stroke the way I feel when I ride into a headwind. ¬†I think that is what made my bike leg so manageable.

When I was on those last 6 miles of the bike, my thoughts jumped back and forth from: I CAN NOT wait to get off this effing bike! to: I DO NOT want to run 13.1 miles! ¬†to: Quit acting like a pansy, Jen. ¬†How the hell you gonna run a 50 miler if you can’t even mentally handle a half. ¬†SUCK IT UP.

And then I was back in transition, getting ready to run!

Running in a sauna would have been cooler

Again, I took my time in T2. ¬†I didn’t want to rush things too much. ¬†I took another serving of UCAN, grabbed my bottle of Tailwind for later in the run and took off out of transition. ¬†I had my watch in Triathlon mode and hit the lap button….twice…by accident. ¬†And that ended the activity. ¬†I’m a data freak and a little OCD about all that stuff being perfect, but I managed to handle it with cool and calm. ¬†It took forever for my watch to save the swim and bike, though, and I was getting impatient. ¬†While all this was happening, I ran right by our Renegade tent and with everyone cheering it gave me a real boost to start the run. ¬†The workout finally saved and I was able to start the run, but I had NO IDEA how far I had gone when was actually able to start the run on my watch. ¬†I wasn’t really worried, though. ¬†The course was 3 loops of 4ish miles, so I felt it should be manageable.

The run was SO HOT. ¬†After being nearly blown away on the bike, I went to running in and around the resort where breezes were few and far between. ¬†I struggle in the heat, anyway, and ¬†I WAS STRUGGLING. ¬†Before the race, I had hoped to do better than a 2:15 half and felt that I could manage a 2:00 half. ¬†So my goal was to just stay on pace for around a 2:00 half. ¬†My only problem was that I didn’t really know how to judge that since my run was off a little on my watch. ¬†My whole goal with the run wasn’t to crush it so much as it was to use it for mental training for my upcoming ultras. ¬†I managed the heat as best I could, stopping at every aid station and getting ice water sponges or pouring ice down my bra and back of my shirt when the aid stations had ice available. ¬†It helped, along with the occasional breeze in certain parts of the course.

The second loop was the hardest. ¬†I was hot and I wanted to STOP. ¬†I was determined that I wouldn’t walk. ¬†I didn’t need to walk, but my brain wanted me to. ¬†Again, mental training for the ultra. ¬†Push through when your brain tries to trick you to stop. ¬†When I came by the Renegade tent for lap 2, they were all standing in a line cheering for me. ¬†Lacy was the loudest and her enthusiasm gave me the boost I needed to keep pushing forward. ¬†I can’t put into words how much it helps seeing your teammates cheering for you. ¬†I started seeing Renegades on the course on lap 2 as well, and seeing those familiar jerseys reminded me that I wasn’t in this alone. ¬†I finished lap 2 and now the finish was just one lap away – and that gave me a huge mental boost!

I maintained the pace that I had been running for the first half of loop 3.  I caught up with Tim and wanted to run it in with him, but he was having stomach cramps and walking some so he told me to go on without him.  I think I left a little of my heart right there.  It would have been so amazing to cross the finish with him!  I stopped at the next aid station and filled my bra with ice, then picked up the pace.  I was so close I could almost taste it!  When I got to mile 12 marker, I really kicked it up.  I went from a 9:29 pace on mile 12 to an 8:48 pace on mile 13.  And when I knew I was close to the finish, I pushed even harder!  I smiled the entire way down the finish line chute РI HAD DONE IT!!!

After the finish

After I zipped across the finish, I downed a water and tried to find the exit. ¬†It was a bit camouflaged. ¬†I turned to go to Medical but realized there was no way out and I had to go back across the finish area to get out. ¬†As I did, I looked at the clock and it was 6:28. ¬†I knew that I had *at least* a 6:20, since I started 8 min after the first wave of elites. ¬†I couldn’t help but smile. ¬†I had hoped that I could do better than 6:30. (I really wanted 6:00, but was smart enough to know it probably wouldn’t happen my first time out of the gate.) ¬†I exited the finish area and had NO CLUE how to get back across to the Renegade tent, nor did I have a clue where Carmen was. ¬†I felt so lost!

