Monday, May 18, 2015

Young-at-Heart - Bringing it Home.

When I was a little kid, I was in the woods a lot.  Don't get me wrong, I watched cartoons, played a good amount of video games, and had my nose crammed in books the rest of the time, but nothing made me happier than disappearing into the woods for hours and letting my imagination take over.

Now my imagination at my age isn't as great as it was back then, though having a seven year old does help a lot.  I find that trail running and hiking are by far the best activities for me to get back to that carefree kid mindset, even for a few hours here and there.  I think that might be a lot of what we all long for, is to put all those adult stresses on the back burner for a little while.  When I'm running down a trail, my mind is on the trail, avoiding a root, making my feet land in the surest looking spots, avoiding smooshing any critters on the trail, and just letting my skin and mind and being take in that world around me.

And knowing that it's still out there, going on without me, the woods, doing its thing, going on so next time it will be in some different stage of life... well it makes coming back home and rinsing the dirt and leaves down the drain not as bad, because I was there and part of it for a little while, and I'll go back and be part of it again, soon.

So today, twenty three miles of trail around Oil Creek state park.  Places on the trail become like photographs; they make me remember things that happened there in the past.  I saw a porcupine on a tree.  My dog was covered in burrs under some pines years ago.  I fell there.  And there.  Oh and there too!  It's nice to have a living photograph to go back and visit.

The fog in the morning was thick.  This is the overlook above the Wolfkiel switchbacks, and you normally can see the Miller Farm bridge down there.  Not today!

This is the beginning of a really long hill not to far from the switchbacks.  The nice thing is, it ends near a "magic" bus (someone's old hunting camp), and some really nice big rocks.
The next overlook wasn't quite as misty, but still hard to make out Oil Creek below.

Lady Slippers blooming near the Pioneer stairs.  The stairs lead to a split in the trail and a small parking area.  I saw lots of flowers on my run, but I'm not so good at identifying flowers.  

Overlook before the last long descent before Petroleum Center.  You can barely make out the bike bridge in the fog.

The beginning of about a mile long descent, I think it's my favorite on the trail, but I found a few on the 8 mile Wildcat Hollow loop that I'm going to have to explore a bit more.  I'm open minded about favorite downhills.  I'm fond of them all!

The oil derrick tableau.  

It started sprinkling as I came through this marshy section near the road I would cross to start into Wildcat Hollow.

The first very long uphill leading into the Wildcat loop.  It's amazing how green everything became in less than two weeks.

The rain was getting harder, and the mist was thicker.  When it's so foggy that I can't see, I sometimes like to pretend that I'm somewhere more exotic, like Bolivia, or Thailand, or Mercer (just kidding!).  I guess it's that kid in me.

Rainy field.  The rain was really pouring at this point, but the temp was warm, the rain was cool, and I didn't mind it.  

Eagle's nest in the mist.  I think I could make out a head poking out, but I didn't linger so that I didn't upset the kids or parents.

More mist - a bunch of deer jumped out at me right before this point, I think with the noise of the rain, I got a lot closer to the deer that I startled than I normally would have.  Fortunately I didn't surprise any bears the same way... well fortunately and unfortunately, because I do want to see more bears during my wanders, just not too close.

This southern most 8 mile loop from Petroleum Center to Route 8 and back has the most oil boom relics in the park.  Lots of barrels, old wells and machinery all along the trail.  Once again, it makes me wonder at nature, that it can come back from being stripped down to what it is today in a little over 150 years.  It's pretty amazing to think about when you're running along the lush trails.

It was fun to run through the tall wet grass.  It was very pretty, and I did check for ticks after. 

There's something inviting about a grass lined trail. 

I've only run in the Wildcat loop a few times, but I really love this mossy section.  Very nice on the feet.

Some of the trail was a little crumbly in sections, made a little worse by the rain and mud.  I went carefully, with no mishaps.  In fact, I didn't even fall once during my run yesterday.  

Oil Creek flowing nicely with all the rain.  The rain had pretty much stopped by this point, and I was drying out a little.  I was so glad I chose to wear my contacts and not my glasses.  It would've made for a very blurry run.

Though the rain had stopped, it was still pretty foggy in the woods.

I was coming back down into the wetter low areas towards the creek and getting closer to PC, and the skunk cabbage became more prolific.

The trail wound through the skunk cabbage, and I think I scared some frogs and toads as I ran through.

So I made it to Petroleum Center, filled up my water bottles, took a little break to eat some dried cranberries, and headed up the hill into the last part of the day, an eight mile section that would get me back to my car. I took my time up the hill, and this lovely part of the trail is at the crest of the hill right after the sign-in box.  A very runnable portion of the Gerard trail.

The fog had lifted so I could see the oil derrick tableau much better from the other side of the valley.  Luckily it was still cloudy, so I didn't have to worry about sun-burn, since the rain had thoroughly washed off all of my sunblock. And bug spray. But I was moving mostly too quick for the mosquitos to get me.  I thought that it would be neat if spiders were smart enough that you could train them to spin webs around your head so all the annoying buzzing insects could get caught by them.  I also thought about this because I must've walked through a hundred spider webs in the morning.  You can always tell when you're the first person on the trail...

