Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Ironman vs 100 miler

Background:
I started track in about 1991 - junior high, so I have been running for about 27 years. I started doing longer distances in college. My first half and full marathons happened while at the university. I feel like this is when I started looking for races that were new and different than what I have done in the past. A new distance, a new challenge drew me in to sign up for races that motivated me to run. Each race has wonderful memories  - from the people I trained and race with to pushing my limits, trying something new, and learning more about myself and running. I have been fortunate to have been able to finish an Ironman and  a 100 mile race. I remember interviewing coaches when I thought I wanted one for the Ironman. (I ultimately ended up with a wonderful mentor for the Ironman instead of a coach.) One of the coaches I interviewed said running an ultra was much harder than an Ironman. I found that interesting since my background was in running. Now that I have done both, I was able to find out for myself.

Comparison:

My Ironman                                                       My  100 miler
Logged more training hours                             Logged less training hours
14 hours to finish                                              27  hours to finish
140.6 miles                                                       100 miles
Cheerleaders only                                             Active crew and pacers
Fuel/hydration important                                  Fuel/hydration important
Time cutoffs for each discipline                       Time cutoffs late in the race at aid stations
Bike issues                                                        No mechanical breakdowns
Variety of muscles used                                   Only running/walking muscles used.
Pacing important                                              Pacing important
Weather can affect race                                   Weather can affect race
Other competitors can interfere in your race   Other competitors rarely interfere with your race

There are many similarities for the two, but some big differences that definitely makes one more of a challenge.  For me, I would say the Ironman was tougher, maybe it is because I have been a runner so long, but I feel it is more than that.  The training was longer, more intense, more dangerous from my viewpoint. Riding a bike on the road can be scary with drivers that do not want bikers on the road. I also thought about what ifs on the bike - flat tire, hitting a pothole making me crash....Open water swimming has it own risks associated with it. Swimming in the OHIO River, need I saw more? Running seemed safe, but using the same muscles mile after mile is asking for injury too. I ran different paces and walked during the 100 miler to keep switching leg muscles.  When I was running and training for the 100 miler, I didn't have as many doubts and unknowns as I did for the Ironman. Ironman pushed me more outside of my comfortzone which may also be why I think the Ironman was tougher. I feel like if I were to train for another Ironman I would still be anxious on the bike and some open water swims, but would have more confidence knowing I have made it through once before. Don't get me wrong, the 100 miler was hard. Nutrition, feet issues, stomach issues can cause for disastrous races.  Many things can go wrong on race day for both races. I feel though I could personally fix most things that would go wrong on my 100 miler and still finish the race than I could for Ironman. I also loved how you can have your own personal crew and pacers for the 100 as the Ironman you would get disqualified for any outside assistance - even help changing a tire or water from non-aid station person.  I enjoyed the more laxed atmosphere of the ultra race as well which calmed the nerves.

Fortunately, both of these races, were great races for me. My race day memories are filled with joy and happiness. Do I see myself do either of these races again? Possibly. Another 100 before another Ironman. But preferably, would like another physical challenge whatever that might be....

October 2015

March 2018

Monday, May 14, 2018

Ragnar Trail - Zion Utah

About 5 weeks ago, a friend from high school asked if I wanted to join her Zion Ragnar trail team in May. They needed one more person to have a full team of 8. I have never been to Zion, let alone - Utah, so this sounded amazing. With the encouragement and support from my husband, I accepted the adventure and booked the flight to Vegas to meet up with my friend and her husband and make 5 new friends along the way. The team consisted of my friends who are living in Virginia and her crew teammates from college living in Indiana, Wyoming, and California. 

Trail Ragnar consists of teams of  8 or 4 people completing 24 legs over two days while camping. On an 8 person team each person runs each of the 3 different loops once. It is a self supported run, with water along the longer loops, but you provide your own cups/water bottles. To learn more about Ragnar - Click Here.

Finish line and exchange zone

Ragnar Zion is located at a resort just outside of Zion National Park. Everyone flew into Las Vegas and then drove about 4 hours to the race. Fortunately, we had to drive through the park to get to the race. 

Driving to the race - our first glimpse of Zion's
beauty as the sun was setting. 


Goofing off while trying to move our gear to find a campsite

The first four members of the team (myself included) arrived about 9:30pm the night before the race. By this point I had been up since 4:30am eastern time to catch the plane so that is 17 hours of being awake so far. We found a spot to set up our camp for the weekend and hit the sack. The next morning, we could see the layout of the tent city and one of the members found a better spot for our group, so we moved camp up a small hill. We could see runners starting the red/yellow loops and had plenty of space to spread out. It was a prime location.