The sherpa shirt that I had made for Carmen

It was about this time that I spotted Carmen and I’ve never been so happy to see her. ¬†She gave me a BIG hug and I might have had a tear escape from my eye. ¬†It was a special moment. ¬†We found our way to the food tent which was serving pizza (disappointing) and NO BEER (MORE disappointing). ¬†I grabbed a slice of cheese and Carmen escorted me back to the Renegade tent. ¬†On the way, it hit me that I hadn’t waited for Tim and I felt TERRIBLE. ¬†What a bad team mate I turned out to be!

When we got back to the tent, Tim was sitting there and I gave him a hug and sat down beside him.  The app had finally updated and Carmen shared that my time was 6:18:02 РI was very happy with that!!

Turns out that Ryan is really good at this sherpa thing, too, because he had BEER in a cooler! ¬†SCORE!!! ¬†Ahhhhh it tasted so good! ¬†He may as well have serenaded me with what he said next – he asked if I wanted a hamburger! ¬†Bless him! ¬†If I had been on my feet and able to move at that moment, I would have tackled him with the biggest bear hug. ¬†I’m pretty sure that hamburger was the best tasting hamburger I’ve ever had in my life!

After Tim and I ate, transition was open again for bike pick-up. ¬†We walked over together to get our stuff. ¬†Carmen and I left pretty soon after the bike check-out. ¬†We had a 6 hour drive and possibly some storms to dodge, so we didn’t want to waste too much time.

The Important Stuff

The week before and right up to race morning, the threat of severe weather was real. ¬†Luckily, the predicted storms went North of Galveston and I managed to finish the race before even a drop of rain fell. ¬†(I’m not sure if it rained/stormed after Carmen and I left or not.) ¬†This storm threat caused me to reassess the race. ¬†I had once been so terrified about the swim but realized that if it had to be cancelled, I would be severely disappointed. ¬†In just over a year, I had gone from sitting in my car, nauseated, in the natatorium parking lot – not even able to swim a full lap with my head in the water to KNOWING that I could manage a 1.2 mile swim, even if/when I panicked. ¬†I think that is the most beautiful part of this half Ironman journey.

I have to thank my coach, Brent. ¬†He was relentless in trying to talk me into triathlon – I know he knew it would help me spread my wings. ¬†I am so glad he didn’t give up when I said NO over and over and over and over again. ¬†I am thankful for his training, his support and his friendship.

I have to thank my sherpa, Carmen.  I cherish our friendship and am SO THANKFUL for her dedication to come with me to these races and wait on me to finish.  We really do make a good team at these things!

And my dear friend, Tim. ¬†He is a very treasured friend, indeed. ¬†His wisdom resonates with me and he has talked me off the ledge of anxiety more times than I can count. ¬†Those fake Galveston wind updates, though…..

Finally, my TEAM! ¬†Oh my goodness. ¬†I love each and every one of you! ¬†When we have these events that a bunch of Renegades are racing, it makes the experience SO MUCH FUN! ¬†Racing is so much more fun with friends and I’m so glad that I get to do it with YOU!

OH!!  I later found out that the founders of our club decided to do top 3 male and female awards and I ended up as 2nd place female!!  I feel really lucky, too, because the two women on either side of me are young and amazing athletes.

And now, I’ll continue the rest and recovery. ¬†Hitting training hard again next week as I prepare for a 50k just 30 days away!

 

It’s 70.3 race week and taper madness is in overdrive!