There were a lot of these guys out on the trail.  I moved a bunch of them off the trail, and I may have talked to each one of them too.  Ahem.  

The outside of my left shoe was much worse than I thought it was.  I was worried the entire run that I was going to slip down a muddy slope and rip the side right out and have no support on the outside of my shoe.  Luckily it held out, but as you can see, it's ripped out at my pinky toe and then back down the outside of my foot.  I think these shoes have 2 months / 160 miles on them, maybe?

One of my favorite spots in the park.  I remember hiking here years ago and falling in love with it.  Not that I don't fall in love with most of the park.  I fall in love easily, and I fall hard.  Kind of like trail running.  Fall easy, fall a lot.  It's good for the soul and makes you tough!   Now I'm confusing myself.

This picture didn't come out as well as I liked, but this little red eft was all coiled up in a corner on the base of a tree, and looked like a mini dragon guarding his hoard of leaves.  
There were a lot of lady slippers out on the trail this year.  More than I can remember.  I even saw a couple of white ones.  These were on a section of the trail that I always say looks like you're out west, because of the pines and the rockiness of the trail.  It's about a mile before you reach the Cow Run camping area.

Right after I filled my bottles up at Cow Run (they weren't empty, but I topped them off), I heard these guys.  Ravens!  There must've been a family of five or six of them, calling to each other with gravelly voices, much rougher than a crow.  And I'm embarrassed to admit that I may have mimicked them for a good 5 minutes, and this one kept coming back to look at me.  Larger beak, rougher voice, definitely ravens.  Very cool that we have a family living at Oil Creek.

Heading up the beginning of the last hill, I saw this GIANT slug!  Leopard slug.  Makes sense I guess with all the spots.  The fun things you find when running in the rain.

Millepede.  I know.  I love critters.  When he started chewing on my hand, I let him go, gently.

I rinsed my feet in the cold water for a few minutes before heading up the last rise before the final downhill to Miller Farm road and my car, where I stashed a Dr. Pepper to reward myself for a run well done.

The last bit of trail down.  I ran easy down it, but overall, my legs still felt pretty darn good after twenty plus miles.  I can't wait to get back to the trails again!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Training for the week of March 1st, 2015

I did less this past week for sure. I had a couple down days, where my head space hasn't been good. Keep moving forward.

Skied 6 miles with the normal crew.  There was a fine snowfall, and it warmed up and the tracks got pretty sticky the further we went.  I felt like I got my rear handed to me, but that’s what I get for skiing two days in a row as well as staying up too late.

Walked 2 miles with the dog up to the cemetery, then the half mile to pick eli up - 2.5 miles total.

Rest day - walked the half mile to pick Eli up after school, shoveled a little snow.  Pain around my scar has me a little cautious.

Four miles at the gym, about half mile walked.

Did nothing.  Lazy day.

Ran 5 miles at the gym, walked another mile.  Felt pretty good.

Ran 5.5 miles with Kim around her housing development.  

25 miles total for the week

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Training for the Week of February 21st

In order to keep myself motivated, I'm going to try to keep a training log on my blog.  A blog log?  A jog blog log?

Anyway - This was for the past week and includes an extra Saturday - but I'll start doing Sunday to Saturday as my "week."  And this may get sloppier as I go along, so forgive me.  It's more for me than for you, but I hope it helps other people get motivated too!

Skied 9 miles at Oil Creek trails with Kim and Paula.  Broke my ski pole, but kept going.  Took us about 3 hours.  Cold, with a fine snowfall.  Roads were not great.

Skied 9.5 miles with Rich and Alisha at Wilderness Lodge.  Sunny and sparkly at first, clouded up a little.  Did a few hills, crashed a few times.

Walked Eli the half mile home.  All day trip to Pittsburgh and a cold made me slack off a bit.

Walked about 2 miles to take eli to school, plus waking to the gym and cool down after running.
Ran 3.5 miles at the gym.  Worst problem I had was sniffling with the cold I have, which kept me slower than I would have liked, but no other pains.  Did some planks and crunches after.

Skied 3 miles on Ernst.  Sunny but still pretty bitter.  Skis stuck a bit.  Walked Eli to school and back for a mile walked.

Skied 3 miles at the Erie National Wildlife refuge.  Broke a lot of trail, I’m sure I burned more calories than I did yesterday.  Fine snowfall throughout, but nice day.

Ran 5 miles at the gym on the indoor track listening to music.  I was joined in my run for the last mile by an acquaintance at the college, which was very nice to make that last mile fly by.  I also walked for a cool down and then to pick Eli up which made for 1.5 miles more.  That’s the most I’ve run so far this year in one go.

Walked 1.5 miles with the dog and family to do some sled riding.  Skied 6 miles at night on a night run.  Beautiful night with a waxing half moon and starry skies.

Total for the week: 44.5

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Run for Regis, 2015! Cold feet, warm heart?

So, even though I love the Run for Regis event, this year, circumstances (see the previous blog post) made running it impossible.  So I grabbed the trusty digital single lens reflex camera, hopped a ride with my friends, and spent the day with really cold feet, but a smile on my face cheering all the runners on, and snapping photos of as many folks as I could.  

I had a great time, and trail runners really are the best people.  

