Conquering or Being Conquered?

Oh my, it’s been a long time since I blogged.  I’ve actually run 3 races, which have gone undocumented, since I last hit the keyboard.  Summer went by in a blur and before I knew it, I was back at work and busier than ever.

Race recaps in a flash

In July, I stayed an extra day after USAV Junior National Championships to run Afton Trail Run 50K.  It was to be a challenging, hilly course and I was excited to run a race that would cause me to struggle.  Except I didn’t struggle as much as I thought I would.  The course was 2 loops of 25K and I did suffer some fatigue during the first loop.  I didn’t start the race feeling my best and did the first loop at a  pretty good pace, considering the hills I had to climb.  Near the end of the first loop, I cursed myself – A LOT – for not overriding my ego and *just* doing the 25K.  I DID NOT want to go back out on a second loop.  I stopped at the aid station before heading back out and made a spur of the moment decision to throw out my fueling and nutrition strategy.  I ate M&Ms, pretzels and drank Coke then headed out on the 2nd loop. I ran conservatively the first part of the loop but broke off with 10k to go and ran a really good pace.  I wanted to finish under 6:30 and knew that I would really have to push to get to the finish in time.  (At this point, I feel I should remind you how TERRIBLE I am at run math.  I CAN NOT correctly do run math during a race.)  I kept fueling on Coke, M&Ms & pretzels at the aid stations but got in and out as quickly as possible.  I was also starting to feel the fatigue creep in, but the lure of sub 6:30 was enough to keep me going in spite of it.  I ended up finishing in 6:23, which was just 14 minutes slower than Wildflower but there was also much more elevation.  I was pretty happy with the way I pushed at the end and with the overall result.

In August, I traveled to 7iL Ranch in Cat Spring, Texas for Trail Racing Over Texas’ Habanero race weekend.  My coach was attempting the 100 miler and I was going to be one of his pacers.  Since I was already going to be there, I signed up for the 30K.  The thing about Habanero is that the race starts at NOON.  In Texas.  In August.  So it’s HOT.  I, luckily, only had to do 3 loops of 6.2.  When I finished, the heat index was 106 or something crazy like that.  It was brutal.  BIG kudos to all those who kept battling out there loop after loop.  I don’t perform well in the heat and I was starting to decline fast there at the end.  UltraSignUp has this ranking system.  I should never go in and look at these rankings, but I do.  I was ranked 3rd overall female going in – please know the field wasn’t large.   Even with a small field, I honestly didn’t believe that I could get 3rd OA female.  But….I finished 4th overall female and just 5 minutes behind 3rd place.  I wasted more than 5 minutes in that race.  This was the beginning of a wake up call for me.  Still, I was really proud of myself for battling it out with the heat the way I did.  It was a victory, for sure.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I went down to Mission Tejas State Park in East Texas to run another TROT race.  I know they have worked hard to find places to host events that are outside the Houston area and wanted to support their efforts to host more races North.  Plus, I had 36 miles scheduled that weekend and a 50K is a nice way to get miles in and break up the monotony of training.  I was NOT prepared for the hills!  Seriously, these hills reminded me of Afton Trail Race.  This race made me realize just how unprepared I am for my upcoming 50 miler in the Hill Country.  Again, I went in ranked 3rd overall female and, again, I thought there was no way that I could pull that off.  I started out with the lead group but I was having a little calf issue and slowed down on the first big climb.  It was dark.  At the time, I didn’t know that I was the only female in that lead group, so I thought that I had fallen WAY out of contention for the podium and I just set out to check off the loops and get to the finish.  As it turns out, I was in 2nd and 3rd most of the race.  Of course, I didn’t have any crew there and I didn’t check the screen after each loop so I was completely in the dark.  I struggled during the last 5k and it was during this time that I got chicked.  I later learned that I was in 3rd place at the time and this woman knew I was 3rd place and she gave everything she had to pass me and try to stay ahead of me.  Second race in a row that I missed the podium, coming in 4th OA female (my time was 6:27) and this time I lost by THREE MINUTES.  I have to sharpen my skills and get myself to become more aggressive in these ultras.  I am SO AFRAID of bonking.  I MUST get out of my comfort zone in this area.  If you have any suggestions, I’m all ears…  This one is totally mental and I think I may be subconsciously sabotaging myself due to a fear of success??  Or maybe I just think too much.   img_7098