The thought occurred to me recently that I NEVER post training updates anymore. ¬†And I rarely do. ¬†I was at the point that I felt like I was saying the same thing over and over and over….and the last thing I want is to remind people of the movie¬†Groundhog Day. ¬†So I took a break. ¬†Another {valid} reason is that life was a whirlwind and I legitimately couldn’t find the time or the energy to devote to a post. ¬†But Spring is here and with it a renewed spirit. ¬†Oh, and its TAPER WEEK!!

Galveston is here and I completely lost my mind in taper AGAIN. 

I signed up for Galveston THE DAY registration opened last July. ¬†In fact, at the time I had not even participated in my first sprint tri. ¬†How smart is that?!? ¬†LOL!! ¬†I became nauseated when I hit that “Register” button, but that didn’t last too long because Galveston was SO FAR AWAY that it didn’t seem real. ¬†My training hasn’t been as conventional as most since the timing of Houston delayed the start to tri training. ¬†And I threw that 50K in there¬†right in the meat of Galveston training….Brent definitely earned his money on this training cycle.

I wigged out last week. I wouldn’t describe the feeling that I had as being nervous….at this point I am actually feeling pretty confident. ¬†(Qualifying for Boston has calmed my nerves A LOT. ¬†I know I can do it – I will just need to manage the day well.) ¬†But I had A LOT of energy and I couldn’t get a handle on it. ¬†So I signed up for not one, but TWO upcoming 50Ks. ¬†Brent is going to earn his money again because one of them is just 4 weeks after Galveston.

My mantra: Survive the swim

Even with my sparse¬†posts the last few months, one thing should still be clear: the swim was my biggest fear (biking and running are just a matter of managing endurance, and I know I can do that). ¬†I took a SIX MONTH BREAK from the pool. ¬†I swam (that term is used loosely) at my sprint tri at the end of August and I didn’t get in the pool again until after I ran Houston Marathon in mid-January. ¬†The encouraging thing is that I could hardly tell that I had taken a break! ¬†I haven’t had one bad swim (aaaaand I probably just jinxed myself) since starting back. ¬†The turning point was the day I set out to swim a mile:¬†without¬†a warm up and¬†without¬†stopping. ¬†I swam 2,300! ¬†I was 275 yards in when a guy asked to share the lane. ¬†I stopped only long enough to hear his question and to respond with a yes. ¬†My mistake was pausing my watch because it ended up lapping my Garmin. ¬†I was SO UPSET about it that I decided to swim my 1,760 yards but when I got there I wanted to hit 2,000. ¬†And because I was at the opposite end of the pool when this happened, I have one lap of 275 and another of 2,025. ¬†It wasn’t fast by any means, but I didn’t panic like I usually do in the warmup (remember…I had NO warmup) and I freaking did it!!! ¬†OK, OK….I¬†know¬†that I will likely panic when I jump off that pier and find myself surrounded by hundreds of other swimmers, but I also know I just need to settle my nerves and just keep swimming. ¬†I wouldn’t say that I am looking forward¬†to the swim, but I am ready to get in the water and do what I now know I can do!

Bike:¬†Don’t get blown away

If you had asked me how I felt about the bike two weeks ago, I would have told you that I would be lucky to finish in four hours. ¬†My rides had all been on the trainer and I just don’t trust the trainer. ¬†When I am finished with my workouts, I always feel like I should have pushed harder. ¬†I haven’t mastered that killer instinct on the bike that I have on the run. ¬†I can get myself to that place and maintain it much easier on the run than I can on the bike, BUT….

That is slowly changing.  Even though I was never able to do the long, long rides outside, I have been doing rides outside the last couple of weeks.  I can tell that I am much stronger than I was last Fall and that is encouraging.  I had to fight wind on most of these rides and I was able to keep going Рnot always as hard as I wanted, but I kept going.  Typically, Galveston has a very windy bike course, since it is right along the sea wall so managing the headwinds will be the biggest challenge.  I must keep in mind that a good bike equals a bad run.  I have to remember to hold back on the bike to keep my run from going South.  I hope my ego listens on race day.