Click "Read More" to see more photos!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Into 2015 - Unexpected healing, and therefore, crazy goals.

I know a few of you follow me here on this blog, and it's been woefully quiet since October of last year, and I know some people are friends with me on facebook, and know I've been going through some health issues that are sort of finally resolved.

This post isn't going to have pictures.  It's not going to be extremely cheerful.  I am not a person who makes a big deal about the negative things in my life.  I've dealt with this stuff with my close friends and family over the last couple of months, but if other people are having health problems, I think this might help?  As in don't wait so long when you feel bad, but find someone who can do something about it for you.  My story, so far, is ending really really well.  It could've been a lot different, and if I hadn't waited so long to get proactive about my health, it might have even been better.  And if I had waited any longer... I hate to think about it. But if you'd like to know what's really been going on the last couple months, here it is.

The truth is, I've been having digestion issues for a number of years.  It was all sparked by an incident of seemingly food poisoning back in 2009 over Thanksgiving.  My stomach was never the same after.  My husband and I thought it was a food allergy. We cut out pretty much all processed foods, all soy.  Over the next few years  I was tested for every food allergy, all negative.

I was tested for endocrine problems, and they found my bone density was down.  In January of 2011, they removed an abnormal parathyroid gland, citing my low bone density and high blood calcium, as well as frequent kidney stones.  They thought that might be the cause of my digestion issues as well.

No luck.  I continued to live my life actively, hiking, running crazy ultra races, kayaking, biking, doing all the things I wanted to do, but doing them around my body's need to get to a bathroom, or to a convenient patch of moss, or feeling generally lousy after eating sometimes.

I started getting fed up.  I made appointments with specialists, and after an initial round of tests, had problems with communication.

Then this summer, July of 2014, the stone started rolling down the mountain.  I was scheduled for a bone density scan again, as a routine, and my bones had lost 8 percent density.  My family doctor scheduled me with a specialist in Erie, and when they couldn't find anything, the found a specialist in Pittsburgh.

I was highly fed up at this point with no one being able to give me any answers to any of my problems.  I was a runner, and an active person, and was pretty upset about the bone loss, and about stomach and intestinal issues that would slow me down during my favorite activities.  I called the Cleveland Clinic, and made an appointment to see a digestive specialist there, and I was scheduled for an Endocrine specialist in Pittsburgh to figure out my bone loss issue.  I had just turned thirty-six, and was on my way to early osteoporosis.

Cleveland Clinic... didn't impress me.  I got lost on my way, which frustrated me, and though they were efficient and polite, didn't impress me.  I'm sure they have a ton of people moving through there every day, so what could I do.  I had some blood work done while I was there, and they said they were going to put me on a month long chicken and rice only diet.  I went home a bit frustrated, but eating only chicken and rice would surely let me figure out what was causing my problems.

Two days later, I was in Pittsburgh, at UPMC Presby.  I was scheduled there pretty much all day.  I had a CT scan with contrast in the morning, so that the new doctor, Doctor Carty, would have a good picture of what she needed to see.  They also did an ultrasound of my neck, of my parathyroid glands.  And everyone was incredibly nice.   I try to be over the top nice when dealing with Doctors and nurses, and these people were equally wonderful.  All of them.  By the afternoon, I was very happy with all the people I was dealing with, even having been stuck with needles.

Then I met Dr. Carty.  People had been telling me she was a bit... intense... throughout the day.  I thought she was simply no nonsense, and her personality was a bit refreshing.  I'm not really a shrinking flower, so I answered all of her direct questions as quickly as I could.   Then she asked me if I had any skin tags on my armpits.  I stammered that I didn't think I did, but she made me remove my shirt, and to my own surprise, I did.   She was momentarily gleeful, made her aid take pictures, and then told me that it seemed that I might have a hereditary disorder called MEN-1.  This stands for Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia type 1.  She told me this disorder can cause the parathyroid, the pancreas and the pituitary glands to malfunction, or to grow tumors that can lead to a production of gastrin in the pancreas, leading to chronic diarrhea.  It can cause the parathyroid to become over active, leading to kidney stones, high blood calcium, and bone loss.

She explained every one of my symptoms I had ever had as related to this one hereditary syndrome, and I was staggered, and so relieved.  She scheduled me for some follow-ups, and told me she wanted to removed my parathyroid glands from the left side of my neck, to see if that would fix my high calcium.  She also scheduled me with a stomach doctor.

This was the beginning of October.  She scheduled me for my parathyroid surgery on November 5.

I cancelled my follow-ups with Cleveland, as it seemed this was the answer to my problems.  She told me to take an over the counter antacid, and as soon as I started, my digestion problems and heart burn ended.

I had an endoscopy with another doctor that she recommended, a Doctor McGrath.

Then the scary part started.  They said they were going to schedule me with an Oncologist.  There was a tumor in my liver that worried them.

Now.  I know what Oncologist means.  No one ever came out and said that I had cancer.  No one sat me down and said, "You have cancer." But the terms "malignant" and "metastasize" were used.  And I was scheduled for an appointment at the Cancer center.