View of our campsite Saturday morning

With the expected heat, Ragnar advised the teams to start an hour early. I was number 1 runner so I started at 9:30am. The rest of our teammates arrived about 12:30 - just in time for their  legs to start.


Green Loop Description:
"After leaving Ragnar Village on a dirt road you will quickly connect onto a single-track trail. This trail will connect you to single track bike and horse trails that will take you on a journey out to a beautiful view of Checkerboard in Zion National Park. Once you have taken all the photos you desire you will head back on a wide tracked horse trail that will take you back to the village. " - Ragnar website


Starting our team off with some cheers on the green loop
Overlook of Zion on the green loop

 My first leg was the green loop which is considered the easiest. This loop was fun and a good wake-up call on running in the heat in altitude which was a new experience for me. The first mile, most people were already breathing hard even though it was pretty flat running. The footing wasn't technical, but the dirt was so loose it was like running at the beach. The overlooks to Zion were beautiful. I stopped several times to enjoy the overlooks. After about the first two miles, the singletrack trail got a bit rocky with more ups and downs, but the climbs were probably no more than 20-30 steps. I passed one person on this loop that was dealing with altitude sickness. I walked with her for a little bit the last mile before she said she was feeling better. Before too long, our loop met up with the other loops and I was on my way to the finish. I passed our team number to our team captain and friend, Sarah, for her to start the yellow loop. 

Red Loop Description: 
"You will head out with the yellow loop runners for the first mile and take a tour around Zion Ponderosa Ranch. You will then part ways from your friends on the Yellow Loop and continue up the trail through the trees, gaining 400 feet in about a mile and half...  The ATV trail will keep going up up up! Pay attention to the signs as you will make a sharp right onto a single track trail and you will be on a roller coaster ride for about a mile through the pines going over several bridges. You will be rewarded with beautiful views of Zion National Park so bring your camera! Once you are off the single track it's all downhill from here! But you are only at the halfway mark. Be sure to fill up at the water station and hydrate before finishing up the final few miles on double track, road and some single track before returning to the Village."- Ragnar website
One of the many views of seeing forever from the Red Loop
Downhill singletrack trail. Views like this
made it easy for me not to pay attention to the trail and trip. 
Several bridges with chicken wire to cross
throughout all the loops. 
Could see for miles. Had to remind myself after a moment to 
enjoy the view, to continue running as my teammates
wanted their turns too. 



 I started my second leg, the red loop (and longest ~7.7miles) around 5:30pm.  The rest of my team had all completed their first leg.  My teammates would be enjoying the free dinner provided while I was out running. This was my favorite loop. Lots of climbs, but nothing too long, a fun downhill, singletrack switchbacks with incredible views. I also fell twice on this loop causing minor bleeding and bruising on my knees because I was looking everywhere, but the trail. Along this route, a gentleman was getting help from firemen and race medics. It was good reminder to just take your time and enjoy the scenery. Again the heat and elevation was a challenge. Staying properly fueled and hydrated was key. 

Yellow Leg Description: 
"The first mile provides panoramic views of Zion Ponderosa Ranch. At the beginning of the second mile you will encounter a scenic single track trail that climbs 400 ft. along a pristine ridge. Dig deep to get the the top where you will be rewarded with amazing vistas of Zion National Park! Once you have taken enough pictures you will then be on a downhill journey that twists and turns back to Ragnar Village." - Ragnar Village
Tent City lights from afar.
Just me, the trails, and my headlamp

My last leg, the yellow loop (~5 miles), started about 2:15am. I had laid down prior to running about 9:30pm hoping to catch some zzzz's, but I mostly just rested. My teammate came by my tent around 1:30am to let me know I was on deck to run. I got ready and headed down to the Ragnar village. I waited by the fire and listened for our team number, 52, to be called. Once it was called, I grabbed our bib number from Stefanie and started my last leg. My legs were pretty stiff on this leg. Finally around mile 2 they loosened up. This was a pitch black run except for what my headlamp illuminated. I was nervous of seeing a rattlesnake on this loop, as one of my teammates saw one earlier in the day. Fortunately snakes sleep at night, but a stick did give me a scare and I frightened the girl behind me as result. It was kind of funny. The footing and trail were difficult to see at times due to all the dust from the trails in the air. This was a great trail to end on. At one point on the trail, I could see lights from the red loop and from tent city sparkling below and the stars up above. At the top of a climb, with no one around, I turned off my headlamp and took a moment to observe the massive night sky. It was beautiful and reminded me of starry nights when I worked at a summer camp in college. About a mile from the finish, I came across a runner that was dizzy and nauseated. I offered to walk with her to make sure she was okay. She just wanted me to tell her team that she was a mile out. I ended up telling some volunteers at a turn about her since by the time I would finish, I wouldn't know for sure how close she would be. And just like that all my running legs were done.