Another BIG announcement is that I FINALLY named my bike! ¬†I’ve spent all this time with her and I couldn’t settle on a name. ¬†All the names that were suggested or that I thought of just never fit. ¬†So I waited for the right timing and inspiration. ¬†A couple of weeks ago, an idea for a name came to me and I just knew it was perfect!! ¬†(It’s kind of like deciding on a tattoo….you just know when it is right.) ¬†I named her¬†Brienne, after Brienne of Tarth on Game of Thrones. ¬†Brienne of Tarth is loyal, brave, noble, dependable, and a little bit quirky. ¬†ūüôā

Run: The jam to my peanut butter

Obviously running is my favorite – it’s the discipline in which I feel like I excel. ¬†I have NO CLUE how my legs will react after pedaling for 56 miles. ¬†Then there is the added challenge (for me) of running in the heat of the day (although the current forecast is thunderstorms, so rain AND CLOUDS!!). ¬†I don’t even know what to expect to be able to do on the run.

I can say that I am able to get my legs under me a lot more quickly now than at the beginning of training. ¬†I noticed after Sunday’s bike that they didn’t feel nearly as heavy as they normally do. (That is likely related to the fact that the wind was at my back on the last half of my ride….) ¬†I’m trying to go in with a generous time goal in case my legs just scream NO. ¬†ūüôā

Race nutrition 

I don’t think it would be an understatement to say that race nutrition has given me more anxiety than the swim. ¬†I generally use UCAN for running. ¬†I can actually tell a difference in my sustained energy when I use UCAN, but¬†it isn’t the best tasting substance. ¬†I can handle it for marathon distances or less, but I just can’t face the prospect of drinking or taking UCAN gel every hour for 6-7 hours. ¬†I JUST CAN’T.

Plus, the remainder of my year is going to be about extending my ultra distances and it doesn’t seem feasible to me in those situations either, so I have been making the transition to Tailwind. ¬†Tailwind is a lightly flavored elecrolyte/carb mix that you add to your water, so I felt like it would be perfect on the bike. ¬†And it has worked for me on the bike. ¬†As I sit here typing this, FIVE days out from the race, I am STILL unsure how I am going to fuel my run. ¬†I know how dangerous and stupid that is.

I am seriously considering making a UCAN gel just for the run, then carrying an emergency gel in case I get in trouble. ¬†The big question mark here is: how will my GI tract handle those two substances at once in an endurance event? ¬†You have to be careful what you take in while on UCAN because the sugary stuff can intensify the stomach upset. ¬†I am going to take it all with me and decide by Saturday night. ¬†Maybe I’ll flip a coin! ¬†LOL ¬† If use both and it goes South, I will chalk it up to training my stomach for those upcoming ultras. ¬†Speaking of….

Why can’t I just focus on one thing at once?

In the weeks after Houston, I took some time to simply enjoy what I had accomplished. ¬†I wasn’t stressed in the least about Cowtown 50k and I didn’t really have any goals to speak of. ¬†I just wanted to have fun and finish and I did exactly that, plus some! ¬†I became so chill about everything, though – even Galveston – that I wondered if I had lost my drive. ¬†I wondered if qualifying for Boston could have been more of a curse? ¬†When you’re hungry, you work a lot harder and achieve a whole lot more.

I should have known better.  I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER.  As soon as my last big bike and last big run was done, so was my chill time.  I became restless. Plus, I had just returned from a volleyball national qualifier in St. Louis Рa roller coaster weekend of INTENSE games where we found ourselves in the final and walked away with 2nd place AND a bid to nationals.  And the leftover emotion from this bid to nationals was the pebble that turned into an avalanche.