I think the way I handled it was not to think about it too much.  The doctor's didn't seem to worried.  The way it was described, is this MEN-1 syndrome that they had preliminary diagnosed me with, meant I was prone to tumors, especially in my pancreas.  So these little "gastrinoma" which are little tumors in the pancreas (I had about 11 of them in my pancreas, according to the CT Scan), produce gastrin, which causes severe digestion problems, including diarrhea and heartburn.  I had 11.  The concern was that there was a tumor in my liver, not large, but not tiny, that had probably spread there from one of these guys in my pancreas.

So the day I met the Oncologist, Dr. Bartlett, was the same day that they scheduled me for surgery, after Christmas.  As scary as I had heard "pancreatic" and "liver" cancers are, Dr. Bartlett assured me that these kind of tumors were normal for this MEN-1 syndrome.  They grow very slow, and generally aren't a problem.

Cancer is still scary.  He said he would go in, and take the one out of my liver for sure, then explore the rest of the area, getting whatever tumors he could find, as well as any lymph-nodes.

So the date was set.  I was still healing up from my parathyroid surgery (which was only partially successful, my calcium is still high), and I was scheduled for major surgery.

So I lived.  I spent time with my family, with my dog, with my friends.  I hiked and skied a little.  I ran and hugged people more, and I didn't dwell on anything negative.  I'd either be ok, or I wouldn't.  I am pretty happy where I am in life, so I shook out a lot of the negative things in my life, worked on getting the house/yard and things in order.  I had a marvelous holiday, had a few more scans and blood work done for my upcoming surgery, did all the prep work for the surgery.

One more shoe dropped.  One of the CT scans for my pre-op showed a mass the size of a baseball on my uterus.  It was squishing my bladder.  It was a fibroid, which I had had before, one the size of a bowling ball.  Being pretty certain I'm done with babies, I set it up with the doctors to get a hysterectomy while they were in there doing all of the other things.  It's been 5 years since they had to remove the giant fibroid, and I didn't really want them to have to go back later in life to take out more fibroids.

I was a little sad about that, but they said they would leave the ovaries, so there would be no hormone problems.

So we went to Pittsburgh the night before and stayed at the Family House across the street from the hospital.  My dad was great enough to come up from Florida into the snowy north to watch the boy and get him to school while all of this was going on.

I can't say I remember much of that Monday.  I remember them putting the nerve blocks into my back.  That was uncomfortable.  I remember being moved to a room late that evening.  Jason said the surgery took seven and a half hours.  They removed a large tumor from the head of my pancreas, the one from my liver, many lymph nodes.  They also removed my gallbladder, as MEN-1 can cause gall-stones later in life, and with the scar tissue they were making removing the other tumors, it would make such a surgery risky in the future.  They removed my uterus.  And they told me everything went perfectly.  The tumor in the liver was in a difficult spot, but they had no problems.  I hadn't needed a transfusion.  I had 55 staples, running down from my bra line in the center of my chest, down to my pubic bone.  I had a tube in my nose, to drain fluid from my stomach as the pancreas healed.  I had a drain tube sticking out of my right side, just below my ribs, draining bile that was weeping from my healing liver.

Tuesday, they had me up walking  and using the bathroom.  I could eat nothing, just nibble on ice chips to wet my mouth.

But I'm home now.  I was in the hospital for 10 days.  I had no food from Sunday, January 4th to Wednesday January 14th.  I've lost about 15 pounds.  I've lost muscle tone in my legs.  I have bruises all over me from IVs.  I'm sore, and can only sleep on my back.  I wear a velcro corset to keep everything held tight, for when I move.  It hurts to cough, and to laugh.  But I beat this stage.  I walked a mile yesterday, and I will walk a mile today, and next week I'll walk 2 miles.  And pretty soon I'll run a mile.  Then I'll run more.

I missed the outside when I was in the hospital.  I walked the halls every day as soon as I was allowed up.  My digestion hurts a little, I think it will until my body realizes everything has been displaced.  I had the best nurses in Shadyside Hospital's 4Main ward.  This floor is for people to heal who have cancers and have had surgery.  Some people will be there for a week, some people for months.  The nurses helped me when I got weepy when I couldn't talk because of the tube down my nose and throat.  They washed my feet and legs when I couldn't bend over, and was frustrated with being sweaty and stinky.  They changed the sheets on my bed, they helped me when I needed just a little more pain relief.  They were amazing.  It makes me weepy thinking how wonderful these people were, and how so many of the patients there treat them with derision.

My doctors talked to me every day, at least 3 times a day, checking in.  They told me how good I looked.  Everyone said encouraging things to me as I walked the halls. Friends visited me in the hospital, even when I could barely croak out a few words here and there.

I don't like relying on people to do things for me.  Being in the hospital and having to ask for help was very difficult for me.  But I wouldn't have been able to do it on my own.

So will I be cancer free the rest of my life?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But I get a fresh slate to work with now, to keep track of anything else that might appear, and to have a better way to control this syndrome.  Being a healthy and strong patient made all the difference.  I feel good.  My head is good, and my body is getting stronger every day.  I will take recovery nice and slow and even so not to set myself back, but I think this is a good year to run 100 miles.  To prove that I've beaten this, and that I will continue to live life fully, every day, and to enjoy the little things, and love everything, and get outside and breath in, and be very much alive.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The People and the Place Make the Race: Pace Report

So this past weekend marked the 6th annual running of the Oil Creek Trail runs in Titusville, Pennsylvania.  In 2011, I ran a 50k.  In 2012, the 100k.  Last year, I volunteered and paced, and this year I did the same.  But instead of pacing for 14 miles, I paced my friend Roger for 38 miles.