I headed back to my tent, changed, and hoped to catch a few hours of sleep. I couldn't get warm, so I opened up 3 toe warmer packets that I had brought and spread them out from my feet to my hands to get warm. This helped and I might have caught an hour or two of sleep before getting up for the day. 

Our team finished around 11am on Saturday. We were all able to run in and cross the finish together with our number 8 runner. 

Purdue Crew conquers Ragnar Zion


Rarely a race goes as expected and that is about all you can count on in a race. This race was hotter and windier (30-40mph wind) than normal for this time of year. We were wearing buffs around our necks and pulling them up around our faces when big gusts of dust would blow through the area. Also a teammate, unfortunately, got dehydrated and was no longer able to run after her first leg. Two of our runners were able to run her last two legs without issue. That is what a team is all about - taking care of each other, pulling together, doing what needs to get done, supporting, and cheering each other. 

Departing views of Zion National Park
This was my second Ragnar. It had just as many memories and adventures as the first. I loved running in a new place and getting to know my teammates and hearing their life stories. It made me fall in love with running all over again. Running is about the people, places, and adventures that cross your path at the perfect time making memories that last a lifetime. 


"Live your stories now that you look forward to telling later."



Monday, March 26, 2018

Lake Martin 100 Race Recap

Friday: Pre-race day:


My crew  (Ryan, Marian, and Jenn) and I left Louisville, KY around 8:30 am on Friday before the Lake Martin 100 race. They all took the day off work for me which was pretty amazing. It started off with Jenn bringing some green macaroons with gold dust on top for us to eat on the way. She brought them because Marian had made an aid station blanket for me that had fabric with all different kinds of aid station food on it. Macaroons were one of the things on it.  After those delicious cookies, I knew the trip was going to be a memorable one! Marian gave me a gift bag full of encouraging notes and race goodies from friends to read on the way down. It took us about 8 hours to drive to the race. I was able to check-in,  receive my bib number, and shirt. My crew was also pacing me so they were able to sign the waivers there.  We rented a cabin on site so we picked up the linens and headed to our cabin. Super smooth and easy check-in.

View from our Cabin
Our cabin was located on the same site as the conference center where dinner and the pre-race meeting would be held. The cabin was 4 beds with a chair that pulled out to a bed if needed, plus a bathroom. It had a back porch that overlooked the lake. It was a beautiful site. We also ate the pre-race meal that was prepared by an ultra runner chef. It was a taco bar, which was great. The dinner and pre-race meeting was just a short walk from our cabin. As we were finishing up our meal, the pre-race meeting started. David, the race director, went over the signs that we would see on the trail, reminded us to carry  plenty of water, and start slower than we think. Fortunately one of my race motto since college has been, "Start slow because you can always ease up." I definitely thought I could handle starting slow. It was a pretty quick meeting and soon we were back at our cabin relaxing. Once at the cabin, my friends and I got our race and crew gear out and got ready for bed. Fortunately, I fell asleep fairly easily. I was more excited about the day to come than nervous.

Waiting for the start
Saturday: Race day

My alarm was set for 5:30am. I was awake by 5am, so I started getting ready. Our plan was to leave by 6:15 for the short drive to the race start. The race started and finished at the Cabin aid station. Being on the small size of races, parking was easy. It was just getting to be daylight, so it was still cool and no need for a headlamp. I hung out with my crew for a little bit before going over to the start line. The race also has the 27 mile fun run and 50 milers start the same time as the 100 milers. Before too long, I heard the gun go off and we were all moving forward.

“You got what it takes, but it will take everything you’ve got.”

The course was 4 laps consisting of 4 different loops passing each aid station twice. This makes it great for people who come to crew and cheer you on. I was prepared for the laps as I did several long runs as laps to practice. The aid stations were an easy drive to each other. When trying your first ultra, you will read, “your goal is to finish, don’t set a time goal.” I agree with that, but for me, it was important to have an idea of a time to figure out nutrition/hydration and for the crew. My nutrition plan was to take about 200 calories/hour as long as I could, try to eat some 'real' food at every aid station, and keep a steady flow of Tailwind and water going each loop. Once darkness hit to start drinking some coke to get some caffeine. My pacing plan was to keep an easy effort level for each lap and pay attention to what my body was telling me, knowing each lap would be slower. I had read to expect your first marathon of a hundred miler to be about your marathon pace time and a half. Of course this is a rough estimate with no elevation or weather taken into account. This worked out to be pretty close for me in this race.