It all started like this: My teammate Tim was planning to run Wildflower 50K the first weekend of May. ¬†I promised I would run it with him IF Alli’s team qualified for nationals. ¬†If they didn’t end up with a bid from a national qualifier, we would have to attempt a bid at the Region tournament which is the same weekend as Wildflower. ¬†So I had started the taper, Alli’s team battled it out for a bid to nationals and I realized that the May weekend was now open – I could run Wildflower!!!!! ¬†Of course I signed up immediately! ¬†That night, I literally woke up at 2AM in a cold, panicky sweat, at that moment realizing (for the first time, really) that I had just signed up for a 50K one month after Galveston. ¬†One thought was, “JEN….that is LONGER than a marathon!” ¬†*sigh*

So how did I deal with this stress of adding this longer-than-a-marathon 50K to my race schedule?? ¬†The VERY NEXT DAY, after I asked Twitterverse for help finding a race around the time we will be in¬†Minnesota for Nationals, I signed up for ANOTHER 50K. ¬†And, AGAIN, I had a complete shutdown of all rational thoughts along with a complete brain disconnect. ¬†Some people get drunk to do damage on Ultra Signup. ¬†NOT ME. ¬†My brain shuts off, ADHD impuslivity takes over and when I come to my senses (I imagine this is how people feel who get drunk, then wake up in an unfamiliar bed the next morning.), I realize what I have done. ¬†Let me say, first, that this race is PERFECT. ¬†It is a 50K and is the day after Nationals wraps up. ¬†I can send Alli back with teammates to be picked up in Dallas by Bobby so that I can stay an extra couple of days to get a run in while I’m in another state. ¬†However, at the moment I signed up, 9,340′ of total elevation gain and 9,340′ of total elevation loss didn’t seem¬†that¬†difficult. ¬†But when I came out of my Ultra Signup, ADHD-induced coma, I went into full-blown panic mode. ¬†I know what downhill does to your quads. ¬†One only needs to utter the name, Rochester, for me to shudder and curl up in the fetal position in the nearest corner. ¬†Rochester was the hilliest race I had ever done and I was not mentally prepared, nor were my quads. ¬†I now have a plan on how to strengthen my quads and I’ll be finding hillier routes for my longer runs – I’m sure it will be OK. ¬†The BEST part of this is that my friend, Pood, lives in Minnesota and he is driving down (I assume he is coming “down” the state) to run it with me!!! ¬†Pood was part of the St. Louis Rock n Roll group and he ran that race with me. ¬†We make a GREAT race team!! ¬†And I can honestly say that he is one of the most genuinely nice and caring people that I have EVER met. ¬†We are going to slay those downhills!!

 

Basically, nothing has changed in my life since I’ve been posting less. ¬†I’m the same ditzy, crazy runner that digs herself a big hole to climb out of. ¬†But that’s how I function best and I love it!!

I’ll be updating next week with a full Ironman Texas 70.3 race report!

Jen

Popping my Ultra Marathon Cherry

On Sunday, I finally realized a dream that I had been holding on to for a really long time.  I became an ultra marathoner.

The Backstory

I started running in 2011 and ran my first half almost 2 years later in 2013. ¬†One year later, I ran my first Cowtown Half Marathon, which was my second half. ¬†This is the race that made me want to become an ultra marathoner. ¬†I hate to admit it, but I was envious of all the people running the ultra. ¬†Even though I hadn’t even run a full marathon at the time (although I had trained for Dallas 2013 which was cancelled due to ice), I¬†knew¬†that running an ultra was my ultimate goal and I wouldn’t be satisfied until I achieved it.

I trained for Dallas again in the Fall of 2014….too well, because I ended up with IT issues. ¬†But I was too stubborn to quit and “ran” it anyway. ¬†(Those last 6 miles were so slow and painful, but I finished with an embarrassing 5:18.) ¬†I was determined to train smarter in 2015 and took the time to rehab my IT. ¬†Running Dallas again was a MUST – I needed redemption, but Cowtown Ultra was the main blip on my radar. ¬†I signed up for both, convinced that I could do it. ¬†THANK GOODNESS that the running gods had me cross paths with my coach, Brent. ¬†He started coaching me late in the Fall and got me to the Dallas start line healthier than I had ever been and I ran a 4:15 (which was 15 minutes faster than my goal). ¬†But in order to keep me healthy, he recommended that I drop from the ultra to the half at Cowtown 2016. ¬†It made me SO SAD, but I trusted him and knew it was for my own good.