I also volunteered.  I started out on Friday by heading down to Titusville to meet the captains of Aid Station 1 and help them set up.  I also took the dog, because I knew she would be alone all day Saturday and part of Sunday, so I wanted to make sure she had a fun time Friday.  So we got down early, set up a couple of canopies (one was a bit more technical, but we finally figured it out), decorated, and got as much ready as we could.  Zoe hung out, ran around, chased things, and stayed out of trouble.

When we had as much set up as we could, I left to go set up markers for the Drake well loop, a mile of the race that circles around the museum and goes along the creek before heading back to the Middle School.  I dragged my friend Tambra with me to keep me company.  I used cones and flags, and tied Zoe's leash to my waist and we marked.  I had also stolen some of Eli's sidewalk chalk, and I drew arrows and wrote some basic directions and smiley faces on the ground for runners.  It was nice to chat with Tambra for a while.  It's like walking with a local celebrity.  She gets stopped by everyone, but she's one of the nicest people I know, so I see why everyone wants to say hi and talk to her.

Once we had finished that loop, we marked part of a bike path that leads to the trailhead.  That didn't take too long, and by that time, Zoe was running out of juice.  I put her in the car to take her home, then went over with Tambra to mark a few more chalk arrows, and on the way, we saw our friend, Roger, the friend who I would be pacing the next evening for 38 miles to get him through his 100 mile race.  I greeted his wife, Kris, and a few of their friends, that I had met and ran with in the summer, then I needed to run and get Zoe home so I could make it back for the pre-race festivities.

The trip home and back took about an hour, and I had a quick dinner at the Blue Canoe with Roger, Kris and Dave then we headed over to the school.

I have to say, one of the best things about this weekend, Oil Creek weekend, are the people.  I was stopped several times as I was heading into the school to greet people with hugs and well wishes for the race the next day.  I greeted old and new friends, and chatted with people, and sat with my friends Alisha(running the 100k) and Kim(running the 50k).  It got to be around 7:15, and I knew I needed to sneak out to get to bed at a reasonable hour to be up at 3:00am to get ready and show up to help with Aid Station 1.

So I woke up on time, packed up the car with some running/sleeping gear, and was off.  I helped set up the supplies for the Aid Station, laying out first aid supplies, making signs and arrows to point the way to the porta-potties and back to the trail for the runners to continue on the race.  The next few hours, from about 6-930 were pretty hectic.  Being the first Aid Station, the runners are very close together, so big groups come in, need their bottles filled, need snacks, cheering on.  I changed a battery in a head-lamp, gave a bunch of hugs to my runner friends coming through, filled bottles, and surprisingly, administered no first aid this year.

I floated over to Aid Station 3, just across the creek, and helped out there for a while longer, and again, got to see more friends come through.  The next few hours were a blur of running back and forth from Aid Station to school, then back to Aid Station, back to school.

I tried to talk a few runners out of dropping, but sometimes listening to the body and accepting it is better to heal an injury rather than push it, I relented.  I drove one runner back to the middle school at one point.  It was so good to help so many people, doing this crazy thing that we all love.

Cheering and Woo-hooing through the woods and hearing it echo, or better yet, hearing the Wooing returned by other runners or Aid Station workers.  So many people are having the best day, or the worst day.  To hand someone a cup of soup, or fill their water pack or bottle, or hand them a cup of Dr. Pepper... it's so rewarding.  And working alongside my friends and trail running family, joking, goofing around, making rude jokes, makes this the best thing I do all year, I think.

I also got to enjoy nature, even before I paced.  The weather was cool and beautiful; clear with blue skies.  I walked up one road beyond Aid Station 3, and just felt the breeze and listened to the trees, and enjoyed the colorful foliage.  I'm such a sap for nature and good friends together.

So - I dropped a runner off at the Middle School, and knew my friend Kim would be finishing soon. So I walked out, and also got to see my friend Rob and his wife, Tina, who was just wrapping up her first 50k.  She was almost in tears when I gave her a giant hug, and rooted for them.  Kim was right behind them, and I ran her in to the school.  She has become an amazing runner in such a short time, going from barely able to run 2 miles, to running two 50ks less than a month apart!

I drove my friend Rich down to meet his wife at Petroleum center, just missing Roger leave the Aid Station.  Alisha came in, and she and Rich took off for the last 18 miles to the finish.  I drove back to Aid Station 3, just in time to see more runner friends come through.

By this time, it was dusk, and I was beat.  I had been up since 3am, and knew I needed some energy for pacing.  I crawled into my car, asked the other volunteers to wake me up when Roger came through, so I could make sure he was doing ok, and then get back down to the school to meet him.  I curled up on an air mattress in my car, and pulled a blanket over my head.  I swear, three minutes passed, and there was a knock on the window.  "Roger's here!"