The first loop, I took time to take a few pictures, walked the uphills and some downhills.This was the longest loop, 7.2 miles. It was so fun running somewhere new. Not only was the scenery interesting, but being in the south, there was a lot of southern accented runners - all super friendly. They gave me some great tips and things to expect along the course. This loop had several ascents, descents, and creek crossings. Some red dirt roads and single track trails with roots and rocks that could easily trip you up if you weren’t paying attention.  On this first loop, I noticed my left calf felt a bit tight. When running a long race like this, it is best to address even the minute things. I thought maybe just a little more running would help loosen it up. When that didn’t happen, I took a salt tab to see if that would help. I think this happening so early on in the race is what helped me to continue to have an enjoyable race. I continued to take salt tabs about once every other hour or once per loop. As the day wore on, it got hotter, so I was already in the habit of extra salt and water to prevent dehydration . The first two laps I ran, I saw several people cramping and nauseated. About 4.5m in this first loop, I saw my crew at Adamson Trailhead. It was a nice surprise. I had just under 3 miles until I saw them again at the Heaven Hill aid station.
Race day photo from Ultra Runs
My first aid station, I didn’t need much so I just walked through it with my crew as they refilled my hydration bottles, replenished my nutrition in my pack, took my trash and jacket. I also took in my first real food, quesadilla. Aid station food was the typical setup: peanut butter and jelly, quesadilla, sweet treats, gels, oranges, bananas, soft drinks, Tailwind, water etc. Chicken soup, breakfast foods and other goodies were available during the night and early morning. My crew was able to scope it all out and just bring me the few things that sounded good at the time.


I started the second loop which was around 6 miles. This one was fairly runnable. There was a lot of dirt road running at the end of the loop. I met up with a guy, Terry, from Hazard, KY. We were swapping stories which made this lap go by pretty fast. He was running the 50 miler.  This loop also ended at Heaven Hill aid station. This was another quick stop and off I went on Loop 3.

Red dirt roads going past horse pastures

Single track trail going downhill to a creek crossing. 

Single track uphill around some boulders. 

Loop 3 was around 5 trail miles. The 2nd and 3rd loops were the easiest. Not a lot of climbing, more dirt roads, and not very technical trails. By this time, I was mostly running by myself still slowly catching runners periodically. I was still feeling pretty good. This loop ended at the Cabin aid station which had nice indoor plumbing for bathrooms, so I always made sure I stopped in while there. At each aid station, my crew did an excellent job addressing all my needs, getting my bottles filled and nutrition met. I would often think of things I would want for next time. For example, I wanted to carry some lube incase I got a hot spot, Benadryl rub because I was hearing hornets or bees. I wanted to keep my pack light, so I didn’t start with these things which I typically carry on my training runs.

Loop 4 was just under 7 miles.  It had lots of ascents and descents, trails across creeks and near the lake. I was still feeling really good, nailing my nutrition, hydration, and salt intake. I did take a minor detour on this loop. I didn’t see a cut through on one of the creek crossings. It might have added 1 minute, but I realized it when I didn’t see the blue flags.

When I finished the first lap, Marian said I was just a few minutes off my predicted time. I was impressed. I was only paying attention to the time on my watch to help me stay fueled and take the salt tabs. I also didn’t want to run more than 5 minutes without taking a walking break, just to keep the effort level easy.

Ryan helping with sock and shoe change. 

Marian and Jenn staying dry in the hour or so that it rained. 


After each 25 mile lap, I stayed at the aid station just a little bit longer. I changed shirts, socks and shoes. Each lap I wore a shirt that gave me things to think about if I needed something. My first lap, I was in my bumble bee shirt. It was a whole lap dedicated to Marian. All of our adventures that we have had, will have, and just going through life. My second lap was my skeleton shirt. It always makes me laugh because it shows metal parts connecting the bones together and who knows how I would feel surpassing my longest time and distance ever run on this lap. My third lap I wore my red Team Beef shirt that my brother got me when we did the 100K Dances with Dirt Relay. I thought about family and friends during this loop (and side note: my brother surprised me this loop). The last loop was my Livestrong YMCA shirt. It was a reminder of being a cancer survivor and the tough recovery. That whatever the last lap wanted to throw at me, I could handle it. I thought of other family and friends that had to have to deal with cancer. I thought of all my family and friends again who were there helping me get through cancer and were now supporting me in this crazy adventure. Also after each lap, my crew lubed up my feet with Trail Toes and checked for any hot spots and blisters. My feet escaped any blisters and major hot spots the whole race.  My gaiters did a great job keep out debris. I had them rub some Tohi muscle rub on my calves and knees.  I also washed my face. Now it was onto lap 2. Once I finished this lap, I would be able to have one of my crew members run with me. I couldn’t wait to talk with them about the course, what they have been up to, and hear what texts they have been getting from family and friends. I secretly was hoping I would have this next 25 miles done before dusk.