So for 2017, I was registered for the Cowtown Half РI planned to use it as a training run/warm-up for the run portion of Ironman Texas 70.3 in Galveston.  When one of my teammates started asking about the ultra, I asked if I could run it and was given the green light! (And I upgraded my registration in record time Рbefore Brent could figure out what he had given me permission to do!)

Carmen Reed was running her first 10k and Suzanne Kennedy joined her in the fun for her first 10k Рthey crushed it in their Saturday race!!  Jeri was running the half on Sunday.  We spent the weekend together roaming around Cowtown and had an wonderful time together!!img_4472

The Race

I ran Houston Marathon just 6 weeks ago.  I quickly realized that training for a 50k so soon after and training for a 50k and half Ironman simultaneously was a foolish choice.  Training kicked my rear but I persisted (with a lot of uncharacteristic whining and belly-aching) and I survived.

I typically fret over how I will perform at races, but I didn’t fret about this race. ¬†Houston gave me A LOT of confidence and removed any feelings of having to prove myself. ¬†I have proven myself to ME and that needed to happen because I was full of self-doubt.

I went into the race without any goal times. ¬†Well…..I knew what I would like¬†to hit, but I was prepared to be OK with just finishing. ¬†I knew that hurting at some point in the race was inevitable so my strategy was to run by heart rate and try not to go out too fast. ¬†I felt that I could manage the extra mileage by keeping my heart rate in check, but I was still a little leery because of the time crunch caused by running this so close to Houston made any training for this race short and sweet. ¬†In any case, I had no doubt that I could do it – it was just a matter of how well I managed everything. ¬†Early in the week, the forecast was horrid. ¬†Temps were supposed to be close to 70 with sunny skies and winds gusting up to 30 mph. ¬†Honestly, I dreaded this because it would only serve to make a difficult race even harder. ¬†I didn’t check the forecast again until we were in Ft. Worth on Saturday and I¬†literally¬†started jumping up and down, screaming with excitement (while we were in CVS and I *may* have startled the clerk). ¬†Temps while I was expected to be on the course were to be in the 40s with partly cloudy skies and winds around 10 mph. ¬†I felt like I had just won the lottery!

Race morning was so cold at around 40¬į!! ¬†Several of the Renegades were racing and everyone who could make it met for a pic. ¬†My fellow Renegade sister, Ashley, said it best when she shared our group pic, “From first time 10k finishers to 50k & everything in between. Love sharing the dreams & then witnessing the successes of these Renegades. We all have our own story but together it’s an even more powerful one.” ¬†Being a part of this group is one of the main reasons I’ve been so successful over the past 1 1/2 years. ¬†This is the MOST SUPPORTIVE team out there – and we support EVERY one of our athletes from slower to faster and shorter to longer distance athletes. ¬†It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of!img_4502-1

I waffled back and forth on whether to do UCAN or Tailwind for this race. ¬†I tried Tailwind at the tail end of training, but I don’t think I found the right balance because I found myself hungry and hitting an energy wall. ¬†I ended up going with UCAN because it really does work for me and I can tell a HUGE difference when I don’t fuel with it. ¬†(Some tweaking will be in order as I extend my distance to the 50 miler later this year.) ¬†In the end, UCAN came through for me again, as you’ll see when I describe the later stages of my race.