So I drove back to the school, put all my running stuff on, changed my mind and put warmer running stuff on, then thought I could catch a few winks in a quiet part of the school.  Kim was still around, waiting for Alisha to finish.  I was really bummed that I most likely wouldn't get to see Alisha finish, but happy that someone was there for her.  We both tried to zonk for a little bit, but after about 10 minutes, we gave up, and went and visited with Kris, Mick, and then Dave as he came in before heading out for his last full loop of his 100 miler.

Roger came in not long after Dave went out. He changed into warmer clothes (with a little "persuading"), and ate some food, and we set off.  I was hoping to see Alisha and Rich while we were heading down the bike trail, where outgoing runners pass incoming runners, but though we saw a few people, not them.  I gave a few loud woos as we started up into the woods, and heard Alisha and Rich woo back.  That made me happy.  And Rog and I headed into the woods.

Pacing is not exactly easy.  Roger had run 62 miles already, and was tired.  I had gotten a second wind, and drank a lot of coffee, so I talked.  I told stories about being a kid, I talked about trail running, I talked about a lot of stuff.  I told him where we were on the trail, I kept track of mileage as close as I could.  When we came into aid stations, I got him coffee, made sure his bottles were full, and then we were off.  We never really lingered at any aid stations for much longer than it took for us to get something warm to eat or drink, use the bathrooms (I had a lot of coffee), then get moving.

It was cold. It was in the high 20s or low 30s.  Fog was laying in the valley, and I kept puffing out my breath just for the entertainment factor.  The hills were actually a blessing, they kept us warmer.  We were mostly power hiking, and a few times I tucked my arms in to keep them warm.  My fingers weren't working really well, but we kept moving, staying warm, and eating, drinking, having salt-tabs, pain pills when needed.

By section 3, we were both sluggish.  We had left the Aid station around 3am, and though the moon was full and bright, we were both dragging.  We were both a little more quiet, and it took me longer to think of stories to tell or things to talk about.  I narrated the trail, I called out where rocks and roots were so Rog didn't have to think so much about where to put his feet.  It seemed to take ages, but finally we reached the road to Aid Station 3.

Through the night, our pace was mostly hiking.  I would sometimes break into a slow jog, and Roger would power hike a bit faster to keep up.  Our pace was very steady, and even through the night, we made good time.  Rog was in a fog, but once we started into section 4, something clicked, and the sky started to get light, and Rog was back.  We ran with a small group, and chatted to keep each other going, agreeing we had plenty of time to finish.

The sun rising really was amazing.  Roger was like a new person, and the frost on the open areas and around the Drake Well loop was gorgeous.  We got back to the school, had more coffee(boing), and after Roger changed shoes, we headed out for that last 7 miles.

The last 7 miles flew by.  We saw more friends finishing up their 100 milers, and we hugged them and cheered them on.  Rog was running more, due to the change of shoes, and we were chatting the entire loop.  We made it to The Hill of Truth, the last climb of the 100 mile race, and hiked it.

Near the top, we saw a runner who was bent at a very painful looking angle, pulling himself from tree to tree to get up the trail.  We had seen him as we were heading back into the school, and he was struggling to finish.  Roger first offered for us to stay with him, and I offered to stay with him, knowing Rog was in fine form to get back to the school.  Finally the guy asked for one of Roger's hiking poles, and Roger loaned him both.  We continued on.

I was a teensy bit worried that Rog would stumble without the poles, after using them all night, but after another 2 miles on the trail, we broke out of the woods and back onto the bike trail.  We played the game where we would run to a certain landmark, then walk a little.  Run a little, walk a little, until we came to the last turn, and we ran it in.

Running with Roger this summer was a ton of fun, and rewarding.  Running the YUTC 50k was great, going nice and steady the entire day, and helping him through a few bad patches there.  Watching him finish 100 was spectacular.  He is one of the strongest people I've met, and certainly the most generous guy I know.  I backed off as he crossed the finish line, gave him a hug and some congratulations, then sat down to watch people congratulate him.

I don't have words to say how rewarding volunteering then pacing was.  I tried to explain it to Roger on the trail... but it really makes me happy.  I really didn't want anything except to help, to make sure I was doing a good job and getting him to the finish, back to Kris, back to all the people waiting and cheering him in.

My running this year has gotten stronger, simply by running with all kinds of different people, and hiking with different people, at different speeds, and in different places.  But it's not the running I care about.  It's the people.  I've never had a better summer of training, because of who I got to spend that time with.

So get out there and run those trails, and run those races.  But take someone with you, and take care of each other.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Green Lakes Endurance Run - Pride before a Fall

This past weekend, I was going to run 100k at Green Lakes State Park in Syracuse, New York.  It didn't quite turn out that way.

I signed up for Green Lakes because not only does a good friend of mine and his wife live up there, but I like to explore new races on new trails.  A lot.  It's one of the reasons I usually pick different races every year.  I signed up in spring, and decided to sign up for the 100k.  I knew at the time of signup, that I would be hard pressed to train for a 100k, but the race allows for the runner to drop to the 50k distance the day of the race, so I knew that if the weather was oppressively hot, or if something happened before the race, I could drop back to the 50k distance with no problem.  Ever the optimist, that's me.