The second lap was pretty similar to the first. I felt pretty good the whole way. Occasionally I thought I was feeling a little nauseated, so I would chew on  ginger  to help. It was more chewing than swallowing, but it helped.  I tried to continue to eat the solid foods offered at the aid stations. I was over the sweet chews I had brought. I was more interested in savory foods pretty early on in the race. Orange slices were hitting the spot at almost every aid station. It was also getting hot this lap. Jenn put one of my buffs in cold water so each time I came through the aid station I could squeeze it on my head. I learned this trick from my triathlon days. It was a welcomed relief from the hot sun. It also drizzled rain for about an hour which felt amazing. The weather was predicted to rain and possible storms leading up to race day, but once race day arrived, the rain looked like it was going to hold off but I am so glad it didn’t. I remember coming into Heaven Hill aid station (loop 1, lap 2) and telling Marian that I have officially run the longest timewise I ever had. It was a great feeling especially since I was still feeling good. This lap of 25 miles, I pretty much was by myself passing a few runners here and there. The last loop, my crew gave me my headlamp as a precaution, but wasn’t needed. As I was finishing up this lap, Ryan was able to have Kaiya (my IRUN4 buddy) and I facetime as I crossed the halfway point. It was a great boost of energy to be able to talk to her for a short bit. I had 50 miles done! Still feeling strong!
Finished 50 miles before dark! 

50 and beyond

After finishing the 2nd lap, I did the same gear change but added my compression sleeves. Getting out of the chair for the third lap was harder than expected but once I got moving, I was ready to go again! Ryan ran the first two loops with me. After 20-40 minutes or so, we needed our headlamps the rest of the time. It was fun to share the trails with him that I had previously run alone and to see them in the dark. I was not too pleased to see a small snake on the trail. It startled me! However, hearing fish jump in the creek, the bullfrogs, the insects, and an owl was incredible. We came up on a runner that needed some light to change his headlamp batteries, Ryan stopped to help him. We also passed one more runner  running solo. I was impressed with these runners, not having pacers.  I was definitely glad to have my pacers. Sharing this type of experience with someone is the kind of memory I want to have . As we were finishing the 2nd lap - maybe around 10pm - I saw Marian and a guy come walking down to meet us. I was thinking they would be just taking my aid station order as Marian was up next to run with me. As I drew near I realized it was my brother who drove 8+ hours to watch me run. I had asked him after I signed up to come pace me, but he had gotten vertigo in the fall and didn’t have the mileage up yet. That was before we knew pacers could switch out at each aid station as needed. After he helped at that aid station, he went to get some sleep. He would  come back early the next morning to run my last lap with me.

During the night aid stations, I started drinking a bit of coke for the caffeine, chicken broth, and would sit down. I tried not to linger too long. Just long enough to finish my food and drink. One of my crew members slept, one ran with me, and one waited for us at aid sations. It worked out great from my perspective. It was also energizing to see your friends come running to you as you neared the aid stations. The Heaven Hill aid station had a fire going at night. With 15 aid stations throughout the race, spending any more than a few minutes at each one can add up quickly to your total time. I told my crew, I wanted my stops to be Nascar pit stops: in and out - quickly, efficiently - long enough to get what I needed done until the next one. Needless to say, they nailed it.

Marian ran the last two loops of the 3rd lap and the first lap of the 4th and last lap. Marian had been keeping my family and friends updated on my progress so it was fun to hear all the conversations going on. It was also great just running with her since we had initially planned to run this race together and now she was healed from her broken rib to pace me. During the 4th loop of the 3rd lap, my headlamp went out which I expected. Marian had another headlamp so we continued on. I felt the light was a bit dimmer, so it was harder to see the obstacles on the trails and the rocks to keep our feet dry while creek crossing.  I was still feeling pretty good at the start of the last lap. I couldn’t believe I was already starting it. This is when my crew noticed that my watch had stopped working. I hadn’t even noticed. It had stopped around mile 70. Once my pacers joined me, I didn’t look at it. I was now running the race mainly on how I felt, paying attention to what my body was telling me, addressing any aches or hot spots, food cravings although by this time I had only been using Tailwind. I kept trying solid foods but I couldn’t swallow it. So the last lap was run without any tracking device which was great. However around mile 80, I wasn’t feeling quite right. I was still moving forward, but felt like I had slowed down and I was having to pee alot. Marian realized I was having an electrolyte/ water imbalance. The water I was drinking wasn’t absorbing into my body. She quickly got me using her base salt. It took the rest of that loop and the next loop and half for me to start feeling better.