The race finally started with sunny skies and temps still close to 40. I started out consistently running 8:45s and thought that I was DOOMING myself to failure. ¬†But I had decided to run by heart rate and my heart rate was in zone 1, so I maintained that pace. ¬†I went over 9 minutes on mile 7 and thinking back it was probably the streets in the stockyards…or the shucking of my t-shirt – I was trying to be extra careful not to twist an ankle (or step in Longhorn dung!). ¬†Early on, it seemed that the day would be sunny and that caused me some anxiety but the clouds slowly rolled in. Winds stayed at around 10, I’m guessing, and I even got chilly coming up to the mile 9 hill and through downtown. I managed the mile 9 hill just fine and enjoyed the cruise DOWN through downtown through the marathon split.

The back side of the course had an immediate hill that I was not expecting.  I could obviously have avoided this surprise by studying the elevation map, but as I said earlier РI did not concern myself about this race at all.  I barely got packed in time to leave town!!

I maintained splits close to 8:45 but started creeping up toward the 9:00 mile pace in miles 15-17. ¬†Around mile 18, I found myself running next to a man named Joe, from McKinney, who proudly proclaimed his Florida roots with his Florida Gator shirt. ¬†He was running naked (all you non-runners calm down – it just means he was running without a watch!) and was hoping to hit a 4:00 marathon or better. ¬†Well, guess what!?!¬†I¬†was hoping to hit a 4:00 marathon, too!! (Even though I wouldn’t admit that to the general public.) We decided to stick together until the marathon split around mile 25. ¬†My friend Joe kept me going during those 7 miles and the funny thing is – he thought I slowed down for him. ¬†WE simply kept at OUR pace. It was a nice relief to share the road with someone. ¬†And I just do better when I feel like I have to keep up with someone. ¬†All my miles with Joe were sub-9, except for mile 19. ¬†I was a little sad saying goodbye to Joe, but I sent him on his way – he should have easily come in around 3:52-3:53 which was under his goal!

I'm past mile 20 at this point and STILL SMILING! :)

I’m past mile 20 at this point and STILL SMILING! ūüôā

Honestly, I was amazed that I was able to maintain mostly sub-9 miles up to this point, which made me smile even more. ūüôā ¬†And my legs felt amazing! ¬†A tiny bit fatigued, maybe, but my legs felt better at mile 25 than they felt at mile 20 in Houston. ¬†I was extremely encouraged because at this point, I knew if <when> things went downhill fast, I could suffer through a 10k and manage. ¬†I crossed the 26.2 timing mat at 3:53 (which was only +5 from my Houston time) and legs were STILL feeling OK.

Mile 27. ¬†Mile 27 is when my quads started feeling grouchy. ¬†And my brain wanted to be at the turnaround already. ¬†Except I didn’t really know where the turnaround was because I hadn’t studied the race map that well. ¬†I did know that it had to be by mile 28. ¬†Well the turnaround was at mile 27.5. ¬†Mile 28 was my slowest mile of the race, because I stopped for a BEER. ¬†And that beer tasted SO GOOD!!! The aid station volunteers laughed at me because I went on…and on….and on about it! ¬†I drank almost half and realized that I would never finish if I hung around drinking beer all day. (In reality it was maybe 45 seconds.) ¬†So off I went and then I was joined by another male runner – and he rocked the trail runner look with his well-maintained beard. ¬†This guy was a lifesaver. ¬†He was the type of person that oozed positivity. ¬†He cheered on EVERY SINGLE runner that we passed. ¬†Between mile 28-29,we had turned back South and at this point the wind had¬†really¬†picked up. ¬†My legs didn’t want to have ANYTHING to do with running into these winds. ¬†I knew I would be OK if I could just make it to mile 30. ¬†Mr. Positive stayed with me until then, but at mile 30 he cranked it up, said, “One mile, LET’S GO” and was off in a flash. My goal was simply to maintain what I could at that point and I couldn’t have kept up with him if I had tried so I let him charge on. ¬†I was getting so close to that last little bit of the course that is so familiar to me. It seems to go on forever yet I know it isn’t THAT long…and….there was a tiny hill. ¬†I walked just a bit. ¬†I’m a little mad at myself for this, but at that moment I felt that I needed to give myself the chance to collect my wits for the finish. ¬†Onward and upward I went! ¬†And right over the hill was the turn to the road to the finish!