The Green Lakes Endurance Races consist of an 7.5 mile loop course that the runner completes 4 times for a 50k, or 8 times for the 100k.  I read this all briefly in the website in the spring, read some good things about the park, and was excited to use the trip up as a mini vacation for Jason and Eli and I at the end of summer.

So I've run well this summer.  Lots of weekend long runs, running and hiking a lot during the week.  Experimenting with food choices.  I felt faster.  The weekend was approaching, and I was confident.

Friday, we headed up, stopping a few times for food and even to hit the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge (I have a goal to visit as many of these as I can).  It was nice to stretch and walk around a little, and we saw a bunch of birds and a lot of frogs, so it was worth it.

We met my friend Patrick (check out his blog here.  He's a crazy ultra-runner as well) at the running store for packet pickup.  I was lucky number 13!  Woo!  Patrick and his wife, Karen, had invited us to stay at their home, which was only about 15 minutes from the park.  After settling our stuff at their home, we headed over to check out the course before the sun set, then out for some dinner.

The view of the clear, blue Green Lake.

Pat and Karen would be working aid stations the following morning, and this was their home race, so they showed us around, and we walked a little bit of the trail.  Then Pat mentioned something about the depths of the lakes, and the possibility of the lakes "turning over."  It is a very very rare thing, but I guess certain, very deep lakes can turn over very quickly, which causes the carbon dioxide in the bottom of the lake to erupt out of the lake, and can kill all life within a valley.  It's called a Limnic eruption, and has happened a couple of times in volcanic lakes.  Now, the likelihood of this happening was pretty much nil, but hearing Pat and Jason saying, oh if the lake starts bubbling, run like heck up the hill before the carbon dioxide can come out of the lake, made me look at the lake a bit differently.  I peered at the clear water, and expected bubbling or churning, or to see bones or something...

 Another lovely view.

I turned my thoughts away from ideas of sudden and thorough asphyxiation, and we headed to dinner, and then back to the house.  I organized my stuff and got ready for a 4am wake up.  Race day was here!

I woke and dressed, grabbed a quick slice of pb toast, then we headed out towards the park, grabbing coffee on the way.  I tried to settle my normal pre-race jitters, and the atmosphere at the park was low key and laid back.  Everyone was friendly, and I checked in, placed my cooler and drop-box on "The Wall" by the main aid station, where it would be easy to access every loop.  I had chosen to run with a hand-held with two gels and some salt caps and ibuprofen stuffed into the pouch.  I felt a waist pack or backpack was over doing it for a 8ish mile loop.  I had also put pickle juice in my cooler, and a lot of extra gels, extra shoes, and swedish fish in my drop-box.

 The old admin building - housing the Aid station supplies, and bathrooms.  This was the start and the finish.

Map of the Course via the website.  The first aid station was at the Start - the second was at the Half mark.

I hit the facilities one last time, then toed the line a few minutes before 6am.  The air horn sounded, and we were off.  I hung back and just stuck to an easy pace.  I had my garmin on, but I tried not to look at it, and after the first loop, I took it off.  I was running comfortably.

The course was pretty much flat around the lakes, a few climbs through the woods, and mostly rolling through the "Serengeti" The course was extremely runnable.  I walked the steepest of the hills, and ran everything else.  I also flew down a lot of the downhill sections, which would end up biting me later.

The trail around the lakes was crushed limestone and mulch.  Some of the trails in the woods were mulched or graveled where there had been muddy portions, and the fields of the Serengeti were rolling hills, grassy with a dirt single track in most areas.  There were only a couple sections with roots, and those were not tough compared to my home trails at Oil Creek State Park.  This was very much a really good trail race for beginners to trail running.  The landscape was beautiful.  Having the lakes right there, literally a step off the trail, was amazing, and the trail was varied, going through mixed woods, deep pine areas, and then through the fields with an amazing view.

I started out knowing I would have to be conservative with my speed if I wanted to keep enough energy to make it through eight loops.  I was passed by a lot of people, but as the trail turned from the lakes and started up hill on a dirt trail through the woods, my hiking legs caught a few people.  The trail flattened a bit through the woods, then went up and broke out of the woods.  The grassy area was rolling, and pretty runnable.  I reached the first aid station having just about finished drinking my hand held.  I had a gel, a couple swedish fish at the aid station, and had them fill my bottle with water.  I took a salt tab, and didn't linger.  I walked on a few steep hills on the Serengeti, but mostly was going at an easy run.  I had to maintain about a 13 minute mile average to make the soft 6pm cutoff - I had to be 54 miles in by that time, or I wouldn't make the finish.  I have an issue with cutoffs.  They haunt me.

I cheered for my fellow runners and thanked all the course marshals and aid station people as I ran.  The cloudy morning was really great to run in, especially with no sun beating down on the treeless parts of the course.  I really enjoyed the course - it was extremely runnable, and I pushed myself when I could, down hill, or on slight uphills, just knowing I needed to bank that time.  I finished my first loop in 1:30.  The website had cautioned that the average loop needed to be in under 1:40.  Jason and Eli were still at the course - they had seen me off, and Jason took my watch from me, handed me two gels, and I had my bottle filled with Hammer Perpetuem.  I wasn't having any stomach issues, and I felt good.  It was a quick pass through the aid station, and I was back out onto the course.