Jenn joined me for loops 2 and 3 of the final lap. I was looking forward to this because I knew these were the easiest and then hearing her perspectives from the race. I know she helped a guy who cut his hand  as I passed him and told them he was coming, so I was looking for an update on him. I did more walking as my body was still trying to get the electrolytes and water balance back on track. I think it helped having easier terrain during this time to get me going. I never felt terribly low like I couldn’t finish but just knew I needed to take it a little slower. Jenn carried a bike light too that made it super bright to see the trail. At one point, my hands were getting cold and it was foggy making it hard to see. Jenn offered her coat but I thought if I could move a little faster it  would help. Once it was light enough, Jenn suggested taking my hat and headlamp off.  It was a great feeling to get them off my head. I had been wearing something on my head for over 24 hours and I was not use to it.
My brother and I heading out for the last loop. 
When I finished the 3rd loop of the 4th lap in the daylight, it was refreshing. My brother and the rest of the crew were there. I did my final sock and shirt change and headed out with my brother almost in disbelief at how close I was to finishing. I continued to walk/trot with some running. About an hour in, Jason said we probably have an hour left. Ryan thought it would take me about 2 hours to finish this loop. I was thinking closer to 2.5 hours on how I felt I was moving. I also told him how I took a wrong turn on this loop during the first lap and wouldn’t you know it, I did it again without even noticing! We got to the pasture and I was confused since I didn’t show Jason that tricky part. Jason said he noticed but it was a short out of the way so we kept on moving forward. The pasture is at the bottom of the hill before the finish line at the cabin. When I saw this, I started to tear up, smile, and was in disbelief. Jason was clapping and hollering. It was still maybe just under a ¾ of mile to the finish but we were already celebrating. When we finally got to the point where we could see the finish line, Jason said you have 5 min and 30 sec to get there to finish that loop under 2 hours. Again, I was surprised, so I took off a little faster. My crew was there cheering me on as I came across the finish line. I  had enough energy to leap up to celebrate. I finished that loop under 2 hours just as Ryan had predicted.
FINISHED! 
“Two things in life you have total control over are your attitude and effort.”
Looking back, I see a perfect day of racing. There were minimal lows, lots of highs, it was hot, it rained, muddy, slippery sections, body aches, nausea, stars, wildlife, beautiful scenery, etc. but that is what trail racing is all about. You learn to adapt and make the best of the situation. My crew offered their help and supplies to fellow runners, got to enjoy a beautiful night sky on Heaven Hill, and provided me with amazing support for over 27 hours to reach my goal.
My incredible sherpas. 
I finished in 27 hours 27 minutes. I predicted my best race of my life for this 100 would be 27 hours and 13 minutes. I could not be happier with my performance. Of the 53 competitors signed up, only 29 finished the 100 miles.  I was the 4th female finisher and 8th overall. The 3 females that finished ahead of me were the top 3 fastest female for the race in its 5 years of running with the first and second place overall taken by females!  I squeezed into the 9th position for all-time fastest female on the course. But most of all, I crossed that finish line and ran my age in miles.

I wanted to do it. I decided to do it. I trained. I accomplished.
Not possible though without the support of my family and friends - even if they think I am crazy.

“A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action makes your dreams come true.”
Obligatory finish photo with my crew- pure excitement and exhaustion
Sidenote: I would definitely recommend this race based on my experience. Staying at the Children's Harbor on Lake Martin, made everything so convenient from registration, pre-race meal, lodging to a short drive to the start. Just two aid stations made it an easy race to crew due to logistics. They could easily go back to the cabin for a short nap or shower. Even though it was a loop course, I noticed new things every lap and looked forward to scenery that I knew was near the aid stations. It was a fun experience to see the laps in daylight to nighttime to daylight again.  The crew was able to pace as little or as much they wanted being able to switch out at aid stations. It is a small, friendly race keeping it simple, but has everything you need to have a successful race which is right up my alley. 






Friday, March 23, 2018

Training for Running a 100 miles

100 miles? Why? How? When? Where? Do you sleep? How do you go to the bathroom? How long will it take you? I had no idea races were that long.