I may have conquered myself but training is conquering me

I’ve been thinking a lot about my word of the year: conquer.  It’s amazing the effect of simply choosing a word has on your life.  I do not think of my word on a daily basis.  Sometimes not even on a weekly basis.  But the simple act of choosing a word has a profound impact in shaping the year, or it has in my case.  This is the 3rd year that I have focused on one word throughout the calendar year and each year, I am amazed at how things come together.  I think this relates to goals, as well, and posting our goals where we can see them daily makes a huge difference in us meeting those goals.

When I originally chose this word, it was to conquer my inner demons.  I was going into Houston Marathon trying to get a BQ.  I had gained A LOT of confidence but I still didn’t trust myself the way I should.  I still had a lot of self doubt and anxiety about my performances.  I trust myself so much more than I did 10 months ago.  I believe in myself so much more than I did 10 months ago.  I feel like I’ve turned a corner, for now, in that department.

But I’m still being conquered.  Training for a 100 miler is NO JOKE.  I thought that my biggest challenge would be juggling my hectic schedule to get all these miles in – and it has been a big challenge.  But a bigger challenge has been battling the fatigue that comes with 40-50 mile weekends.  I.  AM.  EXHAUSTED.  Like Walking Dead zombie exhausted.  And I’m just getting into the real meat of training.  I have 2 more months of the Walking Dead before taper.  I know this is all designed to give me the best chance of success on race day, but that doesn’t keep me from whining like a big pansy.  Still, I’m thankful for the ability to run and the opportunity to train for a 100 mile race.

Brazos Bend will be a blast, but first….Rawhide

Next weekend, I’ll be attempting my first 50 mile race.  This race is held on Flat Rock Ranch, which is where Ragnar Trail Hill Country was held last year.  I didn’t get to run all my legs at that race, so I felt like I needed redemption on that course.  Now that the race is getting close, I wonder if redemption is overrated.

Seriously, though.  Originally, the thought of this race took my breath away.  It scared me to death.  I thought that there was NO WAY that I could manage 50 miles, PERIOD, and especially on this course.  I thought about my word of the year and how the only way I could conquer anything was to step out and attempt what my brain registered as impossible.  So I signed up.  I love the transformation that happens during the course of training.  I am not sure at what point I realized that I could do it, but I began to believe, fully and completely, that I am capable of finishing this race.   However, I definitely still have my doubts.  I’ve been wrestling with them the past few days but doubts aren’t all bad.  They keep you humble and grounded.  I’ll need to stay humble and grounded to keep my ego from getting in my way on race day.img_7230

Brazos Bend will be the next up on the schedule and the big finale for 2017.  Most days, I feel pretty confident about being able to finish.  Some days, I panic and wonder what I was thinking to believe I could do this.   So many people talk about getting “the buckle”, but that is the least of my concern.  I am not doing this for a buckle.  I am doing this because I wanted to push myself farther than I ever have.  I am doing this because I wanted to put myself into a place so low and so dark that I have to fight with every cell in my body to keep going.  I am in it for that life-changing moment.  The buckle will just be a tangible reminder of what I was able to accomplish.

But first, I have to survive the training.

OH!!! Almost forgot….I got another tattoo 🙂

In July, Carmen went with me to get another tattoo.  I’ve been waiting for the perfect inspiration for my running-specific tattoo and I didn’t waste any time when it finally came to me.  I hadn’t used this artist before and chose him because of a couple landscapes that I saw, but when we got there he mentioned that landscapes weren’t even his thing!  I settled on Kokopelli and the cool thing is that he grew up in Arizona and knew all about Southwest and Kokopelli culture.  He ended up being the perfect artist for this tat, and I LOVE the completed piece!img_6688

Happy Hump Day,
Jen

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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 😉

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 – 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.

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 – not 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. 🙂  

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.  😉

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??

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 – not 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.  🙂

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.  🙂

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 – a 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