I talked to a few people on the course.  One lady, Deb, was doing her first trail ultra, and was excited to train for her first 100k the next spring.  Another lady was fearful she wouldn't be able to finish the 50k.  A few guys and I played leapfrog.  I'd pass them on the hills, then they'd pass me on the downs.  Really good people out there.  I kept a good pace on the second lap, and came in to the main aid station at 3:03 - a 1:33 lap.  I used the restroom, ate a peanut butter sandwich, drank some pickle juice, then headed back out.  It was really nice to see Pat or Karen at the aid station when I would come through.  I was still feeling good, and headed back out.

It had started to barely sprinkle the last bit of the second loop.  As I went out on the third loop, the rain increased to a steady sprinkle.  It wasn't a downpour, it wasn't a drizzle, just kind of a steady, soft, rain.  I didn't mind.  I was glad the sun wasn't coming out.  I did keep an eye on the lake.  Sprinkles look a lot like CO2 bubbling...

I was still nice and steady on pace, even in the rain.  My legs and feet were a little achy, but nothing terrible, and still no digestion or stomach sloshing.  I was mostly using gels and eating peanut butter sandwiches and swedish fish.  I didn't complain about the rain.  I had worn my contacts, so I could see fine, the rain was cool, and my hat kept it out of my eyes.  The trail was getting a little sloppier, but really, not terrible at all compared to what I had run in at Oil Creek and at Highlands Sky earlier in the year.

I made it through the third lap in 4:43, or 1:39 for the lap.  I was still pretty happy how I was keeping consistent with pace.  I ate more, filled up, and headed back out for the fourth lap.

I was tired on this lap, and I knew I was slowing down.  Coming back around on the muddy parts of the trail, I lost some purchase, and climbed the steeper parts a little slower.  Once I got out of the woods, I felt I gained my pace back, but I was aching more.  I took an ibuprofen, and kept going.  I got to the second aid station, ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, more swedish fish, and walked as I ate for a little bit.  One of the guys I was playing leap frog with passed me, then I passed him back up the hill.  On the next downhill, I ran down, and slipped right down on the muddy grass as I put my right foot down.  I felt my knee twist, and I got up and brushed off my muddy hand and rear as much as I could.  The guy asked me if I was ok, and I told him I was, and walked the rest of the way up the next hill.  My knee hurt, but I was hoping it was one of those falls that hurts for a moment, then shakes off once you get going.

But it wasn't feeling much better.  I had the normal aches that I usually associate with running long distances that I can ignore, or that I usually hope will ebb and fade as I keep going, but my knee felt loose and sharp when I was landing when I ran. Not good.

So I kept running and walking a bit more here and there as I needed.  I knew this was going to be a much longer loop.  I was over halfway through, and my brain was going everywhere.  I refused to ask anyone if they knew what time it was, because I knew I needed to finish this loop before 6 hours and 40 minutes to make the soft cut-off.  I just kept going and told myself I would see how I felt at the next Aid Station and see what time I came in.

I think, the worst part of the course, that I hadn't mentioned, is about a half mile of asphalt once you're almost around Green Lake and back at the Aid Station.  It hadn't bothered me too much on the previous loops, but this loop, I was hobbling by the time I hit it.  I saw Eli and Jason coming to meet me, and they "ran" with me as I hobbled back to the aid station.  I saw the clock reading 6:38 as I came closer, and just felt frustrated.  I had done the best trail 50k time that I've done.  And I was proud of that.  But as I thought about going back out, my knee, and how I had slowed down, I doubted I could finish.  I had a little over 7 hours to run what I had just run in 6:40.

I am not a fast runner.  My 100k PR is 19 hours.  If I knew I could walk what I needed and finish, I would have kept going.  I don't mind the long stubborn slog.  But my knee was throbbing at this point, and I had a 50k PR.  I didn't really have anything to prove, and I'd get to spend the rest of the day with Eli and Jason and getting under Pat and Karen's feet.

So I stopped at 50k.  The race director counted me as having run the 50k, and I got the 50k medal and a nice pint glass.  I was happy, but disappointed in myself.  We spent the rest of the day walking around, visiting with my friend Rich, who had showed up just in time to see me finish and figure 50k was the best thing for me.  I took some pictures, which I couldn't do while running, and enjoyed watching other runners come in, and visiting with Pat and Karen.

The place was beautiful, the company good.  I really loved it up there.  If I hadn't hurt myself, I probably could've eked out an 11th hour finish.  But we went out to eat then came back to the race.  I even met a guy who had run the Highland Sky race, and we talked about that course, and I talked up The Oil Creek races.

So I didn't quite do what I set out to do.  And I'm happy.  Mostly.  I also feel... disappointed in myself.  I didn't have stomach issues, I hurt my knee.  But if I had been at a race with a more generous cut off, I would've kept going, I think.  But I guess what happens happens, and I should just take the enjoyable experience I had with the landscapes and the people and the trail as fortuitous.  I got to visit with good friends, and I found out Pat had stocked the aid stations with Swedish fish, because I have a fondness for the red gummies.  It was a really happy time, and I've learned a bit about myself, for good or bad.
Until the next race... enjoy some more happy pictures of Green Lakes State Park.