Just a few of questions I would receive whenever I mention I was training for a 100 mile running race over the past few months. When I answered these questions, I was using my chemist background and  just hypothesized what I thought were good answers. Now being an official 100 mile finisher, I feel like I can elaborate even more. Like all good scientific research studies, what works for one person in a hundred in a particular race, may not work for another.

“Devote yourself to an idea. Go make it happen. Struggle on it. Overcome your fears. Smile. Don’t forget, this is your dream.”

100 miles? Why?

March of 2017 I ran my first ultra, a 60K. I ran it as a revenge adventure when my first 50K was postponed due to my cancer diagnosis. By the time I ran this race, I was a 4 month cancer survivor. It was great to be on the trails and run my first ultra, but I felt like the race was missing something - the excitement and zeal I had when I was training and finished my first Ironman. I told my husband I doubt I would run an ultra again. He told me to try another. In my head, I thought if you just put the time in the training you could run for however long you wanted. Not the same as the excitement and nerves that go into learning to swim, bike, and run where dodging swimmers and mechanical bike breakdowns are all factors to get through a triathlon, but I was done with tris and looking for another fun adventure.

Crewing Marian in her Superior 50 mile race
My friend, Marian and I had talked the past few years about running a race that was at least 40 miles to celebrate us turning 40. After the 60k letdown, I wasn’t fully on board, but still wanted an adventure to celebrate. Marian crushed that goal with a 50 miler and a 100K to celebrate her 40th last fall. Two races both over 40 miles. After brainstorming lots of great ideas, I got it in my head to run a 50-100 mile race - taking my husband’s advice and try another ultra. When I signed up for the Ironman, I had only done one Olympic distance tri and 2 sprint tris. I knew with training, mentorship, and researching, I would be able to give my best shot at completing one. This is how I approached running my first half and full marathons and therefore approached 100 miles not having run a 50 miler race as is typically recommended. I felt like I could run 50 miles based on my 60K experience. Running a 100 miles, I would be learning more about the sport not only in physically training, but also the mental and nutrition aspects of it which was intriguing. I like new types of races, distances, and adventures. Why not try something that challenges your limits while learning and growing? I have wanted to test my limits. Would the mileage or the nighttime running do me in? I am an early to bed person, so I was gambling on the nighttime.

“You can’t really tell how much you can do until you try to do something that’s more.” –Lazarus Lake, Barkleys Founder

Several 100 mile races call for you to run an ultra of a certain distance to be eligible to sign-up for their race. Fortunately, I found a race that welcomed first time ultra runners with no prerequisites,  Lake Martin 100 in Alexander City, Alabama. It was the perfect time a year for a race for me - March (the month I turn 40) and a drivable distance (7 hours). I signed up for it the day after my 1 year anniversary of being cancer free to celebrate.

Soon after, Marian signed up for the race, so our 40th adventure together was set!  We were looking forward to another fun winter of training adventures together. Then, the unexpected happened which unfortunately something unanticipated always happens during a training cycle. Marian had a bad bike accident while traveling in Costa Rica in January, breaking a few of her ribs. We both realized that she was going to have to drop out of the Lake Martin 100. Our fun plans of spending early weekend morning long runs together was shattered. Half the fun is training with your friends.  However, we knew she would recover and be back in business for future adventures together.
Stacey and I on one of my weekly training runs

How?

How do you train for 100 miles? Excellent question by many people I encountered. There are several books, blogs, facebook groups, websites to help you out. Marian had great success with her ultras using the training plan from Relentless Forward Progress by Bryon Powell. I bought a copy of the book and thought his training plan for a 100 mile race on 50 miles per week was a perfect fit for me. I am a mom of three fun, active kids (10, 7, 5 year old) and work part-time, so I did not want this to take completely over my life for the next few months. The plan has two rest days with 5 days of running. Cross training can be added as needed. I was able to add in strength training 2x a week (meeting up with my friend, Stacey) and bike when the weather or time didn’t allow for safe running outside. Picking a plan that you have confidence to help you reach your end goal is key along with you being able to fit it in your life craziness. You do not want to be doubting yourself when your are halfway through the training cycle. The rest days were Mondays and Fridays with back-to-back long runs on the weekends. At least every fourth week was a recovery week and as the mileage increased, more recovery weeks were added. It is better to head into a race undertrained, than overtrained. The highest weekend mileage was 51 miles that I split between two days due to family fun commitments. So heading into my race, I had not run longer than 31 miles in a day! However, I felt I would be okay due to mileage I ran over the course of the week, running on tired legs, and the added strength training.