My ONE pic with Mr. Positive - he is waving and I am struggling!

My ONE pic with Mr. Positive – he is waving and I am struggling!

But 5 steps later and I manage a smile....AT MILE 30!

But 5 steps later and I manage a smile….AT MILE 30!

That last little bit of the course always seems so long.  My mouth always starts watering because I want to see that finish line and cross!  My best pace on mile 31 was 8:27 and my best pace on the last .06 was 8:07.  I was SO READY to be finished!  After I fought my way down the finish line chute, I grinned the entire way across.  I came close to crying, but I managed to hold back the tears.  I was BEYOND happy (and still am)!!img_4546

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After I got my medal and grabbed my phone to text Carmen, a woman sitting on the curb congratulated me. ¬†I told her it was my first ultra and that I was over the moon! ¬†She said, “You HAVE to ring the bell!!” ¬†I mentioned getting my friend to come take my picture, but she volunteered. ¬†She stood in line with me, videoed me ringing the bell and then took my picture. ¬†I thanked her and went on my way to get food, finisher shirts and my extra challenge medal. ¬†And after that, I went to find the important stuff – BEER!!img_4542img_4511

I think cold molasses moves faster than I do after a race. ¬†It always takes me SO LONG. ¬†I finally made my way to the building where Carmen, Suzanne and Jeri were waiting on me. ¬†Carmen is my sherpa – she is THE BEST sherpa!! ¬†I can’t believe she hung around in the cold for almost 5 freaking hours just to snap a couple of pics of me finishing. ¬†She is seriously amazing. ¬†Suzanne, deserves her own medal for sticking around as well when she really didn’t have to. ¬†That meant the world to me!!

As we were leaving to walk back to our hotel, I got a message from Brent that simply said “Dude! Podium!” ¬†I read it in disbelief, relayed my disbelief and he sent back a screen shot of my results. ¬†THIRD IN MY AGE GROUP!!! ¬†How in the heck??? All I can say is that it was an amazing day!! I later found out that I missed first in my age group by TWO FREAKING MINUTES. The beer stop and the walk stop would have closed that gap for sure. And maybe I should have tried to keep up with Mr. Positive. But I had a GREAT race and placing in my first ultra is an amazing accomplishment, so NO REGRETS!¬†img_4512

This race was absolutely amazing. ¬†I smiled almost the entire race and I rarely smile during races because I’m all business. ¬†I can sincerely say that I enjoyed EVERY SINGLE MINUTE. ¬†I had just been waiting for so long to cross this threshold. And things work out in God’s time. I wanted to rush this and do it last year, but I listened. I was signed up to run a 50 miler but I listened and dropped when I realized it wasn’t the right time. And I was rewarded with one of the most amazing races that I have ever run!! (I know you’re wishing at this point that I would use and adjective besides amazing!)

What’s next to CONQUER?¬†

Ironman Texas 70.3 at Galveston is next on the plate. ¬†The thought of it made me throw up in my mouth a little today because I feel like it’s totally out of my league. ¬†I am gaining confidence in the water, though, and that is encouraging for the swim. ¬†I say that my only goal is to make the swim cutoff then manage the rest of the race, but I know you all know that isn’t quite true. ¬†I am competitive (with myself, anyway) and I have a time goal in mind. ¬†I just hope I can get close to it! ¬†In the end, my goal is to enjoy Galveston like I enjoyed Cowtown – hopefully good things will happen! I know that Brent will give me what I need to be prepared. The rest is up to me!

After that, all that is on the calendar is Brazos Bend 50 in December. After this race, I know I can do it. I just need to reign myself in and not set the bar too high. But I can worry about that after Galveston.

I know I want to work on manintaining/increasing my speed, then focus on BB50. ¬†Other than that, I’ll just have to see what pops up!

Until next time,

Jen ūüíô