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 – even if only for 15-20 minutes.  Temps were cool – if memory serves, hovering around 50 degrees.  It was a great way to start a long day on the trails!  This course was a loop – each 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. 🙂

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  🙂

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 🙂

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 – now you can quit acting like a pansy!!), asphalt road (check), FUN except for the sand – now 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 – except 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. 🙂  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! 🙂

 

 

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.