Another important aspect is the mental strength not only for running the 100 miles, but also training for it. Mental strength is just as important, if not more, than physical strength. Your mind can play games on you, give you self-doubt, and come up with lots of reason to not train a particular day or quit the race. Again there are books, websites, podcasts to help you in this area. Build up your mental toolbox on ways you can overcome and adapt to your weaknesses and negativity. Those things waste too much energy and are not productive in helping you reach your goal. Remember your why’s and keep focus on working towards your goal.
Training with fellow BAMRs on their own journeys to their longest races
Learning about nutrition and hydration is also a very valuable detail to know prior to running 100 miles. I needed to learn how to eat solids food and get calories in me. This area has always been a struggle for me. It is difficult for me to eat when I am not hungry while exercising. Moving forward for over 27-30+ hours, I knew I needed to eat a continuous stream of food. I had to practice eating solid foods along with electrolyte drinks and other fuels so my stomach would be use to it. I learned that I prefer nibbling and sipping along the run versus just ingesting alot of calories and water at once. I also learned that I really liked my husband’s homemade pancakes - just plain - before my long runs. This ended up being my pre-race 100 miler breakfast!

“No one is born a perfect runner. And none of us will become one. But through incremental steps, we can become better runners. And that’s the beauty of our sport; There are no shortcuts, nothing is given to us; we earn every mile, and we earn every result.”

Two last points regarding the ‘how’ is every long training run is a practice for the race and to learn as much as you can. Since I trained over winter, I wasn’t able to run long runs in my race clothes, but when I ran on the treadmill, I learned what running clothes worked well since the race would be in warmer weather. Long training runs gave me a chance to try different sock, shoe combinations, food, electrolytes etc. It is highly recommended to not try anything new on race day. With that said, that isn’t always possible. Sometimes, what worked before may not work in the race. Being mentally prepared for the unexpected and adapting will take you far. Also learning as much as you can about the race itself and in general just how to prepare for a 100 mile race. I read several race recaps of Lake Martin, listened to podcasts such as Trail Runner Nation, read articles online on preparing for an ultra that gave me good guidance. One thing I read the week of race was from Deuteronomy 8:4 "The clothes you wore did not wear out, nor did your feet blister during these 40 years.” This reminded me to not doubt God’s protection as I embarked on this journey as keeping my feet in good condition during the race was a concern I had going in. I bought the book, Fixing Your Feet to help me prepare.  I also asked Marian questions about her experiences with your last few races: about what she liked/didn’t like etc. Everything I learned, enabled me to compile a list of gear that I might need on race day. Not only building up my mental toolbox, but also suggestions for dealing with blisters, hot spots, nausea etc.
Jenn joined me for my last 10 miles of a 51 miler weekend in the cold and rain. 
When?

The race was Saturday, March 17, 2018, starting at 6:45am Central time. As mentioned earlier, I trained in the winter weather. The whole month of February was cold and rainy, making trail running nearly impossible. I think I got one short trail run in near the end of the month. Also, my body was not use to the heat we had on race day - predicted to get up to 78, but may have gotten hotter. I had not run in that temperature since last fall.

Where?

Alexander City, Alabama. Russell Lands. During the race, I talked to a fellow runner who told me this race gives you a taste of all the topography in Alabama. Having never run a race or really visited the state before, it was a great exposure. We ran close to the Lake Martin which is a huge lake, by streams, climbed past big boulders, crossed lots of creeks, pine forests, horses and stables, open hill where you could see stars forever at night, and more. During the night was the only time I saw wildlife: a small snake and an armadillo. I could hear fish jumping up the creek, bullfrogs croaking, and the insects. It was pretty amazing besides seeing the snake of course.

The course had about 14000 ft elevation change. In January, I was able to train in Jefferson Memorial Forest which has about twice the elevation per mile as the race course. I was hoping to get on that trail more, but Mother Nature didn’t allow for it. The last run I had there, I was with my friend Amy and other MRTT friends. The trail started as ice, so slippery. It warmed up within an hour or two and quickly switched to slippery mud. That was a long 24 mile day. I still remember my body was twitching when I was falling asleep that night because I felt like I was still trying to catch myself from slipping. Most of the time I trained in my neighborhood. Its elevation was slightly less per mile as compared to the race course. Training on similar elevation is important as the hills were relentless like they told us.

The past 6 months prior to the race, I gathered as much info as I could from friends, websites, books, podcasts, and facebook running groups. I felt a nervous calm and excitement heading into race weekend.
My oldest son made this at school for me the week of my race and adapted as a mantra for my race.
I attached it to my hydration pack for the race and heard it clicking my road ID often during the race, a great reminder. 

All my gear: one tub of running clothes, one tub of nutrition/gear and backbag for non-race stuff. 

Race weekend recap up next.